The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 9/13

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The internet was kinda sad this week and I didn’t like being on it. Highlights: The meaning of learning a new language, drinking with Nikki Giovanni and Tressie McMillan Cottom, Claudia Rankine, the unfinished story of Emmett Till, how it is expensive to be poor, philanthropy mostly helps the rich, Alicia Keys works with the NFL, the end of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, the west coast is burning, and Trump’s Supreme Court Justice picks. 

1. Lit Hub: The Wound of Multilingualism: On Surrendering the Languages of Home

I don’t speak another language. I took French in school, but I never kept up with it, and I’ve never needed to learn a new language like the writer Sulaiman Addonia has. “Learning a language as an adult or in your teens, especially with a history of repeated migrations between languages and countries, is extraordinarily difficult,” Addonia writes. “It isn’t just about swallowing new words like passion fruit that glides down your throat. It’s like chewing on stones breaking your teeth in order to seed the foundations of that new language on your tongue already heavy with many idioms.” 

Addonia has learned several languages and found homes in some. His first language was Arabic, and “to learn new words of English, I had to let go of some of my Arabic. It was like taking a hammer to the home I had built in the Arabic language word by word… The more I felt at home in English, the less Arabic felt like one. So much so that learning a new language was to acquire a new wound. Multilingualism meant multi-wounding.”

I don’t know if I could let go of a language, a home, the way that Addonia writes of learning a language—that is, after all, why he “resisted learning French and Dutch, instead isolating myself with Silence is My Mother Tongue, the second novel I was working on.”


2. Virginia Humanities: Have a Drink with Nikki and Tressie

This conversation! This conversation, before I even listened to it, immediately reminded me of Nikki Giovanni’s 1971 conversation with James Baldwin for the performance/variety TV station SOUL! from the 1960s–’70s. In that conversation, Giovanni was the younger of the two, and in this one, she is older than her co-host, the professor and author Tressie McMillan Cottom. Both conversations, however, feature fierce thinkers engaging in a deeply thoughtful, critical, and intellectual cross-generational sharing of knowledge and culture. 


3. Longform Podcast #409: Claudia Rankine

This interview is mesmerizing. As soon as Rankine started speaking I was completely captivated. Rankine talks about her new book, Just Us: An American Conversation, which explores what it means to be in conversation generally, and what it means to have substantive, transformative conversations about race. I appreciate this conversation because I am typically not interested in having conversations with white people—especially ones I don’t know—about race. I find the conversations exhausting with few to no substantive results, and usually the other party learns more than I do. Rankine gave me some things to reflect on. Not only is the content of this interview informative, but she speaks with the lyricism with which she writes. 


4. GEN: The Unfinished Story of Emmett Till’s Final Journey

Emmett Till and his story are indexical to the American psyche. The story—or at least what we were told—is known everywhere: Till, 14 years old in 1955, whistled at a white woman in Mississippi and was subsequently lynched by the woman’s husband and his brother, brutalized beyond recognition and found days later in the Tallahatchie River. In a trial, an all-white jury found the two men not guilty.

The true story of the chain of events leading to Till’s murder, however, is unknown. In 2017, it was reported that the woman, Carolyn Bryant, had fabricated her accusation. Many in that area of the Mississippi Delta did not speak about the crime for years after it occurred, whichhelped to maintain the region’s status quo of racial violence long after the end of Jim Crow, but it also meddled with history’s understanding of the crime,” writes Alexandra Marvar. “False testimonies at the trial and the murderers’ mostly fabricated narrative in [a 1956 Look magazine article] muddied any sense of what actually took place, where it happened, and who was involved in the crime.” 

Over time, “revisionist history grew inextricably entangled with the truth. So when locals decided it was finally time to commemorate Emmett Till’s life and death in the Mississippi Delta, there was as much uncertainty about how to tell it as there was resistance to telling it at all.”

All of the uncertainty around Till’s death has become part of the story, which is now marked with commemorative signs across the Mississippi Delta where parts of the story are thought to have taken place. It is a story that continues, and “as that story unfolds along the dirt roads of Tallahatchie County and the wisps of river and bayous between them, commemoration overtakes the whole landscape — a dynamic, living monument to Emmett Till’s final journey.”


5. Believer Magazine: Escapes and Trapdoors: Diversions From Life in Poverty

I haven’t read all of the stories in this series, which explores how “It’s expensive to be poor,” but what I have read so far is beautiful and meditative. Poverty is not only monetarily expensive, but “its psychic toll” is also a huge penalty. “Infrequently imagined outside of simplistic tropes of addiction and mental illness, the existential experience of economic hardship is less often an altered state than an alternate set of codes, routines, and perceptions.” These five essays are all “about navigating the realities and surrealities of life in poverty.” 


6. The Guardian: How philanthropy benefits the super-rich

Every few years I get a job in development and advancement—the counterpoints to philanthropy. While philanthropy is involved in giving money, the development and advancement departments of institutions court those donations and receive the gifts. One of the first things I learned in development is that making an ask for a gift can never be about you and why you are asking for money. If you want the gift, especially the big ones, you have to frame the ask as though it is benefiting the donor—and benefiting the donor more than it might benefit your cause. 

While philanthropy is billed as benefiting the poor, “a lot of elite philanthropy is about elite causes,” writes Paul Vallely. “Rather than making the world a better place, it largely reinforces the world as it is. Philanthropy very often favours the rich – and no one holds philanthropists to account for it.” Most of the biggest donations go to institutions that already have massive endowments—often educational or cultural institutions that cater to the rich. Historically and presently, philanthropy often focuses on “the distribution rather than the redistribution of wealth.”

As the rich continue to accumulate wealth, so does our reliance on their philanthropic giving. This relationship increases the amount of influence that philanthropists hold, highlighting “a number of tensions inherent in the relationship between philanthropy and democracy. For all the huge benefits modern philanthropy can bring, the sheer scale of contemporary giving can skew spending in areas such as education and healthcare, to the extent that it can overwhelm the priorities of democratically elected governments and local authorities.” 

I like working in development, and I always learn a lot—about institutions, politics, power, how to get what I want—but I never work in development for long periods of time. I always find myself disillusioned in the end. 


7. Billboard: Alicia Keys Launches $1B Fund for Black-Owned Business, Explains Why She’s Performing at NFL Kickoff

The NFL season began on Thursday and Alicia Keys kicked it off not only as a musical performer, but also announced a $1 billion fund for Black-owned businesses in conjunction with the NFL. In a statement on her decision to perform, Keys wrote that she “realized I HAVE to use my platform, we all need to use our platforms, every chance we get to press for racial equity.” The statement goes on to describe the endowment and how “the fund will create long term solutions with a focus on Black entrepreneurs, businesses, communities, Black schools, banks, and other Black institutions, while addressing persistent social, economic and environmental disparities. It’s starting here, but the intention is to build a multi-billion-dollar endowment across multiple industries. Through our collective action, we can end the needless and preventable agony created by systemic racism.”

Keys has a long history of activism and seems to be critically engaging with the NFL, which I support. However, I’m still hella skeptical of the NFL, especially as the league doesn’t have a great track record in dealing with racism. Hopefully, Keys can help hold the NFL accountable. 


8. Los Angeles Times: What the end of E!’s ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ says about the changing TV industry

It is the end of an era! Keeping Up With the Kardashians will end in 2021, after airing two more seasons. This one hits super hard, as part of the impetus for this whole column was Taylor Swift’s release of Look What You Made Me Do in 2017, and the subsequent brawl between her Swifties and the Kardashian-Jenner clan. 

Neither the Kardashians nor NBCUniversal (owner of E!, which broadcasts the show) has spoken about the breakup, but it makes sense as “NBCUniversal might not have wanted to continue paying top dollar for a show that was declining in the ratings.” Further, the Kardashian-Jenner clan reaches its audience more directly via social media apps, and if anyone knows how to monetize social media it is the Kardashians. 

I also enjoy how Kanye is in this cover photo but Kris isn’t?!?!? 


9. The New York Times: Wildfires Live Updates

My sister lives in the Bay Area and sent me a video when she left her house Wednesday morning. I had yet to see all the online pictures and videos of skies turned red and orange from fires, and I was so taken aback I asked her when she took the video. She had taken the video at 8 a.m. The sky was so orange, I didn’t really know what I was looking at. 

The wildfires sweeping across the west coast mimic a pattern of past fires in the region. This year’s fires in particular reinvigorated an acknowledgment of controlled burns by Native American tribes in the region for centuries. This practice, which reduces wildfire risk, stopped “when Western settlers forcibly removed tribes from their land and banned religious ceremonies… Instead, state and federal authorities focused on swiftly extinguishing wildfires,” wrote Lauren Sommer for NPR.  

Further, people—for some unknowable reason—simply must have their gender reveal parties, and another one of them caused a wildfire this week. 

It is still early in the fire season, and it seems like it will be a long, bad season. Hopefully more people don’t help it along. 


10. NPR: Trump’s Newest Supreme Court Shortlist Is Overtly More Political

This list is horrifying! Trump’s lists for potential Supreme Court Justices have always been atrocious, but this tops them all. Trump’s “previous three lists included just one elected politician and no administration officials, this list includes three U.S. senators — all fire-breathing conservative Republicans. They are Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, Texas’ Ted Cruz and Missouri’s Josh Hawley.” Not only that, but some of the people on the list are young! Allison Jones Rushing is only 38 and has ties to the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom, which opposes LGBTQ+ rights and abortion. 

A lot is riding on this coming election, and hopefully Trump doesn’t have the chance to appoint any more justices before (or after) November. 


Images taken from referenced articles. Have a suggestion for next week? Email with the subject line “The Internet is Exploding.”

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