Oct 21, 2021 5 min read

#316: Black Spaces, White Spaces

#316: Black Spaces, White Spaces

Happy Thursday, loyal readers. Thank you very much for being here. Today’s issue focuses on the challenges of sharing private and public space across racial difference. In this week’s lead article, “ On White Violence, Black Survival, and Learning to Shoot ,” Kim McLarin decides to participate in a

Happy Thursday, loyal readers. Thank you very much for being here.

Today’s issue focuses on the challenges of sharing private and public space across racial difference. In this week’s lead article, “On White Violence, Black Survival, and Learning to Shoot,” Kim McLarin decides to participate in a white space – a local shooters club – in order to protect herself, after the January 6 insurrection, from potential white violence. It’s a well-written, powerful piece. The other articles are great, too. Mychal Denzel Smith navigates the predominantly white world of writing and publishing as a Black man, while Greg Tate explains why so many white people are pushing back against the growing popularity of Afropessimism and critical race theory. (The refrain: “Can’t we all just get along?”) Finishing up this week’s issue is a podcast episode tracing the history of the Karen phenomenon and explaining how public space is no longer public once a white person decides is it theirs. Please enjoy one or more of this week’s articles, and let me know what you think!

+ One great benefit of being part of our reading community is that I get to chat with authors I admire. That’s what happened last week when I got the opportunity to interview Brian Broome, author of Punch Me Up to the Gods and “79,” which I featured here in 2018. Here’s our conversation if you’re interested in checking it out.

+ Is The Highlighter simply not enough for you? Don’t worry, there’s more: I have two other reading-related projects for you. Check out Article Club (for adults) and the Kindle Classroom Project (for young people).

On White Violence, Black Survival, And Learning To Shoot

On White Violence, Black Survival, And Learning To Shoot

Kim McLarin: “If a civil war breaks out, I say, if violent white mobs begin roaming the country as they have done in the past, I will not worry about precision shooting. I intend to sit on my porch with my legally acquired handgun and as much ammunition as I have and perhaps a bottle of Scotch and take them as they come.

“Are you afraid?” my husband asks. Only of my anger. Only of becoming like them. Is it possible to be angry without being violent? Is it possible to live in a violent society without becoming that way?

They march in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting about replacement. They run down Heather Heyer like a dog. I sit at home and watch, angry.

They storm the United States Capitol, smashing windows, assaulting cops, chasing a Black officer up the stairs like a lynch mob running through the Mississippi woods, slinging racial epithets. They invade our government while waving the flag of slavery. “This is our house!” they chant. “This is our house!”

At home I watch the television, fists balled. Our house? Our house? This house that sits on a bloody foundation, which rests on stolen land? This house painted on the outside but inside left to crumble and rot? This house that has room for all but also locked doors and hidden keys? This house?

This house is not your house. This house is either everyone’s house or it is no one’s. That’s what I want to defend.” (19 min)

The Gatekeepers

Toni Morrison said, “I have spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books.” But in this essay, writer Mychal Denzel Smith argues that not everyone can be like Ms. Morrison. Despite the recent rise of Black intellectuals in public literary spaces, the old burden remains: White editors and readers want Black writers to explain their experience – and most important, their pain. Mr. Smith writes, “I feel as though I’ve built a career by capitalizing on Black pain — exploiting that of others and monetizing my own. The guilt of my ambition is intertwined with the sense of a fruitless project. Writing to white people about the Black experience is meant to engender their sympathy. Yet it never comes. Appeals to the white conscience have not worked, and there are no signs that they ever will.” (16 min)

Sherlock, who belongs to VIP Maria, thinks of herself as a guard cat. If she notices a stranger, she’ll stare them down and growl. Want your pet to appear in The Highlighter? hltr.co/pets

Afropessimism And Its Discontents

The problem with Afropessimism – a school of thought that advances that slavery did not end in the 19th century but rather evolved to challenge Black resistance, leaving Black people invisible in society – is that it’s too pessimistic for white people, writes Greg Tate in this thought-provoking essay. After all, progressive white people expect empathy and solidarity. They want to be allies. But for Prof. Frank Wilderson and other Afropessimists, “after coming home from Black Lives Matter protests” and realizing that “nothing is going to stop these cops from killing us,” a “pissed-off urge to withdraw from interaction with white people” emerges as the most rational and healthy way forward. (11 min)

+ For more about Afropessimism, see Issue #310.

The Once And Future Karen

We know who a Karen is: a white woman using her race and gender to patrol and police Black people from public spaces. But even before the pandemic, Gene Demby explains, “being in public was always contentious because public space, and how we show up in it, is always, on some level, political.” In this informative episode of Code Switch, Mr. Demby traces the history of “the modern Karen,” beginning with Miss Ann, and wonders, “What does the next generation of Karens look like, and might they be harder to spot?” (26 min)


Readers’ Annotations

: Several of you wrote to express your appreciation for “To Be A Field Of Poppies,” in last week’s issue exploring the common good. Loyal reader


was thankful to be introduced to composting as an alternative to traditional burial. Article Clubber and loyal reader


recommended that we check out The Order of the Good Death. Founder Caitlyn Doughty “is a pioneer in natural burial,” Kati writes, and “her book, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, is fantastic.” Thank you, Linda and Kati, for reaching out and sharing your thoughts.

Thank you

for reading this week’s issue of The Highlighter. Did you enjoy it? Let me know by clicking on “Yes” or ”No” below. I like hearing from you.

I was thinking the other day: Wow, I’ve been doing this newsletter mostly every week for more than six years – and even better, great folks like you have been reading it! I’d like to appreciate our long-time subscribers, including Laura, Lars, and Larry. Thank you for sharing the newsletter and getting the word out. That’s how our reading community gets better.

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