People fleeing slavery: Fording the Rappahannock River. Rappahannock, Virginia, August 1862. Thank you,

Drapetomania was a supposed mental illness described by American physician Samuel A. Cartwright in 1851 that caused black slaves to flee captivity. Today, drapetomania is considered an example of pseudoscience, and part of the edifice of scientific racism.The term derives from the Greek δραπετης (drapetes, “a runaway [slave]”) + μανια (mania, “madness, frenzy”).

– Wikipedia,



“The one thing that everybody wants is to be free…not to be managed, threatened, directed, restrained, obliged, fearful, administered, they want none of these things they all want to feel free, the word discipline, and forbidden and investigated and imprisoned brings horror and fear into all hearts, they do not want to be afraid not more than is necessary in the ordinary business of living where one has to earn one’s living and has to fear want and disease and death….The only thing that any one wants now is to be free, to be let alone, to live their life as they can, but not to be watched, controlled and scared, no no, not.”

― Gertrude Stein, in September, 1943, on Vichy France

quoted in James R. Mellow, Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company

“The one thing that everybody wants is to be free.” But this seems to be true only in conditions of the most egregious oppression, the most heinous un-freedom. What does ‘everybody’ in the United States want now, today? What is ‘everybody’ doing for the sake of freedom? Even if only their own freedom, even if freedom in some restricted and unimaginative sense, even if only part-time? What does ‘everybody’ want before it’s too late?

Photograph: Petain’s Vichy cabinet. Reasonable-looking men.

Thanks to the Asia-Pacific Journal and Timothy Brooks for access to this photograph:


The assertion that a picture is worth 1,000 words always struck me as the shop-talk of a propagandist. A picture can strike where we are defenseless, and the pictorial media have been deployed so manipulatively in our era that looking can and should be thought of as a critical act, a skeptical one.

That said, these portraits of people from Cairo may well be worth thousands on thousands of words. Even through skepticism and resistance and all the defensive mental prophylactics, sometimes images of human eyes, human faces, human bodies with their scars and particularities, can be arresting, stirring. I love these faces – their ferocity and vulnerability and plaintiveness and strength. The photographer, Miguel Ángel Sánchez, calls the series The Soul of the World.



I hear a lot of my transplanted white colleagues and acquaintances discussing how my city’s culture is ‘too white.’ This conversation is often coded in other terminology, through ascribing WASPy characteristics to the entirety of the city’s population. Seattle, some claim, is ‘passive aggressive’ or ‘cold’ or ‘politically correct.’ It’s ‘hard to meet people’ and the culture lacks ‘color’ or ‘authenticity.’ After a few months or a few years living in the whitest available neighborhoods, new Seattleites are already inadvertently reproducing and reinforcing the historical methods of segregation in our Town.


As a white native of Seattle, let me just tell it to you plain: If you do not see people of color on your block, at your job, or in your schools, it is decidedly NOT because Seattle’s population is too white. It’s because your block, your job, and your school are actively maintaining racial segregation. 


The continued maintenance of segregation allows whites who move into the city’s whitest neighborhoods to see only a naturalized version of ‘separate but equal.’ That is, when segregation policies are successful, they themselves become invisible – as do people of color – to whites who stay within their ‘comfort zone.’ And thus it’s possible for someone a few miles away from the country’s most diverse zip code to bemoan the homogeneity of the city.


The policies of racially restrictive property sales contracts/covenants which were legal (all over the country, as per the Supreme Court) between 1926 and 1948 go a long way toward explaining the historical foundations of Seattle’s ‘white neighborhoods.’ You’ll notice that the most legally restricted neighborhoods REMAIN those in which one might get the impression that the city is very white. These boundaries were drawn by racist law, and are enforced by income inequity, imprisonment and disenfranchisement, the property-tax based education system, the drug war, repressive police strategies – and by white peoples’ continued willful blindness to the very existence of people of color in the city. 


Good news! There are things you can do to counteract this phenomenon instead of complying with it. You don’t have to integrate a neighborhood all by yourself by moving there- in fact, please don’t. When you bring your non-local money and white privilege into a community of color, you throw off the balance by driving up property values and reducing the self-sufficiency of  neighborhood. When locals are forced to cater to the tastes and habits of white people, they stop being relevant to their base and it becomes more difficult to maintain community strength. As we work towards the destruction of racist institutions, we need to recognize that people of color are doing for themselves, as they should. Their communities could use our support and allegiance, NOT our disruptive property-purchasing power or our paternalistic advice or our feelings of guilt or our self-serving demands for attention and recognition. 


So go explore some of Seattle’s amazing neighborhoods, appreciate the struggles of their residents, and go back to your own community to work on transforming the institutions that enforce delusions of white supremacy. Go home to your white block and start asking your neighbors why they allow racial restrictive covenants to stay in their deeds. Go back to your white job and start asking why you aren’t hiring people of color or accepting their leadership. Go into your white schools and ask why your children are getting deficient educations because they are segregated from people of color. Look for ways in which you can reduce your own use of white privilege and your own complicity with racism. Trust – this is more constructive, much more difficult, and immeasurably more important than talking with your white friends about how much you wish you lived in a ‘diverse’ city.





Checking out the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project is a great way to introduce yourself to the complexities and nuances of your new home. 


They have a small sample of racial restrictions in deeds around the city:


If you live on Capitol Hill, take a little field trip: Walk just a few blocks south on 12th, or cut over the hill to 23rd and head south from there, or down the hill under the freeway overpass on Jackson. If you live downtown, walk through Pike Place Market early on a weekday, and ask the growers and vendors what neighborhoods they live in. If you live in Ballard, get yourself on a bus headed south and go to the end of the line. If you live in the University District, head up Lake City Way. If you drive, go to Aurora (Highway 99) and go either north or south. When you’re taking the light rail heading north from the airport, get off anywhere before Pioneer Square and wander around a bit. Go to Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, Columbia City, South Park, the Central District, the International District – for starters. Take walks, buy stuff from local businesses, eat food, be friendly. 




Big thanks to Larry Neilson for the use of his photograph of the Liberation mural at Seattle Central’s wood shop.


Few voices go deeper into my core than Carl Sandburg’s. I think that few voices went deeper into Carl Sandburg than that of Abraham Lincoln. So let the words, then, be magnified, prismatic, by the generations who have attended upon them and been moved.


Please click through and read this article in the Daily Mail about the proposed formation of a “Super-Congress.” This may seem like a wonky and obscure little action. After all, we have to preserve that credit rating by any means necessary, right? And before the opening of the Asian markets!

But any student of 20th-century history knows that this kind of thing has often signaled the beginning of the end of any semblance of democratic government. Many otherwise noble Constitutions have been circumvented or shredded because they included a built-in ‘state of exception’ clause that authorized special powers in ’emergency’ circumstances. (See the infamous Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, e.g.) When a state of exception clause includes a ‘streamlined’ decision-making process, democracy itself is in jeopardy.

Once special powers are in place, those who get to exercise them never volunteer to dismantle them. Our Constitution does NOT provide for a state of exception – ONLY habeas corpus can be suspended during “rebellion or invasion.” Allowing individuals to be held without charge, while quite serious, is not the same as establishing a mechanism for unaccountable lawmaking. When new laws can be made without public and judicial scrutiny, by people who aren’t worried about re-election, behind closed committee doors, expect the abrogation of fundamental rights.

Imagine – jut a short time ago, it would have caused an earth-shaking scandal to reveal that the President was ordering the extra-judicial assassination of American citizens. Or that lettered agencies were damning them to indefinite exile without due process of law. Our government, especially the executive branch, is already operating as though in a state of exception. It will get much worse, much faster, if this so-called “Super-Congress” is formed.


For more on the state of exception, here’s a brief historical overview:  (Agamben is a little late to the party, but a good short read for the blog context. Anyone interested in the topic should read Carl Schmitt at length. He was talking about this in 1932. Agamben has the advantage of hindsight on the 20th century, but doesn’t really go far enough towards recognizing how unexceptional the state of exception has become.)


Stanley Milgram is a name everyone should know. If you can, watch his films. Read his books. He is best known for his laboratory experiments, where he proved that the gentlest nudging of authority can get the average citizen to kill his brethren. Urged to apply deadly electric shocks to unseen subjects, most people complied.

Milgram was troubled by the Nazi killing program, and wanted to know how ordinary people got involved with atrocity. Conventional wisdom of the time postulated an ‘authoritarian personality type’ or a form of mass psychosis. However, neither insanity nor special cultural conditions were necessary. It seems that the requirements for atrocity include obedience to authority, dispersion of responsibility, and distance.

It’s the last condition that interests me the most. Apparently, humans are highly ethical actors within a limited realm of physical proximity. You are not likely to harm someone in your direct vicinity – someone you can see and touch. However, ethical boundaries degrade very quickly when the victim is somehow removed from your perception – when you can’t heat the screams, or see the anguish on the faces.

It’s troubling, then, that we can go to war by video game, controlling death-dealing drones from the safety of a US military installation. We are already very removed from the dirt and blood of war. Our eyes can’t see what our hands are doing. Milgram has shown that this means our hands can be easily persuaded to do the devil’s work.

Here is a link to a podcast about a recent recreation of the experiment:

And a website about Milgram:

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