Black Pain, Thucydides, Fred Perry, and Beyond: This Week’s Recommended Reading

Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing some of the best content on the Internet, but keeping an eye on all of the great writing that other folks on the ‘net are doing, too. There’s been plenty to choose from this week, so much so that it’s been hard to whittle these selections down to the usual five. (This is always a pleasant problem to have.) But we’ve chosen an interesting variety, including Zadie Smith on the ownership of black pain (and art depicting that pain), the question of why Donald Trump’s inner circle is reading Greek history, the aftermath of yet another not-guilty verdict in a police killing case, and the work of two Flavorwire alumni (both of whom we’re very proud of!)


If you’ve got the new Harper’s, you’ll know how striking the cover is. On it, there’s a startling portrait by photographer Hank Willis Thomas of a man in a suit and top hat; the man is painted entirely white on one half of his body, and entirely black on the other. The art accompanies this month’s cover essay, which is by Zadie Smith and asks the question, “Who owns black pain?” Happily, the essay is just as good as the artwork, encompassing Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Dana Schutz’s ~*controversial*~ painting Open Casket, and the question of who “gets to” make art that addresses the pain felt by people of color at their ongoing oppression and the campaign of murder being perpetrated against them by America’s police. Smith breaks down the white/black binary that’s pictured so vividly on the magazine’s cover:

I turn from the painting to my children. Their beloved father is white, I am biracial, so, by the old racial classifications of America, they are “quadroons.” Could they take black suffering as a subject of their art, should they ever make any? Their grandmother is as black as the ace of spades, as the British used to say; their mother is what the French still call café au lait. They themselves are sort of yellowy. When exactly does black suffering cease to be their concern?


The latest in the burgeoning “Trying to make sense of the Trump White House” genre: this piece by Politico’s Michael Crowley, who examines the fact that several of Donald Trump’s cabal of chthonic advisers have taken a shine to ancient Greek war historian Thucydides. Trump, famously, doesn’t read at all — because, y’know, he is a fucking moron — but his offsiders/enablers do, and we learn that Steve Bannon, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and Defense Secretary James Mattis are all “Peloponnesian War buffs.” (We learn that Bannon used to use “Sparta” as his computer password.) As it happens, I once accidentally did a class called War Studies at Kings College in London, and it was full of exactly these sort of people: priapic private school right-wing creepers who hate women, conduct endless arguments over their favorite of Alexander the Great’s generals, and couldn’t handle themselves in an actual fight for all the tea in China. They are awful. Anyway, from Politico:

Thucydides is considered a father of the “realist” school of international relations, which holds that nations act out of pragmatic self-interest with little regard for ideology, values or morality. “He was the founder of realpolitik,” says [conservative policy thinker Michael] Allison. This view is distilled in the famous Melian Dialogue, a set of surrender talks that feature the cold-eyed conclusion that right and wrong means nothing in the face of raw strength. “In the real world, the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must,” concludes an Athenian ambassador—a Trumpian statement 2½ millennia before The Donald’s time.


This week saw the depressingly predictable verdict in the manslaughter prosecution of Minnesota policeman Jeronimo Yanez, who shot Philando Castile, a legally registered gun owner who, when pulled over by Yanez, duly informed the officer that he was in possession of a gun. Yanez promptly shot him at point blank range, firing seven times into the body of a man who had done precisely nothing to threaten him. Castile, who was in the car with his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter, died half an hour later. The verdict: not guilty, of course. If a police officer can execute a 12-year-old in broad daylight, give a constantly shifting story to explain the killing, and still get away with it, there’s no reason why an officer can’t also shoot a black man in his car for no apparent reason… and get away with it. The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb wrote sadly about the verdict, and the false hope that this case might turn out differently:

There was some feeling that the verdict in Philando Castile’s death would be different from the decisions in similar cases that had preceded it. That thought hinged on a belief that his status as a lawfully licensed gun-owner, his long-standing employment as a cafeteria manager at an elementary school, and his general lack of serious missteps might exempt him from the idea that his death was his own fault… In the end, however, the result was indistinguishable from those in previous cases. There were no appeals for a less vitriolic dialogue, no impermeable hope that this time things would change. There was simply the numb reckoning that we’ll all go down this road again.


Why do those proud boy dickheads wear Fred Perry shirts? If that question has ever occurred to you, than you’ve got all the answers you could ever ask for in this piece by former Flavorwire contributor Zoë Beery for The Outline. (And this piece’s layout doesn’t even make your eyes bleed when reading it! Bonus!) In it, she traces the long history of how and why the brand has been a favorite for right-wing extremists, a strange tale that starts in 1960s England and is still being told today:

After Margaret Thatcher brought the Tories’ isolationist, neoliberal policies to power in 1979, neo-Nazi rallies bloomed across England, and there were always skinheads in the ranks twitching to brawl with anti-fascist protesters who amassed in opposition. With [Ronald] Reagan’s inauguration signaling a similar shift in the U.S., skinhead culture, including the Fred Perry uniform, found a welcome home stateside when it landed in the early 1980s. … In conservative strongholds like Orange County, California and in parts of northern Florida, angry white youth who were politically unwelcome amongst punk and hardcore’s overwhelming anti-Republicanism found the perfect solution in skinhead. Since the [Southern Poverty Law Center] began tracking racist skinheads in the late 1990s, Fred Perry has been a consistent enough presence that it’s one of only two clothing brands the SPLC includes in its skinhead glossary (the other is Dr. Martens). “


Also on the Flavorwire alumnus tip: Our former Literary Editor Jonathon Sturgeon is now at The Baffler, which is an excellent fit and makes us very happy to see. And he’s as perceptive and brilliant on politics as he was on literature when he worked here. He has a new column called “The Immediate Experience,” and he starts off this week addressing the relationship between the contemporary novel and the Occupy movement:

Occupy never got, and will probably never get, its Nanni Balestrini or Peter Weiss, novelists who, in their respective We Want Everything (1971) and The Aesthetics of Resistance (1975), proceeded by way of a militant nostalgia to document radical political movements and their actors—many otherwise lost to academic history. This may be because its melding of protest and participation—if that’s how you want to describe the encampments—now seems too diffuse to inspire the commitment of a radical historical novelist.

Still, the movement’s legacy poses a paradox that lingers in the imagination: the politics of participation are now suspect, yet withdrawal into monasticism feels like a weak response to Trump.


Bonus awesome tweet: while we’re on the Baffler, shout out their social people, who are clearly channeling Deadspin/Donald Trump here: