kottke.org posts about racism
In 1974, Studs Terkel published a book called Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. One of the people he talked to for the book was Chicago police officer Renault Robinson. Robinson is African American and offered up his views to Terkel on how blacks are policed differently...here are the relevant bits of the interview. On traffic stops:
"About sixty percent of police-citizen conflict starts in a traffic situation. It's easier to stop a person on the pretext of a traffic violation than to stop him on the street. It's a lot easier to say, "Your tail light's out." "Your plate is dented." "You didn't make that turn right." You can then search his automobile, hoping you can find some contraband or a weapon. If he becomes irritated, with very little pushing on your part, you can make an arrest for disorderly conduct. These are all statistics which help your records.
Certain units in the task force have developed a science around stopping your automobile. These men know it's impossible to drive three blocks without committing a traffic violation. We've got so many rules on the books. These police officers use these things to get points and also hustle for money. The traffic law is a fat book. He knows if you don't have two lights on your license plate, that's a violation. If you have a crack in your windshield, that's a violation. If your muffler's dragging, that's a violation. He knows all these little things....
So if they stop the average black driver, in their mind the likelihood of finding five or six violations out of a hundred cars is highly possible.... After you've stopped a thousand, you've got 950 people who are very pissed off, 950 who might have been just average citizens, not doing anything wrong - teachers, doctors, lawyers, working people. The police don't care. Black folks don't have a voice to complain. Consequently, they continue to be victims of shadowy, improper, overburdened police service. Traffic is the big entree."
And on the type of young white male that the job was attracting at the time:
A large amount of young white officers are gung ho. It's an opportunity to make a lot of arrests, make money, and do a lot of other things. In their opinion, black people are all criminals, no morals, dirty and nasty. So the black people don't cooperate with the police and they have good cause not to. On the other hand, they're begging for more police service. They're over-patrolled and under-protected.
The young white guys turn out to be actually worse than their predecessors. They're more vicious. The average young white policeman comes from a working-class family, sometimes with less than a high-school education. He comes with built-in prejudices. The average young white cop is in bad shape. I think he can be saved if a change came from the top. If it could be for just eight hours a day. They may still hate niggers when they got off duty. They may still belong to the John Birch Society or the Ku Klux Klan. So what? They could be forced to perform better during the eight hours of work."
Reading about this stuff, I keep going back to the 9 principles of policing drawn up by London's Metropolitan Police in the 1820s in which the power of the police comes from the people, force is to be used minimally, and the efficacy of policing is judged on the absence of crime, not on the number of arrests or people sent to jail.
Redditt Hudson served as a police officer in St. Louis during the 1990s. He shared his perspective on race and policing with Vox last year: I'm a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing.
It is not only white officers who abuse their authority. The effect of institutional racism is such that no matter what color the officer abusing the citizen is, in the vast majority of those cases of abuse that citizen will be black or brown. That is what is allowed.
And no matter what an officer has done to a black person, that officer can always cover himself in the running narrative of heroism, risk, and sacrifice that is available to a uniformed police officer by virtue of simply reporting for duty.
I posted a short video earlier today featuring Jane Elliott. She's a noted anti-racism activist famous for her blue eyes/brown eyes exercise, featured in the video above.
White people's number one freedom in the United States of America is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white. And our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we're ignorant.
In the exercise, Elliott divides the class into two groups based on their eye color: those with blue eyes and those with brown eyes. The brown eyed group is instructed to treat the blue eyed group as inferior because of their eye color -- they are to be called "bluey" or "boy" or "honey" but not by their names.
At the beginning of the session (which starts at about 1:30 (but don't skip the intro!)), Elliott calls herself "the resident bitch for the day" and does she mean it...she does not let up because, as she says in the video, society doesn't let up on people of color either. (via @dunstan)
Jane Elliott asks an audience a very simple question about being black in America. (via @carltonspeight who says "No BS, I wish every white person on Twitter could see this. Maybe it'll help")
In 1942, the US government hired Dorothea Lange (of Migrant Mother fame) to take photos of the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Although Lange quit after a few months because government censors wouldn't let her shoot images of barbed wire and the bayonets on guards' guns, she took hundreds of photos documenting this shameful moment in American history.
Famous for her forlorn images of Dust Bowl America, this pioneering female photographer was hired by the War Relocation Authority in 1942 to document the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. Although her skill at candid portraiture was unparalleled, "Lange was an odd choice, given her leftist politics and strong sympathy for victims of racial discrimination," writes scholar Megan Asaka. The position was a challenging one for Lange as well. "Appalled by the forced exile, she confided to a Quaker protestor that she was guilt stricken to be working for a federal government that could treat its citizens so unjustly."
The WRA initially gave Lange little instruction about where and what to shoot, but controlled and censored her while she was at work. When documenting life inside the assembly centers and concentration camps, she was prohibited from taking shots of barbed wire and bayonets. Unable to tolerate this censorship and her own conflicted feelings about the work, Lange quit after just a few months of employment with the WRA.
Less ashamed at what they'd done and more worried about PR backlash, the government embargoed Lange's photos until 1972.
If this all makes you think of some recent comments about Muslims from a certain Republican presidential candidate, history may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.
Update: Ansel Adams also took dozens of photos of the Japanese American interment camp at Manzanar.
So did photographer Toyo Miyatake, who was among the prisoners at Manzanar.
The exclusion order forced Miyatake, his wife and four children, to the concentration camp at Manzanar. He was able to store his photographic equipment but managed to smuggle a camera lens and film plate holder into the camp against government orders. Miyatake told his son Archie that he felt it was his duty to document camp life. An Issei carpenter in camp constructed a box to house the lens, and Miyatake was able to get film into camp by way of a hardware salesman and former client. The photographer eventually asked camp director Ralph Merritt if he could set up a photo studio, and Merritt, who learned about Miyatake from Edward Weston, consented with the provision that Miyatake only load and set the camera, and a Caucasian assistant snap the shutter. Eventually, that restriction was lifted, and Miyatake was designated official camp photographer, and granted the freedom to take photos of everyday life at Manzanar.
Miyatake and Adams met at the camp and began a collaboration. Lange and Adams were friends -- he printed Migrant Mother for her -- and she was instrumental in convincing Adams to document Manzanar. But she was also critical of his detached approach:
In 1961, Lange said about Adams's taking landscape pictures at the Manzanar Relocation Center: "It was shameful. That's Ansel. He doesn't have much sense about these things."
(thx, @gen and samuel)
Written, produced, and directed by Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation is a film about Nat Turner, the man who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831. The movie won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year and will be out in theaters in October.
P.S. If the name of the movie sounds familiar, it was deliberately given the same name as D.W. Griffith's 1915 silent film, which dramatized the formation of the Ku Klux Klan. In an interview, Parker said:
When I endeavored to make this film, I did so with the specific intent of exploring America through the context of identity. So much of the racial injustices we endure today in America are symptomatic of a greater sickness - one we have been systematically conditioned to ignore. From sanitized truths about our forefathers to mis-education regarding this country's dark days of slavery, we have refused to honestly confront the many afflictions of our past. This disease of denial has served as a massive stumbling block on our way to healing from those wounds. Addressing Griffith's Birth of a Nation is one of the many steps necessary in treating this disease. Griffith's film relied heavily on racist propaganda to evoke fear and desperation as a tool to solidify white supremacy as the lifeblood of American sustenance. Not only did this film motivate the massive resurgence of the terror group the Ku Klux Klan and the carnage exacted against people of African descent, it served as the foundation of the film industry we know today.
I've reclaimed this title and re-purposed it as a tool to challenge racism and white supremacy in America, to inspire a riotous disposition toward any and all injustice in this country (and abroad) and to promote the kind of honest confrontation that will galvanize our society toward healing and sustained systemic change.
(via trailer town)
From Fusion, a 45-minute documentary about the making of Zootopia.
Fusion spent two years with the production team of Disney's smash hit film. In 'Imagining Zootopia,' you will travel with the team to Africa to explore the animals in their natural habitat and find out how the storytellers and animators dealt with the very real themes of prejudice and bias.
I found this via Khoi Vinh, who writes:
A lot of careful thought went into how to render the emotional truth behind experiencing racism, and the documentary takes a detailed look at the filmmakers grappling with that. However, it also betrays one of the unfortunate truths of the production; the movie is commendably bold about addressing prejudice, but it's evident from watching the documentary that of the five-hundred plus people who contributed to the film, hardly any were non-white, and even fewer were African-American.
For a criticism of Zootopia's racial allegory, read Devin Faraci's A Muddled Mess of Racial Messaging... And Cute Animals.
Actor and singer François Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons for 30 years on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, talks about how and why Fred Rogers chose a black man to be a police officer on TV.
To say that he didn't know what he was doing, or that he accidentally stumbled into integration or talking about racism or sexism, that's not Mister Rogers. It was well planned and well thought-out and I think it was very impactful.
NPR also recently shared Clemmons' story.
He says he'll never forget the day Rogers wrapped up the program, as he always did, by hanging up his sweater and saying, "You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are." This time in particular, Rogers had been looking right at Clemmons, and after they wrapped, he walked over.
Clemmons asked him, "Fred, were you talking to me?"
"Yes, I have been talking to you for years," Rogers said, as Clemmons recalls. "But you heard me today."
"It was like telling me I'm OK as a human being," Clemmons says. "That was one of the most meaningful experiences I'd ever had."
Mister Rogers always hits me right in the feels.
Chris Rock opened his monologue at the Oscars last night with "I'm here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People's Choice Awards" and for the next ten minutes, talked about racism in Hollywood.
Update: As much as I enjoyed Rock's monologue, I also agree with Stacia Brown's piece, Chris Rock, Justice for Flint and why we still have 'real things to protest'.
We still have real things to protest. If water contamination in a U.S. city due to alleged negligence doesn't call for "real" protest, what does? Disinvestment in the Oscars -- especially for DuVernay and Coogler -- isn't a frivolous undertaking. And black performers don't want equal opportunity just to be considered for awards. In this country, celebrity has always afforded people the platform and the capital to push forward the issues that are important to them. There couldn't have been a Justice for Flint fundraiser on the scale that they were able to mount without star power. Black celebrity -- its acknowledgement and its compensation -- is significant.
Christopher Robbins recently interviewed Robert Caro (author of The Power Broker, perhaps the best book ever written about New York) for Gothamist. The interview is interesting throughout. (I lightly edited the excerpts for clarity.)
Caro: If you're publishing on the Internet, do you call them readers or viewers?
Robbins: Either, I think.
Caro: How do you know they're reading it?
Robbins: There's something called Chartbeat -- it shows you how many people are reading a specific article in any given moment, and how long they spend on that article. That's called "engagement time." We have a giant flatscreen on the wall that displays it, a lot of publications do.
Caro: What you just said is the worst thing I ever heard. [Laughs]
That exchange makes a nice companion to Snapchat like the teens.
Caro: Moses came along with his incredible vision, and vision not in a good sense. It's like how he built the bridges too low.
I remember his aide, Sid Shapiro, who I spent a lot of time getting to talk to me, he finally talked to me. And he had this quote that I've never forgotten. He said Moses didn't want poor people, particularly poor people of color, to use Jones Beach, so they had legislation passed forbidding the use of buses on parkways.
Then he had this quote, and I can still hear him saying it to me. "Legislation can always be changed. It's very hard to tear down a bridge once it's up." So he built 180 or 170 bridges too low for buses.
We used Jones Beach a lot, because I used to work the night shift for the first couple of years, so I'd sleep til 12 and then we'd go down and spend a lot of afternoons at the beach. It never occurred to me that there weren't any black people at the beach.
So Ina and I went to the main parking lot, that huge 10,000-car lot. We stood there with steno pads, and we had three columns: Whites, Blacks, Others. And I still remember that first column -- there were a few Others, and almost no Blacks. The Whites would be go on to the next page. I said, God, this is what Robert Moses did. This is how you can shape a metropolis for generations.
That's something to remember the next time someone tries to rehabilitate Moses' legacy. Not to mention this excerpt from The Power Broker:
Robert Moses had always displayed a genius for adorning his creations with little details that made them fit in with their setting, that made the people who used them feel at home in them. There was a little detail on the playhouse-comfort station in the Harlem section of Riverside Park that is found nowhere else in the park. The wrought-iron trellises of the park's other playhouses and comfort stations are decorated with designs like curling waves.
The wrought-iron trellises of the Harlem playhouse-comfort station are decorated with monkeys.
And now I am filled with regret at never having read The Power Broker. I started it a couple times, but could never find the time to follow through. I wish it was available on the Kindle...a 1300-page paperback is not exactly handy to carry about and read. The unabridged audiobook is 66 hours long...and $72.
Laura June likes Bernie Sanders in many ways but is going to vote for Hillary Clinton because Clinton is a woman.
As with many issues that stem from the fact of my motherhood -- breast-feeding, co-sleeping -- I speak only for myself, and cannot generalize my experience from "I am" to "you should." I only know in my heart that I simply don't want my daughter to grow up in a world where a woman has never been president. And if not now, when?
I'm a woman, and a mother, and I'm voting for Hillary Clinton for my daughter, and for her future.
If I had a vote to cast in the upcoming NY Democratic primary, I would also vote for Hillary Clinton and also because she is a woman. I believe the most important and longest-lasting effect of Barack Obama's election in 2008 is that tens of millions of kids (of all racial backgrounds) got to experience an African American being President. Those kids are going to grow up knowing, and not just theoretically, that a non-white person can be elected (and even re-elected) President of the United States. Clinton's election would send a similar message to those same kids (both girls and boys): a woman can be elected President. I think it would have a huge future effect, more than any of the policy differences between her and Sanders, especially back-to-back with an Obama presidency.
In the New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann writes about "the Southernization of American politics". In 1865, the United States won the Civil War against the South, but the current US has been significantly shaped by the ideals, politics, and values of the South.
In order to become the richest and most powerful country in the world, the United States had to include the South, and its inclusion has always come at a price. The Constitution (with its three-fifths compromise and others) awkwardly registered the contradiction between its democratic rhetoric and the foundational presence of slavery in the thirteen original states. The 1803 Louisiana Purchase-by which the U.S. acquired more slaveholding territory in the name of national expansion-set off the dynamic that led to the Civil War. The United States has declined every opportunity to let the South go its own way; in return, the South has effectively awarded itself a big say in the nation's affairs.
I read a lot of books by and about white men, many of them dead. So when a friend enthusiastically recommended The Warmth of Other Suns, I jumped at the chance to expand my reading horizons. I'm so glad I did...this is an amazing book.
Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns is about the Great Migration, the mass movement of African Americans from the Southern US to the Northeast, Midwest, and West between 1910 and 1970. During that time, roughly 6 million African Americans moved north and west to escape Jim Crow laws, discrimination, low wages, the threat of physical violence & death, and everyday humiliation & lack of freedom in the South. In the North, they found freedom, new opportunities, and better lives for their families, but they had less success escaping poverty, racism, and discrimination.
Wilkerson tells the story of the entire Migration by focusing on the paths of three people leaving the South:
Ida Mae Gladney, a Mississippi sharecropper pictured above with flowers in her hair, moved to Chicago with her family in 1937 and lived to cast a vote for Barack Obama.
George Starling, pictured above on the left, worked in the citrus groves of Florida before leaving for New York in 1945. He found a job as a baggage handler (and unofficial welcoming committee member) on a train, working the north/south lines that ferried millions of black Southerners to their new homes in the North.
Robert Foster, the gentleman above in the bow tie, became a surgeon and moved from Louisiana to Los Angeles in 1953. There, he rose to the upper ranks of black society and became personal physician to Ray Charles. Foster left the South so thoroughly behind that his daughter didn't know many of the details of his Louisiana childhood until she read it in Wilkerson's book.
Through her compelling straight-forward prose, wonderful storytelling, and diligent journalism, Wilkerson more than convinces me that the Great Migration is the greatest untold, misunderstood, and largely unknown occurrence of the American 20th century. I don't say this often, but The Warmth of Other Suns is a must-read, particularly if you want to begin to understand the racial issues still confronting the US today.
The Whitney Plantation in Louisiana is the only US museum and memorial to slavery. The Atlantic has a video about the museum and its founder, John Cummings, who spent 16 years and $8 million of his own money on it.
Oh man, this episode of This American Life on desegregation and the Normandy School District (aka the Missouri district that Michael Brown attended) just totally wrecked me. Tears of sadness and rage.
Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there's one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program.
America likes to pride itself on its focus on the importance of education and everyone getting a crack at living the American Dream, but as this story makes clear, neither of those things are actually true. See also part two of the series and Hannah-Jones' series on segregation at ProPublica.
On his YouTube channel, Dylan Marron is cutting down films to only include dialogue spoken by persons of color. Under those conditions, Moonrise Kingdom is 10 seconds long. Her is about 40 seconds. Noah is 0 seconds.
Atop the South Carolina statehouse, both the national and state flags flew at half mast yesterday. But not the Confederate Flag. The symbolic reasons loom large. The literal reason was uncovered by a reporter.
The flag is part of a Confederate War Memorial, and is not on a pulley system, so it cannot be lowered, only removed.
That actually sounds like an ideal solution. In The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates argues we should take down the Confederate Flag.
That the Confederate flag is the symbol of of white supremacists is evidenced by the very words of those who birthed it.
From the NY Times, Nine Are Killed in Charleston Church Shooting; Gunman Is Sought.
An intense manhunt was underway Thursday for a white gunman who opened fire on Wednesday night at a historic black church in this city's downtown, killing nine people before fleeing.
The police chief, Greg Mullen, called the shooting a hate crime.
Chief Mullen said that law enforcement officials, including the F.B.I. and other federal agencies, were assisting in the investigation of a shooting that left six women and three men dead.
Chief Mullen said the gunman walked into the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and attended the meeting for about an hour before open firing. Among the dead, according to reports, was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator.
In Ferguson, for every 100 black women between the ages of 25 and 54, there are 60 black men. While Ferguson is extreme, it's not exceptional. Across America, we see similar numbers. So the question arises: What happened to all the black men? The short answer to that question is incarceration and premature death. The longer answer is equally upsetting. From Upshot: 1.5 Million Missing Black Men.
President Obama delivered two key messages during his speech in Selma over the weekend. One, it's a mistake to suggest that racism is banished in America.
We don't need the Ferguson report to know that's not true.
And two, we've made a lot of progress:
If you think nothing's changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing's changed. Ask your gay friend if it's easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress -- our progress -- would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.
It's worth putting politics and cynicism aside long enough to consider that on Saturday, a black President spoke at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. There's a long way to go, but that's a hell of a 50 years.
Franklin, the first black member of Charles Schulz's Peanuts gang, made his debut in July 1968. His presence came about through the efforts of Los Angeles schoolteacher Harriet Glickman, who wrote Schulz several letters in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr's assassination arguing that the inclusion of black characters in the most popular comic strip in America would be a positive thing. Here is her initial letter to Schulz:
After some back and forth between Schulz and Glickman, Franklin made his first appearance in the strip.
Franklin's introduction was part of a five-day sequence featuring Sally tossing away Charlie Brown's beach ball and Franklin rescuing it. In some ways, this seems an aggressive bit of integration -- many American public beaches, while no longer legally segregated, were still de facto segregated at the time. In other ways, the strips suggest what might be seen today as an excess of caution; of the twenty panels of the series, Franklin is in ten panels and Sally is in eight, but never is Franklin in the same panel as the white girl. Franklin would not reappear for another two and a half months, when he came for a visit to Charlie Brown's neighborhood. He was somewhat lighter skinned here, which seems to be less a matter of trying to make him acceptable to the readers and more a matter of cutting back on shading lines which were overpowering his facial features. Franklin's job in this series was to react to the oddness of the neighborhood kids, and that was a precursor to what would be his primary role in the strip as a whole. Perhaps due to excessive caution, Franklin was never granted any of the sort of usual quirks that define a Peanuts character, the very sort of mistake that Glickman was warning about when she called for one of the black kids to be "a Lucy."
His inclusion made news nationally and upset many people, particularly in the South. Schulz had a conversation with the president of the comic's distribution company:
I remember telling Larry at the time about Franklin -- he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, "Well, Larry, let's put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How's that?"
A fascinating thread on Reddit asks why & how ex-neo-Nazis, skinheads, and racists changed their minds regarding racism.
I was sitting on the bus on my way home one day. I was listening to some good music in my headphones. It was a cloudless autumn day and everything was a healthy yellow and orange color and blue sky. At a stop a african man and a young boy, maybe 5-6 years, got on. The man was tall and had bad clothes, he looked like he did not have much. They sat in front of me. I immediately became annoyed and started to think about how I hated them, fucking immigrants coming to my country, he is poor and I pay taxes so he can get welfare. I thought about how his son is going to become a lousy shit and rape white women. I started to get mad and decided to beat him up, I was going to follow him when he got off the bus.
I saw him press the button and got ready at the next stop, and just before we stopped I was about to get up and the man turned to his son and said something in a heavy accent that I will never forget in my life.
"I love you my son, be good."
He then gave him a big, hard hug and the boy got off the bus alone. He waved good bye and sat back down, with his hands on his face. I just stared out the window where his son had been standing. My world view came crashing. He was just a father who wanted his son to be good, he loved him just like my father loved me. For some reason this changed everything for me. I know this is a very small thing but I started to think about how he wanted a better life for his son. He was a man that had changed everything for his family.
I sat on that bus for hours, it kept going around. I thought about how wrong it was to do the things I had done. I left that city the next day and started over. I am much happier now. I dont feel the hate in my heart every day anymore.
Curious use of the word "Africans" in several of the comments...is that a socially acceptable term in Europe or a vestige of the commenters' racist pasts? Or are they simply referring to recent immigrants from Africa? (via digg)
A federal judge ruled this morning that NYC's controversial stop-and-frisk practice violated the rights of "tens of thousands" of New Yorkers.
In a decision issued on Monday, the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, ruled that police officers have for years been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. Officers often frisked these people, usually young minority men, for weapons or searched their pockets for contraband, like drugs, before letting them go, according to the 195-page decision.
These stop-and-frisk episodes, which soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline, demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, according to the ruling. It also found violations with the 14th Amendment.
To fix the constitutional violations, Judge Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan said she intended to designate an outside lawyer, Peter L. Zimroth, to monitor the Police Department's compliance with the Constitution.
This is good news. Treating every young black male in the city like a criminal is not a policing strategy and it's embarrassing it has gone on this long. This kind of thing, along with the recent NSA revelations and other issues, make me wonder if "innocent until proven guilty" is still something the US citizenry and its law enforcement agencies still believe in. (via @beep)
Update: Using data from the last half of 2013, the NY Times says 'Stop-and-Frisk' Is All but Gone From New York.
Many who live and work in the neighborhoods say they see scant evidence of change, and some say the police are simply not reporting some or all of their stops. The police did not respond to requests for comment.
But something is clearly different: Misdemeanor drug and weapon charges, the most common arrests to result from a stop, are down considerably. Advocates say misdemeanor marijuana charges, which require that the drug is in plain sight, are a bellwether, because the police ordered thousands to empty pockets, and arrested them.
I'll reserve judgement until the numbers from 2014 are in, particularly those post-Bloomberg.
The Roots' Questlove has some powerful thoughts on the Trayvon Martin verdict:
I'm in scenarios all the time in which primitive, exotic-looking me -- six-foot-two, 300 pounds, uncivilized Afro, for starters -- finds himself in places where people who look like me aren't normally found. I mean, what can I do? I have to be somewhere on Earth, correct? In the beginning -- let's say 2002, when the gates of "Hey, Ahmir, would you like to come to [swanky elitist place]?" opened -- I'd say "no," mostly because it's been hammered in my DNA to not "rock the boat," which means not making "certain people" feel uncomfortable.
I mean, that is a crazy way to live. Seriously, imagine a life in which you think of other people's safety and comfort first, before your own. You're programmed and taught that from the gate. It's like the opposite of entitlement.
Reading about this case and the reaction to it has been a series of gut punches this week.
Thoughtful piece from Cord Jefferson on Kanye West's retrograde attitude towards women (and particularly white women) on his recent album, Yeezus.
Kanye West has never advocated raping anyone. His persistent fixation on conquering white women -- the lure of white women, injuring white men via their women, etc. -- is troublingly retrograde for a multimillionaire who some consider to be the harbinger of a neo-Black Power movement. It ultimately gives lie to the fact that Kanye sees himself as "a god," as he claims on Yeezus, or, as he told Jon Caramanica in that winding New York Times interview, that he is "so credible and so influential and so relevant." I've yet to see a black man who is truly confident in his human worth and his power spend time crowing about ejaculating onto white chicks. What's more, what does it yield West in the end? As Kiese Laymon asked the other day: "Do you think the white men who run these corporations you're critiquing really give a fuck about you dissing, fucking, fisting, choking white women?"
I listened to Yeezus a handful of times when it first came out (and loved it, especially the production and beats) but had to stop because of just this issue. There is undoubtably something critical to be said about race and sex in America, but West's hamfisted lyrics definitely aren't it.
A new edition of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn replaces occurrences of "nigger" in the text to "slave".
The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with "slave" when reading aloud. Gribben grew up without ever hearing the "n" word ("My mother said it's only useful to identify [those who use it as] the wrong kind of people") and became increasingly aware of its jarring effect as he moved South and started a family. "My daughter went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it."
I wonder how many times that word was used in songs appearing on Billboard's Hot 100 chart last year? Or perhaps nigga != nigger.
A journalist gets assaulted, seemingly at random, while riding his bike. Knocked unconscious during the incident, he tries to piece together what happened, and more importantly, why.
"When I looked at your face, I could see there was some serious thought behind doing this," he said. "It ain't like he just knocked you off your bike. He performed some very serious damage." There was no provocation, no robbery, no familiarity between attacker and attacked. McCoy argued that it would be far more foolhardy to randomly attack a black man, because "you hit the wrong guy and it might be somebody's dad or uncle or it might even be the chief who is riding a bike, and ain't no police bein' called. It's an ambulance being called for your ass. "It's a bitter pill, but I'm gonna tell you. It was all racial."
In 1959, John Howard Griffin altered his appearance to look like a black man and travelled through the South documenting his experiences, which he collected into a 1961 book called Black Like Me.
"[Whites] judged me by no other quality. My skin was dark. That was sufficient reason for them to deny me those rights and freedoms without which life loses its significance and becomes a matter of little more than animal survival." He became depressed, and his face lapsed into "the strained, disconsolate expression that is written on the countenance of so many Southern Negroes." He "decided to try to pass back into white society" and scrubbed off the stain; immediately "I was once more a first-class citizen." The knowledge gave him little joy.
Contemporary reviewer Jonathan Yardley says that the book has "lost surprisingly little of its power" since its publication. (via 3qd)
While clubs that admit only WASPs are still around, their power and influence have diminished and their diversity has increased. A little. The language employed by WASPs in describing outsiders is interesting:
Acronyms like N.O.C.D. and P.L.U. are used to mean Not Our Class, Dear and People Like Us. W.O.G. refers to Wealthy Oriental Gentleman or Wise Oriental Gentleman, depending on whom you ask for a definition. "Hawaiian," "Canadian," and "Eskimo" all have special meaning as well. I was told by one Palm Beach resident that Hawaiian refers to anyone who pronounces the phrase "how are you" as "how ahhh yaaa" (they are howahhhyaaa-n, or Hawaiian). Another Wasp told me that, at the establishment-incubating St. Paul's School in the early 1960s, Hawaiian was used to refer to anyone who was considered "trash." To say that someone is Canadian can mean that they are Jewish, and Eskimo that they are African American.
James Danziger notes that the issue of Vogue Italia following the acclaimed issue featuring only black models has zero black models in it.
How absolutely great, but now the August issue is out -- themed around a faux funeral photo tribute to Yves Saint Laurent -- and there's apparently not one black model to be found. This is especially ironic given the fact that Yves Saint Laurent was one of the first major designers to regularly feature black models in his runway shows. You would have thought they could have found room to at least fit Naomi Campbell in somewhere. Wouldn't she look chic in widow's weeds? This kind of tokenism ultimately seems a step backwards to me.
Here's a clip from the This American Life TV show about a hot dog joint in Chicago called The Wieners Circle. On weekend nights after the bars close, the staff and drunken patrons yell verbal abuse at one another like prison inmates or Jerry Springer's guests.
This, this free-for-all has doubled their business, Larry and Barry figure. They end up seeing a side of people that, honestly, changes how you feel about everybody. You really wish you never saw it.
There are several other Wieners Circle videos on YouTube, including one where a customer orders a chocolate shake, throws down $40, and one of the workers begins to take her shirt off. (via delicious ghost)
For its July 2008 issue, Vogue Italia is featuring only black models and feature articles about black women in arts and entertainment.
Having worked at one time with nearly all the models he chose for the black issue -- Iman, [Naomi] Campbell, Tyra Banks, Jourdan Dunn, [Liya] Kebede, [Alek] Wek, Pat Cleveland, Karen Alexander -- [photographer Steven] Meisel had his own feelings. "I thought, it's ridiculous, this discrimination," said Mr. Meisel, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. "It's so crazy to live in such a narrow, narrow place. Age, weight, sexuality, race -- every kind of prejudice."
Here's a slideshow of some of the images from the magazine. As I've said before, Vogue Italia is doing some interesting things with the editorial nature of the magazine's photography (see State of Emergency and Super Mods Enter Rehab, both by Steven Meisel).
Here's a few hundred words on why that Stuff White People Like site is "weak satire".
When black people dance, they dance like this. But when white people dance, they dance like this.
You have now essentially experienced every episode of "The Arsenio Hall Show." You have also now essentially read the entirety of Stuff White People Like, a comedic blog which may have recently popped up in your inbox, forwarded to you by an enthusiastic friend (him or herself no doubt, like the blog's author, white).
My take is somewhat shorter: it's just kinda dumb.
The Wall family asserts that they were held in slavery in Mississippi until 1961.
He worked the fields and milked cows for white families while believing he had no rights as a man. Peonage is a system where one is bound to service for payment of a debt. It was an illegal system that flourished in the rural South after slavery was abolished. Mr. Cain was born into this system believing that he was bound to these people that held him and his relatives captive. Being unable to read and write also stifled any opportunity that may have presented itself to the Mr. Cain because he was unable to decipher anything.
There's a video of a recent Nightline appearance the family made on YouTube. Nightline says that it was not able to confirm the family's story independently but notes that the US Justice Department prosecuted people for keeping slaves well into the 20th century. (via cynical-c)
Dr. James Watson, Nobel laureate:
He says that he is "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really", and I know that this "hot potato" is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true". He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because "there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don't promote them when they haven't succeeded at the lower level". He writes that "there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so".
Watson's comments have caused some controversy. (thx, demetrice, who says "this makes Wes Anderson look like Medgar Evers")
Wes Anderson and the movies he makes are racist. Point. Point. Counterpoint. Reminds me of the hubbub about the alleged racism in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation.
Louisiana pastor Eddie Thompson feels that the media and activists have gotten the story wrong about the Jena Six. In this article, he attempts to correct some of the misconceptions and erroneous statements made about the case.
The actions of the three white students who hung the nooses demonstrate prejudice and bigotry. However, they were not just given "two days suspension" as reported by national news agencies. After first being expelled, then upon appeal, being allowed to re-enter the school system, they were sent to an alternative school, off-campus, for an extended period of time. They underwent investigations by Federal and Sate authorities. They were given psychological evaluations. Even when they were eventually allowed back on campus they were not allowed to be a part of the general population for weeks.
The story of the Jena Six reveals only a small part of the discrimination in the American justice system.
The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group, released a state-by-state study of prison populations that identified where blacks endured the highest rates of incarceration. The top four states were South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Vermont; the top ten included Utah, Montana, and Colorado -- not places renowned for their African-American subcultures. In the United States today, driving while black -- or shoplifting while black, or taking illegal drugs, or hitting schoolmates -- often carries the greatest risk of incarceration, in comparison to the risk faced by whites, in states where people of color are rare, including a few states that are liberal, prosperous, and not a little self-satisfied. Ex-slave states that are relatively poor and have large African-American populations, such as Louisiana, display less racial disparity.
The story behind an iconic photo of Elizabeth Ekford, one of the Little Rock Nine on her way to the newly desegregated Central High School. Oddly, she became friends with the white girl in the photograph who yelled "Go home, nigger! Go back to Africa!" at her. Even stranger is the fact that Central High is *still* segregated, more or less:
Central High School looks as imposing as ever, but over the past 50 years, its innards have changed unimaginably: the school is now more than half black. It's all misleading, of course, because Central is really two different schools, separate and unequal, under one roof. The blacks go to different classes, sit on separate sides of the cafeteria, have different, and far lower, levels of performance and expectations.
The case of the Jena 6 is finally starting to get national attention. Buzzfeed has a nice collection of links to the coverage.
From the abstract of a new paper on the influence of the Ku Klux Klan by Roland Fryer and Steven Levitt:
Surprisingly, we find few tangible social or political impacts of the Klan. There is little evidence that the Klan had an effect on black or foreign born residential mobility, or on lynching patterns. Historians have argued that the Klan was successful in getting candidates they favored elected. Statistical analysis, however, suggests that any direct impact of the Klan was likely to be small. Furthermore, those who were elected had little discernible effect on legislation passed.
The full paper is available on Fryer's web site. (via mr)
"In September 2006, a group of African American high school students in Jena, Louisiana, asked the school for permission to sit beneath a 'whites only' shade tree. There was an unwritten rule that blacks couldn't sit beneath the tree. The school said they didn't care where students sat. The next day, students arrived at school to see three nooses (in school colors) hanging from the tree." Read more about the Jena 6 at While Seated and BBC News.
Uncle Ben has been promoted to chairman of his rice company. "[The new ads are] asking us to make the leap from Uncle Ben being someone who looks like a butler to overnight being a chairman of the board." (via designobserver)
Lots of discussion online about this Garrison Keillor piece in Salon where he seems to assert that gay parents shouldn't be flamboyant and immigrants, while siring lovely children, don't hold a candle to the white cowboys riding the plains. More than anything, this piece just confuses me...is he being truthful about his opinions or is he taking a less-than-successful swipe at himself and his outdated views? I can't really tell...more than anything, it seems poorly written.
Over the weekend, my thoughts kept returning to Michael Lewis' story about Michael Oher, a former homeless kid who may soon be headed for a sizeable NFL paycheck. Checking around online for reaction reveals a wide range of responses to the story. Uplifting sports story was the most common reaction, while others found it disturbing (my initial reaction), with one or two folks even accusing Lewis and the Times of overt racism. While Lewis left the story intentionally open-ended (that is, he didn't attempt to present any explicit lessons in the text itself), I believe he meant for us to find the story disturbing (or at least thought-provoking).
Just look at the way Lewis tells Oher's story. Oher is never directly quoted; it's unclear if he was even interviewed for this piece (although it's possible he was for another part of the book). Instead he is spoken about and for by his coaches, teachers, and new family...and as much as the article focuses on him, we don't get a sense of who Oher really is or what he wants out of life. (An exception is the great "put him on the bus" story near the end.) He's playing football, was adopted by a rich, white family, graduated from high school, and is attending college, but all that was decided for him and we never learn what Oher wants. Religion is referred to as a driving factor in his adopted family's efforts to help him. Again, no choice there...not even his family or school had any say in the matter, God told them they *had* to save this kid.
Then there's the sports angle, the parallels between Oher's lack of control over his own life and how professional athletes, many from poor economic backgrounds, are treated by their respective teams, leagues, owners, and fans. At one point, Lewis compares Oher's lack of enthusiasm for football's aggression to that of Ferdinand the Bull, a veiled reference to the perception of the professional athlete as an animal whose worth is measured in how big, strong, and fast he is.
So what you've got is a story about rich white people from the American South using religion to justify taking a potentially valuable black man from his natural environment and deciding the course of his life for him. Sound familiar? Perhaps I'm being a little melodramatic, but this can't just be an accident on Lewis' part. As I see it, Oher is Lewis' "blank slate" in a parable of contemporary America, a one-dimensional character representing black America who is, depending on your perspective, either manipulated, exploited, or saved by white America. Not that it's bad that Oher has a home, an education, and a family who obviously cares about him, but does the outcome justify the means? And could Oher even have contributed significantly to his direction in life when all this was happening? Who are we to meddle in another person's life so completely? Conversely, who are we to stand idly by when there are people who need help and we have the means to help them?
I'm not saying Lewis' story has any of the answers to these questions, but I would suggest that in a country where racial differences still matter and the economic gap between the rich and poor is growing, this is more than just an uplifting sports story.
A Pocket Guide to China, distributed to US troops during WWII, included a helpful cartoon called How to Spot a Jap, useful for telling enemy soldiers apart from "our Oriental allies", the Chinese. See also All Look Same. (thx, tabs)
The Daily Mail, with corroboration from the Times, has some information on what Marco Materazzi said to Zinedine Zidane to provoke the latter's career ending headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final (more info on that here). They both hired lip readers to decipher Materazzi's dialogue before the incident and this is allegedly what he said (translated from the Italian):
Hold on, wait, that one's not for a nigger like you.
We all know you are the son of a terrorist whore.
So just fuck off.
So it might be fair to say that Materazzi got what he deserved, as did Zidane when he got sent off. Not that two wrongs make a right. Even so, I agree with these thoughts from That's How It Happened:
[Zidane's] willingness to headbutt Materazzi makes him more of a hero, not less. Admittedly, since France went on to lose, he's something of a tragic hero, but a hero none-the-less. If someone insulted my race, or my religion (if I had one), I wish I'd be as ready to attack them, no matter what the circumstances. Zidane's action highlights for the world the fact that the racial unity of France is more important than winning the World Cup.
If the lip reader is correct in what Materazzi said, I may like Zidane even more than I did before the match. (via wikipedia)
Update: Eurosport has a statement from Materazzi:
I held his shirt for a few seconds only, he turned to me, looked at me from top to bottom with utmost arrogance (and said): "if you really want my shirt, I'll give it to you afterwards". I answered him with an insult.
Update: Several UK newspapers enlisted lip readers to determine what Materazzi said and ended up with many different accounts. Lip reading + language translation = unreliable. (thx, luke)
Jay-Z is banning Cristal champagne in his clubs after some "racist" comments by the champagne house's managing director in The Economist. I think Jay-Z is confusing race with culture here; I can't imagine two cultures that are more different from each other than American hip hop and French champagne production. Despite his hesitancy about discussing a culture unfamiliar to him, I thought the director essentially said that they aren't worried about the bling lifestyle association because it's ultimately good for business. (via bb)
Clip of Dj Spooky's "Rebirth of a Nation", a remix of D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" adapted from a Ku Klux Klan propaganda piece.
Racial disparities in tipping taxi drivers. African-American drivers were tipped 1/3 less than white drivers and African-American passengers tipped 50% less than white passengers.
The anti-white racism of the NBA. "The NBA is not a league for black, white, red, blue, or green people. It is a league for winners."
Ben Wallace, superstardom, selling out, and race in sports. "As racist as it really is, the fact that white people can walk around the Palace in fake black Afro wigs without black folks taking offense is a testament to the power of racial 'go beyond' that he has single-handedly generated."