Recently, a high school student contacted me because she had questions about racism in America. Specifically, she wanted to interview me for a school project on the topic of institutional racism.
Institutional racism is a tricky subject, and I did my best to introduce her to the complexities and nuances of something that often flies under the radar. Many white Americans are unaware of the issue, or have trouble understanding it if they are aware. And so after I answered her questions, I decided to re-print our Q&A.
Here is my conversation with a high schooler about racism in America.
Thank you very much for helping me with my project by taking the time out of your day to answer a few of my questions on the following questions/topics.
How do you define institutional racism? And how prevalent would you say it is in modern North American society?
We normally associate racism and bigotry with the intentional actions of an individual or group of people. But institutional racism is the result of larger social forces that can be difficult to detect. Instead of one person or a few people doing or saying something racist, institutional racism comes about when society at large expresses racism in more subtle and impersonal ways. Continue reading Talking to a High School Student about Racism
During your 20s and 30s, when you don’t have any children, it is inevitable that people will periodically ask you: “Do you want to have kids?”
It never mattered who asked. Family, friends, or lesser acquaintances, men or women, married or single, parents themselves or not. I always had the same answer.
Yes, just not now.
During my mid-30s, I began to append a caveat: If I didn’t have any children by age 40, I probably never would. I didn’t want to be an old dad.
But the realization, that I’d rather not be a middle aged gray beard huffing and puffing while I try to keep up with the little rascals, opened a door. Whereas I’d previously assumed I wanted kids, just not now, the 40 year old expiration date I adopted forced me to question my pat answer and ask myself if I really wanted them at all.
After spending a couple of decades saying Yes, but not now, I finally realized something. There was never a “now” because I never actually wanted them. And I probably never would. Continue reading On Not Having Children
Hotter. I need it to be hotter.
I’m sitting in the backyard of my sister’s carriage house apartment in Orange, California, a circle of jolly boutique and micro brew quaintness amid the sprawling shit hole that is Orange County.
Of course nowadays, most any place in America afflicted by people is a shit hole. Indeed, even a quotient of the unpopulated spaces is beginning to emit a fecal stench, as if the human foulness emanating from the peopled portions of our nation is so strong as to waft and stain everything around it, like a halo of shimmering, homo sapiens stank.
I want it to be hotter.
After all, there are no more distinct places in the United States, or precious few at any rate. Instead, there are just types. The urban playground loaded with bars and restaurants, and kickball and skeeball leagues for childless 20- and 30-somethings; the poor and working class black and brown food deserts that gird the yuppies and empty nesters; the little towns hemorrhaging people, stragglers holding onto the local bar like shipwreck survivors grasping a buoy in the ocean; the increasingly opulent college towns full of precious students, microcosmic training yards for the urban playgrounds; the tourist spots offering up overpriced drinks and glossy nostalgia; and all of it bound together by highways, those endless concourses of fast food, gasoline, and the occasional pile of roadkill.
But all of those types are just islands scattered about the uber-type, that oceanic wasteland of suburbia and its relentless waves of roads, strip malls, and tract housing, repeating itself over and over again like the backdrop of a cheap 1970s cartoon where a boring bipedal cat, arms outstretched, chases a smarmy little mouse who’s certainly got it coming, but predictably manages to perpetually escape the fanged horror it deserves, thus prolonging the crankshaft repetition of house tree fence; house tree fence; house tree fence . . . Continue reading Hotter
Five and a half years after its initial launch, this site is receiving a substantial update for the first time. Some of it is aesthetics, with new colors, imagery, and font. Some of it involves updating content.
The “Pages” at the top of the site (eg. “Me” and “Books I Done Written”) are not only renamed, but also updated. Click inside and see.
In addition, I’ve added two new pages: “Books I Might Write” and “CV.” The former contains brief overviews of book projects I’m working on. Beyond the infamous Communities book that was responsible for launching this site but has yet to see the light of day, there are also working manuscripts on music and misadventures from the road. The “CV” page contains my Curriculum Vitae, which is what professors call their resumé. Is our pretentious Latin name for it better than your pretentious French name for it? Who knows. The bottom line is, we’re all pretentious.
P.S. Yes, I’ll keep blogging here on the front page. If you’d like to sign up for email notifications, or get them via Facebook or Twitter, that’s just to the right near the top of any page. Viva la blog! (That’s pretentious Spanish for, “None of this stuff ends up on my resumé.”
I’m happy to announce that my second book was recently published by the University of Nebraska Press. Special thanks to editor Matthew Bokovoy,
editorial assistant Heather Stauffer,
and the entire UNP staff for all of their help and professionalism during the past several years in shepherding this project to completion.
The book is entitled Welcome to the Oglala Nation: A Documentary Reader in Oglala Lakota Political History. The UN Press website for the book is here. The Amazon page for the book is here. Continue reading My Second Book: Welcome to the Oglala Nation
As has been widely reported, May was an exceptionally violent month here in Baltimore. The city has witnessed dozens shootings and 42 murders.
That is the most murders in any one month since 1990.
Such a spate of violence is certainly worth reporting, and the national media has been quick to pick up on it. However, many media outlets are also drawing lazy connections to the riot and protests that took place several weeks back.
The typical analysis, whether implied or explicit, goes something like this.
There was a riot in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody. The riot amplified already troubled relations between Baltimore’s African American community and its police force. The police, unhappy about the indictment of six officers in the Gray case, are staging a work slowdown. The result is tremendous violence across the city.
This brand of analysis is not factually wrong. Some of those statements may be a bit vague, but they’re wrong in and of themselves. However, when those those facts are strung together in this manner, the narrative they produce is just a bit too facile to offer a penetrating explanation for recent upswing in violence.
The problem with such an analysis is that it’s:
A) Too focused on the present and fails to account for historical forces, and;
B) Too narrow in the way it corrals all the immediate factors but fails to make room for larger structural forces Continue reading Baltimore’s May Murders
Last Wednesday I wrote an essay on the Baltimore riot, not the protests that followed or the de facto police state Baltimore has become since then. I grappled with the conditions in Baltimore that led to the riot, and talked about rioting as a form of social violence.
However, now that the most immediate tensions are winding down, the curfew has been finally lifted, and the soldiers are melting from our streets, I would like to offer a more personalized reaction to the events of the past two weeks: fragments of thought and experience amid the choppers circling overhead, parks filled with protestors, streets lined with soldiers. Continue reading A Love Letter from Baltimore
I was gonna write something about the Clint Eastwood
film American Sniper.
Seems like a topic of the Now. Something the internetting public can really grab onto and scream about.
Clint Eastwood: Sentimental warmonger, or artist of more nuance than leftists and pacifists can discern?
U.S. sniper Chris Kyle: Troubled war veteran of humble origins whose experiences are a sharp prism for viewing America’s exploitative class divides and tragic foreign policy, or a remorseless, racist killing machine who’s murderous life and violent death reflect much of what’s wrong with the nation?
That kinda thing. People love that sort of stuff. Gets ‘em all jacked up, clickety-click. Plus, I just saw the movie and have some ideas of my own. But you know what?
I don’t wanna talk about moral ambiguity. I don’t wanna dissect global politics. I don’t wanna filter through the finer shades of artistic vision, intention, and reception. I don’t wanna delve into any of those abstractions. I don’t wanna tap society’s pulse and jump on the topic du jour. You know why?
Because life is meaningless. Continue reading This Essay Is Not About American Sniper
I’ve made some deep runs in my time.
I once drove non-stop from central Wyoming to eastern Iowa before passing out at a highway rest stop for a couple of hours, waking up with a scrambled brain, driving the short distance to Illinois, then staring with confusion and regret at the chili cheese omelette I’d ordered at a pre-cell truck stop where drivers sat with piles of quarters in front of them at booths hard wired to pay phones. Continue reading 7500 Miles, Part III: Ain’t No One Gonna Turn Me Around