After a long and eventful Summer, I’ve finally settled back in Paris for the Fall semester. This means, of course, a return to regular posting on my website for everyone who reads it.
Clearly there are a couple of changes, the most obvious of which being the website itself. I’ve decided to change the name to Typewriter International, because I think it does a better job explaining what it is I’m trying to do through my site. It isn’t some grand metaphor, nor is it an obscure book reference (as much as I might love and appreciate both of those things). It’s simply what it sounds like: I’m writing stuff with an international lens on it all.
The website layout is new too. It’s a little more manageable to navigate I think, and it just looks a little cleaner overall.
Going forwards, I’m going to be splitting my posts into three different categories. The first category will include things that are a little more “bloggy,” meaning they’ll encompass my life and travels for all those people who want to read about what I’m up to. It’ll have my deep dives into different types of foods or places that I enjoy, and I’ll describe my own experience with it all.
The second category is going to be mostly political commentary. I enjoy writing about politics, and considering the field of politics is essentially the field I’m going into (be they of the international or domestic variety), and that it’s where I spend a lot of my available headspace anyways, it seems inappropriate to leave that column off of my site.
I know there are lots of people out there, particularly where I come from in Oklahoma, who disagree with my perspective on politics. To those people, I understand if you choose not to read what I have to say because you find it uncomfortable. Still, I ask that you do read it, not because I’m trying to convince you of anything, but simply because I want us all to hold ourselves to a higher standard of debate than 120-character tweets and photoshopped pictures of whichever politician you happen to not like. Sometimes you need to step away from dissent, and I respect that, but more often I think we need to thrust ourselves into conversations with people we disagree with. Hold me to the fire if you want, and make me defend what I’m saying. I don’t want to be let off easy on this part. It’s only through real debate like this that we’re ever going to get to any real solutions, and I think that’s what most people really want.
These first two categories will usually be separate, but every once in a while there might be some overlap between the two of them. That is, in all fairness, kind of the point.
The last category is going to be my professional work, particularly pieces that I feel proud of writing. This is work that I’ve written for other publications, and that I don’t necessarily own the rights to anymore, but that I’ve gained permission to post on my site. If you get the chance to look through some of that work, I highly encourage you to. Through much of that work I’ve been able to learn lots about things I didn’t understand before, and meet some very interesting people whose opinion and advice is well informed and insightful. It will almost never be up to date, but if it’s on my site, I found it interesting to work on, and hopefully you’ll find it interesting to read, regardless of its outdatedness.
Ultimately, this site is going to be a little bit of a depository for everything that’s on my mind. Sometimes that will be political, sometimes it will have more to do with where I am and what I’m doing, and occasionally it will have absolutely no relation to anything I’ve ever really talked about before. If you like what I’m writing, that’s fantastic. If it isn’t your jam, I’d love to hear why. Either way, I’m going to keep writing, because that’s the virtue of the whole project in the first place.
This is a collection of photos I’ve taken over the past couple of months. Some of them have small stories or descriptions attached, others are more self explanatory. Most of them come from essentially “normal” days here in Paris, meaning that I never went too far out of my way just to get a photo. Enjoy!
Most of the monuments in these pictures are there because they’re easy to spot on any sort of daily walk. Especially since my apartment and university are centered well in the middle of Paris, it’s easy to only have a five or ten minute detour and run into the things seen here.
Montmartre is the biggest detour from the normal area I tend to be in, but it is completely worth it (clearly).
I wish I’d gotten more pictures with the pink flowers around the city because it was amazing, but they of course disappeared quickly.
Just things along the road
This photo is right near one of my favorite spots to sit outside and have lunch. To the left of this road is the river Seine, and to the right is the main AUP building. About a block down is Apollon, a Greek restaurant that has the best Gyros.
The area I live in has a number of these murals on different electrical boxes and things around. I’m not entirely sure if it’s some sort of commissioned beautification project, or if it’s just graffiti no one has bothered to clean off, but I like them.
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One of the cornerstone experiences of anyone who finds themselves abroad is the experience of offending someone over something you thought nothing of at all. The vast majority of the time, people understand cultural differences are to blame, and everyone can just laugh it off in the end, but speaking for myself, I do everything I can not to make those mistakes again.
But sometimes you can’t help but notice when another culture takes something far more seriously than you ever learned to in your own. From grammar to gruyere, these are the five things I’ve noticed French people take very seriously.
1. The French Language
It’s no secret that European countries tend to be snobs about the language that came from within their boundaries. England is protective of Shakespeare, as is Italy of Machiavelli, and even Russia seems sometimes protective of Dostoyevsky. But the French take it to a whole new level.
Case in point: The Académie Française.
The Académie Française is an organization most recently put in place in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte as an institution to protect and preserve the French language, more specifically the regulation of French grammar, spelling, and literature.
If you’re thinking, “Huh, this sounds kind of like if the Hollywood foreign press went institutionalized,” you would be absolutely right. The Académie is composed of 40 absolute French language snobs who represent a little of the worst and a little of the best there is to offer in the French language. Historically, the Académie has included in its membership writers like Victor Hugo, philosophers like Voltaire, and a number of other lawyers, scientists, politicians, and even senior Roman Catholic clergymen.
And who better to be the head of the Académie than the President of France himself?
The group deals with things as they come, trying to preserve the French language as best as possible while also allowing for it to change and evolve. It recognizes the threat of anglicisms as a real one, and so has in some instances literally invented official words for inventions (one such example being the word ordinateur for computer).
More recently, the Académie held emergency sessions to determine if Covid would be considered masculine or feminine. (They decided it was feminine, so I guess we can all sleep a little more soundly knowing it’s la Covid instead of le Covid.)
2. Separation of Church and State
French separation of church and state, much like that in the US, isn’t perfect at all, and there are plenty of loopholes and overlooked exceptions to the rules. However, compared to what is often seen in the US (for example, “In God We Trust” on the back of much of the currency), it’s significantly different.
Though many French cathedrals and basilicas are technically the property of the state, they are seen as historical sites, rather than places of worship, for the purposes of state funding (obviously it is recognized that these places are still active parts of religion). Additionally, the institutions that run the churches are in no way allowed to be subsidized by the state at all. Similar to the US, churches don’t pay tax, but they also aren’t allowed to run programs that are funded by the state.
The other main way this separation manifests itself is within schools. Students in public schools aren’t allowed to wear religious symbols, and though the law is relatively vague on this, it is generally accepted that this includes pretty much anything distinctively representing a religion. The biggest source of debate for this has surrounded the wearing of hijabs, but students who wear large crosses, headscarves, or yarmulkes could also face being sent home.
3. Bread, Cheese, and Wine
I’ve touched on this briefly before, but there are about a million different rules when it comes to how to eat your bread and cheese, and exactly what kind of wine you should pair it all with.
When it comes to bread, or more specifically baguette, the rules are relatively straightforward. Don’t cut baguette with a knife, set baguette wherever you want (but it had better not be upside down), and the guy who buys it, tries it.
The real ordeal is that these sort of defy the regular rules of table warfare. Typically one should only try to divide bread with a knife, they should keep their bread on the plate, and especially in France where eating in the streets is considered a bit rude, having a big chunk of bread taken out doesn’t seem like it should be okay, but it is.
For cheeses, it gets more complicated. Some of the rules are pretty mainstream – move from mild cheeses to sharper or funkier ones on a cheeseboard so that you don’t get quickly overwhelmed and lose all ability to enjoy a mild cheese.
But when it comes to getting a piece of cheese, you had better cut it right. A round piece of cheese should never be cut in any way other than triangles, because the middle of a wheel of cheese is where it ferments the most, and where it tastes the best. Similarly, if you’re taking a slice from a wedge of cheese, take more from the outside, and make sure not to cut off the “nose” of the cheese. For rectangles and cylinders of cheese, parallel slices are acceptable.
But never is it acceptable to ever spread a cheese on a piece of bread or a cracker like one would nutella or mayo. You will likely be met with a sarcastic and dry comparison of the cheese to butter, and no one really wins.
I really don’t know much about French wines other than that the famous appellations mean that professional sommeliers have tasted the wine and decided that it was worthy of tasting. People like some wines and don’t like others, but if you get one that says “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée,” people at least can’t complain that you didn’t try.
4. The Right to Protest
It’s hard to say exactly where this virtue comes from. In some ways, deep division in France has always existed in many ways, and so it might make sense through that lens that people are reminded of their right to voice their opinion. On the other hand, some say it’s a historical imperative left over from the French revolution, that displeasure should be voiced at all costs. Regardless of the reason, the French know how to protest, and they know how to do it right.
It isn’t at all uncommon to see protestors at Trocadero, nor is it a fluke to see the protesting at République, or at the Notre-Dame, or really anywhere else in Paris. These protests are sometimes composed of only a dozen or so people, and sometimes they take their numbers in the thousands, and they almost always include music, speakers, and even food sometimes.
That’s not to mention the fantastic protest signs that you can see at these things sometimes. French is literally the language of double entendre, so play on words within protest signs is a fantastic tool that I always enjoy laughing at.
One of the first protest signs I saw was a discarded sign in a trash can that read, “Macron, tu descends?” It was later explained to me that the sign was a reference to an ultra-cheesy rap music video from the 90’s called “C’est Ton Destin.” Glorious.
Another I once read translates a little better. It was a protest about pay inequality, and the sign said something to the effect of, “Look at your rolex, see? It’s time for change.”
While in the US we often see dinner as the central meal of the day, for many French families it is actually lunch that is found to be more important, at least during the week. It’s no secret that the French like to take their time with their food, so it isn’t exactly shocking that they take an extended lunch break, but most of the time people really go all out for it.
In many places, school children get out of school for a period of time for lunch, usually a couple of hours. The idea is that the kids can go home with their parents and eat, and then go back to school without missing a beat. (After having eaten lunch at French public school, I can confidently say don’t worry about the kids who don’t go home for lunch. They get taken care of perfectly fine.)
For employees that aren’t able to go home for lunch, most employers are required to either feed their employees a quality lunch, or give them a monthly stipend that is dedicated to having lunch. This practice tends to be more relevant for white collar jobs.
All of this massive importance placed on lunch means that from noon to 2pm, expect for everything to be shut down. You might be able to peek your head into a grocery store, but other than that your only other bet would be a restaurant, where you would buy your lunch. Banks close, offices close, post offices close, everything closes for that two hour window.
The French might be serious about these things (that admittedly sometimes seem ridiculous), but if in doubt, admit you’re a confused foreigner and most people will clear things right up.
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Though a picture of the Eiffel tower might be the first to pop into your head when you hear the word “France,” that idea is relatively new. Before the tower’s construction in 1887, people from around the world thought not of one massive metal structure, but of the more than 100 cathedrals scattered throughout the country, the most famous of which being of course the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.
The Notre-Dame is currently under construction from the fire a couple of years back, but there are still plenty of cathedrals still worth seeing in Paris if you make the trip. From stained glass to massive tombs, these are the five cathedrals you need to see in Paris.
1. The Sainte-Chappelle
The Sainte-Chappelle (or literally the Holy Chapel), is probably one of my favorite cathedrals to visit. It is located on the Île de la Cité, only a few hundred yards away from the Notre Dame, and because of this it is often overlooked. It is relatively unassuming from the outside, and is surrounded by much newer buildings that obscure the bottom portion of it to begin with. But the outside isn’t what makes this cathedral so gorgeous.
The inside of the church is one of the most brightly colored and absolutely stunning places on earth. The ceiling is painted dark blue like the night sky, with thousands of golden fleur-de-lis spotting it all over like stars. (The word ceiling comes from the French word for sky, “Ciel.”) Golden archways break up the portions of the blue ceiling, and that’s just the start.
When you make your way to the upper chamber, you are flooded immediately by the millions of colors that make up the stained-glass windows, which run from the top of the ceiling (about 18m up) all the way down to just about head-level. The windows are practically the only way light gets in the room, so instead of a regular yellow or blue light, the room is filled with an intense chroma that is unlike anything else. The stained glass tells the story of the bible in detail, likely to help oral tradition in a time when literacy was for the privileged.
The Sainte-Chapelle is probably the most colorful place in France, and is without a doubt one of the most unique cathedral experiences out there.
2. The Sacré-Coeur Basilica
I’ve written about the Sacré-Coeur Basilica before, and with good reason. It’s perched on Montmartre, meaning that it rests with one of the best views of Paris there is. The cathedral is extremely young, having only been consecrated about a hundred years ago, meaning that it comes with some some interesting political background.
The cathedral came from the new French Third Republic, which was adopted in 1870, and the location was chosen because of the execution of the Archbishop of Paris on the mountain, who became a sort of martyr for the catholic church. Eventually, his successor reportedly had a vision on the top of the mountain, called it the mountain of the martyr, Montmartre, and said that the Sacré-Coeur should be built there.
It’s basically a big white castle on the hill. I’m not an architect, and architectural styles tend to be lost on me, but the rooftops of the Sacré-Coeur reminds me quite a lot of St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow, without the color of course. Supposedly its distinctive white rooftops, combined with it sitting on top of the hill, was a useful tool for airplane pilots during the world wars.
And as if the beautiful view wasn’t enough, Montmartre is the home to tons of other cultural elements of Paris. The result is musicians and street performers frequenting the steps of the Sacré-Coeur, making the whole experience even more enjoyable. If the cathedral doesn’t exceed expectations, the area will.
Okay, technically this is a church, not a cathedral (the difference, if you’re wondering, is that the leader of it is a priest and not a bishop), but it definitely is worth being on the list. Not only is the church impressive inside and out, but it’s well known outside of its architecture for the role it plays in The Da Vinci Code (both the book and the movie).
The church houses quite a bit of significant art, including some smaller sculptures by the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. However, the main piece of interest in the Saint-Sulpice is the massive ornate organ that hangs over the entire chamber. Supposedly, with the only real exception being the addition of an electric blower in the early 20th century, the organ is maintained today in pretty much the same condition it was when it was made nearly 160 years ago.
The first time I went to the Saint-Sulpice a couple of years ago, it was just a week or so after an arson attempt had caught a significant portion of the building on fire, damaging a door and some stained glass windows. Thankfully the fire had been put out quickly by firefighters, and there hadn’t been any extensive damage to much of the rest of the things inside, but I distinctly remember the smell of the smoke that hung in the air. That was only about a month before the Notre Dame fire, but it has stuck in my memory almost as much.
4. The Dôme des Invalides
While technically this cathedral isn’t really in use anymore, it is no less impressive than when it was. As I’ve talked about before, les Invalides is basically a massive military complex that includes a military museum, as well as some rehabilitation facilities, and a veterans chapel. The main exhibit, though, is the Dôme des Invalides.
The dome is a beauty in itself, and I have the great fortune of walking by it nearly every day I go to class. It’s massive and golden, with a big ol’ golden steeple sticking out the top of it, truly a display of Napoleonic French wealth and show. And that is only fitting, considering that it houses what is considered the final resting place for Napoleon himself.
The tomb of Napoleon sits in the middle of a sunken in hole in the middle of the room, which immediately brings it to your attention. The massive sarcophagus is surrounded on all sides in the lower level by twelve bas-relief portraits of different moments of Napoleon’s reign, and the floor is covered in mosaics that detail the battles he led.
On the far side of the main room is a statue of the crucified Christ. It makes a sort of altar, with some of the most beautiful pillars I’ve ever seen made from black and white marble. On the ceiling above the altar is a really nice painting of what I only assume to be a depiction of ascension to heaven, and behind it is a glass window that looks into the still-active veterans chapel-cathedral.
The dome has been something other than a cathedral for nearly two centuries now, but it’s an amazing place to go see regardless, and it deserves a spot on this list.
5. The Notre-Dame
Okay, even without the recent fire, this one seems kind of obvious, but it’s for good reason! The Notre-Dame is a great place to visit if for no other reason than that it just feels important. It isn’t at all difficult to get lost in the joy of seeing different cathedrals, and going on too many cathedral visits in one trip can easily wash out any importance that a single cathedral can give you. But the Notre-Dame is different.
I’ve only been in the Notre-Dame once and it was only about a month before the fire happened. It was the first cathedral I had ever been into, and the sheer amount of amazing art and history in the place is almost overwhelming.
What’s also clear is that despite its distinctiveness, the Notre-Dame has also essentially served as a template for almost every major cathedral built since then in France. Even if you go out of Paris, local cathedrals tend to very clearly mimic in many ways the makeup of the Notre-Dame, even though they almost all add their own features that make them unique as well.
It’s obviously under construction right now, but that too is a good reason to go see it when it does reopen. We lived through a major historical event, in a building that has been riddled with important history for more than eight centuries. The ability to see something like that happen comes once in a lifetime, at best, and it makes it ten times more compelling to go and see it when everything is repaired in the end.
The cathedrals of France are world-renowned for being some of the best, and they really do prove themselves when you go to see them. They provide insight into not just the moment of history they were built in, but into the things they’ve endured in their long lifespans. It’s nearly impossible to find oneself in a cathedral without thinking about just how much the building itself has seen, which brings a whole new meaning to “if these walls could talk.”
If you get the chance to see a cathedral or two in Paris, make sure you hit one of these, and you won’t be disappointed.
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The image of a French person walking through the sunny rows of open-air farmers’ market stands to pick out their fresh groceries for the day is often conjured when we idealize a daily grocery run in Paris. But, much like what is seen in the US, such a trip is usually reserved for the weekend, when people simply have the time to make eight different stops to get the groceries they need. For the rest of the week, regular grocery stores like Monoprix, Franprix, and G20 often are the way everyone tends to get their groceries.
But even though the trip isn’t always as luxurious as it sometimes seems, there are plenty of fantastic things you can find in your average French grocery stores that would top charts in the US. From basic ingredients to premade snacks, here are six French grocery store items I wish were in American grocery stores.
1. French Butter
French butter is the obvious top of this list. Not only is it globally renowned as some of the best butter out there, but it’s one of the amazing base ingredients for all of the delicious pastries and snacks that one finds throughout the boulangeries and patisseries in France. French croissants specifically capitalize on the French butter, as does fresh brioche bread.
There is a particular science to what makes French butter the best in the world, but the essence of it is that French butter has more butterfat. It’s made using methods that are in some instances hundreds of years old, and it shows in the product. On top of that, French butter often has appellation d’origine contrôlée (otherwise known as AOC) status, meaning that it comes from particular regions of France and is often better off for it.
Soda is, and probably always will be, my biggest weakness. Aside from the addicting carbonation, it also tends to be the easiest way for a caffeine addict like me (who doesn’t particularly like coffee or tea) to get their energy fix. But, as anyone who has traveled outside of the US probably knows, soda is a whole different deal abroad.
The traditional example is with Coca-Cola, specifically how much better it tastes with cane sugar than with high-fructose corn syrup, but for me the real winner when you come to France is Orangina. Orangina is an orange soda, but not at all like Fanta or Sunkist. It tastes more like if you mixed orange juice with Sprite, and its utterly amazing. Seriously, the best soda out there in my humble but honest opinion.
You can find Orangina if you look hard enough in the states, but here in France it’s in every grocery store, every restaurant, and every convenience shop you can find. It isn’t heavy like darker sodas, so it’s perfect for the Parisian picnic under the Eiffel Tower or just for wandering around the city with.
Saucisson is the hard, almost salami-like sausage that can be particularly great for charcuterie spreads and as appetizers. These don’t usually come in slices though; they come in entire batons. You can get a baton of saucisson at just about any grocery store, and if you’re only looking for a small bite to eat, you can also get packages of little pencil-sized batons for snacking.
What I particularly like about a French saucisson is that it often takes on a sort of nice greasy and rich salty taste that you don’t see as much of in American summer sausages. They make great afternoon snacks, and are absolutely perfect with some baguette or a piece of cheese. Plus, they obviously have a great shelf life, so you don’t really ever have to worry about them going bad.
Obviously France is extremely well known for its cheese, but most of that comes from the culture of going to the fromagerie to pick up specific kinds of cheese, rather than what you get on your grocery run. Grocery stores aren’t usually the place to go to get wildly complex kinds of cheese or specific varieties from certain parts of the country.
But what grocery stores do carry is often still far superior to what we normally see in the US. Though it depends on the store, most places I’ve seen at least have a few kinds of goat cheese, some fresh pieces of parmesan and balls of mozzarella, and then some soft cheese like camembert, brie, etc. The thing I like to get is called Caprice des Dieux, which literally translates to “A Whim of the Gods.” Though that might be a slight overstatement, it’s a great soft cheese that’s a little bit funky, and perfect for things like grilled cheese, pasta, or just a regular sandwich.
Grocery stores also have most of the average cheeses you can find in the US, like cheddar, gouda, swiss, and most plentifully, emmental (of which you can get in just about any form or quantity you like). But if you’re in France, why go with something too normal?
5. Sliced Brioche
Anyone who’s ever had French toast or grilled cheese with brioche instead of white bread knows what I’m talking about here. Sliced brioche is perfect bread for the quick or spontaneous meal, and because of its richness, I always find myself feeling more full after having a sandwich with brioche than having one made with white bread.
While you can certainly get some brioche tranchée at your local boulangerie, it’s probably going to cost you a little bit more, and because products from bakeries don’t often include preservatives, it won’t last very long either. When you get it from the grocery store, the shelf life is notably longer, and, like I said, you don’t necessarily need it for fancy meals anyways.
You can find brioche in some places in the US, but at least in my experience it’s almost random where you can find it, and it often is significantly more expensive when you eventually do.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a Little Debbie’s oatmeal creme pie as much (if not more than) the next guy. But what you can get in the sweets aisle in the average French grocery store is seriously next level sometimes.
Among these are bags of madeleines and their different varieties, all kinds of biscuits and sweet crackers, and one of my personal favorites, Petites Écoliers, which are sweet butter biscuits with a piece of chocolate on top. Even items from global brands like M&M and Oreo come in different forms, usually on some kind of butter biscuit as well.
The sweet treat I’ve been stuck on recently have been raspberry génoise biscuits, which are essentially a layer of a soft biscuit, a layer of raspberry jam, and a layer of dark chocolate on top. I believe the way I described them to someone was as “eat the whole sleeve and want some more” good.
6. Le Gaulois Chicken Cordon Bleu
Alright, so this one isn’t nearly as luxurious as anything else I’ve mentioned, nor is it something that I’ve heard a single French person even rave about in any capacity. No, the stovetop chicken cordon bleu from Le Gaulois holds a special place for me for two entirely different reasons.
First of all, it’s an absolutely extraordinary dish for university students like myself. It’s cheap, it has everything you need in a meal, and it takes less than ten minutes to prepare it. Plus, only taking one pan, it’s easy cleanup for someone like me, who doesn’t have a dishwasher and isn’t particularly fond of doing dishes in the first place.
Second, though, and the reason I say to get it from Le Gaulois rather than from another brand, is because of the magnets inside. Just like cereal boxes used to have little prizes inside of them, each box for Le Gaulois chicken has a little magnet inside that corresponds to a region in France. Each magnet has the name of the department, its capitol city, and something (usually a product or monument) it is known for.
It isn’t particularly extraordinary chicken, nor is it necessarily worth spending too much time or energy focusing on, but the magnets are good fun and for a cheap meal I’ll gladly take it.
French grocery stores don’t often house particularly fancy or indulgent things, but what they do have often differs greatly from what is available in the US. If you make the trip to France, take the opportunity to stop into a regular grocery store and get some basic groceries that you can’t find in the US. It almost never fails to be worth it.
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Why Our Representatives Don’t Represent the American Population, and What We Can Do to Change That.
The US government is facing a representation problem, or more accurately, is still facing a representation problem. By this I mean that the issues which often feel as though they are said and done — gender, racial, and even sexual equality — are far from being brought to fruition in the ways they are meant to.
Within today’s congress, women are one of the most underrepresented groups despite having had some number of female representatives for over a century now. They make up only about a quarter of the current congress, despite being more than half of the general population. The Hispanic population makes up 18% of the population, but only about 8.6% of congress are Latinx.
The trend continues: 11% of congress is black compared to more than 13% of the population. Asian Americans are almost 6% of the population, but have only a 3.2% representation in congress. There are eleven LGBT members of congress, amounting to about 2%, despite even conservative estimates saying that more than double that identify as LGBT (estimates of the LGBT population notoriously have a difficult time quantifying closeted individuals). 1.1% of the country is Muslim, despite only 0.6% of congress being so.
Regardless of political stature, the virtue of a democracy is that every voice is heard. In an ideal world, this would ultimately result in every subgroup or minority having a proportional representation in congress (for example, there being 51 female senators, rather than 24), but that clearly isn’t happening. This ideal sort of democracy is the entire thing we should strive for not just as a political aim, but because it is morally right.
How It Happens
There are plenty of factors that go into reinforcing a straight white male supermajority. Some of them are historical, and will (in theory) slowly wear off as time goes on. Others are based in subconscious bias that says, for example, that because we have always had men as presidents, they are somehow a more reliable or secure choice (clearly a fallacy in itself).
The more manageable issue, though is the electoral one. The structure of our democratic republic is set up so that each congressman represents about 700,000 people, with each senator of course representing their entire state which vary widely in population. With our vote, we have influence only over the house races in the district we live in — no other.
The issue with this is when minority groups don’t make up a majority within that population. Hispanic people may make up 18% of the population, but if 90% of the Hispanic population lives within fifty house districts, those Hispanic people will never have the power in numbers to elect the 18% they might deserve. LGBT people might make up around 5% of the population, but that is spread out as roughly the same proportion nationwide, meaning they will always have a minority in every single race.
This means that the districts where minorities are more likely to win tend to be those districts that feel represented by the minority. Consider New York’s 14th district, which is made up three quarters by non-white people. A group like that feels highly represented by someone like Hispanic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. From a purely demographic standpoint, she is less likely to win even an equally democrat district that is majority white.
Women are the only group here that have basically the same cut of the population nationwide, but they’re the whole reason a quarter of congress is female in the first place. Women vote at a rate of roughly 4% higher than men, meaning they show up at the polls, but that doesn’t mean they always have a woman to vote for in the first place. Some reports have shown that 70% of congressional races do not include a woman in the race, with only 2% of districts having more than one woman in the election.
One of the main problems upfront is that women and minorities tend to vote for Democrats, and they tend to run as Democrats. What this means in effect is that districts where Democrats don’t win, they are more often represented by white men.
For example, women who run as Democrats tend to win their primary elections, and even tend to win general elections more often than women who run as Republicans, but they also usually win those elections in places that already leaned left to begin with.
It should be made clear that this isn’t to say Republican women don’t win elections — in many cases they most certainly do. In fact, 2020 was heralded as “The Year of the Republican Woman” by many as the amount of congressional Republican women more than doubled, going from 13 to 28 in a single election. In some cases, as was the instance for Stephanie Bice in Oklahoma’s 5th district, Republican women even beat their female Democratic opponent.
Regardless of political party, though, there are social obstacles too. According to polling from 2019, 94% of Americans would vote for a woman for president, with only three-quarters of Americans saying they would vote for a gay/lesbian person for president, and only two-thirds saying they would vote for a Muslim person for president. Obviously the role of president and the role of a member of congress are vastly different, but this just proves the theory that people will choose to not vote for someone based on a single characteristic of that person that has no real-world impact on their ability to govern.
Though updating voting rights is a crucial part of solving much of this problem (e.g., making sure black people really have 13% of the vote), it isn’t a long term fix for anything, and it doesn’t even really solve the initial problem as much as it just makes the solution a little clearer.
There are two parts of the solution to this problem that we can actively partake in.
The first part of the solution is a messaging one: we have to promote the idea that everyone has an equal capacity to govern. Even after significant progress has been made in the realm of civil rights since the original signing of the constitution, stigmas surrounding minorities and women persist that don’t actually prove to be true.
We have to get on board with the idea that just because a lesbian woman might not represent you in identity, that doesn’t reduce their ability to argue for the things you believe in. We might disagree on the details of legal abortion, but we have to tear down the idea that women generally support abortion more than men do (because they don’t). We have to take a broad look at the reasons people might find some candidates unfit for office due to their identity, and ask if that actually has any bearing on their ability to represent you, because it almost always doesn’t.
The second part of the solution is taking an active role in supporting those campaigns for minorities and women that are qualified for their jobs. This doesn’t just mean voting for a representative in your district that represents a minority — in fact, that kind of identity politics isn’t helpful for anyone in the end.
What it really means, rather, is putting money and volunteer time towards candidates who are truly qualified to represent their district, but might not have the demographic math on their side. A middle-eastern woman in Iowa can be completely and entirely qualified for her job in the US House of Representatives, so we have to make sure that we help her win that race with the full knowledge that it’s an uphill battle for her.
(A side note on money in politics: There is often an icky feeling that is related to the often sickening amounts of money put into politics in the US. While in many ways this is certainly valid, donating to campaigns outside of your district is a different form of democracy protected under the first amendment. Your vote is one way to make a difference in your district, but your time and money is how you can make a difference outside of it.)
This also takes the role of working to have those minority candidates on both sides of the ticket. Returning to the example of Stephanie Bice in Oklahoma, she went counter to the probabilities afforded to her. She’s an Iranian-American, Republican woman — from a demographic standpoint, she isn’t likely to win in Oklahoma. Yet after six years in the state legislature she is entirely qualified for the role that she ultimately won as a US Representative.
The point is that often times minorities don’t win races because they aren’t supported on all sides, not because they have some inherent aptitude for loss or because they aren’t qualified. Both sides of the ticket have a responsibility to find and run qualified minority candidates in an effort to even the scales that have been tipped in favor of the white man since the founding of the country.
What We Can Do
The first thing we can do is to make sure we are actively paying attention to our own individual language, our own messaging per se, and verifying that we aren’t contributing to stereotypes that reduce chances for women and minorities. Additionally, correcting others when you hear them contributing to those stereotypes is important to making sure people realize their own subconscious biases. Almost no one actually wants to be racist, sexist, or xenophobic in any way; they just don’t often realize that’s what they’re doing when they make comments they probably shouldn’t make.
As cliché as it might sound, getting involved is the other major thing we can all do. We can’t all do everything or help everyone, but finding a single candidate that you really like as a candidate and who represents an under represented minority group — even if that candidate is out of your district or even out of your state — and donating your time and money to ensuring they get into office is a huge deal. You don’t have to sacrifice your beliefs to help someone who deserves a job they’re running for, you just have to be willing to find that person.
Underrepresentation is a problem, but what is even more problematic are entire swaths of the country being represented by people that don’t relate to their lived experiences. The perfect world that has demographics being represented in congress to the percentage point might never come, but we can each do our part in making sure that the moral arc of history bends towards that justice.
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France has all the nice cheeses and wines you could ever want, it has bourguignon and plenty of omelettes to go around, and it overflows from the borders with its culinary excellence in plenty of ways. But none of that culinary expertise, none of the delicious mother sauces nor any of the cheeses and butters would be of any value at all if it weren’t for the single most important piece of French culture: the baguette.
The baguette, in fact, is likely part of what you think of when you consider France in the first place. Trying to pretend to speak French? Say the word “baguette” in a funny voice, and you’ve nailed the impression. As important as the baton of bread is to food culture within France, it might be equally important to the image of France to the rest of the world. I’m not sure any of the French really mind that either.
But baguettes can be complicated. Sure, you can go in to plenty of boulangeries, ask for a baguette, and walk out with one. But it tends to be far more rewarding to actually know what you’re dealing with, so that when you bite into your baguette, you can truly appreciate what went into making it, and why you like it in the first place.
So, to simplify the process of learning the important parts of baguette culture from embarrassing yourself at the boulangerie and at the dinner table, here’s the beginners guide to the baguette.
1. The Basics
A baguette, literally meaning “baton” or “wand” in French, is that long but thin loaf of bread that the French have grown quite fond of. But, in order to avoid confusion with other kinds of breads, there are a number of regulations in place to define what exactly can be called a baguette, and what is just some other loaf of bread.
In size, a baguette must meet these conditions:
about 65cm long
between 4cm and 6cm wide
between 3cm and 5cm tall
The other physically defining detail of a baguette is its texture, namely being crispy on the outside but being nice and fluffy on the inside. This texture might vary slightly from one baguette to another, or one boulanger to another, but is relatively consistent even between the best and the worst baguettes.
In ingredients and handling, there is also a number of specifications that a baguette must meet by law. According to the Décret Pain of 1993 (literally “The Bread Decree”), anything advertised as “Pain Traditionnel de France” must be made with wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast starter, and must not be frozen at any point during their making. Additionally, if a bread is advertised as “Pain Maison” must be kneaded, shaped, and cooked at either the place of sale, or sold by the person who made the bread somewhere else. What’s more, according to a 1998 law, any bakery that identifies itself as a “boulangerie” must bake their bread fresh daily, and on-site.
2. Baguette Varieties
Walking into a boulangerie can be an overwhelming experience the first few times, in large part because of the variety of breads and pastries that can exist in it. Though pointing and kindly asking for the bread “celui-là” (right there) works perfectly fine, it can be helpful to know some of the different kinds of breads so that you can ask for exactly what you want.
Baguette Classique – Also called the baguette normale or the baguette ordinaire, this is the classic French baguette that is great for eating with a meal or for a sandwich. This is the kind of baguette subject to the rules above, and you can find this kind at any bakery and most grocery stores as well. These usually cost less than €1.00 at bakeries, and about half that at grocery stores.
Baguette Tradition – The baguette tradition is the artisanal version of the baguette that is a little more refined than the classique. These kinds of baguettes honestly taste great on their own, or with just a little bit of butter. It usually is a little darker in color, and richer in flavor, but has the same dimensions and basic ingredients as the baguette normale. Because it’s an artisanal kind of bread, these baguettes usually cost a little more, about €1.20 or so at the bakery.
Une Ficelle – Literally meaning “a string,” this one is almost like a long bread stick. It is thinner and smaller than your typical baguette, but is often quite similar in recipe (though not always). This one is not technically a baguette, and it should be noted that it is not “une baguette ficelle” but really just “une ficelle.”
Une Flûte – A flûte is the opposite of a ficelle, and is much wider and bigger than a typical baguette, though again, is often made from the same recipe and dough. Like the ficelle, this is not “une baguette flûte” but rather just “une flûte.”
Un Viennois – This is what most Americans refer to as “French bread.” It’s a little wider than a baguette, and is soft rather than crispy on the outside, as well as the inside. I have seen versions of this kind of bread with raisins or even chocolate chips in them, though I’m not sure how common that is nationwide. Again, this is not a baguette, but its own separate thing.
3. Ordering a Baguette
As I said previously, going into a bakery can be daunting the first few times. There are dozens of kinds of breads and pastries staring you in the face, and I can never help my eyes from wandering and soaking up all of the great colors and shapes we don’t often see in American stores (or even bakeries for that matter).
After waiting in line, when it comes your turn to make your selection, this is often when the person behind the counter will give a customary bonjour to you. In my experience, they typically hold off saying it to you immediately when you walk in the door (unless of course there is no line) in order to indicate that it’s your turn. First things first; say bonjour back. Anything else comes across as rude.
Give your order with a “je voudrais” (meaning “I would like”), but don’t go too fast if you have more than a couple of things. When ordering your baguette, it is totally common to ask for it “bien cuite” (meaning well cooked and darker on the outside) or “pas trop cuite” (meaning less cooked and a bit paler on the outside). This is just a preference thing, but it certainly isn’t rude at all to ask for something specifically. You can also usually ask for a demi-baguette, which is half of a baguette, and they will cut it in half for you (though if you can’t eat the whole thing by yourself feed the pigeons or something).
Once the boulanger/boulangére has gotten everything you asked for, they will likely ask, “ça sera tout?” or, “will that be all?” There’s no obligation to say yes to this, but no shame in it either.
When paying, always try to have cash (or coins, as euros come in €2 and €1 pieces) on hand. Some boulangeries have a minimum amount required before they will accept a card payment, and you don’t want to be that guy at the bakery.
4. Baguette Rules
Much like everything else in French culture, the baguette has a number of rules and customs that are typically followed surrounding the baguette itself. Here are the big ones:
He who buys the baguette, may taste the baguette– The person who made the journey to go get the baguette is often rewarded with the privilege of ripping the end off of it and tasting it. This is particularly rewarding if the baker just took the baguette out of the oven, and it’s still warm.
Do not cut a baguette with a knife – Baguette has a nice crunchy crust which makes it easy to tear apart, and therefore there is absolutely no good reason to use a knife to cut the baguette. There are very few exceptions to this rule, and if in doubt, always tear a piece off.
The baguette goes where it goes – Most of the time, putting food directly on the table is a little weird, but not with baguette. It isn’t at all uncommon for people to place their piece of baguette just above their plate on the table. However, if that isn’t your thing, there’s no rule saying you can’t put it on your plate either. It really is just up to you.
Don’t set a baguette upside down– This is considered bad luck in most circles. I’ve seen theories saying that baguette placed with the bottom facing upwards on a countertop used to mean it was reserved for the executioner, and thus is now bad luck. Take it or leave it as a theory, but the practice is bad luck.
5. Eating It
Though many baguettes are delicious of their own right, don’t feel constrained in eating a baguette however you choose to. There isn’t a secret set of customs for how or when to eat a baguette, and with an estimated 30 million baguettes sold daily, I would wager that the bread baton has been eaten in just about every way possible.
Baguette is often included in breakfasts, though is also seldom the main part of it. Many people butter it and add jam or nutella, and some will dip the buttered baguette into their coffee. Though many restaurants don’t serve baguette with lunch and dinner service, many do provide some to you if you order breakfast (particularly if eggs are involved).
For lunches, the best use case is as the bread for a nice sandwich, subway style. The jambon beurre, or literally “ham butter” sandwich, is the quintessential French sandwich, and is perfect street food as well as great for packing to go (more on the jambon beurre here). It also is used as the bun on a French style hot dog, which is literally a hot dog sausage in a baguette and drowned in cheese before being toasted.
For dinner, baguette is used as both a sort of palate cleanser to be used at your discretion, as well as to saucer, or literally for wiping up the sauce, broth, or grease from your plate. My favorite thing to eat baguette with is just about anything with an alfredo sauce, to wipe up the plate, but it truly can be eaten with anything.
And that’s it! Now you’re as knowledgeable as most French people are about baguettes! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when getting your baguette, everyone (including French people) make mistakes all the time. It’s worth it in the end, when you get to taste your delicious French baguette.
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France is well known as the culinary capital of the world, and with good reason. But too often the discussion of French food gets wrapped up in expensive caviar and pompous fois gras, and absolutely loses touch with the every day reality of most French citizens who are located in the city of love. Here are six normal things you absolutely have to eat when you come to Paris.
A Crêpe Made in Front of You
Paris has hundreds – if not thousands – of crepe stands and little dives where you can pop in to grab a hot crêpe as a midmorning bite, an afternoon snack, or in many cases even to fill a midnight craving. In my experience, the crêpes aren’t usually that different from one stand to the next, but where you choose to eat it, as with all things, makes a difference.
What’s important about getting one in Paris is watching them do it right in front of you. Lots of boulangeries around the city will make crêpes fresh at the beginning of the day and let them sit in a display case for the duration of the day. These crêpes are as good as they can be, but the boulangeries should stick to the croissants. A hot crêpe is the difference between throwing the thing away after a few bites, and being glad facemasks are a thing, because you have Nutella all over your nose.
My personal favorite place to grab a hot crêpe au Nutella is on Montmartre, at a place called La Goutte de Lait (The Taste of Milk). Technically it’s an ice cream shop (and the ice cream is delicious too), but the crêpes are exactly what you want from a fresh and hot crêpe. Plus, they also sell bottles of water for pretty cheap, which is useful when you inevitably need to get that Nutella off of your nose. What’s more, though, is that the place du tertre is a great place to really experience Paris authentically. There’s a million little things that just make it the perfect place to experience what you came to see. (For more on Montmartre and the Place du Tertre, visit my other post covering them!)
Une Baguette Tradition
Baguette France is obviously uncontested as some of the best baguette, and dare I say the best bread, in the world. But French baguette is a whole world in and of itself. There are more than a dozen kinds of baguette that the French like to order at the boulangerie, but in my humble opinion, the baguette tradition (cuit au préférence) is superior.
Most places (not all) will require that you ask for a baguette tradition specifically, as they usually sell the “classique” variety too. A tradition is a form of baguette a little bit more artisanal, and a little richer too. Typically, you won’t find these at grocery stores, but only baked fresh each day at your local boulangerie. They usually cost about €0.20 to €0.40 more than the baguette classique, but it’s worth every centime.
These things are great. They don’t need much, if anything, to be worth eating because they hold a ton of unique flavor and texture in them. I have, no joke, eaten entire baguettes tradition without any condiments, cheese, or filling. They’re that good.
Sandwich Jambon Beurre
The jambon beurre, or literally ham butter, sandwich isn’t delicious because of any sort of complexity or overexuberance. In fact, what it excels at is quite the opposite. All the jambon beurre really is is half a baguette tradition, spread with some authentic French butter, layered with a few pieces of thick cut French ham, and occasionally a few slices of emmental cheese. That’s it.
But this simple sandwich speaks to exactly why France is the culinary capitol of the world in the first place – every single ingredient of the jambon beurre is made by someone who has likely spent their entire life, or a sizable portion of it, learning how to make that ingredient. In many cases, the ingredient is part of a traditional recipe handed down from generation to generation. A baguette tradition is the bread made by artisan bakers; the butter is made by farmers on a family plot owned for a hundred years or more; the ham is cooked for just long enough in a unique process fine tuned by its maker.
The other great beauty of the jambon beurre in Paris is its quality as a great street food. You don’t need a table, a fork, or really even a napkin to eat it. It’s the perfect lunch if you don’t have much time in Paris, so you can grab it and eat it as you’re walking through the tuileries or across one of the many beautiful plazas in Paris.
Something That Looks Too Sweet
If you’re anywhere in Paris, and especially if you find yourself in the center of it, you will certainly pass a patisserie displaying dozens of handheld sweet treats in the window. They’re always gorgeous and they look almost like works of art rather than pastries. But, most Americans (myself included) take a look at them, admire them, and then start to think about just how overly sweet they probably are. I have no clue why we always think this; maybe it’s because we don’t see elaborate pastries like this in the US, or maybe it’s because we just have too much sugar to begin with. Whatever the root cause, if that thought runs through your head, it’s probably wrong.
I urge you to choose something that looks so entirely sickeningly sweet, and buy and taste it. Usually you can get something like that for less than five euros, but it can totally change the way you see sweets forever. They are sweet, don’t get me wrong, but it almost always comes in a seemingly natural form. If you get a tarte aux fraises, the sweetness seldom comes from the glaze over the top, but from the strawberries themselves. If you get a gateau St. Honoré, the sweetness is even more mild, and comes from the creamy custard piped on it. It’s almost never too much sweetness, and it gives you the chance to taste all the other flavors that the pastry chef likely worked so hard to put into the pastry.
Trust me, trying something that looks way too sweet will give you a whole new respect for what were once just pretty pastries.
Several Croissants au Beurre
Once upon a time, I was going to write an article about the best croissants in France. I went to a dozen different boulangerie-patisseries, tried their croissant au beurre, ranked it within my own criteria, and went to the next one. Pretty quickly though, I realized that it was a stupid venture to begin with. There is so much variety between croissants in France, but there isn’t really a better or worse version of it.
Some croissants have a relatively tender outside, and are airy all the way through. Others have a crispy exterior, with a fluffy middle. My personal favorite kind are the places that skip the egg wash before baking, and the crispy exterior instead becomes crunchy. There’s so much variety from one patissier to the next in such a great way.
What you achieve by trying several different croissants is the ability to notice the differences between them. Don’t just accept one as better than anything you’ve had before – if you’ve never lived in France, they’re all better than anything you’ve had before! Find the best one you can to fit your own specific tastes.
Something a Little Too Pricy
One of the biggest urges that people who come to France have is to want to blend in, to have an authentic experience almost as if you were a local. Well, if you want an authentic Parisian experience, it can be encapsulated by nothing better than purchasing something for a little too much that turns out to be underwhelming.
This can take plenty of forms. It can be a dish at a restaurant that is a little pricier than everything else. It can be a type of bread at the bakery that just doesn’t seem like it’s worth the price. For me, the answer is macarons. Sure, they’re tasty, and I can enjoy a good macaron as well as anyone. They’re just so expensive it almost isn’t ever worth it.
I realize typically buying things that are too expensive is bad. But I’m serious with this one; get something that seems too pricy, taste it, and have a little moment of regret over the five or ten euros you could have saved by getting the cheaper option that tasted just as good.
The reason I say to do this is because it’s so incredibly easy to idealize Paris. When you have the Eiffel Tower in the distance and the smell of fresh bread in the air, it can be really easy to forget that Paris is just a city. Getting something that costs too much brings you back to earth and helps you realize that this isn’t an oasis, and it isn’t a utopia. Paris is just a city with a bunch of people, and a few of them make some good food too.
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I, as many probably did as well this year, spent my Martin Luther King day listening to and reading works of his (namely his “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, and his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”). In this, something that caught my attention was the theory that photos of Dr. King himself, that had been taken in color originally, have over the years been intentionally produced in black in white rather than color. The belief is that this has happened because of an ill intention to put space between our time and his time, to make it seem as though all racial inequality has been banished, and his legacy completely and entirely fulfilled.
Now, the reality of these photos isn’t quite as exciting of a story as it may sound. Color photography did exist in the 1960’s, but it was expensive and time consuming. Because the vast majority of photographers were employed by newspapers, and because newspapers were interested in both saving money and having quick turnaround times, the vast majority of photographs were taken and printed in black and white, rather than in color.
But, there is some merit behind the idea that maybe the question is deeper than a simple historical explanation. Why is it that even the most economically sound newspapers of today still choose to publish photos of him in black and white rather than in color? I find myself without a good enough answer.
Another thing that surfaced in the research I did on Monday about Dr. King was the reality of the depth of his beliefs, specifically that some of them were more callous than much of what we have chosen to remember about him.
For example, this is an excerpt from Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” many of us have heard or read on some MLK day either this year or in the past:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
And here is another excerpt from the same written work of his that is far less discussed:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride for freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice…
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Of course, there’s certainly a reason we hear one of these more often than the other. Dr. King is largely a figure of love, of kindness, of equality and of justice. The first quote proves these things we ask Dr. King to represent; the second, not so much. One could even argue that giving the second quote a bigger platform than the first reduces Dr. King’s influence, because it presents him in a light of cynicism, not hope, that it has the potential to offend, instead of inspire.
On the other hand, the second quote is very real, and we can all understand that intuitively. The Overton window certainly seems to be the limiting factor in social politics, and it is behind this middle ground that legislation always follows. You can’t move the law without moving the middle ground, and thus Dr. King makes his point that the white moderate – that person sitting in the middle, rather than one one side or the other – is the person who has more power in the end.
I think it is often that a minority of us get caught up in trying to remember the details of a certain legacy to defy its cliché. In the past day, I’ve seen many bring up Dr. King’s beliefs against capitalism, for certain kinds of law breaking, and generally his disapproval with the American system. All of these things are certainly facts of his belief system, and things he held on to throughout his life.
However, the problem I think often comes when we choose to see one set of these things over the other. Dr. King most certainly believed that love was the only thing that could drive out hate, and he also believed that the laws of man were allowed to be broken sometimes. He said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and he also said that the white moderate (and not the Ku Klux Klan) is the biggest hurdle in the fight for true equality. He had his photos taken in black and white, and he had his photos taken in color. These things can exist together; they are not exclusive.
There are pieces of Dr. King’s legacy that history has tried to wash away in the barely fifty years since his death, and we certainly must remember those pieces in spite of efforts to erase them. However, those pieces fit into the broader themes of his life, and it is his whole legacy, not our biased view of it, that is worth remembering.
The photos of Dr. King can be black and white. These are still photographs that still tell a whole truth, and there isn’t an inherent harm in having black and white photos. There was no ill intention in taking them in such a way, and there is no danger in viewing them that way now.
But there too are photos of him in color, where the lines on the Reverend King’s face are filled in and the crowd seems like more than a sea of faceless people. They don’t tell a different story, but rather a more full one, one where the gaps are closed and the margins are narrowed, and the story is told with just a little more context.
There is room to remember both versions of Dr. King. We can surely remember the black and white outlines of what he lived for as we go about our day to day life, remembering to value equality and love over suppression and hate. But we also have the capacity to remember him in color, remembering the more nuanced and occasionally less comfortable things he stood for.
In retelling his story, the responsibility falls on each of us to choose whether we will tell it in black and white, or in color. We can choose to preach only the big themes, of which there is no fault. Or, we can dare to preach like he did, in boisterous color that might just get us into some good trouble.
“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”
In talking with those that recount 9/11, my generation will often find a similar thread of memories throughout everyone. The story involves the moment an individual saw the news feed, heard the reports of the buildings being hit, and that moment being suspended in time. For those who witnessed the events, though it took months, maybe years, to truly understand what had happened, the shock was measured by an instant in time, the horror of the moment trapped in a single visual that was seen by the entire world at the same time.
But this year has been different.
This crisis, which is truly what the events of this year panned out to be in the end, had no such point. For some, the moment of understanding was watching the President make inappropriate remarks during a televised press conference. For others, it was sending loved ones into a hospital without being able to follow them in, and recognizing that it could be the last time they saw them. The world experienced shock this year in the same way it did nineteen years ago, but this time it was prolonged over the course of months. There was no moment of impact, no catastrophic graft in time that could ever be pointed at precisely.
My intent is not to compare tragedies. Doing so is never acceptable, and often ends up with us deciding one was worse than another. My intention, rather, is to recognize just how massively important this year has been for humanity as a whole.
I’m ashamed to admit just how much of this year I had managed to forget. If someone had asked me to recount the year’s events three weeks ago, I likely would have left out some of the most major things to happen. I would have forgotten to talk about the Australian wildfires that decimated parts of the country. I would have involuntarily omitted some of the major sparks leading up to the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer. I might have even forgotten to mention the cancellation of my own High School graduation, a ceremony that I will now never get.
In the past weeks, I have been reminded by numerous sources of these things and more. Beyond the actual events, which were tragic and terrifying to say the least, I have been reminded to remember the things I felt as I watched the news rush by us like a burst dam letting the ocean flood through. I remember feeling hopelessly confused as the virus began infecting the United States from coast to coast, wondering what it could mean for my future. I remember being angry at the health structures that were systematically removed because they were deemed a waste, the same structures that could have, would have, saved tens of thousands of lives in this country and around the world. I remember the sickness, the literal stomach turning feeling that washed through my body when I watched the video of Ahmaud Arbery shot and killed by two white supremacists. I remember watching the election take place, never more aware of the lasting effects that the presidency can have in almost every area it touches. I remember feeling like I had reached adulthood and been promptly given a mound of broken pieces, and even more, that the mess me and my generation were left with was somehow our responsibility to clean up.
It’s understandable that I pushed so much out of my memory of the past year. The year was packed from March to December with one crisis after another in such a way that any informed citizen needed to devote several hours a day to just keep up with what was happening, and we all collectively experienced a massive overload of information. Not to mention that life just feels better when you don’t have the impression that the world is falling to pieces around you. Ignorance is bliss, and it was easier than ever this year to simply embrace ignorance like an old friend. In fact, you’d be in good company.
But the more I’ve reflected on it, the more I’ve realized that there are major lessons within this year that cannot be forgotten. We learned just how important elections are, and that our elected officials must be held accountable both while they maintain office, and when they ask for our votes again. We learned the apparent value that exists in misinformation, and just how quickly it can spread throughout a population. We learned that to really have the best information we must listen to the best people, and we learned that even the best people can sometimes get it wrong. And with all of these things and more, we learned that the consequences can literally be life or death.
I want so badly to pretend like this year never happened, to return to some warped sense of normalcy and to believe that everything will go back to the way it was before. But I know that to do that would be irresponsible. The lessons we learned in 2020 were lessons that come once in a generation, if that. They can’t be learned from history books, but rather they are only learned through living the things that teach those lessons.
These lessons that we learn through the immense amounts of pain and sadness that we live through must then be fought for relentlessly. We have to be the ones that fight for these lessons. We need to fight for these like the Martin Luther King Jr. fought in the 60’s, like Gloria Steinem fought in the 80’s, and like the threat to a way of life that we fought against throughout the 2000’s.
We’re fighting a new battle now. It isn’t quite as sexy as a battle for civil rights, nor quite as clear as a battle against terrorism or drugs. The battle we are fighting now is for a system that just works to take care of its people. That’s not to say that we won’t have our own conflicts; conflict is always a good thing in this experiment of democracy that is the United States. But we must agree that we should help each other. We must decide unanimously to eradicate issues like the McCarthyistic mistrust we have for our neighbors, and instead we must give each other the trust we deserve for being humans that fight for the same basic goals. With that we can provide each other the help that is so urgently required of us by the communities who are now hurting the most.
My generation is the next one to fill its space in the history books. My peers are future governmental leaders and doctors and inventors, future writers and artists, future thinkers and future doers. This generation has been extraordinarily prepared to fight the battles ahead. We’ve had perhaps the best ever resources to understand the interconnected nature of the broken system that we’re living in, and already I see complex arguments emerging from the corners that address not only one issue, but hundreds of them.
For those who are ahead of my generation, I’m not asking for some sort of blind changing of the guard; such a change in duty is reckless. Rather, I’m asking that my generation be lent ears that truly listen. I’m asking that the criticisms of my peers are taken seriously, and that when the extraordinary among us do step up to the plate, that they are given their chance to make the real change that the world needs.
For those within my generation, I’m asking that you speak up. Do not let only the loudest of us be the ones that lead us. Take initiative in the things worth fighting for, and make the world a better place in whatever small way is possible for you. The world ahead of us can be better than what it is now, but it doesn’t happen without legitimate action.
The lessons we learned this year will be what my generation carries through until the last one of us is dead. We cannot forget them, nor can we ever hope to. We have to embrace what we’ve learned in this long, long year, and use that to ensure we never make the same mistakes again. With this, we will change the world.