Code Switch

Picture of Zylinska family
Magdelina Zylinska

Nearly half of Illinois children in households headed by single women live in poverty — compared with just over a quarter of children in households headed by single men.

The Secret History Of Black Baseball Players In Japan

Jul 14, 2015

In the fall of 1936, a 24-year-old black baseball player from rural Louisiana stepped off a boat in Tokyo. His name was James Bonner. An ace pitcher with a vicious submarine pitch, Bonner, according to Japanese newspapers breathlessly heralding his arrival, once threw 22 strikeouts in a single game back in the States.

Friday's ceremony to remove the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina's state Capitol grounds was scored by loud cheers and applause from the huge, largely black crowd who came to see it off. The contrast between the cheers and the official pomp — marching soldiers in dress grays funereally handling the furled flag — was yet another example of the wildly divergent orientations people have toward the Confederate flag.

John A. Williams might be one of the most prolific writers most people have never heard of.

Although he was often compared to Richard Wright and James Baldwin, Williams didn't much like that. He felt that when black writers were lumped together by the literary establishment, only one at a time would be allowed to succeed. His novels, which were always focused through the prism of race and were told from his black characters' point of view, were well-reviewed. But Williams never reached the level of fame of writers like Wright, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.

In 2009, Rue Mapp was thinking about business school, weighing the pros and cons, and wondering if it was the right choice. The former Morgan Stanley analyst turned to her mentor for advice. But rather than give her an answer, her mentor asked a question: If you could be doing anything right now, what would it be?

Just like that, Mapp knew an MBA wasn't in her near future. Instead, she decided to combine everything she loved — from nature to community to technology — into an organization that would reconnect African-Americans to the outdoors.

How do you write jokes for a TV comedy about race and culture when there are riots over how police treat black suspects, and a gunman just shot down nine people in a black church?

If you're Robin Thede, head writer for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, you think carefully about where you focus the joke.

When writer Ta-Nehisi Coates sat down at NPR's New York studios a few days ago, he got a little emotional.

It was the first time that Coates, who writes for The Atlantic, had held a copy of his latest book, Between the World and Me.

This book is personal, written as a letter to his teenage son Samori. In it, we see glimpses of the hard West Baltimore streets where Coates grew up, his curiosity at work on the campus of Howard University and his early struggles as a journalist.

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An internet hoax led some to believe a  Springfield restaurant was posting help wanted ads that were discriminatory.  The ads were soliciting applications for servers and bartenders at Dublin Pub (1975 Wabash Ave.) in Springfield. The owner, Joe Rupnik, says he believes an ex-employee tampered with the ads by hacking into the establishment's online accounts. He says a lawyer is looking into it. The ads were placed on Craigslist and Indeed.com.

Can racism cause post-traumatic stress? That's one big question psychologists are trying to answer, particularly in the aftermath of the shooting at the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., and the recent incidents involving police where race was a factor.

What's clear is that many black Americans experience what psychologists call "race-based trauma," says Monnica Williams, director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville.

On Tuesday evening, flames engulfed the 100-year-old Mount Zion AME, a historically black church in Greeleyville, S.C. Authorities are still investigating the cause.

Over at Vox, a white woman who until recently was a tour guide at a historic Southern plantation recounts some ... interesting questions she got from the mostly white tourists she encountered over the years, some of whom had jaw-dropping ideas of what slavery was really like.

Everyone agrees on one thing: On the night of Aug. 18, 2006, Dwayne Buckle catcalled Patreese Johnson.

Johnson and six of her friends, all young lesbians of color, were walking down Sixth Avenue in New York City's West Village to hang out at the clubs in one of the gayest neighborhoods in America. That's when Buckle, a then-28-year-old black filmmaker, called out to Johnson, who was 19 at the time, with an obscene comment.

"Mister, I'm gay," Johnson says she told Buckle, trying to wave him off.

Grace Lee Boggs, who has spent much of her life advocating for civil rights and labor rights, became such a noted figure in Detroit's Black Power movement that people assumed she must be partially black. In some of her FBI files, Boggs, who is Chinese-American, was described as "probably Afro Chinese."

(We'll let that sit with you for a moment.)

And that's not the only assumption she's defied. For almost a century — she turned 100 Saturday — she's challenged how people think about their own activism.

A classic of black cinema celebrated its 40th birthday on June 25. Cooley High showed a slice of urban life rarely seen in "blaxploitation" movies of the time. Set in Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing project, it became a touchstone for filmmakers like John Singleton and Spike Lee.

A few months ago, my girlfriend and I were driving south on Interstate 95 from D.C. to Richmond, Va., where we had tickets for a comedy show. On an otherwise nondescript stretch of highway not long into the drive, we were startled by the sight of an enormous Confederate flag billowing over the trees. It's hard to convey how huge this flag was; its bigness seemed to imply a middle finger.

We both reflexively broke out some blue exclamations, looking at each other like, "Is this for real?"

Author and cultural critic Roxane Gay recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times explaining why she feels she cannot forgive Dylan Roof, a 21-year-old suspected of killing nine people at a historical black church in Charleston, S.C. last week. Gay spoke with NPR Morning Edition host David Greene to explain why she thinks forgiveness has no place in the cultural conversation about the massacre.

At The New Republic, Chloe Angyal pens a piece on the role of white womanhood in America's racial dynamics, and why she will "no longer be an excuse for violence."

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:

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