I changed my mind

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I often write about a topic before I do much research on it. Some might call that the epitome of laziness or stupidity. Regardless, after doing enough reading, I’ve changed my mind of trigger warnings.

I was talking to a friend who’s done research in PTSD, and when I attempted to make my argument, he told me that he didn’t see anything wrong with a trigger warning on a syllabus, especially If those traumatized people are set off so easily. And that really is the crux of the issue: Whether we are willing to make the smallest amount of effort to extend courtesy to victims of sexual assault, violence, or whatever. The fear of trigger warnings is that they are a form of censorship, and that it will allow the “weak hearted” to get out of dealing with important things. But if a person is that upset by the issue, wouldn’t only a insensitive jerk force that material upon a person? Is it not like your asshole friend who would showed you Two Girls One Cup or Pain Olympics without any warning? Except imagine that you actually had past experience and problems with the content, and that triggered a flashback because you have PTSD.

The other issue is that overly sensitive students will be able to get away with avoiding difficult discussions. I don’t think this will be a problem, though. The students who want to avoid tough topics will likely avoid them anyone. Do we really think, for instance, that a racist would take a class on Hispanic studies, or that a misogynist is going to major in women’s studies? Hardly, because it still is an object of derision for those people. Avoiding challenging material is something that is already done without trigger warnings. As long as the material is still taught to those who do not need to avoid it, trigger warnings will have a minimal effect on the classroom.

Imagine you have a friend who is a veteran struggling with PTSD. Would you make him watch war movies and read war literature, even if he said not to because he has flashbacks? We can’t make the world a padded room, but we can at least warn people about sensitive issues so that they can protect themselves. It doesn’t bother me that some shithead somewhere could use trigger warnings as an excuse to get out of class, because more important are the people who can benefit from a trigger warning. We don’t ban alcohol, for instance, because some people misuse it. Trigger warnings are a bandage on a more serious problem, which is how we treat victims and those with mental health issues in our society. Nevertheless this is a small but significant step towards recognizing them in our society. Sure, there are people who abuse the word trigger to mean something that upsets them, which has caused the meaning to drift from its intended purpose, which was to describe phenomena which caused the negative feelings of a PTSD sufferer to resurface. We shouldn’t lose focus that trigger warnings are for people who actually have triggers, and not for people who merely feel uncomfortable with certain topics.

For those who worry that we will be using trigger warnings in our every day speech, that’s plain unlikely. People can understand context, and they can understand with whom what is appropriate to speak about. I have an aunt who has had her mother and a brother commit suicide. For that reason, I don’t speak about suicide with her or around her because of how much it could upset her, nor would I send her recommendations to read The Sorrows of Young Werther or Mrs. Dalloway without a warning of the content. A trigger warning.

Trigger Warnings

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I never encountered the term until a fellow undergrad and frequent poster of feminist articles used it in a Facebook comment, something about sexual assault that “triggered” her. I immediately was dismissive towards its use, which I saw as a new term for being upset by something. Movements often create their own language to describe phenomena which already have names, but by doing so they sort of give new life to a concept. It’s not always a great thing, just something that happens.

It wasn’t until later that I realized its connection to feminists (which I consider myself) and specifically to sexual assault and rape. And then I began to hear discussions about trigger warnings in college syllabi. I thought that was silly like most people. Majority doesn’t make right, but I hadn’t heard a convincing argument for its implementation, and it seemed to be narrow in scope, to sexual assault and rape and,  weirdly enough, animal abuse. Most ridicule trigger warnings as a means of faint hearted, sheltered middle class students avoiding being shook out of their narrow world views. They take the argument ad absurdum, that it would be impossible to create trigger warnings for every possible situation and student, that it was tantamount to censorship. These seem like valid points, but they didn’t satisfy the dilemma for me.

The best case for trigger warnings that I heard was to protect the victims of sexual assault from having to relive the events by encountering it unknowingly in literature. But this is still a weak reason, and I don’t need to take the situation to the extreme in order to dismantle it.

In the Information Age, it seems reasonable that a student for which certain topics are too taboo to deal with, could do some research and choose courses in which these issues would not be brought up. A student averse to reading about violence against blacks might, for instance, not elect to take a class about slavery or early black literature. Of course, that student would miss the opportunity to be enriched by having the mind expanded, but that is their choice. Unless this person is so ignorant of history they don’t know how blacks are and were treated, this would be a reasonable burden to place on the student, which would not require trigger warnings, just a little thought. And if the student were already in a class where controversial material may be brought up, they can read about the books online to make sure they are free of potentially traumatizing stuff.

Another issue is literary work itself. The film and television industry self censors and applies ratings based on certain criteria. These in a way serve as trigger warnings. The question then becomes, do we want this for literature? Should authors include a page in the back which contains a list of potential triggers in the book? If we are going to extend this type of warning signs to college syllabi, then why not to the books themselves?

The reason which I most oppose trigger warnings is because of how narrowly they have been applied, that is, mostly to sexual assault. But why not “regular” violence or crime? A person can be traumatized by being mugged, or even beaten. Should acts of thievery or battery be included among trigger warnings? Or what about soldiers traumatized by war? Should Tim O’Brien’s work come with a trigger warning? What about victims of parental abuse? Should Angela’s Ashes be on a list of potentially traumatizing material? And further, just how can literature, a virtual existence, traumatize a real life? It can’t; only existence can.

The advocates of trigger warnings seem to place sexual assault as the most heinous and traumatizing experience a person can have. I would certainly never argue that it isn’t awful, but I likewise would not deign to suggest that it is worse than anyone else’s traumatic experience. Who would dare tell a soldier that their pain can’t compare, that it is lesser, than a rape victim’s, or vice versa? We cannot measure painful events and decide which ones are more important or worse. I don’t mean to be taken as equivalating all pains and experiences, but I want to show that we shouldn’t being telling other people which ones are worthy of traumatizing or not traumatizing a person, especially since all cases are unique, as are people’s responses. I understand why, for instance, rape jokes are unacceptable because we have a society, though a little better, which has belittled women’s traumas and dismissed them. But in order to finally give recognition to the problem of sexual assault and rape culture, it shouldn’t come at the expense of invalidating other pains. I notice that murder is conspicuously missing from the reasoning for trigger warnings, and yet there are relatives of murder victims who live in a world with literature which is filled with murders. Why is their experience not included in the umbrella of trigger warnings? And very importantly, what about the authors who want their story to be heard?

In this misguided attempt to accommodate, we gag ourselves. Not all people who use the excuse of trigger warnings are victims or survivors. Some just don’t want to be disturbed. But I also always believed that literature had a cathartic value, and that by finding one’s own experiences in the pages of a book, it can help you move beyond the pain. But I may be wrong in all this. We may be making mounds out of molehills. Trigger warnings could truly be useful for the victims of traumatic experiences. But I have to wonder who is calling for their introduction.

nick cannon, oh geez

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Nick Cannon has never had many defenders, and I don’t intend to be counted among them, not that I would matter enough to be noted, but I do want to say something about his whiteface shtick. For a lot of people, there is a false equivalency to whiteface and blackface, and that is what I would like to address. Though a white person might somehow be offended by this dumb joke, there is no historical basis for using whiteface to mock white people, but instead has been used by black actors in order to appear in roles as white characters. Blackface, on the other hand, was used for minstrel shows that did mock black people, and was even used in movies in order to avoid using black actors. The use of blackface is one of African-American exclusion and derogatory humor at their expense. In today’s context, I don’t believe most white people who don black face are intentionally trying to hurt black people, but it is insensitive and ignorant. The insensitivity is important, because almost everyone by now should understand how offensive blackface is, so by putting on the characteristic makeup, you are basically saying that the feelings of black people are secondary to your desire to make a crude, historically racist joke, which is just another symptom of how blacks are still marginalized in our society.

            There is, of course, humor that can be milked from blackface and whiteface. A successful example is Dave Chappelle’s white TV anchor. A less successful one is White Chicks, depending on who you talk to. Perhaps by going even further, by cross dressing (and which happens considerably in black entertainment), it is hard to be offended by its obvious parody. What whiteface is notably free from is caricature of white features. This in part makes Robert Downey Jr.’s blackface more acceptable and able to be taken as a joke, but blackface was done with the clownish features in minstrel shows, which should be apparent in its extreme repugnance, and is what adds that connotation of ridicule that is not easy to wipe away, even from realistic portrayals. The only equivalent is clown whiteface, which is used by white people and which realistically cannot be used to offend white people, nor does it, nor importantly does it demean them or lessen hurt the image of white people. Black people have to worry about their image in this society, and think about how their actions reflect on how whites will continue to see them, something that white people do not have to think about.

            Which brings me to the real point of what racism really is. The casual racism at the individual level does exist and absolutely causes harm to minorities of all stripe, but it is not the same as the institutional racism that blacks suffer from which inhibits their viability as a community. It is important to separate the two, because individualistic racism can go both ways, in that a black person could make a white person feel bad and vice versa (though if we are being honest, minorities will encounter it far more than whites will and is more pernicious due in part to the white majority). Institutional racism, however, is something that doesn’t affect whites (affirmative action does not hurt whites because they still attend college is far greater numbers that blacks and Hispanics, while it hurts Asians and Indian who would outcompete the white population based purely on academic standards), and is something that blacks cannot get away from, things like being targeted as criminals and drug users disproportionately by police, being convicted at greater rates than white people for the same crimes. Whites point out that they are often the victims of black violence, which is true, and it does happen more than white on black violence. But that is not the same as receiving a different form of justice under the same laws. Whites don’t need to protest for six weeks in order for the police to charge a man for shooting a young, unarmed teenager. Nor would they tolerate black men shooting unarmed teenagers and then claiming self-defense.

            White people who are offended by what they perceive as whining and woe-is-me accounts of how hard it is to be black and how evil white people are are under no obligation to feel guilty, not that many do, nor is that the course of action we need. It is easy not to feel guilty for how blacks and other minorities have been treated by becoming part of the solution. And it’s very easy to do so. No need to treat people of another ethnicity differently; in fact, treat them just like a white person. That is to say, when they do something, don’t judge their action in light of their race. So if you see, say, an Indian driving fast in his car, don’t think “of course he drives recklessly, because they all drive like that in India,” or “of course the Asian woman got into an accident,” because you would not think “of course that white guy is racing around, because he thinks he’s Nascar.” Stereotypes hurt because you cease to think of people as individuals, and instead merely as products of their race. Once you stop thinking of people in light of their color, congrats, no reason to feel guilty for racism! (And also stop using racial slurs or believing any white supremacy nonsense). But that doesn’t excuse us from not working to ensure a society that is free of privilege based on color. Regardless of whether you like it or not, programs like affirmative action are not special privileges for black people, they are designed to combat the huge advantages that white people have in our society in order to ensure that blacks have an more equal opportunity to succeed, which in turn will alleviate the need for blacks to rely on the government for support (not that they get that much) as they become more self-sufficient as a whole (not if the corporations have anything to say about it). It is not a guilt-trip, sorry-we-enslaved-you-here-is-free-education-and-better-jobs-at-the-expense-of-white-people-forever.

why are some american wars so popular?

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The two most popular wars in American history, just based anecdotally on TV documentaries, books, movies, and video games, are the American Civil War and World War II.  Despite the youth of the country, the land now known as the United States has a long history of warfare. Just based off of this Wikipedia page, there are over well over eighty. I lost track towards the end. A cursory examination would suggest that of course these two wars, of huge significance to the country, would be the most popular and thus best represented in our various mediums And the appeal of the two wars is undeniable. But why the glut? Most consumers of media would agree that World War II content is oversaturated in the market, resulting in some fatigue and backlash, even as the war remains a prominent topic. Couldn’t there be room for a lesser known war to be represented? No, there is not, and due to reasons financial and cultural.

Let’s examine movies. If we look at two very successful American war films, Saving Private Ryan and The Patriot, and compare the international gross with the domestic gross, the result is roughly a 1:1 correlation in both cases. Most blockbusters expect to make the majority of their gross by the international market, which is much larger and therefore more lucrative, than the smaller domestic market. That’s why the studios tend to play to a wide audience, by dumbing down the material and laying in a lot of action. Poor dialogue doesn’t matter when most viewers will read subtitles in their own language. Having a broad audience also means that very “American” movies, that is, movies that deal with our history and therefore less universal, will always gross less. Let’s compare E.T.’s gross with Saving Private Ryan, since both are widely acclaimed Spielberg movies. E.T. made more at the international box office by a 2:1 margin compared to domestic. The latest Amazing Spider-Man likewise made almost double internationally, as did the first Pirates of the Caribbean. Purely on a financial basis, it makes more sense to create films with universal themes and no historical lessons required because you can double your money or at least make 50 percent more.

It must be said, of course, that is a large, domestic audience that will consume American films made for Americans. But these movies tend to be smaller, more family drama, and with far less of a budget. Not nearly enough for a proper war flick. But even if such a movie were to be funded, it is unlikely that it would be made. If you had clicked on the Wikipedia link and perused the list, you might have be a little stunned to see how many Indian wars the U.S. has engaged in. The death throes of a culture systematically wiped out by overwhelming and sophisticated force is hardly the invigorating story that we Americans like to hear. There is no way for us to feel like the victors, even as we are the victors. Likewise, wars that took place on the continent before the birth of the nation are equally unappealing. The Pequot War was one of savagery – on both sides – and unmitigated aggression. The genocide of the Arawaks won’t exactly inspire pride in the Great Explorer. The conquests of the Aztec and Incan empires would not, without a heaping dose of racism, be palatable. The same goes for the Mexican-American War, or the Fiji, Sumatran, or Korean expeditions. We don’t talk about the black ships. These are all wars of territorial conquest and aggression, not noble conflicts against evil. Even the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan have proven ill-fitting in let us put on our American flag pants. The only war that America has “lost” is the Vietnam War (though we did get our asses handed to us in 1812), which, when represented, is a symbol of callous military destruction and cruelty. It shows that war is hell.

World War II and the Civil War, on the other hand, are something to be proud of. In the former we saved the world and destroyed pure evil (Nazism, the Holocaust, and the Soviets are why the European theatre is more popular); we were just. In the latter, the North takes pride in the war fought to preserve the Union and end slavery, while the south feels it to be a noble war lost (perhaps somewhat how leftists feel about the Spanish Civil War), and marked the end of their “aristocratic golden era”, a war waged to preserve its culture. Plus, civil wars are always a topic of great interest in their respective countries.

This leaves one war that seems somehow made for a movie and never has, to my knowledge. The Seven Years’ War, or the French-Indian War in the U.S. The original global conflict, with combat theatres in Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines. Oh, but we don’t like stories that don’t involve us (or white people), which is why Toussaint Louverture’s story will likely never be told, and if it does then it will for some reason star a white guy. I’m not kidding about the racism; notice the conspicuous absence of blacks in war movies, especially in wars where they were active, like the Civil War and World War II. Glory and Red Tails are all that come to mind, neither of which grossed much at all. It’s why Driving Miss Daisy beat out Do the Right Thing and Glory for an Oscar and grossed almost three times as both films combined. At least at the time it seemed people were more comfortable with blacks in servile roles than in active roles, like killing white people and rioting. But that’s all behind us now, as 12 Years a Slave won an Oscar, which coincidentally had to be made by the British, and was still out grossed by American Hustle despite, in all honesty, being one of the most important films in decades. And belabor to point only a little more, any statistic will show that women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and any other minority (like transgender), are grossly underrepresented in our mainstream media.

finally, an apt hitler comparison

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Hitler, ever the boogeyman of the Western World, is one name that truly suffers from the extreme hyperbole it is subjected to on a daily basis. If someone is strict in some regard they can be a grammar nazi, or the supposed extreme feminists called Feminazis. One partisan propaganda machine is compared to that of Goebbels by the opposite party. If you are extreme left you get called a Nazi, the extreme right you are fascist. Most abusers of language don’t understand the danger that this exaggeration places people in. By removing Nazism from its context and what it was, and shoving it into inane, untenable portmanteaus that serve no purpose other than disparagement, we run the risk of making the terms Hitler, Nazi, and fascism meaningless. We stop seeing the actual dangers of fascism and fascist-like ideologies, and merely understand the words to connote evil or strict.

For once we are actually seeing references to Nazi Germany in an appropriate manner, even if quite a bit of damage has already been done. I noted in myself how weary I am of comparisons to the rise of the Third Reich, but what is happening in Ukraine right now fits the description well. Much like Germany, Russia is using the excuse of protecting Russian interests and ethnic Russians. The former apology is one that has been used very often in American history: The Spanish-American War, almost invading Mexico during their revolution, as well as various occupations of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the whole (long) list of supporting coup d’états in order to establish pro-American governments. The latter, however, rings of the Nazi Germany and lebensraum. Russia has no business trying to “protect” people of Russian heritage. As a state, its only duty is to its citizens, which can potentially be of any heritage. There are Russians all over the world, does that mean Russia would occupy a Russian concentrated area in the U.S. to protect ethnic Russians? No, it’s obviously a false pretense, and an excuse to justify their actions.

The recent, increased suppression of homosexuals in Russia also speaks to a historical precedent. Sochi, in hindsight, feels reminiscent of the ’36 Berlin Olympics, as the issue of the recent event was homosexual rights, while the past was noted for how race played into the politics of the games. What Putin is accomplishing here is creating a straw man, blaming homosexuals for the erosion of Russian cultural values and diminishing Russia’s power. The anti-gay laws that were enacted were designed to remove homosexuality from the public sphere. If this trend continues, it will be almost exactly like the methods used against Jews during the Shoah, which marginalized Jews to outside of the rest of the population with rules that singled them out, took away their rights, and with resettlement and ghettos allowed for their elimination almost outside of the public’s eyesight. Much in the way that Hitler was able to use anti-Semitic sentiments to rouse his base, Putin is also consolidated power by demonstrating strength with a military buildup (classic Hitler move), finding a group culpable for the loss of culture, and engaging in imperial expansion under the pretense of aiding Russians outside the country. That is lebensraum, though I don’t know the word for it in Russian. This is all more Third Reich than it is Soviet Union; it is not a return to the cold war, but an imperialist moment in a time when we all thought there would be no more European wars of conquest.

In no way am I advocating that we should go to war with Russia right now. Neville Chamberlain continues to receive posthumous flak for pussyfooting with Hitler, and the result was that Hitler became emboldened, or so the story goes. A lot of American pundits no doubt want to compare Obama to Chamberlain, a typical American-centric view of the world, especially ignorant today as Merkel is by far the most important player other than Putin in this dangerous game. My point though, is that Chamberlain, some have argued, was strategically delaying the war, because Great Britain did not have the necessary force to combat Hitler, especially after the Great Depression. Today we are (supposedly) just leaving our Great Recession, and war may be at our doorsteps. It is true that we have the most formidable military in the world, and would likely have the backing of the EU and maybe even China. But, because not a single shot has been fired yet, it will do the whole world good to work diplomacy to the best that we can. Once the shooting starts there is no guarantee it can be stopped until many bodies have paid the price. Long before that, we should exhaust our diplomatic resources to end this affair as bloodlessly as we can.

 

Oh, did I forget to mention South Ossetia?

some votes are more equal than other votes

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Every election brings on the debate about the Electoral College, even as there is no real prospect of its abolition, nor is the debate taken seriously. It is merely a part of our system that we accept, an antiquated, uniquely American institution that endures like U.S. customary units. Some people even defend the Electoral College, either by hewing to the old apology as a means of combatting the idiocy of the voting majority (which I admit, is rare and you won’t see it any respectable media), or by arguing that it is simply a quirky way to measure the vote, but ultimately works. Some think that it protects the less populated states from tyranny by the big states, the rationale for the two senators each state gets. But what is failed to address is how undemocratic the Electoral College is, and the way that it skews the entire political system for the benefit of the two major parties at the expense of the American public.

The simplest way to gauge this is by examining the amount of electoral votes a state receives in contrast with its population. The other manner is to look at the existence of swing states. Let’s take two states as exemplars, California and Wyoming. With a population of 38,332,521 by a 2013 estimate, the state receives 55 electoral votes. That means that each electoral vote is worth 696,954.9 people. The national population (~317,677,000), divided by the total number of electoral votes (538), comes to 590,477.7. By that measure, California should have 64.9 electoral votes. You can round that up or down if you want to, but that means California is shorted at least 9 electoral votes, or in other words, the votes of 5.9 million Californians do not count.

Of course, not all Californians can or do vote, but the points and representation that a state receives is not based on its voting age population but its total population. In comparison with Wyoming, which receives three electoral votes with a population of 582,658, eight thousand under the average for just one point, California is underrepresented and Wyoming is overrepresented. A Wyomingite’s vote is worth more than three times the vote of a Californian. The fact that state populations rise and fall in contrast to each other over the ten years between censuses, as well as the variations in voter turnout among the states, means that your vote may be worth less or more in compared to other Americans in other states. Changes like in Maine and Nebraska, which apportion electoral votes based on districts, still do not fix the inherent inequality between the worth of some votes. The problem is not winner-take-all but the Electoral College itself; amending how electoral votes are given to candidates does not address that Californian votes will be less valued then Wyoming votes, though it would be a step in the right direction.

Swing states increase the disfranchisement of voters by allowing candidates to rely on their bases to carry party-dominated states. Thus you will see candidates campaigning not for the country but for Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, and the various “purple” states. This means that the needs of Wyomingites and Californians, and other blue and red states are under-addressed by the candidate. The argument that this moderates candidate ideology to fit these middle-of-the-road states does not hold water, nor is it worthwhile. A greater sin, in my opinion, is that the Electoral College almost completely precludes the viability of third-party candidates, who may not have any state as a base but pockets of support around the country. This can only serve the two major parties. From a capitalistic perspective, the Republican and Democratic parties maintain a duopoly on American politics, and without any competition, have no incentive to improve or do better. From a social democratic perspective, to borrow the term from Chomsky, the “capitalist party”, being both the Republicans and the Democrats, are able to maintain their hegemony and continue to be unaccountable to a voting public without any alternative.

By ridding ourselves of the Electoral College, candidates will be more beholden to the whole voting population, all of whose votes will matter equally, and it will mean that a candidate has to campaign all over the country. Republicans will be able to find votes in California, and a Democrat can stump in Texas for some actual gains. Independents and third party candidates will also be able to find support that is not geographical locked and overwhelmed by the local majorities. As it is now, only the two parties get any benefit from this system today.

what i remember about school in (near) detroit

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I grew up in suburb a few minutes outside of Detroit, one which was mostly white until late. A lot of the white residents blame a realtor there for bringing the blacks to the city, and thereby ruining it. It’s a laughable statement, because the street I grew up on, almost entirely white except for the hint of color my family brought, was a little crime ridden. There were two or three drug busts on the street. I remember the FBI came to a neighbor’s just across the street from my own because the two mentally disturbed brothers were stealing mail. Crime doesn’t have a color; it is only a disease which festers in the pockets it can find. Of course, those areas are poor. At least, how most people imagine crime. White collar crime hardly constitutes illegal activity, and really, who does hurt, right? Certainly not the homeowner who buys a brand new house that is poorly insulated and poorly constructed, that requires a large of part of the subdivision to pay for new windows and doors and new roofing after less than ten years (I almost forgot to mention the siding is rotting) all developed by a company that with great timing folded within a year of the development of the area, just before the bubble burst. That’s my parent’s house. It’s worth mentioning that somehow most of the people of color in that subdivision have been grouped onto one street, locally called “The Hood” because of its concentration of Egyptians, Mexicans, Chaldeans, and blacks. I’m sure the realtors had nothing to do with that.

            But I have a focus here I don’t mean to divagate from. In elementary school, the student population was less than a quarter black. I was only slightly conscious of it at the time, but minority students were grouped together and given the worst teacher in each grade. In fourth grade, I was placed in the minority dominant class, which the teacher did not handle, and which I, being a straight A student, grew extremely frustrated in. I liked learning, I wanted to learn, and not being able to made the class unbearable. My mother had to petition the school to have me placed in another class. I’d like that to sink in. Some idiot racist may think that it’s better to keep the minorities together so that everyone else can learn properly, let the disruptive group keep to themselves. Aside from the obvious stupidity of such sentiments, there is a little grain of truth to it. The black students were not the best performing students. But to me that is not surprising.

 

            As I mentioned before, I was not very conscious of this at this time, mostly because I was not affected by racism in the same way that the black students were. My brother and I were the only Hispanics in the entire school, and prejudice against Hispanics is not as strong in Detroit, if only because of the relative scarcity and our distance from the border. We could also kind of pass. I was an excellent student and behaved well, so even if a teacher held my Mexican heritage against me, I’d most likely be held up as a credit to my race. I do remember being sent to a speech therapist once though, and maybe that was fucked up because my English was fine and I didn’t even speak Spanish when I was young. The therapist was a little confused because she agreed that I had no problem with speaking, and the other girl who saw her with me had a very strong lisp for which she was perpetually made fun of. Another digression, yes, but this is rather complicated and subtle. The big picture only comes with the accumulation of details.

 

I have a very strong memory of an interaction between a black student and a teacher in class once, it shocked me at the time, and it continues to have a strong effect on me. A student had asked something about Arabs, but she pronounced it Ay-rab instead of Air-ub. While I understand that this is a slur, it is also common for the uneducated to mispronounce things, like Eye-talian instead of Ih-talian. My father says Ay-rab, and he means it without offense. It is in part due to the tendency of English speakers to frontload, to put the emphasis on the first syllable. Let’s look at a bunch of words we do that with: English, Mexican, Franklin, Arthur, Angela, Jordan, Georgia. So instead of correcting a young fourth grader who I highly doubt understood the negative connotation of mispronouncing Arab, the teacher told her that Martin Luther King would be ashamed of her, and she said it with all the fury that she could muster. The class was silent for at least a minute, and the girl’s mouth hung open. It was obvious she didn’t even understand what she did. To her credit, she didn’t mouth off, nor did she cry. She was really tough. I know that in her position I might have cried, because I once almost did when I got in trouble for something I didn’t do. I’ll never forget that day. Even that young I knew it was a fucked up thing to say to a child. But it was more than that day. The black girls were never doted upon like the white girls were. The black students never received as much help, and they always got into more trouble than the other kids for doing the same things. If you got into a kerfuffle with a black kid, the lunch moms or the teacher generally took your side, which was great for you if you were white and in the wrong. I, somewhat unwittingly, took advantage of that loophole a few times to save my own neck, because as kids we can be shitty to save ourselves. Well, I was.

 

I do remember one black girl crying to the teacher – this was around first grade – because she never believed her when she told her someone was picking on her or took her things, or ever took her side. The teacher felt bad about it. But that’s what went on. It’s no surprise to me that black students underperform in an environment that is hostile to them, or even makes them feel unwanted. Well, they just need to buck up and hit the books harder to make something of themselves, some asshole racist might say. Never mind of course how school, where we are supposed to do just that, becomes connected with alienation and distrust for many black youth. Ask any kid who is bullied how hard it is to want to be in school when you are uncomfortable being there. America bullies its black students and then blames them for underachievement as indicative of their race. And it’s all done by people who don’t even realize they are doing it.