Review: Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a couple hundred pounds of chains bearing down on the reader. A father who writes about the race in America in the time just before #BlackLivesMatter attempts to put into words what it means. This stands out as a better expression of the weight of it all than anything else I have seen.

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Peril of Good Intentions

Defeated in college

I ran across a friend’s Facebook post about parenting and related a description of a college psychology professor’s eugenics lecture. The reply was that eliminating the genes of less intelligent people seems like it could help improve society. This seeming promise is why it has been tried many times. Before the Holocaust shifted to genocide, it dabbled in eugenics and mimicked United States eugenics programs.

But, let’s assume that a eugenics program stayed away from genocide. I still have issues with this…

Why a specific person is intelligent or not tends to be not so clear cut as good or bad genes. Psychologists tend to be pretty sure that most of intelligence comes from genes. I personally think genes provide recipes for brain cells and a layout of those cells. The brain cells still have to be grown and connections established in the brain. Exposure to various experiences in the raising of the child help achieve the potential provided by the brains. If a person both has good genes and was raised in such a way to maximize their potential, then I think a person ought to become the person we want them to be. Are we at a point where almost all children can are provided the experiences to reach this potential? Not even close. I think people who think we reasonably are at this point feel that eugenics or genetic modification are the ways to push beyond our plateau. I would prefer we fix the environment before we start punishing people for lack of socioeconomic resources or programs to help.

Biases cloud our conclusions in situations where we are not usually aware. It was thought the reason orchestras were almost all male because they were better performers. They shifted to a better mix of genders after the practice of blind auditions became common. Why? Because there are biases which affect opinions assessments beneath our ability to tell. We see similar issues when it comes to intelligence assessment and especially jobs in skilled fields. IQ tests have fought hard to get better at not being WEIRD. Anonymous names on papers change the grades students get and which conference submissions are accepted. Some of meritocracies could be doing much better.

When people think they are objective and unbiased then they don’t monitor and scrutinize their own behavior. They just assume that they are right and that their assessments are accurate. Yet, studies repeatedly show that stereotypes of all kinds (gender, ethnicity, age, disability etc.) are filters through which we evaluate others, often in ways that advantage dominant groups and disadvantage lower-status groups.

The eugenics movements were confident the physically & mentally unfit, materially poor, and atheists needed to controlled. People of color just happened to commonly be identified as meeting their criteria. I will be skeptical of any similar movement to be truly objective because even though they truly intend to be, the prior ones thought they were too. Hindsight shows they were not.

Of course, the abomination that I am was the reasoning for why my parents were not allowed to marry in my home state. It was deemed bad for the Caucasian race to allow mixing with inferior races. That probably fuels my own bias against this kind of thing.

Is it yours?

I did have this experience once:

One assumption that always gets me, and I am sure makes most of my African American male friends perhaps slightly uncomfortable when we are in public together, is when someone says to one of them, “Oh, your daughter is beautiful” ― except as Jerry Springer would announce, “He is NOT the baby daddy!”

Just because a white woman is with a man of color and the child is brown does NOT make that man the father. A nervous laugh always ensues when that question is uttered by yet another stranger. Immediately, the look on the face of my friend says, What do I say?

About nineteen years ago, this woman I had met online was taking her about 9 month old son to visit her parents. She planned to stop where I lived, so we hung out for a bit. The place she wanted to eat was a buffet, so she left him with me to fix their plates. That’s what my mother did with my little brother at the same age, so I knew this drill.

A guy at another table leaned over to say my son was well behaved and handsome. I was dumbfounded. But, but, but.

Then I realized that brown guy + brown boy => father-son. It was such an obvious conclusion I had no idea how to refute it. I did tell the mom about the guy’s compliment on her son.

Some friends have very, very blond daughters. At brunch I would occasionally carry them around and talk about things. The looks were priceless. Some found it amusing. Others had confused expressions. I know they wanted to ask whether or not this was my kid. A small part was about making people react just to see what it would be. It was a big, red, shiny button begging to be pushed.

Race Is Immutable?

In the eyes of the law, your race is considered immutable because it cannot be changed from its natural state.

This made me laugh. Being mixed the perception of my race is very mutable. People often have no idea what to make of my skin color, hair, or facial features.The day-to-day decisions I make influence that perception. The day-to-day decisions I make influence what I consider myself.

Some days I consider myself more black than white. Some days I consider myself more white than black. Some days I consider myself more mixed than either. Some days I consider myself neither black nor white.

The article does address this:

Race is an elusive, fluid concept, and the courts have been manifestly reluctant to define it. What, in the end, makes a person black? The 11th Circuit wrestled with the idea in its ruling, dredging up old definitions and emerging with nothing more definitive than that “race” is nature, not nurture.

 

Well Fed and Housed

Michelle Obama: I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.

Bill O’Reilly: Slaves that worked there were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802.

If he used a weasel word like “some” to say slaves had relatively decent treatment, then I would be okay with what he said. One of those who worked on the Capitol building, Philip Reid, was paid $1.25 a day but only on Sunday (the other six days his owner received pay for his work). Once freed due to Lincoln, this same man was a highly sought after craftsman. Because of his high desirability, he probably was well treated. Others building in DC with sought after skills probably were also pretty well treated.

But, those slaves doing the worst jobs probably got terrible treatment. Both are common narratives in stories about slavery. Those serving in the house or providing special skills were clean, well fed, and slept in nice houses. Those serving in the fields were dirty, barely subsisting, and slept in terrible conditions.

As an eye witness Abigail Adams observed in a letter slaves working on the White House were so malnourished and weak 2 Northern whites could do the work of 12 slaves. My 2nd cousin 8x removed, John C. Calhoun, was a great defender of slavery describing owners and caretakers of those who would otherwise be destitute. The story that slaves had good lives is a popular propaganda of those  who lovingly long for the South to return to its great glory. Dylann Roof’s manifesto contained writings about how slaves positively viewed their lives under it. So I read the Georgia narratives and found the opposite.

Let’s say they were well treated…

  1. They were still slaves.
  2. Meaning, they were still considered less than a full person at 3/5ths.
  3. As slaves they were still forced to work for the benefit of others not themselves.
  4. As slaves they had no option to decide they would rather do something else.

Pretty sure if I made Bill my slave, then he would be constantly trying to escape like Kunta Kinte to the point of needing to torture him and chop off part of his foot to hobble him. He would ungratefully do this even though I would feed him well and set him up in a nice house. He would bristle under not being free. He talks lots and lots about how great are the Bill of Rights because he appreciates freedom. Even if a slave owner treats the slaves well, they are… still. not. free.

Not all slave owners were terrible people. At least, a few slave narratives of blacks I read revealed some thought their owners treated them better than most did. The common narrative from the worst to the best is they were all still were glad to receive their freedom. Even those who found their circumstances onerous during Great Depression were thankful to be free.

What Bill said though is dog whistle politics. The underlying coded language here is that blacks were better off under slavery than they are now. Freeing my ancestors was a mistake because we could be still benefiting under that vile institution as slaves instead of what we have today. Those Southern conservatives who dream the South Will Rise Again ate that up and totally agree with him. A couple Confederate fanboy blogs I read yesterday even lament that Bill was not more explicit about what he meant.

Review: Roots: The Saga of an American Family

Roots: The Saga of an American Family
Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This historical fiction novel covers this history of the a black family. How their ancestor started in Africa, was brought to America as a slave, and how the family fared under that despicable institution.

Alex Haley learned the stories of his family passed down along the generations to him. And using the details of the stories, researched for more, and from that wrote this novel.

The visceral emotions evoked were probably due to feeling connected to it. Over the past couple years I have researched my own genealogy. That came about after taking a DNA test and realizing I could use suggested relatives to find more information. But, Kunta Kinte, the Haley ancestor knew his grandfather was from the same part of Africa as my Y-DNA has the highest concentration (suggesting the origin location). Reading Roots feels like what my story could be if only I could find the same information.

I suspect this is why the show captured the American imagination.

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Mixed Antigens

Reading The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, it made me happier that I am probably more disease resistant than my peers due to having very different antigens due to my mixed heritage. One of my hopes was that more mixed kids would be born making society healthier.

This helped me realize though that benefit comes with a dark side. Very different antigen combinations make it more difficult to match bone marrow. From the Mixed Marrow mission,

Race holds a critical role in finding a marrow match. Genetic makeup must be similar between the donor and the recipient in order for a match to occur. For mixed patients, their monoracial parents and relatives will not likely match them and siblings only hold about a 1 in 4 chance. Not only is ethnicity a factor, but the probability of which antigens are passed down from each parent makes finding a match that much harder. Finding a marrow match has been compared at times as having the odds of “finding a needle in a haystack” or “winning the lottery.”

Guess I was lucky never to need a transplant.

Evoking the Mulatto

Ran across this video series on “Exploring black mixed identity in the 21st Century.” More than just discussing the offensiveness of mulatto, they discuss the doting on whiteness, family, and symbology.

One part I keep coming back to ties to where I’ve seen some stuff online on people who rail against calling yourself mixed. In their minds, if you have any black, then you are black period. In most of those comments, there is no explanation of how that person is coming into the conversation. She says:

I’m not pushing forward: I’m mixed. I’m mixed. I’m mixed.

I’m black.

I find myself tempted at times to rail back against it. I’m mixed. They are black. And that’s OK.

We all have a variety stories that shaped who we are and how we perceive ourselves and the world. Mine are not theirs. Theirs are not mine.

From my own personal experience I cannot really say I am either white or black. Mixed feels more appropriate. So, I guess I will continue to push forward: I’m mixed.

Solution to Black-On-Black Crime

(This post on black-on-black crime is satire. Thought I would point that out before someone gets too upset over it.)

A Georgia state lawmakers showed concern about the amount of black-on-black crime. He is obviously referencing the FBI homicide statistics for perpetrator race. Fortunately the actual number is lower than the 98% he claimed. But he’s not wrong that a large majority of homicides of black people are by another black person at 90% in 2013. Here is the thing. The same table shows 83% of white homicides were by another white person. It seems likely both communities have a common problem. They both spend too much time around people of their own race.

If your true goal is to lower black-on-black crime rates or white-on-white crime rates, then the best solution is to effectively mix the races so much they are willing to murder across racial boundaries. People tend to kill the kinds of people with whom they spend their time. If you rarely are around people of another race, then your opportunities are fewer. Mixing the races such that people are just people will do wonders to ending the black-on-black crime problem.

His remarks though were that all this concern about eviscerating the Confederate flag or memorials were to hide this black-on-black crime problem and other issues with the black community. He also describes the KKK as vigilantes necessary for law and order. So I in no way expect him to agree better racial integration is an appropriate solution.