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.
Democrats’ previous president and maybe their next one have a particularly fraught relationship.
Updated at 4:11 p.m. ET on February 19, 2020.
Bernie Sanders got so close to running a primary challenge to President Barack Obama that Senator Harry Reid had to intervene to stop him.
It took Reid two conversations over the summer of 2011 to get Sanders to scrap the idea, according to multiple people who remember the incident, which has not been previously reported.
That summer, Sanders privately discussed a potential primary challenge to Obama with several people, including Patrick Leahy, his fellow Vermont senator. Leahy, alarmed, warned Jim Messina, Obama’s presidential reelection-campaign manager. Obama’s campaign team was “absolutely panicked” by Leahy’s report, Messina told me, since “every president who has gotten a real primary has lost a general [election].”
The family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many. It’s time to figure out better ways to live together.
The scene is one many of us have somewhere in our family history: Dozens of people celebrating Thanksgiving or some other holiday around a makeshift stretch of family tables—siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, great-aunts. The grandparents are telling the old family stories for the 37th time. “It was the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen in your life,” says one, remembering his first day in America. “There were lights everywhere … It was a celebration of light! I thought they were for me.”
The oldsters start squabbling about whose memory is better. “It was cold that day,” one says about some faraway memory. “What are you talking about? It was May, late May,” says another. The young children sit wide-eyed, absorbing family lore and trying to piece together the plotline of the generations.
The president has interpreted the Republican-controlled Senate’s vote to acquit as a writ of absolute power.
There are twokinds of Republican senators who voted to acquit Donald Trump in his impeachment trial two weeks ago: those who acknowledged he was guilty and voted to acquit anyway, and those who pretended the president had done nothing wrong.
“It was wrong for President Trump to mention former Vice President Biden on that phone call, and it was wrong for him to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival,” Senator Susan Collins of Maine declared, but added that removing him “could have unpredictable and potentially adverse consequences for public confidence in our electoral process.”
But Collins, like her Republican colleagues Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, was an outlier in admitting the president’s conduct was wrong. Most others in the caucus, like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, deliberately missed the point, insisting that Democrats wanted the president removed for “pausing aid to Ukraine for a few weeks.”
A notably aggressive Democratic debate in Las Vegas featured myriad attacks on the newest, wealthiest candidate onstage.
Everyone came to Vegas to fight—everyone, that is, except Michael Bloomberg.
Tonight’s debate at the Paris Theater on the Las Vegas strip was the feistiest free-for-all of a marathon campaign that only saw its first votes cast two weeks ago. The candidates went after each other with abandon—frontrunners filleting the underdogs, zingers criss-crossing the stage like lasers. A newly energized and combative Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts tried to reassert herself in the race by taking down just about all of her five competitors—but particularly the former New York mayor.
Bloomberg made his debate debut after entering the race 10 weeks ago, and his lack of experience on the national stage was apparent from the evening’s opening moments. Bloomberg, who has muscled his way into the top tier on the back of nearly a quarter-billion dollars in advertising, came under withering criticism from his rivals on a broad range of issues. Again and again, he struggled to respond. Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden assailed the “stop and frisk” policing policy Bloomberg presided over as mayor, and which he defended for years despite data that showed it disproportionately affected young men of color. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont knocked him for his Republican past, noting his endorsement of President George W. Bush in 2004 and the financial support he has given to GOP candidates in the many years since.
If there’s anything corporate America has a knack for, it’s inventing new, positive words that polish up old, negative ones. Silicon Valley has recast the chaotic-sounding “break things” and “disruption” as good things. An anxious cash grab is now a “monetization strategy,” and if you mess up and need to start over, just call it a “pivot” and press on. It’s the Uber for BS, you might say.
Cloying marketing-speak, of course, isn’t limited to the tech world. As a health reporter, much of my work involves wending my way through turgid academic studies, which are full of awkward turns of phrase such as salience and overweight (used as a noun, as in “the prevalence of overweight”). Even more tedious is reading some of the reports put out by nonprofit organizations, which always seem to want to arm “stakeholders” with tools for their “tool boxes.” I wish journalists were immune, given that we fancy ourselves to be plainspoken, but sadly common in our world is talk of “deep dives” and “impactful long form.” (Use of the word impactful is strongly discouraged by The Atlantic’s copy desk. As is the use of many other words.)
The residents of Boca Chica didn’t ask Elon Musk to move in, but now his company is taking over.
BOCA CHICA, Texas—Mary McConnaughey was watching from her car when the rocket exploded on the beach. The steel-crunching burst sent the top of the spacecraft flying, and a cloud of vapor billowed into the sky and drifted toward the water.
McConnaughey and her husband had planned to drive into town that day in late November, but when they pulled out onto the street, they noticed a roadblock, a clear sign that SpaceX technicians were preparing to test hardware. She didn’t want to miss anything, so she turned toward the launchpad, parked her car at the end of a nearby street, and got her camera ready.
The dramatic test was a crucial step in one of Elon Musk’s most cherished and ambitious projects, the very reason, in fact, he founded SpaceX in 2002. Weeks earlier, Musk had stood in front of the prototype—164 feet of gleaming stainless steel, so archetypically spaceship-like that it could have been a borrowed prop from a science-fiction movie—and beamed. He envisions that the completed transportation system, a spaceship-and-rocket combo named Starship, will carry passengers as far away as Mars. A few months before the explosion, hundreds of people came to the facility in South Texas, on the edge of the Gulf Coast, to see the spaceship, and thousands more watched online. “It’s really gonna be pretty epic to see that thing take off and come back,” Musk gushed at the event, as if he were seeing the finished Starship in front of him.
How new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators will shape the 2020 election
Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET on February 10, 2020.
One day last fall, I sat down to create a new Facebook account. I picked a forgettable name, snapped a profile pic with my face obscured, and clicked “Like” on the official pages of Donald Trump and his reelection campaign. Facebook’s algorithm prodded me to follow Ann Coulter, Fox Business, and a variety of fan pages with names like “In Trump We Trust.” I complied. I also gave my cellphone number to the Trump campaign, and joined a handful of private Facebook groups for MAGA diehards, one of which required an application that seemed designed to screen out interlopers.
The president’s reelection campaign was then in the midst of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz aimed at shaping Americans’ understanding of the recently launched impeachment proceedings. Thousands of micro-targeted ads had flooded the internet, portraying Trump as a heroic reformer cracking down on foreign corruption while Democrats plotted a coup. That this narrative bore little resemblance to reality seemed only to accelerate its spread. Right-wing websites amplified every claim. Pro-Trump forums teemed with conspiracy theories. An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country, and I wanted to see it from the inside.
At 33, Wendy Brown stole her daughter’s name, grabbed a pair of pom-poms, lived a teenage dream—then she went to jail for it.
On September 2, 2008, a shy, blonde transfer student strolled into Ashwaubenon High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The petite sophomore wore a pink hoodie and carried a new school bag decorated with hearts, eager to start the new term. But just 16 days later, she was standing in court wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and shackles, charged with identity theft. There, prosecutors revealed that Wendy Brown was not really 15, but a 33-year-old mother of two—who had stolen her teenage daughter’s identity in an attempt to relive her own high school days. In her weeks as a student, Brown had taken classes with students half her age. She had tried out for the Ashwaubenon High School cheerleading squad and even attended a pool party thrown by the cheer coach.
How should Democrats fight against a president who has no moral or legal compass?
Democratic primary voters care deeply about electability. What most want is simple: a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump in November. So they worry about whether former Vice President Joe Biden will inspire young people, and about whether Senator Bernie Sanders will scare away old people. They debate whether a political revolution is necessary to energize the base, or whether the revolution will dissuade independents. Will the historic candidacy of a woman or a gay man take off or implode?
But these concerns about policy and broad cultural appeal are secondary to the true “electability” crisis facing whichever Democrat wins the nomination: He or she will need to run against a president seemingly prepared, and empowered, to lie and cheat his way to reelection.
June 5 is marked by the United Nations as World Environment Day, a day set aside since 1974 to promote “worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment.”
June 5 is marked by the United Nations as World Environment Day, a day set aside since 1974 to promote “worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment.” This year’s theme is “beat plastic pollution.” In a message, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged all people to reject single-use plastic items, and warned that growing levels of plastic waste were becoming unmanageable, saying “every year, more than eight million tons end up in the oceans.” Gathered here, a look at some of this plastic waste from the past year, accumulating in waterways, forests, and beaches across the globe, and some of the efforts to clean and recycle the mountains of material.