Code Switch

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.

Jesse Dukes does not have Confederate ancestors. But in the time he has spent writing about Civil War re-enactors, he has met many who say they do.

The worst fate of all may be to make a terrible mistake and then learn the wrong lessons from the experience.

That's the thought I had reading a heartfelt column about the Boston Herald's unfortunate decision to publish a cartoon featuring a White House gate-crasher asking the nation's first black president if he had "tried the new watermelon flavored toothpaste."

A new movie about race and identity is out in select theaters today. It's called Dear White People, and it's a satire set at a fictitious ivy league college. Or, as the promotional materials say, it's "about being a black face in a white place."

Navajo Presidential Race Shaken By Language Gap

Oct 16, 2014

According to Navajo law, Navajo Nation presidents must speak the Navajo language to hold office. Chris Deschene is a strong contender for the position, but there's a problem: He's not fluent in the language.

The challenge to Deschene's candidacy has become a window into how the Navajo Nation views itself and its cultural future, as well as how Native people continue to define themselves in the face of cultural change.

Food writers have argued that Asian-American chefs are having a moment. Besides running popular food establishments, chefs David Chang, Roy Choi and Eddie Huang have each inspired his own cultlike fan base. All three have published best-selling books; Huang's Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir is the basis for a highly anticipated sitcom debuting this fall on ABC.

Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) — a holiday that celebrates those who have passed — will come alive this Thursday in the movie The Book of Life. It is director and animator Jorge Gutiérrez's first feature film, and he says it's his own take on what happens after death.

Set in the 1920s in Mexico, the animated movie centers on the fiery and brave Maria Posada (voiced by Zoe Saldana), and her two suitors: the handsome town hero Joaquin (Channing Tatum) and the soft-spoken Manolo (Diego Luna), who comes from a long line of bullfighters.

In recent years, social scientists have tried to find out whether important decisions are shaped by subtle biases. They've studied recruiters as they decide whom to hire. They've studied teachers, deciding which students to help at school. And they've studied doctors, figuring out what treatments to give patients. Now, researchers have trained their attention on a new group of influential people — state legislators.

This year's Columbus Day holiday will have a slightly different, more Native flavor in the city of Seattle. Thanks to a unanimous vote this summer by the city council, the federal holiday will now be known by a different name: Indigenous Peoples' Day.

In her book A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, Allyson Hobbs delves into the personal histories of light-skinned African-Americans who, because of their fair complexions and social circumstance, were able to "pass" as white. Code Switch's Karen Grigsby Bates spoke with Hobbs, who explained that, in the past, passing was really a group effort that involved the complicity of a person's family and community.

Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this story, we had two videos of encounters with the police. They contained graphic language and violence, so we've removed them from the story. If you still want to see them, we've included links.

Several years ago, Stanford historian Allyson Hobbs was talking with a favorite aunt, who was also the family storyteller. Hobbs learned that she had a distant cousin whom she'd never met nor heard of.

Which is exactly the way the cousin wanted it.

Hobbs' cousin had been living as white, far away in California, since she'd graduated from high school. This was at the insistence of her mother.

Earlier this year, a judge ruled that Alaskan election officials were in violation of the Voting Rights Act because they did not provide election materials in two dying indigenous languages. They were given until this Friday to comply with the ruling.

The court's decision applies to everything from the buttons that poll workers wear that read "Can I Help?" to candidates' statements to the ballots themselves. There are four regional election pamphlets that are more than 600 pages, and they must be translated into Yupik and Gwich'in.

The beginning of the NFL's 2014 season has been marked by scandals around players' off-field behavior. But each time the league mustered an official response, it seemed to invite even more criticism — especially in the case of Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back who was seen on surveillance video punching his then-fiancee and knocking her unconscious.

Does Television Spanglish Need A Rewrite?

Oct 4, 2014

I watched the season premiere of Law & Order SVU, and I was excited to see that it covered a topic I've reported on for the last year — sex trafficking of women in Mexico — and that a very rich cast of Latino actors were featured on the show. But man, that good feeling stopped almost as soon as I heard them speak.

The Spanish and Spanglish used in the show was embarrassing. When it comes to Latinos on the screen, Hollywood keeps missing the mark on the way we speak.

There's a common argument around Muslim extremism that calls for moderate Muslims to denounce and condemn radical adherents of Islam. Many folks push back on that idea by pointing out that Islam isn't a monolith, that there are well north of a billion Muslims in the world, and that it's wrong to conflate the small number of dangerous radicals with everyone who belongs to the faith.

Those very tensions are playing out right now in the Somali immigrant communities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The Major League Baseball playoffs begin in earnest Thursday night, and this year's postseason offers a story so far out of left field that even the most ardent stats heads find themselves forced to consider the possibility that not only are the baseball gods real, they are also insane. Or perhaps secretly Korean.

Across many stage and screen adaptations of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan over the past century — such as Walt Disney's Peter Pan and Hook — the portrayal of the story's Native American characters has been an ongoing point of contention.

Mexico is helping some of its citizens apply for a controversial immigration program in the U.S. called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Since the Obama administration created the program in 2012, more than 580,000 unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors have received temporary relief from deportation and been given work permits that last for at least two years.

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

Survey the current TV landscape and you'll see more Asian-American men than ever. (Which is to say, still not very many, but more than there used to be.) Most visibly, there's Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee on The Walking Dead. There's Ken Jeong as Señor Ben Chang on Community, leering and creeping like a modern-day Fu Manchu, only weirder and less smart. There are Kumail Nanjiani, Aly Mawji and Jimmy O. Yang on Silicon Valley.

The biggest takeaways from a new study on marriage by the Pew Research Center are these: Fewer Americans who are older than 25 are married than ever before, and by the time they're middle-aged, a record 25 percent will have never tied the knot.

That might not be too much of a surprise, since marriage rates have been sliding for decades.

A lot has been made of the suite of shows featuring families of color set to hit the airwaves this fall — ABC's Black-ish, the CW's Jane the Virgin, ABC's Cristela and the network's midseason replacement, Fresh Off the Boat.

This season happens to dovetail with the 30th anniversary of The Cosby Show, a seminal moment for families of color on the small screen that many credit with resurrecting the moribund sitcom genre.

This is what happens when voices that have normally been pushed to the background take center stage.

That's the reaction I usually offer these days whenever someone asks me about a race-based media firestorm — this time, in reference to the nuclear-sized backlash against New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley's bewildering commentary on Shonda Rhimes, one of the most successful showrunners in television history.

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Transcript

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MacArthur Fellow Trains Lawyers To Work For Clients, Not Judges

Sep 21, 2014

Sharp observations about race, class and gender plus pure passion for the theater: That's what you get when you ask a distinguished panel of playwrights whether "The Great White Way" is still too white.

Award-winning dramatists David Henry Hwang, Lydia Diamond, Kristoffer Diaz and Bruce Norris are some of America's most critically acclaimed contemporary playwrights. Their work captures the tensions and aspirations of an increasingly diverse America, but they all acknowledged that it was a challenge to bring a more diverse audience to theaters.

Sept. 20 marks the 30th anniversary of the premiere of The Cosby Show, the wildly successful sitcom starring Bill Cosby. Depending on whom you ask, that show can be credited with recasting the popular image of black family life, saving the flailing NBC network, or resurrecting the sitcom format itself. In the 1980s, Bill Cosby became one of the biggest non-Michael Jackson figures in American pop culture.

The Cosby Show celebrates its 30th birthday on Saturday.

It was a monster hit inspired by the comedy and life experiences of its star, Bill Cosby, as shown in the new biography Cosby: His Life and Times. In the book, author Mark Whitaker makes a strong argument that Cosby's comedic style and approach to race issues turned The Cosby Show into television's most quietly subversive program.

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