Tabclosing: Historical Racism, Modern Racism, Poverty, Mindgames, and Murderers

Today’s links are a heavy bunch.

  • I Married A Jew – A 1939 article in The Atlantic in which Gertrude, a Christian women of German descent, writes at length about her “mixed race” marriage to a Jew. She’s not just using race as a metaphor; she, her husband, and their respective families view their union as a risky crossing of racial lines. While professing love for her husband, she explains how if the Jews ever really want to be accepted they need to sensibly abandon any cultural distinctions and assimilate. My friend Carmen aptly compares it to a Modern Love column, calling it “affable apologetics for an odious position, but told in a way that implies balance/consideration because of the relationship (plus ‘my Jewish husband’ in the way someone says ‘my black friend.’)” Her tone of condescending moderation leads to a surreal, inverse-Godwin’s Law moment when she gets around to sharing her views on Hitler:

But it is hard for Ben to take the long view. He looks upon Hitler as something malignantly unique, and it is no use trying to tell him that a hundred years hence the world will no more call Hitler a swine for expelling the Jews than it does Edward I of England, who did the same thing in the thirteenth century—an expulsion that remained in strict effect until the time of Cromwell, because a hundred years hence another country will be having its Jewish problem, unless…

  • ‘I Wish I Were Black’ And Other Tales of Privilege – Angela Onwauchi-Willing writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the growing phenomenon of white students who view being a racial minority as nothing but an unfair advantage for scholarships and admissions. This isn’t quite the same pathology of racism as the previous link. Whereas Gertrude above sees racism as inherently benign, these students presumably do view racism negatively. Certainly they are willing to inveigh against perceived racial discrimination against themselves. But they see racism as a fixed thing; both in the sense of “racism is when black people have to stand at the back of the bus,” and in the sense of “racism is not a problem anymore.” As the article points out, this blindness to one’s own privilege is, itself, a kind of privilege.
  • The Logic Of Stupid Poor People – And, of course, privilege blinds people to issues of class just as much as issues of race. Here Tressie McMillan Cottom explodes the notion that poor people who use their money to buy status symbols do so because they are vain or stupid. Rather, they are making the rational choice to assume the trappings of wealth in an attempt to be taken seriously by people who actually have it.
  • Why Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment Isn’t In My Textbook – And then we have the famous Stanford prison study, which shows that if you create a system where one group has power over another group, they will naturally turn into monsters and toadies respectively. Except, it doesn’t. Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne explains how the experiment was methodologically flawed in a way that trivially undermines its so-called conclusions.
  • I Met A Convicted Serial Killer, And He Made Me Feel More Loved Than Anyone Else In My Life – Which is not to say that monsters don’t exists. Here we have former Marine sniper Jay Roberts reviewing his harrowing encounter with a man he would, years later, discover was serial killer Randy Kraft. In retrospect he realizes that the techniques Kraft used on him were not dissimilar to those he was taught to use as a sniper in identifying and isolating targets. He is, decades later, still emotionally shaken by how effectively a psychopath was able to gain his complete trust. I also find this story interesting because I’d never heard of Randy Kraft before. I’ve heard of and would recognize by name maybe a dozen other American serial killers who killed fewer people, but they all preyed on women or children. It’s hard not to suspect the reason Randy Kraft doesn’t get talked about as much as, say, Ted Bundy is that his story doesn’t serve an easy narrative of the strong preying on the weak nor the heteronormativity of the armed forces.

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  1. I should clarify that, obviously, not all Modern Love columns are like that. I’ve read a few, however, where when I finished and stepped back I realized that the narrator was kind of terrible, but there was something about the genial balance with which s/he presented the facts of the essay that I didn’t really notice while reading it. In this case, the anti-Semitic position was so insane and awful that I did notice, but the tone was startlingly similar.

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