Category Archives: Racism

We All Deserve Hell And Anything Better Warrants Profuse Gratitude

This is about the recent Baltimore riots and, more specifically, the reactions to it partly by people I know.  If you’re sick of hearing about this topic, be forewarned.  It is also likely to be long and meandering just like the conversation that sparked it.  I stayed out of the conversation because I did not want to interact with the kind of people which it attracted and I could not think of any constructive way to pithily say what needed to be said.  Plus, this is Facebook we’re talking about here.  Nuff said.

It all started with a friend posting a link to the Baltimore riots with the personal comment, “Looks like a great application for rubber bullets. There’s nothing that protects these people, as they are not “peacefully” protesting.”  Normally, I would let a tone-deaf and completely lacking of a shred of empathy comment go because, again, Facebook.  You have to pick your battles and the rest of the conversation got worse very quickly.  But since I’m here writing about it, rubber bullets kill people.  By making that comment, you’re basically condemning a certain amount of the rioters and likely some innocent bystanders to serious injury or death.  Not to mention, “these people”, seriously?  How you use words matter.  Using “these people”, “those people”, “you people” is using language couched in a very long history of racism.  You may not mean it as racist, but it sure makes you sound the part.  That a person would use language like that shows a profound lack of historical context at the very best.  How difficult would it to have come up with “these rioters”?

I continued to read the comments because I’m stupid.  What followed was, again, many comments that can, at the very best interpretation, be considered as showing a profound lack of historical context.  The one comment that really set my teeth on edge was from a person who apparently gets all her history lessons by reading Bill O’Reilly books because she said the following when commenting about how horrible these rioters are: “What did the black community in America do when Dr. King was shot? Murdered, some say, by the whites in power who didn’t want the blacks to be equal. What did they do? Burn down buildings? Throw bricks at cops? Etc? No. They MADE A DIFFERENT CHOICE.”  Holy fuck me with a sharp stick, Batman.  This comment shows just how completely Martin Luther King Jr.’s message has been usurped by the Right to attack any sort of violent actions by Blacks in America.  I felt sure that someone would have corrected that ahistorical drivel so I continued reading.  Not a single word.  For those of you that may be unaware, some of the worse rioting in American history happened after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  Hundreds of people were killed.  Not to mention, marches by the good Doctor also sometimes turned violent after severe provocation by police.  Police often are the instigators of riots either on purpose, Birmingham for example, or accidentally as some evidence out of Baltimore is now showing where it appears they prevented school children from getting home in a timely manner by cancelling bus and train routes that they use, thus forcing large groups to congregate in small spaces and then came at them with full riot gear.

The same woman also had the nerve to suggest that people would just ignore her opinion because she was white: “I’m not wrong. I’m just white, so my opinion doesn’t count, right?”  Um, no.  You are wrong because your opinions are so obviously based on a severe lack of understanding of the issues at hand that you should be embarrassed to even state an opinion.  This is a fundamental problem with humanity that causes many wrongs.  People feel like they need to have an opinion.  You don’t.  It’s ok to say, “Race relations in America have a complex and vast history and my life is too busy for me to even try to get into it so I’m going to just sit back and soak up the conversation about this topic I know nothing about.”  I don’t exclude myself from that criticism as, I’m sure, I am at times guilty of it.  That’s again why I try to pick my battles on Facebook to topics I know a fair amount about.

The conversation then turned Religulous.  The true source of these riots is lack of morals and loss of faith.  That sort of nonsense.  Things are bad now because of lack of faith in God, but things are better than they were then because of God.  My view is that things are as they always have been and very little has changed.  (*sarcasm* But Obama!)  Again, I tend to ignore stuff like this unless I have something useful to say and I would have this time too except that the original poster then said what you see in the subject line.  Here’s the entire context: “Most Americans believe that the world owes them something. Regardless of race, college students indicate that they deserve a job, those without means believe that they’re entitled to welfare, those without health insurance believe they’re entitled to health care, etc. Wealthy people and those in power feel they deserve the lifestyle they want, even at the expense of others. Most young people believe they deserve 15 minutes of fame. The fact is, people aught to care for one another and one another’s needs, but in the grand scheme of things, we all deserve hell and anything better warrants profuse gratitude.”  I am not sure I have ever heard a sentence more filled with poison than that last sentence.  That it is also couched in the context of a religion of supposed peace makes it all the more vile.  Anything better than hell warrants profuse gratitude.  Profusely grateful to whom?  I am poor and have cancer and my governor refused Medicaid expansion which means there’s no money to pay for my treatment and I’m going to die, but thank you government!  Profusely!  I lost my job because of the at best immoral and at worse illegal actions of a few people and the government rewards those people by bailing them out and not prosecuting them, but at least I get food stamps so I don’t die of starvation for a limited time dictated by a group of people who can not even begin to imagine the situation I am in, but thank you government!  Profusely!

There is an idiotic attack against Atheists that asks, If Atheists don’t believe in God how can they believe in right and wrong?  It’s idiotic because there are plenty of examples of Atheists being just as moral and upstanding as any Theists.  Not high praise, I know, but the point is Atheists are subject to the same mutually agreed upon morality as the rest of the world but just disagree with the source of said morality.  If religion in America is going to continue on the “we all deserve hell and anything better warrants profuse gratitude” track that it seems to be on, Atheists are going to win this morality battle just as surely as same-sex marriage proponents will win theirs.

I should also mention that I don’t mean to sound like the entire conversation was horrible.  There are some very intelligent and well thought out responses to a lot of what was talked about.  There are people, both black and white, that seem to get it.  We’re still a long way from the end of this particular conversation, though.

Happy Privilege Day!

Ah, there’s nothing like the post-Christmas food coma day to talk about the dichotomy of our society here in the United States.  Everybody’s off of work, nursing their hangovers or returning the crappy presents that their Aunt Matilda got them.  Well, except the people in retail who have to put up with all your over-privileged complaints.  Or the people who clean your houses and offices.  Or the people who pick your food.  Or the people who deliver your packages.  You know, all the people who get paid crap and keep the economic engine that we all depend on functioning normally.  Be nice to them.  Their job sucks way worse than yours does.

It is amazing how different downtown Chicago is on the day after Christmas (and I’d assume the day after Thanksgiving).  It’s like a ghost town.  Well, most of it is.  Chicago is a fairly heavily segregated city.  Even in downtown, where there are no hard and fast racial borders, it is noticeable.  Today, especially so.  Millennium Station, which on a normal day I would guess serves 60-70% Black people is almost 100% Black today, except for the line at Starbucks.  And speaking of Starbucks, there are Starbucks stores that are closed today!  I didn’t think that was possible, but if you work in a skyscraper with its own economic ecosystem and that ecosystem includes a Starbucks, chances are it and most of the other stores and shops and restaurants are closed.

The finer restaurants will be open today and the early staff of mostly Hispanics are patiently waiting for their almost assuredly White manager, who is late, to arrive for the day to open up for them.  I’d imagine that if they were late, the consequences would be dire.  They will cook our food and serve it to us privileged as we all enjoy a welcome and deserved respite from the toils of everyday life, completely oblivious to those surrounding us that every bit deserves the respite we enjoy, but do not have the social standing to demand one.  So tip them well.

Privilege isn’t anything to feel guilty about.  In fact, you should enjoy it!  But you should also recognize it.  A little introspection can go a long way and if you believe you got to where you are by sheer force of will, you are either deceiving yourself or you’re a complete dick.  The latter can  likely not be corrected, when you’re a dick you’re a dick all the way from your first cigarette to your last dying day, but self-deception can be fought against and it is worth fighting to become a more socially conscious individual.

Your Daily Dose of Dawwww!

Nothing like an unarmed black man being killed by a white police officer to bring out the undercurrents of racism that are prevalent in our society.  And nothing like a sham of a grand jury decision and the ensuing riots by a few bad apples to stir up the racists once again.  But I’m not here to complain about that.  I’m here to tell you that things will and are getting better.

I volunteer for an organization that provides lodging for children and their families when the children are in the hospital.  One of the things that we do for the children is bring them to this big old toy room and let them pick a toy of their choosing.  My last time there, I let a white girl who was about eight or so into the toy room and let her rummage around.  She came back to me a few minutes later and said that she couldn’t reach the toy that she wanted.  I went in to help her and she pointed up to the top shelf where there was perched a princess doll still in all of its packaging.  I reach up to grab it and I ask, “This one?”, and she nods so I grab it down from the shelf and hand it to her.  She looks at it momentarily says, “Thank you!”, and walks away.

The doll was black.

And just like that, a one minute interaction with an eight year old girl has renewed my hope that things will get better.

Pepsi Has Become The Official Drink Of Racists

I was listening to some unknown program on NPR the other day and these two people were talking about the infamous Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial that’s been the biggest topic of discussion to come out of the incredibly lackluster game.  It wa only like a 5 minute or so segment but it was both informative and hilarious.  The hilarious part came when they were talking about how brilliant the ad was and one said to the other something along the lines of, “With all the controversy over this ad, Pepsi has become the official drink of racists.”  If I were drinking Coke at the time, I would have snorted it out of my nose and that would have been painful.

The segment was very enlightening in other ways as well.  They also talked about how people use commercials like this to mostly feel better about themselves.  Kind of a “look at how not racist I am, I like this commercial” kind of thing.  Which, kudos to Coke for being able to tap into that.  It’s exactly what you want to do in a commercial; subliminally associate a product with feeling good about yourself.  They also mentioned that the racism surrounding the commercial is probably not as wide-spread as believed since almost every segment rehashed the same tweets, posts, Facebook updates, etc.  So the reality, in their minds, is more along the lines of this whole story being more of a feel good about ourselves circle jerk than a story worth talking about.

It was a cool segment.  I agree with everything they said except about the racism not being widely spread.  Using the same tweets is more along the lines of lazy journalism than a lack of evidence of wide-spread racism.  I don’t follow Twitter, but I certainly found a decent share of racist blog posts surrounding the ad.

I am also some sort of Racist Whisperer or something.  When the commercial came on, I jokingly yelled at the TV, “This is Murica, speak English!”  Of course, being racist is easy and that commercial was some really low hanging fruit.

I Dislike The Term African-American

Language is a strange animal.  String a few words together and they can evoke emotion and meaning far beyond what face value would imply.

A lot of people hate the term “African-American”.  Mostly, the people you hear railing against the term complain of political correctness run amok or some other such nonsense.  Despite their gross wrongness, I do share the anti-pc group’s distaste for the term “African-American”.  It took me a long time to be able to communicate why I dislike it so much.  I came to realize that, to me,  “African-American” has an Otherness to it.  Meaning a way to set a group of people apart from normal.  I am an “American”, you are an “African-American”.  Even the way it’s spoken implies Otherness.  It’s a very hard “African” followed by a slight pause then a soft “American” that kind of slips quietly off the tongue.  The implication is that when identifying a Black person, you know all you need to know from the first word and the second is just an additional identifier.

Another reason why I dislike the term “African-Americans” are the implications of the identities that our country (and Europeans) stole from the human beings who were brought over here as slaves.  Think about it, we have Indian-Americans and Japanese-Americans and Mexican-Americans.  And then there are African-Americans.  We so screwed up the continent of Africa that millions of people have lost their origin stories.  It is absolutely galling.  But it is done and nothing can change it.

My dislike for the term “African-American” has caused me to use the term “Black”.  I’m White, you’re Black, he’s Brown, she’s Yellow.  The problem is, there is certainly still an Otherness quality to it, though less so than “African-American” in my opinion.  But it’s still problematic.  It is still taking a large group of people (and a traditionally repressed people) and strips them of their individuality by reducing them to a color.

So what’s a person to do?

Well, first off, I would say that it’s almost never ok to describe an individual as African-American.  If you want to identify their nationality, they are American.  Period.  Full stop.  If you want to describe an individual, they can be a small letter color, but we really should be able to get beyond the black/white descriptions since the spectrum is so incredibly varied.  Not to mention the world is much more interesting with alabaster and ebony goddesses and creamy and mocha skin and burnt sienna Speakers of the House.

As a grouping of people, I’d propose a bit of word reversal.  Use “American-African” instead of “African-American”.  Being aware of your roots is very important, but most important is being able to recognize that you are an American citizen deserving of equal protection and equal rights and where you came from originally is of secondary importance.  The most important reason for the reversal, though, is the subtle reminder to others that use the word “American-African” that first and foremost, this person is in the same boat and not a different one.  The same would hold for American-Pakistanis or American-Indians, etc.  It may seem a little silly, but I believe word order matters.  If you’re describing anything, you tend to put the adjectives in the order of most important to least important and the listener pays greater attention to the first adjective than the second.

Yes, this is some real pie-in-the-sky thinking and yes, I fully recognized that I am an incredibly over-privileged white boy waxing philosophically about topics that I have zero practical experience with.  These are just my thoughts which may or may not be stupid.  Likely the former.  I’d be interested in what you think.

Two Big Wins For Criminal Justice

It’s been a good week for minorities in particular and criminal justice in general so far.  Minorities are being attacked on so many sides these days, it’s good to get a few wins in.

First, a judge has put an end to the abhorrently racist Stop And Frisk laws that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has imposed on the city.  What purports to allow police to frisk anyone they stop unshockingly ended up being a reason to harass mostly law abiding black people.  I’m sure Bloomberg will appeal, but I’m guessing Stop And Frisk is gone for good.  Good riddance!

Second, Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that they will greatly restrict their pursuit of non-violent Mandatory Minimum drug cases.  This one’s a bit more mealy mouthed, but still important.  Basically, the way I understand it is they will still prosecute offenders (which is bad in many cases) but will not present evidence that would require judges to enact Mandatory Minimum sentences on those convicted.  As with Stop And Frisk, Mandatory Minimum laws are blatantly racist.  They impose harsher minimums for smaller quantities of drugs more likely to be used by minorities while allowing lighter minimums for larger quantities of drugs more likely to be used by non-minorities.  This is more a step in the right direction than a win.  Mandatory sentencing laws are ridiculous and will still be law.  What Holder is proposing is kind of a trap door work around than a solution.  I’ll take it, though.

Finally Addressing The Problems With White Culture

Hurray for Chris Hayes.  Finally, someone in the mainstream media is addressing issues like white-on-white violence and the prevalent drug culture that pervades white youths.


Respectability Politics

I had never heard of the term “respectability politics” before this video, but it is grossly prevalent in our society whenever race is involved.  The context here is that Don Lemon, a CNN anchor, was taking about the Trayvon Martin shooting when he started talking about black people needing to pull their pants up.  That’s respectability politics.  Bringing up superficial issues of respectability when the issues at hand have nothing to do with it.  Trayvon wearing a hoodie was another example of respectability politics at play.


A Great Talk About Race In America

Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about Trayvon, President Obama, and the history of racism in America.  It’s a must watch.

But The City Is So Unsafe

If you know people who live in the burbs or the more rural areas of our fine country, chances are you’ve had a discussion about if it’s safe to go to the city.  There is this widely held belief that large cities are areas of barely controlled anarchy, that you’re taking your life in your hands just by going there.  Actually, it’s likely more dangerous where you live than in the big city.

I know someone who lives way out in the boonies and has worked in downtown Chicago every day for years.  The amount of crime that has occurred to his person while in Chicago can be counted on zero hands.  And yet, we had a conversation where he had to ask me if it was safe for his teenage daughter to come to Chicago with her friends.  I answered his inquiry the way I always answer it, “Are they coming to buy drugs?  No?  Then they’re as safe here as they are in their home town.”

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the problem is the news, or more to the point, what makes the news.  News organizations tend to be in big cities and big city stories tend to get covered more as a result.  Gang shootings on the South or West Side and “black thug flash mobs” get much more play than the meth lab bust in Kankakee.

The other problem is what we subconsciously choose to remember from the news we ingest.  There is a tinge of soft racism to this with most people.  It is amazing to me the amount of people who think that there are roving bands of black youth prowling the city of Chicago.  All because there are a couple of high profile instances of it a year.  But out of a million plus people that visit downtown Chicago every day, there are very few instances of actual violence.

And that brings us to the biggest factor in people thinking cities are more dangerous than the burbs: statistics.  Or, more accurately, a gross lack of understanding of basic statistics.  “But we’ve only had one murder in 10 years!”  Yeah, but you live in a city of 1000 people.  Guess what, your murder rate is the same as Chicago’s.

None of this is to say that Chicago is safe.  It’s just likely safer than wherever you’re from.  It doesn’t exactly make a great motto.  Chicago, you’re less likely to get killed here than whatever backwater you came from.