The history of the civil rights movement is littered with moral compromises, class conflicts, and power rivalries. That history has been told elsewhere, most famously in Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters, but it never made it into my elementary/middle/high school. If I knew about that history, I think I would have liked these men more. King’s capacity for mediocrity makes his capacity for greatness that much more interesting and that much more extraordinary.
I think to admit despair and to revel in it — as many 20th- and 21st-century writers do — is an easy way out.
Every morning, The Oregonian publishes the latest tally of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ursula K. Le Guin prints out the number in bold script on standard computer paper and tapes it to her living room window not far from the rainbow peace flag atop her garage. Does this do any good? Does this change anything? You might just as well ask if novels or stories have any real-world effect.
But I foresee a time not all that far in the future in which the closet will no longer exist as we know it. Sure, people will still feel embarrassed about some of their sexual desires. Society will still hold onto certain gender roles, but the acceptance of gay people may allow society to tweak their stereotypes. What will no longer exist in the world I envision is the man who spends years lying to people about who he is, who marries a woman, and allows himself to grow cold, gray and isolated as the years pass. What will no longer exist is that weird English graduate student who doesn’t understand why everyone thinks Henry James or Walt Whitman is gay. Comic foils like David Cross’s Tobias in Arrested Development will have no corollaries in reality. Gay kids will go on their first dates when they’re 12 or 13 and they will go out with kids of the same gender and everyone will be happier for that fact.
"If Merle Miller’s book is an argument for dignity and acceptance, it is also an argument against politeness. It is an argument against letting stray homophobic remarks from your liberal friends just go in the interest of keeping the evening pleasant. It is an argument against letting someone change the topic of conversation when they tell you they feel uncomfortable about gay marriage. It’s an argument for demanding the part of the territory to which you are entitled.”
- The March of Progress Is Never Neat: Merle Miller’s On Being Different by Paul Morton
"She made me talk about why I felt I could never make anyone care about these people the way I cared about them. She made me realize I just had to keep on doing my reporting. Obviously, it was late for those children, but if I could investigate and document a little better, maybe some attention would be paid."
- Katherine Boo is interviewed for The Millions
"It’s something that I wrestle with enormously but, as I explained to the people of Annawadi, I will explain to you. In the work that I do, the general belief is that you don’t pay people to tell their stories. And I adhere to that. It’s not without ambivalence. But I also know that if I paid people in Annawadi for their stories it would have distorted the stories that I got. The one thing that I try to be very careful about wherever I’m working is that I don’t pull people aside and do interviews. I go with them when they work. I try not to get in people’s way to make a living, so at least [the interview] doesn’t financially deplete them. Anyway, I think it’s a better style of reporting because you get to see people in action. It’s a very troubling thing."
- Katherine Boo, as interviewed by Paul Morton for The Millions
[Image via Denver Post]