I sat on my tall stool behind the counter in my parents’ music store, looking past my open history textbook to the dirty snow and paper trash blowing down the street in the darkening afternoon. A lone figure shuffled down the opposite sidewalk, past the jewelry store, and stopped on the corner in front of the drug store at the stoplight, his helmeted head cast down, waiting for the traffic light to turn. I scanned a few more paragraphs in my textbook until he entered, heralded by a chorus of automated door chimes and blown in by a gust of frozen air.
Boubacar drives nights for Uber. Often, impatient customers scream at him and then leave trash behind as he ferries them between their office jobs in glassy towers and warmly-lit SoHo restaurants. They rarely tip. By day, he delivers food for a popular salad and sandwich chain, weaving his bike through Midtown traffic and making minimum wage. It’s better than the busboy and delivery jobs his friends have, where their employers underpay. And despite the hour-and-a-half commute, he sometimes enjoys being out in the rush of the city — unlike his wife who works the cash register at their local CVS. At least he doesn’t worry about her the way he worries about his sister, who cares for three children on the Upper East Side and is often asked last-minute to stay until late.
But, mostly, he worries about his kids, ages five and seven. He’s had to find a new delivery job every few months and is still never guaranteed hours. He’d been hoping to train to be a nurse, as he’d like to have a regular schedule, save for his kids’ education, and do work that feels good, but he knows he’ll never have the time. How will they learn to love soccer, or remember their native Senegal, if he’s never home to talk and play with them? And when they’re older, will their lively minds be overwhelmed by worry about rent and food for the next week? More… “Imagining A Way Out”
Abigail Fradkin studied political thought and history at Harvard College. She has worked in immigration and economic development and currently works for the New York City government. The views expressed in this article are her own.
We all have fears, dark premonitions about the future, troubling recollections of the past, anxieties about the present that weigh on our minds and ruffle our sleep. Have I been a loving parent? Was I to blame for my divorce? What possessed me to vote for a Republican? Is she faking her orgasms? It may be that my life is very far from being the model of responsible engagement that I like to imagine it is, but there’s one particular fear that haunts me above all the other slippages, insecurities, and moral failings that must be held to my account: I worry that I’m Cecil Vyse.
Cecil Vyse, for those unfamiliar with E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, is the priggish, snobbish, supercilious, sexless aesthete that Lucy Honeychurch almost makes the mistake of marrying in the 1908 novel. Even now, my Vysian tendencies betray me: “for those unfamiliar with E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View.“ Why should I assume, if only by implication, that anyone should be familiar with A Room with a View? Read it if you want to, don’t read it if you don’t. Ah, but things are rarely that simple for “artistic” spirits like Cecil and me. Against everything my education and reading have taught me, against everything I believe about respecting the subjectivity of all personal experience, I find it hard to avoid the conclusion I would like not to draw: I’m moved to rapture or wonder or fury by this or that artistic expression. You’re not. What’s wrong with you?
Would the United States be better off without the South? It is a question that is often asked by white progressives and centrists in other parts of the country, now that the Democrats have become a largely-Northern party while the former Confederacy has become the heartland of what was once Lincoln’s party. If the Confederacy had been allowed to secede, would what remained — let us call it the Rump USA — be a socially-liberal, civil libertarian, social-democratic paradise today?
Let us ignore, for a moment, the indifference by the white Americans who muse about this scenario to the fate of black Americans, who disproportionately reside in the South to this day, as well as to their fellow victims and sometime victimizers, the white Southern poor. Had they been permanently stranded outside the United States after 1861, neither group would have benefited from federal abolition of slavery, federal civil rights and voting rights legislation, or federally-subsidized economic development in the South. More… “Without the South”
When I learned that Harper Lee’s second novel is to be published, the first thought that came to my mind was: Will it be as biased against the white poor as To Kill a Mockingbird?
Like millions of other American schoolchildren, I was forced in public elementary school to endure a reading of this best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning classic of American literature, as though being traumatized by Charlotte’s Web in an earlier grade had not been punishment enough. My classmates and I were too young to understand what was going on and I thought the novel was tedious, confusing and creepy.
As an adult, I read the novel and watched the celebrated movie and found myself appalled for a different reason. A member, on one side of my family, of the Southern white gentry class to which Harper Lee belongs, I recognized that she was providing, in Atticus Finch, an absurdly idealized version of that class, in a melodrama that combines uplifting anti-racist sentiment with the most snobbish kind of “classism.” Unlike truly great 20th-century white Southern writers, like William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Tennessee Williams and Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee was unable to transcend the class biases of the Southern gentry. Black Americans who object to the novel and movie for infantilizing blacks have a point — but it must be added that the book and film do so, by demonizing poor whites. More… “White Trash Gothic”