It’s Not Racism if it’s True

Some years ago, I recall reading angry facebook rants and general media hang-wringing about Chicago’s nightclubs.  It seems that, in an attempt to protect their businesses from vandalism, theft, and, in particular, sexual harassment complaints and drug busts (word of such being like poison to their bank accounts), many of Chicago’s evening hot spots began implementing dress codes with rules clearly targeting black and Hispanic popular attire.  The new rules were full of things like “no backward caps, no loose or baggy pants, no underwear showing, no ‘do rags.'”  Popular music – especially urban and hip hop – was full of icons who dressed this way to make a statement, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize that such rules would block mostly black and Hispanic people from the clubs unless they changed how they dressed.  The foul cries came fast and loud – RACISTS!!

In a related moment of clarity, Barack Obama actually said something true recently.  (shocking, ain’t it?)  In response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal, Obama gave a rambling speech identifying Trayvon Martin as a symbol of the problems and racial barriers still facing African Americans today.  In that speech, he said:

“Few African Americans today can say they’ve never had the experience of being followed in a department store by suspicious security guards.  We’ve all had that unsettling sensation of walking across the street and hearing the clicks of locks on the car doors beside us.  It happened to me often before I became a senator.”  He was weaving a narrative of threads connected to the general media conclusion that George Zimmerman feared for his life and killed Trayvon Martin only because he was black, and that these events echoed the experience of most blacks in America today of being distrusted and harassed for the crime of being black.

I have another theory.  A theory, incidentally, shared by Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, in a rare moment of cultural honesty.  Responding to complaints about widespread abuse of Philadelphia citizens by flash mobs:

  • “Take those God darn hoodies down, especially in the summer. Pull your pants up and buy a belt ’cause no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt. Nobody.”
  • “If you walk into somebody’s office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back, and your shoes untied, and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arms and on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won’t hire you? They don’t hire you ’cause you look like you’re crazy!”
I finally understood my theory and quit worrying about my reactions to the people I saw around me in my many travels when I moved to NYC and it afforded me the opportunity to put my feelings to the test.  Just a few days ago, while riding home from work, I chanced to have a pleasant conversation with a nicely dressed young African American man who was taking his son to a play downtown.  He wore a crisp-looking sport jacket and smoothly ironed pants, and his son was obviously dressed (by his father, no doubt) for a night of culture.  No hoodies, no ballcaps, no ridiculously loose pants hanging below the waist.  I noticed these two because I overheard the father warning his son that he was going someplace very nice and had to be on his best behavior or they wouldn’t come back again.  I smiled at him and he chuckled and said “you have to start warning him early or we’ll be in the lobby by the second act because he won’t sit still.”  We had a nice little chat about the importance of teaching your kids manners and then I got off at Columbus Circle and changed trains.  At no point did my lizard brain warn me of danger.  At no point did I regard this man and his son with anything other than a smile and a kind word.

Later in the ride (on my new train and crossing into Brooklyn), I realized that my traveling companions were making me nervous.  No one had done anything untoward, and I was likely perfectly safe, but my lizard brain didn’t like what it saw.  My car was filled with all kinds of people of different races, but, as we were approaching Prospect Park and Church Avenue – neighborhoods with higher crime rates and poverty problems – most of them looked unkempt…like street thugs.  Lots of hoodies on during the hottest week of the year, lots of loose fitting pants, lots of bandannas and t’shirts with nasty language on them, lots of huge tattoos.  And that’s when the light bulb went on for me.  All the times I’ve seen a black man on the street and walked a little faster, or passed a group of Hispanic men leaning against a car and turned my head to avoid catching their eyes…I was never responding to the color of their skin.  I was responding to other contextual variables.  It can’t be that my negative, fearful reactions are caused by skin color if I’m perfectly at ease with men with the same skin color who are behaving a little differently than is common.

No…it’s not racism if it’s not based on race, but on behavior or culture.  I detest almost all rap…and, ironically, the few rap hits that I’ve actually enjoyed hearing were sung by white artists like Eminem or clean-imaged stand-outs like Will Smith.  The problem, however, is not race – it’s culture.  I can’t stand listening to songs that disparage women, reduce sex to a game, glorify drug culture, gang warfare, and victimology, and decry all authority figures as the source of all urban unrest and anger.  It’s corrosive, it’s not an accurate or uplifting portrayal of the real world, and it terrifies me.

But isn’t that the political rub – dislike any aspect of black or Hispanic urban culture and you are RACIST.  Because all of those things you evil whites dislike about urban culture are caused by your racist institutions and behaviors anyway.  Blacks wouldn’t be walking around like gang-bangers if we weren’t so afraid of them that we made them feel isolated on a crowded sidewalk or singled out in a busy department store!

Well perhaps, my friends, it’s the other way around.  We choose our clothing because it represents our priorities when defining how the world sees us.  Girls who wear uber-minis and skin-tight jeans want to be seen as sexy on some level or they wouldn’t wear that attire.  The most important thing, evidently, in urban culture, is to be seen as ghetto-tough.  The hoodies, designed to cover up parts of your face that would identify you and thus make you instinctively more imposing, the foul t’shirts, the baggy pants…they all send the message loud and clear – “Question me and I will f*** you up.”  Or if you want to be more charitable, it may be more along the lines of “I’ve given up and don’t care how I look at all.”  That our culture has evolved to where this is the message young minorities in the inner cities want to send is one of the saddest things about this world we now inhabit.  But that whites might react to that culture with instinctive alarm is not a matter or race…it’s just common sense.

If people like Barack Obama really wanted to end racial disparities and unite this country, they would, perhaps, look in the mirror and realize that the day they stopped dressing like punks and put on a suit was the day they stopped drawing our unavoidable suspicions.

Another Movie Plug:

This one is coming out in June, and it tells the story of the Cristero Rebellion, which took place in Mexico in the 1920’s after the radical Marxist government of the era began to actively persecute the Catholic Church. Should be pretty awesome!

Andrew Breitbart Dead at 43

Well, this is a shock.

I peruse the “Bigs” occasionally – especially Big Hollywood (for the movie and television reviews, mainly) – so I’m quite familiar with Breitbart. Admittedly, his style wasn’t exactly my cup of tea – he was a little too strident and confrontational for my taste – but I certainly appreciate his providing Hollywood conservatives in particular with a platform to air their views.

In other words: You will be missed, sir, but I’m sure your bloggers will ensure your work lives on for many years to come.

(Of course, upon hearing the announcement, I immediately braced myself. It won’t be long before those leftist bullies start snickering. They’re famous for crying “Have you no decency?” and then promptly demonstrating what utter assholes they are.)

Culture War Pimpage (for lack of a better word)

I just thought I’d pass along a bit of culture that won’t be appearing on the headlines of your local paper or on most radio stations in urban settings…

I give you: Madison Rising

They’re #29 on the Amazon sales leader-board for music CDs with their first album…they’re a metal/alt blend band with conservative (former military) roots with a right-leaning message that actually managed to please a few of the folks at the Occupy DC protests last week.

Seriously…read some of those lyrics and give them a trial listen on iTunes – harder style than I usually prefer, but I might make an exception for this. 🙂

Scratch a Walmart Basher, Find a Snotty Elitist

(With thanks to Glenn Reynolds for calling this to my attention.)

Why I love Walmart despite never shopping there

In a discussion thread that wandered to the subject of Walmart and its enemies, I said “Scratch a Walmart-basher and you’ll find a snotty elitist, a person who hates capitalism and consumption and deep down thinks the Wrong People have Too Much Stuff.”

The commenter replied: “You know, I don’t think you need to be an anti-capitalist in order to disdain over-consumption and its enablers.”

No, certainly not. My own preference is to live simply, getting and spending little and putting my energy into creative work. Much of what we think of as “normal” behavior in a consumer society strikes me as wasteful and vulgar. But it’s a disdain I tend to keep quiet about, for at least two reasons:

I find that, as little as I like excess and overconsumption, voicing that dislike gives power to people and political tendencies that I consider far more dangerous than overconsumption. I’d rather be surrounded by fat people who buy too much stuff than concede any ground at all to busybodies and would-be social engineers.

But there’s more than that going on here…

Rich people going on about the crassness of materialism, or spouting ecological pieties, often seem to me to me to be retailing a subtle form of competitive sabotage. “There, there, little peasant…” runs the not-so-hidden message “…it is more virtuous to have little than much, so be content with the scraps you have.”


Like the above writer, I don’t particularly care for Walmart’s ambiance, but that’s because I’m privileged: I live in a heavily populated suburban neighborhood with my relatively affluent parents, so I have access to plenty of other alternatives. I can buy my clothes at Kohl’s, my groceries at the Safeway, the Wegmans, or the Bloom, and my electronics at Best Buy. If Dad weren’t backing me up on my health care expenses? I’d be a typical Walmart denizen. One of my acquaintances, meanwhile, lives in the Appalachian foothills near the border of North and South Carolina. The Walmart Super Center located just across the NC/SC line is his only option unless he wants to buy things on the net.

In my estimation, Walmart has done more to bring material comforts to the rural and impoverished than any group of left-wing moral busybodies has ever dreamed of accomplishing through charity work or changes to public policy. For that reason, you will never find me publicly attacking the chain no matter how unpleasant or “crass” it might be.

"We have declared war on work."

Here’s some more awesome commentary from Mike Rowe. This time, he uses his experiences shooting a rather infamous episode of Dirty Jobs (involving lamb castration) to segue into a discussion of how our popular culture is systematically denigrating vocational work:

Rowe’s message really resonates with me because I know my family heritage. Dad does “brain work,” but his dad before him rose from poverty into the middle class through hard, dirty, physical labor. Indeed, it was Pop-pop (with a little help from his children) who built Dad’s family homestead in Blue Bell, PA. Did Pop-pop ever try to “follow his passion”? Somehow, I doubt it. I think he just had the character necessary to recognize what needed doing in his local community. And while his son is now a “white collar” professional and relatively affluent, Dad has still absorbed the lesson that is his father’s life. That’s why he’s always emphasized to us the importance of having a job – any job – no matter how much it supposedly sucks.

(And you know what? Sometimes those “sucky” jobs aren’t so sucky after all. Years back, I worked a near-minimum-wage job at Kohl’s, and I’d probably go back there again if my arthritis weren’t so advanced. I found the task of cleaning up the racks and hanging up the returns oddly relaxing.)

Rowe’s right to assert that our larger culture has lost the ethic that once built a house from scratch in Blue Bell. As I noted in the comment I appended to the Jay Leno video, we’re all about pushing our kids into college so they can avoid “back-breaking labor.” And ultimately, I think that attitude is profoundly wrong-headed. We still need people who can make things — who can work with their hands.

(Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds, by the way.)

The Gospel According to Peanuts

The Gospel According to Peanuts
How A Charlie Brown Christmas almost didn’t happen

by Lee Habeeb @ the National Review

As far back as 1965 — just a few years before Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” — CBS executives thought a Bible reading might turn off a nation populated with Christians. And during a Christmas special, no less! Ah, the perils of living on an island in the northeast called Manhattan.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is equaled only perhaps by the 1966 How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in its popularity among young and old alike. Thank God the Grinch-like executives at CBS chose to air the special back in 1965 despite their misgivings. If it had been left to their gut instincts, we would have had one less national treasure to cherish come Christmas time.

So A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! are the two most popular Christmas specials, eh? Gee, I wonder why that is! Could it be that we Americans still enjoy wholesome entertainment that, oh yes, reminds us of the true reason for the season?

By the way, if you happen to live in the DC area – and are one of those individuals for whom department store ditties like “Santa Baby” inspire an urge to stab the nearest person in the eye with whatever’s handy – I recommend tuning your car radio to 91.9 FM. That (Christian) station actually plays Jesus music during the holidays. You know, songs like “Silent Night,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful,” and so on. I guarantee you’ll find the selection on that particular channel a welcome antidote to all the crap you hear while doing your Christmas shopping.