IPS Blog

Talking Outside the Bounds: “Strumpets,” History, and White Privilege

Tess Taylor Split This RockThe email called me “whorish” and the “strumpet of a carpetbagger.” It called my recent editorial about my grandfather “revolting.”

Hot damn. Really? I had just published a New York Times editorial about a painful incident during the Civil Rights movement in Danville, Virginia. My grandfather wrote a letter of protest to a judge who had doled out stiff sentences to Civil Rights protestors. Arrested for writing the letter, my grandfather served a bench warrant and was ridiculed and publicly humiliated in his small mill town.

In my article, I retraced the events. I meditated on some of what had been at stake for my grandfather, a white man, to speak out against the brutal violence and stark injustices faced by black protesters (and black people). I meditated about how my grandfather’s action both was and was not adequate protest to the era’s injustice. And I’d interviewed the minister who organized the protests, Lawrence Campbell, to see how he looked back on that time now.

My piece mostly got a warm reception. What surprised me was that this virulently sour note, in my inbox, had the power to make me feel—at least briefly— ill, angry, defensive, hurt, small. I felt singled out, threatened. Eventually I called some friends and laughed off the hurt. After all: The man was accusing me of tying Danville to this violent and unsavory history—yet he was the one calling me a carpbetbagger. Oh please. Dear sir, I regret to inform: It’s hard to escape history if you go around calling people strumpets.

As I thought about it more, however, it seemed to me that this reprimand – its unpleasantness, its rotten smell – was one of the mechanisms by which racism is maintained and one of the reasons white people stay quiet about racism. If we talk outside the bounds, we might get dinged.

Read the full post on Split This Rock’s blog.


Tess Taylor currently reviews poetry for NPR’s All Things Considered and teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley. Her first book of poems, The Forage House, was released this month by Red Hen Press. She lives in El Cerrito, California. Tess will be reading from The Forage House at Sunday Kind of Love, Split This Rock‘s series in collaboration with Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, January 19, 2014.

This Week in OtherWords: August 14, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Ryan Alexander weighs in on the price we’re paying for our do-nothing Congress and Jill Richardson notes that good food must come with at least a pinch of humility.

Do you want to make sure you don’t miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please make a tax-deductible donation todayto keep this valuable service running.

  1. Dud Congress Breaks with a Thud / Ryan Alexander
    Our nation needs — and deserves — a legislature that works.
  2. How to Move Millions into the Middle Class / Richard Kirsch
    President Obama should issue an executive order to guarantee a living wage for millions of workers employed by federal contractors.
  3. Kiss of Death / Tracy Fernandez Rysavy
    Why is lead in lipstick?
  4. How I Exposed an Undercover Cop / Lacy MacAuley
    Spying on protestors is the worst violation of our freedom.
  5. The Devil Is in the Taxes / Donald Kaul
    My foolproof plan will rescue our society from the sleazy grasp of special-interest politics.
  6. The Bezillionaire Times / Sam Pizzigati
    Amazon’s take-no-prisoners business model made founder Jeff Bezos staggeringly rich while stranding thousands of warehouse workers on the borderline of poverty.
  7. Hold the Pomposity / Jill Richardson
    You can’t produce good food without some humility.
  8. Get Radio-Active / Jim Hightower
    Thousands of low-power radio broadcast licenses will be up for grabs by non-profit, community groups this October.
  9. As the World Drowns / William A. Collins
    Let’s do something before it’s too late.
  10. Climate Change We Can Believe In / Khalil Bendib Cartoon
Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org
Climate Change We Can Believe In, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Climate Change We Can Believe In, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Why Would James Woolsey Back Solar Energy?



“Distributed generation with solar looks better and better to me all the time.” -James Woolsey, former director of the CIA.

What is a man with Woolsey’s credentials doing issuing a powerful endorsement of home solar panels? National security and sustainability, at face value, certainly make for an unlikely overlap of interests.

In his talk—delivered to a crowd of several hundred people at the Johns Hopkins Institute for International Studies—Woolsey advocated distributed solar energy in the form of solar panels on businesses and homes as one viable solution to the security challenges faced by America’s electricity grid.

The grid—the network of power plants, electrical substations, and transmission lines that deliver electricity around the country—is only one of 18 critical infrastructures in the U.S. However, all depend on electricity to function, making the stability of the grid vital to the running of each of these infrastructures.

Cyber threats are a particular threat to the national grid, in part because the control systems for the grid are all available online. Electrical infrastructure can also be severely damaged or disabled by large electromagnetic pulses, such as those caused by spontaneous electromagnetic bursts from the sun or by a nuclear attack. Woolsey noted that the grid is also vulnerable to attacks from, for instance, heavy artillery or ordinary gunfire.

Woolsey’s solutions to these threats are twofold. First, he suggested that individual shields should be constructed around every vital point on the energy grid to help protect these electrical hubs from attack—however, this would be undeniably resource-intensive and provide few benefits. Woolsey’s second—and more realistic—solution endorsed the idea of distributed generation and storage of renewable energy at the local level.

The logic behind the security argument for distributed solar is simple. When the energy needed to power each household and business is “coming from your roof… and being stored in the basement,” as Woolsey quipped, Americans are less vulnerable to disruptions in the production and transport system. The more energy produced locally on roofs and in yards, the less impact an extreme weather event or attack can have on the regular functioning of American society. Such resilience to external disruptions is key in an increasingly unpredictable energy, climate, and national security landscape.

There remain significant barriers to distributed solar energy, however. Although much of the technology for affordable distributed solar is “here or almost here,” according to Woolsey, funding for research and development is often uncertain. Further, it takes time for any new technology to be integrated into society. Attention must be given to state and national incentives for solar installation, integration with existing infrastructure, and other barriers to access if the market for distributed solar is to flourish across the United States.

Yet Woolsey’s endorsement of distributed solar energy as a security investment suggests the potential for more promising, creative national defense solutions—solutions that create resilient, productive domestic systems while working towards a more sustainable, renewable future.

This Week in OtherWords: August 7, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Sanjay Jolly describes the promising opportunities that a new wave of low-power FM stations will soon create, Jill Stein explains why she gave Bradley Manning a “presidential pardon,” and William A. Collins and I put the rash of newspaper purchases by billionaires into perspective.

Do you want to make sure you don’t miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today to keep this valuable service running.

  1. A Chance to Start Listening Locally / Sanjay Jolly
    Low-power FM radio levels the playing field of ideas and culture.
  2. Higher Education’s Complicity in the Trayvon Martin Tragedy / William B. Harvey
    Universities need to lead the way toward the national conversation on race we clearly need.
  3. Why I Granted Bradley Manning a Presidential Pardon / Jill Stein
    He was defending the highest principles of democracy by exposing U.S. war crimes and State Department deception.
  4. By George, You Don’t Get It / Donald Kaul
    Detroit was a one-industry company town run by executives who forgot how to make cars people wanted to buy.
  5. Blowing the Whistle on Philanthropy / Sam Pizzigati
    A scion of one of America’s top fortunes has just exposed our “charitable-industrial complex.”
  6. Coke’s Green Lipstick / Jill Richardson
    The only truly green thing about a new kind of Coke is the color of its label.
  7. The Border-Industrial Complex / Jim Hightower
    War profiteers have spied a new place they can militarize with their high-tech, high-cost weaponry.
  8. Unfit to Print / Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
    Suddenly, all self-respecting billionaires need to own at least one newspaper.
  9. Aiding the Enemy / Khalil Bendib cartoonEmily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org
    Aiding the Enemy, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib