Tag Archives: Race

Day Six: Yes, You’re Racist; or Don’t Be an Asshole.

(image via KOLR, h/t Gawker, Mediaite)

(image via KOLR, h/t Gawker, Mediaite)

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you have to say “it’s not racist to…”, it is absolutely, positively racist. But in case some folks need reminding: yes, white pride is racist.

The question most racists love to ask is something along the lines of, “well, if blacks and Latinos and Asians can have their own associations, why can’t whites?” And the answer to that requires an understanding of the concept of racism, as it is experienced in American society.

Racism is an institution whereby one group in the majority asserts social, political and economic power over others. That power is wielded outwardly to oppress minorities through policies such as red-lining or various immigration acts that allowed for more European immigrants than ones from Africa or Asia or South America, but also through subconscious decisions born of xenophobic, racist pathologies. (And, it should be mentioned, it is because of the systemic nature of racism that whites can never experience racism in this country. They can certainly experience anti-white biases, but nothing systemic or institutional in the same manner that non-whites experience racism. Okay, glad I got that off my chest. Let’s continue.)

As Sendhil Mullainathan pointed out in the TimesThe Upshot this weekend, these pathologies have infected every inch of American society:

■ When doctors were shown patient histories and asked to make judgments about heart disease, they were much less likely to recommend cardiac catheterization (a helpful procedure) to black patients — even when their medical files were statistically identical to those of white patients.

■ When whites and blacks were sent to bargain for a used car, blacks were offered initial prices roughly $700 higher, and they received far smaller concessions.

■ Several studies found that sending emails with stereotypically black names in response to apartment-rental ads on Craigslist elicited fewer responses than sending ones with white names. A regularly repeated study by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development sent African-Americans and whites to look at apartments and found that African-Americans were shown fewer apartments to rent and houses for sale.

■ White state legislators were found to be less likely to respond to constituents with African-American names. This was true of legislators in both political parties.

■ Emails sent to faculty members at universities, asking to talk about research opportunities, were more likely to get a reply if a stereotypically white name was used.

■ Even eBay auctions were not immune. When iPods were auctioned on eBay, researchers randomly varied the skin color on the hand holding the iPod. A white hand holding the iPod received 21 percent more offers than a black hand.

You don’t have to be racist to have been influenced by a racist pathology – locking your doors while driving is not racist in and of itself, but purposely doing so while driving through Newark is racist because society has been trained to fear young black men. Again, it doesn’t mean that you are racist, it just means that society has taught you to subconsciously act on racist sterotypes. What those studies show is that racism affects the lives of people of color every day in some of the most benign ways, regardless of the intentions of whites.

The reason why black or Latino or Asian associations exists is precisely because ethnic communities feel the need to work together to better one another, to achieve a level of privilege that WASPs have enjoyed in this country for centuries.

So whiteness is the thing to aspire to. Not everyone does, of course, but many minorities have a conflicted longing for WASP whiteness or, more accurately, for the privileges of WASP whiteness. They probably don’t really like pale skin but they certainly like walking into a store without some security dude following them. Hating Your Goy and Eating One Too, as the great Philip Roth put it. So if everyone in America aspires to be WASPs, then what do WASPs aspire to? Does anyone know?

That quote is from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s phenomenal novel, Americanah (which I named my favorite novel of 2013), and it perfectly describes why minorities find the need to associate with one another and employ one another: we’re trying to get on your level. (If you also need to know why people of color need their own magazines and publications, there’s also this quote from Americanah.) We do these things because these aren’t privileges we’re afforded in society, at large; we have no representation in local, state or federal government and so we look to one another for help and opportunities.

White pride organizations are racist because there’s nothing left for white people to accomplish in this country – you have all of the privilege and security one could ever need. You’ve faced no oppression in your lifetime. (Yes, Irish, Italians and Jews have all been oppressed at various times in our history, but they’ve all now been accepted into the greater construction of “whiteness” [though, of course, anti-Semitism still exists in some pockets of society]. You’re not losing out on job opportunities in 2015 because your last name is Murphy, but you are if it’s Muhammad.) You’ve inherited wealth, sometimes for generations. You’ve even got advantages in online dating. None of this is necessarily your individual faults, but this is a level of privilege that no one else is afforded. We should all be given the same opportunities, and that’s not happening if white pride organizations – through which whites continue to assert their social, political and economic dominance by hiring and electing other whites or by segregating communities – continue to exist.

Listen, we get it. Being white is AWESOME; it doesn’t mean you’re inherently better, but it’s pretty clearly better to be white in America. I mean, you can’t dance and your rappers suck (and still benefit from the privileges of whiteness), but I understand why you love it. Thing is, you’ve already won, white people. You’ve achieved a level of privilege and security that everyone else aspires to. That everyone else is fighting for. Congratulations.

Just don’t be assholes about it.



Filed under 365 Days, Essays, Race

Day Two: Double-standards and hip-hop.

I was driving home from work the other day, and, since my phone was dead, I was forced to listen to the radio. After flipping through some stations a song called “Habits (Stay High)” came on. It’s a fairly innocuous record by (yet another) Swedish pop act, Tove Lo, about how the protagonist (presumably Ms. Lo) uses drugs and alcohol to keep herself from thinking about an ex. Nothing wrong there, really, except for the fact that the the track’s hook “I gotta stay high all the time to keep you off my mind” goes uncensored through the whole radio play.

I’m not some prude who believes this song should be censored – in fact, I am vehemently opposed to censorship of any kind – but I honestly can’t tell what the difference is between Tove Lo’s “Habits  (Stay High)” and and Three 6 Mafia’s 2005 single “Stay High,” which was radio edited to “Stay Fly.”
Time and again we’ve seen society create a double standard for hip-hop. We are even seeing courtrooms use hip-hop lyrics as evidence in court, when almost no other fictional art form is treated as such. Hip-hop artists seem to be subject to an unfair double-standard that no one else is held to. And it’s not just Tove Lo, either. Billy Joel can sing about smoking weed and jerking off without censorship, but the same rules don’t apply for hip-hop artists.
You can’t listen to “Stay High” and “Habits” and tell me that anything about the songs is inherently different other than the fact that one is sung by a white woman from Sweden and the other by black guys from Memphis. This is another example of a racist society viewing hip-hop culture as a threat to American hegemony (or the kids, or whatever). It might be something relatively small, but it speaks volumes about inequality and racial discrimination in our society.


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Game Recognize Game: On Carlos Gomez and “playing the game the right way.”

Athletes sometimes do stupid things. That’s because athletes are people, and people sometimes do stupid things – Johnny Knoxville, for instance, has somehow made a living out of it. So when athletes do stupid things, the most one should really do is laugh – mistakes are not a referendum on one’s character.

To wit:

(GIF via Mike Prada, SB Nation)

via Mike Prada, SB Nation

Nick Young took a shot that looked like it was going in – watching live, even I had thought so – so he turned around and raised his arms in celebration, only to realize the ball had spun out. After the miss, Young, or “Swaggy P,” got a little annoyed that he missed and got back on defense.

That was the end of the play.

Neither Amare Stoudemire nor Pablo Prigioni, nor any other Knick, chided Young after the play or even after the game (though it didn’t help that they had lost to Young’s team by 34 points). Fans weren’t angry at Young for “disrespecting the game” or “showing up” his opponent – we laughed. We GIF’d and Vine’d the play, chalked it up to Swaggy P being Swaggy P.

What Nick Young did on that play is, in reality, no different than what Carlos Gomez had done on Easter Sunday.

Gomez hit what he believed was a home run, flipped his bat, and took a couple of slow, admiring steps out of the box only to realize the ball had hit the wall, at which point he hauled ass to third base. It was a play that, at most, deserved a facepalm (especially for Brewers fans, considering that Gomez had potentially cost himself an inside-the-park home run).

Pirates’ starter Gerrit Cole, however, took exception to this, and shouldered the responsibility of reminding Gomez of baseball’s normative decorum – never mind the fact that Sunday’s was only the 23rd start of Cole’s career while Gomez is an eight year veteran, or that Gomez’s pre-mature celebration saved Cole and his team of an earned run – because baseball, you see, must be played “the right way,” which is to say that baseball must be played in a manner approved by folks like Gerrit Cole.

Incidents like this don’t happen that often, but they occur often enough that a familiar pattern has begun to emerge. Just last season we had different situations involving Carlos Gomez and Brian McCann, and Jose Fernandez and McCann. In each of these three situations a white, American ballplayer has decided to inform a Latin American player how they can/cannot act, and how they can/cannot celebrate their considerable feats.

(Gerrit Cole claims to have allegedly told Gomez that he can celebrate if he hits a home run, yet McCann took exception to Fernandez and Gomez celebrating after home runs – so apparently even the Protectors of the Game can’t agree on the “right way to play the game.”)

That a 23 year old in his first full big league season believes he can tell a veteran player like Carlos Gomez how to handle himself speaks, at best, to his personal privilege as a kid from Newport Beach, California, and, at worst, to his (false) sense of paternalism, an attitude which – no doubt – has been fostered by the game’s prevailing white power structure.

In 2012, Major League Baseball was 63.9% white – a number which doesn’t take into account all of the white coaches, scouts, executives, etc. around the game – and 26.9% Latino. That same year, the NBA was 78% African-American, and a majority of NBA head coaches were people of color. There’s a reason why Nick Young’s mistake is brushed off while Gomez’s is considered “disrespectful to the game”; there are no “unwritten rules” in the NBA or the NFL, but there are in baseball and golf. In a league dominated by white American culture, the majority has taken it upon themselves to dictate, judge and otherwise punish the behavior of others – assimilate, or face consequences.

Worse, this nonexistent code of conduct is seemingly enforced by umpires and the commissioner’s office, which appeared to be the case last season when Bryan Morris (perhaps not coincidentally of the Pittsburgh Pirates) plunked Jordany Valdespin after he “pimped” a home run one night earlier and faced no retribution (thanks to Zachary Levine for bringing this to my attention). Major League Baseball’s failure to suspend Morris, Cole or Brian McCann, is an implicit endorsement of these players’ actions. Their failure sends a message that white ballplayers have carte blanche to say or do whatever they’d like to black or brown players without repercussion; it sends a message to black and brown players that they cannot react to those rules henceforth established by their white counterparts, lest they be branded as “thugs.”

This isn’t to defend the actions of Carlos Gomez, he clearly overreacted, but an overreaction is the result of consistently being told that you’re not carrying yourself correctly, or playing the game properly – even if you led the entire league in bWAR last year. As Tomas Rios told me on Twitter, Gomez has taken so much shit over the years that he’s simply decided to stop taking it – he’s earned his place in the game, same as McCann and especially Cole. He’s one of the best players in the entire sport, who the fuck is Gerrit Cole to tell him what he can or cannot do?

These incidents, however, aren’t truly about “respecting the game” or “playing the game the right way” (Craig Calcaterra’s done a pretty good job of illustrating why that’s bullshit), after all one of the most storied (and perhaps apocryphal) moments in baseball history is Babe Ruth’s “called shot” during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. (Could you imagine the reaction if Yasiel Puig had done this?) What these incidents are about is one group of people enforcing certain behaviors and attitudes on others without consideration for their own cultural norms. This does not mean that they’re racist, rather that they’re staking a false ownership claim over the culture of baseball.

Baseball does not have to represent all things to all people; it’s a game that is played differently all over the world, whether in the US, Japan, Cuba or the Netherlands. Kids in the Dominican Republic and kids in Orange County both grow up playing baseball, but they might learn to play different styles of baseball in the same sense that English is spoken in England, the US and Jamaica, but they’re all different dialects – different cultures have adopted the game and made it their own.

(There’s an argument to be made – one that I do not possess the data nor time to make – that baseball’s cultural exclusivity plays a role in Major League Baseball’s steady decline in African-American players. Sure, blacks and Latinos can play big league ball, but if the sport isn’t accepting of their cultures and personalities, why would they want to play baseball if they could play a sport like basketball, where their cultures and personalities aren’t just accepted, but embraced? Characters like Nick Young/Swaggy P, JaVale/Pierre McGee or Ron Artest/Metta World Peace could never exist in baseball, the closest we’ve ever gotten are Nyjer Morgan’s “Tony Plush” days in Milwaukee, and he found himself in Japan two years later [though he’s back now].)

If Major League Baseball wishes to become the globalized sport that they clearly aspire to, they cannot, and should not, expect for their players to assimilate into this milquetoast version of baseball we play here in the States. Carlos Gomez – a man whose playing style places his body at risk of injury on a nightly basis – plays the game “the right way.” So, too, does Brian McCann; and Gerrit Cole; and every other player in baseball. That’s because there is no right way. Everyone who has ever stepped foot on a baseball diamond – whether they be from California, the DR, Japan or any other place where baseball is played – has their own way of playing the game, none is more right than the next.

Likewise, maybe there’s no way to “respect the game” other than by playing hard and embracing the styles, cultures and norms of all others who do, even those who “pimp” on triples – as the old pimping proverb goes: game recognize game.

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The view from Brown America.

Earlier this week a co-worker told me that I should be “glad” that the young man, whom we’ll refer to as “The Saudi Marathon Man,” was racially profiled by the Boston police and the federal authorities. He told me that racial profiles and stereotypes were borne of “statistics” – that if we were to “look at the numbers,” the odds were high that the perpetrator(s) of the attacks at the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon were “one of those types.”

“Tell me that again the next time I’m at the airport,” I told him.

“You should be proud to be racially profiled. It’s the only thing that keeps us safe in this country.”

I then asked him if he had ever been the victim of racial profiling, and he – a white man – recounted a story in which he was the victim of “discrimination.” It was 1978, and he was lost, driving in a “bad neighborhood” in Jersey City with his future wife, when he was stopped by police who had mistook him for a drug-dealer. That’s it. No detention. No interrogation. He was pulled over and subsequently let go, and yet this story clearly still bothers him, even 35 years later.

I could understand his frustration, after all, this sort of thing has happened to me before, but the only thing I could think of responding with was, “Now imagine if that happened to you all the time.”

Since 9/11 we’ve all been trained in the practice of “If you see something, say something.” In other words: if you see something suspicious, alert the authorities. But what if you are consistently that something suspicious? What if it’s your friend, or your roommate, or your brother or sister? Are we supposed to be “proud” to live in a xenophobic nation which discriminates against its citizens based on skin color? Are we supposed to be “proud” of our public humiliation at baseball games and concerts and train stations?

Is this the tax millions of Americans are forced to pay for looking superficially different or believing in an alternate divine being?

In today’s society, white privilege it isn’t just about access and wealth and opportunity, it isn’t just about being able to do whatever the fuck it is you want to do, it’s about specific freedoms which white Americans are afforded that others are not: the freedom from persecution and the freedom from discrimination. In a nation in which the government – and the media – practices in the otherization of so-called “minority” races, white Americans are free to live without the fear of being considered a criminal because a suspect shares their skin-tone.

That our first instinct following an attack is to hope and pray that it wasn’t someone who looks like us – and that yours isn’t – says all you need to know about how we are each perceived within our own country.

The difference between White America and Brown America is that, in White America, you fear terrorism because you fear death; in Brown America, we fear terrorism because we fear being considered a terrorist. We fear being detained for hours/days/weeks/years without cause. We fear hate and vitriol toward our people and our religions. We fear attacks on our houses of worship. We fear being pushed onto subway tracks. We fear hellfire raining on our towns and villages in Pakistan and Yemen. We fear Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, and Michele Bachmann, and Matt Drudge and the Ghost of Andrew Breitbart.

The difference between White America and Brown America is that we fear all of them, but we don’t fear you. We know that you don’t hate Muslims. We know that you don’t indiscriminately hate people with dark skin. We know that, when Timothy McVeigh or Terry Nichols or Ted Kaczynski or James Holmes or Adam Lanza murder innocent Americans, or when the Westboro Baptist Church burns the Qur’an, we shouldn’t view all whites, or all Christians, with suspicion. We know that Mississippi shouldn’t be “turned into a parking lot.” We know and understand that a few loud and crazy people are not indicative of an entire race or religion.

Whatever our faith, whatever our race, we all follow the same ethical code: do unto others… And, yet, somehow, throughout American history – slavery, the Trail of Tears, Japanese internment, the Patriot Act – we’ve seen this Golden Rule be disregarded entirely when it could benefit the racial hegemony of white Americans.

The difference between White America and Brown America, then, is that, in White America, rules don’t apply.


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Justin Upton and baseball’s subtle racial code.

I was in the Poconos with some friends last weekend when the AFC Championship Game came on. I don’t care much for football these days, but when I did care about it I always enjoyed watching the Patriots play (except if they were playing the Giants) because I found Bill Belichick’s meticulous gameplans fascinating. There are very few coaches I can recall who have gotten so much production out of other teams’ castaways. So it was surprising to me when I realized that literally all of my friends were rooting for the Baltimore Ravens. It’s an interesting cultural dichotomy – a team of relative underdogs have managed to become the most hated team in football. I had to ask: why is everyone rooting for the Ravens? One of my friends responded, “I feel like the Patriots are a white team.”

I had never thought of it this way until now, but the Patriots are, sort of, a collective embodiment of the sportswriter’s wet dream: they’re smart, they make hustle plays, they have undersized players who play well beyond their physical skillset. The Patriots aren’t a white team in terms of complexion – like any other NFL team, they roster a large number, if not a majority of, black players – they’re a white team because of the narrative which surrounds them. Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker will never be confused for Adrian Peterson or Calvin Johnson, but Bill Belichick utilizes them in such a way that he’s optimized their production to the point where they aren’t just valuable players, but – in Welker’s case – legitimate stars. The way we talk about our modern athletes is through a sort of racial code of adjectives and terms. The Patriots are a white team because we define them as “smart” or “professional,” we say Tom Brady has “intangibles,” or we define Danny Woodhead as “gritty.” Meanwhile we define Adrian Peterson or Calvin Johnson as “freakishly athletic” or “talented.” These aren’t terms which are used solely in football, though, they’re pervasive throughout the entire sporting world.

During the week of August 11-17, 2011, Adam Felder and Seth Amitin coded every Major League Baseball broadcast (over 200 games) to document how broadcasters would describe players of different races and nationalities. What they had discovered was that:

[F]oreign-born players—the vast majority of whom are Latino—are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to receiving praise for intangibles. Latino players are almost 13 percent less likely to be praised for intangibles than their white counterparts. Announcers are nearly 14 percent more likely to praise a US/Canadian-born player for intangibles than they are their international counterparts.

While there is no difference between race or nationality when it comes to performance-based descriptions, effort-based and character-based descriptions make a big difference. Players born in the US or Canada are 10 percent more likely to be praised for their effort. White players are 10 percent more likely to be praised for their character.

Indeed, it is not so much that announcers are unwilling to praise non-white players, but the terminology they use in so doing falls into a set of pre-defined “code words.” For example, if a player is described as being a “guy next door,” or “regular guy” there is a greater than 80 percent chance that player is white. If a player is described as “impatient” or “over-aggressive,” there is a greater than 50 percent chance that player is not white. This echoes the findings of similar research in the field of print sports journalism.

We’ve created narratives around our athletes based on their skin color and/or nationality, which have changed our perceptions of them. We classify white players as “hard workers” and we appropriate them with intangible qualities, while non-white players are “gifted” or “naturally talented.” The truth is, though, that anybody who makes it to the highest level of their sport has worked their ass off to get there, and worked even harder to stay. Which is why it is, frankly, lazy when sportswriters define black and Latino ballplayers as “lazy” or some other unflattering description. Every player doesn’t sprint down to first base on every weakly hit groundball, and yet it seems as if it is consistently blacks and Latinos who are derided for their “lack of hustle.”

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