Cable star trashes Senator Manchin!


Truly, it doesn't get dumber: Today, let's start with some political facts about the state of West Virginia.

In presidential campaigns, the state was reliably Democratic right through 1996. Dating back through FDR's four elections, West Virginia only went Republican during major national landslides, and sometimes not even then.

West Virginia voted for Humphrey in 1968, rejecting Candidate Nixon. It voted for Jimmy Carter both times, even against Reagan in 1980. It voted for Dukakis in 1988. After that, it voted for Clinton both times.

The state flipped to red in 2000, and it has never looked back. On that first (disastrous) occasion, we understood that the flip was largely connected to NRA ads about guns.

That's what we understood. But George W. Bush's winning margin in West Virginia was a mere six points that year. Four years later, in 2004, the Republican margin in the state grew to 13 points.

That advantage has never diminished. Obama lost the state by 13 points in 2008, by 27 points in 2012. And after that, the deluge! Donald J. Trump won the state each time by an astonishing margin:

Presidential elections, West Virginia
2016: Trump 67.9%;  Clinton 26.5%
2020: Trump 68.6%; Biden 29.7%

Trump beat Clinton by 41 points. Four years later, he beat Biden by 39. 

We'd love to see a full discussion of this remarkable shift in this state's political alignment. But our point today is somewhat different. Our point today is this:

Senate elections, West Virginia
2012: Joe Manchin (D) 60.6%; John Raese (R) 36.5% 
2018: Joe Manchin (D) 49.6%; Patrick Morrissey (R) 46.3%

Joe Manchin didn't win by much in 2018, during his state's remarkable shift to Trump.

No, he didn't win by much, but he did hold on. And if he hadn't managed to do that, Mitch McConnell would still be running a Republican-majority Senate. 

At least in theory, liberals, progressives and Democrats wouldn't be happy with that.

Sad but true! Given the current conservative tilt of "Senate math," and given the rise of partisan polarization, it's currently very hard for Democrats to gain control of the Senate. It's hard for Dems to amass a Senate majority—even a "majority" of 50 members out of 100.

How hard is it for Dems to control the Senate? Consider a few basic facts:

Last November, Biden won the nationwide popular vote by a margin our cable stars like to describe as a "landslide." In this way, our cable stars dumb us down, gaining short-term advantage in corporate earnings and personal salary enhancements.

That said, how they do dumb us down!  With respect to the current topic, our basic point would be this:

Even in winning the popular vote by 4.4 percentage points, Biden won only 25 states. And it gets even worse than that:

Biden managed to win the four states where the margins were closest (Georgia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Pennsylvania). And the margins were very close in those states. Overall, the winning margin in those four states was well under one percent.

It gets even worse than that. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the nationwide popular vote by 2.1 points. But good God! In the course of winning the popular vote, she won only 20 states!

These numbers suggest an obvious point. Even in years when Democrats hold a 2-5 point advantage nationwide, the alignments of the fifty states would tend to place as many as 60 Republicans in the Senate. 

With a very slight shift in the political winds, Biden could have won a three-point nationwide victory while winning only 21 states! Even while winning the popular vote, he very easily could have lost 29 states—and each of our fifty states sends two people to the Senate.

Under our current system, it's very hard for Democrats to gain control of the Senate. To do so, they have to have the occasional political miracle worker—the Joe Manchin who can hold on in West Virginia, the Jon Tester in Montana.

(In 2016 and 2020, Donald J. Trump won Montana by 20.4 and 16.4 points. In 2018, Tester held on in the face of a furious onslaught, winning re-election by 3.5 points.)

Do we think it's easy for a Democrat to win a Senate seat in a state like West Virginia—in a state which twice elected Trump by 40-point margins? Even a star like Claire McCaskill couldn't hold on in Missouri last time. They sent us Josh Hawley instead!

Do we think it's easy to win in West Virginia? Plainly, our corporate-selected multimillionaire cable stars do! Or did you fail to watch Rachel Maddow's ridiculous performance this past Wednesday night?

Maddow is highly skilled at "selling the car;" it's her one spectacular attribute. At long last, it ought to be said that she's also dumb as a rock and a true believer—a hopeless self-adoring performer who persistently dumbs us down in the course of helping us learn to adore her more completely and fully.

On Wednesday, Maddow unloosed a cri de coeur concerning Manchin's announcement that he wouldn't vote to confirm Neera Tanden as head of the OMB.  Along the way, she played every one of Our Town's sillier race / gender cards.

(By that, we mean that she made insinuations and charges about racism and sexism which she made no attempt to support or sustain. This is one of the major ways we manufacture Trump voters.)

We'll wait until Monday to show you what the multimillionaire corporate cable star said. But will the time ever come when we in Our Town decide to stop buying this car?

Way back when, this silly star played this same game, though less politely in certain ways, with respect to Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire). 

At that time, New Hampshire was a tougher state for Democrats than it is at present. Maddow showed no sign of understanding the way so basic a facts might affect the way national politics works as she bashed and trashed the vile "conservaDem" solon.

Wednesday night, it was Manchin's turn. Will the time ever come when we decide to stop buying the car this star sells?

Rachel Maddow's list of clown shows is extremely long. That said, Maddow is extremely good at "selling the car"—at her "performance of the Rachel figure," to quote Janet Malcolm in The New Yorker. 

Maddow is skilled at selling the car, and the model he sells is The Maddow. Meanwhile, she's too popular to be critiqued by Our Town's career liberal journalists, many of whom know how dumb her performances frequently are. 

Maddow's show gets dumber and dumber, and more and more pointless, as the years roll by. Here in Our Town, we're too busy attacking the dumbness of The Others to see the way this utterly stupid corporate game actually works.

Manchin found a way to hang on in 2018. If he hadn't found a way to hang on, Mitch McConnell would still be running the Senate today.

The current tilt in Senate math is very bad for Dems. At this site, we're hoping and praying that Manchin can find a way to hang on at least one more time, when he runs in 2024.

Manchin saved us from Leader McConnell. Does Our Town's self-adoring corporate darling understand this most basic of all basic facts?

Monday: Most pitiful cable speech ever?

Who will his next running-mate be?


Pundits can't seem to quit Trump: Midway through Wednesday night's program, twenty-seven minutes into his hour, Brian Williams teased his upcoming segment.

Some will find it hard to believe, but this is what he said:

WILLIAMS (3/3/21): Coming up for us after this break, if Donald Trump really runs again, will Mike Pence still be his running-mate? New reporting on who else may be in the mix, believe it or not, after this.

A commercial break ensued. When Brian returned, he played tape of Donald J. Trump being applauded at Sunday's CPAC meeting.

After playing the tape, Brian began to speak. The chyron beneath him said this:


Yes, that's what the chyron said! Quoting an actual "news report," Williams offered this:

WILLIAMS: We're crunching the numbers—he seems to have won once. 

If Trump does run again in 2024, the ticket may not include the loyal Mike Pence. Bloomberg News reporting today, quote:

"Privately, he’s discussed alternatives to Pence as he takes stock of who he believes stood with him at the end of his term and who didn’t. Trump advisers have discussed identifying a black or female running mate for his next run, and three of the people familiar with the matter said Pence likely won’t be on the ticket."

Among the names being floated, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, South Carolina senator Tim Scott.

With that, Williams proceeded to a non-discussion discussion, forcing Stuart Stevens to opine about whether Donald J. Trump would run with Pence again.

(Of course not, Stevens said.)

Yes, this actually happened. You can read the full report from Bloomberg News just by clicking this. The byline on the important report names three (3) reporters.

To Brian's credit, he seemed to direct a sardonic tone at the ridiculous topic. But at New York magazine, Ed Kilgore, a very sane person, had devoted a full post to the burning question—a question which comes closer to the need for resolution with each passing hour and minute.

This is an established part of our utterly silly "news" culture. On cable, pundits routinely kill oodles of time speculating about which running-mate a presidential nominee might select.

Again and again, cable hosts waste their viewers' time, asking every national pol with a hint of a pulse if he or she thinks that he or she night be lucky enough to be the eventual choice.

That said, Wednesday's bundle of speculations broke the record for premature time-killing dumbness.  Our pundits—or at least, their producers—just can't seem to quit Donald Trump. He's just too good for ratings.

Can it really be this dumb in the corporate sectors of Our Town? Yes, it actually can be. It can even go downhill from there!

With that in mind, consider this:

Today, Kilgore offers a gloomier post. Liberals and Democrats shouldn't expect to hold onto the House and the Senate in 2022, the gentleman might seem to suggest.

The gloomy fellow may be right. We'll offer a type of perspective on that general problem tomorrow.

In fairness, Wednesday's discussions were unusually foolish—but here in Our Town, the potential for jaw-dropping foolishness is pretty much always there. 

Who will Trump choose for his next running-mate? No really—that's what they discussed!

TIMES AND TOWN: Professor Kendi seems to agree with the Times!


But does his idea make sense?: Because of his writings on matters of race, Ibram Kendi has become one of Our Town's most influential public intellectuals.

That was already true in November 2019, when Andrew Sullivan wrote an essay about Kendi's work. 

How long ago was November 2019? The pandemic hadn't started yet—and Sullivan was still writing for New York magazine on a weekly basis.

Sullivan's essay appeared as part of his weekly Friday feature, "Interesting Times." As he started, he offered high praise for certain aspects of Kendi's work—and he cited the best-selling book which has made Kendi such an important figure in Our Town:

SULLIVAN (11/15/19): Near the beginning of Ibram X. Kendi’s celebrated best-seller, How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi writes something that strikes me as the key to his struggle: “I cannot disconnect my parents’ religious strivings to be Christian from my secular strivings to be anti-racist.” Kendi’s parents were “saved into Black liberation theology and joined the churchless church of the Black Power movement.” That was their response—at times a beautiful one—to the unique challenges of being black in America.

And when Kendi’s book becomes a memoir of his own life and comes to terms with his own racism, and then his own cancer, it’s vivid and complicated and nuanced, if a little unfinished. He is alert to ambiguities, paradoxes, and the humanness of it all: “When Black people recoil from White racism and concentrate their hatred on everyday White people, as I did freshman year in college, they are not fighting racist power or racist policymakers.” He sees the complexity of racist views: “West Indian immigrants tend to categorize African-Americans as ‘lazy, unambitious, uneducated, unfriendly, welfare dependent, and lacking in family values.’” He describes these painful moments of self-recognition in what becomes a kind of secular apology: a life of a sinner striving for sainthood, who, having been saved, wants to save everyone else.

He does not shy from the racist violence he saw growing up. He tells an anecdote of a black “crew” targeting an Indian kid for his Walkman (which they steal) on the bus one day...

As Sullivan continues, he quotes Kendi's account of this violent incident. The passage ends with Kendi seeming to chastise himself for his (wholly understandable) youthful inaction as this violence occurred.

Professor Kendi's book, How To Be an Antiracist, was already "a celebrated best-seller" as of November 2019. At the start of that essay, Sullivan praised Kendi for his ability to see the complexity of the very important part of American (and global) life his best-selling book addresses.

After that, the deluge! But before we see where Sullivan went next, let's visit the streets of Our Town:

In certain precincts of Our Town, Kendi's book has become a bit of a Bible. (So too with Robin DiAngelo's weirdly dogmatic best-selling book, White Fragility.)

You can't blame Kendi for the fact that his book is sometimes viewed in such ways. The fault, Dear Brutus, if a fault exists, lies with the rest of us—with our desire for simple, even simplistic, answers to questions which may be complex.

As he starts, Sullivan praises Kendi for the complexity of his observations. "And yet all this is deployed to deliver a message of total ideological simplicity," Sullivan writes.

You can sample Sullivan's broader critique for yourselves. Eventually, he cites a statement Kendi had recently made as part of a symposium for Politico.

In his statement, Kendi had proposed a constitutional amendment concerning racial inequities. His proposal would do this:

KENDI (2019): It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.

As Sullivan notes, this proposal is madness. It's a bolt from the far side of Neptune. The proposal makes no earthly sense. 

It isn't just that no such proposal could ever make it through the process by which the constitution can be amended. On its face, the proposal makes an obvious form of non-sense, straight outta Plato's Republic.

Who would decide who the "experts" were—the experts who would now be empowered to pass judgment on everything the nation's elected officials did? The "experts" who could take action against elected officials if they refused to "voluntarily change their ideas?"

Especially at times of confusion and turmoil, it can always seem like a good idea to put a "philosopher-king" in charge. But the idea is profoundly anti-democratic—Sullivan drops the T-bomb—and if you get the wrong philosopher-king, you can be in a world of hurt, as many of us have recently noticed here in the streets of Our Town.

By all accounts and indications, Kendi is a thoroughly decent person. Beyond that, he's read a thousand books, most of which seem to share a general point of view.

The problem begins when the reader of books decides where to take things from there. The reader's judgment may be very good—but often, such judgments are imperfect or cloudy, as Kendi's seems to be here.

So too perhaps with his view concerning public schools. Rather, with his views concerning the way we should report and discuss our public schools and the lives of the children within them.

On Sunday, in the Washington Post's Outlook section, Matthew Yglesias offered an essay under a challenging headline. Not all ‘anti-racist’ ideas are good ones, the improbable headline declared.

Can that possibly be the case? Before too long, Yglesias quoted something Kendi has said about the ways we should and shouldn't and mustn't discuss our public schools:

YGLESIAS (2/28/21): Ibram Kendi, author of the bestseller “How to Be an Antiracist,” argues for an extremely expansive concept of racism that pushes the boundaries of structural analysis to the limits. According to Kendi, any racial gap simply is racist by definition; any policy that maintains such a gap is a racist policy; and—most debatably— any intellectual explanation of its existence (sociological, cultural and so on) is also racist. He has famously argued that anything that is not anti-racist is perforce racist.

This reaches its most radical form in Kendi’s conflation of measurements of problems with the problems themselves. In his book— ubiquitous in educational circles—he denounces not the existence of a large Black-White gap in school performance but any discussion of such a gap. Kendi writes that “we degrade Black minds every time we speak of an ‘academic-achievement gap’ ” based on standardized test scores and grades. 

In discussing our public schools, we shouldn't report or discuss those (painful) "achievement gaps?" We shouldn't "speak of" those (painful) gaps? They shouldn't be mentioned at all?

According to Yglesias, Professor Kendi's book  is "ubiquitous in educational circles." Is it possible that the book also serves as a guide at the New York Times? 

For ourselves, we share Professor Kendi's concern about the pain, and the possible harm, involved in reporting those painful gaps. 

(On average, white kids outperform black kids in reading and math by what seems to be a large margin. On average, Asian-American kids outperform white kids by almost as large a gap.)

Those very large gaps can be painful; from a certain type of liberal perspective, they can also seem embarrassing. We've long assumed that that explains why the New York Times has long disappeared those painful gaps—has long refused to discuss or even report them. 

The world is simpler, and less embarrassing, when we just hide such facts. And also, of course, we don't care!

The world is simpler—life is less awkward—when big newspapers follow Kendi's prescription on this particular point. They won't get assailed for being racist—and also, nobody cares!

On the down side we end up with type of coverage of urban schools one finds in the New York Times. In our view, this coverage comes from the far side of the planet Neptune, with the nation's millions of good, decent lower-income kids being kicked to the curb in the process.

The Times' reporting pon public schools strikes us as disordered, delusional. We expect to spend a week in the near future reviewing the frameworks of that reporting, as put on display in a series of recent reports.

These frameworks have controlled public school reporting in Our Town since the 1960s. Im this matter, as in so many others, it's hard to believe that our problems will be solved when we agree that we mustn't "speak of" those problems, though we do understand why a food, decent person like Kendi might react to this as he does.

Our nation's achievement gaps are painful. They speak to a brutal racial history which no living person created. It started in 1619, as Professor Bennett noted a long time ago, in a high-profile book.

The children involved are good, decent kids. As with all other groups of kids, very few will be going to Yale. 

How do we serve the bulk of those kids—the kids who won't be going to Yale? We should start by considering the possibility that, on one matter after another, the "experts" and journalists here in Our Town may perhaps, on occasion, be wrong.

Could that be our "citizen's duty?" To speak up if our experts are wrong?

As Nicholas Kristof endorses persuasion...


...Dolly Parton shows one way it's done: We don't love the headlines on Nicholas Kristof's new column. The headlines in question say this:

How to Reach People Who Are Wrong
In the post-Trump era, research suggests the best ways to win people over. 

In this column, Kristof comes down on the side of persuasion. We urges us liberals to get off our tribal high horse and learn how to "win people over."

That said, "How to reach people who are wrong?" According to major experts, the best way to win people over is to stop insisting that they have to tell you that they were "wrong."

We don't love Kristof's headlines, but we agree with his overall point. Still, he panders to us in Our Town just a bit. This is the way he begins:

KRISTOF (3/4/21): The Trump years were a time of high passion, of moral certainty, of drawing lines in the sand, of despair at the ethical and intellectual vacuity of political foes. But now it’s time to recalibrate.

From my liberal point of view, Democrats were largely vindicated. From the Muslim ban to the separation of families at the border, from the mishandling of the pandemic to the Capitol insurrection, Democrats’ warnings aged well. Yet one of the perils in life is being proven right.

The risk is excessive admiration for one’s own brilliance, preening at one’s own righteousness, and inordinate scorn for the jerks on the other side.

It isn't hard to be "proven right" when Donald J. Trump is the opposite standard. To his credit, Kristof warns about our tribe's excessive self-admiration—but only after feeding that familiar old bugbear a bit.

"I wonder if we liberals, having helped to preserve American democracy over the last four years, are getting cocky and self-righteous," Kristof writes at one point. 

We're getting cocky and self-righteous now? Where the heck has Kristof been since maybe the 1960s?

In fairness to Kristof, he explicitly comes out, in the end, in favor of using the tools of "persuasion." To see persuasion at work in the world, take a long look at Dolly Parton.

In this report, NPR includes the four-minute video Parton released when she received her first Covid shot this week. In that video, you see someone endorsing a "blue world" prescription in "red world" raiment and language. 

She's speaking across cultural lines, recommending our prescription in a way Others may accept.

As we noted last week, Bill Clinton also knew how to do that. More specifically, he knew how to "like and admire" people with whom he disagreed.

What's the best way to win people over? For starters, stop telling them how much you loathe them. (It helps if you can honestly say and show that you don't.) Stop saying how evil they are.

You can never win everyone over. It probably helps if you can remember that you're not trying to do that.

You also won't win the least persuadable people over. It helps if you remember that you're trying to reach the most persuadable people—and if you remember that no one's required to agree with you or with your point of view.

What's the best way to win (some) people over? According to experts, we should stop insisting that they all just have to be evil and stupid and bad!

It helps if you can believe that they aren't. Or at least, that's what top experts have said.

TIMES AND TOWN: A good, decent person has read many books!


But do his assessments make sense?: Professor Ibram X. Kendi was featured in Sunday's New York Times. He was also featured in Sunday's Washington Post. 

Especially over here in Our Town—much less so in towns where Others reside—he has become a major figure in the effort to figure how to deal with our nation's brutal racial history and with its ongoing effects. We return today to the way he was featured in Sunday's New York Times.

Kendi was featured in the weekly "By The Book" interview in the great paper's Book Review section. As we noted yesterday, we became instant Kendi fans on the basis of something he said about the way he regards Sadiqa Kendi, his partner and his wife.

We like the values which Kendi expressed in that one short statement. We wish that boys and young men were exposed, on a regular basis, to instruction of the type.

("I get the joy of rediscovering you?" We always let the analysts cheer when they hear Journey singing that lyric. According to an extensive search, big giant male rock stars rarely make statements like that.)

We became instant Kendi fans on the basis of his remark in that area. We were also struck by his account of his life when he was a child and a teen

His life at that time didn't go by the book(s). This is what he said:

NEW YORK TIMES (2/28/21): What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

KENDI: I was not much of a reader as a child. In high school, I almost never read books. When teachers assigned books, I read their CliffsNotes. My little bookcase was full of little yellow CliffsNotes. It is embarrassing to talk about now. Then again, the books assigned to me were boring and irrelevant. No one was assigning me books by Walter Dean Myers. And unfortunately for me, there weren’t books available by Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Laurie Halse Anderson, Elizabeth Acevedo, Frederick Joseph, Ibi Zoboi, Tomi Adeyemi, Tiffany Jewell, Renee Watson, Kim Johnson, Nicola Yoon and Kwame Alexander. I did not become a reader until my English 101 class at Florida A&M University. That’s when a professor introduced me to James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Richard Wright, Maya Angelou and Charles W. Chesnutt.

For our money, that was a fascinating exchange—and it sent us drifting back.

Kendi didn't become a reader of books until he was in college. With regard to that exchange, we're only sorry that Kendi says he finds his high school behavior embarrassing.

By the way, all praise to the professor at A&M whose class triggered Kendi's interest. Ideally, that's one oif the things we'd most like professors to do.

For ourselves, we did read books as a child. It was what you did on Everell and Marshall Roads in the town where we lived through seventh grade. 

We're embarrassed to say that the books we seem to remember best were the million and one big-league sports novels by Joe Archibald. In Archibald's novels, the hero always made a leaping catch at the wall, but he also had a girl friend.  

We also read more classic texts—we read Little Women and Little Men—but the book we remember being inspired by was Lancelot Hogben's The Wonderful World of Mathematics. For some inexplicable reason, we were given the book as a Christmas present when we were in sixth grade.

It's a book you can buy in hardback today for as little as $920.99. We'd love to see what was in that book, but the price remains a bit steep.

(As an adult, our favorite literary genre is books which don't make sense on a very high level. We start with the "Einstein made easy" books, but the greatest example of a book which doesn't sense on a very high level is Rebecca Goldstein's Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (2006).

(We especially admire the parts in which she discusses Bertrand Russell's invention of the nonsensical and utterly silly pseudo-conundrum, Russell's Paradox. That book really doesn't make sense, on the highest levels!)

Back to the subject at hand:

We were struck by Kendi's description of his high school years. The books he was assigned to read struck him as boring, irrelevant. He defaulted to Cliff's famous Notes.

Our experience was the same, and yet different. We did read the famous books we were assigned at Aragon High. Along the way, we were being taught the ways to get 5's on that era's AP tests.

That said, we felt increasingly detached from the books we were being assigned. Why were we reading Huckleberry Finn (or The Heart of Darkness)? What did these books have to do with us?

Increasingly, we had no idea. 

It seems that Kendi, as a high school kid, felt a similar sort of detachment. We'll guess that millions of American teenagers do, not always for the same reasons. But in such ways, "education" fails.

Kendi's literary intellect came alive when he was assigned certain authors as a college student. At this point, we reach a possibly humorous aspect of his "By The Book" interview session:

As we noted yesterday, By The Book is a weekly feature in the Sunday Book Review. As we noted, the interviews sometimes seem perhaps a bit performative. Occasionally, performance may even seem to give way to something more like exhibitionism.

There's nothing evil about such behaviors, but we may tend to chuckle a bit at such entirely human times. We may have chuckled a bit during Kendi's interview, which started exactly like this:

NEW YORK TIMES: What’s the last great book you read?

KENDI: I can’t just name one. I want to highlight three great books I recently read on America’s political economy. The first, “Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership,” by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, is an expertly told history of the post-civil rights emergence of what Taylor terms “predatory inclusion.” The second, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” by William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, is the best booklong case for reparations. The third, “The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States,” by Walter Johnson, adroitly examines a U.S. history of imperial racial capitalism with its crosswinds centered in St. Louis.

Kendi has recently read three great books, not just the one asked for. Beyond that, it's possible that he has recently read five classic novels for the first time, though the actual number could possibly be larger:

NEW YORK TIMES (continuing directly): Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

KENDI: I recently read “Passing,” by Nella Larsen, published in 1929. I’m working my way through a stack of the classic novels from the Harlem Renaissance. Shout out to Penguin Classics! I also recently finished two books from the Harlem Renaissance that address colorism: “The Blacker the Berry,” by Wallace Thurman, and “Black No More,” by George S. Schuyler. These two books moved me to grab two current page-turners on the subject of colorism: “The Vanishing Half,” by Brit Bennett and “We Cast a Shadow,” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin.

Are the five books he names all novels? In case they aren't, he also cites that other stack of classic novels, the ones from Penguin Classics. 

Already, many books have been named! And as the session continues, we see an exchange which is quite familiar within this New York Times format:

NEW YORK TIMES (continuing directly): Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

KENDI: At night, I like to wind down with a book in my hands. I don’t remember the last time the pages of a book were not the final thing I saw before departing off for sleep. Since moving to Boston, I’ve been reading in bed, with a night light, straining to see the sentences. Months ago, I purchased a comfortable chaise longue chair. Pandemic-slow, it finally arrived. I read for the first time on the chair the other night. The experience was ideal. And as expected, I stayed up later than normal with the book: learning, reflecting, thinking, calming my mind. I’m hoping this ideal experience helps me read 50 books this year.

If that's the way this (highly literate) person reads, there's no reason not to say so. As we noted yesterday, we tend to view this familiar type of exchange as an example of branding on the part of the New York Times, less so on the part of the individual "By The Book" subject.

Because we've cited Huckleberry Finn, the Times may have felt the need to mention that title as well. Our youthful analysts shrieked in response to what Kendi said:

NEW YORK TIMES: You’re at the forefront of a recent wave of authors combating racism through active, sustained antiracism. How do you advise readers to approach books like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” books with conflicted or hard-to-parse racial attitudes?

KENDI: I’d advise readers of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to ensure they are also reading books like “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo, Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” “White Rage,” by Carol Anderson, Wesley Lowery’s “They Can’t Kill Us All,” Edward Baptist’s “The Half Has Never Been Told,” Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s “The Condemnation of Blackness,” Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted,” Janet Mock’s “Redefining Realness,” Brittney Cooper’s “Eloquent Rage,” “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law,” Tressie McMillan Cottom’s “Thick,” “Fatal Invention,” by Dorothy Roberts, “Begin Again,” by Eddie Glaude Jr. and Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy”—to name a few of the critically acclaimed nonfiction books that can nurture an antiracist critical eye. I’d advise readers to approach all books with an antiracist critical eye, even books on race. When we actively read with a critical eye, we protect ourselves from unknowingly consuming a book’s hard to parse racist ideas. But this isn’t just about books. How we read old and new books is no different from how we read society, past and present. We must read all characters—living and dead, fictional and real—with respect and not diminish them, or allow them to be diminished because of the color of their skin. At the same time, we cannot allow racism to be diminished and overlooked in literature, in policy, in power.

The anguished youngsters tore at their hair as they read Kendi's statement. 

"No one will ever read Huck Finn," one of these spirited youngsters cried, "if they have to read fifteen other books before they can even get started!" Indeed, she had named just "a few" of "the critically acclaimed nonfiction books that can nurture an antiracist critical eye!"

(A quick aside. For adult readers, is Huckleberry Finn really a book "with a conflicted or hard-to-parse racial attitude?" In most settings, it might be a difficult, painful book to "teach" to groups of children, or to classes of high school students. But do adults need to read fifteen books to help themselves find their way through the minefields of the book? We're willing to guess that some won't.)

By now, it was clear that Kendi hasn't been reading any sports/romance novels of late. As sometimes happens in By The Book sessions, he rattled an endless list of books, all of which seemed to be concerned with issues of racial justice.

Given the nature of national and global history, there's no reason why Professor Kendi shouldn't be reading such books. We did think he struggled with several trick questions—with such "trick questions" as this:

NEW YORK TIMES: Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

KENDI: I feel like this is a trick question! All the subjects I think more authors should write about I’m planning to write about (or I privately urge a more qualified author to do so). But that means writers should write the books we want to read. Write the books readers want written. Write the books you were nurtured to write.

Kendi seems like a genial person. (It's a very good way to be.) We'll guess that his instant response was offered tongue in cheek.

That said, Kendi seems to read books on one subject alone. Perhaps for that reason, this question about other desirable topics qualified as a trick.

Books stopped seeming boring to Kendi when he came upon his principal subject of interest. In our view, it's a very good thing when that happens—when a teacher or professor or friend helps someone make that discovery.

Today, it sounds like Kendi never stops reading books. It sounds like they're all on that one basic topic—and, it might be imagined, it sounds like they all adopt a roughly similar point of view:

("Writers should write the books we want to read," he somewhat dangerously said.)

We've been perhaps a bit snarky today, but only for an excellent reason. Especially in the streets of Our Town, Professor Kendi has become a very significant person.

His ideas about race—more specifically, his ideas about "antiracism"—play an important role in Our Town's flailing culture. It's obvious that he's a good decent person—we refer you to what he said about love and gender—but it's in this other highly important area that his influence has grown.

We've been a bit sardonic today because of some of his views in that sprawling realm. Tomorrow, we'll look at what he was quoted saying in the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post. 

Kendi was quoted by Matthews Yglesias on the front page of Outlook. His  statement might help explain the way the New York Times reports on the lives and the interests of the millions of good, decent kids who attend our nation's low-income schools. 

Does Professor Kendi's quoted statement make sense? We share a basic point of concern with what he said in the Washington Post, but we also think the New York Times' education reporting is extremely hard to defend.

Those schools are full of good, decent kids. How should the schools they attend be discussed?

Tomorrow: What Kendi said about public schools. Also, a puzzling prescription