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Ann Friedman Weekly
A black and white photo shows people gathered on a stoop and standing on the street nearby
Harlem Tenement in Summer, 1935. Photo via The New York Public Library on Unsplash.   

This week
Today is a new official U.S. holiday, Juneteenth. Well, let's clarify: It's newly official, but not a new holiday. Historically, it's been a day for Black Americans to celebrate the end of chattel slavery in the U.S. (1619-1865) and "to be in community with other Black people—to come together and relax," as Tembe Denton-Hurst writes. As it transitions to a federal holiday, presumably one that will be celebrated by Americans whose ancestors were never enslaved, Jemar Tisby warns, "It is easy to imagine a facile narrative that develops around Juneteenth in which people essentially tell themselves, 'Slavery was bad. The 'good guys' won the Civil War. And now racism is over.' " 

Is it possible to nationally celebrate a historic triumph while also recognizing that triumph did not mark the end of the injustice at its core? Especially when some Americans continue to benefit from the power dynamics established way back then, and others continue to suffer from them? Our president seems to think it's possible. I am more skeptical. Our collective selective memory when it comes to commemorative holidays should speak for itself. The U.S. has never been great at nuance.

The fact that chattel slavery no longer exists but its core injustice lives on our modern-day laws and society is a truth contested in culture-war debates about which monuments we allow to stand, which names remain attached to our institutions, which histories we tell our children. For non-Black Americans, the federal Juneteenth holiday should not be received an invitation to relax at a cookout. For us, it is a challenge to do what we can to counteract that false, facile narrative. We honor the past by fighting for a true accounting of the present.

I'm reading
"Did my father ever know peace? Was he troubled by his life as a Black man in this country, or by his failures as a father?" A foster dad learns to make Frito pie. An excerpt from Krys Malcolm Belc's memoir of nonbinary parenthood. The disgrace of online school. On the meaning of Darnella Frazier's Pulitzer Prize for documenting police murder. 50 Black women have been killed by police since 2015, and none of the officers have been convicted. "I used to want to be loved by white people." A history of red velvet cake. Encounters with a cooking therapist. "Eating disorders are for white girls." Doreen St. Félix on "Ziwe." Interviews with Simone Biles, KelisRep. Marie Newman and her daughter EvieSlavoj Žižek. Remembering anti-poverty activist Pamela Rush. On famous people who insist on doing their own tweeting, and internet stars who are increasingly logging off. Against being a "real person" online. How memes became money. A dispatch from the Lying Flat resistance movement in China. U.S. culture-war politics are having a devastating effect on women in conflict zones. At an Illinois prison, evidence of abuse in a camera blind spot went ignored for years. On the line at a Cargill slaughterhouse. Bienvenidos a Miami, a sunny place for shady people. How to buy a work of art. How charts and graphs changed the way we solve problems. A visit to the liminal potato house, and a meet-n-greet with a truly special echinoderm. Shakespeare quotes rewritten for business school. A new short story by Brandon Taylor


Pie chart
How are we celebrating the longest day of the year? 20% Lying awake, replaying every shameful moment of our life; 15% Reruns; 15% Waiting for the edible to hit; 20% Holding a finger on the Instagram icon in an empty threat to delete it; 15% Contemplating some exercise; 15% Contemplating a shower
The Summer Ennui Pie

This pie chart appears courtesy of my paying members. If you're not one already, you can join them for just $15/year! That is mere cents per issue.

I’m looking & listening
A never-aired TV interview with James Baldwin from 1979. Alexandra Billings doing Bette Davis brought me a lot of joy. A Sparks documentary. It's time to get rid of the "ethnic aisle."

GIFspiration
A Black man in a Steelers jersey runs his fingers through the hair of a toddler in a Steelers jersey who's sitting in front of him
Shoutout to everyone who's a nurturing masculine presence in the lives of their loved ones.

Climate-Culture: The Earth is not your mother

This is the second in a series of micro-essays on the meeting of culture and climate by Shanti Escalante-De Mattei. Shanti is one of two inaugural AF WKLY writing fellows whose work is supported by paying members of this newsletter. -Ann

By Shanti Escalante-De Mattei
 

Back in the day—so far back, all the way back in the '70s—chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis came up with the Gaia hypothesis, which argued that all the world was a single, living organism. Lovelock would come to popularize this theory with his books, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, and then the later climate doomsday texts, The Vanishing Face of Gaia and The Revenge of Gaia. Lovelock’s theory collided with the feminist movements of the '70s and '80s, which had a keen interest in goddesses as a historical corrective to the mind-numbing wash of history’s many male figures, most of all God. They took up Lovelock’s theory because Gaia was divine—named for one of the primordial Greek deities—but also because she was obviously a woman. What is a woman but a body that is exploited, tortured, raped, forced to bear more than it can, but manages, despite all odds, to bring forth life? 

 

Eventually the hype waned, but this metaphor of the Earth as a divine mother has persisted. In 2017 two climate-fiction films came to theaters, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! and Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. Both films feature a beautiful, pure, white, blonde, woman who is pregnant, but because of the violence and narcissism of the men around her she struggles to keep her child. In First Reformed, Mary’s husband is a long time eco-activist, and when he discovers his wife is pregnant he suggests an abortion. Why bring a child into the world when we know what climate change has in store? Meanwhile in Mother! Jennifer Lawrence's character, Mother, has to run from mobs, bombs, bullets, and sex traffickers to find a safe place to give birth. Both movies culminate with the birth of a boy. 

 

There's a reason this story has stuck: It parallels one of the predominant narratives of Christianity, that of another woman who struggled to give birth to the savior of a hostile world. The Gaia myth and the Virgin Mary's story map onto each other so easily. She may be creative, but only insofar as she can birth the good man who will stop bad men. She heralds a coming change, but is not an agent of change in her own right. Her power is deferred to another generation. 

 

The persistence of the Gaia myth explains our collective obsession with the youth "solving" climate change. In a world wrought with sin we await a hero, and we just have to hold on a little longer. Gaia or Mary may not survive, but the species will. It is a comforting story because it is so familiar, and best of all, it tells us that it’s okay to move forward in a world beset by crises. We must refuse this myth, because it’s not enough anymore. It was never enough. We need a new mythology that will empower us to make the world safe for the next generations instead of leaning on the stories that ask the next generations to save us.

 

Find more of Shanti's work here, and follow her on Twitter.


Events
Tonight! I'm chatting with Danielle Henderson about her side-splitting, heart-ripping new memoir, The Ugly Cry. Join us.

July 14 - I'm talking with the great Jessica Hopper to celebrate the reissue of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. Come for her feminist lens on the mythology of grunge and the rise of emo; stay for a deep conversation about the importance of women-centered histories. RSVP here.

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Ann Friedman
AF WEEKLY

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