kottke.org posts about racism

Ex-racists explain their conversionsOct 25 2013

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)

Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk initiative found unconstitutionalAug 12 2013

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.

Questlove: Trayvon Martin and I Ain't ShitJul 16 2013

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.

The "troublingly retrograde" YeezusJun 26 2013

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.

No "nigger" in new edition of Huck FinnJan 05 2011

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.

Say that they called you "honky"Sep 03 2009

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."

(via 3qd)

Black Like MeFeb 16 2009

Black Like Me

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)

WASP clubsSep 19 2008

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.

Black is back (to the end of the line)Jul 31 2008

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.

The Wieners CircleJul 23 2008

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)

Black models in Vogue ItaliaJun 20 2008

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 whyMar 18 2008

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.

Jourdan Dunn was the first black modelFeb 20 2008

Jourdan Dunn was the first black model to walk the catwalk for Prada since Naomi Campbell in 1997. "Wow, it's been a while" is right.

The Wall family asserts that they wereNov 13 2007

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)

Wes Anderson is racist.Oct 25 2007

Wes Anderson is racist.
Dr. James Watson is racist.
Tyler Perry critics are racist.
The fashion industry is racist.
Halle Berry is racist.
The Department of Homeland Security is racist.
Indie rock is racist.
Global warming is racist.
Martin Amis is racist.
Iggy Pop is racist.
Pixar is racist.
Michael Bay is racist.

Dr. James Watson, Nobel laureate:Oct 17 2007

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 makesOct 15 2007

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 theOct 03 2007

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.

(thx, james)

The story of the Jena Six revealsOct 01 2007

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 ofOct 01 2007

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 finallySep 21 2007

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 paperSep 18 2007

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 AmericanJun 27 2007

"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 chairmanMar 31 2007

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 GarrisonMar 16 2007

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.

Following three recent racial incidents (Michael Richards,Dec 04 2006

Following three recent racial incidents (Michael Richards, Michael Irvin, and Mel Gibson), Malcolm Gladwell considers a possible spectrum of racial remarks.

More on Big MikeSep 25 2006

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 toSep 15 2006

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)

Nice little history of Warren Moon, theAug 03 2006

Nice little history of Warren Moon, the NFL's first prominent black quarterback, on the occasion of his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame. (via a.whole)

The Zidane headbuttJul 10 2006

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.

(thx, blythe)

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 hisJun 16 2006

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 aSep 17 2005

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.

The United States According to My Racist AuntJul 27 2005

The United States According to My Racist Aunt.

Racial disparities in tipping taxi driversJul 18 2005

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 NBAJun 28 2005

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 sportsJun 20 2005

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."

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