The Sunday Post for April 16, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Going It Alone

I-walked–2,000-miles-and-lived-to-tell-the-tale is a genre full of clichés. Crushing physical discomfort? Check. Naïve decisions that lead to near-disaster? Check. Ultimate success and personal transformation? Check. Check check check.

Friend of SRoB Rahawa Haile’s story is different. Haile — black, Eritrean, queer — hiked the Appalachian Trail alone in 2016, covering thousands of miles of wilderness dotted with pro-Trump signs and Confederate flags. Those oases of “civilization” were more terrifying than rattlesnakes and switchbacks. So was her return to an urban world in which Donald Trump had been elected president.

Every day I eat the mountains, and the mountains, they eat me. “Less to carry,” I tell the others: this skin, America, the weight of that past self. My hiking partners are concerned and unconvinced. There is a weight to you still, they tell me. They are not wrong. My footing has been off for days. There were things I had braced for at the beginning of this journey that have finally started to undo me.

Also read: Haile’s incandescent short essay on carrying books by black authors and the weight of the present moment across all 2,000 miles.

How 'S-Town' Fails Black Listeners

Did you love S-Town? I did. Like Maaza Mengiste, I listened “with my own childhood experiences in mind” — a wealth of stories and memories from Jackson, Gulfport, Meridian, some beloved, some angry, some sad. That’s what S-Town is meant to do, Mengiste says: make us think about how we’re living, who we are.

What if who you are is a gaping absence in the story, though? What if who you are is black? Here’s what S-Town sounds like to that set of ears.

This podcast is supposed to be about all those things we do not know of a person, all those things that we cannot imagine that make up their totality. In producing this podcast, however, the creators made an assumption that rings false, that frankly, rings white: that it is possible to move through this land and simply tuck race into a corner until it's convenient.
Confessions of a reluctant gentrifier

Eula Biss lives in one of Chicago’s “most diverse neighborhoods,” which means she and her husband, both academics, are able to afford an apartment with a view of Lake Michigan. They are the leading edge of gentrification, and they dread the cultural and social losses that come with it. This will feel familiar to many Seattleites …

“Gentrification” is a word that agitates my husband. It bothers him because he thinks that the people who tend to use the word negatively, white artists and academics, people like me, are exactly the people who benefit from the process of gentrification. “I think you should define the word ‘gentrification,’” my husband tells me now.

I ask him what he would say it means, and he pauses for a long moment. “It means that an area is generally improved,” he says finally, “but in such a way that everything worthwhile about it is destroyed.”

Telling Right from Wrong

Yonatan Zunger has been reflecting on the definitions of “right” and “wrong” for several decades. He has some good, practical advice for determining which is which, or at least thinking more carefully about the question. And some very clear views on the real-world consequences of muddy ethical thinking.

I’ve been regularly surprised at the depth of people’s urge not to discuss things like institutional racism or sexism, or generational poverty, or how power imbalances in society mean that seemingly “identical” behaviors are in no way identical. But if you fail to understand this, then you will routinely engage in “identical” behaviors which are anything but — for example, expecting that someone move in with their family until they can get back on their feet, when not everyone has a family they can do that with. The harm you cause this way may be entirely surprising and unclear to you, because you never learned about the things which cause your actions to lead to it. But if you had the chance to learn it and didn’t, then the moral bill is on you.