Tag Archives: Racism

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

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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Filed under Essays, Race, Sports