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By Max S. Gordon

Look down, look down that lonesome road,
Before you travel on.

–That Lonesome Road, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915–1973)

This is America.
Childish Gambino

1

I suppose it was inevitable that one day it would come to this, that racism would meet itself traveling down that lonesome road.

Witnessing it has been both ugly and delicious, new — yet hauntingly familiar. Lindsey Graham gets off a plane and walks through an airport in Virginia after recently acknowledging on the Senate floor that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States. He is greeted by a mob of enraged Trump supporters who yell “traitor” and record him on their cell phones while he is escorted through the crowd by a detail of police. A woman screams above the others, “You know [the election] was rigged, you garbage human being. Piece of shit. It’s going to be like this, wherever you go for the rest of your life.” …


Past Is Prologue

Left image is Donald Trump obscured by low lighting, right image is a black and white illustration of a praying Black woman.
Left image is Donald Trump obscured by low lighting, right image is a black and white illustration of a praying Black woman.
Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

“Wade in the water, wade in the water, Children. God’s gonna trouble the water.” — Traditional

“My soul looks back and wonders, how I got over.” — Mahalia Jackson

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Months ago, I turned on the TV and saw a white mom at a protest in Portland dragged across the pavement and abused by the cops who surrounded her, her white flesh handled with no more care than Black flesh is usually afforded in this country. For a moment, my mind flinched from a lifetime of conditioning. I thought, “You can’t do that to a middle-class white woman!” But under a Trump presidency, you can. …


This Is Us

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Photo illustration courtesy of the author.

1.Several years ago, after a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, I took a walk in Central Park with a woman I’d met only a few weeks before. We were mourning a mutual friend who had recently died of alcoholism.

She and Alan had been friends since childhood; I’d only known him for a year. We both knew that he’d tried several times to stop drinking and despite being very distinguished in his career had somehow “failed” at sobriety.

We were also aware of a section in the AA literature that states in plain terms: Some people are simply unable to get sober. It doesn’t matter how many degrees someone’s earned or how much money and prestige they have; wealthy, accomplished addicts die every day. It also isn’t a matter of willpower. What matters most is a person’s relationship to the truth. …


By Max S. Gordon

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(This essay was originally published on September 10, 2004 as
“An Open Letter to Paul Wellstone”. It was written in response to the arrests made during the Republican National Convention in New York City
)

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Senator Wellstone: I will not go on about the curious timing of your death. People are very impatient with conspiracy theories these days, even when past theories have revealed conspiracies. Still, I read with weary cynicism that you spoke to a meeting of war veterans in Willmar, Minnesota in October 2002 and told them that Dick Cheney said to you, “If you vote against the war in Iraq, the Bush Administration will do whatever is necessary to get you. There will be ramifications for you and the state of Minnesota.” …


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by Max S. Gordon

Messin’ round with the best of them
Digressing with the rest of them,
He’s a stranger.
But his mama still knows his name.

“Sylvester”, Sly & The Family Stone

1

The day after it was announced that the president of the United States had been impeached, I awoke to an image of Kim Kardashian West dressed in blackface.

Already a backlash had started against her on social media. Some people were mad, while others defended her. It’s hard to create a real backlash against The Kardashian Wests, of course, because even when you are angry at them, or critical — or sometimes even inspired — it all feeds the same machine. Kim and Kanye remain true to the adage “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” As long as we are talking about them, they win. …


Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg waits to speak on Latino issues at Cal State LA on November 17, 2019.
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg waits to speak on Latino issues at Cal State LA on November 17, 2019.
Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

This essay contains spoilers from James Baldwin’s 1962 novel, Another Country.

1. For months I’ve hesitated to write about Pete Buttigieg because I wasn’t sure how to articulate exactly what I felt. My ambivalence toward him is based on my own racial and sexual identities. I asked myself at one point: Could I, as a gay man, admire Buttigieg and, at the same time, as a black man, feel exasperated and angered by his choices? …


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by Max S. Gordon

(The piece premiered at the First Person Plural Reading Series: What Just Happened? Writers Respond to Our American Crises — 2019 Edition, Harlem, New York, November 10, 2019.)

FOR AN AUDIO VERSION OF THIS ESSAY, CLICK HERE:

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Before you can decide where you are going, you have to know where you are. Here’s where we are:

White supremacists recently desecrated the grave of Emmett Till. You may remember Emmett Till was a black child from Chicago, a 14-year-old boy, who was visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955 when he was accused of disrespecting a white woman in her family’s store. Her husband and brother-in-law responded by kidnapping Till, torturing and murdering him. …


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By Max S. Gordon

(This piece was derived from interview questions prior to the event “What Just Happened? Writers Respond to Our American Crises — 2019 Edition”, First Person Plural Reading Series, Harlem, New York, November 10, 2019)

Several years ago, I found myself in a car with a drunk driver.

I should be careful with my language - “found myself” isn’t the right phrase; I made the decision to get into that car. There were three of us passengers, two in the back and one up front. I was in the back. …


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by Max S. Gordon

“Whole lot of things you’ve yet to understand. But instead of measuring the distance between your little-boy understanding and big-boy wisdom, you standing there plotting how to get past me. You so scarce in understanding, you think you can get past your own flesh and blood.”

— Toni Cade Bambara, These Bones Are Not My Child

1

What I was looking for was a way to quiet my mind, a reason to laugh in these troubled times. So, I turned on Netflix to watch Dave Chappelle’s Sticks and Stones. While I’ll admit I haven’t seen everything Chappelle has done, I consider myself a fan; I appreciate that he is a master. The great stand-up comics give you the impression that they are up there just talking. And they make their personalities felt; if a comedian does his job right, you talk about “Chappelle” the way you talk about “Seinfeld”, with great affection, as if he were someone you went to high school with, or a friend you are meeting for dinner next week. …


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by Max S. Gordon

“All I’m asking is for a little respect when you get home (just a little bit).”
Aretha Franklin, Respect

(Please note: this essay contains spoilers from Seasons 1, 2 and 3 of The Handmaid’s…oh, fuck it. Either read it or don’t.)

FOR AN AUDIO VERSION OF THIS ESSAY CLICK HERE:

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Two weeks ago, I was kicked out of a Facebook group devoted to discussing Season Three of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It is still unclear to me why I was ejected, as I never received a warning from a moderator or even a private message. I went to check on a comment I had left on the page earlier in the day and discovered that not only was I unable to find the thread I had started, I couldn’t locate the group or its notifications in my history. …

About

Max S. Gordon

Max S. Gordon is a writer and activist. His work has appeared in on-line and print magazines in the U.S. and internationally. Follow Max on twitter:@maxgordon19

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