Thanks so much for Katti Gray’s interview with Eddie Ellis [“The Run-on Sentence,” July 2013]. I was particularly struck by Ellis’s concern with the words we use. It makes sense to replace “ex-convict” with “formerly incarcerated person,” as he suggests.
There is a common usage in the political sphere that perturbs me. Politicians on both sides of the aisle regularly tell us they will “fight” for this or that. I don’t want any more fights. I would just like them to put in an honest day’s work that does not include fundraising.
Eddie Ellis provides invaluable insight into the politics and policies of this country’s vast prison system and how incarceration rates affect (and burden) the entire social structure.
It’s been 150 years since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing 3 million of the 4 million enslaved African Americans in the United States. I can’t help comparing those numbers to the 2.3 million Americans in prisons and jails today, and the 5 million more under the supervision of the correctional system. The majority of them are poor people of color.
Ross Gay’s essay “Some Thoughts on Mercy” [July 2013] brought back memories of being an eighteen-year-old Chicana stopped (for no reason I could see) by the police in San Fernando — a Mexican neighborhood in LA — and having my beat-up Ford ransacked. The two officers smirked as they ran a background check on me, then left me standing with my car’s contents thrown on the sidewalk and not a word of apology or explanation.
More recently I was department head of a paralegal program at a small private college, and a colleague challenged my idea to start a support group for the Latino students because, this colleague claimed, then all the Chinese students would want one too. Another professor once asked me why our Mexican students were so “lazy.” These are only a couple of the many memories that remain embedded in my body and that rose again while I read Gay’s essay.
Ross Gay’s essay on mercy was profound. I’d heard about “white privilege,” but I never quite understood it until now.
Although I’ve smoked marijuana since 1965, it’s been a long time since I’ve been afraid of cops. I’m polite to them, and they’re polite to me. Of course, I’m not black.
I’ve often said the war on drugs is a big failure, but Gay points out that, in its secondary role as a war on African Americans, it’s “the only war the U.S. has won in the last thirty years.”
It never occurred to me that blacks might internalize the way society views them and begin to think of themselves as criminals. This remarkable essay changed the way I see the world.
After a difficult week of writing final papers — followed by a weekend spent reviewing a book about which nothing charitable could be said — I found the July Sun to be a welcome change. Ross Gay’s “Some Thoughts on Mercy” will stay with me for a while. Thank you for publishing a magazine that reveals society and humanity in a way that my policy-oriented reading never does.
Ross Gay’s essay makes visible what he describes as “the significant daily terror of being a black or brown person in this country.” As I read it, I kept saying, Yes, yes, yes.
Yes for my African American godsons, who were only fourteen and fifteen when the police came into their backyard and pulled guns on them. Yes for my gentle fifteen-year-old student, who looks a lot like Trayvon Martin when he wears a hoodie. Yes to the idea that “when the police suspect a black man or boy of having a gun, he becomes murderable.” Yes for the times I have worried that I would set off the theft alarm at the library, even though I wasn’t carrying any books. Yes for the way my African American friend contorts and shrinks himself when he passes a white woman on the street, his body language shouting, I am not threatening. I will not hurt you. Please don’t be scared of me.
Thank you, Ross Gay, for showing how we have been deceived by this system of untruths. May your words help us to see each other as we really are: confused, frightened, merciful, human.
After reading Ross Gay’s “Some Thoughts on Mercy” I recalled my first trip to Africa. The only white person — and the only native English speaker — on the plane, I was going to stay with people I had never met and was destined not to see another white face for the next four weeks. I was, frankly, terrified.
While on that trip, I had the opportunity to meditate upon the source of my fears. I realized that white Americans are aware of the immense, unspeakable injustices — the torture, the degradation, the deprivation, the incarceration, and the slaughter — that our ancestors perpetrated upon the black community, and that we continue to perpetrate under layers of denial and hypocrisy today. Let’s face it: if they had done to us anything remotely like what we have done to them, we would seek revenge until our last breath.
All of the black people I have been blessed to know, however, want to forget. They want to make friends. They want to make peace.
I want to thank Ross Gay for writing “Some Thoughts on Mercy.” As the child of a European American woman and an African American man I never met, I was reminded of how my mother said my father reacted when the “men in white coats” came to take him to the mental institution for the second time. “Call the Congress of Racial Equality!” he shouted.
After being discharged from the Army, he was unable to find work. He would call prospective employers and be asked to come in, only to be turned away when he showed up. At the end of his life he was found on the floor of a motel room on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, dead at fifty-one, a mixture of prescription and street drugs swirling through his veins.
Sometimes I wonder if being a black man in America was just too much for him, if it’s what drove him out of his mind. I also wonder when we will be ready to have an honest conversation about race in this country, transcending the defensiveness, guilt, resentment, anger, and fear and acknowledging the master and slave within each of us.
The July 2013 issue was spectacular. The way it touched on racism, injustice, and forgiveness without preachiness made my spirit soar. I shall be taking it to my next sit-in, to protest the possible closure of a downtown transit center. The general atmosphere there has been one of doom and gloom, and I want to read aloud Jack Gilbert’s beautiful poem “A Brief for the Defense” and the Sunbeam by Nelson Mandela. Long may his spirit light the way.
Praise to The Sun for bringing Jack Gilbert to the attention of a wider audience. Many of us poets have long known Gilbert to be a writer extraordinaire. I’m reminded of some lines by Hermann Hesse: “Not until we are old do we truly notice how rare beauty is and what a miracle makes flowers bloom next to factories and cannons and that poetry survives in the flood of newspapers and stock reports.”
I wish I could be as succinct and spare and glorious (already too many words) as the poetry of Jack Gilbert when I express my gratitude to The Sun for printing selections from his fruitful career.
Angelo Merendino’s photo essay “The Battle We Didn’t Choose” is heartbreaking, tender, angry, and honest. Works like his are the reason I look forward to the arrival of The Sun in my mailbox each month.
When The Sun arrives, I read it cover to cover as soon as I can. This morning, over coffee, I read “A Drop of Blood,” by Giorgios Mangakis, on the July 2013 Dog-Eared Page. My heart was strangely moved as I contemplated the microcosm of the author’s cell and how he saw in it the macrocosm of all humankind. Such small details as the drop of blood of the title or a smile from a guard made him see humanity in its entirety. I was encouraged by his example to try to live more in the moment, because each moment is really a lifetime.
I dropped by my local library today on a whim, and in the bins of discards I spotted a stack of magazines with slightly tattered but pleasing covers. I picked one up and leafed through it. The more I read, the more I knew I had to have them all. I scooped up the entire pile — about a dozen issues of The Sun.
Your magazine has everything I value: Austere design but rich content. Lovely black-and-white photographs. And real writing by real people, from accomplished academics to regular folks with a sense of life’s mystery. And it has no advertising.
Thank you for a superb publication.