In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.
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This past, the Negro’s past, of rope, fire, torture, castration, infanticide, rape; death and humiliation; fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone; doubt that he was worthy of life, since everyone around him denied it; sorrow for his women, for his kinfolk, for his children, who needed his protection, and whom he could not protect; rage, hatred, and murder, hatred for white men so deep that it often turned against him and his own, and made all love, and trust, all joy impossible—this past, this endless struggle to achieve and reveal and confirm a human identity, human authority, yet contains, for all its horror, something very beautiful. I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering—enough is certainly as good as a feast—but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are. That man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it knows, if he survives his effort, and even if he does not survive it, something about himself and human life that no school on earth—and, indeed, no church—can teach. He achieves his own authority, and that is unshakable. This is because, in order to save his life, he is forced to look beneath appearances, to take nothing for granted, to hear the meaning behind the words. If one is continually surviving the worst that life can bring, one eventually ceases to be controlled by a fear of what life can bring; whatever it brings must be borne. And at this level of experience one’s bitterness begins to be palatable, and hatred becomes too heavy a sack to carry. The apprehension of life here so briefly and inadequately sketched has been the experience of generations of Negroes, and it helps to explain how they have endured and how they have been able to produce children of kindergarten age who can walk through mobs to get to school. It demands great force and great cunning continually to assault the mighty and indifferent fortress of white supremacy, as Negroes in this country have done so long. It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate. The Negro boys and girls who are facing mobs today come out of a long line of improbable aristocrats—the only genuine aristocrats this country has produced.
Podcast Producer Robert Armengol
Excerpt from “Letter from a Region in My Mind” by James Baldwin
I drive on a dirt road in Northern Greece through the ruins and spectral presence of a once-great city. Behind it, cloud shadows move across steep, forested mountains. Small birds dart from bushes. Wind combs the grass. Chunks of limestone, quarried more than 23 centuries ago, protrude from the earth. In the passenger seat, talking and gesticulating, is an archaeologist named Angeliki Kottaridi, a slight, forceful woman in her early 60s with bright coppery-dyed hair.
She is the director of operations here at Aigai, the ancient royal capital of Macedonia, now protected by Unesco as one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe. This is where Philip II of Macedon, having conquered nearly all of classical Greece, built his monumental palace in the fourth century B.C. For too long, Philip has been regarded as a minor figure in ancient history, remembered primarily as the father of Alexander the Great. But Philip was a colossus in his own right, a brilliant military leader and politician who transformed Macedonia and built its first empire. At Aigai, it is Philip who looms largest among the ruins, even though the place was vitally important for Alexander too. Excavations have revealed that Philip transformed the ancient city, revolutionized its political culture, and turned it into a symbol of power and ambition.
Business Manager Diane John
Excerpt from “The King and the Conqueror” in Smithsonian Magazine
Impunity permits politicians and TV hosts to lie about whatever and the police to shoot rubber bullets at nonprotesters as if they were squirrels. Impunity is what brings black men as different and differently eloquent as the rapper-activist Killer Mike and the Princeton professor Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr. to anger and the verge of tears, in separate appearances before the media on Friday. They both embodied a sentiment of the protests. We’ve been trying to make this country great, but you won’t let us.
Black Americans have come in peace, they’ve come armed. They’ve just been trying to mind their business. Disappointment awaits, regardless. Anytime the racial temperature goes up and hell pays a visit to earth, the disappointment takes a holiday. And you fight. You fight because you’re tired. Yet you’re tired because you’ve been fighting. For so long. In waves, in loops, in vacuums, in vain.
Editor Paul Reyes
Excerpt from “The Videos That Rocked America. The Song That Knows Our Rage.” in the New York Times