“We won’t die secret deaths anymore,” begins Prior Walter in the final moment of Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about AIDS and gay love in New York City circa 1985. “The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come... You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More life. The Great Work begins.” Friday—as the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide—the US moved forward in its fight to grant equal rights to all citizens. Ever forward.
“Why the SCOTUS Ruling on Gay Marriage Feels So Good” by Rich Juzwiak
I can’t help but be happiest, though, about the defeat of the anti-marriage equality crusaders. The defeat of people who signed up to lose, who wasted their time and ours on a platform of animus and contempt. The defeat of people who put principle over the practical, who fought to preserve their limited understanding of an already imperfect institution over the actual human lives that would benefit from it. The defeat of people who did what bigots do: discriminate, vilify, fear-monger, argue irrationally and without respect to human dignity, and then bristle when they’re called out for what they are (bigots).
“The True Story of a Texas Prison Riot” by Seth Freed Wessler
The Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, Texas, is now empty. As of late May, a single security guard sat in a small car in the entrance to the parking lot. It has been like this since prisoners so ransacked the facilities in a February riot, cutting and burning holes in the Kevlar domes that held them, that the Federal Bureau of Prisons declared it “uninhabitable.” The agency moved the inmates to other prisons and declined to renew its contract with the private corrections company that ran the facility. Nearly all of the 400 employees were terminated.
Willacy’s operating company, Management & Training Corp., says the riot was plotted by inmates and was unavoidable; the SWAT team it deployed to control inmates, a measured response to prisoner unrest. This version of the story, which has circulated in the press since the days after the riot, is at best a partial truth, and one that obscures the company’s own aggression. A fuller account of the events at Willacy points to deep problems with the federal government’s management of a soaring population of immigrants it incarcerates for border crimes.
“I Don’t Believe in God, but I Believe in Lithium” by Jamie Lowe
Lithium, a mood stabilizer that can help stop and prevent manic cycles, is usually the first medication tried with bipolar patients; it’s effective for most of them. Including me. I was discharged and sent back to high school with an apple-size bruise on my hip. For two decades since then, I have been taking lithium almost continuously. It has curbed my mania, my depression and, most significant, the wild delusional cycles that have taken me from obsessing over the value of zero to creating a hippie cult (my uniform: bell-bottoms, psychedelic sports bra and body glitter, head to toe). As long as I take those three pink lithium-carbonate capsules every day, I can function. If I don’t, I will be riding on top of subway cars measuring speed and looking for light in elevated realms.
“Black Churches Taught Us to Forgive White People. We Learned to Shame Ourselves” by Kiese Laymon
My problem with church was that I knew what could have been. Every other Wednesday – and Grandma took me with her most of the time – the older women of the church had something called Home Mission: they would meet at alternate houses, and bring food, their Bibles, notebooks and their testimonies. There was no set music at Home Mission, but those women, Grandma’s friends, used their lives and their Bibles as primary texts to boast, confess and critique their way into tearful song every single time. They revealed the partial truths of their lives, connected those partial truths to everyone in that room, wandered in some of the closets of those partial truths, and wondered if those partial truths held for women not in the room. They made space for everyone listening to share.
Long before I wanted to write like Morrison, Baldwin or Andre 3000, I wanted to write like the women in Home Mission spoke to each other. Their word was black love.
“The Flies in Kehinde Wiley’s Milk” by Vinson Cunningham
If reflection, recognition, representation—so often identified with Wiley’s work—comprised its entire attraction, I’d be grateful for its existence, in the same way that I’m grateful for the existence of, say, Tyler Perry. Mere existence is a real and valuable politics, one whose importance shouldn’t be underestimated. But this, for me, is where the difficulty starts with Wiley: If his paintings have any value as art qua art, that value lies in something else—his best paintings read as jokes.
“It’s 2015 and the Dominican Republic Is Ethnically Cleansing Itself” by Judnick Mayard
Memory is as short as history is violent. Less than a century ago, this same country staged a massacre against this same group of black people. In 1937, the dictator Trujillo ordered millions of Haitian—a.k.a. black—folks in the country slaughtered, for the same euphemistic reason: “overflow.” At the time, the racist litmus test was your pronunciation of perejil, the Spanish word for parsley, which requires a rolling of the rs. In French and Creole, the “r” sound is made with the throat, not the tongue; it was impossible for the Haitians. Some estimate that 20,000 of them died in the Parsley Massacre, many of them Dominican families. The event is so relatively recent that the time period of this new clause predates it. People who survived that—or were born in the aftermath of it—are now once again being hunted and uprooted.
“Dumber Thank Your Average Bear” by Wesley Morris
But MacFarlane — writing once again with Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin — isn’t sophisticated or honest enough to unpack his sexual and racial fantasies and hangups. He just spews them. Ted becoming a person includes the acquiring of a surname. He chooses Clubber Lang, after the villain Mr. T played in Rocky III. Samantha’s full name turns out to be Sam L. Jackson, but she’s been too busy getting high and studying the law to know who that is. Either way, her cluelessness is the premise for a series of limp jokes predicated upon racial ignorance.
As a filmmaker, MacFarlane makes a show of how easy it is to assume a black affiliation and cherry-pick from black cultural and political history. America just rode a wave of speculation and revulsion over Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who’s been living for years as a black one. With MacFarlane, the appropriation is both too much and not enough. Dolezal has remained committed to her performance. She believes she is what she says she is. But MacFarlane doesn’t appear to believe in anything. He just likes to mess around with things that still have value without seeming to get whether that value is greater than his jokes. It’s as if he doesn’t really know what he’s laughing at or care what race and sexuality and gender are. It’s as if he doesn’t know women or black people — just white comedy writers who love to make fun of them.
[Image via Getty]