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kottke.org posts about racism

J Is for Jim Crow - Typography and Racial Stereotypes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2022

Ruby Font Jim Crow

For The Believer, Sarah K. Kramer wrote about a typeface called Jim Crow, how it came to be called that (its original name was Gothic Shade), and what its casual use by designers for decades means.

One of Seals’ pet peeves is “stereo-typography” — things like east Asian restaurants with brush-script logos — and in particular, he takes issue with the way designers often use “black weight” (very thick and bold) font to signify African American culture. For example, the Neuland typeface (designed in 1923 by Rudolf Koch) has been used on many covers of books by Black writers, like Richard Wright’s Native Son. One theory on the origin of the association of these black-weight fonts with Black culture is that they evoke woodblock typefaces printed on nineteenth century tobacco ephemera — an industry closely linked with slavery. Needless to say, much of this material featured racist imagery of African Americans. When Seals was contracted by HarperCollins to design a cover for Charles Blow’s The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto, he definitely was not going to use a “black weight” font. Instead, he designed the cover with Ruby.

Ruby is a reworked version of Jim Crow from Tré Seals’ type foundry Vocal Type Co, which I covered here a few years ago. (thx, reed)

The Real Martin Luther King Jr

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2022

For the Guardian, Michael Harriot writes that “The real Martin Luther King would make white people uncomfortable”:

One does not have to reach back into the historical archives to explain why King was so despised. The sentiments that made him a villain are still prevalent in America today. When he was alive, King was a walking, talking example of everything this country despises about the quest for Black liberation. He railed against police brutality. He reminded the country of its racist past. He scolded the powers that be for income inequality and systemic racism. Not only did he condemn the openly racist opponents of equality, he reminded the legions of whites who were willing to sit idly by while their fellow countrymen were oppressed that they were also oppressors. “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it,” King said. “He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

Toni Morrison’s Ten Steps Towards Fascism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2022

In a convocation address delivered at Howard University in March 1995, Toni Morrison noted that before fascist movements arrive at a “final solution” (the euphemism used by Nazi leaders to refer to the mass murder of Jews), there are preceding steps that they use to advance their agenda. From an excerpt of that speech published in The Journal of Negro Education:

Let us be reminded that before there is a final solution, there must be a first solution, a second one, even a third. The move toward a final solution is not a jump. It takes one step, then another, then another.

Morrison then continued, listing the pathway to fascism in ten steps:

  1. Construct an internal enemy, as both focus and diversion.
  2. Isolate and demonize that enemy by unleashing and protecting the utterance of overt and coded name-calling and verbal abuse. Employ ad hominem attacks as legitimate charges against that enemy.
  3. Enlist and create sources and distributors of information who are willing to reinforce the demonizing process because it is profitable, because it grants power and because it works.
  4. Palisade all art forms; monitor, discredit or expel those that challenge or destabilize processes of demonization and deification.
  5. Subvert and malign all representatives of and sympathizers with this constructed enemy.
  6. Solicit, from among the enemy, collaborators who agree with and can sanitize the dispossession process.
  7. Pathologize the enemy in scholarly and popular mediums; recycle, for example, scientific racism and the myths of racial superiority in order to naturalize the pathology.
  8. Criminalize the enemy. Then prepare, budget for and rationalize the building of holding arenas for the enemy — especially its males and absolutely its children.
  9. Reward mindlessness and apathy with monumentalized entertainments and with little pleasures, tiny seductions, a few minutes on television, a few lines in the press, a little pseudo-success, the illusion of power and influence, a little fun, a little style, a little consequence.
  10. Maintain, at all costs, silence.

As I have said before, you can see many of these steps playing out right now in America, orchestrated by a revitalized and emboldened right-wing movement that has captured the Republican Party. Jason Stanley, a scholar of fascism, recently wrote of Morrison’s speech:

Morrison’s interest was not in fascist demagogues or fascist regimes. It was rather in “forces interested in fascist solutions to national problems”. The procedures she described were methods to normalize such solutions, to “construct an internal enemy”, isolate, demonize and criminalize it and sympathizers to its ideology and their allies, and, using the media, provide the illusion of power and influence to one’s supporters.

Morrison saw, in the history of US racism, fascist practices — ones that could enable a fascist social and political movement in the United States.

Writing in the era of the “super-predator” myth (a Newsweek headline the next year read, “Superpredators: Should we cage the new breed of vicious kids?”), Morrison unflinchingly read fascism into the practices of US racism. Twenty-five years later, those “forces interested in fascist solutions to national problems” are closer than ever to winning a multi-decade national fight.

See also Umberto Eco’s 14 Features of Eternal Fascism and Fighting Authoritarianism: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century. (via jason stanley)

“America Is Now in Fascism’s Legal Phase”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2022

Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, writes about the recent revitalization of the long tradition in the United States of fascist movements using race & racism as tools to move towards their goals. And now with attacks on the courts, education, voting rights, and women’s rights, America is now in fascism’s legal phase.

According to the International Center for Not for Profit Law, 45 states have considered 230 bills criminalizing protest, with the threat of violent leftist and Black rebellion being used to justify them. That this is happening at the same time that multiple electoral bills enabling a Republican state legislature majority to overturn their state’s election have been enacted suggests that the true aim of bills criminalizing protest is to have a response in place to expected protests against the stealing of a future election (as a reminder of fascism’s historical connection to big business, some of these laws criminalize protest near gas and oil lines).

The Nazis used Judeo-Bolshevism as their constructed enemy. The fascist movement in the Republican party has turned to critical race theory instead. Fascism feeds off a narrative of supposed national humiliation by internal enemies. Defending a fictional glorious and virtuous national past, and presenting its enemies as deviously maligning the nation to its children, is a classic fascist strategy to stoke fury and resentment. Using the bogeyman of critical race theory, 29 states have introduced bills to restrict teaching about racism and sexism in schools, and 13 states have enacted such bans.

Something I was disappointed about on last week’s anniversary of the terrorist attack on Congress was too much emphasis on Trump’s role in what happened on that day, as if focusing on him somehow makes it possible that the rest of the Republican Party can jettison this bad seed at some point without losing face and American politics can get back to the bipartisan business as usual. This is a total fiction, and as Stanley correctly notes, this shift towards fascism is a party-wide effort that preceded Trump and will outlive him.

“I’m Black But Look White. Here Are The Horrible Things White People Feel Safe Telling Me.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2021

Miriam Zinter for Huffington Post:

My neighbor, the one who asked me why “Black lives matter,” is not the only one who has felt comfortable asking me such a question or making a statement rife with racism.

White people think I am white too, and therefore feel safe saying all kinds of horrible things they might not say publicly. I’ve had people tell me it “disgusts” them to see interracial couples. They’ve told me they don’t understand why Black neighborhoods look so “ghetto,” and that Black people are “animals” or “thugs.” Many of these people are educated, and hold jobs or positions that give them some form of power or influence over Black people. They are doctors, judges, lawyers, social workers and politicians. That’s frightening.

Why Starting a Cannabis Business Is So Hard

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2021

This video provides a good overview of the difficulty involved in starting a business that grows, sells, or distributes cannabis products, which can include money, federal illegality, state regulations, and structural racism.

Jeannette: So you really got to get your business funded from your personal wealth or from your network wealth.

Nancy: Those situations begin to favor people who’ve traditionally had good access to capital.

Jeremy: And oftentimes that correlate with being white.

Adriana: It is very white male-dominant. And there’s no reason that that is what it should be.

Narrator: Only 2% of cannabis entrepreneurs are Black. Yet Black Americans were most affected by marijuana’s illegal status in the past.

Jeremy: There is kind of a clear throughline from the war on drugs. According to the ACLU, Black people are four times as likely than whites to get arrested for cannabis use, despite using at very similar rates across age groups, across different states.

See also A Post-Legalization Cannabis Reading List.

Living While Black, in Japan

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2021

In Living While Black, in Japan, directed by Keith Bedford and Shiho Fukada, a group of African-Americans talk about what it’s like to live in Japan as Black people versus their experiences living in the United States.

“I didn’t leave because I was running away from anything. I left because I felt I could be more myself in Japan.”

“Living in Japan, as an African-American, I’ve honestly never felt more free.”

“You know, I can do things here in Japan that I can’t do back at home, in the U.S.”

“I can catch a cab when I’m not trying to catch a cab. People in stores that are supposed to serve you, serve you, like they serve everybody else.”

“His Name Was Emmett Till”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2021

This piece by Wright Thompson on how the murder of Emmett Till has been remembered and forgotten is a difficult, compelling, and important read. The story centers around the still-little-known barn where Till was tortured and murdered by a group of several white men in 1955.

But the way Till’s name exists in the firmament of American history stands in opposition to the gaps in what we know about his killing. No one knows, for instance, how many people were involved. Most historians think at least seven were present. Only two were tried: half brothers J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant. Another half brother, Leslie Milam, was there that night too. He lived in an old white farmhouse a few dozen steps from the barn, next to where Jeff Andrews’s house now stands.

In 1955 an all-white, all-male jury, encouraged by the defense to do their duty as “Anglo-Saxons,” acquitted J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant. Because the defendants couldn’t be tried again, they got paid to make a confession to a national magazine — a heavily fictionalized account stage-managed by their lawyers — and Leslie Milam and his barn were written out of the story. Ask most people where Till died and they’ll say Money, Mississippi, the town where Till whistled at Bryant’s wife outside the family’s store. An Equal Justice Initiative monument in Montgomery says Money. Wikipedia does too. The Library of Congress website skips over the barn, which is just outside the town of Drew, about 45 minutes from the store.

I learned about the barn last year and have since made repeated visits, alone and with groups, once with members of Till’s family. Over and over, I drove from my home in the Mississippi hill country back into the gothic flatland where I was born. The barn’s existence conjures a complex set of reactions: It is a mourning bench for Black Americans, an unwelcome mirror for white Americans. It both repels and demands attention.

Carl Sagan in 1978: Star Wars Is Too White

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2021

During a Tonight Show appearance in 1978, Johnny Carson asked Carl Sagan about the scientific accuracy of Star Wars. Sagan replied:

The 11-year-old in me loved them but they could have made a better effort to to do things right. A lot of different aspects of things — Star Wars starts out saying it’s on some other galaxy and then you see there’s people. Starting in scene one there’s a problem, because human beings are the result of a unique evolutionary sequence based upon so many individually unlikely random events on the Earth.

In fact, I think most evolutionary biologists would agree that if you started the Earth out again and just let those random factors operate you might wind up with beings that are as smart as us and as ethical and artistic and all the rest, but they would not be human beings. That’s for the Earth. So in another planet, different environment, very unlikely to have a human being. It’s extremely unlikely that there would be creatures as similar to us as as the dominant ones in Star Wars.

And a whole bunch of other things: they’re all white. The skin of all the humans in Star Wars, oddly enough, is like this. And not even the other colors represented on the Earth at present, much less greens and blues and purples and oranges.

Carson pushes back slightly at this point: “They did have the scene of Star Wars with a lot of strange characters.” But Sagan persists:

Yeah, but none of them seem to be in charge of the galaxy. Everybody in charge of the galaxy seemed to look like us. And I thought it was a large amount of human chauvinism.

Sagan also complained about Han Solo’s boast of doing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. According to the script, this was an “obvious” lie on Han’s part to make his ship sound impressive, so Sagan missed that. But then, post-Lucas, the Kessel Run was explained in Solo: A Star Wars Story as a distance shortcut and not an elapsed completion time, so…. (via digg)

Germany Came to Terms with Its Nazi Past. Why Can’t America Do the Same with Slavery?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

For the Washington Post, Michele Norris wonders what it will take for the US to finally and fully acknowledge its history of slavery.

America experienced 246 years of slavery before it was officially ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment. That was followed by decades of legal segregation and oppression under Jim Crow, followed by a period of willful blindness and denial. A tourist from a foreign land might well conclude that the Confederacy had actually won the Civil War, based on the number of monuments, buildings and boulevards still named for heroes of its defeated army. The real truth of our shared history was a casualty of that war and, like any wound left untended, the results can be catastrophic.

A full accounting of slavery is one of terror and trauma, and for decades the natural inclination was to ask, why would anyone want to claim that history? But at a moment when the United States is dangerously divided, when we are having bitter and overdue conversations about policing, inequality and voting rights, when marauders fueled by white-nationalist rhetoric can overwhelm the Capitol, proudly waving the Confederate battle flag, the more important question is this: What happens if we don’t?

She uses Germany’s remembrance and examination of Nazism and the Holocaust as an example of a country that has properly faced up to its terrible past in order to move fully forward.

Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung refers to Germany’s efforts to interrogate the horrors of the Holocaust and the rise of Nazism. It has been a decades-long exercise, beginning in the 1960s, to examine, analyze and ultimately learn to live with an evil chapter through monuments, teachings, art, architecture, protocols and public policy. The country looks at its Nazi past by consistently, almost obsessively, memorializing the victims of that murderous era, so much so that it is now a central feature of the nation’s cultural landscape. The ethos of this campaign is “never forget.”

I visited Germany back in 2018 and its efforts to engage with past horrors were quite noticeable and stood in stark contrast to American activity along similar lines.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

As Norris convincingly argues, “it is long past time to face where truth can take us”.

The 1619 Project Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2021

1619 Project Book

The excellent 1619 Project, developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones at the NY Times, is being released in book form this fall: The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (ebook). The book “substantially expands” on the original project, and will include new & expanded essays and works by Hannah-Jones and contributors.

The essays show how the inheritance of 1619 reaches into every part of contemporary American society, from politics, music, diet, traffic, and citizenship to capitalism, religion, and our democracy itself. This legacy can be seen in the way we tell stories, the way we teach our children, and the way we remember. Together, the elements of the book reveal a new origin story for the United States, one that helps explain not only the persistence of anti-Black racism and inequality in American life today, but also the roots of what makes the country unique.

They’re doing a children’s book too: The 1619 Project: Born on the Water (ebook).

1619 Project Book

How Do Algorithms Become Biased?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2021

In the latest episode of the Vox series Glad You Asked, host Joss Fong looks at how racial and other kinds of bias are introduced into massive computer systems and algorithms, particularly those that work through machine learning, that we use every day.

Many of us assume that tech is neutral, and we have turned to tech as a way to root out racism, sexism, or other “isms” plaguing human decision-making. But as data-driven systems become a bigger and bigger part of our lives, we also notice more and more when they fail, and, more importantly, that they don’t fail on everyone equally. Glad You Asked host Joss Fong wants to know: Why do we think tech is neutral? How do algorithms become biased? And how can we fix these algorithms before they cause harm?

Delayed: R. Kikuo Johnson’s New Yorker Cover

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2021

Delayed Cover

That’s the cover for the April 5, 2021 issue of the New Yorker illustrated by R. Kikuo Johnson.

I began preparing for this project by revisiting news coverage of anti-Asian hate crimes committed during the pandemic. As I absorbed one account after another, they became increasingly difficult to read. So many mothers and grandmothers have been targeted. I imagined my own mom in that situation. I thought about my grandma and my aunt, who have been among my greatest sources of support. The mother in the drawing is made up of all these women.

So simple, so powerful. The way the shoes, eyes, and faces are positioned and angled. On Twitter, Jiayang Fan commented:

I can’t stop staring at this cover. I can’t stop wondering who would come to this mother-daughter pair’s aid if someone attacked them. I can’t stop thinking I was once the daughter and how helpless I still feel to protect my mother.

“Climate Anxiety Is an Overwhelmingly White Phenomenon”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2021

In an opinion piece for Scientific American, Sarah Jaquette Ray argues that our response to the climate emergency must be equitable, or as she puts it: “We can’t fight climate change with more racism.”

One year ago, I published a book called A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety. Since its publication, I have been struck by the fact that those responding to the concept of climate anxiety are overwhelmingly white. Indeed, these climate anxiety circles are even whiter than the environmental circles I’ve been in for decades. Today, a year into the pandemic, after the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed, and the attack on the U.S. Capitol, I am deeply concerned about the racial implications of climate anxiety. If people of color are more concerned about climate change than white people, why is the interest in climate anxiety so white? Is climate anxiety a form of white fragility or even racial anxiety? Put another way, is climate anxiety just code for white people wishing to hold onto their way of life or get “back to normal,” to the comforts of their privilege?

This is one of those articles where I want to quote the whole thing, so I’ll just do one more paragraph, leave a link to her book, and then just let you read it.

The prospect of an unlivable future has always shaped the emotional terrain for Black and brown people, whether that terrain is racism or climate change. Climate change compounds existing structures of injustice, and those structures exacerbate climate change. Exhaustion, anger, hope-the effects of oppression and resistance are not unique to this climate moment. What is unique is that people who had been insulated from oppression are now waking up to the prospect of their own unlivable future.

Eyes on the Prize to Re-Air on PBS

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2021

The fantastic civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize will soon be available for viewing on public media and online. WORLD Channel and PBS will begin airing the 14-part series in early April. The first part of the series, covering the civil rights movement from 1954-1965, will also be available to watch online starting in mid-April. Check out the press release for more info.

Eyes on the Prize, created by Executive Producer Henry Hampton, is an award-winning and critically-acclaimed in-depth documentary series on civil rights in America. Hampton set out to share his vision of what he called “the remarkable human drama that was the Civil Rights Movement” through the experiences and challenges of those fighting for justice. Produced by Blackside Inc, Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today.

With contemporary interviews and historical footage, the Academy Award-nominated documentary traces the civil rights movement from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Voting Rights Act; from early acts of individual courage through the flowering of a mass movement and its eventual split into factions. The late Julian Bond, political leader and civil rights activist, narrates.

If you’ve never seen Eyes on the Prize, you should definitely take this opportunity to check it out. (via @jbenton)

Whiteness is a Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2021

Damon Young, writing in the wake of the racially motivated murders in Atlanta yesterday:

Whiteness is a public health crisis. It shortens life expectancies, it pollutes air, it constricts equilibrium, it devastates forests, it melts ice caps, it sparks (and funds) wars, it flattens dialects, it infests consciousnesses, and it kills people — white people and people who are not white, my mom included. There will be people who die, in 2050, because of white supremacy-induced decisions from 1850.

A Concerto Is a Conversation

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2021

In this lovely short film, composer and pianist Kris Bowers talks to his grandfather, Horace Bowers, about his life in the Jim Crow South and how he found a new life in California as part of the Great Migration. Horace’s move across the country set in motion events that culminated in Kris premiering a concerto he wrote with the LA Philharmonic. You can read more about Horace in this 2019 profile.

Yet, in a sign of the times, Horace encountered discrimination while building his business. At the time, mainstream financial institutions rarely gave loans to Blacks and Bank of America had already denied him. His fortunes changed after he hired a White young man as a presser.

“I gave him a job and after two days, he asked me to tell the bank that he had been working for me for 30 days. He said that he needed a loan because he had just gotten divorced and was broke and wanted to borrow money to go back to Texas,” said Horace.

“Even though I was with Bank of America, they had turned me down for a loan and I did not think he could get one. But, a few days later, his loan was approved. I wondered why, but I immediately thought of the color of my skin.”

Armed with this knowledge, Horace devised another route. He visited a different branch, picked up the loan papers, completed the forms and mailed them in.

“A few days later, my loan was approved and from then on, nobody saw us. I did mostly everything by mail,” he said.

The Folded Map Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 09, 2021

Folded Map Project

With regard to the Chicago’s street numbering system, Madison Street is the boundary between the North and South Sides of Chicago. Because of discriminatory housing policies and practices, especially during the Great Migration, Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in America. Generally speaking, a predominantly white North Side has had better access to resources and higher home values while a largely Black South Side has had lower home values and less access to resources.

Artist Tonika Johnson’s Folded Map Project explores the differences and similarities across this boundary by comparing an addresses on the North Side with the corresponding addresses on the South Side. She does this through paired photos of the houses and the residents living at each twinned address, and video interviews with those “map twin” residents, as well as a movie, an installation, workshops, and even a stage play. The image at the top of the post is of one of the address pairs (6329 S. Paulina and 6330 N. Paulina).

Colossal recently posted an interview with Johnson about the project:

The ultimate point that I was trying to get across was that Chicago’s history of segregation is still with all of us today. I wanted to prove this point for people who might not make that connection [between] the disparity that exists and the history behind it. I wanted the project to be an entree into expanding people’s minds of Chicago’s history of segregation through thinking about their own lived experience. I really appreciated being able to do that through art, through photos and portraits and video because I wasn’t blaming people who live on these different sides. I was offering them insight into the larger question of, “did you really choose this? Does our segregation reflect how we want to interact? And if it doesn’t, then you have to question why is it this way?”

There is this narrative that people think [Chicagoans] don’t interact. But we do, a lot, especially through art. That’s how we know the city is segregated. (laughing) We know that we’re disrupting this segregation when we come together. And that’s why I think art is such a beautiful common denominator.

What It Was Like for a Black Cop Protecting Congress on Jan 6th

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2021

This interview on This American Life with a Black Capitol Police officer who defended Congress against the domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol Buidling on Jan 6th is essential listening. BuzzFeed’s Emmanuel Felton interviewed an anonymous officer he calls “Officer Jones”:

Emmanuel Felton: Have you ever been in a fight like that?

Officer Jones: No, not like that. No way. These people were deranged, and they were determined. I’ve played video games before. Well, you know, zombie games — Resident Evil, Call of Duty. And the zombies are just coming after you, and you’re just out there. I guess that’s what I could relate it to — Call of Duty zombies. And the further you go, the more and more zombies just coming. You’re just running, running, running. And they wouldn’t stop. You’re seeing they’re getting their heads cracked with these batons, and we’re spraying them, and they don’t care! It was insane.

Jones appealed to some of the mob who were carrying “Blue Lives Matter” flags and that stopped them for a bit. A couple of the insurrectionists pulled out their own police badges. But then the invaders turned hostile again:

They looked at me. They yelled at me. They were yelling at me. And I would not let them go past. They all want to go past me? I’m going to beat all your asses. One by one, I’m going to deck all of y’all. Come on. And that’s when one of the guys that was a cop said, “Hey, man, we’re going to stand here with you.” I was like, “No, get the fuck out of my building.” He was like, “This is our building.” And I was like, “This is my goddamn building. I’m in charge here. Get the fuck out.” And that’s when I started losing my temper even more. I mean, I got tears streaming down my face.

Felton wrote a related piece for BuzzFeed News: Black Police Officers Describe The Racist Attacks They Faced As They Protected The Capitol.

Goodbye to Our White Supremacist President

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2021

For the occasion of Donald Trump’s last day as President, Ta-Nehisi Coates revisits his essay published in the October 2017 of The Atlantic, The First White President, which argued persuasively that Trump is a white supremacist. In a new introduction, he writes:

It was popular, at the time of Donald Trump’s ascension, to stand on the thinnest of reeds in order to avoid stating the obvious. It was said that the Trump presidency was the fruit of “economic anxiety,” of trigger warnings and the push for trans rights. We were told that it was wrong to call Trump a white supremacist, because he had merely “drawn upon their themes.”

One hopes that after four years of brown children in cages; of attempts to invalidate the will of Black voters in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Detroit; of hearing Trump tell congresswomen of color to go back where they came from; of claims that Joe Biden would turn Minnesota into “a refugee camp”; of his constant invocations of “the Chinese virus,” we can now safely conclude that Trump believes in a world where white people are — or should be — on top. It is still deeply challenging for so many people to accept the reality of what has happened — that a country has been captured by the worst of its history, while millions of Americans cheered this on.

Democracy Is a Threat to White Supremacy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2021

This is an astute observation by Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation for Social Justice, in the wake of the 1/6 terror attack on Congress:

I have long believed that inequality is the greatest threat to justice — and, the corollary, that white supremacy is the greatest threat to democracy. But what has become clear during recent weeks — and all the more apparent yesterday — is that the converse is also true: Democracy is the greatest threat to white supremacy.

If you have full-throated democracy in the contemporary American demographic landscape, a white supremacist Republican party can’t win elections in many states. So they subvert democracy itself by disenfranchising voters (what Ibram X. Kendi calls voter subtraction) and, when that fails, they spread misinformation about unfair elections, attempt to cancel hundreds of thousands of lawful votes cast by US citizens, and execute a poorly planned coup to terrorize lawmakers into capitulating to their demands. Either white supremacy goes or democracy does — that’s our choice. (thx, betty)

This Is Who We Are

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2021

NPR’s Sam Sanders on The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Race.

There is a lie some Americans tell themselves when America is on its worst behavior: “This isn’t America!” or “This isn’t who we are!” or “We’re better than this!”

You heard versions of this lie again this week after armed insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on urging from President Trump, attempting to undo the results of last November’s election.

Even in the halls of Congress, after the broken glass was cleared and U.S. senators and representatives were allowed back into their chambers from undisclosed locations, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska came back to this refrain: “Our kids need to know that this isn’t what America is.”

We are a country built on fabrication, nostalgia and euphemism. And every time America shows the worst of itself, all the contradictions collapse into the lie I’ve heard nonstop for the last several years: “This isn’t who we are.”

Until America fully reckons with, accepts, and makes amends for the two primary sins of its founding — the colonization and genocide of indigenous people and the system of heredity chattel slavery — the nation cannot truly move forward and be a democracy. From the standpoint of indigenous and Black people — as well as women, LGBTQ+ folx, people of color, and other historically marginalized groups — America has always been a fascist country. The sooner that the white ruling class and those of us who benefit from white supremacist-misogynist identity politics (as Rebecca Solnit put it recently) understand and own up to that fact, the sooner we can actually start coming together as a nation committed to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” of all its inhabitants.

Ghosts of Segregation, the Vestigial Architecture of America’s Racism

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2020

Ghosts of Segregation

Ghosts of Segregation

Ghosts of Segregation is a project by photographer Rich Frishman with the goal of documenting the “the vestiges of America’s racism evident in the built environment, hidden in plain sight: Schools for ‘colored’ children, theatre entrances and restrooms for ‘colored people,’ lynching sites, juke joints, jails, hotels and bus stations.” The top photo above is of a segregation wall in a restaurant in Texas photographed in 2017:

This partition was constructed in the early 20th Century to keep people of different races apart. It is decorated with an original pre-1929 Dr. Pepper logo. At the time of its construction (circa 1906) only Caucasian customers were allowed to sit in the front of the saloon. All Hispanic, Asian and African-American customers had to sit behind the wall. When the saloon was remodeled and re-opened in 2014 the wall, no longer used for its original purpose, was retained as a historical reminder. It has recently been demolished.

The bottom photo shows the “colored entrance” for a movie theater in Texas:

The enigmatic door atop the stairway on the south side of the Texan Theater, long locked and largely overlooked, is the “colored entrance,” a vestige of Jim Crow-era segregation. In Kilgore, Texas, the term “colored” extended to anyone not Caucasian, including Hispanics and the occasional Asian.

Also included in the project are photos of WWII internment camps (where persons of Japanese ancestry were held during WWII, many of them American citizens), the US/Mexico border wall, and the Stonewall Inn in NYC. You can view the photos here as well as a few more in the NY Times.

Ruby Bridges Tells Her Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2020

The Problem We All Live With

In 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first Black student at the newly desegregated William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Escorted to her first day of school by federal marshals, she was immortalized by Normal Rockwell in a 1964 painting called The Problem We All Live With. Bridges has a new book out today called This Is Your Time.

Written as a letter from civil rights activist and icon Ruby Bridges to the reader, This Is Your Time is both a recounting of Ruby’s experience as a child who had no choice but to be escorted to class by federal marshals when she was chosen as one of the first black students to integrate New Orleans’ all-white public school system and an appeal to generations to come to effect change.

In a segment on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Bridges shared some of her story from the book.

The first day that I arrived with federal marshals, they rushed me inside of the building. And 500 kids walked out of school that first day and they never returned.

[Making friends] did not come easy because I heard kids, there were days when I would go into this coat closet to hang up my coat and I could hear kids laughing and talking, but I never saw them. Later on, I came to realize that they were being hidden from me in another classroom.

And that was because there were some white parents who actually crossed that picket line and brought their kids to school. But the principal who was part of the opposition, she would hide them. And even though I was complaining — or at least mentioning it to Mrs. Henry, she would never say anything to me, but she was actually going to the principal and saying, if you don’t allow those kids to come together, because the law has now changed, then I’m going to report you to the superintendent. And so I think after months of that, we were allowed to come together.

Bridges is only 66 years old today — this was all not so long ago.

Update: Sad news: Ruby’s mother, Lucille Bridges, died yesterday at the age of 86.

Her daughter went on to become an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, memorialized in Norman Rockwell’s famous painting “The Problem We All Live With” which depicts a tiny Ruby in a white dress carrying her notebooks and a ruler surrounded by much taller U.S. Marshals. But Ruby Bridges once credited her parents as the forces behind her history-making achievement.

“My parents are the real heroes,” the U.S. Marshals Service once quoted her as saying during a ceremony at an art gallery showing the painting. “They (sent me to that public school) because they felt it was the right thing to do.”

An Archive of Pandemic and Anti-Racist Street Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2020

Pandemic & anti-racist street art

Pandemic & anti-racist street art

Pandemic & anti-racist street art

Pandemic & anti-racist street art

The Urban Art Mapping Research Project has been collecting photos of street art created over the past several months related to the Covid-19 pandemic and the anti-racist protests.

Artists and writers producing work in the streets — including tags, graffiti, murals, stickers, and other installations on walls, pavement, and signs — are in a unique position to respond quickly and effectively in a moment of crisis. Street art’s ephemeral nature serves to reveal very immediate and sometimes fleeting responses, often in a manner that can be raw and direct. At the same time, in the context of a crisis, street art also has the potential to transform urban space and foster a sustained political dialogue, reaching a wide audience, particularly when museums and galleries are shuttered.

(via open culture)

The Spell Checkers Agenda

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2020

Deborah Roberts Pluralism

The piece above is part of a series called Pluralism by artist Deborah Roberts — it’s a collage of dozens of Black names marked as misspelled by Microsoft Word’s built-in spell checker. I don’t know about you, but this makes me think about the neutrality of technology, how software is built, who builds it, and for whom it is designed.

I found this via Seeing Black Futures by Jenna Wortham and Kimberly Drew, which is adapted from their forthcoming book, Black Futures. You can check out more of Roberts’ work on her website or on Instagram.

The President Is a White Supremacist. And So Are You if You Support Him.

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2020

Last night in a debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Donald Trump, the actual President of these United States, not only declined to condemn white supremacy, he gave an order to an openly white supremacist group on national television. Here’s the quote and the video:

Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left. Because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.

Stand by. Somebody’s gotta do something about antifa and the left. Proud Boy members knew exactly what Trump was telling them — it’s as plain as day. (I’ve grown weary of pointing out the parallels to Nazism and Italian fascism, so I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader in this case. The answer may involve shirt colors.)

We’ve long passed the point at which everyone should understand in no uncertain terms that Trump is an authoritarian, racist, white supremacist (among other things). Hell, this is what many of his supporters like about him. But it should also be clear to his supporters, all of his supporters (especially the ones who hold their nose and support him because of Christian values or fiscal policy or abortion), that by voting for this man knowing what we all clearly know about him, you are a white supremacist. Period. I understand the perfect candidate doesn’t exist and that our system of voting requires us to compromise some of our values in order to support progress towards bigger goals, but good luck explaining that you voted for an actual white supremacist to your grandchildren someday (if you can stomach telling them the truth). Some values cannot be compromised.

Clear Language on Slavery

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2020

I’ve posted before about how the language we’ve been conditioned to use about slavery and the Civil War obscures reality. From historian Michael Todd Landis:

Likewise, scholar Edward Baptist (Cornell) has provided new terms with which to speak about slavery. In his 2014 book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books), he rejects “plantations” (a term pregnant with false memory and romantic myths) in favor of “labor camps”; instead of “slave-owners” (which seems to legitimate and rationalize the ownership of human beings), he uses “enslavers.” Small changes with big implications. These far more accurate and appropriate terms serve his argument well, as he re-examines the role of unfree labor in the rise of the United States as an economic powerhouse and its place in the global economy. In order to tear down old myths, he eschews the old language.

@absurdistwords had a great thread on this recently, urging us to “stop obscuring the horror with detached, antiquated, euphemistic terms”.

Clear Language on Slavery:

Slaves = Hostages
Slave Owners = Human Traffickers
Slave Catchers = Police
Plantations = Death Camps
Mistresses = Rape Victims
Discipline = Torture/Murder
Overseers = Torturers
Trading = Kidnapping
Profit = Theft
Middle Passage = Genocide

For example:

“The prominent slave owner never publicly recognized the offspring of he and one of his slave romances but allowed him to serve in the house”

is really

“The rich human trafficker raped his female hostage and then held their son hostage as well at the death camp he owned”

And from an earlier thread:

When you replace

“Owned slaves” with

“Was an active and willing participant in a vast conspiracy to kidnap children from their families in order to force them into industrial and sexual servitude”

It becomes harder to write slave owning off as just a blot on one’s record.

For instance:

George Washington was our first President and was an active and willing participant in a vast conspiracy to kidnap children from their families in order to force them into industrial and sexual servitude

They continue:

America treats slavery like an oopsie rather than a centuries-long campaign of nightmarish, brutal terrorism.

America sees the systemic and sadistic destruction of Black families as an etiquette violation.

Which is why it will excuse slave owners so readily.

It’s a Bird

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2020

In late May, Christian Cooper was birdwatching in Central Park when he was accosted and abused for the color of his skin by a white woman after he asked her to leash her dog. Cooper, who is both an avid birdwatcher (he’s on the board of directors for the NYC Audubon Society) and a pioneering comics writer (he was Marvel’s first openly gay writer and editor), has combined his experiences and interests into a new graphic novel for DC Comics called It’s a Bird.

It's A Bird, Christian Cooper

From the NY Times:

The slim, 10-page story is impressionistic, without a real plot. It is the first in a series called “Represent!” that features works of writers “traditionally underrepresented in the mainstream comic book medium,” including people of color or those who are LGBTQ, Marie Javins, an executive editor at DC, said in a statement. It will be available online for free starting Wednesday, at several digital book and comic book retailers.

The main character of “It’s a Bird” is a teenage birder named Jules, who is Black. When Jules tries to peer through his binoculars at birds, he instead sees the faces of Black people who have been killed by the police.

It’s a Bird is available for free from DC Comics. You can read an interview with Cooper and the rest of the creative team (artist Alitha E. Martinez, inker Mark Morales, colorist Emilio Lopez, and letterer Rob Clark Jr.) on the company’s blog. (via open culture)

The Next Reconstruction?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2020

In The Atlantic, Adam Serwer writes about the parallels between the present moment and Reconstruction, the post-Civil War period where the biggest strides toward racial justice in America were taken. In response to the protests happening in American streets this summer, Trump pulled out Nixon’s “law and order” playbook but that move backfired on Trump, much like the way that Andrew Johnson’s push for the US government to remain white during the early years of Reconstruction did.

The shift that’s occurred this time around “wasn’t by happenstance,” Brittany Packnett Cunningham, an activist and a writer, told me, nor is it only the product of video evidence. “It has been the work of generations of Black activists, Black thinkers, and Black scholars that has gotten us here” — people like Angela Davis, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Michelle Alexander, and others. “Six years ago, people were not using the phrase systemic racism beyond activist circles and academic circles. And now we are in a place where it is readily on people’s lips, where folks from CEOs to grandmothers up the street are talking about it, reading about it, researching on it, listening to conversations about it.”

All of that preparation met the moment: George Floyd’s killing, the pandemic’s unmistakable toll on Black Americans, and Trump’s callous and cynical response to both.

Still, like Andrew Johnson, Trump bet his political fortunes on his assumption that the majority of white Americans shared his fears and beliefs about Black Americans. Like Johnson, Trump did not anticipate how his own behavior, and the behavior he enabled and encouraged, would discredit the cause he backed. He did not anticipate that the activists might succeed in convincing so many white Americans to see the protests as righteous and justified, that so many white Americans would understand police violence as an extension of his own cruelty, that the pandemic would open their eyes to deep-seated racial inequities.

“I think this country is at a turning point and has been for a little while. We went from celebrating the election of the first Black president in history to bemoaning a white nationalist in the White House,” Alicia Garza told me. “People are grappling with the fact that we’re not actually in a post-racial society.”

If the reaction to eight years of Obama was a white nationalist President, then maybe the reaction to that is, finally, the beginning of true racial justice and equality in America. But here is the big question:

In the past, the dream of remaking society has faltered when white Americans have realized what they would have to sacrifice to deliver freedom. The question now is whether this time is different.

And further:

Believing in racial equality in the abstract and supporting policies that would make it a reality are two different things. Most white Americans have long professed the former, and pointedly declined to do the latter. This paradox has shown up so many times in American history that social scientists have a name for it: the principle-implementation gap. This gap is what ultimately doomed the Reconstruction project.

A research paper on the principle-implementation gap puts it plainly:

White Americans accept equality as an ideal yet reject interventions designed to achieve that ideal.

Serwer goes on to say that the sticking point is often economic justice — versus the easier-to-swallow civic justice. Ok, just go read the whole thing before I quote it all. (via @michaelharriot, who called the piece “spectacular”)