Say It Loud
This week: a conversation with Randall Kennedy about progress, free speech, and optimism vs. pessimism. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our website.
Randall Kennedy’s new book, Say It Loud, starts with an essay on both pessimism about the prospects for racial equality in the US and its opposite: “the tradition of those who believe that despite the gravitational pull of division, degradation, and oppression, Americans shall somehow overcome and create a racially equitable commonwealth.”
On this week’s show, Kennedy elaborates on those traditions, and describes his own “chastened” optimism about the United States in 2021.
On the one hand, we see that there’s been tremendous change on the racial front in the United States. I mean, after all, not so long ago, we had a black president of the United States for eight years. As we speak there’s a black vice president; as we speak, there is a black Secretary of Defense; and one could go on. Those are all signs of tremendous change, certainly since I was born in 1954. On the other hand, in the past few years, we’ve also seen the ascendancy of political forces that openly traffic in racial animus, racial resentment. They are openly reactionary. They want to take us back, and they are powerful. So that’s that’s what makes me conflicted.
The pessimistic/optimistic mood responds to a range of evens. In this time of intensifying efforts to suppress black political representation and suppress books by black writers, there’s also been remarkable work by black leaders, thinkers, and artists. For Kennedy, this recalls the era of the Harlem Renaissance, in the 1920s:
Black people were being terrorized. It was a time of reaction, yet on the cultural front, there was tremendous ferment, tremendous accomplishment, tremendous achievement. I’m feeling that now — again, poetry, drama, film, in so many different dimensions, you see black people coming on, occupying places that they have not occupied before. I think it’s tremendously exciting. But again, I want to be, you know, a bit cautious. This takes place in the shadow of reaction. This takes place in the shadow of an obvious attempt to limit democratic power through voting. Both of these things are going on at the same time.
For heroes, Kennedy looks to the historical Civil Rights movement:
I think that there has been a demotion of the people who were part of the classical Civil Rights movement, the people who said, “we shall overcome,” black and white together, right? I say to folks, don’t forget Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. Do not forget them. Two whites and a black who went to their deaths together fighting for racial justice. That’s right. Don’t forget them.
Read: Open Source in the NY Times
Here’s Molly Young, in the New York Times, on her Open Source habit:
I like to keep the voices in my head company with other voices, often in podcast form. I stockpile episodes of Open Source and then listen nonstop on days when I have to machete my way through a jungle of household chores. I suggest starting with the episode featuring Cornel West and Susannah Heschel or the conversation with Rebecca Solnit about George Orwell. The host, Christopher Lydon, is a generous and spirited interlocutor who can talk about anything. Anything! Sometimes I try to think up topics that might stump him and then inevitably find an episode on that exact topic lurking in the archives.
This made us so happy! We met Molly on literary twitter back in 2015 and introduced her to our show.
Watch: The Power of the Dog
Over at Criterion, an overview of responses to the new Jane Campion film:
“‘What kind of man would I be, if I did not help my mother?’ intones the opening voiceover, which, like much else in the movie, passes by our defenses under a familiar guise only to settle deep into our bones,” writes Nicolas Rapold for Sight & Sound. The question is posed by Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), an effete teen who, like his mother (Kirsten Dunst), is cruelly bullied by Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) on a Montana ranch in 1925. “Tenderness may not be the first thing you see in a Campion film, but it is fundamentally what she’s painting with,” writes Jordan Kisner in her profile of the director for the New York Times Magazine. “This is especially true in The Power of the Dog, where tenderness and brutality amplify each other painfully . . .”
Listen: James Brown
It is one of the landmark cultural texts of the 1960s. The Black Liberation Movement had a variety of fronts. One front was outward facing challenging white supremacy. The other front, however, and a very important front was the inner struggle in black America to rehabilitate itself, reclaim itself.
This week’s ephemeral library
Ed Yong: America is not ready for omicron. The insurance firm behind those Joe Namath ads. The Supreme Court Isn’t Well. Zeynep Tufekci: Still Not Sure. Jamie Raskin’s Year of Grief and Purpose. Colin Barrett: A Shooting in Rathreedane. Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Fight Over U.S. History
That’s it for this week, folks. We’re hibernating for a couple of weeks, recharging our batteries. We hope you have a wonderful holiday. You all know this, but it takes a village to support our work. Please think of leaving something under the OS tree for us. We love what we do, and we love doing it for you!
The OS optimists