Glaring racism, then and now.

Did you know that people used to name their pets after ethnic groups?

Chalk Talk for Sunday Schools, by Harlan Tarbell

I just picked up an old book (1924) about drawings for Sunday School, and there it is right on page 30: a lovely story about two kittens, Snowball and N—-r. You see, one of them has white fur, and the other, black. I leave it to you to figure out which is which. Then I recalled that large, black dog in Jack London’s Call of the Wild whose name was ‘Nig.’

So people used to name their pets N—-r. Wow! And that was once considered to be completely normal, even as today most people would regard it as blatantly wrong. By our liberated, contemporary standards, this crazy racism seems otherworldly, a totally alien thing that we clearly would never do now, right?

…And then I remembered all the mascots that are named after native folk, today, for the entertainment of the masses: the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Washington Redskins, the Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs, and many, many more.

So on the one hand, naming personal pets after ethnic groups is totally wrong.

Yet, naming public pets (mascots) after ethnic groups is totally fine.

WTF?  No, it isn’t.

Go Whitehonkies!

As a Chicagoan, I am truly proud of our hockey team, the Blackhawks. They’ve been kicking ass on ice like they were born to do it.

What, me racist?But their name is ridiculously offensive. (I don’t care if we’re all used to it by now. Stereotyping a brutally decimated minority group into a mascot is wrong on so many levels.)

To illustrate the point, I propose the following name change:  the Chicago Whitehonkies!

Sure, it’s more of a slur than “Blackhawks,” but at least white folks are in the majority.  (And seriously – it’s not like we suffered genocide and displacement at the hands of Native Americans.)  I say, we’re better off stereotyping ourselves than those whom we’ve wronged in the past.

In the meantime… GO WHITEHONKIES!!!

Blinded by ‘The Blind Side’

Note:  haven’t seen the film.  However, I have been reading lots of different takes on it, particularly in the comments sections.  I feel I have enough of  a grasp of the basic premise to discuss some of the social implications of The Blind Side as they turn up out here in the news sites and blogosphere.

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What does the movie The Blind Side say to different people?

To well-meaning white people, this movie might be an invitation to celebrate a shining example in which white generosity and courage save the day for a poor, black male.  That feels pretty good.  In our yearning for racial equality on our terms, it is tempting to want to celebrate an example of black ghettoization successfully assimilated into white society – if perhaps not in these exact terms.

But who else is this movie speaking to?  Black people?  If so, what is it saying?  Nothing good, from where I sit.

And therein lies the problem.  “Blind Side” is a “for us, by us” movie for white people, designed to make us feel better about ourselves in the context of our racial privilege.  It assuages our racial guilt like a sin offering of snake oil.

But given the reality of ongoing racism, such self-affirmation is ultimately as fake and flimsy as a Hollywood backdrop.  We’ll need to do more than adopt a black child every now and then if we are ever going to build a just and free society.  In the meantime, patting ourselves on the back for (someone else’s) “job well done” may indeed be self-gratifying, but is entirely counterproductive.