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Randa Jarrar, Moral Grandstanding, and Forbearance

Posted: 22 Apr 2018 03:00 AM PDT

Last week, the Fresno State creative writing professor Randa Jarrar sparked the latest round of debate about free speech on college campuses when she reacted to Barbara Bush's death by speaking ill of the dead on Twitter. "Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal," she wrote. "Fuck outta here with your nice words."

In an unintentional echo of President George W. Bush's "with us or against us" moral logic, she declared, "PSA: either you are against these pieces of shit and their genocidal ways or you're part of the problem. That's actually how simple this is," adding the sentiment, "I'm happy the witch is dead. Can't wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million Iraqis have. byyyeeeeeeee."

If hate speech was not protected by the First Amendment, as some progressives contend, it would be necessary for us to probe whether or not it is hate speech to wish death on an entire family while cheering their matriarch's demise. Since there is no such exception to the First Amendment, the free-speech analysis is simple: Fresno State, a public institution, may not punish this professor for her politically incorrect speech, a conclusion that consistent free-speech advocates including David French of National Review, Robby Soave of Reason, and staffers at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education all reached.

That she is being investigated by her university is the latest illustration of the fact that free speech on campus requires vigilant defenders if it is to be conserved going forward.

Predictably, this case ha exposed inconsistencies on both the left and right. Some leftists who believe hate speech is not free speech have been conspicuously silent. And insofar as I've seen, there is no outcry from micro-aggression monitors taking Jarrar to task for holding a woman morally responsible for the actions of male members of her family, or pointing out bygone atrocities that counsel against using "witch," of all things, as a label for a woman one holds in contempt.

Meanwhile, on the populist right, some outlets that complain endlessly when the left tries to police speech on campus have published articles calling for Jarrar's appointment to be terminated.

Typically, this would be the part in an article about a controversy of this sort where I would grant that critics of the speech in question are understandably upset; make it clear that I myself find the speech in question to be offensive; and explain why I nevertheless oppose targeting the speaker's job for expressing it, whether in service of First Amendment rights or a culture of free expression.

Most of that holds in this case––I'm against punishing Jarrar, and in agreement with those who say that her behavior is grotesque, immature, and embarrassing (even if I find it exceedingly easy to simply grimace and move on).

But I am increasingly convinced that ending our analysis of these recurring free-speech dustups there lets another sort of damaging behavior go unremarked upon.

As an example, consider the Fox News opinion piece, "Professor celebrating Barbara Bush's death deserves to be fired," by Lauren DeBellis Appell, "a freelance writer in Fairfax, Virginia" who is probably a good, often thoughtful person. Yet despite offering no information about Jarrar beyond her ill-advised tweets, Appell characterizes her as "a radical and heartless university professor" and a "sick, twisted individual." She asked readers, "Does this English professor assign her students to write filth like this this, and give them bonus points for swearing? How on Earth did she get to be an English professor, anyway?"

This is a common mistake made by participants in social-media pile-ons: They erroneously assume a person's character and competence can—and ought to—be accurately judged by the most ill-advised words they post on social media. Rather than spend any time or effort investigating whether or not the offending remarks are actually reflective of typical behavior or indicative of work performance, they write articles in which they fixate on and amplify that worst moment while treating it as all one needs to know about a person.

That is irresponsible. Social media brings out the very worst in many people. Fixating on and amplifying their worst is a choice. Extrapolating from it is often inaccurate.

It's not too much to expect that adults will have the maturity to recognize as much. Yet growing factions on the right and left routinely engage in this behavior. They fixate on and amplify the most polarizing words in our society, not only when doing so is unavoidable, or serves some constructive function despite its costs, but even when the words in question are uttered by an otherwise obscure person, like a Fresno State creative writing professor, and when the better course is simply ignoring the words. In this case, ignoring the tweets would've restricted them to a fleeting moment in the Twitter streams of a tiny number of people. No one would've thought about profane Barbara Bush insults ever again.

Instead, critics deliberately made this a national story.

And most of the ostensible damage caused by Jarrar's remarks—the hurt caused to various people mourning the former First Lady, the hit to Fresno State's reputation, the polarization that hyperbolically insulting one another's tribal figureheads fuels—are inseparable from the people who could've ignored the tweets, or quietly criticized them in one Twitter thread, but instead took public umbrage and needlessly spread the words to millions of people. Their participation in call-out culture did no good and exacerbated harms.

Now consider some of the local reactions, as reported in the Fresno Bee.

Fresno State faces all sorts of enduring challenges; it's an imperfect institution. Yet, the paper reported, "Fresno State President Joseph Castro said he's been inundated with calls from community leaders expressing their outrage over Jarrar's tweets." Surely there are dozens of better uses of the time of these community leaders, and dozens of wrongs in Fresno that are more deserving of their outrage.

"As of Thursday none had threatened to close up their checkbooks if Jarrar isn't terminated," the newspaper reported. Two contrasting alumni viewpoints follow:

Los Banos farmer Joe Del Bosque, a 1975 Fresno State graduate, said the professor's tweetstorm won't dissuade him from donating to university projects, the student cupboard and scholarship funds. "I did read her comments, and I was rather dismayed by that," Del Bosque said. "I'm a big fan of Mrs. Bush, and I'm just a person who doesn't talk about things that way, but I don't see that as a reflection of the university."

...Ed Dunkel Jr., a second-generation engineering graduate from Fresno State… is taking a wait-and-see position. "But candidly, I have a lot of friends that I've been talking to, and these are people who donate now and talking about holding back, and some are even questioning whether to send their kids to Fresno State," said Dunkel, who has been recognized for his financial contributions as a member of the university's President's Circle for Excellence.

Joe Del Bosque is exhibiting more circumspection here. Fresno State serves more than 24,000 students at any one time. Its faculty exceeds 2,300 people. It offers undergraduate degrees in 60 fields. The decision to support it financially, or not, might reasonably turn on any number of factors, but the most ill-advised thing tweeted out by one of its faculty members is not one of them. By any rational standard, her tweets are totally marginal to the work of the institution, and seizing on them says as much about the loss of perspective many suffer when exposed to jarring moral difference than any defensible calculation.

Progressives who see the folly in withdrawing support from a large, important institution over a morally jarring opinion published by one of its employees can perhaps use this case to better understand why many, myself included, find it irrational and frustrating when some progressives threaten to cancel New York Times or Washington Post subscriptions over an opinion expressed by one of its many employees.

Jarrar behaved badly. I'm glad free-speech champions spoke up on her behalf anyway, recognizing the superior importance of the principle they are defending. But her case, and others where the ideology of the offender and offense-takers are flipped, are cause to reflect on more than just defending free speech.

Damon Linker counsels accommodating ourselves to the reality that "norms against employees engaging in offensive speech have become stricter in recent years, with many insisting that public statements that demonize any person or group be punished swiftly and severely, the better to send a stern message about the importance of treating bigotry and hatred of any kind as intolerable."

I am not an absolutist on this subject, but I do want to fight these new norms, because excesses of call-out culture have exploded alongside social media in this country.

I reject the logic that Americans should associate the brands of employers with the very worst thing pronounced by any of their workers, as if doing so advances social justice rather than fueling mob pile-ons and reactionary backlashes. And I increasingly value those who possess the virtue of forbearance.

With them as inspiration, it is time to revive some unfashionable ideas: Often, the best course is ignoring offensive words rather than fixating on them. Those who amplify offensive words often risk doing more harm than the offender. As a cumulative matter, excessive moral grandstanding has high costs—and even in making that point, we should recognize that most of us have the impulse within us and go easy on those who fall prey to indulging it. "The point of public moral discourse isn't to separate out the morally pure from the pretenders," Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke note. "It's to help us understand and address serious moral problems. Calling out individual offenders might make the accuser feel powerful, but it's unlikely to actually do much good."

The Party of Ike

Posted: 22 Apr 2018 03:00 AM PDT

I stood, not long ago, on a chilly, damp, and windy Korean hill at the edge of Demilitarized Zone. With 40 of my students and half-a-dozen faculty we were conducting what the military calls a staff ride—a kind of in-depth treatment of a campaign as a case study in leadership. Mine was one of the concluding talks, in which I played President Dwight D. Eisenhower, telling the American people on July 26, 1953 that the Korean War had ended. But, he reminded them "we have won an armistice on a single battleground—not peace in the world." His was a sober, moving tribute to America's allies as well as her soldiers, an expression of "sorrow and solemn gratitude," ending with a quote from Lincoln's second inaugural, "with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right."

Eisenhower's story has something to offer the beleaguered moderate conservatives of America. He was not particularly ideological, though he had core convictions; but his was a life that sets an example worthy of emulation and reflection. He was no Lincoln, but for American conservatives in the years to come he may be more appealing than Reagan, embodying as he did qualities of prudence, diligence, and broad-mindedness that are the antithesis of politics in the age of Trump.

Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end as he had achieved success throughout his military career, not through inspiration but unremitting and intelligent application to the problem. During the election campaign, on October 25, 1952, he administered a stinging but meticulously documented and factual critique of the origins of the war, and added the dramatic line: "I shall go to Korea."

And so he did, only a few weeks after the election. He ate chow with the soldiers of his old regiment, and most importantly climbed into the back seat of a two-man single-prop artillery-spotting aircraft and flew the length of the battle line, studying the cold, muddy hills that had so much blood now in their soil. No Secret Service agent today would possibly have permitted such a trip. It was vintage Eisenhower: He was going to understand this thing, and he was going to do so by seeing for himself.

Upon his return and on taking office he commissioned a major review of Korea policy by the National Security Council staff. The language of NSC 147 did not sing, but it looked at six different courses of action, weighed their pros and cons, and considered a range of possibilities up to the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Eisenhower's key foreign-policy and defense advisers deliberated fully over its recommendations. It was the kind of staff work that had, less than a decade before, enabled D-Day.

There was no stroke of genius that ended the Korean conflict: Stalin's death helped most of all, although broad hints, deliberately dropped, that the use of tactical nuclear weapons was being considered probably did not hurt. But end it Eisenhower did, without paying the Communists the price they hoped to exact for ending the war, namely, control of their soldiers who had been taken prisoner by United Nations forces and did not want to return to dictatorship.

Eisenhower's foreign policy was hardly beyond criticism: In retrospect, even he seems to have concluded that his harsh treatment of Britain and France over the Suez crisis may have been a mistake. His Atoms for Peace program was no help in limiting nuclear proliferation. But it was, on the whole, like the man himself, solid and sensible, grounded not simply in an American version of realpolitik, but in his understanding of a larger contest of values as well. "We failed to read and outwit the totalitarian mind," he told voters in October 1952, and "I know something of this totalitarian mind" because throughout World War II "I carried a heavy burden of decision in the free world's crusade against the tyranny then threatening us all."

Ike was a product of his time and place. His contact with Jews throughout most of his military career was limited, but in 1945 he made sure that Signal Corps photographers would record the images of the Nazi death camps. Almost immediately after the liberation of Ohrdruf camp he visited there, bringing along his senior leaders, including George S. Patton, who vomited at the sights. "I made the visit deliberately," Eisenhower said later, "in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda." He ordered the widest possible dissemination of the photographs.

He seems to have had racial attitudes typical of the Army officers of his generation. But when the governor of Arkansas attempted to block African American students from enrolling at Little Rock's Central High School, Eisenhower federalized 10,000 National Guardsmen and, to make the point crystal clear, dispatched a thousand paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division to enforce the court's ruling. The issue was rule of law, but it reflected as well his view that respect for individual rights and liberties was the bedrock of American values at home, and indispensable to our position abroad. "In this faith in human dignity is the major difference between our own concept of life and that of enemies of freedom," as he put it in 1954.

Eisenhower was no military genius. He handled the North Africa landings poorly; he held together the coalition that surged across France in 1944, but bears some responsibility for the vulnerabilities that the Germans exploited in the Battle of the Bulge. He had a fierce temper that he struggled to control. He was rumored to be unfaithful to his wife while serving as Supreme Allied Commander, and then, with a stunning coldness dropped his supposed mistress, Kay Summersby, upon his return to the United States. He did not always take the courageous stand, and was mute when Senator Joe McCarthy launched a particularly vile attack on General George C. Marshall, the man who had made Ike's career.

But overwhelmingly, he was a good man and a good president. His virtues were the virtues of hard work, discipline, judgment, and at its core, fair mindedness. He had an open mind, and he could reconcile personalities as difficult as those of Generals Bernard Montgomery and Patton. He could soothe and he could command. He knew the core of what made his America great, and he embodied many of those qualities.

The most moving and characteristic thing he wrote can be found on the National Archives website. It is the note he wrote on the eve of D-Day, in the eventuality that the landings failed. "Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have therefore withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone." Can one imagine Donald Trump writing that last line?

Eisenhower's greatest leadership quality was this ability to accept responsibility. At a time when it is acceptable for politicians to walk away from their jobs because they fear defeat or simply have something else they would rather do, when a draft-deferred president brandishes missiles but studiously avoids battlefield visits with the men and women he commands from Afghanistan to Syria, when America's rhetoric is one of invective rather than uplift, we need to be reminded what a real leader looks like. And for those of a conservative bent, that would be Ike.

A Cassandra Cry Against Pope Francis

Posted: 22 Apr 2018 03:00 AM PDT

Across every continent, in every country, Catholics "find themselves divided against one another," writes the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in his new book, To Change the Church. On one side stand the orthodox, who see doctrine and tradition as the best antidote to a changing world. On the other stand the liberals, who yearn for a Church that focuses on pastoring rather than enforcing rigid rules. This "widening theological and moral gulf," Douthat argues, is potentially "wider than the chasm that separated Catholicism from Orthodoxy, and later from Lutheranism and Calvinism."

That's a bold claim to make. After all, the schisms of East and West, Catholic and Protestant, were world-shaking, often bloody events. But in today's Church—and specifically in this pope—Douthat sees the possibility that the Roman Catholic Church will once again break apart.

Ostensibly, his beef is with Pope Francis, whom Douthat paints as an unyielding and stubborn manager who has spent his five years in Rome failing the clean up the Vatican's messes, hurling insults at conservative clerics, and pushing radical doctrinal changes without buy-in from major wings of the Catholic hierarchy. He writes skeptically about Francis's imagery and rhetoric of mercy, from pictures of the pontiff kissing a man covered in boils to his controversial declaration, "Who am I to judge?" about gay men searching for God. But at its core, Douthat's book is about a vast, pre-modern institution's halting evolution into modern times, and whether it can sufficiently adapt to maintain unified influence over 1.3 billion adherents spanning Africa to Asia to the Americas. "This is a hinge moment in the history of Catholicism," Douthat writes. While he is unlikely to change many minds about controversial Catholic issues or reshape people's opinions of the pope, Douthat is digging at a question present in every aspect of contemporary culture and politics: How can those who primarily wish to preserve their culture live in community with those who cheer for for inexorable change?

Douthat comes to this book with some baggage. In the U.S., he has been the most prominent lay voice of Francis opposition, rehearsing the argument for his book in the pages of this magazine and The New York Times, where he often writes about the pope with intense disdain. His focus is almost always on one topic: the pope's efforts to address issues related to family. Early in his papacy, Pope Francis convened two meetings of Catholic bishops, called synods. The pope seemed to feel that the Church had not figured out how to serve people whose lives don't fit the Christian ideal, from single moms to same-sex couples to those who have been civilly divorced and remarried. The format of the meetings was somewhat chaotic and very Francis, drawing on his Latin American background and the tradition of his order, the Jesuits: Small groups of bishops were assigned to meet and discuss a number of agenda items, discerning together how to answer these people's needs with doctrinal integrity.

From the start, there was controversy. Before the first synod was even over, Vatican leaders hosted a press conference and hinted at a surprising possibility: Local parishes might be able to determine when remarried Catholics can receive communion, even in cases that previously would have been denied outright. According to Douthat—or more specifically, the reporters he relies on—many bishops were shocked at what they saw as a unilateral decision by Francis and a few of his liberal supporters. In the days that followed, the disagreements played out in the press, and prominent clergy staged private interventions with their colleagues. By the end, the initial findings had been softened significantly. But even at the conclusion of the second synod the next fall, the implications of the meetings remained unclear. Ultimately, it was up to the pope to synthesize the bishops' findings.

Six months later, he did—sort of. Released in April 2016, Amoris laetitia, or "The Joy of Love," includes Francis's long reflections on familial love and a call for the Church to stay away from "a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage." Once again, the pope had invited controversy: The document stipulates that "it is possible that in an objective situation of sin … a person can be living in God's grace … while receiving the Church's help." In certain cases, the pope added in a footnote, this can include the "help of the sacraments," apparently suggesting that people in sinful living arrangements might be able to take communion. While many Church leaders welcomed this pastoral flexibility, others complained that it created ambiguity—"what is sin in Poland is good in Germany," wrote four conservative cardinals in a letter to the pope—or even directly violated the teachings of the Church.

Douthat was, and is, in the latter camp. He began tossing the word "schism" around. He published a scathing Times column accusing the pope of being the "chief plotter" in the Vatican's Renaissance-court-style politics. A large group of prominent liberal American clergy and theologians published a response letter, pointing out that Douthat does not have theological credentials, warning him of the seriousness of accusations of heresy, and arguing that his "view of Catholicism [is] unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is." Although Douthat's criticism of Francis is phrased more carefully in his book than it often is in his columns, his eye-rolling is still apparent: The columnist negatively compares Francis to President Donald Trump, dangles the word "heretic," and looks down on the pope's management style. One of Francis's favorite phrases is "make a mess!," Douthat writes. "In that much he has succeeded."

The outcry against Douthat has only intensified with the publication of this book. Left-wing Catholic writers have already begun lining up against him, contesting his narrative of the synods and lack of original reporting, which forces him to rely on anonymous insider details from a handful of Vatican watchers with varying degrees of ideological bias and credibility. "Would you buy or recommend a book on the American president written by a journalist who does not read/speak English, and does not know firsthand the USA and Washington, D.C.?" tweeted Massimo Faggioli, a liberal Catholic professor at Villanova and inveterate Church watcher.

Despite its limitations, Douthat's perch conservative gadfly changes the context of the book in two important ways. Although he spends an enormous number of words describing the insider-y twists and turns around Amoris, he writes with the mind of the columnist: The bigger stakes, about the potentially devastating consequences of change in an era dedicated to progress, are always in sight.

Second, he is not primarily writing as a Catholic authority or political pundit; he's writing as a parishioner. This grounds the book: Douthat is mounting not dispassionate analysis, but a personal plea. He offers a bit of psychological grist at the outset, acknowledging his lack of formal theological training and identifying himself as "the good bad Catholic or the bad good one, whose loyalty was stronger than his faith and whose faith was stronger than his practice, but who didn't want the church to change all the rules to make his practice easier because then what would really be the point?"

He is, in other words, someone sees doctrine—the teachings, the legal system, the bedrock principles grounded in text—as the animating force of Christianity. His book "assumes the Church needs a settled core of doctrine, a clear unbroken link to the New Testament and the early Church, for Catholicism's claims and structure and demands to make any sense at all." This is why he focuses so intently on issues related to human sexuality and marriage: These have become the primary symbolic battlefield for "larger and more comprehensive disagreements about the purpose of the Church, the authority of the Bible, the nature of the sacraments, the definition of sin, the means of redemption, the true identity of Jesus, the very nature of God."

While most Catholics might not disagree with Douthat's claims about doctrine outright, some—including the pope—would likely foreground their description differently. Catholicism, like any religion, is indeed a set of principles and writings and teachings, but it is also the lived experience of the body of believers—the church, little c. Lived religion is inevitably messier than doctrine; people's lives and human communities confound the kind of neat, logical boxes found in Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica or canon law. And Catholicism offers perhaps the richest examples of diversity within one tradition. From the folk saints of Mexico to charismatic worship in Kenya, Catholic communities often push the rigid boundaries of doctrine to find a religious expression that fits their distinctive history and tradition.

Pope Francis tends to privilege this story of lived experience and human communities when he talks about the Church. He often speaks about the need for clergy to have "the smell of the sheep," to go out and be shepherds among the dirty, sinful flocks of believers rather than becoming "sad priests … in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties," as he said during his first Holy Thursday mass as pope. He largely favors a Vatican II-style devolution of power, giving individual pastors and bishops some room to adapt to the particular needs of their communities. As Douthat puts it, rather saltily, Francis has "an affinity for the kind of Catholic culture in which mass attendance is spotty but the local saint's processions are packed—a style of faith that's supernaturalist but not particularly doctrinal."

In a roundabout way, the pope's pastoral orientation could be read as a response to the rise of nation states, capitalism, and globalization. The sheer scale of the Church strains against the imperative of doctrinal uniformity. As Douthat writes, the Church's influence over secular politics has declined sharply; the idea of papal states, or even a U.S. president being compromised by his loyalty to the pope, seems bizarre today. And the role of the bishop of Rome has become marketed "as the globetrotting do-gooder CEO of Catholicism, Inc." rather than spiritual father, Douthat argues: "Each pope is treated not just as the supreme governor of the church but as its singular embodiment, the Catholic answer to Gandhi or Mandela, the Beatles or the Stones." Francis's solution is to embrace a flexible, ecumenical spirit, both within Catholicism and without: It's no coincidence that he has put rapprochement with Roman Catholicism's closest cousins, the Lutheran and Orthodox churches, high on his priority list over the last five years.

The key, in all of this, is mutual recognition—maintaining enough of the core, distinctive elements of the faith to still feel spiritual kinship across these communities of vast difference. As Douthat points out, this recognition has been historically fraught within the Church, as when Pope Francis's own order, the Jesuits, battled the French Jansenists, who pushed a strict, ascetic interpretation of Catholic doctrine.

More recently, similar tensions over the challenges of modern life have divided non-Catholic Christian traditions, leading to tenuous truces filled with barely concealed enmity or, in some cases, outright schism: conservative Anglicans breaking with liberal Episcopalians over same-sex marriage; the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship leaving the Southern Baptist Convention over women in ministry. While the Roman Catholic Church has not gone through an analogous split, Douthat writes, "the likelihood of crisis, breakage, [and] schism [are] far too high to justify … blithe assumptions about inevitable continuity."

Douthat admits that there is "no vast army of restive Catholics ready to march out of their parishes in protest if their bishops or pastors [interpret] the pope's reforms in one particular fashion or another." A small, vocal minority of conservative clergy and bloggers are deeply unsatisfied with Francis, but they are just that: a small minority.

Here again, though, the stakes are potentially larger. Douthat sees Francis's pontificate as a missed opportunity to speak into this chaotic worldwide political moment, "to raise the Church's banner, to offer a distinctively Catholic sort of synthesis—one that would speak to the right's fear that the West's civilizational roots are crumbling and to the left's disappointment with the rule of neoliberalism." Instead, Douthat argues, Francis "has judged his church's conservatives harshly while confirming the fears that pushed many of them toward conservative politics in the first place—the fear that a left-wing Catholic politics is inextricably linked to revolution in theology as well."

Ultimately, Douthat's disagreement with the pope comes down to their competing visions for Catholic unity. Francis seems to believe the Church can best sustain its moral core by allowing flexibility around the edges of practice. But Douthat is adamant that doctrine is the moral core of the Church; too much flexibility, he says, leads not to fellowship, but fracture.

This matters, because unity matters in the Church—little c or big. Jesus calls on believers to be one flock in community together, and any loss of comity might be interpreted by some as evidence of human failure to make good on that vision. This pope will test whether it's possible to maintain connectedness among communities of incredible diversity in a time of immense change—or whether the politics of the day inevitably lead to tribal fights among the faithful.

The Island Where France's Colonial Legacy Lives On

Posted: 21 Apr 2018 02:22 PM PDT

Long before it became the first slavery memorial in the French West Indies, the Darboussier Sugar Factory powered France's Caribbean empire. In the 19th century, the 77,000-square-foot factory, located in Pointe-à-Pitre, the largest city on the butterfly-shaped island of Guadeloupe, exported goods produced by slaves to mainland France. In the process, it transformed the Lesser Antilles from a forgotten tropic into an economic El Dorado. Today, the factory, which was abandoned after France officially abolished slavery in its colonies in 1848, is known as Memorial ACTe. Strings of quartz, meant to represent the lost souls of the slave trade, crawl up its black-box-like exterior, embodying what has become the memorial's unofficial motto: Memory Inspires the Future.

Guadeloupe's colonial history began when Christopher Columbus first set foot on the island in 1493. It was passed from native Arawaks to Carib Indians to the Spanish until the French expelled them and slaughtered the local population, officially claiming Guadeloupe as a colony in 1635. In 1946, it became a French département, an ambiguous status giving the island a locally elected government that reports to the national government in Paris. The effort to build Memorial ACTe began 58 years later when Victorin Lurel, Guadeloupe's representative in the French Assembly, announced that the island needed a slavery memorial so that "the children of Guadeloupe [could] create a new humanism based on reconciliation and fraternity." The decision to build it on the site of the old factory was a symbolic gesture towards "rebirth," as Lurel put it.

But for some, the very idea of a slavery memorial in Guadeloupe is an odd gesture. Nearly three-quarters of the 405,000 people living on the island descend from West African slaves, but many have little connection to their ancestry. When slavery ended, former slaves were declared French citizens—yet no official record of their ancestors' arrival to the island exists. It was as if history had been wiped clean, plunging Guadeloupean society into a "cultural amnesia," as Jacques Martial, a French actor who is currently the chairman of Memorial ACTe, put it. "Everyone wanted to forget the past after 1848, and nobody could. Guadeloupeans were saying, 'Enough is enough. We cannot go forward and forget our ancestors.'"

Yet Memorial ACTe, which today receives up to 300,000 visitors a year—nearly all of them foreign—has been a source of controversy since its inauguration on May 10, 2015. On that day, François Hollande, then the president of France, toured the memorial and declared that "France is able to look at its history because France is a great country that is not afraid of anything—especially not of itself." But outside the memorial, the mood was anything but reflective. Protestors had gathered, chanting: "Guadeloupe is ours, not theirs!" Most of them regarded the presence of a French president, especially one inaugurating a slavery memorial, as an extension of France's colonial legacy. Others demanded not a memorial, but reparations: Most of the cost of the memorial had been paid out of local tax revenue, according to the European Commission—a steep price in a place where the average salary is less than 1,200 euros a month. For many Guadeloupeans, the memorial offered France an out, a way of exonerating itself from the bloody legacy of a 200-year slave trade without grappling with the past, as Eli Domota, the leader of the labor union Liyannaj Kong Pwofitasyon (LKP), or Alliance Against Profiteering, told me.

Sidestepping the past also appeared to be the preference of Emmanuel Macron, the current president of France. Last November on a trip to Burkina Faso, another former French colony, he gave a speech in which he argued that France's imperial history should not shape his government's current relationship with the country. "Africa is engraved in French history, culture and identity. There were faults and crimes, there were happy moments, but our responsibility is to not be trapped in the past," he said. On a trip in December to Algeria, another former colony, Macron visited President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and urged the country's youth "not to dwell on past crimes." In March, he said that French should be the official language of Africa, because it is the "language of freedom." His first and only visit to Guadeloupe came after Hurricane Irma, when he pledged that France would pay 50-million euros of aid and provide Guadeloupeans with free flights to France. But locals criticized his visit, saying that white tourists were given priority access to emergency supplies. Macron has not visited the Caribbean since.

Among Guadeloupeans, then, there remains a fundamental tension over how to navigate their "French" status—especially on an island whose local economy caters almost entirely to French tourists. Whether Memorial ACTe has helped resolve that tension is an open question. But the opposition to it has revealed two contrasting visions for Guadeloupe's future: continued unity with France, or complete autonomy from it.

***

Not unlike Puerto Rico for America or Anguilla for Britain, Guadeloupe is France's modern colonial problem. Guadeloupeans have French passports, can travel freely within the European Union, and can vote in French elections. (In the last presidential election, Guadeloupe's abstention rates were higher than 60 percent.) Outside of the classroom and outside of the cities, Creole is the unofficial language. Guadeloupeans follow the French legal and political system; in school, they learn from the same curriculum as students in mainland France.

But few in Guadeloupe enjoy a quality of life comparable to that of mainland France. Although Guadeloupe receives 972 million euros from the EU each year, its youth-unemployment rate has hovered around 50 percent for decades. Much of the local economy is still controlled by békés, descendents of white French slave owners who received reparations from the French government after 1848 after losing their livelihoods.

The discontent black Guadeloupeans feel towards France dates back to the 1950s. In those years, a number of black Guadeloupeans, Martiniqueans, and French Guianans, emigrated to mainland France in search of work. But many returned home, disenchanted by the lack of opportunity. At the same time, violent anti-French separatist groups began to form, headquartering in Guadeloupe. Support for them grew through the 1960s and 1970s. Spray-painted local Creole slogans like "French Assassins" and "Frenchmen Out" appeared in Pointe-a-Pitre. In 1980, after setting off 15 bombs over nine months, the Guadeloupe Liberation Army issued a warning to all white French people on the island to "pack their bags and leave." The French government began to panic, and enforced new laws for all its départements: Anyone who threatened the "territorial integrity" of France was subject to arrest. Undercover police began heavily surveilling suspected activists, forcing many into exile.

In 2009, Guadeloupeans staged a protest over exorbitant oil prices, which are determined by France. Soon, the protests morphed into a 45-day national struggle against colonial exploitation. Led by Domota, the leader of the trade union, 100,000 people took to the streets, many chanting what became the movement's slogan: "Guadeloupe is ours, not theirs!" (It would be heard again on the day of Memorial ACTe's inauguration.) Soon, Guadeloupe's international airports shut down. The Sarkozy government sent 500 soldiers to quell the situation, further aggravating protestors. One died. By the end of March, Sarkozy summoned labor leaders from Guadeloupe to Paris to negotiate a 120-point reform plan that granted workers higher wages—but not independence.

Yet, as Yarimar Bonilla argued in her book French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment, the 2009 protests did more than channel a growing frustration with France: They sparked a major shift in the Guadeloupean political imagination. What was both du jamais vu (never seen before) and de l'impensé (unimaginable) was suddenly a living possibility. What began as a growing resentment towards what many local workers referred to as la pwofitasyon—a Creole expression referring to abusive colonial power, profit, and exploitation by the French—grew into a "strike that addressed the lingering social legacies of colonialism and slavery, particularly the racial hierarchies that persist on the island and the discrimination felt by local workers," Bonilla wrote. Though the strikes did little to alter Guadeloupe's status as a territory of France, the movement made it clear that a growing number of Guadeloupeans weren't just dissatisfied with being deemed French. They wanted mainland France to change how it saw them.


When I came to Pointe-a-Pitre last February to learn more about France's racial history, I initially found little evidence of its violent past. The city was a modern labyrinth of colossal concrete apartment buildings, paved highways, and hybrid cars rented by tourists heading in every direction towards the island's virginal white beaches. But an underlying discontent, if not resentment, towards France, seemed to persist. "The Guadeloupeans are like the people in Paris' banlieues," a taxi driver explained to me, using a pejorative term for the slums outside of Paris that house mostly immigrants. "Except with warm weather."

Built just off the bay of Pointe-a-Pitre, Memorial ACTe is a massively modern two-story structure, with gleaming wiry beams and a series of statues outside. On my three-hour guided audio tour of the memorial, an American-accented voice told me the story of the first French people to arrive in Guadeloupe in 1626 to establish a trading colony. The tour included a series of interactive virtual maps and props, including various types of whips and shackles. The memorial's exhibition was divided into six rooms, featuring work from internationally reputed black artists like Kara Walker, Shuck One, and Abdoulaye Konaté.

But when it came to the memorial's depiction of the present, the narrative seemed to recede: A single dark room featured flickering abstract images of "present-day Guadeloupe" filmed by Nicolas Mérault, a Guadeloupean graphic designer. I watched a screen that showed water slowly trickling over an unknown face. The next screen showed a dilapidated building, with a few birds perched on its balcony. The room offered no questions, no explanations, no words.

Museums and monuments can serve to consecrate history, and play a vital role in citizenship itself. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her book The Human Condition about World War I memorials: "The erection of the monuments [was] to the 'unknown,' to all those whom the war had failed to make known and had robbed thereby, not of their achievement, but of their human dignity." But the boundary between past and present can be ambiguous. For many who live in Guadeloupe, the past that Memorial ACTe seeks to commemorate is still very much living in their present.

"Memorial ACTe should be burned," Domota told me when I met him at his headquarters in Pointe-a-Pitre. To him and his roughly 80,000 followers, Memorial ACTe was a way for France to control, or suppress, the local culture. "All countries need museums," he explained. "But France wants to recreate history. They built Memorial ACTe just to rewrite colonial history to make us Guadeloupeans think they always loved us, they still love us, and that we should forget the past."

Yet, it is precisely a remembrance of the past that lies at the heart of Memorial ACTe's founding ambition. As Jacques Martial told me: "Les colons, the ancient slave owners, didn't want to remember what happened. But we couldn't forget." When I asked him about Domota's criticism of Memorial ACTe, he grew frustrated. "We need new answers, new ways of understanding, of making connections, not accusing each other. We are not children here. Domota's way is not the way forward. How can you pretend to educate people without telling them what happened?"

Domota said that the French had abdicated their right to tell their history of slavery—not to Guadeloupeans, at least. "Macron is not responsible or guilty of colonization, but he is an heir of it," he said. "France cannot move on from a crime that it's still benefitting from." To him, Guadeloupeans didn't need an apology or a memorial, but a chance to live in independence: to have the right to vote and legislate locally, build a grassroots economy, speak their own language, and learn their own history. "Slavery has not ended," Domota said. "We are still France's modern slaves."

Salad Panic

Posted: 21 Apr 2018 12:47 PM PDT

These are nervous days for salad enthusiasts. The green, beating heart of the American salad, romaine lettuce, has been ripped from shelves and refrigerators at the insistence of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to a small but potentially serious outbreak.

On Friday the same agency that has long urged people to eat more leafy greens issued an alert to Americans: "Do not buy or eat romaine lettuce at a grocery store or restaurant unless you can confirm it is not from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region."

This is not always easy to do. The warning calls to mind the ongoing issue that most of us have no idea where our food comes from—a screed for another day. But for now, Yuma is the region to which officials have traced a potentially deadly E. coli fecal bacterial contamination in the supply chain.

Over the course of the past month, at least 70 cases have been reported to the CDC. None have yet proven deadly, but the potential is there. The contaminant is a notorious strain of E. coli known as O157:H7. This is the only strain of E. coli most doctors can name, and they take it seriously. So far the numbers are limited, and no deaths have been reported. But 31 people have been hospitalized, according to the CDC. Five of these have developed the most feared complication, known as hemolytic-uremic syndrome, in which a person's immune system is triggered by the infection and inappropriately targets the body's own red blood cells, leading to kidney failure and, potentially, death.

Awkward questions arise when people are told that eating something as innocuous as romaine lettuce could cause their kidneys to shut down and their bowels to hemorrhage. And the warning is not in reference to the sketchy lettuce that one might purchase in a back alley or in a small plastic bag at a nightclub. The lettuce in question has been sold in restaurants and packaged in reputable groceries.

By Friday evening this news was the most popular story at national outlets like Time and The Washington Post—the latter having sent a push alert to readers' phones. All around the streets of New York I felt uncertainty in the eyes of people wondering what this all means. The sidewalks were littered with discarded romaine, some residents of the West Village having simply opened their windows, torn open the bags, and let it rain onto the streets below.

No, this part I imagined—but I couldn't have been the only one. The national imagination was running wild on Twitter. This would have never happened with a story telling people that salad remains a good and healthy food option. Fear, though, brings attention. Moments that capture the collective consciousness like these can sometimes be good opportunities to take stock of how we're allocating our own attention and fear. As potentially significant as this outbreak could be—and I don't mean to minimize it—it pales in relation to known, ongoing, preventable dangers.

At the moment the utility of this story may be to jolt us out of complacency about the kinds of risks we come to accept as background noise. In just the last few months, influenza has killed 156 kids in the United States. Around 10,000 Americans have been killed already this year in automobile crashes. We're all more likely to be harmed or killed in our cars on the way to the store to buy lettuce than by the lettuce itself. We are all more likely to be harmed by the air pollution caused by driving cars to get the lettuce. Driving cars is a tremendous and serious health risk which most of us could do a lot more to avoid. Push alert.

North Korea Is Not De-Nuclearizing

Posted: 21 Apr 2018 09:34 AM PDT

Over the past four months, North Korea has been saying all the right things. After weeks of silence regarding his intentions for upcoming summits with South Korea and the United States, Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, made a dramatic announcement on Saturday morning, pledging unilateral limits on his nuclear weapons and missile programs. Though the announcement has been widely hailed as encouraging—President Donald Trump declared it a sign of "big progress"—it does not, in fact, set up a path to denuclearization. It does, however, open the door to capping Kim's arsenal, keeping America and its allies safer while talks are underway.

Speaking before the central committee of his country's governing party, Kim described six so-called "decisions" on nuclear-weapons policy. These included a declaration that North Korea was satisfied with its existing nuclear warhead designs, and that it had discontinued all nuclear and intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) tests and closed its nuclear test site at Punggye Ri. Kim also announced that North Korea would suspend nuclear testing, and reiterated his commitment not to use nuclear weapons "unless there is [a] nuclear threat," and to stop the proliferation of nuclear technology. In addition, he said that North Korea would concentrate on developing its economy and improving dialogue with neighboring countries.

Suspension of nuclear and ICBM testing would represent significant restrictions on North Korea's nuclear activities. But these are proposals to shape the arsenal rather than eliminate it—meaning that North Korea still has yet to say anything publicly about its intent to denuclearize. While Kim did say that Pyongyang supported the vision of "global disarmament," this is a common trope in North Korean propaganda and suggests that North Korea will soon call for tit-for-tat arms control with the United States.

All this implies that Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign has not brought Kim to heel. Instead, Kim essentially made a declaration of his regime's nuclear policy—the act of a confident nuclear power.

In truth, Kim's announcement represents an opening bid that would allow him to keep his nuclear and missile forces intact. Despite his claims, North Korea has not, by most military and technical standards, created an advanced, survivable, reliable arsenal. Suspending testing would effectively prevent the deployment of new, more efficient, or more compact warhead designs.

But Kim's proposed cap is only partial. He has said nothing about North Korea's production of fissile material, which continues today at a frightening pace: The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has found that North Korea may be producing enough material for 12 nuclear weapons each year. In his speech, Kim made no mention of submarine-launched missiles, or of short- or medium-range missiles fired from land, which could threaten U.S. allies in the region. Furthermore, North Korea may circumvent its own limits simply by re-classifying long-range missile tests as space launches, a trick it pulled to scuttle the most recent agreement back in 2012. There are signs of ongoing work on a satellite launcher based on its most advanced ICBM, the Hwasong-15. In short, even if North Korea adheres to the commitments it just set out, it could still produce and test more warheads and missiles.

Furthermore, North Korea may not adhere to these commitments—it's easy to break a self-enforced, unverified moratorium as soon as that moratorium becomes inconvenient. Pyongyang could reverse any of its commitments at a moment's notice, just as it did in 2006 when it broke a 1999 moratorium on missile launches.

The key for Trump in his upcoming meeting with Kim, then, will be to convert these commitments from a partial cap to a hard cap. To do so, American negotiators will have to to codify, clarify, and verify Kim's proposed limits during the summit. This means imposing limits on all missile tests, including satellite-launch vehicles and fixed-engine tests. Putting a hard cap on the program would make Americans safer if negotiations on a comprehensive agreement drag on into the summer and fall.

Aside from Kim's commitments to limit testing and launches, his pledge to refrain from proliferating nuclear technology is perhaps the most intriguing. If this commitment could be verified, it would deflate much of the case for military action and assuage one major U.S. concern about North Korea's nuclear-weapons program.

Yet, the commitment itself is hardly worth the paper it is printed on, as North Korea has previously proved willing to export reactor designs and expertise to Syria. Pyongyang would have to surrender sensitive information about the location and purpose of its nuclear facilities so that U.S. intelligence agencies or international inspectors could narrow their search rather than inspect every piece of cargo that crossed North Korea's borders. If the United States and North Korea could agree to such limits, this would represent a major accomplishment.

With his announcement on Saturday, Kim unveiled measures that many observers were hoping for as outcomes at the upcoming summit with Trump. But the United States cannot accept these measures as a victory—they're a starting point for forging a verifiable cap on Pyongyang's arsenal. A hard cap can keep America and its allies safer while Trump negotiates a more comprehensive agreement—something that can only happen if the president does not give in to overconfidence and optimism.

Remembering Peter Claeys

Posted: 21 Apr 2018 12:43 PM PDT

I was very sorry to learn this week that Peter Claeys, whom you see in action above and in the family photo below, had died recently in Lille, at age 62. With his  family's permission, here is their announcement, followed by my appreciation:

A notice from the family of Peter Claeys, in Belgium.

Read On »

How the Pulitzers Chose Kendrick Lamar, According to a Juror

Posted: 21 Apr 2018 09:28 AM PDT

When violinist Regina Carter heard that Kendrick Lamar had won the Pulitzer Prize for Music, she was taken aback. "I was actually a bit shocked!" she says.

Her reaction wasn't unique—the award for Lamar's Damn is the most discussed prize in the category in years—but she at least had some warning: Carter served on the jury that selected the finalists for the Pulitzer. Still, after she and her peers sent the finalists on to the final jury, she didn't learn who the winner was until Monday, along with everyone else.

As Spencer Kornhaber wrote, the decision to give the award to Lamar raises a host of provocative questions. Less provocative, but fascinating, is how the jury came to its choice. Carter was one member of the panel, along with music critic David Hajdu; Paul Cremo of the Metropolitan Opera; Farah Jasmine Griffin, a professor of English and African American studies at Columbia University; and composer David Lang. Carter, a distinguished and fiery violinist, represents the jazz world, though she has a foot in classical, as well: In 2001, she was chosen for the rare honor of playing Paganini's violin. Carter also won a MacArthur "Genius" grant in 2006.

Jazz, though sometimes called America's classical music, was snubbed by the Pulitzers for years, including a notorious decision by the board to decline a special citation for Duke Ellington in 1965. In 1997, trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis won for his work Blood on the Fields, and since then two other jazz musicians, avant-garde saxophonists Ornette Coleman and Henry Threadgill, have won. Carter was also on the jury in 2016, when Threadgill won. Given how long it took the Pulitzers to recognize jazz, I was eager to hear Carter's thoughts on the importance of recognizing hip-hop, as well as how the jury approached Lamar's album. This interview has been condensed and edited for length.


David A. Graham: How does one become a member of a Pulitzer jury?

Regina Carter: I got an email invitation asking if I would want to serve. They explain the whole process. I was on two years ago. That was my first time. Then I got a call again for this past jury. But I don't know! It's not something you can apply for.

Graham: What is the process of judging?

Carter: We're listening and watching. Sometimes it's scores that we're looking at, sometimes listening, sometimes there's video to accompany. If it's an opera, we might have the libretto if there is one present to consider as well. We're there all day for three days. You kind of have to go through a "Does everyone agree on this? Does not everyone agree on this?" process, and if a majority of people don't agree on one, then that doesn't come back into the second round. The next one, maybe four out of the five people, that stays in. You're narrowing down the works. And then you just have to start talking about why you think a piece is strong, what about the piece. You listen together. Sometimes just hearing someone else's perspective of what to listen to or what they heard or sometimes reading the libretto or sometimes just taking a fresh listen to it, you hear something else that maybe you didn't hear before, and sometimes not.

Graham: I assume you heard Damn before judging. Were you familiar with it?

Carter: I heard it. It's not something I'm playing always in my home. I am probably more familiar with Kendrick Lamar from To Pimp a Butterfly. I remember walking in—and here I am, an older person, it's not really my genre of music. But I walked in and I think it was a video or something on TV and my husband was checking it out. I was like, "Oh, who's this?" He's like, "Kendrick Lamar, check it out, he's pretty prolific." I just sat down and it was like wow. I just felt like what he had to say and how he would say it, you had to really sit down and think about it and what does it mean for me? It might mean something completely different for someone else that's listening to it. I felt like it was his experience as a black man in America—and a lot of peoples' story, not just his story—and just trying to figure stuff out. It's so poetic. I felt like if you took his lyrics and put them in a book, it would be great literature.

Graham: David Hajdu said the jurors talked about hip-hop-influenced work, and then moved toward simply choosing a hip-hop piece. Was that how you recall it?

Carter: I guess so. It was just this piece, this project was there for us to listen to. For some of us it was the first time hearing it. I love the fact that everyone took the time if they weren't familiar with it, they took the time to really listen to it and then come back and talk about it. Sometimes you can get folks from certain genres that can be—it's kind of a high-brow attitude that hip-hop isn't music. But it's an American art form. It needed to be included. Once listening to this, everybody knew that this was a distinguished piece of work that should be included.

Graham: Do you get many submissions from rap or other popular genres?

Carter: This year I was surprised that there was more of a mixture. There were some kind of country and western–sounding pieces. Some pop pieces, pop-sounding pieces, some other black American music was submitted. I'm sure now in the future more people will submit. There was more than there had been two years ago, and definitely if you think about 1997 was the first year that jazz was nominated, with Wynton's piece Blood on the Fields. Before that it was pretty much European classical.

Graham: Was the infamous 1965 snub of Duke Ellington on your mind in choosing Lamar?

Carter: I wasn't necessarily thinking of that. It's probably more so on my mind now because of what's going on in this country politically and just the ugliness of people—the intolerances that people have of each other and of each other's cultures and music. It wasn't a decision of, Oh, let's just give this to a hip-hop artist, or to Kendrick Lamar, because of that. The piece stands alone. I think it's a brilliant, brilliant work. I think he's brilliant. Knowing that we were considering this, I felt really proud of us, the jurors, being able to realize that there's other great American music and great American art forms besides what we've always been told is great.

Graham: With a rap record, you have various people involved—the MC, but also producers, beat makers, and so on. Did that factor into the calculation?

Carter: For me it wasn't. Although it takes all those people, I was looking at Kendrick Lamar as the one who's delivering. He's kind of the librettist, if you will, of this. I was looking at it as a whole piece.

Graham: One concern I've heard since the award, including from people who loved the decision, is that the Pulitzer helps to bring attention to classical and jazz works that would not otherwise be commercially successful. That's obviously not a problem for Kendrick. Is there a danger that classical and jazz will lose an important forum?

Carter: I can see why they might think that, but I'm sure the people who were on the Pulitzers prior to Wynton's win in 1997, the classical musicians when that was awarded thought the same thing. You don't have the same jury every time. I don't think there's a need to worry. Thinking of people whose work may not have been known, everyone knew who Wynton Marsalis was in 1997. I'm sure everyone's not even familiar with who Kendrick Lamar is. You might have heard his name floating on around on TV, but that doesn't mean you know who he is.

Graham: Or that you've listened to him seriously.

Carter: Right. So I don't think that's an issue. Just the fact that this record was nominated, it was granted a Pulitzer—it says that this is a part of the American art form. Not that hip-hop needs that, but just because some people may look down on it. I remember how when I studied European classical music and then I switched to jazz, my teacher looked down, and said, "Oh, that's not real music." When you have that attitude toward a specific art form, you have that attitude toward the culture from which that comes. That's why winning a Pulitzer is saying, you know, take a minute and if you can open yourself up to try and listen to this. You might not like it. You don't have to like it. But you can't even make that decision if you've not respected it enough to listen to it.

Graham: Did you expect the outpouring of attention this has received?

Carter: I found out when we all found out, watching it. I was actually a bit shocked! But happy. We submit works, and then they pick from that. I wasn't sure how people were going to react. I thought there was going to be a lot of anger, or a lot of negativity, and I was quite happy to see that there was more positive reaction.

When Calling the Police Is a Privilege

Posted: 21 Apr 2018 08:51 AM PDT

The call was brief, and had the relaxed feel of someone making a reservation at a restaurant.

"I have two gentlemen at my cafe who are refusing to make a purchase or leave," the manager of the Starbucks told the 911 dispatcher. She calmly gave her address, and after being reassured that law enforcement would be on the way shortly, she thanked the dispatcher and hung up. The call, of which audio was released by the Philadelphia police department, lasted roughly 20 seconds.

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, the two men, both black, did not know the manager had called the police. They say that only a few minutes had passed between when they entered Starbucks and when they were surrounded by Philadelphia police officers.

Americans, on the whole, make millions upon millions of calls to 911 each year requesting police assistance. But there are differences in who makes such calls, and for what purpose. That's in part because black Americans have a much more contentious relationship with police officers than white Americans—and that has a pronounced impact on the differences in the tendency to seek help or report crimes.

Black people are less likely to call the police than white people. According to federal data on requests for police assistance from 2011—before many of the high-profile killings of black Americans that are etched into the collective national memory—black Americans were slightly less inclined to call police for help than their white counterparts. The data hint at the result of that estimation black people make daily: Whether involving police will help a situation or make it worse. Marginalized communities do not feel confident in reaching out to the authorities that are created to protect them—and that is extremely problematic.

Other research shows more pronounced distinctions. The tendency not to call the cops among those in the black community is exacerbated after reports of police violence. Research published in the American Sociological Review by the sociologists Matthew Desmond, Andrew Papachristos, and David Kirk has shown that "police misconduct can powerfully suppress one of the most basic forms of civic engagement: calling 911 for matters of personal and public safety."

The researchers examined police calls in Milwaukee neighborhoods in the aftermath of the brutal beating of Frank Jude. They also examined calls following the killing of Sean Bell in Queens, New York, in 2006; the assault of Danyall Simpson in Milwaukee, in 2007; and the killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland in 2009. The number of calls to police in black communities dropped following each of these incidents, with the exception of Grant's death. In each instance, it took a year for crime-reporting to return to previous levels.

It's understandable that communities enduring a disproportionate share of police violence are skeptical of authorities. But that can create a cycle where some communities and individuals refuse to report crimes, and thus crime is harder to suppress. This is not because safety isn't valued, but because of the fear that  involving police could make an already bad situation worse. As the journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones put it, "many of us cannot fundamentally trust the people who are charged with keeping us and our communities safe."

White communities don't seem to make similar calculations when calling the police. In the Milwaukee study, white neighborhoods did not see a similar dip in crime-reporting following the high-profile and local events involving police violence. That makes sense given white people have not had the same difficult relationship with police and state-sanctioned violence, making them less likely fear harm by police. For black people, an examination of that history can easily discourage someone from picking up the phone—even when they're in need of help.

In the days following the Starbucks incident, several people, including Karen Attiah of The Washington Post and Jason Johnson of The Root, have noted that in case after case—black children at a swimming pool, a black Harvard professor trying to get into his house, and the latest, two black men waiting for a business meeting at Starbucks—white people have routinely called the police for situations that could have likely been resolved with a conversation.

In apologizing for the escalation at their store, Starbucks acknowledged that, in this instance, the call to police was excessive. "Now certainly there are some situations where the call to police is justified. Situations where there is violence or threats or disruption," said Kevin Johnson, the company's CEO, in a video. He then added that this was not one of them. And yet, the fact that such methods were resorted to is common. In fact, black people are more likely to say that their mere presence has made others suspicious, according to a report from Pew Research.

What makes this continued practice troubling isn't just that these calls appear unnecessary, it's also the fact that given the history of police brutality against communities of color, a white person's readiness to call the police—and ultimate decision to do so—is an invitation to end an otherwise mundane misunderstanding with the opportunity for violence. As the writer Gene Demby recounted during a conversation with Slate, "The police were called into this situation, as a colleague said, to mediate a misunderstanding, like they were RAs in a dorm and not armed agents of the state with broad discretion to use violence and detain people."  

In the absence of shared experiences, anecdotal evidence suggests that hindsight might be the best teacher for white people when it comes to understanding the unintended, and potentially deadly, consequences a 911 call might have. In hindsight, it's clear that the incident at Starbucks was a gratuitous escalation. But the type of hindsight that encourages someone to call the police assuming that they will be protected is a privilege—one that is still reserved disproportionately for white Americans.

Germany’s Unicorn Craze

Posted: 21 Apr 2018 10:30 AM PDT

Sometime in 2016, as Germany was reeling from disagreements over migration, politics, and national identity, the country received a magical visitor. The unicorn appeared on hats, liqueur bottles, cereal boxes, condom wrappers. By last summer, it seemed as much a part of the German landscape as bratwurst.

In Frankfurt, a stately painting of a unicorn overlooks the businessmen dining inside the Thurn und Taxis Palais, a restaurant near the seat of the German stock exchange. At a restaurant in Kreuzberg, Berlin's hippest neighborhood, a drawing of the creature plunging chopsticks into a bowl of bibimbap advertises food for unicorns. Someone on the Berlin subway has been altering the dogs allowed signs with a little horn to welcome fairy-tale creatures, too. This whimsical infatuation has made its way into the fictional world as well: In an episode of the hit German time-travel television show Dark, a dead body from the present era is revealed to have a unicorn tattoo. "I've seen some weird things," one of the investigators from the 1950s—the pre-unicorn era—says. "But this here definitely outdoes it all."

During the Middle Ages, unicorns represented purity; in many paintings and tapestries, they were paired with virgins. In Silicon Valley, unicorn famously signifies a particularly valuable start-up. Germany's unicorn craze seems to evoke something more basic. In a country that prides itself on its orderliness and rationality, the fanciful creature represents a means of escape.

"The unicorn promises harmony and friendship," says Peter Wippermann, a trend researcher who has now become something of a unicorn explainer. "It's a sign of optimism and hope." When we talked in February, he told me he was preparing to go on the radio to discuss unicorns.

He traces the beginning of the unicorn trend to November 2016, when the chocolate brand Ritter Sport launched a limited-edition unicorn candy bar, and a frenzied bidding war erupted on eBay. (A pack of 10 bars sold for 200 euros.) Since then, the big supermarkets have caught on to the trend. Last year, the chain Edeka started selling unicorn-print toilet paper—complete with cotton-candy scent. Several stores sold out. Online search queries for unicorns in Germany tripled from 2016 to 2017. Local press outlets refer to "unicorn fever."

The unicorn hasn't been claimed by a particular party or social group,

Wippermann told me. But as Germany's political situation has become rockier, the unicorn has remained a soothing symbol. According to the newspaper Die Zeit, both the left-wing Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) used the unicorn in the run-up to Germany's September election. One SPD campaign ad showed Martin Schulz, then the party's leader, on top of the mythical beast, below a colorful slogan announcing "Young power for Schulz." The CSU sold unicorn sneakers and T‑shirts, which substituted Munich's famous Olympic Tower for the animal's horn.

Following the election, a cohesive vision for the next four years of German politics proved elusive, and the two major parties have continued to squabble. Meanwhile, local papers reported, in the country's recent carnival celebrations, the unicorn was a favorite costume.


This article appears in the May 2018 print edition with the headline "Big In … Germany: Unicorn Fever."

The Family Weekly: Women of the Past and Future

Posted: 21 Apr 2018 04:30 AM PDT

This Week in Family

Caroline Kitchener, an associate editor at The Atlantic, wrote about how Millennial married couples are more likely than previous generations to split their finances. Joint bank accounts were once considered a mark of happy commitment, but now, as young couples get married later and establish careers of their own, they often keep their separate accounts. The couples Kitchener spoke with cited one reason more than any other: A joint account could paper over a woman's financial contributions to the relationship, at a time when more women are working than were in previous generations.


Other Highlights

As Annika Neklason, The Atlantic's archives editor, noted this week, a writer named Della D. Cyrus argued in the November 1946 issue of the magazine that the American family was in crisis. "The woman herself knows that she is the unhired help doing the hack work of the world," Cyrus wrote. "Men suffer because women suffer, and, suffering, cannot give them what they need and expect to find in the family." Read Cyrus's piece in full here, and for more commentary on the piece, as well as behind-the-scenes interviews, essays, and conversations, subscribe to The Masthead.


Dear Therapist

Every Wednesday, the psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb answers readers' questions about life's trials and tribulations, big or small, in The Atlantic's "Dear Therapist" column.

This week, it was a question from Matt, a 34-year-old man adopted at birth who used to have no interest in finding his birth family. That changed when he stumbled upon papers identifying his birth mother. "Having a daughter has given me an even keener appreciation for the pain my birth mother must have felt at surrendering her child, and I want desperately to reach out," he writes, but he worries about how to broach the issue with his adoptive parents. Lori responds:

Your empathy and generosity toward your family is palpable, but maybe some of that generosity can be directed toward yourself now. You say that you're "very disciplined mentally," which is sometimes a way that people manage anxiety or even early trauma that they aren't aware of. As they repress their own feelings, they become overly accommodating, always trying to take care of everyone else's feelings. But I'd like you consider this: You get to have your feelings, too.

Send Lori your questions at dear.therapist@theatlantic.com.