#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom share pieces that have kept them reading. They share tidbits using the #NPRreads hashtag — and on Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.
This week, we bring you five reads.
From Ina Jaffe, NPR’s Los Angeles-based correspondent:
As I listened to the recent debates over whether the Confederate Battle Flag represented slavery, I discovered an article that made me realize that some Americans don’t even know what slavery is. Margaret Biser writes in Vox about her job leading tours of a plantation house and the jaw-dropping questions she fielded. Some people on the tour were angry, like the man who said that any discussion of the topic “is bringing down America.” But most were just ignorant, asking, for example, if the slaves were paid. Among the misconceptions that Biser encountered was the belief that poverty and slavery were interchangeable.
“Sometimes in the course of a conversation, guests I spoke with would remark that while being a field slave was indeed difficult, on the whole it was hardly worse than being a humble farmer living off the land. Folks have not always been taught that slavery was much more than just difficult labor: It was violence, assault, family separation, fear.
“One important branch of this phenomenon was guests huffily bringing up every disadvantaged group of white people under the sun — the Irish, the Polish, the Jews, indentured servants, regular servants, poor people, white women, Baptists, Catholics, modern-day wage workers, whomever — and say something like, ‘Well, you know they had it almost as bad as/just as bad as/much worse than slaves did.’ Within the context of a tour or other interpretation, this behavior had the effect of temporarily pulling sympathy and focus away from African Americans and putting it on whites.”
Biser writes that another misconception was that slave owners fed and housed slaves out of kindness. One woman asked her, “Did the slaves here appreciate the care they got from their mistress?”
From Danielle Kurtzleben, digital reporter on NPR’s Washington Desk:
What if the God you love disapproves of the people you love? That has long been a fundamental contradiction gay Christians have faced, as many churches have for long espoused the idea that being homosexual or bisexual is wrong. In Politico Magazine this week, author and activist Matthew Vines writes about his experience as a gay man being welcomed with open arms into a church that not long ago might have shunned him. While religion is still a main reason that some Americans don’t approve of same-sex relationships and marriage, many Christian churches have (along with U.S. public opinion) rapidly shifted their opinions on those topics:
“It’s no secret that faith and homosexuality have been in pitched conflict since the gay rights movement began, and to this day, that dynamic shapes the battle lines around this issue more powerfully than any other. To be sure, the conflict between faith and gay rights isn’t going away anytime soon. But over the last year, I’ve had a front-row seat to the ways in which the conflict is evolving—and moderating in ways that are good for both groups.”
For us politics reporters, it’s easy to put the same-sex marriage debate into bland demographic or political terms — how many people are gay? How many of them are Christian? Who approves and disapproves of same-sex marriage? What does it mean for candidates’ stump speeches?
But Vines’ story gets at the much more human truth of the personal struggle that America’s (many) Christians in the LGBT community have dealt with: fearing that their faith and their sexuality — two of the characteristics that define them on the most personal level — have been at odds. Likewise, on the other side of the debate, some Christians and churches have voiced their opposition as they have watched and wondered what it means that churches are increasingly changing their views.
So while inside the Washington Beltway we cast this issue in light of what it means for candidates, strategists, and evangelical voters, the story of the gay marriage debate is also about millions of Americans wrestling with their beliefs as their Christianity undergoes a profound shift.
From Steve Mullis, NPR digital editor:
Video games have advanced dramatically over the last 30 years, but one area that often gets overlooked in the evolution of graphics, story and system specs is how sound and music has also changed from the early days of “beeps” and “blips” to the full-blown soundtracks of modern games. The New Yorker‘s Hua Hsu looks at a new book that examines the evolution of music in games and how the score for Super Mario Bros. by Koji Kondo started it all.
“Kondo’s work at Nintendo ushered in a new way of making video-game music. As a result of the collaboration behind Super Mario, during which graphics and audio were developed in tandem, games became more of an all-sensory experience. The stages looked and sounded different from one another: they offered a world where you could get lost. As the video-game business grew more competitive—and as the increased storage capabilities of sixteen-bit gaming allowed for more sophistication than looped riffs—sound design became one obvious way to distinguish your game in the marketplace, whether through realistic sound effects or increasingly intricate, symphonic scores.”
From Two-Way blogger Scott Neuman:
It’s been fascinating and a bit scary to watch Greece edge ever-closer to the abyss. In the past, the financial rule book for the situation in Athens has led other debtor nations to an uncomfortable but inevitable conclusion: the only way out is to devalue their currency to discourage spending and boost exports while taking a meat clever to the national budget. It’s painful and it risks severe social and political unrest. But it does work. Eventually.
But that scenario has never played out inside the straitjacket of a common currency, where the “devalue” part of the equation is simply not an option. Further, European Union leaders find themselves running into “moral hazard” territory — if they contort their principles too far to prevent a “Grexit,” what message are they sending to other financially shaky members?
The Economist puts it succinctly:
“Brinkmanship and crisis are inevitable in such a system. And they are aggravated by the euro zone’s reliance on ad hoc bail-outs, which politicise every decision. They set one side against another, breeding contempt among the creditors and resentment among the debtors. They turn wise policies into concessions that should not be given up to the other side until the last minute. No wonder the process has failed: at crunch time more than 20 negotiating parties, all with vetoes, were working to different agendas and haggling under pressure. The same downward spiral is all too plausible in a future crisis: the ruination of politics and the economy as demands for forgiveness from debtor nations like Italy or Portugal, say, founder on demands for austerity from Germany and Finland.”
And, Camila Domonoske, digital news producer at NPR:
I discovered this piece through Ann Friedman’s marvelous weekly newsletter, and it blew me away. The story — two sisters fleeing the horrors of the Rwandan genocide, battling the perils of refugee life and building new lives again and again — is an astounding blend of resiliency, resourcefulness and clear-eyed descriptions of a world in chaos. It’s also beautifully structured: diving deep into isolated vignettes, moving forward and backward through time, to build tension without relying on an obvious chronological narrative. It indicts as it educates, reveals personal truths as it highlights the unknowable.
So there’s the professional admiration: It’s an extraordinary piece. Now, for the personal gut-punch. My younger sister once asked me how I could study literature when people in the world were starving. I stumbled with my reply: Despite my best efforts, I failed to properly answer a question so direct, so valid and so unfair.
That conversation could tell you a lot about the both of us, but on a simple level it tells you two things. First, I’m a big sister — and Clemantine Wamariya’s story is partly a tale of two girls against the world. I’m astounded by her older sister’s sacrifices and heroism — and haunted by her suffering, and the fears she faced alone when they tackled dangers Clemantine couldn’t yet understand.
Second, I believe, desperately and unpersuasively, in the intangible value of literature in the face of tangible suffering. And Wamariya’s story is, in very small part, a paean to the transformative power of text — a story of redemption through reading, one that will ring true to anyone who’s helped build sense out of the world through the pages of books.
Speaking of transformative texts: Seriously, you should read this one.