The Other Side of the Tracks

How railroads, highways and other man-made lines racially divide America’s cities.

Shreveport, La.

“Look at racial maps of many American cities, and stark boundaries between neighboring black and white communities frequently denote an impassable railroad or highway, or a historically uncrossable avenue. Infrastructure has long played this role: reinforcing unspoken divides, walling off communities, containing their expansion, physically isolating them from schools or parks or neighbors nearby.”

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On the Pulse of Morning

1
A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

2
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.

3
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words

4
Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.

5
Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song. It says,
Come, rest here by my side.

6
Each of you, a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.
The River sang and sings on.

-2-

7
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

8
They hear the first and last of every Tree
Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside the River.

9
Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you,
Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of
Other seekers — desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot,
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,
Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours — your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

-3-

10
Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.

11
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

12
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

13
Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope —
Good morning.

– Maya Angelou

The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege

From McSweeney’s:

The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege is pretty decent, I guess. I’ve had one as long as I can remember. My parents said it just showed up in the mail when I was born, and L.L. Bean’s policy is to replace the backpack for free if it ever breaks, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. It’s $8 extra to get your initials monogrammed, which I personally think should be free of charge. The backpack comes in different colors, more recently Irish, Italian, and Buffalo Plaid.

The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege is great for carrying questionable things like weed, Ponzi schemes, and sex crimes. I have lived in dense urban areas my whole life, and the cops never once search my Invisible Backpack. Then again, that’s probably just because, like people always tell me, I have a really trustworthy vibe as a person.

AL Teen Chokes to Death, Suffers Cardiac Arrest at Hands of Police

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — A Huntsville teen who died after being arrested by Huntsville police in a drug sting suffered broken ribs, had a flashlight shoved in his mouth and suffered cardiac arrest while officers sat on him, a federal lawsuit alleges.

The 17-year-old choked, began vomiting and lost consciousness while handcuffed but officers refused to render aid, according to the lawsuit filed by Nancy Smith, the teen’s mother. Police told paramedics they thought the teen had overdosed, but the lawsuit said no signs of an overdose have been found.

The officers, who had sent an informer to buy drugs from the teen, held the teen down and inserted two pens and the butt of a flashlight into his mouth searching for contraband. They didn’t find any. The boy could not breathe and had turned blue by the time paramedics arrived, according to the complaint.

He died on June 18, 2013, five days after being transported to Huntsville Hospital.

Fear & The Ferguson Verdict

In the minutes leading up to the verdict of the Grand Jury in Ferguson–on whether or not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown–I can’t help but to hear these lyrics in mead, from The Temper Trap’s “Science of Fear”, excerpted here:

Black smoke

Red sky

The television’s sayin’

Downhill

Head on another crash is comin’

Downhill

Head on another crash is comin’

Move

Or watch the murder of you way of life

There’s a science to fear

It plagues my mind

And it keeps us right here

And the less we know

The more we sit still

My baby’s stuck on a road

That leads to nowhere

Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.