Readers discuss the slights they’ve experienced within racial and ethnic groups, rather than between them. (For a complementary series, see “Your Stories of Racism” compiled here.) If you have your own perspective to share, please send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I feel that Allene is conflating two things I’d consider separate. One thing she describes is shadism/colorism, where Black people will judge other Black people based on their relative skin tone, hair texture, nose and lip shape. As a lighter-skinned, loose-curled, Creole Black person, I once met a Black woman who was genuinely astounded that I not only found women darker than me attractive, but that I’d be comfortable introducing a dark-skinned girlfriend to my family. And there are some dark-skinned Black people who reactively resent lighter Black people in return (as you might too, if people who were themselves brown skinned refused to date you because you were only a few shades darker). This same colorist mentality is what leads some Black people to be called “Oreos” for “acting White” (although you also see festivals like Afropunk celebrating “alternative” Black styles.)
Like Allene, I think it’s empowering, especially for young Black people, to know the richness of their culture and history, but empowerment (in my opinion) comes from seeing the ways Black people were able to achieve, to innovate, and to shape America despite/because of the obstacles and restrictions placed on us. Activists who put oppression at the forefront of Black identity are, to me, only focusing on half the story, and the uninspiring half at that. Maybe Allene would be more willing to embrace a Black identity defined in terms of its positives—its empowering victories—than one that is pessimistic and defeatist.
Lastly, regarding Allene’s comment on White privilege that “poor is poor and being poor isn’t easier just because your skin is white.” “White privilege,” as I see it, is less an individual trait than a description of the environment. Like how I can turn the TV to almost any channel and see stories by/about White people, but might watch for a few hours before I find a Black person in a lead role (in front of or behind the camera). That’s just the way things are.
No doubt, being poor is hard no matter your color, but there are still some aspects of America that White people and Black people inevitably experience very differently, regardless of socioeconomic status. (That being said, poor and working-class White people feeling overlooked by liberal activists only makes them more open to demagogues like Trump.)
Do you have any personal experiences with shadism you want to share? Or thoughts about the topic in general? Please drop us a note.
I, to, have experienced similar precepts from others, during various stages in my life, and concerning different traits of my being. And because of that, I learned early on to be confident of self—of who I am, who I know myself to be, and the TYPE of man I am. Absolutely no one, who isn’t you, can define what it is to be and how to be you.
Coming up in my hood, I’d get poked about the way I talked and how I sound. I’d get the “You tryin’a sound white” or “You think you smart/smarter than...You think you’re better than...everybody!” While I don’t get the “sound white” any longer, I do get the “better than...” comparison.
Does it bother me? In a way, I guess it kinda does. But better yet still, do I ALLOW IT to bother me? Definitely not. And that’s simply be cause I know me, myself.
This next reader, Orella, is a “bi-racial mom (half black, half Thai)” living in New York City:
I identify with Allene’s note in more ways than one. Hers was a great perspective on us as a people. It is so hard to move forward or to feel any type of unity when we are so judgemental of ourselves.
For example, I recently found a support group for mothers of black children.
Well, since being in the group for three days now, it has been more hateful than uplifting. They have gone after white mothers who adopted black children or even mothers and children who don’t look black enough. It has been another eye-opening experience that the more we want change, the more nothing has changed within us. We are our own worse critics and have never in many years taken the time to uplift ourselves.
Reading Allene’s note also made me think about one of my son’s classes that was led by a black scientist from NASA. He showed a picture to the children of NASA control and asked if the kids noticed anything. My son did not, but the NASA scientist was using it to point out there were no minorities in the picture.
At that moment I wanted the scientist to say that is why we need to work hard and continue to pursue science and math in school to land those positions. But no, he just said it is not right that they don't have anyone of color. I felt that moment could have been empowering, to light the fire.
Also, for a split second, I wondered if I should be out there protesting and really pushing the color issue, or if should I just continue to let my son know that he has the same opportunities as everyone else and to push himself to be the best he can be—that no one can take knowledge from you no matter what color you are. I chose the latter.
In general, in certain aspects, I let my son know what issues he may face due to the color of his skin. But a lot of times it is hard to explain the racism you feel from blacks and the racism you feel from the rest of the world.
So I thank Allene for shining a light on this. Many won’t discuss this and will continue to sweep it under the rug.
In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Alec MacGillis reviews two new books for his essay “The Original Underclass”: White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg, and Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. Both books center on long-standing stigmas directed at poor and working-class white Americans, their plight in an increasingly postindustrial U.S. economy, and their loss of cultural capital.
Many readers of MacGillis’s piece are venting their frustration over what they see as condescension from white elites toward downscale whites, especially that their skin color presumes a bigoted and thus immoral character unless proven otherwise. Here’s reader Matt, who is tired of poor whites being told to “check their privilege”:
There is so much racial resentment in the discussion of the white working class that is projected onto them. Critics of struggling whites who support Trump will say, “It isn’t that they are suffering economically; it’s that whites are no longer an all-powerful monolith”—even though these are poor whites who have never had power. It’s like you don’t want to hear them, and then instead of listening to their actual issues, you pretend they are racist to ignore their actual opinions.
Another reader—“a white man living paycheck to paycheck”—expands on the view shared by Matt:
There’s a feeling that no one actually cares about us. We get lumped in with “the man,” but we’re not Rockefellers nor Trumps. We’re struggling to make ends meet. Problems that used to be confined to minority communities are now in ours. Our traditional structures have been derided and destroyed by the elite and nothing is given to replace them. We feel helpless against a tide of cultural changes that don’t take our thoughts or considerations seriously.
I think that most of us would acknowledge that minorities have it rough, but at least someone seems to care about them.
They have special programs and are constantly given lip service, at least. I think lower- to middle-class whites are just considered the plebes. We feel that we’re being screwed over, and instead of at least saying “we’re sorry,” we get scorned heaped on our heads.
Anyway, I do feel those economic pressures. I’m a white man living paycheck to paycheck. I get blamed for racism, war, hate—you name it; it’s my fault. Democrats don’t care about us and neither do Republicans. We’re the people being ignored, and sooner or later, you don’t want to be ignored anymore.
In my case though, I’m a “Never Trump,” but I see why lots of people in my position are for him. I get that Trump is willing to speak his mind. What I don’t get is why what he says has anything to do with me. What in the world does a billionaire married to a supermodel know about my struggles or about my life? What could he possibly say that would represent me in any way shape or form? When was the last time he had to worry about layoffs? When was the last time he had to worry about his electric bill? When did he ever wonder where his next car payment was coming from?
All Trump has to offer me is words and a propensity to shoot off his mouth. I can get those from anyone. He’s another elite pandering to the working class and he knows as much about fixing the problems in our lives as he does about fixing his own car: Zero.
One more reader for now:
This article from Alec MacGillis was a great read. I thoroughly enjoyed him speaking honestly about how Trump is not the result of racist poor whites, how poor white resentment is not entirely race driven, how liberal scorn for poor whites is explicitly racist … oh wait, he never quite got to that part. Oversimplifying and demonizing poor whites is so unbelievably racist and hypocritical it boggles the mind, especially when you compare liberal love for poor blacks specifically.
The best portion of MacGillis’s article is J.D. Vance’s retelling of his hometown’s problems in his new memoir Hillbilly Elegy. In it, you see what is very rare to see out of Ta-Nehisi Coates—especially in his memoir Between the World and Me—or any other black apologist; you see responsibility being place squarely on the community itself for its problems. You see a scorn for the obvious excuse making that people within the community who would rather blame/beg the government for their problems. It should go without saying that without taking responsibility for your own actions, your life will not change. If you think your drug addiction is someone else’s fault, it’s highly unlikely you intend to change.
This is not to advocate for no help whatsoever coming from the government, but it is a call for people to recognize the first step in fixing a broken community is for the community to admit it has a problem.
Disagree with any of these readers’ assessments, or have your own personal perspective to share? Please drop us a note and we’ll post.
In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Alec MacGillis’s essay “The Original Underclass” absorbs two new books—White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg, and Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. This reader can relate to Vance:
I have relatives who live in conditions very close to the ones described here. I live in the heart of Appalachia, and not much has changed since the 1960s. Clothing factories and knitting mills were “good” employers that paid a decent wage. But then NAFTA and other incentives to move jobs to Mexico and China shut them all down. Now it’s fast food or retail for these folks, or welfare, drug dealing and the like. Even the scholarship programs for poor white kids disappeared. They’re just trying to survive in a world that doesn’t recognize them.
Gina also appreciates the “insightful article” from MacGillis:
Having grown up in rural Pennsylvania myself, I can say that things seemed to take a turn from bad to much worse when heroin and meth started coming in. That was a factor of poverty and also of criminal justice strategies that imported hard criminals from the cities to rural areas in an attempt to rehabilitate them. They just set up shop in the new areas and recruited the locals. All along the bus routes from New York City to upstate New York and Pennsylvania, those little towns that used to be leafy and peaceful now look like the worst dregs of New Jersey. The only hope these areas have seen in recent years is from fracking.
The Drug War and zero tolerance on sex offender crimes (like teenagers sleeping with teenagers) leave people with criminal records and no way to get out from under. It’s the same process as the inner city. It is also well noted that in many parts of the country, resentment of working people towards social programs isn’t as racial as it might be in the South. Where I come from, the welfare queens are all white. I think part of the despair we’re seeing is shame at the loss of self-reliance, and there is no way forward.
This next reader has mixed feelings—between his sympathy for struggling white Southerners and his resentment over their pockets of racism:
I grew up in a small town in Texas. I’m an immigrant (and brown) and in the technical professions. But I went to high school with these folks. They’re my compatriots. And country means something to me. U.S. citizen means something to me. It is with that in mind that I write the following.
I saw both the cultural mores and habits that led to boys and girls graduating high school for only manual labor jobs. I went to a high school where the “smart ones” went to Texas Tech, flunked out, and got a community college degree at the two-year school south of town. There were good jobs 30 years ago—at least, jobs that allowed someone to raise a family, even on blue-collar wages.
Back then, in 1981, the butchery outside of town paid $12/hour—a good wage, given inflation, and the fact that you lived in a small town. Lots of other jobs were like that. There were very few Latino immigrants, and I remember distinctly that most of the fast-food workers were white (there weren’t many black people in this town, though of the few, some did work fast-food, too). I knew this because I worked full-time in fast food for 2.5 years, so I got to see cohort after cohort of people, both high school kids and graduates, coming through. And of course, there was the oil patch.
In short, it was possible to have a decent life.
That’s all changed. What self-respecting white person would work in butchery? Would you do outside yard work for a living? It doesn’t pay enough to live up to the standards they’ve come to expect—if nothing else, that their parents expected and obtained.
Even here in California, I never see a white (or for that matter, black) person doing the manual labor at a home renovation. At most, there’ll be a white person supervising. It’s all changed, and the manual labor jobs that afforded at least a decent life, are all gone. Or the wage has stagnated or fallen in the face of inflation to the point where only (undocumented) immigrants will take those jobs.
And yet. And yet.
This is the South, the deep countryside—violently against unions, voting Republican all the way. Each and every one of you was willing to hire undocumented workers for your business, or your yard, or your house renovation, and none of you fought for laws penalizing employers of undocumented workers, even though that was the only way to keep the wages for those jobs up. You were short-sighted and racist. Growing up, the racism was so thick, even I found myself uttering the most reprehensible racist epithets at black people, in order to “fit in.” I learned these epithets from the “nice” white friends I had—not from the really, really racist ones. Racism was everywhere. And yes, black people had it a lot worse than white people.
And so, I find myself torn: On the one hand, these are my countrymen, and they deserve the first concern, before people from other countries. That’s what it means, to take that citizenship oath, after all. And they’re hurting.
But on the other hand, I feel like WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
You spent all those years (since the Civil Rights era) kicking black people, kicking Hispanics, kicking unions, and doing the rich man’s bidding, taking his scraps, and forever and ever believing that you were better than the black and the brown; and now, when you find out that the rich man has just as little need for you as he has for the black and the brown, NOW, NOW you scream! Really?
I don’t know how to balance these books, how to square this circle.
But I do know that even while I have enormous sympathy for my former high school classmates, just now passing 50 years of age, and seeing that “it’s all downhill from here, and a rapidly-steepening slope,” my sympathy is tempered by the realization that they're asking for all the rest of us to give to them the things that they successfully denied to black Americans for decades. It’s very, very difficult for me to reconcile these thoughts.
Everybody has a need to feel superior to somebody else. In current white culture, it is unacceptable to denigrate people of non-white skin tone. It used to be acceptable to denigrate the Irish, Italians, and Poles.
Speaking of the latter:
Back to our reader:
Germans have negative views of Czechs. Swedes look down on the Finns, etc. Currently, the stereotype of the poor, uneducated Southern Protestant white male as the root of all social evil is in vogue. Yet the most segregated cities and neighborhoods are in wealthy, white liberal enclaves. Reading about the conflicts in Marin County, CA, between neighborhood preservationists and plans for low-income housing is very illuminating of the “cognitive dissonance” involved. (This young black woman’s thesis is a fascinating read.)
Update from another reader, Zayne:
For a more comedic treatment of some of the themes you’ve been exploring here, I’d recommend watching The Accountant, a short film starring Ray McKinnon (the preacher from Deadwood) and Walter Goggins (of Justified and Vice Principals fame). Here’s a short clip that explains an essential distinction as seen by white working-class folks (especially those from the South):
Having been raised in rural Central North Carolina and Southwest Virginia, it rings true to me.
The second known visitor to our cosmic neighborhood from another star is making quite an entrance.
No one knows where it came from, but it’s here now. And the chase is on.
Astronomers around the world are monitoring an interstellar comet hurtling through the solar system, known for the moment as C/2019 Q4. It’s the second time in less than two years that they’ve seen an object from another star swing through our cosmic neighborhood. The first time around, the discovery kicked off a worldwide sprint to inspect the object before it got away. It was mysterious enough that some astronomers even began to consider whether it was dispatched by an advanced alien civilization.
This second interstellar object was spotted in late August by Gennady Borisov, an amateur astronomer in Crimea. Borisov has a reputation for catching never-before-seen comets with his telescopes, but they’re from around here; like everything else in the solar system—the planets, the moons, a sea of asteroids—they trace an orbit around the sun. And over the past few weeks, it’s become very clear that this comet does not.
Two journalists detail the results of their reporting on the Supreme Court justice’s past.
Years ago, when she was practicing her closing arguments at the family dinner table, Martha Kavanaugh often returned to her signature line as a state prosecutor. “Use your common sense,” she’d say. “What rings true? What rings false?”
Those words made a strong impression on her young son, Brett. They also made a strong impression on us, as we embarked on our 10-month investigation of the Supreme Court justice. We conducted hundreds of interviews with principal players in Kavanaugh’s education, career, and confirmation. We read thousands of documents. We reviewed hours of television interviews, along with reams of newspaper, magazine, and digital coverage. We studied maps of Montgomery Country, Maryland, as well as housing-renovation plans and court records. We watched Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings multiple times.
Caught between a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism, a parent tries to do right by his children while navigating New York City’s schools.
To be a parent is to be compromised.You pledge allegiance to justice for all, you swear that private attachments can rhyme with the public good, but when the choice comes down to your child or an abstraction—even the well-being of children you don’t know—you’ll betray your principles to the fierce unfairness of love. Then life takes revenge on the conceit that your child’s fate lies in your hands at all. The organized pathologies of adults, including yours—sometimes known as politics—find a way to infect the world of children. Only they can save themselves.
Our son underwent his first school interview soon after turning 2. He’d been using words for about a year. An admissions officer at a private school with brand-new, beautifully and sustainably constructed art and dance studios gave him a piece of paper and crayons. While she questioned my wife and me about our work, our son drew a yellow circle over a green squiggle.
Accepting the reality about the president’s disordered personality is important—even essential.
During the 2016 campaign, I received a phone call from an influential political journalist and author, who was soliciting my thoughts on Donald Trump. Trump’s rise in the Republican Party was still something of a shock, and he wanted to know the things I felt he should keep in mind as he went about the task of covering Trump.
At the top of my list: Talk to psychologists and psychiatrists about the state of Trump’s mental health, since I considered that to be the most important thing when it came to understanding him. It was Trump’s Rosetta stone.
I wasn’t shy about making the same case publicly. During a July 14, 2016, appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, for example, I responded to a pro-Trump caller who was upset that I opposed Trump despite my having been a Republican for my entire adult life and having served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the George W. Bush White House.
The small village of Kivalina is threatened on several fronts by a warming Arctic climate, as the ground it sits on erodes, and the animals the villagers rely on become more difficult to hunt.
Along Alaska’s west coast, about 80 miles above the Arctic circle, sits the village of Kivalina, situated on a narrow strip of land between a lagoon and the Chukchi Sea—one of several native coastal villages dealing with problems due to the warming of the Arctic. Joe Raedle, a photographer for Getty, recently flew to Kivalina to spend some time with the villagers and photograph their lives and surroundings. The warming climate has led to troubles such as the accelerated erosion of the land the village sits on, which used to be mitigated by sea ice (which is vanishing), and permafrost (which is melting). Fish and wildlife that villagers rely on for food have been forced to change their migration patterns—and poor hunting means more food must be bought from a store, further increasing the cost of living. Raedle: “The residents of Kivalina are hoping to stay on their ancestral lands, where they can preserve their culture, rather than dispersing due to their island being swallowed by the rising waters of the ocean.”
The pursuit of money from wealthy donors distorts the research process—and yields flashy projects that don’t help and don’t work.
The MIT Media Lab has an integrity problem. It’s not just that the lab took donations from Jeffrey Epstein and tried to conceal their source. As that news was breaking, Business Insiderreported that the lab’s much-hyped “food computer” didn’t work and that staff had tried to mislead funders into thinking it did. These stories are two sides of the same problem: sugar-daddy science—the distortion of the research process by the pursuit of money from ultra-wealthy donors, no matter how shady.
Historically, research has been funded by grants. Government agencies and foundations announce that they want to fund X, and you, the scientist, write a proposal about why you’ll be awesome at X. If they agree, they give you money to do X.
The senator from Massachusetts, they argue, is proffering a gentler version of progressivism that is simple to understand and compelling enough to attract a broad swath of voters.
Updated on September 18 at 3:10 p.m. ET
In 2016, Bernie Sanders described the Working Families Party (WFP), a grassroots progressive organization, as “the closest thing there is” to his “vision of democratic socialism.” The group endorsed him in his primary race against Hillary Clinton, and it’s grown more powerful in the past three years, as it has sought to build a multiracial populist movement nationwide. But this time around, with Sanders taking another shot for the White House, the group is throwing its weight behind someone else: Elizabeth Warren. The group’s surprising decision could be an early indicator of how progressives—including those who backed Sanders in the past—are planning to organize and vote next year.
In investigative reports and international courts, Amazon, Google, and other tech platforms have been accused of tweaking their search algorithms to boost their own profits and sidestep antitrust regulations. Each company denies interfering with its respective search algorithm, and because of the murky mechanics of how search works, proving the allegations is nearly impossible.
The people of pre-colonial Puerto Rico did not disappear entirely—a new study shows that the island’s residents still carry bits of their DNA.
In the 15th century, when Europeans first reached the island now named Puerto Rico, it was home to between 30,000 and 70,000 people, sometimes known collectively as Taíno. They came from various ethnic groups descended from several waves of ancestors who came to the island in succession, beginning as early as 3,000 B.C. But a century after the colonizers arrived, official traces of these indigenous peoples were all but impossible to find.
Under a regime of forced relocations, starvation, disease, and slavery, their numbers plummeted. At the same time, colonial officials elided their existence, removing them as a distinct group from the census and recategorizing many—from Christian converts to wives of colonists—as Spanish or “other.”
Scientists taught rats to play hide-and-seek in order to study natural animal behavior—but it was also fun, for both the researchers and the animals.
Annika Reinhold says that she likes playing with animals (she has two cats) and “doing unconventional things that no one has done before.” When the chance came up to teach rats to play hide-and-seek, she was a natural candidate.
One might question the wisdom of training rats to hide, but there’s a good reason to do so. In neuroscience, animal research is traditionally about control and conditioning—training animals, in carefully regulated settings, to do specific tasks using food rewards. But those techniques aren’t very useful for studying the neuroscience of play, which is universal to humans, widespread among animals, and the antithesis of control and conditioning. Playing is about freedom and fun. How do you duplicate those qualities in a lab?