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December 07, 2011

Ta-Nehesi Coates: Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?

Must read. This piece is a culmination, for Coates, of months and months of work. He's been digging into narratives of the Civil War and studying the great big hole where the experience of black people in the war should be. It's the elephant in the room, only to acknowledge the elephant would be in a way to declare war again on the South, since so much of the Southern cultural narrative on the war paints their ancestors as misunderstood freedom fighters and not, say, as people going to war to preserve their right to own other humans and to treat them in terrible ways. Coastes has been teasing this apart on his blog for months and it's been utterly eye-openingly amazing. Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War? - Magazine - The Atlantic
For that particular community, for my community, the message has long been clear: the Civil War is a story for white people—acted out by white people, on white people’s terms—in which blacks feature strictly as stock characters and props. We are invited to listen, but never to truly join the narrative, for to speak as the slave would, to say that we are as happy for the Civil War as most Americans are for the Revolutionary War, is to rupture the narrative. Having been tendered such a conditional invitation, we have elected—as most sane people would—to decline. In my study of African American history, the Civil War was always something of a sideshow. Just off center stage, it could be heard dimly behind the stories of Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, and Martin Luther King Jr., a shadow on the fringe. But three years ago, I picked up James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom and found not a shadow, but the Big Bang that brought the ideas of the modern West to fruition. Our lofty notions of democracy, egalitarianism, and individual freedom were articulated by the Founders, but they were consecrated by the thousands of slaves fleeing to Union lines, some of them later returning to the land of their birth as nurses and soldiers. The first generation of the South’s postbellum black political leadership was largely supplied by this class. Transfixed by the war’s central role in making democracy real, I have now morphed into a Civil War buff, that peculiar specimen who pores over the books chronicling the battles, then walks the parks where the battles were fought by soldiers, then haunts the small towns from which the soldiers hailed, many never to return. This journey—to Paris, Tennessee; to Petersburg, Virginia; to Fort Donelson; to the Wilderness—has been one of the most meaningful of my life, though at every stop I have felt myself ill-dressed in another man’s clothes. What echoes from nearly all the sites chronicling the war is a deep sense of tragedy. At Peters­burg, the film in the visitor center mourns the city’s fall and the impending doom of Richmond. At the Wilderness, the park ranger instructs you on the details of the men’s grisly deaths. The celebrated Civil War historian Bruce Catton best sums up this sense when he refers to the war as “a consuming tragedy so costly that generations would pass before people could begin to say whether what it had bought was worth the price.” All of those “people” are white. For African Americans, war commenced not in 1861, but in 1661, when the Virginia Colony began passing America’s first black codes, the charter documents of a slave society that rendered blacks a permanent servile class and whites a mass aristocracy. They were also a declaration of war. Over the next two centuries, the vast majority of the country’s blacks were robbed of their labor and subjected to constant and capricious violence. They were raped and whipped at the pleasure of their owners. Their families lived under the threat of existential violence—in just the four decades before the Civil War, more than 2 million African American slaves were bought and sold. Slavery did not mean merely coerced labor, sexual assault, and torture, but the constant threat of having a portion, or the whole, of your family consigned to oblivion. In all regards, slavery was war on the black family. . . .

December 01, 2011

Siri the iPhone assistant won't tell you where you can get an abortion, but it will direct you to a pot clinic

People are understandably pretty furious about this. The AI will suggest misleading "crisis pregnancy centers" which are basically fake-out versions of Planned Parenthood that do everything in their power to talk you out of an abortion. 10 things the iPhone Siri will help you get instead of an abortion | The Raw Story
Ask the Siri, the new iPhone 4 assistant, where to get an abortion, and, if you happen to be in Washington, D.C., she won’t direct you to the Planned Parenthood on 16th St, NW. Instead, she’ll suggest you pay a visit to the 1st Choice Women’s Health Center, an anti-abortion Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) in Landsdowne, Virginia, or Human Life Services, a CPC in York, Pennsylvania. Ask Google the same question, and you’ll get ads for no less than 7 metro-area abortion clinics, 2 CPCs and a nationwide abortion referral service. Ask in New York City, and Siri will tell you “I didn’t find any abortion clinics.” It’s an experience that’s being replicated by women around the country: despite plentiful online information about actual places to get an abortion, Siri doesn’t seem to provide it. It’s a similar experience for women seeking emergency contraception: in New York City, Siri doesn’t know what Plan B is and, asked for emergency contraception, offers up a Google results page of definitions.