When the rug is pulled

The following paragraph is going to come across as excessively self-congratulatory. I suggest you buckle in for a brag-fest of epic proportions.

I am well above-average in the success department. By age 25 I had two science degrees from universities that are among the Canadian “Ivy League”, was running a scientific journal, was full-time employed with lots of prospects ahead. Since then I’ve been accepted for a third degree at a third Ivy-league school, fronted a successful indie rock band, and was plucked out of relative obscurity to write for one of the largest independent secular thought platforms on the internet. I’m a classically-trained violist whose resume includes two seasons as a semi-professional player. I am widely-read and conversantly eloquent enough to be comfortable hobnobbing with the upper crust when the situation demands.

I’ve got it like that.

So here’s me, accomplished and talented, sitting with my also accomplished and talented friends at a local bar enjoying ourselves. Not obtrusively, but in the normal way for people our age. Up sidles a young gentleman, drunk and friendly, who began chatting and joking with us. After 5 or so minutes, he leans in and asks me if I can sell him some cocaine. Baffled, I told him that if he was pulling some kind of gag, I didn’t get it.

His response: “C’mon man, you know. Big black guy… you’ve got to be selling drugs right?”

The table fell silent immediately. I pride myself on being pretty quick-witted, but I just stared at the guy, struck dumb. I could tell by the look on his face that he knew he fucked up, so he started trying to explain himself. “Walk away from me,” I heard myself saying. When he tried to press his explanation, I stood up and repeated my advice, with some strong language to accentuate the fact that it was definitely in his best interest to be elsewhere. He left.

I sat back down, my mind swimming. Had that really just happened? Had I misread the situation? I don’t sell drugs – we weren’t even talking about drugs. I stood up abruptly and left the table, knowing that I needed to be by myself. There was something happening inside me that I didn’t quite understand, but I knew that if I sat there listening to the cajolings of my friends to “just leave it”, I’d throw something across the room. It took me about 5 minutes of pacing outside the bar to locate my calm enough to go back inside.

It took much longer than that to figure out why I was so upset. It’s not as though I hadn’t been called things before. It’s not as though I hadn’t heard much worse from people with far more ill intent than someone mistakenly trying to score an 8-ball. It’s not as though I don’t spend my slack time wading through the muck of some of the worst racism I can find. There’s not much under the sun that I haven’t seen, and certainly nothing that makes me react the way I did. So what was different this time?

I guess this time I was riding pretty high. Surrounded as I was by my friends, feeling confident and happy. When I go looking for racism, or when I’m expecting racism, I have my guard up. I can detach myself and at least feel like whichever asshole is offering hir learned opinion on the demeanour of the Negro isn’t talking about me. They’re talking about some caricature of black people cobbled together from rap videos and Glenn Beck segments. And when confronted by someone like me, they’ll quickly retreat into the confused mutterings of “well, you’re not really black” or “I didn’t mean all black people” or something of that like.

But when it’s to my face, when it’s in front of my friends, and when it happens without any warning, my shields are completely down. I’m not Ian Cromwell the anti-racist crusader, full of quips and witty observations, with the Buddha-like patience necessary to handle even the most committed race trolls. I’m Ian Cromwell the human being who lives his life occasionally unguarded – who, when he is with his friends, doesn’t obsess about race quite as much and just tries to exist like a human being.

But not that day. Not at that moment. At that moment I wasn’t that Ian Cromwell. I certainly wasn’t Ian Cromwell, MSc, writer, speaker, scientist, thinker, classical musician, crusader for social justice, and insightful, creative mind. I was Ian Cromwell: drug-slinging nigger. Not because of anything that I’d ever done or said – just because of a single physical attribute. An attribute that, for the most part, I take pride in. An attribute that should tell him absolutely nothing aside from the fact that a recent ancestor was African. Out of the 9 or 10 other things that he could tell from the way I looked, he zeroed in on the one he assumed meant he could score dope from me and let that one shine through.

He took something that I thought was beautiful and used it to pull the rug right out from under me.

It’s not fair, I think, that some random drunken asshole can completely destroy a foundation of self-confidence that I’ve built through years of hard work with one stupid question built on an even stupider assumption. But with that string of words, and the thoughts behind them, he stripped me of any kind of self-respect I might have garnered for myself. He destroyed my comfortable shroud of lies that let me believe that if I worked hard enough, set a good enough example, got far enough ahead, I’d be able to show the world that its conception of black men is as wildly inaccurate as I know it to be.

And maybe I have – this was certainly only one isolated incident. I get e-mails from people all the time telling me that I’ve helped change their mind on race, or helped them see things in a way they’d never considered before. I have no doubt I’m making a small difference.

But at that moment, for those 5 minutes, and every time I think about those 5 minutes, all I could think about was what my father told me when I once (angrily) told him that I was “half-white” as much as I was “half-black”. He told me that nobody was ever going to see me the way I saw myself upon looking at me – they were only going to see one thing. And, on that day, he had never been more right.

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  1. nm says

    If you were able to recover the power of speech quickly enough to tell the guy to walk away I think you need to add “remarkable mental clarity and self-control” to your list of things to brag about.

  2. says

    Wow…assuming you deal just because you’re a big black guy? wth? I’d have been pretty puzzled too.

    Sounds like you’ve done a pretty insightful analysis of why it got to you like that. Still–wow. I can’t believe he did that either.

  3. says

    Reminds me of the time I was cornered and scared for my saftey for the crime of “wearing revealing clothing” and being “mildly flirty” with a campus cop. The things he said and the way he made me feel that I had the audacity to be a slut and not want to fuck him left me speechless. It also later left me in a bout of self mutilation and crying but first it floored me completely.

  4. Phledge says

    Holy shit, Crom, I am so sorry that you got hit with that at all, let alone at a vulnerable moment. We allies have so, so much work to do. Hugs offered.

  5. ismenia says

    I felt that way when I went to a feminist meetup and a bloke came along who talked at me in a condescending manner for ages. He would not listen to a word I said and when I kept disagreeing with him he told me not to argue with him because he was so convincing that he would change my mind if he did deign to debate it with me. This at least gave me good reason to get angry with him, I had been being very patient up to that point, but I felt really bad afterwards. I hadn’t been well that evening and had only come out because I said I would on the message boards. I’ve dealt with worse behaviour but it felt terrible to come to a feminist group and be treated like that.

  6. says

    If you were able to recover the power of speech quickly enough to tell the guy to walk away I think you need to add “remarkable mental clarity and self-control” to your list of things to brag about.

    Yes, this!

    I don’t think I would have been able to do anything but sputter, and if I did manage to recover the power of speech, I think I would have been more shouting angry tirades than asking him to leave.

    So fucking shitty, and you shouldn’t have to waste one minute worrying how you’ll be seen/treated. I admire your composure because it is absolutely unfair (to put it mildly) that you need to respond to this kind of behavior at all.

  7. Besomyka says

    I don’t know you beyond your writing here, and you and I probably have very little in common beyond general philosophy and a love of classical music (bassist, here), but this story, particularly the last bit about your Dad, is vividly soul-crushing.

    I have nothing to offer except empathy and, I hope, a story some time later in which these events come to mind when I see this sort of thing play out around me. I hope it never does, but if it does I hope your words here enter my thoughts as well.

  8. Raine says

    I whole-heartedly agree with this.

    It shocks the living shit out of me that that happened to you. I actually got chills….

  9. says

    I’m guessing it was because he was a big black guy in a predominantly white bar… The presumption being that he’d just go to a “black” bar if all he wanted was to hang out, right?

    Ironically, I once had the occasion (long story) to be in a rather poverty-stricken part of the city I live in, standing on a street corner in the middle of the afternoon looking around for someone. I was approached by a younger (black) guy on the presumption that, if I was a well-dressed white guy in that neighborhood without any obvious business that I was attending to, I must have been there to buy drugs.

    For some people, it seems the only way they can imagine people of different races even wanting to be in the same room is if white people are looking to buy drugs from brown people.

    Sorry that happened to you 🙁

  10. Nentuaby says

    It’s always worst when these things happen in an otherwise fun and accepting setting; I know that from experience. I wish it weren’t so, but… Yeah.

  11. Timid Atheist says

    It’s so wretched when someone can make you doubt everything you’ve ever accomplished with such thoughtless, selfish abandon. Thank you for sharing all that you have on your blog. Whenever I see a new update from you it’s one of the first I read from FtB. Keep doing what you’re doing.

  12. Janstince says

    You handled that really well.

    Personally, I’d have cut up some baking soda, sold it to him for an outrageous price, then laughed all the way to the bank. What would he do, report me for selling some baking soda?

    Of course, my maturity is questionable.

    I get the “halfbreed” comment from time to time. Some jackass at a job site referred to me as such after telling him that my mother is white and my father is hispanic. He was a crazy old white dude, heavily religious, and I’m sure he’d say something like “I don’t have any problem with you, just the freeloaders who look like you” or some such if I had confronted him openly. Later events proved more edifying, and I’m glad I got the hell out of there when I did, because I came close to knocking his old, bent, racist ass out on the pavement a few times.

  13. nm says

    Our local police force goes around to neighborhood association meetings and explains about how they use various pretexts to stop people who look different (and I don’t know what that means in a racially integrated and economically shifting neighborhood like mine, but whatever) or who have license plates from the wrong county, since they presume they are only around for bad, bad purposes. Sadly, most of the neighbors attending these meetings applaud.

  14. nm says

    I’m sure your sister has faced worse, or at least more frequent, little “misinterpretations” of this sort. But based on my own experience of being female (which may not be transferable, so I may be wrong here), the circumstances in which she is in public and not on guard for them are so rare that she’s not likely to be fully in her confident and happy carefree place when they happen.

  15. sumdum says

    Impressive you didn’t feel the urge to deck him. Keep your chin up. Eventhough he made you feel like a drug slinger for a moment, you’ve accomplished far more than most people ever will. Be proud.

  16. Dalillama says

    That story fills be with blind unrelenting rage even at this remove. Although I can’t have that problem myself, I think that even being nearby/overhearing that interaction would have made my fists itch.

  17. John Horstman says

    Ugh, I’m so sorry that you have to put up with crap like that. I don’t have much of a firsthand way of relating to the situation of marginalizing, dismissive stereotyping directed at me; it sounds gut-wrenchingly terrible. My perspective on microaggression tends to be from the periphery: I still wind up from time to time being confronted with statements that make me face fault in response to the fact that someone actually thought it was in any way okay to make them, but they’re not targeted at me – instead they’re said to me because We’re All White Here and so I must be okay with overt racist stereotyping. I’m shocked whenever I hear someone make a universalizing (and nearly always marginalizing) statement about “those people”, “Black people”, or on rare occasions “niggers”: I get queasy (some combination of the bigotry leveled at other people and the assumption that I’m an unrepentant bigot) and somewhat concerned for my safety (one never quite knows how someone is going to react to being called-out on racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.), and I can only imagine that actually being the target is a hundred times worse.

  18. says

    Selling someone fake drugs might lead to violence from a pissed off user. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility it actually is illegal to sell phony illegal narcotics. And if the guy gets busted it could lead to being investigated by the cops as a drug seller.

  19. cag says

    Reminds me of an encounter in the elevator (1075 Comox, Vancouver) around 1980. A nice black lady, a senior and I in the elevator. Lady gets off, senior turns to me and says (approx.) “how can they let those people in here”. I was stuck for words and only after he got out did I find the right words -“It balances out, they also let bigots in”.

    Time is a great equalizer. Early 1950’s in Victoria I was about 10, there was a great deal of discrimination against both Chinese and East Indians (as well as Amerinds). Memory is a bit foggy, but I’m sure that I was part of the problem rather than the solution. Now I have a Chinese Family Doctor and a Chinese Dermatologist. My colonoscopy a week ago was done by a Chinese Doctor. That just wouldn’t have happened 60 years ago.

  20. Leni says

    Maybe you can consider him one of the people you’ve helped. If he wasn’t so drunk that he won’t remember, I doubt he’ll ever pull that shit on anyone else :/

  21. Raine says

    She’s definitely told me a few stories, but my privilege seriously insulates me from racism and it still shocks me. It’s disgusting.

  22. SallyStrange: bottom-feeding, work-shy peasant says

    So… I guess what you’re telling me is that my ex was totally expecting racism when we were at my sister’s wedding. Fair enough, he was the only black guy there and my sister married a redneck. So he was able to laugh it off when the exact same thing happened to him. His response was, “I’m a lawyer.” The racist douchebag’s response: “Cool man, so like can you represent me?” Didn’t even miss a beat.


  23. Brownian says

    I mean, from Sally’s comment.

    Other than that, I don’t know what to say, other than how aware I’ve become that as a medium-to-large white guy, I have the privilege of being left alone.

  24. clamboy says

    It seems to me that, in situations like these, the only time one’s friends should say “just leave it” is if one is about to initiate physical violence, or if one is escalating the situation such that it is reasonable to think that physical violence may be initiated, by either party. Otherwise, I would think it is one’s own prerogative to “leave it” or not.

    Aside from that, thank you for providing yet another bookmark to supply when I hear, again, “Why are all those ______s so angry?” I just wish I didn’t have so damn many of them.

  25. crowepps says

    I’m reading Sally’s comment as, knowing that rednecks would be present, expecting racism might be manifest, there wasn’t any shock and surprise when it was, and so all prepped to laugh it off. Where when it’s totally unexpected, whap, slap in the face with a wet fish, no defenses up, people are left just totally stunned and unable to respond.

    It’s just appalling how easily and carelessly people hurt each other, even when they aren’t deliberately trying to do so.

  26. says

    I’m always astounded that such blatant ignorance is still present in the world. I know I shouldn’t be but I am just so angry that someone as accomplished as you can be made to feel so terrible by some ignorant idiot. I can’t possibly imagine how you were able to keep your head but I do think that you should be proud of yourself for doing it.

  27. Setar, too lazy to log in on his blackberry says

    I…damn. I don’t know what to do other than offer to buy you a beer if I ever get a chance to go to SitP.

  28. says

    As a kind of naive and nerdy person, I’ve always sorta wondered how people find drug dealers. This guy’s “technique” had never occurred to me. What a piece of shit.

    It’s amazing how a few short words from somebody like that can just completely alter the entire emotional trajectory of one’s day. When I’ve had experiences like this (not with racism for me, but with other things), it was hard for me to think straight for a day or more afterwards, because all I could do was sit there and reprocess the event over and over and over trying work out my rage and my adrenaline and my desire to do something. I’m getting echoes of that feeling just thinking about this.

    I know it’s not much help to say it, but, as everyone else here has said, from what I can tell, you responded as well as anyone could have and far better than most would. Here’s hoping that he learned something from this incident, and that others will learn something from reading this post.

  29. SallyStrange: bottom-feeding, work-shy peasant says

    I mean that, I get the difference in contexts. Ian was hanging out with friends, people who knew him. My ex was in a totally alien situation: a rural area, totally filled with white people, a lot of whom are self-described rednecks. To not encounter some racism in the latter setting would be surprising.

    Incidentally that’s the same night one of my brother-in-law’s friends groped my breast at the after-party.


  30. says

    I’m so sorry you had such an unpleasant experience ruin a fine night. Not only was he racist, though… he’s an idiot and an addict. I mean, he was so desperate and stupid he forgot you could be a cop. That wouldn’t be a better assumption, per se, but the fact that he took a risk like that shows you how badly his brain is malfunctioning.

    And your life is so much better than his. I wish I had half your accomplishments.

  31. wondering says

    I’m so sorry to hear that happened. My hearty congratulations on not punching the dudebro in the face.

    At least, that’s what I always dream of doing.

  32. otrame says

    My eldest grandson, now 12, told me, when he was four, that he and our dog Bob were twins. I said, “Oh,yeah, how to you figure?”

    He said, “Bob is black and white and I am black and white.”

    I know that there will be days when things like what happened to you will happen to him. I want to save this post, to let him know that, yeah, it sucks, it’s wrong, it’s depressing, but you aren’t the only one it happens to.

    I will also tell him what the mother of the racially mixed kid who was my son’s best friend in grade school told me. She said, “I always tell them, it is the racists who have the problem. You don’t have a problem.”

    I think she is right, Ian. You obviously don’t have a problem, it’s mindless fucks like that idiot who have the problem.

  33. MFHeadcase says

    When I was younger I used to be amused by the number of random strangers who tried to score drugs from me.

    The idiots trying to score always looked like upstanding members of society, I was a long haired guy in my 20’s with scalp tattoos. so hey, I fit the stereotype. Never mind that i looked nothing like the people they hung around and smoked weed or did coke with.

    But shit, that was by choice and mostly long after I had stopped using the illegal stuff. So yeah it amused me.

    Even more when I asked them the two part question in reply: “How do I know you are not a cop, and how do you know *I* am not a cop?”

    Most of them fled at that point.

    But some asshole trying to score off you merely because of the color of your skin? Yeah, I can see why it fucked with your head. I’m sorry you had to have some racist shitstain ruin your night.

  34. CanadianSteve says

    were you wearing a hoodie? /sarcasm
    (for anyone that didn’t hear the most idiotic comment yet said about Trayvon’s murder blamed the fact he was wearing a hoodie)

    It’s shit like this that makes me a cynic.
    I’d really like to believe we’re better than this, as Canadians, or at least as humans, but stuff like this just keeps leaving a dark anger in me. I’m a middle class white dude that has benefitted from the system,and I feel like if I can see how wrong this is,why can’t everyone else see it too?
    Anyway, you reacted better than anyone has a reason to expect of you.
    I can’t even imagine what else you could have done.

  35. says

    They never let you forget, do they? We all develop coping strategies, but sometimes when our shields are down we still let people hurt us.

    Your writing is moving and eloquent. Keep talking about this. It means a lot.

  36. smrnda says

    Perhaps because I grew up in a predominately Black region of Chicago I don’t see ‘big Black guy’ and think ‘whoa, he might be selling drugs.s while it’s definitely racism, though in a weird, surprising way that would leave a lot of people off guard.

    It would have been funny to say “No, I’m an undercover COP and I’m about to BUST YOU for trying to BUY DRUGS!”

    You would think asking random strangers if they are selling drugs is a bad move. Most drug users I’ve known would never ask someone they didn’t know or weren’t introduced to.

    Either way, what a total ass. Sorry you had to put up with that. All said, you handled it well. You would have been pretty justified to be a lot meaner to the guy.

  37. Silentbob says

    Now that your readers have been cheered by your story, they might want to really brighten their day by reading this, via Stephanie Zvan here.

    Would you believe when Obama was elected I took it as a sign that MLK’s “dream” was coming true?

  38. says

    Also, given how physical dependencies work and all, selling fake drugs or cut drugs or the wrong drugs can all actually be dangerous. It sounds like this stupid fuck was just some random who had absolutely no idea what he was doing and therefore no habit, but still… fucking around with sold drugs is NOT a harmless little prank.

  39. ischemgeek says

    I had to walk away from the article when I first read it. I’ve been that blindingly “walk away before I hurt you” angry about privilege situations before, and this reminds me of that.

    You know this already, but I’ll say what I’ve found helps me in situations like this: You are a successful and intelligent person with a great career ahead of him. You’re a role model that, if I ever have kids, I’d love them to look up to. You are better than that drunken lout, and better than all of the people who look at you and make judgment from the color of your skin and hair.

    As a final note: your self-control is far better than mine.

  40. left0ver1under says

    I’ve heard and said some dumb things in my time, but that pretty much takes the cake.

    The idiot in question has probably watched “Shaft” too many times. (Well, watching it once is too many, but that’s another matter.)

  41. says

    It’s amazing how a few short words from somebody like that can just completely alter the entire emotional trajectory of one’s day.

    I’m a middle-aged woman. A year or so ago I was part of a committee that was interviewing and hiring consultants for a non-profit organization. At one of our meetings, I happened to be the only woman present, simply because the other women had not arrived yet. One of the consultant candidates came in for his interview, looked around the room, and said to me, “Oh, you’re the token woman.” He didn’t appear to be joking. My colleagues (all male) were outraged, but like Ian, they remained polite and calm. One of them said, “That’s not how we do things here” or something like that. The candidate’s interview was very, very short, and he was soon shown to the door and, figuratively speaking, booted in the ass. He lost a very lucrative job, for which he was well qualified, because of that one comment.

    His comment wasn’t a big deal, but yeah, it made me feel rotten, angry, and rejected.

  42. hypatiasdaughter says

    #30 otrame
    After I had kids, the ugliness of racism went from being an abstract concept to personal outrage. While I am Wonderbread white, I would look at at my little ones and think of what it must be like for parents who had to to teach their little ones not only “The world is full of bad things and bad people who might hurt you.”, but also “And there will be people who will hate you, demean you and attack you just because your skin is a different color than theirs”.
    How do you explain that to a 5 year old?

  43. estraven says

    I am so very sorry this happened to you. I can’t think of a black acquaintance/friend of mine who hasn’t had something like this happen. It sucks.

  44. A. R says

    I’ve always found this type of story interesting, considering that if you were white, he would have still judged you by your skin color, but would have come to a different conclusion and almost certainly would not have asked to buy drugs. It’s a truly messed-up world, this one we live in.

  45. hideousclaude says

    What a boorish coke-head. What a lousy lout. Like Brownian, I’m a biggish white guy, and typically am left alone. When I was an undergraduate in an undemanding discipline at one of Canada’s cheaper universities, I had a branchial cyst removed from my neck, after which I was instructed to leave the sutures uncovered to minimize scarring. So, there I was, out with a group of friends, at a bar, dressed like a conservative white male undergraduate (I was dating a black man at the time, but he wasn’t there), with stitches in my neck. Our conversation was interrupted by a stranger from another table who presented himself to me and asked if I could sell him cocaine. I assured him he could not, and he left. At first I wondered how he had come to think I was likely to be involved in that sort of thing, then I realized that he must have misinterpreted the sutures in my neck as a sign of “badness”. Later, when I told my boyfriend, he explained that, because he was black, it happened to him all the time, and he would simply give people directions to the part of town where they could more likely “score”.

  46. Rudi says

    I’m so sorry to read about this, mate.

    Your story had extra impact for me because I didn’t know anything about you before reading it (including your skin colour) and so felt the stark force of this clown’s comment in a way that those familiar with your writings perhaps might not have done.

    I think your reaction was pitch-perfect, by the way. By denying that shit the chance to ‘apologise’ or ‘explain’, the nastiness of what he’s done will haunt him and – who lnows? – may think twice before doing it to someone else.

  47. David Marjanović says

    As a kind of naive and nerdy person, I’ve always sorta wondered how people find drug dealers. This guy’s “technique” had never occurred to me. What a piece of shit.

    …Yeah. All seconded.

    Even more when I asked them the two part question in reply: “How do I know you are not a cop, and how do you know *I* am not a cop?”

    Most of them fled at that point.

    🙂 🙂 🙂

    Would you believe when Obama was elected I took it as a sign that MLK’s “dream” was coming true?

    It is coming true. Very slowly.

  48. Rieux says

    That’s just awful, Ian. I’m sorry you were (are) forced to deal with such ugly bullshit.

  49. Desert Son, OM says

    What a shitty, miserable event. As an admirer of your writing and work, as someone impressed with your achievements, goals, and ambitions, and as someone who has learned, continues to learn, and hopes to keep learning from you, I can only tender the vain hope that, in sobriety, the racist interlocutor both remembers and regrets the event enough to want to begin changing, and that he subsequently seeks the knowledge to do so.

    Further, though at the remove of the Intartubez, I join the other voices in support of you. Rather than tell you to “just leave it,” I would instead simply say, “I’m here. How can I help?”

    In case it’s been a while since you’ve heard it: Thank you. For every situation that causes you pain, and by extension causes us all to suffer the ill effects of ignorance, not all who find their way into your experience stumble away blind.

    Still learning,


  50. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    What a way to ruin a night. 🙁 I am lucky that I do not have to put up with this, but my girlfriend (who is half Filipino) has some horror stories.

    “How do I know you are not a cop, and how do you know *I* am not a cop?”

    Hah, with that idiot’s method of scoring I can completely see him pulling the same line to an undercover and having a rapid education with the US legal system.

  51. Louis says

    I am sorry you had to put up with that, Ian. You did better than I would have done….hell you did better than I HAVE done.

    Ahhh the term “halfbreed”. That one is a particular favourite, it has such “pleasant” childhood memories for me.


  52. says

    To repost from my comment on Pharyngula: I’m not sure the link will work, but here’s a damn good question from the Jezebel thread:

    White people, I have a earnest (albeit ranty) question for you.

    Why are so many of you always so utterly amazed and horrified when presented with direct evidence of overt racism? Black people have been saying that we experience this stuff on a daily basis since forever. And yet, every post like this has people reacting as if racism is some kind of shocking aberration or an unforeseeable act of God or something. It’s not – it is the norm, and not at all surprising. Why won’t you stop staring with your mouths agape and acknowledge this? Better yet, do something about it?

  53. carpenterman says

    As a white man, I honestly have no idea what to say to this. To you.
    I was raised in an east-coast suburb that what was for all practical purposes all white. Growing up, black people were simply not around. They were always “other people”. As I result, I always looked on blacks as “different”; not worse, not inferior, but simply…different. Not like me. Other people.
    I’ve spent my adult life trying to un-learn that lesson. To learn that blacks (and asians, and latinos, and everyone else “not like me”) are simply my fellow human beings. My fellow Americans. That if they are different from me, it’s because all people are different from each other. There is no “us” and “not-us”. Only “me” and “not-me”.
    But these attitudes aren’t gone. They’re still there, lurking around in the dark corners of my mind. To this day, I feel less empathy toward blacks than whites. Less concern for the mountain of injustice people of color face in this country. Less compassion than I would if they were “like me”.
    I hate it. I am ashamed of myself for it. It’s like a chronic illness. But I don’t know how to cure it.
    And when things like this happen to black people…my fellow human beings, my fellow Americans… I don’t know what to say.

  54. rickwayne says

    Putting your blog on my reader now.

    Being white, I cannot be as shocked as you about this — I simply don’t have the lifetime experience, and reading and talking to friends isn’t the same as living it. But I’m pretty freakin’ shocked.

    I was raised in a family of ugly, unapologetic racists, and I know that some of the poison stuck to my soul, down so deep in my subconscious that it’s not accessible to me. All I could do is try to ensure that my behavior didn’t follow from how the haters molded me.

    One evening, when I started discussing racism with my five-year-old son, he gave me a look of complete incredulity. “Just because their skin isn’t white? They do all that because of that?” Looking at the disbelief in his eyes, I could be satisfied with one thing: Maybe I’m still damaged goods, but I know that at least I didn’t pass it on.

    It will get better. I have to believe that. But it won’t get better anywhere near fast enough.

  55. ohioobserver says

    I have a friend who states what he calls Cook’s Corollary: “people are stupid.” And on no subject are they more stupid than race and sex. While your experience is disgusting, it’s not shocking to me ( a white guy in middle-class circumstances) because I hear fellow white guys (and women, too) spout the same kind of nonsense about black people to each other (and me). I’ve reached the point where i tell them it’s nonsense and they should just shut up — I suppose I’ve damaged relationships that way, but I’m not sure I want relationships with uninformed idiots. Your response was dignified, restrained, and civilized — more, I’m sure, than the fool you encountered deserved.

  56. says

    I still think Obama’s election is a bigger-than-average step forward, but yeah, there’s a long way to go, and most of the steps are tiny little shuffles.

  57. says

    Shit. I’m sorry to hear this.

    You were (and are) classy. He’s a coke-head.

    I know you know, but sometimes it’s good to hear other people say it too.

    And yes, you handled it as well as humanly possible. And you might conceivably have educated him a little.

  58. Pteryxx says

    were you wearing a hoodie? /sarcasm
    (for anyone that didn’t hear the most idiotic comment yet said about Trayvon’s murder blamed the fact he was wearing a hoodie)

    …I hate to tell y’all this, but even MORE idiotic comments from right-wing pundits have started speculating that Trayvon was a drug dealer. Don’t look if you want to keep your lunch.

    one example

  59. rumorhasit says

    What this guy did was not an isolated incident. We don’t live in a vacuum; on the contrary, it’s something that is so deeply woven into our culture that the only way one can identify it is when it’s blatantly displayed in your face or if you’ve taught yourself to notice all the ways that these things manifest in our day to day lives. The only way it can be rooted out is for us to be true and honest ourselves and accept that we are all racist although we can’t seem to see it and work toward dismantling what society and culture has ingrained in us.

  60. Pteryxx says

    Speaking just for myself here, I didn’t know, except in a vague bad-old-days sense and “why are there only 3 black students in this class of 1000”. I didn’t know about atheism until Crackergate, feminism until a few years ago, or racism until Crommunist and Stephanie Zvan joined FTB. (Or anti-trans bigotry until Natalie.) I just read the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report about how US schools don’t cover the civil rights movement, so the vast majority of students don’t even know what Brown vs. Board of Education was. (Link to source) I’ve said before that I’ve learned more about history from FTB and Wikipedia since December than in my entire education through grad school.

    This isn’t an excuse, just saying that my experience seems to be far from unusual.

    When I went to the Trayvon rally yesterday, many of the speakers talked about having to teach their children “the rules” around police officers so they don’t get shot. Not only did I not have to learn these rules, I didn’t even have to learn they existed. But everyone around me had this as part of their standard survival kit, as basic as “don’t take candy from strangers”.

  61. Akira MacKenzie says

    “So what ethnicity was the person looking to score this coke?”

    Why does that matter?

  62. Desert Son, OM says

    He’s a coke-head.

    Actually, the guy’s a racist. The circumstances of his chemical use, be it alcohol or stimulants or what-have-you, and any addictions or dependencies or related afflictions he may (or may not) have, are not on trial here.

    There have been classy drug-users and asshole teetotalers and there will be again. Whatever lubrication the ignoramus’ actions may have been given by his chemical intake, he is ultimately responsible for those actions and they originate in his privilege, his assumptions, and his racism. If the guy has a substance abuse problem he needs evidence-based health care treatment, or at the very least, an environment that allows him legal, regulated, sanctioned, responsible access to drugs in a manner that doesn’t reinforce hurtful stereotypes about supply sources, socio-cultural miscues, and melanin saturation. When casting aspersions, I would encourage them against his racism and the circumstances that reinforce it, not his relationship with chemicals.

    Still learning,


  63. says

    Actually, the guy’s a racist

    Nope. The phrase “a racist” is meaningless. We all have racial biases bubbling away in our subconscious. There is no such thing as ‘a racist’ until you act on those biases, which none of us are immune from.

  64. It must be Asked says

    Because if it was a black man then it is likely based on something picked up on in the conversation where a person in that particular culture uses words that don’t necessarily mean what you have actually said, as opposed to a straight out stupid from a racist.

  65. It must be Asked says

    So it was just a racist asshole then. If it was a person of any other race would it have been classism? Or perhaps a slang word used by druggies that you use in the proper manner confused this person. Stranger things have happened. But for this instance and based on the presented evidence I am going to have to conclude dude was an ass.

  66. says

    If it were a person of another race, it would still be racist. It would be more baffling coming from another black person, but it would still be racist.

    But hey, good for you for first making sure that it wasn’t somehow my fault before accepting my story…

  67. Desert Son, OM says

    Nope. The phrase “a racist” is meaningless. We all have racial biases bubbling away in our subconscious.

    Thanks for the correction. I apologize for my error.

    Still learning,


  68. It must be Asked says

    Question everything. Accept nothing at face value. But you already knew that.

  69. says

    What difference would it have made if I had said something that he mistook for drug talk, when his stated reason for asking me for drugs was that I am black?

  70. It must be Asked says

    True but that’s not what I asked you. I asked if he could have picked up on something in conversation that he hears different from you. If I tell you watch out for that spider, Do I mean an insect or a woman with a frying pan?

  71. says

    Okay, then a new question: why are you asking me questions about an event that did not take place? The guy very clearly gave his reason why he thought I had drugs to sell. Just to cut to the chase, it reads as though you’re looking for a reason why this is my fault.

    Spiders aren’t insects, BTW.

  72. It must be Asked says

    Arachnid, whatever. I would be asking pick apart questions if you were George Washington or Osama Bin laden too. I get asked about drugs all of the time based on appearance. I am not a black guy. Like Katt Said “It’s self esteem” Don’t let some asshole take that from you.

  73. mynameischeese says

    The other problem with selling fake drugs is that the eejit might not even notice that they’re fake. Which might be great for five minutes as you count your money, but it’s not great in the longrun when it reinforces the stereotype that anyone with black skin is a drug dealer.

  74. Timid Atheist says

    Like Katt Said “It’s self esteem” Don’t let some asshole take that from you.

    Because it’s just so easy to look the other way when someone is an asshole to you? Why do people always say this about anything that’s hurtful? It’s completely insensitive. People are allowed to have feelings and to be upset when they’re insulted. Don’t put it on the person being abused to suck it up.

  75. CJS says

    I don’t think Kat Williams meant don’t be offended “Because it’s just so easy to look the other way when someone is an asshole to you? Why do people always say this about anything that’s hurtful? It’s completely insensitive. People are allowed to have feelings and to be upset when they’re insulted. Don’t put it on the person being abused to suck it up.” by it.
    I believe he meant don’t let what the haters say make you feel bad about yourself.

  76. bjtunwarm says

    You might consider Crommnist this; good chance the drunk in your story is an alcoholic and alcoholics are really self destructive people. He could have been trying to get you to beat the the snot out of him in the same way people draw plastic guns on the cops. Race baiting was the quickest way to get you angry. Certainly going up to a group of young, excited and above all large men and saying something provocative isn’t sane reasoning.

  77. SallyStrange: bottom-feeding, work-shy peasant says

    Fuck you for essentially blaming Ian for “letting it get to him.”
    The fact that he doesn’t have his emotional shields up 100% of the time does not excuse the obvious racism on the part of his questioner. You are seriously a piece of shit for focusing more on that than on the racism evident in this interaction.

  78. says

    Probably wasn’t an alcoholic. We were at a bar – being drunk isn’t necessarily a sign of substance addiction. Plus he was in his 20s, and alcoholism in this age group is pretty rare. He definitely didn’t seem like he was trying to provoke something – he looked like he was trying to score some blow.

  79. says

    I just wanted to echo the sentiment that it doesn’t make you a failure and certainly shouldn’t compromise your self-respect or self-esteem when someone else doesn’t hear your message.

    It’s really difficult to build self-respect and self-esteem on what other people experience, or what they see. It’s completely outside your control. I admire the mission of “showing the world” that its conception of black men is inaccurate, but it’s hard to truly “show” things to “the world.” It’s a big place.

  80. iiii says

    Same reason my male friends get all shocked when they see and hear some dude on the street hassle me. It is not customary to subject a woman to open harassment when she is accompanied by a man. Explicit language, insults, threats, blocking my path, demands for my money, my time, my attention, total strangers putting their hands on me – it happens all the time, but not if there’s a man with me. The men I know almost never see any of it, so when they do it’s a surprising aberration.

    As far as I can tell, it is similarly not customary to subject people of color to open racism when they are accompanied by a white person. The few times I’ve seen it happen in person, it has felt like a surprising aberration, even though I know it’s not.

  81. D B Nolley says

    Not to make light of that rather distasteful experience, but, welcome to the real world, Junior! My son, who is also half-white, also snapped at me once for assuming he considered himself more black than white. I couldn’t get him to understand that I wasn’t asking him to choose one or the other, or to even show a preference of black over white. I just wanted him to understand that most of the world would see him as black regardless of how he identified himself. It’s sad but it’s still true. As Tyrion Lannister said to Jon Snow of his bastard status “The world will never forget who or what you are. And they are not likely to let you forget it either. Accept it. Wear it like armor and it can never hurt you or be used against you.” My son had his rug pulled from under him while he was out with his friends too, except he couldn’t leave the room to collect himself. He was the driver of the car they were all in when he was pulled over for driving while black. His friends sympathized but simultaneously found it screamingly funny. They had all made that Friday night pizza run from the campus of Sacred Heart University a dozen times or more but none of them had ever been pulled over, even when they were drunk, for exceeding the speed limit by 2 MILES PER HOUR! That incident and their innocent laughter changed him. He doesn’t look at the world the same way anymore. I sometimes believe I lost a little bit of my son that night. And in spite of my best efforts there was nothing I could do or say to protect him from that pain. Like I said from the start, welcome to the real world, Junior.

  82. says

    Insulting someone for being an addict is hardly helpful. The racist guy still gets full responsibility for being so f@(#%ng racist, whatever his mental state.

  83. Butch Pansy says

    Thank you for further illustrating my privelege. I had no idea how thoroughly steeped in it I am, or had been. I still have much to learn. I had thought my own sense of otherness made me immune to such thought patterns: not so.

  84. SallyStrange: bottom-feeding, work-shy peasant says

    I’m not even sure who Kat Williams is, or who you’re responding to. I’d just like to point out that the author’s self-esteem is really not at issue here. What is at issue is FUCKING OBVIOUS RACISM and once again, privileged people are desperate to change the subject.

  85. SallyStrange: bottom-feeding, work-shy peasant says




  86. says

    Hey here’s an idea. Go fuck yourself.

    Seriously. This post wasn’t about not being aware of racism. This was about dropping my guard for a split second and getting fucking railroaded for it. You want to try to and ‘school’ me on ‘the real world’? I live this shit every day, man. The entire point of this post was saying that I don’t get a lot of opportunities to not have to deal with race, and that I learned the consequence of pretending it doesn’t exist even for a moment in my downtime.

    So, with all honesty, with every ounce of sincerity I can conjure, fuck you.

  87. says

    At the risk of veering off-topic, I feel the need to point out that while this guy is indeed an idiot, there is no reason to assume he’s an addict, any more than to assume that since Ian was in a bar, he is therefore an alcoholic. Most users of most drugs, including alcohol and cocaine, are not in any meaningful sense addicts (and indeed, there is nothing in principle morally wrong with enjoying cocaine recreationally, or indeed selling cocaine to informed adult buyers – it’s just that we currently live in a prohibition regime that guarantees that the profits from the cocaine industry must go to criminals, and often particularly nasty violent criminals at that – and which also guarantees that the product itself is completely free of any sort of regulations, such as purity requirements, accurately measured dose, proof of age of buyer etc which might make it safer to use).

    Also, anyone who has experience of being in the grip of a drug dependency is entitled, I would suggest, to feel offended that they are to be lumped in the same category as ‘idiot’.

    Here endeth the rant.

  88. kerfluffle says

    Damn, Crom. That sucks. That just totally sucks. That asshole had no right to butt into your space and spew his racist crap on you. The whole situation is just so ugly. I’m sorry you went through that, you didn’t deserve it.

  89. CJS says

    Why the nasty language? I meant to respond to you. Usually I am told by a fairly smart person I met in an online forum that resorting to nasty language means one had nothing intelligent to say. As to the overt racism it was acknowledged in the early portion of the thread I meant to comment in.
    I didn’t tell him to not be offended or anything like that. I was trying to give an uplifting explanation of the Kat Williams quote, that you seemed to take as me saying Don’t worry be Happy. I think it means If they can’t see the greatness that is you then it is their problem not yours. Unless you allow it to be your problem.
    What part of being a halfbreed is privileged anyway, the white half I guess. But in that case it would make the original poster privileged too. Come on, you are surely better than that, “Sally”.

  90. kerfluffle says

    Who cares what motivated the coke-fiend? That’s not the point. There’s no excuse. Why do people always try to find a way to empathize with the racist asshole instead of the person who was harmed by their actions?

  91. Iain says

    Not that this is any consolation, but simplistic stereotyping seems pretty common among guys trying to score drugs. As a white guy with long hair, I’ve been approached a number of times by guys trying to buy weed. (This usually happens in Kensington market in Toronto, if that tells you anything.)The first time, it took me quite a while to figure out what was going on – I initially thought the guy was panhandling me. Now I just brush it off in the way I would a smoker asking for a light.

    Of course, there’s an enormous gulf between our experiences. Discrimination against guys with long hair does exist, but is orders of magnitude below that of racism. Weed isn’t cocaine (hey, at least he wasn’t asking for crack…), and the connotations of white stoner and black drug dealer are very different. And any time I want to take serious advantage of my Oxford-educated white guy privilege, I can just get a haircut.

    Still, I think the lesson here is that the kind of idiot who is going to be dumb enough to approach complete strangers to buy drugs, is probably also dumb enough to pick those strangers on the basis of singular, irrelevant characteristics like being black or having long hair.

  92. SallyStrange: bottom-feeding, work-shy peasant says

    Better than what? Telling people to stop changing the fucking subject in such a patronizing way, or better than using the word “fuck”? Obviously neither. I guess I’m some kind of lowlife then.

  93. Iain says

    OK, on further reflection, please just ignore my comment. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Your experience sucked in ways I can’t imagine, and nothing in my experience is even worth comparing to it. And since your post was about your experience, and how devastating it was, it really doesn’t make a damn bit of difference whether the jerk was really a bigoted asshole or just too fucking dumb to tell he was being racist.

  94. tariqata says

    Speaking for myself, I think that I’ve read enough and been exposed to enough research on privilege and unconscious manifestations of racism that I’m not shocked by it, and I try to monitor my own attitudes and behaviours, and raise awareness when I see it happening as best I can.

    On those occasions when I’ve encountered a really overt expression of racism in person though, generally by another white person expecting me to agree or be complicit, I’ve been so surprised that by the time my brain has got caught up to the fact that yes, that person really did just say what I thought I heard, the opportunity to say something is gone. Part of this could be due to privilege – I don’t ‘hear’ some racist comments because I don’t have to be on the lookout for them – but I think it’s also at least partly because most people (that I come into contact with, at least) do seem to have figured out that making clearly racist remarks to random strangers is generally frowned on.

    I think there’s an interesting tension with regard to online comments, tweets, etc., because they mean that we increasingly encounter really overt racism in a format that enables response, but again speaking for myself, I find it really hard to do something like read through even the highly moderated comments on say, Globe and Mail articles about Trayvon Martin in order to try to add some sanity to the dialogue, because they’re disgusting. I’m not saying that I can know what it feels like to read those comments (or the tweets from the Jezebel article) from the perspective of a person of colour, but it still makes me so angry that it hurts, to see how many people seem to hold beliefs that go way, way beyond subconscious racial bias. Privilege, again, because I have the luxury of being able to ignore them if I don’t want to feel that rage; and I think that’s what we have to overcome. ‘Doing something’ about racism is not just about training ourselves to recognize it, but also fighting against the desire to not expose ourselves to it.

  95. SallyStrange: bottom-feeding, work-shy peasant says

    a bigoted asshole = racist outcome

    just too fucking dumb to tell he was being racist = racist outcome

    Seriously, the difference between active hatred and ignorant indifference is usually entirely academic when you’re on the receiving end.

  96. says

    If you want to read the elaboration on how I learned to be a victim and why I did not report him you are welcome to go to my #ididnotreport post in my corner of the internets. I am not going to link here because it is Cromm’s space and I don’t want to take advantage of his hospitality.

  97. EnoNomi says

    The closest I can come to knowing what that feels like is the time I was flirting with a guy who had just started in my office, thinking how well we were hitting it off and he’s laughing at all my jokes, when he suddenly asked me when I was due. I spent the next hour sobbing in the bathroom.

  98. Leni says


    Holy crap I can’t imagine saying something like that, well ever, but at a freaking job interview? What the hell did he think was going to happen?

  99. otrame says

    Well, when I explained it to my 5 year old, because he wanted to know what a nigger was, his response was: “That’s stupid.”

    Out of the mouths of babes.

  100. 'Tis Himself, OM says


    Your concern over language is noted. It’s generally called tone trolling and is not considered an estimable attribute.

  101. says

    True enough. I don’t know Crommunist’s friends, but since they ARE Crommunist’s friends, I assume that they’re probably OK people and concerned for him. It seems plausible to me that they were afraid he might be so angry that he’d lose it and hit the guy, and that would be very very bad. Being a big black guy on assault charges would suck much worse.

  102. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Crommunist, I wish I could say I was surprised but I can’t. Even from my privileged position I’ve seen active and passive racism all too often. When I see it I try to say something about it to the racist. It’s not much but I don’t know what else to do.

  103. Leni says

    See now, if I was going to approach a stranger I would have picked someone like you. Probably because I grew up in a small, very white, midwestern town where bikers, teenage metal fans or punk rockers were the usual suspects. All of them predominantly white.

    I’d be way more predisposed to think that you would at least know where to find drugs than I would of a more “normal” looking black guy in a bar. Not that I would ask. It takes a special kind of idiot to approach a stranger. But if I was going to I probably would have assumed you too 😉

  104. Leni says

    If I tell you watch out for that spider, Do I mean an insect or a woman with a frying pan?

    Just questioning everything here because it must be asked, but is this a thing?

    Women with frying pans are called spiders?

    I just… wtf?

  105. Pteryxx says

    “Spider” used to be a word for a frying pan with little legs, so it could be stood in the ashes of a cookfire. I think I learned that from Little House books.

    Well whaddya know. Source

  106. Leni says

    Huh. Thanks for the hint! I loved those books when I was little, but I don’t remember that at all.

    I guess I’m still confused about why and how that morph into a presumably threatening woman with a frying pan.

    It was like this reference flew into the thread from some far, far afield but was supposed to make sense. I am utterly baffled by it.

  107. MFHeadcase says

    Yup, which is why I was amused. I fit into the stereotype of a drug dealer because of my fashion choices. At least in my case the stereotype was bullshit, especially since when I DID use, most of the dealers I knew looked more like the people trying to score from me.

    Their logic being that cops were less likely to search them if they looked like upstanding citizens.

  108. Silentbob says

    Well I didn’t say that I was shocked – but you’re right, I’m shocked.

    What can I say? – It’s called privilege.

    I can understand PoC taking a dim view when whitey acts all surprised that there is such a thing as racism. But on the other hand, at least we have the decency to be shocked, if you know what I mean.

    What I have more trouble getting my head around is: If even I, bobbing around in my little privilege-bubble, am “staring with my mouth agape” – WTF’s with the people actually saying/writing this shit?

  109. Carlie says

    God, it makes me so sad to see so many people giving you shit right here in your very own post about it. 🙁

  110. cccbccc says

    There’s actually a charge called something like “sale of counterfeit contraband” in the federal code. So yeah, it is definitely a crime to pass something off as a drug and sell it. Just as a little O/T PSA.

    Also, racists are making me hate the world more every day.

  111. Matt says

    I once found myself in a similar situation. I was in a dubstep club enjoying a beer with my boss and another colleague when a girl came up to us and asked us if we had any E. I don’t do drugs (my fiancees’ cousin died from overhydration from e) and my boss is an epileptic, who doesn’t do drugs (well. we were enjoying a beer) and my colleague was one of the most sheltered 18 year olds I have met. The girl felt kind of dumb after we told her we didn’t have any.
    My point is that it happens, and people are idiots for making assumptions.

  112. Brandon O'Hara says

    I honestly don’t really know what to say here. I’m sorry this happened to you just seems so inadequate. I hope you will be able to shake this off and feel free to let your guard down again sometime. Nobody should have to live their life constantly on guard against indirect or direct attacks on their very self. I’m obviously aware that they do, but it’s still wrong. Words fail me. Just sorry, man. That’s all I got. Sorry.

  113. R Hayes says


    Have you ever written anything that was less than brilliant (and deeply humane)? If so, I haven’t seen it.

  114. says

    I think a heavy user of cocaine would have better ways of scoring some than approaching someone who looked like they might be a dealer in a bar. Most likely he was not an addict.

  115. Silentbob says

    … And I love how my assigned avatar is an unconcerned-looking guy with a monocle. Way to emphasize my privilege. Thanks Crommunist. 😉

  116. Louis says

    Badly written? Oh come now, THAT would be racist because it would be implying that black people cannot write. Which is totally racist unlike say asking a guy if he’s selling cocaine because he’s black which is…

    …ohhhhhh wait. I just made a mistake didn’t I? 😉


    P.S. Ian, I get it, but I thought I’d satirise the “Anything but racism” crowd. I realise I have yet to earn Satirical Privileges on your blog yet. Ask the other Pharyngulites, I mock. It’s sort of what I do on the intertubes. Why? Because, well, erm, there’s fools. I’m weak.

  117. Louis says

    It’s a well known fact that, based on reading many Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics, dogs are fascists. After all, you never see a police cat do you?

    Serious point taken though.


  118. dfl42 says

    So I have a question. As someone (white male) who doesn’t have to deal with this shit, really, how can I help? Both in the moment and in general. What do people often say intending to be helpful that isn’t helpful, and what can people say or do that is helpful?

  119. StevoR says

    Whoah. Well written, powerful and thought provoking stuff as so often the case from you Crommunist. Thankyou. For whatever its worth you have my sympathies and respect.

    This may be a dumb question or three but I wonder if that’s ever happened to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Samuel L. Jackson or Mike Tyson and, if so, how they’ve responded?

    I also wonder how many people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Benjamin Banneker* and Guion Bluford** and Lewis Hamilton and Barack Obama it will take to break the stereotypes?

    How many counter-examples like them and how long, if ever?


    * Polymath genius with high skin melanincontnet and nonanglo cultural background. See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Banneker

    ** The first African American in space who flew four Sapce Shuttle flights as a mission specialist on STS-8, STS-61-A, STS-39, and STS-53. (Source – Wikipedia & memory too.)

  120. ischemgeek says

    Wanna know how to cure it? Get out there and get to know these “others”. I grew up in a similar situation for the last 10 years of my public schooling. Maybe I have an easier time because I was an “other” myself (in several ways but that doesn’t matter right now), but when I went to university, I befriended a lot of people I would never have met back home.

    I have the privilege to count among my friends people from Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Guatemala, Nigeria, Thailand, China, Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brazil, and many others… I also count people of color who were born and raised in Canada among my friends. If I didn’t work where I work now and go to school where I went, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity.

    Thing is, I chose a diverse workplace, and I chose a diverse school because I knew I was a sheltered little thing with big-time internalized biases and prejudices that needed to be torn down, and I knew from prior experiences that the best way to tear down your own misconceptions is through experience.

    Once you know people personally and care about them, its hard – if not impossible – to abstract them as some faceless “Other”. When you’re trying to get to know these people, just accept that you don’t know jack about their lives and experiences, and explain to them about your ignorance when it seems appropriate. In my experience, they’ll be happy to help you educate yourself – assuming you’re honest and acting in good faith about self-education.

    So if you really want to correct your thought process, it starts with choosing to do something about it and making the effort. It won’t cure itself. It’s hard work and you’ll mess up sometimes. I guarantee that even five or six years from now – if you start today – you’ll catch yourself thinking or saying stupid shit (I do) that you know is wrong out of habit. But it’s the process, more than the destination, that counts.

    Sorry for the lecture, and I wish you the best.

  121. spyro says

    Well, that was both startling and illuminating. As a white person in a predominately white area, I don’t often have to think about colour privilege except in the abstract. However, as someone else who’s been approached for drugs, when my only reaction was to marvel at the idiocy rather than have to consider how people negatively judge me on an aspect of my appearance I have no control over; this post was deeply informative in a way I hope you’re proud of. Thanx.

  122. carlie says

    That’s not just missing the point, it’s dismissing the point.
    The point of the story is that no matter how accomplished a person is, if they’re brown then other people’s first assumption is that they’re crap; also, no matter how old they are or much time they spend in social activism, that assumption can still really sting.

    The point is not about the specifics of how people try to score drugs. The point is not anything having to do with Crommunist’s own self-esteem. The point is not for you to try and come up with some kind of alternate explanation to make Crommunist feel better about the whole thing. The point is to try to show you how crappy racism is to the people it targets.

  123. ischemgeek says

    Why do I get the impression that you’d tell me “Welcome to the real world, sweetheart,” if I complained about sexsim?

    Way to completely miss the point, asshole.

    People who are on the losing side of the privilege equation almost never get to forget that they’re the ones on the losing side. Ian Cromwell doesn’t need you reminding him that he’s on the losing side when his entire post was on the unpleasent experience of being blindsided with such a reminder in what he thought was a safe space.

    That asshole Cromwell is writing about did the equivalent of walking into a GSA and calling the first guy you see a faggot, or walking into a women’s shelter and giving the first woman you see an ass grab and then telling her to go make you a sammich. And you’re now doing the equivalent of telling the person who got blindsided like that, “Stop whining. This is the real world, get used to it.”

    You know what, asshole? He is used to it. He doesn’t have a fucking choice but to be used to it. But the fact that he has to be “used to it” doesn’t mean it doesn’t fucking suck, and it doesn’t mean that he’s not right to complain when someone does wrong to him.

    I’m not a moderator so I have no power to enforce this request, but I’ll say it anyway: Please pleasently surprise me, Sir, by not digging this hole any deeper. Please either admit you were wrong for scolding Cromwell for having a human reaction to an asshole and apologize or walk away. I don’t care which.

  124. StevoR says

    2012 marks the 220th anniversray of Bannekers first published almanac – the 1792 Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia Almanack and Ephemeris’ I wonder if anything is being done to commemorate this anniversary?

  125. ischemgeek says

    You forgot: “And even after you’ve refuted everything, I will still refuse to believe the racism thing because maybe you were wearing the wrong clothes and we should give the guy the benefit of the doubt.”

  126. Bean says

    I’m actually almost in tears over this. It just upsets me so much that this utter bullshite is still happening in our country. Canadians should hold themselves and each other to higher standards across the board. So sorry this happened to you.

  127. says

    His response: “C’mon man, you know. Big black guy… you’ve got to be selling drugs right?”

    I saw this and before I saw you describe your reaction, I thought: “It should be legal to punch someone for saying this.”

    Does he think ANY black guy above a certain size must be a drug dealer? How is this not hate speech?

  128. says

    WilloNyx, thank you. And I am so sorry.

    Have you read Harriet J. on a society that trains women to be passive, then judges us for not fighting back?

    Ash, please note that I said “I’m not sure how much good it would have done” in the comment to which you respond. I’m not under any illusions that cops in general give a damn about how their aactions affect the oppressed. But, when possible, it’s worth bringing attention to, as with Slutwalk.

  129. says

    The avatars are auto-generated by gravatar.com based upon your name, as I understand it. You should be able to change it if you register at that site, creating a profile for your name.

    I never bothered to sign up myself, since “doubtful green triangle with fangs” is oddly appropriate.

  130. Happiestsadist says

    I’m sorry that happened to you, and I’m sorry there are people in the comments making increasingly improbable scenarios to explain why it’s somehow your fault.

    You’re pretty much completely awesome, Crommunist, and also I’m uberjealous of your accomplishments.

  131. Happiestsadist says

    Really, really not the same for a lot of structural reasons.

    Also, getting asked if you have weed in Kensington is pretty much the result of being stationary for any length of time in Kensington.

  132. MCJB says

    I completely understand what that incident did to you. As a result of a similar incident in my past I no longer let my guard down anywhere

  133. says

    Once again, we see that one of the many harms wrought by the War On [Some] Drugs is the idea in what passes for the minds of many a dumbass that anyone partaking of any intoxicating substance whatsoever is a “drunk” or an “addict,” and that doing so automatically makes one “self-destructive.”

    I blame 12-step ideology, too.

  134. bjtunwarm says

    Well your were there. Only mentioned the guy might have had a deathwish because I have seen that happen twice. But reread your story, the guy talks to you for five minutes and then decides the articulate guy with glasses just has to be a drug dealer because he is a) big b) black… wow.

  135. ritchieannand says

    As a white guy, I have seldom been on the receiving end of racism. The very few times I have make me feel ill that people with a different skin color would have to put up with this sort of crap all the time.

    My stay in China was peppered with occasional calls of “waiguoren” (foreigner) and “dabizi” (big nose). I was caught speechless in Western Uganda when a villager caught my eye and mimed slitting my throat.

    It’s a little strange and heartbreaking how racist some immigrant parents can be – not overtly in their working life, but when their children are contemplating dating, shocking stereotypes that they have been holding to their chest spill forth. You start to wonder what’s so shameful about you that you have to have to drop off your date five blocks away so she won’t be seen with you.

    I had to travel and date multiculturally to even encounter this first-hand, though. The rest of the time, I have it really good, in a manner in which I am not usually consciously aware.

    Part of that unconsciousness is due not just to my race, but ruthlessly excluding bigots from my circle of friends and almost having almost no bigots in my extended family (the lone bigot despises Chinese drivers… but he’s a crusty ass and lived in Richmond, BC for decades, so I’m not sure what to make of that). The elder bigots are dying off, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

    Sometimes, I wonder about the relative value of shunning bigots. Should I have stuck through mny revulsion and tried to educate instead? Is such a thing even possible?

    The thing that just makes me sad overall is that kids don’t start out life as bigots as far as I have ever seen.

    Someone infects them… with that ‘feariority’ – you’re different, I’m better than you, I’m scared, I’ll make shit up about you so I can hate you, I’m privileged, I’m a martyr, I’m a chickenshit but I’ll bait you when I’m with friends, I’ll suspect you because you might want to get back at me and deep down I know you *deserve* to get back at me for all the shit I’ve pulled.

    There’s that one guy making the rounds with his “Don’t talk to police” talk. He did one where the Virginia Chief of Police talked about what he did. My stomach bottomed out when I realized rather more squarely how incredibly open to abuse the system can be; that a bigot could make things up out of whole cloth and railroad someone into prison for nothing. They don’t have to keep interview tapes for your benefit – they don’t even have to have a physical record of them on hand, just the word, the recollection, of the officer on duty. That’s truly frightening.

    Sorry for the mess of a topic, Crommunist; Trayvon’s been much on my mind and I’m a bit hair-trigger. Sorry for your experience 🙁

  136. fuzzball says

    Oh man, a few months back I was in a very similiar situation; one side of my family is also from Africa.

    I was sitting at home and got a text from an acquaintance asking me whether I knew someone who deals in marijuana; so far no problem because I knew he was asking everyone the same question. But as I said “No” he said “C’mon.. you’re black, you HAVE to know”. And like you, I was so upset but didn’t know why this particular statement made me so furious, that is until I read your post. Now I, too, think it was because I wasn’t expecting that shit and certainly not from someone I considered a buddy.

    But what “shocked / surprised” me somehow after reading your post, I always thought that this fucked up cliché of “Black people selling drugs” referred to guys. I’m a woman and I think I had this naive notion, that at least I’m free of this “drug-selling-cliché” but it seems I’m not. I guess it was a little bit comforting to think that there are still some areas where my skin color didn’t “provoke” statements like these.

    Anyhoo, sry for rambling and thanks for that post because it really helped me to understand my annoyance 🙂

  137. willow2054 says

    I’m sorry that happened to you, but thank you for posting about it. I consider myself an anti-racist. I’m a high school teacher in an area that has recently seen an increase in the “non-white and non-protestant” populations. Many of my colleagues have difficulty knowing how to respond to racial (and religious and ethnic and language and sexual-orientation) discussions that happen in their classroom, but I consider myself (and my non-white/protestant students tell me they agree) to be someone who handles those things well. I try to convey to my students that I don’t judge them on their outward attributes and that I value a variety of perspectives. I certainly don’t allow racist (or sexist, etc.) speech to stand unchecked in my classroom.

    But I find that reading your blog often challenges me to think about things from a different viewpoint. I really appreciate that. I tend to think “well, _I_ would never assume a black person is a drug dealer just because they’re black,” so it’s just that drunk guy’s problem. But it is still society’s problem, and some people have to face that problem more often than others. I shouldn’t forget that. The sad thing is that even without all of your credentials, the average non-drug-dealing Big Black Guy shouldn’t have to deal with these issues.

    So, thank you for posting this. You have an impact on people well beyond your readership.

  138. scenario says

    There are always idiots around. When I see them coming, its not as bad. I hate getting blindsided by an idiot and end up feeling like an idiot because I can’t think of anything to say. As a white male, I can’t really understand the bullshit you have to go through, but I do understand the helpless feeling of someone getting right through my defenses and hurting me without really trying to. Why do I always think of a good comeback line 20 minutes too late?

    Nobody should have to deal with nonsense like this.

  139. sphex says

    Yeah, me too. In fact, I couldn’t even come up with those. I was just sitting here in silence with a knot in my stomach. Crommunist, I am so so sorry.

  140. Xolita says

    This reminds me of Frantz Fanon’s writing, and it is very sad that Fanon’s experiences are still applicable in the 21st century, I had hoped things would change

  141. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    I think the most depressing part of your story is the simple casualness of the bigotry. It doesn’t read like the dork was being deliberately nasty to you but that seems to make it worse rather than better. It says something unpleasant about the total pervasiveness of bigotry when a plausibly ok person just doesn’t even consider that what they are saying is just… wrong.
    Racism is pervasive, sexism similar and just to make life really annoying humanity has managed to find ways to denigrate people based on things as simple as handedness, clothing choice or accent. And pretty much in all cases you’ll find some religious dickwit ‘justifying’ it.

  142. says

    Ms. Daisy Cutter,

    I read the link. I didnt subscribe to this thread so smoe days passed without me being aware of it. I do like the parallels she draws between social rules and how we react to assault. I will have to think more about it though.

  143. kennypo65 says

    I am very sorry that happened to you, although not too suprised. I wish there was something I could say to make you feel better about this, but I’m dumbfounded. Look, we don’t know each other and have never met, but I read your stuff often, and I like your honesty and the way you think. Don’t let the bastards bring you down.

    Peace and love,

    Kenneth Polit
    Finleyville, Pa

  144. The Other Point-of-view says

    I’m truly sorry you had to deal with that retard.

    But some of your responses and the responses of those that are agreeing with you…are pretty fucked up.

    I read what D B Nolley and It Must Be Asked said. Your rude and adolescent response was beyond uncalled for. Neither of them were suggesting what that idiot said to you in the bar was okay. Nolley was simply relating a similar experience with his own son who’s in the same boat as you. And IMBA only asked what race the idiot was, as it does add a new dimension to the whole encounter.

    Both of them fully acknowledged it never should have happened and at least from what I read, were trying to encourage you to let it get you down.

    And you and others blow up at them?? For what?

    I get that you resent having to deal with racism. I understand that, I’m a Black man in the States. But if this is how you’re going to deal with it and vent this kind of uncalled-for anger on the people around you, I’d suggest you look into adjusting your attitude.

    By the way, I lived the exact same situation you described and I promptly laughed in the guy’s face. He never could’ve ruined my night. I don’t think he should’ve ruined yours.

  145. says

    Well actually that isn’t “all” they did. Nolley’s response was “shit happens, and your surprise is rooted in your immaturity”. It’s a very fashionable way of minimizing the experiences of minorities when they express their stories – I’m not going to pretend that it was simple commiseration. “Welcome to the world, junior” is not solidarity – it’s dismissal.

    It Must Be Asked was looking for a reason why the whole thing was my fault, or in other words why I was ‘over-reacting’. I recognize the derailing tactic well before it has to be made explicit, and I have little patience for it.

    I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. In fact, I relish it. However, I have a definite problem with people disagreeing with me for stupid reasons. I’m also not a big fan of tone trolling or attempts to manage my mood/reaction to things, for the record.

    Nor am I a fan of the word “retard” used in that context.

  146. The Other Point-of-view says


    Perhaps I was wrong in the conclusions I drew, then. And in that case, my apologies.

    Nevertheless, I honestly don’t believe Nolley was attempting to be dismissive of your situation. The fact that his own son faced a similar situation makes me believe he genuinely sympathized with you. “Welcome to the world, Junior”? Yeah, not exactly, top-shelf camaraderie lingo. But I don’t think you should drop the hammer on someone because they aren’t as articulate as we’d like.

    And with It Must again, I realize that as the writer of rather popular blog, you feel you can safely gauging a tone troll. A reasonable assumption I think, but, as a 3rd party, I didn’t get that. I don’t know how it works in Canada, but here in the USA, it’s been my experience that I have to justify my non-BET-thug-life “blackness” to other black people far more often than to whites. So I saw the legitimacy in him asking about the race of the person asking.

    Also, I think what that guy said to you was “retarded”, quite different from something done by a truly “mentally-challenged” person. I think it fit him perfectly.

    But as a guest on your blog I’ll defer to you and use another phrase to describe him; “tool” comes to mind.

  147. The Other Point-of-view says

    Crom, I do have to ask this though, WHY did that….ignoramus….bother you so??

    As a guy that has zero musical talent, a shit job, and only barely managed to scratch out ONE degree from a pretty crap college, I am positively envious of all you’ve done and accomplished.

    I haven’t accomplished a tenth of what you have, and yet that nitwit couldn’t make me feel in any way less about myself.

    You? Hell, I’m surprised you even took notice if his admittedly lame existence.

  148. says

    It was because I didn’t have my guard up. The whole thing was that I allowed myself to forget that people don’t see me the way I see myself. It’s the same kind of thing that happens when intelligent, engaging women get back-handed comments about their body shape (I choose women because I imagine it’s more common, not to say that it doesn’t happen to men as well). It suddenly reminds you that despite all the things you LIKE about yourself, the rest of the world will always focus on superficial, stereotypical bullshit in judging your worth. It caught me off guard, and it took me a while to get my composure back.

    For the record, I woke up the next morning and was awesome – he woke up the next morning still being a moron. One tiny blip in an otherwise exemplary life.

  149. The Other Point-of-View says

    I wanted to apologize to you Crom. When I read your story (via a link at TV Tropes.org) I snickered and said “Hah. Hot shot genius was so impressed with himself, and yet some hipster (if that’s what you call them in Canada) douche was able to rattle his poor little hurt self. Heh. Doesn’t seem so impressive to me”.

    And now I see that I let a moment of arrogance and self-righteousness blind me to the greater truth.

    See, as a (fully) black man living in NYC, I patted myself on the back that I accepted that as awesome a nation as the United States of America is, and even though New York is the greatest city built by man, there’s ALWAYS going to be one asshole who won’t see a kind, polite, relatively well-spoken, urbane, guy. They’re going to see a “Negro”, and nothing that I’d done was going to change that because they’re assholes.

    I’d become okay with it, because in my mind, well “What do I care about what some asshole thinks anyway?”

    I’m not sorry for thinking that way. It’s allowed me to survive and otherwise thrive where other people are driven to despair over the racial realities of life in America.

    But, I’d thought it and lived it for so long that a fellow black man saying “Y’know, sometimes it occurs to me that this is FUCKED UP” totally shocked me. In a way I’d forgotten that you are absolutely correct. Why the fuck should the ratio of black people in any area be an indicator of drug sales? Why should the NYPD’s standing operating policies include racial profiling? Why do we have a Black president and a dead 17-year-old who’s only crime was being armed with skittles, and wearing a hoodie?

    In conclusion I’ve come to realize that North America, and I guess the world, needs us both. It needs people like me who say “The roaches are everywhere and I won’t let them faze me.” And, we need people like you who remind us “The roaches are disgusting and we should be working to exterminate them.”

    I don’t know you, but I wish success for both of us in living our lives and defying those who intentionally and unintentionally would stop us.

  150. says

    I’m glad you were able to get something from these words scribbled here. My goal was to help people break out of their own perspectives and into a new one (the one I was in at that moment), and it sounds like I at least partially succeeded.

    Although I do have to say that I flinch any time someone describes any group of human beings as “cockroaches”

  151. Pat says

    …Okay, what’s the point in using fake pretexts to justify your crimes if you’re going to confess them in public meetings?

  152. says

    Also, if that one person who’s going to be unreasonable is a cop, you might not be inconvenienced–you might be dead, like the New Yorker who was just getting a breath of fresh air on his steps who was shot by police because any black man hanging around must be up to no good and anyone that calm and confident must be armed.

    Crommunist, your powerful article here has something in common with this post about being a woman in India: “Lessons on Womanhood While Buying a Car.” They’re back at least in the 70s.

    In other news, a friend just wrote that after a bit of patronizing chitchat and an inquiry after her nonexistent husband, she took her business to a different car dealer.

  153. says

    I’ve had something very similar happen to me; I’ve had other things of this type happen to me; I thank you for writing this out so cogently, and I know what you mean on how much it hurts.

  154. Jo says

    I realize this post is almost a year old but I only just came across it. How awful and stupid. Sorry this cr@p happened to you, Ian.

    To add to James Sweet (at #12 above): the idiocy of racialized assumptions / racial profiling in re: drugs and stuff, and neighbourhoods. Just wanted to share this anecdote from
    My brother and his partner lived in a lower-income neighbourhood in Chicago for about 8 years. (They’ve since moved to a different part of the city.) The residents of the neighbourhood were almost entirely African-American. My brother and his partner bought a house there because that was the economic stratum of house they could afford, while still being in the city / near rapid public transit.
    To state what is not obvious, since, uh, no pictures here, my brother, his partner and I are white.
    Several times after they first moved there, my brother, while walking, had police (in cars) stop him basically to ask what he was doing there – because, you know, a white guy in his late 20s walking in that neighbourhood must be a dude down from the suburbs. So of course he tells them, “I live here.” And they’d be all, “yeah, right.” – he’d establish to the cops that, yes, he really does live there and is therefore not necessarily, up to no good – and they’d let him carry on. Eventually the cops who worked that neighbourhood became familiar with him and it stopped. Actually no real harm done, just, you know, a nuisance.


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