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black naturalization ceremony
May 20, 2005 5:59 PM   Subscribe

How I Became a Black American "I became a black American long before I acquired American citizenship. . . . I was not eager, upon my arrival to the United States, to assert a black American identity. My parents had taught me "better" than that. But I became a black American anyway. Before I freely embraced that identity it was ascribed to me. This ascription is part of a broader social practice wherein all of us are made intelligible via racial categorization."
posted by caddis (81 comments total)

 
This may be the definitive example of why Comic Sans should be banned under penalty of death.

Excellent article, otherwise.
posted by Simon! at 6:31 PM on May 20, 2005


he didnt like being pulled over and then complained after he was let go?

i fail to see any racism here.
posted by tsarfan at 6:36 PM on May 20, 2005


methinks tsarfan is white!
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 6:39 PM on May 20, 2005


You know, some things are better left unsaid . . . I wouldn't even have noticed the use of Comic Sans if you hadn't said anything. But yeah, great article.

On preview . . . yes, tsarfan does sound very pale.
posted by Boydrop at 6:40 PM on May 20, 2005


tsarfan: What? He didn't complain after he was let go. The extent of his 'rebellion' was to politely ask what he was pulled over for.

The point of the story isn't that the cops are horrible racist monsters, anyways. The ones from the latter story even seemed polite and understanding. It's his discovery that 'black culture' isn't something that can be opted out of.
posted by Simon! at 6:45 PM on May 20, 2005


His self-reflection is overpowering. The assumption that everyone, everywhere does things with respect to him is odd. If people do something different it is because of him, and if they do the same as they were doing before, well, that too is because of him. He knows what they are thinking.

Being raised in the UK, has it resulted in his stereotyping Americans? Many Europeans have a vague notion about the Americans as either rural cowboys (and thus the word "cowboy" as epithet), or machine-gun wielding urban gangsters, reinforced by years of American TV and movies.

Race relations are clearly different in the US than in the UK, but does different equate to racist (in either direction, that is)? How would an Afro-American feel if confronted by two bobbies in the West End, bobbies who at first assumed that he was a local yob?

Self-consciousness can really run away with you. And yet, if you are in an unusual situation, say a foreign country, should you feel oppressed if people ignore you? He seems to be expecting racism so very much that he is seeing it all around him.
posted by kablam at 6:49 PM on May 20, 2005


That's what I liked about the article, actually. He seems to realize that his perceptions are largely paranoia, but he's shocked to find himself suddenly feeling like a victim all the time and applying his race to every encounter he has.
posted by Simon! at 6:56 PM on May 20, 2005


he didnt like being pulled over and then complained after he was let go?

i fail to see any racism here.


All I know is that, to date (34 years young), every time I have been pulled over in Chicago or Los Angeles it has been for a specific reason that I knew of when I saw the lights, and I was never asked to get out of the car or agree to a search, much less be patted down against a squad car or have my car searched without permission being asked.

Also, when I was younger, I used to crawl in and out of a window to hang out with my friends while my parents were asleep -- and no neighbor ever called the police to suggest that someone was breaking in.

Oh, and once when I was nineteen, I caught some kids breaking into my car around midnight in a bad neighborhood trying to get the stereo out. I sent them packing, then tried to fix the stereo. While I was doing so, a Chicago police car pulled up. They asked me what I was doing, and I said "I caught some kids trying to steal my stereo, and they broke it, so I'm trying to put it back in." They suggested that I was lucky to have caught them in progress, asked for a description, then left. Didn't ask for ID, didn't ask to see my car keys, and I never even got out of the car; just spoke to them through the cracked window.

Guess what skin color I have?
posted by davejay at 7:01 PM on May 20, 2005


In my early twenties, I was stopped TWICE by police officers who, after asking a few questions and looking around in my car, let me go.

Therefore I am a Black American. I can't wait to call Mom.
posted by bradth27 at 7:05 PM on May 20, 2005


He was forced to get out of his car and wait for 20 minutes for no reason other than he was black.
Racism pure and simple.
posted by Osmanthus at 7:06 PM on May 20, 2005


methinks tsarfan is white!

think again.
posted by jonmc at 7:14 PM on May 20, 2005


Jeez, I wondered how long it would take until the snarking started. But then I guess you'd have to have at least enough human fuckin' empathy to even begin to see where he was coming from.
posted by black8 at 7:16 PM on May 20, 2005


if someone fits a description or if someone is driving a car that fits a description doesnt mean that theyre being racially targeted simply because they are not white.

similarily if someone disagrees that something is not racism, that doesnt make them a particular race (or not a particular race).

the conclusions being immediately jumped to here are incredible.
posted by tsarfan at 7:25 PM on May 20, 2005


I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm Polka-Dots.
You can't call me white, it's worse. I have dark red freckles over most every part of my body that gets any sun at all.
You wouldn't believe the ridicule and stereotyping.
Along with the red hair, people just assume I get pissing myself drunk constantly, and wear kilts, and like golf.

That may be true, but it's their stereotypical prejudices that made them to believe it in the first place.
posted by Balisong at 7:27 PM on May 20, 2005


jonmc, tsarfan: it's called a joke.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 7:31 PM on May 20, 2005


and it's amusing but not for the reasons you think.
posted by jonmc at 7:32 PM on May 20, 2005


Well, it's funny, but being white and female, I don't get bothered. I was crossing the border a few months ago - I'm white and Ph.D. student at a good university - they didn't even open my bags, and the customs people didn't ask me any questions. They started talking to the young kid (looked about 18) in front of me. He was a typical teenager, headphones in his ears, CD player in his hand. They started asking him where he was going, what he was doing - he was American, he'd been up in Canada to visit some relatives. Then they said "Are you a criminal, do you have a record?" He said no, and they said "Are you sure? Never been arrested?" and kept asking him some more questions about where he was going and looked through his bags.

He was an American citizen; I was not. But he was the one grilled at the border. He was black, I was not. It wasn't just that they asked him if he had a record (which should have been on the computers anyways) - but to ask again? (Maybe a third time, I don't know). They had no reason to think that he was lying - except that he was black and the CD in his hand was a rap CD. That was what pushed it over the edge - I stood there in shock, realising I was watching blatent and rather skillless racial profiling, and there was nothing I could say about it.

I'm at an American university, and so sometimes I feel that the diversity efforts here are much too focused on race, rather than what is the main issue in educational opprotunity - class. But then I have to remember that I will never be pulled over for driving while black, that I can wander around campus late at night without being bothered, that no one but the library stacks guard has ever asked to see my ID (and they ask everyone).

on preview - How many of you stopped by the police have been told to get out, put spread eagle against the car, and threatened with jail when you asked questions? I've been in a stopped car too, with a nice white driver. They glanced at the ID, and sent us on. And we knew why we had been stopped (R.I.D.E. program).

Racism is something you don't experience as part of the high status race - just because you don't experience it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Geez, this is like a bunch of prom queens getting together and talking about how everyone loves each other in high school and no one is ever excluded, let alone bullied.
posted by jb at 8:21 PM on May 20, 2005


The extent of his 'rebellion' was to politely ask what he was pulled over for.

I've been pulled over several times, once in front of my own house. Asking questions has never gotten me anywhere or anything except for rude responses. I've never been told why I was pulled over, nor would they listen when I tried to save time and show them why I had done nothing wrong. I guess I'm not white enough.

He was forced to get out of his car and wait for 20 minutes for no reason other than he was black.
Racism pure and simple.


You heard his view of what happened, but not the cops. You obviously were not there. Such kneejerk statements are amazingly ignorant.
posted by justgary at 8:37 PM on May 20, 2005


- How many of you stopped by the police have been told to get out, put spread eagle against the car, and threatened with jail when you asked questions?

I have. Not threatened with jail, but then, I didn't ask questions. I've also been pulled out of a line of by U.S. customs when returning to the country, and my bags were searched and I was questioned. What color am I?

An anecdote from someone with no experience in law enforcement does not make the event you witnessed racial profiling.

This article reads like a freshman year paper in a "Race relations in the U.S." class. I'm not particularly impressed with his analysis, I think kablam is on the right track in this. A sizeable minority of subject-positioning writing I've read is overly self-conscious, and like this piece, does not differentiate well from what his perceptions and feelings are to what objective reality is.
posted by Snyder at 8:45 PM on May 20, 2005


jb - I'm a white, southern, good ol' boy. When I was younger, I was stopped, spreadeagled, and had my car thoroughly searched, several times. Each time we were somewhere we probably shouldn't have been.

It's much more a function of where you are when your path crosses that of a guy who's trained to react with suspicion towards anything that "looks funny". Driving through a bad area of LA in the middle of the night is asking to be stopped if you look even the slightest out of ordinary, as defined by the cop who sees you. It's not because of racism, it's because certain parts of this country are a police state.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:45 PM on May 20, 2005


lots of denial here ... i've been pulled over and had encounters with cops too ... all were polite ... all resulted in a traffic ticket at worst ... and a couple of times, i could have been busted for possession

if i was black, wanna bet i'd have a record by now?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:24 PM on May 20, 2005


The cops are always power-abusing jerks, to everyone. Question their right to boss you around and you are in for a world of pain, black or white. That there is often racism among those power-hungry bastards is not something that should be met with surprise.
posted by nightchrome at 9:37 PM on May 20, 2005


Went shopping with my respectable middle-class friend. I bought something, presented my credit card, they swiped it casually, handed it back, and after I had it in my wallet, I signed and they took the slip without looking at it. Transaction over.

She came up to the counter, presented her credit card, they asked for another form of identification, they studied both cards and wrote down her driver's license number, they held onto the card and compared it painstakingly to her signature after she signed, they handed it back grudgingly.

She's dressed better, is better-spoken than I am, and unlike me never shoplifted everything from record albums to clothing when a teenager. We were clearly shopping together.

She's black. I'm white. End of story.

Of course, you can get pulled over for being a young male, not just for being black. I have been pulled over a handful of times because I am driving a Jeep Wrangler and wearing a baseball cap. The officer always apologizes, asks me if I realized the speed I was going, and gives me a warning once they realize I'm a middle-aged white woman.
posted by Peach at 9:46 PM on May 20, 2005


Nope, I've never "supported" the cops either, except for their fund drives so I can get the sticker that says I supported, even when I don't send in the money.

The police have never been my friends, or even on my side. Even when my car gets it's windows busted out at a trailhead, my wife's purse get's stolen, and I call the cops, and it takes them 8 HOURS to send two "detectives" down to take our information. I had a description of the car and driver, and the stolen credit card had already been used at a local gas station to buy gas. I had all kinds of leads to go on, but the cops were up for a city vote for more funding, so they didn't feel the need to respond very quickly.
In the mean time, someone came along and broke out two more windows of the already vandalised car still sitting at the trailhead. Same guys? We'll never know. Next time I'm just gonna sit in the woods by my car with a 10/22 and cause a little havoc with the bastards going around looting. It's not like the cops ever went anywhere with it.

Damn Cops.
posted by Balisong at 9:57 PM on May 20, 2005


if i was black, wanna bet i'd have a record by now?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:24 PM CST on May 20 [!]


So your experience trumps mine? Or the others? I fail to see the logic, and the answer to your question is "who knows".
posted by justgary at 10:10 PM on May 20, 2005


I take it blacks do NOT get targeted by cops in the UK? Or is the UK's favored black sector those of West Indian extraction, as opposed to those extracted from the US or more recently straight from Africa? Or could it be that the white Brits are too busy keeping the "Pakis" in their place instead?

It was my impression that blacks in white-ruled countries go the same kind kind of thing (albeit to different degrees), except in France when the black person is a sexy entertainer (a la Josephine Baker) or an intellectual novelist (like James Baldwin).

Color me confused: England is where we learned racism from. Have they forgotten it now?

Oh and on preview: "It's not because of racism, it's because certain parts of this country are a police state."

Certain parts of this country are police states because of racism.

Listen, those people who question the "objective reality" of racism do so because they can afford to, i.e. because they ain't black. This does not mean that no "funny looking" whites are ever targeted (I have a bit of experience with that), nor does it mean that all blacks everywhere are always bothered for Living While Black, nor of course does it mean that no black people are ever actually guilty of or justifiably suspected of any misdeed or that black miscreants should get a free pass because of their color, but the simple fact is that your odds of being fucked with are better the more melanin you show. Denying this simple fact marks one as ignorant, stupid, and/or a liar, and almost certainly non-black.
posted by davy at 10:20 PM on May 20, 2005


Oh man. There are good cops and there are bad cops. Sometimes we get one, sometimes we get the other.

I've had run-ins with bad cops, and I've been let-go by good cops. Being a Chinaman in Iowa - it was pretty neutral. The problem I had was with small town cops who had nothing better to do and needed any excuse to bust a college student.

I guess being yellow may be different than being black - a skinny yellow fella might not instill the same level of 'bust-a-cap' fear; but let me tell ya - we don't need no stinkin' guns. Maybe that's why we didn't get no respect.

;)
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:36 PM on May 20, 2005


davy, are you calling me ignorant, stupid and/or a liar?
posted by Snyder at 10:43 PM on May 20, 2005


Progressive white bloggers declare racism over! Story at 11!
posted by iamck at 11:09 PM on May 20, 2005


Snyder - you get to choose. Aren't you happy?

----------


I think there are definitely other factors - I'd bet if you could get the stats on it, you'd find many more men faced agressive behaviour from cops. But that doesn't negate the systemic racism - it just means a double whammy for black men.

Actually, anyone know where you could get information on how often people are pulled over? I'd be curious to see how often people of different races are pulled over or searched by cops with no charges laid. Of course, as someone pointd out up thread, the chances of charges increase with the more times you are searched.

To be honest, it was the afternoon incident that was far more shocking. It was one thing to be pulled over at night, another to be held at gunpoint in your relatives home for trying to make tea. I noticed most people aren't commenting on this, because I can't think of any other explanation. Not only did whoever called just assumed that four black men making tea must be a crime, but after realising that the first three were not armed or resisting, the cops still threw down the fourth.

(It was four, right? I can't quote remember now. Somewhere between 3 and 5.)
posted by jb at 11:12 PM on May 20, 2005


jb, are you being sarcastic?
posted by Snyder at 11:27 PM on May 20, 2005


PurplePorpoise, at least once I've even been let go by bad cops -- because I was white. (I should probably refrain from telling that True Crime story.)

And once I was even busted by white cops because I was white: one Memorial Day evening about 15 years ago my buddy and I were two of the three whiteboys picked up along with literally dozens of blacks for having an impromptu street party without a permit; the white cops flat-out told us we were singled out "so it doesn't look bad [wink wink]; just be patient a while till we get them sorted out"; the other white guy got busted because a pistol fell out of his pocket while he was trying to flee because as it turned out he was actually wanted. Me, I actually got charged with something, Disorderly Intoxication, for protesting against being harrassed in that instance because of my color: "So you're just fucking with me so you can look all color-blind for fucking with them? Man what racist assholes you are!"

This was one of those occasions when my lawyer buddy laughed in my face: "You said WHAT? You're lucky that's all that happened to you, and that's all you got because you're white." (So was he, or Jewish counts as "white" there anyway.) He correctly guessed too that some black guys we got busted with subsequently used our quality time in the holding cell to tell us that they can't afford to mouth off like that: "If that was me I'd be missing more teeth."

However one can foreswear white skin privilege on the spot, such as by telling the arresting officer "I'm a gay commie just like Jesus, you cracker fuck"; don't try that at home, kids.
posted by davy at 12:00 AM on May 21, 2005


Yeah, white privilege. If you're well-dressed and over 30, or a pretty young girl who isn't afraid to show off what she's got.

Case in point- Riding with one of my more laid-back friends, he gets pulled over. He's got long hair in a ponytail, and while he's gotten stoned maybe twice, he looks like a habitual stoner. I've got a ratty T-shirt and jeans on. The cop spends a good twenty minutes searching his car. When he's satisfied he hasn't found anything and we've been good quiet citizens, he lightens up and sends us on our way.

Riding on the same road a few months later, I get pulled over for speeding. Almost 85 in a 70. Except, I'm alone and dressed fairly nice. Collared button-up shirt, slacks, clean shaven. The cop asks for my license, asks "You know why I stopped you?" "Yeah, I was speeding." "Yeah, just try to keep it under 80."

Not to deny there's racism, but being white isn't a free pass. You have to match all the profiles that say you're harmless. As for his paranoia about the police, welcome to America. Half the white folks are afraid of the police, and the other half are either ignorant, kiss enough ass, or have the money to rearrange the local department to their liking.
posted by Saydur at 12:43 AM on May 21, 2005


Can we please focus on what's important, here? The discrimination against people that use Comic Sans?
posted by Simon! at 1:00 AM on May 21, 2005


You all left out a component missing in a "routine traffic stop": If you're the wrong color, it can get you dead.

What I don't get is how people on one hand can acknowledge this stuff happens, then casually dismiss it when it doesn't "fit with their knowledge" of the given situation -- However I do know this: Black folks "paranoia" certainly didn't come about all on it's own.

Does being black mean I have to immediately forfeit ALL of my rights the second some cop decides I'm "suspicious?" And, if I feel I've been harassed, Am I just supposed to shrug, swallow any anger I may feel about it and go on with my business - every time? Are cops somehow infallable?

There are some people on MeFi whose day would be ruined by not getting their favorite muffin at breakfast, imagine getting spread-eagled on the ground with some aggro jerk giving you the business.

History shows us that the police have always been at the vanguard of racial harassment.

Welcome to America, indeed.
posted by black8 at 2:18 AM on May 21, 2005


davy just about got it when he noted that the author of this piece is English by upbringing.

Yes, there is racism in the UK -- but the big difference is that it's seen as a Bad Thing. If the traffic stop described in this incident had happened in the UK, our narrator could very well have raised serious shit over it and gotten the officers in question into very deep trouble.

Our narrator mouthed off at the traffic stop because he came from a culture where he had a reasonable expectation of fair treatment. That he didn't get it from the American cops who stopped him speaks volumes.

(Declaration of interest: I'm white, and British. My brother-in-law is black, British, and has spent the thick end of a decade as an academic working in the USA. This meshes nicely with his experiences. And it's a major reason why I no longer want to work in, emigrate to, or even visit the US. What's sauce for the goose can suddenly become sauce for the gander ...)
posted by cstross at 5:18 AM on May 21, 2005


You have to match all the profiles that say you're harmless.

That's pretty much spot-on. Of course there's a racial bias -- being black alone is enough, in some people's minds, to categorize you as "not harmless."

But that doesn't mean that any other ethnicity is exempt from that. There were several times in my younger days as a white male teenager in Texas suburbia where my friends and I were harassed by cops in much the same manner as this man was.

Though we may have looked scruffy, we were the town squares. I never even had a drink of alcohol until I was 21. That didn't stop us from being pulled out of a car for 45 minutes while it was searched and we were given the, "if it looks like a duck," lecture. It didn't stop us from being pulled over and told to split up and go home...that if the cops saw us out any more that night, we'd be in trouble...and asking if we had records, where were going, and where the only obviously nice article of clothing in the car was stolen from.

Later, as an art student at UT, I became accustomed to people moving bus seats when I sat down on the ride home after my art classes. My only possible crime at that point would have been wearing my art clothes - jeans speckled with dried oil paints and streaked with charcoal dust....

As a late-20's college educated white male with a respectable job, I have made the mistake of making a quick run to a department store in the middle of doing yard work. I hadn't changed clothes, and was still wearing tatty jeans and a My Bloody Valentine t-shirt. I was rather conspicuously followed and watched every step I took. Every time I picked up an item, an anxious store employee would materialize to ask if they could "hold that at the counter" for me.

If you don't fit the profile of "harmless," you get this treatment either way. The racism comes into play because blacks are lumped into the "not harmless" bucket by default.
posted by kaseijin at 6:02 AM on May 21, 2005


My eyes are brown. My hair is black. My teeth are stained
with character and my skin is vivid brown. In the past the cops have:
1. Stopped me on my skateboard to ask me to join a line-up while I was riding to work.
2. Asked why I was running thru an A+P parking lot? My white friends said that I was with them and I was let go.
3. Asked me for receipts for the contents in my backpack..
camera.....tape recorder.
4. Asked me if I knew the people inside the house I just walked up to. It was a band rehearsal.

That's why I hate traveling by myself.
......the list goes on baby. The paranoya rings true.
posted by doctorschlock at 6:57 AM on May 21, 2005


Synthesizing various points and adding my experience:

What Carbado experienced is not reserved for blacks alone in the US--it happens to all "others" as kasejin and others suggest.

My own case: I am white (so you don't have to guess) and now if stopped by an officer am treated with deference and respect because I look the part of the harmless, middle-aged man. But as a young man in the 70s, I looked like the missing member of ZZ Top. In those days, my encounters with the police included:
-getting hit with a nightstick after "being observed" speaking with a black man in a well-lit downtown area (there was a police action going on about 10 blocks away)
-being stopped for "no brake lights" told to get out of the car and lay on the ground while the police searched the car. I was not "clean," but they came up with far more than I had. When I protested that my brake lights worked, he pulled out the fuses and crushed them under his boot.
-had armed police at the door who cuffed us and ransacked the house, shouting "tell us where it is and it will go easier," but this time there was no "it" and no amount of protestation was persuasive. Finally, they said that a "neighbor" had seen "a brick of heroin and a syringe" through the living room window. We showed the bag of brown sugar and the (needleless) syringe we were using to nurse a sick cat--the officers did apologize, but we were terrified.

I could add more, but my treatment is not the point. I learned how not to look "other." Carbado can't. A former student of mine has had about six "Carbado" incidents year. He's from Detroit, so he is usually just annoyed with our local "Barney Fifes"--he puts up with being handcuffed and held for hours without being told what his crime is--other than being very, very black in a very white town. His anger and resentment come out when he is speaking with friends--he can't even write about it yet, he can't find the words to express his solutions, only rage at the unjust society that defines him as dangerous and useless.

To deny that racism is a factor is ignorant. If the shoe fits, please don't ask if I am calling you ignorant or stupid. Assume that I am.

But race just makes it easier for the bad cops--and yes, I do think that the majority are good cops--and those who can be led by the bad cops to enforce their power. Their actions, as in the Carbado narrative do not serve any deterrent purpose, nor in most cases are they preventative.

Crime in this country will be reduced--never eliminated--if and when class inequalities are addressed honestly and effectively (they too never will be eliminated). The jackboot treatment of the "other" will only cease when we, as citizens, tell our local police that we will not tolerate it and insist on humane treatment of anyone they deem as suspects. Use of force should only be used to address force. They (the police) fail to realize that for most of us, the stop is intimidating enough--we don't need to be humiliated, hit, or punished for simply being.
posted by beelzbubba at 7:24 AM on May 21, 2005


It's not just cops. I was raised in a pretty white state, and some of my white friends were known to bend the law. I never really heard anything overtly racist. But almost everytime I go anywhere with a black friend, I am treated differently. I am asked to open my bags, my friend's car is stopped to check the "insurance" (this has never happened to me in my twenty-five years as a driver). There's seldom any apparent malice. I just have a strong feeling of surrendering my priviledge as a white guy.

Personally, I'd never carry a joint on a night out with a black friends.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:11 AM on May 21, 2005


Opps, I posted before I proof-read. In order to avoid snarkiness, these experiences in no way accuse other mefites of being prejudiced, or project on them any sort of racial identity; I'm just stating an embarassing situations I find myself in when I go home to the States, or less hip areas of Toronto
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:16 AM on May 21, 2005


What davy said. I'm constantly amazed by how eager people are to sweep racism under the rug. "Oh, yeah, the guy's complaining because he got delayed for a few minutes! Whiner!" And this is absurd:

He seems to realize that his perceptions are largely paranoia

He realizes no such thing. He realizes that black people in these United States have to put up with this shit all the time, and since he's now one of them, he'd better get used to it.

For a different take on these matters, from a Yoruba-American who writes as Abdul-Walid of Acerbia, five essays on race: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. There are some excellent links in the comments as well.
posted by languagehat at 8:39 AM on May 21, 2005


I'm Irish - with pink-white skin exhibiting minimal levels of melanin production. Upon travelling from Ireland to the UK, and on occasion being stopped within the UK by police, I became accustomed to a certain, routine level of harrassment, questioning, occasional and sometimes prolonged detention, and suspicion. Especially before the ceasefire in the 90s. Ethnicity is not essentially coupled to skin colour - it is a "taint" that persists within and is located within the body by the perceptions of others.

How do I know this? When I enter the United States, or interact with police there, I was and am aware that the "base level" of suspicion is much less. There no harassment, questioning is minor, perfunctory, or negligible to the point of elimination. In the United States, except for specific areas and sub-cultures, my ethnic origin is erased and I am simply "white".

This relaxed situation generally does not persist if I am travelling within the US with friends with darker skins, either of African, Indian subcontinent, or Australasian origin or descent. I have then noticed a much greater inquisition of motives, destinations, and purpose. Even simply entering a bar can become an entirely different, complex proposition. Crossing borders is problematic. Performing within a police-civilian interaction is a whole other world to negotiate.

Only people at the top of a particular ethnic pyramid within a particular culture can afford to experience unconscious race blindness.
posted by meehawl at 8:51 AM on May 21, 2005


What I didn't understand is why there wasn't more outrage directed at the neighbor who called the cops in the second incident. When the cops receive a report of men with guns breaking into a house, they have to go investigate. The cops' conduct on the scene is of course open for discussion. However, the cops would never have been involved if someone hadn't called 911 with an imagined or fabricated story about seeing guns.
posted by rhiannon at 9:57 AM on May 21, 2005


Hey white people - you can cut your hair and dress nicer - and that, my friends, is white privilege.
posted by iamck at 12:15 PM on May 21, 2005


Look, we're really sorry about this, but when we get a call that there are [black] men with guns, we take it quite seriously.

Look how he inserted [black] in there. I mean come on, you think the cops wouldn't take it serious if there was a report of [white] men with guns? That event had nothing to do with his blackness, just a bunch of projection.
posted by delmoi at 1:04 PM on May 21, 2005


Are all the nice progressive white folks here done patting themselves on the back because they truly understand the plight of the Black Man? Reinforcing their feelings of superiority by insulting and straw-manning anyone who might dispute even one minor anecdote of theirs? Have fun with that.

rhiannon: Yeah, I was thinking something similar. It's why I think his description of that story is more problematic, because he is substituting his own theory for not only his own feelings and immediate perceptions, but a less self-conscious take on the whole experience. The first case, I think this is less so, especially since the cop there does bring up the whole, "Where are you from?" line of questioning, which is a more obvious othering/racial categorizing kind of thing.

on preview: delmoi: Exactly, stretching the events to ostensibly fit his theory. Why? I'm not going to really speculate right now, but you're probably right: projection.
posted by Snyder at 1:11 PM on May 21, 2005


Getting pulled by the police has never been a very trying experiance for me, but I've only been pulled over in Iowa, where there's hardly any crime anyway so obviously the cops arn't going to be worried. I guess.

The cops would give me a speeding ticket, and I'd be on my way. The only problem was finding out that lots of cute white girls would get "warnings" from the police, rather then tickets. They'd get pulled over 10, 15 times, and with no record of speeding, they don't have a problem.

Me on the other hand, I get 3 tickets in a year and I get a suspended license.

I think it must very quite a bit region-on-region, in some regions the cops just have more leway to act like jackasses.
posted by delmoi at 1:19 PM on May 21, 2005


Are all the nice progressive white folks here done patting themselves on the back because they truly understand the plight of the Black Man? Reinforcing their feelings of superiority by insulting and straw-manning anyone who might dispute even one minor anecdote of theirs? Have fun with that.

Right, all the "progressives" around here are clearly white.
posted by delmoi at 1:20 PM on May 21, 2005


No, but the "progressives" are the ones who think they've been granted some special understanding of non-white people. News flash: they haven't.
posted by jonmc at 1:56 PM on May 21, 2005


you think the cops wouldn't take it serious if there was a report of [white] men with guns?

OK, yes, they would have to take a report of guns seriously, assuming there really was a report of guns. But there were no guns. Someone, either the cops or the neighbors, saw a family of black people without guns and they made up the bit about guns.

There's no telling from this story whether the cops or the neighbors were the liars, but someone was a lying, dangerous asshole and probably (why else?) for racist reasons. Do you suppose the cops went back to this neighbor, assuming there was such a neighbor and the raid wasn't the result of alert cops (alert for black folk in white neighborhoods), and arrested this neighbor for falsely reporting an armed crime and causing a dangerous situation in which police officers had guns drawn on innocent people in a residential building?
posted by pracowity at 2:02 PM on May 21, 2005


delmoi:
i noticed the brackets too, but you're missing the point that it's not that the cops are being consciously racist, it's that they're participating in the theatre of inherent and cultural racist conduct. the neighbors are the ones who started the episode by interpreting "black men with suitcases" and "black men making tea in my white neighborhood" as "black men with guns." were they being closet Klansmen? not exactly, and not deliberately. it's their unconscious participation in the idea that "these black men don't belong here, and thus they must be up to no f-ing good." that's learned behavior, learned assumption. from where? from the air we breathe.

i experienced something mildly like it as a teacher. several students and i were on a field trip in a 15 passenger van. we stopped in a suburban parking lot next to a chain restaurant, while some students and teachers ran an errand. there were two young black male students and a few white students (male and female) loitering next to the van. at one point, a black kid and a white kid were play fighting for a few seconds, laughing uproariously. within 10 minutes, two squad cars pulled up and their occupants got out, guns unclipped, wondering what was going on. i stepped up and informed them that i was the teacher (white female) and assumed they'd just stand down and see it immediately as a misunderstanding. at first, they nearly refused to see me as a teacher (too scruffy, too young--we'd been camping). but after a few tense minutes, it became apparent that those few seconds of playfighting between a white young man and a black young man had impelled a restaurant patron/employee to call the police to report a fight in the parking lot.

as the writer makes clear, it's about how an observer sees a situation through the filter of a still-constant residue of serious cultural indoctrination. (we aren't born in a vacuum.) young black male in my nearly white suburb = out of place. young black male getting rough with young white male = must call police. that's instead of waiting a few minutes, seeing if what you're seeing is being interpreted truthfully. could the same thing happen if they were two young white males? certainly. but not as likely. and it would be less likely to frighten or be misinterpreted.

just once i'd love to see a discussion on race not degenerate into white folks trying desperately to find a way it can't be true.

why is it so hard to believe that the cultural impact of lynchings *literally* every other day based on false accusations less than a lifetime ago might have an echo inside your brain and mine?
posted by RedEmma at 2:29 PM on May 21, 2005


No, but the "progressives" are the ones who think they've been granted some special understanding of non-white people. News flash: they haven't.
posted by jonmc at 1:56 PM PST on May 21 [!]


No, at least I don't. I was going to say that I am more aware of racism now that I've moved to the States, but I realised that would imply that where I am (New Haven CT) is more racist than where I'm from (Toronto). It isn't - in fact, less so in many ways. But being in the States means that the focus is much more strongly on race relations than in Canada (for good reasons, considering the much larger black population here). Being here has made me reflect on the nature and extent of racism in Canada, which is a serious problem (though sometimes with different groups than the US). Canada needs to talk more about racism, especially in law enforcement.

But most of all, it's that I've realised that my experience as a white person isn't the same as non-white people, as much as I wish it were. I don't experience racism from cops, I don't get hassled, I don't have to worry about getting pulled over. But when black people, like this author, say this happens to them, I believe them. Not just because I have seen it happen to them, though I have. Because while some say it hasn't happened to them (which is great for them), many more say it has. When law abiding polite black people (it is not impolite to ask why you have been stopped - and if it ever gets that way, that's is seriously dangerous) get the kind of treatment as was described in the article and in this thread, I know something is wrong. Because that kind of treatment is just not right, not for anyone even with good cause, and I have not seen good cause.

If a woman told you she had been systematically sexually harassed, would you say, "Well, someone said I was cute too, so I think you're just paranoid"? I seriously hope not.

The best comment so far has been meehawl's - that was very enlightening. I knew prejudice against Irish people in England was very strong in the 17th-19th centuries (just because I've read a lot about that period), but I didn't realise it had continued. It's also an interesting contrast to the United States.
posted by jb at 3:48 PM on May 21, 2005


I've only been pulled over in Iowa, where there's hardly any crime anyway

Well, as long as you exclude the meth labs, that *might* be true.
posted by meehawl at 4:13 PM on May 21, 2005


I'm not surprised at the article linked (racism in North America? who'd've thought?) but the attempts to blame the author for paranoia blow me away.

Perhaps it's worth pointing out that police fall back on stereotyping not simply out of some mystical impulse to reinforce hegemony but because they believe it makes their job easier. In my country, where there is an unfortunate correlation between skin colour, poverty and crime, the police are frequently racist (irrespective of their own skin colour) because they consider that the odds of criminality among particular groups are genuinely higher.

There's plenty of racism in Birmingham, where this guy comes from, as I know first hand, but most people would find it rude to actually exercise it in public, including the police.

And I second jb: meehawl's first comment was very interesting.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:51 PM on May 21, 2005


But most of all, it's that I've realised that my experience as a white person isn't the same as non-white people, as much as I wish it were.

How do you mean that: do you wish their experience was more like yours, or that your experience was more like theirs?

The former is commendable in that you'd want them not to endure the petty bullshit that they do, the latter would be bizarre self-indulgent masochism. I'm not accusing, just asking.
posted by jonmc at 5:55 PM on May 21, 2005


just once i'd love to see a discussion on race not degenerate into white folks trying desperately to find a way it can't be true.

Metafilter, for all its liberal participation, does not do race well. I hesitated to post this piece for just that reason. Previous threads here have taken a similar tone with all too many posters, probably not all of them white, looking to explain away the obvious racist behavior. For all too many people, the daily experience is not being able to forget that they are different. They can't because of all of the subtle and not so subtle ways in which they are treated differently from others. It ranges from a wary look when met on the street, or upon entering a restaurant, to the extra precautions a peace officer takes when confronting them. Instances of overt racism may be rare, but the day in and day out subtle acknowledgements persist. A black gentlemen co-worker remains somewhat apprehensive walking the streets of NYC, which he does almost every day, based upon a lifetime of discriminatory acts. He is more sophisticated, better dressed, better educated, better spoken and more intelligent than most you will meet. A blind person meeting him might easily mistake him for a rich, white blue blood. Yet, his experience with police and others mirrors Carbado's. In contrast, another older gentleman whom I respect dearly, once said to me, "I thought we overcame all of those racial problems in the 60's." The problems remain and denying them in general, or denying any one individual's perception of his own treatment just perpetuates the discrimination and the power imbalance. I find it funny how quick so many here are to ascribe evil intentions to US soldiers in their dealings with Iraqis yet when faced with similar behavior by peace officers here at home are quick to seek an alternative impression. I can not know for sure whether Mr. Carbado's experiences were based solely upon his race, but given the overwhelming evidence from other similar encounters I doubt he is wrong. The problem is not new; I posted his account because I thought he expressed it well and he had a bit of a different take on it being an immigrant from the UK where he appeared to have had a different experience. We all like to think that prejudice lies in the hearts of others, not us. I defy you to find me a man who lacks prejudice, perhaps Jesus. For the rest of us, failure to recognize the problem only makes you part of the problem. I guess I have said enough. I did not want to post in this thread but the apologists and worse the deniers have disturbed me to respond. I have said my peace. You may disagree, but look in your heart and put yourself in Mr. Carbado's shoes when you do.
posted by caddis at 5:56 PM on May 21, 2005


And you've said your piece, too.

How's the situation in bits of Canada?

I am damn certain that Canadians are extremely racist against the aboriginal population. It's downright disturbing how many people stereotype them as drunks and welfare cases, painting an entire tribe or organization with a single brush. Not to mention the police brutality cases especially in Saskatchewan. And the idiocy of some developers, corporations, and elected officials when addressing public land issues, resource rights, and urban/destination development.

I'm led to believe that Toronto and parts of the maritimes are pretty bad if you're black. Out here in the whitey west, I suspect blacks are so few and far between that they're more a curiousity than a threat. It'd be like the experience of being a red-haired tall geek in far rural China: you'd know you stand out like a sore thumb, and people would be annoyingly polite.

BC has a significant Indo/Asian population. I think there would be significant differences in how they're treated in the Vancouver mainland, and the rest of BC. I know that the media depicts Asian and Indo gang activities in the mainland. I expect that creates an environment where racism would be common.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:05 PM on May 21, 2005


cstross writes "And it's a major reason why I no longer want to work in, emigrate to, or even visit the US."

You live in a country that would only be the 5th largest state if it was part of the USA. Where did your brother-in-law work while in the USA? A large city on one of the coasts? A small town in Nebraska?

My point is the USA is a damn big place. To not even visit based (primarily) on the experiences of one person isn't giving a lot of America a chance. I can find you some really nice towns in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois or Florida that would welcome you, show you a great time, and send you back with a very different picture of "America."

That said, I grew up very poor and experienced the same treatment by the police in my town. The difference for me is that I left town, threw on a suit and tie and can "disappear" in most areas of large cities. "Classism" and racism is rampant is the US. The majority race flexes its power through such treatment. However, it won't be long before that race will be in the minority and our grandchildren will make these same complaints.
posted by ?! at 9:16 PM on May 21, 2005


jonmc - The former. I realised it was a bit unclear, but yes, what I was saying was that no matter how much I wished that it were so, non-white people are often not treated as well as white people, in North America.

On Canadian race relations:

The Globe and Mail ran a good series on native-white relations in Saskatoon, though Larry Zolf doesn't think it isn't frank enough on the reality of Canada's history of racism.

I don't have any good links, but I grew up in Toronto hearing newsstories of unarmed black boys being shot by the cop. There are very bad relations between the black (mostly Carribean) community and the cops - where I grew up, in a half Carribbean neighbourhood, most of the kids feared cops. Of course, it didn't really help that when my mom brought the cops to the local breakfast club (frequented mostly by children under 10), that the cops wore their bullet proof vests on the outside of their uniforms. That really made her made - here she was trying to make them less intimidating, and there they are wearing vests to visit small children - they didn't even take them off once in the rec room. Our neighbourhood was not dangerous - no shootings, little violence. But it was poor and mostly non-white.

Sometimes racism takes unexpected forms. I had never imagined racism against Chinese people, outside of some anti-immigrant feeling in B.C. (which I noticed when there around 1997). But a friend of mine and his wife visited Hartford, CT a while back, only to come back with terrible stories of the way they treated him in the stores there (he is a New Zealander of Chinese descent - it was no language barrier).
posted by jb at 9:37 PM on May 21, 2005


I would suggest this guy get the heck out of Los Angeles. Seriously. I kind of doubt he will ever live a life truly free of hassle, but I get the impression there are few places more uptight about race than L.A.
posted by kindall at 2:09 AM on May 22, 2005


This article reads like a freshman year paper

Ah - another freshman professor. Put it down to positive discrimination. The author has gone beyond that - and does appear to have more a more complex conception of American race relations than some here are giving him credit for. (You'll only be able to read the summary of the article on the net)
posted by TimothyMason at 3:23 AM on May 22, 2005


No, but the "progressives" are the ones who think they've been granted some special understanding of non-white people. News flash: they haven't.

jon, give it a rest. Your jerking knee is going to topple you sideways if you don't watch out. Do you actually think black people do not experience racism in this country? If you agree they do, do you think anyone who talks about it is automatically "progressive" and therefore one of them there nasty valedictorian kids who gave you a hard time in high school? Do you think no white person has ever had black friends who explained to them what life was like for black people, or is it just "progressives" who can be assumed to be smug and ignorant, operating only on their frequent readings of the Progressive Daily? I know you know better than that; I just wish you didn't take such pride in sounding like a yahoo.
posted by languagehat at 6:47 AM on May 22, 2005


Languagehat: it's not so much progressive vs. whatever, so much as well, the hypocrisy of a lot of white people's discourse on race. People who wring their hands and shake their heads at the latest racial outrage or theory that they hear on the news while driving home to their all-white neighborhoods who fail to make the connection.

do you think anyone who talks about it is automatically "progressive" and therefore one of them there nasty valedictorian kids who gave you a hard time in high school?

Believe it or not, I actually got along fairly well with smart kids in high school, but that dosen't mean I won't call out a smart person when I think their full of shit or that they simply don't have the whole picture. That's all I'm ever generally saying. I figured you understood that.

non-white people are often not treated as well as white people, in North America.

Agreed, and this is still a national shame. But to compare race relations in the US to race ralations in Canada, is problematic, mainly since Canada is nowhere near as racially mixed as the US. And racial harmony becomes easier to achieve when there's less diversity, perversely enough. This NOT an argument against rces living together, merely an observation that racial tension exists and is often even stronger in my observance in enviornments when the races are bumping up against eachother.
posted by jonmc at 11:13 AM on May 22, 2005


I figured you understood that

I do understand that, and that's fine with me. But in this case you don't seem to be arguing against any particular smart person who's full of shit as much as lashing out against everyone here who's supporting the idea that black people still suffer from racism in this country. If I misunderstood you, I apologize, but I can't say I've noticed any shit in this thread except from people yammering about "nice progressive white folks... patting themselves on the back because they truly understand the plight of the Black Man," and you have to admit your comment looks superficially as if it belongs in that company. But I'm more than willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.
posted by languagehat at 1:11 PM on May 22, 2005


Cool. I suppose I only agree with ""nice progressive white folks... patting themselves on the back because they truly understand the plight of the Black Man," in the sense that we can't afford to be complacent about race (or a lot of other issues, for that matter) if we have any sense of history> It seems to me that a lot of people felt that everything had been solved with the civil rights movement and/or black power, and that complacency helped a lot of racial resentment fester.

as much as lashing out against everyone here who's supporting the idea that black people still suffer from racism in this country.

I'd be the last person on earth to deny that, from my own experiences and observation, if nothing else. It was more anger at people who think they've got the whole racial equation figured out, which I don't think anybody of any race does.
posted by jonmc at 2:48 PM on May 22, 2005


Languagehat: it's not so much progressive vs. whatever, so much as well, the hypocrisy of a lot of white people's discourse on race. People who wring their hands and shake their heads at the latest racial outrage or theory that they hear on the news while driving home to their all-white neighborhoods who fail to make the connection.

So I guess people who live in very mixed neighbourhoods and don't even know how to drive (i.e. people like me) have a right to worry about race relations, but you would rather than people living in all white communities stick their heads in the sand than acknowledge the problem. Acknowledging the problem is at least a step towards addressing it. So don't dis the people trying to talk about it, even if their skin is pale.

Canada isn't more or less racist than the US (there's no metre for this sort of thing), though it's different. Visible minorities (which do not include aboriginal) are 9% of the national population, but 53% of the Toronto population (where I grew up). Canadian cities do not experience white flight in quite the same way (I read a sociology article on this once), but there are still ethnic and racial ghettos. If I were just to go on my own experience having lived Toronto and in a very mixed city in the US, I would say that ethnic tension is more complicated in Toronto. In New Haven they talk about "white, African American and Hispanic" - in Toronto the high school lunch room was split a dozen different ways - Pakistani, Tamil, Black Carribean, North African, Asian, etc. But at the same time, in a city that was 1/2 non-white, most of my friends were white. I never really understood why, though I did go to some strange schools which most immigrant parents might not have approved of. But I think there is also a lot of segregation still, especially as kids get older. I rarely met non-white people, because the social worlds were not the same - the artsy alternative school scene, for instance, is very very pasty.
posted by jb at 3:11 PM on May 22, 2005


jb: I'm not disagreeing with you neccessarily, but Canada dosen't have the concrete legacy of slavery, race riots, and a million incidents large and small that we Americans carry around (not as abstractions, but as realities) that effects our every inetraction.
posted by jonmc at 3:28 PM on May 22, 2005


Canada has a concrete legacy of abuse of all its aboriginals, all non-majority immigrants (ie. those who didn't speak English or French natively), and all the working-class poor.

The "Indian issue" is probably the one you're most familiar with. We also had a punishing attitude toward Ukranian &c immigrants, forcing them to abandon their language and traditions in school, and frequently subjecting them to the plainest racism within the community. During the depression years the government sent thousands of working-class poor to camps across the prairies to do "public work" projects; given the barbwire compounds and pitiful pay, it was essential immigrant slavery. We also interred Japanese in BC and Alberta during the Pacific theatre phase of WWII, in a manner just as abusive as was used in the USA.

I think, however, that Canada managed to pull its head mostly out of its ass over time, as we now have thriving minority communities and a great amount of acceptance of diversity. Instead of the "melting pot" approach (which always brings to my mind melting crayons, the result of which would be a dissatisfying brown colour), we are trying to accomodate our differences. I think (hope?) that it is by and large working.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:16 PM on May 22, 2005


Believe it or not, I actually got along fairly well with smart kids in high school

Jon, what is it with you and the self-disparagement? Over the years you let this sort of comment slip out, and I've developed the distinct impression that you feel you are ill-educated or stupid, or that you are less qualified to bullshit than the rest of us, or are somehow lower-class.

I don't understand why you say these things, because to my eye, you're as well-spoken as anyone else in these parts. There is a distinct discontinuity between your self-deprecating comments and your actual "performance."

Maybe you need to Stuart Smalley yourself: I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!

posted by five fresh fish at 5:22 PM on May 22, 2005


fff, that sentence was more in retort to languagehat's comment about "them there nasty valedictorian kids who gave you a hard time in high school?" I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, but the older I get the more I realize my limits in every area, which I suppose happens to every person. I actually have a theory that the biggest gap in understanding in the world is between those who are somehow gifted (with brains, looks or talent) and those of us who merely try to muddle through in our mediocrity. I'm surethat could be fleshed out better but it's something that's a bee in my bonnet.
posted by jonmc at 6:02 PM on May 22, 2005


Ah. So you're saying languagehat's got your number. Successfully trolled you.

S'alright, then. Happens to the best of us.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:09 PM on May 22, 2005


Color me confused: England is where we learned racism from. Have they forgotten it now?

I think we'll need an oil tanker full of paint to express the degree of your confusion.

"The are who we learnt racism from".

Quite apart from being one of the most stupid comments I've ever seen (in an otherwise excellent series of posts), I think you'll find that racism and discrimination against perceived outsiders pre-date recorded history.

posted by vbfg at 5:38 AM on May 23, 2005


Oops, that should be:

"The <Insert nationality here> are who we learnt racism from".
posted by vbfg at 5:40 AM on May 23, 2005


People stereo type. Blacks in America have it worse than others, but its not limited by race. And its true other places.

In South Africa I am amused by the treatment I get in shops when I go on my Honda scooter. I walk in carrying my helmet. Oh, they are so attentive and 'helpful'! Of course if they knew I was on a scooter they might relax a bit more. Kind of silly a big man of 48 years riding a lil red scooter. LOL

As a teenager (70's), cops were treating all kinds of people badly. But I figured it was pretty simple, for a white boy. Keep the hair cut, dress mostly in ways my Mom would approve. Presto, little harassment. True, my peers had funny ideas about me, but I got away with LOTS that way.

People are prejudiced, sad but true. Some of us know this and compensate, some of us deny it. But this crap from police is just plain un-American. Allowing this is the same as allowing some bozo to get the Supreme Court to appoint him president. We the people aren't supposed to allow our constitution to be flaunted. We can judge ourselves by how strongly we stand up for that fabulous document, or how willing we are to turn our back on its disgrace.
posted by Goofyy at 8:15 AM on May 23, 2005


Metafilter, for all its liberal participation, does not do race well. I hesitated to post this piece for just that reason. Previous threads here have taken a similar tone with all too many posters, probably not all of them white, looking to explain away the obvious racist behavior.

Oh please. Metafilter does not do race well, but not for the reasons you state. If you did not want it discussed, you shouldn't have posted it.

Does racism exist? Of course. Are there racist cops? Of course. Does that mean this was a clear case or racism? No.

The minute a white person on metafilter gives a view on race that doesn't overtly agree with the racism they're shot down. They simply can't understand racism. So what did you want to happen when you posted this link? A total agreement on the racism shown by these cops? The disagreement makes you believe metafilter doesn't do race well?

So we have liberal "thinkers" like languagehat come up with such nonsense as "I'm constantly amazed by how eager people are to sweep racism under the rug" from a few comments debating the actual causes of the cops behavior.

Because it's racism case closed (I'm guessing he's enlightened). It would be comical if it wasn't so sad.
posted by justgary at 10:12 AM on May 23, 2005


just gary - no one has shot down anyone's opinion because of their skin colour. As far as I know, unless I have met them or people have self-identified (as I did), everyone here is blue.

We are disagreeing because we think the article does describe egregious racism. The cop had a right to stop them. He may or may not have had a right to search them wthout presenting due cause - what are the laws on this? He has absolutely no right to threated them with jail for asking why they were being stopped.

The behaviour of the cop and the suspicion of the neighbours is insane to me - I can't imagine a police officer ever treating me that way. I would have been way ruder back. But the fact is that I would do that, because I've never been treated that way. I make tea, everyday! Gallons of tea, and sometimes I even have people over for tea, and never once have my neigbours called to say I have guns. Nor have I ever been thrown against a wall. Hell, I should have been treated that way sometimes - I have been drinking and doing illegal things in public parks, and still given a light warning or not even bothered.

I could pretend this is just an isolated incident - but that would be to pretend ignorance. Being stopped and harrassed by the cops is unknown to many many white people - it is not unknown to many many black people. I have watched egregious racial profiling - you can feel the difference in attitude and behaviour from the authority.

People have pointed out upthread that when they have looked suspicious, they could always cut their hair, change their clothes, their car, etc. But black people can't. That's why racism is so pernicious - because no matter what this man does, he will always be black, and be looked on by not all, but too many people, with suspicion. That's what the essay was about. He felt that in his head he was not a black American - he was different, he didn't have the same culture. But he realised that it didn't change what was in other people's heads. They saw a young black man when they saw him, and all he knows is that apparrently it's now threatening for him (or his cousins) to make tea.

Personally, I can see where coffee making is pretty threatening - but tea?

----

I actually mentioned this thread to someone else, and it started her off on a whole rant about the posh white city in Jersey she currently lives in (she works at the local uni). All the non-white grad students and professors get stopped and questioned about their business there; white people don't. They don't let hispanics drive there, and they don't advertise apartments because they don't want "those sorts of people".

Even if they never say the words, it doesn't mean it doesn't happen.
posted by jb at 11:31 AM on May 23, 2005


jb: justgary was a bit overstating things and being a bit reactionary, but he's sort of stumbled on to a small bit of truth; that when race is discussed among people of a self-described liberal bent, there's a fairly palpable sense that do disagree with the fashionable wisdom on racial issues makes you a racist. Quibble with any factoid and you might as well be wearing a pointy hood to some people.
posted by jonmc at 12:16 PM on May 23, 2005


I had a whole piece written out, I lost it when the spell-check crashed Firefox.

Suffice to say the gist was:

jb:no one has shot down anyone's opinion because of their skin colour

It starts with the third fucking comment.

Almost a quarter of the comments (17) either say something like that, or accuse a poster of being apologist or denier because they disagree with something. 4 comments reference what I wrote directly, because I dared to fucking disagree with the received wisdom of a bunch of privileged white people who not only think that their anecdotes not only make them authorities on race relations, and are so smarty that anyone who disagrees is either ignorant, stupid or a liar. Not only that, because I didn't keep my place in relation to one of my betters, an actual professor, because I thought his writing was sub-par and the application of his theory flawed, I'm also a cyrpto-racist.

jonmc: justgary may be overstating things because his pissed of the demonization of those who aren't apparently toeing the party line of this thread. I mean you have to defend yourself from languagehat (someone who otherwise correctly points out "with-us-or-against-us" fallacy of the excluded middle kinds of things in other threads,) when you have nothing that needs defended. I'm not going to bother to defend my comments, unless someone wants to make something more substantive then "you're a denier!" I don't mind being called an idiot or an asshole (much) as long as that person is responding to what I actually wrote, and not what would be convenient for them. To have me made into a convinent foil, especially with underhanded accusatrions of racism, is simply enraging.
posted by Snyder at 1:56 PM on May 23, 2005


I mean you have to defend yourself from languagehat (someone who otherwise correctly points out "with-us-or-against-us" fallacy of the excluded middle kinds of things in other threads,) when you have nothing that needs defended.

Just to be clear, me and the hat know eachother fairly well, and have drank together. I didn't take it as an attack just a criticism.
posted by jonmc at 4:34 PM on May 23, 2005


Ok, fair enough then. Sorry about that.
posted by Snyder at 6:25 PM on May 23, 2005


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