The fact that Sharpton dealt in the underworld 30 years ago isn’t really news. The value of the Smoking Gun report is mainly historic—it offers a glimpse into Sharpton’s past life, before Obama and MSNBC, Upper West Side apartments, and private cigar clubs. It takes us back to a time when Al Sharpton wore tracksuits, weighed 300 pounds, and incited riots. Which gets at the real question: Why are we still talking about Al Sharpton?
The Many Mysteries of Al Sharpton
It’s Wednesday morning, the first day of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention, and D’Juan Collins is telling me how the state took his son and won’t give him back. A slight man in a linen button-down and a Bluetooth earpiece, Collins is passing out flyers with a baby photo of his son Isaiah and a plug for his site, www.SaveIsaiah.com. Isaiah, now seven, was put into foster care in 2007, when Collins was sent to prison. When I ask what he was sent in for, he demurs. The conviction was overturned last year, he says, but Brooklyn Family Court and the foster care agency have declined to return custody of his son.
He has come here, to Sharpton’s annual civil rights confab, to get help. “I’m all about networking,” Collins explains, “because I can’t do this alone.”
If the Reverend Al Sharpton has a nexus of power, it is here, in the sweaty third-floor ballroom of the Sheraton Times Square, where more than 6,000 activists have assembled to talk shop at panels with titles like “American Holsters: How the Gun Won,” “The Role of Media in Crafting the Social Narrative,” and “Truth to Power Revival.” Outwardly, the annual civil rights hoedown is an essentially political event, a display of the influence Sharpton has aggressively cultivated over three decades in the national spotlight. But the convention is also a yearly pilgrimage for people, like Collins, who have been beaten by the system, screwed by insidious and structural racism that has stacked the deck against them. Because Al Sharpton, in addition to being a syndicated radio host, prime-time MSNBC talking head, and personal friend of the president, is still the guy you call when your kid gets shot.
Everyone I meet on Wednesday has a story. One woman at the conference tells me she’s here for the first time this year because her nephew was killed in Harlem last week, and she wants to “talk to the reverend about gun control.” Another spends the morning passing out yard signs that read: “My Civil Rights Were Violated.”
In some circles, Sharpton is considered ridiculous—a 90s race-riot relic turned smug cable-news hack. It’s easy to forget that he is probably the most powerful civil rights leader in the country, and a political kingmaker whose influence is evidenced by the parade of liberal pols who drop by his conference every year to pay their respects. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was on hand Wednesday, as was Attorney General Eric Holder and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. President Obama is headlining Friday.
This Week in Racism: The #CancelColbert Debate Is the Funniest Thing to Ever Happen
-If there’s one thing I believe the human race can totally agree on, it’s that comedy only gets better the more you dissect it. For instance, the classic joke, “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side,” surprises the recipient of the joke with its literal, non-punchline. It’s a pure form of anti-comedy, the “Nick Cannon in whiteface" of one-liners. Isn’t that joke so much funnier now that I’ve explained it? I thought so.
Last week was a real golden age of comedy, thanks in no small part to the#CancelColbert controversy. Like with all the best art (textbooks, CliffsNotes, the Transformers movie series), the meaning needs to be super clear, or it’s not good. That’s not a suggestion. That’s, like, a rule.
Writer/activist/excellent comedian Suey Park and TV personality/white person Stephen Colbert both learned this powerful lesson through the course of last week’s controversy over Colbert’s joke about the Washington Redskins’ Native American outreach foundation. The Twitter account for The Colbert Report tweeted an out-of-context quote on the subject that contained a racial slur against Asians. That caused Park to create the #CancelColbert hashtag and blow up the internet for a few days. Conservative pundits, often the ones getting accused of racism, jumped at the chance to give their hybrid-driving competition a taste of their own medicine. You go, Michelle Malkin! You’ve really earned it.
Eventually, Colbert went on his show and explained that what everyone was upset about was a joke, specifically a satirical dig at Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s insistence on his football team having a racially insensitive nickname. At that point, the joke took off, growing from a mildly amusing larva of social commentary into a full-blown comedy butterfly. And yet… something was missing. What if there was yet another layer of sarcasm at play here? What if… Suey Park was just kidding the whole time too?
Shit’s about to get real.
In an interview with popular comedy blog Salon.com, Suey Park explained—in agonizingly funny detail—how she’s actually a fan of Colbert and that she was merely trying to point out how white people are allowed the benefit of context, but minorities don’t receive the same privilege. Allow Ms. Park to explain further:
"A lot of white America and so-called liberal people of color, along with conservatives, ask, “Do I understand context?” And that’s part of wanting to completely humanize the oppressor. To see the white man as always reasonable, always pure, always deliberate, always complex and always innocent. And to see the woman of color as literal. Both my intent behind the hashtag and in my [unintelligible] distance, is always about forcing an apology on me for not understanding their context when, in reality, they misunderstood us when they made us a punch line again. So it’s always this logic of how can we understand whiteness better, and that’s never been my politics. I’ve always been about occupying the margins and strengthening the margins and what that means is that, for a long time, whiteness has also occupied the margins. Like, people of color get in circles with no white people in the room and we see that whiteness still operates. So I think it’s kind of a shock for America that whiteness has dominant society already, it also seeps into the margins. What happens the one time when the margins seep into the whiteness and we encroach on their space? It’s like the sky is falling."
I’m not sure who’s being misunderstood, who’s lacking context, or what “margins seep into the whiteness” means (maybe a Sarah McLachlan lyric?) What I do know is that the above block of text is very, very funny. I encourage comedians everywhere to explain themselves more. Based on the media’s fixation with this story, it seems like a sure way to up your Klout score. HILARIOUS
Can MDMA Make You Racist?
You don’t have a lot of time for rational thought after dropping a pill. Three Mitsis in and you’re almost entirely preoccupied with finding out what people’s scarves feel like, or trying to focus on literally anything through your rapidly flickering eyes. So you’d have thought that amid all the euphoria and heart palpitations there surely wouldn’t be space to get hung up on the ethnicity of the people around you.
It turns out, however, that the brain’s biochemistry during a blissed-out club night may not be too dissimilar from its status at a KKK rally. This is thanks to a hormone called oxytocin, which has been described by many as "the love hormone" or the "cuddle drug." The hormone has been linked to developing trust between mother and child during breast feeding, and between partners after intercourse. Its release is also triggered by MDMA, and that loved-up feeling you get after swallowing a pill has been attributed to the effects the hormone has on the brain.
However, research by professor Carsten de Dreu at the University of Amsterdam showed in 2011 that oxytocin had a slightly more sinister side. His experiments revealed that what many thought of as the “moral molecule” actually contributed to what scientists euphemistically refer to as “ethnocentrism,” or what the layman would call racism.
Participants in de Dreu’s study were presented with a dilemma in which they had to deny one person access to a lifeboat in order to save five others. In the double-blind experiment, Dutch men were given either oxytocin via a nasal spray or a placebo. The results showed that those taking oxytocin were more likely to spare men with Dutch names while sacrificing those with Muslim- or German-sounding names. For those who were given the placebo, however, the name of the potential victim didn’t matter.
Inside the Kafkaesque World of the US’s ‘Little Guantanamos’
We sat together on her couch, her small, eight-year-old hands clutching a photo of her father, Yassin Aref. “My daddy only held me twice before I was five,” Dilnia told me. For the first five years of her life, she only knew him as the man on the other side of a plexiglass window in a communication management unit in an Indiana federal penitentiary.
Prisoners describe the communication management units, or CMUs, as “Little Guantánamos.” In 2006, the Bureau of Prisons created two of these units to isolate and segregate specific prisoners, the majority of them convicted of crimes related to terrorism. The bureau secretly opened these units without informing the public and without allowing anyone an opportunity to comment on their creation, as required by law. By September 2009, about 70 percent of the CMU prisoners were Muslim, more than 1,000 to 1,200 percent more than the federal prison average of Muslim inmates.
In the CMUs, prisoners are subject to much stricter rules than in general population. They are limited to two 15-minute telephone calls per week, both scheduled and monitored. Visits are rarely permitted, and when family members are allowed to visit, they are banned from physical contact, limited to phone conversations between a plexiglass window. This differs from the general population, where prisoners can spend time with their visitors in the same room. To further the isolation, some of the CMU prisoners are held in solitary confinement, with only one hour out of their cells each day.
'Microaggression' Is a Stupid Word That You Should Take Seriously
“So where are you from?” It’s innocent enough, that question—a way to break the ice when no more can be said about the weather. But if you aren’t White, there’s a good chance it will be followed by one of the most cringe-inducing sentences in the White lexicon: “No, I mean originally.”
That’s never asked of me, mind you. No one ever wants to know where I came from, since I’m pale enough and sufficiently boring-looking to appear to other White people as a born-and-raised American, which I often lament that I am. That question, when I’ve heard it, is always posed to a friend of mine, who always responds the same way: “Ca-li-for-ni-a.” This always comes out sounding a bit like “Fuck. You.” It inevitably causes offense, this matter-of-fact response. It isn’t what people—White people—want to hear. They feel cheated.
“Oh, you know what I meant,” they always groan, the word asshole on the tip of their tongue.
The problem is apparently my friend, who isn’t White and looks “exotic” to people whose idea of exotic is a beer with a lime. My friend isn’t pale like me, which means he’s a walking zoo exhibit from the coasts to the country, always expected to respond to strangers’ interrogations about his native land with a smile and a careful recounting of his family tree.
“Yeah, I have a Ku Klux Klan outfit, so what?”
That’s how I was going to start this review, but truth is I very much hate the damn thing and wish I could get rid of it. Over the past eight years of owning my home, I’ve gone to great lengths to discard some sketchy shit that has been sent to my house to review and that, for whatever reason, I’ve held on to over the years.
I’ve had the bottom of a washing-machine box full of old, cumbersome VHS porn fall out in my arms at the local dump. I’ve filled convenience-store dumpsters with bags full of transsexual DVDs that I could not trade or even give away to transients I met on the street. I’ve thrown duffel bags of worn-out and/or melted silicone dildos off highway overpasses, in hopes of not allowing my garbagemen to find out the true depths of my sexual deviance. (Ever since, I’ve wondered why two dildos melt together when stored on top of each other.) But when it comes to the old yellow plastic bag that the KKK outfit has sat in for the past decade, I’ve never been able to bring myself to even touch it.
For the record, regardless of how much I enjoy sporting a Hitler mustache and making jokes at the expense of old Hitzy, there was never a time when I was mildly interested in the KKK, even for comedic value; I hate white people just as much as the next guy, and certainly more than every other race. I’m not entirely sure how the damn thing came into my possession. It was purchased online and worn by my good friend and former colleague Dave Carnie for the photo to the left, which ran in the now-defunct rabble-rousing skateboard magazine Big Brother’s race-themed “White Issue.” My best guess is that when Larry Flynt killed the magazine in 2004, we were given 24 hours to clean out the offices, and in a mad scramble our possessions were boxed up haphazardly and shipped to our various homes.
We love costumes in our house. We have bins and bins of masks and outfits and wigs and such, but nothing like the Klan robe and hood. They’re pure evil. Like the evil ring in The Hobbit, they laid dormant in a storage facility for many years… until we moved into our home and my wife found them while unpacking. Of course, my first instinct was to get her to try on the hood in the nude for some sexy photos, but she would have no part of it. I tried it on and immediately threw it to the floor as if it were burning my face. I felt like I couldn’t breathe in the thing; it was as if 150 years’ worth of dumb rednecks were standing on my chest as they drowned me in a shallow puddle of moonshine. But I didn’t know what to do with it; I certainly wasn’t going to leave it in my trash can for my African-American garbagemen to find. So I stuck it back in the attic until I could figure out how to properly dispose of it.
Angry French Bigots… On Acid!
In early January, a bunch of bigoted French people gathered in Paris’s Bastille Square to celebrate their rage with a “Day of Anger.” About 20,000 of them turned up in the rain to complain about various things. Some were mad at the country’s President, François Hollande, for being too much of a liberal. Some were mad about abortion. A whole bunch of them were mad about gays. And the Jews. Quite a few people were mad about the Jews.
Anyway, our friend Félix dropped a tab, walked around, and talked to all the pissed off people. We hope you enjoy it at least as much as he did.
We Interviewed the White Supremacist Running for Mayor of Toronto
Don Andrews is a self-described white racist and the leader of the Nationalist Party of Canada. He co-founded far-right white supremacist group the Edmund Burke Societyand waged war with Toronto’s communists in the 70s. His front door and car have been bombed by various resistance groups, and a house he owned was burned down while he was on vacation in Mexico. Don’s other claims to fame include being the first person in Canada to be charged with promoting hate and having Toronto’s laws changed specifically because of him—he came in a distant second in the 1974 mayoral elections, but that scared council enough to change the law that said the runner-up would take the mayor’s place if the position became vacant between elections. (Today, council gets to choose the replacement.) He’s run multiple times since then, his previous attempt being in 2010.
After hearing that he had put his name in the race for the 2014 election, I decided to visit Don in his home near the Beaches neighborhood. As a little Asian girl who used to hang out with anarchists, you can imagine that I was a little apprehensive meeting the guy at his home. What I wasn’t expecting was to be welcomed into the house by a heavily limping 71-year-old man who’s fairly well versed in history and geography. Nor did I expect to have a civil, in-depth interview with Andrews that lasted over an hour. The following is an edited excerpt of our conversation.
VICE: On Wikipedia, you’re identified as a Neo-Nazi. Do you agree with that label?
Don Andrews: Well what does “neo” mean? “New” or “like”? I’m not a new Nazi, OK? [Am I] like a Nazi? Well the Nazis were imperialists. They took off and tried to subjugate other peoples. I’m against that. I’m a nationalist. So I’m a racist, I’m a white racist, I’m a white nationalist, and I’m just a man.
When did you start developing a white-supremacist attitude?
Well, let’s say over a period of time where I saw the city changing. The whites were disappearing, and anyone who complained about it was immediately attacked as being something worse than a war criminal. A racist. Not to be a racist is to be an idiot. Everyone’s a racist, and if they say they’re not they’re liars.
How to Make Atheism Less Awful in 2014
Atheism never meant much to me growing up. The first time I ever used the word was while filling out some school form, wondering whether I should put “Church of England” when I didn’t actually believe in God. My mom, without trying to push me in any particular direction, explained that “atheist” was the option that meant not believing in a god, and so at the flick of a biro I became one of those, and didn’t think much more of it for at least another decade or so.
Then 9/11 happened, at the start of my second year in college. The horror triggered a wave of condemnation of religion, leading to the rise of “New Atheism.” As much publishing phenomenon as political movement, the next few years would see high-profile bestsellers by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett among others (though it was these four men who became popularly known as the Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse). With the long-term demographic shift away from religion, and public revulsion over the sort of faith-based extremism that led to terrorism, it felt like we’d reached a turning point in the never-ending battle for sanity.
Inevitably, though, things began to fray at the seams. Harris blundered into controversy over his apparent support for racial profiling; Hitchens passed away; and Dawkins joined Twitter, beginning an infuriating, endless cycle of controversy and bewilderment. Hordes of New Atheist fans began popping up on the internet and it turned out that a lot of them were angry pricks. Different fronts and factions emerged, each with their own ideas about what capital-A Atheism should mean and stand for. New Atheism has matured, and for some that means learning to hate each other in imaginative new ways.
At the start of 2014 there are four broad—and overlapping—schisms in atheism, which can be summed up as: Dicks vs. Cowards, Islamophobes vs. More Cowards, Misogynists vs. Feminists, and Americans vs. Europeans. We could also count Richard Dawkins’ Twitter Account vs. the Collective Sanity of the Internet, but that sort of falls under “all of the above.”