"It has to do with the Netherlands, and with racism."
August 14, 2015 10:21 PM   Subscribe

Dutch newspaper uses n-word in headline of review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book On July 31, the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad published a review of several books on race and racism in the United States. The series, written by the paper’s Washington correspondent Guus Valk, leads with a review of Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’s latest book, “Between the World And Me.” Somewhere along the editorial process, the editors thought it would be a good idea to headline the article, “Nigger, Are You Crazy?” (Washington Post)

NRC (in Dutch) responds to the article. Slate translates and explains the reactions of the editors.

Guus Valk, the author of the article, claims that he was not involved in choosing the title or the blackface illustrations (and to strongly disapprove of the choice).

Previously.
posted by frumiousb (91 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh for fuck's sake. This is emblematic, I think, of a European tendency to be in denial that racism is as alive there as it is elsewhere in the world.
posted by chimaera at 10:38 PM on August 14, 2015 [47 favorites]


It enrages me that Coates can write the book of the year (maybe even greater than that) and still have this kind of indignity thrown in his face. You can say and know that these people are idiots, you are far superior, your book is a masterpiece, no one gives a shit what they say or do - but it still must hurt in that tender place inside you.
posted by sallybrown at 10:47 PM on August 14, 2015 [38 favorites]


Mistakes were made.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:55 PM on August 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


The second link says that the headline is a quote from another book that was reviewed in the same article, and the editors apparently tried to explain the thinking by saying that

The editorial in Amsterdam wanted a cynical head [to] summarize the pessimistic tone of the three books.

Doesn't that seem ironic? Wanting merely, they claim, to represent the perceived pessimism of cultural observers, they give the public reason to be pessimistic?
posted by clockzero at 10:59 PM on August 14, 2015


He merely disapproves? Strongly?
posted by polymodus at 11:05 PM on August 14, 2015


I've said it before when we talked about Piet, but a country that had a colony imaginatively called Slavenkust does not and will not get to pretend they're somehow too sophisticated to be racist.
posted by thecjm at 11:06 PM on August 14, 2015 [31 favorites]


I'm shocked that a newspaper editor in a different culture thinks he doesn't have to adhere to American culture.
posted by Homer42 at 11:07 PM on August 14, 2015 [22 favorites]


From the Salon link: From the Post, here’s more of Krielaars’ response: The drawings are a literal illustrations of ‘stereotype’ and ‘white’ aggression, the above mentioned books are dealing with. They are ugly, unkind, and offensive—and they are meant to be, because they cover the content of the reviewed books. Of course, they were not intended to offend. Actually, it is rather stupid to think so.

In case this is too difficult for anyone OTHER THAN the editors to parse:

"They are ugly, unkind, and offensive—and they are meant to be"

then

"Of course, they were not intended to offend. Actually, it is rather stupid to think so."

What is Dutch for "DUDE. THE SHOVEL. PUT. IT. DOWN."
posted by rtha at 11:11 PM on August 14, 2015 [33 favorites]


Oh for fuck's sake. This is emblematic, I think, of a European tendency to be in denial that racism is as alive there as it is elsewhere in the world.

Yeah, my experiences in Europe tend to be a lot of "Why can't you Americans be more like us with our national health care and socialist states that are progressive and forward thinking?" but mention the Muslims/Pakistanis/Polish/Roma/minority of choice and you hit a fountain of pure and ugly bile that wouldn't pass muster in the most racist parts of the American South. But of course, they can't be racist, they have universal health care!

This attitude is also quite common in California, incidentally, where they like to mock everyone that doesn't live on their spit of the West Coast for their racism and sexism and rubelike naivete then unleash pure, ugly vitriol against Hispanics and Mexicans that even a Klansman would say "Okay well that may be taking things too far." But of course they can't be racist, they're from San Francisco, not Mississippi.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:11 PM on August 14, 2015 [114 favorites]


His response to the backlash—calling non-Dutch readers “stupid” for taking offense—will probably not help his paper's cause.

Yeah, that's usually not a good idea.
posted by Rangi at 11:12 PM on August 14, 2015


How important is this paper in the Netherlands? Washington Post or Weekly World News?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:15 PM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


It may be genuinely possible that the Dutch just have no clue that their ancestors were slave traders, and somehow think of this as a purely American sin. When I was looking up Slavenkust to confirm the spelling, I found that the Dutch wiki page for it was significantly shorter than the English one.
posted by thecjm at 11:16 PM on August 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


So our take away is that this vindicates East Coast Americans as the only righteous folk?
posted by Segundus at 11:26 PM on August 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell, NRC is one of the best respected papers in the Netherlands.
posted by frumiousb at 11:30 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


(A statement nearly certain to cause arguments with Dutch folks, but it is anyhow not the Weekly World News.)
posted by frumiousb at 11:30 PM on August 14, 2015


Cool Papa Bell, NRC is was one of the best respected papers in the Netherlands.
posted by adept256 at 11:31 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


He merely disapproves? Strongly?

Maybe I'm misunderstanding your meaning, but the guy has made it clear that (a) he wasn't informed or involved when the headlines/graphics were chosen and (b) he doesn't support the results of that process in any way. I don't think it's helpful overall to criticize him on the grounds that he should have sounded more passionate when making these points.
posted by No-sword at 11:38 PM on August 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


Non-native speakers do often fall into the trap of deploying obscenities unwisely because they don't get the emotional kick. Can't help wondering if that isn't a factor here. Although that doesn't explain the illustrations.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:40 PM on August 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yea, I was just thinking about the same thing. Here (Belgium) the n word is commonly used the way we describe someone as black in the States. I've lived here for seven years and it still surprises me whenever someone says it, but as far as I can tell, most people aren't aware of the racist connotations the word carries. To be honest, had I seen that headline in the paper I woul have found it a bit of an odd word choice, but I wouldn't have thought much more about it.
And I certainly don't think it's a good thing that the n word is used so casually, but you can't really view its use in a Dutch headline from an American context.
posted by Karmeliet at 12:07 AM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Educated Dutch journalists don't know the baggage carried by maybe the most hateful word in the English language?
posted by Brocktoon at 12:09 AM on August 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


And all of that is completely aside from the fairly ubiquitous racism here. Which I think is actually xenophobia, which of course tends to manifest itself as racism.
posted by Karmeliet at 12:09 AM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


It enrages me that Coates can write the book of the year (maybe even greater than that) and still have this kind of indignity thrown in his face. You can say and know that these people are idiots, you are far superior, your book is a masterpiece, no one gives a shit what they say or do - but it still must hurt in that tender place inside you.

Reminds me of Daniel Handler making that watermelon crack about his friend(!) Jacqueline Woodson at the National Book Awards. You can be a brilliant writer, garner all the respect and laurels available, and somebody can still casually dehumanize you with a bit of language. And claim they didn't really mean it. I don't know anything about Dutch culture, maybe they were that clueless, but the effect on Coates is the same. It just sucks.
posted by thetortoise at 12:10 AM on August 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


Brocktoon, I don't think it's that they are completely unaware of the baggage associated with it, but they certainly don't experience it as viscerally as someone who's grown up in the states does, just based on my experience and conversations I've had.
posted by Karmeliet at 12:12 AM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


"When choosing the headline, we aimed at the intended audience of the piece: Dutch readers of the book section (black, white, but: Dutch readers). Because ‘N—’ is an English word, the offensive value in Dutch is not as direct as it is in English, comparable with the effect of less racially sensitive swear words. We realized the word is offensive, but in the headline it was meant to focus on the pessimistic message of Paul Beatty’s book when he gave the line to his fictional Clarence Thomas. Considering the fuss in your country it would have been better if we had put the headline between quotation marks."

They knew. They just didn't think it would get the attention on this side of the pond that it did. Maybe they should have thought harder.
posted by rtha at 12:16 AM on August 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


I lived in the Netherlands for close to 20 years, and to say they don't really understand the connotation of the word would be wrong-- especially for a paper like the NRC, with presumably well educated editors. (You probably could find Dutch people who genuinely don't understand the difference of between the Dutch word neger and the English slur, but there won't be very many of them. In the years while I was there, the Dutch word began to take on a negative meaning as well. )

The Dutch have been aware for *years* how other cultures look at blackface, at least. Then there's the way that Ajax uses the language of being the team of the Super Jews (and let's not get started about what their competitors chant at matches). And then there was the discussion about Negerzoen (I can't even, really.). Or the racist jokes about Asians in Holland's Got Talent. Not everything can be excused as not being American, and therefore not understanding.

I love the country, I do. NL gets many things right. Self awareness about racism is not one of those things.
posted by frumiousb at 12:18 AM on August 15, 2015 [31 favorites]


Karmeliet, do you mean white Dutch "they" or black Dutch "they"?
posted by animalrainbow at 12:32 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm misunderstanding your meaning, but the guy has made it clear that (a) he wasn't informed or involved when the headlines/graphics were chosen and (b) he doesn't support the results of that process in any way. I don't think it's helpful overall to criticize him on the grounds that he should have sounded more passionate when making these points.

Then I guess I do criticize the author for being in a perfect position to articulate something more. More sympathetic to those of us who need to hear it, for example. Or more points not phrased using negations. But if he did those things, if he stuck his neck out publicly, them he won't get more writing assignments. That's how it's played. Basic power relations.
posted by polymodus at 12:38 AM on August 15, 2015


animalrainbow, I meant white Dutch "they", apparently there were no black editors involved in the headline. Which seems like a pretty good illustration of the problem. I mean, even as a white person who grew up in the states, I can't imagine ever thinking it was a good idea to put that word in the paper, just because we were always taught that that just isn't a word you use.

frumiousb, out of curiosity, do you think it would have been less offensive (not much less offensive, but still, the context would be different) had the entire headline been in Dutch?
posted by Karmeliet at 12:52 AM on August 15, 2015


I can't wait to read Coates' take.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:54 AM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Coates has commented here, in the middle of a pretty hilarious set of tweets on how much he loves Fury Road.
posted by zompist at 1:40 AM on August 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


Karmeliet, they were quoting one of the books from the review, so they'd be unlikely to translate it. But I have a difficult time imagining sounding better if they were to write something like "Are black people crazy in America?" which I guess would be how they would translate it, if they were to be literal.

I think it would be less offensive to Coates and the other authors though, which is part of the point.
posted by frumiousb at 1:42 AM on August 15, 2015


(marginally less offensive)
posted by frumiousb at 1:46 AM on August 15, 2015


The English language N-word is generally not taboo outside the English speaking world, and is pretty much never censored in non-English language media. You'll see it in print in the headlines of any major European newspaper, often with an explanation of its meaning, connotations and usage in the accompanying article. This can be as blunt as "it's a word white people aren't allowed to use in USA" (which I recently read in a French article about Obama using the word publicly).

IME the Dutch are generally only dimly aware of the weight, context and hurtful impact of the English language N-word, as well as many English swear words (which Dutch kids and grownups use with abandon). It can be quite disorienting, especially considering that their English tends to be so fluent.

I think the illustrations are horrible and offensive, and a good example of the blithe and oblivious way the Dutch I live amongst can be racist as hell. (I'm also sure that the illustrations didn't register as racist at all to the editors, nor to the majority of educated white readers of the article, rather than some sort of, idk, poignantly sarcastic or darkly humorous cultural commentary? It's cringeworthy nonetheless, and not one bit surprising.) When googling about this in the Dutch speaking internet, I came across a previous very similar masterpiece from NRC Handelsblad - not even going to link to that - and I'm pretty sure I've seen similarly shitty stuff in the Volkskrant, which I read. Sigh.

BTW, here's the relevant blog entry by Simone Zeefuik, the Amsterdam-based anti-racism activist who was, AFAIK, one of the first people to protest the article and bring it to international attention.
posted by sively at 1:50 AM on August 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


An English phrase was used as a headline above a Dutch piece in a Dutch newspaper. Now, that is odd. As Dutch newspapers never use English phrases as their headlines, since they are aimed at a Dutch public. As that is their market. So there must have been a good reason to do this. But for some reason someone in another country took this English phrase to be the official viewpoint of that newspaper? And created a brouhaha over that? Out of context?

Deine Sorgen möchte ich haben.
posted by ijsbrand at 1:57 AM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Deine Sorgen möchte ich haben." is an extremely dismissive phrase given the context, I think. And I heard that sentiment *so often* in the discussions about Zwarte Piet-- people making something about nothing. It's a Dutch custom, you can't take it out of context, etc. etc. etc.

The world *is* the context. And how do you think one should judge a newspaper, except by the editors actions?
posted by frumiousb at 2:03 AM on August 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


I lived in Holland very recently for most of a year and quickly moved back to Finland (ha ha) when I could. A bit of my headspace is also involved in social media from the African continent. I am neither white nor male. Here's my perspective:

1. Had the internet not existed, nor social media, this headline would have lived and died in its own waterlogged corner of the universe, where locals are still working out what it means to be green Piet.

2. The world *has* become more interconnected and one cannot write anymore as though only one's little pond of water was reading one's views, thoughts or writing.

3. This collapsing of the planetary sensibility means it behooves you to consider your words in a global context, particularly if you are a publisher of note or have any pretensions to gravitas whatsoever.

4. This goes double for news media.

5. An example of this is the recent kerfuffle with CNN - they came in person to apologize to the President of Kenya for calling the country a "hotbed of terror" when Obama recently visited. Kenya, in retaliation to the insult, pulled a few million dollars of advertising that their tourism board had signed with CNN. While pedants might distinguish between CNN International and CNN domestic, it doesn't matter when more or less every Kenyan has a smartphone and can give voice to their objection to being so labelled. #someonetellcnn is not a new hashtag.

6. Similarly, there is NO excuse anymore in today's highly interconnected world to publish on easily accessible websites words likely to deeply insult a lot of people. Keep your blackface for your village christmas fairs, but don't project your ignorant prejudice out into the world and expect that there will be no pushback.

tl;dr YUCK, grow the FUCK up


PS. *Even* Finland has changed - last month a politician said something moronic about immigrants on Facebook and ended up causing 15,000 people to show up in the city center protesting that they didn't care to be so xenophobically portrayed by their elected representatives. I passed by.
posted by infini at 2:24 AM on August 15, 2015 [53 favorites]


As Dutch newspapers never use English phrases as their headlines, since they are aimed at a Dutch public.

Around 90% of the Dutch public speak English, about as high a number you can find for countries that don't have English as an official language. The same number for the US is around 94%.
posted by effbot at 2:26 AM on August 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


It is however, completely ok to generalize the Dutch as racist thugs, here on the the blue.
Disclaimer: am Dutch.

And yes, NRC has completely gone to shit in the last decade.
posted by ouke at 2:29 AM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


ouke, there is a difference between pointing out racist actions and generalizing everyone as racist thugs. I *am* Dutch. I lived there most of my life and have a Dutch passport. Most Dutch are not overt racists, but there is a serious problem with the bagetaliseren of racism when it appears.
posted by frumiousb at 2:35 AM on August 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


How important is this paper in the Netherlands? Washington Post or Weekly World News?

Rightwing liberal, one of the old quality newspapers, think broadsheet rather than tabloid. Fairly insular in its outlook though, so this doesn't come as a surprise.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:46 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a Norwegian, I find the idea that "nigger" is not a taboo or even offensive word in Europe ridiculous. It's true that there has been a fair amount of argument over whether the word "negro" (in its various European versions - the Norwegian word is "neger") is always offensive (when used, not when merely referenced), or just a descriptor of appearance or geographical background, like "white". (Just to be clear: I find the word"negro" pretty obviously offensive in my language, because a lot of Norwegians with dark skin feel that it is, and who the fuck am I to tell them otherwise.) But I can't think of a single person I know who would use the n-word and not be aware that it is highly offensive and derogatory.
posted by Dumsnill at 2:50 AM on August 15, 2015 [19 favorites]


[Comment deleted. This will work better if we avoid devolving into "(all) Dutch people are/are not racist." Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:06 AM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


What we're talking about is the most stereotyped version of white privilege: "I don't find it offensive, so it's not offensive. I am the norm so actually going out and asking, e.g., a black person what he thinks about this is unnecessary. If YOU are offended by it, you are clearly the stupid one, since I'm the normal one and that should be obvious."

I'm in The Hague right now, a city where I have spent quite some time visiting and living. I don't think Dutch people are generally racist. This is one of the (from what I've seen at least) better-integrated countries in Europe, with people of all complexions out doing all kinds of jobs and just generally hanging out together in what seems to be pretty solid harmony. But the dominant culture is still the dominant culture, people from the dominant group usually only check their offense level against themselves, and this is the result.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:15 AM on August 15, 2015 [34 favorites]


VICE Magazine has a lot to answer for.
posted by acb at 3:22 AM on August 15, 2015


The greatest difference between how the US and the Netherlands treat race is rooted in their respective histories of slavery. Whatever else, slavery in the US was part and parcel of the political landscape for the best of a century after independence, firmly embedded in everyday life of a large part of the country, whereas in the Netherlands it was all savely hidden overseas, in the colonies, easy to ignore.

So whereas in the US there has always been a large, black minority, in the Netherlands this has only been the case in my lifetime, after Surinam independence in 1975 which got a lot of people migrating over here, both black and otherwise. Ergo, there isn't a African-Dutch community here in the way there's an African-American community: there are the Surinam, Antilles, Ghana, Cape Verdes, Somalian, etc communities. Which also means that there isn't the political strength in the various black communities that is available to the American black community, hence much less awareness & acknowledgement of anti-black racism on the part of white Dutch people.

Cf. Zwarte Piet. Or negerzoen.

This isn't the first time a Dutch newspaper/magazine has used the N-word as edgy, provocative; e.g. Rihanna wasn't too impressed with what one magazine called her a few years ago.

[hamburger] And that's all hip-hop's fault of course. [/hamburger] White Dutch people mostly know the n-word as part of the import of US culture, somewhat edgy and cool like the word "fuck" or "motherfucker", with no clue to its wider meaning. So in a white Dutch context I'm sure the responsible editor thought it would be slightly naughty, slightly edgy but not offensive because hey, black rappers use it all the time, right?

Meanwhile if a foreigner tells a Dutch person they did something wrong, that immediately gets their hackles up, because we all know the Netherlands is the bestest most liberated country in the world and no way can anybody else tell us what we do wrong. See Zwarte Piet debates passim for examples.

The long and short of it is that so very many white Dutch people are clueless about matters of race that are hard to fanthom to even the densest "I don't even see race" racism deniers in the US and that's why things like this keep happening, because they don't even see the problem or how it looks to people not them.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:29 AM on August 15, 2015 [26 favorites]


There are many issues that deserve the energy and attention that is now diverted to this cultural misunderstanding.

These issues are not unrelated. I consulted with the Dutch MFA on their approach to trade instead of aid with the African continent, particularly in the agricultural sector, given their own sense of leadership in this verdant space. The fundamental insight that emerged, through facilitated dialogue among stakeholders from this and other Ministries & institutions, was, that their entire worldview of "poor African farmers" was sorely outdated, and thus, inadvertently, acting as barriers to their own intended goals. There's a lot more that can be said here but I'll keep our Dutch readers' sensitivities in mind and bite my tongue.
posted by infini at 3:31 AM on August 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


I'd say if the writer in question thinks you fucked up and used a racist word in a racist context (see Coates' tweet above) and you still double down with your own white privilege, that says a lot about you. And it ain't good.

A white author isn't going to have to live with the sting of being called a racist slur in the headline of a review of a major work about what it is like being a black man raising a black son in a WHITE world.
posted by Kitteh at 3:37 AM on August 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


To be honest, I'm also not entirely sure there is much to be outraged over here. It seems fairly obvious that the n-word in the headline and the use of images are meant to critically comment on and illustrate a prevalent kind of racism, not encourage it. On the other hand, you know, lots of people clearly are offended, so, retract and apologize.

Now, whether or not a Dutch (or any other European) critic has any right to assume some sort of moral superiority over Americans in matters of racism is , well, dubious at best.

Meanwhile if a foreigner tells a Dutch person they did something wrong, that immediately gets their hackles up, because we all know the Netherlands is the bestest most liberated country in the world and no way can anybody else tell us what we do wrong. See Zwarte Piet debates passim for examples

Yeah, this is unfortunately the case for all small countries. Hell, I find myself vicariously wanting to defend the Dutch, because, hey! aren't they a lot like us, you know? Small, brilliant, and misunderstood.
posted by Dumsnill at 3:41 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dumsnill, I totally agree. The only times (and there have been a couple) when I've heard the n-word used in Norwegian (as opposed to referenced) have been from obvious white supremacist neo-nazi types. The debate about "neger" is a bit more complex, but the trend has very obviously turned against that too in the last decade or so.

So I also think it's ridiculous to assume that people in a Dutch newspaper don't know about its impact. But my impression of the Netherlands is that it's a little like that, it's amazingly progressive and liberal and open in many ways, but then in a few specific cases it's weird and insular and old-fashioned. Which, I guess, is the case with a lot of smaller countries. But that's not an excuse.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:43 AM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Agreed, not an excuse.
posted by Dumsnill at 3:46 AM on August 15, 2015


Metafilter: Small, brilliant, and misunderstood.
posted by Dumsnill at 3:58 AM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've traveled all over the world, and grew up in the rural Midwest. The most overt displays of casual racism I've ever experienced were in the Netherlands. My Vietnamese relatives shrug it off, and I am willing to believe that it's more cluelessness than malice, but if left a sour taste. The editors would we well served to set aside their defensiveness and do a bit of introspection here. It's not one word, or one book.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:08 AM on August 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


> Yeah, my experiences in Europe tend to be a lot of "Why can't you Americans be more like us with our national health care and socialist states that are progressive and forward thinking?" but mention the Muslims/Pakistanis/Polish/Roma/minority of choice and you hit a fountain of pure and ugly bile that wouldn't pass muster in the most racist parts of the American South. But of course, they can't be racist, they have universal health care!

If you're ever in Canada you can duplicate this experience by having a conversation about First Nations Canadians.

> Maybe they should have thought harder.

This is engraved on the tombstone of almost every bad idea.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:11 AM on August 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Yeah, my experiences in Europe tend to be a lot of "Why can't you Americans be more like us with our national health care and socialist states that are progressive and forward thinking?" but mention the Muslims/Pakistanis/Polish/Roma/minority of choice and you hit a fountain of pure and ugly bile that wouldn't pass muster in the most racist parts of the American South. But of course, they can't be racist, they have universal health care!

Amusingly, a friend of mine who moved to holland from the bay area(who, i mean, we're all human i wouldn't put above pulling that bay-area-exceptionalism shit either) came back to visit fucking horrified at how casually racist some people there are.

And any pushback gets derailed in to "well we never had slaves lol gb2 'murica noob". There's this specific, smug circlejack of "well america/americans did big_racist_thing in the past and we didn't so we're inherently less racist" which somehow follows some logic of like, racism being additive. Like what they're doing is only +1 racist, but america is +7 all the time and they're like +1 so it doesn't count. And then they just fart out awful shit all day long.

It's like a combo of a derail and the fallacy of relative privation.

He's kind of going crazy from it.
posted by emptythought at 4:29 AM on August 15, 2015 [20 favorites]


As a Norwegian, I find the idea that "nigger" is not a taboo or even offensive word in Europe ridiculous.

Well, "taboo" and "offensive" are not quite the same, are they? Yes, the word is definitely recognised as an edgy, risky expression. Yes, people definitely know it's used as an offensive racist slur.

But when I say it's not taboo I mean: it does not have the same status as a word-that-must-never-be-said as in America (and I guess by now, most of the Anglophone world?). It is a foreign word to those of us who learned English at school, and doesn't have the same punch-in-the-gut effect as the same slur in our own mother tongue. So, it's not abbreviated as the "N-word" or worked around in other ways. Its hurtfulness is perceived to depend on the context.

The kind of American sensitivity where it's never uttered, not even for clarity's sake in neutral reporting, just doesn't exist outside the English language, IME. The English N-word is also often used without embarrasment in e.g. the kind of context as the original article that inspired the FPP - a direct excerpt from a book - or for edginess, or ironically (AFAIK the discussion on ironic racism still needs to take place here), or for otherwise a humoristic effect.

What I mean is that when Pele tells the media about the racism he has faced - or an American man living in Norway, or a Swedish rapper for that matter - the word is put in the headline as it is.

When a sports manager uses the slur, or when a racist incident in America makes the news, it is also reported without any censoring the expressions used.

And here it seems to be used as an edgy expression in a rap context (by a white journalist, writing about a white rap artist).

Okay, I wanted to score a point by showing Norwegian examples to counter an argument made by a Norwegian poster - but any quick googling will bring you results from all major European media using the word in their reporting.

Personally, I'm feeling conflicted about this. I try to be as anti-racist in my words, thoughts and actions as a white Nordic person raised by a bunch of socialist wolves can - which means I generally try to do a lot of shutting up and listening. But it does feel weird to have Americans tell us we're not allowed to use a word of their language, regardless of the context of its usage in ours. At the same time, I'm culturally immersed enough in the English speaking world to realize what the headline looks like to you guys. And like infini pointed out, the online world is growing smaller and more intertwined. Hm.
posted by sively at 4:33 AM on August 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


It has no context for usage in your world outside of referencing its use in the US - as this example perfectly illustrates.

It would be like me blithely throwing around a really harsh Dutch pejorative that I can't contextualize.
posted by JPD at 4:40 AM on August 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


The kind of American sensitivity where it's never uttered, not even for clarity's sake in neutral reporting, just doesn't exist outside the English language.

That's true, and the Norwegian article you point to is pretty clearly using the word (or rather term) as a click-baity reference to a well-known novel (Hvite niggere, or "White Niggers" by Ingvar Ambjørnsen). But the fact that a major newspaper uses it so casually in a headline does point to differences between many European countries and America, in a way that does not always flatter Europe.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:46 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


And any pushback gets derailed in to "well we never had slaves lol gb2 'murica noob".

Which just goes to show how massively bad we Dutch teach our kids our own history. Everybody thinks of Curaçao as a nice holiday destination, not as the former slave trace center. Or they talk about how bad Bouterse is in Surinam.

Sigh.
posted by DreamerFi at 5:19 AM on August 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


Do we ever hear these "the word just doesn't have that force" arguments from black Europeans? Their perspective would seem to be the important one.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:21 AM on August 15, 2015 [27 favorites]


The books being reviewed were about very American forms of racism. I haven't read Coates' or Johnson's, but the subtleties of The Sellout would be very hard to understand, I think, without having studied some degree of African American history and without, especially, an understanding of what the n-word means in US culture. It's used extremely liberally throughout the book, and Beatty clues the reader into one of the reasons why a little bit in the last chapter when he basically describes how the book is not for a white-audience. He's made it impossible for a white American to read it outloud, for instance, without violating one of our nation's deep taboos.

It may be true that the average Dutch person thinks the word has a different cultural meaning, but anyone who thinks that has no business reviewing or judging a review of these books as an editor since at least one of them is about this very subject. Of course, the editors might not be aware of the depth of their own ignorance on the subject, but their comments don't seem to indicate a willingness to admit that maybe they don't know as much about American racism as the victims of it.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:24 AM on August 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


Do we ever hear these "the word just doesn't have that force" arguments from black Europeans? Their perspective would seem to be the important one.

Simone Zeefuik, whose blog I linked to above, obviously took offense in this case, especially in the context of NRC Handelsblad which according to her has a problematic recent track record wrt writing about race.

I have heard vehement protests against using the Dutch (or, back at home, Finnish) equivalent of the n-word as a "neutral" term for POC, obviously. But I haven't encountered any demands to never use the English n-word in the media (a la USA), when e.g. reporting on a racist incident. Maybe those opinions exist as well; maybe that discussion still needs to take place.
posted by sively at 6:28 AM on August 15, 2015


[One comment deleted. Not so great to throw in offensive descriptions of a different hurtful stereotype to compare how another example of racism might be illustrated in a similar manner. And likewise – as always – let's skip the jokey ironic racism as well. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:30 AM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


From Zeefuik via sively's link (kiitos!)

the national sentiment that whiteness outweighs research or study and the subpar level of journalism all this produces

This is what results in kids 20 years younger sitting me down to ask why wasn't I letting one of them be the boss of me, in my work, for which expertise they'd asked me for in the first place. Dude, I'd have to crawl around on broken knees just to ensure I can maintain my rightful place a step behind your ego in a suitably submissive sari.
posted by infini at 6:55 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


> But it does feel weird to have Americans tell us we're not allowed to use a word of their language, regardless of the context of its usage in ours.

This is exactly how I (and I'm pretty sure the vast majority of English-speakers) felt back when Ukraine became independent and insisted we stop using the definite article with "Ukraine" because it was disrespectful: "lol you're telling us how to use an English word when you don't even have articles in your language?!?" Then I realized their sensibilities were what mattered, not my knee-jerk reactions, and I got over myself. It was surprisingly easy to change my usage once I stopped digging in my heels and assuming I must be right.
posted by languagehat at 6:57 AM on August 15, 2015 [39 favorites]


Now, whether or not a Dutch (or any other European) critic has any right to assume some sort of moral superiority over Americans in matters of racism is , well, dubious at best.

Yeah, considering that when my ancestors on Long Island in the 1600s went down to buy slaves off the Dutch ships, they were lining up right next to their neighbors from New Amsterdam. Apparently the government back home had decided it was cheaper than encouraging emigration.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:04 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Meant to add: what happens in the colonies affects the culture in the home country. Take a look at all the the words and foods from India that are staples of British culture and language now. you can't build an empire and then claim that your culture hasn't been affected by it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:08 AM on August 15, 2015


Then I realized their sensibilities were what mattered, not my knee-jerk reactions, and I got over myself. It was surprisingly easy to change my usage once I stopped digging in my heels and assuming I must be right.

Inarguably correct, and an easy fix. Can be done!
posted by Wolof at 7:17 AM on August 15, 2015


I'm not sure it matters, but I'm curious about how the headline fits with the overall content of the review. Does the review discuss the use of that phrase in Beatty's book? Would a reader know that it was a quote from Beatty's book? Does it somehow relate to the themes of the review? Like, does the review focus on the effects of racism on African-American people's mental health or something like that? I guess that I'm having a hard time seeing how it makes sense as a title for the review, other than for cheap shock value.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:29 AM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Echoing tofu_crouton, The Sellout was a pretty challenging book (I'm pretty sure I bought it after reading a really good interview with the author linked on Metafilter). But it does seem pretty disingenuous or completely, willfully clueless to have both read it and then feel like randomly quoting from it would somehow be okay or make any kind of sense in a larger discourse.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 7:31 AM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oddly enough, an acquaintance of mine tweeted this week about a racist cartoon in a different Dutch newspaper (English explanation further down in that link). Ugh.
posted by daisyk at 7:37 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure it matters, but I'm curious about how the headline fits with the overall content of the review.

(NRC Handelsblad requires registration, but they accepted a throwaway mailinator-account.) Here's the original Dutch article, and here's the English translation the newspaper provides online. Note that the translation omits the original headline!
posted by sively at 7:37 AM on August 15, 2015


And here's the translation of entire original article (sans original headline) copy-pasted:

‘No, things aren’t getting better for African Americans’
Black in America: the question of race was thought to have been resolved once Obama was elected as president. But since the summer of 2014 it has become clear that none of it is true. How do you articulate racism?

By Guus Valk, translated by Annemarie Mattheyse

America, and especially white America, has been living in a dream for several years. A new era had begun in which the old problematic race relations were no longer a factor. The election of Barack Obama as the first black president underscored that America had entered a post-racial era. Naturally, there were still differences between Blacks and Whites, but these were thought to be based more on social class than on race.

And then came the summer of 2014, which saw the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of police. A new generation of African American leaders rose up. They challenged the white illusion of progress and, as they called it, the tendency towards conformism among black Americans. Both groups were said to have been lulled into complacency by the words of Martin Luther King Jr., oft quoted by Obama: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

After Brown came Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and, last week, Sandra Bland. She was stopped by a policeman in Texas because she failed to use her turn signal. She offered verbal resistance and demanded that her rights be respected, but was violently arrested. Three days later she died in prison of a suspected suicide. The [current] debate around race is deadly serious, especially from a white perspective. Not just because what prompted it is so serious, but also because a black writer like Ta-Nehisi Coates rejects the American Dream as “flimflam,” as the white New York Times columnist David Brooks writes. Brooks still clings to that dream, the idea that everyone can become anything in America. He acknowledges the inequality, but: it will get better!

Black America has long passed that stage. Ta-Nehisi Coats, a writer and essayist from West Baltimore, sets the tone. His book Between the World and Me, written in the form of a letter to his teenage son, became a bestseller this month. His view on racism is radically different from that of Brooks (or President Obama). To Coates, racism is an evil that needs to be fought; something that is in the very genetic make-up of society. The world of the “Dreamers” – and hence of Brooks – thinks that the idea behind America is ultimately noble and honest.

Every elite needs an underclass. Whether due to slavery, segregation or economic neglect, the effect is the same, writes Coates. He describes growing up in Baltimore as a terrifying physical experience. His hard-handed father, the gangs in the streets and the pathetic schools were, according to Coates, all expressions of the same institutionalized racism. “If the streets shackled my right leg, the schools shackled my left. Fail to comprehend the streets and you gave up your body now. But fail to comprehend the schools and you gave up your body later.”

A key concept to Coates is that of plunder. Black bodies were plundered on the plantations, and today they are plundered in the streets, by police. Along with plunder comes a destruction of black identity, which, according to Coates, “explained everything, from our cracked-out fathers to HIV to the bleached skin of Michael Jackson.” Between the World and Me is therefore not only based on a criticism of structural injustices in American society. It is also a call to self-examination: What is race?

Coates doesn’t feel at home anywhere: not on the streets, because he didn’t know the gangs’ codes, nor at school, nor in the (in his opinion too-meek) black churches. That theme of lack of rootedness, of searching for an identity, is a familiar one in African American literature – think, for instance, of Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama.

It also features in a number of remarkable recent novels by African American writers: Loving Day by Mat Johnson, and The Sellout by Paul Beatty. These books deal with the meaning of race – not to a group but simply just what it means to the individual. Both have a remarkably light tone that is reminiscent of the successful TV series Blackish. Race is not just problematic, but also a source of misunderstandings and taboos, and therefore a source of humor.

26 percent African
Mat Johnson’s Loving Day also differs from Coates’ Between the World and Me. The search for identity is much more a process that takes place from the inside out rather than a struggle with the big bad world. Johnson has good reason to struggle with identity. He has a black mother and a white father, and as a “biracial” man constantly runs up against issues of identity. His new novel, Loving Day, is feather light in tone, but is actually a pointed search for the meaning of race. Are you black if your skin is dark? Or are you only black if you identify with black culture? If the former, then the outside world determines your identity; if the latter, then Rachel Dolezal, the woman who presented herself as black but who was recently revealed to be white, has a point. Her claim was that she felt black, and that identity does not always correspond to the color of someone’s skin.

Johnson openly wrestles with his race. He grew up with his black mother in a predominantly African American neighborhood. There, he was seen as white because his skin is light. White people see him as Puerto Rican, or perhaps Eastern European, but not someone who entirely belongs. In The New York Times, Johnson recently wrote that he had had his DNA analyzed and that it was found that he has 26 percent African ancestry. But okay, what does that mean? For wont of a better term, he adopted the controversial descriptor “mulatto”, which for many African Americans is a direct reference to the slave era. Johnson feels at home with the term.
In Loving Day, artist and graphic novelist Warren Duffy must discover who he is. Like Johnson, Duffy has a white father and a black mother, and after his father’s death goes to live in his father’s house in a black neighborhood in Philadelphia. There, Warren has to constantly code-switch. To him the conventions among African Americans are a mystery. “There are blocks around here where you can be attacked for looking another man in the eyes and other blocks where you could be assaulted for not giving the respect of eye contact.”

Coates now sets the tone. His view on racism is radically different from that of Obama.
In Philadelphia, three languages are spoken: white American, street language, and “brotherman”, the language of educated African Americans. When Warren speaks to a black colleague, he consciously switches codes. For instance, he uses the (black) filler sentence, “Know what I’m saying?” “[Of course] he does know what I’m saying. What I’m saying is I’m black, too. What I’m saying is that he can relax around me because I’m on his side – that he doesn’t have to worry I’m going to make some random racist statement that will stab him when he’s unguarded [...].”During this conversation, Warren makes this discovery: “People aren’t social. They’re tribal. Race doesn’t exist, but tribes are f-n’ real.” The consequence of this is that the outside world determines who you are.

Warren learns that he has a 14 year old daughter, Tal, with a white woman. Tal is Jewish and knows nothing about African American culture, but Warren does his best to immerse her in black America. When he decides to care for her, he wants to send her to a school with black children only. It is an “Afrocentric” school, a type of school that became popular in the 1960s and 70s that aimed cultivate awareness of African in the diaspora. But eventually he selects an idealistic school consisting entirely of biracial children, the Melange Center for Multiracial Life. When he registers his daughter, a questionnaire is used to determine dominant race. “Was O.J. Simpson guilty,” “What was Jesus’ race?,” and, finally, the trick question: “Name your black friends [at least 3].” Warren refuses to complete the last question, which automatically makes him “black.”White people, the principal explains, always eagerly list their black friends.

In scenes like this, depicting light-hearted but tragic misunderstandings, Johnson truly shines. Warren reluctantly embraces his biracial background, but cannot separate this from loss. It is not only hard to be black in America; sometimes it can be handy, he realizes. Once you are on “Team Black”, he says, “your membership is clearly stated. In the bylaws.”

Satire
Coates wrote a book for his son, although he explains so much that it seems to be mainly intended for white readers. Loving Day also seems to have been written with white readers in mind. This is not the case with The Sellout by Paul Beatty. It teems with references to black culture, and the novel is difficult to follow for a reader who doesn’t immediately know who Buckwheat from Little Rascals is, or George Washington Carver.

“This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything.” With this opening sentence, Beatty sets the tone for a dazzling satire about being black in America. The book’s reception was extremely enthusiastic, while at the same time being a perfect illustration of the irreconcilability of the two worlds. The New York Times reviewer noted with regret that he could hardly use any direct quotes from The Sellout because of the frequent use of the N-word, code for: whites may not use the word “nigger.”

The Sellout is a grotesque satire of post-racial America. It is also topical. Beatty describes the world of a black man with just the last name “Me.” He grows up in an agricultural town in California called Dickens. With a glancing reference to recent events, his father dies after being shot in his car without cause by a police officer. To make matters worse, all the residents of Dickens move away. Me tries to rescue his town by restoring the old societal relations. He reintroduces slavery, segregates the schools, and creates black, white, and Latino neighborhoods.

Me’s slave, Hominy, is forced to cultivate marijuana. And although Me often tries to free him, the elderly Hominy refuses to be freed. “Massa, sometimes we just need to do what we are destined to do,” he says. Me realizes that a slave is not just useful. “Like children, dogs, dice and overpromising politicians and apparently prostitutes, slaves don’t do what you tell them to do.” No Go Down Moses, By ’n By or other field singing. He finds he doesn’t like it. Eventually, Me has to answer to the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The conservative black judge Clarence Thomas breaks his legendary taciturnity with one question: “Nigger, are you crazy?”

The Sellout can be read as a hard critique of both progressive and black America. Both groups have allowed themselves to become complacent during decades of lack of progress. Beatty’s lesson, Mat Johnson said recently, is that he is biting and funny. “Beatty’s work is a beautiful reminder that sometimes you can say more by laughing at yourself than by screaming at everyone else.”
posted by sively at 7:41 AM on August 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


Ok, so the review does make explicit that the title they used comes from Beatty's book, but I still don't understand what it has to do with the review. The title of the English translation, "‘No, things aren’t getting better for African Americans’", seems more on point for Coats's book and possibly Beatty's, although I don't think it has a lot to do with the themes of Loving Day.

Totally off-point: it's sort of funny that the reviewer's example of insider references that only black people would understand are Buckwheat from the Little Rascals and George Washington Carver.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:51 AM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


The book’s reception was extremely enthusiastic, while at the same time being a perfect illustration of the irreconcilability of the two worlds. The New York Times reviewer noted with regret that he could hardly use any direct quotes from The Sellout because of the frequent use of the N-word, code for: whites may not use the word “nigger.”

Now I think the newspaper's choice was purposeful. Assuming the person who selected the title actually read the review.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:52 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Let us not be distracted and exhausted by white privilege driven liberals who slither towards our mentions or inboxes with lamentations of intentions, context or other philosophical derailings.

That Simone Zeefuik blog is hot fire. Yall should read it--in her estimation the article itself is as ignorant as the pictures and headline.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:07 AM on August 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


From sively's pasted translation:

Race is not just problematic, but also a source of misunderstandings and taboos, and therefore a source of humor.

All this is ha ha?
posted by infini at 8:15 AM on August 15, 2015


The idea that someone who has read Ta-Nehisi Coates could be ignorant of the repulsive power of the N-bomb simply beggars belief.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 8:39 AM on August 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


The reviewer didn't pick the headline, and I doubt that whoever did pick the headline had read any of the books. But as several people have pointed out, the reviewer doesn't seem too upset about it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:44 AM on August 15, 2015


The New York Times reviewer noted with regret that he could hardly use any direct quotes from The Sellout because of the frequent use of the N-word, code for: whites may not use the word
The reasonable case of the NYT reviewer aside, it always kills me that a certain kind of white person will complain about this. The best response to it I've heard is "why do you want to use it so badly?"

Sure, it's technically, in some preposterously decontextualized sense that is both extraordinarily petty and utterly deaf and blind to historical and cultural reality, "unfair". So the fuck what? Some day in an idealized postracial world of perfect understanding and harmony everyone will be free to use any word they want. But if you're so desperate to call black people by the N-word then somehow I don't think you're working toward that day.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:57 AM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


This attitude is also quite common in California, incidentally, where they like to mock everyone that doesn't live on their spit of the West Coast for their racism and sexism and rubelike naivete then unleash pure, ugly vitriol against Hispanics and Mexicans that even a Klansman would say "Okay well that may be taking things too far." But of course they can't be racist, they're from San Francisco, not Mississippi.
As a transplant to California with 20 years of experience with "them", I've never heard a Californian say anything as caustic about non-whites or "not-from-here's" as the nastiness you just expressed.
posted by ArmandoAkimbo at 9:21 AM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


[Deleted a few things. Flag and move on, folks, flag and move on. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:11 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


This isn't the first time a Dutch newspaper/magazine has used the N-word as edgy, provocative; e.g. Rihanna wasn't too impressed with what one magazine called her a few years ago.

That reminds me of a letter from an 1930s Time magazine reader infuriated over its use of the word "squaw", and one of my favorite rebuttals to fantasies that "political correctness" (i.e. refusal to accept white supremacy) is something recent.
posted by deathmaven at 11:01 AM on August 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


Oh, that article was cute. So cute. Much racist. Wow.

And it may not be appropriate to critique Europeans from the precise lens used for examining white privilege in the US, but the US' brand of racism has been exported along with other cultural products. I'm not at all convinced that they had no idea what they were saying was problematic or power-reproducing on any level.

But African and West Indian immigrants to Europe have a different relationship to the n-word than Black Americans; I don't know if there's any sort of powerful local pushback taking place when it's used there. Is there? Not asking said folks to stand and be counted here, obviously, but it's something I'll be poking around the interwebs to find out.
posted by Ashen at 11:16 AM on August 15, 2015


I'd say that a review of an English book about racism in America is probably the one context where you are least justified in saying that your words should not be understood in the context of what they mean in English in the context of racism in America.
posted by edheil at 1:00 PM on August 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


Holland does regularly produce numbskull idiocies like this, it's not typical of europe. The UK is far more american - it's not black paradise or anything, it's plenty racist, but it's not Victorian racist, we are slightly more modern than that
posted by maiamaia at 2:04 PM on August 15, 2015


Traveling in Europe in the 90's as a teenager with two friends, one bi-racial and one chinese-american was really eye opening. My bi-racial friend actually was looking forward to seeing a less-racist or at least less anti-black part of the world, my chinese-american friend was a bit wary having heard from a relative that people could be rude.

None of us were prepared for openly racist people everywhere we visited outside of Germany and London. In Rome and Madrid, several times people literally screamed racist insults at us from passing cars or in the streets (mainly at my asian friend). But most things were small infractions but still very disheartening. My bi-racial friend was not let into a bar we had just entered in Switzerland and again in Holland; a man in the street thought it was funny to point at us and say in a thick accent "White, Brown, Yellow!", things like that. It was really surprising to all of us.

Meanwhile in every hostel, we would almost inevitably get into a conversation with young Europeans our own age who lectured us on the many evils of the U.S.A. Most of which were true, but when we tried to relay some observations on Europe they were dismissed, and often even sometimes offloaded in chauvinistic ways "oh, the bouncer who denied your black friend was almost certainly from East Europe, those people are completely backwards".

One conversation that stuck in my mind was in a bar in Amsterdam, where a Middle Aged Dutch person explained tolerance. He gestured at my Chinese-American friend and said, "if you want to live here, of course, I will tolerate you! I will tolerate you all day! But try to marry my daughter, and we will have a huge problem! Ha! Ha! Ha! But seriously, you can see that we Dutch are quite advanced in our thinking."

At the end of the day I decided that white Americans and white Western Europeans are probably equally racist, one difference is that the U.S. has been publicly grappling with its issues since at least the 1960's. This has at the very least lead to more self-awareness, and created a public culture much more sensitive to racist actions.
posted by cell divide at 3:20 PM on August 15, 2015 [25 favorites]


This makes me curious, now: How do non-whites fare in police custody in, say, the Netherlands, France or Denmark (to pull a few random European countries out of a bag) compared to how poorly they fare here in the states?

I think it's pretty obvious white people nearly everywhere are racist jerks (and humans the world over of all colors who are part of their local dominant culture are probably racist jerks, it seems to be something we're good at and take pride in). I am willing to give some credit to societies whose institutions at least try to follow principles of fairness and equality. It's a step, anyway.
posted by maxwelton at 10:54 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, there's this: Mass arrests in The Hague as clashes over death in police custody continue:
The incident has ignited tensions in Schilderswijk, which contains three of the 10 poorest postcodes in the Netherlands and where about 85% of the population is made up of first- or second-generation migrants.

Police stations in the area have been at the centre of allegations of brutality and discrimination by officers, claims senior officers have denied.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:17 PM on August 15, 2015


And a more in-depth article on systemic racist police brutality in the Netherlands. Is there some reason that you assumed it wasn't an issue?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:34 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here's the thing, the American justice and prison system is awful. It's torture and it's garbage and it is not humane...even for white people caught up in it. So, the problem isn't always that the system is uniquely evil to African Americans caught up in it (though it is), it's also sometimes that we just dump African Americans into this shitty system at a ridiculously disproportionate rate. So, it's hard to make cross cultural comparisons. If you arrest black people disproportionately, your justice system is racist. But if your justice system treats people like human beings to be rehabilitated, it's not going to be the same thing as in America where we use it as a dystopian torture chamber for undesirables.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:42 PM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


The idea that someone who has read Ta-Nehisi Coates could be ignorant of the repulsive power of the N-bomb simply beggars belief.

I went to an extremely progressive high school full of people who read stuff like this all day, and then they very often went on to very progressive colleges and read more stuff like this all day...

And came out the other side, or anywhere in the middle still saying tons of stupid shit about race, class, gender relations/sexism, trans issues, you name it.

The part of your brain that accepts input and the part that actually process it seem to only communicate once in a while, not continuously. There's a huge difference between having read the material and actually applying the knowledge.

I'd even go so far as to say, although it may be selection bias, that i've heard some of the dumbest shit i've ever heard about stuff like this from theoretically well read/educated people.

It's like they absorb enough to properly have the information to form stupid, wrong, offensive opinions and don't get any further. Sometimes it feels like giving a guy on a killing spree a bigger gun.

And i don't even know what to say, or do, besides weep.
posted by emptythought at 12:36 AM on August 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


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