racism: it’s still a thing

Clay Travis responded to the Jeremy Lin controversy. I'll start with his conclusion, since it's the only part of his article I agree with:

Isn't it possible that a kid being raised today could never hear the term "chink" as a slur and only associate the phrase "chink in the armor" with the 16th century phrase's origination?

Yes, it is. In fact, it's the only explanation I can bring myself to believe explains the situation: that the journalist in question was honestly too stupid or naive to know that "chink" is a racial slur. No one that did -- even an avowed, card-carrying racist -- would be so blatant on purpose (they have plenty of coded language). But I hate to be the bearer of bad news here: one astoundingly sheltered sports journalist does not mean that "racism is incredibly rare". The contention that no one under the age of 40 knows an "actual racist" is so hilariously laughable that I'm wondering (hoping?) that this is Clay the provocateur shining through, and not a serious contention.

Clay and I went to high school together at MLK. It was, actually, a remarkably well-integrated school, all things considered -- this is what happens when you take a couple hundred smarter kids from relatively good (and relatively well-to-do) households and stick them together in a school. But let's not whitewash (no pun intended) the experience -- black kids and white kids self-segregated in our lunchroom just like any other high school. And I think that if Clay were to actually ask around to some of his former classmates, he might start building a much different picture of the supposedly racism-free environment he seems to think we grew up in.

I respect the desire to think that we live in some sort of post-racism society, but I'm here to tell you: racism is still out there, dudes. I can tell you that with confidence, even as a white male. I've had too many awkward conversations about "them" and "those types" with expectant stares, where I slowly realized they were talking about black people, and were probing me for the level of racist discourse I'm willing to engage in. (I refer to this as the good ol' boy protocol -- it's a very sophisticated dance of euphemism and suggestive body language.) Also, I read the news sometimes. I mean, come on.

Do I think that Federico deserves to be pilloried because he accidentally made a racist pun? Absolutely not. It's worth asking him what the fuck he was thinking, but if the answer is (as I suspect it is), that he genuinely just didn't know, he should be fired for gross ignorance unbecoming of any self-respecting journalist, not for racism. But attempting to justify his ignorance with some sort of hilariously sad suggestion that we have "marginalized racism to such an extreme that true awowed racists are kooks" is just wrong. So, so very wrong. I do the best to peep around the blinders of my white male privilege -- Clay, I recommend you do the same.

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  • Cmpsdp

    So a journalist must be educated in all forms of racist hate speech? I find that contention ludicrous. And let us not lose sight of the fact that this is an actual saying…”chunk in the armor.”. I would have read the headline 100 times and not thought about it. This issue says more about our uber-sensitivity than anything else.

  • Paulfuturerelic

    @Cmpsdp- YES. 

  • Paulfuturerelic

    They’re also suppose to know how to use proper grammar, know the difference between there, their, and they’re; proper citation, and long list of things that other people may not know in regards to the English language. 

  • bob

    This is what editors are for. I can easily imagine someone writing the idiomatic phrase down and simply not seeing the obvious racist pun in there (partly because it makes no sense in-context). An editor’s job includes catching this stuff, and a new set of eyes has a vastly easier time picking up on these unintended meanings. In today’s media world, we seem to not have editors, however.

    As for post-racist society, eh. The USA in particular seems to have divided in to three camps: Things are so much better now, racism isn’t a problem!!!! Things are no better now than they were 120 years ago!!!! The third camp is the most populous and expresses itself thus: Wut!!!!

    All three are wrong.

  • Small “d” democrat

    (Pete, I posted this comment on Jim Ridley’s piece at PITH on this post. I wanted to be sure you saw it also.)

    Pete, since you are a former classmate of Clay’s, tell him that he is being
    too clever by half, and share with him these two examples.

    All of us have heard the phrase “brain-dead” used many times to
    criticize some knucklehead decision or behavior by someone else (or
    ourselves.) However, if a sportswriter wrote a column today criticizing
    the recent play-calling of a famous female basketball coach in our state
    by calling it “brain-dead”, I would have a problem with that,
    regardless of how many times I had heard that phrase used in other
    contexts without taking offense. Likewise, if the same reporter wrote an
    article criticizing a new male basketball coach in our state by saying
    that his decision not to substitute many players in a recent loss was
    “niggardly”, I would have some issues with the writer’s sensitivity
    and/or motives. In Pete Wilson’s words (at PITH), both those journalistic
    decisions would be “egregiously stupid”.

    We all know what puns are and the cuteness of their purpose in
    journalism. Except perhaps Clay. Thanks for posting this article,
    because it frees me from having to talk to Clay on the air.

    Two last things: suggest that Clay get a clue (even a small one) about
    ethnic sensitivity and advise him to use both hands in the future when
    he is searching for his own hindquarters.

  • Asian-American

    THE COMMENT WAS OFFENSIVE TO ME. And yes, I am Asian-American. I also find it very disturbing that Americans are reluctant to acknowledge that I am offended. Asian-Americans have a long history of being victims of racial hostility, dating back to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. (Look it up, if you’re ignorant. This law prevented Chinese men from marrying outside their race, or bringing over their wives from China — effectively killing off a whole generation of Chinese men, leaving them to die alone.) Before you try to dismiss my feelings, consider what it means to be a target of raciam jokes, both in real life and in the media — including being called a chink or gook as early as when I was 8 years old by other classmates. I have many other experiences of racism. For too long, the Asian-American voice was silenced — and the racist attitudes permeated our country unnoticed — and right now the Jeremy Lin story is shedding light on all these issues. It’s time to grow up as a country and acknowledge that different people of different ethnicities have different experiences — including the Asian-American experience, which has dealt with racism in a different way than Blacks. Jeremy Lin even said that Asian stereotypes held him back, and almost left him out of the NBA.

  • Small “d” democrat

    The conversation on this blog entry continues over at PITH. You might enjoy some of those comments. (I sent a link to the PITH discussion to Clay Travis. Hopefully he will read some of the comments critical of him on the air this afternoon.) Here’s the link:


  • Small “d” democrat

    I emailed Clay Travis this morning, encouraging him to visit both this discussion and the one at PITH. He responded saying that he would do neither. Sadly, I understand why someone with his world-view would choose not to challenge it. Oh well, I tried. Looks like sports-talk radio is a good fit for Clay’s intellect.

    • Kelliente

      I take offense to your insinuation that sports-talk radio is not for the intellectually vigorous among us. (Sorry, couldn’t help being facetious there.)Also, Clay is very intelligent. I think he got this one wrong, but he’s not an idiot. And I can’t blame him for not wanting to get involved in online discussions talking about how inappropriate his article is. Anyone who’s ever produced content for a widely-read website knows you could fritter away your life and your sanity by trying to hold up one end of a discussion with thousands of anonymous commenters/detractors on the other side. 
      Anyways, great post Chris. Really well written and gets at the nugget of the issue. The good ole boys aren’t as open about their racism with us lady folk, but I still get a bit of that suggestive euphemism dance every now and then. Interestingly, the worst racist I’ve encountered in the last 10 years is the El Salvadorian cleaning lady who works in Peck Hall. She had all sorts of colorful things to say about the Jewish secretary. Racism is definitely still out there, and often in the unlikeliest of places.  

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