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HuffPo: A White Woman Told Me She Doesn’t ‘Think Of’ Me As Black. Here’s How I Reacted

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Once, as I was putting the final touches on the live auction program for my sons’ school, one of the committee moms expressed surprise when I told her that I wanted to get more Black parents involved the following year.

“It’s funny,” she said. “I don’t really ever think of you as Black. I’ve always just seen you as one of us.”

(cont.)

The last time I heard that comment, I replied sweetly, “Who is us?”

Whew, the face CRACK! She wanted the earth to open up and swallow her whole. They don’t even realize what they’re saying until you make them think about what they just said.

 

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Politics

Some journalistic racism from Kentucky.

Something isn’t quite right about this mayoral coverage.

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This will be quick, but I just wanted to show y’all an example of racism I had not yet seen previously. I’m very familiar with racial bias in reporting, mostly the very blatant examples where a white man kills his entire family and all of the photos are Happy Vacation Pics and a Black man will be suspected of anything and have his mugshot published. This is a very sneaky example courtesy of WDRB Louisville in their reporting on the mayor’s race.

Here’s a nice headshot of Craig Greenberg with a caption stating that he’s running for mayor.

Here’s a nice headshot of David L. Nicholson with a caption stating that he’s running for mayor.

Here’s random photo of Shameka Parrish-Wright on her porch and a caption that says she’s the head of two racial organizations, no mention of candidacy for mayor.

Here’s a random photo of Rev. Tim Findley, Jr. speaking to a reporter and a caption that says what church he’s affiliated with, no mention of candidacy for mayor.

Is it an accident or is it intentional?

If you asked me 5 or 6 years ago, honestly I probably would’ve said it was an accident, without totally absolving the organization of guilt. When I say “accident” with regards to something like this, what I mean is, nobody sat down and said “I’m going to publish two headshots of the white guys and state they’re running for mayor, and I’m going to publish two file photos of the Black candidates with a blurb about who they are.” When I say it’s an accident, I mean it’s more likely that implicit bias has blinded them to the fact that they are handicapping the Black candidates. Implicit bias means they see the Black candidates as less qualified, so it does not register to them that the announcements in their publication are unequal. Implicit bias means had it been four white candidates, you would pick four comparable photos and make four comparable statements because you would notice the discrepancies between four candidates who hold equal place in your mind.

That was years ago though. Today? In 2021? I do feel like it’s intentional. I’m at a point in my adult life where I do not believe most “accidents” are accidents. Someone made the very clear decision to look for and publish the two headshots of the white candidates and simply use file photos for the two Black candidates.

Plus, the About Us section of the WDRB website says this station is owned by Block Communications. If you’ve never heard that name, it’s perfectly fine. Who pays much attention to who owns what newspapers and television stations? I’d only heard of it because of the White Pride March on the Capitol, after which Susan Allan Block, former board member and part of the founding family, made a post on Facebook.

She calls Vice President Kamala Harris a whore in the blurred out part.

So do I believe a media company with these kinds of people in their ranks — not just deplorable, but so boldly and proudly abhorrent that they post about it on social media — would hire a staff that would intentionally pick and choose headshots? Yes I do.

After Rev. Findley pointed it out on social media, WDRB swiftly (in 8 hours) made changes to their post.

But the problem is how racism is so pervasive that something as innocuous as a mayoral announcement is an opportunity to sway public opinion in favor of White is Right. So that’s your morning reminder: be skeptical of everything. There are Susan Allan Blocks everywhere behind companies shaping public opinion, and being as bigoted as they can get away with.

 

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Teach Critical Race Theory to kindergarteners.

Black children start learning at five, so why shouldn’t everybody else?

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For 25% of Virginia voters, Critical Race Theory was the single most important issue to consider when they ultimately elected Republican Glenn Youngkin. In all, 72% of voters said CRT was an important factor when deciding who to vote for. (x) Ask them to explain it however…

Since this well-informed voter can’t explain what it is, I’ll try. Critical Race Theory is an area of study in higher academia (typically law school) that examines how racism has affected the development of US policy.

CRT is an approach to studying U.S. policies and institutions that is most often taught in law schools. Its foundations date back to the 1970s, when law professors including Harvard Law School’s Derrick Bell began exploring how race and racism have shaped American law and society.

The theory rests on the premise that racial bias – intentional or not – is baked into U.S. laws and institutions.

(cont. Reuters)

In short, your 10th grader is not being taught CRT. Your kindergartener can’t even spell critical yet. Even in college, most of us never really come across CRT as part of a curriculum. However, Republicans got together in a room somewhere and decided this would be the next assault on the Left. They have once again successfully harnessed the power of the media, stupidity, and racism to make CRT into a boogeyman that’s going to make little Jimothy run home from elementary school ashamed to be white.

Those of us who have common sense have spent the past few months repeating this line: CRT isn’t being taught in schools! This is a non issue!

(PBS)

(NBC News)

None of this matters when the people being pandered to by the Right don’t know what Critical Race Theory is in the first place. If they cannot define it, but they still “hate” it, then it does not matter if you tell them it’s not taking place in schools. People they trust have told them it’s being taught. People who they do not trust cannot convince them otherwise.

So why are we trying? Republicans have now taken CRT from an obscure corner of academia and made it a generic term for anything about race that makes white people uncomfortable, so we should be forcing those people to stand ten toes down on their racist opinion. Instead of telling them to define CRT with that very Liberal air of “I know you’re stupid and I can’t wait for you to prove it to me so I can laugh with my friends,” tell them CRT is great and your kids should be learning about race in school. If you won’t properly educate your children, then somebody needs to.

Do you know who is actually being taught CRT? And I mean the Republican definition, not the actual academic definition.

Black children. We start learning about race in America as soon as we are made aware that race is being used to categorize us. Last year I wrote down some lessons I had learned as a Black man, and the first was in elementary school:

The first time I realized white people could do things I can’t, I was about 8 or 9 years old. I grew up in the rural South and it wasn’t uncommon for my mom to tell me to run into a store and grab something while the car idled at the entrance. I loved it; I was a big boy. She sent me into K-Mart to buy something (I don’t remember what it was anymore), and on my way out, the theft detection sensor went off. A white woman was leaving at the same time I was, but the greeter stopped me, called a security guard on me, told me to stay put while he waved the white woman on and told her to have a nice day. I wasn’t in the security office for very long before my mom, who sensed I’d been gone too long, rescued me and took me home.

I learned to wait until the doorway is clear before I leave a store, so someone else’s theft doesn’t land me in handcuffs one day.

This is a common age for children of color to start learning about race.

Those last two tweets are the reason why white parents don’t want race being taught in school — they are racist and they have been teaching their kids to be racist, whether intentionally or unknowingly. Their reaction to CRT comes from one of two places. Either they believe in white supremacy with their whole chest and have proudly said racist things around their children, or they are afraid to be confronted with their latent racism that they are unprepared to face or admit.

White people who have never addressed their unconscious (or conscious!) bias are the people who believe themselves to be good. Those are the suburban white moms who turned out to vote against Trump last time but flipped to support Youngkin for Governor. They believe themselves to be good people who couldn’t possibly be racist because they have a vague sense that everybody should be equal, but deep down they know they will be forced to confront viewpoints they didn’t know they had. The discomfort means they don’t want their kid in school learning about how the threads of race make cobwebs in every corner of American discourse because they didn’t learn it and they’re not prepared to. They have a nightmare scenario where they don’t recognize Hayleigh and Skylar anymore because one has so much white guilt and the other is so woke they challenge mommy and daddy’s racism at the dinner table.

Their children do not want to be racist.

And those parents cannot face the fact that their kids want to be better than they are.

There is no way to address race if most of the people in the conversation are unaware of how race affects policy. Children of color are the ones who are forced to learn about race in kindergarten. Waiting for white kids to come to some arbitrary age of majority to learn how to function in society wastes two decades of learning where we could have been having conversations together.  All of a sudden they go off to college and are confronted with an array of racial discussions they’ve been unaware of, and we are expected to teach white people for free because their parents were too afraid to let them learn how the world works before patterns and biases started to solidify.

So if a white parent asks me if CRT should be taught in school, I’m saying absolutely. If a white parent says they don’t want their children learning critical race theory, I’m not asking them to define it and I’m not explaining to them it’s not being taught. I’m telling them that I had to learn about race at five. If you are so concerned about your kids being left behind in school, you need to acknowledge the fact that by the time they’re in college, they’re about 15 years behind in racial dynamics. If you want to protect your kids, protect them from being called a racist for spouting misinformation that should’ve been corrected in 7th grade if you were a better parent.

 

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Race

Seneca Village, Black displacement, and the history of Central Park.

Let’s have a look at the first free Black settlement in NYC.

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Some tweets about Central Park have been going viral the past two days and they are missing valuable context and clarity. Yesterday, I saw this one:

Black people owned less than 1% of the land that would eventually become Central Park.

Seneca Village was about 5 acres of land. Central Park is almost 850 acres of land. So no, the area was not called Seneca Village. There were lots of little villages with their own names dotted throughout the area.

A third of the people in Seneca Village were white. In fact, most of the people in Central Park were white — they were Irish and German farmers.

The United States is a terrible country founded upon theft, greed, and subjugation. All of this land was stolen from Native Americans in the first place, so this is not an effort to impart any warm and fuzzy feelings about US history. Hyperbole is the enemy of truth, and exaggeration in one area of history serves to undermine facts in another. We live in a country where textbooks speak of slavery as a valid business model with a few mean employers. Because of that, when we are trying to force the reality of the horrors of slavery and racism into the American narrative, we can’t afford to embellish other injustices.

When you say Black families had their homesteads razed to make way for Central Park, the average person will picture roving bands of white people setting fires and violently chasing Black people with dogs and weapons. It happened all over the country throughout our history. Countless Black communities are forgotten today because the history of white America is written in Black suffering.

The location of Central Park wasn’t a decision made with race at the forefront. Seneca Village was indeed the first free Black settlement in NYC after slavery was outlawed. Free Black men could vote if they owned enough property, and around 15-20% of those property-owning men lived in Seneca Village. The city did take control of that property through eminent domain to make way for Central Park. All of these things are true.

These things are also true: At its peak the population of Seneca Village was less than 300 people and a third of those people were white. The total population of the area now known as Central Park was almost 2,000 people, and the majority of them were Irish and German farmers. The city used eminent domain to take all of their lands, but that doesn’t mean the lands were stolen from them. All of the residents who owned their property were paid for it — double or triple what the original selling price was — but they couldn’t say no to the sale. The city forced them to sell and move elsewhere. Aside from that though, most of the population of NYC lived below 14th Street, which meant much of the rest of Manhattan was semi-rural and people farmed land all over the island that they didn’t own. When the city decided to build Central Park, they forced the squatters to start paying rent to the city, and when they couldn’t pay, they were kicked out.

The image being painted on Twitter is that Central Park was full of communities of prosperous, land-owning freedmen who lost their voting rights when NYC decided to build a park where the Black people live. And that’s a fair assumption! NYC is full of racist building projects, and US history is full of racist legacies where successful Black towns were essentially punished or destroyed for simply thriving. That’s not quite the case for Central Park. Most of the displaced people were white. Most of the residents of Seneca Village were poor and 80% of them didn’t own the homes they lived in. Those who owned property, which in turn meant they could vote, were paid more than they’d originally invested.  They could use that money buy property elsewhere, which meant they could still vote.

But! This is still the United States. While racism may not be the central figure in the creation of Central Park as it was in other tales of yesteryear, it’s still there as a supporting character.

When NYC wanted a park, the original location chosen was a place called Jones’s Wood. The prosperous white families in that area successfully fought the city, so a new location was scouted and the city settled on the area now known as Central Park. Seneca Village was a very, very tiny portion of the land area and the Black residents there were a small percentage of the mostly white population that would be displaced, but there were very prominent Black families in Seneca Village. The majority of the residents were indeed poor farmers, laborers, and domestic workers who didn’t own land, but the people who did own land were important to the Black community in NYC at large.

The Lyons Family in Seneca Village were conductors on the Underground Railroad.

All Angels church was one of the few interracial congregations in the country. When riots broke out in Lower Manhattan as white racists attacked Black abolitionists, Seneca Village much farther north was spared any damage. As a result, this much more rural area attracted other prominent Black activists, and by the time Central Park was planned, 20% of the Black voters in the city lived there. The residents of Seneca Village put up a fight against the city just as the residents of Jones’s Wood had, but where those prosperous white families ultimately prevailed, the prosperous Black ones did not, and the city moved forward with its plans.

The two biggest takeaways from the creation of Central Park and the history of Seneca Village is the lack of violence and the displacement of white people. Those two factors counter the image most of us have when we hear the city took land from Black people to make a park. There are no stories of Black displacement where most of the people affected were white, and there are few stories of Black displacement from the 19th Century where the government engaged in protracted legal battles with the residents and ultimately paid property owners for their land.  Seneca Village should be remembered as the first free Black settlement in NYC, but we don’t have to paint it as another Tulsa to drive home the history of racism in the US. There are enough Tulsas to go around.

 

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Some sources if you want to read in more detail:
NY Times: Seneca Central Park
Columbia University: Seneca Village
CentralParkNYC.org: Seneca Village
Documents of the Assembly of the State of NY 

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