Red Wolves and Black Bears

This is part of a series on The Arts of the Essay, and also continues the Earth Day theme of  Thinking Globally, Acting Locally?”  The short review below was written for The Virginia Quarterly Review in the late 70’s (a copy of the VQR review template on which I wrote appears below).  Reading Red Wolves and Black Bears and writing this review perhaps began my fascination with one of America’s greatest essayists and naturalists, Edward Hoagland, whom I write a lot about in the Arts of the Essay series. ***


Edward Hoagland has been called the Thoreau of our time.  Like Thoreau’s writing, his often rambles, is allusive, is strewn with clumsy sentences (some deliberate, some not), and there is the occasional line like: “…the rhythm of walking is in the sights and one’s response as much as simply in how one steps.”  Hoagland is also an avid naturalist.  But while in Thoreau’s writing the past barely exists, Hoagland’s is shot through with nostalgia and with the jarring rub of past against present.

Hoagland sees in red wolves and black bears counterparts to the communal and solitary aspects of human nature.  But these animals are not part of human nature.  They are part of the dwindling natural world, and one of the major catastrophe’s of our time is that nature is being relentlessly wiped out by human nature.  Sesame Street‘s Big Bird, says Hoagland, is less bird-like than Bugs Bunny is rabbit-like, and even Bugs is less rabbit-like than either Br’er or Peter.  Thoreau found refreshing intensity, vibrant emotion, and comforting stability in the interplay of nature and human nature.  How do we find these things now?  In these nineteen fine essays—which range in subject from a naturalist’s wanderings and research, to writing, cartoon characters, sports, slavery, pets, divorce, and more—this is the major question.  Sometimes he finds answers, sometimes not.

***  See “A Low Water Man” and “Dogs and the Tug of Life,” two Hoagland essays from Red Wolves and Black Bears I’ve written about.  Also, go to this site’s list of Reviews.

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Over 100 hard, athletic jumps in a little over 5 minutes, an average of about 1 every 3 seconds—though 90% of them are packed into the last 3 minutes of David Parson’s dance piece “Caught.”  That’s probably one reason Nora Fitzgerald, writing for the Washington Post on November 1, 2013, describes the dancer as “a little on edge.”

“One man stands on the stage, in the spotlight, alone and perhaps a little on edge. His dance begins slowly, with single bold movements and a few quirky gestures.

“Suddenly, he takes flight. The audience, thrilled, alternately gasps and cheers as he walks, floats and dances on air. He doesn’t land until the dance ends. Choreographed by David Parsons in 1982, ‘Caught’ was a modern dance sensation so buoyantly accessible that men who don’t like dance much recommended the piece to other men who like dance even less.”

The VIDEO below show about 3 minutes of “Caught,” one of modern dance’s most spectacular, crowd-pleasing pieces.  But videos of “Caught” barely capture the experience.  “I’m proud to say,” Parsons himself has said, “you have to see ‘Caught’ live.’  Seeing things live.  The phrase resonates powerfully as we hope we’re coming close to the end of our pandemic.  We hope.  A little like the dancer, we’ve felt suspended, everything up in the air.

It’s not quite true, though, that the dancer in “Caught” doesn’t land til the dance ends.  Here’s part of Eileen Sondak’s LA Times review, written nearly a quarter century earlier (November 1989), when David Parsons himself was dancing his own creation.

“Sunday night in San Diego, under blinking strobe lights that created a marvelous illusion of flight, Parsons awed the crowd in ‘Caught,’ his most-celebrated solo. The whistles and screams of approval began as soon as the dancer took flight on this exciting airborne romp across the Mandeville Auditorium stage.

“Parsons came down to earth regularly during the course of the dance, but you couldn’t prove it by what you saw on stage. Every time the lights flashed on to capture the nimble dancer in action, he was hurtling through space in gravity-defying, mid-air maneuvers.”

I’d say, in fact, that those moments when we see the dancer firmly set down on earth, breathing hard but standing still, are the most thrilling moments of “Caught,” the ooh’s and aah’s of the audience turning into the most thunderous applause.

  For more on the arts, including dance, go to the ARTS Main Page

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The Cost of Racism: 16 Trillion Dollars

And that’s just over the last 20 years, and “just” when it comes to discrimination and inequities concerning Black Americans.  According to a new report from Citi Corp’s GPS group (Global Perspectives and Solutions), nearly sixteen TRILLION dollars have been lost. You can read the full report HERE.

Titled “Closing the Racial Inequality Gaps: The Economic Cost of Black Inequality in the U.S.,” the report begins by quoting one of the most famous passages from MLK, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:”  “We are all caught in an inescapable net of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  And, really, it’s not all that indirect.

The report focuses on four areas, three of which I’ve written about on this site.  (1) The Racial Wealth Gap:  The overall wealth gap has grown to absolutely astonishing proportions since 1965, but the racial wealth gap is even worse.  Closing that gap could have added $2.7 trillion in income, or .2% to our GDP per year.

(2) Home Ownership:  Improve access to housing credit and 770,000 Black-owned homes might have been added since 2000, a gain of $218 billion in sales and expenditures.  Lack of home ownership is the single greatest driver of the racial wealth gap.  (3) Education:  Facilitating access to higher education could have added $90 to $113 billion to lifetime incomes.  Instead inequities in education are still rampant across the nation.  And (4) Fair and Equitable Lending to Black Entrepreneurs:  This could have generated $13 trillion, plus created 6.1 million jobs per years. ***

Sixteen trillion is nearly 75% of the U.S.’s 2019 GDP, but even the four areas above comprising the report’s core don’t tell the whole story of loss.  The report touches on policing, imprisonment, healthcare, and more, and even includes an overview of the Civil Rights Movement as a way to add context and to search for causes of the racial crises which continue to plague us.  Mental and physical sickness, lives traumatized, lives lost—add these as the direct result of unequal policing, unfair imprisonment, and health care inequities and the price soars well, well past $16 trillion dollars.  There’s also much more to pile on, like Voter Suppression, which also costs us a lot.

It’s good to have all these inequities quantified, with dollar signs attached to many of them.  The Clinton campaign coined the phrase “It’s the economic, stupid!” and we seem to listen more when it comes to pocket-book metrics.  But, of course, many don’t experience these inequities, and many don’t believe they exist.  We’re still a nation divided, largely unaware of each other’s experience of life, which is one reason the report concludes that bias and systemic racism have blocked substantial improvement over not just the past 20 years, but over the 158 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and the centuries more since the first African slave landed on American soil.

In his TED Talk “How Racism Makes Us Sick,” public health sociologist Dr. David R. Williams explains a metric that can help us gauge and understand how racism affects the daily health and shortens the lives of so many people of color.  It’s an ultimately uplifting talk, full of “we-can-do-it” optimism, but I believe there’s also an ominous undertone.  If we don’t overcome bias and systemic racism—and we haven’t been doing a great job of it so far—then racism won’t continue to make just Blacks and other people of color sick.  It will continue to make our entire people, and our nation’s morals and body politic sick, too.  And it will continue to rob us of so many life-affirming, life-enriching friendships we could be having across racial and ethnic lines.  Sixteen trillion dollars doesn’t begin to convey the magnitude of such loss.


*** I have written a lot about the first three partly because our family foundation, Emmanuel House—now The Neighbor Project—focuses on home ownership, the single greatest driver of the racial wealth gap.  The stability created by home ownership boosts high school graduation rates by 25%, and college graduation rates by 116%.  The best introduction to The Neighbor Project’s work and vision is executive director Rick Guzman’s talk “Every Person’s God Given Ability to Contribute,” in which he, too, uses the MLK, Jr. passage that begins the Citi Corp report.  But home ownership is all over this site, even including a review of the Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life, or a profile of Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote A Raisin in the Sun.  In his talk Rick Guzman also mentions the opening of the Financial Empowerment Center, a joint venture of The Neighbor Project and the City of Aurora, Illinois, which we hope will make inroads into more fair and equitable lending as well.

  Go to the TEACHING DIVERSITY page.

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Every Person’s God-Given Ability to Contribute

Rick Guzman is The Neighbor Project’s Executive Director, and so important was his talk during The Neighbor Project’s 2020 virtual gala that I have posted a VIDEO of it below all by itself for anyone who did not watch the whole 45-minute gala (which you can still watch HERE), or even the 19-minute Gala Highlights I recently did for this site.

His talk highlighted The Neighbor Project’s impressive growth since early 2018, when Emmanuel House merged with The Joseph Corporation to create The Neighbor Project, and casted a vision for its expanding service to financially vulnerable families and individuals for the rest of 2020, then 2021 and beyond.

He casted this vision in the larger context of loving our neighbors enough to invest in them, saying, “We have to believe in our neighbors enough to invest in them, invest in others the way we would want to be invested in…[so] we can keep working to break down the barriers to home ownership, which are the single largest driver of this nation’s wealth gap.”  That wealth gap is unbelievably enormous (see my article “Graphic Inequality”) and even larger is the Racial Wealth Gap.

He set all this in the largest context of all by quoting from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King wrote.  “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

This talk is an example of what we need more of in this time of protest and soul-searching.  It ties practical action into a deep vision of our mutuality, and vice versa:  it ties that deep vision to practical steps that make that vision a reality in our everyday lives.  And more, it’s also a question of Who Leads?—a question playing out in the protests and other anti-racists actions across our nation today.   Writing in 1970, Robert Greenleaf, who started the field of Servant Leadership, said,  “…the next 30 years will be marked as the period when the dark skinned and…the alienated of the world assert their claims…” and were not “led by a privileged elite…It may be that the best that some of today’s privileged can do is to stand aside and serve by helping when asked and as instructed.”  Guzman expresses his belief that, “If we enlist and empower and engage financially vulnerable populations with opportunities…these otherwise vulnerable populations can quickly become contributing members and leaders for our communities.”  That’s an expanded version of a core belief he’s expressed many times: “Every person has a God-given ability to contribute.”

♦  Go to The Neighbor Project’s website to donate and get involved, and to “Emmanuel House Becomes The Neighbor Project” for a bit of history.

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Thinking Globally, Acting Locally?

It’s just five days after Earth Day 2021, the 51st celebration of the event first held on April 22, 1970.  Founded by environmentalist Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson—whose many other works included protecting the Appalachian Trail and banning DDT—this year’s Day was, like almost everything else since March 2020, overshadowed by our Pandemic.  One of the words of the day is the awkward “politicizing.”  Wearing masks, for example, is just beginning to show some signs of not splitting along Republican/Democrat lines, a split which prompted one person to say, “This is as silly as politicizing toilet paper.”  But the silliness continues, and reaches into way too many areas of our life.

Earth Day, too, has suffered increasing politicizing, and we’re caught more than ever between so-called Climate Alarmists and Climate Deniers.  I used to think that 97% of scientists believed in climate change, but I’m assured by friends I trust that that’s not so, a view espoused by many articles such as Forbes’ “’97% Of Climate Scientists Agree’ Is 100% Wrong,” a 2015 opinion article by Alex Epstein.  “If you look at the literature,” writes Epstein,

“the specific meaning of the 97% claim is: 97 percent of climate scientists agree that there is a global warming trend and that human beings are the main cause–that is, that we are over 50% responsible. The warming is a whopping 0.8 degrees over the past 150 years, a warming that has tapered off to essentially nothing in the last decade and a half.”

Of course, Alex Epstein is founder of the Center for Industrial Progress and author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, so I’m right away suspicious.  First of all, 0.8 degrees is fairly “whopping” overall, and according to NOAA, large-scale research, “Basically…confirms what climate scientists have said all along: natural variability…may cause the rate of warming to change from one decade to the next, but global warming is still underway.”  NASA’s Global Climate Change website also confirms a steady temperature increase apart from natural variability. Epstein argues in part that it’s immoral to attempt banning fossil fuels because billions of livelihoods depend on it.  It’s an argument similar to most economic arguments, like ones about growing carbon in the air only affecting wage growth a few percentage points, if at all—so greenhouse gases can’t be that important.  For me Al Gore’s illustration in An Inconvenient Truth resounds more powerfully.  He used a graphic of a scale: on one side was a pile of money, on the other the earth itself.  We’ll continue to have income growth burning fossil fuels but in what world will we be spending that money?  And on what: more and more and more on mitigating an increasingly unstable environment?

The back and forth seems endless, and I hope a total paralysis won’t result.  At this moment, I’m thrown back 30 years to what seems a more innocent, less politicized time.  In April 1991 I helped put on a conference at North Central College.  We had started holding full-scale conferences in 1989, and earlier that month (April 1-3) had one of our biggest, Image and the Feminine Self, featuring the important writers Carol Gilligan and Stephanie Coontz.  “That’s a lot of pressure. I hope my conference goes half as well,” said our Dean of the Faculty Jerry Berberet, an environmentalist who wanted to get in on our conferencing scene.  Thinking Globally, Acting Locally would occur only two weeks later (April 17-19), and it did go well, with a truly national/global cast of presenters:  Dr. Arthur Sacks (Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison) speaking on “Environmentalism and Perestroika in the Soviet Union”; Dr. John Baldwin (Univ. of Oregon) on “Global Environmental Threats: Perspectives from China, Japan, and the Persian Gulf; Dr. Craig Davis (Ohio State) on “Reaching Those in Power: Environmental Degradation as a Threat to National Security”; Dr. Tim Wood (Wright State) on “The Fate of the Forests: Perspectives on Global Deforestation”; Dr. Desh Bandhu (New Delhi) on “Environmental Issues in India”; and Dr. Alan Schwartz (St. Lawrence Univ.) on “The Environment and the Border: The U.S. and Canada.” There were workshops and even a “Harmonium” where people shared their thoughts in poetry, song, and drama.

The opening lines of the brochure read: “The Earth faces ominous environmental threats—global warming, deforestation, toxic wastes, the recent ravages of the Gulf War.  What the cumulative effects of such threats?…What do Earth’s people need to do to sustain human society in the future? What cab this college and the community around it do to fulfill Rene Dubois’ admonition for the first Earth Day in 1970 to ‘Think globally, Act locally.’”

These days it seems we’re all out of whack.  We’re thinking just locally—meaning our “local” party affiliation vs. yours, our local problems vs. yours, our local set of facts vs. yours, our corner of the globe vs. the globe as a whole.  As many have said, The earth is going to survive all we throw at it.  It’s going to last far, far longer than humans will.

♦  Go to my personal history of significant persons and conferences I helped bring to North Central College.

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Christianity and the Holocaust

In my sermon “Who Do You Stand With?” I spoke of the shameful record the Christian church had when standing up for the lives and rights of the oppressed.  In fact, it has played a major role in the rise and continuation of racism, the suppression of women and LGBTQ persons, and, during the Holocaust, the support of Nazis.  There were exceptions, of course.  The Civil Rights Movement was to a large degree church-based, though the churches on the front line were mostly Black.  There was opposition to Nazi rule, too, from the so-called Confessing Church. One of its leaders was Dietrich Boenhoeffer, who wrote the great book The Cost of Discipleship, which begins with that startling sentence, “The great enemy of the church today is cheap grace.”  We want all the advantages of grace but don’t want to do anything for it.  We don’t want to stand with people, speak up for them.  Bonhoeffer was executed.  Another leader of the Confessing Church was Martin Niemoeller, who uttered the famous words: “When they came for the Communists, I didn’t say anything because I’m not a Communist.  When they came for the Jews, I didn’t say anything because I’m a Christian. When they came for the Trade Unionists, I didn’t say anything because I don’t belong to a Trade Union.  And then they came for me, and it was too late.  There was no one to speak up for me.”  Niemoeller spent seven years in a concentration camp.  But on the whole, the traditional German church whispered its objections.  Its virtual silence enabled the horrors of the war and the concentration camps, and much of the church openly stood with that evil regime.

The very first conference we ever put on at North Central College was “Christianity and the Holocaust,” November 8-10, 1989, directed by Dr. David Frolick, from political science,* and me as director of the two co-sponsoring entities, The Visiting Lecturer Committee and The Master of Arts in Liberal Studies.  Frolick had approached me about bringing Nachama Tec, who had written When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland,” and when I said, Why not more speakers? I remember him saying, “You mean an actual conference!?  We’ve got to get a good brochure!”  I remember, too, rushing by a group preparing lunch, saying, “No ham,” and hearing gasps as I sped away to take care of other business.

As part of that brochure shows below, we covered a wide spectrum of issues: the Holocaust and the Christian church, of course, but also Holocaust studies for high schools, the Holocaust in film, literature, and ethics, the Holocaust’s relation to contemporary racism—all culminating with Nechama Tec’s talk “When Light Pierced the Darkness: Becoming a Rescuer.”

It was a reprise of the central aspects of her book, which begins with noting that while the whole world knows so much about Anne Frank, it knows very little about the two people who hid the family.  The Encyclopedia Judaica, for example, refers to them only as “friendly Gentiles.” Their names, Tec tells us, were Mr. Koophius and Mr. Kraler.  They were both arrested and sent to camps. Koophius was released a few weeks later due to poor health, but Kraler spent eight months at forced labor.  In 1972 Yad Vashem bestowed upon them the title of Righteous Christians.

Tec—herself a Holocaust survivor helped by Polish rescuers—identifies six highly inter-related traits of those who became rescuers, including some who were actually anti-semites!  1) An almost marginal status vis a vis their communities, resulting in increased individuality and separateness.  2) Independence and self-reliance allowing them to act on their convictions. 3) Broad and lasting commitment to stand up for the helpless.  4) Consistently denying their actions were heroic, and seeing aiding Jews as a matter of fact thing. 5) Unpremeditated, unplanned beginnings of rescue efforts.  6) Universal perceptions of Jews as helpless and dependent on others, and the ability to disregard all other attributes except those that expressed extreme suffering and need.  In other important summary passages, Tec says:  “…it was this moral force that motivated the rescuers independent of likes or dislikes…Liking and helping, they knew, did not necessarily go hand in hand…The relative independence, strength, and freedom of these rescuers suggest that they were able to act in accordance with their personal moral imperatives, which involved a strong desire, almost a compulsion, to stand up for the needy, the persecuted, and the downtrodden.”

These sound to me like core values in Jesus’ ministry, values that are often forgotten, buried by our easy, comfort-seeking religiosity.  In the dismal history of the pain, the torture, the death we inflict on each other, and our usually feeble attempts to speak out against these, it was good to be reminded that light does occasionally pierce the darkness.

* The other conference committee members were Dr. George Karnezis, Mr. David McGuire, Dr. William Nauman, and Dr. Roger Smitter.  Alice Stonebreaker (Arts & Letters), and Lina Ariffin and Jerrie Lea Hopf (Graduate Programs) were also of great assistance to me.

♦  Go to my personal history of significant persons and conferences I helped bring to North Central College.

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