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kottke.org posts about racism

Closing the racial wealth gap: debunking 10 common myths

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2018

A report called What We Get Wrong About Closing the Racial Wealth Gap was released this month by a group of economists and researchers from Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. They report that the racial wealth gap in the United States is “large and shows no signs of closing”; this holds true at all levels in the wealth spectrum:

The white household living near the poverty line typically has about $18,000 in wealth, while black households in similar economic straits typically have a median wealth near zero. This means, in turn, that many black families have a negative net worth.

The 99th percentile black family is worth a mere $1,574,000 while the 99th percentile white family is worth over 12 million dollars. This means over 870,000 white families have a net worth above 12 million dollars, while, out of the 20 million black families in America, fewer than 380,000 are even worth a single million dollars. By comparison, over 13 million of the total 85 million white families are millionaires or better.

The authors then address ten common myths about the racial wealth gap, many of which are just straight-up racist — if only blacks just worked harder, saved more, learned more about financial literacy, etc. — particularly the one about black family disorganization:

The increasing rate of single parent households is often invoked to explain growing inequality, and the prevalence of black single motherhood is often seen as a driver of racial wealth inequities. These explanations tend to confuse consequence and cause and are largely driven by claims that if blacks change their behavior, they would see marked increases in wealth accumulation. This is a dangerous narrative that is steeped in racist stereotypes.

Single motherhood is a reflection of inequality, not a cause. White women still have considerably more wealth than black women, regardless whether or not they are raising children. In fact, single white women with kids have the same amount of wealth as single black women without kids. Recent research also reveals that the median single-parent white family has more than twice the wealth of the median black or Latino family with two parents. These data show that economic benefits that are typically associated with marriage will not close the racial wealth gap (Traub et al. 2017). Having the “ideal” family type does not enable black households to substantially reduce the racial gulf in wealth.

And overall, the authors conclude that the wealth gap is structural in nature, cannot be solved through the individual actions of blacks, and can only be solved through “a major redistributive effort or another major public policy intervention to build black American wealth”.

These myths support a point of view that identifies dysfunctional black behaviors as the basic cause of persistent racial inequality, including the black-white wealth disparity, in the United States. We systematically demonstrate here that a narrative that places the onus of the racial wealth gap on black defectiveness is false in all of its permutations.

We challenge the conventional set of claims that are made about the racial wealth gap in the United States. We contend that the cause of the gap must be found in the structural characteristics of the American economy, heavily infused at every point with both an inheritance of racism and the ongoing authority of white supremacy.

Gosh, it’s almost like if one group of people owned another group of people for hundreds of years — like the wealth of the group was literally the bodies, minds, and souls of the members of the other group — and then systematically and economically discriminated against them for another 100+ years, it’s nearly impossible for them to catch up. (via @eveewing)

Still Here

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2018

This short film by Ben Proudfoot features Melvin Dismukes, who was a private security guard during the Detroit race riot of 1967. Dismukes responded to a situation at the Algiers Motel and ended up being accused of murder, spending years trying to clear his name. In this film, Dismukes tells his story, which is intercut with scenes from Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, which features Star Wars’ John Boyega as Dismukes.

Dismukes also told his story to the Detroit Historical Society last year.

After getting outside there, you could hear gunfire coming from the area of the Algiers, Virginia Park area. National Guard showed up over there to find out what had happened on the corner, and they heard the shots also, so we started headed toward the Algiers, the other two guys that was working with me stayed at the store because we had to protect the store, needed somebody there. Went across the street to the Algiers, gunfire was still coming from the building, lots of gunfire, we couldn’t tell where the gunfire was really coming from. One of the policemen that was in the area with us told us to take out the streetlights. I would say I had a rifle, I didn’t have a shotgun, so the guys with the shotgun took out the streetlights. I had one guy what I thought was a sniper, because I’d seen a flash from a window in the Algiers, it was up on, I think it was the second floor. I fired at that guy, I missed the guy, that’s the only shot I fired during the whole riot, second shot I fired with the rifle. Prior to that, I fired my first day on the job on Sunday, I fired the rifle to get some people off the streets, you know, and they wouldn’t move, and they wanted to play the honky town thing, so fired the gun, the gun had never been fired before, so the barrel was full of oil, and when it went off, and there’s this dust you get flames coming out of it, and they hollered, “He’s got a flamethrower,” so they all turned around and started running.

An ignored 1968 US govt report: racism & inequality are drivers of urban violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2018

In response to unrest and riots in urban areas across the US in the mid-to-late 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson formed a commission to find out why it was happening. As Ariel Aberg-Riger’s illustrated piece relates, the resulting report, the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (more commonly known as the Kerner Report), was blunt in its conclusions: “Our Nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”

Kerner Report

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. endorsed the report, calling it “a physician’s warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life”. You can read the entire report here (or just the summary…it’s 13 pages long) and more on its impact (or lack thereof) at the NY Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and The Atlantic.

Facial recognition AIs have a hard time with dark skin

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2018

For her Gender Shades project, MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini fed over 1000 faces of different genders and skin tones into three AI-powered facial recognition systems from Microsoft, IBM, and Face++ to see how well they could recognize different kinds of faces.

The systems all performed well overall, but recognized male faces more readily than female faces and performed better on lighter skinned subjects than darker skinned subjects. For instance, 93.6% of gender misclassification errors by Microsoft’s system were of darker skinned people.

Gender Shades

Her message near the end of the video is worth heeding:

We have entered the age of automation overconfident yet underprepared. If we fail to make ethical and inclusive artificial intelligence, we risk losing gains made in civil rights and gender equity under the guise of machine neutrality.

National Geographic: “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2018

As part of their issue on race, National Geographic asked historian John Edwin Mason to dive into their archives to examine the magazine’s past coverage of people of color, both in the US and abroad. What he found was not pretty.

What Mason found in short was that until the 1970s National Geographic all but ignored people of color who lived in the United States, rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers or domestic workers. Meanwhile it pictured “natives” elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages — every type of cliché.

Unlike magazines such as Life, Mason said, National Geographic did little to push its readers beyond the stereotypes ingrained in white American culture.

“Americans got ideas about the world from Tarzan movies and crude racist caricatures,” he said. “Segregation was the way it was. National Geographic wasn’t teaching as much as reinforcing messages they already received and doing so in a magazine that had tremendous authority. National Geographic comes into existence at the height of colonialism, and the world was divided into the colonizers and the colonized. That was a color line, and National Geographic was reflecting that view of the world.”

Some of what you find in our archives leaves you speechless, like a 1916 story about Australia. Underneath photos of two Aboriginal people, the caption reads: “South Australian Blackfellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings.”

A laudable move, particularly for a publication owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Like a (wo)man without a country

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 09, 2018

The animated short “Your Black Friend,” based on the comic series by Ben Passmore, is a humorous and heartbreaking look at a very real topic. The film was temporarily removed from Facebook due to alt-right trolls earlier this year.

A special hardcover collection of Passmore’s comics series is out soon. It’s a vivid look at life and race in the backdrop of New Orleans.

(thanks Pete)

Reaction GIFs and digital blackface

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2017

In the latest installment of the newish video series Internetting with Amanda Hess, Hess discusses The White Internet’s Love Affair with Digital Blackface. From Teen Vogue, an explanation of digital blackface by Lauren Michelle Jackson:

Adore or despise them, GIFs are integral to the social experience of the Internet. Thanks to a range of buttons, apps, and keyboards, saying “it me” without words is easier than ever. But even a casual observer of GIFing would notice that, as with much of online culture, black people appear at the center of it all. Or images of black people, at least. The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Oprah, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, NBA players, Tiffany Pollard, Kid Fury, and many, many other known and anonymous black likenesses dominate day-to-day feeds, even outside online black communities. Similar to the idea that “Black Vine is simply Vine,” as Jeff Ihaza determined in The Awl, black reaction GIFs have become so widespread that they’ve practically become synonymous with just reaction GIFs.

If you’ve never heard of the term before, “digital blackface” is used to describe various types of minstrel performance that become available in cyberspace. Blackface minstrelsy is a theatrical tradition dating back to the early 19th century, in which performers “blacken” themselves up with costume and behaviors to act as black caricatures. The performances put society’s most racist sensibilities on display and in turn fed them back to audiences to intensify these feelings and disperse them across culture. Many of our most beloved entertainment genres owe at least part of themselves to the minstrel stage, including vaudeville, film, and cartoons. While often associated with Jim Crow-era racism, the tenets of minstrel performance remain alive today in television, movies, music and, in its most advanced iteration, on the Internet.

Eminem blasts Donald Trump in new freestyle

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2017

In a freestyle rap that aired at the BET Hip Hop Awards last night, Eminem blasted Donald Trump for his racism, false patriotism, deceit, and disrespect of military veterans, among other things. Watch it if you haven’t…the man is angry, as are many of us. The lyrics to the freestyle are on Genius:

He says, “You’re spittin’ in the face of vets who fought for us, you bastards!”
Unless you’re a POW who’s tortured and battered
‘Cause to him you’re zeros
‘Cause he don’t like his war heroes captured
That’s not disrespecting the military
Fuck that! This is for Colin, ball up a fist!
And keep that shit balled like Donald the bitch!
“He’s gonna get rid of all immigrants!”
“He’s gonna build that thing up taller than this!”
Well, if he does build it, I hope it’s rock solid with bricks
‘Cause like him in politics, I’m using all of his tricks
‘Cause I’m throwin’ that piece of shit against the wall ‘til it sticks
And any fan of mine who’s a supporter of his
I’m drawing in the sand a line: you’re either for or against
And if you can’t decide who you like more and you’re split
On who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you with this:
“Fuck you!”
The rest of America stand up
We love our military, and we love our country
But we fucking hate Trump

As you can read, Eminem is really calling out his white fan base here, something that Elon James White mentioned in this Twitter thread:

So basically Trump, a grade A troll just got trolled by a bigger more experienced troll. Eminim trolls every album & he chose 45 this time. White dudes who thought Eminem was [their] voice, all angry and White at home right now like [What do I doooooooooooo!?] And y’all know Eminem is petty. If 45 responds he’ll have 3 diss tracks in a week. If 45 doesn’t he will be shat on as weak AF & a punk. And a lot of White folks who may have been sitting this whole shit storm out just had their fav rapper call them dafuq out.

White also addressed the misogyny and homophobia in Eminem’s music:

And as for his music catalogue of misogyny and homophobia…
.
.
.
That empty space is called me not defending ANY of it one bit. Notice I didn’t say “everyone should go buy Eminem albums!” “SUPPORT THIS ARTIST!” I was commenting on the freestyle & how it will play. I haven’t bought an Eminem album since I was a young punk. But my support or lack thereof doesn’t negate his skill or his platform.

On Seneca Village, torn down to make way for Central Park

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2017

Seneca Village

Written and illustrated by Ariel Aberg-Riger, The City Needed Them Out tells the story of Seneca Village, a predominantly black NYC neighborhood destroyed in the 1850s to make way for Central Park. This article in the NY Times from July 9, 1856 expressed the city’s sentiment about the village and its inhabitants.

Seneca Village

Taking a knee

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Late last week, Donald Trump called any NFL player who kneels during the national anthem protesting police brutality a “son of a bitch” (recall that this is the President of the United States we’re talking about here) and said they should be fired (Ha! He said his catchphrase! From that TV show!). Naturally, NFL players took exception to this and over the weekend, many many more players kneeled, sat, or no-showed during the anthem. And there were many takes, from political commentators and sports journalists alike. One of the best was from Dallas sports anchor Dale Hansen, who deftly cut to the core of the matter in a short monologue:

Donald Trump has said he supports a peaceful protest because it’s an American’s right… But not this protest, and there’s the problem: The opinion that any protest you don’t agree with is a protest that should be stopped.

Martin Luther King should have marched across a different bridge. Young, black Americans should have gone to a different college and found a different lunch counter. And college kids in the 60’s had no right to protest an immoral war.

I served in the military during the Vietnam War… and my foot hurt, too. But I served anyway.

My best friend in high school was killed in Vietnam. Carroll Meir will be 18 years old forever. And he did not die so that you can decide who is a patriot and who loves America more.

The young, black athletes are not disrespecting America or the military by taking a knee during the anthem. They are respecting the best thing about America. It’s a dog whistle to the racists among us to say otherwise.

They, and all of us, should protest how black Americans are treated in this country. And if you don’t think white privilege is a fact, you don’t understand America.

Here’s a text transcript…it’s worth reading or watching. See also Bob Costas’ interview on CNN and Shannon Sharpe’s comments.

“What people mean when they say all white people are racist”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2017

Cosmetics giant L’Oreal recently fired Munroe Bergdorf for her comments regarding the white supremacist terror acts in Charlottesville. Bergdorf, a black transgender model hired as the face of the company’s diversity campaign, wrote on Facebook:

Honestly I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people any more. Yes ALL white people.

Because most of ya’ll don’t even realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege and success as a race is built on the backs, blood and death of people of colour. Your entire existence is drenched in racism. From micro-aggressions to terrorism, you guys built the blueprint for this s***.

In a piece for Quartz, Aamna Mohdin explains what people mean when they say all white people are racist; it involves institutional/systemic racism vs. individual racism (the media tells us much more about the latter than the former) and who holds the power in American society.

It’s complicated. In a follow-up statement, Bergdorf said she was addressing society as a whole and a system “rooted in white supremacy-designed to benefit, prioritize and protect white people before anyone of any other race.” She argues that white people are socialized to be racist, just as men are socialized to be sexist. The onus is on each person to “unlearn” that socialization, she adds.

What Bergdorf appeared to be talking about is systemic racism — the kind based in historical inequities that has ongoing wide-reaching effects, from economic marginalization to daily microaggressions to unequal treatment in the criminal justice system — as distinct from individual racism.

A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2017

Before yesterday, I never wanted to hear or read about Dylann Roof ever again. But Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s superb piece in GQ about what led Roof to commit his terroristic act is very much worth reading.

Felicia Sanders, one of the few survivors, told the courtroom early on that Roof belonged in the pit of hell. Months later, she said that because of him she can no longer close her eyes to pray. She can’t stand to hear the sound of firecrackers, or even the patter of acorns falling. Because of Dylann Roof, Felicia Sanders had been forced to play dead by lying in her dying son’s blood, while holding her hand over her whimpering grandbaby’s mouth. She had pressed her hand down so tight that she said she feared she would suffocate the girl. Eighteen months later, Felicia Sanders pointed that same hand toward Dylann Roof in the courtroom and said, with no doubt in her voice at all, that it was simple — that man there was “pure evil.”

Their vitriol was warranted but also unexpected, since in most of the press coverage of the shooting it had largely been erased. Almost every white person I spoke with in Charleston during the trial praised the church’s resounding forgiveness of the young white man who shot their members down. The forgiveness was an absolution of everything. No one made mention that this forgiveness was individual, not collective. Some of the victims and their families forgave him, and some of them did not. No one acknowledged that Dylann Roof had not once apologized, shown any remorse, or asked for this forgiveness. Or the fact that with 573 days to think about his crime, Dylann Roof stood in front of the jurors and, with that thick, slow tongue of his, said without any hesitation whatsoever, “I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.”

On the first morning that Felicia Sanders testified, I was seated directly behind Dylann Roof’s mother, and because she is skin and bones, it was apparent that she was having some kind of fit. She trembled and shook until her knees buckled and she slid slowly onto the bench, mouth agape, barely moving. She said, over and over again, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She seemed to be speaking to her boyfriend, but maybe it was meant for Felicia Sanders, who was soon to take the stand. A communiqué that was a part of the bond that mothers have, one that was brought up by the radiant shame one must feel when your son has wreaked unforgivable havoc on another mother’s child. Whatever it was, it was Gothic.

Heritage, racism, and Confederate flags in New England

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2017

Back in 2015, Emily Heath wrote for HuffPost:

I saw your truck parked in front of the Rite-Aid, right by the Dunkin Donuts. Two large Confederate flags were attached to the back of it, waving in the wind. The American flag was, incongruously, in the center. And, I have to confess, I don’t get it.

Part of me wanted to ask obvious questions: You know you are in New Hampshire, right? And, you know New Hampshire was not a part of the Confederacy?

I ask this because I’m not so sure you do. Here we are in a northern town, a place that gave her sons up to the Union Army and lost them on the battlefields of the Civil War. A place where locals organized early against slavery and led the charge against it across the country. A place where 150 years ago that flag would have been seen as a symbol of treason.

I live in Vermont. It’s a pretty liberal place; along with Hawaii, Vermont had the lowest statewide level of support for Trump in the 2016 election. But it is also a very white place…the second whitest state in the US as of the last census. Earlier this week, I drove past a house with the Confederate flag hanging on a flagpole in the front yard, right below the American flag. It’s not something you see super-often, but you do see it, along with Blue Lives Matter bumper stickers, Take Back Vermont signs painted on barns, and the perhaps well-intentioned older white couple holding up “We Believe Black Lives Matter Because All Lives Matter” signs on a small town sidewalk after the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville. Last year at the Champlain Valley Fair, there were multiple vendors selling Confederate flags, shirts, bandanas, and the like.

I am inclined to agree with Heath on this: the display of the Confederate flag is racist.

I think you believe that the flag brands you as a “rebel” or somehow honors your outlook on life. It doesn’t. It brands you as a racist. You may not think you are one, but flying that flag is a racist act.

I know that right now you are saying, “But I’m not a racist!” “Heritage, not hate!” But this isn’t your heritage. It’s mine. And it is hate. And it is racism. And every time you put that flag on the back of your car, we all go back in time a little. And the past wasn’t so great for many of our neighbors.

(via @chrispiascik)

The paradox of tolerance

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2017

Corey Long Charlottesville

In his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies, political philosopher Karl Popper asserted that tolerance need not be extended to those who are intolerant.

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

The last part bears repeating:

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

The photo above was taken by Steve Helber of Charlottesville resident Corey Long pointing an improvised flamethrower at a group of white supremacists this past weekend. Yesha Callahan of The Root interviewed Long about that moment:

“At first it was peaceful protest,” Long said softly as he spoke. “Until someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”

Long said the only weapon he had was a can of spray paint that a white supremacist threw at him earlier, so he took a lighter to the spray paint and turned it into a flame thrower. And a photographer snapped the photo.

But inside every photograph is an untold story. If you look closely at Long’s picture, there’s an elderly white man standing in between Long and his friend. The unknown man was part of the counterprotests, too, but was afraid, and Long and his friends were trying to protect him. Even though, Long says, those who were paid to protect the residents of Charlottesville were doing just the opposite.

From VICE News Tonight and HBO, an up-close look at the terrorism in Charlottesville

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2017

This is perhaps the best on-the-ground view of what went down in Charlottesville over the weekend. It’s graphic in spots. Prepare to get angry and sad and frustrated and scared.

On Saturday hundreds of white nationalists, alt-righters, and neo-Nazis traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia to participate in the “Unite the Right” rally. By Saturday evening three people were dead — one protester, and two police officers — and many more injured.

“VICE News Tonight” correspondent Elle Reeve went behind the scenes with white nationalist leaders, including Christopher Cantwell, Robert Ray, David Duke, and Matthew Heimbach — as well as counter-protesters. VICE News Tonight also spoke with residents of Charlottesville, members of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Charlottesville Police.

From the neo-Nazi protests at Emancipation Park to Cantwell’s hideaway outside of Virginia, “VICE News Tonight” provides viewers with exclusive, up close and personal access inside the unrest.

See also Here’s What Really Happened in Charlottesville.

What is it like to be white?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2017

Here’s Fran Lebowitz talking about race in the US in a 1997 Vanity Fair interview:

The way to approach it, I think, is not to ask, “What would it be like to be black?” but to seriously consider what it is like to be white. That’s something white people almost never think about. And what it is like to be white is not to say, “We have to level the playing field,” but to acknowledge that not only do white people own the playing field but they have so designated this plot of land as a playing field to begin with. White people are the playing field. The advantage of being white is so extreme, so overwhelming, so immense, that to use the word “advantage” at all is misleading since it implies a kind of parity that simply does not exist.

It is now common — and I use the word “common” in its every sense — to see interviews with up-and-coming young movie stars whose parents or even grandparents were themselves movie stars. And when the interviewer asks, “Did you find it an advantage to be the child of a major motion-picture star?” the answer is invariably “Well, it gets you in the door, but after that you’ve got to perform, you’re on your own.” This is ludicrous. Getting in the door is pretty much the entire game, especially in movie acting, which is, after all, hardly a profession notable for its rigor. That’s how advantageous it is to be white. It’s as though all white people were the children of movie stars. Everyone gets in the door and then all you have to do is perform at this relatively minimal level.

Additionally, children of movie stars, like white people, have at — or actually in — their fingertips an advantage that is genetic. Because they are literally the progeny of movie stars they look specifically like the movie stars who have preceded them, their parents; they don’t have to convince us that they can be movie stars. We take them instantly at face value. Full face value. They look like their parents, whom we already know to be movie stars. White people look like their parents, whom we already know to be in charge. This is what white people look like — other white people. The owners. The people in charge. That’s the advantage of being white. And that’s the game. So by the time the white person sees the black person standing next to him at what he thinks is the starting line, the black person should be exhausted from his long and arduous trek to the beginning.

(via @amirtalai)

Systemic racism in America explained in just three minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

This short video shows several ways in which systemic racism is still very much alive and well in the United States in 2017. See also Race Forward’s video series featuring Jay Smooth.

“What Is Systemic Racism?” is an 8-part video series that shows how racism shows up in our lives across institutions and society: Wealth Gap, Employment, Housing Discrimination, Government Surveillance, Incarceration, Drug Arrests, Immigration Arrests, Infant Mortality… yes, systemic racism is really a thing.

The reason why this matters should be obvious. Just like extra effort can harness the power of compound interest in knowledge and productivity, even tiny losses that occur frequently can add up to a large deficit. If you are constantly getting dinged in even small ways just for being black, those losses add up and compound over time. Being charged more for a car and other purchases means less life savings. Less choice in housing results in higher prices for property in less desirable neighborhoods, which can impact choice of schools for your kids, etc. Fewer callbacks for employment means you’re less likely to get hired. Even if you do get the job, if you’re late for work even once every few months because you get stopped by the police, you’re a little more likely to get fired or receive a poor evaluation from your boss. Add up all those little losses over 30-40 years, and you get exponential losses in income and social status.

And these losses often aren’t small at all, to say nothing of drug offenses and prison issues; those are massive life-changing setbacks. The war on drugs and racially selective enforcement have hollowed out black America’s social and economic core. There’s a huge tax on being black in America and unless that changes, the “American Dream” will remain unavailable to many of its citizens.

Why the mayor of New Orleans had Confederate statues torn down

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2017

New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu recently gave a speech about why the city chose to remove four Confederate monuments. Here’s a snippet from the transcript…it’s worth reading or watching in full.

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.

First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.

It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.

These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.

The presence of the monuments became something that was impossible for Landrieu and the city to ignore for any longer:

Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

The NYPD’s doppelganger problem and racially unfair policing

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2017

Lisa Davis Lisa Davis

For years, a white woman named Lisa Davis was paying the price (sometimes literally) for tickets issued to other women named Lisa Davis living in NYC.

Finally, the DMV told me that I wasn’t the victim of identity theft; there was simply another Lisa S Davis with the same birthday in New York City. Our records were crossed. When cops run a license, they don’t check the person’s address, signature, or social security numbers. They check the name and the birthday, and both the other Lisa S Davis’s and mine were the same. We were, in the eyes of the law, one person, caught in a perfect storm of DMV and NYPD idiocy.

In fighting all of these improperly filed tickets, Davis learned that most of them issued for bullshit “broken windows” misdemeanors in predominately minority neighborhoods.

It was then that it became clear to me: the reason for the tickets wasn’t that these Lisa Davises were petty criminals. The reason was likely that they lived in highly policed areas where even the smallest infractions are ticketed, the sites of “Broken Windows” policing. The reason, I thought, was that they weren’t white.

That could have been the “proof” I offered to the judge. Brownsville’s population is less than 1% white. It almost couldn’t have been me. My neighborhood, though fairly diverse (and cheap) when I moved there in the early 90s, is now 76% white. I have never heard of anyone getting tickets in my neighborhood for any of the infractions committed by the Lisa Davises in neighborhoods of color.

I felt there was only one thing to do. I had to find the Lisa Davises, to untangle myself from them, to talk to them about being Lisa Davises, and to see if they agreed with my supposition: that the real “crime” they had committed was being non-white.

See also Pro Publica’s report published today, Minority Neighborhoods Pay Higher Car Insurance Premiums Than White Areas With the Same Risk.

The state-fueled slavery of the Alabama coal mining industry

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

Alabama Coal Slavery

From Ariel Aberg-Riger, a visual story for CityLab’s series on power about how, for decades, Alabama purposely imprisoned young black men on trumped-up charges in order to rent them out as de facto slaves to the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company, which grew fat on the cheap, coerced labor.

TCI, as it was known — was wildly profitable. Period accounts attribute the company’s booming success to the “sage” “energetic” “accomplished” entrepreneurial white developers of “intrepidity and public spirit” who capitalized upon the “admirable richness of the coal flora of Alabama.” But the true key to TCI’s “profits” lay in a deadly contract the company managed to negotiate with the state of Alabama in 1888.

(thx, david)

OJ: Made in America is about more than just OJ

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2017

Ezra Edelman’s fantastic documentary OJ: Made in America won the Oscar for best documentary this year. In a video for Fandor, Joel Bocko explains while the film’s focus is on Simpson, it also explores seven broader themes about contemporary America: sports, the media, Los Angeles, class, domestic abuse, policing, and race.

OJ: Made in America emerges not simply as a brilliant biography, it’s also a stunning social portrait that can stand beside any novel, epic film, or piece of longform journalism.

And in this video for The Atlantic, Edelman explains how, before murdering his ex-wife, Simpson was an advertising pioneer, the first black athlete to become a nationally known product pitchman, appearing in commercials for Hertz, Chevy, and Schick.

One of the most interesting aspects of Edelman’s film is how Simpson’s feelings about being black shifted after his arrest. For most of his life, he distanced himself from the black community, famously declaring “I’m not black, I’m OJ.” He didn’t get involved in the politics of the day or speak out like Muhammed Ali and other prominent black athletes did. He enjoyed preferential treatment by the LAPD, who help him keep his abuse of women under wraps. Black America had nothing to offer a man who enjoyed being rich and famous in white America. But then the trial happened and he hired Johnny Cochran, who made race into the central issue of the case, deftly aligning Simpson with a black community who had endured decades of racism and brutality in LA at the hands of society and the police.

Hidden Figures

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2017

I finally got the chance to see Hidden Figures the other day. Recommended. It’s a science/space story in the vein of Apollo 13, but the twin engines of the film are the three excellent lead actresses — Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer & Janelle Monáe — and the persistent portrayal of the systemic biases of segregation and sexism. You watch this movie and think, how much higher could the human race have flown if women and people of color had always had the same opportunities as white men?1 How many Katherine Johnsons never got the chance to develop and use their skills in math, science, or technology because of their skin color or gender? Our society wastes so much energy and human lives telling people what they can’t do rather than empowering them to show everyone what they can do.

Hidden Figures was adopted from Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name. The film takes some dramatic license with the timing of certain events but overall is historically accurate.

The film primarily focuses on John Glenn’s 1962 trip around the globe and does add dramatic flourishes that are, well, Hollywood. However, most of the events in the movie are historically accurate. Johnson’s main job in the lead-up and during the mission was to double-check and reverse engineer the newly-installed IBM 7090s trajectory calculations. As it shows, there were very tense moments during the flight that forced the mission to end earlier than expected. And John Glenn did request that Johnson specifically check and confirm trajectories and entry points that the IBM spat out (albeit, perhaps, not at the exact moment that the movie depicts). As Shetterly wrote in her book and explained in a September NPR interview, Glenn did not completely trust the computer. So, he asked the head engineers to “get the girl to check the numbers… If she says the numbers are good… I’m ready to go.”

You can view Johnson’s published reports on NASA’s site, including her initial technical report from 1960 on the Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position.

  1. I’m using the past tense here, but I am definitely not saying that women and people of color now possess those same opportunities. Take a quick look at the current racial and gender wage gaps in the US and you’ll see that they still do not.

Black parents talk to their kids about the police

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2017

Not going to say much about this one. Just watch it…especially if somehow, as a curious, thoughtful person who reads this site regularly, you are unaware of how many in the black community feel about the police and that they have conversations like this with their children about those who are supposed to protect and serve people.

The Senate stops Elizabeth Warren from reading a letter from Coretta Scott King

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2017

Coretta King Letter Sessions

Last night, during the Senate confirmation hearing of Senator Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III1 for Attorney General, Senator Elizabeth Warren attempted to read a letter that Coretta Scott King had written to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 opposing Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship (which he did not get).

The first page of the letter appears above and the entire contents may be read here. King pretty plainly states that Sessions abused his position in an attempt to disenfranchise black voters:

Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.

Under Senate Rule XIX and after two votes by the full Senate, Warren was barred from speaking and finishing the letter.

When Warren first spoke against Sessions Tuesday night, Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, warned her that she was breaking the rules. When she continued anyway, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell retaliated by finding her in violation of Senate Rule XIX — which prevents any senator from using “any form of words [to] impute to another Senator… any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”

Warren later read the letter outside of the Senate chambers. How the Senate is supposed to debate the appointment of a Cabinet member without being able to criticize the actions, words, and beliefs of that candidate is left as an exercise to the reader. (Ok, I’ll answer anyway: it’s not supposed to debate. That’s the entire point of the Republicans’ actions w/r/t Trump’s political nominees thus far.)

King’s letter, which Buzzfeed called “a key part of the case against Sessions [in 1986]” was only published earlier this week in part because Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond never officially entered it into the congressional record. Thurmond, you may remember, vehemently opposed the civil rights reforms of the 50s and 60s, even going so far as filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for more than 24 hours and switching political parties because of the Democrats’ support of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

And Senate Rule XIX? Cornell Law School professor James Grimmelmann notes the precedent:

Let’s be clear on the precedent here: it’s the 1836-44 gag rule that forbade any consideration of abolition in the House.

Racist southern representatives were so frustrated by abolitionist petitions to Congress, that they adopted a series of rules.

All abolitionist petitions would immediately be tabled, and any attempt to introduce them would be prohibited.

From pro-slavery members of the House to Davis to Beauregard to Thurmond to Trump (and Bannon) to Sessions to McConnell (and the nearly all-white Republican majority). Paraphrasing Stephen Hawking, it’s white supremacy all the way down. Gosh, if you’re a black person in America, you might even think the system is tilted against you!

P.S. I like this part of Senate Rule XIX, right at the bottom:

8. Former Presidents of the United States shall be entitled to address the Senate upon appropriate notice to the Presiding Officer who shall thereupon make the necessary arrangements.

I’m not sure what it would accomplish, but seeing a former President address this Senate, after an appropriate period spent kiteboarding, would be pretty fun to watch.

P.P.S. In silencing Warren, McConnell said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Not a bad explanation of the feminist movement in America there, Mitch. Folks on Twitter are having fun with the #shepersisted hashtag.

She Persisted

Update: While the precedent for Senate Rule XIX dates back to the abolition debates in the 1830s and 1840s, the actual rule was made after a fight broke out in the Senate in 1902. From a book called The American Senate: An Insider’s Story:

South Carolina’s “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman accused his South Carolina colleague, John McLaurin, of selling his vote for federal patronage. McLaurin called Tillman a malicious liar. Tillman lunged at him, striking him above the left eye. McLaurin hit Tillman back with an upper-cut to the nose.

Given the history of this rule and how it was recently applied, you will perhaps not be surprised to learn that Tillman was an outspoken advocate of lynching, once remarking in a speech:

“[We] agreed on on the policy of terrorizing the Negroes at the first opportunity by letting them provoke trouble and then having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable.” (Tillman boasted during the same speech that his pistol had been used to execute seven black men in 1876.)

So we can squeeze Tillman in-between Beauregard and Thurmond in the abbreviated narrative of how it came to be that a white majority Senate silenced a white woman for reading a letter written by a black woman.

  1. Let’s look at his name for a second. Jeff Sessions was named after his father and grandfather, the latter of whom was born in Alabama in mid-April 1861, just a month after P.G.T. Beauregard became the first general of the Confederacy and two months after Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as president of the Confederacy. The name that Jeff Sessions’ great-grandparents gave their son could hardly have been an accident and indeed the family was so proud of this Confederate name that they used it twice more — in 1913, when Jeff’s father was born, and in 1946, when Jeff was born.

I Am Not Your Negro

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2017

This is the trailer for I Am Not Your Negro, a film that “finishes” a book that writer James Baldwin was working on when he died.

In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends — Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript.

Now, in his incendiary new documentary, master filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished. The result is a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin’s original words and flood of rich archival material. I Am Not Your Negro is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter. It is a film that questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond. And, ultimately, by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassination of these three leaders, Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges the very definition of what America stands for.

The reviews so far are uniformly positive.

I don’t know about you, but those clips of Baldwin speaking in the trailer piqued my interest, so I’m going to make some time tonight to watch some Baldwin talks, speeches, and debates on YouTube: a 1969 talk in London, a 1963 debate with Malcolm X (audio only), a 1963 panel on civil rights w/ Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, and Charlton Heston, and his 1965 debate with William F. Buckley on the question “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?”

How Do I Explain America to My Black Son?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2017

In November, shortly after the election, Vann Newkirk wrote an article for The Atlantic called This Is Who We Are, a reflection on racism in America.

At a gas station just outside of Rockingham, serendipity found us. As we pulled up to the pump, just there in front of our car was Mr. Confederate Plate, leaning like all villains do against the side of his car. I’m not sure who recognized whom first, but I remember the shouting match, and Mr. Confederate Flag calling my father the one name he would never answer to, looking at me and saying the same, and then pantomiming that he had a gun in the car. I remember looking around at similar flags on another truck and inside the gas station, and knowing instinctively that we were not in friendly territory. I also remember my father shaking with rage and that same hot shame as my own when he climbed back in the truck.

After another cussing fit, Vann Newkirk Sr. looked at me and said the thing that’s always stuck with me since. “This is who we are,” he told me. “Don’t forget.” And we went back down the road.

The piece was adapted into the short video above. Both are worth your time.

A powerful memorial to racial terror lynchings

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2016

Lynching Soil

The Equal Justice Initiative is filling jars with soil from the sites of lynchings to honor the victims and to create a memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

Between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. EJI has documented more than 4000 racial terror lynchings in 12 Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950 — several hundred of these victims were lynched in Alabama.

Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West in the first half of the 20th century. Lynching created a fearful environment in which racial subordination and segregation were maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America.

Rob Holmes recently visited and took some photos of the jars…just row after row of them. “Stunning,” he said.

Update: See also this map of lynchings in the US.

Five Steps to Tyranny

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2016

In 2000, the BBC broadcast an hour-long documentary called Five Steps to Tyranny, a look at how ordinary people can do monstrous things in the presence of authority.

Horrific things happen in the world we live in. We would like to believe only evil people carry out atrocities. But tyrannies are created by ordinary people, like you and me.

[Colonel Bob Stewart:] “I’d never been to the former Yugoslavia before in my life, so what actually struck me about the country was how beautiful it was, how nice people were, and yet how ghastly they could behave.”

The five steps are:

  1. “us” and “them” (prejudice and the formation of a dominant group)
  2. obey orders (the tendency to follow orders, especially from those with authority)
  3. do “them” harm (obeying an authority who commands actions against our conscience)
  4. “stand up” or “stand by” (standing by as harm occurs)
  5. exterminate (the elimination of the “other”)

To illustrate each step, the program uses social psychology experiments and explorations like Jane Elliott’s blue eyes/brown eyes exercise on discrimination, the Stanford prison experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo (who offers commentary throughout the program), and experiments by Stanley Milgram on obedience, including his famous shock experiment, in which a participant (the “teacher”) is directed to shock a “learner” for giving incorrect answers.

The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time. There were 30 switches on the shock generator marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger — severe shock).

The “learners” were in on the experiment and weren’t actually shocked but were told to react as if they were. The results?

65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.

The program also shows how real-life tyrannies have developed in places like Rwanda, Burma, and Bosnia. From a review of the show in The Guardian:

But there is no doubt about the programme’s bottom line: tyrannies happen because ordinary people are surprisingly willing to do tyranny’s dirty work.

Programmes like this can show such things with great vividness — and there is news footage from Bosnia, or from Rwanda, or from Burma to back it up with terrible clarity. It isn’t clear why the majority is so often compliant, but the implication is that democracy should always be grateful to the protesters, the members of the awkward squad, the people who challenge authority.

But don’t take it for granted that the awkward squad must be a force for good: in Germany, in the 1920s, Hitler was an outsider, a protester, a member of the awkward squad. When he came to power in 1932, he found that German medical professors and biologists had already installed a racial ideology for him, one which had already theorised about the elimination of sick or disabled German children, and the rejection of Jewish professionals as agents of pollution.

Zimbardo himself offers this final word in the program:

For me the bottom line message is that we could be led to do evil deeds. And what that means is to become sensitive to the conditions under which ordinary people can do these evil deeds — what we have been demonstrating throughout this program — and to take a position of resisting tyranny at the very first signs of its existence.

Safety pins as a symbol of solidarity against racism

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2016

Safety Pin

Post-Brexit, people in the UK started wearing safety pins to show their stance against racism and their solidarity with immigrants.

In response to the open environment of hatred, people across the U.K. are now wearing safety pins — and tweeting pictures of themselves wearing them — in an act of solidarity with immigrants.

In the wake of the election and reports of racism incidents across the nation, some are advocating using the safety pin strategy here too.

We need a symbol like that in the United States now. These are vicious days in America. The deplorables are emboldened. The Washington Post reports that there have already been two attacks on Muslim women on college campuses. At San Diego State University, two men ranting about Trump and Muslims robbed a student wearing hijab.

I like this idea, that a subtle marker can denote a social safe space of sorts, a signal to someone who might feel uncomfortable that an ally is nearby. That’s not to say you can put a pin on your coat and *dust off your hands, job well done* but it may help. I’m going to try it.

Update: During the Nazi occupation of Norway in World War II, Norwegians took to wearing paperclips to signal their rejection of Nazi ideology.

The people of Norway also had to deal with German soldiers day in and day out for five years. By 1945, some 400,000 German troops were operating in Norway, controlling the population of about 4 million people.

It was in the autumn of 1940 when students at Oslo University started wearing paperclips on their lapels as a non-violent symbol of resistance, unity, and national pride.

Symbols related to the royal family and state had already been banned, and they wanted a clever way of displaying their rejection of the Nazi ideology. In addition to wearing a single paperclip, paperclip bracelets and other types of jewellery were fashioned as well, symbolically binding Norwegians together in the face of such adversity.

Of course, once the Nazis got wind of this, wearing paperclips became a crime. (via @ckrub)

Update: That co-opting thing I warned against above? Seems like it’s happening.

wear safety pin to fool people into thinking you’re a safe space, trigger them

If I had to guess however, this behavior will be short lived and they’ll move on to some other genius scheme. I’m not taking my pin off. (via @_McFIy & @pattersar)

Update: There’s no safety pin emoji, but some people are adding the paperclip emoji to their Twitter usernames as a virtual world counterpart to the safety pin.

SNL’s Black Jeopardy

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2016

This SNL Black Jeopardy skit with Tom Hanks is as good as everyone says it is. And it’s not just funny either…it’s the rare SNL skit that works brilliantly as cultural commentary. Kudos to the writers on this one.

Update: Writing for Slate, Jamelle Bouie details why the Black Jeopardy sketch was so good; the title of the piece asks, “The Most Astute Analysis of American Politics in 2016?”

When Thompson reads a second clue for that category — “They out here saying that every vote counts” — Doug answers again, and again correctly: “What is, come on, they already decided who wins even ‘fore it happens.’” With each correct answer, Doug gets cheers and applause from Thompson, the black contestants, and the black audience. They all seem to understand the world in similar ways. “I really appreciate you saying that,” says Thompson after Doug praises Tyler Perry’s Madea movies, leading to an awkward moment where Hanks’ character recoils in fear as Thompson tries to shake his hand, but then relaxes and accepts the gesture.

By this point, the message is clear. On this episode of “Black Jeopardy!”, the questions are rooted in feelings of disempowerment, suspicion of authority, and working-class identity-experiences that cut across racial lines. Thompson and the guests are black, but they can appreciate the things they share with Doug, and in turn, Doug grows more and more comfortable in their presence, such that he gets a “pass” from the group after he refers to them as “you people.”