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Durham's Confederate Statue Comes Down

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Updated on August 15 at 8:55 a.m.

DURHAM, N.C.—You could argue that the Civil War actually ended in this North Carolina city. Although Robert E. Lee’s more famous surrender took place at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s surrender to William T. Sherman two weeks later at Bennett Place, a farm on the outskirts of town, was larger and ended the war in the east.

You could also argue that, as in many places across the South, the war never totally ended here. Durham was the site of major battles over segregation and the home of Klan leaders, and a statue commemorating “THE BOYS WHO WORE THE GRAY” stood outside the old county courthouse on Main Street.

Until Monday night.

Around 7 p.m. Monday, a group of protesters, inspired by the violent riots over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, decided that if Durham County was in no hurry to take down the rebel soldier, they’d do so themselves. As Durham County commissioners met inside the building, which now houses county offices, a group of protesters wrapped a yellow rope around the statue and pulled. In what might seem a blunt metaphor for the fate of Confederate symbols in progressive Southern cities like Durham, the statue tumbled down with barely any effort, crumpling at the feet of its imposing granite pedestal. (Although the icon was allegedly made of bronze, one doubts.)

The statue had stood on the courthouse’s manicured lawn since 1924, when the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected it. At the time, it had been 59 years since the Civil War ended. The smell of tobacco wafted out of warehouses and factories and across downtown Durham, and a mile and a half down Main Street, tiny Trinity College hadn’t yet changed its name to Duke University. For 93 years, the Confederate picket watched over all who entered the building. And then, in a matter of seconds, he was gone, irreparably destroyed by his fall: his musket mangled, his legs bent forward, and a huge dent in his head from some zealous protester’s boot.

By the time I arrived, less than an hour after the statue had fallen, the street was blocked off by sheriff’s deputies’ cars. The protesters had marched a few blocks down Main Street, toward where the Durham Police Department is building a controversial new headquarters. A mix of young and old, black and white, graying hippies and black-clad anarchists, yelled “Fuck Trump” and held signs saying, “Black Lives Matter” and “The Whole Damn System Is Guilty as Hell.” “Street medics” stood to the side, ready if anyone was hurt. One man toted a guitar, seemingly more as prop than instrument.

There was still an air of euphoria in the crowd. Everyone seemed amazed how easily the statue had come down. For most Americans, the mention of a statue being toppled immediately conjures footage of the Saddam Hussein statue pulled down in Firdos Square in Baghdad in 2003, early in a war that had probably radicalized a few of the demonstrators in Durham. The Confederate soldier hadn’t required a long process or the help of a tank—just a good tug and he’d come right down. Even stranger, no police had intervened, even as the protesters brought out a rope and a ladder. Sheriff’s deputies had just watched.

David A. Graham / The Atlantic

Having reached the police station, the crowd seemed unsure what to do and went back to the courthouse. One particularly energetic man walked up to the police cars, carrying a “Cops and Klan Go Hand in Hand” placard taunting them. Deputies seemed determine not to so much as make eye contact, much less engage. When another man got too close, a deputy shooed him away. Meanwhile, several other deputies, wearing body armor, were filming everything. (“Get my good side!” the man with the “Cops and Klan” placard demanded.) The rumor in the crowd was that officers had decided it was easier to film the crowd and make arrests later than to try to intervene in the moment.

Finally, at about 8:30 p.m., a deputy demanded that everyone disperse. A few of the more hardened protesters, apparently members of a local anarchist group (they were, unsurprisingly, unwilling to give their names or declare an affiliation) herded the remainder away down the street, warned that people not so much as jaywalk lest they give officers a pretext for arrest, and then made sure that no one was walking back to a car alone, lest police quietly arrest them.

Back at the courthouse, a new crowd had gathered—mostly older and more heavily African American than the initial group. They, too, stood in wonder, taking pictures of the ruined statue.

For some, the meaning of the moment was immediately clear. “All those years, black people had to go to court, walk past this sign, and think you were going to get justice?” Tia Hall said.

Others were still grappling with disbelief.

“They took old faithful down. I just can’t believe it,” Jackie Wagstaff, a prominent local activist, said, laughing.

Wagstaff had been inside the county commission meeting when the statue came down, but she agreed with the protesters’ rationale that if officials wouldn’t act, they would.

“I love it. It should been done a long time ago,” she said. “I don’t even know why these five so-called progressive county commissioners—they should have had this taken down a long time ago.”

But even if the commissioners had wanted to remove the statue, their hands would have been tied. In 2015, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a preemption law that barred the permanent removal of historical monuments located on public property, except with prior state permission. Early Tuesday morning, the commission released a statement on the protest that read like a tacit endorsement of the toppling: It didn’t mention the statue or condemn the protesters.

I wrote in The Atlantic last year about my discomfort at walking past the statue on a regular basis. Durham, like Charlottesville, is a progressive bastion surrounded by a more conservative state. But unlike Charlottesville, a small town dominated by the University of Virginia, Durham is an old industrial city, dotted with red-brick tobacco buildings. The city has long had a strong black middle class, and just a block over from Main Street is Parrish Street, a center of African American business that earned the nickname “Black Wall Street” in the early 20th century. Yet the town is dotted with things named for Julian Carr, a one-time Confederate grunt who got rich in the tobacco trade, became commander-in-chief of the state’s Confederate veterans organization, and styled himself “general,” including on his tomb.

Today, major racial disparities persist in Durham County and city. Forty percent of the population of both the city and county are black, and inside city limits, black and white populations are about equal. But African Americans are more likely to be stopped by police, more likely to be arrested for marijuana, and more likely to be poor. Gentrification is a growing problem here, as in many other midsize cities. As if it were not ridiculous enough for black taxpayers to be subsidizing the upkeep of a monument to a war fought to keep their ancestors enslaved, a statue celebrating a war fought to maintain white supremacy seemed a contradiction too painful and incongruous to remain in today’s Durham.

Much has been written about the way that social-justice protests and demands to tear down statues, whether of Robert E. Lee or of anonymous soldiers like this one, can inspire a backlash among whites who feel that their country and heritage are being erased. Examples of that backlash include the 500 white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville this weekend, or the South Carolina gubernatorial candidate who says she’s proud of the Confederacy.

Less considered, so far, has been the backlash to the backlash. While the pace of removals of Confederate monuments has quickened over the last few years, the events in Charlottesville should, as my colleague Yoni Appelbaum wrote, make clear the importance of removing them faster, rather than dampening the movement. After the Durham protest, Governor Roy Cooper, a moderate Democrat whose election hinged on a few thousand votes in Durham County, tried to chart a middle path on the monument question:

It’s now clear that there are plenty of people in Durham who have no interest in this kind of gradualism. If white supremacists are being radicalized by the removal of Confederate monuments, there’s a coalition of leftists that is reacting to them with their own radicalization, deciding that if elected leaders—whether Cooper or county commissioners—won’t move fast, they’ll do so themselves.

David A. Graham / The Atlantic

And it’s hard to imagine that Durham will prove unique in this matter. Video of the statue coming down zoomed around the web, where it will inspire protesters elsewhere. There are plenty of potential targets. Just down the road from Durham is Chapel Hill, a quaint, liberal college town like Charlottesville. On the campus of the University of North Carolina stands a monument to alumni who fought and died for the Confederacy. “Silent Sam” has stood for more than 100 years, but he’s increasingly controversial, and has been repeatedly vandalized recently. If Silent Sam continues to stand watch over campus, will Carolina students and Chapel Hillians wait patiently for his removal through legal processes, or will they, too, turn to extralegal means?

Around 11 p.m., I decided to take one more swing by the courthouse. The police were gone, and so were the gawkers. All that was left were a few local news teams, brightly lit for segments on the evening news. In the darkness behind them loomed the 10-foot pedestal on which the statue had stood. But on the grass in front, there was only a small granite base to which the soldier had been bolted, looking mysteriously out of place. I could almost make myself believe there had never been any statue at all.

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rclatterbuck
2 days ago
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Charlottesville And The Rise Of White Identity Politics

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There is nothing new about white supremacist groups in the U.S., or anti-Semitism, or people who defend the symbols of the Confederacy. (The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.) From Richard Nixon’s “law and order” platform to Ronald Reagan’s invocation of the “welfare queen,” presidents (mostly Republican, at least in recent decades) have regularly appealed to white, conservative-leaning voters by playing up fears and stereotypes about African-Americans and other minority groups.

What is different about this iteration of white nationalism is how the movement is framing its ideas, and the place those ideas occupy in U.S. politics. One of the chants white nationalists repeatedly turned to as they marched in Charlottesville on Friday night and Saturday was “white lives matter” — a direct response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement that emerged after the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri, police in August 2014 and the resulting protests.

That context is important to understand this moment in American politics — the events in Charlottesville and the “alt-right” generally. There are two competing narratives about race and racism at the center of today’s discussions. One perspective — most directly expressed by Black Lives Matter activists but also shared by many Democratic politicians, the media and other elite institutions — is that a “Black Lives Matter” movement is necessary because, by a lot of metrics, America has left blacks behind. The wealth of the average white family still dwarfs that of the average African-American family. The black jobless rate is about double that of the white one. Black men are disproportionately killed by police officers. Black children are more likely than white ones to attend high-poverty schools.

To those who agree with the Black Lives Matter narrative, America doesn’t need a White Lives Matter movement because it already values white lives.

The Black Lives Matter movement is also part of a broader push on the left for promoting gender equality, expanding rights for gay and transgender Americans and ensuring workplaces and universities have more “diversity,” which usually means adding to the number of black, Latino, Asian and other non-white employees, along with women of all races.

The competing narrative, one expressed mainly by conservatives, is that “Black Lives Matter” is essentially a liberal political movement like any other, and not a reflection of real, structural discrimination or inequality. Conservatives therefore can and should make a counter-argument. And if blacks (and women and Latinos and Asians) are invoking their race and identity, why can’t whites as well?

“CELEBRATE WHO YOU ARE UNLESS YOU’RE WHITE: White nationalists are not Democrats b/c there’s no room for them at the multicultural picnic,” conservative writer and intellectual Dinesh D’Souza wrote on Twitter on Saturday, amid the tension in Charlottesville.8 In another tweet, D’Souza wrote, “These #BlackLivesMatter and #WhiteLivesMatter groups seem to have no idea how closely their principles mirror each other #BirdsOfAFeather.”

The various groups that are generally listed under the “white nationalist” or “alt-right” banners may have differing views on racial issues. And the racial views of Trump voters, conservatives and Republicans are even more disparate. But in describing the narrative competing against Black Lives Matter, we do have some data. Polls have found that Republicans are more likely than Democrats and the public overall to see whites and Christians as facing high levels of discrimination. Republicans, meanwhile, also perceive less discrimination towards blacks and Muslims than other Americans do.

And in my own conversations with some conservative activists after Black Lives Matter emerged, there was confusion about why exactly America needed a movement to improve the lives of black people. If you’re a white man in your 20s or 30s, as many of the Charlottesville protesters appeared to be, a list of the dominant American culture icons of your lifetime might start with Oprah, Beyoncé, Lebron James and Serena Williams. And it isn’t just culture: A black man, Barack Obama, has served as president, and African-Americans have led institutions from the State Department to McDonald’s. Black people as a group remain under-privileged in American society, but this is not the 1960s — or even the 1990s — in one important way: Blacks literally have (or have had) some of the most coveted jobs in America.

It’s easier for many whites to convince themselves that the problem isn’t racism, it’s “reverse racism.” (Affirmative action, which gives African-Americans and other minority groups an advantage in college admissions, hiring and other areas, comes under particular fire from many conservatives.) This strain of white identity politics, which sees white people as the group in need of special protection, is relatively new. In 2005, 6 percent of both Republicans and Democrats thought white Americans experienced “a great deal” of discrimination, according to a Pew Research Center survey.9 In 2016, the share of Republicans had jumped to 18 percent, while Democrats ticked up only slightly to 9 percent.10 Forty-nine percent of Republicans — compared to just 29 percent of Democrats — said whites face at least “some” discrimination.

And then there’s the role of President Trump. Some of the activists on Saturday invoked Trump and said his victory had galvanized them. And the president, in repeated statements about Charlottesville, was unwilling to explicitly condemn “white supremacy,” a phrase used by others, including some Republicans.11

Trump has not literally used the phrase “white lives matter,” but many of his policies have played on white identity politics. As I detailed earlier this year, Trump started his administration off with a series of moves that seemed aimed at defending and protecting conservative Christians, police officers, people who fear that Latino immigrants are taking their jobs or redefining U.S. culture, and broadly pushing back against the goals of liberal multiculturalism. In the last few months, he and his administration have continued in that direction, proposing to bar transgender people from serving in the military, preparing to file lawsuits against universities that have affirmative action programs, limiting the Department of Education’s investigations of colleges for sexual assault, and unveiling a plan to restrict legal immigration.

Would any Republican president who succeeded Obama have done some of these things? Probably. Would that person have done all of them? I doubt it.12

To what extent is Trump driving the country towards more white-identity politics? I’m not sure, since it’s hard to determine the cause and effect here: Did Obama’s election, the events of 2014, such as Ferguson and its aftermath, and the nation’s increasing diversity create an atmosphere for “white lives matter”-style activism that Trump was able to tap into? Or did his campaign create the movement in some ways? Or did Trump simply expand or highlight what was already there? I don’t know.

But what’s clear is that we are seeing strong, overt signs of white identity politics from conservatives, and Trump is executing an agenda that pushes back against the identity politics of liberals. Trump could eventually and pointedly criticize “Unite the Right.” He could call for the removal of Confederate monuments. But I doubt he will, because for now it appears that a kind of white identity politics is a key part of American politics and one that is aligned with Trump. A Trump condemnation of “Unite the Right” would be perceived as a victory for the multi-culturalists over those who are concerned about preserving white identity. I doubt he wants to hand the multi-culturalists a victory.

Harry Enten contributed research.







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rclatterbuck
3 days ago
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Just take a look at the scatterplot of perceptions of bias by group. Those are some pretty interesting data series differences. How in the world do Republicans think there is more discrimination against Christians than Trans people or Muslims?
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Two science-fiction authors say they're being used as proxies in a fandom culture war

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Last week, the Atlanta-based convention Dragon Con released its ballot of nominees for its second-ever Dragon Awards, a wide-ranging list of novels, comics, and games designed to be “a true reflection” of fan-favorite stories published in the last year. Now, two nominees, Alison Littlewood and John Scalzi, have said they’re withdrawing their names for consideration, over concerns that they’re being used as puppets in a larger fandom culture war.

This year’s nominees have been widely split between enormously popular authors such as N.K. Jemisin, James S.A. Corey, Scalzi, and some lesser-known authors propelled onto the ballot by blocs of voters looking to score victories for their “side” in the culture wars.

Unlike the Hugos and Nebulas, the other major speculative fiction awards, the Dragon Awards are open to popular vote. Anyone on the internet can provide a nomination and then vote for finalists. That’s led to concerns that the results will be gamed by the political factions within science fiction and fantasy fandom, because it’s happened before. Scalzi has been pointedly outspoken about progressive issues in science fiction fandom and writing, and has been frequently been attacked and trolled by conservative and alt-right members of the community over his views. One particular faction of these fans calls itself Rabid Puppies, and has worked to game another award, the Hugo Award, by stacking the nominees with their own set of works.

When Dragon Con announced this year’s nominee ballot last week, Littlewood found that she’d earned a nomination for her horror novel The Hidden People. However, she wrote to the organizers and asked to be withdrawn after she learned that it was “selected by a voting bloc who are attempting, for reasons of their own, to influence the awards outcome.” A couple of days later, Scalzi, who earned a nomination for his space opera novel The Collapsing Empire, also announced his intention to withdraw his nomination. “Some other finalists are trying to use the book and me as a prop,” he wrote, “to advance a manufactured ‘us vs. them’ vote-pumping narrative based on ideology or whatever.

Littlewood says she was informed that she wouldn’t be allowed to withdraw her nomination. Pat Henry, the convention’s president and founder, wrote to her and said he was refusing to remove her name from the ballot, and that while the convention was aware outside groups were manipulating the results, “we believe that as we add voters, they will become irrelevant in the our awards.”

When asked about their refusal to remove authors, Henry explained in a statement to The Verge that one of the goals was to provide a long list of recently released reading materials for fans, and that “when an author — any author — asks to withdraw from the ballot, then the reading list becomes less. It’s less broad, less balanced, and less about the fans.” In 2016, Scalzi was nominated for his novel The End of All Things, and announced he would withdraw his nomination last year, and his wish to be removed wasn’t honored. Henry also says Dragon Con won’t release the raw voting figures for this year’s convention, in an effort to prevent vote-packing.

While this tactic does result in a long list of books and games to read for fans and attendees, it potentially puts a number of authors into an untenable position of being associated with a group they vehemently disagree with, or becoming proxies for voters to vote against. Because the award’s organizers aren’t permitting nominees to remove themselves, authors have no recourse or agency in the situation.

In an email to The Verge, Littlewood explained that she was never contacted by Rabid Puppy founder Theodore Beale (who goes by the name Vox Day online), who put her on his slate. She didn’t know she’d been nominated until after the fact. “I had heard [about] the controversy around the Hugos and the Rabid Puppies,” she explained. “I have no wish to benefit from any interference in the awards and do not wish to be associated with the Puppies, so I wrote to the organizers with a polite request to withdraw.” While she doesn’t have access to the numbers that put her on the ballot, she “certainly gained the impression that undue influence was at play.”

Image: Jo Fletcher Books

It’s unusual for speculative fiction nominees to not be informed about their pending nomination, which makes this situation even more awkward. Other genre awards, such as the Hugo and Nebulas, notify authors in advance before nominations are published, to give them the opportunity to bow out for a range of reasons. Some might not feel a given story deserves to be nominated, like when Ted Chiang withdrew his story Liking What You See: A Documentary from the Hugos in 2003. Others might not want to be associated with a political faction, such as Marko Kloos, who learned his novel was put on the Hugo ballot by a Rabid Puppy slate. A Dragon Con spokesperson explained that voting began with the release of the nominations, which means that the authors didn’t have an opportunity to try and exit before the ballot was finalized.

While Dragon Con claims to have taken steps to contend with ballot-stuffing, not allowing creators to remove themselves from consideration seems like a counterintuitive step. While the convention organizers say that they’re trying to avoid the drama, this seems like a step designed to protect the reputation of the fledgling awards, rather than that of the authors it claims are the genre’s favorites.

All of this speaks to a larger issue, which the Hugos, Nebulas, Dragons, and many other awards seem to be facing: rather than celebrations of the best the genre has to offer, they’re pushed into becoming battlegrounds for hostile factions that wish to plant a flag on a particular bit of popular culture. Fans have already begun working on ways to change how voting works for The Hugo Awards to avoid these issues. If the organizers behind the Dragon Awards truly want their award to reflect the genre’s fans, they will need to take some of the authors’ concerns into consideration.

Meanwhile, voting for the awards has opened, and the winners will be announced at Dragon Con on September 3rd.

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rclatterbuck
7 days ago
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ojiikun
7 days ago
Pat Henry: raging asshole until the very end.
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32 Americans

1 Comment and 3 Shares

Comic

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rclatterbuck
9 days ago
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ChrisDL
9 days ago
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this.
New York

We're not Xennials. We're Prodigies.

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the-mad-mad-mod:

copperbadge:

s-leary:

There’s Now a Name for the Micro Generation Born Between 1977-1983, and according to Dan Woodman at the University of Melbourne, it’s… Xennials. I’ve heard other names, quickly shrugged off: the grunge generation, the Oregon Trail generation, Generation Y. None quite fit. I don’t think Xennials does, either. It’s a mashup term, a shipper name for the two things you desperately want to bring together.

The thing is, a name produced by Venn diagramming labels already given to other generations doesn’t fit us. We’re not the overlap between the Gen X and Millennial generations. We’re the gap between them–and the bridge.

Our salient characteristic is not the seven years of our birth. It’s that we spent our seven teenage years in the mid ‘90s, specifically 1995 and 1996: the years the internet matured and home computers became affordable for the middle class.

Before that, if you’d been on the internet at all, you were very likely an upper-middle class subscriber to one of the companies that tried to create walled gardens of insipid internet-delivered pablum: Prodigy, CompuServe, or AOL (in that order). After 1996 or so, it became commonplace to have one of those services, or a connected computer you could use a little bit at school, or dialup at home through a local ISP, or a shiny new ethernet port in the wall of your dorm or office–and to use those things to explore the parts of the internet that hadn’t been built or curated by your provider. The internet at large was pervasive among the middle class by the late 90s. The original providers started eating their oxen and dying of dysentery before the boom years finished them off entirely.

And the important thing for our generation is that we encountered the new, wild-grown internet when we did. It arrived in our homes and high schools just as we were shaping our worldviews, and it wrenched us from local to global perspectives. We went online, we looked up fans and hobbyists talking and teaching about our favorite things, and we made friends. They were from all over the world! It was cool!

It was more than cool;, as it turned out: it gave us an ambient awareness of the daily lives of people in other countries. Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook have amplified this awareness to a constant scream, but it was there on mailing lists and in IRC chats and in newsgroups. Our teenage pen-pals were internet users, and we got to talk to them almost daily.

Generation X were mostly adults when they underwent the internet paradigm shift, with mixed results. In my work, I encounter a lot of Gen Xers who understand the usefulness of the web (or hell, built the thing), but are just not enthused about social media networks. They’re on Facebook so they can share pictures of their kids with their parents… and that’s about it. If they work in a field that doesn’t keep them online all day, it’s easy for them to retreat to the local sphere of awareness.

Millennials didn’t have to shift their paradigms at all; for them, the internet was always there once they started school, woven throughout their childhoods and educations. They grew up thinking globally–though somewhat hobbled by their incomplete social studies educations, since they’re also the No Child Left Behind generation.

Our generation did have to shift paradigms, and we didn’t yet have many teachers or parents who could explain this new world to us. We walked that bridge from analogue childhood to digital adulthood, one by one. Some of us didn’t take to it–the kinds of people who didn’t enjoy dinking around on dialup on a Saturday afternoon, soaking up the world’s coolest-looking assembly of human knowledge, largely stayed on the analogue side, and those folks are camouflaged as Gen X.

Those of us who work online, or found online communities we couldn’t have locally, have built our lives with those connections in mind. We’re camouflaged as Millennials.

But we are neither. In reality, we’re a single group that is sharply defined by the fact that we stumbled into the new global internet paradigm on our own. If Prodigy, CompuServe, and AOL built the bridges between DARPAnet and the internet we have today, then our generation are those bridges’ travelers.

We’re the Prodigy kids, the proto-Millennials who showed up to the internet party a little early, accompanied by the buzz-click-whir of dialup connections in progress. We’re the salty aunts sliding drinks over to our Millennial friends, explaining how we remember childhood before the internet and adulthood before 9/11. We remember the world we thought we were graduating into until the Boomers’ post-9/11 isolationism, jingoism, and Islamophobia settled into our institutions like a virus for which we’d been vaccinated.

We have the advantages of pre-Bush era educations, memories of how things were done before we relied on computers, and a global network of friends and family who help us see news and perspectives other than our local 6 o'clock anchor’s. There’s a role for us to play in this post-Trump world. I trust we’ll find it.

I was talking about this article earlier when I was discussing millennial identity – glad it came across my dash again because now I can share it! 

Yep. Me.

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rclatterbuck
10 days ago
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Cultural generations are like MTBI typology. I fully understand that they have essentially zero predictive or even descriptive power. Basically, horoscopes and astrology for a more modern outlook. But sometimes, they just feel right.
ridingsloth
10 days ago
Now I just want to play bad prodigy games.
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birdonahotdog: contrary to social media developers’ beliefs i have literally never once wanted to...

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birdonahotdog:

contrary to social media developers’ beliefs i have literally never once wanted to see posts in anything other than chronological order

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rclatterbuck
10 days ago
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So much of this!
ridingsloth
10 days ago
Very true
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