It’s The Highlighter #94, everybody! Welcome. Today’s issue centers on the difficulty of sharing space and building empathy across difference. The first two articles explore how two different cities have decided to live in community. New Orleans is toppling its Confederate statues (in the middle of
It’s The Highlighter #94, everybody! Welcome. Today’s issue centers on the difficulty of sharing space and building empathy across difference. The first two articles explore how two different cities have decided to live in community. New Orleans is toppling its Confederate statues (in the middle of the night, with bulletproof vests, guarded by snipers) to remove its reverence of racism. On the flip side, the suburb of Troy, New York is calling the police on its African American residents as the town becomes more diverse.
After the photo break, the digest considers how listening and storytelling can promote empathy. However, the third piece—a negative review of S-Town—warns us that listening without an interrogative ear can lead us to complicity. Have empathy but remain leery? That seems complex. Good thing there’s a classic This American Life episode about acting’s transformative effects to round out today’s issue. Please enjoy!
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu was successful this week in his pledge to remove four monuments commemorating the Confederacy. In this remarkable speech, Mr. Landrieu reminds us that “we cannot be afraid of our truth” as a country. He also wonders why New Orleans has “no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame.” It’s as if Mr. Landrieu has been talking to Bryan Stevenson. (Here’s Mr. Stevenson on PBS NewsHour.)
White people in Troy, New York — and in many suburbs across the country — tolerate African Americans as long as they don’t live nearby. Then, they say things like, “Things have changed,” and “People shouldn’t play their music so loud.” Over the past 35 years, the percentage of white people living in Troy has declined from 92 percent to 66 percent. With the number of African American residents increasing, more white people have called on the police — 95 percent white, similar to Ferguson, Missouri — to “clear things up.”
In #87, I recommended S-Town, the podcast from Serial that profiles a Southern man from a Southern town. Since its release in March, S-Town has received very strong (and mixed) reviews. This review by Aaron Bady is the best negative one that I’ve read so far. Mr. Bady writes that producer Brian Reed tries too hard being a neutral New Yorker. In order to build rapport and establish his empathy, Mr. Reed does not question the rampant racism in the town. As a result, even though the stated facts might be right, the omissions are glaring, making S-Town a work of fiction friendly to white people. Note: Spoilers.
What happens when people in prison put on a performance of Hamlet? The answer: Very good things. This podcast, an oldie-but-goodie from This American Life, reminds me of the power of drama. When we act, when we bring a work of literature to life, when we inhabit a character and make them real, in front of a real audience, we rewrite our own narratives—and therefore, ourselves. For another example of this transformation, check out Last Chance in Texas (reviewed in #9).
That’s it for today! Thank you very much for reading this week’s issue. If you liked it (or if you hated it), please leave a thumbs-up (or down) below. (Last week’s score: 8-0.) Also, let’s welcome new subscribers Kristin and S.M. I appreciate everyone’s eagerness to get the word out about The Highlighter. Maybe there should be prizes! What do you think? See you next Thursday at 9:10 am.