Do you feel like those kind of old-fashioned ideas about race are slowly changing?
"Yeah, it’s amazing. Ten years ago, I probably wouldn’t even be allowed in the room for this character. I think fans want to see themselves represented on TV and I think comic book fans want to see themselves represented in comic books and so for me to even be a part of the shift and the change in that, it’s awesome. I know when I booked the role, Andrew told me, "So don’t read the comments section. Stay off the Internet for a couple of days," but mostly it’s been supportive. It’s an interesting thing. I would be silly to say that racial issues are not still prevalent in the world — they are. But like you said, I think five minutes into watching the show, it’s so irrelevant and that’s what counts and more TV should embrace that and more networks should embrace the fact that it’s about the story and race at the end of the day, it’s really irrelevant."
Lois Lane can never have that moment where she clutches her purse on an elevator because a black dude got on. Being a bigot isn’t in the cool guy repertoire any more. We’re past that, even though there are plenty of good, moral people who are also secretly afraid of black people or occasionally slip and say something untoward about Asian people. Sometimes it’s unconscious, sometimes it’s learned behavior, and sometimes it’s just a slip, but we view good and bad as a binary, not a spectrum, so just one drop of bad taints you. As a result, we avoid and eschew it.
Funnily enough, this extends to the stories we tell about real people, too. The prevailing narrative around the Founding Fathers is that they were saints looking out for truth, justice, and the soon-to-be American Way. In reality, Thomas Jefferson had sex with his slaves and Benjamin Franklin, upon being asked for sex advice from a young friend, told that friend to go after older women and provided a list of eight reasons why, ending on “They are so grateful!”
So you get Edward Kenways and Ichabod Cranes, men who came from a time when you could rape and murder people at your leisure, as long as they were inferior to you, being colored or of the fairer sex, but instead choose to be accepting and cool about everything. No awkward slip-ups, no uncomfortable conversations about why you can’t say things, just a lot of truth and justice. It doesn’t feel very true to me, exactly, it doesn’t feel very real, but I do know that if it were more real, I’d hate the characters for being human garbage.
Reporters approach weary runners, either politely or idiotically request interviews, and get rejected, only to beg for forgiveness. That’s clearly how it should be; while our jobs as news hunters and disseminators is to first gather info–often amidst pandemonium–it’s also important to swallow our pride sometimes, and to acknowledge the feelings of whoever has our pens, pads, and microphones jammed in their face. But the more of these civil exchanges that I witness, the more I cringe at the double-standard in practice.
Imagine, for a moment, that instead of a bombing on Marathon Monday, the media swarm was over a multiple homicide in one of Boston’s neighborhoods of color. The reporting process would have likely gone down differently. Whether gun violence or terrorism deserve more or less attention than the other is a debate all in itself; relatedly, there’s been some healthy chatter in the past few days–particularly by international outlets like the BBC–about the amount of Boston bombing coverage relative to larger tragedies that regularly shatter nations elsewhere. What’s also important, however, is the way in which reporters treat subjects in these moments of despair.
Unlike in Back Bay, where marathoners and their families have been hanging out since Monday, reporters tend to take a harsher tone in black, Latino, and Cape Verdean neighborhoods. One instance that comes to mind was immediately following the horrific earthquake in Haiti two years ago. Journalists flooded Caribbean enclaves in and around Blue Hill Avenue, scraping whatever heartfelt quotes they could out of people in anguish. Yet little sympathy was shown. Rather, as all too often happens in disparate communities everywhere, journalists pushed past acceptable limits, and in the face of reluctance, backed off swiftly and unapologetically.
It doesn’t take a Harvard sociologist to see what’s happening here. Generally speaking, most folks who have the time and resources to train, travel, and compete in a marathon are at least middle class, if not upwardly mobile or quite fortunate. In other words: unlike so many families that are devastated by routine urban violence, the people in track jackets around Back Bay this week are in many ways peers of the college-educated reporters interviewing them. In my observation, while a great many journalists are well-spirited deep-down, they’re also condescending asses for whom stories trump sensitivity in the event that subjects exist on a lower socio-economic rung.
Academia may not be a traditional bureaucracy but we forget that public colleges are embedded in state governments, making them more like the public sector is some ways than the private sector. That is particularly true when you account for the fact that many black PhDs end up working in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, many of which are part of state college systems. It is not totally beyond the realm of possibility then that black students should engage with some sectors of higher education similarly to how we have engaged the Post Office. That is to say, credentialism is rewarded and, thus, we should pursue it.
The nature of the rewards, however, seems to be what trips up a lot of this advice.
And that is rooted in some fundamental, unexamined privilege.
It is difficult to be embedded in higher education today, particularly if you study it, and not be acutely aware that academic labor is changing and likely not for the better. Adjunct labor conditions are pretty deplorable: low pay, long hours, little prestige, no mobility, etc. When we are in that we can forget that our crappy jobs can be someone else’s upward mobility.
I suspect part of our not understanding this is ideological. To recognize that crappy is relative is to undermine our own fragile, tenuous class consciousness. It’s an old problem. Unions had similar issues as they tried to bring black, brown and white labors together through their shared position in the class structure. The problems arise when your shared position isn’t exactly shared. Focusing so narrowly on class to the exclusion of structural racial projects can put you in this quagmire. Black poverty is not the same as white poverty. That’s not the fault of white poor people but is a function of a complicated mix of social constructs, organizational processes, politics, history and probably magic. It’s complicated. It is also inconvenient, particularly when you really want and need people to focus on deplorable class conditions. So we like to sometimes ignore it. We do so to our peril.
When we obscure those meaningful differences we end up counseling black students considering graduate school that it is a waste of time and money. We do that because our class consciousness says this whole pyramid hierarchy is a scheme and those at the bottom are losing.
The thing with losing is there’s always some construct of what constitutes “winning”. The dominant construct of winning is rooted in privilege and biases.
Winning is different for different folks. I think of Boudon‘s work which I likely oversimplify when I call it a cross-sectional, longitudinal, empirical analysis that conludes that we’re always from where we’re from. Apologies to the philosopher Rakim but sometimes it ain’t where you’re at but is indeed all about where you’re from. Part of Boudon’s argument for me is about social distance being as important to understanding mobility as status occupational/income/prestige outcomes. Basically, if I get a master’s degree that increases my labor value to $45,000* it can sound like crap to a person who went to graduate school, got a PhD and earns $50,000. However, if my parents didn’t have their GEDs and I grew up helping my mom clean banks after hours for her janitorial freelance business — one of her three jobs — I have actually traveled quite a bit of social distance. That can make the value of my graduate degree different than the value of yours.