It is the poor who suffer. The majority of the poor are black and brown, yes. But it is the poor as a group who suffer and it is the poor, the majority of Americans, who must seize control of this country from the wealthy who seek to divide us into digestible chunks.
Poverty is a big part of it, but race is the beating heart of American injustice. Serwer makes this abundantly clear. Racism justifies and perpetuates class inequality, not the other way around.
You are also playing into their hands. They want you to talk about race, don’t you understand what justification means? They point to the results of poverty as their proof that their racism is correct. Fix the root cause, poverty, and the rest of the problems will work themselves out. With no proof for the xenophobes to point to, there will be no hiding their xenophobia from scrutiny.
I remember exactly when I first noticed it: my first year in town, wandering around the heart of the city, unwittingly crossing through Red River and Sixth Street. It was an immediate shift. Property value sank, and the sidewalks were now populated entirely with black and brown faces. Casting my gaze back west and seeing all that pallid skin bumbling around in merry debauchery, participating in all those Austin promises, made me feel a little guilty. At that moment it was clear that Austin had some unfortunate secrets, because no matter how liberal or progressive your reputation might be, a history of segregation will always rear its ugly head.
A house fire destroyed a boarding house just before New Years here in Austin, leaving six people homeless in some of the harshest weather this area has seen in several years. If you look at the images of the house in this news article, it is clear that hoarding was more than a problem in the house before the fire. The structure itself violates several current building codes, or would have violated them if it had not been grandfathered in under the rules that were being enforced at the time of its construction and/or annexation into the city of Austin. A filled construction dumpster in the driveway is a clear sign of unresolved problems within the structure that a devastating fire probably only makes worse for the people involved.
Not satisfied with the fact that there will soon be new construction at this once poverty-stricken address in a nearby neighborhood, one of the recent purchasers of Austin real estate took exception to the state of the house as it currently sits smoldering. This is understandable to me. It is understandable because house prices in Austin are ridiculously inflated, and I’m sure this purchaser paid far too much for his property. There was no price correction in Austin after the real estate bubble burst in the rest of the U.S. There was the briefest of pauses in price inflation, and then the prices just continued to go up, rising to levels that frankly have me thinking seriously of renovating and flipping my home so that I can retire somewhere a little quieter. Somewhere with horses, so that the Wife will have something to do with her time since no one will pay her a wage to do work in Austin anymore.
The homeowner’s objections are also understandable because I have an issue with the rental house across the street from me. I’ve told a running joke about it over the decades that I’ve lived here, and the joke has only gotten darker over the years. Considering the downward spiral it has been in since starting as an owner-occupied dwelling in the early nineties, I suspect there will be cannibals living there soon. Cannibals, because there isn’t much lower for it to go on the occupant quality ladder. Cannibalism is bound to occur there at some point in the near future.
However, several of my neighbors on Nextdoor insist on calling the boarding house that burned to the ground a crack house. Repeatedly. I have to say, that’s just uncalled for. After all, it’s not the nineteen-eighties anymore. We’re well past Reagan and his cloaked racial references like crack houses. Perhaps these new property owners don’t know the history of East Austin, the history of Austin in general? As a long-time resident of the neighborhood, I’d like to offer a few pointers to these new Austin residents, in the spirit of the New Year.
Let’s start with a big picture, historically. Austin was officially racially segregated until 1963. There were specific redlined neighborhoods where people of color were allowed to buy property. Those neighborhoods are well South of the area of Austin that we live in, but if you add in the Great Wall that separates East Austin from West Austin, the distance South that the redlining occurs becomes almost inconsequential. East of Interstate 35 was long considered the dumping zone for housing projects and industrial uses, and any in-depth analysis of land use in Austin will reveal that East Austin carries the brunt of the load of poverty for the entire city to this day.
While you’re calculating, don’t forget to add in the depression on living standards that the Mueller airport noise levels inflicted on the surrounding areas until very recently. That is crucial to understanding the change that is occurring on the East side of Austin today. With the removal of the airport out to Bergstrom, and the removal all the airport’s associated industrial businesses, there was suddenly a wealth of under-utilized property right in central Austin. The re-purposing of this property continues even eighteen years later. The old boundaries of the airport are all but erased, but you can still see the blighting effects of landing and take-off zones near the airport if you look hard enough.
The historical racism that stifled central East Austin’s growth, now lifted, the industrial uses and noise pollution of a central airport, now lifted, the big picture of why the gentrification and the pushing out of old minority owners in East Austin should become obvious. The two cities that were Austin are being forced to become one city, and the new city of Austin doesn’t have room for people who don’t have more than a quarter million dollars to sink on a home. Especially not in central Austin neighborhoods that used to be beacons for the average American middle class lifestyle.
Just to the North of the old Mueller airport site sits some of what was the most overlooked, undervalued property in central Austin. It was overlooked and undervalued when I first started living in the area about thirty years ago but it has now been discovered and is probably overvalued. I look to see a market correction in the near future. Friends of mine in the construction industry bought into real estate at the peak of the last boom in the eighties. They lost half their investment in the subsequent S&L collapse. I expect there is another one of those nasty surprises just waiting around the corner for most of Texas somewhere in the future. We dodged that bullet in 2008, but the growth that Texas is experiencing can’t be maintained forever. Something has to give, eventually.
The house fire that started this article is in one of those quiet little neighborhoods that used to be havens from the bustling inner-city of Austin, protected by the vast bulk of Mueller from central East Austin’s old redlined districts. The closest of these neighborhoods to the Eastern edge of Mueller is Pecan Springs-Springdale. This is the neighborhood where the boarding house stood.
Pecan Springs-Springdale was two neighborhoods originally, ergo the name. There are pockets of very nice houses in this neighborhood, surrounded by marginal commercial ventures and apartment houses, especially along the main arterial boulevard of Manor Road that carries the bulk of the traffic North/South through the area, between the two neighborhoods of Windsor Park and Pecan Springs-Springdale. The intersection at Rogge and Manor, near where the fire occurred, has always been problematic. That intersection marks the boundaries between three distinct areas and uses, one corner of which is a vacant lot. That property is an investment opportunity, for anyone taking notes that still wants to live here.
We rented a house in Windsor Park for about seven years before buying our current home. We rented it for less than $500 a month if you can believe that. The houses in that neighborhood are generally smaller and sit on smaller lots than surrounding neighborhoods. They were built for and bought by people with even less money than the college professors that my current neighborhood catered to. Backed up to the original Austin shopping center, Capitol Plaza, and bordered originally on the South by the main runway of Mueller and Fifty-first Street, Windsor Park was a working-man’s neighborhood. It’s hard to see that now since most of the property there was snatched up and renovated first, before Mueller moved.
The wife and I realized that the time to buy a home was now or never as we watched the neighborhood change around us, so we gave up renting and purchased a home in University Hills, a smaller neighborhood further East, but not so close that you could see or smell the landfill still operated by the city further out highway 290. University Hills was built to appeal to the growing number of educational professionals that needed to live near the University of Texas and the price of its real estate has ballooned significantly since we moved here.
People looking for a real estate investment should be well acquainted with this fact, that housing prices are at an all-time high in Austin, since it would be part of proper due diligence to have looked at historical prices for the area before investing. Some of the original residents still live in our neighborhood, and I bought my house from one them twenty years ago. There aren’t too many left these days, but their investment of $40-60k when they bought their places back in the nineteen-sixties would not compare favorably with the investments people are laying down now to get in this neighborhood. Some of us still don’t have that kind of money and we are being forced out of our neighborhoods by a growing number of people who do.
Which brings us full circle back to the transplant complaining about a boarding house he has to drive by on his way to work that burned down having once been purportedly used for drug sales. The question I want to ask people like him is, how do you live with yourself? How do you ignore the underpasses in Austin littered with homeless people, even in freezing weather? Let me put it this way; I apologize to you for your neighbors, neighbors who were clearly having a hard time paying to remain in a neighborhood that has left them behind. Now that they are homeless, I’m sure the weather will get on with killing them faster so that their property can be better utilized by the next owner and not be a drag on your property in the future. That way you can flip that property you sank every penny you had into and make a profit. How does that sound?
Don’t mind us long-term residents, the people who just lived and worked here over the course of a lifetime. We certainly won’t notice when you are gone, any more than we noticed the last five people who owned that property before you. If you think I’m being too harsh, then I suggest you get out and help the homeless in your area, right now. Now is the time when homelessness hurts the most, when we lose the most people to exposure. If you have the quarter-million dollars to blow on an investment, then you certainly have enough scratch to make the difference in a homeless person’s life. Maybe you should re-prioritize your to-do list and see if you can make the world a better place for someone else. They’ll probably thank you for it and it might even be more rewarding than that profit you are lamenting you won’t make.
This recent (04/11/2018) episode of Code Switch deals with the subject that I was talking about in this article, namely redlining, what redlining was, and what redlining did. The after effects of redlining are still felt here in Austin.
It’s hard for people who have never been poor to understand what poverty does to you. It’s even harder to understand what not being able to pass for white does to you. The barriers that are placed in your way. The things that keep you from being able to succeed, the things they blame you for? Those things are external, barriers to entry that allow those who have what you want to point at you and say “see you don’t deserve what I have.”
I wanted to post a link to this episode because this was the first episode of Code Switch that I could link directly. The first episode that had a specific page that I could find and link to with the content that I heard on the air present on the page. It was a nice change that I hope they keep up with. It’s hard to share insights like you get from podcasts like this if there isn’t a location on the internet to send people to so that they can hear that specific thing you are talking about. In this case, redlining. Forcing people into poverty for the sake of having poor people to look down on, to take advantage of. This structural racism and economic stratification? This bullshit has to stop, and it should have stopped a hundred years ago.
“By his sixth month in office, embroiled in scandal after scandal, a Pew Research Center poll found Trump’s approval rating underwater with every single demographic group. Every demographic group, that is, except one: people who identified as white.”
The First White President by Ta-Nehisi Coates is an essay from his collection of essays due out shortly that is titled We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. I wish I could disagree with the content of the article more than I do, but I can’t. He’s voiced a lot of what I think privately in this article. It’s painful to read it and agree with it so strongly. The naked truth being aired in public like that. Shocking.
Is Ta-Nehisi Coates being too harsh on white people? I wish I could believe that he was, but I suspect that seeing with the eyes of a black man I would believe he still hasn’t said enough. That, in itself, is a frightening thought to contemplate. To some extent the author is being over-broad in his condemnation of white action as racism. The broader social policy, the wrong-headed economic notion of the zero-sum game, is to blame for the belief that there must be social winners and losers, people who give and people who take. The economic structure crafted to make the zero-sum game a part of human life is where racism manifests; but in the end it is racism that is the cause for blacks and the brown-skinned to be seen as lessor, the natural losers in a zero-sum game.
This is so wrong-headed as to baffle the senses, adhering to the zero-sum game in modern society. When a farmer produces food for the marketplace and sells it, is he the winner or the loser? Are the people who buy the food winners because they get to eat, or losers because they paid for the food? Is he the winner because he keeps his farm and gets to keep working by accepting a money transaction, or is he the loser because he didn’t keep the food for himself? Life is not a zero-sum game beyond the observation that it starts with nothing and ends with nothing, but all that bit in the middle, the part where life is? That is the only part that matters from a personal perspective.
Does a black man care that he is poor because his ancestry led him to this place and time, through mechanisms that he doesn’t approve of and cannot control? No more than a poor white man does, I’m sure. Which is actually the heart of the problem of dealing with structural racism resultant from belief in the zero-sum game. White Nationalism masquerading as the alt-right will attempt to keep blacks in their place for fear of losing what is theirs, and in equal proportion poor blacks will push to escape the place forced on them by institutions that should never have been created in the first place.
I wrote the historical entries on poverty for this blog specifically to bring to the forefront the very issue in contention here. Systemic acceptance of grinding poverty as a necessary evil, a side-effect of the free market. Not just white poverty or black poverty, but poverty of and for itself. Poverty doesn’t have to exist anywhere on this planet. We humans are wealthy enough and understand enough now to be able to make every person on the planet capable of meeting their own needs. All we lack is the will to see this change take place.
The triumph of Trump’s campaign of bigotry presented the problematic spectacle of an American president succeeding at best in spite of his racism and possibly because of it. Trump moved racism from the euphemistic and plausibly deniable to the overt and freely claimed. This presented the country’s thinking class with a dilemma. Hillary Clinton simply could not be correct when she asserted that a large group of Americans was endorsing a candidate because of bigotry. The implications—that systemic bigotry is still central to our politics; that the country is susceptible to such bigotry; that the salt-of-the-earth Americans whom we lionize in our culture and politics are not so different from those same Americans who grin back at us in lynching photos; that Calhoun’s aim of a pan-Caucasian embrace between workers and capitalists still endures—were just too dark. Leftists would have to cope with the failure, yet again, of class unity in the face of racism. Incorporating all of this into an analysis of America and the path forward proved too much to ask. Instead, the response has largely been an argument aimed at emotion—the summoning of the white working class, emblem of America’s hardscrabble roots, inheritor of its pioneer spirit, as a shield against the horrific and empirical evidence of trenchant bigotry.
Packer dismisses the Democratic Party as a coalition of “rising professionals and diversity.” The dismissal is derived from, of all people, Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard president and White House economist, who last year labeled the Democratic Party “a coalition of the cosmopolitan élite and diversity.” The inference is that the party has forgotten how to speak on hard economic issues and prefers discussing presumably softer cultural issues such as “diversity.” It’s worth unpacking what, precisely, falls under this rubric of “diversity”—resistance to the monstrous incarceration of legions of black men, resistance to the destruction of health providers for poor women, resistance to the effort to deport parents, resistance to a policing whose sole legitimacy is rooted in brute force, resistance to a theory of education that preaches “no excuses” to black and brown children, even as excuses are proffered for mendacious corporate executives “too big to jail.” That this suite of concerns, taken together, can be dismissed by both an elite economist like Summers and a brilliant journalist like Packer as “diversity” simply reveals the safe space they enjoy. Because of their identity.
The basket of deplorables that voted for Trump, friends and family among them, should take a long, hard look in the mirror and recognize the face of modern American racism. I rejected Trump from the beginning. I recognized his race-baiting tactics immediately. He never tried to hide what he was doing, and I remain mystified why anyone, ANYONE voted for him. Why anyone didn’t know what they were voting for, a white nationalist, a racist, someone who started his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists. He couldn’t have made it more obvious if he stitched it onto bright red caps that he and everyone around him wore.
Oh, wait, he did stitch it onto hats! Make America Great Againby definition means a return to an America that was more racist than it was in the Obama years. It means more racism because America has never been less racist than it was during the last eight years, and it is only going to get worse as Trump’s administration continues to ramp up the racist rhetoric. This is something he did just last week by announcing the repeal of DACA. The entirety of the history of Hispanics in this country has been a thinly veiled tale of racial exploitation. This really shouldn’t be news to anybody, but even I didn’t understand the full history of the expletive wetback until listening to a segment on the Texas Standard last week.
I’ve said this many times on this blog and elsewhere. When you are working in construction or out on the farm, anywhere there is labor that needs doing in America, you see brown faces out in the sun. The white faces are almost always hidden inside. They’re leading construction from the comfort of an air conditioned trailer, sitting in comfort inside of an idling truck. There are exceptions to this rule, but the presence of those few white faces simply amplifies the disparity.
My father did me a great service when I was a teenager, but I never understood it then. He sent me out in the fields to work one summer so that I could get a taste of what working for a living without an education felt like. I was given over to a friend or perhaps a relative of one of his employees. A one-armed ancient Hispanic man who made me look like a slacker or the complete novice that I was by doing more and better work with one arm than I could with two. He could and did do it day-in and day-out for months and years spanning into decades. He probably died out there in one of those fields. I don’t know because it wasn’t important to me. The lesson was learned never to be forgotten. I wanted to work indoors, out of the sun. I wanted to turn knowledge into profit. I wanted to work smart instead of hard.
The ability to do what I’ve done? The ability to assert one’s knowledge without credentials or any evidence of talent or knack for the process? That comes from being who I was, where I was. If I had been born brown or black, African, Asian or Latino in this part of the world? That sort of assertiveness would have been ground out of me before I was even an adult, back in the time I was born into. That is what white privilege means. Ask Philando Castile if he can carry a weapon like a white man does, if you doubt this is true. Ask Ahmed Mohamed if he’s even allowed to be unusually bright and curious in this day and age. I could probably trot out a million examples of why my experiences warrant the label white privilege, but I would not convince a single Trump voter that what I said was the truth. That is the shame we are living through today.
And so the most powerful country in the world has handed over all its affairs—the prosperity of its entire economy; the security of its 300 million citizens; the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food; the future of its vast system of education; the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways; the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal—to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase grab ’em by the pussy into the national lexicon.
In 2015, the political scientists Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan L. Hajnal published White Backlash, a study of political trends, and found that “whites who hold more negative views of immigrants have a greater tendency to support Republican candidates at the presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial levels, even after controlling for party identification and other major factors purported to drive the vote.”
While that finding may seem obvious, it isn’t simply a description of existing Republicans, but of the trends driving some white Democrats into the Republican Party. Using data from the American National Election Survey, Abrajano and Hajnal conclude that “changes in individual attitudes toward immigrants precede shifts in partisanship,” and that “immigration really is driving individual defections from the Democratic to Republican Party.”
The above is offered simply to put paid to the lie that Republicans aren’t the racists in America. By and large, that is what they have become, and Donald Trump is an outgrowth of that increased racism in the party. He embodies and embraces it in ways that a less cynical man would be ashamed of. Trump knows that the average American is a clueless rube just waiting to be fleeced of the few coins in his purse. As long as you say the right things, stand the right way when you say it, these rubes will give you everything they have just to prove themselves right in their beliefs. I personally prefer our leaders to have more going for them than just the color of their skin, the type of sex organs hidden under their clothing. Apparently that is asking too much in this day and age.
Trump and his zero-sum obsession became a bit of a theme on the blog after awhile. I became curious about where and when the term entered my thought processes and I couldn’t track down when I started using it as shorthand for Trump’s racism. I will credit Ta-Nehisi Coates for this simply because I used the term six times in this article, even though it isn’t the earliest occurrence on the blog. In going back to try to find where I started using the term, I discovered that I was spelling the phrase both with and without a hyphen. I have now fixed that inconsistency. while I was at it I also linked the single entries for the phrase in most articles to this book on the subject:
Belief in the zero-sum game is the most obvious false belief of racists and white nationalists everywhere. It needs to be called out and destroyed wherever it raises its ugly head. The people who claim not to be racist need to have their belief in this bullshit theory challenged on that basis. If you aren’t racist then why do you believe in the zer0-sum game?
Matthew Hawn, a teacher in Tennessee, was fired for assigning The First White President to his class and for playing this video:
The outgrowth of four years of frontpage Trumpist racism is the anti-CRT movement that got Matthew Hawn fired. It bears mentioning here that the suburbs exist in America specifically because of white flight out of mixed inner-city neighborhoods. White parents not being willing to send their kids to school with black and brown children. That is the basis of the school choice programs as well.
I found common cause with those seeking school choice because I wanted my children not to be indoctrinated into christian theology in Texas public schools, but it was the experience of trying to find a school that wasn’t teaching christian theology in the classroom that informed me on the subject of what school choice was all about. It wasn’t about excellence or Harmony Public Schools would have been embraced by the neighborhoods they were in. It’s about whiteness. Still. After all these long years, it’s still all about whiteness.
Statues of Confederate figures are coming down all over the country, but the names of generals who fought for the South during the Civil War remain on U.S. military bases.
Ten Army posts in the South are named for Confederate officers — including the nation’s largest, Fort Bragg in North Carolina. It’s named for Gen. Braxton Bragg, who commanded 40,000 troops battling the Union Army.
This is basic common sense, monuments are to people who deserve to be admired, not to people who fought on the wrong side of history attempting to extend the time that their peculiar institution could be practiced without being seen as the injustice that it was. The names should be changed, the monuments removed and replaced with more appropriate remembrances. Maybe each statue should be replaced with a lynching memorial, a reflection of the true legacy of slavery.
You want to raise up a statue to forgotten Americans? You want a symbol in the town square that is a monument to our history? To the best of us? That reminds us of bravery and courage and sacrifice, of ideals that all Americans can embrace? To men we can all admire? Tear down Robert E. Lee and raise up Henry Johnson and Freddie Stowers in his place. Those are the men we should never forget.
They are rats leaving a sinking ship. It’s just too bad that the GOP put him in power in the first place. I don’t think their tactical retreat will do them much good; or rather, I hope they don’t profit from it. They don’t deserve it, they backed him solidly right up to this point and now, Now, NOW that he’s admitted impeding an investigation into his and his campaign’s actions, NOW they think this presidency is questionable.
So the targeting of hispanics and muslims wasn’t bad enough? The scapegoating of the poor wasn’t disqualifying enough? The bragging that he could kill people in the street and he would still win wasn’t troubling enough? The evidence that he is a sexual predator wasn’t damning enough?
Now he fires Comey and brags that he told him to lay off the investigation, the investigation that he insisted was fake news since day one, so this isn’t surprising behavior, and NOW they have a problem.
Well, welcome to the club, dumbasses. Wipe the drool off your collective chins and try to pay attention. Caveat Emptor.
The Reverend Timothy Murphy doesn’t credit Martin Niemöller for the inspiration, but I know the origin of the sentiment all the same. The same feeling has been heavy on my mind since the day His Electoral Highness descended the golden escalator and intoned “Mexicans are rapists” to a rapt audience.
For those who are not students of history, this was Martin Niemöller.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Walls, barbed wire, wars, hate, division, intolerance, exclusion, uncertainty, fear, misery in all its myriad forms, THOSE are the very things that drive people to drugs in the first place. THOSE are the reasons why marginalized communities have such high degrees of suicide and alcoholism and drug use. Because they are desperately trying to ESCAPE.
And for a president who preaches hate and division and intolerance and exclusion and war and walls and fear announcing in front of a room full of hate and division and intolerance and exclusion and war and goddamned WALLS that he is going to somehow stop the flow of drugs into this country — stop the very demand for escape that he himself creates and perpetuates every single day — that is the very pinnacle of ironic cluelessness. That, that right there, is everything wrong with modern conservatism in a single sentence.
If you want a world people don’t want to escape from, then you have to build a better world not higher walls.
As usual, Jim has the farce pegged. If you read the entire article at his link, you’ll see how he breaks it all down. It is a self-perpetuating excuse to waste lives and treasure, like most modern warfare. I have written extensively on the subject of the Insane War on Drugs. It is another of those issues that I have not changed my stance on, because I just happened to have been right all along. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Code Switch is one of those podcasts that I make a point to listen to even when the titles make me cringe. This is one of those episodes that I cringed through while at the same time having some relevant old white guy points I really felt were worth addressing.
The podcast hosts bring on Hari Kondabolu (whose podcast Politically Re-Active isn’t one I listen to) to talk about why he takes a break in the middle of a subject riff in order to explain the subject matter being discussed.
He refers to it as Hold Up, Wait a Minute which is amusing, the right move for a podcast that is humorous in nature. However the title of this podcast Explanatory Comma had me yelling explanatory pause at my headphones by the end of the episode.
In my opinion, the breaking point for when/when not to explain things is entirely subjective. If the audience member knows about the thing, they will think you are talking down to them. If the audience member doesn’t know, then they will be lost if you don’t explain it. I knew who Tupac was, so was not lost during the previous episode of Code Switch that dealt with him but didn’t explain who he was.
On the other hand Hari Kondabolu says Tribe Called Quest and stands on his outrage at having to explain that this was another music reference. I know it is a music reference now, because I went out and looked it up and realized that my ignorance on the subject is a product of not having any interest in Rap, Hip Hop, or any other form of music that wasn’t Rock or Classical or the Country music my mother made me listen to as a child.
All of us are products of our experiences. If our experiences don’t include your experiences, then any attempt to connect will be fruitless unless a common ground of conversation can be established. So you have to take time to explain to the audience so that you can bring them along with you if you want them to go where you are going by the end of your narrative. If you don’t do that, they get bored, stop reading/listening/watching and your attempt to communicate fails.
When you can’t see your audience, the curse of the A/V field, you have to attempt to gauge what your audience will understand without your providing an explanation. Which is largely what this entire episode of Code Switch is about.
But I didn’t start writing this entry to talk about why explanatory pauses are necessary.
What I wanted to address was making sure that you don’t take time to explain things that really shouldn’t have to be explained. All of us have our own lives, our own heuristics, our own foibles and our own prejudices. Most of us are smart enough not to air our dirty laundry or (as Hari Kondabolu quite pointedly says) force our white supremacy onto the rest of society.
There are exceptions, the entirety of the FOX news team springs immediately to mind, but generally we keep our thoughts to ourselves because, hey, everybody is busy and why burden a total stranger with the bullshit in your life? Right?
On the other end of the spectrum we have something like the TED talk below;
When I look at that couple I do not see the complex characters they want us all to accept them as. What I see is a perfectly average couple who clearly love each other. If I’m passing them on the street, serving them food, or any of the dozens of jobs of the people they will encounter every day, none of those people will have the time or the desire to understand and accept these two as what they see themselves as. There comes a point where you have to rely on your gender presentation (clothing, hair style, scents, makeup, whatever) to communicate all the myriad things you think are important as a first impression. You cannot go back and make a second first impression, and an angry explanation about why your presentation should have been understood will be accepted just as well as the FOX news junkie who goes around insisting that Santa is white.
This TED talk is an example of the dreaded internet oversharing. The needy posts on various social platforms that start with “Let’s see who reads this” or “if you really are my friend”. The entire TED talk is an explanatory pause; and frankly, I’ve contested a few of the belabored points in the talk. Contested them because, in the end, no one really should care that much about you unless they are having sex with you. You aren’t having sex with the entire internet and if you are you probably need therapy of a different kind.
A Queer Version of Love and Marriage goes over the line from explanatory pause into the realm of browbeating. If you are in an educational setting like a podcast or a TED talk, then you are going to get things explained to you that you probably already know. That is what the 30 second jump button is for (if your podcast app doesn’t have that, go get this one) if you don’t have the patience to hear something explained for the 97th time, skip ahead 30 seconds. But if you are getting a gallon of milk at three in the morning, don’t expect the cashier to know your preferred gender pronoun. Just pay the person behind the counter and say “thank you” and walk out. He’s got mopping to get back to and he really doesn’t care about your frustrations.
When I’m listening to a podcast about Code Switching I expect to have musical references, as well as many other references, explained to me. That is why it is called Code Switch. Because we are trying to Switch the Code; Race and Identity Remixed. Understand the other side. Broaden our understanding of the human animal. Can’t do that if we don’t understand the references. Hope I’m being crystal clear here.
I edited the first sentence in the second to last paragraph to be more clear as to where the line between explaining and over-explaining is, or where it is for me. Your Mileage May Vary, as the saying goes. Damned indefinite pronouns, the bugaboo of all attempts at clear writing.
Earlier on I changed the last paragraph to link the FAQ for Code Switch so that anyone who disagrees with what is being said can just go to the FAQ and educate themselves.
The most amusing thing about writing this piece, about my initial response to pushback against White Supremacy being attached to everything white people do, to the explanatory pause being denigrated as a distraction from the actual storytelling, is that the overwhelming number of negative attacks have come from White Knights who feel obliged to jump in and defend minorities from aggression. As if Old White Guy points are always going to be aggressive. Or White Supremacist. As if minorities aren’t capable of defending themselves in a battle of words and ideas.
May I always resist the urge to come to the defense of someone whom I consider to be my equal and does not appear to be losing a battle of words. All Social Justice Warriors should be compelled to adhere to that oath.
Gene Demby‘s sole response on Twitter was two characters.
Those two characters, and then he promptly blocked me on Twitter. I think the blocking was a bit overboard, but fans can be a bit oppressive. I practice prophylactic blocking of MAGA trolls on all venues myself, so I will take the fact that it is Twitter and what would I do in his shoes? and go with that.
I puzzled on the meaning of those two characters. Puzzled on them off and on for months. I puzzled on them until the next time they needed to explain something on the show and they said it’s time for an explanatory comma. After about the third repetition of the phrase, I realized that the NO meant that I had completely missed the point the show hosts were driving at. They were introducing a new segment to the show, and this was to be its cringe-inducing title. I also missed the point that I was not in the segment of the audience that the phrase was directed at. It was the people resenting having things explained to them that they already knew. A cute way of attempting to disarm them, I guess.
The last episode put a bug in my ear about the miscommunication of what Code Switch means to black people and why it might mean something different to white folks. I talk in code to old white people; old being my age and older (yes, there are older white people than I am) I will occasionally put on a filter for children that aren’t mine as well. I have found that being dead honest with the children of strangers can be more troublesome than being dead honest with old white folks.
However Code Switching takes on a whole new meaning when you take things like this into account.
The Green Book, or to give it its full title, “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” was first published in 1936. It was a revolutionary publication which listed restaurants, bars and service stations which would serve African-Americans.
Traveling during the Jim Crow era was difficult for African Americans. In the South, “black code” laws targeted them for loitering. In many towns, black travelers risked death if they stayed past sundown.
Travelers came up with their own ways to avoid violence and humiliation. One was called ‘The Green Book’ created by Harlem postal worker Victor Hugo Green. It was an invaluable tool to help black people plan a safe route across the country.
When you might be lynched or shot for simply driving into the wrong town, knowing what the code is takes on a whole new meaning. I know this. I knew this. But knowing isn’t being. While I know that I don’t speak freely (to not speak in code) around parents, children, people who aren’t into SF or video games or recreational drug use (legal. All my drugs are legal now. Have been for at least 25 years. I have the prescriptions to prove it) the downsides of slipping out of code for people like me are radically less life-ending than for people who face the possibility of death at the hands of people who hate them just for existing. Which is why a Code Switch takes on much more weight for minorities than for people like me.
My apologies for approaching the subject with less gravity than it probably deserved. I still see the refusal to explain as a missed opportunity to connect; but truthfully there is little use in telling me about one more artist whose rap I probably won’t be interested in either. The explanation for how I lost my music (and with it the appreciation for pretty much all music) is a story I haven’t tried to write down yet.
This was a hard film to watch, especially as a white man living in a Southern state. A Southern state that will probably go for the self-described law and order candidate. Thirteenth is a documentary that horrifyingly depicts the long-term effects of a single clause in the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
No, the hardest thing about watching this film was knowing that the group that would profit the most from watching it would never sit down and give it a chance to change their minds.
The people who will go to the polls and vote for the lying real estate developer (but then I repeat myself) who speaks in coded language, language whose code is known by everybody by this time in history, promising to jail people whom we know are innocent, prosecute people who have done no crime, exclude people who are demonstrably dying by the hundreds. The people who will vote for that guy, the Orange Hate-Monkey, the Birther-in-Chief, the people who don’t understand that #MAGA means Misguided Appallingly Gullible Americans, Those people? They’ll never watch this film. They’ll never watch it because they are afraid. Afraid of being wrong. Afraid of having been wrong for longer than most people have been alive on this planet.
But they, above all other people, need to understand this film. Because when their candidate loses (and he will) it won’t be because the election was stolen from him. It won’t be because their voices weren’t heard. He will lose because the vast majority of Americans are not afraid of the future. We embrace it, as we always have. They need to understand that they are part of history. They are a part of history that we want to leave behind in history.
2019. There are a lot more stupid people in the United States than it is healthy for any one region of the planet to have. Those people got their racist president, and now they claim they are not racist while still supporting his racist agenda. They’ll all pretend they were just going along with the crowd when this is over. Lying, hypocritical tw0-faced Republicans.
I admit I am poor because it is the truth. I admit I am poor because it places me in the group that shares the most to gain from the current reversal in political power. Watch this 10 minute video and try to understand the concepts presented in it.
The only thing that keeps me from being the preferred victim in this system is the color of my skin. This is why Black Lives Matter.
I don’t make racial arguments on this blog very often. I don’t make racial arguments largely because of the points made by the host of the video. I was virtually homeless for years. I have been poor all my life. The only things I’ve ever had going for me was the color of my skin, and my ability to think clearly and deeply. Only one of those is something I can do anything about.
Poverty is what we all share in common. Nearly half of the US is poor. Everyone around you is probably poor, unless you are one of the lucky few still in the middle class, and even then your neighbors are probably poor. The 1% would like nothing more than for us to forget just how good they’ve got it right now.
I don’t make racial arguments because they are divisive, and I am not proud of the history of race as my white skin would have that history be told. I support Black Lives Matter every time I hear the group derided, even when black people aren’t around to hear it. See it. I do this because I know we are fellow travelers. We share a common human bond.
The real separation, the real dispute, is between the haves and the have-nots. Just as it has always been down through history. Make no mistake, there is a war on poverty in the US. It just isn’t the war you think it is.
Before the war on drugs became our national fixation, there was a short-lived, halfheartedly implemented war on poverty. Would that the same amount of resources and political will been expended here. But hyper-individualism, rampant capitalism, and a political discourse that persistently racializes poverty and stigmatizes governmental assistance continue to stand in the way.