What I’m Reading: September 21, 2019. Equinox Edition.

Ethnobotany. My Grandma Hill sang church hymns to her houseplants and veggie garden, so they were definitely listening to her right back. Louis Bury, “Listening to Plants,” Hyperallergic, September 14, 2019. Nigel Chaffey, “Plants that get their own back on animals,”Botany One, September 6, 2019. Entheogens give us our own back: Rosalind Watts, Sam Gandy, and Alex Evans, “The Whole-planet View,” Aeon, September 17, 2019.

It’s all about the environment, and I was happy to join Potsdam students in walking out of class on Friday in support of the Climate Strike. Environmentally speaking, this is a worthwhile conversation to read between Franzen’s comments and Marvel’s response. Jonathan Franzen, “What if we Stopped Pretending?” The New Yorker, September 8, 2019. Franzen says: “In times of increasing chaos, people seek protection in tribalism and armed force, rather than in the rule of law, and our best defense against this kind of dystopia is to maintain functioning democracies, functioning legal systems, functioning communities. In this respect, any movement toward a more just and civil society can now be considered a meaningful climate action. Securing fair elections is a climate action. Combatting extreme wealth inequality is a climate action. Shutting down the hate machines on social media is a climate action. Instituting humane immigration policy, advocating for racial and gender equality, promoting respect for laws and their enforcement, supporting a free and independent press, ridding the country of assault weapons – these are all meaningful climate actions. To survive rising temperatures, every system, whether of the natural world or of the human world, will need to be as strong and healthy as we can make it.”Kate Marvel, “Shut Up Franzen!” Scientific American, September 11, 2019.

I’m still trying to understand. An undergraduate student shared that they thought, and were disappointed, that the Environmental Studies course should be “fun and easy.” I was left speechless with how to respond to that. I appreciate the feedback, but it also occurs to me that the comment is a teachable moment. I’m just not sure how to say what I want to say; so stay tuned as I formulate a response….There is nothing fun about the devastation of the Bahamas. Then the US had to go and make things altogether worse. Rosa Flores and Catherine E. Soichet, “A twelve-year-old fled the Bahamas with her grandmother….” CNN, September 11, 2019.

Joëlle Gergis, “I never thought I’d see the Australian rainforest burning. What will it take for us to wake up to the climate crisis?” The Guardian, September 10, 2019. Mark Kinver, “World losing battle against deforestation,” BBC, September 12, 2019. The Economist also has, The Climate Issue, September 19, 2019. Liesl Gerntholtz, “For communities in South Africa, climate change is now.” Mail and Guardian South Africa, September 17, 2019. The Economist, “Why Russia is ambivalent about climate change,” Moscow and Yakutsk, September 15, 2019. Anderson, et. al. “Trees are key to fighting urban heat.” NPR, September 4, 2019. Alun Salt, “What does plants, people, planet mean?” Botany One, September 4, 2019. Eric Roston, “The massive cost of not adapting to climate change,” Bloomberg, September 9, 2019. The Guardian, Geneva, “Climate crisis is greatest ever threat to human rights, UN warns,” The Guardian, September 9, 2019. Damian Carrington, “World gravely unprepared for effects of climate crisis,” The Guardian, September 9, 2019. Jeff Sparrow, “This isn’t extinction, it’s extermination: the people killing nature know what they’re doing,” The Guardian, September 20, 2019. Climate barbarism: Naomi Klein, “How climate change fuels the rise of white supremacy,” In These Times, September 16, 2019.

I know better than to think casual reading can help me figure out what’s going on in the Middle East, but its critically important to the overall safety of our world, and I at least have to try. The Economist, “The attack on Saudi oil facilities raises the risk of war,” Middle East and Africa, September 16, 2019.

On the social justice front: Perhaps only in South Africa can a segment of the Jewish population come out against Zionism and make it worthwhile for me to try to understand the nuances of being anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic. I’m not about to explain this when the writers from their own community do such a credible job of explanation: “We need to understand the colonisation of Palestine through Zionism in these terms…as if demanding an end to the colonisation of Palestinian land is beyond the pale, as if the fact that we are a minority of the Jewish community makes us illegitimate and not worth listening to. Let us not forget that the majority of Germans supported the Nazis, the majority of white South Africans supported apartheid, and the majority of white Americans support Donald Trump. Although we are a minority, we will remain a vocal and proudly Jewish one, on the right side of history. What gives me the chutzpah to assert this? Certainly not the kind of arrogance of claiming to speak on behalf of a diverse religion of varying political views. Instead, it is a recognition that we are all human, all fallible, and that when we get into positions of power over other people, we assert that illegitimate authority and derive ideologies that seek to justify our actions.” Jared Sacks, “Jewish resistance to Zionism is on the right side of history,” Mail and Guardian South Africa, September 21, 2019. Elsewhere on the continent: Jonathan Fisher, “New walls in cyberspace: Internet shutdowns and authoritarianism in Africa,” Mail and Guardian South Africa, September 18, 2019. I’m fascinated with Robert Mugabe, whose reign defined much of my time in southern/eastern Africa. “The recent spate of obituaries on the late former president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, have wrestled with efforts to balance the apparent discrepancy between his contributions to the country’s liberation struggle versus his betrayal of human rights and justice while head of Zimbabwe for nearly four decades.” Brooks Marmon, “The making of Mugabe’s intolerance,” Mail and Guardian South Africa, September 16, 2019.

Let’s see, what was I doing in 2005 that I missed this divine piece of satire? Oh, yes! I was living in Kruger Park (Wits Rural Facility) with a very disruptive, energetic four-year-old, working with the community and with Wits and UVA students. This is a classic, along with a 2019 response. Binyavanga Wainaina, “How to Write About Africa,” Granta 92, 2005. Abdou Rahim Lema, “Many Africa experts still don’t get the need for African voices and perspectives,” Mail and Guardian South Africa, September 16, 2019.

Anna-Lisa Cox, “When anti-immigration meant keeping out black pioneers,” The New York Times, September 20, 2019. Ramsi Rouighi, “Race on the Mind,” Aeon, September 18, 2019. Not an easy read at all. Hannah Natanson, “They were once America’s cruelest, richest slave traders. Why does no one know their names?” The Washington Post, September 14, 2019.

Discomfort is a state of grace. I say this humbly, as someone who has experienced more than their allotted share of discomfort; unease that is physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental. Trauma, my own and vicarious. The grace of discomfort is the moment in which it awakens in us a seed of empathy to the suffering of others. Specifically, white supremacy and patriarchy have and continue to be fed on the cruel gruel of no empathy and no compassion. Discomfort, especially for the privileged, is a state of grace. Here is a must read for how to move forward through all of the above crises. Rebecca Solnit, “How Change Happens,” LitHub, September 3, 2019.

Now from the world of gender justice there is this horrid statistic on forced first sexual encounters for American women and girls – difficult, but not surprising, to fathom: “A total of 13,310 women between the ages of 18 and 44 years were included in the study. After survey weights were applied, 6.5% (865 women) of respondents reported experiencing forced sexual initiation, equivalent to 3,351,733 women in this age group nationwide. (me!!!!!) Age at forced sexual initiation averaged 15.6 years vs 17.4 years for voluntary sexual initiation.” Wait! What? 3.35 million American women report forced sexual initiation? WTF. Am I the only mama in America who taught her sons that “no means no” and consent is the most important part of foreplay? I know I’m not, but really now – can we teach men not to rape instead of having to teach women not to be raped? Laura Hawks, et. al., “Association Between Forced Sexual Initiation and Health Outcomes Among US Women,” JAMA Internal Medicine, September 16, 2019. Lukola Mnguni reminds us to be vigilant, “Declare war on the subjugation of women,” Mail and Guardian South Africa, September 9, 2019.I agree with Arwa Mahdawi, for this we need “resting rage face.” Melkorka Licea, “Women are flocking to plastic surgeons to fix resting bitch face,” New York Post, September 16, 2019. “People gravitate to women who they perceive as happy.” Hmm. Absolutely fabulous photos: Lee-Ann Olwage and Sasha Ingber, “Drag queens in South Africa embrace queerness and tradition,” NPR, September 20, 2019.

I’m crying. Lauren Strapagiel, BuzzFeed, September 19, 2019. This use of the internet my generation definitely missed out on.

The arts! “In its 136-year history the Metropolitan Opera has never staged an opera by a black composer.” Ugh. James Baldwin reminds us that Porgy & Bess, remains,” a white man’s vision of Negro life.” Michael Cooper, “The Complex History and Uneasy Present of ‘Porgy and Bess.’” The New York Times, September 19, 2019. Seth Colter Walls, “Operas by back composer have long been ignored. Explore 8.” The New York Times, September 19, 2019. Including one called The Mother of Three Sons!”  I would love to have the privilege to hear these voices at The Met. Wesley Morris, “No wonder everybody is always stealing it,” New York Times, August 14, 2019. Eva Amsen, “This Bolivian tribe does not hear pitch the same way most people do,” Forbes, September 21, 2019. Kyla McMillan, “Marc Jacob’s tone deaf appropriation of dreadlocks,” Hyperallergic, September 19, 2019. Edward Hellmore helps to clap back, “Black America saddles up to own its cowboy heritage,” The Guardian, September 21, 2019. I will let Paul Kingsnorth have the last word, “The Language of the Master,” Emergence Magazine, September 2019.