By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor | Howard Zinn wrote one of the most popular books on American history ever. A People’s History of the United States has sold an astonishing two million copies since its first publication in 1980. The success of the book can also be measured by the way that it spawned a new genre of “people-centered” renditions of history. Zinn’s approach to history essentially inverted the traditional approach that placed the rich and powerful, along with the institutions they governed, as the central motors in the development of society. It was history told from above. Alternatively, Zinn championed an approach to history from the bottom up or from the perspective of “the people.”
It’s not often that our authors appear on The Daily Show, but when they do, we flip out and rejoice! Mary Frances Berry, former Chairwoman of the US Commission on Civil Rights and a lifelong activist, was invited to speak on the show on January 20, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. She was the only guest on the program that evening. You’d think that this meeting of the minds would have happened sooner.
By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker | Second only to the Columbus discovery story, the Thanksgiving tale is the United States’ quintessential origin narrative. Like the Columbus myth, the story of Thanksgiving has morphed into an easily digestible narrative that, despite its actual underlying truths, is designed to reinforce a sense of collective patriotic pride. The truths are, however, quite well documented. Their concealment within a simplistic story inevitably depicts a convoluted reality about the Indigenous peoples who played crucial roles in both events, and it presents an exaggerated valorization about the settlers’ roles.
By Kyle T. Mays | This Native American Heritage month, I want to bring a moment of historical clarity to the topics of solidarity and tension as they play out in the contemporary connection between African American and Native American peoples. I am Black American and Saginaw Chippewa. My mother’s side of the family is from Cleveland, my dad’s side of the family from Detroit. I am the descendant of Indigenous peoples in North America and Indigenous peoples from Africa. I know the former; I have yet to find out about the latter.
By Wen Stephenson | Speaking honestly about the climate catastrophe is hard. One reason for this at times excruciating difficulty is that it requires us to acknowledge and to live with what we know—as well as what we don’t know. As one who writes and speaks about climate and politics, perhaps I’m not supposed to admit this, but the fact is, most days I don’t know what to say—much less do—as I stare into our climate and political abyss. Frankly, I wonder if any of us really do. The situation is unprecedented. It’s overwhelming. All bets are off.
By Paul Ortiz | I wrote An African American and Latinx History of the United States because I believe that history has an indispensable role to play at a time when many of our leading politicians are again invoking anti-Latinx and anti-Black hatred in order to garner votes. I was born in 1964. I grew up in the 1970s, a time of “backlash” against the Mexican American and African American civil rights movements. Politicians like California’s Pete Wilson, Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, and New York’s Donald Trump rose to political power by blaming immigrants and African Americans for society’s problems.
By Eileen Truax | I first met the Romero family in 2013 on a trip to Arizona. In this household, the three children were taught that everyone was equal. they were raised to respect their elders, to be proud of their country of origin, and to love the United States, where they had lived for twenty years. But deep down, they all knew they were not the same: though Cynthia, the youngest, was a US citizen, her older siblings, Steve and Noemí, were undocumented.
By Rakia Clark | Meeting Mona Eltahawy for the first time is like a bolt of lightening. Bold, vibrant, bright red hair, tattoos on both forearms, big, big smile, the works. Sitting down for the first time to discuss what would become The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, I was captivated by the powerful simplicity of the book’s central questions: What would happen if girls around the world were trained up to embrace the same qualities we encourage in boys? What if women around the world lived their lives with the same freedom men felt?
Lyn Mikel Brown | Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg made her way to New York City a few weeks ago via an emission-free racing yacht. She’s here to tell us, as she’s been doing since she was eleven, that “our house is on fire.” The climate crisis is urgent. We dismiss it at our own peril.
By Michelle Oberman | None of the laws Oklahoma passed were new. They simply passed every measure enacted by other pro-life states, along with the occasional model bill drafted by Americans United for Life. The laws cover a broad range of issues. Some of the laws, such as a ban on sex-selective abortion, are plainly symbolic. Women seeking abortions in Oklahoma, as in other states, need not provide a reason for terminating their pregnancies. There is no way to enforce this provision.
By Jonathan Rosenblum | With the seemingly endless marathon of presidential electioneering approaching full stride, we now get to experience that quadrennial ritual of Democratic establishment candidates queuing up to pledge how they are going to save the labor movement by raising wages and making it easier for workers to organize into unions.
1619, a year to go down in infamy like 1492. 400 years ago this month, a ship reached a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia, carrying more than twenty enslaved Africans. Stolen from their homes, these men and women were sold to the colonists in what would become known as the United States. The Atlantic Slave trade would feed this vicious cycle of reducing Africans to commodities through the brutal bondage of forced labor and sexual coercion, the repercussions of which we live with centuries later. How do we as a country reckon with and heal from this history? We asked some of our authors to reflect on this and share their remarks below.
By Helene Atwan | Like most of us living in the US, I was sickened by this weekend’s news of shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Coming into work, feeling so stricken by these events, I was heartened by the fact that I could turn to a group of colleagues and immediately begin talking about what kind of resources we could offer in the wake of these senseless tragedies. I feel, as I often do, heartened to be working in an environment where it is our job to try to create these resources.
It’s time to bring out the cake and blow out the candle! Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility has spent one full year on the New York Times Best Seller List! This has been an incredible year for DiAngelo, her book, and Beacon. White Fragility is only a year old and has been a bestseller since it went on sale!
By Christian Coleman | Do you want to play a game? No, not the one in the Saw movie franchise. Let’s play the word association game. Come now. It’ll be fun! Peanut : Butter. Instagram : Celebrity. Identity politics : Divisive. Wait. Let’s back up. Divisive? That word has been coming up lately when presidential candidates make identity politics a talking point in public discourse. At an LGBT gala in Las Vegas, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate, said identity politics have created a “crisis of belonging,” leading us to get “divided and carved up.” Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has criticized identity politics for focusing only on the endgame of diversity—another word with contentious associations and dubious meanings depending on who’s defining it—and neglecting the needs of working people.
Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. We reached out to some of our authors to reflect on the impact of this landmark and turning point in the centuries of queer history in America and the ongoing fight for queer equality. We share their statements with you below.
A Q&A with Michael Bronski | The idea for YA versions of books in Beacon’s ReVisioning American History series largely came from educators and librarians. My editor, Gayatri Patnaik, and I learned that teachers were looking for resources, and Gayatri suggested we answer their call with a young reader’s edition. With support from the Fund for Unitarian Universalist Social Responsibility, senior editor Joanna Green reached out to educators, librarians, and adapters, who generously and enthusiastically collaborated on this effort. At the moment, Beacon is releasing my book A Queer History of the United States for Young People as well as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People. There have been, in the past five years or so, a surge in YA nonfiction publishing, particularly adaptations of adult non-fiction for younger readers. So, the time seemed right, and the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall seemed to be perfect timing.
By Adam Eichen | “You can love two children at once,” a colleague once told me. He meant that advocates for a single issue can integrate other reform efforts into their agenda without being subsumed—and are often more powerful for it. In my work promoting democracy reform I’ve repeated this message hundreds of times across the country, advocating for automatic and same-day voter registration, public financing of elections, and independent redistricting commissions—all measures that bulwark the power of the people against that of big money and unlock the possibility of progressive change.
I have come today to issue both a caution and a call. And it is that you must graduate today, but get up, get together and get involved tomorrow.There are some that want to promote the lie that all is OK. But as Chancellor Jonathan Bennett, or Chance the Rapper, says, “Sometimes the truth don’t rhyme. Sometimes the lies get millions of views.”And, in this moment, you have to question the Trumpalistic slogans we hear about bull markets and booming economies. Yes, that’s the message from the White House and from Wall Street. We do live in a time when some people who put their names in gold plating on new buildings like to talk big talk. They collude with lies and obstruct the truth and say everything is fine when it is not.
With the diploma in hand and the graduation cap thrown jubilantly into the air, the question remains: What’s the next step? Graduation heralds new beginnings and transition. But where and how to start? How should we prepare for the future when the world around us changes on a compulsory basis? In his book Don’t Knock the Hustle, S. Craig Watkins asks the same question and says we should plan to be future-ready. “What should schools be doing? Instead of preparing students to be college-ready or career-ready, schools must start producing students who are what I call ‘future-ready.’ The skills associated with future readiness are geared toward the long-term and oriented toward navigating a world marked by diversity, uncertainty, and complexity . . . a future-ready approach prepares students for the world we will build tomorrow.”