The End of History at the Museum of the Bible

Lapham's Quarterly

When I was in high school, I went with a couple of friends to their Assembly of God church’s revival week.

Assembly of God churches are Pentecostal congregations, but I think of them as Pentecostal light. My friends were not required to wear long skirts or keep their hair uncut, as did members of stricter Pentecostal fellowships in my rural Arkansas hometown, Clinton. We were all cheerleaders together, and they were even allowed to show their legs off in front of a stadium. But they were still fundamentalist Christians, their beliefs strict and unyielding. The Bible was the word of God, written by a divine hand. When they prayed, they held their hands to the sky and sang songs that were not in hymnals. They were visited by the Holy Spirit, and sometimes spoke in tongues. They did not, as we did in my staid Methodist church, have to be quiet during the long sermon or obligingly recite creeds.


A Hillbilly Left?


The best-selling Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, released in June to mostly positive reviews, was praised for treating lower-income white communities with sympathy—something reviewers believed had been in short supply in our literature. The conservative writer Rod Dreher said that the book “does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book did for poor black people: give them voice and presence in the public square.” (Though it’s hard to see how poor black people were ever well-represented, or how working-class whites have ever been neglected as a group.)

The book bills itself as a “memoir of a family and a culture in crisis.” Poor and working-class white Americans have been the subject of many alarming reports over the past few years, from the rise of the heroin epidemic across rural, white America to the numerous studies detailing early deaths from suicides and drug overdoses in middle age; the least educated whites are dying at younger ages than the same group of people did a generation ago. (Although African Americans as a whole still have higher mortality rates.) It’s the white working class, especially men, who drove the candidacy and election of the Republican nominee, President-elect Donald Trump. So elites have turned their focus on what they assess to be a bewildering population, regarded alternately with empathy and scorn, that they were previously happy to ignore.

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Donald Trump Won on White-Male Resentment—but Don’t Confuse That With the Working Class

The Nation

The scandal-free class act President Barack Obama, who gave us the Affordable Care Act in all of its flawed glory, will leave the White House to the least qualified president in history, a petty, childish narcissist who is just as likely to use his high office to exact revenge on his perceived enemies as he is to fulfill his worst promises—building a wall along the Mexican border, imposing a religious test on immigrants, bringing stop-and-frisk back, and getting rid of most of the federal government.

The people who will be hurt most are obviously people of color, all women, and the poor. This includes poor white people, and their significance in this election has to be examined.


What I Learned About My Father, and Myself, By Inheriting His Rifles

The Trace

On an afternoon between the day my dad died and his funeral, in early November 2006, one of his brothers — not a man who was always on the right side of the law — came by, drunk, asking after Daddy’s hunting rifles. They were tucked away in a closet in my parents’ home in Clinton, Arkansas, a small, rural town on the southern edge of the Ozark Mountains. We had honestly forgotten about them.

Read more at The Trace.

They Sat and Studied Scripture, No Matter How Long or Hot the Day

The Trace

Days have been busy this summer at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. On the afternoon of June 17, a construction crew continued work on the church’s new elevator, built to carry aging members up to the sanctuary so they can avoid the long climb up the stairs. A few hours later, as people’s workdays ended, the church began to fill up for a business meeting. The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s 41-year-old pastor and a state senator, drove down after a legislative session in the state capital, Columbia. Church elders, ministerial staff, and other members gathered on the lower-level floor that doubles as the church’s fellowship hall, a big, paneled room with folding chairs and tables that can accommodate the entire congregation. Carlotta Dennis, a longtime member and church steward, keeps tally. “We have a membership of about 927,” she says, then pauses. “I guess … minus nine.”



The Post-Ownership Society

The Washington Monthly

Five and a half years ago, when I first moved to Washington, D.C., for a magazine job, I rented a basement apartment in a neighborhood called Bloomingdale. The area was full of Victorian-era homes that had once been occupied by mostly middle-class black families, right on the border where the Northwest quadrant of the city becomes the Northeast. But throughout the 2000s, affordable D.C. neighborhoods with trendy-sounding names like Bloomingdale drew gentrifiers who needed low rents—journalists, creative types, entry-level do-gooders, and shift-working bartenders and baristas who occasionally had Mom and Dad’s help—and so the neighborhoods changed.

Some days, I worked from home instead of going into the office, and I’d head down the block to the Big Bear Café, a hipster outpost where you could find everyone from the neighborhood, the old and the new, together in one place. There, we’d all spend more than $2 on a cup of over-roasted French press coffee or $5 on a breakfast bagel with ham, egg, and cheese sourced straight from farms within a 500-mile radius of the city. I was as likely to see a Generation X professional working on his or her new laptop as I was to overhear lithe young men and women in a conversation about reinventing yoga. Sitting among this particular slice of the tattooed elite—the people who are outside the center of power but at a good distance for judging it—typing away on my own computer, I could feel like I’d made it. Somewhere, anyway.

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What Are Cops Really Good For? A Brief History

TPM's The Slice

As January came to a close, so did the New York City Police Department’s work slowdown. The act of protest—not quite a strike, not officially sanctioned by the NYPD’s union—had been in response to the deaths of two police officers in Brooklyn at the hand of a criminal from Baltimore, Ismaaiyl Brinsley. Beforehand, he had written on his Instagram page: “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours...let’s take 2 of theirs,” claiming revenge for the death of Eric Garner and the subsequent non-indictment of the cop who killed him.

The slowdown targeted Mayor Bill DeBlasio, whose crime was expressing sympathy for Garner and the widespread protests in response to Garner’s death. According to The New York Post, which spent the past month lambasting the mayor and championing the police, officers only arrested people when they had to—as if officers should ever arrest someone when they don’t have to. What they weren’t doing was issuing parking tickets or summonses for minor, quality-of-life crimes. Ironically these were the very types of crimes—like selling loose cigarettes on the street—for which officers had tried to arrest Garner, and emblematic of the Broken-Windows policing New Yorkers and other citizens had long been protesting.

The result was that overall arrests were down 66 percent for the period of the slowdown, and summonses for low-level offenses were down 94 percent. And yet, the biggest city in the country did not grind to a halt. No one fled in fear. It’s not even clear if there are victims who remain unavenged, or that New Yorkers registered the city as more dangerous than they do normally. If the police department can lower crime rates by arresting people only when they have to, who are they arresting the rest of the time? It gets to a question we’ve been subconsciously mulling over for years now, a communal quandary finally breaking through to the surface: What, exactly, are the police for?

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In Plain Sight


In November 2013, Linda Tirado, a college student, fast-food employee, mother of two, and a self-proclaimed poor person, wrote a blog post called “Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts” on the discussion forum of the website Gawker. In it, she described the stresses of living on too little sleep and too little money. Tirado defended fast-food dinners as sensible for people whose kitchens are prone to roach infestations. Smoking, she said, was one of the few means of relaxation available to low-income adults. She argued that someone who can afford to save only $5 a month is probably better off spending that money on the kinds of tiny pleasures that might make each day easier to live through. “Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain,” she wrote—and there is an increasing pool of social science research to back that claim up.

The post went viral and The Huffington Post picked it up, amplifying its reach. Afterward, a predictable backlash began. Observers followed a well-rehearsed script for a debate about how Tirado wasn’t really poor. TheHouston Press, an alternative news site, claimed Tirado had been a wealthy boarding-school student. She had in fact gone to private school and had also attended, but not finished, college. She had worked on political campaigns as well. On her LinkedIn profile, she described herself as a freelance writer and political consultant.

Tirado later described how her mother and grandparents had been middle class, how she’d become estranged from them after she dropped out of college, and how, after years spent in poverty, she had reunited with her family, who helped her purchase a house. She was already on an upward swing when she wrote the blog post that started everything, though none of what she’d written was false. Still, both The New York Times and CNN listed Tirado’s commentary as one of the year’s biggest Internet hoaxes. The journalist Michelle Goldberg defended Tirado, following up at The Nationwith records of Tirado’s past enrollment in Medicaid and the Women, Infants, and Children supplemental nutrition program—which would only have been available to her if she was poor—and an apartment eviction. But the image of Tirado as a liar or, at best, an exaggerator was already set. It was enhanced when a crowdfunding campaign netted her more than $60,000 and she signed a book deal. Detractors argued that Tirado had merely been milking liberal guilt, and that it had worked.

In fairness to those skeptics, it was easy to wonder what might be missing from her story, since much of her writing had trafficked in sweeping generalities rather than delving into particulars. Can someone who has the skill to write her way into a new career really claim to be poor? It’s a question we’ve been wrestling with since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legislation promised to end American poverty: Who can call themselves poor, and who deserves help?

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Street Harassment is Universal and Age-Old

This week, I watched a video of a woman who was catcalled more than 100 times in the course of a ten-hour walk through Manhattan. You probably watched it, too. The comments she received from men were captured on the video, which was made in collaboration with the anti-harassment website Hollaback!, and ranged from a seemingly innocuous “Have a nice evening” to more aggressive badgering, especially from a man who demanded her gratitude for his unsolicited compliment. “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful,” he called after her. “You should say thank you more.” One man eerily followed her for more than five minutes. I thought, “That’s about right.” Lots of other women did, too. Some women who wrote about it were angry. But by the time you reach your mid-30s, as I have, you’re more tired than anything else. I’ve spent the past thirteen years of my adult life living in cities, first in Brooklyn and then in Washington, D.C. and, if you multiplied the four or five comments I get every day during my regular commute, they would add up to what we saw in that video—a stream of remarks about my physique, my smile or lack thereof, and demands for attention. So would every woman’s. It is endless and it gets really, really old.

More tiresome is that every time street harassment comes up as an issue, some well-meaning guy asks whether some of these comments aren’t really just compliments after all. Maybe we should all relax? I would have thought this video might make the exhausting nature of such constant, unwanted attention more clear. But Fox News, predictably, aired an entire segment that basically said, “Boys will be boys,” and blamed women for being so damned pretty. More questions popped up all over Facebook and Twitter: “Isn’t it OK sometimes to compliment women?” “Was all of that ‘harassment’?” Even the innocuous comments, like “Have a nice evening”? Yes, they are—in a deep, feel-it-in-your-bones way that can be hard to explain.

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What Policing Looks Like to a Former Investigator of Misconduct

NPR's Code Switch

When I was in my early 20s, my days were spent listening to New Yorkers tell me stories of how officers from the New York City Police Department had beaten them up. On most days, the person sitting across from me was a young, African-American man. (There were women, too, but they were fewer.) He would have an official complaint, either during his arrest or after, which then filtered through the city bureaucracy to land on my desk at the Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB, an independent agency that investigates complaints against the NYPD.

It was my first job after graduating from college in 2002, and many of my colleagues were also 22- or 23-year-olds fresh off some elite, verdant, northeastern campus, filling out a resume while contemplating law school. The cops dismissed us as kids who didn't know anything about the job, and in some ways, they were right. I didn't know anything about New York City, the job of an officer or the lives of the young men who sat across from me. That would change.

Before I could begin an investigation, I had to interview the complainant. If he couldn't get to my offices in lower Manhattan, I had to find him at home. Home was usually Brownsville, East New York, East Elmhurst or Tremont — New York City neighborhoods far removed from the brunch spots where Sex and the City fans fought for outside seating, or where the trucker-hat crowd ironically carried their bodega 40s in brown paper bags. I came to learn that New York City was a place dramatically divided by race and class, and the line that marked the border between the two cities was blue.

Read the rest at NPR.

Is There Hope for Survivors of the Drug Wars?

The American Prospect

Criminalized and discarded, falling at the bottom of every statistic, they want something better.

Travis Jones got out of prison in 2007, but he talks about his time there like it ended yesterday. It surprised him, he says, the stuff he missed. He knew he’d long for his family, and his girlfriend, but it was the absence of everyday things that kept him from feeling human. “When you open your refrigerator and that cool air hits you? I missed it like crazy,” he says. “They cut the lights on you, and they flip the switch. Little things like that.”

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Sit and Wait for the Sadness

The American Prospect

The Ozarks—land of hillbillies and a few vast modern fortunes—are the setting for recent literary thrillers.

The Ozarks, a plateau carved by rivers and streams into what are generously called mountains, have always felt like their own American planet, jutting up from what should be uninterrupted plains. They cover the isolated southern half of Missouri and the northern half of Arkansas, an area that’s been largely left out of the national consciousness until now. It’s easy to date recent interest in the Ozarks to the 2010 movie Winter’s Bone, based on a novel by the same name, which received four Oscar nominations and launched Jennifer Lawrence’s film career. A meth-fueled mystery that followed Lawrence’s character as she tried to find her drug-dealer father and save her mother’s family’s land, the movie was treated by reviewers as more documentary than fiction, a portrayal of desperate poverty in a foreign patch of America. 

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The Life and Death of Crystal Wilson

The American Prospect

For most Americans, life expectancy continues to rise—but not for uneducated white women. They have lost five years, and no one knows why.

On the night of May 23, 2012, which turned out to be the last of her life, Crystal Wilson baby-sat her infant granddaughter, Kelly. It was how she would have preferred to spend every night. Crystal had joined Facebook the previous year, and the picture of her daughter cradling the newborn in the hospital bed substituted for a picture of herself. Crystal’s entire wall was a catalog of visits from her nieces, nephews, cousins’ kids, and, more recently, the days she baby-sat Kelly. She was a mother hen, people said of Crystal. She’d wanted a house full of children, but she’d only had one.

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The Weeklies

The American Prospect

In the Denver suburbs, as in much of the U.S., the Great Recession turned formerly stable families into the new homeless—and left many living in budget hotels.

From the outside, it is hard to know that people live in the Ramada Inn. The parking lot is always empty. The hotel sits facing a wide suburban boulevard called Kipling Street, just off Interstate 70 in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. The interchange where Kipling meets the freeway is packed mornings and evenings with daily commuters going to or coming from Denver and with skiers heading west into the Rockies. Hotels dot I-70 as it cuts through the 764-square-mile stretch of suburbia that runs from the city into the mountains, but at the intersection with Kipling is a cluster of seven budget-savers that travel websites warn tourists away from. The hotels advertise low prices—ranging from $36 to $89 a night—on neon signs next to gigantic flags that whip in the Front Range wind. Most offer even lower weekly or monthly rates. The Ramada is farther from the frontage road than the other hotels and is harder to notice, with its plain yellow stucco and dimly lit red sign.  

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