Good Morning, Belarus

Belarus finally declared independence in 1990 but it was a republic ruled by Vladimir Putin’s puppet president, Alexander Lukashenko—the last of the old-school ironfisted dictators, whose reign continues to this day. For me that day in 2002 was the beginning of a mashup of Fear and Loathing in Minsk meets Planes, Trains and Oxcarts as I got a guided tour of the no man’s land just across the Pripyat River from the decaying, hulking skeleton of the Chernobyl Reactor Dome.

Los Diablos Tejanos: An Honest Look at the Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers are held up as an emblem of Texas exceptionalism, the American protectors in the wild west. First appearing in cinema in 1910, they were depicted as handsome saviors galloping into town to implement law and order in the dusty wake of their stallions’ hooves. For Tejano communities inside Texas and along the border, however, the Texas Rangers were private agents of Anglo terror, responsible for little-known acts of violence that only now are being told.

Talking Suicide Blues

Turning grief around, using sorrow’s dark energy to help others—that was what Brandon Grossheim wanted to do, too. In his mind, suicide was a matter of free will. But when someone is young, inexperienced, swept by intense emotion, refusing professional counseling and prescribed medication, and preferring the swift release of drugs, booze, maybe even death—how “free” are they?

The Flame and the Arrow

All the Young Men became my equivalent of Burt Lancaster’s The Flame and the Arrow, the Black boy’s fantasy movie about an impossibly heroic person, an impossibly competent person, who fights for king and country. Poitier’s character made me proud to be an American, made me feel as if I was an American without any hesitation or crippling doubt.

Twelfth Night Blues

For Black Americans, the questions might be asked, what does Christmas mean to us? And how can we make Christmas something usable for us? If, as Frederick Douglass argues, Christmas was tainted by the power politics of slavery, as the stories in Collier-Thomas’s collection make clear, it was equally tainted by Jim Crow and segregation.

As Foreign as Firmament to Fin

Military deep-sea divers like to play the world’s fools, even though most are supremely competent and a little piratical. They know what their real work is and find ways to play between bouts of it. This is not “blowing off steam.” It is one answer to the problem of being in the sea and to that of being immersed in any purpose—medicine, management, even writing.