Candid conversations about black-white relations in the US
June 12, 2014 9:43 PM   Subscribe

As a white foreigner who spends much of his time on a college campus where black people are few and far between, I feel like there's a lot I don't understand about black-white relations in the US. I know my history and understand the social and political issues involved reasonably well, but what I'm missing is a sense of how these things play out in the everyday lives of ordinary people. I'd like to hear conversations and stories, in podcast form or the like, that touch on this stuff. The more candid, informal, personal, and no-holds-barred, the better.

The kinds of things I want to hear about are, e.g., assumptions, views, and interactions that might be taken for granted if you grow up black but be a complete surprise if you grow up white or vice versa, opinions that might tend not to be voiced in discussions of race issues in the media, experiences that are hard to categorize in the familiar templates we have about race, and the like. I'm not so interested in genres such as speeches, formal debates, or interviews with public figures, because these tend to be less personally revealing. What I'm after is more like this recent TAL segment where Janet McDonald talks about how different it is to be black in Paris than in the US; or if (say) Marc Maron did a podcast with Dave Chappelle, not in order to Talk About Race but without shying away from it either; or eye-opening Moth stories -- things like that. Suggestions?
posted by zeri to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
Read Losing the Race or Authentically Black by John McWhorter. They are heavily anecdotal and personally revealing.
posted by John Cohen at 9:55 PM on June 12, 2014

Ta-Nehesi Coates' recent piece on reparations is great (some social/policy but a lot of broader storytelling).

I'd also recommend watching The Wire - set in very diverse Baltimore and grappling with race relations head on.
posted by amaire at 10:06 PM on June 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

Colored People by Henry Louis Gates

Read this freshman year of college. I'm a white girl.
Despite going to an elementary school with a majority minority student body, I realized that I knew nothing at all as I was reading this book. I still think of passages from it quite frequently. It really lays out the day to day that an outsider can never truly know.

There may be an audio book version. It is, afaict, exactly what you're looking for. It's also fairly short and easy to read which makes the contrasts he mentions stand out all the more sharply.
posted by sio42 at 10:20 PM on June 12, 2014

Black Like Me. There appear to be audio (s), but the book is a stone classic.
posted by rhizome at 10:26 PM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

The blog Racialicious is excellent.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:15 PM on June 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I really like Jay Smooth's Ill Doctrine videos.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:23 PM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like the podcast This Week In Blackness Riding in Cars with Black People is about 'what happens when a black boy, raised by white parents, “ages out” of honorary white and suburban privilege.' How to Be Black is a memoir-slash-satirical-guide to blackness.

I also sometimes read Essence and Ebony. They are much more open about race and racialized experiences than their "general interest" (Cosmo, Glamour, GQ, Esquire) counterparts. And the money advice is better.

Black-white race relations also have a white component, and I think there's room in the discourse for reading about how white people are working on racial reconciliation and racial justice. Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multi-ethnic World is maybe like a three out of five stars on that- I don't think it's GREAT, but it's a good place to start. I picked it from this reading list that I used when I wanted to be more active about learning about race. (That list is great, actually; it's a combination of memoirs, academic texts, and classic racial justice works by W.E.B. DuBois and Langston Hughes). Most are about black Americans but not all.)
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:59 PM on June 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

It's not restricted to anti-black racism, but This Is Everyday Racism is a great resource, in that it's all user submissions and so you get a broad range of experiences of racist microaggressions.
posted by jaguar at 12:04 AM on June 13, 2014

Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog on the Atlantic is also wonderful.
posted by jaguar at 12:06 AM on June 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

"The Unwritten Rules" is a web series about being the only black person at work.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:17 AM on June 13, 2014

I'm in your shoes, but I've probably been here quite a few more years longer. I find I keep not quite realizing just how deeply into everything racism is here. I mean - there is racially offensive fruit here. Fruit!!!

I kind of suspect it takes a lifetime (ie growing up here) to be "fluent" in the racism, so don't beat yourself up about not always catching meanings. But speaking of NPR, I found this interview fascinating, and it's probably exactly the sort of thing you're looking for.
posted by anonymisc at 1:00 AM on June 13, 2014

(And since it can be a pretty harsh topic, throw in some of Neil deGrasse Tyson telling some of his story - he makes for compelling watching.)
posted by anonymisc at 1:38 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I mean - there is racially offensive fruit here. Fruit!!!

Out of curiosity, what are you referring to -- is it things like the watermelon stereotype?

(I'm actually just genuinely curious. I grew up in the States, although I'm neither black nor white, and just wondering if it's something I'm so used to I don't see it as strange.)
posted by andrewesque at 5:56 AM on June 13, 2014

yes. there are foods considered "black" even tho white people - and really anyone in the dang country as far as i can tell - eat them too.

watermelon is definitely the big one tho. that and fried chicken. some people consider those things black in the way that many people think of taco bell as mexican food.

i've always found that kind of odd because i'm white and grew up eating watermelon but it is def a thing. i'm from PA, so it's not just some sort of southern thing. if you look at older cartoons or ads or heck any sort of media - kids books, newspapers, movies, you can find the watermelon/black person trope a lot.
posted by sio42 at 6:16 AM on June 13, 2014

Pick up Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It's a novel told by a young Nigerian woman who immigrates to the US and for the first time in her life "becomes Black." It's won a ton of awards this year, but more than that it's timely.
posted by tapir-whorf at 7:58 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed the novel Americanah, which is based on the author's experiences as a Nigerian woman moving to the United States. I first heard about the book when Adichie was interviewed on Fresh Air, and in that piece she talks about some of the cultural shocks she had coming to the US as someone who was black but not African American.
posted by radioamy at 8:00 AM on June 13, 2014

Storycorps has a lot of first person narratives describing their experiences growing up black, or during the Civil Rights movement.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:38 AM on June 13, 2014

Wow, so many great recs! I'd mark them all as best answers, but that would defeat the purpose. Thanks, all (and don't stop)!
posted by zeri at 7:16 PM on June 13, 2014

Anything by Jamelle Bouie. He just moved over to Slate.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:17 AM on June 15, 2014

« Older Specific poster from Mork & Mindy   |   Resources for making my own skincare products. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.