Thinking West: Oregon Founded as Racist Utopia (Gizmodo)

Gizmodo recently featured an interesting article concerning Oregon’s racist past. According to Matt Novak (and historical fact), Oregon was founded as a whites only, racist utopia. Check out the excerpt below:

When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. Oregon’s founding is part of the forgotten history of racism in the American west.

Waddles Coffee Shop in Portland, Oregon was a popular restaurant in the 1950s for both locals and travelers alike. The drive-in catered to America’s postwar obsession with car culture, allowing people to get coffee and a slice of pie without even leaving their vehicle. But if you happened to be black, the owners of Waddles implored you to keep on driving. The restaurant had a sign outside with a very clear message: “White Trade Only — Please.”

It’s the kind of scene from the 1950s that’s so hard for many Americans to imagine happening outside of the Jim Crow South. How could a progressive, northern city like Portland have allowed a restaurant to exclude non-white patrons? This had to be an anomaly, right? In reality it was far too common in Oregon, a state that was explicitly founded as a kind of white utopia.

America’s history of racial discrimination is most commonly taught as a southern issue. That’s certainly how I learned about it while going to Minnesota public schools in the 1980s and 90s. White people outside of the South seem to learn about the Civil War and civil rights movements from an incredibly safe (and often judgmental) distance.

Racism was generally framed as something that happened in the past and almost always “down there.” We learned about the struggles for racial equality in cities like Birmingham and Selma and Montgomery. But what about the racism of Portland, Oregon, a city that is still overwhelmingly white? The struggles there were just as intense — though they are rarely identified in the history books.

According to Oregon’s founding constitution, black people were not permitted to live in the state. And that held true until 1926. The small number of black people already living in the state in 1859, when it was admitted to the Union, were sometimes allowed to stay, but the next century of segregation and terrorism at the hands of angry racists made it clear that they were not welcome.

Like the article? Check out the full article over at Gizmodo.

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Never Mind E-Books: Why Print Books Are Here to Stay (WSJ)

Print books are here to stay. E-books haven’t surpassed print book sales. Instead, it seems that E-books are fading fast as print book sales see increased demand….

Ever since Amazon introduced its popular Kindle e-reader five years ago, pundits have assumed that the future of book publishing is digital. Opinions about the speed of the shift from page to screen have varied. But the consensus has been that digitization, having had its way with music and photographs and maps, would in due course have its way with books as well. By 2015, one media maven predicted a few years back, traditional books would be gone.

Half a decade into the e-book revolution, though, the prognosis for traditional books is suddenly looking brighter. Hardcover books are displaying surprising resiliency. The growth in e-book sales is slowing markedly. And purchases of e-readers are actually shrinking, as consumers opt instead for multipurpose tablets. It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books—a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.

How attached are Americans to old-fashioned books? Just look at the results of a Pew Research Center survey released last month. The report showed that the percentage of adults who have read an e-book rose modestly over the past year, from 16% to 23%. But it also revealed that fully 89% of regular book readers said that they had read at least one printed book during the preceding 12 months. Only 30% reported reading even a single e-book in the past year.

Read the remainder of the article at the Wall Street Journal‘s website.

What’s Wrong with Only Reading Half a Book? (Electric Literature)

Last month, the e-reading company Kobo revealed which books its users read to completion. Much was made of the fact that Donna Tartt’s prize-winning bestseller The Goldfinch was only finished by 44% of Kobo readers, and that, in general, the bestseller list didn’t match up at all with the most completed list. It also spurned a flurry of essays on what this data mining could mean for writers, readers, and publishers. Will, as Francine Prose wonders in the NYRB, marketing departments dictate authors rewrite plots and characters based on user data? Or does this, as Joseph Bernstein suggests at Buzzfeed, mean little to the writing process while having the potential to better connect readers with books they like?

These are interesting questions, but almost all the articles I’ve read have had an underlying unchallenged assumption that I’d like to challenge: that a half-read book is a failure either on the part of the writer or the reader.

Certainly there are books that could be better written and there are readers that could be more patient and willing to challenge themselves. Analytics might help weak writers figure out what they are doing wrong, and plenty of readers would benefit from pushing through to the end of good books. Still, it isn’t the case that book that a half-finished book means the book is flawed or that the reader has sinned against literature. This should be obvious for much non-fiction, or poetry and story collections. One can learn volumes from a history or biography without finishing it, and poems and stories are complete units that do not have to be read together to be appreciated. But even a half-finished novel can provide plenty to a reader.

Read the remainder of this article over at Electric Literature.

Thinking West: The Devil’s Highway (Luís Alberto Urrea)

DevilsHighway“The Devil’s Highway” is a name that has set out to illuminate one notion: bad medicine.

The first white man known to die in the desert heat here did it on January 18. 1541.

Most assuredly, others had died before. As long as there have been people, there have been deaths in the western desert. When the Devil’s Highway was a faint scratch of desert bighorn hoof marks, and the first hunters ran along it, someone died. But the brown and red men who ran the paths left no record outside of faded songs and rock paintings we still don’t understand.

Desert spirits of a dark and mysterious nature have always traveled these trails. From the beginning, the highway has always lacked grace–those who worship the desert gods know them to favor retribution over the tender dove of forgiveness. In Desolation, doves are at the bottom of the food chain. Tohono O’Odham poet Ofelia Zepeda has pointed out that rosaries and Hail Marys don’t work out here. “You need a new kind of prayers,” she says, “to negotiate with this land.”

The first time the sky and the earth came together, Elder Brother, I’itoi, was born. He still resides in the windy cave overlooking the western desert, and he resents uninvited visitors. Mountains are called do’ags. In the side of one do’ag can be found the twin caves where the spirit of the evil witch, Ho’ok, hides. The coyote-spirit of the place is called Ban, and he works his wicked pranks in the big open spaces.

Everywhere, red shadows. Tiny men live underground, and they are known to the Yaqui Indians hereabouts as Surem. In the past, before the first white man died, Yuki, the devil, controlled all the corn until the crows stole it from him and let some of it slip so men could eat. Mexico’s oldest hoodoo, La Llorona, the wailing ghost, has been heard rushing down nearby creek beds. And its newest hoodoo, the dreaded Chupacabras (the Goat Sucker), has been seen attacking animals, lurking in outhouses, and even jumping in bedroom windows to munch on sleeping children. An Apache witness said the Chupacabras was a whispering kangaroo. It said, “Come here.” He swore it did.

The plants are noxious and spiked. Saguaros, nopales, the fiendish chollas. Each long cholla spike has a small barb, and they hood into the skin, and they catch in elbow creases and hook forearm and biceps together. Even the green mesquite trees have long thorns set just at eye level.

Much off the wildlife is nocturnal, and it creeps through the nights, poisonous and alien: the sidewinder, the rattlesnake, the scorpion, the giant centipede, the black widow, the tarantula, the brown recluse, the coral snake, the Gila monster. The kissing bug bits you and its poison makes the entire body erupt in red welts. Fungus drifts on the valley dust, and it sinks into the lungs and throbs to life. The millennium has added a further danger: all wild bees in southern Arizona, naturalists report, are now Africanized. As if the desert felt it hadn’t made its point, it added killer bees….

(Luís Alberto Urrea, Devil’s Highway, pp. 5-6)

Thinking West: Mining Life in California (1857)

There seems scarcely a limit to the future production of gold in California. Despite the confident predictions of unsuccessful adventurers that the mines would soon be exhausted, the exact opposite seems to be the case; for deposits are now being reached by the new processes of exploration which stagger all calculations. There is no good reason why the gold region of California should not continue to produce its $50,000,000 per annum at least during the present century, and most probably for a much longer period….” (Harper’s Weekly, 3 October 1857)

Thinking West: Code of the West

The Code of the West was a gentleman’s agreement to certain rules of conduct. It was never written into the statutes, but it was respected everywhere on the range.” Ramon F. Adams (quoted in The Quotable Cowboy)

A few guidelines from the Code of the West (taken from LegendsofAmerica.com):

  • Don’t inquire into a person’s past. Take the measure of a man for what he is today.
  • Never steal another man’s horse. A horse thief pays with his life.
  • Defend yourself whenever necessary.
  • Look out for your own.
  • Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table.
  • Never order anything weaker than whiskey.

More on the Code of the West here.

Thinking West: Llano Estacado

Llano Estacado, Caprock Image byLeaflet (CC BY-SA 3.0). Found on Wikimedia Commons.

Llano Estacado, Caprock
Image by Leaflet (CC BY-SA 3.0). Found on Wikimedia Commons.

When we were upon the high tablelands, a view presented itself as boundless as the ocean. Not a tree, shrub, or any other object, either animate or inanimate, relieved the dreary monotony of the prospect; it was a vast illimitable expanse of desert prairie–the dreaded Llano Estacado of New Mexico; or, in other words, the great Zahara of North America.” (Quoted in Reports of explorations and surveys: to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, Volume 3)

 

Thinking West: Dave Gorman’s America Unchained

Those roads provided breathtaking views. There’s something special about an empty road going on and on and on to the horizon where the sun burns the world away into a dancing, shimmering heat haze that reflects the crystal blue sky, literally blurring the line between heaven and earth.”

Thinking West: Tolkein’s The Return of the King

And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

Thinking West: Mary Austin’s The Land of Little Rain

Yucca brevifolia in the Mojave Desert — southwestern Nevada (by Amateria1121, Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Yucca brevifolia in the Mojave Desert — southwestern Nevada (by Amateria1121, Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“East away from the Sierras, south from Panamint and Amargosa, east and south many an uncounted mile, is the Country of Lost Borders.

Ute, Paiute, Mojave, and Shoshone inhabit its frontiers, and as far into the heart of it as a man dare go. Not the law, but the land sets the limit. Desert is the name it wears upon the maps, but the Indian’s is the better word. Desert is a loose term to indicate land that supports no man; whether the land can be bitten and broken to that purpose is not proven. Void of life it never is, however dry the air and villainous the soil.

This is the nature of that country. There are hills, rounded, blunt, burned, squeezed up out of chaos, chrome and vermilion painted, aspiring to the snowline. Between the hills lie high level-looking plains full of intolerable sun glare, or narrow valleys drowned in a blue haze. The hill surface is streaked with ash drift and black, unweathered lava flows. After rains water accumulates in the hollows of small closed valleys, and, evaporating, leaves hard dry levels of pure desertness that get the local name of dry lakes. Where the mountains are steep and the rains heavy, the pool is never quite dry, but dark and bitter, rimmed about with the efflorescence of alkaline deposits. A thin crust of it lies along the marsh over the vegetating area, which has neither beauty nor freshness. In the broad wastes open to the wind the sand drifts in hummocks about the stubby shrubs, and between them the soil shows saline traces. The sculpture of the hills here is more wind than water work, though the quick storms do sometimes scar them past many a year’s redeeming. In all the Western desert edges there are essays in miniature at the famed, terrible Grand Canon, to which, if you keep on long enough in this country, you will come at last.

Since this is a hill country one expects to find springs, but not to depend upon them; for when found they are often brackish and unwholesome, or maddening, slow dribbles in a thirsty soil. Here you find the hot sink of Death Valley, or high rolling districts where the air has always a tang of frost. Here are the long heavy winds and breathless calms on the tilted mesas where dust devils dance, whirling up into a wide, pale sky. Here you have no rain when all the earth cries for it, or quick downpours called cloud-bursts for violence. A land of lost rivers, with little in it to love; yet a land that once visited must be come back to inevitably. If it were not so there would be little told of it.”

Read more here….

“Drifting” by Beth Thomas

WE WALKED TO THE FENCE and saw the birds there, pecking into the gourds that grew wild in that otherwise barren land of rock and shale and dusty bones. An arrowhead plucked up and held, a souvenir, a ghost. We did not stop to check it for blood. We did not speak, only walked, gathering memories, folding them and tucking them safe into back pockets.

“Dry Bones” by Manuel Trevizo (Excerpt)

A skull, of a bull

Perched on a rotting post of wood

The background, a blood red sunset

With hints of a lack of oxygen

Smeared across the panorama

Saguaro Cacti, erected across the

Barron waste land

Representing generations of life,

While the skull represents generations of death

 

Dry heat is what they said,

But so is fire

Build canals! Sow the seeds! Inhabit this

Illustrious land full of opportunity

 Read more here

“Uncomfortable Truths” by Kayleen Burdine (Excerpt)

THEY LEFT IN THE MORNING, before the stars had even begun to disappear. The sky that had been purple-blue-black when they first pulled away from the flickering streetlamp just outside Claire’s family’s apartment was now vibrant and alive with the fiery oranges and yellows of sunrise, its reflection settled smack-dab in the center of the rearview mirror like a miniature masterpiece. They had three hours behind them and no particular destination in mind, their duffle bags slung carelessly into the bed of Ethan’s run-down ’82 Ford pickup. The cab was chilly with the last dregs of winter and Claire shivered a little. The heater was busted.

“Alright, screw it,” she announced, propping her feet up on the dash and tossing her book down onto the weathered seat between them. “Uncomfortable truths. Go.”

Ethan turned his eyes from the road for a second, confusion apparent. “What?”

“Uncomfortable truths,” she reiterated, this time more slowly. “Tell me something unsettling about yourself that I don’t already know.”

“Like what?” he asked, still not seeming to understand. Claire sighed.

“Fine. I’ll start,” she fiddled with the radio’s volume until Led Zeppelin faded out to a low hum. “You know those novelty jelly beans people buy as gag-gifts? The really gross ones that taste like mud, earwax, vomit…?

“Yeah?”

“I like the soap-flavored ones.”

“What?” Ethan’s nose crinkled in disgust.

“Seriously?”

“Yup,” she replied proudly. “Your turn.”

Read more here….