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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Many of these protests this week have had more white people than the protests five years ago. How do you think that is or is not likely to change the movement?
To be honest, it’s not that hard to protest. It’s not that hard to go someplace. And it doesn’t mean that it’s not important. It doesn’t mean that it’s not critical. But that’s not the hard thing we need from people who care about these issues. We need people to vote, we need people to engage in policy reform and political reform, we need people to not tolerate the rhetoric of fear and anger that so many of our elected officials use to sustain power. We need the cultural environments in the workplace to shift.
Black people in this country have to live this very complex existence when they live and go to work and go to school in these spaces which are largely controlled by white people. They can’t really be their authentic selves. That means that there is this tension and there is this challenge, and at some point you get overwhelmed by that. And when these incidents of police violence take place, and people are killed, literally, on video, right in front of you, and the perpetrators are staring at you, you get angry and you want to express that anger.
It’s not just anger over what happened to George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery. It is anger about continuing to live in a world where there is this presumption of dangerousness and guilt wherever you go. I’m sixty years old and have been practicing law for thirty-five years. I have a lot of honorary degrees and went to Harvard. And I still go places where I am presumed dangerous. I have been told to leave courtrooms because the presumption was that I was the defendant and not the lawyer. I have been pulled out of my car by police who pointed a gun on me. And I can just tell you that, when you have to navigate this presumption of guilt, day in and day out, and when the burden is on you to make the people around you see you as fully human and equal, you get exhausted. You are tired. And I would argue that the black people in the streets are expressing their fatigue, their anger, and their frustration at having to live this menaced life in America. And that is not the same thing for white people who are supporting them. It doesn’t mean that white people shouldn’t be supporting them, but I don’t think it’s the proper focus of what many of us are trying to give voice to.
Executive Editor Allison Wright
Excerpt from “Bryan Stevenson on the Frustration Behind the George Floyd Protests” in the New Yorker
No, it is more like they are in the world and he has been cast out. (Now isn’t the time to explain why this is so, or to offer a biographical sketch of a black messenger in New York, or a grand theory of how the African became a captive and then a commodity, or detail the forms of servitude that conscript black life, or offer a picture of the enclosure, or explain why the bank is the threshold to the everything and nothing that is the Negro, the pieza de India, chattel, ambulatory real estate, which are the variants of his dispossession. To provide the reasons why or expound on such matters would be premature before the context of the story has been properly established, its author credited, the characters named, the scene arranged and the plot set in motion; and it would risk stating the obvious: he is not at home in the world. I could elaborate and provide additional elements, for example: he appears so small against the backdrop of the grand edifice, diminished by the solidity and mass of the granite structure and the frame of huge Doric columns, but these details are not provided in the story, so the steps as easily could be concrete and the bank without columns, in which case the mahogany doors at the entrance would have to suffice in conjuring the majesty of capital and empire. The navigation acts, international trade agreements, traffic in slaves, maritime insurance, stolen life and land necessary to harvest mahogany, to fell trees, to transport them to Europe and North America, and craft doors would stand in back of the beauty of the dark wood and the polished brass fixtures.)
Assistant Editor Heidi Siegrist
Excerpt from “The End of White Supremacy, An American Romance” in Bomb Magazine
Yaw nodded. He sat in his chair at the front of the room and looked at all the young men. “This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others. Those who were there in the olden days, they told stories to the children so that the children would know, so that the children could tell stories to their children. And so on, and so on. But now we come upon the problem of conflicting stories. Kojo Nyarko says that when the warriors came to his village their coats were red, but Kwame Adu says that they were blue. Whose story do we believe, then?”
The boys were silent. They stared at him, waiting.
“We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”
Editorial Assistant Dan Goff
Excerpt from Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi