Code Switch

Dispatch From Charleston: The Cost Of White Comfort

Jun 24, 2015

How hard can it be to hold hands with someone, even a stranger, if you know it's just for a couple minutes? For a few terrible moments in Charleston last week, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

It's early evening and several men are making their way, alone or in twos or threes, to the community room at the Jordan Downs public housing complex. This building looks like everything else here: squat, rectangular, painted boring, government-regulation beige. But what's going on inside is pretty exciting.

It's Wednesday night, and Project Fatherhood is in session.

The young age of Dylann Roof, who's charged with sitting alongside nine black churchgoers for an hour before standing up and shooting them dead, is sure to inspire some head-scratching in the wake of his attack. He's 21, which means he's a millennial, which means he's not supposed to be racist — so the thinking stubbornly (if disingenuously) persists, despite ample research showing that it's just not true.

There's a long history to the Emanuel African Methodist Espiscopal Church in Charleston, S.C., — affectionately known as "Mother Emanuel" — where nine churchgoers were allegedly shot and killed by 21-year-old Dylann Roof on Wednesday night in what authorities are calling a hate crime. In fact, this church has become a revered symbol of black resistance to slavery and racism.

'Dope' is out in theaters this weekend, and if you need to know more about the film, check out my story that aired on Morning Edition earlier this week. Five minutes and 16 seconds wasn't long enough to showcase all of writer and director Rick Famuyiwa's reasons for making the film, or what inspired the main characters. So here's some of what hit the cutting room floor.


Interview Highlights

When and why Famuyiwa started writing Dope

The story of Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who has been living as a black woman, offers a 20-in-1 construction kit of ways to be offended. A popular one is the seemingly unimpeachable complaint that Dolezal hasn't paid her dues: She didn't grow up black, in a black family or a black neighborhood, so she got to sidestep the stressors and razor-thin margins for error that come with all that. The over-policing. The inferior schools. The lack of generational wealth.

This Friday is the 150th observation of Juneteeth — June 19, 1865 —the day that news of emancipation finally reached slaves in Texas, the last to learn that they had been freed. Some call this day the "Black 4th of July," and each year people across the country celebrate with picnics, festivals, and barbecue.

Last week, we rounded up a few thoughtful remarks on Rachel Dolezal, the white woman and head of the Spokane, Wash., NAACP chapter who publicly passed herself off as a black woman.

In a bizarre turn of events, a prominent civil rights leader and Africana studies professor in Spokane, Wash., has been accused of pretending to be black for personal gain.

There's a whole lot of conversation going on about the revelation that Rachel Dolezal, the president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Wash., is seemingly a white woman who has been living as a black woman for many years. There's so much to unpack here — What made her do it? Didn't anyone suspect it? What's up with that hair? — but there's one thread in particular that's got us thinking. Here it is:

We're talking about this on Twitter. Please join the conversation: @NPRCodeSwitch

The video of a McKinney, Texas, police officer slamming a 15-year-old black girl to the ground and pointing his gun at unarmed teen boys has, unsurprisingly, elicited strong reactions. Here are a few that might help you make sense of this incident.

Kirsten West Savali at The Root comments on gender dynamics at play in the video:

It was an ugly scene. A fight broke out at a pool party in a McKinney, Texas, subdivision on Friday, allegedly after a white resident told a group of black teenagers to "go back to their Section 8 housing." Local cops show up in force. At some point, a bystander pulls out his cellphone and begins videotaping.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Over the past few months I have worked on a story about what it's like to be transgender, especially for those who do not have the privilege of fame and plenty of resources. For many, being transgender comes with stigma and discrimination in just about every facet of life.

It's high school graduation season, when many students are celebrating the end of their high school career. But some schools are deciding that their job doesn't end with the granting of a diploma — or even a send-off to college.

Top charter schools can often boast of sending virtually all of their graduates to college, even when the majority of their students are low-income or are the first members of their families to pursue post-high school educations.

As it turns out, many of those students don't earn a degree.

In Orange Is the New Black, Poussey Washington is a former military brat serving a six-year sentence in a minimum security women's prison. But even as the Netflix show enters its third season, Samira Wiley, who plays Poussey, has no idea why her character is incarcerated.

"Being honest and being truthful, I have no idea why Poussey is in prison," she admits to NPR's Rachel Martin.

It's the end of a tough week in Baltimore. Tensions continue in the Freddie Gray case. And now the murder rate has spiked to a 40-year high. One man who understands well what the city is going through is Kurt Schmoke. He's a native son and was elected as Baltimore's first black mayor in 1987. He served three terms, grappling with high unemployment, poor schools and violent crime.

Now the president of the University of Baltimore, Schmoke shares his memories of the city and his thoughts about moving it forward with Morning Edition.

Planet Money has a really interesting segment on Tom Burrell, who started out in the mailroom of a Chicago advertising firm in 1961 and ended up profoundly changing the way advertisers talk to non-white audiences.

Aloha is a painfully bad movie. Lots and lots and lots of film critics have already said so. But beyond rotten tomatoes, the movie is getting heat for its weirdness around cultural issues.

Kevin Kwan has a new book coming out soon. It's called China Rich Girlfriend, and if you don't know why this is shriek-worthy news, allow me to introduce you to Kwan's first novel, Crazy Rich Asians, which came out a couple of years ago. It follows a group of obscenely rich and dazzlingly attractive Chinese jetsetters gathered for a wedding in Singapore.

courtesy of Emma Todd

ILLINOIS ISSUES - Emma Todd, then a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Tulsa, found herself seriously contemplating suicide, again. This time, the Springfield native had made her way to the top of a building.

The moment comes a minute or so into the trailer for Dr. Ken, Ken Jeong's new fall comedy for ABC.

He's playing a Korean-American doctor with no bedside manners and a wacky family; not a bad setup for a sitcom that will straddle the work/family setting. Dave Foley, the ex-Newsradio star who plays Jeong's boss, chides his employee for insulting a patient, demanding he apologize.

"And if I don't?" Jeong replies.

Presented without comment. Because what is there to say, beyond "This is the music video for Beyoncé's 'Single Ladies' set to the DuckTales theme song"?

Happy Friday.

Photographer Gabriel Garcia Roman's portraits feature friends and acquaintances, activists and poets, Americans and immigrants — some naturalized, some undocumented.

All of them are queer people of color.

"I wanted to specifically focus on this community because queer and trans people of color are so rarely represented in the art world," says Roman, who is Mexican-American and also identifies as queer.

Today on Code Switch, writer and critic Roxane Gay, who's a favorite of ours, writes about the problem of all-white recommended readings lists.

Another day, another all-white list of recommended reading. This year's New York Times summer reading list, compiled annually by Times literary critic Janet Maslin, offered up zero books by non-white authors.

Like lots of little kids, Jeremiah Nebula — the main character of a children's book called Large Fears — has big dreams. He wants to go to Mars.

But Jeremiah is also pretty different from the characters that Myles Johnson, the author of the Kickstarter-backed book, met in the stories he read when he was growing up. Jeremiah is black, and he really, really likes the color pink.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Mat Johnson lived mostly with his mother in a black neighborhood. The son of an African-American mother and an Irish-American father, his skin was so light that he might have passed for white. But being biracial meant only one thing back in the '70s: "Um, it meant: black," Johnson says with a laugh. "There wasn't a lot of ambiguity there. I didn't hear the world biracial or didn't think of myself as biracial. And when I did hear that, I reacted to it defensively.

In his column this week, Charles Blow of The New York Times broke down the difference between "bikers" and "thugs" in the wake of the deadly biker gang shootout in Waco, Texas:

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