“I’m Not a Racist,” is the Wrong Answer

You’ve heard it time after time — from celebrities, business owners, and many public figures. Someone says or does something blatantly racist; someone calls them out; and they defend themselves by saying, “I’m not a racist.” Being told we did something racist hurts, so we become defensive. We deflect. We deny it’s who we are, but it’s also the completely wrong thing to say.

This statement — “I’m not a racist” — completely absolves us of personal accountability. It says that I don’t need to change anything about myself. Instead, it put the burden back on the injured party. I’m not a racist. Therefore, you must have misinterpreted that terrible thing I said or did.

Robin DiAngelo, in her video Deconstructing White Privilege, makes the case that we define racism in specific ways that make it almost impossible to take personal accountability for our racist thoughts and actions. For example:

  • Racism is intentional. I can only do something racist if I intend to.
  • Racism is malicious. When we define racism this way, we can only be guilty of it if we intend harm.
  • Racism is extreme. Either I hate all people of color entirely, or I’m not a racist at all.
  • Only individuals can be racist. From this perspective, systematic racism cannot exist.

Once we put all of those together, it’s easy to say, “I’m not a racist.” Unfortunately, that statement also closes off any opportunity for growth or improvement. I cannot do better if I am unwilling to acknowledge my behavior. It would be like my wife confessing to me that I said or did something hurtful, and I responded with, “I’m not abusive.”

Instead, we should stop focusing on identity — in this case, the word racist — and focus on behavior instead. The question is not whether I am a racist. The problem is whether I said or did something racially offensive. When we shift focus, then we can focus on changing behavior. 

A couple of years ago, I said that I felt “gypped” about something. A friend of mine told me I had said something racist. I immediately had to fight down the urge to say, “But I’m not a racist,” and replaced it with, “I didn’t know that. Can you explain?” He did, and now I try to avoid using that word anymore.

My wife put it this way recently:

When it comes to racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., I’ve found it’s healthier to think, “I don’t want to be” instead of “I’m not.”

For example, if someone says, “That thing you just said/did is racist,” instead of thinking, “I’m not racist! I don’t hate black people!” it’s much healthier to think, “I don’t want to be racist. I should rethink what I’m saying/doing in light of that fact.” That shifts my thinking, so instead of jumping straight into denial and attempts to defend my character, I’m more likely to look at how my actions may be misrepresenting my intentions, whether I’ve overlooked something or acted in ignorance.

I encourage you to take this approach. The next time you feel the urge to say, “I’m not racist,” replace it with, “I don’t want to be racist.” Instead of digging into denial, learn to do better. That’s the only way we get better at anything. When we come face-to-face with our imperfections, we have a choice: we can deny and deflect, or we can engage and improve.


68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice

The Technium: 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice

Kevin Kelly shares wisdom on his 68th birthday. It’s wonderfully nonlinear and filled with recurring themes. It’s like reading a modern-day collection of proverbs.

It’s my birthday. I’m 68. I feel like pulling up a rocking chair and dispensing advice to the young ‘uns. Here are 68 pithy bits of unsolicited advice which I offer as my birthday present to all of you.

Learn how to learn from those you disagree with, or even offend you. See if you can find the truth in what they believe.

A worthy goal for a year is to learn enough about a subject so that you can’t believe how ignorant you were a year earlier.

Don’t take it personally when someone turns you down. Assume they are like you: busy, occupied, distracted. Try again later. It’s amazing how often a second try works.

Don’t say anything about someone in email you would not be comfortable saying to them directly, because eventually they will read it.


The WWF’s Hidden Human Cost of Their War on Poaching

1.Buzzfeed News: WWF Funds Guards Who Have Tortured And Killed People

This was a sensitive moment for one of the globe’s most prominent charities. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) had long helped fund and equip Chitwan’s forest rangers, who patrol the area in jeeps, boats, and on elephant backs alongside soldiers from the park’s in-house army battalion. Now WWF’s partners in the war against poaching stood accused of torturing a man to death.

WWF’s staff on the ground in Nepal leaped into action — not to demand justice, but to lobby for the charges to disappear. When the Nepalese government dropped the case months later, the charity declared it a victory in the fight against poaching. Then WWF Nepal continued to work closely with the rangers and fund the park as if nothing had happened.

As for the rangers who were charged in connection with Shikharam’s death, WWF Nepal later hired one of them to work for the charity. It handed a second a special anti-poaching award. By then he had written a tell-all memoir that described one of his favorite interrogation techniques: waterboarding.

Shikharam’s alleged murder in 2006 was no isolated incident: It was part of a pattern that persists to this day. In national parks across Asia and Africa, the beloved nonprofit with the cuddly panda logo funds, equips, and works directly with paramilitary forces that have been accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering scores of people. As recently as 2017, forest rangers at a WWF-funded park in Cameroon tortured an 11-year-old boy in front of his parents, the family told BuzzFeed News. Their village submitted a complaint to WWF, but months later, the family said they still hadn’t heard back.

Katie J.M. Baker & Tom Warren

2. Buzzfeed News: A Leaked Report Shows WWF Was Warned Years Ago Of “Frightening” Abuses

After he delivered the report, Mwenge presented his findings in Yaoundé in front of top WWF staffers, including a senior manager from Switzerland. The meeting resulted in a series of draft recommendations, obtained by BuzzFeed News, for the charity to improve its relationship with the local community. One was to create and promote a new complaint system for locals to report forest ranger abuses; another was to thwart “corruption among eco-guards and establish harsh consequences.”

But a month after the report was filed, Lambertini, WWF’s chief executive, sent a strident letter to Survival International asserting that concerns the group had raised about indigenous rights were “most directly matters for the Government of Cameroon,” not WWF. He called the campaign group’s claims that WWF had “done nothing” for the local Baka people “untrue and insulting.”

Internal documents show WWF still supports rangers at Lobéké and continues to help park officials organize raids.

Katie J.M. Baker & Tom Warren

3. Buzzfeed News: WWF Says Indigenous People Want This Park. An Internal Report Says Some Fear Forest Ranger “Repression.”

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) told its European Union funders that indigenous people were “favorable” to a new national park despite an internal report highlighting fears of “repression” by forest rangers, BuzzFeed News can reveal.

The EU agreed to send WWF 1 million euros for the proposed new park in an area of the Republic of Congo, known as Messok Dja, on the basis that it would seek the consent of indigenous people.

But omitted from a copy of a WWF filing to the EU in 2018, obtained by BuzzFeed News under Freedom of Information laws, were passages of a consultant’s confidential report that found some locals vehemently opposed the park.

Other sections of that report were copy-pasted into the EU filing — but the document does not contain sections discussing how some villagers were worried the park would drive them off their ancestral land, prevent them gathering food for their families, and subject them to mistreatment by forest rangers, known locally as “eco-guards.”

Katie J.M. Baker & Tom Warren

Conservation is important. Every species that dies out makes our world less ecologically diverse and threatens to unbalance our biosphere. But human life is valuable too, and treating indigenous peoples as expendable in a war against poaching is not an acceptable course of action. I have to believe that there is a way to protect vulnerable species and vulnerable peoples at the same time.


ProPublica Investigates Audits

ProPublica: Who’s More Likely to Be Audited: A Person Making $20,000 — or $400,000?

Budget cuts have crippled the IRS over the past eight years. Enforcement staff has dropped by a third. But while the number of audits has fallen across the board, the impact has been different for the rich and poor. For wealthy taxpayers, the story has been rosy: Not only has the audit rate been cut in half, but audits now tend to be less thorough.

It’s a different story for people who receive the EITC: The audit rate has fallen less steeply and the experience of being audited has become more punishing. Because of a 2015 law, EITC recipients are now more likely to have their refund held, something that can be calamitous for someone living month-to-month.

by Paul Kiel and Jesse Eisinger Dec. 12, 2018

Put simply, budget cuts to the IRS have resulted in a situation where a program that was once meant to help the working poor now makes their lives even more difficult. Combine this with a recent bill that will effectively keep tax preparation privatized and expensive, and it’s yet another way we are failing our citizens who are the most in need.


Some Links Regarding Our Border

What’s been going on at our border is unconscionable, and the way the whole affair has been managed is making things even worse. This is by no means a comprehensive list of reading material, but these are some items that have really resonated with me over the past several weeks.

Lawfare: Who’s Really Coming Across the U.S. Border

Over the past week, the separation of 2,000 children from their parents along the U.S. border has forced immigration into the national spotlight. President Trump, who initiated the separations and then sought to quash criticism with a muddled executive order, has portrayed the policy as a harsh but necessary measure to stop a wave of migrants “bringing death and destruction” into the United States. At another point, he claimed that migrants want to “pour in and infest our country,” linking those crossing the border to the gang MS-13.

Despite what the president says, the situation at the border is much more nuanced. There’s not a flood of people racing across the border. The majority of migrants aren’t dangerous criminals. Many are women and families—and many are fleeing gang violence rather than seeking to spread that violence farther north.

For the past two years, I’ve worked to document these issues at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin, and also in the Beyond the Border column for Lawfare—based in part on my fieldwork from across Mexico. There are few straightforward and easy answers to what often feel like basic questions for Central American migration. So it’s worth taking a step back and asking: who are the people arriving at the border? Why are they coming? And how does the current situation compare to migration in the past?

This is a good starting point to understand current immigration trends, the motivations behind immigration, and a look at the people who are coming over. Our current administration wants a simple narrative that all undocumented immigrants are bad people. The truth is far more nuanced and complex.

LA Times: ‘You Don’t Love Me Anymore?’

He said those days in detention were wrenching. For 25 days, he had no news about his son. He was given a phone number to call, but the calls wouldn’t go through.
He finally connected with Jefferson once he reached Los Angeles by bus in late June.
He learned his son was in New York City at Cayuga Centers, an agency that has housed several hundred kids separated from parents in foster care.

That first phone call quickly went from joyful to unbearable.

“Papa, I thought they killed you,” Jefferson told his father, crying. “You separated from me. You don’t love me anymore?”

“No, my son,” Che Coc told him. “I’m crying for you. I promise, soon you will be with me.”

What’s going on is nothing short of traumatic for families and especially for young children. First time crossing the border without proper documentation is a misdemeanor  — up there with such things as disorderly conduct or trespassing. No one in their right mind would condone tearing apart families for a misdemeanor, but we tend to lose our collective minds when the issue is immigration.

ProPublica: Immigrant Youth Shelters: “If You’re a Predator, It’s a Gold Mine”

Using state public records laws, ProPublica has obtained police reports and call logs concerning more than 70 of the approximately 100 immigrant youth shelters run by the U.S. Health and Human Services department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. While not a comprehensive assessment of the conditions at these shelters, the records challenge the Trump administration’s assertion that the shelters are safe havens for children. The reports document hundreds of allegations of sexual offenses, fights and missing children.

The recently discontinued practice of separating children from their parents has thrust the youth shelters into the national spotlight. But, with little public scrutiny, they have long cared for thousands of immigrant children, most of them teenagers, although last year 17 percent were under 13. On any given day, the shelters in 17 states across the country house around 10,000 adolescents.

The more than 1,000 pages of police reports and logs detail incidents dating back to the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America in 2014 during the Obama administration. But immigrant advocates, psychologists and officials who formerly oversaw the shelters say the Trump administration’s harsh new policies have only increased pressures on the facilities, which often are hard-pressed to provide adequate staffing for kids who suffer from untold traumas and who now exist in a legal limbo that could shape the rest of their lives.

“If you’re a predator, it’s a gold mine,” said Lisa Fortuna, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center. “You have full access and then you have kids that have already had this history of being victimized.”

Again, you cannot look at this situation and think it is remotely OK. Think of it like this, what if 70% of all elementary schools in the US had as many police reports in as short of a time period? Wouldn’t we be clamoring for better protections for our children? Wouldn’t we want the people overseeing such a child-hostile climate held accountable? Of course we would, but we repeatedly lose our moral compass when the topic is immigration.

The Nation: A 6-Year-Old Girl Was Sexually Abused in an Immigrant-Detention Center

A Southwest Key Programs document obtained by The Nation confirms that D.L. was reported to have been sexually abused on June 4, 2018. On June 12, one day after D.L.’s father was contacted, the 6-year-old girl was presented with the form stating that, as part of the facility’s intervention protocol, she had been instructed to “maintain my distance from the other youth involved” and had been provided “psychoeducation,” described in the document as “reporting abuse” and “good touch bad touch.” The form, posted below, shows D.L’s “signature”—a single letter “D,” next to the characterization of her as “tender age”—which supposedly confirms that D.L understands “that it is my responsibility to follow the safety plan” reviewed with her.

When D.L.’s mother learned about the incident, she was still being detained in Texas and felt devastated. “I felt really horrible. I couldn’t do anything for her, because we were separated,” she said through a translator in an interview with The Nation. “It was a nightmare. When my husband told me what happened, I felt helpless. She was so little, she was probably so scared, probably afraid to say anything to anyone. It was a total nightmare for me.”

But the nightmare wasn’t over. On June 22, Southwest Key again contacted D.L.’s father and informed him that the same boy initially cited for abuse had hit and fondled D.L. again. According to Lane, D.L.’s father asked how the facility could allow this to happen, and the woman on the phone responded that she was only calling him to advise him that it had happened, that she didn’t have permission to say anything else, and he would have to speak with the director.

If large statistics don’t connect with you, then perhaps a single account will. A young girl was molested and then told it was her responsibility to stay away from her abuser. So now we can add victim-blaming to the list of traumas these children must endure. In this case, the abuse came from another detainee instead of an employee, but this fact remains: she would not have even been in this position without the heartless policies our current administration enacted.




Ethan Gray On Trump’s Campaign

Twitter Thread: Ethan Gray

Donald Trump won the GOP primary and the presidency because campaigning on whiteness-first messaging still has potency in the 21st century. Plenty of people don’t want to directly engage with this fact, but this thread will be getting into it in full.

Of course, it’s not enough to grapple with what the appeal of Trump’s campaign was. We must also be cognizant of the fact that that appeal was propelled to the White House while Trump has demonstrated he’s thoroughly unfit.

What white supremacy greatly fears is a genuine meritocracy, a society where anyone, regardless of race or gender, can rise according to their talents and diligence.

For white supremacy to guard against a trajectory toward meritocracy, this requires everything of merit must be sacrificed, which brings us to a terrifying conclusion: the various ways Trump was unfit for the Presidency were features to his voters, not flaws.

I’ve tried to distance myself from blogging about politics lately, but Ethan’s observations are on-point. It’s an uncomfortable read but an important one. To those who are used to privilege, equality for others feels like oppression for themselves.


How Trump Conquered Facebook

Wired: How Trump Conquered Facebook — Without Russian Ads

This is a fascinating, and frankly disturbing, look into how advertising on Facebook caters to our echo chambers in a way radio and television ads could never hope to.

LIKE MANY THINGS at Facebook, the ads auction is a version of something Google built first. As on Google, Facebook has a piece of ad real estate that it’s auctioning off, and potential advertisers submit a piece of ad creative, a targeting spec for their ideal user, and a bid for what they’re willing to pay to obtain a desired response (such as a click, a like, or a comment). Rather than simply reward that ad position to the highest bidder, though, Facebook uses a complex model that considers both the dollar value of each bid as well as how good a piece of clickbait (or view-bait, or comment-bait) the corresponding ad is. If Facebook’s model thinks your ad is 10 times more likely to engage a user than another company’s ad, then your effective bid at auction is considered 10 times higher than a company willing to pay the same dollar amount.

A canny marketer with really engaging (or outraging) content can goose their effective purchasing power at the ads auction, piggybacking on Facebook’s estimation of their clickbaitiness to win many more auctions (for the same or less money) than an unengaging competitor. That’s why, if you’ve noticed a News Feed ad that’s pulling out all the stops (via provocative stock photography or other gimcrackery) to get you to click on it, it’s partly because the advertiser is aiming to pump up their engagement levels and increase their exposure, all without paying any more money.

During the run-up to the election, the Trump and Clinton campaigns bid ruthlessly for the same online real estate in front of the same swing-state voters. But because Trump used provocative content to stoke social media buzz, and he was better able to drive likes, comments, and shares than Clinton, his bids received a boost from Facebook’s click model, effectively winning him more media for less money. In essence, Clinton was paying Manhattan prices for the square footage on your smartphone’s screen, while Trump was paying Detroit prices. Facebook users in swing states who felt Trump had taken over their news feeds may not have been hallucinating.



Interview with a Propaganda Book

Vox: America, Explained By a North Korean Propaganda Book

Sean Illing at Vox Media somehow obtained a book of North Korean propaganda regarding the United States and the Korean War. He uses excerpts from the book to create a fake interview with it.

Sean Illing

What does that “policy of aggression and war” look like today?

North Korea Propaganda Book

In pursuing the policy of aggression on Korea under their postwar “strategy of mass reprisal” based on the “policy of strength,” the US imperialists laid stress on their permanent occupation of South Korea while hampering Korea’s reunification, fortified South Korea as their military strategic base by extensively reinforcing the puppet armed forces, and at the same time lined up the South Korean puppets with the Japanese militarists and sped up preparations for a new war for the occupation of the whole of Korea.

Sean Illing

And what role has the North Korean government played in all this?

North Korea Propaganda Book

All these incidents which the whole world had watched with deep apprehensions could be brought under control and prevented from developing into a big war only thanks to the persistent peace policy of the Government of the DPRK.

Ever since liberation the DPRK Government has invariably held that Korea must be relieved from tension and the question of her reunification be solved peacefully, not by war. It proposed to solve the question of national reunification independently and peacefully on a democratic principle more than 150 times.

But the US imperialists doggedly cling to their policy of of aggression and war … The tense situation and the danger of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula are an outcome of US policy.

It’s easy to pick something like this apart and demonstrate exactly where North Korean citizens are being misled. But they have no other avenue through which they can gather information. They can’t look through objective sources that will allow them to fact check the information coming to them.

We can.

However, we sometimes choose to believe propaganda over truth. We dismiss anything that disagrees with our predetermined worldview as “biased,” and then we create an echo chamber of voices that will tell us what we want to hear. We willingly create our own bubbles of propaganda. When we do that, we are no better than such a regime.


Moira Donegan On the Media Men List

The Cut: I Started the Media Men List. My name is Moira Donegan.

In the weeks after the spreadsheet was exposed, my life changed dramatically. I lost friends: some who thought I had been overzealous, others who thought I had not been zealous enough. I lost my job, too. The fear of being exposed, and of the harassment that will inevitably follow, has dominated my life since. I’ve learned that protecting women is a position that comes with few protections itself.

This escalated when I learned Katie Roiphe would be publishing my name in a forthcoming piece in Harper’smagazine. In early December, Roiphe had emailed me to ask if I wanted to comment for a Harper’s story she was writing on the “feminist moment.” She did not say that she knew I had created the spreadsheet. I declined and heard nothing more from Roiphe or Harper’s until I received an email from a fact checker with questions about Roiphe’s piece. “Katie identifies you as a woman widely believed to be one of the creators of the Shitty Men in Media List,” the fact checker wrote. “Were you involved in creating the list? If not, how would you respond to this allegation?” The next day, a controversy ensued on Twitter after Roiphe’s intention to reveal my identity was made public. People who opposed the decision by Harper’s speculated about what would happen to me as a result of being identified. They feared that I would be threatened, stalked, raped, or killed. The outrage made it seem inevitable that my identity would be exposed even before the Roiphe piece ran. All of this was terrifying. I still don’t know what kind of future awaits me now that I’ve stopped hiding.

But over the past months I’ve also had many long, frank conversations with other journalists, men and women, about sexual harassment and assault in our industry. Many came to me with stories of their own abuse, some of which they had been too afraid to add to the spreadsheet, even anonymously. Others told me that they had seen their own attacker or harasser on the document and that they hadn’t put him there. That meant that what that person had done to them, he had done to other people, too. In some of these conversations, we spent hours teasing out how these men, many of whom we knew to be intelligent and capable of real kindness, could behave so crudely and cruelly toward us. And this is another toll that sexual harassment can take on women: It can make you spend hours dissecting the psychology of the kind of men who do not think about your interiority much at all.

A lot of us are angry in this moment, not just at what happened to us but at the realization of the depth and frequency of these behaviors and the ways that so many of us have been drafted, wittingly and unwittingly, into complicity. But we’re being challenged to imagine how we would prefer things to be. This feat of imagination is about not a prescriptive dictation of acceptable sexual behaviors but the desire for a kinder, more respectful, and more equitable world. There is something that’s changed: Suddenly, men have to think about women, our inner lives and experiences of their own behavior, quite a bit. That may be one step in the right direction.


Celebrity Politics

Vox: How to Deal With the Age of Celebrity Candidates

In the excitement over a potential Oprah Winfrey presidency, there is an obvious eye-rolling response: We already elected a celebrity with no political experience to the White House, and look how well that’s working out.

And yet there is a reason many are drawn to Oprah’s candidacy — and it’s a primary reason Donald Trump succeeded. In an era of nonstop politics-as-entertainment media, there’s something appealing about a celebrity candidate known for being an inspirational problem solver on television, who makes us feel like great things are possible. Like a president should.

Each in their own ways, and for very different audiences, both Trump and Winfrey play variations on what we think we want in a president — somebody who will tell us a great story, and who exudes authoritative decisiveness.

The problem here is that the actual job of being president (understanding complex policy trade-offs) is very different from the public role of playing president (reveling in broad, inspirational generalizations).

At this point, Oprah has already downplayed the thought of herself running for president multiple times, and I truly hope it stays that way. The idea of celebrity presidents is kind of appalling, but it’s easy to see how we got here. The president is, in many ways, a figurehead who has to capture the public imagination. Think of the way Ronald Reagan steamrolled through his elections or even how no-one could hold a candle to Barack Obama’s presence and charisma.

The author goes on to propose a system where a given political party not only makes presidential nominations official at party conventions, but they will also collaboratively assemble a Cabinet for their potential candidate. Then, when the general election ramps up, people are not voting for a single person; they are voting for an administration. While this may never happens, it’s an interesting take on how we move our public discourse back to issues that really matter rather than get caught up in cults of personality.