Eric Garner and the Plague of Police Brutality Against Black Men
If you haven’t heard about Eric Garner yet, let me fill you in. He was a 43-year-old father of six who lived in Staten Island, and he died in the street on Thursday after as many as four New York police officers choked him and slammed his head on the ground. The NYPD told the Associated Press that they stopped Garner because he was selling untaxed cigarettes, something he’d been arrested for before. However, witnesses who spoke with local news website Staten Island Live have basically said that’s bullshit. Ramsey Orta, who was on the scene and shot a now infamous video that is making the rounds, can be heard in the clip saying that all Garner had done to get bothered by the police was break up a fight.
In the video, Garner denies any wrongdoing and asks why he’s being hassled. “Every time you see me you want to mess with me,” he says in an exasperated tone that most men of color across this country can relate to. Garner, who was 400 pounds and has been described by people who knew him as a “gentle giant,” suffered from chronic asthma and police claim his death was the result of a heart attack suffered during the arrest.
Police say that Garner made a “fighting stance” and resisted arrest. Which, based on the video clip, is complete nonsense, considering we can see him pleading to the officers, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” before going completely silent as several officers pile on him.
The video of Garner’s death is disgusting, but I can’t say I was shocked or even outraged the first time I watched it. At this point, as someone who’s read and written about some of these stories time and time again—and who’s had firsthand experiences with the way cops treat black males—this kind of reprehensible shit is not surprising at all. After so many cases like Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, you start to feel desensitized by the seemingly insurmountable injustice that plagues communities of color.
South Korea’s Not-So-Subtle Racist Hiring Practices
Every year, hundreds of young English speakers drift into East Asia, looking to while away a couple of aimless years between college and the inevitable round of grad school applications that await them back home. Korea is an especially popular destination: The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education alone plans to hire 655 foreign teachers in 2014, a fraction of the 22,000 expat educators working in the country. But if you want to teach English in Korea, it’s a lot easier if you’re white.
For most would-be instructors, the racism begins before the even get through the door, thanks to the standard South Korean practice of requiring applicants to submit photos alongside their resumes. Some employers are more blunt: A recent Craigslist ad for English teachers from TalknLearn, a Seoul language academy, simply states, “Need: White” on its list of required qualifications. When black teachers do make it into the classroom, they’re often passed over in favor of their white counterparts.
“I’ve had kids pulled from my class and placed in Caucasian teachers’ classes due to the request of the parents wanting their child to learn from a white American and not a black one,” said Megan Stevinson, an American English teacher in Seoul, whose parents are black and Korean.
“I’m not everyone’s cup of tea,” she said. “There are people who can’t stand me, and others who love me. But I’m willing to be disliked.”
Meet Mikki Kendall
We Interviewed the Black Undercover Cop Who Infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan
These days the Ku Klux Klan is mostly an unfunny joke, a smattering of ignorant racists who play dress-up and hold poorly planned, sparsely attended rallies to protest the renaming of parks. But half a century ago the Klan’s power stretched from coast to coast, and members of the hooded hate group carried out firebombing attacks and murdered Civil Rights workers in the South. In the 1970s, internal conflicts and infiltration by the FBI weakened the Klan, but it was still dangerous enough that in 1979 KKK members killed five protesters in North Carolina.
It was during this era that Ron Stallworth, the first black cop in Colorado Springs, infiltrated the local Klan organization. He first made headlines in 2006 when he went public with his story and explained how he stumbled upon the Klan and managed to become a leader in the local chapter by faking racist sentiments over the phone and sending a white colleague to meetings in his stead. He just released a book, Black Klansman, about his experience, so I figured now was as good a time as any to talk about how he pulled off a trick straight out of Blazing Saddles (and one that made for the first great skit on Dave Chappelle’s short-lived TV show).
So how did you first get assigned to keeping tabs on the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado?
I was assigned to the intelligence section of my department, and in intelligence you handle a variety of issues: criminal intelligence, organized crime, VIP protection. One of the things we routinely did was read the newspapers to see what, if anything, in there might warrant our attention. I saw this classified ad that said Ku Klux Klan, and there was a PO box address, so I wrote a little letter basically under the guise of being a white racist: I said I hated all niggers, Jews, spics, chinks, wops. I used all the derogatory terms for the various races they like to use. And I said I wanted to do something about it, that I wanted—to use a popular term of the day—to take back our country from these people, But I made a crucial mistake: I signed my real name to the letter. To be quite honest with you, I had a brain cramp. So I signed my real name to this letter instead of one of my undercover names, but then I put the undercover phone number and PO box we used. I honestly thought that the PO box on the classified ad was not legitimate, but responded to it just in case. I was expecting to get a leaflet or pamphlet. That’s as far as I expected it go.
What happened next—how did they bring you into the fold?
Maybe a week later, I got a phone call at the undercover phone line in my office. I answered it, and the guy on the other end of the line said, “Am I speaking to Ron Stallworth?” I sat there thinking, Who the heck is calling me on this line? And then he explained he was the local organizer of the Ku Klux Klan. That’s how he referred to himself. He said he had gotten my letter. And that’s when I realized: Uh oh, I gotta come up with a plan real quick.
He wanted to know why I decided to join my Klan. I told him again I hated niggers, Jews, spics, chinks, wops, Mexicans, and they were taking over the country and I wanted to take our country back. Again, the rhetoric you’re hearing today, I was using back then. And then I added something else to flavor it up a bit: I said my sister is dating a nigger and every time he puts his filthy black hands on her white body, it pisses me off and I want to do something to stop that from happening in the future. He responded by saying, “You’re just the kind of guy we’re looking for!” and, “How can we meet?”
That’s how this investigation started. Obviously I couldn’t meet him because of my skin color, so I postponed our meeting for a week to give me time to set something up. We talked further. I tried to get him to tell me how big they were. He wouldn’t, but said they were relatively small. Most of ‘em were from Fort Carson, Colorado. He told me he was a soldier at Fort Carson. I asked him activities they were planning to do as a group. This started in October of ‘78, this conversation. One of the things they were planning to do was have a Poor White Folks Christmas during the holiday season in which they would give care packages to poor white families. He said all niggers ever did was take advantage of white people by gaming the system—welfare and things like that. He said Jews control the system, and they use niggers to do their evil deeds. Nobody ever thought about poor whites.
Read the whole interview
Their Eyes Were Watching Twitter: Mikki Kendall and Her Online Beefs with White Feminists
You don’t need to know anything about the history of racial tension among white and black feminists to understand Mikki Kendall. But it helps. In 1870, a good many white suffragists opposed the passage of the 15th Amendment—which allowed African American men to vote—on the grounds that black males ought not to be given voting rights before white women. Frances Willard, a leader of the suffragist movement, even supported the predilection for lynching beloved by her white sisters below the Mason-Dixon Line. In an 1890 interview with the New York Voice, Willard said that “the best white people” down South had told her that “great, dark-faced mobs,” multiplying “like the locusts of Egypt,” had threatened “the safety of woman, of childhood, [and] the home.” Such an onslaught necessitated a vigorous defense, she believed, often by men in white sheets. A pioneering black journalist and suffragist named Ida B. Wells had the temerity to confront Willard. But Willard and other white feminists were unapologetic and attacked Wells. She had transgressed a bedrock principle of the nascent women’s movement: Women don’t criticize other women. They stand in solidarity.
One morning last August, Kendall, who is black, had Ida Wells in mind as she debated whether or not to violate this principle. An aspiring writer and full-time office worker for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Chicago, Kendall was curled up on a red love seat in the living room of her Hyde Park apartment, her computer perched on a small lap desk. She was thinking about “cuss[ing] out” Jill Filipovic, a white feminist writer and editor with whom Kendall had a Twitter beef. The origins of said beef are baroque and often confusing and always of the “(s)he tweeted, she tweeted variety.” To follow its thread requires one to know (and care) about the Twitter doings of a defrocked male feminist named Hugo Schwyzer, a young woman who goes by the Twitter handle @Blackamazon, and whether or not Filipovic had expressed support for the former at the expense of the latter. But the real import was Kendall’s belief that white feminists—not necessarily Filipovic, a reasonable sort who makes a poor target—behave in a Willardesque fashion and go unchallenged because of that same historical call to solidarity.
Kendall chose not to curse at Filipovic and instead drafted a hashtag: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. The slogan meant to reference the long history of internecine feminist discord, one in which black women are obliged to suppress their needs in defense of white prerogatives. She began riffing on #Solidarity, again and again and again, in more than 40 tweets: “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when you ignore the culpability of white women in lynching, Jim Crow, & in modern day racism”; “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when you idolize Susan B. Anthony & claim her racism didn’t matter”; “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when feminist discussions of misogyny in music ignore the lyrics of [the Rolling Stones song] Brown Sugar.”
She knocked out scores of Tweets in an hour, tapping the rich vein of black female marginalization until Twitter locked her out for over-tweeting. (This, apparently, is possible.) So she hopped off the couch and made herself a snack. By the time she returned to her computer she was famous.
Rich Kenyans Are Injecting Themselves with Black Market Creams to Become White
The popularity of skin-bleaching injections has rocketed over the last 18 months. The trade in black market creams and injections is completely unregulated. There is no way of knowing just how dangerous they are.
Michael Jordan Says He Was Racist as a Teen
Welcome to another edition of This Week in Racism. I’ll be ranking news stories on a scale of one to RACIST, with “one” being the least racist and “RACIST” being the most racist.
–NBA legend Michael Jordan makes a shocking admission in an upcoming book about this life. The New York Post reported that in Michael Jordan: The Life by Ronald Lazenby, the Hall of Famer admits that as a teenager, he had contempt for all white people. Jordan grew up in North Carolina during the 1970s, in a hotbed of KKK activity. In the book, Jordan recounts a story where he threw a soda at a girl who called him a “nigger.”
“I was really rebelling. I considered myself a racist at the time. Basically, I was against all white people,” Jordan is quoted as saying. Of course, saying you used to be a racist isn’t a crime. There are a lot of awesome ex-racists out there. The guy from American History X, Paula Deen, the late Strom Thurmond, Michael Richards, and Mel Gibson all used to beracist. They saw the error of their ways and evolved. Same with Air Jordan. Eventually, Michael Jordan saw the many, many great things about white people. Golf, cigars, polo shirts, and money are all awesome. I bet some of Michael Jordan’s best friends are white. I bet the guys who fly Michael Jordan’s private plane and details his fleet of luxury automobiles are white.
It’s easy to hate when you are given ample reasons to do so. Having racial slurs (and actual physical objects) thrown at you is a pretty difficult rationale to quibble with, and I’m sure there are white people, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans who have similar reasons for being prejudiced. It’s even harder to avoid feelings of ill will when you’re trapped in a small town where races don’t easily mix. Once Michael Jordan’s talent developed and he was clearly destined to be special, it was no longer practical to hate.
As the world around you grows, so does your perspective. Maybe that doesn’t always happen, but it does more often than not. Unfortunately, not everyone can be as wealthy and gifted as Michael Jordan. “Be Like Mike” is less a slogan than a thinly veiled taunt. People of all races benefit from more opportunity, even if they can’t dunk. The more comfortable society becomes with ignoring economic and social disparities, the more racial tension will develop. If only people like Michael Jordan would speak up more.
Continue This Week in Racism
How Poor Young Black Men Run from the Police
Alice Goffman is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (out this month on University of Chicago Press), has been getting far more attention than academic works usually get. The book is a result of her living in a poor black neighborhood in Philadelphia she refers to as “6th Street” for years as an undergraduate and a grad student. (She changed the names of people and places in her book.) She eventually fell in with a group of young men who were almost constantly under the threat of being arrested and jailed, often for petty probation violations or unpaid court fees. She became a “fly on the wall” and took notes as her subjects (who were also her friends) attempted to make a living, support each other, and maintain relationships with their loved ones, all while attempting to evade the authorities. Goffman’s work shows how the threat of imprisonment hangs over the lives of so many in communities like 6th Street and warps families and friendships in the process. It’s an uncommonly close look at how lives are lived under police surveillance and should be read by anyone with an interest in poverty, policing, or mass incarceration. This excerpt is from the second chapter, which is titled “Techniques for Evading the Authorities.”
A young man concerned that the police will take him into custody comes to see danger and risk in the mundane doings of everyday life. To survive outside prison, he learns to hesitate when others walk casually forward, to see what others fail to notice, to fear what others trust or take for granted.
One of the first things that such a man develops is a heightened awareness of police officers—what they look like, how they move, where and when they are likely to appear. He learns the models of their undercover cars, the ways they hold their bodies and the cut of their hair, the timing and location of their typical routes. His awareness of the police never seems to leave him; he sees them sitting in plain clothes at the mall food court with their children; he spots them in his rearview mirror coming up behind him on the highway, from ten cars and three lanes away. Sometimes he finds that his body anticipates their arrival with sweat and a quickened heartbeat before his mind consciously registers any sign of their appearance.
When I first met Mike, I thought his awareness of the police was a special gift, unique to him. Then I realized Chuck also seemed to know when the police were coming. So did Alex. When they sensed the police were near, they did what other young men in the neighborhood did: they ran and hid.