Tag Archives: racism

The Mind’s Eye

19 Jun

I once lived in an apartment ringed by a moat of shit.

It wasn’t a selling feature of the apartment, indeed when I and my two roommates signed the lease the area around the apartment was bone dry. It was a garden apartment at the basement level of a building that had lots of problems: scalding hot shower water, days on end with no heat, an unending cockroach infestation. I’d already established a regular and fairly antagonistic relationship with my building’s manager due to these continued issues, and when I came home from work to find a steamy, brackish lake spewing from a crack in the walk in front of my door, I was pissed. Funny thing is, I didn’t realize it was sewage at first. For some reason, I decided it was runoff from the laundromat across the street which was a ludicrous thing to believe. I stormed into the house and began commiserating with my roommate: “I can’t believe all of that water out there!” I yelled, “It’s always something with this apartment!”

“Yeah,” replied my roommate, “and now it’s a river of shit.” I looked at him blankly. “That’s not sewer water,” I informed him, “it’s from the laundromat across the street. I think.” Now it was his turn to be confused.

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“No, it’s shit. You don’t see the toilet paper in there?” I frowned and went back to the front door to examine the new body of water more closely. And then, I saw them: turds, bobbing around in this effluvia in which I could now clearly see wads of toilet paper. And worse, I began to smell it. Mere seconds ago, I detected no fecal odor but now it was undeniable. My apartment wasn’t surrounded by the murky but otherwise soapy water of a laundromat, but a disgusting, viscous moat of shit.

Once seen, of course, it could not be unseen. There’s more to the story, but what was so interesting to me that I was initially so sure that this wasn’t sewer water billowing in front of my house. I would have sworn to it. In fact, I spontaneously concocted a stupid story about the waste from a laundromat across the street–because, you know, coin-operated laundromats normally have dedicated sewage lines that run for blocks, for some reason–instead of facing the hard fact that I had poops at my doorstep. It’s incredible how your brain can trick you into seeing the things you want to see, instead of seeing things how they are.

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We saw this yesterday, when nine people were gunned down at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The murdered, like the vast majority of this church with historic ties to abolitionism, were black, the shooter was white. Right away, a survivor of this ordeal, left alive by the shooter Dylann Roof to tell the tale, explained that Dylann expressed hatred towards black people, who “rape our women, and you’re taking over our country and you have to go.” Before he was apprehended, a picture of the shooter surfaced of him wearing a jacket adorned with flags from Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, which was Zimbabwe when it was a white-controlled territory. And lest you think I am up for a challenge to determine the origin of various flags throughout history, I am not. These flags were identified for me by several folks on social media who are much more knowledgeable than I.

And still, many newscasters, politicans and citizens were quick to quell any talk of racism. “This person is clearly mentally ill,” said many, implying that this made the killings apolitical. “An attack on religion,” claimed FOX News, who can no longer be faulted for lying under the “fool me twice, shame on me” rule. Few on my media feeds seemed to suggest that when a white person goes into a black church and kills only black people that the attack could be racially motivated. And that’s because they don’t want to see it, because we’d rather believe that this massacre, that cops shooting unarmed black teenagers on a bi-weekly basis, that the attempts to restrict voter rights along lines that would mainly disenfranchise black people are isolated incidents by crazies and malcontents, folks who are an exception to the rule. But the fact is that for American history, racism is the rule. Post Civil War Reconstruction began a hundred and fifty years ago and Civil Rights marches began fifty-five years ago, and we’ve still got so many black Americans laboring under a system of institutional racism that keeps white neighborhoods white, keeps menial jobs black, and maintains a general status quo that essentially allows police to shoot black people in the back and get away with it.

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The reason that white America doesn’t want to assume racism as a motivation is that it forces us to look inward, at our own motivations. How we have benefited, willfully or not, from the system that has been in place in some form or another for four-hundred years. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, especially since owning up to the fact doesn’t absolve your guilt. At some point, however, we have to take notice of our own hypocrisy and see things for what they are. You thought you were surrounded by the protective aura of being an enlightened free-thinker, someone who espouses equality and freedom but actually can’t see the forest for the trees. But it turns out that your protection was a moat of shit.

I’m So Sick of Your Goddamned Kids

14 Jun

My girlfriend and I visited Coney Island this past Friday afternoon. I wanted to see what all of the hubbub was about, being that the various theme parks (or, more likely, a commercial public relations collective of all the various theme parks) have spent a bundle of money to promote how happening the place is. It’s been two years since they tore down a lot of the shit that made the place fun, and I can say that some of the midway has started to come back. The new rides are mediocre–a little infantile–and the batting cages and go-kart track are still sorely missed. Where the bumper boats and go-karts were is now an open air flea market, with card table booths hawking irregular socks and knock off Power Rangers toys. Nothing has been done to fix the boardwalk, nothing has really changed except that there’s slightly more Coney Island fun than there was last year, but far less Coney Island fun than there was in 2008. I say: give it another year. Hopefully by then the empty lots will be filled, the midway restored (at least with games if not go-karts), and it will be a decent place to hang out again. For you and your fucking miserable goddamned family.

I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion about the “restoration” of Coney Island in 2007 or 2008, and I thought it was interesting. It was couched as a simple zoning conversion which would allow more freedom in construction, but as the members of the panel (which included one woman who claimed the 1939 World’s Fair was held at Coney Island [false] and one of Bloomberg’s deputy mayors who looked about as interested in Coney Island as I am in recalling his title) described their proposed changes I got a little worried. They wanted to build a ring of hi-rise hotels with commercial space on the ground level that would completely obscure the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel from Surf Avenue. The panel talked about demolishing the low-income housing that surrounds the Coney Island amusements and replacing it with luxury apartment buildings. I had to laugh at their contingency plan for the disenfranchised children in the neighborhood: a brand new community center twenty blocks West in a completely different neighborhood. You know, since kids don’t like rides and ice cream and shit like that. They’d rather toss the medicine ball around with Mr. Touches-A-Lot.

As the historically-incorrect woman assured the crowd that no views of the Life Savers Parachute Jump would be obscured–you know, the Parachute Jump, that rusted relic that actually is from the 1939 World’s Fair which hasn’t worked since before my parents were born–it occurred to me that what this panel aimed to do was make Coney Island palatable to families. And not just any families, but white families, hopefully with those out-of-town tourist dollars (I assume demure Asian families would also be encouraged). They wanted these project kids twenty blocks West, throwing deflated basketballs at a net-less hoop, so Minnesota Joe and his nuclear family could enjoy a turn on the bumper cars without hearing any of that blasted rap music. I scoffed at the idea: a New York City tourist might brave Lenox Avenue for some soul food or Avenue A for a dive bar, but they aren’t sitting for two-plus fucking hours on the subway to ride a Ferris wheel. At least, that’s what I thought.

When I first visited Coney Island as a teenager, it was a pretty hard scrabble place. Even then, it was a pale imitator of the 1970s Coney Island which was the home turf for the titular gang in The Warriors. I recall a lot of loud music, broken glass, hard-looking dudes with their shirts off mean mugging everyone in sight. It wasn’t even the kind of place you wanted to bring a date, much less your white bread family. Then, as the city improved, Coney Island improved with it, getting generally cleaner and safer and more enjoyable for a wide variety of people. Don’t misunderstand, Coney Island was a family destination even in 2008, but it was more for local families, for children reared in New York who know to keep their money in their sock and their senses alert at all times. Frankly, I thought it was a swell place to bring children of all ages, but then I am not a parent. I take it for granted that folks might have to brook a mugging or a random shooting sometimes. That’s life in the big city for you.

Having seen Coney Island in the process of being rebuilt, I get the distinct impression that they want to create more of a DisneyWorld effect, and not that of a local fairground. It’s like developers think that Coney Island will become a seaside resort: chromosome-deficient Midwestern kids happily splashing in a kiddie pool while mom sips margaritas behind a fence that obscures the Atlantic Ocean, five-hundred feed away. Starbucks and Pinkberry become the circled wagons that keep those noisy black folks at bay. “Anything for the children,” is the motto of the day, as we become more segregated and our culture more homogenized in order to restrict a child below the age of twelve from seeing an exposed nipple. I’ve had enough of this shit; kids, get on my level. Coney Island is fun as hell, and if you’re not wise then you could be parted from your cotton candy money in a minute. But the flip side of that is you’ll probably see some junkie with a parrot on his head juggling for quarters. That’s New York City, not motherfucking Abercrombie & Fitch.

Must Have Been a White Guy Who Started All That

25 Mar

As the weather gets warmer with trepidation in the northeast, my thoughts turn to baseball. I grew up in Flushing, Queens, home of the New York Mets. When I was very young, I thought the Mets were the only baseball team in existence, their opponents merely random contestants who happened to organize enough to get uniforms together. On rare occasions when I would see someone wearing a Yankees cap in my neighborhood, I assumed the “NY” logo was a rip off of the Mets’ serifed logo. I could see the annual Fourth of July fireworks display at Shea Stadium from my bedroom window. However, despite the fact that I was surrounded by the Mets and even owned my own mesh-back Mets cap with a foam rubber front, when I was very little, I didn’t give a fuck about baseball.

Sports weren’t really watched in my house. My dad and brother liked professional wrestling (though my dad was always clear to note that it was “entertainment” and not an actual “sport”) and my brother watched football starting around 1987 when the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl (as a result, he was a lifelong Redskins fan). However, my brother didn’t watch football regularly and I suspect he didn’t know all the rules. Sports in my house were mainly relegated to my NES, where I would put a clinic on motherfuckers in Double Dribble and Nintendo Ice Hockey. I did make an attempt to be a fair-weather fan of the Rangers when they won the Stanley Cup in the early 1990s, but it was a half-hearted attempt, at best. I don’t think there’s many things more lame than a half-hearted fair-weather fan.

I didn’t really get into baseball until I moved away from my neighborhood of origin into then uncharted areas of Queens. I wanted everyone to know that I was from Flushing, no fooling around, and wearing the logo of the baseball team which claimed that town as its home was my birthright. Around this time, in 1998 or so, the Mets were a pretty good team and would contend against the Yankees for the first time in post-season play for the 2000 World Series (Mets got destroyed, four games to one). Oddly, my need to identify as being from Flushing spurred on my love of baseball, not the other way around. In my typical fashion, I voraciously consumed every scrap of information I could about the sport, until I became an overbearing stats-quoter in hardly any time at all.

Of course, one of the things I like best about baseball is its rich history. I’m a few pages away from being done with Josh Gibson: A Life in the Negro Leagues by William Brashler, and it’s a pretty solid book. That the historical record of the Negro Leagues is less than substantial is a crying shame: there’s a dearth of statistics, and therefore literature about these teams, and a lot of misinformation is touted as fact in order to spice up the legends of this time period. There can be no doubt that many black baseball players could have contended well in the white-only Leagues, however the way some of these narratives of the Negro Leagues tell it, games consisted of spindly black player after spindly black player stepping up to the plate with a bat in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other, slapping walk off, five-hundred foot home runs without looking at the ball and lazily strolling around the bases while dancing soft shoe for the fans. And of course, the black pitcher would throw 100 mph heat unflinchingly for eleven straight innings without any signs of tiring. And the outfield caught every fly ball, except for home runs, of which there were three to a player.

William Brashler helps dispel many of these ridiculous myths, having spoken to Negro Leagues legend “Cool Papa” Bell when researching his popular 1972 novel, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings. Brashler is able to shed light on some erroneous claims, but the substantiated hits that remain are still staggering. The author also potentially corrects a long-held misconception about Josh Gibson: later in his career, when Jackie Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers and ended segregation in baseball, Josh was a heavy drinker, prone to dementia and violent outbursts. The romantic, bittersweet reason has always been that Gibson was depressed over missing his chance to play in the Major Leagues and let himself go to pot, but Brashler shows that Josh’s decline began before Robinson was signed to the Dodgers. It is even implied that he may have had a brain tumor.

Josh Gibson is a pretty well-written book that isn’t given to a lot of hyperbole and speculation. It’s also not incredibly stats-heavy like a lot of baseball books. However, it’s not such a rollicking read that casual fans of baseball, or people interested in the time period of segregation and Jim Crow laws should pick it up. It’s a baseball book, not a social study of the politics behind racism. I mean, if you’re reading a book about the Negro Leagues, then it should be inferred that you understand the systemic reasons behind why such a league existed in the first place. If you’ve never heard of Josh Gibson, the Negro Leagues, or the game of baseball, or if you can’t read, then this book is not for you.

Never Forget the Thing You Never Knew

15 Mar

Newsflash: an ass-kicking earthquake and tsunami has rocked Japan, killing thousands and leaving many times more that number injured and homeless. Like most people with working sensory organs, I’ve been following this tragedy in the news and on YouTube, and the information and images that I’ve seen have been staggering. There’s one thing, however, surrounding this natural disaster which has incensed me to the point of annoyed laughter: Americans posting facebook status updates claiming that this earthquake is just desserts for Pearl Harbor.

You remember Pearl Harbor, right? That was the attack on a U.S. military base in Honolulu, Hawaii which ostensibly brought America into World War II. It was a tremendous disaster, claiming almost twelve hundred American lives. It also happened seventy fucking years ago. I don’t think it’s a reach to say that anyone still living that can recall this event probably isn’t posting status updates on facebook. Since you’re so keen on World War II history, be sure to read up on how FDR knew in advance about the Pearl Harbor attack but let it happen to justify our entrance into World War II, and be sure to check out Farewell to Manzanar for a slightly different take on our Most Justified War.

There are so many ludicrous levels to unearth in the stupid statements of facebook racists, it’s tough to know where to begin. The implied divine right of America is just one retarded facet. But the real point is that there already was vengeance for Pearl Harbor in the form of two fucking atomic bombs which eliminated Shintoism and ushered in Godzilla. We essentially crippled a culture and forced them to Westernize in order to stay relevant. Think about that next time you flip on your Sony blu ray player and watch a little Ju-on. Ask not for whom the grudge tolls: it tolls for thee!

Why Do I Find Racism So Goddamned Funny?

23 Feb

The first time I can remember finding racism funny, I was about eight or nine years old, reading a classic Captain Marvel comic book (almost certainly a reprint) and there was a scene where Billy Batson had to stow away on a steamship for some reason. He disguises his face with burnt cork and adopts this ludicrous “sho’ nuff!” type of dialect in order to appear Black. I recall laughing to myself about it and surreptitiously stealing glances at these comic panels for weeks afterward, silently chortling and understanding that I was getting away with something wrong.

Why did I find that funny? My parents certainly never explained the irony of American racism, in fact my parents were vocally opposed to racism. To be sure, I don’t find hate crimes or bigoted violence funny, but I do think that most stereotypes and people’s attempts to imitate other ethnic groups are hilarious. I know why racism is funny, actually, though it’s difficult to explain. It has something to do with naive ignorance being issued as broad fact. I laugh at old medical texts on Phrenology and Christian sexual education films for much the same reason. No, it’s not really why racism is funny but why I find it so funny.

One obvious reason I can even laugh at racism to begin with is because I’m white. To chuckle at racism and minimize its effects is my privilege. A lot of people hear the term “white privilege” and they think it means “white guilt.” That’s not the case at all. White privilege is a phrase which simply acknowledges the lens through which white people view racism. Even being able to look at racism somewhat objectively is another white privilege. To step back and look at it as a weird cultural anomaly is something that someone negatively affected by racism might not be able to do.

I’m not immune to white stereotypes, either. I usually laugh right along with the crowd when a Black comedian adopts the curt, nasal whine of a tight-assed white person. In my gut, it feels the same as when I chuckle at Charlie Chan or snicker at Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. It’s similar to how I enjoy incredibly shitty, low-budget movies or insipid poetry. When people invoke stereotypes, they are trying to make sense of something foreign using the best tools available. While there may be a tinge of truth, overall the result is a complete failure because you can’t assign universal personality traits or actions to any large group of people. And that failure is what I find so funny.

This essay isn’t meant to advocate for racist stereotypes or to explain their cultural importance (though they are culturally important), but just to delve into why I find them so fucking funny, and always have. I think it says a lot more about my sense of humor than anything else. But what do I know? I’m just some white dude. I don’t laugh as freely or walk with rhythm like I understand Black folks do.

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