Recent web browsing

Some links from my recent web browsing:

Are We Allies?

Foluke Ifejola Adebisi has an excellent blog post on “the concept of allyship against injustice.” In other words, what does it mean to be a “white ally,” or any other kind of ally? Adebisi makes an intersting disctintion between allyship as being, and allyship as doing:

“I think what is important is that we move away from thinking of allyship as something we are, but instead think of it as something we do, each time we do something. Each time we want to contribute to a particular struggle for justice, we must decide what must be done in the moment, irrespective of what we have done before or what type of person we think we are.”

I came away from this blog post thinking that if I hear someone saying they are an ally, this may not mean much. I’m going to watch what they do instead of listen to what they say they are.

Jew or Judean?

Marginalia hosts a scholarly debate on how to translate ioudaioi in texts from the last centuries BCE and the first few centuries CE. Does it mean Jew or Judean? While this may seem like a big argument over a trivial detail, the scholars involved claim the stakes are higher than you’d think.

For example, if you translate ioudaioi in the Gospel of John as “Jew,” then that could reinforce one of the foundations of Christian anti-Semitism. The ioudaioi, the Jews, killed Jesus. Whereas if you translate ioudaioi as “Judean,” someone from the land of Judea, maybe you can undermine that foundation of anti-Semitism.

But other scholars argue that in some texts, ioudaioi is better translated into modern English as “Jew,” sometimes as “Judean.” It all depends on the context. And we don’t want to inject anachronisms into translations.

Another point comes up: Is it anachronistic to talk about Judaism as a religion in this era? Was Judaism more of an ethnic identity than a religion? (In a related story, Haaretz reports on archaelogist Yonatan Adler’s new book that advances the claim that the archaelogical record does not show evidence for Jusdaism as a religion before the 2nd century BCE.)

Dare You Fight?

Editor Neal caren is creating an online collection of W. E. B. DuBois’s articles for The Crisis. These articles were written between 1914 and 1934, and many have not been collected previously.

DuBois’s essays are fascinating to read. His articles for The Crisis sounds radical even by today’s standards.


Australian librarian Hugh Rundle writes about the exodus of people from Twitter to Mastodon. He titles his blog post “Home invasion: Mastodon’s Eternal September begins.” As a Mastodon user of fairly long standing, he describes how he has experienced the influx of Twitterers:

“It’s not entirely the Twitter people’s fault. They’ve been taught to behave in certain ways. To chase likes and retweets/boosts. To promote themselves. To perform. All of that sort of thing is anathema to most of the people who were on Mastodon a week ago…. To the Mastodon locals it feels like a busload of Kontiki tourists just arrived, blundering around yelling at each other and complaining that they don’t know how to order room service.”

Although I’m most emphatically not a Twitter user (I left Twitter in 2014, not in 2022), I am a new Mastodon user. I hope the Mastodon users don’t see me as behaving badly….

Ferguson, six months on

Six months ago today, Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. I did not then, and do not now, find this shooting to be astonishing. Brown’s killing was preceded by other, similar, well-publicized events. Most notably, in 2009, Oscar Grant, another young black man, was shot and killed by a police officer. And in 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by by a neighborhood watch coordinator. And on August 5, 2014, John Crawford III was shot and killed by police officers in a Walmart store. In the bare fact of Brown’s killing, there wasn’t much to astonish.

This kind of violence has been going on for a long time. W.E.B. DuBois, in his book Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, wrote about the “widespread violence in the South, the murder and mobs,” that occurred during Reconstruction:

“Probably in no country in the civilized world did human life become so cheap. This condition prevails among both white and black and characterizes the South even to our day. A spirit of lawlessness became widespread. White people became a law unto themselves, and black men, so far as their aggressions were confined to their own people, need not fear the intervention of white police. Practically all men went armed and the South reached the extraordinary distinction of being the only modern civilized country where human beings were publicly burned alive.” [p. 700]

The violence described by W.E.B. DuBois no longer exists in quite that form, but it counts as its direct lineal descendant the violence that killed Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, and many others. While such violence might surprise us, it has lost its power to astonish.

But there were things about Brown’s killing that did astonish me. The initial response of police and elected officials to the protests which followed Browns’ killing was astonishingly tone-deaf — it was almost as if police and elected officials were trying to say things that would inflame tensions. The grand jury investigation was similarly tone-deaf — I sometimes felt was as if the district attorney’s office did everything they could to erode my trust.

Further, I was astonished how many non-black people actually paid attention to Michael Brown’s killing. Whether they reviled him for stealing cigarillos, or lauded him for being a hero, it seemed to me that more non-black people noticed Brown’s death than noticed the death of, say, Oscar Grant or John Crawford. White people in particular seemed to pay close attention. What drew the attention of so many of us white people? Was it the militarized police response to the protests in Ferguson that drew white people’s attention? — with some whites fearing that such militarized tactics could well be used on them, and other whites feeling safer because the police had so much military gear with which to quash protests? I don’t know. I only wish more white people could express a more nuanced view of Michael Brown, making him out to be neither a one-dimensional saint, nor a one-dimensional sinner, but rather a complex human being living in a difficult and complex world.

And I admit I was sometimes astonished by the way some whites responded to Brown’s killing. I remember seeing a video of one of the Ferguson protests where someone who appeared to be white harangued a black police officer, telling the officer that he should get rid of his uniform and join the protesters. This seemed to be another response lacking awareness of the nuances and complexity of the issue at hand.

But it is not easy for us white people to talk about race so openly. White people rarely talk about race with other white people. I can tell you this from experience:— if you’re a white person and you want to end a conversation with another white person, bring up the topic of race: as often as not, the other white person will find an excuse to end the conversation; sometimes they just walk away from you, which can feel a little strange.

If the Ferguson protests do prompt conversations about race among us white people, I will consider that a positive result. Here is W.E.B. DuBois again, from the same book, a few pragraphs after the quotation given above: “The theory of race was supplemented by a carefully planned and slowly evolved method, which drove such a wedge between the white and black workers that there probably are not today in the world two groups of workers with practically identical interests who hate and fear each other so deeply and persistently and who are kept so far apart that neither sees anything of common interest.” If the Ferguson protests provoke a wide conversation about the importance of black lives, that would be an even better result.

Those wedges DuBois talks about are driven between other racial groups in the United States as well. Somehow we have to extract those wedges that have been driven between all the races in the United States.