Code Switch

For an American, watching a Sinterklaas parade, like the one I recently went to in Amsterdam, can be a bit of a shock. Because dancing around the dear old Dutch Santa are his helpers, known as Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete.

And Black Pete is played by scores of white people dressed up in black face ... and wearing Afro wigs.

In the past few years, Black Pete has come under fire. A beloved tradition for some, others say he is a racist stereotype. And the increasingly rancorous debate over Black Pete has gripped the Netherlands.

Impoverished in Illinois

Dec 1, 2014
Vacant apartment building.
Robert Loerzel / WUIS/Illinois Issues

This story first appeared in the January 2014 issue. Statistics have been updated where new numbers were available.

In some pockets of Illinois, where one in every three people live in poverty or close to it, the need is visible in the landscape: empty lots where buildings once stood in Cairo; abandoned houses marked with X’s in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood; families living in ramshackle trailers in Kankakee County’s Pembroke Township.

Never Alone, a new video game by E-Line Media, has been generating a lot of buzz in recent months. Its developers teamed up with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, a nonprofit that works with Native Alaskans, creating Never Alone as a way to help transmit traditional tribal stories to younger indigenous kids.

Some kids know they want to be doctors or pilots or professional sports players— Andrea Nguyen knew by the time she was 10 she wanted to be a sandwich maker. She says she's been making sandwiches and fooling around with the recipes and the ingredients since elementary school.

The sandwich she fell for first and that she still loves the most? Banh mi. (It's pronounced "bun-mee.") Her latest cookbook, The Banh Mi Handbook, is a guide for home cooks who want to make banh mi of their own.

Editor's note: This story contains racial slurs.

A new musical work pays tribute to an unlikely and little-known civil rights activist: Booker T. Wright. You won't find his name in history textbooks. But his story is a testament to the everyday experiences of blacks in the Jim Crow South.

A 'Dreamer' With Parents Still In The Shadows

Nov 28, 2014

Aashana Vishnani is a "dreamer" in the truest sense of the word.

She came to the United States when she was only 10 years old. Her accent is more Alabamian than Indian. She loves to sing and aspires to someday perform in musicals like Rent or Hairspray. She is also a huge college football fan. Her favorite team is Auburn University, her alma mater where she received a merit-based full-tuition scholarship.

This past week, we called for stories about your first Thanksgiving in the United States. Who'd you spend it with? Where were you coming from? What'd you eat? What'd you think of it? we wondered.

And many of the stories we heard from you were about food: You had issues roasting the turkey properly. Your mom found, um, a creative solution to making your bird golden-brown. You ate a lot of different alternative Thanksgiving meals. Your stories were goofy and weird, but most of them made us smile. Here are some of them:

Leticia Ortiz

The kickoff to the holiday season in St. Louis has been overshadowed by unrest following the grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson. And for some residents of Ferguson, the meaning of this year's Thanksgiving — amid the anger, hostility and unresolved issues — is hazy.

The Schnucks grocery store is pretty busy on this cold, gray Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Michael Howell, a local musician picking up a few staples, says he just wants to relax at home and have a little turkey. Howell's home is right near a string of looted and burned businesses.

After Michael Brown was shot dead in August, his mother, Leslie McSpadden, said, "My son was sweet. He didn't mean any harm to anybody." He was, she said, "a gentle giant."

On Monday night, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch delivered the news that police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the shooting death of Michael Brown. And in an unusual move, the announcement was accompanied by the release of an enormous batch of evidence presented to the grand jury — including much-talked-about photos of Wilson, taken after he shot and killed Brown.

Residents and business owners in Ferguson, Mo., awoke Tuesday morning to assess the damage done to their neighborhoods. In the aftermath of the grand jury's decision Monday night not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, many business were vandalized and some were destroyed.

Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann has been covering the situation in Ferguson, MO since it started back in August. She was at the announcement made by Prosecutor Bob McCulloch on Monday night that a grand jury chose not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

In this interview, Lippmann tells us about the reactions from Brown's family, protests and riots, and more:

I reunited with the Rev. Daryl Meese at his place of worship, a no-frills brick Methodist Church in Ferguson, Mo., on this stormy Sunday morning.

We first met at a coffee shop last August. I was looking for a cool place to file a story about the protests over the death of an unarmed black 18-year-old at the hands of a white police officer; he was taking a break from the chaos. We shared a table and ended up chatting.

Ferguson, Mo., continues to watch and wait as a grand jury decides whether to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Brown's death was the spark for mass protests in Ferguson, but many of the city's black population say the problems go deeper, and that blacks are unfairly singled out by police.

Ferguson police statistics show the department does arrest blacks at a higher rate than other racial groups. But that disparity is true for police departments across the country.

In our semi-regular Word Watch feature, we take a look at a word or phrase that has caught our attention, whether for its history, usage, etymology, or just because it has an interesting story.

Movie award season is upon us once again, which means that it's peak biopic season. You know what I mean — those big, sweeping epics about the life of a Very Important Person portrayed by a Very Serious Actor.

Did host Scott Simon unfairly—and sordidly—ambush Bill Cosby by raising rape charges in a Weekend Edition interview that was otherwise about art?

The 77-year old comedian and wife Camille—she was present—were being interviewed on air Saturday about the many pieces of art that they are lending to the Smithsonian Museum when Simon, at the end, changed the subject:

4 Reasons Why 'Scandal' Is A Telenovela. And A Good One

Nov 20, 2014

Editor's note: If you're not caught up, you may feel that some plot references below are mild spoilers. Fair warning.

Carl E. Sanders, who served as governor of Georgia from 1963 to 1967 and is credited with bringing about more racial integration to the state, died in Atlanta on Sunday. He was 89.

Sanders was considered to be a Southern moderate, and fought to create a "New South." His politics set him apart from lawmakers who tried to keep public schools and facilities segregated.

In his inaugural address in January 1963, Sanders said:

This is the second half of a look at the history and motivations behind the Asian blepharoplasty, popularly known as "double-eyelid surgery." On Monday, we dug into its background and some of its history. Today, we'll explore the "why."

A lot of assumptions are made about why people undergo double-eyelid surgery. Assumptions like: They wanted to look more white, or they wanted to look less Asian.

The straight white men of Straight White Men aren't what you might expect. Near the beginning of the new off-Broadway play, two adult brothers play a homemade, family board game, refashioned out of an old Monopoly set. Because the family is liberal and progressive, it's called "Privilege." It makes fun of their own straight-white-male privilege.

"Ah, 'excuses' card!" one of the brothers exclaims. The other reads it aloud. "What I just said wasn't racist/sexist/homophobic because I was joking," he deadpans. "Pay $50 to an LGBT organization."

This is part one of a two-part series looking at the history and motivations behind the Asian blepharoplasty, popularly known as "double-eyelid surgery." Find part two here.

Six Words: 'With Kids, I'm Dad. Alone, Thug'

Nov 17, 2014

NPR continues a series of conversations from The Race Card Project, where thousands of people have submitted their thoughts on race and cultural identity in six words.

Marc Quarles is African-American, with a German wife and two biracial children — a son, 15, and daughter, 13. The family lives in Pacific Grove, a predominantly white, affluent area on California's Monterey Peninsula.

Last month Marvel Studios announced the roster for some upcoming features. In addition to Ant-Man and a female-led Captain Marvel film, Marvel's Kevin Feige confirmed that on November 3, 2017, the studio planned to release one of its longest-rumored projects: The Black Panther.

We in the nerdier parts of the Internet promptly lost our minds.

Jewish girls become a bat mitzvah; 15 year-old Latinas celebrate with quinceañeras. But for generations of Indian-American girls, the rite of passage is performing a classical Indian dance before a crowd of hundreds. After years of preparation, Hema Ramaswamy of Middletown, N.J., is ready to unveil her arangetram.

Several of this year's recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the national government gives to civilians, are people of color. They include recording star Stevie Wonder and the late Alvin Ailey, legendary choreographer and founder of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.

Still, many of the honorees made their presence felt on the political stage, challenging America's presumptions about people of color.

Filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood is tired of hearing about "black films." In fact: "It is one of my goals in life to obliterate the term 'black film,' " she tells NPR's David Greene.

Prince-Bythewood tells love stories. She created the films Love and Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees, and most recently, Beyond the Lights.

"For me it's just about putting people of color in every genre and making it become normal," she says.

As America's longest-lived white supremacist organization, the Ku Klux Klan has achieved a rare kind of name recognition. You know the way people say "Xerox" when they mean "to photocopy" or "Kleenex" when they mean "tissue"? "KKK" functions something like that, except it shorthands to "racial terrorism and extrajudicial killings."

It's a dilemma that some Klan groups are trying to address by being less, well, Klan-ish.

Back in April, after a 73-year-old Klansman went on a deadly shooting spree in Kansas City, a whole lot of avowed racists condemned the shootings.

Photograph by Alex Wroblewski

The shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has brought to national attention the obstacles that many young black males face - including racial profiling and a world where media portrayals of their peers are often less-than-flattering. Maureen McKinney took a look at the topic in Illinois. She joined Rachel Otwell for this interview: 

Most reviews of the CW's Jane The Virgin mention that it was loosely adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela called Juana La Virgen. Then they predictably misrepresent a telenovela as a Latin American soap opera.

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