In 1951 Matt Ingram drove his old car to a neighbor’s house to see about borrowing a trailer. The neighbor didn’t answer the door, so Ingram went and looked out in the field to see if the neighbor was there, but all he saw were some kids. So, he left and borrowed a trailer from someone else.
Matt spent 2 years in jail for looking at those kids.
Well, really for looking at one kid. Willa Jean Boswell, a 17 year old girl saw Ingram driving on the road and was frightened when he looked at her. She ran to the field, told her brothers, who told their dad, who told the police, and they arrested Ingram for assault with intent to rape.
That’s it. No other relevant details. No one contested or offered that there was more to the story. The entire court accepted that Matt, who had not been in, or caused, any trouble previously, never got closer to Willa Mae than 75 feet. He never spoke a word to her, never even made any sudden or aggressive movements, just a look, and the jury convicted him. He was sentenced to 2 years on the chain gang.
A series of appeals and a whole lotta pressure from… the Soviet Union, eventually brought his case to the North Carolina Supreme Court where his conviction was overturned.
That process took around two years… which Matt spent in jail.
For a look.
Or maybe rather, because he had a look.
Mr. Ingram wasn’t trying to have a look, he was just doing his thing. He was working and being himself- which is in some way the root of what makes that look “a look”. There is some form of innate coolness. Not posing. Not trying. Just being. All business.
Thing is, Ingram’s look wasn’t all that unique. He was by all accounts- normal.
For a Black man.
At that time all sorts of other folks, who were in fact trying, worked this look. In fact, that look was being imitated and replicated all over movie screens and billboards because there was, and still is, something in there, that is undeniably cool.
But cool is only safe for some.
And if that cool is innate, the sort that just is, then what do you do if you are Black? In order to be safe should someone not be themself? Tone it down? Tuck it in? Reel it back? Take what others imitate and monetize and push it down to make white people feel safe? To a lot of people, those who just wanted to get on with life, the answer was “yes”.
It was the sort of thing that when white folks do it, they are popular and get to be in movies but when Black people do it…
It was just after Ingram’s case was won, and received worldwide media attention, that a group of White men decided not to take their case to court when a Black kid named Emmet Till was accused of having that same look.
We have, in so many ways, come a long way. That was 70 years ago. So many people have marched, and worked, and changed since then.
But then I think about backwards hats and hoodies and I have to wonder.
And man, when I look at old pictures of Matt Ingram,
Microagressions are small, often unintentional slights, not even necessarily insults, but little pin pricks based on a marginalized characteristic (such as race, sexual orientation, gender, nationality).
Any one instance of such would be no big deal, but the thing is, they add up.
It’s like when my older brother used to hold me down and begin tapping me on the forehead till I could name ten fruits. It wasn’t painful but man it was annoying and made it super hard to do something that was normally simple- naming ten varieties of fruit.Microagressions are just like that, except instead of my big brother its American society and instead of naming ten fruits, Black people are just trying to live life.
The concept of microagressions fit solidly within CRT in that they become very evident and pervasive (endemic) when we listen to non-white people (counter-storytelling).
All people generally think of themselves, and their own needs, first.
This is often an assumption when we consider the workings of both capitalism and democracy. CRT theorists have found that programs, laws, or movements directed at combating the effects of racism, usually only have staying power, or in some way “work”, if whatever is being asked also, in some way, benefits White people.
Race is never the only thing going on in a Black person’s life.
Or anyone’s life for that matter. People “experience” race at the same time they experience sex, gender, wealth, poverty, nationality, or any other aspect of human socialization. All of those things are ever-present and must be known and addressed.
So, if we pass a law making it illegal to segregate schools by race, and then all the White people move away, we need to know that wealth plays a role, gender plays a role, sexual orientation, and many other things, all play a role.
Considering how multiple factors happen all at once, is called “intersectionality”.
It was the year 2001 and I was watching tv in my dorm. Really, it was married student housing at the University of Utah, because that is a thing there, and I was married. It isn’t BYU but Utah is still Utah.
So I get a knock on my door and it’s this guy, Brooks, who I knew, but we had never hung out. “Hey we were just wondering if you wanted to go longboard with us?” I didn’t quite understand the question. He must have seen this on my face because he quickly explained, “See we have two guys and two boards, but we need a third to drive so we can see.”
The extra explanation had a direct correlation to my confusion. I looked outside over his shoulder to some other guy, who I reeeally didn’t know. He nodded hello.
It was late January and late evening, maybe 7 or 8. I looked back inside at my sofa, at the tv, and still not having any real idea of what they were asking, I shrugged my shoulders and said “cool”.
Riding in the Volkswagen bus up into the canyon they explained to me that the idea is that two people ride the longboards, which I confirmed were just long skateboards, down the canyon, with the bus following right behind to both block any traffic from coming up behind, as well as to light the way ahead with the high beams.
“Cool. So you want me to drive. Got it.”
“Well yeah, but we figured we could just take turns ya know. Like we just thought a third would help us all get in more runs.”
“Ah. Cool. Thanks man.”
This is where I finally realized what we were doing. These dudes had me at the top of a canyon, in winter, at night, with intentions of riding a skateboard down the mountain.
I was terrified. This was not, nor is it, the sort of thing I do. I hadn’t been on a skateboard since I was in elementary school and part of why I stopped back then, was that I have never been a physical risk taker. I don’t like falling down on hard surfaces or doing things for fun that involve risk, or really, any high level of skill, because I don’t have that.
But, I was, and I fear at times still am, a bit of a bro, and what this means is that while being mortally afraid, which I was, I also thought this sounded kinda cool, which by itself would have never been a good enough reason to get me to consider a nighttime death ride. But you see, I didn’t really know Brooks that well. He was just this guy with Geek Sheik glasses who lived downstairs- but here he was acting all casual, asking me if I wanted to do something death defying like it was no big deal. Knocking on my door like the only concern was whether or not I had something else planned that evening.
Which I didn’t.
And like I said, the bro in me was more afraid of confessing to a dude I didn’t know well, that I was afraid, than I was of riding down a mountain on a plank with no brakes. That’s messed up. I hope I’ve grown since then, but at this point introspection is a tangent when the point is recollection, and retelling the action.
So when it became clear I would be riding a board, I just shrugged and said, “Cool.”
It wasn’t till I was standing outside in front of the headlights, with a board in my hands that I worked up the nerve to ask honest questions.
“So like, how do I slow down? Or, ya know, stop?”
“Well you just sort of carve back and forth across the lanes and that should keep your speed in check for the most part. Then, If you start to pick up too much speed you just sort of jump off. Like point the board off to the side of the road so we don’t lose it and just hit the ground running.”
I dropped the board on the ground, gave it a small nudge, hopped on, then hopped right off to practice.
“Yeah man you got it!” they sort of stated, not quite a cheer but definitely an encouragement, and most definitely a “let’s get this show on the road.”
So we did.
I pointed the board down, and pushed off for real this time.
I wasn’t sure if the rumblings were vibrations from the blacktop, or me shaking, but I was moving.
I leaned left, then right, a couple turns, then afraid to even get to second gear, I jumped off. It worked just like they said. The board sort of skipped and rolled into a snowbank and I just kinda bounce jogged right after it. Brooks did the same.
Alright alright alright… maybe this will work.
We pushed off again and I things started to change.
I started to feel it.
This was the moment, the time I began to enjoy the experience, when I also realized that I was at least twice Brooks size and we were playing with gravity. I had outpaced my wingman and consequentially the headlights, by about 50 yards and I was not slowing down.
I thought I should bail. I should do it now. But I was right there- just past my comfort level. Juuuust a bit too fast, so I started to think up a plan B.
I started eyeing the snowbanks on the side of the road. Falling into snow, even going fast, is no big deal, and here I was with huge snow banks, glowing in the night, on both sides, ready to catch and preserve my life.
Knowing I was going to crash, but I would live, I relaxed. I decided to do what I never do, and just sort of go for it.
I leaned in.
Looking up I could not just see into the void, but I could feel myself moving through it. I felt the road rumble up through my feet to my knees but there it melted into waves. By the time it hit my hips, then my shoulders, and finally face it was all just cool wind. It whipped through my hair and forced my cheeks up into a smile.
I loved it.
Then the snowbanks disappeared.
Replaced by a guardrail.
Travelling at an unholy speed down an ungodly canyon my only saving grace was replaced by a device meant to damn the progress of those in danger- but now promised to be my destruction.
The rail was on a curve. I tried to take it, leaning in and whatnot, but I could not.
The board went one way and I went the other. Suspended in the air I started my feet and legs running, proving my previous doubts of Wyle E Coyote’s experience wrong, and just like he, I did eventually fall. I touched down with one foot.
Then the other.
But my top half was faster and I tumbled.
It is natural, though not advisable, to put out one’s hands when falling. Especially on pavement.
I was picking said pavement out of my palms for the next two weeks and it was at least four months before I could bear a push-up.
When I returned home that night my wife informed me of a post mortal truth, that at the gates to heaven there are two lines. The first; is full of cancer patients, martyrs, those who died in righteous acts, and innocent children. The second, is full of stupid white people who died doing things like hang gliding.
She went on to explain that she would be in the first line and had no intentions of waiting for me if I wasn’t.
That was a long time ago and I have grown. I am not dead, we are still married, and I may still have hope.
Fellow member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,
This weekend we were told by multiple leaders that racial prejudice against Black people has been a part of American history and is still a problem today. It is a problem world- wide.
We were told that, members of the Church, need to do more to root out racial prejudice.
President Oaks taught that the United States Constitution guarantees the right to peaceably assemble, or protest, to address grievances, and that there have indeed been injustices in the administration of current law. He taught that protest is an appropriate way to raise public awareness and seek a change in laws.
We do not condone violence or lawlessness.
This condemnation of violence includes the small number of protestors who have crossed over the line of civility, as well as those who violently seek to stop the protests- be they government deployed or vigilante.
That is what (though not all) our leaders taught.
Might I ask that we, the white members of the LDS church, do, or understand, two things:
First, that whatever we have done or been doing, we have been asked to do better.
Second, we, the white members, should not assume we know how racial prejudice works or how to fight it, and our initial focus in doing more should be,
to listen to Black people.
Let’s listen to the ones we know and those we don’t. Listen to the community, not just one person. Listen to those who are speaking up, especially those who are expressing hurt. Look at artwork and listen to music. Read articles and books. Listen with the intent to learn, not with the intent to be absolved.
Seek first to understand.
Then, I humbly ask that we direct our efforts at each other. We have been told that racial prejudice against Black people, as well as Latino, Asian, and others, is a problem- not that THEY are a problem.
So I suggest that we seek to improve ourselves before making suggestions or demands of others.
Who is that supposed to be? I get that question a lot when people see my drawings. If the image is of someone famous, or familiar, that question hurts just a little, since you wouldn’t need to ask if I had done a better job.
But if the drawing isn’t someone you would recognize, what do you really see?
What comes to mind? Do we just take it at face value (pun intended) or do we make guesses and assumptions? Do we ask questions? Maybe none of that. Maybe we just look and think that is all there is to see. Nothing more.
There is always more.
As an artist I get to choose what I include, leave out, or even change. How much do you trust me? Does it matter?
This is a drawing of Catherine Burks.
In 1961 she got on a Greyhound bus headed from Tennessee to Alabama. Police stopped the bus because racially integrated bus travel was illegal. They escorted the passengers back to the Tennessee state line, dropping them off on the rural roadside in the middle of night. Burks told the chief, Bull Connor, “We will see you back in Birmingham by high noon”.
She was indeed back in Birmingham the next day and this is a drawing of her mug shot.
This is the face of a freshly arrested college student who I guess is thinking, “told ya.”
By this point she had seen violence and police beatings and been personally threatened by the leader of it all.
And this face was her face.
Sometimes, even today, some of us think we know what is going on simply because we watch. We see some things, we feel we are paying attention, and no one contradicts what we think we see.
But there is always more to the story.
We normally only get that after we ask questions and then listen.
Does America treat black and white citizens equally?
If your answer is yes, then we must grapple with some additional, hard, questions.
If America treats black and white citizens equally then why does the median white family have 41 times more wealth than the median black family? (median white has $147,000 in wealth while black median is $3,500) https://inequality.org/facts/racial-inequality/
Why the huge gap in wealth, incarceration, and education?
Is it simply the result of individual choices?
Is it that black people are making poorer financial decisions, committing more crimes, and performing worse in school?
To say this, is to imply, directly, that white people make better financial moves, are more law abiding, and do better in school.
Another way of saying that, is to say, white people are better than black people.
If this is your answer it does not mean you hate black people. It does not mean you are evil.
But it does mean you need to grapple with the truth that this idea is the foundation of white supremacist ideology.
When we hear the term white supremacist, most of us envision a KKK member in a white hood, or a Neo Nazi with a shaved head, out committing violence against black or brown people. We are appalled and shocked that such people exist, we condemn them en masse, and none of us think we are anything like “them”. But really, if we think that the disparity between black and white in America is simply the result of black people making bad choices, then the only fundamental differences between “us” and the white supremacists, is hatred and violence.
But the ideology is the same.
The facts are that white people have vastly more wealth than black people, both overall and by percentage. Black people are exponentially more likely to serve, or have served, jail time than their white peers, and white people attend and complete college at much higher rates than black Americans. Are these just benign facts?
If America is fair, then are we to assume that white people are just smarter, better, and harder working than black people and these data points are just evidence? Or could it be something else?
Maybe our meritocracy, isn’t anywhere near as meritocratic as we like to believe.
I have known too many lazy, criminal, and non-academic white people to accept that things are fair. I myself, a white man, have lacked ambition, broken laws, for most of my teen years skipped my homework, and by many measures I am doing great.
Conversely, I have known far too many brilliant, savvy, and law-abiding black people who are not reaping the same harvest as their white counterparts. The cultural, or personal choice, disparity explanation simply doesn’t check out. It doesn’t bear up under investigation.
Yes, all choices have consequences, and we all make choices, but the outcomes, the consequences, are not uniform across the color line.
America simply does not treat black and white people equally.
We can fix this.
But we have to be willing to do the hard work- including the initial prerequisite wrestle with our own ideas and perceptions.
**By “America” I mean our legal system, our economy, and our day to day interpersonal lives.
Suppose I am a philanthropist who gives one million dollars each year to a certain charity. I love their cause, I identify with it in some way, and it does good, so I in turn, do good.
But every time I see you, I punch you square in the nose. Hard.
Not like my brother and I growing up messing around sort of pop, but reconstructive surgery on your face sort of right cross between the eyes. And not just once, but pretty much every time we see each other, which is a lot, because you live in the basement of my house.
Would you care about my charitable giving? How would you feel about me?
Now what if the charity I loved, was one that helped people with broken noses get their faces reconstructed, and I, was a plastic surgeon? Every year I donate that million dollars and 10,000 children with deviated septum are made to be able to breathe through their noses despite their inability to afford the surgery otherwise. Then, on top of that, I grow wealthy doing the work of fixing people’s faces, whether it be from damage, or maybe just some elective cosmetic touch ups, because I am a plastic surgeon. That is what I do.
But every time I see you- pow! And not just you, I punch your family too. Your grandma, your kids, your little sister, every one of you who live in my basement (it’s a big basement), get socked in the face. I go straight-up Tasmanian devil on you and your loved ones till everyone within my reach are bloodied and battered.
How would you feel about me?
Would you care about my charity or vocation?
I am a white man and as such I am the beneficiary of my Uncle Sam’s charity. He gave me the vote and a bill of rights. He gave me land grants, and Pell Grants, a HUD home, and the GI Bill. He built me public schools and universities and reduced my work week to 40 hours. He taught me that I belonged in his home.
All the while this same uncle was punching other people in the face. He denied them citizenship and the vote, kept them out of schools, red lined them, barred their testimony from courts, allowed their murderers to go unpunished, and he took their money.
Who am I to tell these other people to look past all of that abuse and praise this uncle for the charity he gave to me?
With news that the SAT is rolling out an adversity score for possible use in college admissions, I have been asked the question, “how much does being white, hurt my college application?”
I have been asked this question before (every time a white person talks to me seriously about college applications) and in light of this new metric I now have to answer with…
“Not at all.”
The truth is, being white has never hurt your chances of getting into college. Not even a little bit. Not even at the most liberal, left leaning, social justice minded institution will being white hurt your chances of getting into college.
When I give that answer, those who know and trust me, argue that this is the opposite of what everyone has ever told them. Those who don’t know or trust me, simply don’t believe me.
May I offer up some points of perspective?
At no top tier American university does any ethnic or racial group outnumber white people. Now, this does not mean that there are not schools, good ones too, where the majority of people are not white. Howard for example is a great school, and there are almost no white people there, but odds are if any remotely qualified white person were to apply- they would get in. It happens. But Howard isn’t really what most white people are worried about. They are more worried about Harvard, Princeton, or State U of wherever. Places they actually want to go, and are worried that their whiteness will be a disadvantage.
I get it.
College is not only competitive but high stakes. That is why all those celebrities paid large sums of money to cheat their way in. Diversity is a hot button topic, everybody wants it, and if you as a white person think you don’t have any of that, then you feel disadvantaged.
I get it.
I may have actually both thought and felt that before. Thinking or feeling that doesn’t mean you are bad. But it does make you wrong.
If you step back for a moment and look at American colleges (or businesses, or government, or Hollywood) you will realize that all of those places and institutions are dominated and usually run, by white people. 80% of college presidents are white.
Yale’s student body is 52% white, Michigan is 65% white, and Harvard is 42% white. As you read that, you might screech to halt at Harvard and think, “that is less than half!” And you would be right. But what you might not go on to think about is that Harvard is not enrolling America, but rather the world, and the world is not white. In fact, that is part of why Harvard is being sued right now. Because the largest group next to white people is Asians (a large swath of ethnicities all lumped together) who make up 14% of the Harvard student body, but 60% of the globe’s population. In fact if you combine all of Europe and North America’s population, you only have approximately 19% of the world… and not all of those people are white. So how in the world (pun intended) are there so few Asians at Harvard… and so many white people? I added that last part. The plaintiff doesn’t mention the white people.
But not every school is Harvard.
Florida State is 62% white, “The” Ohio State is 68% white, and for so many of my friends and loved ones… BYU is 82% white.
Remember that most schools categorize students as white, LatinX, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, and other. At U Texas in Austin, a geography with a lot of non-white people, 41% of students are white while only 20% are LatinX. Written another way, the number of white students is double the size of next largest group. It takes all the non-white people bundled together (which isn’t how race and ethnicity functions in society), to ever outnumber the white people.
White people are not having trouble getting into good colleges.
Now there are some other things that will definitely hurt your chances of getting into a top college. Things like:
Not being rich.
Marginal SAT/ACT score.
Poorly written essay.
Being the first one in your family to apply to any given college.
Attending a high school that has not sent a student to a top college in our current lifetime.
Then there are things that will hurt your chances of getting into a good school:
Bad SAT/ACT scores.
Poorly written essay.
These are different than the things that will hurt your chances of actually attending a good school:
Being afraid of loans.
Homesickness and family pressure.
Notice that being white is not on any of those lists.
Look, I know that there are articles, and people, and even actual policies out there directed at increasing the diversity of college classes. That is in fact a real thing. I participate in those things. That is part of my job. There are people who have dedicated their entire lives and billions of dollars and lobbied and sued and protested and legislated, and argued, and educated and done all sorts of things to push for diversity in college admissions but none of that equates to whiteness being an actual disadvantage.
College is too expensive and elitist and competitive -for everyone- and being brown skinned is not going to remove all the obstacles and check all the boxes and open all the doors that white students are expected to go through.
There is no sentry posted at any college gate with orders to bar the entry of white kids because they are white.