Issue 561 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


I was surprised that Ruth Milkman [“Falling Behind,” interview by Staci Kleinmaier, June 2022] did not acknowledge white supremacy and the abuse of natural resources as basic building blocks of the American economy. Milkman says that in the mid-twentieth century “you had the sense that you knew what your life was going to be like. There was a feeling of security and predictability, though maybe it was an illusion.” It absolutely was an illusion.

The illusion was that the U.S. economy was not built on the labor of enslaved people and exploited immigrants and maintained with structures of white supremacy and sexism. The illusion was that the use and manipulation of natural resources could be endlessly profitable, without consequence for humanity or the planet. The illusion was that it was logical to produce fossil fuels, manufacture cars, mine coal, churn out trillions of single-use plastic items, and create tons of junk food from millions of acres of commodity crops requiring gallons upon gallons of pesticides.

It’s not just about creating “secure jobs.” An awful lot of our human ingenuity and labor has been poured into creating systems and products that are fundamentally unsustainable and inequitable. We can do so much better.

Janet Hurt Seattle, Washington
Ruth Milkman responds:

Thanks to Janet Hurt for pointing out the critical role of white supremacy and corporate exploitation of natural resources throughout U.S. history. I agree that the lack of discussion of these matters in an interview about job insecurity and class is problematic.

Ironically the employment precarity of people of color — a condition created by an inherently racist social structure — has now trickled up to include a large share of the white population as well. And indeed many of the “good jobs” that existed in the mid-twentieth century were inextricably intertwined with environmental destruction. Nevertheless the illusion mentioned in the interview — that life was secure and predictable — was one that most of the American middle class held during that period.

I understand the moral conundrum Wyatt Williams describes in “The Carnivore’s Dilemma” [interview by Finn Cohen, May 2022]. I have been a vegetarian for years, but I also live with five dedicated carnivores: three cats and two dogs. The cats eat kibbles mixed with tinned fish or meat products. For the dogs I boil turkey or chicken necks, strip the softened meat from the bones, and then cook rice or barley in the leftover water.

Without the slaughterhouses that supply this meat, my dogs would not have the food they need to survive. As an omnivore I have many food choices other than meat, but my animals don’t. Dogs and cats do not do well on a vegetarian diet, nor do the big cats in captivity for whom I send charitable donations. So I am a confused and, to some extent, hypocritical vegetarian. There is no way out of this dilemma.

Sara Hutchinson New Castle, Delaware

Sparrow’s essay “A Guide to Home Acceptance” [May 2022] reminded me of my own quest for domestic peace. Last year my twenty-year-old refrigerator started making noises like a chirping cricket, then a snorting horse, whenever the compressor shuts off. I contemplated having it repaired, but settled on speaking soothingly to it while giving it a sort of hug. I’m happy to say that it is now a bit quieter and seems more content. I’ve become a refrigerator whisperer! We just never know where life, and our appliances, will lead us.

Donna Jones Bellingham, Washington

Being a firmly planted Minnesotan, I’ve tried oysters only once, while in Boston. It was an experience I don’t plan on repeating. But M.F.K. Fisher’s essay “Love and Death among the Molluscs” [The Dog-Eared Page, May 2022] was so endearing, lyrical, and funny that by the end “our oyster” was mine, too.

T.P. Bayport, Minnesota

Reading The Sun makes me a better person. In your May 2022 issue, Bruce Ballenger’s essay “The Memory of Clay” helped me understand a friend who has an alcoholic father. Beverly Hartz’s poem “What I Didn’t Say” made me appreciate the closeness I feel with my kids. And Barbara Woodmansee’s essay “Every Baby Needs to Be Rocked” filled me with palpable grief.

Writers in The Sun give me empathy for family, friends, and strangers. With each issue I feel more gratitude and appreciation for the human condition.

Becky Williams White Salmon, Washington

Bruce Ballenger’s “The Memory of Clay” beautifully captures the power of memories, especially those intertwined with family and twisted by the violent shadows of alcoholism. I can relate to Ballenger’s unsatisfying quest for meaning and closure. The past cannot be undone or even necessarily understood. It is just part of who we are.

K.K. Paris

Yascha Mounk [“Sticks and Stones,” interview by Daniel McDermon, April 2022] makes a convincing case that right-wing, antidemocratic thinking is the main cause of the erosion of good-faith discourse in America. Undoubtedly his philosophically liberal stance makes him more aware of the rigidity in thinking on the Right. Still, he believes a “widely accepted” national narrative can be built through compromise with the Right. I wonder if a philosophically conservative thinker would admit that there needs to be such a middle ground.

Jim Mayer Portland, Oregon

I am a professional soprano and have taught voice and conducted ensembles for forty years. Alison Luterman’s essay about her music teacher telling her to “just mouth the words” broke my heart [“Hard Times,” April 2022]. I commend her stick-to-itiveness and her determination to become a contributor to the world of music.

I am convinced that, if presented with lessons in pitch at a young age, almost everyone can attain proficiency as a singer. I once had a twelve-year-old boy come to my studio after being cast in a musical. He needed help learning to sing on key, and with a bit of practice he soon could. It wasn’t that he couldn’t sing on pitch; he just didn’t realize that you have to listen first, internalize the vibrations, then reproduce the note.

Singing well is hard work, even if you’re born with silver ears and a golden throat, but only 1.5 percent of the population is considered tone-deaf. The younger we are when introduced to music, the more successful ear training will be. I wish Luterman could have had a more-understanding music teacher.

Jan Callner Cambria, California

The Readers Write section on “Being Stubborn” in your March 2022 issue made me wonder what is stubbornness and what is determination. It’s all about perspective. Kristin Leong illustrates this when she writes about her unvaccinated sister. Who is more stubborn: Those who refuse to be vaccinated or those who try to convince others to be?

Katya Gordon Two Harbors, Minnesota

I am all too aware of how a severe mental illness can derail a life. I strongly suspect that my father had undiagnosed bipolar disorder. He wound up alienating many people in his life, losing every job he had, and dying young.

Kathleen Founds’s essay “My Thoughts Are Not My Thoughts” [February 2022] shows a different experience of mental illness. She offers readers a glimpse into her life with a loving husband, a child, and an academic career. Mental illness may be a defining feature of her life, but it is not the defining feature. My teenage daughter was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Founds’s writing fills me with hope for her future.

H.E. Colorado Springs, Colorado

Last summer I was sitting in a dog park reading The Sun. My three-legged dog was at my feet, uninterested in the other canines. I had planned to enjoy some peace and quiet but a gentleman in his sixties asked to share my picnic table. We talked about our pets, hometowns, and jobs. When my apathetic dog and I had had enough of the July heat, we said our goodbyes, and I left the man the magazine. I hope it meant something to him, even if it was just a reminder of a nice exchange at a picnic table with a twenty-something girl at the dog park.

ZhongMei Sweeny Austin, Texas
Thank You Your donations helped to keep our ad-free, nonprofit magazine in circulation last year, funding everything from production to distribution. Learn how you made a difference last year. Learn More