Women We Read This Week

Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “Resegregation in the American South” in The Atlantic

Focusing on the experiences of three generations of Tuscaloosa, Alabama residents, Nikole Hannah-Jones paints a depressing and accurate picture of resegregation in the American South. She addresses the very real fact that, despite Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, segregation is still very much present throughout the United States and with this segregation comes decreased opportunities for black and Latino students: “High-poverty, segregated black and Latino schools account for the majority of the roughly 1,400 high schools nationwide labeled “dropout factories”—meaning fewer than 60 percent of the students graduate.”

Balancing the personal experiences of James Dent, Melissa Dent, and D’Leisha Dent as examples that illustrate the decline of Tuscaloosa’s Central High School, once held as the epitome of integration success, Hannah-Jones draws on historical context and current facts. She does so in order to illustrate and to make even more real what many of us already know: there is a clear racial discrepancy in how we educate youth. As a resident of the South, I know that resegregation has happened—partially because of white flight, partially because of district zoning, but primarily because of the release of school districts from court-enforced integration. The most sobering point of this article is the idea—and the evidence—that sixty years after the landmark case that integrated school systems nationwide, the public cannot enforce or maintain this integration without court intervention. — Andrea

Ruth Behar’s “Searching for Home” in Aeon

A lovely meditation on home, belonging(s), sense of place and sense of self. Behar explores “the relationship between feeling at home and being homesick,” between rootedness and longing, between freedom and security (as the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan once wrote, “we are attached to the one and long for the other”). At its heart is a list of different meanings for “home,” some familiar (“your kin, those whom you hold dear”), but many also unsettling the idea that home is necessarily a place of comfort and security, painting it instead as something complex, in flux: “a set of memories that can’t be confined to any map”; “that place to which you never again want to return”; “that place to which you want to keep returning”. For Behar this is tied up with her work as an anthropologist (the discipline, she writes, “took off from the idea that an anthropologist had to leave home in order to study otherness in a distant place”) as well as her family history. There are no answers in this piece, which is kind of why I like it – it’s as open-ended as the kinds of relationships with home it describes.

Still, no matter how settled, a queasy unsettledness, an existential ambivalence, haunts the immigrant. Let me use my father as an example. On July 4th each year, he proudly displays his American flag on the front porch of the house he and my mother bought long after my brother and I had moved away. But after 50 years in the US, he can’t be sure it’s his final destination. My father keeps 500 $1 bills stashed away in case he and my mother ever have to leave the US in a hurry, just as they had to leave Cuba. ‘Why all $1 bills?’ I ask. He replies, half-joking but also half-serious: ‘Don’t you know? To bribe the guards at the border, so we can get across.’


Roxane Gay’s “My Body Is Wildly Undisciplined and I Deny Myself Nearly Everything I Desire” on XOJane

This incredible piece of writing has been floating around the Internet for a couple of weeks, and a colleague of mine recently posted it on Facebook, saying that it explored “the questions I forget to ask myself.” I, too, neglect to ask myself these questions, but I don’t think it’s about forgetfulness; I think I may just not be brave enough to ask them, to look so closely, and with such open eyes, at the shame and pain that I — and all of us — carry around with us each day, an invisible but very hefty weight. The word “brave” is thrown around a lot, especially with personal essay and memoir written by women, but I’m not sure I can find another word to describe what Roxane Gay is doing here. What’s compelling about this essay — and really, all of Gay’s work — is the way she manages to penetrate the profoundly personal by exploring the cultural, the way she moves between the two until she has effectively blurred the lines. In this way, her writing is truly outward-reaching. All of us — the humble readers, the actresses whose post-baby bodies are closely monitored by tabloids, the women and men who appear on “The Biggest Loser” — will find a little bit of ourselves in this essay.

My body is wildly undisciplined and I deny myself nearly everything I desire. I deny myself the right to space when I am public, trying to fold in on myself, to make my body invisible even though it is, in fact, grandly visible. I deny myself the right to a shared armrest because how dare I impose? I deny myself entry into certain spaces I have deemed inappropriate for a body like mine—most spaces inhabited by other people.



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