Tag: African American

What’s the 414?

I was a teenager a million years ago.

OK, it was the late 1980s.

In any case, once you cross 40, a lot of your teen memories start to fade, or get augmented in unintentional ways, or just get merged with John Hughes movies.

One truly unpleasant memory that I had not conjured up in years came back to me recently.

The catalyst for this flashback was an article by Sarah Hoye, who wrote about her childhood in Milwaukee, the city that recently suffered a fall-blown race riot and which CNN implied was the worst place in America for black people.

 

milwakee-riots

Hoye wrote that “more times than not, when I tell people that I am from Milwaukee, I get a sympathetic head tilt followed by, ‘I’m sorry.’ And that was before the recent protests.”

OK, I relate to that. Because I too am from Milwaukee. And it might pain my Wisconsin crew to know this, but I’ve often received that exact same “I’m sorry” reaction from people when I mention where I’m from. My hometown’s reputation is not a good one.

Now, I haven’t lived in Milwaukee since I graduated high school, but I go back often to visit friends and family.

I spent my childhood in the Latino section of town, an enclave on the South Side that is still heavily Hispanic to this day. Yes, I’ve written about this era and place more than once.

When I was a teenager, we moved to a quasi-suburban area (still within the city’s limits), where all of our neighbors had German or Polish or Serbian ancestry. Our house was all the diversity you were getting for many blocks in any direction.

To be clear, I have fond memories of this time. However, even then I knew that all was not right in my city. You see, Milwaukee has long been the most segregated municipality in America. Growing up, I assumed all cities had stark lines separating the ethnicities (and indeed, to some degree, they all do). But I had no idea Milwaukee was such an extreme case.

And this brings me back to the creepy memory that I had long ago shifted to my brain’s attic.

No, it’s not about the many times I was called spic or wetback or had someone “joke” that I had jumped the border. Hell, I remember those things just fine.

The memory I had forgotten was about my friend J.

I won’t use his full name out of respect for his privacy, even though we lost touch after high school, and it’s highly unlikely he’s reading this right now.

Just in case, however — hey J!

J and I were teammates on our high school football team. We weren’t close friends, but we got along well, and one day after practice, I invited him back to my house to play video games.

Later that evening, he walked to the bus stop for the long journey home. Yes, he was African American, and as such, he lived on the North Side — several miles away and a whole other world socioeconomically, politically, culturally, etc.

I kept him company at the bus stop. We were talking the usual teenage shit — girls, school, football — when we noticed a car slow down as it approached us.

I’m sure both of us considered the odds that the car’s driver was lost and needed directions, or that the vehicle was stuffed with hot cheerleaders just roaming the city looking for a couple of hunky football players to keep them company.

But come on, we both knew what it was.

As the car passed, a young white man leaned out of the window and yelled, “Fuck you, nigger!”

J rolled his eyes, like he had gone through this a million times already that day, and such bullshit no longer fazed him.

The car stopped at the corner, as if preparing to turn around. J and watched to see what the driver would do. After a moment, the car sped off, leaving us in peace.

J’s bus arrived a minute later, and we high-fived, and he left. On my walk home, I realized that I had never, not even for a moment, been afraid that some thugs would jump out of a car and take a swing at me just for being brown.

As I said, I had received my fair share of insults and vague threats. But the real potential of physical violence was alien to me.

After all, it’s not like I was black in Milwaukee.

Instinctively, J and I both knew, without discussing it, that a black kid couldn’t stand around in that neighborhood for more than a few minutes without someone yelling an epithet at him or the cops being called.

And we just accepted it as normal.

I doubt J even remembers this incident, because it was most likely among the milder forms of verbal abuse that he has received in his life.

Indeed, in Sarah Hoye’s article, she writes that “in the Milwaukee I know, I have been called nigger more times than I can count.”

Hoye ends her story with a burst of optimism, saying that “I truly believe, as idealistic as it may sound, that there is hope for a city in pain, and hope for a way forward.”

I share that hope.

 


Dude, Chill

Like most Americans, I’ve watched this election season with a combination of amazement, amusement, befuddlement, and stark terror.

After all, we are perilously close to electing a president who is openly racist and misogynistic, ignorant of the Constitution, fond of fascism, and quite possibly demented.

But you know who is not afraid of this development?

That’s right — my fellow Latinos.

relaxed-woman

You see, a recent poll found that despite Trump’s “harsh anti-immigration rhetoric throughout this year’s presidential campaign, Hispanics are less likely than either whites or blacks to strongly agree that they are afraid of what will happen if their candidate loses.”

Just 38% of Hispanics say they are worried about the outcome of the presidential election. In contrast, 53% of whites fear the outcome, while 64% of blacks are nervous that their choice won’t become president.

Breaking down the numbers further, 45% of native-born Hispanics are afraid of what will happen if their candidate loses, compared with 30% of Hispanic immigrants.

Now, this may seem odd, in that Hispanics are second only to Muslims as objects of loathing in this election. And Latino immigrants, in particular, should be jittery as hell about the possibility of a Trump presidency. And yet, Hispanic immigrants are among the least worried about what happens in November.

But it actually makes sense.

Think about it — when was the last time you heard a Latino say, “If my candidate loses, I’m moving to Canada”? We don’t make empty threats like that, possibly because so many of us have already endured tremendous hardships to get here to America, so we’re not going to pack up and flee just because some jerk becomes the chief executive.

Also, there’s that whole thing about Hispanics being more optimistic about the future, more confident about the American Dream (however one defines it), and in general, just happier about life.

So yes, despite my fascination (bordering on obsession) with this year’s election, I’m not really worried about the outcome. Oh, don’t get me wrong. A Trump presidency would be a disaster. However, despite what you’ve heard from commentators both respected and fringe-dwelling, electing that narcissist would not mean the end of civilization.

Throughout our history, we Americans have overcome war, civil unrest, and economic calamity. Just add “terrorism” to that list, and you’re talking about the last decade alone. And yet we’re still here.

Certainly, four years of a delusional, mean-spirited little man at the helm would be extremely harmful, but it’s not going to destroy us.

And if that isn’t an all-American, patriotic, can-do viewpoint, then I don’t know what is.

 


What Will You Do When the Gentrifiers Come for You?

OK, I have to admit I was thrilled when our landlord informed us that he was selling our building. This was a guy who would tell us how much he appreciated us as tenants and then — mere days or even hours later — threaten to evict us over some imaginary breach of our lease or Seinfeldian personal slight. Basically, he was nuts, and over the years, we grew to hate dealing with him.

However, my relief over being rid of the bipolar landlord was short-lived.

You see, I live in Los Angeles, which is very tenant-friendly. For example, rent control exists, and owners can’t just boot people out if they feel like it.

However, there are ways to send renters packing — even those who pay their rent on time and are model tenants.

One way is to buy a building and then move an immediate family member in. Now, this isn’t some vile loophole. It makes sense that if you buy a building, you or your kid can live in it.

But legal and ethical isn’t always the same thing, as you may have heard.

In our case, the new owners took possession of our building and promptly deflected any questions about their intentions — good or otherwise.

We were concerned about this for a very real reason. Our neighborhood, as I’ve written, has morphed from skuzzy to somewhat nice to flat-out hipster, all in a brief blink of time. We moved in seven years ago, when the area was still affordable, and young guys in Civil War-era beards weren’t clamoring for more coffee bars.

hhipsterbeards

 

I still love living here, and the rapid gentrification hasn’t been so egregious that the neighborhood has lost all its character.

Of course, old-timers might disagree with me. For example, our neighbors have been here for 15 years. And as a lesbian couple, they were at ground zero in prodding the area from seedy enclave to happenin’ LA hotspot.

Yes, let’s just get this out of the way. There is never a better development for a downtrodden neighborhood than the news that gay couples are moving in.

Our friends are a big reason why this neighborhood is so popular. They worked to turn this area into a beautiful urban garden.

And the new owners have responded by kicking them out.

Our landlords have announced that their daughter, in her twenties, will be moving into our friends’ apartment.

It’s hard to view this development as anything less than the following scenario:

Spoiled Millennial: Daddy, I want to live in that neighborhood that was divvy, but now it’s all hip and trendy.
Rich Daddy: You’re in luck, sugar plum. I just expanded my vast real estate empire by buying a building there.
Spoiled Millennial: So I can have my own place, rent-free?
Rich Daddy: Of course. All we have to do is kick out the couple who has lived there for 15 years and helped make the place great in the first place. Consider them gone.
Spoiled Millennial: Goody goody. Thanks, Daddy.

Is that a bit much? No, it’s not. Because regardless of how the actual conversation went down and the tone of voice used and the amount of angst that occurred, the result is the same.

The rich kid wanted our friends’ place, and she got it. And our friends are packing up.

I’ve written before about gentrification, and how it tends to hit black and Latino neighborhoods harder. Indeed, there is a large Hispanic population in our neighborhood, but it has been dropping steadily for a few years now.

In our case, some very rich white people have decided that our area is now desirable, and they will ultimately take whatever they want.

Damn, maybe we were better off with the crazy landlord.

 

 


Strike Three

We’ve already pinpointed two reasons why the future looks bleak for the GOP when it comes to attracting Latinos. Basically, Hispanics are younger and becoming better educated, both of which align with liberal values.

But there is a third reason for sparse Latino attendance at future Republican conventions. And it’s an obvious one.

It’s because the GOP has treated Hispanics like shit.

Yes, it really is that simple.

rejection-free-recruiting

 

 

Now, this isn’t a perception issue or poor marketing, which is what many GOP strategists want America to believe. No, it’s the cold hard reality of the Republican Party’s offshoot of the Southern Strategy, which was to demonize blacks in order to convince white racists to vote GOP. And it worked, at least for a while.

The later version of this strategy was to paint immigrants in general, and Hispanics in particular, as an invading force and a direct threat to America. And this too worked, at least for a while.

Clearly, most Republicans aren’t racists. But their willingness to tolerate subtle bigotry — and at times, overt racial animus — has finally caught up with their party.

After all, such politically loaded ideas as Prop 187 were SB 1070 were Republican proposals, no matter how much the party wishes to distance itself from them now. And the GOP’s presumptive nominee for president couldn’t get through the announcement of his candidacy without slandering Latinos.

No, this isn’t some left-wing plot. Republicans did this to themselves, and as much as they want to complain that Democrats are the real racists and conservative values align more with Hispanics and blah blah blah, none of it matters.

Latinos see Trump and his minions clamoring to build a damn wall, and they see GOP policies of the recent past, and they see statistics like this: “56% of Republicans viewed immigrants as a burden on the country; just 17% of Democrats said the same.”

And then Latinos vote Democrat. This is despite the fact that Democrats haven’t been great for Hispanics, and that Latinos have been excluded “from leadership positions in progressive institutions and, some would argue, from involvement in the movement as a whole. “

When you have only two choices (i.e., our current political system), you go with the people who have merely disappointed you, and not with the people who actively hate you.

Interestingly, some commentators say the GOP would be better served by focusing on African Americans, which is ironic and even a little laughable. But it isn’t stupid. After all, “it is generally easier to grow market share when starting from nothing.”

It is also an acknowledgement that Latinos are a lost cause for the GOP, at least for the near future.

So what are the odds that over a decade from now, lots of thirtysomething, well-educated Latino Millennials will vote Republican?

Well, the chances are only slightly better than the odds that there will be a Republican Party at all.

 

 


The End of All the Horribleness?

If there is one thing that the candidacy of Donald Trump has taught us, it is to never count him — or his followers — out.

The man emerged as a joke candidate last summer, who was supposed to have collapsed into his own hubris by August… or October… or Christmas at the latest… but certainly no later than spring 2016… right?

Well, despite recent troubled times for his campaign, Trump is still the unquestioned frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

Therefore, we must be skeptical of the latest analysis that “without an extraordinary reversal — or the total collapse of whoever becomes his general-election opponent — Mr. Trump could be hard-pressed to win more than 200 of the 270 electoral votes required to win.”

However, let’s assume that sanity will finally grip the American people, and they will decline to elect a megalomaniacal racist with misogynistic tendencies who has no idea of how the government actually works.

Whew — that was a close one!

But then we will have to confront another issue, which is “where will all that anger, which has been slowly building among America’s white working class for half a century, go once it is left without a viable political outlet?”

It’s a valid question, and one that has led some commentators to theorize that “we may already be getting a chilling preview of a possible post-Trump future in the spasms of seemingly random gun violence” and that we may be forced to endure “a flood of white violence and anger” starting in 2017.

skinheads

OK, that doesn’t sound so good.

Unfortunately, it’s also quite possible. As we know, Trump rallies are to violence what Taco Bell is to college students with late-night munchies.

And when it comes to guns, studies show that “racial prejudice influences white opinion regarding gun regulation,” implying that bigoted people are more likely to be carrying.

So will we see hordes of angry racists strolling around cities, taking shots at ethnic minorities?

Maybe, but probably not.

You see, another possibility — the far more optimistic one — is that we are witnessing the final pathetic spasms of overt bigotry in American life, or at least prejudice on a grand scale.

Yes, racism will always be with us. Trump losing isn’t going to make it magically disappear.

But I’m talking about the death of right-wing demagoguery that baldly appeals to Americans’ worst natures. After Trump’s expected flameout, will any other candidate seize upon the man’s failed ploy to inflame racial tensions? More likely, the GOP will finally listen to the advice of political experts who point out that the infamous Southern Strategy has reached the end of its obnoxious lifespan.

With the GOP of 2020 playing nice, right-wingers may finally realize that the game is over, and that all their efforts to “take America back” are futile.

Once they see they are outnumbered and cannot win elections against moderates and those damn liberals, they may finally give up and accept a changed America, albeit with an angry and sullen fury that makes teenage girls seem like calm and rational debaters. Reduced to a dwindling demographic of cranky elderly people who miss the good old days, they will, with each passing year and each fresh batch of multiethnic babies, become less relevant, to the point of political and cultural impotence.

It bears repeating, of course, that most of Trump’s supporters aren’t racists. But the man’s appeal to white supremacists is undeniable, as is his connection to Americans who have issues with blacks… and Latinos… and Muslims… and a few others.

It is those individuals, the proudly prejudiced and the so-called politically incorrect, who will pack up their Make America Great Again signs and whimper off into oblivion.

Well, that’s the hope, anyway.

 


Old at Heart

Like many Gen Xers, I’m pretty tired of hearing how great the Baby Boomers were. Yes, they had amazing music, and that whole civil rights crusade is tough to top.

But as they age, Baby Boomers have made it clear that their bell-bottomed, peace-and-love, tune-in-turn-on idealism was a convenience of their youth, or it was the result of a loud minority that never reflected how most of them really felt.

I say this because recent surveys have shown a generation gap (really a chasm) between older and younger Americans on just about every social issue.

Perhaps this isn’t a big surprise, as people tend to get more conservative as they get older. But even with that caveat, some of the attitudes that Baby Boomers (especially white seniors) hold are alarming to Gen X and Millennials.

For example, more than half of white seniors “view the rise of newcomers from other countries as a threat to traditional American values and customs.” Let’s just say that most young people (many of whom have immigrant parents) don’t see things the same way.

And as anyone who has seen footage of a Trump rally can tell you, “much of the older white population — especially less-educated white males whose anger is being courted — appears threatened by the nation’s demographic change.”

 

Indeed, 60 percent of the white working class believe “that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”

In addition to being whiny, narrow-minded, and xenophobic, this attitude is — how should I put this? — fucking suicidal.

You see, the “demographic reality is that America’s youth — and more specifically its racial minority youth — is its future.” That’s because Millennials are the most ethnically diverse generation in American history, and their future kids will be even more mixed. So there’s no going back to a 1950s mythological USA where everybody was white and things were gosh darn swell.

 

1950s

It also means that “because of the growth of Hispanics, Asians, blacks and other races, the United States will be able to replenish its younger population.”

Going forward, this implies that “America will not suffer a European-style demographic crisis as Baby Boomers retire. Young Latinos are stepping into the workplace and paying the taxes that will keep the nation’s fiscal house in order.”

Keep in mind that when it comes to Hispanics, we “are much younger than Americans as a whole, and young Latinos in America are better educated and earn more than ever.”

The bottom line is that “to ignore or wish away the nation’s youth-driven minority growth is short-sighted as a national economic development plan.”

Very soon, old Baby Boomers are going to be dependent on young Latinos to fund Social Security. But try explaining this fact, and you’re likely to be drowned out by a sixty-something cranking up Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock.

Yeah, I guess those were the good old days.

 


Not Exactly a Golden Age

So here’s a question: Are you among the half of Americans (49 percent, to be precise) who say racism is “a big problem” in society today?

I know I am.

And I also know that I would prefer to be among the 7 percent of Americans who say racism is “not a problem at all.” When referring to those people, I speak for the rest of us when I say, “I’ll have what they’re having,” because they clearly possess some serious alcohol.

Drunk-guy

The recent survey revealed that prejudice and bigotry remain societal ills, and “in every demographic group surveyed, there are increasing percentages of people who say racism is a big problem — and majorities say that racial tensions are on the rise.”

The percentage of Americans who feel this way is higher than it was 20 years ago, when 41 percent said racism was a big problem. As recently as 2011, that percentage was down to 28 percent, suggesting a rebound effect, or perhaps racial good feelings simply plateaued a few years back.

Of course, Americans may agree that racism is worse, but as the report states, they often “disagree profoundly on who the targets and victims are.”

Ethnic minorities have historically been the objects of racial prejudice. However, white Americans often feel that they are being discriminated against, a perplexing development that, according to the report, can be traced to “simmering rage fueled by the backlash of Obama’s election, the economic struggles of lower- and middle-income whites, and demographic shifts across the country.”

Because of this, the report says, “latent racism is becoming more open, because a lot of people are feeling threatened.”

Now to be clear, most white Americans do not feel that they are the targets of racial scorn. In fact, just 43 percent of white people say racism is a huge concern.

But 64 percent of my fellow Latinos say racism is a big problem, slightly less than the 66 percent of blacks who say the same thing.

Those numbers should tell you all you need to know about how race is perceived in America.

So is there hope for the future? Well, supposedly, the Millennials were going to eliminate racism once and for all because they’re all, you know, ethnically mixed and down with diversity and come from multiracial families, and are in general far hipper than Gen X or the Baby Boomers could ever dream of being.

Um…but another recent study showed that “despite the Millennial reputation for inclusiveness, young white Americans don’t have especially multicultural friend groups.” In fact, two-thirds (68 percent) of whites age 18-34 say, “they overwhelmingly associate with other whites.”

By the way, the same is true of just 37 percent of Millennial Hispanics and 36 percent of Millennial blacks.

So this might take a while.

 


Straight Outta That One Place

I’m old enough to remember when hip-hop first broke through. I’m talking about artists like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Slick Rick, and Run DMC. And what about Kid Frost, arguably the first Latino rapper?

Of course, I definitely remember the first time I heard NWA. Those guys were fucking terrifying.

 

o-STRAIGHT-OUTTA-COMPTON-facebook

At the time, I had never been to Los Angeles. Now I live here — something I could not have predicted all those years ago. And yes, I have spent a little time in South Central.

Compton today is not the gangsta mecca that is was back in the day. The city still struggles with poverty and unemployment. But crime — especially homicide — has plummeted in recent years.

And for the place that symbolized African American disillusionment, there is some irony in the fact that Latinos now make up about two-thirds of the city.

Does this mean everything got better when Hispanics moved in? Well, that would be an interesting, even bigoted claim to make.

There are, of course, myriad reasons for Compton’s improvement over the decades, but it is undeniable that Hispanics have changed the city in many ways.

Naturally, culture clashes have occurred. It is human nature, unfortunately, for tribalism to kick in when “outsiders” show up. And that’s true whether it’s blacks moving in white neighborhoods, whites moving into Latino neighborhoods, Hispanics moving into black neighborhoods, and so on in every combination of cultural and ethnic diaspora possible.

But again, does the fact that this particular city is a lot more livable than it was thirty years ago mean that the album Straight Outta Compton is a period piece? Hardly — nor is the movie a look back at a distant past that is inconceivable to us.

Events in Ferguson and around the nation are enough to prove that.

The man himself, Ice Cube, says the only change in race relations is that cell phones now exist so that violent confrontations can be filmed.

Somehow, that doesn’t make us feel all warm and fuzzy.

 


Nice Try

So for two years in a row, the top individual prize in the entertainment pantheon — the Oscar for best director — has gone to a Latino.

birdman

That’s great. And Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu took time in his speech to give a shout out to immigrants, which was classy.

But of course, much of González Iñárritu’s triumph was overshadowed by a truly tone-deaf chiste from that master of humor, Sean Penn (as an aside, is there any artist who is more respected but less liked than this guy?).

Now, González Iñárritu has pointed out that Penn’s comment was an inside joke between friends. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, then, and say that Penn isn’t a straight-up racist.

But perhaps inside jokes aren’t a very good idea when millions of people across the planet are watching. And maybe tossing racial jabs isn’t very bright when you’re representing an organization that is hypersensitive about its horrible record on diversity.

All Penn’s joke did was make every white liberal in the audience uncomfortable, confirm the bias that many ethnic minorities believe lurks within the system, and “underscore the problem the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences has been trying desperately to disprove.” Namely, that the Academy has a racial issue.

The stunning lack of diversity in the entertainment industry is a well-known facet of American culture, and I’ve written about it more than once.

And it is not, as many right-wingers seem to think, just blacks and Latinos clamoring for jobs they haven’t earned. It’s about equal access and opportunity. One could argue this is all that any fight over civil rights is, at its core.

But when it comes to the entertainment industry, specifically, it is about something more. As González Iñárritu has proved, different perspectives lead to new ideas and new stories. It is essential for any art form that, to remain relevant, it continue to grow.

And to be blunt, there are only so many more movies that we can take about an upper-class white family gathering together for a funeral/wedding, or a white guy’s attempt to bond with his elderly and uncommunicative dad, or the adventures of white prep-school kids coming of age.

We want something else.

 


I’ve Seen All Good People

This is a response, of sorts, to Brit Bennett’s article “I Don’t Know What to do with Good White People.”

But it will not be a full-fledged attack of the type that made the internet infamous. That’s because in her article, Bennett makes some insightful points about white privilege.

She explains that “sometimes I think I’d prefer racist trolling to this grade of self-aggrandizement,” adding that there are many “good white people [who] expect to be rewarded for their decency.”

Yes, she pissed off a few readers, and made others uncomfortable, with her mocking of liberal condescension. Bennett points out that many white people practically shout, “See how enlightened and aware we are? See how we are good?”

halo

 

That’s all true of course. And the comfort level of white liberals is not high on the list of national priorities.

Despite this, however, we need good white people. For starters, every social movement needs as much assistance — as much cultural firepower — as it can get.

But more important is the fact that white privilege will continue to be a problem as long as people (primarily whites) deny it even exists. So we need white people to criticize their own privilege, and many will not do this if their efforts get thrown back into their faces.

For example, the recent CrimingWhileWhite hashtag came under fire for co-opting the pain and rage of the black community and redirecting it toward the white perspective. It’s a fair criticism.

Still, it seems to me that the point of the Ferguson/Gardner/ et al protests was to indict systematic racism in our nation’s police force. An effective way to do this is to draw contrasts with how white people interact with the cops. CrimingWhileWhite nailed this.

In essence, to dismiss good white people is to alienate one’s allies. And it’s clear that blacks and Latinos need all the help we can get.

 


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