Edward R. Murrow said:
So keep your eyes open! Have a fun look at prejudice, stereotypes, and racism.…
Arab-American comedians struggle to be funny. A sample of their work:
A lot of jokes begin, “Did you hear about the idiot who…” But that sentence isn’t very creative.
Some jokes begin, “Did you hear about the moron who…,” but that makes fun of the mentally handicapped. When I was a kid, many jokes began, “Did you hear about the Polack who…,” but that makes fun of an ethnic group, the Polish.
On my landlady’s bookshelf, I saw a book from the 1940’s that had many jokes beginning, “Did you hear about the nigger who…” That book was published before insulting blacks was considered even more distasteful than insulting the Polish.
Modern comedians insult blondes instead. That pleases the country’s arbiters of taste (New York publishers and TV networks), since most blondes are volunteers (it’s an honor to dye for) and Republican.
In Michigan, a university judged its applicants on the basis of 150 points, 20 of which were given for race. Is that “discrimination” or “affirmative action”? The case went to the Supreme Court, which in June 2003 ruled that colleges can give preference to black applicants if there’s no fixed quota or fixed number of points for race.
Here’s my summary of the ruling:
The decision to “let bias in favor of blacks, but don’t dare quantify it” is silly. It could lead to a system where dark blacks get 20 point but light blacks get just 10 points and Hispanics get 15 points, but instead of calling it “race” it’s called just “other factors.”
Some of the justices added their own comments:
If you want to favor blacks, beyond what’s available from “favoritism for folks from poor neighborhoods”, you should at least realize that the Michigan system of “150 points, 20 of them for race” isn’t how a person should be judged; an appropriate system would be more like this: start at neutral (0); add or subtract some points for grades; add or subtract some points for race; subtract some points for crime; add or subtract some points for “other extraordinary factors”; etc.; with no particular ceiling for any category (go ahead: give those Siamese twins lots of points, for exceptional “diversity”), but with a set of guidelines.
I’m waiting for the media to invent an extreme politician saying things such as:
He’ll also say:
Martin Luther King
According to historians, throughout all of American history there were just two surprising great speeches: Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech (in Washington DC) and Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” (Other good speeches were less surprising.)
How the speech arose King borrowed passages from another preacher, but King improved the oratory’s cadence. The speech was an improved variant of many similar speeches King gave during the preceding year. Towns in Michigan and North Carolina have their own celebrations claiming “the dream began here.” Those communities praise him for coalescing thoughts that had been building up. While giving those earlier speeches, King learned his audiences looked depressed until he started talking about “dreams,” so he began emphasizing the “dream” angle more.
For the Washington speech’s first half, King was reading from a script; but for the last half, he spoke off-the-cuff, combining phrases that had been churning in his head for years, as he surveyed the crowd’s mood.
Opportunities If America keeps treating Martin Luther King Day as a second-class holiday, America is missing a “marketing opportunity.” That holiday should be treated like Presidents Day — to sell cars, with inspiring ads like this:
On Martin Luther King Day, ice cream vendors should sell Dreamsicles (Creamsicles covered in chocolate that’s dark, delicious, and heaven-sent), so we can all say, “I have a Dreamsicle!”
Martin Luther King Kong Have you seen the movie about Martin Luther King Kong, the strong African creature who scared white folks even though he was quite nice? At the end of the movie, he climbed up to the tower of American fame and held love in his hand, but was killed by white folk. A touching story! White Americans are so brutal to creatures they don’t understand.
“The Long Walk Home”
My family found a racial treasure in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart, for $6: a DVD movie called The Long Walk Home.
There are 3 versions of The Long Walk Home. We got the best: the 1990 version starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek.
That 1990 version is fascinating. You’d think such a movie would be bound to fail, since it discusses a “dreary, preachy” subject: 1955’s civil-rights bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. But the excellent acting shows how discrimination can seem rational, at least to the people doing the discriminating, and how discrimination is defended as the right and ethical thing to do, to keep the peace and avoid trouble.
When I was young, I had 4 bouts in the South: twice in the early 1960’s (driving with my parents around the country), and twice in the late 1960’s (teaching Upward Bound students at black Talladega College in Alabama). The movie brought back my memories of race relations, fears, and sadness.
The movie includes these classic bits:
The movie’s opening scene sucks you in: it looks like a photo, then turns into what looks like a black-and-white newsreel, then becomes colorized, then becomes fine acting where you see 3 black women walk into a bus. After paying the driver, they have to turn around and walk out of the bus, then reenter through the back door, since they’re not allowed to walk through the front part.
Many students say this is the “best film ever shown in social studies class.”
Though the film tries to attack discrimination, several cynics have said the film itself is an example of discrimination: whites gave Whoopi the Oscar that year for a comedy (Ghost) rather that for the racial drama that’s so much more important, since “blacks should be praised just for comedy.”
Whoopi’s had a wild ride:
My own walks in Alabama
During the 1960’s, when I was a student at Dartmouth College, I got sent to rural Alabama to teach math to low-income black high-school students, to help them get into college, through an “Upward Bound” program.
At that time, desegregation had begun but hadn’t quite finished, so I got to see Alabama in transition. Here are some snapshots from those jarring times.…
Religious couple I attended services at several black churches, then got friendly with the elderly couple who ran the biggest white church.
I enjoyed talking to that Reverend and his wife. They were kind to me and invited me many times to their home. They tried hard to convince me that bigotry was right. For example, they said Martin Luther King’s march through Selma was just a bunch of northern white hippies who spent most of the “march” just disgustingly fucking.
When I asked if I could bring a friend with me to dinner, they asked if he was black. I said “No.” They said “Okay” but then got dismayed when they discovered he was Chinese. They asked whether, at least, he could please come after dark so he wouldn’t upset the neighbors.
Usher Whenever I visited the religious couple’s white church, the usher smiled at me — until the day a black girlfriend (Ruby) tried to come with me. When the usher saw her, his face was gripped with fear and he suggested that “the black church is down the street....” When she said, “I’d like to come to this church,” he said, “I’m sorry....” He “didn’t want no trouble” and didn’t want to get involved in the civil-rights issues that were attacking the white South like a tornado.
Local café Ruby told me the local café would put all its chairs up on the tables. If a white person wanted to eat, the owner would take down a chair and serve the customer. If a black person wanted to eat, the owner would say “Sorry, this section is closed.”
My rejection When I applied for that job teaching blacks, I was initially rejected, because Dartmouth College thought I wasn’t radical enough and thought I was too sympathetic to Southern white attitudes.
But the first group Dartmouth sent to Alabama turned out to be too radical, and even the Alabama blacks running the program didn’t like them, because they fucked too much and didn’t wear suits. (Southern black administrators were conservative then and wanted Upward Bound students to develop into respectable people wearing suits.)
The next year, I was hired as part of a more conservative team. The third year, the blacks were more radicalized and in tune with northern whites, because Stokely Carmichael had passed through and radicalized the blacks.
Michael Chu My Chinese friend (who was asked to come “after dark”) was Michael Chu. He was born in Uruguay and could speak Spanish. Now runs a Boston-area non-profit that makes micro-loans to small businesses in South America.
When he was with me in Alabama, he wrote a funny review of Patch of Blue, the movie where Sydney Poitier dates a blind girl who doesn’t know he’s black. Michael’s review depicts a producer arguing:
What God looks like
What does God look like? A popular bumper sticker asks that question:
I keep waiting for a movie about that. To make that movie succeed, it would have to play on stereotypes: God would have to be a sassy black woman (like Whoopi Goldberg or Queen Latifa), who addresses new heavenly arrivals with words of wisdom like this: