Tag Archives: racism

Below Deck: A Dickensian Horror Story

Photo by Pete Markham 
(CC BY-SA 2.0)

At The California Sunday Magazine, Lizzie Presser reports on the Dickensian treatment of Filipino workers aboard Carnival Cruise Line ships — where the routine involves 12 and 14-hour days, seven days a week for paltry pay and zero overtime — just to be able to provide better lives for families they rarely get to see. And, if they’re injured on the job? They’re essentially on their own.

When Regie stepped aboard the Sensation, his first ship, he was enchanted. Built by Carnival in 1993, it was huge — 14 stories tall and nearly three football fields long. Regie had never used a dishwasher, but now he was spending ten hours a day, every day, loading and unloading one and steaming pots as big as bathtubs. In his cream-colored, windowless cabin two levels below deck, there was the thrill of waves thudding against the hull, startling him awake. Even the routines felt exciting. He cleaned his navy-blue uniform in the evenings and reported to the kitchen, on deck eight, at 6 each morning.

Regie’s wages washing dishes — which came to about $1.75 an hour — were on the lower end of Carnival’s pay scale. He figured that if he was giving up time with his family, he might as well make as much money as he could.

The salary would be enough to send his kids to private school, and the 48-hour workweek sounded standard. Regie didn’t notice that his $450-a-month pay was fixed, even if he put in up to 70 hours a week. He also didn’t see the clause at the bottom of the third page that barred him from seeking protection under U.S. law if he were injured.

In those early years, Regie never complained. He had accepted that the monthly two-and-a-half “paid leave days” in his contract would not be honored. Instead, he worked every day. If he was lucky, his managers gave him two daytime hours off each week, sometimes four.

In interviews with ten Carnival Cruise Line employees with a combined 70 years of experience on different ships, all said that the number on the Fun Time screen appeared in red when they logged more than ten hours. Room stewards, cooks, and waiters explained that, in these cases, a supervisor would call them, reduce their hours to ten (or, in rare instances, 11), and then ask that employees sign back in to Fun Time to approve the adjusted time sheet.

Read the story

(Don’t) Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

collage no "No Smoking" signs

June Thunderstorm, writing in The Baffler with the support of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, digs into the race and class issues that underlie efforts to quell smoking. Is “public health” really the name of the game?

Neither does the “public” protected by public health initiatives include people of the working class, no matter what color they are. If it did, initiatives would be directed first and foremost at the process of production, not consumption. And I mean production of everything. After all, anyone who works for minimum wage already expects organ damage, physical pain, a reduced quality of life, and an untimely death. And that, no doubt, is why the “If You Smoke You’ll Get Sick” warnings on packs aren’t working very well to inspire this particular group to quit: working shit jobs for shit pay is making the working class sicker, faster. And yet the promoter of “public health” does not concern herself with how the workers must soon enter the building to demolish rotten fiberboard all day. She is interested only in what they consume outside the door on their brief ten-minute breaks. Why should this be?

Read the essay

Drinking Chai to Savannah: Reflections on Identity, Inclusion and Power in the South

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Anjali Enjeti | Longreads | January 2017 | 10 minutes (2,425 words)

 

I am sitting in the middle seat of the third row of a minivan. A heap of purses crowd my feet. Elbows and knees jab my sides. We are gridlocked on I-285 during Atlanta evening rush hour in a crawl-pause rhythm, our progress as tedious as arranging the frames of a stop motion animation film. The nose of our van points southeast to Savannah, the historic coastal town Union Army General Sherman spared during the Civil War. When raindrops the size of nickels smack our windshield, the hazard lights on surrounding vehicles blink on like garlands of bulbs on a Christmas tree.

“Hey,” my friend in the second row calls, craning her neck to make eye contact. “Do you want chai?”

I lean forward. The seatbelt catches my breastbone. “You want to make a stop already? We’ll never get there at this rate.”

“No, no,” says the driver, my neighbor from up the street. “We brought a thermos. And cups.”

I am incredulous, not only because my friends thought to pack chai on a four-hour road trip, but because, judging by the way the rest of my friends continue their chatter, I am the only person who finds it odd.

It’s no wonder. Among our seven passengers, six have immigrated to the U.S. from South Asia. They sip chai from morning to night. Percolating pots of fresh ginger, full fat milk and cardamom serve as background music in their homes.

I am the only one of us born and raised in the States, the only one who considers bagged tea to be actual tea, the one who stubbornly refuses to wear saris to celebrate South Asian holidays, the clueless audience for conversations rattled off in Hindi, a language I don’t understand.

I am the interpreter of academic monograms like S.A.T. and A.P., the friend who suggests they not worry so much about their kids’ grades or test scores, the beloved Aunty who sticks up for their children whenever a parental rule interferes with their enjoyment of authentically American childhoods.

Steam from the chai forms a layer of film on my face. I inhale its aroma, hopeful it will ease the dull ache in my gut, the sinking feeling my friends probably can’t decipher because they grew up in countries where their brown skin and names did not summarily mark them as outsiders. Not even these ladies, my closest friends, know that I harbor a deep-seated fear of small American cities and towns.

Like the one we’re headed to. Read more…

Whitefish, Montana Will Not be Intimidated

Fibonacci Blue, Flickr

Signs of the resistance were everywhere. Strolling Central Avenue, I spotted blue paper menorahs in dozens of windows — the same menorahs that had first surfaced in Billings six years earlier. Same goes for the Love Lives Here logo. Picking up a local paper, I read about the bipartisan team of top Montana politicians —Democrats Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Steve Daines and Gov. Steve Bullock, and Republicans Rep. Ryan Zinke (Trump’s nominee for secretary of Interior) and Attorney Gen. Tim Fox — who had recently joined together to declare that “those few who seek to publicize anti-Semitic views … shall find no safe haven here.”

A cashier at Amazing Crepes, one of the targeted businesses, recalled how her boss had refused to serve Richard Spencer, and how he continued to refuse even after Spencer, seeking to capitalize on the exchange, began to record it on his smartphone; a bartender at Tupelo Grille told me how her mixed-race friend had confronted Spencer at a local coffee shop. “Who picks fruit in your white state?” he’d asked.

Elsewhere, Whitefish Police Chief Bill Dial — who served as an officer in Skokie, Ill. back in 1977, when another band of Nazis famously tried to march through town — kindly explained that if any of their descendants were “going to protest in our city, I want them to understand they’re going to do it our way … or we’re going to kick their a**.”

At Yahoo News, journalist Andrew Romano tells how the small town of Whitefish, Montana, stood up to the anti-Semitic threats of resident neo-Nazi Richard Spencer and his band of white supremacists, sending a strong, clear message: hate is not welcome here; we will not back down.

Read the story

Over 40 Years in “Closed Cell Restricted”: How Albert Woodfox Survived Solitary

Photo by msppmoore CC-BY SA 2.0

When Woodfox was eighteen, he was arrested for robbing a bar and sentenced to fifty years in prison.

Two weeks after Miller’s death, the four men were charged with murder. There was an abundance of physical evidence at the crime scene, none of which linked them to the killing. A bloody fingerprint near Miller’s body did not match any of theirs.

Woodfox often woke up gasping. He felt that the walls of the cell were squeezing him to death, a sensation that he began to experience the day after his mother’s funeral, in 1994. He had planned to go to the burial — prisoners at Angola are permitted to attend the funerals of immediate family — but at the last minute his request was denied. For three years, he slept sitting up, because he felt less panicked when he was vertical. “It takes so much out of you just to try to make these walls, you know, go back to the normal place they belong,” he told a psychologist. “Someday I’m not going to be able to deal with it. I’m not going to be able to pull those walls apart.”

Woodfox is reserved, humble, and temperamentally averse to drama. When he talked about himself, his tone became flat. He was scheduled to speak at a panel on solitary confinement the next day, and he felt exhausted by the prospect. “I get apprehensive when somebody asks me something I can’t answer, like ‘What does it feel like to be free?’ ” he said. “How do you want me to know how it feels to be free?” He’d developed a stock answer to the question: “Ask me in twenty years.”

At The New Yorker, Rachel Aviv profiles Albert Woodfox, a man originally sentenced to 50 years in prison for robbery. A member of the Black Panthers and the Angola 3, Woodfox spent over four decades in solitary confinement, despite a stunning lack of evidence against him in a prison murder.

Read the story

‘My Name Is Emily, and I’m a White Supremacist.’

the_anti-slavery_society_convention_1840_by_benjamin_robert_haydon

How am I a white supremacist? Well, I was born and raised in the United States of America, a country built by slave labor on stolen land, and every privilege I’ve ever enjoyed has come at the expense of someone else’s oppression. The education I received was white supremacist education, from its demand that I learn to write and speak “proper English” to its reliance on a literary, scientific, and artistic canon comprised of and curated almost exclusively by white men. My aesthetic tastes are permeated with subtle coding that extends subconscious preference to those who look like me and communicate themselves in a way I can identify with. I have interjected my unwanted, unwarranted opinion into conversations that are out of my lane, and I have chosen to look the other way rather than confront instances of racism because of cowardice, complacency, and a misplaced sense of politeness. The very foundations of my way of life are in white supremacy, and the list of microaggressions I have committed, and will no doubt continue to commit in spite of my “good intentions” for as long as I’m alive, is virtually endless.

Earlier this year, Emily Pothast penned a candid, introspective, and challenging essay in The Establishment exploring the ramifications of growing up in a culture saturated with racism. A good read when it was published in May, it has a renewed timeliness in light of last week’s US presidental election and the ensuing conversations about the impact of race and racism.

Read the essay

Who’s to Blame for Trump? Media’s Socioeconomic Blind Spots

young women holding signs at a donald trump rally

It wasn’t poor whites who criminalized blackness by way of marijuana laws and the “war on drugs.”

Nor was it poor whites who conjured the specter of the black “welfare queen.”

These points should not minimize the horrors of racism at the lowest economic rungs of society, but remind us that those horrors reside at the top in different forms and with more terrible power.

Among reporters and commentators this election cycle, then, a steady finger ought be pointed at whites with economic leverage: social conservatives who donate to Trump’s campaign while being too civilized to attend a political rally and yell what they really believe.

—  Who are the most fervent Trump supporters? Not necessarily the poor- and lower-class white communities you might think from reading the news. Writing in The Guardian, Sarah Smarsh — political liberal and native Kansan — picks apart the class bias fueling the one-dimensional media coverage of poor white communities who are “blamed” for the rise of Donald Trump. Spoiler alert: even in red states, there’s diversity and nuance.

Read the essay

Red, White, and Bruised

Cleveland's "Ten Cent Beer" riot in 1974

Kyle Swenson | Longreads | July 2016 | 14 minutes (3,440 words)

 

My hometown isn’t very good at stomaching bad news. The word on Tamir landed on an icebox Monday afternoon deep into December. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office must have been watching the calendar—and the Doppler radar. The announcement arrived in the patch of dead static between Christmas and New Year’s when most of the country is unplugged or has hit the mental snooze button. As Prosecutor Timothy McGinty started his press conference, a perfect storm of human error, a tragic accident, winter rain began soaking the city. That night, spot protests were small in number. But the word went out: tomorrow afternoon, downtown, be there. Read more…

Paul Beatty’s ‘The Sellout’ and the Racism of The Little Rascals

Paul Beatty

“That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book—that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.”

-Paul Beatty’s satirical novel The Sellout, winner of the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction (and now the 2016 Man Booker Prize), is a brutally funny-awful-sad-funny riff on racism in America, about an African American man who attempts to re-segregate his hometown — a fictional suburb of Los Angeles called Dickens. Beatty’s protagonist paints a border around Dickens, distributes “No whites allowed” signs to the local businesses, and gets help from a local celebrity, Hominy Jenkins, who was an understudy to Buckwheat and the last surviving cast member of the 1920s and ’30s serial “The Little Rascals.”

Through Hominy we also get a primer on the racist history of Hollywood — what was removed from public view, and what is still on display today. Beatty’s book led me back through my own childhood memories watching “The Little Rascals” in reruns during the early 1980s, unaware of the racist humor that was excised from syndication. Through The Sellout we get a tour of our ugly cultural past — Our Gang and Looney Tunes as just a start — and Beatty’s humor guides us through the injustices of the present.

Further reading:

• Interview with Paul Beatty (Scott Simon, NPR)
• New York Times Book Review (2015)
• An excerpt from The Sellout

Just Below the Surface

Photo: Oyster Shell // Ivan Walsh

Summer Brennan | The Oyster War | Counterpoint Press | August 2015 | 20 minutes (5,042 words)

The following is an excerpt from Summer Brennan’s excellent The Oyster War: the True Story of a Small Farm, Big Politics, and the Future of Wilderness in America, appearing courtesy of Counterpoint Press. Buy the book here.

***

The road to the oyster farm is paved with the moon-white grit of pulverized oyster shells. There is a gleam to it, and to drive it in the dusk of the dry summer months is to see the dust-coated leaves of the ditch plants take on the powdery luminosity of white moths.

Hugging the edge of the estuary’s northernmost inlet, the narrow lane rises a little above a lush wetland dotted with egrets and blue herons, and then winds down again to the edge of a vast and shining body of water. This is Drakes Estero, what’s been called “the heart of the park.” The air feels different here. In winter or summer, heat or cold, there is an enlivening bite of freshness.

I was at the farm one evening in the late summer of 2013 to look for Oscar, one of the farm’s workers. He had given me an unauthorized tour of the planting sites the month before, and I was worried that allowing him to do so had accidentally gotten him fired. Word on the street was that it had. I was initially shocked to hear this, but considering how contentious things had gotten, what with the legal battle and all the national media attention, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. For owners Kevin and Nancy Lunny, who by some estimates had already sunk more than a million dollars into their efforts to restore the farm and keep it open, the stakes could not have been higher.

Like many of the oyster workers, Oscar lived in one of the rundown buildings that made up the farm’s small land-based component—a smattering of sheds, cottages, trailers and pre-fab homes. At least, that is what he told me, though I didn’t know if he still lived there. The buildings were scattered over just about an acre and a half, so I figured it wouldn’t take too long to look.

I pulled up and parked my borrowed, mud-splattered 1991 Toyota station wagon in front of a weatherworn white building. A brightly painted sign exclaimed it to be the “Oyster Shack.” No more than 600 square feet in total, it housed the retail portion of the business in front and the tiny hatchery in back, where the oysters were grown from spat (or “seed”) the size of sand grains. On the wall of an adjacent shed was pinned a large American flag.

The pop radio station I’d been listening to on the drive out had turned to white noise. I switched it off and got out of the car. Read more…