Here's part of "Tricky Living," copyright by Russ Walter, first edition. For newer info, read the second edition at


Edward R. Murrow said:

Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences.

No one can eliminate prejudices — just recognize them.

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:

You have no idea how rough it is to be an Arab these days. I went to the airport to check in. The man at the ticket counter asked, “Are those your bags?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He asked, “Did you pack them yourself?” I said, “Yes, sir.” They arrested me.

Stupidity jokes

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.

Race quotas

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:

It’s okay to be nice to blacks, if you don’t make a point of it.

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:

Sandra Day O’Connor said she hopes that, 25 years from now, racial preferences will no longer be needed and the Court will try then to scrap to current “quick fix.”

David Souter mused that if a point system is allowed, why not a system where blacks get 100 points, effectively making it a black-only program?

Clarence Thomas, who is black but conservative, said that if blacks are given easier admission to colleges, then nobody will take black degrees seriously, and all blacks will suffer.

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.

Extreme politicians

I’m waiting for the media to invent an extreme politician saying things such as:

I believe in the sanctity of human life. We should protect even the lives of the unborn. Abortionists are murderers. The Bible says, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” so all abortionists are murderers that should be executed, and so should all women who arrange abortions, and so should all women who ever had abortions. Kill them all! That would also stop the world’s overpopulation.

He’ll also say:

To end racial discrimination now, all Americans shall be required to look the same, by applying purple tanning cream before leaving their homes— except for Muslim women, who have permission to wear veils instead. Get your purple tanning cream at Purple Tanning Centers, a government-sponsored chain of pleasure shops for the racially purp-lexed.

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:

Elvis was King. Martin Luther was King. Now you can be King too, in your new SUV! Martin Luther had a dream — now you can have a dream car too! Or go for racial harmony — in the sports car that’s cool to race and makes you feel comfortable, too! Black, white, or colored — your choice!

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:

a white bus driver who says he “doesn’t want no trouble” (I met a church usher like that!)

a black family more rational than the white families

a white policeman who was “just doing his job” by throwing blacks out of the park

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:

Whoopi was born in 1955, a month before the events that the movie depicts. Though she’s black, she’s also sort of Jewish: she took “Goldberg” from the Jewish side of her family, though she wasn’t born with that name.

She was born in New York. She was nicknamed “Whoopi” because she farted a lot, sounding like a whoopi cushion.

Before she became an actress, she worked in a mortuary, doing cosmetics. I guess her career hasn’t really changed: she still paints smiles on whites.

She begged Alice Walker for a role in The Color Purple and said she’d be willing to play any part — even a Venetian blind, even dirt on the floor.

She got more than dirt. She got pay dirt.

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:

Let’s make an interracial movie, but not too controversial, so it will still sell in South. I got it! Let’s make the girl be blind! And let’s make the black guy act just like a white guy, and give the movie a fancy meaningless name, like Patch of Blue!

What God looks like

What does God look like? A popular bumper sticker asks that question:

Is God black or white?

She’s black, and boy is she pissed!

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:

What did you expect God to be, a honky?

Besides, why did you think my son, Jesus, got so much attention? Because he was black! Is it my fault he later decided to put on whiteface to blend in? Hah, that whiteface! Look where it got him! Ku Klux Klanned!

He was a nice kid, but letting himself get nailed was the dramatic ending to a kid who had more passion than common sense. Common sense? Just a mom, like me, has enough of it to run the whole universal show!

And by the way, stop blaming me about worldly weather! If you guys piss me off and I want to piss on you back, that’s fair, isn’t it?

While you’re up here, you’d better shape up. Shape up or ship out! And if we ship you out, we’re shipping you down to you-know-where, which will give you a new understanding of the term “hot and spicy.” You like hot buns? They’ll be yours!

And stop telling me about “turn the other cheek.” That was Jesus’s idea. He was naïve, that kid o’ mine. If you slap my face, you ain’t gonna get my other cheek too: I’m gonna whup your ass!

Be good, or your ass will get inhabited by my boot, which is very campy. That’s why they call this place “boot camp.”

You thought heaven was going to be a piece of cake? Well, it is, if you don’t fudge it up. No foolin’ around with the other angels! Keep your nose clean, Christian soldier!