Category Archives: Race

finding the white folks in First Lady Michelle Obama’s family tree

The word ‘rape’ appears four times in the recent NYT article, Meet your Cousin, The First Lady. Even before reading it, my first instinct was to count. Second instinct: get mad. No way a mainstream paper wasn’t going to pretty up sexual encounters between a female slave and her master for their majority white readers; the Times was already pushing it by introducing dark-skinned Michelle–whose image sometimes appears online as a monkey–as a cousin. And higher and faster I laid those bricks for a defensive wall all before even reading the article. I’m making the point of describing my initial reaction because after, I had to check myself.

First, stop expecting (demanding?) that white folks write and feel about slavery (or Jim Crow or the post Civil Rights period for that matter) in exactly the same way as you. That’s impossible given the historic gulf between black and white lives. And second, allow white folks to have their own conversations about race without me stupes-ing from the corner. (A caveat before I proceed,the audience for an article about white folks in a dark-skinned woman’s family tree is white folks. For blacks, that’s as much news as the sky is blue.)

All that to say, despite the criticism, read journalist Rachel Swarns’ article based on American Tapestry, her new book about the dark-skinned Obama-née-Robinson’s ancestors. If the book is like the article, it may help to open up a self-critical conversation about your own prejudices or assumptions. More important than the search for white folks in Obama’s family tree is our modern day reaction to that fact.

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heather mac donald vs weak liberal arguments for stop and frisk reform

Yesterday’s silent Father’s Day march against stop and frisk in New York City was well attended and, if you go by Twitter, life-changing. But if reformers are interested in change they should revisit some of their liberal arguments against the policy that notched 700,000 stops–nearly 90 percent innocent–of residents mainly in minority neighborhoods last year.

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complex magazine celebrates hot bi-racial women day, initiate gag reflex

I don’t know which annoys me more: the notion that we can fuck our way out of racism, or Complex magazine using the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1967 Loving decision to add legitimacy to a hit list of bi-racial chicks. The tragic mulatto’s happy now–ain’t ya heard?

Loving is the civil rights case, named for an interracial married couple, that struck down anti-miscegenation laws in the United States. It’s come into a certain prominence this century as more people tick off multiple race/ethnicity boxes on the Census and because Barack Obama is POTUS. The nasty undercurrent to these metrics of social acceptance however, is that for a certain swath of our society, people of indeterminate parentage are “in”–oddly enough, much like how they used to be, “out.” That these judgments are two sides of the same stank racist coin is apparently lost on Complex editors who’re too busy focusing on the erotic admixture of the African buttocks with the aquiline northern European nose.

The Loving’s would probably die again if they knew what their name was being attached to. Progress. Ain’t it grand.

thoughts on stop and frisk, criminals and the black community

(Photo: Debbie Egan-Chin/NY Daily News)

Big city news this week is that ahead of an upcoming Father’s Day march that will likely be the largest public gathering against stop-and-frisk to date, mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the NYPD’s policy this past Sunday at a Brooklyn church. For non-NYC readers, data drives the criticism. Last year’s numbers showing the gap between all stops and guilty stops reflect a decade of growing concern: of roughly 700,000 stops in mainly black and Latino neighborhoods, 90 percent were innocent. I’ve been covering stop and frisk since last fall and while Bloomberg’s address was the news hook, a more inconspicuous quote–one typical of how race talk can undermine both the pro and con stop and frisk positions–caught my eye. The church’s pastor, pointing out that it is wrong that so many of those stopped are black, says,

“We’re not the only ones carrying guns.”

That’s a curious construction, “we,” as I’m willing to bet that 90-year-old Bishop A.D. Lyons’ weapon of choice is a Bible, not a Glock.

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writer Kate McGovern responds to my outtakes post

I love the Internets. Kate McGovern’s Modern Love column about self-identity after an interracial relationship inspired an outtakes post. She replied:

…thank you for getting what I was trying to say and for getting me.

 You are exactly right: I’ve been “working on it,” so to speak, for years, long before I met Daniel; our shared impulse to think and talk critically about race was part of our mutual attraction right from first meeting.  The years I spent working in the Harlem Children’s Zone were particularly formative, I suppose…it’s such a singular place, and I had many experiences there relative to “seeing” race and my whiteness that I think most white Americans are not privy to (or perhaps not interested in). I learned a lot from talking with my middle schoolers about race. (if only we were all as honest and frank about this stuff as middle schoolers!)
And you’re so right, too, that interracial relationships and families can’t be our only “plan” for making progress. That’s why, ultimately, regardless of the demographics of my eventual family, these are conversations I will be having with my children.
Anyway, I appreciate your close reading and your thoughtful response. Look forward to reading more of your blog in the future.
Very cool.

white house scores with three-year-old photo

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza (

This May 2009 photo of a black boy patting President Obama’s hair is flying around the Internets again, thanks to a New York Times fluff piece. White House aides are often skittish when discussing race, the reporter says–except, I’d add, when they control the narrative.

During an election year and in what will be a photo finish contest with the whitest white guy in the room, reminding We the People that they elected the first African-American POTUS is a plus. Eliciting audible, “Awws,” while you’re at it: bonus. Score one for the Oval Office and its public relations machine.  This kid’s super cute and it’s a lovely Norman Rockwell moment. But I’ll save my Awws for something else.

writer Kate McGovern on interracial love, identity and maybe, racial harmony

Kate McGovern

I’m always interested in how white people speak with each other about race. When privy to such conversations I’m content to sit back and do the listening equivalent of watching a tennis match. It’s pleasing to me. I always learn something of the Other’s interior life; that final frontier that the lever pullers of residential segregation intended for whites only. I had this sense of a rare treat then, while reading writer Kate McGovern’s recent confessional to New York Times readers that her recently ended relationship with a black British man had changed her. “Could I be with a white guy?” after Daniel, she wanted to know, flipping the script on the black comedian’s, ‘Once you go black you never go back,’ schtick. Short answer: yes.

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