Journalist/developer. Interactive editor @frontlinepbs. Builder of @HomicideWatch. Sinophile for fun. Past: @WBUR, @NPR, @NewsHour.
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The Bryan Brothers Were Ready to Call It Quits. Now They Might Need One Last Hug.

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2020 was supposed to be a farewell tour for Bob and Mike Bryan, the incomparable tennis twins, who have long been the darlings of doubles. Then coronavirus canceled it. Will they try again?

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2 days ago
Boston, MA
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Opinion | ‘Hamilton’ wasn’t just timely. It’s timely over and over again.

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“Hamilton,” the musical biography of both Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and the country he helped invent, is such a work. And as Disney Plus starts streaming a filmed version of the “Hamilton” stage show, the source of the work’s power is clear. “Hamilton” is a show for every moment because it’s about the uneven progress of personal and social change. You can watch “Hamilton” in exultation and in despair, or — now that a pandemic has put much of daily life on hold even as a movement against racism promises sweeping change — both.

“Hamilton” has already thrived through political whiplash. The first glimmer of the show was a song creator Lin-Manuel Miranda performed for the Obama family in 2009. When “Hamilton” premiered at the Public Theater in 2015, Miranda’s reimagining of the past rhymed with the present. He cast nonwhite actors as Founding Fathers and Mothers, at a time when the Obama administration had finally, hundreds of years later, made that inclusive vision real. And Miranda did so, as critic Soraya Nadia McDonald points out in the Undefeated, when the tea party movement was using Revolutionary imagery to try to discredit President Barack Obama and attack his agenda.

Then, after Donald Trump was elected president, the “Hamilton” applause line “Immigrants: We get the job done!” morphed into a defiant rallying cry, and the promise that its young revolutionary characters made to one another — “Tomorrow there’ll be more of us” — became a mantra for the long game. The sheer catchiness of “Hamilton” lyrics even overcame the show’s political valence: Arch-conservative John Bolton borrowed from it in titling his memoir “The Room Where It Happened.”

“Hamilton” is a show obsessed with time — making the most of it, having too little of it; the moments when change seems to come all at once, the eras when progress is far out of reach.

Hamilton himself, played by Miranda in the original production, represents the breakneck hurry to usher in a new world. He’s “young, scrappy and hungry,” works “nonstop” and argues his opponents into the ground. Hamilton making his case for a military command, blazing through drafts of the Federalist papers or dreaming up the Bank of the United States sounds a lot like the front lines of a protest at a crucial moment. Yes, there might be danger, but the possibility of exhilarating change is right there if you have the audacity to reach for it.

Not every moment is like that, though. Sometimes you win a revolutionary war or lose an election and have to reckon with what comes next, whether it’s the slower, more modest work of institution-building or years of playing defense. Part of the genius of “Hamilton” is that it offers audiences more than Hamilton’s frustration with these fallow periods: The show also presents alternatives to his haste.

Though Hamilton is the show’s main character, two of its greatest heroes are his wife, Eliza, and his surrogate father, George Washington. Both recognize, as Hamilton himself cannot, that no one person can bring a new country and a new way of governing into existence, and that no single lifetime will be long enough to witness the fulfillment of the American ideal. Rather than becoming frantic or despairing, they take the long view, accomplishing what they can and recognizing what they cannot.

Washington resigns after two terms because “If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on / It outlives me when I’m gone.” And after Hamilton is killed in his duel with Aaron Burr, Eliza recognizes that “The Lord, in his kindness / He gives me what you always wanted / He gives me more time.” While even the five decades she is granted aren’t enough to fulfill all of Hamilton’s dreams, Eliza does all that she possibly can with them.

In our own fraught moment, all of us are hoping for more time and struggling with our inability to make the most of the days that have been allotted us. Again, “Hamilton” has wisdom to offer: an argument that what seem to be fallow periods can be time to heal and grow. In “It’s Quiet Uptown,” the Hamilton family retreats after a terrible tragedy. The once-unstoppable hero spends “hours in the garden / I walk alone to the store” and discovers that “it’s quiet uptown / I never liked the quiet before.”

The quiet won’t last forever, and however urgent the demands of the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation and the world, that vision won’t be recognized overnight. Change is going to come. And “Hamilton” will endure because it can teach us how to alternately seize the moment and savor it.

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8 days ago
Boston, MA
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The History of Jiu-Jitsu, From Ancient Times to Today

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Combat will never be a solved game. That’s part of what makes it interesting: No two fights are exactly like, and neither are two combat sports matches. Wrestling has different rules than kickboxing or pankration, and sometimes there are no-rules situations, and sometimes rules change or are negotiated. That’s part of why jiu-jitsu keeps evolving, and why understanding the history of jiu-jitsu gives you perspective about where the art might go in the future.

When people say “jiu-jitsu,” they mean different things: to me, I take the broadest possible lens. Jiu-jitsu is a philosophy of finding the most efficient and effective solution to a problem that’s always evolving. In that sense, you’re part of this story — together we’re co-creating a set of solutions.

That’s how I like to think of it, anyway, and it’s why I did this five-class series about the history of jiu-jitsu, starting by talking about early Japan and continuing up until today. I want to thank everyone who joined in live on Zoom, and I’ve now put the whole series up on YouTube. Each class is a little over an hour, and I hope people enjoy them.

Let me also acknowledge first that we’re learning more about this all the time, and we have historians to thank for it. Sources like Tufy Cairus, Roberto Pedreira, Wendy Rouse and Robert Drysdale are updating our understanding constantly. Without these sources, and many more, these presentations wouldn’t be possible. Through the project, I also became acquainted with the Martial History Team, which is also doing cool work.

Please read their stuff, buy their books, listen to the podcasts I’ve done with them (except Pedreira: Hit me up, sir) and support Drysdale’s film Closed Guard: The Origins of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil when it comes out later this summer. You can check out much of their work using the links in my BJJ History: A Starting Point post, which has a bunch of history resources.

The first class is a big overview, from the 12th century to today, and each of the other four are deeper dives into specific periods and geographies. Here’s what you’re in for:

Class 1: Jiu-Jitsu History 101: Hundreds of Years in One Hour
Want to get the very quick-and-dirty overview of how hundreds of regional arts in Japan came to be jujutsu, which developed into judo, which was exported throughout the world, and evolved into Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which exploded onto the scene in America with the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993 and now is practiced by tons of awesome folks, including you? Catch the replay of this class here on YouTube. You can also see the presentation slides for class one.

Class 2: Jiu-Jitsu in Japan: Samurai, Kano Jiu-Jitsu and Judo. (Watch the re-play here). Was jiu-jitsu a samurai art, and if so, what did it look like? How did Japan’s shogunate history affect martial arts? Why was Jigoro Kano such a giant of martial arts history, and world history? And how did jiu-jitsu become judo, and then become jiu-jitsu again? Check this class out for the answers, plus a bunch of wild fight stories from Tokugawa- and Meiji-era Japan. Here’s the presentation for class two

Class 3: Jiu-Jitsu Around the World: Count Koma, the Suffragettes and the Barnstorming Diaspora. Watch the replay here. Who was Mitsuyo Maeda, and how did he come to Brazil? Did a 4’11” woman really teach a troupe of British womens’ suffragists jiu-jitsu so they could fight oppression (spoiler: yes!). Where around the world did the Japanese diaspora go, and how did martial arts follow them? Come to this class for all this and more, plus crazy images and stories from the era. Here’s the presentation for class three.

Class 4: Enter the Gracies, Part One: From Carlos & Helio until Carley & Rorion come to America. No-rules fighting, relentless marketing, prolific breeding and game-changing everything. This covers the time period from the first moment Helio Gracie saw jiu-jitsu to the Gracies’ first travels to America, we cover everything from the first time the Gracies trained to Carley and Rorion (re)-introducing jiu-jitsu to America. Here’s the presentation for class four.

Class 5: The Rise of Modern Sport Grappling: IBJJF, ADCC, and More. How did we go from demonstrations with unclear rules, to fights with no rules, to rules that everyone (mostly) follows? How did vale tudo become gi and no-gi tournaments? Why is a prominent sheikh involved? And just who is the greatest of all time, and how do we know? If competition is your thing, you’ll want to check this out: We rank the top five jiu-jitsu competitors of all time as of July 1, 2020 during this class, as well as give you links of great matches to watch. Here’s the presentation for class five.

Like William Faulkner wrote in Requiem for a Nun, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Or, if you prefer Bob Marley, “If you know your history / you will know where you’re coming from.”

The past doesn’t define us, but it does inform our respective journeys. I had great fun learning the material I’m sharing here, and I hope you enjoy it as well.

The post The History of Jiu-Jitsu, From Ancient Times to Today appeared first on Bellingham BJJ.

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13 days ago
Boston, MA
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Back to school likely to include online class. How can we improve it?

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In his suburban New Jersey home-turned-classroom this spring, parent Don Seaman quickly found himself in the role of household vice principal.

While his wife holed up in the bedroom to work each day, Seaman, a media and marketing professional, worked from the family room where he could supervise his children's virtual learning. A similar scene played out in millions of American homes after schools shuttered and moved classes online to contain the coronavirus.

Now that the year's over, Seaman has strong feelings about the experience: Despite the best efforts of teachers, virtual learning didn't work. At least not uniformly, if his three children in elementary, middle and high school are any indication.

"The older kids were saying, 'This is hell,'" Seaman said. "My kids feel isolated, and they can't keep up, and they're struggling with it."

But like it or not, remote instruction and virtual learning are likely to continue for millions of children this fall. That's because most districts can't observe physical distancing with all students attending class together in-person.

Many reopening plans rely on hybrid learning schedules, where students attend school on alternating days or weeks and learn from home on the other days, on a computer where feasible.  

Yet America’s educators know little about how to improve the online learning experience – and they’re spending almost no time or energy trying to figure it out before the fall term starts.

Coronavirus updates:US reports record number of new cases

The stakes are high. In the event of a spike in infections — a real possibility, as mounting cases in states such as Texas and Florida indicate — distance learning in affected regions likely will become universal again. And students can’t afford to lose more ground, as many did when classes went online this spring. Millions simply disappeared or logged on but didn't participate.  

Nationwide, only 1 in 3 districts expected teachers to provide remote instruction and monitor students' academic engagement this spring, according to a study that tracked 477 districts.

"There wasn't a lot in the way of interventions for kids who were falling off," said Robin Lake, director of the Center for Reinventing Education, a nonpartisan research group in Washington state that conducted the study. 

"That's a huge problem in distance learning."

Schools in fall:Scheduled days home, more online learning, lots of hand-washing

District leaders are understandably preoccupied with logistical planning for reopening schools while also keeping coronavirus at bay.

Many parents worried about their kids' emotional health and their own ability to work are pressuring schools for a return to in-person classes. And face-to-face instruction could provide stronger support for vulnerable students who fell the furthest behind during school closures. 

Nationwide, parents are split on sending their children back to classrooms. A slight majority — 56% — said they want their children to attend schools full time this fall, according to a Gallup poll this month. But in a USA TODAY poll in late May, 6 in 10 parents said they were more likely to pursue at-home learning options.

Back to school? 1 in 5 teachers are unlikely to return to reopened classrooms this fall, poll says

Some education experts think districts should double-down on improving remote and virtual instruction, rather than figuring out new ways to have students attend school part-time.

"There's a risk that teachers will be overwhelmed, and the resulting hybrid could be of lower quality than a strong early commitment to remote instruction," said Aaron Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Columbia University's Teachers College.

Look inside one reopened school:Montana school offers peek at what fall might bring

'Surprising lack of research' on what works in online learning

As millions of teachers and families discovered this fall, learning virtually is hard. For many students, it's difficult to engage with classmates and participate in class. For many teachers, it's difficult to help struggling students and form solid relationships with only video, chat and email. Exhausted parents-turned-tutors, especially those trying also to work from home, say it's not sustainable. 

Unfortunately, solutions are not readily at hand.

"There is a surprising lack of research into what techniques make for high-quality virtual instruction," said Brian Fitzpatrick, a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame and former middle-school teacher. "The COVID pandemic has certainly drawn attention to the need to identify best practices."

It's tempting to turn for help to America's longest-running experiment with online schooling: virtual charter schools, which have been around since the 1990s and can be run by districts or private management companies. Around 300,000 students nationwide were enrolled in full-time virtual schools in the 2017-18 school year, according to the National Education Policy Center, a left-learning education think tank in Colorado.

On average, their academic outcomes are overwhelmingly low. When students switch to virtual charter schools from brick-and-mortar schools, their achievement drops, recent studies show. One was conducted by Fitzpatrick, who compared outcomes for students attending virtual and traditional schools in Indiana.

"We find the impact of attending a virtual charter on student achievement is uniformly and profoundly negative," Fitzpatrick and his colleagues wrote this month in a post for the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank.

School scandal:Two virtual schools defrauded Indiana of $68 million and funneled more to execs

Still, business is up at virtual charters since the pandemic began, said company leaders at Connections Academy and K12 Inc., which power a majority of virtual charters in America.

They attributed low achievement and graduation rates over the years to low-achieving students transferring in from traditional schools.

"Less than 20% of students who come to us are learning at the grade level they entered," said Nate Davis, CEO of K12.

For other students, particularly those with a committed parent in the home, virtual schooling can be highly tailored and effective, said Mickey Revenaugh, co-founder of Connections.

“There’s a critical role the family plays," she said. "When kids are little you need that adult presence. And they need to be communicating with that child’s teacher on a regular basis."

Comfort with online learning depended on experience 

Leaders in districts with more experience using blended or online learning platforms feel they're further along in preparing for fall. 

Broward County, Florida's sixth-largest district, has hosted its own virtual school since 2001. When school moved online this spring, the district offered ongoing workshops for teachers in traditional schools to get started with Canvas, the district's online learning platform, said Daryl Diamond, director of innovative learning. The district also trained teachers to use web conferencing tools for teaching, he added.

Before spring break, only about half the district's teachers had published courses on Canvas, Diamond said. After spring break, that figure exploded to 98% of teachers.

Other educators felt far less prepared.

Karen Reyes teaches children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing at Linder Elementary School in Austin, Texas. 

Her days became an endless loop of recording herself doing videos for students, as well as for their parents. Her littlest learners had trouble using the technology. Reading to her students virtually was difficult. In person, they'd interrupt to ask questions or make comments to connect the story to their experiences. Online they watched silently.

"It’s hard to be by ourselves," said Reyes, 31. "I didn’t get into teaching to teach to the screen."

Virtual struggles:Coronavirus' online school is hard for English learners

Teacher training requires union input

In Florida's Pasco County School District, parents can choose from several options for fall. They can return their kids to school full time, or have them stay at home and learn virtually from teachers at their regular school building. A third option allows students to transfer into the district's long-running virtual school, Pasco e-School.

For students who learn at home through a virtual program at their school, "there will be a lot more interaction with a teacher, with a very prescribed, very standard, traditional schedule throughout the day," said Steve Hegarty, Pasco's district spokesman.

Training teachers how to do that successfully will begin officially on Aug. 3 — a week before students return Aug. 10. Because of the schools' union contract, that's all the district can require. The district has training for online teaching available over the summer, but it's optional. Still, Hegarty said, thousands are participating.

Teachers' unions and districts negotiate how many days of paid training teachers will receive each year, which means most teachers can't be required to spend their summer ramping up their skills to teach online.

Teacher appreciation:They wanted respect. It only took a pandemic and worldwide economic collapse

Many districts are already consumed with adjusting labor agreements to take into account all of the other nuances of a radically different school day this fall. They must determine which staff members come back to class and which stay home, or allow teachers to decide for themselves. They also have to figure out how to keep staff safe.

"This is not a light undertaking of re-imagination," said Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

"We have schools that don't have hot water running in the restrooms. We have schools that do not have soap. We’ve been cited by the Chicago Health Department for a lack of cleanliness in the building pre-COVID-19, and the district still has the same contract with the cleaning company." 

Defund police in schools?Another issue schools are weighing this summer, after George Floyd's death

Millions of children without a computer or internet

Even if teachers could be trained to do it better, virtual learning would still have a glaring accessibility problem. The households least likely to have the two things necessary for quality virtual learning to take place — a computer and high-speed internet — are low-income households. And those households are the places where children fell behind the most in spring 2020.

At least 15 million out of America's more than 50 million schoolchildren live in homes without access to a computer, or without access to high-speed internet, according to a new national report released today that tries to quantify the extent of the so-called "homework gap." 

And about 300,000 to 400,000 teachers also lacked access to computers or high-speed Internet, the study estimated.

No online learning? With schools closed from coronavirus, these teachers aired TV lessons

The study, by Common Sense Media, may slightly overstate the lack of technology because it relied on information households reported from the most recent Census. That means it didn't capture the thousands of devices and Wi-Fi hotspots schools distributed to families in the wake of the pandemic.

Still, advocates say there's plenty of evidence to pressure Congress to allocate more money to help close the digital divide. The price tag to do so for students? At least $6 billion, according to the new report.

The alternative, should virtual learning continue, are thousands more lost hours of instruction. 

In Los Angeles Unified, the nation's second-largest district, only about 6 out of 10 elementary students were logging in as of April, according to EdSource, a California news site.

More than 20% of students in Boston Public Schools never logged in to any of the district's online academic platforms in May, according to the Boston Globe.

Parent groups want kids in school full time

Some parents fed up with virtual learning are pressuring districts to return kids to school full time, even if it means not physical distancing.

They say it's necessary for children's social and emotional well-being, as well as for the sanity of their parents and the sake of the economy. 

Some health experts back them up, saying that other preventive measures, such as universal mask-wearing, can help limit the spread of the virus in schools.

"If our children do not return to school full time in full capacity, the achievement gap between different districts is going to widen," said Kim Collins, a parent who lives near Boston, Massachusetts. She's part of a grassroots group, Bring Kids Back MA, which is pushing lawmakers and district leaders to send more kids back to school.

More than 2,000 people have signed their petition.

Collins said remote learning in her home this spring was barely learning at all. Her son in high school used to have 77-minute daily blocks of instruction in his core subjects. Once school went virtual, that teaching block was restricted to 50 minutes, twice a week, Collins said.

Some superintendents are trying to make in-person learning happen for every student whose family wants it.

In rural northwestern Pennsylvania, about 2,000 students spread out over 342 square miles attend the St. Marys Area School District.

Superintendent Brian Toth said he's planning for all of them to attend schools from Day One this fall, with everyone wearing masks.If there's another outbreak, all children will learn at home virtually. There won't be any modifications or hybrids. 

"Can we do the six-foot suggestion? No. And any school district that says they can, cannot. We will socially distance as far as we can, as feasible. That’s the guidance we have from Pennsylvania," Toth said.

Universal mask-wearing and modifications to buildings can help slow the spread of the virus and still let children come back to school, said Joseph Allen, an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard University.

"Prioritize bringing in more outside air," he said. "Use box fans or other mechanical fans to facilitate the movement of outdoor air indoors. Use portable air cleaners."

Some parents switch to virtual charters

Still, other parents worry about the unpredictability of fall classes, or the health of their students inside a school amid a pandemic. 

Anna Huf, a parent in suburban Milwaukee, has switched her two school-aged children to a virtual charter school, eAchieve Academy. It's run by the Waukesha School District.

Huf saidher family loves their regular public school in Merton, Wisconsin, but she felt like teachers became disengaged when schooling moved online.

"I started noticing gaps in my children's learning, just by being home with them," she said. "Nothing was being addressed by the school, so at the end of the year we were kind of at a crossroads."

It's almost inevitable that brick-and-mortar schools will have to return to online instruction at some point in the next year as the pandemic continues, Huf said. She works for an IT staffing company and can continue working from home. That way, she can oversee her children's education.

Huf said she didn't look at the academic performance of any of the virtual charter schools she considered. And some of her family members questioned whether she was making the right choice.

But the certainty of knowing what will happen come fall is important to her.

"This isn't just me putting them in front of a computer," Huf said. "I hope to be their instructor and motivator along the way." 

Education coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation does not provide editorial input.

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15 days ago
Boston, MA
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E-Paper Weather Display - Aeracode

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The Hardware

The Waveshare e-paper has an option that comes with a Raspberry Pi-compatible hat, and this makes it very easy to get up and going with. Stick it on a Pi with headers, and load up the right software, and you're off.

As such, the actual build here is not very complex, consisting of:

That's it! If you don't have access to a laser cutter, wood or 3D printed parts would do just as well.

The Raspberry Pi mounts onto the base piece, the e-paper mounts onto the front frame using tape (or if you're more reasonable than I, something a little stronger), and the standoffs hold everything in place. Being a Raspberry Pi, the whole thing can be powered from a single micro USB cable.

Hardware Notes

  • You can use M3 standoffs if you like, just be prepared to drill out the holes on the Raspberry Pi to be a little bigger (there's plenty of room on the PCB to do this, just be careful).
  • None of the standoffs I had were long enough to space the two levels out correctly, so I just threaded two of them together.
  • A Raspberry Pi Zero W might seem like the perfect small form factor for this, but in my tests, it did not have enough power overhead to update the screen and immediately undervolted whenever I tried. It might work better on a smaller e-paper screen.
  • The refresh rate on these screens is long. Really long. I measured it at 15 to 20 seconds in some cases (it's in the video at 10:55 if you want to see it).

The Software

I am a fan of relatively "dumb" software on devices like this, just to keep maintenance easier, and so the actual software the Raspberry Pi runs is nothing more than a script that can display images fetched from a URL. This runs using cron, pointed at an app hosted in Google Cloud Run, pulling and updating the image every 30 minutes.

The server itself is a small Flask app that pulls weather information from OpenWeather, mostly as they had a nice convenient single-call API. It renders the image for the display using Pillow, and then outputs that directly into an image for the aforementioned script to display.

The server code is a bit of a mess - please read through it suitably prepared - but it does use palletised mode in Pillow to ensure it's sending images the display can render. When the display says it's three colour - red/white/black - it means it. There's no shades of grey or red, just those three colours, so there's no chance of antialiasing. The palletised mode ensures that it renders text and curves with appropriately hard edges; the fonts don't look great as a result, but I'll get around to investing more in the fonts in future.

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16 days ago
Boston, MA
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Opinion | You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument

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This is not an ignorant pride but a defiant one. It is a pride that says, “Our history is rich, our causes are justified, our ancestors lie beyond reproach.” It is a pining for greatness, if you will, a wish again for a certain kind of American memory. A monument-worthy memory.

But here’s the thing: Our ancestors don’t deserve your unconditional pride. Yes, I am proud of every one of my black ancestors who survived slavery. They earned that pride, by any decent person’s reckoning. But I am not proud of the white ancestors whom I know, by virtue of my very existence, to be bad actors.

Among the apologists for the Southern cause and for its monuments, there are those who dismiss the hardships of the past. They imagine a world of benevolent masters, and speak with misty eyes of gentility and honor and the land. They deny plantation rape, or explain it away, or question the degree of frequency with which it occurred.

To those people it is my privilege to say, I am proof. I am proof that whatever else the South might have been, or might believe itself to be, it was and is a space whose prosperity and sense of romance and nostalgia were built upon the grievous exploitation of black life.

The dream version of the Old South never existed. Any manufactured monument to that time in that place tells half a truth at best. The ideas and ideals it purports to honor are not real. To those who have embraced these delusions: Now is the time to re-examine your position.

Either you have been blind to a truth that my body’s story forces you to see, or you really do mean to honor the oppressors at the expense of the oppressed, and you must at last acknowledge your emotional investment in a legacy of hate.

Either way, I say the monuments of stone and metal, the monuments of cloth and wood, all the man-made monuments, must come down. I defy any sentimental Southerner to defend our ancestors to me. I am quite literally made of the reasons to strip them of their laurels.

Caroline Randall Williams (@caroranwill) is the author of “Lucy Negro, Redux” and “Soul Food Love,” and a writer in residence at Vanderbilt University.

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19 days ago
Boston, MA
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