breaking news: people often feel racial panic



Freddie deBoer used to blog at, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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15 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    Interesting stuff. What I questioned was how he knew it was a Puerto Rican neighborhood. What told him that? If he was that attuned to the various different Latino cultures would he have been uncomfortable there?

    That the poster admits feeling out of place in a neighborhood where he clearly stands out as different is perfectly reasonable and understandable. There is nothing wrong or, gasp, racist about that. The part some people miss is that should give them a deeper understanding about what it may be like to be a minority in this country. As a white guy, being a foreign country or neighborhood where I am the minority is an incredible healthy thing.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

      Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that saying something to the effect of “you shouldn’t have felt the way you felt” gets heard as “you should not talk about such things”.Report

  2. Avatar paul h. says:

    The thing is, I’d be willing to bet a great deal of money that the crime rate in minority-dominant neighborhoods is actually much higher than in an average ‘white’ neighborhood. Which makes his reaction extremely plausible; it’s not racism, it’s just a sad truth that a white person has more REASON to feel unsafe. Though this is tangential to your point.Report

    • Avatar Freddie in reply to paul h. says:

      And, if that’s the case, I’m more than willing to discuss what is rational and appropriate to feel and do in such a situation. What bothers me is that here (and he’s hardly alone in doing this), you have both a very clear implicit invocation of racial ideas, along with the studious denial that any such thing is taking place. That’s par for the course in our discussion, nowadays; when we say we are being post-racial, it usually just means that we’re being sneakier about how we convey our thoughts on race.Report

      • Avatar paul h. in reply to Freddie says:

        Well, but I wonder — the implication was that minority-dominant neighborhoods have more crime (an empirical fact!), not that minorities are inherently inferior, i.e. none of the usual racist tropes. It WOULD have been troubling if he had said that he was walking by three Puerto Rican businessmen in the financial district, or something, and felt threatened; that would be clear racism.

        Though speaking of racial tropes, that guy seemed like the ‘whitest’ person ever. (And Livejournal, really?)Report

  3. Avatar greginak says:

    Wow, way to generalize aobut all “minority dominated neighborhoods”. Thats poo.

    However the level of drug abuse in middle/upper class white dominant areas is underestimated since that is not where the drug war is focused.Report

    • Avatar paul h. in reply to greginak says:

      If by generalization you mean “empirical fact,” then sure. And middle/upper-class white people tend to use drugs without involving peripheral crime (if the Wire taught me anything, it’s that “the bodies” bring the police).Report

  4. Avatar willybobo says:

    Perhaps it’s true, Paul, that there is more crime in the average minority-dominant neighborhood than the average white-dominant neighborhood. But it might also be true that poor neighborhoods have more crime than wealthy ones, but the iPhone blog post author makes no mention of the relative wealth of the neighborhood he’s in. Maybe neighborhoods where shorter people live are statistically more correlated with violence as well, but again he makes no mention of the height of people.

    Rather, we’ve been sensitized to race as the marker of such things. It may in fact be a less perfect predictor of anything (I don’t know, because we don’t compile and publish enough census data on other plausibly useful characteristics) but we have learned to notice and accept it’s importance prima facie at the exclusion of other, potentially more relevant information about the people we’re around. And when we tell stories like this one, we reify those racial details as the important ones.

    But we don’t talk much about why indeed those are the important elements of the story, the essential details that convey who the characters are and what we’re to think of them. Thanks for prompting us to have more of that conversation, Freddie.Report

  5. Avatar Will says:

    For the record, I rather liked the anti-Apple dig.Report

  6. Avatar mike farmer says:

    I think the conditions of neighborhoods plays a part. Most middle and upper class white people walking through a place like Cabbage Town in Atlanta, the way it was back in the 60s, would be afraid — just because of the smell, the disrepair of homes, the characters on the street, the loud yelling, the dogs running free — it all gives the impression of danger — yet Cabbage Town was all white. Blighted areas can be scary in and of themselves. Impoverished areas send signals to most people of ignorance, violence, drug use, alcoholism, crime, etc.Report

  7. Avatar Ken says:

    But those who immediately and harshly react to any suggestion of racial impropriety don’t want any discussion at all. And that’s what a really huge amount of our racial dialogue, at present, amounts to, a sustained campaign to whittle down the parameters of appropriate debate, and to cast anyone who alleges racism or something like it out of the bounds of respectability.

    I think this is exactly right. In this respect, segments of the Right resemble segments of the Left who advocate anti-hate-speech rules. Both posit that certain words (racial epithets, or accusations of racism) somehow break the marketplace of ideas and render the target incapable of response. This is ridiculous. The right response to both is more speech. You respond to the bigot with condemnation and ridicule, you respond to the race-pimp who unjustifiably cries racism with condemnation and ridicule.

    There is genuine political correctness we should be concerned about — like the censorious abuse of official power that The FIRE fights against, for instance. But nowadays too many people use “political correctness” to mean “that unpleasant prevailing social condition under which I cannot act like an asshat without someone calling me an asshat.” Bunk.Report

  8. Avatar Michael says:

    “And, as careful as the poster was in writing the post, it provoked comments that are far more unapologetic and frank in their racism. I suppose you can’t blame people for writing them. They are only making plain precisely the attitudes the original poster is quietly relying on.”

    The above-quoted text is the best part of this post, and it’s a decent enough post. There’s something to the idea that certain public figures in the political establishment implicitly stoke the ashes of race-based discontent without employing any type of outright animosity. Others’ picking up on this enabling language, however, does free up the offender to then himself become the victim of hateful speech or reverse racism, as Matt Yglesias has amply documented.

    But then, I guess that’s the whole idea of race-baiting. This slowly dawned on me as I wrote this. Welcome to the real world, Michael.Report

  9. Avatar Luisa says:

    Before he was famous, intrepid white guy and stat-wonk Nate Silver cruised that area [on foot, no less] for burritos. Here’s his old blog:

    The last time I checked, there were more people of Mexican descent in Chicago than in any other U.S. city save L.A. or San Antonio. Though I’m sure it was a Boricua that took the phone. [Yes, I’m Mexican-American.]

    Classic ‘racial panic’ scene from John Waters’ film Hairspray [starts at 8:45 or so]:

  10. Avatar Nancy Irving says:

    “Nor am I suggesting that I am entirely unsympathetic to unchosen feelings regarding race. I personally don’t feel entirely the same way, walking through a largely black neighborhood or largely Hispanic neighborhood, as I do walking through a largely white neighborhood. I can only respond to those feelings with a rededication to making my actions equitable and fair. ”

    This is exactly right. We all of us have racist feelings, or other bigoted attitudes like anti-Semitism. The people who create the most problems are those who won’t admit their common, human fallibility. And those in the public realm who globalize this attitude, claiming that racism is a thing of the past, do the most harm.

    Admitting it, and working to change it as you do, makes you part of the solution.Report