مانند ناتو اما برای اقتصادی جنگ

گتی / اطلس

خود به خود چند کشور قدرتمند به اندازه کافی برای ایستادن به قلدری توسط چین و موجود اتحاد امنیتی که بر اساس آن عمده جهان دموکراسی وابسته نیست ساخته شده به آدرس تهدید اقتصادی در حال حاضر ناشی از پکن است. این بهار در مدت کوتاهی پس از استرالیا خواستار تحقیقات بین المللی به ریشه های COVID-19 چینی سفیر آن کشور در معرض تهدید اقتصادی تحریم اعلام کرد که چین می تواند بدون استرالیا شراب و گوشت گاو در میان دیگر محصولات است. پس از چین و استرالیا بزرگترین بازار صادرات بود نه تهدید. پس از آن چین مسدود واردات از عمده استرالیا تولید گوشت قرار داده و تعرفه های استرالیا جو. بیشتر و بیشتر چین است که با استفاده از آن عظیم اقتصادی وزن به تهدید کشورهایی است که چالش آن اقدامات انتقاد از رهبران آن و یا ابراز همدردی با مردم که آن را در نظر مخالفان و یا جدایی.

در آوریل مقامات چینی تهدید اتحادیه اروپا با unnamed پیامدهای اگر یک مقام رسمی اتحادیه اروپا گزارش شرح داده شده چینی “جهانی کمپین دروغ” مربوط به COVID-19. (اتحادیه اروپا باب روز پایین گزارش.) پکن تهدید اقتصادی آسیب به خودروسازان آلمانی اگر آلمان تلاش برای محروم کردن تجهیزات ساخته شده توسط شرکت چینی غول Huawei از آن 5G شبکه. چین در سال گذشته نیز تهدید به اعمال محدودیت های تجاری در سوئد پس از یک نویسنده سوئدی اهدا شد جایزه برای نویسندگان تحت آزار و اذیت توسط سوئدی فصل از گروه PEN بین المللی است. این حرکت نشان دهنده یک نوع اقتصادی امپریالیسم. حزب کمونیست چین که سرکوب مخالفان در خانه است و در تلاش برای وادار کردن دیگر کشورها به رعایت آن استبدادی هنجارها و استفاده از آن در شرکت مورد نظر خود را برای ساخت ضروری شبکه های ارتباطات است.

در ایالات متحده ظن دولت چین است که مرکب از ماده اما هیچ اجماع وجود دارد فقط در مورد چه باید بکنید. مغلوب ساختن پیشی جستن دولت اجرا انواع متهاجم سیاست از جمله محدود کردن فروش نیمه هادی در چین و توقف یک دولت ایالات متحده بازنشستگی صندوق از سرمایه گذاری در سهام وجود دارد و خود رئيس جمهور قول داد جمعه به ممنوعیت Infinite محبوب برنامه متعلق به یک شرکت چینی است. وزیر امور خارجه مایک Pompeo به نام در اولین سخنرانی خود برای “یک اتحاد جدید از دموکراسی” برای مقابله با ابرقدرت در حال ظهور اگر چه چند جزئیات ارائه شد. پیش نویس 2020 حزب دموکرات پلت فرم گسترده داعش به “تجمع دوستان و متحدان در سراسر جهان را به عقب براند در برابر چین و یا هر کشور دیگری تلاش برای تضعیف هنجارهای بین المللی.”

مشکل این است که ایالات متحده و متحدان آن در حال حاضر عدم توانایی برای پاسخ به نوع geo-تهدید اقتصادی که چین در حال ساخت است. به طور خاص آنها نیاز به یک وسیله مصرف اقدام جمعی که پکن تلاش برای استفاده از قدرت اقتصادی به عنوان یک ابزار سیاسی اجبار. هیچ کشور باید به صورت جمله تهدید به تنهایی.

بسیاری از مهم ترین جنگ سرد دوران موسسات به خصوص ناتو طراحی شده بودند برای جلوگیری از یک درجه اول تهدید نظامی از اتحاد جماهیر شوروی. اما در آن زمان مسکو—بر خلاف پکن در حال حاضر—در حال محدود اهرم های اقتصادی در برابر غرب است. جهانی نهادهای اقتصادی از جمله سازمان تجارت جهانی به دقت متمرکز در موافقت نامه های تجارت و قانون برای اطمینان از عادلانه رقابت اقتصادی ندارد و امکان از نظر اقتصادی جنگ یا خطر تهدید اقتصادی به نیروی امتیازات سیاسی. در واقع هیچ یک از این اتحاد و یا موسسات شده است هر گونه کمک در پرداختن اقتصادی چین در برابر تهدیدات و استرالیا و آلمان و سوئد و یا کشورهای دیگر.

این تهدیدات نیز ایالات متحده آسیب برساند. اگر چین نیروهای آمریکا و متحدان به استفاده از Huawei فناوری اطلاعات و شبکه ارتباطات آمریکایی است که از طریق آن شبکه می تواند در معرض حزب کمونیست چین را نفوذ. و چین حاکمان به دنبال اجرای خط حزب در آمریکایی است. در سال گذشته پکن, punished, NBA هیوستون راکتس زمانی که تیم را به مدیر کل ارائه پشتیبانی برای هنگ کنگ prodemocracy معترضان در توییتر یک پلت فرم مسدود شده در چین. رژیم به احتمال زیاد رشد جسورانه به عنوان اقتصادی چین ممکن است رشد می کند.

تهدیدات جدید تقاضا پاسخ جدید. در طول جنگ سرد ایالات متحده ایجاد شده نه تنها ناتو بلکه سیا و نیروی هوایی برای پاسخ به تهدیدات شوروی. دوره آورده کاملا شکل جدید از هوش رقابت بین غرب و اتحاد جماهیر شوروی. این به رهبری آمریکا و انگلیس و کانادا و استرالیا و نیوزیلند برای ورود به اتحاد معمولا شناخته شده به عنوان پنج چشم که اجازه بی سابقه هوش های میان ملت ها در زمان صلح. این رویکرد می شده اند غیر قابل تصور قبل از اتحاد جماهیر شوروی ژئوپولیتیک تهدید.

به طور مشابه یک نوع جدید از داد—مانند ناتو بلکه اقتصادی و نه نظامی تهدید—مورد نیاز است برای پاسخ به این نوع از statecraft که چین تمرین است. تحت چنین سیستم کشورهای شرکت کننده ارائه می کنند حمایت متقابل زمانی که چین را تهدید می کند یکی یا بیشتر از اعضای اقتصادی پیامدهای سیاسی اقدامات است. که کمک می تواند شامل اعمال تعرفه بر کالاهای چینی توسط تمام کشورهای عضو; ایجاد یک استخر از سرمایه برای کمک به یک هدف ملت مقاومت در برابر پکن فشار; انتشار ذخایر استراتژیک از مواد ضروری مانند فلزات خاکی کمیاب است که در چین تولید می کند و می تواند در خود نگه دارد; و دیگر اشکال جمعی اقتصادی دفاع.

زمانی که چین اهداف استرالیا جو و گوشت گاو به قطع انتقاد از پکن را از دست داده و COVID-19 اعضای اقتصادی داد می تواند همه اعمال تعرفه ها و یا دیگر اشکال اقتصادی سلاح به زور چین به عقب. اگر چین همچنان به تهدید خودرو آلمان-صادرات به نیروی امتیازات در 5G, اتحاد اعضای ممکن است درد را کاهش خود تعرفه های Volkswagens و BMWs.

این اتحاد می تواند به هر کشوری که می خواستم برای حفظ بازار آزاد سیاسی و استقلال. استفاده از آن ابزار را باید باریک: این عمل باید تنها در موارد که در آن جنگ اقتصادی است مورد استفاده قرار گیرد به عنوان یک وسیله سیاسی اجبار. آن را نمی خواهد جایگزین ناتو و یا دیگر نظامی اتحاد است. و نه آن را جایگزین تجارت جهانی. در واقع این امر می تواند مکمل و ارائه وسیله ای برای حفاظت از تجارت جهانی را هدف تجارت آزاد با مقابله با تلاش برای تبدیل تجارت به یک جغرافیای سیاسی تراشه چانه زنی.

ایالات متحده نیاز به توسعه سیاست های چین است که تا حد زیادی سازگار از یک اداره به بعد. ناتو مانند اقتصادی-امنیتی داد می تواند حمایت از اجماع دو حزبی در چین سیاست. این است که سازگار با ملی رویکرد دفاع و پشتیبانی با مغلوب ساختن پیشی جستن دولت—بلکه با بیشتر سنتی اهداف سیاست از دموکرات ها از جمله جو بایدن که در ساختمان اتحاد جهانی و حفاظت از بشر و حقوق سیاسی کوچکتر ملل.

تا به این نقطه ایالات متحده و دیگر دموکراسی را محکم یکپارچه اقتصاد خود با چین را به طور کامل و بدون برنامه ریزی برای مشکلاتی که در تنظیم و ارائه است. چین استفاده می شود این ادغام اقتصادی برای جغرافیای سیاسی به دست آورید. فقط به عنوان در ایالات متحده مورد نیاز اتحاد برای جلوگیری از تهدیدات نظامی پس از جنگ جهانی دوم به آن نیاز دارد اتحاد است که جلوگیری از تهدید اقتصادی از پکن در حال حاضر.

ما می خواهیم به شنیدن آنچه که شما فکر می کنم در مورد این مقاله. ارسال یک نامه به سردبیر و یا ارسال به letters@theatlantic.com.

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نرم افزار گرامرلی

یکشنبه خواندن: هیروشیما

The destruction of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped.
عکس از Alamy

این هفته نشانه هفتاد و پنجمین سالگرد بمباران هیروشیما. در سال 1946 ویلیام شان بود که در آن معاون هارولد راس سردبیر نیویورکرخواست جان Hersey به, سفر به ژاپن و نوشتن در مورد وحشتناک پس. Hersey گزارش “هیروشیما” مشخص شده خروج رادیکال از مرسوم روزنامه نگاری از روز است. شفاف و انعطاف پذیر نثر او غیر قابل درک توصیف تخریب در سطح انسانی. Hersey متمرکز در شش بازماندگان. (“هر یک می داند که در عمل بقا او زندگی می کردند یک ده زندگی می کند و شاهد مرگ بیش از او تا به حال فکر او را ببینید.”) مجله اختصاص داده شده خود را تمام August 31st موضوع به این قطعه و آن را به زودی به عنوان خوانده شده در سراسر جهان است. هفتاد و چهار سال بعد ما در حال آوردن شما Hersey را جشن کار و انتخاب مقالات مرتبط. در “هیروشیما: پس” از سال 1985 Hersey revisits بازماندگان او برفلد در اصلی خود را گزارش. در “آشر” یوجین Kinkead برخورد Paul W. Tibbets جونیور سرهنگ که سرنشین این هواپیما که به هر طریقی بمب. (“هنگامی که بمب کاهش یافته است, همه craned گردن خود را به تماشای این ابر سیاه که با افزایش بیش از شهر—یک اثر کاملا متفاوت از هر چیزی و هر یک از آنها را تا به حال دیده بود. سپس آنها پرواز را به Marianas خوردن ساندویچ ژامبون به عنوان آنها رفت.”) در “اتمی جان” دیوید ساموئلز می نویسد: در مورد یک راننده کامیون از ویسکانسین است که کشف رمز از اسرار اولین بمب هسته ای. سرانجام “جان Hersey و هنر واقع” نیکلاس Lemann پروفایل نیویورکر خبرنگار و بررسی چگونه کار خود را کمک کرد تا تبدیل به مجله گزارش. این قطعه ارائه فرح یادآوری از قدرت روزنامه نگاری به شهادت به حتی بیشتر غیر قابل درک رویدادهای تاریخی است.

—دیوید Remnick


“هیروشیما”
عکس از رول پرس / Popperfoto / گتی

یک صد هزار نفر کشته شدند توسط بمب اتمی. بازماندگان تعجب می کنم که چرا آنها زندگی می کردند زمانی که بسیاری دیگر درگذشت.


“هیروشیما: The Aftermath”

بازماندگان’ داستان است.


“آشر”

خلبان که کاهش یافته است بمب اتمی در هیروشیما.


“اتمی جان”
تصویر توسط John Ritter

یک راننده کامیون کشف اسرار در مورد اولین بمب هسته ای.


“جان Hersey و هنر از واقعیت”
عکس توسط ایروینگ پن © ایروینگ پن بنیاد

Hersey پیشگام اساسا شکل جدیدی از روزنامه نگاری. اما او متقاعد شده است که خود را بالاتر تماس, داستان بود و هیچ کس نمی تواند او را متقاعد کند در غیر این صورت.

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نرم افزار گرامرلی

Indian Matchmaking Exposes the Easy Acceptance of Caste

Netflix

This story contains some spoilers for Season 1 of Indian Matchmaking.

“Marriages are breaking like biscuits.”

The Mumbai-based matchmaker Sima Taparia delivers this meme-friendly one-liner in the seventh episode of the hit Netflix series Indian Matchmaking. Her sentiment seems antithetical to the title of the show, in which she travels tirelessly between Mumbai, Houston, San Diego, and Delhi to find the “perfect match” for her clients. Indian Matchmaking joins other recent reality dating series such as Love Is Blind and Too Hot to Handle—except the first dates are often in the company of one or both sets of the daters’ parents and the sex is nonexistent. In her questions about her clients’ preferences and her scrutiny of their lifestyles (and closets), Taparia is no different from any other matchmaker who promises relationships that can last forever. But she departs from this well-worn model in her attention to one extra characteristic: caste.

This silent shadow hangs over every luxurious living room she leads viewers into. “In India, we have to see the caste, we have to see the height, we have to see the age,” Taparia, the show’s central narrator and driving force, says in the first four minutes of the series. She lumps an entire social system, which assigns people to a fixed place in a hierarchy from birth, together with anodyne physical preferences. Though it’s rarely mentioned by name on the show, caste appears on almost every criteria list that Taparia’s marriage-hopefuls lay out. By coding caste in harmless phrases such as “similar backgrounds,” “shared communities,” and “respectable families,” the show does exactly what many upper-caste Indian families tend to do when discussing this fraught subject: It makes caste invisible.

The pervasiveness of caste in Indian communities, even beyond the ambit of arranged marriages, has dangerous consequences for those of us born into “lower” castes. (I myself am Dalit, the self-chosen identity for people formerly known as “untouchables.”)

This prejudiced treatment includes, but is hardly limited to, workplace discrimination in the United States. For example, the state of California sued the tech company Cisco in June for allegedly failing to protect a Dalit employee from discrimination by his higher-caste Brahmin managers. When a popular show like Indian Matchmaking neglects this alarming fact of the Indian American experience, it quietly normalizes caste for a global audience.

Contrary to what some viewers might think, the caste system is an active form of discrimination that persists in India and within the Indian American diaspora. One of the primary functions of arranged marriage is maintaining this status quo. This can be confirmed by a cursory glance at matrimonial columns in Indian newspapers, which are full of “Caste Wanted” headlines, or at the ubiquitous matchmaking websites that promise to help users find an upper-caste “Brahmin bride” or “Rajput boy,” while filtering profiles from people in lower castes. Marrying into the same caste of one’s birth is not, as Indian Matchmaking might suggest, a benign choice akin to finding someone who “matches your background” or has “similar values.” It’s a practice that helps dominant-caste folks preserve their power.

Caste, much like race, is an identity that you can’t change, erase, or escape. Marriage, especially between “dominant” and “untouchable” castes, can pose a threat to that hierarchy. That explains why people in dominant castes often carry out brutal violence against their own family members who dare to marry outside their caste, particularly if a partner is Dalit. Just two weeks ago, three brothers from a dominant caste in India’s Uttar Pradesh state allegedly killed their sister for marrying a lower-caste man and shot the husband in the stomach. Last year, in Maharashtra, a father reportedly doused his daughter and her Dalit husband in kerosene and lit them on fire to condemn their intercaste marriage.

These attacks are part of a pattern of families punishing relatives for rejecting marriages arranged on the basis of caste. For Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking, that broader context appears to be irrelevant; the show seems to not only approve of arranged marriages but also champion them with casteist glee. Multiple episodes open with When Harry Met Sally–esque interviews featuring mostly older, straight couples in seemingly happy arranged marriages. (Same-sex marriages are not legally recognized in India.) The couples reminisce about their first meetings, many of which took place on the day of their wedding. They reveal that the choices that shaped the rest of their lives were made for them by family members, and yet they somehow still ended up deeply in love.

In the second episode, Taparia herself details how she got married at age 19 to a man chosen by her father. The camera follows her husband as he brings her a cup of tea while she stressfully combs through her clients’ “marriage bio-data,” as the résumé-style list of qualifications is called. The sequence all but confirms their loving relationship. Not only does nearly every marriage-hopeful admit that they changed their mind about arranged unions, but the series also ends with a glowing tribute to the tradition. A wholesome montage shows husband-and-wife pairs who joke around and tease each other before sharing how long they’ve been together (from less than 24 hours to 50 years).

Of course, many marriages arranged by the parents and families of the couple turn out to be perfectly sweet and happy. But many also come with a loss of agency, especially for the woman, who must be “flexible” and “adjust” to the norms of her husband’s family, as the show points out. The bride is almost always expected to bring with her a sizable dowry. Even darker, wives who experience controlling behavior, domestic abuse, or marital rape (which is not a crime in India) are socially conditioned to suffer silently.

The success of Indian Americans as so-called model minorities in the U.S. has been attributed to lasting marriages and strong family ties. But the happily-ever-after ideal of arranged marriage is beginning to show cracks. More young Indians and Indian Americans are rejecting the practice or walking out of partnerships that don’t work. Even Indian Matchmaking features at least three story lines about divorce, although the show is clear that leaving a marriage still carries stigma. In the episode dispassionately titled “Marriages Are Breaking Like Biscuits,” the series explores the stories of divorced individuals from both arranged and non-arranged marriages. The show illustrates how difficult it is for these clients to find a match in the caste-driven market, at times implying that being able to easily end a marriage may be a bad thing.

Sima Taparia visits a client, Rupam, to help her find a partner after divorce. (Netflix)

Despite Indian Matchmaking largely ignoring caste, the show, to its credit, doesn’t entirely gloss over the less-than-desirable aspects of arranged marriage. Some episodes highlight families or clients with unconventional pasts, such as the fan-favorite high-school counselor Vyasar. In one episode, Rupam—a 36-year-old single mom who divorced her cheating partner—successfully finds a match not with Taparia’s help, but on good ol’ Bumble. Other installments examine the pressure that unmarried individuals can face from their married friends or siblings.

In one scene, Akshay, a 25-year-old who went to college in Boston and lives with his rich, Mumbai-based family, is accosted by his mother; she asks him to take a photo of a blood-pressure machine displaying her high reading, which she claims is a result of him not finding a partner. She then gives him three “options” of women to choose from, and declares that if he can’t make up his mind, she and his father will make the choice for him. For anyone, including myself, who doesn’t meet the neat requisites for arranged marriage and has had to fend off well-intentioned yet emotionally abusive family members, that sequence has enough material to generate weeks of trauma.

Since its debut, the series has drawn criticism from Indian and U.S. media for sidestepping issues of colorism, dowry, sexism, body shaming, and, yes, caste. Though the show is called Indian Matchmaking, it portrays no couples who identify as Muslim, Christian, or Dalit—communities that represent close to 40 percent of India’s 1 billion–plus population. Yet the series has also generated the kind of intense conversation that many shows with nonwhite story lines can only dream of creating. Memes, essays, and long Twitter threads flooded both desi and non-desi corners of the internet almost immediately after the show’s release. Many think pieces have labeled the series cringeworthy and problematic for presenting the requirements for an ideal bride (essentially a tall, slim girl from a high caste who can “compromise”) without challenging them. Some writers have complained that the show depicts South Asian culture as “burdensome,” while others have defended it for accurately portraying how Indian marriages are made.

The show’s creator, Smriti Mundhra, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker who directed a documentary about arranged marriage in 2017, told The Cut that she welcomes critiques of her show: “I want to be held accountable. Push me so I can push, too,” she said. Mundhra’s biggest blind spot is her complicity in the normalization of Hindu upper-caste culture as larger Indian culture. Many Indian Americans argue that it’s unfair when works of pop culture expose the ugly underbelly of our societies for the rest of the world to witness. But it would be wrong to assume that these issues no longer exist or don’t affect most people, especially Dalits such as myself, who sometimes spend our entire lives being wounded by these cultural minefields.

Indian Matchmaking doesn’t deserve criticism for holding up a mirror to the diaspora’s uncomfortable realities. It deserves scrutiny because it promotes a practice that has enabled caste to live, breathe, and mutate over centuries. Indian Matchmaking allows a few jagged edges to remain as it tries to assure skeptical viewers that, ultimately, Indian arranged marriages aren’t that bad. And that is the most chilling aspect of the show.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

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Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking and the Shadow of Caste

Netflix

This story contains some spoilers for Season 1 of Indian Matchmaking.

“Marriages are breaking like biscuits.”

The Mumbai-based matchmaker Sima Taparia delivers this meme-friendly one-liner in the seventh episode of the hit Netflix series Indian Matchmaking. Her sentiment seems antithetical to the title of the show, in which she travels tirelessly between Mumbai, Houston, San Diego, and Delhi to find the “perfect match” for her clients. Indian Matchmaking joins other recent reality dating series such as Love Is Blind and Too Hot to Handle—except the first dates are often in the company of one or both sets of the daters’ parents and the sex is nonexistent. In her questions about her clients’ preferences and her scrutiny of their lifestyles (and closets), Taparia is no different from any other matchmaker who promises relationships that can last forever. But she departs from this well-worn model in her attention to one extra characteristic: caste.

This silent shadow hangs over every luxurious living room she leads viewers into. “In India, we have to see the caste, we have to see the height, we have to see the age,” Taparia, the show’s central narrator and driving force, says in the first four minutes of the series. She lumps an entire social system, which assigns people to a fixed place in a hierarchy from birth, together with anodyne physical preferences. Though it’s rarely mentioned by name on the show, caste appears on almost every criteria list that Taparia’s marriage-hopefuls lay out. By coding caste in harmless phrases such as “similar backgrounds,” “shared communities,” and “respectable families,” the show does exactly what many upper-caste Indian families tend to do when discussing this fraught subject: It makes caste invisible.

The pervasiveness of caste in Indian communities, even beyond the ambit of arranged marriages, has dangerous consequences for those of us born into “lower” castes. (I myself am Dalit, the self-chosen identity for people formerly known as “untouchables.”)

This prejudiced treatment includes, but is hardly limited to, workplace discrimination in the United States. For example, the state of California sued the tech company Cisco in June for allegedly failing to protect a Dalit employee from discrimination by his higher-caste Brahmin managers. When a popular show like Indian Matchmaking neglects this alarming fact of the Indian American experience, it quietly normalizes caste for a global audience.

Contrary to what some viewers might think, the caste system is an active form of discrimination that persists in India and within the Indian American diaspora. One of the primary functions of arranged marriage is maintaining this status quo. This can be confirmed by a cursory glance at matrimonial columns in Indian newspapers, which are full of “Caste Wanted” headlines, or at the ubiquitous matchmaking websites that promise to help users find an upper-caste “Brahmin bride” or “Rajput boy” while filtering profiles from lower castes. Marrying into the same caste of one’s birth is not, as Indian Matchmaking might suggest, a benign choice akin to finding someone who “matches your background” or has “similar values.” It’s a practice that helps dominant-caste folks preserve their power.

Caste, much like race, is an identity that you can’t change, erase, or escape. Marriage, especially between “dominant” and “untouchable” castes, can pose a threat to that hierarchy. That explains why people in dominant castes often carry out brutal violence toward their own family members who dare to marry outside their caste, particularly if a partner is Dalit. Just two weeks ago, three brothers from a dominant caste in India’s Uttar Pradesh state allegedly killed their sister for marrying a lower-caste man and shot the husband in the stomach. Last year, in Maharashtra, a father reportedly doused his daughter and her Dalit husband with kerosene and lit them on fire to condemn their intercaste marriage.

These attacks are part of a pattern of families punishing relatives for rejecting marriages arranged on the basis of caste. For Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking, that broader context appears to be irrelevant; the show seems to not only approve of arranged marriages but also champion them with casteist glee. Multiple episodes open with When Harry Met Sally–esque interviews featuring mostly older, straight couples in seemingly happy arranged marriages. (Same-sex marriages are not legally recognized in India.) The couples reminisce about their first meetings, many of which took place on the day of their wedding. They reveal that the choices that shaped the rest of their lives were made for them by family members, and yet they somehow still ended up deeply in love.

In the second episode, Taparia herself details how she got married at age 19 to a man chosen by her father. The camera follows her husband as he brings her a cup of tea while she stressfully combs through her clients’ “marriage bio-data,” as the résumé-style list of qualifications is called. The sequence all but confirms their loving relationship. Not only does nearly every marriage-hopeful admit that they changed their mind about arranged unions, but the series also ends with a glowing tribute to the tradition. A wholesome montage shows husband-and-wife pairs who joke around and tease each other before sharing how long they’ve been together (from less than 24 hours to 50 years).

Of course, many marriages arranged by the parents and families of the couple turn out to be perfectly sweet and happy. But many also come with a loss of agency, especially for the woman, who must be “flexible” and “adjust” to the norms of her husband’s family, as the show points out. The bride is almost always expected to bring with her a sizable dowry. Even darker, wives who experience controlling behavior, domestic abuse, or marital rape (which is not a crime in India) are socially conditioned to suffer silently.

The success of Indian Americans as so-called model minorities in the U.S. has been attributed to lasting marriages and strong family ties. But the happily-ever-after ideal of arranged marriage is beginning to show cracks. More young Indians and Indian Americans are rejecting the practice or walking out of partnerships that don’t work. Even Indian Matchmaking features at least three story lines about divorce, although the show is clear that leaving a marriage still carries stigma. In the episode dispassionately titled “Marriages Are Breaking Like Biscuits,” the series explores the stories of divorced individuals from both arranged and non-arranged marriages. The show illustrates how difficult it is for these clients to find a match in the caste-driven market, at times implying that being able to easily end a marriage may be a bad thing.

Sima Taparia visits a client, Rupam, to help her find a partner after divorce. (Netflix)

Despite Indian Matchmaking largely ignoring caste, the show, to its credit, doesn’t entirely gloss over the less-than-desirable aspects of arranged marriage. Some episodes highlight families or clients with unconventional pasts—such as the fan-favorite high-school counselor Vyasar. In one episode, Rupam—a 36-year-old single mom who divorced her cheating partner—successfully finds a match, not with Taparia’s help, but on good ol’ Bumble. Other installments examine the pressure that unmarried individuals can face from their married friends and siblings.

In one scene, Akshay, a 25-year-old who went to college in Boston and lives with his rich, Mumbai-based family, is accosted by his mother; she asks him to take a photo of a blood-pressure machine displaying her high reading, which she claims is a result of him not finding a partner. She then gives him three “options” of women to choose from, and declares that if he can’t make up his mind, she and his father will make the choice for him. For anyone, including myself, who doesn’t meet the neat requisites for arranged marriage and has had to fend off well-intentioned yet emotionally abusive family members, that sequence has enough material to generate weeks of trauma.

Since its debut, the series has drawn criticism from Indian and U.S. media for sidestepping issues of colorism, dowry, sexism, body shaming, and, yes, caste. Though the show is called Indian Matchmaking, it portrays no couples who identify as Muslim, Christian, or Dalit—communities that represent close to 40 percent of India’s 1 billion–plus population. Yet the series has also generated the kind of intense conversation that many shows with nonwhite story lines can only dream of creating. Memes, essays, and long Twitter threads flooded both desi and non-desi corners of the internet almost immediately after the show’s release. Many think pieces have labeled the series cringeworthy and problematic for presenting the requirements for an ideal bride (essentially a tall, slim girl from a high caste who can “compromise”) without challenging them. Some writers have complained that the show depicts South Asian culture as “burdensome,” while others have defended it for accurately portraying how Indian marriages are made.

The show’s creator, Smriti Mundhra, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker who directed a documentary about arranged marriage in 2017, told The Cut that she welcomes critiques of her show: “I want to be held accountable. Push me so I can push, too,” she said. Mundhra’s biggest blind spot is her complicity in the normalization of Hindu upper-caste culture as larger Indian culture. Many Indian Americans argue that it’s unfair when works of pop culture expose the ugly underbelly of our societies for the rest of the world to witness. But it’d be wrong to assume that these issues no longer exist or affect most people, especially Dalits such as myself, who sometimes spend our entire lives being wounded by these cultural minefields.

Indian Matchmaking doesn’t deserve criticism for holding up a mirror to the diaspora’s uncomfortable realities. It deserves scrutiny because it promotes a practice that has enabled caste to live, breathe, and mutate over centuries. Indian Matchmaking allows a few jagged edges to remain as it tries to assure skeptical viewers that, ultimately, Indian arranged marriages aren’t that bad. And that is the most chilling aspect of the show.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

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Tyler Mitchell’s Redefining Portraits

Two young people on swings.
Photographs by Tyler Mitchell

In 2018, Tyler Mitchell photographed Beyoncé for Vogue’s September issue, and the art and fashion worlds took notice. Mitchell was the first Black photographer hired to shoot a cover for the magazine—a hundred and twenty-six years after Vogue’s début. Currently based in Brooklyn, Mitchell is a skateboarder, filmmaker, video artist, and photographer. I first noticed his critical eye when he was an undergraduate student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. I was fascinated with his work because I saw how deeply committed he was to changing existing visual narratives about being Black, male, creative, and young.

Absence was a key motivator for Mitchell in becoming a photographer and filmmaker. “I felt there was actually a lack of imagery that reflected myself, and that I could see myself in,” he has said. Social media played a critical role in Mitchell’s image-making. Born in 1995, he grew up in Atlanta, where Tumblr was an outlet to youth culture and creative expression. As a teen-ager, he purchased his first camera, a Canon digital S.L.R. Inspired by Spike Jonze’s early skate videos, he also learned how to make videos. Mitchell’s Beyoncé cover-shoot video focussed on the performer wearing designer gowns in a contemporary imagined home environment (actually a dilapidated English country house), with children playing, a lush green garden with trees, and the music of Curtis Mayfield, harkening back to the home-movie aesthetics of the nineteen-fifties. I consider Mitchell’s photographic style to be revolutionary because of his commitment to collaboration, which he ties to the tight-knit skateboarding world. (“The thing that makes skaters like artists,” he said, is that each discipline “thrives on community.”) Mitchell’s posing of Beyoncé draws on art-historical references: models in Paris salons in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the stylized studio portraits of the twentieth century in Paris and New York. He introduces a dazzling new narrative about Black beauty and desire, embracing themes of the past and creating fictionalized moments of the imagined future.

How the Black body has been imagined in the past has been important to Mitchell. By making photographs of his artist friends and designers, musicians and filmmakers, models and others who are self-fashioning through the lens of history, he redefines and transforms the reception of such imagery. What emerges is a revised visual representation of the Black subject, one that emphasizes empowerment and play. One model with blond curly hair sits in the middle of a road with her lace blouse hanging partly off her shoulder. Another wears a pink dress that appears torn, exposing her thigh as she rests her hands on top of her head. Another leans against a pastel-colored stucco wall wearing a prize ribbon across her yellow pleated dress, with full sleeves and Nike tube socks, looking away from the camera. The composition of the image is overshadowed by the imagined narratives that Mitchell and his subjects create. His images of a picnic, where young men and women run, play, sit on swings and blankets looking freely at a blue sky, reflect a sense of belonging.

Mitchell challenges conventional perspectives on beauty, telegraphing an affirmed confidence through bold colors, styled shirts and dresses. Mitchell’s brown-skinned models are wearing colorful ribbons, white lace, pink mesh and bows, flowy gowns made with taffeta and cotton. He combines stripes and plaids with solid colors; hand-painted dresses with capes and floral wallpaper; ruffles and polka dots. His images call to mind those of the twentieth-century Malian photographer Seydou Keïta; to sit for Keïta, as the scholar Manthia Diawara has written, was “to be transformed as an urbane subject even if one has no power in the market or at the train station.”

The writer and curator Antwaun Sargent has identified a New Black Vanguard in fashion photography, one that is “rethinking how the fashion image can be less censorious and more reflective of real life.” Mitchell’s images are encoded with this new language of representation, which broadens our understanding of desire for the consumer, the viewer, and the model alike. As a fashion photographer, he says, “I’m thinking of conveying black beauty as an act of justice.”

The camera, for Mitchell, enables the projected dreams of his sitters. An image of three figures seated in front of a painted, tree-lined wall implies land and ownership, the models carefree in pastel pin-stripes, white shoes, and wrapped sandals. Luxury is implied in images of two men, possibly twins, with beads lining their sculpted hairlines, or of two men wearing fur jackets, shorts, and designer sneakers, holding a basketball and sitting on the hood of a white Mercedes-Benz, or of young women in trendy sweaters and large gold hoop earrings. All inform the notion, in Mitchell’s work, of a self-conscious consumer.

This piece was drawn from an essay in “I Can Make You Feel Good,” by Tyler Mitchell, which is out in August, from Prestel.

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‘Archaeology Can Cover the Totality of the Human Story’

Courtesy of David Carballo / The Atlantic

In the spring of 2018, I took my family on a trip to Teotihuacan, the great metropolis of ancient Mexico that flourished roughly at the time of imperial Rome. My archaeologist friends unanimously urged: “Before you go, you must talk to David Carballo at Boston University.” I found Carballo. He could not have been more generous with his time and advice. At the end of the conversation I asked, “By the way, do they still do that wonderful sound-and-light show in the evenings? I enjoyed that so much when I visited back in the ’80s.” There was an awkward pause before Carballo replied, “I personally dismantled one of those lights. They were damaging the structures.”

I was embarrassed, but of course, Carballo was right.

Carballo has now produced a new history of the overthrow of the Aztec empire for Oxford University Press, just in time for the 500th anniversary of the event. There is no shortage of major English-language histories of the conquest: Hugh Thomas produced one in 1993, J. H. Elliott and Camilla Townsend each added their own in 2006, and Matthew Restall offered another in 2018, to name just a few notable works.

Those authors, however, were experts in ancient texts. Carballo came from the field. I interviewed him by email in early July about the innovation of his approach to the foundation of modern Mexico; our exchange has been edited for brevity.


David Frum: Is there something distinctively different about the approach of those who dig in dirt from those who dig in archives?

David Carballo: At its most ambitious, archaeology can cover the totality of the human story, from our evolution as a species to today, since the focus is on material culture rather than on texts—though we typically examine both in tandem. By material culture I mean the places we inhabit (“sites”) and the stuff we use (“artifacts”). Much of our history as a species has no written records and can only be accessed through material remains like sites and artifacts, whereas for other places and times we may have texts, but they represent the official transcripts of the rich and powerful. In those cases, archaeology can provide a voice to the “99 percent” who were non-elites yet played their part in shaping history.

Frum: What’s the current thinking about the comparative material development of everyday life on the opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean when Hernando Cortés landed on the Mexican shore in 1519?

Carballo: A significant first point of comparison is in the origins of agriculture and the domestication of animals in both areas. Whereas early Mesoamericans first domesticated maize (corn) and other crops locally, early Iberians largely received a complete package of domesticated crops and animals first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent region of Southwest Asia. Another contrast is there were not large animals in the Americas that lent themselves to being domesticated except for camelids (llama, alpaca) in the Andes. Mesoamericans domesticated turkeys (think Thanksgiving) and dogs but didn’t have large pack animals or horses driving military technology as cavalry. Oxen and other plow animals allowed Eurasian peoples living in certain environments to till extensive field systems, which may have also created greater inequities in landholding and wealth. And living with these animals for millennia, sometimes within the confines of the same four walls, transferred diseases to Eurasians that were then transposed to Native populations in the Americas who had not developed immunities to them.

Lacking large domesticated animals, Mesoamerican civilizations developed other solutions to common concerns. Rather than extensive, plowed-field systems, Mesoamericans intensified agriculture in various ways. The ingenious system of lakeshore fields called chinampas is especially noteworthy, as they permitted multiple crop harvests per year and led to a population boom in the Aztec period. Lacking pack animals, Mesoamericans moved commodities using human porters over land and using canoes over water. For maximizing the circulation of goods in this environment, it made economic sense for populations to nucleate and develop brisk marketplace exchange, daily in larger cities and on a rotating schedule in more rural areas. The twin-city capital of the Aztec empire, Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco, was the largest of these, and likely larger than any city in Europe at the time except for Paris. Spanish chroniclers were continually wowed by the size of Aztec marketplaces and compared Tlatelolco’s to the largest they knew from the Mediterranean world, at Constantinople, and the marketplaces of smaller cities to cities in Spain, such as Granada. As a result, and in contrast to their earlier colonization of the Caribbean, the Spanish encountered highly urbanized civilizations in Mesoamerica and continually equated them with those of the Islamic and Greco-Roman Mediterranean.

Frum: What has archaeology added to our understanding of Mesoamerica over your working career? Are there important things that are known today that weren’t known when you started or, vice versa, things that were believed when you started that have been discredited since?

Carballo: Just like historical texts can be biased to the rich and powerful, early archaeologists also prioritized excavating the tombs, palaces, and monuments in the centers of ruined cities, which of course give us a similar top-down bias to ancient societies. The shift to studying the demographics of entire societies by surveying regions and excavating households had begun before I got into archaeology in the 1990s, but has only intensified since then. Household archaeology has helped us to understand how most Mesoamericans actually lived and how they varied by social status, gender, age, or ethnicity.

The peopling of Mesoamerica and the Americas more broadly is also being clarified and moved back in time. When I got into archaeology, the consensus opinion was that people first arrived to the Americas some 12,000 years ago. Now new discoveries have pushed the entry back thousands of years. New forms of mapping and imaging are revolutionizing how archaeologists detect sites, especially in densely forested regions such as the Maya lowlands. My colleagues working there have shown the Classic-period populations, centuries before the Aztecs, to have been very dense as well.

Frum: Archaeology tries to use the methods of science, while history inevitably has moral dimensions. The story of the overthrow of the Aztec empire has been especially morally contested. How do we not moralize about Aztec human sacrifice or Spanish forced conversions? How do you think about these questions?

Carballo: When it comes to difficult subjects like the violence of the Spanish Inquisition or Aztec human sacrifice, or the imperial strategies of either society, a comparative and materially grounded perspective can help illuminate how these articulated with other facets of social life. Fixating just on the practice of Aztec human sacrifice, like many sensationalist TV documentaries do, would be akin to portraying the Romans only through gladiatorial combats, crucifixions, and take-no-prisoners warfare. For the Aztecs, the main point of most war was to take prisoners in battle to be sacrificed to the gods back at a temple, so many of the casualties on the battlefield were moved to that ritual-religious stage. Although intimidating to the conquistadors, indigenous armies fought with quickly dulled obsidian weapons. Cities were usually not fortified, and so they were vulnerable to European-style sieges that hadn’t been part of Mesoamerican warfare until the Aztec-Spanish war. Although war was waged towards political ends, it contained highly ritualized elements common to pre-state warfare across the globe, including norms regarding where to kill and how to treat dead bodies. As in many other early states, warfare was one of best ways to rise in socioeconomic status in Aztec society, and warriors were credited not for kills on the battlefield but by taking captives to sacrifice to the gods, so shock troops fought to maim and capture rather than “take no prisoners.” As always, technology and ideology were interwoven.

All that said, it doesn’t mean that I personally approve of state-sanctioned violence or the colonization of formerly autonomous peoples. Archaeology operates within a contemporary setting and can contribute to conversations we are having today about how history is memorialized through monuments and what sort of principles we may want to elevate on pedestals in the public square while what others are best moved to museums.

Frum: Let me press you on the point about moral concerns, though. A lot of today’s moral reading of the Spanish-Aztec encounter depends on projecting back in time our own concepts that would have been radically alien to people living in Mexico in 1519. They didn’t know they were “indigenous”! As you point out, it was the population-annihilating infectious diseases that radically remade New Spain. Would the Spanish conquistadors otherwise merely have replaced one ruling group with another, in a way maybe not dissimilar to the Mughal conquest of northern India about the same time?

Carballo: In the cases of the Mughals or ancient Rome, imperial expansion occurred among societies that had been in continued interaction for centuries prior and had generally shared understandings about how warfare and politics worked. In the case of European colonialism of the Americas, cultures who had followed completely separate developmental trajectories held apart by an ocean came into contact, in mutual ignorance of one another. Columbus began enslaving indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, hundreds of whom died at sea when he looked for markets for them back in Europe. Spain’s monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, banned the practice of enslaving peoples of the “Indies” in 1501, but their exploitation continued under the serflike encomienda system and the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans intensified.

Mesoamericans had never experienced the brand of direct-control, territorial imperialism that the Spaniards and other European powers brought across the Atlantic. They were accustomed to hegemonic empires. They expected to pay some tax or tribute but to remain autonomous. Unlike the Aztec empire, the Spanish system was absolutist in its intolerance for any other faiths. It was not simply a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” And though the racial classifications of New Spain were more of a gradated spectrum than in the early U.S., with its one-drop rule, it was highly racialized by skin color and generally the darker or more culturally indigenous (in language, attire) one was, the lower in the colonial status hierarchy.

Frum: Clearly, the Spanish conquest of Mexico had more radical consequences than the Mughal conquest of northern India. But how much of that radicalism was due to the cultural contrast you describe—and how much to the shattering consequences of disease? Cortés might have wished to govern like a Mughal potentate, substituting new gods for old and inserting himself and his band at the top of the preexisting tax and tribute system. He and his fellow conquistadors were denied that option by the horrifying collapse of population after 1519: at least 50 percent, and perhaps 90 percent. When we try to understand the shock of the conquest, maybe we should focus on the effects of pathogens they carried with them?

Carballo: When smallpox and other diseases spread through Mexico, it would have seemed to Mesoamericans that their known world was crumbling around them. If the specter of mass deaths due to pandemic disease were removed, European colonialism in Latin America might have looked somewhat more like how it unfolded in British India, French Indochina, or Dutch Indonesia. But the conquering zeal of the conquistadors was the product of a cultural and historical moment. Other Spaniards invaded throughout the Americas and across the Pacific to Guam and the Philippines. Pedro de Alvarado was convinced he could use the same template from Mexico to go invade China and was heading to the Pacific to give that a try before he got caught up in a native rebellion where he met his demise.

Frum: The urban core of the Aztec empire has been overbuilt by one of the world’s hugest cities. I started visiting Mexico as a boy in the 1960s. I remember how exciting it was to see the Templo Mayor complex be gradually unearthed. Obviously, this cannot be repeated everywhere. But if you were granted magical powers to banish traffic and levitate the present structures, where would you want to dig, and why?

Carballo: This is one of the great paradoxes of Aztec archaeology. The former imperial capital was buried underneath Mexico City. As a result, even though the textual records are very rich, our archaeological understanding of the capital city is limited to a few select windows excavated within the modern metropolis. We have a much better archaeological understanding of pre-Aztec Teotihuacan, where we have much of the ancient city intact but only meager texts. For Tenochtitlan, as for Rome, many ruins came to light opportunistically through constructing the foundations of houses, sewers, and Mexico City’s metro. The largest window, as you note, is at the main temple, the Templo Mayor, currently being excavated by Leonardo López Luján and team. Thankfully, the cathedral was not built directly on top of it, or it would have never been excavated. The Urban Archaeology Program, directed by Raúl Barrera Rodríguez, is also important. This project has recently uncovered parts of Tenochtitlan’s ball court, a major school for priests, and a skull rack displaying the heads of sacrificial victims.

There are several other spots we know of only textually that would be projects of a lifetime. For treasure hunters, the best would be somewhere along the former Tacuba causeway, now a street of the same name, where Mexican forces attacked Spaniards while expelling them from the city. The fleeing foreigners are said to have been weighed down by loads of gold and other finery they were attempting to smuggle out but sunk to the bottom of the lake during the attack. Another great place to excavate would be the zoo and aviary that Moctezuma and other great speakers had near their palaces. They may have inspired European sovereigns to develop the same.

My interests lie more in the quotidian: what life was like for the majority of the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan. If I had my choice, I would excavate in a neighborhood center that would show what the local houses, temples, plazas, schools, marketplaces, and other facets of urban life most people experienced looked like. In better understanding chapters of the human story not simply as great-man narratives, we need to know how most people lived and their active participation in creating history.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

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Colleges Are Deeply Unequal Workplaces

Caroline Brehman / CQ-Roll Call, Inc / Getty

As colleges unveil their reopening plans for the fall, concerns about the safety of faculty teaching in classrooms populated with young adults have taken center stage. But largely left out of the conversation have been the people actually getting campuses up and running: the staff.

Over the past few months, the pandemic has exposed long-standing fissures in the campus workplace. Faculty and staff occupy two very different worlds—a chasm like few others in the American economy. Though they work for the same employer, faculty, by definition, enjoy more job security and power to shape how the university runs, while campus staff continue to be far more vulnerable.

Since the pandemic began, staff—who constitute about half of those employed by American colleges and universities—have been hit with the brunt of furloughs and layoffs. Some 250 schools have instituted furloughs, but two-thirds have taken that action only for staff, according to Chris Marsicano, the founding director of the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, which is tracking how institutions are responding to the coronavirus. About half of the colleges that enacted layoffs did so only for staff. The difference in how faculty and staff have been treated during the pandemic may be most visible in the flexibility each group has in working from home: Of more than 900 colleges that have allowed employees to work remotely, 300 have extended that benefit only to faculty.

One reason campus staff is overlooked is because the term itself is amorphous. It includes those we often think of as staff, such as maintenance and dining workers, but it also encompasses athletic trainers, computer technicians, lawyers, and academic advisers with advanced degrees. David Perry, who has experienced campus work life both as a tenured professor at Dominican University in Illinois and now as a senior academic adviser in the history department at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, told me that the pandemic has “ossified ideas about who is in charge and who matters.” From the moment campuses shifted to remote learning in March, he added, “students and faculty were immediately prioritized, and staff were an afterthought.”

Although the term faculty doesn’t describe a monolithic category—it’s used to refer to full-time professors, part-time adjuncts, and graduate assistants—full-time tenured professors benefit from certain job protections and share in the governance of the university. Staff might also participate in their own form of “shared governance,” but it’s typically seen as a second-rate version of what faculty get, and staff employment is usually more structured, managed, and at-will than that of faculty.

Mary George Opperman, the vice president and chief human resources officer at Cornell University, told me that the size and the makeup of staff have grown as higher education has become more complex, but that the faculty-student experience remains the lifeblood of the university. “If universities didn’t have faculty, they’d be something else,” Opperman said. “You hire faculty for a specific reason—for their scholarship. They have autonomy. Staff is brought in for a different reason, often in support of the faculty.”

In the past several weeks, a growing chorus of professors is questioning the wisdom of returning to in-person instruction. But while faculty members get to make those complaints from the safety of their own homes, low-paid housekeepers and maintenance employees who can’t work remotely are already on campus getting it ready for the fall amid fresh outbreaks among athletes and partying students.

“It’s just assumed that these employees will be there no matter the risk,” Todd Holden, the interim president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees at the University of Maryland, told me. The union represents 3,400 employees at the flagship College Park campus, including housekeepers, bus drivers, and administrative assistants.

Staff members may also feel left out of the flurry of communications coming from campus leaders this summer. When Florida State University suggested in a June memo that employees working from home during the pandemic would no longer be allowed to care for children at the same time, a backlash ensued. A few days later, campus officials tried to clarify the message, saying that faculty wouldn’t be impacted. That memo was later removed from the web.

A key difference in these reopening plans is that faculty at many schools can choose whether they teach in person or online, exposing tensions not only with staff but also with graduate assistants who have for years been fighting to be recognized as workers. Now that distinction—whether they are students or employees—is even more crucial. At Cornell, for example, professors can choose whether they want to teach in person or online this fall. But with undergraduates scheduled to return to campus, the university believes some faculty will teach face-to-face. Joining them in classrooms and labs will be graduate assistants who don’t have the same leeway that faculty members do. If graduate students want to work remotely, they need to ask for an accommodation through official university channels.

Even so, faculty in two dozen Cornell departments have agreed on their own to allow their graduate assistants to work remotely if they want to—creating yet another divide between workers, in this case graduate students. Becky Lu, a doctoral student in English, told me her department is among those allowing flexibility, so Lu has decided to teach online this fall. “My own department respects us as workers in this particular case, but the university doesn’t,” she said, “even though we’ll be doing a critical amount of the teaching and research this fall.”

Reopening plans now posted on college websites reflect the same divides. These plans were largely written by administrators and faculty, and they focus on students and professors. “The academy made a verb out of the word silo,” Kiernan Mathews, the executive director of the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education at Harvard, told me.

What happens to those faculty and staff silos—and the future of many jobs on campuses—hangs in the balance this fall. If campuses reopen to students but most faculty teach remotely, students and administrators who show up might see more clearly how staff are the connective tissue holding campuses together—the cooks in dining halls, the janitors cleaning residence halls, and the technicians maintaining digital infrastructure. But if the spread of COVID-19 intensifies this fall with new outbreaks and hot spots that force schools to move fully online again, it could spell financial trouble for many campuses, and even more isolation for staff as schools trim their workforces, disproportionately affecting those who make campuses run.

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How Poetry Can Guide Us Through Trauma

Natasha Trethewey / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

In her foundational 1977 essay, “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” the Black feminist writer Audre Lorde argued that the art form transcends the constraints of the written word. Poetry doesn’t just reflect the world as it exists, she insisted; rather, it ushers in a new one. “It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action,” Lorde wrote. Later, she added that “there are no new ideas … only new ways of making them felt.”

In recent months, as we trudge through the morass of These Unprecedented Times, I’ve returned often to Lorde’s words. Poems have alchemized death and imagined the continuation of lives cut short by racist violence. They’ve given texture to the “sudden strangeness” of life brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, offering comfort to countless readers. In moments of uncertainty, poetry has illuminated bridges to the past—and shown how the act of remembering might alter the future.

I thought of Lorde’s exhortation again as I read Memorial Drive, the new memoir from the former U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey. In her latest book, the poet traces the years leading up to, and after, the day her mother was shot and killed by Trethewey’s stepfather. Though written in prose, Trethwey’s memoir is awash in metaphor, its language a meditation on the role that poetry—and storytelling more broadly—can play in reconciling trauma. In the depth and clarity of her retrospective study, Trethewey also offers lessons for surviving the cataclysms of the present.

That resonance comes naturally: For Trethewey, her mother’s killing is inextricable from the violence that shaped the United States, and especially the South, where she was raised. “My mother was murdered on Memorial Drive. That [street] is also the site of Stone Mountain that honors the memory of the Confederacy and this huge national wound of war, rape, and violence,” she said of the infamous Georgia monument when we spoke recently. “It took me a while to realize that it was the literal juxtaposition that had formed for me the lasting metaphor of my own project—to lay these wounds and this grief, both personal and national, side by side.”

Memorial Drive is an exercise in unshrouding that which has been purposely hidden, whether by history or by oneself. So writing it required Trethewey to make her grief felt, as Lorde says, in new ways. “Three decades is a long time to get to know the contours of loss, to become intimate with one’s own bereavement,” Trethewey writes in the final pages of the memoir. “You get used to it. Most days it is a distant thing, always on the horizon, sailing toward me with its difficult cargo.” Confronting that “distant thing” in prose meant that Trethewey needed to bridge the gap between herself and the pain. But Trethewey’s words also make a rhetorical linkage to history: What more “difficult cargo” has sailed toward the southern states than the people once snatched from their homelands, those whose labor constructed the region?

The challenge of memoir also led Trethewey to write her first poems that directly address her mother’s death. In “Articulation,” which ended up being published in Monument, her 2018 book of poetry, Trethewey describes a dream in which her mother appears to her with a gunshot wound three weeks after the murder. In the final quatrain, Trethewey ties her writing to the task of preserving her mother’s memory:

How, then, could I not answer her life

with mine, she who saved me with hers?

And how could I not, bathed in the light
of her wound, find my calling there?

The image of her late mother also surfaces in Memorial Drive. “When I begin to say out loud that I am going to write about my mother, to tell the story of those years I’ve tried to forget, I have more dreams about her in a span of weeks than in all the years she’s been gone,” Trethewey writes. But approaching the same dream via different modes of writing helped her arrive at different insights. “It’s like I need more than one form to address it,” she told me.

Memorial Drive’s many reflections on storytelling as a pathway to survival don’t apply only to poets, or even to those who would readily call themselves writers. Throughout her memoir, Trethewey meditates on the personal power of coming back to images and memories, whether in poetry or in prose. “I think that’s one of the places I find the most meaning—in repetition and the way that something not only repeats but also is transformed through repetition,” Trethewey said. “I think that’s why I have revisited not only that [same] dream, but other scenes from my childhood the older I get, because I see something that I might not have seen earlier by looking again and again at it.” Among the most wrenching sections of Memorial Drive are those in which Trethewey revisits these memories, not just to “see” more but to directly address her fifth-grade self.

In speaking to that girl, Trethewey rewrites the years she spent distancing herself from the knowledge that her stepfather abused her mother. Unlike the second-person invocations in “Imperatives for Carrying On in the Aftermath,” a poem from Monument that’s scaffolded with examples of the cruel dismissals that domestic-violence victims face, Trethewey’s note to her younger self focuses inward. Utilizing the second person, the author reaches back and grants herself retroactive compassion. Recalling those early years in Memorial Drive, Trethewey describes the time her mother told her stepfather that a young Natasha had overheard his abuses:

Your shame and your sadness are doubled. You hear in your mother’s words a plea to get him to stop. You hear her desperate hope that his knowing you know, knowing you listen, will put an end to the abuse. As if the fact that you are a child, that you are only in the fifth grade, will change anything at all. And now you know that there is nothing you can do.

you know you know you know.

The repetition here is agonizing to read; Trethewey said she wanted the lines to feel like “a gnashing of my teeth” to the reader. But the acknowledgment of long-buried trauma and how it reverberates also functions as an unburdening. The refrain doesn’t just express anguish; it soothes, too. “I go back again and again to [the words of the English poet Percy Bysshe] Shelley—‘Poetry is the mirror that makes beautiful that which is distorted,’” Trethewey told me. “It is the wonderful things you can do with language, the sonic textures and repetition …  that actually make whatever it is I’m writing about lighter.” She continued: “Because it’s pure pleasure. It’s pure joy when … I’m making a poem or when I’m trying to bring the same kind of poetic lyricism to a page of prose. The levity is the joy of making—of the made thing.”

Even when poetry or narrative doesn’t lift personal burdens, it can offer a lens through which to understand the world. Consider, for example, one work from another former U.S. poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith. In “Declaration,” Smith redacts portions of the Declaration of Independence, using an art form known as erasure to create a kind of found poem.

Rather than obfuscating existing truth, though, it gives rise to additional meaning. Smith recasts the Founding Fathers’ grievances, using them to capture the harms they visited upon the people they enslaved (and the ripple effects of that original violence). The poem reappraises a fundamental document of American history, connecting it directly to the tragedies it wrought.

We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration
and settlement here.

                                       —taken Captive

                                                                      on the high Seas

                                                                                                       to bear—

Like Smith’s “Declaration,” the work of the poet Kevin Young disrupts the linearity of time, and of grief. Book of Hours, his 2014 collection, takes its name from the popular Christian prayer devotional. In it, Young chronicles the days that follow his father’s death, placing them in the same timeline as those leading up to a far more joyful milestone: the birth of his son. The connection between sorrow and hope is one that Young explored at length while compiling the 2010 anthology The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing. That tension and promise animates Trethewey’s approach to writing, too. When we spoke, she mentioned a piece by the German-born poet Lisel Mueller called “When I Am Asked,” in which Mueller writes first of “the indifference of nature” before describing a “brilliant June day” soon after her mother’s death. Mueller concludes that she

placed my grief   

in the mouth of language,   

the only thing that would grieve with me

Trethewey, whose mother also died in June, sees the poem as a heavy but hopeful reminder. “It’s that sentiment right there that again and again, I had to put my grief in the mouth of language, because it’s the only thing that will grieve with me,” she told me. “I think a poem like that reminds us of both the isolation that you can feel when you’re grieving, but also the communal feeling that you can feel because of language reminding you that this [process] is ancient and ongoing.”

The pains being exorcised in America now are ancient and ongoing, too—no matter how unprecedented the times. Whether by conveying the scale of national grief during a pandemic, or exposing the relentlessness of racism, poetry has already created new ways of experiencing, and surviving, life’s darkest chapters. And in composing their words, and themselves, through this interminable gloom, Trethewey and other poets working now compose the rest of us, too.

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An Ode to Balloons

illustration of person chasing balloon
Tim Lahan

There are balloons, and then there are balloons.

There’s the domestic balloon, over which we shall quickly pass—the sad little sphere that you blow up at home, with your own laborious, why-am-I-doing-this carbon dioxide. A lot of pathos, for whatever reason, attaches to this balloon.

Then there is the irrepressible balloon, the balloon pumped taut with cartoon levity. A balloon of this sort is essentially an arrested impulse. A trapped prayer, if you like. Each balloon represents a thwarted attempt by that noble and high-spirited gas, helium, to fly joyfully up to heaven.

But the balloon doesn’t care. Brainless and glorious, it bobs about. Its urge to transcend is perfectly contained. Life is heavy, heavy, heavy. Since we crawled up onto dry land, gravity has been patiently dismantling us—we sag, we stoop, our lower backs hurt. Experience accumulates, and it has its own weight. Bring on the balloons.

I love the balloons that float like deities above the aisles in CVS, the balloons made of Mylar and ancient symbolism. These balloons are magic. These balloons, out in the world, will activate gratuitous nonmalignant forces. They’ll get you smiles, fist bumps, kisses, drinks. I once walked several blocks with a large balloon in the likeness of SpongeBob SquarePants surging and tugging over my head. People cried out, reflexively—they were glad to see him. (That balloon later escaped, and I watched SpongeBob recede, grinning, into the blue-eyed void of the sky.)

I’ve been hauling balloons into my apartment recently, great gaggles of them, in the interest of general mood elevation. There have been occasions, too, moments to mark: birthdays, graduations, whatever. They’re over. But the balloons remain—glimmering, immaterial. A flamingo; a sunflower; a gigantic golden replica of the thumbs-up emoji. The balloon I bought myself on Father’s Day: best dad ever. My wife says they satisfy my “need for cheese”—which is to say, my vulgar consumerist attraction to garishness and buoyancy.

But to me the balloons are like Yeats’s wild swans at Coole: “mysterious, beautiful.” Or like Jeeves at his most silvery and wafting. They travel unaccountably from room to room, trailing their strings. They nudge me at my desk. They drift together, and nod, and seem to confer—a symposium of balloons. They touch one another so gently.

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