Tag Archives: racism

What Did We Learn from the Whole Donald Sterling Thing?


There’s this old friend of mine from Seattle who only contacts me like three times a year. Not to say how she is or to ask what I’m up to or to show me her pregnant selfies or whatever, but to tell me what I should be mad about. ‘A state senator compared homosexuality to alcoholism!’ ‘A soccer star told a journalist he doesn’t want his son to grow up gay!’ ‘A sitcom star established a foundation to defend same-sex marriage!’

They’re always like this, variations on ‘someone you’ve never heard of has beliefs you don’t agree with’, and I never know how to respond. I think I’m the only gay person she knows, and she’s sending me these dispatches in a spirit of solidarity and lets-make-it-betterness. But what should I actually do with this information? I guess I could boycott the companies or the states or the sitcoms where these un-agreed-with beliefs are coming from, but … I dunno, do I have to? It seems like kind of a big commitment to only buy stuff from people whose social beliefs I agree with. Do I have to like ask the guy who brews my flat white how he feels about transgender pronouns?

Which is why I don’t really know how I feel about the whole Donald Sterling episode. Obviously about the man himself I feel sheesh what a dick. But I’m still sort of amazed at how much time and energy we all spent reacting to this one guy’s dickishness. Now that some of the foam has subsided, I’ve decided that I think the following things:

  • These episodes have a cycle to them, and this one has basically ended, but let’s take a second to remember just how big a deal this was for like two weeks there. In Zimbabwe I was watching CNN International in my hotel room and they interrupted some documentary on African entrepreneurs to go live to the NBA Commissioner’s press conference.
  • We all know this is how the media works; I’m not going to pretend to be all shock-horror that we don’t subsist on a news diet exclusively composed of kidnapped Nigerian girls and Syrian civil war victims. Maybe we should be focusing more on instances of racism in our own country, maybe this is how it gets solved, I don’t know.
  • But man, in the eye of the shitstorm, it was hard not to notice that Sterling got away with being racist for decades (denying housing to black people, treating his black employees terribly). We only went for our torches and pitchforks when he said something racist. I’m all for witch-hunts when prominent figures use their influence nefariously, but we need ways to find better witches.
  • There’s also this weird thing where the shitty stuff he said wasn’t at a podium or some Rich People Event or in his official capacity as a sports owner or businessman, but in a private conversation, with his girlfriend, when he had no idea he was being recorded. I don’t want to be all ‘Sterling is the real victim here!’ Like I said, the dude sucks. But we are rocketing toward a society where we have the technology to record each other all the time, and we need to take brace positions for that shit.
  • I was talking to a friend of mine the the other day who works at a speech recognition software company. I asked him how long it will be until our phones can record every conversation we have all day and send us a transcript every night, with stats about our word use, suggestions for follow-ups (‘John said he’s starting a new job on Monday. Ask him how it went!’), calendar reminders; Her without the romance. He said about two years.
  • That’s probably optimistic, but I, as a person, am not ready for a society in which I’m being recorded all the time, where everything I say out loud becomes a searchable, Dewey decimaled record of my opinions and commitments. I don’t know that we, as a society, are either.
  • But back to Sterling. Obviously what he said and thinks and did regarding race is deeply wrong. But even before this imagined panopticon future comes to pass, maybe we should think about what we do with and during these little outrage cycles. Twitter already feels like it’s about 50 percent ‘here is something you should be offended by!’ There are a million Donald Sterlings in the world. The next time some CEO announces or tweets or tells his girlfriend something we find repugnant, how much time should we spend chasing it down? What is a proportionate punishment for these statements and beliefs? Are the -isms the only sins for which we should demand penance? If Justin Bieber tells his Facebook followers tomorrow that he opposes the $15 minimum wage in Seattle, is that an unfollowable offense?
  • Look, I am a member of a secular liberal society. I like our values, I think they are worth defending, I think people should be shamed and fired and lose business for violating them. I also, however, like my time and my energy and my attention, and sometimes I want to save them for things that make me happy. I am glad that someone is calling out Donald Sterling and Rush Limbaugh and that lady who made that mean joke on Twitter, but I’m not convinced that it needs to be me, that I have to jump into the pig pile whenever I hear something that, if a friend said it, they wouldn’t be anymore.
  • Maybe that makes me part of the problem. Maybe failing to participate in the internet’s perpetual Intolerance Watch means that I am myself intolerant. Maybe I should be the next one pilloried on Twitter. Maybe I deserve it.

Last week, two friends of mine were turned down for an apartment in Berlin because they’re gay. ‘I’m a family man’, the owner told them, ‘and I want to sell my apartment to someone who will start a family there.’

This is obviously bullshit on a number of levels, least of which the fact that they’re actually starting adoption proceedings as soon as they buy an apartment.

‘Tweet that fucker’s name!’ I said, livid.

‘What’s the point?’ they said. ‘He’s allowed to. Homosexuality isn’t a protected ground for discrimination in services in Germany. It’s his house; he can sell it to whomever he wants. The law’s the problem, not this one guy.’

So I’m not publishing this dude’s name. But am going to tell my old friend in Seattle about it.

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Paula Deen, Race and A Defense of Thoughtcrime


Every American knows about the epic third-railness of racism in public life. Nappy-headed hos, you people, articulate and bright, macaca, let’s stop there. All public figures in America are one N-word away from utter and total ruin. No other word or opinion has anything like the toxicity of a racial slur. A white politician or actor (or, apparently, TV chef) can be on record saying just about anything (‘sugar tits‘, ‘takers not makers‘) and keep their job, their chance at a second chance. But say something racist and, well, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

This is correct. Racism in America is a uniquely ugly thing, something whose effects are still present in our policies, our economy, our workplaces, our schools. You’re not allowed to defend something whose impacts are still being lived by a significant percentage of your countrymen, especially if you are on the benefits end of those impacts. This doesn’t mean you can’t talk about race, just that you have to be a little more careful when you do. If you can’t keep your eyes open underwater, don’t jump in the pool.

This sensitivity, this hesitation, is  unique in American history. You could get away with saying some bonkers-racist shit in public just a few decades ago. But racism is also unique relative to other social issues. If Paula Deen had said that the death penalty should be expanded, that poor people just don’t work hard enough, that public schools should be abolished, that Medicare should be defunded, that inequality in America isn’t wide enough, yeah the internet would have shitted on her, and maybe she would have lost an endorsement or two, but we would move on. She would have nothing like the systematic ostracism she’s getting now.

Again, this is not a bad thing. Discrimination was the great battle of the 20th century, and winning it is one of the progressive left’s greatest victories. I’m fine with a world where you have to be careful talking about race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, where certain opinions (‘women shouldn’t be voting!’ ‘Slavery was adorable‘) will get you kicked off the TV and the ballot.

I am a great big homosexual. Every day I root for homophobia to reach this magical status, to get to the point where a politician says a mean, stupid thing about My People and is instantly shoved off the platform of public life. In fact, I hope when homophobia gets there, it brings some of its friends with it. Poverty, inequality, free health care, free(er) immigration, worker’s rights—I want all these topics to achieve the level of consensus we’ve worked so hard to reach on racism. I hope progressive activists are looking at the way we police each other on race and going ‘yeah, looks about right.’

This sounds like I’m arguing for a new kind of thoughtcrime, for an America where politicians and actors and other public figures feel prohibited from expressing opinions I disagree with. But what I’m saying is that I want them  to feel prohibited from expressing the first thing that pops into their head. Race in America is something that, when you talk about it, you have to think a little harder, talk a little slower, squeeze a little empathy out of your words and your heart to be taken seriously.

This, that little pause before you speak, is what progress looks like, and there are a lot more issues in America that deserve it. Next time a TV chef sits down for an interview, I’ll bet they will take it. 


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Three Things I Didn’t Know About The Tuskegee Experiment

In the middle of Snowden’s course on epidemics is this phenomenal one-off about the Tuskegee experiment. Here’s three things I didn’t know:

1. The study was designed to prove a racist hypothesis

Clark [the designer of the Tuskegee experiment] started with a profoundly racist hypothesis that he wished to demonstrate, and that is the simple one that the African-American male was racially distinct from the white male, and was so in ways that could be demonstrated by studying the natural history of syphilis in their bodies. […]

In the body of white males, the damage was overwhelmingly to their more highly evolved — and therefore more vulnerable — neurologic systems. He expected that the result in African-American males would be very different, being less neurologically sophisticated, their bodies would experience damage instead primarily to their cardiovascular systems, and proof was to be gained by studying the natural course of the disease in a group of males — African-American males — who were systematically untreated.

Let’s remember that this is a study that was based not on any therapeutic objective. On the contrary, the main interest of the syphilis study conducted at Tuskegee was to examine syphilitic black male bodies postmortem.

2. The study went way beyond the researchers and test subjects

This study continues from ’32 to ’72. By later in the 1940s, penicillin, a highly efficacious remedy for syphilis, was developed, and it was determined that the members of the study would be systematically denied the antibiotic.

Local doctors in Macon County were all provided with the names of the members of the study, and they were instructed by the Public Health Service that those men were not to be given penicillin. So the study continued for twenty-five more years, when a therapy actually existed. […]

In fact, there was a time when there was a great threat to this Tuskegee study, and that was when America entered the Second World War, because at that time there was the danger that the members of the study group risked being drafted into the Army, and that would entail blood tests. Their syphilis would be discovered, and the Army would provide treatment, ending the experiment. So, the assistant surgeon general of the United States intervened on behalf of the study and provided the Selective Service Board of Macon County with the list of all those men included in the study, and they were exempted from the military draft. […]

Well, by 1972, at the conclusion, 28 of the men in the study died directly from syphilis. A hundred others died of complications related to syphilis. Forty wives of members of the study were infected with syphilis, and 19 children fathered by members of the study were born with congenital syphilis.

3. This study was not a secret

There was, however, no intention in the Public Health Service to terminate the study, and this was not, strictly speaking, a secret study. There were published reports on a regular basis. This is really one of the more disconcerting parts of this study. What does it say about our society at the time?

In other words, this is a study that was published, that was written about publicly in scholarly articles, and people thought this was okay. The first published report was in 1936, and papers were later written every four to six years or so, until 1970. And strikingly, there was never a protest within the medical community about reports on this type of study that appeared in medical journals for forty years.

In 1969, a committee of the Centers for Disease Control determined that the study should continue, and this conclusion was backed by local chapters of the American Medical Association.

I think I grew up thinking of racism as something one person did to someone else. Racist described an individual, some redneck in a pickup truck, a cop car or, worst-case scenario, judge’s robes. It’s only in my 20s that I realized that the history of racism in America isn’t a bunch of bad apples, it’s the whole tree.


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Let a thousand cartoon crises bloom


One of my coworkers is having an issue at his son's elementary school. One of the mothers sent this e-mail to all the other parents:

Kære til alle forældre for (…). Idag kommer min søn hjem fra skole ked af det, fordi nogle, af børnene fra hans klasse legede med at tegnede Profet Muhammad (Guds fred og velsignelse være med ham). Ikke kun det, men de tegnede også gud. Det kan være I hader Islam, uden at I ved hvad Islam egentlig går ud på eller har ingen viden om hvad religionen betyder vores for os, som troende muslimer. Vil I ikke tage en ærlig snak med jeres børn at man tager hensyn til hvad andre tror på og at man ikke krænker hinandens tro. Jeg håber virkelig at I vil snakke med jeres børn.

Straffelovens §266b omtales i daglig tale som racismeparagraffen. Dens ordlyd er:
Den, der offentligt eller med forsæt til udbredelse i en videre kreds fremsætter udtalelse eller anden meddelelse, ved hvilken en gruppe af personer trues, forhånes eller nedværdiges på grund af sin race, hudfarve, nationale eller etniske oprindelse, tro eller seksuelle orientering, straffes med bøde hæfte eller fængsel indtil 2 år.
Stk. 2. Ved straffens udmåling skal det betragtes som en skærpende omstændighed, at forholdet har karakter af propagandavirksomhed.

Straffelovens §140 omtales i daglig tale som blasfemiparagraffen. Dens ordlyd er:
Den, der offentlig driver spot med eller forhåner noget her i landet lovligt bestående religionssamfunds troslærdomme eller gudsdyrkelse, straffes med bøde eller fængsel indtil 4 måneder.

Med venlig hilsen.

English version:

Dear parents,
Today my son came home from school upset because some of the kids in his class played around by drawing the Prophet Mohammad (peace be unto him). They didn't just draw him, they also drew God. It could be that you all hate Islam without knowing what Islam is really all about, or you don't know what the religion means for us Muslims. Could you all please have an honest conversation with your children about showing consideration for what others believe and not violating their beliefs. I really hope that you'll talk to your children.

[text of Danish hate speech law]

Best regards,
[Mother's name]

This strikes me as precisely the kind of conflict that is probably very common in the daily life of Western Europe in 2010, and one for which the politics and media of Western Europe in 2010 are wholly unequipped.

If this made it to the newspapers, it would probably be framed as a symptom of a societal trend leading, in some mysterious yet inevitable way, toward either Germany '39 or Iran '79. The right wing parties, panties firmly bunched, would issue statements that the Muslims have gone too far in asking Christians to bend to their whims. The left wing parties would issue proposals to ban chalkboard-based hate speech.

I told my colleage, look, we really don't know what happened here. Maybe these kids drew Muhammad on the wall specifically because they knew it would upset the Muslim kid. Or maybe they were just doodling a bunch of random shit. We have no idea if this is a phenomenon or an anecdote.

Cases like this are hardly new. Religious and ethnic tolerance in formerly homogeneous societies is a genuine challenge, and we can't will it away by shouting 'racist!' and 'pre-Enlightenment!' at each other.

In a Mobius-strippy way, the current political climate creates both this mother's anger and my colleague's oversensitivity. Islam, whether we agree with it or not, is a Big Political Issue. If this was an overweight kid, or a short kid, who felt hurt and attacked for being different, we would look at what happened and address the case on its own merits. It wouldn't be the tip of an iceberg. 

If a kid is being bullied, the content of the bullying is beside the point, and the bullies should be punished. If these kids accidentally offended the Muslim kid (the only one in their class, according to my colleague), then they should apologize, the same way they would in any other case of misdemeanor youthful shitheadery. The mother's e-mail was a little strong, yes, but it's not going to help the situation to get all how-dare-she about it.  

Cases like this are only going to proliferate in the next few decades. We need a politics, and a discourse, that can actually address the individual complexity of each case. Right now, whenever something like this comes up, we just retreat to our barracks and fetch our megaphones.

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You stay classy, Switzerland

Swiss Ban Building of Minarets on Mosques

How fucking neutral of you.

Of 150 mosques or prayer rooms in Switzerland, only 4 have minarets, and only 2 more minarets are planned. None conduct the call to prayer. There are about 400,000 Muslims in a population of some 7.5 million people. Close to 90 percent of Muslims in Switzerland are from Kosovo and Turkey, and most do not adhere to the codes of dress and conduct associated with conservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia

So this is completely pre-emptive. Or, to put it another way, paranoid and racist. If radical Islam is a problem in your country, how is banning minarets gonna solve it? Would banning steeples have prevented the Oklahoma City bombing? Should Belfast have outlawed four-leaf clovers in the '80s?

You gotta love this part:

The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss People’s Party, or S.V.P., and a small religious party had proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, leading to the referendum.

In other words, we recognize the principle of non-discrimination, just not when it applies to actual people living in our country.

Denmark pulls this shit all the time. This year, right-wing parties have proposed banning the niqab (the only-the-eyes-showing burqa) in public, which would apply to less than 100 people in Denmark, and banning judges from wearing the Muslim headscarf, even though there aren't any Muslim judges in Denmark.

There's a difference between a problem and an issue. Integration of immigrant populations, for example, is a genuine, complicated problem that needs to be addressed by adults. The kind with ideas, and expertise. Radical Islam, on the other hand, is an issue. We only talk about it in hyperboly and hypotheticals. We ban shit that no one is even doing. We legislate on our worst Chimpanzee instincts. We make posters like this:

Swiss People's Party

The people who made this poster, and this ban, aren't interested in integration, or constructive solutions to the problems they actually have. They just want to complain that the world isn't the same as the one they grew up in, and punish their minorities for being in their streets and in their shops. 

I mean, how else do you explain a law that, even its most strident supporters have to admit, will only radicalize Muslims further? You've only got four minarets in your whole country. Sheesh. 

The fact that 60 percent of Swiss voters approved this is Freedom Fries-caliber embarassing. I hope the left wing politicians in Switzerland are working on some sort of collective Cringe Sorry Our Bad proposition for the next election cycle. 

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Segregated education in America

Somehow I managed to find a cafe on Crown St. here in Sydney with a toddler-sized stack of mid-decade Harper's magazines. I spent pretty much the whole evening there, and the most striking article I read (the only one, actually, that I finished. Harper's is interminable) was this one on the new realities of the American education system.

In Chicago, by the academic year 2002-2003, 87 percent of public-school enrollment was black or Hispanic; less than 10 percent of children in the schools were white. In Washington, D.C., 94 percent of children were black or Hispanic; less than 5 percent were white. In St. Louis, 82 percent of the student population were black or Hispanic; in Philadelphia and Cleveland, 79 percent; in Los Angeles, 84 percent, in Detroit, 96 percent; in Baltimore, 89 percent. In New York City, nearly three quarters of the students were black or Hispanic.
The school board of another district, this one in New York State, referred to "the diversity" of its student population and "the rich variations of ethnic backgrounds." But when I looked at the racial numbers that the district had reported to the state, I learned that there were 2,800 black and Hispanic children in the system, 1 Asian child, and 3 whites. Words, in these cases, cease to have real meaning; or, rather, they mean the opposite of what they say.

This is actually pretty wise, and kind of funny. You never hear anyone call a group of people 'diverse' if it's, like, Swedes mixing with Belgians.

Then you get to what this is really about:

The dollars on both sides of the equation have increased since then, but the discrepancies between them have remained. The present per-pupil spending level in the New York City schools is $11,700, which may be compared with a per-pupil spending level in excess of $22,000 in the well-to-do suburban district of Manhasset, Long Island. The present New York City level is, indeed, almost exactly what Manhasset spent per pupil eighteen years ago, in 1987, when that sum of money bought a great deal more in services and salaries than it can buy today. In dollars adjusted for inflation, New York City has not yet caught up to where its wealthiest suburbs were a quarter-century ago. 


In another elementary school, which had been built to hold 1,000 children hut was packed to bursting with some 1,500, the principal poured out his feelings to me in a room in which a plastic garbage hag had been attached somehow to cover part of the collapsing ceiling. "This," he told me, pointing to the garbage bag, then gesturing around him at the other indications of decay and disrepair one sees in ghetto schools much like it elsewhere, "would not happen to white children."

I usually roll my eyes at that sort of thing, just because I don't think the government of the U.S., or really any country, is particularly racist. They un-care about all poor people equally, my argument usually goes. But man, it's hard to argue with this shit:

A tall black student, for example, told me that she hoped to be a social worker or a doctor but was programmed into "Sewing Class" this year. She also had to take another course, called "Life Skills," which she told me was a very basic course—"a retarded class," to use her words—that "teaches things like the six continents," which she said she'd learned in elementary school.

When I asked her why she had to take these courses, she replied that she'd been told they were required, which as I later learned was not exactly so. What was required was that high school students take two courses in an area of study called "The Technical Arts," and which the Los Angeles Board of Education terms "Applied Technology."

At schools that served the middle class or upper-middle class, this requirement was likely to be met by courses that had academic substance and, perhaps, some relevance to college preparation. At Beverly Hills High School, for example, the technical-arts requirement could be fulfilled by taking subjects like residential architecture, the designing of commercial structures, broadcast journalism, advanced computer graphics, a sophisticated course in furniture design, carving and sculpture, or an honors course in engineering research and design. At Fremont High, in contrast, this requirement was far more often met by courses that were basically vocational and also obviously keyed to low-paying levels of employment.

Mireya, for example, who had plans to go to college, told me that she had to take a sewing class last year and now was told she'd been assigned to take a class in hair-dressing.

Fucking hair-dressing, dude.

Two things occurred to me while I was reading this, probably not the two things that were supposed to.

1. This would make a fantastic TV show.
Where the fuck is Hollywood on this? If you read the whole article, there's so much drama here waiting to be mined. Quantitative test scores! Beleaguered principals! Newbie teachers! Kids struggling against the system!

I'm not talking the kind where the magic white lady reforms the puffy-jacketed academic ruffians through Hamlet and a personal-growth arc ('No… they were teaching me'.). Why is 'The Wire' the only artistic work to genuinely confront this issue in the last decade?

2. Why am I reading about this in Harper's?
All of these cities, presumably, have a newspaper. Harper's cites a number of quantitative indicators (enrollment, budgets, dropout rates) that should have raised red flags in any newsroom with a pulse. Dude from Harper's strolls into these schools, chats with the kids, leaves and writes it up. Journalists: You live in these cities. Where the fuck are you?

Overall, the whole thing just made me think of my University of London's professor's old catchphrase, 'You can blame people for their choices, but you can't blame them for their options.' Maybe the American version should be 'Don't talk shit on hairdressers. It's better than being a seamstress.' 

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Next time someone talks about how we should return to ‘traditional values’, remember this

During the Depression, the Home Owners' Loan Corp. was formed to rescue families whose homes were in foreclosure. Not a single loan went to a family of color. The black section of Detroit was simply excluded. After World War II, GIs received government-subsidized home mortgages, but there was no oversight to ensure that soldiers of color got their fair share. Of the 67,000 mortgages issued under the GI Bill in New York and northern New Jersey, 66,900 went to white veterans.



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Nuance can be funny

It's nice that the left-wing is starting to take back the 'telling it like it is' wing of stand-up comedy. Maybe someday we'll get AM radio back.

Political Correctness

Incidentally, here's David Foster Wallace on political correctness. Specifically a right-wing talk-show host who felt oppressed because he was fired from a job for using the word 'nigger' numerous times during a broadcast.

Like many other post-Limbaugh hosts, John Ziegler seems unable to differentiate between (1) cowardly, hypocritical acquiescence to the tyranny of Political Correctness and (2) judicious, compassionate caution about using words that cause pain to large groups of human beings, especially when there are several less upsetting words that can be used.

Even though there is plenty of stuff for reasonable people to dislike about Political Correctness as a dogma, there is also something creepy about the brutal, self-righteous glee with which Mr. Ziegler and other conservative hosts defy all PC conventions. If it causes you real pain to hear or see something, and I make it a point to inflict that thing on you merely because I object to your reasons for finding it painful, then there's something wrong with my sense of proportion, or my recognition of your basic humanity, or both.

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Producers of ‘Hancock’ don’t understand what subtitles are

'Hancock' is a Will Smith movie. Which means it's the kind of movie you describe with the name of the star in it, not the director, or the writer, or the genre, or the plot. It's the cinematic equivalent of a Nike symbol billboard on an interstate: It exists only to maintain the brand of its main dialogue-sayer.

We all know that if action movies were pie recipes, the equivalent of 'preheat oven' would be 'open with action sequence'. The first 45 seconds of Will Smith Crumble throw us into a high-speed chase in LA, where gun-toting youths have stolen a SUV. Smith intercepts them and has a wee chat before impaling their car on the top of a building.

The car thieves, all Asian, speak their native language for the first few minutes. Look at the subtitles.

The movie inserts grammatical errors into the subtitles to make them sound like Asian stereotypes.

I don't know the grammar of Chinese or any other Asian languages, so I don't know if this construction is correct according to whatever language they're speaking, but come on. Have the writers of this movie ever seen a foreign film? Subtitles don't translate word-for-word. It's not like German movies are subtitled with shit like "You like when I making the food, jaaaaa?" Japanese films don't have "Ridicurous!" along the bottom of the screen.

Seriously, do they get what subtitles are? These people are speaking their native language. (Well, presumably. They switch to English when Smith lifts the car off the road. You know, like how most of the world's population speaks English when they get stressed out or just tired of their own nonsense-sounds, right?). The least the producers could do is let them speak their own language properly.

This would matter less if there was anything in the movie to distract me from my mild annoyance at the first three minutes. The 'Hancock' director and writers (plural — always, always plural) have approached this movie with the enthusiasm of an overweight teenager doing a morning workout, and the plot gives up and collapses on the linoleum at about the 37-minute mark. The rest is mostly slo-mo and mumbo-jumbo and other hyphenated suckiness. In other words, I no pay for next Will Smith movie.  

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The amazing racist



I saw a woman in full blackface on the way to work today.


I have to admit, when I saw her from across the street, my first thought was, ‘wow, that’s a weird-looking black lady’. It was only when I got closer, and I saw that she was wearing a wig and brown facepaint, fraying around the jawline and lips like an old toothbrush, that I figured out what was going on.


This is actually not that uncommon here, to dress up as A Black Person for a costume or theme party. I’ve always thought of blackface as one of those things that is offensive mainly for how it originated, and everything that symbolizes, but biking past this woman this morning, I think I finally get why it’s so repugnant, even without the American context.


This woman wasn’t dressed up as a ‘70s pimp, or a rapper, or a particular celebrity, or any other group that is usually associated with black people. She was simply dressed up as a black person. That’s it. Black people are so utterly comical to her that it’s appropriate to just put on a kinky wig and paint her face black. No further costume required.


It’s like going to a party dressed as Jew or something. ‘Oh, are you supposed to be a particular Jewish person? Is this a Jerry Seinfeld impression?’ ‘Nope, I’m just a random Jew. That’s enough, right? A demographic group I don’t belong to?’


It’s particularly offensive in the context of Denmark, where most black people are incredibly marginalized, not to mention refugees, meaning they don’t exactly need the extra insult of being openly mocked by a tactless member of the majority. You would only attempt a costume like that if you were absolutely certain there would be no black people at the party.  Or, for that matter, anyone who would be offended.


Denmark needs to establish a task force of black people to be dispatched to costume parties, so they can stand in front of Danes wearing blackface and raise their eyebrows, just a little. The ensuing silence would be miles more educational than any speech or billboard campaign.

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