Thursday, June 30, 2016

Why are Clinton supporters more racist and more aggressive than Sanders supporters?

I am always fascinated by the ways belief and reality diverge. This year, Clinton supporters promoted the "Bernie Bro" narrative about Sanders supporters in the same way that in 2008, they promoted the racist "Obama Boys": WOW. Before the "Bernie Bro," Clinton supporters created the "Obama boy." No, seriously.

But the reality is that "Bernie Bros" are, probably like the "Obama Boys" before them, less racist and less aggressive than the Clinton fans:

Hillary Clinton fans are more aggressive online than Bernie Sanders voters, one poll shows

Reuters: Hillary Clinton supporters are pretty racist, too.

That article about racist supporters left out information about Sanders fans, but it was revealed on Twitter:
So, why are Clinton supporters more racist and more aggressive? People like to point to the age gap between Clinton and Sanders fans, which obscures a gap that matters more:

A Key Divide Between Clinton and Sanders Supporters: Income

So, really, do I now have to explain that rich people tend to be more racist and more aggressive? Privilege is always arrogant.

ETA: Here Are America’s Most Pro-Clinton and Pro-Sanders Zip Codes

ETA 2: And now we have a graph:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why I suspect it's impossible to end Game of Thrones well—and, honest, no spoilers about GoT!

I haven't read the books because I hate reading a series that doesn't have an ending, but I realized something watching the TV show: the series wasn't designed to have an ending.

Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings both start with an evil force threatening the world, Sauron for LotR, the white walkers for GoT. In theory, both stories should end with a huge battle that the good guys win at great cost.

But big battles in stories are boring for anyone who thinks during battle scenes. We care about individuals, not spectacle. In the greatest battles, we care about individuals on both sides.

Tolkien made the war with evil interesting by giving us characters on evil's side. Saruman was Gandalf's friend, and it's always tragic when friends fight. Gollum retains a bit of Smeagol in him that Frodo recognizes, so the ultimate fight against Sauron boils down to a fight between and within two small creatures, Frodo and Gollum. The clash between armies is only a backdrop for the fight Frodo learns he can't win when he's unable to throw the Ring into the volcano—but which he ultimately wins because he had let Gollum live, and Gollum's corruption takes him to his doom and the Ring's destruction.

But Game of Thrones gives us no one to care about on the white walkers' side. No one chooses to join the white walkers. No one can be saved from them.

Game of Thrones' setting is what matters: people struggle for power with a greater threat facing them than they imagine. Endless stories could be set there, and perhaps should be. George loves editing the Wild Cards shared world anthologies; he could do the same thing with Game of Thrones if he wanted to.

The logical ending for Game of Thrones  is the humans learn what will kill white walkers, then kill them. There's no room in that for the ending to be as interesting as what led up to. It's the problem all mysteries face—the mystery is always more interesting than the solution.

The HBO writers have to end their series while the actors are young enough to be plausible in their roles. But George doesn't have to end his—he can explore his world for as long as he wishes. The white walkers stay a threat to his world just as war and the destruction of our environment stay threats to ours. We never expect stories set in New York or Kansas to solve those threats.

But stories aren't our world. We want strong endings to stories. We want to feel we've traveled to something that makes the trip mean more than what we saw and did along the way. So here's hoping George and HBO's Game of Thrones writers find brilliant endings. And here's sympathy if they don't.

ETA, the quick take: There's no room for dramatic conflict in the final conflict as Game of Thrones is currently set up. There's only room for physical conflict.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Black Babies used as Gator Bait? History versus Folklore #2

Black Babies Used as Alligator Bait in Florida | Miami New Times insists,
It has been pretty well documented recently that, during slavery and into the 20th Century, black babies were used as alligator bait in North and Central Florida.
The problem with that claim? We have staged photographs, drawings, and even songs about "gator babies", but no evidence that any child was ever used as live bait for alligators.

The strongest claim for any truth to "gator bait baby" stories is a rumor that circulated in 1923 which was covered by several papers. Time mentioned it in Oct. 15, 1923:
From Chipley, Fla., it was reported that colored babies were being used for alligator bait. ” The infants are allowed to play in shallow water while expert riflemen watch from concealment nearby. When a saurian approaches his prey, he is shot by the riflemen.”
The Louisville Herald: ” Florida alligator hunters do not ever miss their target ”
The price reported as being paid colored mothers for the services of their babies as bait was ” $2.00 a hunt.”
 Time's Miscellany column of Nov. 12, 1923 has a follow-up:
On behalf of the town of Chipley, Fla., the Orange County Chamber of Commerce branded as ” a silly lie, false and absurd,” the story (broadcasted a month ago through the press of the nation) that colored babies were being used at Chipley for alligator bait. In its issue for Oct. 15, TIME printed the fact that the report had been circulated, but in no wise vouched for its authenticity.
To believe the story, you have to believe that black mothers would risk their children's lives for $2, and you have to ignore the fact that none of the accounts of the stories include any verifiable details besides the mention of Chipley.

We have three strong reasons to doubt all stories of gator bait babies.

The first is the lack of evidence. The horrors of US slavery and the Jim Crow era were meticulously documented by Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. DuBois, the students and faculty of the Tuskegee Institute, and countless others. Thanks to their work, the History of Lynchings in the South Documents Nearly 4,000 Names. Newspapers like the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier told the stories of many black women who were raped by white men.* Justice in the segregated South was horribly unequal, but it was not entirely non-existent. Crimes by white people against black people were reported in the South—in the Atlanta Independent on October 11, 1923, right next to an article titled "Babies Used as Alligator Bait In State of Florida" is a story titled "White Molests Colored Girls", which names a white man who was arrested for the offense.

Yet no one can say when any black baby was ever used as alligator bait. No one can name a mother whose child was used or a witness who saw a baby being used or a hunter who bragged about using a baby as bait.

The stories of gator bait babies have few details because they need none. They serve a simple function. For racists, they're sick jokes. For anti-racists, they're visceral examples of the depravity of slavery and Jim Crow.

The second reason to doubt gator bait baby stories: they make no sense. Slavery was a business, and slaves were expensive. From Measuring Worth - Measuring the Value of a Slave:
Using these measures, the value in 2011 of $400 in 1850 (the average price of a slave that year) ranges from $12,000 to $176,000.
No alligator was worth a slave. People who wanted to use live alligator bait would trap a wild creature like a muskrat for free. Using a slave baby makes less sense than using a foal or a calf today—business people don't throw away money casually.

Moreover, a dead animal is more effective than live bait because the smell attracts alligators. In a discussion at Alligator bait | Louisiana Trappers & Alligator Hunters Forum, one hunter advised,
If your stomach is tough enough, 3 day old dead chickens from the chicken houses. They are a little rank, but will call in the gators. 
The third reason to doubt the stories: The tone of the articles suggest the stories were tall tales. A 1923 Oakland Tribune article by T. W. Villiers has a joking style and includes details like this: babies, in the estimation of the alligators, are far more refreshing, as it were, than white ones.
No one did a taste test with white and black babies to see which the alligators preferred. Villiers was simply indulging in racist humor.

Now, I grant that it is possible the gator bait stories have an element of fact that inspired the folklore; never underestimate human cruelty. But I haven't been able to find any evidence that black babies were ever used as gator bait. The stories served a different function than history: they were a way for racist whites to laugh at the idea black babies were so worthless their own mothers would rent them as bait for $2.

* See Jim Crow: Rape, Trauma, and Segregation Stress Syndrome or Alabama may finally acknowledge Jim Crow era rape of Recy Taylor or The Strange Case of Ruby McCollum. The extensive documentation on rape during the Jim Crow era let Estelle B. Freedman write in Redefining Rape that “White-on-black assaults reported in the Chicago Defender increased from one-fourth to one-third of sampled rape stories between the 1920s and 1940s.”

Earlier: No Vanilla Ice Cream for Negroes? History versus Folklore #1


The most objective accounts of the history of gator bait baby stories I've found are The Coon Caricature: Coons as Alligator Bait and Media Assassin: Gator Aid. They make no claims about the origin of the stories; they simply describe them and include many examples, beginning in the 1890s, when the first stories of gator bait babies may have appeared.

Jim Crow Museum: Question of the Month: Alligator Bait is interesting and well-documented, though the writer assumes the examples have a basis in fact. Also recommended there: Jim Crow Museum: Question of the Month: Human Zoos tells about the African Dodger carnival event, also known as "Hit the Coon".

ETA: Were black children actually used as alligator bait in the South? : AskHistorians

Thursday, June 16, 2016

No Vanilla Ice Cream for Negroes? History versus Folklore #1

The idea that black people were not allowed to eat vanilla ice cream was popularized in Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:
People in Stamps used to say that the whites in our town were so prejudiced that a Negro couldn't buy vanilla ice cream. Except on July Fourth. Other days he had to be satisfied with chocolate.
People who take that literally miss the implications of "used to say". Angelou is telling us that's a folk saying along the lines of "How racist were the people in Stamps?" "They were so racist a Negro couldn't buy vanilla ice cream except on the fourth of July." It's not denying extreme racism; it's making a joke about it. The meaning is symbolically true: the people in Stamps were about as racist as could be.  The truth is being told indirectly.

Researching this brought up an interesting fact: The New York Times mistakenly credited a black man with inventing ice cream:
THE ORIGIN OF ICE CREAM: The man who invented ice cream was a Negro by the name of Jackson, and in the early part of the present century kept a small confectionery store. Cold custards, which were cooled after being made by setting them on a cake of ice, were very fashionable, and Jackson conceived the idea of freezing them, which he did by placing the ingredients in a tin bucket and completely covered with ice. Each bucket contained a quart, and was sold for $1. It immediately became popular, and the inventor soon enlarged his store, and when he died left a considerable fortune A good many tried to follow his example, and ice cream was hawked about the streets, being wheeled along very much as the hokey-pokey carts are now, but none of them succeeded in obtaining the flavor that Jackson had in his product.
– New York Times, March 11, 1894 (p. 18)
Ice cream is, of course, much older than the possibly mythical Mr. Jackson; see Ice cream - Wikipedia.

A Guardian article, "Black people were denied vanilla ice cream in the Jim Crow south – except on Independence Day" by Michael W Twitty, confuses folklore with fact: in the segregated South, many white businesses refused to serve black people at all, and others had special conditions for black people: order at the back door, eat in the back yard, use the "colored" wash room, watch movies in the balcony but not on the main floor, etc. Black people were expected to treat white people with great deference. But there's no evidence vanilla ice cream was forbidden to anyone, and if you remember that racist business people were still business people, it doesn't make sense: if a white man would sell milk and white bread to a black person, why wouldn't he sell vanilla ice cream? Many racists during Jim Crow sold things to black people because their money was green.

Here's a photo by Gordon Parks showing how black people bought ice cream in Alabama in 1956:

But folklore is never about what's logically true. It's about what's emotionally true, and so black people joked that a Negro couldn't buy vanilla ice cream where they grew up. Humor has always been a survival tactic for people in hard times.

Related:  Black Babies used as Gator Bait? History versus Folklore #2

Saturday, June 4, 2016

I thought I was a loner, but it seems I'm an introvert

I've known about introverts and extroverts for decades, but I never identified with either. I suppose I thought I was a nontrovert. Okay, I thought I was a loner. I prefer some of the older, imprecise names for personalities—being a loner is romantic, while being an introvert is just geeky and a bit antisocial. I wish I hadn't realized I'm an introvert. It doesn't change a thing about me except my self-image.

Hmm. Though maybe I'm missing a progression here. Maybe when I was a loner, I wasn't quite an introvert. Maybe I'm now a hermit, and that's why I finally realized I'm an introvert.

When I told Emma I realized I was an introvert, she laughed. It is good to live with people who know us better than we know ourselves. Well, so long as we're willing to know ourselves.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

why yesterday's poetry worm was "dig and be dug in return"

I've liked this for ages:
by Langston's Hughes

I play it cool
I dig all jive
That's the reason
I stay alive
My motto
As I live and learn
Is dig and be dug in return
Yesterday, while doing minor landscaping and gardening, the last line kept going through my head. After a couple of hours, I wondered why.

Then I looked at the shovel in my hand. My subconscious has a really stupid sense of humor.