Recently a man took up residence on my town’s football field, sleeping in a small tent in the northwestern corner, near the copse of cedars. He had been a terrific football player some years ago for our high school, and then had played in college, and then a couple of years in the nether reaches of the professional ranks, where a man might get paid a hundred bucks a game plus bonuses for touchdowns and sacks.
Michelle Alexander On How Prisons Have Become The New Jim Crow
Yes, during the original Jim Crow era Whites Only signs hung over drinking fountains, and black people were forced to sit at the back of the bus. There was no denying the existence of the caste system. But today people in prison are largely invisible to the rest of us. We have more than 2 million inmates warehoused, but if you’re not one of them, or a family member of one of them, you scarcely notice. Most prisons are located far from urban centers and major freeways. You literally don’t see them, and when inmates return home, they’re typically returned to the segregated ghetto neighborhoods from which they came, leaving the middle class unaware of how vast this discriminatory system has become in a very short time.
We got dressed up to go to the courthouse. It was strange to be out of school, and even stranger to be heading off to appear before a judge to prove that our family was broke, but our mother insisted we kids come along. My brother and I sported polyester suit coats handed down from our cousins in Terre Haute, and the girls wore the same dresses they had worn for our grandparents’ funerals.
Slab City is a squatters’ community located on a desolate swath of Southern California desert, just a few miles from the town of Niland. Drifters, dropouts, artists, outlaws, and other cultural dissidents have been coming here for more than four decades. They set up camps on the crumbling concrete foundations of a former military base and live in trailers, vans, and buses.
My maman told me the story of the olden days, when the sun was a sweet orange in the sky. All the days, she said, were buttery, the rivers ran rich like melted coin, and the people were happy as often as not. My maman, she told me that when the Troubles came, even God in his house could not help us, and he squeezed down on that orange sun, but the juice that should have been sweet, when it met this world, it turned to salt; it filled the oceans, and it came out of the people’s eyes.
In a globalized world of interlocking economies, is it possible for a culture to evolve at its own pace, or does change come in only two packages: fast-tracked by corporate-sponsored leaders, or arrested entirely by dictators and juntas? I’ve seen savvy indigenous communities in Ecuador and Chiapas, Mexico, incorporate what they like of the outside world and reject the rest, but can this be done on the scale of an entire country? Is there even a possibility that Cuba can preserve its culture while opening to the world, to dissent, to change?