The Good, Racist People — Ta-Nehisi Coates on the fact that even today an Oscar-
nominated winning actor — Forrest Whitaker — can be suspected of being a shoplifter because of the color of his skin.
In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.”
A half-century later little had changed. The comedian Michael Richards (Kramer on “Seinfeld”) once yelled at a black heckler from the stage: “He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger!” Confronted about this, Richards apologized and then said, “I’m not a racist,” and called the claim “insane.”
The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion. We can forgive Whitaker’s assailant. Much harder to forgive is all that makes Whitaker stand out in the first place. New York is a city, like most in America, that bears the scars of redlining, blockbusting and urban renewal. The ghost of those policies haunts us in a wealth gap between blacks and whites that has actually gotten worse over the past 20 years.
But much worse, it haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence that is given tell only when the victim happens to be an Oscar winner. The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the “middle class,” will be treated as such. But this injunction is only half-enforced when it comes to black people, in large part because we were never meant to be part of the American story. Forest Whitaker fits that bill, and he was addressed as such.
I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank. I am trying to a imagine a prominent white Harvard professor arrested for breaking into his own home, and coming up with nothing. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark. It is worth considering the messaging here. It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.” It is messaging propagated by moral people.
The other day I walked past this particular deli. I believe its owners to be good people. I felt ashamed at withholding business for something far beyond the merchant’s reach. I mentioned this to my wife. My wife is not like me. When she was 6, a little white boy called her cousin a nigger, and it has been war ever since. “What if they did that to your son?” she asked.
And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.
The “Undocuqueers” — Benjy Sarlin at TPM on the hurdles that remain for gay couples with immigration issues.
A report released Friday by the Williams Institute at UCLA calculated that out of the 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be America today, 267,000 adults identify as LGBT. Another 637,000 LGBT adults were legal immigrants. Gary Gates, a scholar at the Williams Institute, said that the number was a conservative estimate based on cross-referencing survey data on undocumented immigrants, sexual orientation, along with data on married same sex couples. Gates’ remarks came at an event in Washington, D.C., debuting the finding that was hosted by the liberal Center for American Progress.
There are some issues gay and immigrant rights groups are looking to address that concern specifically LGBT immigrants, for example greater sensitivity towards gay and transgendered detainees taken into custody by ICE. But the dominant issue affects U.S. citizens and immigrants alike: the ability to sponsor one’s partner or spouse for a visa.
The Defense of Marriage Act, now under review by the Supreme Court, bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples. That means that the usual laws allowing citizens to bring foreign-born husbands or wives to America under a family visa don’t apply. The result is often that couples are forced into effective exile: the popular progressive blogger Glenn Greenwald, for example, lives in Brazil with his partner because only Brazilian law recognizes their relationship and grants Greenwald permanent residency.
According to the Williams Institute, the nation is home to an estimated 32,300 same-sex binational couples in which one spouse is an American and the other a non-citizen. According to Gates, more than half have children, meaning entire families face the prospect of being split apart if a foreign partner or spouse can’t find an alternative visa through work, school, or other family relationships — a process that can take years in the best of circumstances.
Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist and activist who revealed in 2011 that he himself was an undocumented immigrant, said at CAP’s event on Friday that his grandfather was upset when he came out as gay in part because it closed off one possible avenue to citizenship.
“I ruined the plan,” he said. “The plan was to come to America, marry a woman, and get my papers that way.”
Sleepytime — Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker: The science of sleep is an eye-opener.
Of the many ways that things can go wrong in bed, sleep troubles are probably the most prevalent. According to a 2011 poll, more than half of Americans between the ages of thirteen and sixty-four experience a sleep problem almost every night, and nearly two-thirds complain that they are not getting enough rest during the week. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that fifty to seventy million Americans suffer from a “chronic disorder of sleep and wakefulness.” The results are dangerous as well as annoying. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that almost five per cent of adults acknowledge nodding off at the wheel at least once during the previous month. The U.S. Department of Transportation has determined that what might be called D.W.D.—driving while drowsy—causes forty thousand injuries a year in the United States and more than fifteen hundred deaths.
Our collective weariness is the subject of several new books, some by professionals who study sleep, others by amateurs who are short of it. David K. Randall’s “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep” belongs to the latter category. It’s a good book to pick up during a bout of insomnia.
Randall begins with an account of his own sleep problems, which include laughing, humming, grunting, bouncing, kicking, and, on at least one occasion, sleep-walking into a wall. He considers a range of possible explanations for the national exhaustion—too much light, too much warmth, too much avoirdupois—and finds them all compelling. The electric light bulb has made darkness optional, eliminating the enforced idleness that used to begin at sunset. Modern mattresses and bedclothes trap the heat that the body gives off as its core temperature drops each night. Obesity increases the chances of developing sleep apnea, a condition that combines choking and waking in an exhausting, sometimes life-threatening cycle. For all these reasons and more, Randall anticipates a bright future for the emerging field of “fatigue management.” One sleep expert he interviews predicts that “fatigue management officers” will soon be as common at major corporations as accountants. Like time, sleep, it turns out, is money.
Doonesbury — Soul-searching.