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Would You Feel Threatened by Tupac Shakur? You Must Be a Racist:

Bob Garfield in Advertising Age writes:

1) Even hardened racists feel the impulse to believe they are no such thing.

2) Hence, they are always in the market for someone "acceptably black."

Yes, the market. And, yes, acceptably black. We used that term the other day on "Hardball with Chris Matthews" to talk about Sen. Barack Obama and watched the interviewer visibly flinch. "I'm gonna take some of the edge off of what you just said," he said.

What edge? Acceptably black means being nonthreatening to white people inclined to feeling threatened by black people. It means standard English, clean-cut appearance (or, as Joe Biden fumbled, "clean") and the most Caucasian features possible. These obviously are not objective measures of character or worth; just as obviously, they are measures of what sells to the vast, white audience. Halle Berry and Denzel Washington are acceptably black. Your local news anchors are acceptably black. Tupac was not.

Well, according to Richard Perez-Pena, Wounded Rapper Gets Mixed Verdict In Sex-Abuse Case, Washington Post, Sept. 16, 1996:

Shakur, who was vilified by opponents of "gangsta" rap for his frequently vicious lyrics, his various run-ins with the law and his infamous "thug life" tattoo, certainly wasn't the only rap music figure to repeatedly get into trouble. But he got into more than most. In June he settled a lawsuit with a limousine driver who claimed that Shakur and members of his entourage severely beat him in a Fox TV parking lot after taping an appearance on "In Living Color." A month before that, he pleaded guilty to a felony weapons charge in Los Angeles. And the month before that, he got in trouble for violating probation. And that's just from a three-month period: In 1993 he was charged in the shooting of two off-duty police officers in Atlanta [the charges were later dropped -EV]; Shakur also had various convictions in Michigan and New York on assault and battery charges. He spent 11 months in jail after his highly publicized conviction in December 1994 for sexually abusing a woman in a Manhattan hotel room.

Would Tupac Shakur be "[a]cceptably black," defined as "nonthreatening to white people inclined to feeling threatened by black people"? No. Would he be nonthreatening to white people not inclined to feeling threatened by black people? No, he'd likely be seen as threatening by many of them, too. Would he be nonthreatening to black people? No, he'd likely be seen as threatening by many of them, too.

And would he (if he were still alive) now be seen as nonthreatening by the woman he was convicted of sexually abusing -- a black woman, as it happens? Would Tupac really seem threatening because of his use of nonstandard English, non-Caucasian features, and lack of clean-cut appearance, or perhaps for some other reasons?

Plus, why on earth use Tupac as your example of somehow who is supposedly "[un]acceptably black" in deriding whites' supposed standards of black acceptability -- given that his behavior shouldn't be "acceptable," and would be "[]threatening," to anyone?

Thanks to OpinionJournal for the pointer.

jcr:
Tupac's legacy has been whitewashed altered by his fans. He's often portrayed as a hopeful agent of change social critic rather than an intelligent street thug (and no, I do not use that term lightly) with musical talent.
1.10.2008 3:46am
BGates:
Is 'vilify' the right word for Perez-Pena to use? A quick look at online dictionaries shows that word suggests unfair use, eg "the Nazi propaganda vilified the Jews". (Of course a suggested synonym is 'blacken', which is less than helpful here....)
1.10.2008 3:59am
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
Just what I'd expect a typical racist Anglo to say.

</sarcasm>

When did people get into the habit of conflating prejudice and jugdgement, and condemning them both? It would be prejudiced, racist, and stupid to condemn Tupac Shakur for his "non-Caucasian features" -- something over which he had no control and which was irrelevant to the kind of person that he was. But his use of nonstandard English, lack of clean-cut appearance, and felony arrest record are the result of choices that he made, and are definite markers for a certain mode of behavior that I keep way the hell away from if I can.

Years and years ago I read an essay on prejudice that made its point in an interesting way. Remember Elsa, the lioness in Born Free? An orphaned cub, raised by a human couple to be a member of the family, she was gentle, playful, and affectionate with humans. So ... let's say you're out on the African veldt one day and you see a lioness bounding toward you. How would you react? Could be Elsa, right?
1.10.2008 4:15am
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
"jugdgement" -- Preview Is My Friend. I need to pay more attention to my friend.
1.10.2008 4:17am
tvk:
EV, what is the point of your post? Is it that Tupac was a terrible counter-example? If so, I take your point, but nitpicking on Bob Garfield's choice of example, rather than his larger point, seems to be awfully inconsequential.

If your point is that there is no such thing as "acceptably black" and that "standard English, clean-cut appearance and the most Caucasian features possible" are not advantageous, I have severe doubts. Yes, Bob Garfield has not provided much evidence to support his claim. But it is a claim that, based on anecdotal evidence, I find rather plausible.
1.10.2008 4:23am
Mr. Liberal:
I think that some of the points are valid (i.e. a certain sort of black is viewed as non-threatening, having some Caucasian features may make one more "desirable" in certain roles).

On the other hand, Tupac probably is not the best example to illustrate the point.

But, I do not think that a poorly chosen example should lead one to reject the more bigger point. I certainly do not think that the example should hijack and become more important than the bigger point.
1.10.2008 4:25am
jharris:
I'm not convinced that, say, Clarence Thomas is perceived as threatening despite what he terms his "profoundly Negroid" features. Rather, some people *choose* to project a threatening image, whether by dress, demeanor, attitude, diction, grammar, use of foul language, brandishing weapons, poor manners, lack of consideration for others, and so forth. It is a conscious choice, like a bully-boy policeman may choose to sport mirrored sunglasses, skin-tight uniforms, high leather boots and/or a non-standard, extra large and highly polished firearm.

Shakur's whole career depended, like that of many of his fellows, upon appearing to be a threatening criminal. Johnny Mathis based his career upon presenting an image of a polite, soft-spoken romantic.
1.10.2008 4:55am
Nels Nelson (mail):
Okay, so it was a bad example, but Tupac's criminal record is largely irrelevant to Garfield's point about "standard English, clean-cut appearance (or, as Joe Biden fumbled, 'clean') and the most Caucasian features possible". Just pick another example and move on to his arguments.
1.10.2008 5:00am
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
I liked one of the responses in the Advertising Age comments thread:

... Also, thanks for sharing your definition of "acceptably black" as a clean cut, English speaking person. I'm sure those should not be qualifications for the future president.
1.10.2008 5:37am
Tracy W (mail):
What puzzles me is that the Advertising Age apparently regards having a black person in a group of people in an ad as a sign of racism.

Anyone else remember when having all-white groups in ads was regarded as a sign of racism?
1.10.2008 6:27am
dearieme:
Isn't it racist to equate a pathological slum culture with being black? And to equate civil behaviour with being white? Rather close a "hate crime", I'd have thought.
1.10.2008 7:03am
alias:
Nels Nelson and Mr. Liberal are right that there's a valid point under all of this--though it's made so badly here that one wonders if the author understands it. I don't *think* it's racist to feel less than safe around someone who has a record of violent crime.

Does anyone have a better example in mind?
1.10.2008 7:25am
Bad (mail) (www):
I wrote this post in 9 fo.
1.10.2008 7:58am
Bad (mail) (www):
Sorry, I mean: I wrote this post in ninety-fo.
1.10.2008 7:59am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
dearieme:
Isn't it racist to equate a pathological slum culture with being black? And to equate civil behaviour with being white? Rather close a "hate crime", I'd have thought.

One would think so, wouldn't one? It seems that a black man's sociopathic behavior makes him "authentically black", where a white man's sociopathic behavior makes him merely a sociopath....unless the white man in question is Bill Clinton...but then he's really black. Ya gotta get one of those Guilt-ridden White Liberal Decoder Rings to keep on top of it all.

I've been in close proximity to Al Sharpton (and his bodyguard), and though I believe him to be a grifter of the first order, and a proponent of political positions equally as destructive as those of David Duke, I never felt threatened by his presence. Is Rev. Al authentic enough?

And, no, I wouldn't vote for him either.
1.10.2008 8:15am
MDJD2B (mail):

I'm not convinced that, say, Clarence Thomas is perceived as threatening despite what he terms his "profoundly Negroid" features.

Some find Justice Thomas threatening because of the juxtaposition of his physical features and his jurisprudential and political views. Justice thomas himself has observed this.
1.10.2008 8:24am
A.C.:
I think this argument conflates two different things:

1) Middle class people are most comfortable around other middle class people, and they use signals like dress and language to determine who is a member of that club.

2) Standards of beauty tend to favor certain types of caucasian features, unless you are going for exotic beauty on purpose, so African Americans with the right kind of caucasian features (round, pasty faces not included) are likely to do better in fields where beauty counts -- acting, elected office, the Miss America pageant. Beauty in general is less important in fields like law, electrical engineering, and concert music (if you are male), so the premium on caucasian features is probably less in those fields.
1.10.2008 8:35am
rarango (mail):
Certainly an interesting disscussion which, at least one level, is about how a persons appearance affects our perceptions. Tell me: would black people feel more comfortable around a yuppie anglo, stylishly dressed and relatively clean cut than say, an outlaw Harley biker type with prison tats and wearing leathers? Or would both be perceived as equally menacing.
1.10.2008 8:46am
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
Rather, some people *choose* to project a threatening image, whether by dress, demeanor, attitude, diction, grammar, use of foul language, brandishing weapons, poor manners, lack of consideration for others, and so forth. It is a conscious choice


Brandishing weapons, sure. The other types of behavior all seem more likely to be motivated by something other than a desire to project a threatening image. It's an interesting question, though, of who bears responsibility for another's possibly irrational fear. Should you anticipate that I will be frightened by your baggy pants? If so, and you wear them, is it now your fault that I am afraid? Is it fair for you to get upset when I watch you more closely in my store?
1.10.2008 9:04am
Bovious (mail):
There's a lighter side to this "don't judge me by my chosen appearance." An African-American coworker of mine appeared at work on Halloween one year dressed as Eddie Murphy dressed as Buckwheat. She went around doing Buckwheat impersonations for everybody and getting tons of laughs. She said something to me and I, in the spirit (and might I add, a White Guy) responded, "Otay, Buckwheat!"

She flew into a towering rage — "Don't you ever — EVER — call me Buckwheat! EVER!"

I tried to point out to her that I was only trying to engage in the banter that everybody around her was doing, but it availed me naught. NAUGHT, I say.
1.10.2008 9:09am
Bovious (mail):
PS I really liked this person and we had a good relationship otherwise. Smacks of "some of my best friends..." white guilt, but hey, I've also known some African-American *ssholes.
1.10.2008 9:11am
Henri Le Compte (mail):
The Tupac myth grows only in direct proportion to how far away we are from the "real" man. Yes, he had a modicum of musical talent, but good lord! a genius he was not.

You doubt me? Get thee to a copy of Poetic Justice! Don't forget your airsickness bag.
1.10.2008 9:24am
Tareeq (www):

Some find Justice Thomas threatening because of the juxtaposition of his physical features and his jurisprudential and political views. Justice thomas himself has observed this.



I'm inclined to think, whatever Justice Thomas observes, that it's entirely his jurisprudential and political views. People who feel threatened by Justice Thomas, as a media figure, probably don't feel threatened by Congressman John Lewis, who also has strongly "negroid" features. On the other hand, Malcolm X, a paragon in his personal behavior and a man of strongly caucasian features, was profoundly threatening to many.
1.10.2008 9:26am
Bored Lawyer:
Thought experiment:

White political candidate runs for President. Has long hair, often does not shave, and is anything but "clean-cut." Also, speaks poor English, plenty of slang expressions, poor grammar, etc. Also, wears grungy clothes and sports and earring. Think of a middle-aged hippie.

How far would that person go in his bid for President?
1.10.2008 9:38am
Happyshooter:
If not thinking much of Tupac means you are a racist, then I am one.


On the Thomas thing, I like him, Scalia, and Roberts. I don't like Stevens, Ginsberg, and Souter. Does that mean I am not racist but I am anti-jewish and anti-gay? (and anti Stevens, which I guess makes me anti-liberal veteran)
1.10.2008 9:46am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
I know most white people are intimidated when they see Will Smith in a movie saying, "Ah hell naw! I ain't gettin' jiggy with that."
1.10.2008 9:53am
neurodoc:
Is Joe Lieberman "acceptably Jewish"?

Is "acceptably Jewish" more/less real a notion than "acceptably black"? ("Acceptably Caucasian" is hard to fathom, at least from a Caucasian's perspective, isn't it?) Is "acceptably Jewish" more/less useful a notion for understanding the behavior of non-Jews than "acceptably black" for understanding the behavior of non-blacks? Is "acceptably Jewish" more/less offensive on its face than "acceptably black"?
1.10.2008 9:54am
RainerK:
Perhaps it all boils down to the notion that how people present themselves is a first indicator to their character.
That includes indifference to one's appearance.
1.10.2008 9:58am
WHOI Jacket:

Niggaz.. f**kin wit the wrong nigga..

[2Pac]
www.metrolyrics.com

My seductive introduction be specific, still elusive
but exclusive's what I give you when I kick it, and I'm still lifted
Niggaz can't get with Mr. Wicked
Picture me flippin my adversaries, gettin the dick swiftly
Niggaz are swingin wild, but they styles miss me
You can bring that bitch but ya whole click'll still get treated shitty
Business never personal I'm up before the sun come up I'm tired
Just a ghetto star, a dropped up double-R is what I'm ridin
Nigga, if you was half the man yo' bitch was, bring you artillery
when you come for me, cause we sick thugs
No hesitation when I pull and blast, cause Syke was bustin
plus, Bow had 'em duckin, screamin, "Get they cash!"
So now I got the law on me, my phone's tapped
So I had to send word through my lil' homies
Tell them niggaz this the year when they pull the trigger
Shit, this is what you get, for f**kin, wit the wrong nigga..
This is what you get, when you f**kin wit the wrong nigga..
Hehehehe, yeah nigga, peep it

Before I lay me down to sleep I, pray and thank the Lord
for givin me another fruitful, dayyy
I wanna be a peaceful man but still when niggaz come for me
all I can see is gettin 'em, killed
For real it's how I feel, reflect my thoughts, flowin on these reels
Make my enemies deal with my steel, they caps peeled
We still cool but you played yourself
Give him the mac and make him spray hisself, heyyy

Fallin legends clutchin chrome three-five-seven
Puttin two bullets to they dome, wanted to die in heaven
Why call in shots nobody really as clear as me
Ain't tryin to help the feds get a case for conspiracy
Murder my foes get disposed of
We all homies to the death, so my true niggaz show me love
God forgive me for my lifestyle, a negative figure
But why they f**kin wit the wrong nigga, y'know?
It's like..
Why you f**kin wit the wrong nigga..

I was raised by thugs, schooled by killers
Learned my mathematic skills for real drug dealers
Tried to rise but they tried me
I guess they all had to die cause we tried peace
I die in these streets, blast 'til they recognize
Still do or die, all my niggaz gettin high watchin time fly
Best strategize on the way to profit
Best organize how you ride so they can't stop it
Then keep it poppin lot of busters wanna see me fall
I f**ked yo' bitch and now this new shit gon' fade 'em all
My niggaz ball made a call for some backup
for lil' homies and my dogs in the black truck
Buck buck was the sound as they gats burst
No need for ambulance, baby bring the black hearse
Shoulda never f**ked around busta, how you figure?
Makin moves on the wrong nigga, is what it sounds like
Ding ding ding.. when you f**k wit the wrong nigga..
Niggaz gettin hit, when they f**k, wit the wrong nigga..
F**kin wit the wrong nigga..


No, why would anyone find Tupac (2pac?) threatening?

(Apologies if language requires this to be removed.)
1.10.2008 9:59am
A.C.:
neurodoc -

Of course there's such a thing as "acceptably caucasian," and from a caucasian perspective. All you have to do is imagine the contrary, beginning with "trailer trash" and moving on through all the variations on "wop," "hunky," "paddy," and so forth. It's all about class and ethnicity, with possible commentary on degree of assimilation. The ethnic words are dropping out of use because most white ethnic groups are pretty well assimilated by now, but we still have our old mafia stereotypes and new images of Russian organized crime.

Note the quotes on all the insulting terms in the previous paragraph. I don't use them in my own speech unless I am calling attention to their existence in a context like this.
1.10.2008 10:14am
Lugo:
It is a conscious choice, like a bully-boy policeman may choose to sport mirrored sunglasses, skin-tight uniforms, high leather boots and/or a non-standard, extra large and highly polished firearm.

This policeman is consciously striving to appear gay?
1.10.2008 10:15am
SI (mail):
Hmm.

I think that perhaps "acceptably black" used on a national program before an audience who may not have read all the same articles you have may have been insensitive. Using the term out of the context you're trying to give it says that there is some objective idea of what about being black is acceptable (Obama) and what is not (Tupac).

Perhaps your meaning would have been clearer if you had said: "Obama is the sort of black person that even moderately racist white people find acceptable. Even though we try to pretend that nobody is racist, the truth is that a number of moderately racist white people vote in presidential elections, and Obama can capitalize on their guilt at being racist by being just that sort of 'acceptably black.'"
1.10.2008 10:19am
Adeez (mail):
"Yes, he had a modicum of musical talent, but good lord! a genius he was not."

Thanks Henri. Hip hop is a rare topic here, one in which I actually have more expertise than the average commenter. And yes, as a musician, Tupac sucked. I too never understood the "legend." Two of the best lyricists are dead, but he and Biggie are neither.
1.10.2008 10:25am
Justin (mail):
"EV, what is the point of your post? Is it that Tupac was a terrible counter-example? If so, I take your point, but nitpicking on Bob Garfield's choice of example, rather than his larger point, seems to be awfully inconsequential."

Agreed.

"Some find Justice Thomas threatening because of the juxtaposition of his physical features and his jurisprudential and political views. Justice thomas himself has observed this."

In defense, he's a very large man, the attorney's podium is 2 feet from the rostrum at the supreme court, and he's eerily quiet ;).
1.10.2008 10:55am
Connie:
Lugo wins the thread!
1.10.2008 11:17am
whit:
"Brandishing weapons, sure. The other types of behavior all seem more likely to be motivated by something other than a desire to project a threatening image. It's an interesting question, though, of who bears responsibility for another's possibly irrational fear. Should you anticipate that I will be frightened by your baggy pants?"

i think some people miss that the baggy, hanglow pants are designed as an homage to prison culture - the beltless look.

iow, people are choosing a mode of dress (many unknowingly, admittingly) that emulates PRISON GARB.

imo, one of the most groundbreaking black tv characters ever (speaking of image, dress, etc. being created) was Steve Urkel.

consider. he did not have 'white' features as mentioned elsewhere. and he was a TOTAL nerd. no "street cred", no thuggishness. he was a character that was intelligent

"The Urkels are very intelligent people; Steve and his family were known to do the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in pen in about 20 minutes."

nerdy, etc.

needless to say, urkel was a comedic character, but still.

a nonthreatening, highly intelligent, cheese eating, polka listening, crossword puzzle doing, science worshipping, GEEK. inept with women, etc.

rock on, urkel!
1.10.2008 11:28am
whit:
"It is a conscious choice, like a bully-boy policeman may choose to sport mirrored sunglasses,"

don;t wear them

" skin-tight uniforms,"

reasonably tight, i must admit.

" high leather boots"

only motorcycle cops can wear these boots in nearly every dept. fwiw. not a choice.

" and/or a non-standard, extra large and highly polished firearm."

nope. matte finish glock.

fwiw, i have found (interestingly) as a former runner/surfer/triathlete 170 lb cop who is now a competitive weightlifter 215 lb cop that the latter "incarnation" does result in less uses of force. like it or not, a stronger appearing cop (assuming he does not ACT like a bully and a jerk) i think is less likely to have to use force. he gets more respect and compliance.

falls under "command presence"
1.10.2008 11:32am
Bob Garfield (mail):
Interesting discussion. Just FYI, I chose Tupac because I was being hyperbolic. It was meant to be a punch line. Maybe I should have used Idi Amin. But, as one of your commenters points out, whom I use as a poster child for threatening-ness is scarcely the point.

Also, two or three commenters (here and/on on AdAge.com)have done some sort of logical somersault and asserted that I've accused all white people who support Obama (like me) of being latently racist. That is moronic. But some who vote for him will be doing so for the reasons I suggested.

Bob Garfield
1.10.2008 11:45am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
fwiw, i have found (interestingly) as a former runner/surfer/triathlete 170 lb cop who is now a competitive weightlifter 215 lb cop that the latter "incarnation" does result in less uses of force. like it or not, a stronger appearing cop (assuming he does not ACT like a bully and a jerk) i think is less likely to have to use force. he gets more respect and compliance.
May be why female cops seem to resort to violence more often than male cops do. And maybe also helps explain why male cops seem to have moved from overweight to big and buf over the last decades (just an impression, unconnected to any real facts).
1.10.2008 12:20pm
Houston Lawyer:
I think you'll find that the same black people who make white people feel threatened also make black people feel threatened. The demeanor of these guys would be threatening regardless of race.

The black people have much more to fear from these guys than white people. Statistics show that black people are far more likely to be victimized.

Even Jesse Jackson agrees on this point.
1.10.2008 12:24pm
Aultimer:

Acceptably black means being nonthreatening to white people inclined to feeling threatened by black people

I think others have said as much, but my flinch in response to the term "acceptably black" isn't in reacction to the idea that some black people are more or less threatening, or even mainstream. I flinch because the term doesn't have the asserted meaning on it's face. "Acceptably black" looks (and sounds) like some delination in degrees of "blackness" - "not black at all", "just a little black", "acceptably black", "very black", and so on.

If you think that acceptability of black people is solely tied to their degree of external similarity to all white people, you are a racist.

If you think that "acceptability" of black people is tied to their overall similarity to you or those you look up to, that's probably not too different than how you measure acceptability of white people, or anyone else, and "black" in "acceptably black" is a red herring - probably better expressed as "acceptable and black".
1.10.2008 12:25pm
whit:
"May be why female cops seem to resort to violence more often than male cops do. And maybe also helps explain why male cops seem to have moved from overweight to big and buf over the last decades (just an impression, unconnected to any real facts)."

generally true.

two corrolaries. ceterus paribus, a 120 lb 5'4 woman is going to get way more latitude in re use of force than a 240 lb buff dude. in some ways, not fair, but given far greater physical strength, comes a expectation that they can get a guy under arrest with less force. for example, in the rodney king incident iirc, the only officer to pull a GUN (vs. taser/baton) was the female cop on scene.

in a fight or flight situation, the guy is gonna try to get away regardless of gender of the cop and will fight if necessary.

in a macho #$)#$) who wants to fight the cops, the small woman may actually get better compliance because it's win/win.

the guy thinks "if i kick her #$(#$( big deal, it's a woman. if she kicks my #$(# , i got my ass kicked by a woman. "

i have had two female cops tell me that they don't "do" foot pursuits cause if the guy is desperate enough to run, they know he'll fight, and they probably couldn't take him. seriously.
1.10.2008 12:55pm
Mongoose388:
I find it interesting that in the MSM at least, Obama is always called an African American that has to defend his "blackness", even as Kenya's favorite son theses days. Odd that someone who is half black, never followed his black ancestry until an adult, and was raised in Indonesia and Hawaii with multicultural overtones has to defend their blackness...irony intended.
1.10.2008 1:15pm
AK (mail):
If Obama's "acceptable blackness" explains his success in the primaries thusfar, are we asked to conclude that prior black candidates (Sharpton &Jackson) failed because their blackness was unacceptable? More generally, is the argument that white people won't vote for blacks unless their blackness is "acceptable"?

Perhaps the reluctance of whites to vote for Sharpton, Jackson, and most other black politicians arises less from their nonstandard English and negroid features and more from white people's distaste for racial grievance extortionists. Obama's campaign has been relatively free of the identity politics and constant carping about racism that marks most black Democrat politicians. If anything, that's his appeal.

As a side note, I don't see Obama as having appreciably caucasian features, particularly for someone who is as white as he is black.
1.10.2008 1:45pm
hattio1:
The world is once again aright.
I have to disagree with Whit and the other poster who said female cops are more likely to get physical. That has not been my experience at all. Female cops are more likely to be able to defuse the situation. It may be that female cops are more likely to use a high level of force once force becomes necessary. But, from my experience, they are MUCH less likely to use force at all.
1.10.2008 1:51pm
Joe Gator (mail):
Adeez,

Who are the two you are referring to?
1.10.2008 2:22pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
EV, what is the point of your post? Is it that Tupac was a terrible counter-example? If so, I take your point, but nitpicking on Bob Garfield's choice of example, rather than his larger point, seems to be awfully inconsequential.

If he can't come up with a better example, maybe his larger point is empty.

White people feel threatened by a genuine violent criminal who looks and acts like one, and do not feel threatened by an ordinary law abiding person who looks and acts like one.

So?
1.10.2008 2:27pm
pst314 (mail):
"If he can't come up with a better example, maybe his larger point is empty."

His example is perfectly chosen because his purpose is to bully us into silence so that we will cease to oppose thuggery.
1.10.2008 2:40pm
EH (mail):
I'm curious as to whether the image of Michael Chiklis ("The Shield") or any other white police-character is considered to be threatening to black people. Seems an appropriate line of counterexample, at least.
1.10.2008 2:44pm
Michael Kochin (mail):
Here is something unacceptably all-black

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKnUMaR5IkA
1.10.2008 2:53pm
A.W. (mail):
Hmm, until i read this article, i didn't find Tupac to be threatening at all. But then I didn't actually buy his albums, so maybe i would have felt differently. Probably not, though. I am convinced that most gansta rap is just a come on, selling a racial stereotype.

Maybe, bluntly, Chris Matthews et al were as unaware of his background as me.

Btw, you know he is still alive, right? (That is a joke.)
1.10.2008 3:01pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
A.W.

I here Tupac's working on a duet with Elvis.
1.10.2008 3:03pm
Cro (mail):
It's nationalism. It's not race, it's not appearance. It's whether someone identifies as a black American, or just as an American. Nations are defined by behavior, language, and tradition, not appearance.

That's the secret of Obama's success. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are black Americans. Obama is just American.

The secret is that you can integrate in America, if you adapt the majority culture. If you choose not to, then your appeal will be limited. I'm sure everyone knows people who've done this, and not just black Americans.

From personal experience, my Mother is from Peru and my wife is from Korea (her biological father was black). If you speak good English, and act like an American, it's amazing how little appearance matters. People will use it as a first guess, but it's really how you act.

'Race' is an outdated notion. I don't think many people are racist in the traditional biological sense. I think of it as national chauvinism. That doesn't make it any better, as the predjudice and hatred produced by it are real. But it's not really helpful to tie it to biology.
1.10.2008 3:24pm
Trey (mail):
Tupac is just unacceptable. The black don't enter into it. While I understand the point you are making, Denzel makes white people that converse with him uncomfortable because he has strong opinions on race relations in America. But he looks non-threatening. I think Tupac appeared to be what he was, a thug. The black don't enter into it.

Trey
1.10.2008 3:25pm
croob:
I find Barack Obama threatening in the same way that I find Louis Farrakhan threatening. They're both clean cut, muslim, scary, brown racists.
1.10.2008 3:44pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Everybody is more comfortable around people like themselves. That applies to rap singers, law professors, democrats, and guys in white sheets. We have developed the tendency over a few million years as a defense mechanism. It doesn't mean the other guy is an enemy, just that we tend to think those like us are friends.

Even people who claim not to be effected by this phenomenon feel more comfortable around other poseurs like themselves.
1.10.2008 4:01pm
Dan Bongard:
Just pick another example and move on to his arguments.

But his arguments are only valid if valid examples exist. He apparently couldn't think of a valid example; I can't either.
1.10.2008 4:04pm
whit:
"I have to disagree with Whit and the other poster who said female cops are more likely to get physical. That has not been my experience at all. Female cops are more likely to be able to defuse the situation. It may be that female cops are more likely to use a high level of force once force becomes necessary. But, from my experience, they are MUCH less likely to use force at all."

actaully, darnit, i agree with you. given the physical force i agree that (on average) they are more likely to have to use higher force once it become necessary, but not more likely to be in situations WHERE it is necessary.

you actually expressed it better than i did, and you are correct (at least from my "n" = many, and from the stats i have read).
1.10.2008 4:04pm
shakespeare101 (mail):
croob, I have heard the Muslim fear of Obama mentioned before, but he has stated he is a Christian and the only counter arguement is he is lying with no supporting evidence other then he went to a school while a child that was muslim. I'm not voting for him, but his religious preference isn't why. I don't think religion in and of itself, should be an acid test for office, however the tenets of ones religious faith that bare on public policy should be fair game. IE. In the case of Islam, some of the tenets of the faith like Sharia law etc., would need to be addressed by a Muslim candidate to be successful for me to consider them.

Matt
1.10.2008 4:16pm
jharris:
If Obama maintains that he is Christian, so be it. OTOH, Barry Goldwater was also a Christian, although many felt that he was really a Jew, based on his forbears.
1.10.2008 4:28pm
Faith+1 (mail):
Here is my take on it I haven't seen expressed here. When I first heard the term "acceptably black" I didn't think of it as "acceptable" to white voters, but to black ones. That is, was Obama "black enough" to understand the position and plight of the average black man?

Because of his personal history he could face old fashioned racism of those who won't vote for him because of his partial "blackness" and by the unmentioned racism of African Americans who may think him "too white".
1.10.2008 4:32pm
Adeez (mail):
"Who are the two you are referring to?"

Hey Joe. The two Bigs: Big Pun and Big L. Two lyrical genuises. The latter was a victim of street violence; the former, a victim of his own morbid obesity. Both could flow like water. So to non hip-hop fans out there: please don't think that Tupac represents good rap music.
1.10.2008 4:41pm
nichevo (mail):
maybe a ctrexample would be a scary looking black man who is actually a mensch? like yaphet kotto maybe? I dunno.

denzel is handsome, more so than malcolm little (who was no role model), articulate, etc. if his views are scary so are john edwards' or hey ron paul's.

also I would not say obama is black looking so much as foreign looking. he reminds me of those statues on easter island. but handsome in his way.
1.10.2008 4:41pm
rjschwarz (mail):
When Jessie Jackson himself commented that "he walked down a dark street, heard footsteps behind him and was relieved to se e the person was white", there is a bit more going on beyond racism. Charges of racism are simply used to end the discussion folks don't want to have.

In that same scenerio I'd rather turn around and see Jessie Jackson in a suit and all than Eminem or some other thug white or not.

IMpressions are built upon the whole picture and clothes and how you carry yourself are as big a part of that picture as skin color.
1.10.2008 4:59pm
Dave N (mail):
I'm curious as to whether the image of Michael Chiklis ("The Shield") or any other white police-character is considered to be threatening to black people. Seems an appropriate line of counterexample, at least.
Michael Chiklis in "The Shield" should be scary to most people; Micheal Chiklis in "The Commish"--well, that's a different story.
1.10.2008 5:15pm
john brown (mail):
Garfield's point seems to be that a human being's appearance or language almost always affect how others treat him, or her; his less obvious point (one which some commentators seem to miss, or disagree with) is that most people dress and talk with a conscious desire to affect how people treat them. If a person wears a leather jacket with a "hell's angels" emblem on the back, obviously people will react to him with some discomfort, far more so than if the same person wears a three-piece suit. Also, obviously, the person who puts on the jacket is consciously trying to get that kind of reaction. This intent to create a reaction is even more obvious in the case of language, since language is entirely a social matter, a behavior intended solely to communicate something to another person.
It seems pointless, then, to attack anyone as racist just because that person reacts to certain "stereotypical" styles of clothing with fear or disgust, since the person usually wears that style of clothing with the intent to provoke fear or disgust. Stereotpyes, after all, are based to some extent on real experiences. The leather jacket and the trench coat both tend to look more threatening than, say, the suit-and-tie or the button-down shirt because, long ago, these styles were worn largely by motorcyclists, auto racers, fighter pilots, soldiers, U-Boat sailors, and CHEKA and Gestapo agents (i.e. persons in dangerous occupations).
The historian James Gregor wrote in his book "The Fascist Tradition in Radical Politics" that, during the 1960's, some Black Panthers liked to wear their jackets draped over their shoulders. When asked about it, one of them said that "this was how the Nazi S.S. officers used to dress". I'll take it as granted that the Panthers were not accepting the Nazi ideology when they dressed this way; they were, however, trying to look as threatening as possible, and the Nazis were kind of threatening if you were alive during the 1940's. It is, then, difficult to be judgmental when a person reacts uncomfortably to another person's clothing or language, as the other person is either trying to provoke that reaction or, at least, knows that such a reaction is likely.
1.10.2008 5:41pm
Arkady:

If Obama maintains that he is Christian, so be it. OTOH, Barry Goldwater was also a Christian, although many felt that he was really a Jew, based on his forbears.


WTF does that mean?
1.10.2008 6:23pm
Waldensian (mail):
Silly VCers. Everyone knows that Tupac actually is

UNACCEPTABLY PURPLE
1.10.2008 6:24pm
hattio1:
Whit,
Dammit. Will you stop that?!?!?!

How are we 'spozed to get a good discussion going if you keep agreeing???
1.10.2008 6:27pm
Dave N (mail):
Arkady,

Barry Goldwater was an Episcopal. However, if I remember correctly, his family name was originally "Goldwasser" or something similar--and his paternal ancestors were Jewish. However, the assertion that Goldwater Jewish is strange, at best, since in Judaism, it is the maternal line that determines such things--and Goldwater's father converted from Judaism to Christianity when he married Goldwater's mother--who had the very non-Jewish last name of "Williams."

As for Obama, the claims that he is Muslim are just foolish. While his father was, in fact Muslim, his mother was not--and she is the one who raised him.
1.10.2008 6:57pm
Joe camel (mail):
Remember.........Tupac spelled backwards is......CAPUT!
1.10.2008 7:10pm
karlprep:
Consider the old Mission Impossible television program: Martin Landau and Leonard Nimoy were acceptable Jews, Peter Lupus was an acceptable Greek, and Greg Morris was an acceptable Negro. Why can't we just be all Americans?
1.10.2008 7:19pm
Visitor Again:
Here is something unacceptably all-black

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKnUMaR5IkA


The rugby New Zealand All-Blacks have nothing on the unacceptably white Scots.
1.10.2008 7:24pm
Dooz (mail) (www):
Tom Peters declared that perception is everything. He was talking primarily about sales and succeeding in business. So the issue we need to focus on is the "perceptions" our candidates engender. Therefore Tupac was a poor example. And Justice Thomas is a bad example; Barak Obama is running for elected office, Thomas was not.

Whether "acceptably black" is a good term or applies here, the fact is, looks do matter in politics. They shouldn't, but they do. The voters will vote for the candidate they "feel comfortable" with, and sadly, that comfort will come largely from appearance (including behavioral appearances, e.g. shedding a few tears on camera). Various wags have observed that Lincoln could never get elected today (and even today I read a comment on a blog asking if McCain can look good enough to compete).
---
Now I'll turn a corner and respond to comments such as dearieme's "Isn't it racist to equate a pathological slum culture with being black? And to equate civil behaviour with being white? Rather close a "hate crime", I'd have thought."

The fact is that often, black, ghetto-dwelling students who achieve are attacked by their black neighbors as "trying to be white". Until that kind of racism stops (and yes, it could be considered a hate crime), there's no hope for an end to racism.

Meanwhile, as far as the 2008 Campaign: May the best [looking] person win!
1.10.2008 11:45pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Also, keep in mind the consequence-free, nanny-state culture that has sprung up in this country. (And I suspect other developed countries.) People think their feelings are the law, not the actual law.

There is a significant portion of the population that thinks they should be able to walk up to you, assault you, and then when you react angrily - entirely normal reaction to being assaulted - have you falsely imprisoned because they feel "scared". I don't know what to call it, it's alien and bizarre thinking - magical thinking. It doesn't even seem to dawn on them that they're the culpable person in that scenario.
1.11.2008 12:07am
Waldensian (mail):

There is a significant portion of the population that thinks they should be able to walk up to you, assault you, and then when you react angrily - entirely normal reaction to being assaulted - have you falsely imprisoned because they feel "scared". I don't know what to call it, it's alien and bizarre thinking - magical thinking. It doesn't even seem to dawn on them that they're the culpable person in that scenario.

This has the flavor of a personal experience. Do tell.
1.11.2008 1:24am
MortimerC:
The style were I live for youth seems to be slightly baggy pants, a well fitting shirt and a hooded sweatshirt. I get a different reaction when I wear that attire than when my white friends do.
Now of course you can say dress more "mainstream" but what does that even mean. If you walked through a poor urban community or college campus in a three piece suit, people might give you strange looks.
I'm 21 years old am an upstanding citizen, student and member of society. I shouldn't have to wear a tie to school for someone who doesn't know me to deem me "acceptable"
1.11.2008 7:39am
A.C.:
Who even OWNS a three-piece suit anymore? I can't recall the last vest I saw that wasn't on either (a) a character in a play, or (b) a member of a wedding party wearing a rented tux.

I think there have been eras when the tough, dangerous people wore certain kinds of suits and ties in order to indicate their toughness. It's not the garments themselves, but the associations. Hooded sweatshirts have picked up "tough guy" associations for some reason, especially when the hoods are worn up. (Beats me why -- I think they look childish rather than tough. Adults wear hats, not hoods.) So anyone who wants to wear one now has to take that association into account.
1.11.2008 11:10am
Aaron:
Two things:

Regarding the "acceptably Black" Denzel - a similarly talented, but lesser celebrated actor is Forrest Whittaker, who for years toiled in the desert without getting the acclaim that Denzel did because his appearance was not as "acceptable" to whites. Similarly, compare Morgan Freeman to Sam Jackson, or Ice-T to Blair Underwood.

Second - several commenters have asserted that it is the acceptable "majority culture" and the conformance with the same that underpins acceptance of Blacks, or at least gives a level of comfort to whites. Yet, it is indisputable that the culture of political elites is NOT "majority culture" - the majority of Americans do not summer in the Hamptons, or on the Vineyard; they are not educated at elite prep schools, elite universities, and law/business schools; they are not the children and grandchildren of senators, governors, or presidents.

Too provide a perfect counter-example (two in fact), we could easily say that Barack Obama is not KRS-One, or Chuck D - two rappers whose message is just as threatening to "majority culture", have no brushes with law enforcement, and who, I'm pretty sure, if the bulk of white people saw them coming towards them on a dark street, would cross the street to avoid them.

Just to chum the water a bit more, I'll throw Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Common, Kanye West, and Cedric the Entertainer into the mix as well. Acceptably Black, or rather, unacceptably non-majority culture?
1.11.2008 11:35am
A.C.:
You don't have to go all the way to the political elite and the Hamptons to find "majority culture." Optometrists and accountants who rent vacation houses at the Jersey Shore are "majority" enough.

If you want to talk about "elite culture," I'm sure most of the people who participate here wouldn't be able to storm that citadel. We'd all be considered upstarts, regardless of color.
1.11.2008 12:54pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
A.C.:
re 3-piece suits:

You forgot Bob Novak.
1.11.2008 1:19pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Mortimer C wrote:

The style were I live for youth seems to be slightly baggy pants, a well fitting shirt and a hooded sweatshirt. I get a different reaction when I wear that attire than when my white friends do.
Now of course you can say dress more "mainstream" but what does that even mean. If you walked through a poor urban community or college campus in a three piece suit, people might give you strange looks.
I'm 21 years old am an upstanding citizen, student and member of society. I shouldn't have to wear a tie to school for someone who doesn't know me to deem me "acceptable"

Mortimer,

In your post you acknowledge that wearing a three piece suit on campus would be perceived as odd. The flip side of your observation is that not wearing a suit to a political debate would also be perceived as odd.

In my youth I supplemented my graduate school stipend as a waiter at Red Lobster. I propose that the "waiter test" be used to judge clothing in the future. Waiters are often pressed for time and have to triage which guests will get the best service and which guests will have to wait a moment for the coffee refill. Waiters have a strong incentive to set aside racial stereotypes and concentrate solely on factors that can effectively predict tipping habits. Almost any waiter will tell you that clothing is a strong indicator of the type of tip you are likely to get. Thus, the better-dressed guests will get better service. Of course there are other factors as well - if a couple acts like they are on a first date, most waiters will give better service because it is likely that the boy will leave a big tip to impress his date. Mortimer, I encourage you to try this experiment: Go to the local Red Lobster wearing a tie. Go the next week wearing the hoodie. When did you get better service. Was it based on race or clothing?
1.11.2008 2:09pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Facial expressions have an awful lot to do with whether someone is perceived as threatening. Compare Shaquille O'Neal and Wilt Chamberlain.

Nick
1.11.2008 2:25pm
Aaron:
AC-
My point is that there is a double standard regarding "acceptably Black", and it really has nothing to do with "majority culture" or assimilation. In a nation where every teen now wears hip-hop derived fashion, our perception of threat is invariably tied to hue. Tyson Beckford and Taye Diggs are completely different individuals - yet the initial impressions of both would conver "inacceptably Black" based upon the shaven head/earring thing (oddly enough, it was the first true "acceptably Black" sports hero, MJ, who popularized that look).

Smallholder-

If I were a waiter, would I give preferred service to some well-dressed I-banker, or to some guy in a hoodie with 4 carats in his ears and a Jacob watch? Which do you suppose would be more willing to "make it rain" when it comes to the tip, hmmm?
1.11.2008 2:34pm
amativus (mail):
Smallholder, that's completely ridiculous. If you give better service to customers who dress in a particular way guess what? Those guys who receive the better service tip better.
1.12.2008 6:03am
submandave (mail) (www):
I must be an all around misanthrope then, since I tend to be uncomfortable as well with white folks that are unkempt, slovenly and fail to demonstrate the ability to coherently communicate.
1.12.2008 1:24pm