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kottke.org posts about racism

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”)

Players Lead Sports Strike to Put Focus on Racial Injustice

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2020

Four years to the day after Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem of an NFL preseason game to protest the oppression of Black people in the United States, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play their NBA playoff game and set off an NBA-wide strike, as well as strikes by teams in the WNBA, MLB, and MLS. They were reacting to the attempted murder of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer on Sunday and the subsequent inaction by officials to take any disiplinary action against the officer.

The shooting prompted numerous N.B.A. players and coaches to express frustration and anger that the various measures they have been taking for weeks to support the Black Lives Matter movement, such as kneeling during the national anthem and wearing jerseys bearing social justice messages, were having little impact. Some also began to question, as the Nets’ star guard Kyrie Irving did in June before the 2019-20 season resumed, whether providing entertainment through basketball was actually diverting public attention away from the broader social justice movement.

Fueled by that frustration, Milwaukee’s players stunned league officials by organizing Wednesday’s boycott, a walkout that had virtually no precedent in N.B.A. history.

Milwaukee’s George Hill gave a glimpse of the Bucks’ mind-set on Monday when he openly questioned whether the league’s return had successfully amplified the players’ messaging.

“We shouldn’t have even come to this damn place to be honest,” Hill said. “I think coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are.”

Former NBA player Kenny Smith walked off the set of TNT’s Inside the NBA in solidarity with the players.

As a reminder, here’s what Kaepernick said after kneeling four years ago:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

You can see why the players believe that little has been done to address this state of affairs — there’s definitely more awareness now, but substantive change is not happening.

Update: A previous version of this post referred to the players’ walkout as a boycott (following the Times’ language). While boycott is technically accurate, it is generally used to refer to consumers withholding their purchase power as a protest. Strike is a more exact word to use in a situation where workers are withholding their labor (even though the players are not demanding concessions from their employers), so I updated the post to reflect that. (thx, david)

Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA & Good Humor Partner to Create a New Ice Cream Truck Jingle

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2020

Ice cream maker Good Humor has teamed up with legendary rapper/musician RZA to produce a new ice cream truck jingle to replace the ubiquitous “Turkey in the Straw”, a tune that gained popularity as a minstrel song with racist lyrics.

“Turkey in the Straw” is one of the most iconic ice cream truck jingles today. However, many people don’t realize that this familiar tune has racist roots.

Turkey in the Straw’s melody originated from British and Irish folk songs, which had no racial connotations. But the song itself was first performed (and gained popularity) in American minstrel shows in the 1800s. Some songs using its same melody contained highly offensive, racist lyrics.

Throughout the 19th century, minstrel songs like Turkey in the Straw were commonly played in ice cream parlors, and later, adapted as ice cream truck jingles.

While these associations of “Turkey in the Straw” are not the only part of its legacy, it is undeniable that this melody conjures memories of its racist iterations.

RZA explains the story behind the new jingle:

And from a press release:

To create an original jingle, The RZA drew inspiration from his own childhood memories of chasing after the ice cream truck in his neighborhood. The track borrows from traditional ice cream truck music and adds jazz and hip-hop elements. Expect trap drumbeats, some old-school bells that reference Good Humor’s original ice cream trucks, and a distinct RZA hook that you will not be able to get out of your head.

Here’s the full jingle:

Song of the Summer 2020? I could totally see Drake or whoever sampling this for an end-of-the-summer ice cream anthem.

Why Police Reform Doesn’t Work In America

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2020

With the help of Harvard historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad, this video from BuzzFeed documents investigations into police brutality and racism from the past century and how reforms based on those investigations have not brought about meaningful change. These reports — exploring the causes of unrest in Chicago in 1919, Harlem in 1935 & 1943, LA in 1965, Ferguson in 2014 — demonstrate again and again the discriminent violence committed against Black people by the police, and yet that violence and racism continues until the next investigation is conducted with the same conclusion.

The Dangers of Running While Black

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2020

In this special video edition of the Code Switch podcast, host Gene Demby explores the dangers of running while Black and why the safety of Black runners has not been given the same sort of attention as the safety of white women. The most striking bit of the video for me was right in the beginning when Demby debunks the myth of “all you need to run is a pair of shoes”.

When we runners talk about running — or let’s be real — when we evangelize about it, we talk a lot about how democratic it is. But it’s not really that simple. You’re gonna want gear, which costs money. Then there’s the issue of actual physical space. You want sidewalks that aren’t jagged, trails that aren’t overgrown, air that’s clean enough to breathe. (So ideally you don’t live near landfills or power plants or factories.) So yeah… all you need are shoes. And space. And money. And time. Oh and you also need something from the people around you — the sense that you belong in that space. Women don’t always get that luxury. And neither do runners of color.

Even a seemingly simple thing like running and who can do it is affected by decades of policy decisions that disproportionately favor residents of predominantly white neighborhoods.

The Story Behind the 1968 Olympics Protest

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2020

You’ve probably seen the photograph: Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raising a black-gloved fist during the playing of the US nation anthem during the medals ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. But as this video explains, their protest was a part of a larger effort to use the Olympics to highlight racial inequality in American sports and society.

After watching the video, you might be interested in reading about the aftermath of the protest. Smith and Carlos were both suspended from the US team and expelled from the Games. They were both subject to abuse from the American press and received death threats. Australian Peter Norman, who had come in second and supported the protest, was ostracized in his own country. But when Norman died in 2006, both Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at this funeral.

A History of Policing in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2020

This video provides a quick overview of the history of policing in America through the lens of race, from the slave patrols in the South to the violent and discriminatory policing of Black migrants in the North in the midst the Great Migration. At its conclusion, historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness, asks a very direct question:

And so the question that has to be asked in the wake of George Floyd — and I think this question is being asked and answered by more white people than I’ve seen in my lifetime is — do white people in America still want the police to protect their interests over the rights and dignity and lives of Black and, in too many cases, brown, Indigenous, and Asian populations in this country?

This video is a snippet from an hour-long podcast episode of NPR’s Throughline called American Police (transcript here). (via @GeeDee215)

The Ideology of American Policing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2020

For What the police really believe, Vox’s Zack Beauchamp interviewed several former police officers and policing experts to find out how police think of themselves, their jobs, and the communities they are supposed to be protecting and serving.

Police officers across America have adopted a set of beliefs about their work and its role in our society. The tenets of police ideology are not codified or written down, but are nonetheless widely shared in departments around the country.

The ideology holds that the world is a profoundly dangerous place: Officers are conditioned to see themselves as constantly in danger and that the only way to guarantee survival is to dominate the citizens they’re supposed to protect. The police believe they’re alone in this fight; police ideology holds that officers are under siege by criminals and are not understood or respected by the broader citizenry. These beliefs, combined with widely held racial stereotypes, push officers toward violent and racist behavior during intense and stressful street interactions.

“What, to My People, is the Fourth of July?”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2020

In a powerful video for the Movement For Black Lives, Daveed Diggs asks: “What, to My People, is the Fourth of July?”

What, to my people, is the Fourth of July? My people, who are failed every day by every country, sleepless in the long night, terrorized by fireworks, we who have cried salt baths for our kin.

Look at all we have borne for you: arms, armistice, the sweetest fruits, flesh of children hidden away from the ugly summer of their own blood — we are on the front lines. Help me, tell me, what do we tell the children of your Fourth of July? What is death to a daughter? What is river to a sea? Where is the country where my people are safe?

Ancestors set the table send dream mares in high supply. Too heavy, too spent, too hot to cook, no promise beyond the sparkly simple bombs. Keep your holiday, your hunger, the blood in your teeth. Police parade down streets, proud descendants of the slave patrol. Theater of denial, a propaganda pageant, and we are on the front lines all summer. My uncle can’t sleep and he was born free. And he ain’t never been.

The text performed by Diggs — written by Safia Elhillo, Danez Smith, Lauren Whitehead, W. Kamau Bell, Angel Nafis, Idris Goodwin, Pharoahe Monch, Camonghne Felix, and Nate Marshall — was inspired by Frederick Douglass’ July 5, 1852 speech, in which he asked, “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?”

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

America’s 400-Year-Old “Shape-Shifting, Unspoken, Race-Based” Caste System

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2020

In this long and interesting piece for the NY Times, The Warmth of Other Suns author Isabel Wilkerson explains America’s Enduring Caste System.

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste, whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranks apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.

Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The lingering, millenniums-long caste system of India. The tragically accelerated, chilling and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States. Each version relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcement. A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, reinforced throughout the culture and passed down through the generations.

The article is an adapted excerpt from her forthcoming book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents:

Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people — including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others — she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

The Warmth of Other Suns is one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past decade, so I’m very much looking forward to her new one.

A Reading List: How Race Shapes the American City

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2020

From Aric Jenkins, a collection of articles on “how race continues to shape the design and infrastructure of American cities”. I’m interested to read Corinne Ramey’s piece on America’s Unfair Rules of the Road:

In the shadow of the bridge sits a small neighborhood called the West Side, where the asthma rate is more than four times the national average, and residents report a host of other health issues. Advocates say the thousands of trucks driving overhead spew harmful diesel emissions and other particulates into their community. The pollutants hover in the air, are absorbed into buildings and houses, and find their way into the lungs of neighborhood residents, who are primarily people of color. “It’s constant asthma problems on the West Side,” says Sharon Tell, a local resident.

And Un-Making Architecture from WAI Think Tank:

Buildings are never just buildings. Buildings respond to the political foundations of the institutions that fund, envision, and desire them. Buildings are physical manifestations of the ideologies they serve. Although a naively detached or romantic position may be able to render buildings as semi-autonomous artifacts capable of sheltering or enveloping space, this depoliticized attitude overlooks their historical and material relationship to regimes of violence and terror. Buildings can protect but they can also confine, instill fear, crush, oppress. Buildings can school, and foment hospitality but can imprison and torture. Buildings can be tools for ethnic segregation, cultural destruction and historical erasure. Buildings can reinforce the status quo and aide in the implementation of settler-colonial desires of expansionism. An anti-racist democratization of access is only possible through the decolonization of buildings and public spaces. Architects should be aware of the programs of the buildings they design and be held accountable for doing so.

Caroline Randall Williams: “My Body Is a Confederate Monument”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2020

In an opinion piece for the NY Times, Caroline Randall Williams writes You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument. I’ve never read an opening like this; I could barely continue:

I have rape-colored skin. My light-brown-blackness is a living testament to the rules, the practices, the causes of the Old South.

If there are those who want to remember the legacy of the Confederacy, if they want monuments, well, then, my body is a monument. My skin is a monument.

Only the truth is so devastating. Please read the entire essay. Williams will be reading this essay on Instagram on Tuesday, June 30 at 7pm ET — I’ll be there. And I just bought her book, Lucy Negro, Redux: The Bard, a Book, and a Ballet.

Update: Late last week, Williams answered some queries and comments from the readers of her piece.

Fixing Racial Bias in Journalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2020

For her series Counternarratives, artist and media critic Alexandra Bell takes newspaper articles and layouts from the NY Times that demonstrate racial bias and fixes them. For example, Bell took the notorious double profile of Michael Brown and his killer Darren Wilson and placed the focus entirely on Brown:

Counternarratives Alexandra Bell

In this video, Bell explains her process:

I think everything is about race. Black communities, gay communities, immigrant communities feel a lot of media representations to be inadequate, biased. There’s a lot of reporting around police violence and black men, and I realized a lot of the arguments that we were having were about depictions. I started to wonder how different would it be if I swapped images or changed some of the text.

See also Kendra Pierre-Louis’ recent article for Nieman Lab: It’s time to change the way the media reports on protests. Here are some ideas.

It Is Time for Reparations

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2020

In a piece for the NY Times called What Is Owed, Nikole Hannah-Jones argues that because of its sanction of slavery and subsequent legalized racial segregation and discrimination, it is time for the United States government to pay its debt to Black Americans in form of reparations.

To summarize, none of the actions we are told black people must take if they want to “lift themselves” out of poverty and gain financial stability — not marrying, not getting educated, not saving more, not owning a home — can mitigate 400 years of racialized plundering. Wealth begets wealth, and white Americans have had centuries of government assistance to accumulate wealth, while the government has for the vast history of this country worked against black Americans doing the same.

“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,” the authors of the Duke study write. “There are no actions that black Americans can take unilaterally that will have much of an effect on reducing the wealth gap. For the gap to be closed, America must undergo a vast social transformation produced by the adoption of bold national policies.”

This piece is one of the best things I’ve read this year. It is clear, focused, powerful, and persuasive. There is no amount of money that anyone could ever pay to make up for the 400+ years of absolute shit rained down on Black people by the United States of America and its precursors, but nevertheless, reparations are the only just and moral way forward for the United States.

P.S. Here’s the Duke study mentioned in the excerpt above: What We Get Wrong About Closing the Racial Wealth Gap. And the book containing a detailed plan for reparations mentioned by Hannah-Jones is From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century (ebook).

Update: Terry Gross interviewed Hannah-Jones on Fresh Air about reparations.

I think that reparations can’t just be any one thing. I think that you have to have targeted investment in Black communities and Black schools that have been generationally under-resourced. You certainly need to have a commitment to strong enforcement of existing civil rights laws, because reparations don’t do any good if you’re still facing rampant employment and housing and educational discrimination. But the center of any reparations program has to be cash payments. The only thing that closes a wealth gap is money.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2020

Former NFL linebacker and sports media personality Emmanuel Acho has started a video series on YouTube called Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. From the first episode (of two), here’s his mission statement:

In the midst of all this chaos in our world, so many of y’all have reached out to me. And by y’all, I mean white people have reached out to me asking, “How can I help? How can I join in? How can I stand with you?” So I’ve created this for you because in order to stand with us and people that look like me, you have to be educated on issues that pertain to me. And fully educated so that you can feel the full level of pain so that you can have full understanding. I fervently believe that if the white person is your problem only the white person can be your solution. And so this is made for you my white brothers and sisters to increase your level of understanding so that you can increase your level of compassion and lead ultimately to change.

For the second episode, Acho sat down with fellow Austin resident Matthew McConaughey and yes, the conversation is a little cringe-y at times:

After watching that, you might be interested in reading Langston Hughes’ poem Let America Be America Again.

O, let America be America again-
The land that never has been yet-
And yet must be-the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine-the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME-
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us Available to Watch Online for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

Netflix has put When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s 4-episode mini-series about the Central Park Five, in front of their paywall for free viewing. Here’s the trailer:

The 2013 Ken Burns documentary The Central Park Five is available to watch on the PBS site and also on Amazon.

As previously noted, DuVernay’s 13th and Selma are also both available to watch online for free.

How American Racism Influenced Adolf Hitler

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2020

In his 2018 review of several books about Nazism and Adolf Hitler, Alex Ross notes that Hitler took inspiration for the Third Reich’s anti-Semitism and the Holocaust from the United States’ genocide against indigenous peoples, treatment of African Americans (both during and after slavery), and restrictive immigration policies.

The Nazis were not wrong to cite American precedents. Enslavement of African-Americans was written into the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson spoke of the need to “eliminate” or “extirpate” Native Americans. In 1856, an Oregonian settler wrote, “Extermination, however unchristianlike it may appear, seems to be the only resort left for the protection of life and property.” General Philip Sheridan spoke of “annihilation, obliteration, and complete destruction.” To be sure, others promoted more peaceful-albeit still repressive-policies. The historian Edward B. Westermann, in “Hitler’s Ostkrieg and the Indian Wars” (Oklahoma), concludes that, because federal policy never officially mandated the “physical annihilation of the Native populations on racial grounds or characteristics,” this was not a genocide on the order of the Shoah. The fact remains that between 1500 and 1900 the Native population of U.S. territories dropped from many millions to around two hundred thousand.

America’s knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death struck Hitler as an example to be emulated. He made frequent mention of the American West in the early months of the Soviet invasion. The Volga would be “our Mississippi,” he said. “Europe — and not America — will be the land of unlimited possibilities.” Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine would be populated by pioneer farmer-soldier families. Autobahns would cut through fields of grain. The present occupants of those lands — tens of millions of them — would be starved to death. At the same time, and with no sense of contradiction, the Nazis partook of a long-standing German romanticization of Native Americans. One of Goebbels’s less propitious schemes was to confer honorary Aryan status on Native American tribes, in the hope that they would rise up against their oppressors.

Jim Crow laws in the American South served as a precedent in a stricter legal sense. Scholars have long been aware that Hitler’s regime expressed admiration for American race law, but they have tended to see this as a public-relations strategy — an “everybody does it” justification for Nazi policies. Whitman, however, points out that if these comparisons had been intended solely for a foreign audience they would not have been buried in hefty tomes in Fraktur type. “Race Law in the United States,” a 1936 study by the German lawyer Heinrich Krieger, attempts to sort out inconsistencies in the legal status of nonwhite Americans. Krieger concludes that the entire apparatus is hopelessly opaque, concealing racist aims behind contorted justifications. Why not simply say what one means? This was a major difference between American and German racism.

163 Years of The Atlantic’s Writing on Race and Racism in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2020

The Atlantic was founded in 1857 and in its early days was an outlet for prominent voices speaking out against slavery. Editor Gillian White has compiled a list of the magazine’s writing on race and racism in America from deep in the archive to the present day. It includes writing from Julia Ward Howe, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., and Stokely Carmichael along with pieces from modern voices like Bree Newsome, Eve Ewing, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi, and Nikole Hannah-Jones. In introducing the collection, White writes:

Understanding the present moment requires grappling with a history stained by racial inequity, violence, and the constant fight for forward progress. In a century and a half of writing stories about race in America, The Atlantic has published works that have improved the broad understanding of injustice in America, and also works that furthered ideas and theories that ultimately were proved wrong or harmful. To comprehend the current state of the country, we must consider the aftereffects of both categories. We must also take into account the fact that these stories, in aggregate, are overwhelmingly written by men.

And here are a few pieces I picked out for my own personal reading list:

Reconstruction by Frederick Douglass, December 1866. “No republic is safe that tolerates a privileged class, or denies to any of its citizens equal rights and equal means to maintain them.”

The Awakening of the Negro by Booker T. Washington, September 1896. “I wish my readers could have the chance that I have had of going into this community. I wish they could look into the faces of the people and see them beaming with hope and delight.”

The Negro Is Your Brother (Letter From Birmingham Jail) by Martin Luther King Jr., August 1963. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

The Prison-Industrial Complex by Eric Schlosser, December 1998. “The United States now imprisons more people than any other country in the world — perhaps half a million more than Communist China. The American inmate population has grown so large that it is difficult to comprehend: imagine the combined populations of Atlanta, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Des Moines, and Miami behind bars.”

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, June 2014. “And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations — by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences — is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely.”

Racism Is Death

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2020

In yesterday’s post about police abolition, I linked to a two-part podcast conversation between Chenjerai Kumanyika and Ruth Wilson Gilmore. I listened to the first part yesterday afternoon after posting and it was excellent, full of serious knowledge and deep context about a massive and complex American problem. But I wanted to focus here on something from the closing moments of the episode that I had never heard before: Gilmore’s definition of racism. Acknowledging that it’s a “mouthful”, she defined racism in her book Golden Gulag as “the state-sanctioned and/or extra-legal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death”.

I do not have the expertise or desire to wade into the often-contentious debate about what racism is or is not (see here for instance), but what I like about Gilmore’s take is how it explicitly includes the consequence of racism as an integral part of the definition. Racism is death — there’s a sense of moral urgency when you describe it like that, a clarity that’s absent if you’re just talking about a belief in the superiority of one race over another or even the systemic application or sanction of such prejudice.

White Noise, a Film About “the Seductive Power of Extremism”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2020

The Atlantic is releasing their first feature-length documentary later this month.1 The film is called White Noise and it’s about the white nationalist movement in the US. Director Daniel Lombroso spent four years embedded in the “alt-right” movement to figure out how it works.

Progressives like to believe that racism is an opiate of the ignorant. But the alt-right’s leaders are educated and wealthy, groomed at some of America’s most prestigious institutions. The more time I spent documenting the movement, the more ubiquitous I realized it was. I bumped into one subject dancing in Bushwick with his Asian girlfriend, and another walking around DuPont Circle hitting a vape. Their racism is woven into the fabric of New York, Washington, D.C., and Paris, just as much as Birmingham, Alabama, or Little Rock, Arkansas.

During a visit to Richard Spencer’s apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, I began to understand how the alt-right works. Evan McLaren, a lawyer, wrote master plans on a whiteboard. A band of college kids poured whiskey for Spencer, adjusted his gold-framed Napoleon painting, and discussed the coming “Identitarian” revolution. Spencer offered a sense of historical purpose to his bored, middle-class followers. In his telling, they weren’t just “white Americans,” but descendants of the Greeks and Romans. “Myths are more powerful than rationality,” Spencer told me. “We make life worth living.”

White Noise is about the seductive power of extremism. Hatred feels good. But the fix is fleeting. As the film progresses, the subjects reveal the contradictions at the heart of their world. Southern advocates for traditional gender roles, but resents the misogyny and sexism of her peers. Cernovich warns that “diversity is code for white genocide,” but has an Iranian wife and biracial kids. Spencer swears he’ll lead the white-nationalist revolution — until it’s more comfortable for him to move home to live with his wealthy mother in Montana. For so many who feel lost or alone, these avatars of hate offer a promise: Follow us, and life will be better.

I mean, I’d roll my eyes if these assholes weren’t so effective and dangerous.

The film is premiering online at AFI on June 20. There doesn’t seem to be a trailer or any clips available (which seems odd) but I’ll update this post if one materializes.

  1. And probably last? The Atlantic laid off their entire video staff in mid-May, including the director and producer of this film.

On the Public Health Experts’ Support of Antiracism Protests

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2020

In The Atlantic, epidemiologists Julia Marcus and Gregg Gonsalves explain why public health officials are not being hypocritical in their support of the antiracism protests around the country.

At its core, the argument being leveled against public-health experts is that the reason for the protests shouldn’t matter. The coronavirus doesn’t care whether it’s attending an anti-lockdown protest or an anti-racism one. But these two kinds of protests are not equivalent from a public-health perspective. Some critics might argue that the anti-lockdown protests promoted economic activity, which can help stave off the health implications of poverty. (On this count, public-health experts were ahead of the curve: Many — including one of us — were advocating for a massive infusion of assistance to individual Americans as early as March.) But these protests were organized by pro-gun groups that believe the National Rifle Association is too compromising on gun safety. Egged on by the president to “save your great 2nd Amendment,” anti-lockdown protesters stormed government buildings with assault rifles and signs reading COVID-19 IS A LIE. The anti-lockdown demonstrations were explicitly at odds with public health, and experts had a duty to oppose them. The current protests, in contrast, are a grassroots uprising against systemic racism, a pervasive and long-standing public-health crisis that leads to more than 80,000 excess deaths among black Americans every year.

If “conservative commentators” cared at all about keeping people safe from Covid-19 infection, they would have denounced the I-Need-A-Haircut protests as reckless and they didn’t. Instead, they engage in these bad faith arguments that are just designed to stir up outrage.

Gonsalves wrote a thread on Twitter a few days ago that’s relevant here as well.

The risk to all of us was inflamed by an absolute decision at the highest levels that this epidemic was not worth an all-out, coordinated, comprehensive national mobilization. It took weeks for the President to even agree that the epidemic wouldn’t go away on its own.

The US, the richest nation in the world, then couldn’t get it together to scale-up the number of tests we needed to understand what was going on in our communities with SARS-COV-2, and in the end said it was up to the states to figure it all out.

And then this is the last word as far as I’m concerned:

We’ve all been put at far more jeopardy during this pandemic by our political leaders than by the people on the streets over the past week or so.

The Incalculable Loss of Black Lives to Police Violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2020

Incalculable Loss

On Sunday May 24, the NY Times gave over their entire front page to listing the names of hundreds of victims of Covid-19 in the US. It was an iconic gesture that focused people’s attention on both the overall death toll and the stories & lives of the individual people who had been killed by the disease.

The Incalculable Loss Project has repurposed this design to honor some of the 7,000 Black Americans killed by police since 2000 and to ask why media outlets like the Times haven’t given “the same attention to this epidemic as they did Covid-19”. Each person’s name is accompanied by the name of the officer’s police department and the current status of the investigation into the killing (overwhelmingly “pending investigation”).

Incalculable Loss

A Short History of Housing Segregation in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2020

In this video for NPR, Gene Demby summarizes the history of housing segregation in America and how it’s a factor for current differences in health (poorer), wealth (much less), education (underfunded), and policing (much more aggressive) for Black communities in US cities.

If you look at the way housing segregation works in America, you can see how things ended up this way. Once you see it, you won’t be able to unsee it.

When you’re talking about housing policy in America, Kimberly Jones’ Monopoly analogy starts to sound a lot less metaphorical and more literal: if Black people cannot buy houses or can only buy houses on certain streets, they will not be able to build wealth like others can.

For more on housing segregation, check out historian Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. From a 2017 interview with Rothstein:

The federal government pursued two important policies in the mid-20th century that segregated metropolitan areas. One was the first civilian public housing program which frequently demolished integrated neighborhoods in order to create segregated public housing.

The second program that the federal government pursued was to subsidize the development of suburbs on a condition that they be only sold to white families and that the homes in those suburbs had deeds that prohibited resale to African-Americans. These two policies worked together to segregate metropolitan areas in ways that they otherwise would never have been segregated.

Rothstein talked about the book with Ta-Nehisi Coates during a conversation at Politics and Prose Bookstore.

Update: This is excellent: you can explore the maps created by the federal government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation at Mapping Inequality by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab.

These grades were a tool for redlining: making it difficult or impossible for people in certain areas to access mortgage financing and thus become homeowners. Redlining directed both public and private capital to native-born white families and away from African American and immigrant families. As homeownership was arguably the most significant means of intergenerational wealth building in the United States in the twentieth century, these redlining practices from eight decades ago had long-term effects in creating wealth inequalities that we still see today.

(via @masonadams)

“The Game Is Fixed” Against Black People in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2020

Do me a favor and take about 7 minutes to watch author Kimberly Jones’ off-the-cuff “rant” (her words) about how rioting and looting fit within the larger narrative of the economic oppression of Black people in America. I’ve never heard the long, shameful, and deadly history of white supremacy in America summed up any better or more succinctly than Jones does here. The Monopoly analogy in particular is fantastic.

When they say “Why do you burn down the community? Why do you burn down your own neighborhood?” It’s not ours! We don’t own anything! We don’t own anything! Trevor Noah said it so beautifully last night: There’s a social contract that we all have — that if you steal or if I steal, then the person who is the authority comes in and they fix the situation. But the person who fixes the situation is killing us! So the social contract is broken. And if the social contract is broken, why the fuck do I give a shit about burning the fucking Football Hall of Fame, about burning the fucking Target? You broke the contract when you killed us in the streets and didn’t give a fuck! You broke the contract when for 400 years we played your game and built your wealth!

Update: Jones has signed a deal with Henry Holt and Company to write two books, one of which will be called “How We Can Win” and will be based on the video above.