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Must reads: Race in America


This weekend, a series of white nationalist rallies with a heavy Nazi presence in Charlottesville, Virginia, captured headlines, and rightly so. This racist gathering was allowed to progress with impunity by law enforcement, even as counter demonstrators attempted to push back. One woman, Heather Heyer, was killed in a terrorist attack when a white nationalist drove his vehicle into a crowd. In light of many conversations about America’s race problem, we’re exploring some of our favourite historic reads, and more contemporary ones chronicling the Nazi cancer winding its way through the Trump Administration.

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My President Was Black‘ (Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic)

Coates is one of the foremost American writers at the moment for a reason. This article illustrates why, and while it is a long read, it is worth every minute.

This would not happen again, and everyone knew it. It was not just that there might never be another African American president of the United States. It was the feeling that this particular black family, the Obamas, represented the best of black people, the ultimate credit to the race, incomparable in elegance and bearing. “There are no more,” the comedian Sinbad joked back in 2010. “There are no black men raised in Kansas and Hawaii. That’s the last one. Y’all better treat this one right. The next one gonna be from Cleveland. He gonna wear a perm. Then you gonna see what it’s really like.” Throughout their residency, the Obamas had refrained from showing America “what it’s really like,” and had instead followed the first lady’s motto, “When they go low, we go high.” This was the ideal—black and graceful under fire—saluted that evening. The president was lionized as “our crown jewel.” The first lady was praised as the woman “who put the O in Obama.”

The Worst of White Folks‘ (Kiese Laymon for Gawker)

A specious lawsuit designed to bring Gawker to its knees did just that, but this piece from the archives illustrates the value of free speech, and why it’s important to be deeply concerned about the erosion of press freedom in the US.

The worst of white folks, I understood, wasn’t some gang of rabid white people in crisp pillowcases and shaved heads. The worst of white folks was a pathetic, powerful “it.” It conveniently forgot that it came to this country on a boat, then reacted violently when anything or anyone suggested it share. The worst of white folks wanted our mamas and grandmas to work themselves sick for a tiny sliver of an American pie it needed to believe it had made from scratch. It was all at once crazy-making and quick to violently discipline us for acting crazy.

Here Comes the White-Power Safety Patrol‘ (Wes Enzinna for Vice)

This feature, from 2013, is a reminder that racist organizers have bene running rampant on college campuses in the US without widespread condemnation or comment for years — the seeming ‘rise’ of white supremacy is one of visibility, not of numbers.

Matthew Heimbach insists he’s not a racist. This comes as a surprise to his fellow students at Towson University, in the suburbs of Baltimore, where Matthew has formed a group called the White Student Union that advocates for “persons of European heritage”—what most of us call “white people.” It also comes as a surprise to the African American students who feel threatened by the night patrols the senior history major began conducting in March.

Oregon Was Founded As a Racist Utopia‘ (Matt Novak for Gizmodo)

The myth that racism is a Southern problem endures in America. This feature illustrates that racism isn’t just a part of the West’s history — it’s baked in.

Thousands would travel to Oregon in the 19th and 20th centuries, looking for their own versions of utopia. Some brave and noble people made the journey that would become cartoonishly immortalized for at least three generations now in the computer game Oregon Trail. But unfortunately for people of color, that pixelated utopia and vision of the promise land was explicitly designed to exclude them in real life.

How Stephen Miller Rode White Rage from Duke’s Campus to Trump’s West Wing‘ (William D. Cohan for Vanity Fair)

It’s not just Donald Trump who is racist: It is the advisors he has surrounded himself with, entrenching himself in racist ideology.

Ironically, the family would not have made it to the United States had someone like Stephen Miller been in the White House a century ago. Facing religious persecution, Miriam’s family—the Glossers—fled Belarus, arriving in New York in 1903. “Imagine living in a place where armed Cossacks ride through the streets, looking to cripple or kill you,” wrote Robert Jeschonek, in Long Live Glosser’s, a 2014 book about the family.

The New Racism‘ (Jason Zengerle for The New Republic)

Activists have been warning about the effects of modern-day voter suppression on Democracy, and this is a prescient read on how restrictive voting laws would target Black communities.

“The Republicans have demonstrated that we can be down here,” he said, “and that we can be powerless.” Sanders and other black Alabamans can now buy a Coke whenever they want or look at anyone without fear of being set upon. But in other, less obvious ways, black people in Alabama and across the South are as politically vulnerable as they’ve been since the emergence of the civil rights movement. “It’s a total disempowering of African Americans,” Sanders said. “We are going back to the past very fast.”

His Kampf‘ (Graeme Wood for The Atlantic)

Want a deep dive into Richard Spencer, the darling of the US white supremacist movement? Here it is.

Alternative Right showed signs of erudition. It was not the product of the same Spencer I had known in high school, who’d managed to misquote Shakespeare (“A poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage, then heard no more”) and misspell the name of a SportsCenter anchor (“Craige Killborne”) on his yearbook page. The magazine’s racism and sexism were expressed with good grammar and a coherent view of the world. That view, now well known as the platform of the alt-right, can be summarized as white European cultural and racial supremacy, with a deep contempt for democracy. An active comment section revealed the site’s id: Many of the commenters’ profile photos featured the double-rune insignia of the SS.

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