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OpEd: New York City is a book conservatives should read — by Rebecca Solnit

Look at a dime. It says “e pluribus unum.” Out of many one.

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From Rebecca Solnit:

Dear Donald Trump, you should visit your hometown someday.

I wonder if you have ever actually explored the New York City you claim to live in. I recommend it, because it has beauties and splendors that undermine so many of the assertions that I have heard you make during your campaign, particularly in the final debate. ...

Do you ever come down from your tower, other than to stuff yourself into a limousine en route to a jet? In the course of a few years of working with New Yorkers on a book, Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, coauthored with Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, I came to love and admire the genius of diversity and diversity of genius that makes this city remarkable, glorious, and emblematic of some of the best of this complicated country.

You rail against immigrants, but more than a third of New York City residents are immigrants—37 percent. About 500,000 residents are undocumented, and they are some of the hardest workers making this city go. If you drove them out, the restaurant and hotel industries would collapse into crisis. Unlike you, 75 percent of undocumented New York City residents pay taxes, according to former mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also points out the low crime rate among that population. Overall, whether they’re janitors or doctors, immigrants energize and enrich this city. ...

New York may be a book you haven’t read, but it is rich in Talmudic scholars of the everyday who read it as carefully as any sacred text: Tony Carnes on religion itself, Alexandra T. Vazquez on Spanish-language radio, Daniel Kaufman of the Endangered Language Alliance, Emily Raboteau, a great scholar of playgrounds and the class politics of childhood, and so many more who helped us read the city and contributed to our book. ...

You treat Muslims like dangerous outsiders but you seem ignorant of the fact that the town you claim to live in has about 285 mosques, and somewhere between 400,00 and 800,000 Muslims, according to New York’s wonderful religious scholar Tony Carnes. That means one out of ten or one out of twenty New Yorkers are practitioners of the Islamic faith. A handful of Muslims, including the Orlando mass murderer, who was born in Queens, have done bad things, but when you recognize how many Muslims there are, you can stop demonizing millions for the acts of a few. ...

New York City Muslims are taxi drivers, the guys inside some of the halal food carts all over Manhattan, as well as lawyers and scholars and professors, programmers and designers. They are fathers, toddlers, grandmothers, high-schoolers. Part of what’s so beautiful about this city is how complex the cross-categorizations are. A lot of Muslims are immigrants or children and grandchildren of immigrants, from Africa as well as Asia, but a significant percentage are African-Americans whose roots go far deeper in this country’s history than yours or mine do. Their ancestors built this place, including, literally, the wall that Wall Street is named for. ...

There are so many New Yorks, and we all get to choose our own, but the New York of rich white people is a small slice of the city. Beyond it are a thousand New Yorks with thousands of ways of living and working, hundreds of languages, dozens of religions, and it all comes together every day on subway platforms, on the streets, in the parks, the hospitals, the kitchens, the public schools. Because ordinary New Yorkers get out and mix, and this coexistence with difference is the beautiful basis for a truly democratic spirit, a faith that we can trust each other and literally (and figuratively) find common ground by mingling in public.

If you’re not ready to get out and mix, here’s a very short reading assignment: read some money. Not the big stuff. Look at a dime. It says “e pluribus unum.” Out of many one. That’s been one of this country’s key mottos since its founding. It’s realized in our cities, our great places of coexistence. Not just a tolerance of difference, but a delight in it, love for it, cross-pollination, intermarriage, hybridization, and the invention of new forms from the differences we bring with us as we come together. That’s a lot of what makes America great when it is great and not angry, divisive, unequal, and deluded. And it’s right here, all around us, in the big city.

 

Excerpt from article in LitHub

San Francisco writer, historian, and activist, Rebecca Solnit is the author of seventeen books about geography, community, art, politics, hope, and feminism and the recipient of many awards, including the Lannan Literary Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is a contributing editor to Harper’s, where she is the first woman to regularly write the Easy Chair column (founded in 1851).

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