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The President And White Fragility

February 17, 2017, 7:06 PM UTC

Consider the sad case of April Ryan and Jake Turx, two journalists who showed up for work and became unwitting object lessons of white fragility in action.

During the course of a bizarre press conference yesterday, President Donald Trump laudably attempted to answer a question from April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks. Her concern, relevant to her audience, was whether the president planned to include the CBC, which stand for the Congressional Black Caucus, in his planning for an urban agenda. He first seemed unaware of what the initials stood for, and then it got worse. “Tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours? Set up a meeting.”

The exchange came after Trump said, unprompted, that he “was the least racist person.” (Ryan, a journalist, declined to do the job of a White House staffer.) Twitter weighed in definitively: No, Mr. President, all black people don’t know each other.

Things went similarly awry for Jake Turx, a first-time White House correspondent for a publication new to the press corps, Ami Magazine, a Brooklyn-based Orthodox Jewish weekly. His question, as reported by the New York Times, was carefully crafted with a respectful lead-in:

“Despite what some of my colleagues may have been reporting, I haven’t seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. We understand you have Jewish grandchildren, you are their zayde,” which is Yiddish for “grandfather” and often a word of great affection.

He then went on to ask about the uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government was planning to address it. “There’s been a report out that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks,” he began.

Before long, Mr. Trump interrupted him, saying it was not a fair question and demanded Turx sit down. The president became visibly angry, saying the question was very insulting. “I find it repulsive. I hate the question because people that know me…” said Trump, citing Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s endorsement of his “friend of Israel” bona fides. “No. 1: I’m the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life,” he said.

Turx’s editor, Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter, watched from the Ami Magazine headquarters. “It was a very disheartening moment for us, to watch [Turx] being berated,” he told The New York Times.

It was indeed.

There are too many political elements happening within the Trump administration for your faithful correspondent to unpack, so I’ll leave that to the pundits. And in regard to Mr. Turx, I have no idea what the president actually thought he was being asked. But as we reflect on the cringeworthy spectacle that was the press conference, it’s worth considering how many times we’ve done the same thing – ask the one person we know of some kind of color to network on our behalf, or erupt into an incoherent ball of emotion at the merest non-suggestion that we may have a blind spot about bigotry. White fragility, particularly in a person of power, can be a hell of a barrier to progress. Props to Ryan and Turx for handling the president with poise. It’s a President’s Day lesson that everybody needs but that nobody wants.

On Point

Starbucks expands “Coffee with a Cop” events, hoping to improve relations between communities and policeStarbucks chairman Howard Schultz announced an expansion of their Coffee with a Cop program today at a symposium hosted by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE). The program, which launched as a grassroots effort in 2011, seeks to get police and the communities talking about the issues they share. Starbucks announced plans to host 100 Coffee with a Cop events across the U.S. stores within the year. They'll start in five cities – Dallas, Indianapolis, New York, Norfolk, VA and Seattle and will be working with NOBLE, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Major Cities Chiefs AssociationStarbucks

Hispanic Democrats barred from meeting with immigration officials
Several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were barred from attending a planned meeting between lawmakers and Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) acting director Tom Homan. Two representatives, Luis Gutirrez (D-Ill.) and Norma Torres (D-Calif.) were asked to leave the meeting, while several others were prevented from entering. “We're the ones who were asking for this meeting, now we've been barred from the meeting," said Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) The former member of the Jesuit order then led a prayer outside the closed door.
The Hill

People of all colors enjoy television shows with black leads!
A new Nielsen study, “For Us By Us? The Mainstream Appeal of Black Content,” shows definitively that television fare like Blackish, Insecure and How to Get Away With Murder regularly attracts an audience that is more than 60% non-black. It eliminates one of the persistent myths that “black productions” only appeal to black audiences. “Much of the American narrative lately has focused on a growing cultural divide. But Nielsen’s data on television programming show something different,” says the company’s vice president of multicultural marketing.

With the (temporary) fall of PewDiePie, a new white supremacist symbol is born
Over the last seven years, young PewDiePie, aka 27-year-old Felix Kjellberg, has become very, very rich by posting videos of himself both playing digital games and enjoying some casually racist and misogynist trolling. But after a series of truly awful anti-Semitic “jokes,” he was cut loose by his sponsor, Disney, and had the second season of his YouTube show canceled. Now, he’s become a martyr in some darker circles on the internet. “Given that long tradition [of making questionable jokes], and the fact he recently claimed that YouTube discriminates against him because he’s white, his fanbase goes beyond gamers. PewDiePie has become a bona fide white-supremacist hero,” argues Emma Grey Ellis.

Parents of transgender children plead with Trump to safeguard kids in public schools
Some 800 parents of transgender children wrote a letter to the president imploring him to maintain current rules, which require schools to accommodate students in the bathrooms that match their gender identity. It’s a matter of both safety and dignity, they say. “All students deserve equal access to a safe, welcoming school and a high quality education no matter who they are and where they live.” The letter was organized by the Human Rights Campaign’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council, and was e-mailed to the administration earlier this week.
Washington Post

The US Army has lifted its ban on dreadlocks
The guidelines sound typically military: Dreadlocks are allowed “if the strands are less than 1/8 inch wide; and the scalp grid is uniformed and neat, and, when gathered, all the hair fits into the authorized bun size of 3 1/2 inches wide by 2 inches deep.” But it’s a big victory for service women in particular, who have long argued that dreadlocks and locks are easier to maintain. In this regard, the Army is more enlightened than the business community. A federal appeals court recently ruled that banning employees from wearing their hair in dreadlocks isn’t racial profiling.
Okay Player

Trump’s son-in-law met with Time Warner officials to complain about Van Jones
Time Warner, the parent company of CNN, took the meeting with Jared Kushner this week to hear his concerns that CNN has been treating the new administration unfairly. Kushner specifically mentioned CNN contributors Van Jones, a Democrat who once served briefly in the Obama administration, and Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist. Both have been persistently critical of Trump. The optics of the meeting were tricky: Time Warner’s proposed $85.4 billion sale to AT&T is a massive deal that will require government approval. When Trump was still a candidate, he referenced the sale very directly. “AT&T is buying Time Warner, and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration,” he said.
Wall Street Journal

The Woke Leader

It’s hard to be a conservative student on a liberal campus, but it doesn’t have to be impossible
Aaron Hanlon was once a conservative student, on a mission to make his case. He's now an English professor at Colby College, and has written a thoughtful opinion piece that unpacks a delicate distinction: That being a conservative in a liberal environment doesn’t make you a victim. He recalls being encouraged to co-opt the lingo of the liberal left, who referenced Jim Crow and systemic oppression in their quest to achieve equity. It got attention, but not connection. “Most of us conservatives didn’t suffer from similar injustices, but we saw ourselves nevertheless as victims of ideological oppression,” he writes. The false equivalence of victimhood plays well for clicks but doesn’t create a movement, he says. Sure, it takes courage to share conservative views on a liberal campus, but “The better you are at convincing people to care about what you care about, the more politically effective you will be.”
New York Times

Maybe you need to take a break?
Colorlines, a publication of RaceForward - a terrific resource for racial justice research – has put together a thoughtful post filled with advice and reminders for anyone dealing with long or short term stress. “Race-based trauma literally leaves bruised spots on your brain,” says one contributor. “By continuing to enter online conversations, as important as you warrant them to be, you are allowing the bruise to be pressed on over and over.”

How to be a male ally
It takes a village, evidently. A promising new Twitter feed, @betterallies, is tweeting everyday actions and statements that they hope will de-mystify the roles that male allies can play in the workplace, and give them useful prompts to help them figure how where and how to weigh in effectively. “I rotate #OfficeHousework so we take turns setting up mtgs, taking notes, training new hires, etc. Otherwise women will be doing most of it,” is one piece of advice. “I do not tolerate derogatory language in design docs, our code base, or our slack channels. (Yes, it happens.)” declares another. #MaleAllies


Yes, an individual person of color can sit at the tables of power, but the overwhelming majority of decision-makers will be white. Yes, white people can have problems and face barriers, but systematic racism won’t be one of them. This distinction—between individual prejudice and a system of unequal institutionalized racial power—is fundamental. One cannot understand how racism functions in the U.S. today if one ignores group power relations.
—Dr. Robin DiAngelo