News, Views, Happiness Pursued


by | Sep 9, 2020


Over the last month, Black Lives Matter signs have been stolen, vandalized and destroyed all over the state. All under the cover of night, of course, because, you know, cowards.

No one knows who’s responsible, but it’s clear the racists are getting busy! But who are they? Where are they? Have you ever wondered if someone you know might be a racist?

Does that coworker with the irreverent sense of humor usually follow up his jokes by telling people to lighten up? Does that cousin who loves to sing along with rap songs always emphasize that one word? Do you know a Trump supporter? If you answered yes to any of those, then you definitely know a racist! But how can you be sure?

I’m here to guide you through it! This can get tricky, so let’s get started with something easy.

What is racism?

Racism is just judging people based on their race, right? Fair. Simple. See? That was easy. Next!

What exactly is race?

It’s skin color! See? Super simple!

Is it, though?

Absolutely not! In America we seem to have this idea of race that starts and stops with skin color. In that idea, there is an implication that everything is more or less fair. We all have skin, after all. But how did it start? Was there some kind of diverse and democratic global conference at which we all decided to assign titles and power according to consensus? I mean, no. I hope you didn’t think that’s what happened.

The idea of race was created to deliberately establish a hierarchy. Did people always have different skin tones? Probably, but those skin tones weren’t always used to justify the theft of people’s humanity or the theft of people’s rights or the theft of people. That didn’t start until the mid 1400s when asshole King Afonso V, of Portugal, commissioned propagandist bastard Gomes de Zurara to write a book justifying the specific enslavement of Africans.

Up until that moment these motherfuckers would enslave anyone. As long as there wasn’t going to be too much of a fight, one human body is as good as another, right? Cool. The only problem was competition from other enslavers. So, in steering clear of them, the Portuguese went to West Africa, kidnapped some Black folks and paid Zurara to make it sound like the only possible moral thing to do.

Ibram Kendi talks a lot about Zurara in How to Be an Antiracist: “This Black race of people was lost, living ‘like beasts, without any custom of reasonable beings,’ Zurara wrote. ‘They had no understanding of good, but only knew how to live in a bestial sloth.’”

If you’re at the top of the hierarchy, race gets to be about whatever you want. Really! White folks do their 23andMe, see that 13 percent Irish, and for the next six weeks all their friends are going to hear about is the deep spiritual journey that led to that new shamrock tattoo. But if you’re not on top of that hierarchy, race is more about ethnicity. It’s about the cultural expressions of language, art and food, but it’s also about navigating how the people on top define race. For example, there are people from western Guatemala who are living in Miami right now. They only speak their native language of Q’anjob’al and they’ve been deemed essential workers. Imagine how many white people attempt bad Spanish at them, thinking they’re Cuban. Maybe the white people get suspicious. Maybe they call ICE.

But how can I tell if someone is a racist?

It’s actually pretty easy. Just listen. They’ll tell you.

So, I should just ask?

Yeah. They’ll totally admit it.


No. C’mon. But if someone has a grudge against Colin Kaepernick, values property over human life, and is just wild about blue lives, they’re telling you loud and clear. You just need to listen.

But don’t just take it from me. Take it from famed Republican strategist and Reagan and George H. W. Bush advisor Lee Atwater:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’”

So, yeah. Listen. And believe. Act accordingly. And stay out of the comments section.


Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He can be reached at

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