Thinking about Race

2017 Items

Black and Proud. Even if Strangers Can't Tell by Rebecca Carroll, New York Times, April 3, 2017 - (July 2017)

“Being black in America has historically been determined by whether or not you look black to nonblack people. This keeps racism operational. Brown and black skin in this country can invite a broad and freewheeling range of bad behavior — from job discrimination to a child being shot dead in the street. For my son, though, being black in America is about more than his skin color. It’s about power, confidence, culture and belonging.

“When my son first started to black identify at about 5 or 6 years old, an acquaintance of ours asked my husband, in my presence, if he felt like we were ‘depriving’ our son of his ‘white side.’ My husband, a sociology professor and the author of two books on the failure of housing and school desegregation in the United States, said: ‘If my parents had instilled any Italian culture in me, I might want to share that with my son. But if you’re talking about general whiteness, there’s nothing there to pass down.’

“This acquaintance, it seemed, was suggesting that by encouraging our son to embrace his blackness, we were depriving him of something bigger and greater than the already big and great benefit of white privilege. That my son sees more power in centering his blackness over exploiting whatever white privilege he may ultimately be afforded is a thing of glory.”

Spare the Kids by Stacey Patton - (June 2017)

From The New York Times, March 12, 2017, “Stop Beating Black Children,” by Stacey Patton, Assistant Professor of multimedia journalism at Morgan State University and author of Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America."

“Black children are also more at risk of being assaulted, seriously injured or killed by a parent than by a police officer, a neighborhood watchman or an irritated racist who hates rap music. We have to stop hurting our children to protect them. It is not working. And worse, it erodes our children’s humanity and co-signs the slave maser’s logic that you have to hit a black body to make it comply.


“The violence that black children experience from trigger-happy cops, in the streets of cities like Baltimore and Chicago, in schools and at home is all inter-connected. It is all strange and bitter fruit from the same tree. I am asking that black parents stop assisting in the devaluation of our children.

“Instead, we must make black children the antidote to centuries of racism.”

Mychal Denzel Smith - (May 2017)

In his recent (2016) book, Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education, writer Mychal Denzel Smith includes a chapter about his personal struggles with depression. He goes deeply into how difficult it is for black men, whose persona is generally supposed to be macho, to acknowledge mental health problems and any need for – or access to -- mental health treatment.

“What would happen if we reframed the way we understand black male life in a way that took mental health seriously? If we looked outside and didn’t see ruthless gangbangers but teenage boys left hopeless and giving themselves suicide missions. If instead of chastising young men for fighting over sneakers we asked why they feel worthless and unseen without them. If we didn’t label them junkies but rather recognized their need for affirmation. If we held our boys close when they cried instead of turning them away to face the frustration, pain, and sadness ‘like a man.’ If we believed black boys were worthy of second chances that didn’t involve prison cells. What if?”

James Baldwin - (April 2017)

Excerpt from Review: “I Am Not Your Negro” Will Make You Rethink Race – by A.O. Smith in the New York Times, February 2, 2017.

“Baldwin could not have known about Ferguson and Black Lives Matter, about the presidency of Barack Obama and the recrudescence of white nationalism in its wake, but in a sense he explained it all in advance. He understood the deep, contradictory patterns of our history, and articulated, with a passion and clarity that few others have matched, the psychological dimensions of racial conflict: the suppression of black humanity under slavery and Jim Crow and the insistence on it in African-American politics and art; the dialectic of guilt and rage, forgiveness and denial that distorts relations between black and white citizens in the North as well as the South; the lengths that white people will go to wash themselves clean of their complicity in oppression.”

"Muslim Girl" by Amani Al-Khatahbeg - (March 2017)

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh was nine years old on September 11, 2001, and could see the destruction of the World Trade Center towers from her home in New Jersey. After that, experiencing anti-Muslim attitudes and behavior through her school years, she found her voice and founded It started as a blog in 2009 and turned into a highly popular, highly regarded website, thus giving voice to many others. Her book, Muslim Girl, A Coming of Age, describes her journey.

“I feel that the horrible scapegoating we’ve had to endure has forced us into a corner of defensiveness, dissipating our energy in this endless game of pushing back against the misconceptions that ultimately victimize us. …. It makes me sad to think about all the resources the Muslim American community has been forced to waste for the past decade on campaigns, events, and media efforts to prove that we, too, are Americans; that we, too, are human, betting and pleading the public not to believe the racist rhetoric being spewed about us. I can’t imagine the types of institutions, programs, and civic society we could have cultivated for our community—the type of backbone we could have had the opportunity to grow—had we not been forced into this position.” (pp. 44-45)

"The Fire This Time" by Jesmyn Ward - (February 2017)

For this 2016 book, The Fire This Time, author Jesmyn Ward*, after the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, invited other African American writers to share their thoughts. In her introduction, she calls it, “A book that would reckon with the fire of rage and despair and fierce, protective love currently sweeping through the streets and campuses of America. A book that would gather new voices in one place, in a lasting, physical form, and provide a forum for those writers to dissent, to call to account, to witness, to reckon.” Among those writers is Carol Anderson, whose essay “White Rage” makes some of the same points as her book by the same title, cited in our December “Thinking about Race” column.

“Protests and looting naturally capture attention. But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures, and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations.”

*Ward’s novels to date are Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, which won the 2011 National Book Award. Her 2013 memoir, Men We Reaped, has won multiple awards.