Race and Racism

Take a Knee

Take a Knee

The revenge of Colin Kaepernick

It will no doubt strike many as inappropriate, to say the least, to speak of Colin Kaepernick’s protest as a kind of revenge. Before this year, I would have agreed with them. Tactically it has seemed necessary to downplay the mounting evidence that not only was Kaepernick’s protest working, but that it was actually tearing the league apart. Letters poured in from aggrieved white patrons demanding an end to the protests, ratings started to drop and they’re still dropping, such that it now seems impossible to deny what the fascists have been saying for a while now, that Kap has succeeded where concussions, Deflategate, and roughly thirty thousand hours of advertisements per game had failed: it has given people a reason to give up the game for good.

Source Code

Source Code

Silicon Valley in the Shadow of William Shockley

In the last two decades of his life, William Shockley turned away from technology and began promoting the idea that intelligence was biologically determined—with blacks cognitively subordinate to whites—arguing under the auspices of estimable science that without forced sterilization of those with inferior intelligence, the world would be plunged into a dysgenic panic.

A Recognition That We're All Getting Screwed

A Recognition That We're All Getting Screwed

Winning the white working class for criminal justice reform

To win the election, Krasner needed a “ground game,” and he needed to win white working class votes—including the pro-police constituency that would vote for anyone but him. This is what took me to the doors in Port Richmond, canvassing with an organization called Reclaim Philadelphia. Like the rest of Philly, this ward, the 25th, predominantly votes Democrat, and has for generations. But the vote has been shading from blue to violet. Even though Clinton won this ward (in both the primary and the general election), 28 percent voted for Trump; the citywide average was 15 percent.

Not at That Price

Not at That Price

On the future of DACA

The accomplished young people who crowd our sympathies in the political theater are Americans, and we deserve legal recognition. In lieu of comprehensive legislation, DACA is our best recourse. But we did not come from nothing, Athenas born in full armor. We were raised by men and women who spilled sweat and sometimes blood for us, and I defy you to find a Dreamer who does not owe to their elders their lives and the work ethic you so admire. To use us as collateral against them is psychological torture, cruel and unusual, and it will destroy our communities.

Laundered Violence

Laundered Violence

Law and protest in Durham

One of the impressive and now oft-remarked ironies of the present fights is that the people who are accused of wanting to “erase history” are doing more to remind others of history than Ken Burns’s entire oeuvre could do lined up end-to-end. I wonder whether something similar might be happening with the law: that the people who are accused of ignoring and defying it will end up instructing everyone else about how it works.

Don't You Hear Her?

Don't You Hear Her?

The enduring Korean War

When “fire and fury” were brought to Korea, they were accompanied by the threat of nuclear weapons. At a press conference on November 30, 1950, President Truman proposed the use of the atomic bomb in Korea to protect a “just and peaceful world order.” On December 9, undone by the unforeseen Chinese offensive, General MacArthur requested the use of twenty-six atomic bombs to counter the attack. On Christmas Eve, MacArthur upped the request to thirty-eight, and in later interviews, would talk about using anywhere from thirty to fifty nuclear warheads.

Fairouz in Exile

Fairouz in Exile

How hellish could it be after the horrors of Syria? Until Ahmad got to Germany, he could never fathom the warnings from these lucky Syrians in Europe.

We began to speak regularly over Skype, about Syria, about Germany. It was October 2015, and refugees were rarely away from the headlines: overloaded boats capsizing in the Mediterranean, vast columns of people walking down Greek highways. In the right-wing tabloids, there were tales of mass invasion and terrorist infiltration. In the liberal media, stories of individual quests: grueling journeys from horror toward safety. In most of them, the curtain fell on the moment of arrival, a safe haven and the tentative hope of a fresh start. I wanted to understand what life was like after the journey’s end.

The Way It Hemmed You In

The Way It Hemmed You In

Soldiers, trigger-fingers, and nerves in Palestine

The violence had been minor, in the grand scheme of things, though unprovoked. Yet the figure of the masked man, prowling round the car, seemed to stand in for a much greater violence. The texture of it is hard to capture, but it suffuses Palestinians’ experiences of the occupation. It is the violence of that moment in which your life is not your own, in which a car full of young people on the way home from a night out, flushed with all the pleasure of youth, is transformed into a threat, and they haven’t even realized.

What is Community Justice?

What is Community Justice?

Mama's Bailout Day and other bottom-up interventions in everyday justice

Existing options for criminal justice participation focus too heavily on the decorum of deliberation. Much like the system they protect, they equate disruption with criminality and reinforcing the inequalities that reforms try to dismantle. Relying on deliberation and consensus ignores the ways in which our current criminal justice system relegates African-Americans and other marginalized populations to non-democratic subjects—not just through literal disenfranchisement of individuals with criminal records, but also through doctrine, policy, and rhetoric. And a focus on seeking consensus may lead us to privilege discourse that repeats rather than re-envisions our reigning ideas of what criminal justice should look like.

Heads without Bodies

Heads without Bodies

Trump has grafted his head onto our collective body, with his horror-movie hairdo always in our face.

Earlier in his career, in 1989, when he was merely a rich gasbag and an annoyance, Trump bought a big ad in the New York Times so he could publicly call for the executions of the Central Park Five, young black men accused and convicted of assault and rape. The men were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002 and released from prison. They sued the City of New York and won. Trump went out of his way last year to let voters know he still believed they were guilty. This is how he thrives. Now he has grafted his head onto our collective body, with his horror-movie hairdo always in our face. Trump’s head is struggling to control our actions and responses the same way Milland’s head struggled to control Grier’s body in this cheap movie. The devil finds work where he can. The Thing with Two Heads was too dumb to be noticed by James Baldwin in his book-length essay on race and the movies, and I had to go to Canada to run into it. Now it’s the kind of stupid we live with every day.

Hear Our Voice

Hear Our Voice

Zadie Smith and the problem of her single story

When black people in America are three times as likely as white people to be killed by police it becomes hard to argue that there is no clear distinction between black and white life. But Zadie Smith suggests otherwise: her ultimate argument rejecting the notion of any one group owning black pain stems from her assertion that Americans are one, that “‘us’ and ‘them’” narratives are “therapeutic,” but ultimately a “cheap gag.” It’s a galling dismissal of the brutal reality of black lives in America, where white mass murderers are apprehended alive while black unarmed citizens are arbitrarily killed. I would imagine that Kalief Browder’s family might think differently, that the black teenagers on Rikers Island, arrested without trial, held in jail and coerced into confessions might think differently. The so-called “super-predators” who became victims of the Clinton “three strikes” bill and now fill America’s prisons might think differently.

Sad and Boujee

Sad and Boujee

The radical and perpetually unpredictable voice of Percival Everett

Neglect is a fate all experimental writers risk, but if they happen to be black it can seem almost impossible to avoid. Everett always intended to chart his own course. He picked the novel up where Ishmael Reed had taken it, but pivoted away from Reed’s zaniness toward a prismatic allegorical realism, a constant reinvention of form designed to grapple with the vertiginous ends of America’s violent and often contradictory racial, economic, geographic, and sexual epistemologies—a project consonant in many ways with Wallace’s—but evidently not one that could generate the same kind of popular appeal.

A Price Point That Would Guarantee Exclusivity

A Price Point That Would Guarantee Exclusivity

I set about visiting old haunts that summer, but soon realized few were left.

We had been gentrifiers, more humble and open than most, we assumed, and now our time to be called back into service had come again. There were surely other areas in premium metropolitan cultural centers out there that had lapsed to Negroes in the years after the Great War which remained affordable for the mostly white American middle class of 2015, and we’d have to go find one. He was, quite naturally, thinking about moving to LA, a cliché in the Brooklyn we were inhabiting, especially among the middle-class creatives who fashioned themselves as priced out, a sensation that inspired a cottage industry of Didion imposters writing “Goodbye to All That” imitations on the websites of once-veritable magazines. This is not, despite appearances, one of those. I remain too stubborn to read the writing on the wall.

Act Normal or Go Away

Act Normal or Go Away

Dutch Election Diary

Wilders’s argument is, in effect, that multiculturalism is the opposite of diversity. At a Koblenz conference hosted by Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland, he warned in that the totalitarianism of the EU and political correctness would reduce the wonderful variety of nations to a “uniform multicultural society.” (He also said that “women are afraid to show their blonde hair,” which is new to me.) But he owes so much to the “politically correct” vocabulary of “rights” and “identity” that he claims to reject.

The Gentrification of Standing Rock

The Gentrification of Standing Rock

As allies flooded in, indigenous leadership was increasingly drowned out in a sea of noise.

As yurts were built left and right and kale arrived by the truckload, I began to see that Standing Rock was gentrifying. White people had arrived in a space that was not our own and tried to improve it according to our standards. We ate foods cooked by our poorer, browner neighbors and learned a few words in their language. We improved the housing stock and brought newer, greener technologies. But as we tried to help, we simply got in the way.

Magic Dirt Nation

Magic Dirt Nation

Making airports great again at the Trump rally in Melbourne, Florida.

There’s a distant sucking sound in the sky, which excites the crowd. Several phones point skyward. Air Force One is powder blue and descends, ponderously and slowly, above the waiting crowd’s heads. They must have planned it this way, because though the sonic ripples are deafening, the plane’s approach rouses a cheer so raucous that the two sounds fight, which only whips up the rally-goers more.

Black Church Burning

Black Church Burning

Arson and the long war on black progress

Thirty-six black churches in Mississippi burned during the Freedom Summer of 1964, a campaign to register black voters in Mississippi. That’s twelve churches every month, three every week, and one every three days. Any black person visiting a church for worship, voter registration, or other services knew they might die in a blaze.

Race and the American Creed

Race and the American Creed

Recovering black radicalism

Race in the United States is marked by a fundamental paradox. On the one hand, there has been considerable progress: segregation enforced by the rule of law is a thing of the past, and segregation at the level of mainstream culture, though persistent, is considered a scandal. On the other hand, today’s postracial America of Kimye and Pharrell is still the era of the New Jim Crow and entrenched black poverty. Diversity in elite universities exists alongside de facto residential segregation, and a black president administers a minority-dominated prison system.

Take a Knee

Take a Knee

The revenge of Colin Kaepernick

It will no doubt strike many as inappropriate, to say the least, to speak of Colin Kaepernick’s protest as a kind of revenge. Before this year, I would have agreed with them. Tactically it has seemed necessary to downplay the mounting evidence that not only was Kaepernick’s protest working, but that it was actually tearing the league apart. Letters poured in from aggrieved white patrons demanding an end to the protests, ratings started to drop and they’re still dropping, such that it now seems impossible to deny what the fascists have been saying for a while now, that Kap has succeeded where concussions, Deflategate, and roughly thirty thousand hours of advertisements per game had failed: it has given people a reason to give up the game for good.

Source Code

Source Code

Silicon Valley in the Shadow of William Shockley

In the last two decades of his life, William Shockley turned away from technology and began promoting the idea that intelligence was biologically determined—with blacks cognitively subordinate to whites—arguing under the auspices of estimable science that without forced sterilization of those with inferior intelligence, the world would be plunged into a dysgenic panic.

A Recognition That We're All Getting Screwed

A Recognition That We're All Getting Screwed

Winning the white working class for criminal justice reform

To win the election, Krasner needed a “ground game,” and he needed to win white working class votes—including the pro-police constituency that would vote for anyone but him. This is what took me to the doors in Port Richmond, canvassing with an organization called Reclaim Philadelphia. Like the rest of Philly, this ward, the 25th, predominantly votes Democrat, and has for generations. But the vote has been shading from blue to violet. Even though Clinton won this ward (in both the primary and the general election), 28 percent voted for Trump; the citywide average was 15 percent.

Not at That Price

Not at That Price

On the future of DACA

The accomplished young people who crowd our sympathies in the political theater are Americans, and we deserve legal recognition. In lieu of comprehensive legislation, DACA is our best recourse. But we did not come from nothing, Athenas born in full armor. We were raised by men and women who spilled sweat and sometimes blood for us, and I defy you to find a Dreamer who does not owe to their elders their lives and the work ethic you so admire. To use us as collateral against them is psychological torture, cruel and unusual, and it will destroy our communities.

Laundered Violence

Laundered Violence

Law and protest in Durham

One of the impressive and now oft-remarked ironies of the present fights is that the people who are accused of wanting to “erase history” are doing more to remind others of history than Ken Burns’s entire oeuvre could do lined up end-to-end. I wonder whether something similar might be happening with the law: that the people who are accused of ignoring and defying it will end up instructing everyone else about how it works.

Don't You Hear Her?

Don't You Hear Her?

The enduring Korean War

When “fire and fury” were brought to Korea, they were accompanied by the threat of nuclear weapons. At a press conference on November 30, 1950, President Truman proposed the use of the atomic bomb in Korea to protect a “just and peaceful world order.” On December 9, undone by the unforeseen Chinese offensive, General MacArthur requested the use of twenty-six atomic bombs to counter the attack. On Christmas Eve, MacArthur upped the request to thirty-eight, and in later interviews, would talk about using anywhere from thirty to fifty nuclear warheads.

Fairouz in Exile

Fairouz in Exile

How hellish could it be after the horrors of Syria? Until Ahmad got to Germany, he could never fathom the warnings from these lucky Syrians in Europe.

We began to speak regularly over Skype, about Syria, about Germany. It was October 2015, and refugees were rarely away from the headlines: overloaded boats capsizing in the Mediterranean, vast columns of people walking down Greek highways. In the right-wing tabloids, there were tales of mass invasion and terrorist infiltration. In the liberal media, stories of individual quests: grueling journeys from horror toward safety. In most of them, the curtain fell on the moment of arrival, a safe haven and the tentative hope of a fresh start. I wanted to understand what life was like after the journey’s end.

The Way It Hemmed You In

The Way It Hemmed You In

Soldiers, trigger-fingers, and nerves in Palestine

The violence had been minor, in the grand scheme of things, though unprovoked. Yet the figure of the masked man, prowling round the car, seemed to stand in for a much greater violence. The texture of it is hard to capture, but it suffuses Palestinians’ experiences of the occupation. It is the violence of that moment in which your life is not your own, in which a car full of young people on the way home from a night out, flushed with all the pleasure of youth, is transformed into a threat, and they haven’t even realized.

What is Community Justice?

What is Community Justice?

Mama's Bailout Day and other bottom-up interventions in everyday justice

Existing options for criminal justice participation focus too heavily on the decorum of deliberation. Much like the system they protect, they equate disruption with criminality and reinforcing the inequalities that reforms try to dismantle. Relying on deliberation and consensus ignores the ways in which our current criminal justice system relegates African-Americans and other marginalized populations to non-democratic subjects—not just through literal disenfranchisement of individuals with criminal records, but also through doctrine, policy, and rhetoric. And a focus on seeking consensus may lead us to privilege discourse that repeats rather than re-envisions our reigning ideas of what criminal justice should look like.

Heads without Bodies

Heads without Bodies

Trump has grafted his head onto our collective body, with his horror-movie hairdo always in our face.

Earlier in his career, in 1989, when he was merely a rich gasbag and an annoyance, Trump bought a big ad in the New York Times so he could publicly call for the executions of the Central Park Five, young black men accused and convicted of assault and rape. The men were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002 and released from prison. They sued the City of New York and won. Trump went out of his way last year to let voters know he still believed they were guilty. This is how he thrives. Now he has grafted his head onto our collective body, with his horror-movie hairdo always in our face. Trump’s head is struggling to control our actions and responses the same way Milland’s head struggled to control Grier’s body in this cheap movie. The devil finds work where he can. The Thing with Two Heads was too dumb to be noticed by James Baldwin in his book-length essay on race and the movies, and I had to go to Canada to run into it. Now it’s the kind of stupid we live with every day.

Hear Our Voice

Hear Our Voice

Zadie Smith and the problem of her single story

When black people in America are three times as likely as white people to be killed by police it becomes hard to argue that there is no clear distinction between black and white life. But Zadie Smith suggests otherwise: her ultimate argument rejecting the notion of any one group owning black pain stems from her assertion that Americans are one, that “‘us’ and ‘them’” narratives are “therapeutic,” but ultimately a “cheap gag.” It’s a galling dismissal of the brutal reality of black lives in America, where white mass murderers are apprehended alive while black unarmed citizens are arbitrarily killed. I would imagine that Kalief Browder’s family might think differently, that the black teenagers on Rikers Island, arrested without trial, held in jail and coerced into confessions might think differently. The so-called “super-predators” who became victims of the Clinton “three strikes” bill and now fill America’s prisons might think differently.

Sad and Boujee

Sad and Boujee

The radical and perpetually unpredictable voice of Percival Everett

Neglect is a fate all experimental writers risk, but if they happen to be black it can seem almost impossible to avoid. Everett always intended to chart his own course. He picked the novel up where Ishmael Reed had taken it, but pivoted away from Reed’s zaniness toward a prismatic allegorical realism, a constant reinvention of form designed to grapple with the vertiginous ends of America’s violent and often contradictory racial, economic, geographic, and sexual epistemologies—a project consonant in many ways with Wallace’s—but evidently not one that could generate the same kind of popular appeal.