Perhaps Kathryn can translate this for me


When I saw the above sub-headline, I said, “say what?”

Then I said it again when I started reading it, then a few more times as I made my way through it, then once more when I was done.

So, since Kathryn’s always getting on me about my “privilege blindness,” and this writer does the same, maybe she can ‘splain this to me.

Because it made NO kind of sense. An excerpt:

White people, even well-meaning and thoughtful ones, have the privilege of looking at deadly acts of mass violence of this sort as isolated local incidents, particular to one community. They do not look at such incidents as indicative of anything having to do with race or racism. But everything from the difference in law enforcement response to media response tells us what we need to know about how white privilege allows acts of violence by white people to be judged by entirely different standards than those of any other group. If a Black motorcycle gang had engaged in a shootout in a parking lot, any honest white person will admit that the conversation would have sounded incredibly different.

Frequently in conversations that I have observed or participated in with white people about race, the claim is levied that it is Black people “who make everything about race.” But this incident in Waco gives lie to that claim. It turns out that when white privilege is in clear operation, white people are invested in making sure that we don’t see race in operation. Charles Mills, a philosopher of race, has a term which I think applies here: epistemology of white ignorance. By this means, he means that white people have created a whole way of knowing the world that both demands and allows that they remain oblivious to the operations of white supremacy, that white people remain “intent on denying what is before them.” Thus even though three gangs have now attacked each other in broad daylight and killed or injured 27 people, there is no nagging, gnawing sense of fear, no social anxiety about what the world is coming to, no anger at the thugs who made it unsafe for American families to go about their regular daily activities without fear of being clipped by a stray bullet, no posturing from law enforcement about the necessity of using military weapons to put down the lawless band of criminals that turned a parking lot into a war zone in broad daylight. More than that, there is no sense of white shame, no hanging of the head over the members of their race that have been out in the world representing everything that is wrong with America.

That kind of intra-racial shame is reserved primarily for Black people.

Most white citizens will insist that this was just an isolated incident, even though the gangs were already under surveillance for consistent participation in criminal activity. And this studied ignorance, this sense in which people could look at this set of incidents and simply refuse to see all the ways in which white privilege is at play — namely that no worse than arrest befell any the men who showed up hours later with weapons, looking for a fight — returns me to the words of Malcolm X. For many Americans, this is just good ole American fun, sort of like playing Cowboys-and-Indians in real life. As Malcolm reminded us, “whites idolize fighters.” So while I’m sure many Americans are appalled at the senseless loss of life, there is also the sense that this is just “those wild Texans” doing the kind of thing they do.

White Americans might also deny the attempt to “lump them in” with this unsavory element. But the point is that being seen as an individual is a privilege. Not having to interrogate the ways in which white violence is always viewed as exceptional rather than regular and quotidian is white privilege. White people can distance themselves from their violent racial counterparts because there is no sense that what these “bikers” did down in Texas is related to anything racial. White Americans routinely ask Black Americans to chastise the “lower” elements of our race, while refusing to do the same in instances like this. Yes, white people will denounce these crimes, but they won’t shake a finger at these bikers for making the race look bad. It won’t even occur to them why Black people would view such incidents as racialized.

Such analyses are patently unacceptable. And they are possible because white bodies, even those engaged in horrendously violent and reckless acts, are not viewed as “criminal.” Yes, some police officers referred to the acts of these killers in Waco as criminal acts and them as criminals, but in popular discourse, these men have not beencriminalized. Criminalization is a process that exists separate and apart from the acts one has committed. It’s why street protestors in Baltimore are referred to as violent thugs for burning buildings, but murderers in Waco get called “bikers.” And if thug is the new n-word (and I’m not sure that’s precise), then “biker” is the new “honky” or “cracker,” which is to say that while the term is used derisively and can communicate distaste, it does not have the devastating social effects or demand the same level of state engagement to suppress such “biker-ish” activity as we demand to suppress the activities of alleged “thugs” and “criminals.”

OK, let’s review.

  • She’s right that I see this as a local incident, just as I see the violence in Baltimore as a local incident, the product of local conditions. Yep, there are loads of people out there who nationalize such incidents, rightly or wrongly, but in my experience black observers are at least as likely to do that — seeing a national racial morality tale in, for instance, events in Ferguson — as white ones are.
  • She’s right again that I don’t see anything racial in a bunch of white thugs killing each other. I SORT OF see her point that cops didn’t think they needed riot gear, but was this actually a riot, spreading across a city? Wasn’t it a gang battle, contained to one place and with a specific, limited set of victims, as nasty and bloody as it was? Was it not focused inward, rather than outward? To what extent did it need to be contained?
  • I guess I’m not an “honest white person,” because I don’t see how “If a Black motorcycle gang had engaged in a shootout in a parking lot… the conversation would have sounded incredibly different.” A bunch of thugs killing each other is a bunch of thugs killing each other. Where’s the difference?
  • And who, pray tell, does not consider these thugs to be thugs?

Near the end, she writes, “there is something fundamentally dishonest about a society that revels in the violence of one group while demanding non-violent compliance from another.”

Say WHAT? Who is reveling in what violence?

A weird piece. But this is, after all, Salon, which also today offers us this elevating gem:

,,, a Tweet that, let’s face it, doesn’t even make grammatical sense…

79 thoughts on “Perhaps Kathryn can translate this for me

  1. Mark Stewart

    It’s not white privilege when 170 +/- bikers get their bail set at $1 million – plus the certainty that many are going to face capital murder charges as the police identify those involved; and it is likely not just to be those who fired the lethal shots.

    Can anyone imagine the protests that would arise if gang fights in Columbia lead to gang members being held on $1 million bail? Privilege is being given – and taking advantage of – the opportunity to be released on a very low bail and committing new crimes while out on bail.

    Anyway, these are hard core, violent biker criminals. In what way do they ever experience the privilege of being cosseted by society? Its an absurd argument.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I think the author of this piece has neglected to read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and thus doesn’t realize that White America views motorcycle gangs as consisting of “baby-raping Huns.” Which goes a bit beyond “thugs.”

    2. Juan Caruso

      Agree with you, Mark. The $1 million bail alone detracts from the article’s false theme. Something else looms just as immensely as the bail. Where is any public outcry over police brutality (some of those bikers were black)? NPR misleadingly noted that:

      “Photos taken by news organizations in the aftermath of the incident showed arrested bikers — who were mostly white — sitting without handcuffs and able to use their phones, while law enforcement officers looked casual and minimally attentive.”

      Those photos in my opinion actually subdued bikers contained by an attentive and very overwhelming police force comprised of SWAT teams and automatic weapons. The fact that hundreds of handcuffs were initially lacking is not surprising considering that over 170 bikers (more than anticipated) were arrested.

      1. Mark Stewart

        I flipped through all the mug shots. Don’t hold me to this as this is just based on casual observation, but it looks like three are black – and four (others) are women.

        Not a few looked like psychopaths – hardly surprising to anyone, I know.

        1. Barry

          Some were black- and some were obviously Latino

          wonder how many Latinos consider themselves benefactors of “white privilege?”

          It’s Salon- it’s a really stupid – but typical- article.

  2. Harry Harris

    Probably an over-reactive “See there, white people fight, shoot, and gang-up as well.” There have been tendencies over the years to consider great accomplishments or even “good behavior” by a minority group member as a “credit to his race.” while deeming the same phenomena among white folks as the norm. Conversely, violence, killing, or lawless behavior on the part of minorities is often seen as characteristic – “There they go again.” As long as race is high on the list of attributes of human beings that we use to separate us or make decisions (racism), racial prejudice will be deeply ingrained in our thought and feelings. Hyper-violent people are scary people, even even in a society that glorifies violence. We probably all need to move the violence propensity higher in our list of sorting factors than skin color or nationality, which many of us presently don’t seem to be able to do. It might, amazingly, have a transformative impact on our culture.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “Hyper-violent people are scary people,” all right.

      Personally, were I forced to go sit on the Group W bench, I would MUCH rather sit next to a typical Baltimore rioter than a member of one of these bike gangs. Something that I doubt the author of this piece realizes…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        To elaborate…

        Speaking of Baltimore and Texas… Now that I have HBO NOW at home, I’m trying to catch up with both “The Wire” and “True Detective.” I’d much rather take a stroll through the projects where the Barksdales deal than to be anywhere near that Texas biker party that Matthew McConaughey infiltrates in Episode 4.

      2. Barry

        I have actually got up and walked my family out of a restaurant in Myrtle Beach when a biker group (white guys) came in and sat down near us.

        I’ve yet to get up and walk out of a restaurant because 2-4 black men sit down near my family.

        It’s a really stupid article.

    1. Mark Stewart

      I think it is well written. It’s just that the premise could have been attached to a different situation which may have better illustrated her viewpoint.

      She is also sort of setting a trap, although I am sure she would say that’s not her intent. The problem with her logic is that she is asking for a racial response to the bikers as a way of equalizing the racial responses black thugs bring on regular black people. Two wrongs don’t make a right, however. In any event, the judge imposing $1 million bail amounts on all of the bikers is just about the response that she advocates (I am assuming that the judge was white or hispanic here).

      More than that, outlaw biker seems to me even more criminalized (as a “devastating” social assumption) than the label gang member is when applied to blacks.

      Maybe we just need a Kinsey-type scale to define people’s goodness. We could have:

      1) Saintly
      2) Predominantly good, only rarely (and minorly) bad
      3) Predominantly good, but somewhat more prone to bad
      4) Equally good and bad
      5) Predominantly bad, but tries hard to be good
      6) Predominantly bad, only rarely (and minorly) good
      7) Evil Personified

      Does anyone really believe that thugs of any color, class, whatever would not generally be 6s and 7s on this scale with maybe a few 5s thrown in as lost followers?

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      I can’t see a piece with that many logical flaws as well-written.

      They undermine any legitimate point the writer may have been trying to communicate.

      Let’s look at this statement:

      More than 165 people have been arrested for their participation in this thuggish, ruggish, deadly, violent, white-on-white street brawl but there has been no mass outcry from the country about this.

      Well, no, I wouldn’t expect there to be an outcry, particularly not an outcry that somebody DO something, because it looks like the matter has been dealt with — as you say, 165 people have been arrested.

      I’m also puzzled by the Malcolm X lede. I thought it was going somewhere, but it didn’t really. She leaps from what Malcolm had to say about white racism to this gang fight in Waco, which is quite a non-sequitur. Her attempt at a bridge between the concepts is absurd — “Never do you find white people encouraging other whites to be nonviolent. Whites idolize fighters…” Really? Who are these people, white or black, who are idolizing the biker thugs, or failing to react to them with anything more positive than disgust?

      I fear that the Malcolm X lede is there to set up the ridiculous ending that I’ve already referred to:

      What Malcolm X pointed to, and what we would do well to recapture on this week, as we, if we are brave enough, choose to remember his life, is that there is something fundamentally dishonest about a society that revels in the violence of one group while demanding non-violent compliance from another…

      What society is that? Where does that dichotomy exist? If it does exist, in what way is the orgy of violence in Waco an illustration of it?

      1. Barry

        Well- what didn’t happen is – Waco residents didn’t try to burn down parts of the town after the event.

        The police moved in, quickly got control of the situation- and the sheriff was in front of cameras with overwhelming police force.

        The differences are obvious- but the Salon writer isn’t interested in being fair-minded.

  3. Phillip

    The Salon piece goes a bit further than I would (I don’t get the “reveling in violence” bit either), but I also think that there is an obvious truth in there. Mark, your point about the bail is missing the point of the article, I believe—it’s not about whether the bikers themselves are being cosseted, it’s about national media perception and the way these things are discussed. (i.e., “spectacular” incidents of violence, whether it is bikers gunning each other down en masse in Waco, or another white kid shooting up his classmates or a movie theater).

    Rather than the Salon piece, I recommend this somewhat more balanced take on the situation from Texas Monthly. The writer doesn’t go quite as far as the Salon author, but does make it clear that “when violence is committed by people who aren’t white, their actions are treated as representative of their entire communities. That’s something that anybody with a 101-level understanding of race and media in America understands…All of which makes the media reaction to Waco a fascinating mirror to hold up to the media reactions in other situations….[It’s] difficult to imagine that if a shoot-out involving dozens of young black men that ended with nearly thirty casualties had happened in a strip mall in Waco, it would be perceived as an isolated incident involving only the people who drew their guns.”

    That seems obvious to me, as someone who watches TV, hears radio, and reads papers and online outlets…which is why your 3rd bullet point is hard for me to understand…you really think the “conversation” would NOT have sounded incredibly different? If you have a chance to ask friends of yours who are African-American, let us know if they agree with your third point. (Not whether YOUR conversation would be different—of course not…but the national media conversation, viewed with a wide lens—understanding that there are many exceptions here and there).

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Based on Phillip’s comments, there is ONE way in which I AM “blind” on this, and it has nothing to do with privilege. He watches TV news, and I don’t. So I can’t say how it would play on the Tube.

      That’s always been a problem for me. It used to drive Robert Ariail crazy, because a lot of the memes he used in his cartoons came from TV. He would come in with a sketch, and I’d say, “What’s this about?,” and he’d be like, “Are you KIDDING? It’s all over the news…” meaning television. Robert and I usually were able to connect on his work quite well, but not when it was based on some big TV story that wasn’t the sort of thing that made the fronts of major newspapers.

      This is something I could cure by forcing myself to watch TV news, but it’s not worth it to me. That’s too high a cost to pay.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Well, my B.A. in English trumps his Peabody Conservatory whatever in that regard. Mark, also an English major, if I recall correctly, agrees with me.

          I <3 Phillip's sentiments, anyway.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Well, I refer you to what I just said above.

            The entire piece fails to hang together, because the connecting tissue is too faulty.

            Folks, there ARE inconsistencies in the way news media, ESPECIALLY television, deal with stories involving black and white people. There’s the proverbial “pretty young white girl” missing story, which is such a TV trope that it’s a well-known joke.

            Then there was the black woman in SC who was charged with killing her children four or five years back. I remember running into an editor from The State at Starbucks at the time, and she said something about this being another Susan Smith case. I was in a cynical mood and said no, this wouldn’t be like Susan Smith, because this woman wasn’t white. The editor looked at me as though I had said something terribly shocking, insulting and possibly racist.

            I was right. The story went away quickly, quickly enough that I can’t even recall the woman’s name. But I can’t forget Susan Smith because of the Chinese water torture of that story, day after day.

            Mind you, I didn’t want more stories about the black mother. I wanted FEWER stories about the white one. But folks just get WAY more morbidly fascinated when a white woman does such a thing to her little white children. When such terrible things happen to black children, it’s taken more as a matter of course. This isn’t as bad as it would have been 40 or 50 years ago, when it might have been ignored altogether. But the difference is palpable — society still signals that it values white lives more. (And don’t bore me by blaming “media.” Media are a mirror to society in this regard.)

            These are legitimate observations of real phenomena. But if the writer of this piece had an equally valid point to make, she failed to make it.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              The Susan Smith coverage was insane. We basically set up an ad hoc, multiperson bureau in that town to provide wall-to-wall coverage of everything that moved. (We had those kinds of resources then.)

              In fact, the Susan Smith case helped launch the web product that became (Initially, it was called “CyberState”.) The online updates about that one story morphed into the online paper…

              I was upstairs in editorial by this time, and looking down and thinking my friends in news had gone a bit off the rails…

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                What really got me was that I saw my news friends getting EXCITED about the story, really getting into it, and taking great pride in how over the top their coverage was.

                I had been guilty of the same myself when I was younger. Most dramatic instance: The kidnapping case I covered in 1978. I was part of a mob of people camped outside the victim’s family’s house, sleeping in our cars, rising up and mobbing anyone who approached the house. We had a great time covering this terrible event. We were really INTO it, and feeding off the intense interest in the case, which made it briefly a national story. Thank God it had a happy ending — the girl actually escaped — but not until after she had been raped by one of her captors.

                It happened in a county that was part of my rural beat, and after the girl was safely home, all the reporters from Memphis and Nashville and points beyond went home, but I stayed on the court case, which itself had some interesting developments (such as the time the kidnappers tried to dig out of the decrepit county jail with a spoon).

                There were still others trying to follow the story, but I beat them all. I cultivated the family as sources and had an exclusive interview with the victim. I scooped everyone in reporting on the final plea agreement that sent the kidnappers to prison.

                I was really PROUD of what I was doing, revelling in my success in doing it — something that makes me kind of uncomfortable today.

                But talk about digressing…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      OK, I read the piece Phillip recommends. Again, it seems like really reaching. But again maybe that’s because I don’t engage in these kinds of conversations.

      I point in particular to the string of Tweets, which are obviously meant to parody OTHER Tweets of a sort that I haven’t seen. Because I don’t engage in that kind of conversation, or follow the kinds of people who do.

      Again, Robert would be more attuned to it than I, because he regularly listened to Rush Limbaugh while working on cartoons.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              I’m weary of trying to educate folks here. You will never acknowledge that someone who is is white, male, middle class, American, will fail to see things that someone who is not all of those things might. Just as another commenter here will never see that politicians and government officials are not all venal and/or incompetent, nor that the best quality or what is right is not necessarily found in the most popular thing in the “marketplace”…

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I fail to see what you mean. :)

                Allow me to submit a thought for your consideration: Does it ever occur to you that maybe, just maybe, this “privilege” thing is an overly convenient dodge, a too-pat way of excusing yourself from engaging an argument from someone who just may understand a good deal more than you give him credit for understanding?

                It allows you to divide the world into those who “get it” and those who “don’t,” and conveniently excuses you from having to consider what the other person is saying.

                I work pretty hard at trying to explain all the things I SEE, and all I get back is the brick wall formed by two words: “privilege blind.” Do you not think that words THAT dismissive of another person on the basis of accidents of birth just might call for some explication?

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  What I’m saying is, you really don’t try all that hard to “educate” on this point. I’m sorry if you’re weary of it, because as I think you know, I value your friendship and your thoughts. Except when you say “privilege!” and turn your shoulder upon us.

              2. Kathryn Fenner

                You are constantly deriding “identity politics”–which is a convenient moniker for “any position not taken by a white male Christian” a lot of the time. I know, as a woman, how much being a woman has cost me in terms of doing what I would have been way easier if I were a man. Otherwise, I am extremely privileged, but seeing how the world is weighted against me in one small way helps me see, since I am willing to look, how much harder it is for people who are not white, not “Christian”, not at least middle class, not American, to get by in our society.
                Despite my extreme liberal views, I know I am far more relaxed when walking with the dogs in a solitary area when a woman or a white or Asian man approaches than when a black man does, especially if he is younger.
                White shooters are called “shooters” while nonwhite are “thugs” or “terrorists.” Maybe not every single time, but certainly far more often.
                Black people use drugs at about the same rate as whites, but are orders of magnitude more likely to be incarcerated for it.
                Etc. etc. etc.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Let’s be clear with our terms here. “Identity politics” does NOT mean “any position not taken by a white male Christian.” People who are not white male Christians take positions unrelated to identity politics all the time. Look at Elizabeth Warren and her populism. Or Nikki Haley with her Tea Party populism. For that matter, there are white guys who embrace identity politics (I wouldn’t be surprised to find some of those thugs in Waco embracing such) — although fortunately, they are widely derided and held in contempt for it.

                  Identity politics is… well, let’s go back to Nikki Haley. Identity politics is when her pal Eleanor Kitzman sticks up for her when a person who happens to be white and male offers criticism of her. She resorts to identity politics to declare his voice illegitimate because of the accidents of his birth, and how DARE he say anything critical of an Indian-American woman. It’s ridiculous, it’s anti-intellectual, and it’s an insult to everyone.

                  Identity politics is being for Nikki Haley, or Hillary Clinton, not for her qualifications, but BECAUSE she is a woman. And that’s kinda nuts. Just as it was always absurd for it to be important to be Polish or Italian or Irish in this or that neighborhood.

                  As for race — well, I long ago reached the conclusion that race-based redistricting is enormously harmful to our society. I’ve watched the effect this ethnic cleansing has had, and it’s bad on a number of levels. It elects people (white and black, and MOSTLY white) who are conscious of being elected because of their race, and acting accordingly once in office. And who loses out most on that? Minorities, because the great majority of representatives will be whites elected from super-white districts. You get a handful more minority representatives to a body where they have less effective impact.

                  But it hurts all of us. Here’s an example of how: Because of vague, weird notions some whites have that only poor blacks benefit from public education, representatives who have no poor blacks in their districts care less about public education, become alienated from it, sometimes even hostile. They become uninterested in improving schools, and more interested in paying people to abandon them. And the whole society is hurt then.

                  This is all fairly obvious to anyone who watches closely. Yet some well-intentioned people — black and white — will still speak as though it’s a good idea to create majority-minority districts as possible. But it isn’t good, for anybody.

                  This is also related to my general suspicion of teams and groups in politics. I see the harm done to the deliberative process by party politics — people training themselves to think, or at least act as though they think, that anything anyone in their party proposes is great, and any idea from a member of the other party is anathema.

                  And to me, anyone forming common cause with another person purely because of sharing a demographic designation is crazy, and greatly harmful to society.

                  I place no stock in granfalloons, and it really bugs me when other people do.

              3. Brad Warthen Post author

                Actually, though, populism CAN have a strong element of identity politics in it, too — a class-based kind.

                So maybe that wasn’t a perfect example…

              4. Kathryn Fenner

                I think perhaps you dismiss positions taken by, say, women who support other women as identity politics, when it is that the particular woman politician is advancing a feminist position. Does any significant proportion of females support Nikki Haley just b/c she’s a woman? I think not. But many of us would support a reasonably feminist candidate (male or female, of course, but particularly female) because she “gets” it.

              5. Brad Warthen Post author

                Well, feminism IS, by definition, identity politics. So another way to say what you just said is “women who vote for other women because they believe that women should vote for other women because they are women.”

                That said, we were subjected to quite a bit of celebration of the “historic” nature of Nikki Haley’s election. This was all rather silly and foolish, but the fact is that during the election I had heard of people saying they wanted to vote for her because she was a woman.

                What’s doubly messed up about that is that after all the hoo-hah about electing an Indian-American woman, people complained that her Cabinet wasn’t diverse enough. And as I said at the time, if you’d wanted a more diverse Cabinet, you should have voted for the white guy (or should I say, the Lebanese-American guy). Which, to be fair, a lot if not most of the people who wanted that did.

                I sort of enjoyed that period, for the various ways it illustrated the absurdities of identity politics.

                To see just how twisted it all can get, this business of judging people on the basis of superficialities, you know that letter Eleanor Kitzman wrote castigating the white guy for DARING to criticize an Indian-American woman? You know what it was about? He was criticizing her for not having a diverse-enough Cabinet…

                The ironies get pretty thick when one goes down that road…

              6. Kathryn Fenner

                No, I said that women DO vote for women, all things being equal, who are feminists, not just any woman. I am no fan of Hillary Clinton, and really don’t want to continue the Eternal Scandalmongering, but in a toss up between her and someone who rates the same on my positions scale, she’d get my vote because she is a woman. Women have had the vote for 95 years and make up more than half the population, and we’ve never even had one make it through the primaries as a presidential nominee.
                I would absolutely never vote for Sarah Palin, even vs. Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, or other passengers in the clown car. I did not vote for Haley and cannot see myself doing so vs. any likely candidate.

                I guess I feel that your title to the post is disingenuous, since it implies that you actually *want* to be educated, rather than simply shoot down or cherry pick, then distort whatever I say.

              7. Brad Warthen Post author

                I certainly didn’t mean to distort; I was giving you what I understand you to say when you say you’re inclined to vote for a woman who is a feminist.

                Something that I’d appreciate from someone is a good, working description of what “feminism” is. I know it’s not as simple as “I’ll vote for ANY woman.” In fact, it’s quite complicated. Sometimes it seems to mean an opposition to all gender distinctions. Other times it seems to INSIST that gender distinctions be acknowledged and honored in our laws and customs.

                My objection to it is that it is an ideology grounded in identity. I think we’ve had enough, in human history, of people seeking to advance “me and people like me,” and feminism — when espoused by women and not men (and of course, there are a lot of guys who embrace it) — seems to fit in that category.

                What initially turned me off to feminism, of course, was abortion. I used to say, “I’m a feminist except for that.” But my uneasiness spread to other areas over time, in part because that was such a non-negotiable point for most self-described feminists…

              8. Brad Warthen Post author

                I just ran across a term that was new to me, although it’s apparently been around for years and years: Womanism.

                Apparently, it’s like feminism for black women. No, that’s an inadequate explanation. It’s complicated. From my hasty research, I sort of get the impression that a womanist is a black woman who says to white women who think being a woman is like being black, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

                More or less.

                It seems there are just all sorts of conversations going on out there about it, with such burning questions as whether “a non-Black woman of colour” can BE a womanist.

                And yet I had not run across it before.

                I’m just never going to catch up, am I?

              9. Kathryn Fenner

                a crude nutshell definition of feminist is “one who believes women are entitled to the same rights and privileges as men.”

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Kathryn, if I sound indignant, it’s because I am.

          As a former member of the Columbia Urban League board, and a current member of the Community Relations Council, I’ve given a great deal of my time and energy to CONVERSATIONS about these issues.

          And it frustrates me greatly to see this writer or anyone else engage these issues in a way that is not logical and does NOTHING to increase understanding or move us toward any sort of synthesis. I see a piece like this, which addresses the real problem of enduring racism in such a series of facile non sequiturs as something that sets back the cause of meaningful discussions of race in America.

      1. bud

        Brad if you don’t watch TV news then how are you even qualified to comment it on it all?

        I would suggest we all see how this plays out. These guys may end up getting acquitted for stand your ground reasons.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Oh, I think I’ve seen enough of it. Enough to doubt that if I just watched a little more, I would start to like it….

          It’s not that it has to be the written word for me to appreciate it. Broadcast CAN be good. I find NPR to be just as thoughtful and in-depth as any newspaper in the world. But I very seldom get anything like that from TV…

      2. Harry Harris

        “Again, Robert would be more attuned to it than I, because he regularly listened to Rush Limbaugh while working on cartoons.”
        Either you are kidding or that explains a few things.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          No, I’m not kidding. Robert did all that stuff I don’t do — watching the 24/7 TV news, listening to talk radio… so he knew the memes that were flying around…

    3. Barry

      ” “when violence is committed by people who aren’t white, their actions are treated as representative of their entire communities. ”

      – Biker “gangs” are typically not from one community- nor do they represent a specific geographical community.

      Biker gangs are made up of people from various areas – various cities- often various states.

      So it would be really silly to try to portray them as representative of Waco since – it’s likely- many of them don’t live there –

      unlike the Baltimore rioters- who were burning things in their own neighborhood.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Wasn’t cops in Waco before, was it? ATF and the FBI, if Wikipedia and my recollection are correct.

  4. Burl Burlingame

    What Phillip said. And yeah, your media blindness would make Ariall crazy, because he has to skewer popular perceptions, not elevated discourse. Me, I’m holding my breath awaiting FOX News to refer to the bikers as “thugs.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Burl may have missed the “thug” reference, but he’s totally right that it was Robert’s job to “skewer popular perceptions, not elevated discourse.”

      And I owed it to him to keep up with that stuff, but I couldn’t find the time. And even if I could have, I probably wouldn’t have. TV news was just too much like fingernails on a chalkboard for me.

      I’d listen to it sometimes while I was working out in the basement at The State (especially after MTV stopped showing music videos), but that generally just confirmed me in my dislike…

  5. Bryan Caskey

    The thing is, I reject the entire premise of her article. She brings up the Baltimore riots: I don’t think that the Baltimore riots made “black people in general” look bad. The Baltimore riots didn’t make all black people look bad. They made the rioters look bad. The specific people who went out and looted stores – they looked bad. The rioters looked bad. The color of their skin was irrelevant.

    I didn’t look at the scenes of the rioting and looting, and start holding non-rioters and non-looters accountable. In the world that I live in, everyone is responsible for their own actions. People are not responsible for the actions of other people, regardless of similarities in how they look. If you didn’t riot, then you don’t share in any of guilt of the rioters. I’m sure that lots of people who live in that section of Baltimore didn’t riot or loot.

    Likewise, some bird-brain “outlaw motorcycle gangs” a/k/a criminals a/k/a thugs, don’t confer any guilt upon other people who are not actually also outlaw motorcycle gang members. The incident in Waco had absolutely nothing to do with me. I wasn’t there. If this Professor is waiting on me to apologize for someone else’s actions, she’s going to be waiting a long time.

    Her argument strikes me as similar to the statement that President Obama made in response to the ISIS killings. Remember how he chided Christians not to get up on their “high horse” about ISIS killings because “the Crusades”? Let’s assume, hypothetically, that the Crusades were completely unjustified and were simply the massive slaughter of innocents by white Christian guys named Sir Lancelot and Sir Bradley. (Let’s not argue over the actual history, because that’s irrelevant for my point.) My response would be:

    Uh, Mr. President? The people in the Crusades, were like, these totally other people. They aren’t here anymore. They’re gone. Been gone a long time. I wasn’t there. I had nothing to do with the Crusades, ’cause that was totally other people.

    Now this professor is free to have her own (wrong) opinion on things, but what makes it so bad is that constantly injecting race into things that have nothing to do with race, is that it poisons the conversation. People use race and “privilege” as a way to silence debate and de-legitimize the opposing point of view. Arguments aren’t had on the merits. It’s all argumentum ad hominem.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes to all Bryan just said, especially the first graf:
      “The thing is, I reject the entire premise of her article. She brings up the Baltimore riots: I don’t think that the Baltimore riots made “black people in general” look bad.” ABSOLUTELY!

      “The Baltimore riots didn’t make all black people look bad.” ABSOLUTELY!

      “They made the rioters look bad.” ABSOLUTELY!

      “The specific people who went out and looted stores – they looked bad. The rioters looked bad. The color of their skin was irrelevant.” ABSOLUTELY!

    2. bud

      Bryan you completely missed the president’s point. There IS a generalized condemnation of the entire Islamic faith based on the acts of ISIS. I could go one step further and simply make the general statement that ALL members of the faith community regardless of the denomination are intolerant bigots that ultimately results in acts of violence. To simply limit the condemnation to one religion, and yes that most definitely is done in the Fox News world, that’s bigotry. The president is simply suggesting that it is wrong to single out one religion when all religions have committed acts of violence. It was something that needed saying and I’m glad POTUS said it.

      1. Barry

        It was a stupid thing to say- no one of any significance anywhere – was accusing every Muslim of violence or hatred.

        Obama knew that- and didn’t care.

        His comment was silly- and I am glad it was dismissed as unnecessary by many people- including some of his supporters.

  6. Jeff Mobley

    I actually follow this writer on Twitter, because she’s interesting, but she has a habit of surrounding a possibly legitimate insight with over-the-top polemics.

    For example, a few days before Easter, I read one of her pieces and posted this tweet in comment (here’s hoping this HTML works):

    Do you oppose being forced to violate your conscience? Yes? You're probably a white supremacist. MT @ProfessorCrunk:— Jeff Mobley (@JeffMfromSC) April 1, 2015

    And, whatever legitimate points Brittney Cooper may or may not have made in her Waco piece, there is a difference between a riot and a gunfight:

      1. Jeff Mobley

        I enjoyed it! I’ve made a slightly lengthier comment back on your previous post about that.

  7. Bart

    As long as I can remember from my first encounter and knowledge of biker gangs, the members have been referred to as “thugs”, drug dealers, killers, rapists, and a few other apt descriptions that fit perfectly. Many years ago, I had the distinct displeasure of working with an employee of a business at Myrtle Beach who was also a member of a biker gang. He was proud of the fact that he ran prostitutes, drugs, and engaged in other illicit activities for the gang. Now, he was either telling the truth, a liar, or a wannabee, which I do not know for sure. But, he was a thug in every sense of the word and our business relationship ended quicker than it started.

    Biker gang wars have been going on for decades and the members are mostly white. They have been linked to organized crime, glorified in movies, and if the urban legend is not a legend, they were used in raids in Cambodia and Vietnam by our own military.

    After reading the Salon article, I am still trying to equate the press coverage in terms of black racism and white priviledge. These are biker gangs, not Sunday school teachers. They are all thugs whether they are black, white, Hispanic, oriental, or any other ethnic group who engages in the same lawless acts. Race and the lack of racial animus in reporting or police action in Waco is not an exercise in “white priviledge” in this instance unless one simply sees or wants to see everything through the prism of racial overtones.

    There are 2 events coming up involving bikers. One over Memorial Day weekend and the other 1 or 2 weeks later. Consider this. When you are driving on I-20 or any other major road or interstate and a large gang or contingent of bikers comes up behind you, what is your immediate reaction? Whether the bikers are black or white, I can almost guarantee the color of the rider’s skin is not your initial reaction, is it?

    1. Barry

      Most people I know don’t want to be in Myrtle for either biker group.

      But there are differences in the two groups.

      One is an older crowd – you’ll see many more professional people in that group – but they can cause a mess – a loud mess. You’ll see some almost nude folks- but you are likely to see them in that condition at the biker gatherings.

      One is a younger crowd- and you’ll see a lot more hot heads in that group (they want to race a lot) – you are likely to see a few more women walking around the Food Lion almost nude in this group (yes, I’ve been with my family and seen it).

      and of course you have some people that don’t know anything about either gathering- but they’ll sit and talk about how there are no differences at all between the two. They are wrong.

      1. Bart

        I worked at Myrtle Beach and had the opportunity to witness first hand both biker weekends. A good friend was a member of the highway patrol and attested to the same things I had witnessed and heard about. Open acts of sex on the back of a bike, during the day, in public, with families and other bikers around. Bare butts on display on the back of a bike, food containers and partially eaten food scraps strewn all over every restaurant parking lot, on the sidewalks, and anywhere convenient. Restaurants hesitant to open because of the disruptions and disrespectful behavior of the bikers. Fights and arguments and “showing off” on their bikes in business and residential areas. Public urinating and defacating with no regard to civil behavior was a common sight and to the best of my knowledge, still is.

        Your description of the differences in the 2 groups is very accurate. But, if one uses anything other than generic descriptions of the people involved in the 2 weekends, the dog whistle response by many will be an immediate accusation of racism.

      2. Mark Stewart

        Neither Myrtle Beach area biker event is of the sort that occurred in Waco. Yes they all look and act the same. But the vast majority of these people in SC – both white and black – are just posers out to have a good time. They aren’t criminals, though they should get cited for some of the asinine nonsense that does go on around the bike weeks. But the outlaw biker gangs are around. And they are bad news people. This is the different and socially dangerous group. They come in all colors, and are more like prison gangs on the loose.

        So is it the younger ones who you are discriminating against, or the ones who are black, Barry? It’s hard to tell – not.

        1. Bart


          Just out of curiosity, exactly what constitutes discrimination in Barry’s comments or even in mine? Is it the fact that Barry was truthful as was I in describing the differences between the two groups of bikers that prompted you to accuse Barry of discrimination? Have you been to Myrtle Beach during either weekend to observe the differences for yourself? If not, don’t be so quick to pull the “discrimination” trigger on Barry for being factual, not racist or discriminatory. And for the record, the Memorial Day weekend biker rally is composed predominantly of younger black riders. If facts make the distinctions racist, then you are welcome to accuse me of racism as well.

          As for most of the attendees being posers, that is accurate to a degree but the thug biker gangs like the Hell’s Angels, Devil’s Disciples, and some of the others also attend the events.

          When the Harley event started years ago, it was intended for the gathering of the weekend bike riders who enjoyed the company of other riders. Originally, it was intended solely for Harleys, not “crotch rockets”.

          1. Barry


            he can’t.

            To some people if you make a distinction between any 2 people, you are prejudiced.

            People like that don’t deserve to be listened to in a serious manner – and they usually are ignored- thank goodness.

        2. Barry


          if you are referring to my making a distinction between the two groups – then yes- I discriminate between them – because there isn’t a biker (white or black) that has ever been to Myrtle Beach that would disagree with my assessment. It’s obvious – it’s even a distinction the organizers have alluded to themselves.

          If you are accusing me of discrimination as in prejudice, I’ll just ignore your uneducated comment.

  8. Bob Amundson

    My experience is that a minority of “bad actors” greatly affects individual perception of any group. Most poor are working poor, but a small percentage of “loafers” make them all look bad. A small percentage of bad drivers in South Carolina give a bad reputation to all South Carolina drivers. A small percentage of violent “thugs” give a bad name to motorcycle clubs. To quote Kathryn, “etc., etc., etc.”

  9. Bryan Caskey

    Does anyone else see the grid of faces and immediately think of the opening to “The Brady Bunch”, or is that just me?

    1. Bart

      “The Brady Bunch” with attitude, serious attitude. Went for an appointment this afternoon. Leaving the office building, walking out in front of me was a biker with a “Deacons” vest, wearing the typical jeans, belt with hanging chains, facial hair, red beret instead of a helmet, and yes, he looked exactly like someone answering a casting call for a member of a biker thug gang. And he was white. And damn ugly. And his bike was really loud. I don’t believe he was headed for Myrtle Beach either.


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