On Thursday, November 10, 2016, I attended the protests that had unfolded across the street from Trump Tower after Donald Trump had been elected the 45th President of the United States. I talked with anti-Trump activists, people who voted for Gary Johnson, people who voted for Trump, and people who didn’t vote at all in an attempt to understand how these unfathomable election results happened. (Running time: 32 minutes, 9 seconds)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Two years ago, in response to the senseless deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the abusive hands of the police, I wrote what turned out to be a highly controversial short story called “To Serve and Protect.” It was my effort to portray the institutional trappings that perpetuate racism, police brutality, and our endemic gun culture. I submitted the story to several literary journals. All rejected it. While many of these outlets praised the story, the editors were greatly unnerved by the story’s hard truths. One editor informed me that she didn’t want to alienate her readers. And as my story made the rounds at a snail’s crawl, there were more murders, needless murders, of innocent and unarmed men by the police all around the nation. In the past week, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile also lost their lives, their final moments recorded in harrowing video that will numb and horrify anyone who is human. And that wasn’t all. Last night, five police officers were killed by snipers during a Dallas protest against police brutality. Clearly, the problem that I was attempting to dramatize isn’t going away. Clearly, the literary world is a timid and gutless bunch when it comes to publishing fiction that provokes and reflects the realities of our time. What is especially shocking to me is that, while I have not changed my story in any way, every sentence still applies. I cannot stay silent about the headlines any longer. So I have decided to publish my story here, with the hope that it might help at least a few readers to make sense and find solutions to the terrible American nightmare. Silence is not an option when it comes to stopping racism and violence. It’s on us to confront the ugly realities — through peace, art, and action — that cause these pointless plagues to endure.
We left the nigger’s body rotting on the dark and filthy asphalt for four hours as we swatted away the flies swirling around the exit wounds in drunken loops. The insects hoped to plug their thin trunks into six fresh holes spilling out the nigger’s once young blood, which dried into the baking black cracks, absorbing the funhouse light of our whirling sirens. You chided us for hitching the yellow tape into your front yards, but we can’t fulfill our duties if we don’t stretch the perimeter of a crime scene into your personal space. We asked you to move back as you lashed out with rubber necks and flimsy accusations. We enforced curfew so you wouldn’t kill yourselves and you scolded us for not calling the paramedics fast enough. You aligned yourselves with the helicopter journalists after we threw those pesky gnats into vans and cells and any space we could call prison when they pressed past the limits of their credentials and tried churning their tyro familiarity with our precinct into a national story. You never saw the fear that clouded inside the whites of our eyes.
Not that we’d let you.
Modern policing demands the deafening squelch of our sound cannons when you won’t heed our crystal-clear commands through the speakers. We are the ones in control. Not you. We crank up our warnings because your ears choose to deafen.
The nigger wasn’t armed, or maybe he was. Maybe it was a gun we couldn’t find. Maybe it was the half-melted Hershey’s bar we found buried in his hoodie pocket or the burner phone lodged in the seat of his jeans. The evidence will show that we had to take the nigger down, that he was a credible threat, and all this will wash out your social media speculations. We are working with the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Highway Patrol, any old coot with a badge pushing his beak into our jurisdiction. We will never have our men found guilty. We have the President of the United States, the Governor, and the Mayor all on our side. We can produce videos, radio scanner chatter, logs, reports, just about anything needed for a slam-dunk case. We will respond to your sunshine requests, but you must understand that it will take time for our overworked and underpaid staff to sift through your poorly worded entreaties. And by the time you get the docs you so desperately crave, it will be too late. Our first priority is to keep the community safe.
We asked the nigger to cooperate, but he wouldn’t raise his hands in the air. Dig all you want into the back story of the two primary officers involved. Why do you think we gave you their names? We know when whiny lions need measly scraps to chew on. We can assure you that every member of our department hoped the nigger would adhere to our request and step peacefully into our protective arms. The tape will show that our voices did not quaver or waver once when we crooned through our bullhorns. We were calm and professional and the nigger told us to fuck off. He cited an institution abolished 150 years ago, but we’ve read our history and we know that we’re on the right side. The nigger told us that he was tired of being harassed and that he would never be questioned or taken in. And he started waving his arms and jumping up and down, which is something you should never do in front of boys in blue. It was a common tale we see all the time: a terrified man hiding behind bold talk and false bluster. So we shot him. Because we never look in the mirror. All told, it took about two seconds. Happens all the time. If you were walking in our lead brogans and you saw that the devil had something more than fight or flight to offer the universe, wouldn’t you make the same call? Are you up on this year’s statistics? Do you have any real idea how many niggers have reached into their pockets to shoot our guys? And don’t give us that old song and dance about banning firearms or limiting our supplies. We know the Constitution (including the Thirteenth Amendment) as well as the local criminal codes, but there’s only enough room to enforce one canon. We’re here because you couldn’t form a well-regulated militia to save your hides. You’re so busy shooting up your families and blowing up stores that you never notice the bullets hurled our way as we’re trying to help you. So we’re the ones who take the rap and the crap. Look at it from our perspective. If we let one nigger walk away, then all of you will. And, yes, contrary to your racial profiling conspiracies, we’d let a dumb cracker who won’t show us his ID expire in the street the same way. There are monkeys of every color on the rainbow and they all need to learn how to behave.
So now that the nigger is dead, what do you want us to do? Stop our operations? String up the guilty parties in front of the central precinct? You don’t want to work with us and we don’t want to work with you. We know you’ll always view us as grim grunts lusting over the next 1033 shipment from the Beltway. You think our cocks harden over the wet dream of rushing into a broken hood with fresh Hummers. Well, if we were so committed to shooting tear gas at you at all hours, why do you think we let you steal some of our toys? Sure, there’s some under-the-table income that smooths out our take home pay, but maybe we wanted to give you mouthy cunts a fighting chance. You were the ones who photographed us and shared your slanted stories on YouTube. You call us pigs and crackers (and Oreos and Uncle Toms if we share your shade).
All told, we’ve been pretty fucking forgiving. It isn’t our fault that we have quotas to meet and misdemeanors to invent. We’ve given you plenty of opportunities to wiggle out of a trivial ticket, but you still insist that you’re better, even as you slip up and give us lip. Do you want this to become Detroit? How long would you uppity fuckers last if we left the streets? If you think we’re putting down our guns and letting you animals take over our turf after we’ve managed to make a few blocks safe over fifteen patient years, then we’ve got a subprime mortgage for you to sign. By all means, shoot yourselves up with semiautomatics. If you’re going to shoot someone, why not kill all the bankers? Get the city council to pay one of our officers more than thirty-five thou a year and we wouldn’t have to take any…
…time before I punch out, as soon as I squared away the next shift with the sarge. Eight years of this shit and the gray was debuting at the top of my chops and my heavy body was coming home more sore with the shellacking each night. Chasing down suspects, perp walks executed with a more elaborate show, more time testing out the latest from Washington, having to fire back shots more and more as the crime rate soared and we were busting our asses to beat the CompStat numbers and our computers malfunctioned and the paperwork rose in tall rough impossible towers. Fiddling thumbs before the door, watching the sarge lurch left, right, left, right, as a burly suspect was two minutes away from confessing to a crime he never committed, the good cop burning the sin into his brain with a bullshit plea bargain from the Frank Castle playbook. Empty squares on the shift sheet staring back, the texts coming in from the wife, who was waiting, like me, to know when I had free time.
“Tomorrow,” said the sarge. “Collect your car at midnight.”
The kid’s shift. Rodriguez, that hotshot flyboy who’d only been here two years. He called in a favor. The way I once did before they tilted their ears to the new blood. That gave me eight hours to unwind, including sleep. I’d supported Gibson and Jiminez when they shot up that unarmed kid. Fingers were itching harder these days. No more apprentice period. Small wonder that the community we tried to defend didn’t trust us anymore.
I checked my gear into the locker. In desperate need of a shower, but I never hit the stalls with these guys. They’re still shaking off the sticky dregs of rapid-fire indignities doled out by the top brass when they can’t type out their reports on time or they don’t meet the daily quota. The same eyes that size up a crime scene have a way of searing into you. I can’t even count the times that something I’ve muttered in a stressful haze gets recalled by another grunt fond of chewing out my ass when the captain calls us in for a new sting.
Sure, I’ll meet the boys for basketball and barbeques and donuts. Never in bars. I know other cops get off on walking behind a 7-11 counter and grabbing the greasy pot that’s been rusting there for hours and hours. They fill up their Styrofoam cups of shady joe without paying a dime. That’s never been my way. These guys mark their territory because there’s nobody waiting at home. You learn who the lonely ones are because you forge tight bonds fast, especially if you want to survive. The endless stream of code and calm crackling through the radio leaves little time for jokes, unless, by some miracle, you’re ahead on the calls. But the never-ending pace doesn’t halt the young hungry fucks, the ones hungering for a detective badge, from nipping at your battered heels.
I’m a good cop compared to most of these animals. But even good cops lose their cool and take out their shit on a casual scumbag. You don’t rat out your peers, not if you want to live tomorrow. You look the other way and hope that the other guy softens over time.
I don’t take bribes, but I will take gifts. I stick within my salary. I take the old lady out for dinner at the seafood place once a year on her birthday, but we do have two kids and that sucks up expenses. It’s hard enough to come home and not beat the brats within an inch of their lives for something that has nothing to do with them. I don’t know what’s harder. Keeping expenses within your frugal budget or never blowing up. But it’s too late to change. By the time my youngest hits eighteen, I’ll be well past the age for a graceful career change.
I never would have had this life if I hadn’t walked into a donut shop one foggy morning. I helped nab one of those scam artists who target the dopey guys working the register. The fucker was a big man with long dreads grown from some reggae obsession lasting longer than an old fuck’s Reader’s Digest subscription. I watched the scammer lay into the register guy, claiming he never got change back from his twenty. He came in during the rush, scoping out the place to make sure it was understaffed. There are better ways to squeeze ten bucks out of a dummy, but his crime was so small time that nobody wanted to step in. Nobody wants to do anything anymore. But I saw the whole thing. The bastard had to be stopped. So I grabbed his arms and slammed his head onto the counter and told him that I was making a citizen’s arrest. The dopey guy behind the counter called the cops. The whole donut shop cheered me on, telling me that I was a hero, telling me that they wished they had my courage because the scammer was a big man with the kind of presence that suggests homicidal intent. It was the last time anyone told me that I did a good job, that I had a place in life. I told the detective everything: the crooked slant of the scammer’s upper teeth, the faint scar he had on his chin, the suspicious boom of his voice, the banged up Chevy Beretta with its dopey diagonal frame. He laughed, fired up two cigarettes, passed me one, and said I’d be a good cop. I called the recruitment line. The rest is my sad personal history.
We hate ourselves. We go to bed angry and wake up angrier the next morning. If we could blow our collective brains out, we would. We’re so wiped out at the end of the day. It’s an exhaustion most of you can only dream about.
Yes, we shot the nigger. We aren’t going to deny that. But we became the niggers of the workforce a long fucking time ago. There’s no escaping our destiny. We’ll go on killing niggers until the captain gives us the bright gold watch and sends our spent and battered husks to Florida. There’s no room for idealism in this job. If you want uplift, join a glee club.
The one thing that keeps us going is our responsibility to stub out crime, to do the best we can. But sooner or later, you come to understand that everyone is a criminal. And while you can check in your brain and keep your head down and wonder how the years rolled by so fast, we have to endure the riffraff and live with the burden of too much authority. But we’ll keep on going. We’ll keep on going because our mission is to serve and protect.
Two cops were gunned down near Myrtle and Tompkins Avenue on Saturday afternoon. It happened near my old neighborhood. There was a palpable panic that hit the latte drinkers like an epidemic, as if one shooting had the power to halt the eastward wave of gentrification. The more troubling question, of course, beyond the immediate concern for the victims’s families, was whether this incident would serve as a smoking gun for an altogether different war against peaceful activists, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and any person standing in the NYPD’s way.
Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the gunman who killed Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, was neither a protester nor a political agitator, unless one counts Instagram photos as a manifesto. He was a mentally disturbed man, admitting to an unspecified illness in court, and he shot his ex-girlfriend on Saturday, only to continue his spree at Bed-Stuy. Thus, Brinsley’s “motive,” which has been widely associated with Eric Garner, could just as easily have been hearing one too many treacly Christmas carols at the supermarket.
In all the finger wagging and op-ed quarterbacking, there has been little ink devoted to how a man like Brinsley obtained his silver pistol. Much like Elliot Rodger back in May, Brinsley was eager to communicate his plan (“I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today”), motivated by hate, and carried out his violent rampage on people who were doing nothing: in this case, two cops who were merely eating their lunch. Whether Brinsley felt oppressed in an altogether different way, and didn’t feel he could express himself through peaceful means, is a matter that will likely have to be settled when further evidence pours in. But in light of 2014’s repugnant buffet of brutal violence, sexual assault allegations, #gamergate and other misogynist outings, and relentless racism, one must legitimately ask why it all seems to be spilling out now.
The loss of two cops deserves our sorrow and our respect. This was a violent and ineffable act, and the NYPD certainly deserves to mourn these losses.
Yet this incident must not be used by the NYPD to elude culpability for the murders of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley, who were both killed while unarmed and who both did not need to die. The NYPD must not stifle the necessary protests that will help bring about reform, much less any investigation into deeply inhumane and flagrantly over-the-top practices. The NYPD can complain about “NYPD KKK” epithets in chalk until it is as blue in the face as it is in uniform, but is not the written word better than the loaded gun? Surely, the NYPD must understand that there is a lot of rage over Garner, Gurley, and Michael Brown. The protests have attracted tens of thousands of people and, despite one questionable incident involving a bag of hammers, these efforts have been relatively peaceful.
Moreover, the NYPD is contributing to divisiveness. There were the I CAN BREATHE shirts brought by a Colorado man on Friday night, actively mocking Eric Garner’s dying words and heating up tensions with protesters on the other side. Then there was the NYPD’s astonishing disrespect for Mayor de Blasio on Saturday night, in which cops turned their backs when the Mayor entered a presser with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton at Woodhull Hospital.
The NYPD has been accustomed to getting what it wants and, as 1,000 more cops will be hired next year, there is little doubt that its militarized presence will escalate. And maybe that’s the problem with America right now. If everyone insists on being greedy and eating what little they have left of the pie, how will we learn to get through hard times?
by Jean Love Cush
Amistad, 272 pages
There are petulant Caucasians who stretch out their soft, unfettered, and upper middle-class hands for the gluten-free, vegan muffins at their cozy corner bakery when they’re not waiting for the afternoon dacha trip to stave off the high stress of a Tuesday morning hot yoga session. And then there is the rest of America: those who try to make ends meet with a minimum wage job and little more than a high school education, families crowded inside small apartments who go to bed with the nightly reports of gunfire, and young African-Americans who cannot run into a cop without being handed some bogus rap (and, in the case of Eric Garner, killed for wanting to be left alone). One world remains blissfully unaware of the other. The other world must contend with its stories being excised from mainstream culture, even as it must stifle its anger at being marginalized or erased altogether from vital conversations.
One would think that the variegated possibilities of literature would be robust enough to bridge this awful gap, but we have seen whitewashed book covers, YA characters of color doomed to what Christopher Myers refers to as “the apartheid of children’s literature,” bestselling African-American authors told that there is no audience for their work, and racism still lingering in the science fiction world. Yet Jean Love Cush’s Endangered, a powerful work of fiction that, in a more civilized and inclusive world, would be discussed at book clubs and held up in independent bookstores as a vital glimpse inside neglected truths, has been completely ignored by newspapers and abandoned by purportedly enlightened tastemakers fond of uttering the defensive words “Some of my best friends are…” at cocktail parties.
The book, set just after Obama’s inauguration, centers around a fifteen-year-old boy in Philadelphia named Malik Williams who, like any black kid in the wrong place at the wrong time, is arrested because he vaguely matches the general description of a homicide suspect. Malik’s mother, Janae, who works as a cafeteria worker, tries to rescue her son between work stints she is barely able to reduce to half-shifts. She cannot afford an attorney who can offer the appropriate defense on her meager salary. The prosecution wishes to try Malik as an adult. Malik’s story is picked up by the media, who wishes to spin his narrative into a fearful vision of cities gripped by violence, complete with armchair academics insisting that trying children as adults is the only way to combat the problem. (On this point and many others, Cush is dead on. It is quite easy to find these specious arguments for “responsibility” if you poke around FOX News.) As Janae becomes a more uncomfortably visible participant in her son’s story, she comes to understand how the media has built a regressive belief culture on racial bias:
As a young girl, she’d come to believe that it was black men who committed all the crimes. They were the ones who were identified in the news stories by the anchors and reporters she’d trusted. Even when a news story left out the racial description, it was easy to fill in the blank and assume the perpetrator was black because of how many other times the bad guy was identified was black. Now, Janae knew that the images she saw on the news, the stories they chose to report on, and even the news angle had more to do with the story the reporter wants to tell or the agenda of the network than a deep-seated passion to get at the truth.
In a nod to Richard Wright’s Boris Max, Cush introduces Roger Whitford, a prominent white human rights attorney who helps Janae with her case. But there is also Calvin Moore, a black attorney who worked his way into a big firm out of the ghetto, blackmailed by one of the partners into becoming involved in the case “that we cannot have any part of because of the potential fallout from it.” Both Whitford and Moore work under the guise of the Center for the Protection of Human Rights, a controversial organization offering the provocative thesis that the Endangered Species Act should be extended to black boys, under the theory that nearly every statistic shows that young blacks are fated to be massacred.
Many of the stats that Cush conveys through her characters can actually be backed up. Last October, The Sentencing Project submitted a harrowing report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, revealing that one in three African American males born today can expect to find themselves in prison at any given time in their lives. The report (PDF) cited black youth’s disproportionate incarceration. Blacks are 16% of all American children, yet make up 28% of juvenile arrests. According to the report, which relied on government statistics and academic scholarship, this unpardonable disparity cannot be pegged solely on poverty and a higher crime rate. Implicit racial bias, predicated upon overworked cops making impulsive decisions and the majority of our nation associating African-Americans with such modifiers as “dangerous,” “aggressive,” “violent,” and “criminal,” is also to blame.
So there’s something refreshingly risky and necessary in Cush unpacking her Endangered Species Act premise. In fact, the idea is not unique to Cush. In 2012, D.L. Hughley made a mockumentary (see clip above) in which he lobbied to declare African-Americans an endangered species. In February 2014, Wayne Brady was courageous enough to declare that “the young black man is becoming an endangered species.” Like caustic headlines from The Onion, perhaps these dialogues in comedy and in fiction presage real events.
But the concept also means comparing young African-Americans to animals — a prospect that Janae isn’t especially thrilled about and one that bears uncomfortable resonances to Anthony Cumia’s racist Twitter tirade and 911 operator April Sims’s similarly atavistic sentiments. The suggestion here is that pursuing a severe protective measure for blacks in response to escalating violence could involve playing into the remaining racist sentiments held by those in power.
Endangered is not a perfect book. It is riddled with some undercooked prose (“It was as if fire had darted from her eyes and mouth and singed the hell out of him” and beads of sweat used too often as a shorthand description for tension). But the book crackles with challenging considerations one does not often see in contemporary fiction and is greatly helped by the undeniable momentum of its thrilling story, even if its socially conscious melodrama results in some extraordinary conduct by a judge late in the book. Nevertheless, Endangered is a truer, braver, and more emotional novel than most of the lumpy oatmeal pumped out of the Brooklyn bourgie mill. I would rather read a slightly flawed yet highly visceral book going for broke than another myopic and overly praised entry in the Brooklyn latte genre, and I suspect so would most of America.
Jesmyn Ward is most recently the author of Men We Reaped. She previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #463.
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Subjects Discussed: Adorable literary babies, the notion of “home” in Mississippi, the Delta Blues, Big K.R.I.T., having a very large extended family, environments that foster great art, Kiese Laymon, why culture demands engagement, Mississippi being dead last in statistics, statistics vs. stories, W.E.B. du Bois’s notion of “double consciousness,” Ward seeing her mother in another context, emotional associations from phrases in languages, “soda” vs. “pop” vs. “cold drank,” Southern language, how the world is prerigged against the poor and the black, having to settle for “live” instead of “live good,” losing early optimism, Ward losing her brother, embracing fatalism and nihilism, C.J. becoming convinced that he would die young, young men who can’t envision a future, finding hope while living in an impoverished world, coming to an understanding of grief, how family and community are elastic and intertwined, finding hope in future generations through memories, Ward’s mother, paying it forward, people who don’t have food in the house, comparisons between Daddy in Salvage the Bones and how Ward wrote about her father in Men We Reaped, how memoir creates additional need which transcends fiction, the difficulties of fictionalizing complicated people, the advantages of creative nonfiction, human contradictions, Ward’s martial arts skills, training with nunchaku and swords, being bullied by racist kids, finding ways of defending yourself when you’re outnumbered, fight or flight, being attacked by a pit bull, suffering from low self-esteem, turning to alcohol to cope, avoiding writing about writing, how to contend with grief when the public playground has been officially designated as a graveyard, the government shutdown, why people care more about baby pandas at the National Zoo than poor people who need food, David Simon, The Wire, journalism vs. storytelling, mediocre white artists who appropriate the best of black culture, shying away from true engagement, white people in the literary world who get a privileged pass, when the Other has to soften itself for white consumption, timid Goodreads reviewers, Mitchell S. Jackson, response to writers of color, “designated” African-American authors, Ward’s difficulty with the telephone, receiving terrible news, and finding the bravery to take in difficult communication.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I want to get into this incident late in the book where you describe being bullied by racist kids. There’s one moment after they crack some really terrible quip about lynching you where you say, “You ain’t going to do nothing.” And these kids, they just dissemble. They just disappear. They have nothing to say after that. And it’s this fascinating moment, particularly when we’re looking at this other incident with this kid Topher, who was verbally pulverizing you. And the teacher’s just standing there not willing to acknowledge the racist language. You write about how the kids, some of whom were your friends, “they never took up for me, for Black people, when I was in the room.” And throughout this book, you don’t let yourself off the hook. I mean, you write about how you were scared to walk through certain neighborhoods. You write about how your little brother, two years younger, had more courage in a certain situation. And so when we’re talking of this notion of self-defense, I have to ask you, Jesmyn, what do you think it was that caused you to not only stand up to these kids, but also do something that either the other black kids in the school couldn’t do? That’s something that was extraordianrily rare, especially because you’re not exactly the most extroverted person in the world.
Correspondent: So what do you think it was that caused you to really get these kids rightfully off of your back?
Ward: I don’t really know. Especially because, before then and even afterwards, I wasn’t very good at taking up for myself. And I think that part of that was informed by the fact that I had really low self-esteem. Because I feel like the world, and also what I saw in my community, had taught me the wrong things about what it meant to be black and poor and a woman in the South. And so I had awful self-esteem. But I don’t know. There was something about that moment — maybe because they were so overt and there were so many of them. It was a pretty large group. Six, seven boys. And they were so much older than I was. You know, I was really young when that happened. I was in seventh or eighth grade and they were upperclassmen.
Correspondent: So they were much taller too.
Ward: Much taller than I was.
Correspondent: Were they pretty muscular?
Ward: Some of them were. So I think that it was a moment where I was so clearly outnumbered and overpowered that maybe it was partly motivated by instinct, right? Fight or flight. And, for once, my response wasn’t just to leave or passively endure it. It was to actually fight. So I think a lot of it was driven by instinct. So I just came out and said it. “You ain’t going to do nothing to me. It’s not going down like that.”
Correspondent: Why do you think these instincts could only come out during certain moments? I mean, you’ve clearly had a fairly remarkable life of getting out of this situation. But what do you think it was that encouraged those instincts to come out at the right moments? Because of course, they came out at the most damaging moments as well.
Ward: Well, I think maybe the situation was so — you know, I said in that moment that the odds were really against me. I was clearly overpowered. Clearly outnumbered. And then my response was to fight in that moment. But then it also makes me think about when I was attacked by that pit bull, right? Clearly the dog is very much stronger than me. Has more weapons than I have. It would have been very easy for me to come out worse in that situation than I did. But in that moment, I chose to fight. That that was my instinctual response, right? That I fought. In both of those instances. And I think maybe in certain situations like that, that they’re the kind of situations that are so severe that the part of me that had the problem with low self-esteem, right? Of course, it’s the part that overthunk everything and that overprocessed everything. So that here in these moments, there’s no opportunity to think. All I could do was react. So my reaction in those moments was to fight. So maybe that’s why. These are these moments where the part of me that has low self-esteem can’t think about it and can’t process that moment in that way. So then I just react without thinking. And that’s what happens.
Correspondent: There is something interesting in that pit bull incident. There’s a sentence you write where you say, “The long scar in my head feels like a thin plastic cocktail straw, and like all war wounds, it itches.” And in light of how you went through this period of drinking, I’m wondering how long it took for you to make this connection between surviving a war and, with the cocktail straw, turning to drink in this effort to cope, in this effort to deal with the pain and to combat this low self-esteem.
Ward: It took me a long time. You know, I don’t think that I began to realize the way that I was turning to alcohol in order to deal with what I’d been through. Probably I began to realize that while I was at Michigan. While I was in New York, and I was doing the drinking when I said I was buying bottles of rum and basically just drinking them with a little bit of sugar. I didn’t realize it then. And I think that was from 2003, so I was in the throes of it. But it wasn’t until around 2006. Because I began to drink alone. And that’s when it suddenly hit me. Like what I was. Because I would drink alone and then I would become very depressed and very moody. And I would act out. And, see, before whenever I’d done that sort of drinking, I had roommates. I lived with other people. We were out in social situations. So I didn’t really think about it. But there was something about beginning to drink alone that made me suddenly begin to draw those conclusions between what I’d gone through and how I was responding to it and how I was basically self-medicating with alcohol.
Correspondent: It’s fascinating to me that you don’t really get into the beginning of your writing in this memoir. It comes from the exact same impulses as this kind of self-medicating, as this drinking, as this effort to combat terror, fear, low self-esteem. And I’m wondering if it’s even possible for you to even write about the beginning of how writing brought you out of this and allowed you to really manage these emotions more effectively.
Ward: I don’t know why I didn’t really speak more about it in the book or write more about that in the book. I don’t really know. I’ve spoken about it before. I sometimes speak to different universities and I have a speech that I usually give where I actually talk about how I came to writing and how committing to writing, for me, was really a response to the grief that I felt when I lost my brother.
Correspondent: Yes. But it’s compartmentalized, I think. Which I find really interesting.
Ward: I don’t really know why I didn’t address it more in the book. Maybe because I was afraid of shifting that focus maybe away from the young men. And maybe I was nervous about whether or not I could write about it and still sustain maybe the pace and the tension in the narrative, in the memoir. So maybe that’s what was going on.
Correspondent: You had your own problem of [W.E.B. du Bois’s] “double consciousness.”
Ward: Yes! Yes!
Correspondent: That’s interesting. I do want to get into the way that you describe the land of the community, which is extremely fascinating. You point out that the parks, the public parks, are designated as the graveyards in the future. This is going to be the burial site for people who will die in the future. And you openly begin to wonder, “Well, is it possible to stave off this transformation from the life of the playground to the death of the grave?” You write, “The grief we bear along with all the other burdens of our lives, all our other losses, sinks us until we find ourselves in a red, sandy grave.” Yet near the end of the book, when you’re talking about your brother, you are very candid about grief having this limitless life span. So how do you deal with grief when you know that you’re also trying to work away at that buffer that’s going to turn the playground into the graves? I mean, you have to champion life. You have to fend off these forces, both societal and beahvioral, that are trying to deaden all this wonder that surrounds you. So how do you think about grief when you’re very well aware of what’s going to happen?
Ward: Well, I guess that the way that I think about that is that the grief, that’s something that I can’t change. That’s something that is here and that I have to live with everyday. But I think that what I’m attempting to do is to use that grief to really fuel this endeavor, right? The writing of the book. And then also the conversations that I have around the book with different people. So that hopefully in having these conversations, and talking about all these pressures that the grief and the sense of fear and failure that permeates life for so many of the people, that talking about these things is the first step to admitting that there is this problem. Yes, we are all living with this grief. And, yes, we are trying to survive these unbearable pressures. But I’m hoping that if we talk about them, and bring them out into the open and admit that there is a problem involved and exists, then we can begin to be more conscious about our lives, about the actions that we take, how we react to these larger pressures. So that maybe we can begin to change things, right? And to think of concrete ways that we can change things. And I haven’t gotten there yet. Whenever someone asks me “So what can we do?” my only answer so far is that, okay, first we just need to talk about it. We need to enter this conversation that’s happening across the country about race and about young black people dying and about poverty and socioeconomic inequality. If we begin to talk about these things, then maybe we can get to a point where we can come up with concrete workable solutions.
Correspondent: I wonder why small biographies, piecemeal chapters of people who have needlessly lost their lives, almost seems to be the only way to discuss this problem these days. I mean, we don’t want to look at the vast tapestry. We don’t want to all the moving parts. And it gets to be a bit of a headache. If you care at all, you know, it’s going to bog you down. I mean, right now, we’re talking right when the government is going to shut down. And what’s really bizarre about all this is that people are concerned not so much about the fact that these food programs that feed the poor are going to go out, not so much with the Library of Congress closing, not so much with military servicemen, who are living day-to-day, not getting their paychecks. They’re more concerned about these baby pandas at the National Zoo. What do you think we can do to get people on the level of baby pandas? You know what I mean?
Ward: You know, I think that when I wrote the book, and especially when I wrote each chapter about the young men — you know, their lives and their deaths. That’s something that I was trying to affect. Because even if given a chapter, and some of those chapters are short. They’re shorter. If given a chapter, I can make these young men as authentically alive and complicated and unique as I can on the page. Like I’m going to really develop their characters and develop them well enough so that the reader, when encountering these young men — instead of these young men being statistics, they’re actually human beings. They’re actually people. And they can sympathize with them. Then I will have accomplished something. Then suddenly the young man becomes the panda, right? Because we care about them. And so I think that maybe that’s part of it. Because we encounter the numbers all the time, right? And I think it was David Simon that said something like that before. I think he was being interviewed about The Wire, right? And I think the interview was asking him about the difference between the work that he’d done in journalism as a writer and then the work that he was doing as a writer. And he was saying that there’s power in the story. He felt that when he was a journalist that he was trying to communicate the same facts, the facts that he’s trying to communicate in The Wire. But as a journalist, they weren’t causing any change. They weren’t getting through. They weren’t making people care in the way that they care about the pandas. Yet when he worked on The Wire, he was able to reach a wider audience to get that audience to care about the same kind of issues that he was concerned about when he was a journalist. So I think it really is in the power of the story — even if you only have a little bit of space, just using that space as effectively as you can to make these stories real.
Correspondent: Sure. But don’t you think there’s a disconnect between, for example, Trayvon Martin. Everybody is sympathetic to that story.
Correspondent: And I marched with a bunch of people here in New York. And it was marvelous. At the time. But ultimately this doesn’t effect policy. It doesn’t actually get things to change. And even with the people who cared about The Wire, inevitably we go into the same corrupt governmental institutions. It seems to me that the only option is to either amp up the number of storytellers to get people to care or there needs to be some drastic change in the way the American mind thinks. And I’m wondering. Do you have any ideas on this?
Ward: I mean, that’s a really difficult question to answer. I think that there should be more storytellers and I think that the stories that are out there, they need more volume. I think that these stories, that’s what we need to be discussing instead of discussing the Kardashians. You know what I’m saying?
Correspondent: I agree.
Ward: That’s the discussion that we need to be having. Those are the stories that we need to be invested in. And the people that we need to be invested in need to not be so concerned with vapid celebrity culture. Because that doesn’t get us anywhere. That doesn’t foster the kind of large-scale change that we need in the American government with policymakers.
We believed we were long past the point where an unarmed boy would be gunned down because of his race. We were told by dulcet-voiced television pundits soothing us from their comfortable chairs that electing a black man twice as President had pushed all the problems away. We believed, despite racial profiling and the billions of dollars wasted on racially biased arrests, that our nation was “post-racial.” But on a hot Saturday night, a six woman jury demonstrated that this was little more then a myth with one of the most egregious verdicts of the 21st century. This jury acquitted George Zimmerman because virulent laws enacted to cater to these harmonious fantasies encouraged our worst instincts.
Trayvon Martin is dead. There is no verdict or legislation that can bring him back. The man who executed Trayvon from within the privileged gates of an affluent Sanford community has walked. The same statute* that permitted Zimmerman to flee without consequence has also caused an African-American woman to be sentenced to twenty years in prison** for firing warning shots. Clearly, there is something deeply injurious inside the “stand your ground” law that allowed all this to happen.
Trayvon has not been the only victim. The Tampa Bay Times has complied a list of casualties, with the accompanying stories revealing hurt and sorrow needlessly complicated by a law intended to create simple results. “Stand your ground” supporters, such as Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley, have claimed that violent crime went down and that tourism went up, as if some modest spike in Walt Disney World visitors atoned for an instrument encouraging our basest vigilante instincts. But the facts demonstrate otherwise. Five years after SYG was put into Florida law, reports of justified homicides tripled. SYG cases are are more likely to increase the not-guilty finding of a person accused of killing a black person. A CU-Boulder study from last year revealed that 69 undergraduates and 254 police officers were more likely to shoot black suspects over Hispanics and whites. And all this is just the beginning.
But much as Arizona’s racist anti-immigrant law has spawned two dozen clones across state legislatures, 24 states have followed Florida’s racist lead, putting their own versions of SYG on the books. Ten of these states didn’t even bother to change the language, passing bills that were nearly identical to Florida. These political actions were as callous in deed as epithets or hate automatically assigned to a person because of skin color.
At Salon, Roxane Gay eloquently argued why no one should allow themselves to feel hopeless because of these developments. Beyond asking difficult questions about why racism’s cancer continues to infect the promising fabric of our nation, we need to examine the machinery that holds the quilt together. Libertarians have long parroted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous maxim, “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.” But it is no longer 1921. And a strict federal mandate against cartoonish “stand your ground” laws which do not see a distinction between firing a submachine gun at an intrusive encyclopedia salesman and massacring some kid in a hoodie isn’t an unreasonable proposition in 2013.
* UPDATE: It has been rightfully observed by a few readers that Zimmerman waived his “stand your ground” immunity right during the trial. However, the jury instructions define self-defense very much in line with “stand your ground” under the “justifiable use of deadly force” section. The Tampa Bay Times has also pointed out that several “stand your ground” cases have shared qualities with the Trayvon Martin case.
** UPDATE: This CBS News article was updated a day after this piece was filed. The new version of the article pointed out that the Marissa Alexander “stand your ground” angle was not as cut-and-dry as previously stated. I have let this piece stand as is to reflect the information as it was reported at the time, proving that this issue is indeed a highly complicated one. Thanks to M. Smith for pointing out the revised article.
Nell Irvin Painter appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #329. Painter is most recently the author of The History of White People.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Drowning in David Coverdale’s noxious imperialism.
Author: Nell Irvin Painter
Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]
Correspondent: You are careful to write, “Harvard’s importance in eugenics does not imply some nefarious scheme or even a mean-spirited ambiance. Rather, Harvard’s import in this story attests to the scholarly respectability of eugenic ideas at the time.”
Painter: And that could be said about Princeton or Yale or any of the other lofty institutions.
Correspondent: But it is curious to me. I mean, if we recognize today [Robert] Yerkes and [William] Ripley’s stuff as “junk science” essentially, why at the time were these ideas so respected? Why did some of these people get tenured at Harvard?
Correspondent: I mean, it couldn’t have just been Harvard’s prestige. It had to be something else, I suppose.
Painter: Well, we’re talking about what was considered good science at the time. That was the knowledge that our culture needed at the time. And, after all, Ripley consulted all sorts of authorities. European authorities, American authorities, and so forth. So he had a really big bibliography and he followed the rules.
Correspondent: If someone attempted something along those lines today, I guess the Internet would kill it, I suppose.
Painter: Not necessarily. If it were something that we all agreed upon. Like, for instance, we’re seeing in the medical field right now. Recently, I read a report in the New York Times by a doctor saying there’s just too many prostrate cancer screenings. But a year or so ago, that was considered good science to have everybody screened. So things change.
Correspondent: I wanted to talk about Emerson, who you really take to task in this book. You devote a whole chapter to English Traits.
Painter: Yes. There are three Emerson chapters.
Correspondent: Yes. There are three Emerson chapters. But English Traits seems to be the one key text with which the…
Painter: It is the key text for this reason.
Correspondent: Yeah. But I just wanted to ask you about this. You note later in the book that Henry Ford was an admirer of English Traits.
Correspondent: But in the book that you cited from — because I was really curious about this – Neil Baldwin’s Henry Ford and the Jews. Baldwin notes that it was Emerson’s essay, “Compensation,” that Ford favored above all else. And he even handed that out as as gifts. And that essay doesn’t contain any reference to race. You also state that Theodore Roosevelt echoes the phrase “hideous brutality” in English Traits. But in English Traits, Emerson uses the word “hideous” only once, in reference to the injustice of pauperism. And granted, there are issues with pauperism related to the Saxon seed, which we had mentioned earlier. But I just want to ask. Because I don’t disagree with you that Emerson’s views on the Irish, his drawing upon Robert Knox — these are problematic.
Painter: Yeah. I’m not saying that Emerson is a bad man. But I’m saying that Emerson, because of his importance in American culture, by focusing on these themes and presenting them, orchestrating them in his impeccable prose, made it acceptable. So it’s not that I’m castigating Emerson. I’m trying to place him in an intellectual theme.
Correspondent: But in the case of Henry Ford drawing more upon “Compensation,” say, than English Traits, that’s where I was — my question mark went up.
Painter: But we’re doing Henry Ford — what? Sixty, seventy years after Emerson.
Correspondent: Yeah. Well, the other thing too is picking and choosing one’s values from Emerson. Like Ralph Ellison, for example. He was named after Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Correspondent: And actually took a lot from the transcendentalists.
Painter: Oh, there’s a lot of Emerson. Emerson’s an extraordinary figure. And one who his contemporaries said embodies the whole of American learning. And to a certain extent, he did.
Correspondent: But going back to the question or relativism. Can he be let off the hook somewhat simply because he was, in part, an abolitionist? Maybe he didn’t go all the way, but…
Painter: No. We’re talking about different things.
Painter: We’re talking about different things. Because he had one set of views, this doesn’t change what we think about another set of views. You can still respect Emerson for his central role in the American Renaissance and still know about his Saxonism.
Here is a listing of racist incidents involving United States Senators presently in office:
On March 13, 1998, during investigations pertaining to the 1996 Presidential Campaign, Sen. Bennett remarked, “I stepped in and said, `No. I have owned a business in Asia. I have done business in Asia. Charlie Trie’s actions are the typical actions of an Asian businessman.'” (CSPAN — video and transcript)
On July 16, 2009, at an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, Sen. Boxer was speaking to Harry Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (an organization that Boxer confused with the NAACP), when the following exchange occured:
Boxer: Then we’re going to put the NAACP resolution that passed saying this: The NAACP approved a historic resolution addressing climate change legislation for the first time in the organization’s history.
Alford: What does that mean?
Boxer: Sir, we’re gonna put that in the record, and you can read it cuz I don’t have the time, but I’ll read the rest-
Alford: What does that mean though? I mean, the NAACP has a resolution. What does that mean?
Boxer: Sir, they could say the same thing about what do you mean? I’m just telling you they passed it-
Alford: I’ve got documentation!
Boxer: Sir, they passed it. Now, also, if that isn’t interesting to you, we’ll quote John Grant who is the CEO of A Hundred Black Men of Atlanta. Quote: Clean energy is the key that will unlock millions of jobs, and the NAACP’s support is vital to ensuring that those jobs help to rebuild urban areas. So clearly there is a diversity of opinion.
Alford: Madame Chair-
Boxer: If I can-
Alford: -that is condescending to me.
Alford: I’m the National Black Chamber of Commerce-
Boxer: If this- if this-
Alford: -and you’re trying to put up some other black group up to pit against me.
Boxer: If this gentleman- if this gentleman were here, he would be proud that he was being quoted. Just as-
Alford: He should have been invited.
Boxer: Just as- He would be proud-
Alford: It is condescending to me.
Boxer: Just as so- Just so you know, he would be proud that you were here. He is proud I am sure-
Alford: Proud, proud (bitterly and contemptuously).
Boxer: -that I am quoting him.
Alford: All that’s condescending-
Boxer: Well, Sir.
Alford: -and I don’t like it. It’s racial.
Boxer: What’s racial?
Alford: I don’t like it.
Boxer: Excuse me, Sir.
Alford: I take offense to it.
Alford: As an African-American and a veteran of this country, I take offense to that.
Boxer: Offense at the fact that I would quote-
Alford: You’re quoting some other black man. Why don’t you quote some other-
Alford: Asian? Or some other-
Boxer: Well, lemme-
Alford: I mean- what- You are being racial here.
On July 10, 1997, when questioning a witness about a reward from Asian-Americans that Democratic fundraiser John Huang was to receive, Sen. Brownback remarked, “No raise money, no get bonus.” (USA Today, Seattle Times)
“Senator Byrd quit the Klan in the 1940s and has renounced it since. On the other hand, his history is worth revisiting, since it’s something Democrats have been willing to tolerate, despite Lott-like remarks that would have ended a Republican’s career. Only last year Mr. Byrd told Fox News that ‘there are white niggers. I’ve seen a lot of white niggers in my time, if you want to use that word. But we all–we all–we just need to work together to make our country a better country and I–I’d just as soon quit talking about it so much.'” (Wall Street Journal)
During the July hearings for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Sen. Coburn impersonated Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy, saying, “You have lots of ‘splaining to do!” (YouTube clip and The New York Times)
During his 2006 campaign, Sen. Corker used fears of interracial relationships and stereotypes against his opponent, Harold Ford, who was African-American. “Harold Ford looks nice,” says one African-American woman, “isn’t that enough?” “I met Harold at the Playboy party,” says a scantily clad white woman. (Truthdig with video clip)
During the health care debates, Sen. Graham argued the following: “I have 12 percent unemployment in South Carolina. My state’s on its knees. I have 31 percent African-American population in South Carolina.” Later in the speech, Sen. Graham said, “My state, with 30 percent African-American citizens, a lot of low income people in South Carolina is going to cost my state a billion dollars, that’s the same old stuff that I object to. That’s not change we can believe in. That’s sleazy.” Rachel Maddow concluded, “The argument here appears to be that Sen. Graham believes it is sleazy to expect a state with lots of black people in it, to have health reform.” (Rachel Maddow video and Raw Story)
During the 2000 campaign, Sen. McCain told reporters, “I hated the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live.” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 2, 2000)
In 1983, as a young congressman, Sen. McCain voted against the recognition of Martin Luther King Day. (ABC News)
In an August 1, 2008 post, Capitol Hill Blue’s Doug Thompson noted additional anecdotal examples of racism. (Capitol Hill Blue)
In John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s new book, Game Change Harry Reid stated that Barack Obama could become the first African-American President because he was “light-skinned” and because he did not speak with a “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” (New York Times)
In 1986, Sen. Sessions was rejected from an Alabama judiciary seat by the Senate Judiciary Committee seat. In previous remarks, Sessions had claimed that the NAACP was “un-American,” calling an African-American aide “boy,” and describing a white civil rights attorney as “a disgrace to his race.” Sessions also claimed that Klansmen were “O.K.” until he learned that a few of them smoked pot. (Numerous articles through Meet Jeff Sessions. See also The New Republic.)
Before he switched parties from Republican to Democrat, Sen. Arlen Specter spoke at a November 1, 2008 pro-McCain rally, where he noted “a couple of hidden factors” in the 2008 presidential election: “The first is that people answer pollsters one way, but in the secrecy of the ballot booth, vote the other way.” (Salon)
In October 2009, an interracial couple was denied marriage by justice of the peace Keith Bardwell. Sen. Mary Landrieu and Gov. Bobby Jindall both called for Bardwell’s firing. But Sen. Vitter was the only senior official who refused to comment, running away when asked by a guy with a video camera. He also refused to comment when asked three times by MSNBC. (YouTube video, Talking Points Memo)
It didn’t take long for the gutless Washington Post writer Neely Tucker to chicken out on the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. arrest. Beginning his article with the lame certainty of a Duck and Cover film, Tucker wasted no time suggesting that the conformist maxim “Don’t Mess With Cops” was “one of the common-sense rules of life.” Tell that to the 320 people who complained of racial profiling in 2007 to the Los Angeles Police Department, only for the LAPD to report back in April 2008 that not a single case had merit. Tell that to Zakariya Reed, a Gulf War veteran in Toledo who retired from the U.S. National Guard after twenty years of service, and who, like many Muslims and Arab Americans, was interrogated at the Canadian border because he had converted to Islam and because he had changed his name.
There are more truths to be found in this eye-opening ACLU report released last month, which demonstrates that racial profiling is alive and well in the United States. And you’d have to be more sheltered than a stray Samoyed hoping to woo an owner before getting the gas not to know that the color of one’s skin often remains more suspicious to a police officer than hard evidence.
But if you’re Neely Tucker and you’re a privileged white guy living in “a predominantly white neighborhood” and you cleave to the naive notion that even the bad cops can have their corrupt actions halted by a next-door neighbor, and if you’re “thrilled” to have the police search your entire house without considering that they might be overstepping their authority, then I must ask in all sincerity just how vanilla your understanding of human nature really is. I must ask whether you even have a basic understanding of American history.
The Fourth Amendment’s beginnings, as Leonard Williams Levy’s Origins of the Bill of Rights helpfully informs us, emerged by linking the right to privacy in one’s home with the Magna Carta maxim that a man’s home is his castle. In 1589, a clerk by the name of Robert Beale asked why agents could “enter into mens houses, break of their chests and chambers” and carry off any evidence that they felt like taking home. Beale was the first figure to suggest that the sanctity of a man’s castle applied to everyone. And over the next two centuries, the English propensity for warrantless searches would draw numerous protests.
Here in the colonies, in 1766, the writ of issuance would face protests from Daniel Malcolm, who allowed customs officials to search all parts of his film save a locked cellar and defiantly responded to these efforts with a set of pistols and the threat, “Try it and I’ll blow your head off.” (A crowd had formed. The officials abandoned their quest. Malcolm and the crowd shared the cask of smuggled wine that he had, after al, hidden in the locked room.)
But the writs of assistance, which gave tax collectors a remarkable degree of powers to violate Beale’s egalitarian link between privacy and the sanctity of home, restricted free speech with the case of John Wilkes and were famously derided in a blistering five hour defense by James Otis. The seeds for the Fourth Amendment were sown. But the fledgling federal government wasn’t exactly upholding its principles. To cite one of many abuses that came in the United States’s first decade, in 1777, six Quaker homes were violently violated, with numerous papers confiscated. Legislation, such as Frisbie v. Butler (1787), was enacted to limit any search which there was reason to suspect. This set down the flagstones for “the right of the people to be secured in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,” and the Fourth Amendment’s ratification.
These incidents created an ongoing dialogue — helpful in an emerging nation that valued vital rights and liberties — about what searches and seizures were acceptable. But incidents like Henry Louis Gates’s needless arrest outside of his own home, in which the arrest is motivated by race, the abuse of police power, and police reaction that is incommensurate with the incident being investigated, must likewise cause the dialogue to continue. Gates was fortunate to have the charges dropped, but how many others in this nation don’t have such a luxury?
The complicity of knee-jerk authoritarians like Neely Tucker, who are better suited devoting their limited talents to writing about forgettable two-part TV movies, is part of the problem. It is part of what Martin Luther King once identified as the “almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions.” Progress begins by identifying a different form of resistance — namely, those who perpetuate grave injustices by endorsing them with their silence. There once was a time when people drank from different fountains or were forced to sit at the back of the bus. And there will eventually be a time in which people will scratch their heads, wondering why the police went around arresting people for irrational reasons.
(Image: Demotix Images)
Transcriptease offers a very helpful summation on the racist shenanigans of Helix editor William Sanders. For those who missed out on this piece of news, writer Luke Jackson sent Sanders a story. The story featured Muslim characters. Sanders rejected it, noting in his rejection letter, “You did a good job of explaining the worm-brained mentality of those people.” The email then made the rounds on several science fiction sites. And several Helix contributors asked for their stories to be removed from the Helix archives.
Rather than perform the gentlemanly act and apologize for his mistake, Sanders issued an ultimatum to his contributors. If they wished to remove their stories from the archive and did not express their wish to do so within a month, they would be forced to pay $40 to have it removed later. Soon, Sanders retracted this offer and declared that nobody could have their stories removed at all.
Assuming that there is no written instrument, Sanders is in no position to make such demands of his contributors.
The question that nobody has asked here is whether any of the Helix contributors ever signed a contract or another written instrument upon having their stories appear in Helix. Sanders’s magazine lists all of the contents as falling under the copyright of Helix. This itself is fallacious, because according to Helix‘s website, Helix is published by the Legends Group, which is described as an unincorporated association. Since Helix is based in Maryland, according to the Maryland Business Regulation Code, § 19-201, it can therefore be described as an organization. Therefore, if the copyright notice on the site is valid, should not the copyright read “©2008 The Legends Group” instead? And if The Legends Group has performed due diligence, then surely this would be reflected at the Register of Copyrights, right? After all, § 409 of United States Code, Title 17, states that each application for copyright must contain “(10) in the case of a published work containing material of which copies are required by section 601 to be manufactured in the United States, the names of the persons or organizations who performed the processes specified by subsection (c) of section 601 with.”
But over at the Library of Congress’s public catalog, we discover no such notices for these stories by either Helix, The Legends Group, or William Sanders. Searches for “Legends Group” and “The Legends Group” reveal no registered copyrights. And searches for “Helix” or “Sanders William” do not match up with any of the stories listed on the Helix site.
If the Helix contributors simply sent in their stories into Sanders and he agreed to publish them, and there was no contract, then this means that they retain the unregistered copyrights for their stories, and Sanders is in violation. If Sanders did not have a written instrument in place specifying that there was a transfer of copyright to Helix, then the copyright belongs to the author. Which would mean that the author controls whether or not the story appears on the website. To cite the specific code section under §204 of Title 17:
(a) A transfer of copyright ownership, other than by operation of law, is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorized agent.
Of course, to uphold Sanders’s numerous copyright violations, the stories would need to be registered. If the writers who wish to have their stories removed from Helix were to register their stories with the Copyright Office, then Sanders be in clear violation of copyright and damages could be pursued.
Either way, Sanders does not come out of this looking well at all. The best thing for him to do is to remove any stories that authors wish for him to remove. And if Sanders cannot perform this basic courtesy, then the writers have the obligation to register their stories with the Copyright Office and take up the dispute in court to collect the dutiful damages that come from being associated with a racist editor.
Dallas Morning News: “At the Republican state convention, a booth hosted by Republicanmarket was selling a pin Saturday that says: If Obama is President will we still call it the White House.”
Many things have been written about James Watson’s inglorious Imus homage, but for my money, Annalee’s column, pointing out the remarkable arrogance and needless associations with race and gender, is one of the few that consider the expansive context.
Leigh Robbins, a 35-year-old housewife, genuinely believes that she was fulfilling her maternal duties. The truly sickening aspect of her story, which delayed a flight for more than twelve hours, isn’t so much her fear of brown-skinned people, which is quite evident in Robbins’s attempt to get her sons off a plane that, lo and behold, happened to have seven Iraqis on board. It was the way in which Robbins justified her racism with these quotes:
“How can you overreact when it’s your children?”
“I’m very sorry, but I’d do anything to protect my kids.”
Robbins’s excuses are very much grounded in the hermetic seal of the nuclear family archetype. The horror from six years ago has so successfully indoctrinated its way into public consciousness that it is no longer a matter of remembering (“Never forget!” read many of the signs here in New York), but a matter of fulfilling one’s basic domestic duties.
9/11 is no longer the smoking gun. Hollywood is — to some extent. It is no longer a matter of accessing one’s general sense of reality. It is, as Robbins observed, a matter of comparative metaphor. “It was very frightening, like something out of a movie,” said Robbins.
There are important questions here which must be asked: Why didn’t the plane’s passengers stick up for the Iraqi men? They were questioned by American Airlines, as if they were the villains. Why was Robbins’s ostensible safety valued over that of the Iraqi men? Does Robbins truly comprehend the callous fury she has unearthed?
Never mind their ethnicity. Why in America were seven men — who served their country — considered lesser than one racist homemaker, who served nothing more than graham crackers and juice?
San Francisco Chronicle: “The 22-year-old author of a column titled ‘Why I Hate Blacks’ in the regional newspaper AsianWeek has been dismissed, and the paper’s editors said Wednesday that they suffered ‘a serious lapse in editorial judgment’ when they published his column.”
Return of the Reluctant has obtained a version of Kenneth Eng’s racist column that was circulated shortly after it hit the AsianWeek copy desk.
Why I Hate
Kenneth Eng, Feb 23, 2007
Here is a list of reasons why we should discriminate against blacks
and string them up, [Editor: shouldn’t we clarify the order here? Also, save the “stringing up” angle for a future column.] starting from the most obvious down to the least obvious:
� Blacks hate us
and wish to copulate with our daughters. Every Asian who has ever come across them knows that they take almost every opportunity to fuck our women [Copy desk: Yes, we’re aware of the evils of miscegenation, but do you think you can tone it down? This is a family newspaper. See recommended change.] hurl racist remarks at us.
In my experience, I would say about
100 90 percent [Legal: Leave margin of error in event of lawsuit.] of blacks I have met, regardless of age , penis size, or environment, poke fun at the very sight of an Asian. Furthermore, their activity in the media proves their hatred . [Editor: Examples?]: Rush Hour, Exit Wounds, Hot 97, etc.
� Contrary to media depictions, I would argue that blacks are
easily exploited weak-willed. They are the only race that has been enslaved for 300 years. It’s unbelievable that it took them that long to fight back.
On the other hand, we
could have been slaveholders during the Civil War [See recommended historical example.] slaughtered the Russians in the Japanese-Russo War.
� Blacks are easy to coerce. This is proven by the fact that so many of them
cannot play mahjong and insist on dominoes, including Reverend Al Sharpton, tend to be Christians.
Yet, at the same time, they spend much of their time whining about
fried chicken how much they hate “the whites that oppressed them.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but
didn’t they steal dominoes from us? wasn’t Christianity the religion that the whites forced upon them?
� Blacks don’t get it. [Copy desk: Cover our asses with doubtful statement!] I know it’s a blunt and crass comment, but it’s true. When I was in high school, I recall a class debate in which one half of the class was chosen to defend black slavery and the other half was chosen to defend liberation.
Disturbingly, blacks on the prior side viciously defended slavery as well as Christianity. They say if you don’t study history, you’re condemned to repeat it. In high school, I only remember one black student ever attending any of my honors and AP courses. [Editor: Good, Ken, but we need something more sensational here. Can you invent something along the lines of cheating?] And that student was caught cheating.
It is rather troubling that they are treated as heroes, but then again,
any of the non-Asian races [Ted wants us to play up the evils of the white liberal.] whites will do anything to defend them.
[NOTE: If Ken can’t turn around the edits, do you think we could get Michelle Malkin to finish up this piece? I’ll talk with you about all this after the racial tolerance meeting. (Why this diversity nonsense? Do they really think we’re that racist?) Thanks!]
New York Times: “Urban theater — or what has been called over the years inspirational theater, black Broadway, gospel theater and the chitlin circuit — has been thriving for decades, selling out some of the biggest theaters across the country and grossing millions of dollars a year….The word in the industry is that urban theater is about to go mainstream.”
So let me get this straight. Theater that has proven consistently popular among audiences and that has consistently sold out theaters is not considered mainstream? Simply because of the race of its cast and theatergoers? I have to ask: What does African American-based theater have to do in order to be recognized as “mainstream?” Or perhaps the answer is more ingenuous: Great Jumping Jehosophat! Black people attend the theater too!
In fact, the Times, reporting on New Brunswick theatrical developments (including an all-black version of David Mamet’s American Buffalo), published more or less the same article nearly twenty years ago. Great Jumping Jehosophat! Black people attend the theater too!
A few weeks ago, I attended a revival of Follies, now playing in New York City Center. And one of the things that troubled me about the Follies show was that not one of the theatergoers was African-American. Every single person was white. The only black people in the room were the ushers directing septuagenarians to their seats. And it had me wondering whether I was living in 1957 or 2007.
Granted, one does not attend a Stephen Sondheim revival to find black people. But just as Hollywood continues to remain baffled that black people see movies, Broadway (or, more specifically, the New York Times) does not seem to understand that black people do indeed attend theater and that, heaven forfend, there may be something to this so-called “urban theater” after all! Yes, darling, this “urban theater” is something we simply muuuuuuuust bring up at the next neighborhood association meeting! But we muuuuuuuust see Follies first!
Why this ridiculous categorization of “urban theater?” I certainly don’t call Zora Neale Hurston an “urban writer,” Tupac Shakur an “urban rapper,” Paul Laurence Dunbar an “urban poet” or Scott Joplin an “urban pianist” (although at the 1893 World’s Fair, Joplin was banned from performing ragtime inside the Midway, presumably because he was considered too “urban”). I admire an artist great not because she is “urban” or because she has a darker skin color, but because she produces great art.
Who knew that liberals had a “secret racism about blacks?” What’s even more hilarious is that this claim comes from morons who don’t even know the difference between Lionel Jefferson and Lionel Richie.
Here’s one of the more disheartening and rarely discussed moments in American cultural history: A restaurant chain called Coon Chicken Inn, alluded to in the films Ghost World and C.S.A., actually existed between the 1920s and the 1950s. Diners would enter through the doors of a ghastly racist caricature. It was one of Portland’s most popular restaurants, in part because there was a small African American population in Portland and in part because the food was cheap.
The restaurant chain was opened by Maxon Lester Graham and Graham’s descendants has issued a wholesale disapproval of the Coon Chicken Inn. This descendant reports that the racist logo was on every dish, piece of silverware, menu and paper product.
Interestingly, a few weeks ago, the Oregonian reported that the former Coon Chicken Inn has been purchased by an African American man named Ernest Clyde Jenkins III.
While Coon Chicken is now gone, it was by no means the only racist American restaurant. If you visit Santa Barbara, you can find the original Sambo’s restaurant, based on Helen Bannerman’s racist children’s book, The Story of Little Black Sambo. There were once as many as 1,200 outlets. Now there is one. Says restaurant critic John Dickson, “So when are you going to go nationwide AGAIN?” Presumably, Mr. Dickson is also fond of golliwoggs.
Max points me to this disturbing item. Author Ngugi wa Thoing’o was sitting at a local hotel, the Vitale, minding his own business, when a hotel worker asked him to leave the premises. The employee said, “This place is for guests of the hotel. You must leave.”
I’ve sat down many times at the Vitale and have even conducted a few interviews there. But I’ve never been asked to leave, presumably because I’m Caucasian.
The hotel owner has responded with an apology, but I’m not satisfied. And seeing as how this went down in my hometown, I plan to investigate this injustice personally.
There are certain books that are so similar to one another they almost beg to be grouped together. This is largely true of Indian novels. Look closely at the ones published in the past, say, 25 years, and you’ll see that they’re virtually identical, in theme if not in style and content.
Aside from the racist assertion here that Indian novels are “identical,” Thompson also suggests that Midnight’s Children and A Fine Balance are “indivisible.” This, despite the fact that the former contains a protagonist with a highly sensitive nose and the latter does not, the former chronicles Indian history from 1910 to 1976, while the latter takes place during The Emergency between 1975 and 1977. There are infinite differences in language, characters, and plotting. But don’t tell Thompson this. So long as those brown-skinned people are banging out those novels, there isn’t a single distinction in his eyes.
This isn’t the first time that Thompson’s pen has applied troubling generalizations to ethnic literature. While reviewing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, a book concerning itself with Nigeria, Thompson decried “the destructive effect of colonialism on Africa and its peoples” as “conventional” and “clichéd,” as if simply dwelling upon this cataclysmic shift of cultures was somehow devoid of complexities. (Maud noted this earlier this month.)
I fly JetBlue all the time, but this terrible story from Raed Jarrar, who was asked to remove his T-shirt because it contained Arabic script that “offended passengers” (never mind that nobody could read the shirt), has me rethinking the airline. Calls will be made tomorrow. (via Maud)
[UPDATE: It’s worth noting that, last October, Lorrie Heasley was ejected from a Southwest flight for wearing a Meet the Fockers parody T-shirt. Heasley vowed to file a civil rights lawsuit, but I can find no trace of it. But in a New York Times article, two law professors remarked that the Heasley case doesn’t apply to the First Amendment because only the government can violate the Constitution. Writing in Salon, Andrew Salon remarked upon this troubling predicament.]
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This post, as you’ve probably already gathered, is a parody of Otto Penzler’s New York Sun column. But since Mr. Penzler has threatened me by email, I have added this note to state that THIS POST IS A PARODY, and it is reflective of a character named “Otto Peltzer,” not Penzler.]
I think it’s safe to say, based on my photo, that I’m white. I have always been white. Unless I pull a John Howard Griffin (and why would I want to do that?), I’ll go to the grave white. I dine at white restaurants. I listen to white music. The fact of the matter is that it’s very good to be white and it’s very good not to know anything outside of this spectrum of comfort.
Which is why I must commend all those white mystery writers writing about the spooks. I have no idea if they’re accurate about the culture they portray. But I know a good read when I see one.
As we’ve established, I never set foot outside my white neighborhood. And I wouldn’t dare mention any of those dependable niggers like Chester Himes or, more recently, Walter Mosley. Because when you get right down to it, mysteries should be written by white men and nobody else. We run the country. Therefore, we should write most of the books. Why give any of these so-called minorities a chance? Hell, if I were running the publishing industry, I’d see if apartheid might apply to the editorial department.
What nobody wants to acknowledge is that white writers write better than any ethnic group, particularly when it comes to mysteries. It’s a dirty little secret that nobody wants to acknowledge, but it’s true.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to replace the NO COLOREDS sign that some sanctimonious liberal has removed from the drinking fountain in the hall.
I’m surprised Laila isn’t on this, but a recent Gallup poll reveals that most Americans have negative feelings about Muslims. 22% of Americans would not want to have a Muslim as a neighbor. 34% believe that Muslims back al-Qaeda. And only 49% believe that they are loyal to the United States.
This is an utterly appalling divide. Even if other polls suggest that this country is fairly united in its disapproval of Bush and Iraq, there is still an overwhelming racist impulse here that will likely take years to sort out.
Tayari Jones takes umbrage with this Slate Audio Book Club podcast on Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Apparently, the commentators (led by Meghan O’Rourke) had a conversation about the book in a cafe. But instead of discussing the book’s literary qualities, they instead aired prejudicial grievances.
I’ve listened to a portion of the podcast and I have to agree with Tayari. After a rote plot summary that feels lifted from Cliff’s Notes, one of the participants says:
“I have to admit that I came to it after not having read it since it came out with enormous prejudice. And I actually thought that I’m going to hate this book, it’s sentimental, it’s going to be this overly contrived kind of political piece of propaganda — you know, with politically correct text. And I was really ready to hate the book. Especially with the Times voting it number one in the past twenty-five years, which I think is a dubious vote. But when I actually read the book, I myself, alone in a room, without thinking about these things, I was surprised by how good it was and that there are certain things about it that I think are quite extraordinary.” (Emphasis added where speaker added emphasis in audio.)
These words come from Katie Rolphe, the only member of the trio who had read Beloved before. But Rolphe’s preconceived notions not only reveal a profound ignorance, offering a perception on a book that she hasn’t yet read (reportedly for the second time), but a distressing backwards attitude completely at odds with any meaningful text analysis. Morrison has written “politically incorrect text.” (What does this mean exactly? That an African-American novelist has written a book? That the words are somehow lesser not because of narrative beefs or discordant aesthetic sensibilities, but because they chronicle African-American life?) She is surprised by “how good it is,” as if her Caucasian hands might be sullied by holding a book written by one of them uppity niggers and that African-American writers, as a matter of course, can’t write jack.
There are also some strange phrases here (“overly contrived kind of political piece of propaganda”) completely incongruous with a critic who has previously read the book. I think it’s more likely that Rolphe is full of shit and that she had not read Beloved before at all. Rolphe confesses later that she remembers liking the book when it first came out, but that she was caught “in a haze of my own political correctness.” Huh? One likes or dislikes Beloved based on one’s own literary sensibilities, not because a book is deemed Great or Correct or Because the Book is Written by a Token African-American Author. Is Rolphe confessing here that she goes along with the crowd? At the risk of generalizing here, I’ve encountered this loudmouth type before at book clubs. For whatever reason, they always seem to bring the potato salad.
Stephen Metcalf then adds his two cents: “It’s unclear when a book like this gets the kind of accolades and sort of wins the public prestige sweepstakes to the degree that this one has. Whether that lowers the bar or raises the bar for the book in some ways — it sort of does both in a peculiar way, in the sense that you don’t think it could possibly live up, that it is a hype job, that it was sort of an act of racial and class restitution to award these prizes to Toni Morrison, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And the bar slowly sort of lowers and lowers and lowers until you think it just can be good at all. And I do think it’s a considerably better book than I had maybe expected when I picked it up. At the same time, judged against other books and other authors that have gotten that degree of attention and praise, I think it’s really a conspicuously lacking work of art. And in the end, I find it unconvincing. And unpleasurable, I should say also.”
I should say also. Notice how Metcalf is quick to condemn the book without citing a specific example from the text. Notice how he too is ensnared in the notion of what he thinks the book is in advance as opposed to what he has thought of the book after he has read it. He comes to the book, believing it to be “an act of racial and class restitution,” as opposed to viewing it as a work of literature with strengths and weakness he can decide upon for himself.
I continued listening to this podcast with an admixture of curiosity and horror, wondering if these so-called “critics” would deign to engage in anything even close to critical thinking. It was not to be.
O’Rourke then moves the conversation away from prejudices and promises to read a selection from the book. Great, I thought, now they’ll be able to respond to Morrison’s text and I’ll be able to here where these folks are coming from. But instead of reading from Beloved, O’Rourke reads (I kid you not) from Morrison’s opening preface!
“Hmmm,” says O’Rourke, sounding like she may have a touch of ADD. “There’s a lot packed in there.”
Indeed. Rolphe, like an eager beaver undergraduate whose chirpy voice is more attuned to a pep squad than a classroom, brings up the obligatory tie-in to The Sound and the Fury, without bothering to name a single character or a specific association. Has she even read Faulkner? Can she even track the book’s many perspectives (which she merely describes as “frustrating”)? She seems incapable of naming a single character or passage from Faulkner to establish any meaningful association. It may as well be shallow cocktail party banter.
Metcalf then jumps in, noting that he has written a piece for Slate about what he liked and didn’t like. “What amazes me about that preface is how Morrison’s own words there condense my ill feelings toward the book so beautifully.” What the hell does this have to do with the damn novel? Why should one’s critical acumen be sullied by an author’s personal introduction (generally written with the lay reader in mind, not the literary critic)?
Metcalf’s chief objection to the book is that “the sense of history felt so abstract.” And at this point, I Alt-F4ed the player, realizing that listening to any more of this nonsense would dull my mind. And if I wanted to lose brain cells, I preferred to do it through heavy drinking.
I’m sorry that I was only able to last a few minutes longer than Tayari, but I have to wonder, based on this audio exemplar, just how far the standards of critical thinking have fallen. Even on a casual level, this is jejune. Big time. Hell, get Scott and I liquored up on Stoli and, however incoherent our words and arguments, at least we’d still refer to the goddam text.
[UPDATE: Powell’s Lewis was able to get to the thirteen minute mark — a new world record. Is there any brave litblogger or reader out there who can get all the way to the end?]
Millenia Black writes that the publisher of her second book, The Great Betrayal, is demanding that she change her characters from Caucasian to African-American before they publish the book. The publisher isn’t named, but according to my sources, it’s New American Library Trade Books. We only have Black’s word to go on. But if this is true, then this is abominable on several levels.
Since nobody thought to look into this, I called NAL Signet to see if I could hear its side of the story or what it had to say in response to Black’s charges.
I got in touch with the NAL publicity department first and was then led to another publicist, who suggested I contact the main switchboard. I then got in touch with a woman who worked in “editorial,” but who did not identify herself. I asked her if she could tell me who the editor for The Great Betrayal was because I was trying to verify some information about the title. When she did not, I then told her about Black’s story. She immediately replied, “I don’t know anything. It’s not my book.” Before I can say anything in response, she transferred me to publicity.
I then spoke with a publicist named Lisa, one of the two I had spoken with before. She didn’t have any information on who was handling the book. I then told her what the charges were and, in an effort to get somewhere, I said, “Well, if you’re publicity, then you’re going to have to offer some kind of official response to this. Because I’m sure you’re going to have many people calling you about this.” Lisa told me that she had asked around and said that Black’s allegations were “not true” took down my name and number and wouldn’t reveal the editor’s name to me. But the editor, a woman, would be calling me back.
If I don’t hear back from NAL tomorrow, I will call again. And I’ll call the next day. And the day after that. And I will continue to call until I get an answer from NAL on this. If anyone has any leads or if there’s anyone inside NAL who would like to respond anonymously about this, then you can email me at ed AT edrants.com and I will treat your emails with the strictest confidentiality.
(The lead on this story came from Lee Goldberg.)
[UPDATE: I have also sent emails to Claire Zion, editorial director of NAL Signet, and Tina Brown with some questions. I will keep readers apprised of any information I uncover.]
[UPDATE 2: An anonymous tipster suggests that Millenia Black plans to file a lawsuit for damages. But the story is suspect, because this tipster reports that Black has retained an attorney named Susan Clark, who is not even listed in the New York State Attorney Directory. So I remain dubious.]
[UPDATE 3: Last month, The Palm Beach Post reported that Millenia Black cancelled an appearance at Pyramid Books in Boynton Beach because the bookstore asked if she was black. I plan to call the bookstore to hear its take on this. The question is this: is Black making up charges to gain notoriety or is there truth to her statements? Or is the truth somewhere in between?]
[5/31/06 UPDATE: I spoke with Millenia Black this morning and I have several calls into many parties pertaining to this matter. There is a forthcoming podcast in the works devoted exclusively to this issue, but here’s what I can tell you now:
The Great Betrayal, the novel in question, is being released by NAL Trade on December 5, 2006. The novel will feature the characters as Caucasian, rather than the suggested change to African-American.
Black claims that recent legal maneuvers spawned the book’s release as is. She told me that, outside of the change in race, she had no problems with any of the editor’s changes. (I also finally got through to the editor today and hope to hear her side of the story.)
The Great Betrayal was accepted in outline form with the characters as white. Black then wrote the novel based on this outline. It was just after Black had finished the manuscript when the character race change was requested by her editor.
Communications on this matter between Black and the editor came through her agent. The editor broached the race change question with the agent; the agent then relayed this to Black. Black said no and there began an email volley between Black and the editor. Curiously, the matter was never taken up by phone directly between Black and the editor.
There is a lot more I’m following up on here and I will present the results as they come in.]
New York Times: “‘I believe in multiculturalism,’ she said. ‘I would probably choose somebody with a darker skin color so I don’t have to slather sunblock on my kid all the time. I want it to be a healthy mix. You know how mixed dogs are always the nicest and the friendliest and the healthiest? If you get a clear race, they have all the problems. Mutts are always the friendly ones, the intelligent ones, the ones who don’t bark and have a good character. I want a mutt.’ Her African-American friends questioned this strategy, suggesting that her child’s life would be harder if he or she was perceived as nonwhite, but Daniela said: ‘If that’s what I believe, I have to go by that. And it might help the world also if more people are doing it that way.'”
Return of the Reluctant regulars may remember last year’s Star & Buc Wild episode, in which two DJs verbally berated an Indian call center employee with sexist and racist language. As of this writing, Star & Buc Wild are still employed at Power 99 and Power 105.1.
One year later, Kai Yu sends word that the Coalition Against Hate Media has formed to protest the racist programming of Emmis Communications. The CAHM website is still up and there are no protest events planned. But perhaps they’ll get their act together and do something constructive, such as jam phone banks, fax machines, mailboxes and the email of Jeaneane Brennan, the ClearChannel contact for the New York cluster.
Ms. Brennan’s contact info is listed here. Protest away!
EEO Manager for NY Cluster
Clear Channel Radio 525 Washington Blvd.
16th Floor Jersey City, NJ 07310
Phone: (201) 420-3703 Fax: (201) 420-3847
In Defense of Bill Cosby: “My crimes that afternoon were two. I committed the transgression of wearing a tweed jacket, black sweater, black slacks and glasses, a no-no for the ‘thug barbers’ there because to be an appropriate African American by their standards was to wear saggy pants, sport jerseys and doo-rag caps. My second transgression was to bring a book, James Baldwin’s Notes of A Native Son. It didn’t matter that Baldwin was one of the greatest prophets on race relations in the history of the 20th century. The fact that I brought a book to read deeply offended their sensibilities, because to read, in their mind, was acting white.” (via MeFi)