Courtney Martin

Courtney E. Martin is a Prospect senior correspondent. She is the author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists (Beacon Press). You can read more about her work at

Recent Articles

Architecture's Diversity Problem

The field of architecture is structured in such a way that it keeps the status quo -- white, economically privileged men -- firmly in place.

(Flickr/A. Garletz)
Architect Jeanne Gang's new tower, Aqua, stands in the center of Chicago with an attention-grabbing facade that appears to undulate like a wave reaching for the sky rather than the shore. It's a nice surprise to find that the critics have largely avoided drawing overly simplified parallels between the curvy construction and 44-year-old Gang's gender, conspicuous in a field where women are few and far between. Aqua, in fact, is the tallest skyscraper designed by a woman -- and a fairly young one at that. Gang herself doesn't attribute the highly original style of Aqua to her sex, emphasizing instead how much she values design that truly does justice to the context and constituency. She told New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger, "I like to do research about a place, about materials, and about a program." In other words, she cares whether the building serves the community in and around it, rather than whether it is another "fetishized object" that is beloved by critics but not...

The Power of the "Post-Racial" Narrative

Many white Americans latch on to the myth of color blindness because they are afraid that even after electing a black president, they must still wrestle with their own privilege.

MSNBC host Chris Matthews stands on the National Mall the day before Barack Obama's presidential inauguration, Jan. 19, 2009.(Flickr/Adam Fagen)
After President Barack Obama's State of the Union address last week, Chris Matthews had an epiphany about the president: "I was trying to think about who he was tonight. It's interesting; he is post-racial, by all appearances. I forgot he was black tonight for an hour." Although a year ago it seemed safe to assume that the inauguration would mark the peak of post-racial rhetoric, the urge to pretend as if it's now possible to erase race seems to have only gotten worse. Instead of Obama's election feeding a deeper, more complex conversation about race in this country, his presidency has intensified the craving for "color-blind" politics -- a prospect even more impossible, at this point, than bipartisanship. We elected a black man within a racist society, leading many to mistakenly see race as surmountable. In fact, we elected Obama in spite of our collective history of racism and, less acknowledged, in spite of our continuing individual racism. The moment was historic, indeed, but didn...

The Missing Discomfort in Mourning for Haiti

There is a hidden cost to tweeting, texting, and other "convenient" ways of taking action to help others.

As soon as word began to spread last week that a vicious earthquake had destroyed much of Haiti, Facebook and Twitter lit up with altruistic updates. People encouraged those in their networks to leave clothing donations at local drop-spots, donate $10 with a simple text message, and make sure that Haiti did not "become another Katrina." Joining in the mourning and media frenzy appeared to make people feel efficacious in the face of such overwhelming devastation -- and maybe even a little proud of their own ability to care at a time when the world's economic disparity was once again laid bare by a natural disaster. Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, sits just 600 miles from the Florida border; tens of thousands are believed dead and millions affected. How could we not take the suffering there seriously? But did we take it seriously enough? Does a status update or a pithy prayer for a destitute, destroyed populace really constitute an ethical act? Do we let ourselves off...

New Year's Resolutions for Improving Political Dialogue

We've become a nation of screamers, not thinkers. Here's how to bring thoughtfulness back in 2010.

As the new decade dawns, plenty of institutions -- from gyms to retailers to churches -- will be trying to capitalize on the resolution spirit. The advertising copy promises: Now's the time to join, to run, to buy . Our usually frenetic pace slows, and we're all but bullied into reflection. We take a look at our waistlines and credit-card debt, and promise ourselves that this year, no seriously, this year will be different. But what if we used that energy not for self-improvement but for national renewal? If there's anything that urgently needs a makeover, it's the state of political dialogue. When we look back over the last year, it appears that our civic conversation has hit a new low. Think of Rep. Joe Wilson screaming "You lie!' during President Barack Obama's health-care speech, the birthers preying on ignorance and fear, the tea baggers disrupting town hall meetings across the nation, and almost any so-called debate between television pundits on one of the many shallow cable...

Coming of Age in the Aughts

The political milestones that shaped my generation's experiments in living an ethical life.

The United for Peace and Justice Anti-War protest in Washington, D.C., Sept. 24, 2005. (Flickr/Danny Hammontree)
As this decade comes to an end, so do my 20s. For me and many of my generation, the past ten years have marked a series of experiments -- sometimes misguided -- in living ethically. The question was (and is): What does an ethical life look like in an era of terrorism, reality television, vast wealth disparity, and the Internet? My generation's real political education began in a very concerted way on September 12, 2001. I was 21, just staring down my senior year at Barnard College in New York. In a matter of hours, my invincibility, my naiveté, my sense that there would always be enough time to do what I was supposed to do and be who I was supposed to be, was obliterated. I watched women in torn panty hose, high heels in hand, walk up Broadway with dazed looks and realized that the world was far more complex and dangerous than my political science classes had made it seem. Before, my generation had identified with Fight Club 's description of the "middle children of history"...