A Teacher's Writes

One teacher's thoughts on life, literature, and learning

Baratunde Thurston on how black Americans make America’s ideals real

As I look at my own story and that of my family, even as I write this book, I recognize that this is an impressive and bold country whose ideas of what it means to be a country are still, over 230 years after its founding, revolutionary.

The missing link for many inside and outside of Black America has been to fully understand the role black people have played in helping make those beautiful ideas more tangible and more real.

Our early existence in America exposed the nation’s shortcomings from the start, and thanks to our struggle, America has become more of what she has the potential to be. As Derrick Ashong put it, black people in America ” have literally been the physical embodiment, the manifestation of the ideals that the Founding Fathers said they believed in, thought they believed in. But they didn’t exist until us. That’s something to be proud of.”

True black pride is also American pride, and black people truly are the most American of people in this country. We have nowhere else to go! So as much as we might feel some distance between us and the U.S., and as much as others may try to push us away and claim directly or indirectly that we’re not “real Americans,” that line of thinking is patently false and a disservice to everyone.

This country is our home, and we helped build it both physically and morally. The struggle of black people in America, therefore, is the struggle of America itself to, as damali ayo put it, “get behind its own dream.” (212-213)

– Baratunde Thurston, How to Be Black

Reading makes me a better conversationalist

Developing a reading practice has served me well. First, and most obviously, intentional reading expands my mind, acquainting me with ideas that I’d never otherwise encounter. It also makes me a much better conversationalist, and has the side benefit of letting me instantly identify people with whom I will likely “click” based on the books they like. As I absorb the sentences penned by experienced writers, I learn how to become a better writer, too. And reading, of course, provides me with an enormous amount of pleasure and relaxation. To quote Thomas Jefferson, these days, “I cannot live without books.”

– Alissa Wilkinson

When Charles Portis sees a great line, he grabs it

And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two ariels of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. (2 Samuel 23:20)

This ends my true account of how I avenged Frank Ross’s blood over in the Choctaw Nation when snow was on the ground. (from Charles Portis’s True Grit)

Michael Gerson’s Astute Criticism of the Religious Right

Much of the religious right’s criticism of President Bill Clinton’s character was a ploy. Franklin Graham now argues that because Abraham lied, Moses disobeyed God and David committed adultery, Trump should get a pass, not just on his personal behavior but also on his deception, cruelty and appeal to bigotry. It is a non sequitur revealing the cynical subordination of faith to politics.

Michael Gerson

Being funny and being witty are not the same thing

“You know, Dickie had this great sense of humor when we were growing up. He made me laugh all the time. But in graduate school he stopped being funny and started being, I don’t know . . . witty. And, you know, Mr. Mote, that’s not the same thing. He had some clever remark about everything I said, and somehow it usually left me feeling stupid. I couldn’t make a passing comment on the weather without him analyzing it and finding it ridiculous.” (127)

from Daniel Taylor’s Death Comes for the Deconstructionist

If someone’s vote causes you to lose respect for them, did you really respect them?

My friend, if your “reconciliation” can be undone with a blog post then you were never reconciled in the first place. If a different, more inclusive set of issues or priorities pushes you from the table, you were never truly at the table in commitment. If the simple matter of voting differently and daring to speak of it publicly causes you “to lose all respect for someone,” then you never respected them in the first place. You respected the ways you thought they were like you and you “respected” them only insofar as they were like you. You didn’t respect the right of a person to have their own mind, think their own thoughts, or act in accord with their own conscience. They must act according to your conscience. You were not reconciled across that difference.

Thabiti Anyabwile, discussing political tension and racial reconciliation among Christians

Books suggest the possibility that trouble can be survived

And so I do what often do in this situation. I decide to read. Books were an early lifeline, and I turn to them regularly with a certain desperate hopefulness. People talk about reading as an escape from trouble. There’s more trouble in novels–and most other books–than anywhere else. Books aren’t even an escape from your own particular troubles, because a good book always makes you think about your own life while it pretends to distract you from it.

It’s just that books suggest the possibility that trouble can be survived, if you know what I mean. Or at least named. Books are more real for me than the rest of my life because they light up more parts of me than the rest of my life ever has. I mean, you can be little more than a damned cartoon figure and get along quite nicely in life–maybe even become president. (47)

from Daniel Taylor’s novel, Death Comes for the Deconstructionist


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