What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Race

Charles Barkley
Paul Drinkwater—NBC/Getty Images

John McWhorter is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.

He's not right, but neither is the other side—the truth about 'blackness' is somewhere in the middle

Charles Barkley is on the griddle for suggesting too many black people think it’s white to be successful. Barkley said that such people think “it’s best to knock a successful black person down ’cause they’re intelligent, they speak well, they do well in school, and they’re successful. It’s crabs in a barrel … We’re the only ethnic group that says, ‘Hey, if you go to jail, it gives you street cred.’”

Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman had posed, based on his own locker-room interviews, that part of the reason Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s teammates don’t like him is that “some of the black players think Wilson isn’t black enough”—Wilson is “well spoken.” Barkley agreed with Freeman; controversy was officially sparked. But too many people who agree either with Barkley or Wilson’s teammates are off-base; the truth is somewhere in the middle, and it forces us to look squarely at some things many find awkward.

A standard response for people inclined to agree with Barkley would be something like, “Yeah, that’s right. What’s ‘black,’ anyway? There’s no ‘black’ way to talk. There’s no way for somebody to ‘blacker’ than somebody else.” But there is. I don’t know how many black people think it’s “black” to go to jail, but that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as black—or blacker.

We are trained to think it’s stereotyping to say that. And indeed, all black people do not exhibit black cultural traits to the same extent. But the traits exist. Example: linguists have documented that one can indeed sound black. Both white and black Americans can almost always immediately tell whether someone is black on the phone even when the subject matter is race-neutral and there is no “slang” involved. And black speech is not the same as white Southern—who really thinks Jeff Foxworthy talks the same way as Tracy Morgan?

And then, wouldn’t it be strange if black culture somehow consisted only of speech? Like any culture, black culture also includes favorite foods, modes of dance, senses of humor (Black Twitter, anyone?), religious traditions, dress fashions and aspects of carriage and demeanor. This is what black culture is. To pretend the entire conception is a stereotype because people exhibit it to varying degrees is to dismiss generations of scholarship and art lovingly documenting exactly this culture. Blackness is beyond skin color.

The elegant way of putting it: some people are more rooted in black culture than others. The simpler way of putting it: some people are blacker than others.

If their reported sentiments are true, then Wilson’s teammates are not wrong in sensing that Wilson is less black in how he talks. Where they are wrong is in having a problem with it. Too many black people hear someone like Wilson talking and make a quick assumption that because he’s less rooted in cultural blackness than they are, he must not like them. Or that he has somehow denied a part of his real self. This belief is dead wrong, both as fact and because of where it leads.

The fact part: legions of black people wearing the culture more lightly than Wilson’s teammates love black people of all kinds quite deeply, thank you very much. And very few of them are under the impression that they are white, a tough notion to maintain in front of a mirror.

From there it’s a short step to thinking that things not associated with black talk—like school—are white and therefore disloyal. That helps drag black kids’ grades down (and studies have not disproven that, despite a certain hype). Also, if you think straying from black culture means you’re antiblack or not “real,” then there follows the idea that true blackness means holding back from reaching out beyond the black world for much of, well, anything. Some years ago in a truly unpleasant reality show, Black. White., a black family posed as white while a white family posed as black; the black guy told the white guy—proudly!—that real black people don’t stand up straight and aren’t curious.

So telling people like Wilson’s teammates that there’s no such thing as someone being less black than someone else is just not true. What’s sloppy, dangerous and backward is calling someone not black enough.


McWhorter is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University. He is the author of What Language Is (and What It Isn’t and What It Could Be), The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, Authentically Black and Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America, among other books.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Crime

State Senator Arrested in Ferguson Protest

Video shows her leading protest chants

A Missouri state senator was arrested during a protest in Ferguson Monday night following the continued outrage over a white officer’s shooting of an unarmed black teen in August.

State Senator Jamilah Nasheed, who represents sections of St. Louis, can be seen leading a protest chant in footage aired on local news channel KSDK, Reuters reports. “No Justice,” she yells in the video. The crowd replies, “No peace.”

On Aug. 9, police officer Darren Wilson shot multiple times and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. The town has been on edge with near-daily protests since news first broke, but tensions have run especially high in recent days as a grand jury weighs whether to indict Wilson.


TIME faith

It’s Time for Whites to Accept Responsibility for Racist Systems

Hundreds march on day of disobedience in St. Louis
Clergy members lead hundreds of protestors march from Wellspring Church to the Ferguson police station in an act of civil disobedience on October 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Ferguson must be a moral wake-up call to white parents, not just another warning to black parents

I and many other faith leaders came to Ferguson, Missouri, on Sunday and Monday because of Michael Brown—an 18-year-old black teenager who, though unarmed, was shot and killed by a white police officer on August 9. My first thoughts when I heard the news were about my 16-year-old son Luke. I knew how unlikely it would be that this would ever happen to my white son in America.

Coming to Ferguson was about Michael Brown. But Ferguson has also become a parable for our nation. Jesus often told parables. A parable is just a story, but often one with a simple but important point.

The Ferguson parable is simply this: black lives in America are worth less than white lives—especially in our criminal justice system. And the parable of Ferguson rings true around the nation, with the many young black men who were and have been assaulted, shot and killed before and after Michael Brown.

The big question for us is, how long will we accept the unacceptable? When will we decide to right this unacceptable wrong? I believe that is a question for parents, and for white parents in particular. How long will white parents accept the fact that the lives of children of black parents’ are worth less in our police and criminal justice systems than the lives of white sons and daughters?

Black parents are friends we meet through our children’s schools, colleagues in our workplaces, and the moms and dads we sit with at baseball and soccer games. Black parents are our brothers and sisters in Christ if we call ourselves Christians. So let’s be honest. If white Christians in America were willing to act more Christian that white when it comes to race, black parents would be less fearful for their children.

Every black parent I know or have ever spoken to has “The Talk” with their sons and daughters. “The Talk” is a conversation about how to behave and not to behave–“keep your hands open and out in front of you, shut your mouth, be respectful, say sir”–when you find yourself in the presence of a white policeman with a gun. But white parents don’t have to have this talk with their kids. That’s a radical difference between the experiences of black and white parents in America. How can we continue to accept that? Ferguson must be a moral wake-up call to white parents, not just another warning to black parents. That’s why I went to Ferguson this weekend and why I got arrested.

As a Little League baseball coach, I know that all the black parents of kids I have coached have had “The Talk,” while none of the white parents have had such conversations with their children. And most white parents haven’t got a clue that those talks are going on between their son’s black teammates and his parents. So what does it really mean to be teammates?

As Nicholas Kristof said in his Sunday New York Times column: “The greatest problem is not with flat-out white racists, but rather with the far larger number of Americans who believe intellectually in racial equality but are quietly oblivious to injustice around them. Too many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks… We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.”

Let me add a tougher conclusion. To my white brothers and sisters: you can’t continue to say you are not racist when you continue to accept and support systems that are. It’s time for white people to take responsibility for our acceptance of racist systems.

These conversations will make people uncomfortable, and they should. I want to ask white parents to ask their black parent friends about “The Talk.” Ask them if they have had the talk with their sons. What did they say? What did their son say? How did it feel for them to have that conversation with their son? What’s it like not to be able to trust law enforcement in their own community?

The time for zero tolerance of racial policing has come. It’s time to right an unacceptable wrong. It’s time for white parents to join with black parents to make that happen. And it’s time for white Christians to join black Christians and say that black lives are important; all lives are important. These kids are not just God’s kids, they are our kids.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.


The Real Problem When It Comes to Diversity and Asian-Americans

Asian-American Whiz Kids | Aug. 31, 1987 Ted Thai

The lack of Asian leadership in tech sheds light on a larger issue: Asians are excluded from the idea of diversity

Years ago… they used to think you were Fu Manchu or Charlie Chan. Then they thought you must own a laundry or restaurant. Now they think all we know how to do is sit in front of a computer.

It was 1987 when Virginia Kee, then a 55-year-old a high school teacher in New York’s Chinatown, said the above words. She was one of several Asian-Americans who discussed the perception of their race for TIME’s cover story, “Those Asian-American Whiz Kids.” The cover story would elicit small-scale Asian boycotts of the magazine from those who found offensive the portrait of textbook-clutching, big-glasses brainiacs. To them, the images codified hurtful beliefs that Asians and Asian-Americans were one-dimensional: that they were robots of success, worshippers of the alphabet’s first letter, study mules branded with their signature eyes.

Today, Kee is 82. It has been nearly 70 years since the days when she avoided the public restroom “because it was white or colored”; nearly 20 years since she co-founded the Chinese-American Planning Council, then an unlikely social service for Asian-Americans, who were perceived to be sufficiently independent not to need it. And yet Kee, who still recalls the words she told TIME nearly 30 years ago, maintains that not much has changed.

“If you try to navigate the human part of it, we are seeing, as yellow people, our stereotypes still existing in the heads of many people. We don’t get the chance to really go through and break the glass ceiling,” Kee says. “We are putting limitations on our people.”

The longevity of the idea that “all [Asian Americans] know how to do is sit in front of a computer” was highlighted recently when several top technology firms released their first-ever diversity reports. Those reports and media discussion of their findings centered on the obvious, important problem: an under-representation of women, blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans. Very little was said of the discrepancy between the high percentage of Asian tech employees and the disproportionately low percentage of Asian leaders. The fact that Asians’ presence charted in bars more than a few pixels tall, it seemed, disqualified them from scrutiny.

To compare representation across companies, and in tech versus leadership roles, use the drop-down menu.

“There is an important conversation to be had in terms of who actually has full access to education and economic opportunities,” says Mary Lui, a professor of American and Asian-American Studies at Yale University. “But at the same time, think about what [not talking about Asian representation] might be saying in terms of Asian-Americans in the U.S.”

What it says is this: Asians and Asian-Americans are smart and successful, so hiring or promoting them does not count as encouraging diversity. It says: there is no such thing as underrepresentation of Asians and Asian-Americans. The problem with this belief, historians and advocates assert, is that it not only obscures the sheer range of experiences within Asian and Asian-American populations, but also excludes them from conversations about diversity and inclusion in leadership and non-tech sectors.


Not that this exclusion is a new phenomenon. Historians agree that diversity has turned a blind eye to Asians and Asian-Americans ever since the 1965 Immigration Act. With the conclusion of World War II, many ex-colonial Asian countries like the Philippines, South Korea and India had emphasized technical education to modernize and industrialize their new national economies. The Immigration Act permitted the migration of those highly educated Asians as a means of recruiting science, technology or engineering experts to the U.S. during the Cold War era.

For over half a century, the growth of the Asian-American population in the U.S. had been stunted, first by racially-motivated exclusionary laws that banned Asian immigration and later by annual quotas. But within years of the 1965 act, that population boomed. By the 1970s and 1980s, the image of Asian-Americans was no longer of the alien invaders washing ashore in California during the Gold Rush, the faceless bachelors laying the cold steel of the Transcontinental Railroad, or the land-grabbing and job-stealing migrants. The new Asian-Americans were scientists, doctors, programmers and engineers. They were thriving.

By the mid- to late-1980s, the notion of Asian-Americans as universally successful was everywhere. Major news organizations lauded them as the “model minority” — a term first coined in 1966 when first the New York Times and then U.S. News and World Report published stories that suggested Asian-Americans, through their steely work ethic and quiet perseverance, were uniformly triumphant despite prejudice. The idea elicited criticism, particularly from Asian-American groups whose problems were made invisible behind the guise of universal success: the displaced Laotian and Cambodian refugees of the Vietnam War, or the elderly Filipinos fighting to save their low-cost I-Hotel housing complex from urban renewal.

TIME was not immune to the model minority craze. In 1985, two years before its controversial cover story, TIME published an article called “To America With Skills: A Wave of Arrivals From the Far East Enriches the Country’s Talent Pool.” The piece documented the flood of Asian-Americans into high-paying careers and elite universities with decidedly less focus on marginalized groups like poor Chinese launderers, unassisted Vietnamese refugees or underpaid South Asian cab drivers:

What really distinguishes the Asians is that, of all the new immigrants, they are compiling an astonishing record of achievement. Asians are represented far beyond their population share at virtually every top-ranking university: their contingent in Harvard’s freshman class has risen from 3.6% to 10.9% since 1976 … Partly as a result of their academic accomplishments, Asians are climbing the economic ladder with remarkable speed.

“I consider it a two-headed hydra: the stereotype of being the evil invader, or the model minority,” says Helen Zia, an Asian-American activist, journalist and historian. “The conclusion of both is the same. Asian-Americans are too foreign — from the outside, being an invader, or on the inside, being so bland and so good.”

Asian-Americans’ visible success, with numbers to prove it, began to mean they should be excluded from inclusionary practices like affirmative action. More severely, Asian-Americans were seen as a hindrance to diversity. In one case, high school senior Yat-Pang Au and his Hong Kong-born parents filed a formal complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice that the University of California admissions system discriminated against Asian-Americans. Au’s case was profiled in several media organizations, including TIME’s 1987 “Whiz Kids” cover:

A straight-A student, Yat-Pang, 18, lettered in cross-country, was elected a justice on the school supreme court and last June graduated first in his class at San Jose’s Gunderson High School. Berkeley turned him down. Watson M. Laetsch, Berkeley’s vice chancellor for undergraduate affairs, insists that Yat-Pang was rejected only for a ”highly competitive” engineering program.

Au is now 45. He still recalls his parents’ insistence that he “fight for his rights,” a struggle that concluded with an apology from the chancellor. He later transferred to UC Berkeley in 1989 for his junior year after two years at DeAnza College, a community college in the San Francisco Bay Area. Today, he is the CEO and co-founder of Veritas Investments. And though Au managed to find success despite obstacles — the classic model minority narrative — he says that the fact he chose entrepreneurship as a career meant he rose to leadership despite these systems that assume success for Asians is a byproduct of their race.

“I was, to be honest, embarrassed that I didn’t get in, embarrassed thinking and expecting that we lived in a relatively color blind society,” Au said.

Today, it appears that Asians and Asian-Americans still pose a threat to diversity. Only now even they believe the idea, too. In 2012, a popular New York Times op-ed titled “Asians: Too Smart for Their Own Good?” described Asian-American college students feeling like “a faceless bunch of geeks and virtuosos.” The previous year, an Associated Press article reported that many Asian-Americans were no longer checking off the “Asian” box on college applications, in order to circumvent unspoken quotas at top colleges. Their threat to diversity is so convincing that Asians and Asian-Americans have begun to offer what is, at its core, an inadvertent apology.


As the world’s response to the tech diversity reports shows, Asians and Asian-Americans remain invincible to underrepresentation: even though companies tend to have disproportionately low levels of Asian leaders compared to the number of Asians in technical jobs, this discrepancy is overlooked. That silence is only one part of a larger issue that experts insist has deep historical roots. It is not simply a first-world complaint or an upper-middle class problem. It is one with sobering consequences.

“Being the model minority, there’s the expectation that you’re going to do so well you shouldn’t have any problems,” Zia says.

The belief in a blanket Asian-American culture is so thick that it has resulted in confusion when Asian-Americans deviate from the model minority myth. Today, diversity is more visible than ever: There is the commanding John Cho, and there is the awkward William Hung; the funny Mindy Kaling and the serious Indra Nooyi; the talkative local launderer and the mum evil villain; the whitewashed American-born Chinese and the perpetual foreigner. And yet those who display that diversity are often perceived as exceptions. The rule is the single framework — the model minority myth — that persists as the dominant stereotype for the whole race, especially in the tech sector.

“If [executives] assume their Asian-American tech employees are the model minority,” Zia continues, “the baggage that that also brings is that they are good, high-tech coolies who will do their jobs, work like hell, stay up 24/7 grinding out code — and that [executives] can never think of promoting them into management or leadership positions.”

Yet the movement to push Asians and Asian-Americans into conversations of diversity and inclusion has fizzled out in recent years. Asian-American activism, historians believe, was at its peak following a national outcry after two white men escaped prosecution for their 1982 racially-charged murder of Chinese-American Vincent Chin. Nascent groups like American Citizens for Justice and the Coalition Against Anti-Asian Violence demanded equal treatment of Asian-Americans both under the law and in society. The fight for Asian-American equality may be less fierce today, but it is still there.

“I wanted to bring to the conversation that Asians, although they were starting to enter the ranks of these companies, were not moving to the top of these organizations. I think it’s still the case that organizations are still not focused on the issue,” says Korean-American leadership consultant Jane Hyun, whose book Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians discusses caps on Asian-American seniority in corporate settings.

The onus, Hyun says, is not only on society and business, but also on Asian-Americans themselves. They must try to untangle how cultural, historical and social factors inhibit their progress, in leadership or in other areas where Asian-American diversity is needed, like film, TV and politics. J.D. Hokoyama, former president of the national nonprofit Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP), adds that “[The problem] is not just from the top. Our own communities are also settling.”

The irony is that it is the pride of many Asian and Asian-American cultures not to settle for anything less than they deserve. Unless, that is, they or everyone else believe they’ve already gotten what they deserve, and more: academic success, financial stability, happiness. It is hard to imagine that some have not gotten what they deserve, especially in an age when diversity in Asians and Asian-Americans is seen as the difference between straight-laced, straight-A geniuses and lazy, A- slackers. There are still those facing deeper problems that are dismissed or overlooked. And what it takes to start unraveling these issues is simply to understand that some things are too good to be true.

“We have the good, the bad and the ugly. We’re not models,” Zia said. “We should we be seen in our full humanity. That is, in my experience, what everyone really aspires to.”

Read next: Why I Changed My Korean Name—And Why I Changed It Back

TIME health

Ebola and Liberian Bodies: Thomas Eric Duncan’s Death Raises Doubts About Treatment

Dallas Ebola Patient Thomas Eric Duncan Dies At Texas Hospital
People hold candles during a prayer vigil and memorial at Wilshire Baptist Church for Thomas Eric Duncan after he passed away from the Ebola virus on October 8, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Lorraine Sherman Mason is the executive director of the Martha M. Wright Foundation and a freelance writer.

The death of a Dallas patient has spurred conspiracy theories amongst Liberians in the U.S.

When news broke that a patient at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital was diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus, Liberians across the globe held their collective breaths, hoping and praying that it wouldn’t be one of us. Postings on social media quickly switched from the effects of Ebola on friends and family back in Liberia to disappointment that, of the three countries most impacted by the virus, the patient at Presbyterian was a Liberian—one of us. We waited to learn whether it was a familiar name. Thomas Eric Duncan would soon enter our psyche, becoming a household name and forever associating Liberia with the thrust of Ebola worldwide.

(PHOTOS: See How A Photographer Is Covering Ebola’s Deadly Spread)

Duncan was coming to the U.S. from a nation that, over the decades, has become a shell of itself, so much so that when the pandemic of Ebola rested on its doorsteps, it was unable to tackle the effects on its most underserved. As the world became inundated with news of deaths and images of a people without hope—lying in wait for something, anything, to change their fate—Duncan got a long-awaited opportunity to escape the underbelly of Liberia in its current state, if even just for a short period.

So as the world was glued to the first diagnosed case of Ebola on American soil and emotions ran amok, Liberians hoped that Duncan, much like Dr. Kent Bentley and Nancy Writebol, was in the right place at the right time to win his battle against Ebola. After all, this was the United States, the hub of medical technology and where phenomenal things happen. And despite being spotlighted in a most unflattering way—reports about Duncan’s socioeconomic status and that he had not reported contact with a person possibly sick with Ebola—the Liberian community threw its support behind Duncan.

As prayers and empathy for Duncan and his family streamed down social media feeds, Liberians cringed at the manner in which we as a people and as a nation were represented to the world. The media aired unbalanced images of poverty and deaths that the world has too often come to associate with Africa. It then became as much about Duncan and his illness as about us as Liberians. It was personal. We are one and the same, and at this time, Liberians feared not being aptly represented. We were most concerned with the stigmatization associated with that misrepresentation.

(PHOTOS: Inside the Ebola Crisis: The Images That Moved Them Most)

Against this backdrop, Liberians began to question the perceived differences in the media coverage and medical treatment of America’s first Ebola patient. Initially, there was hope that Duncan, like others before him, would be cured and would return home to his loved ones. That hope was dashed when reports surfaced that he was in critical condition and on life support. Why was he not on the trial drug ZMapp or a candidate for blood transfusion, as in other cases? The CDC said that Duncan didn’t receive ZMapp because of depleted resources, and hospital doctors said that Duncan’s blood type wasn’t compatible for a transfusion. Speculations and conspiracy theories began to mount through Facebook posts and discussions amongst Liberians and sympathizers that Ebola might be manmade and that the trial drugs were intended only for whites stricken by the virus. Even Liberia, with its crippled medical system, had seen quite a few Ebola survivals. It brought to bear discussions about the difference in treatment.

Duncan was visiting North Dallas, a part of the city fraught with resettled immigrants and low-income minorities. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is not unfamiliar with patients like Duncan: immigrant and uninsured. So when he came seeking medical attention, indicating that he was from Liberia without punctuating his assertion with the possibility of Ebola, he was perhaps perceived as another uninsured patient seeking medical care through the emergency care system.

Duncan’s death leaves many unanswered questions about why he might not have received immediate care. Opinions are mixed as to whether he received comparable care to other patients treated in the U.S. As many call for an inquiry into his treatment at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, medical records the family provided the Associated Press have revealed what played out on Duncan’s first visit to the emergency room, including a 103 degree temperature.

Overwhelmed by Duncan’s sad and unexpected ending, Liberians must now turn their focus to living a new normal as we grapple with life as Liberians in America.

Lorraine Sherman Mason was born and raised in Liberia, and lives in Bellaire, Texas. She is the executive director of the Martha M. Wright Foundation, a freelance writer and author of Sassywood Man, A Journey of the Self and Yes, Jesus Loves Me, a contribution piece to the book of the same title.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Crime

See Pictures of the Weekend of Protests Around St. Louis

More acts of civil disobedience are planned beginning on Monday

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in and around St. Louis over the weekend, calling for justice after two racially charged police shootings since August.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that several days of demonstrations called “Ferguson October,” which marked just over two months since unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer, gave way to a sit-in at St. Louis University during a rally for Vonderrit Myers Jr., another black teenager who was fatally shot on Oct. 8. Police say Myers fired at them first, but his family insists he was unarmed. Additional acts of civil disobedience are planned beginning on Monday.

[St. Louis Post-Dispatch]


It’s Not Racist to Want Your Child to Look Like You

Jennifer Cramblett
Jennifer Cramblett is interviewed at her attorney's home in Waite Hill, Ohio, on Oct. 1, 2014. Mark Duncan—AP

Barbara Spiegel is a certified elementary school teacher, stay-at-home mother and active member of Little People of America.

I was relieved when my first child had dwarfism, but upset when another was diagnosed with learning disabilities

In 2004, when I was pregnant, I was given the wrong information about my daughter’s genetic makeup. We were told she would be “average” height. It took some time to adjust to that information. My husband and I both have achondroplasia dwarfism. The most common of nearly 300 forms of dwarfism, it results in adult height of about 4 feet to 4 feet, 8 inches and disproportionate limbs. Two individuals with achondroplasia pose genetic challenges for having children: there’s a 50% chance the child could inherit the gene from one parent and have achondroplasia, 25% chance there is no presence of the gene and the child would be average size and a 25% chance the child could inherit the gene from both parents, resulting in double dominance and the likelihood that the child is stillborn or lives for a very short while.

By the time I accepted that we would have an average height child, I was told there had been a mix-up and that my unborn daughter would indeed have achondroplasia. I was relieved knowing that my child would bear a strong physical resemblance to me.

In 2008, my husband and I adopted a girl from Russia with achondroplasia. Why adopt? Along with our past experience with genetic testing, we simply felt it would be easier to raise children who are similar to us.

Our second daughter was adopted shortly after her fifth birthday and began kindergarten a few months later. All seemed to be going smoothly, until she was diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities in the middle of first grade. My mind raced. This is not what I signed up for! I was angry, hurt and worried. How would we handle this? What would others think? What would they say? How could we take care of her properly? I know achondroplasia; I have lived with it my entire life. I know what it’s like to be teased because you are short, because you appear to “waddle,” because you cannot run very fast. I know what it’s like to sit on the sidelines as your friends start to date. I know what it’s like to always need a step stool to reach things, to need pedals to drive, to need your clothes altered. I know what it’s like to be called names: shorty, half-pint, mini-me and, most offensive of all, midget.

But I don’t know what it’s like to have a learning disability, let alone multiple ones. Would she understand enough to know wrong from right? Would she ever catch up to her peers? Will she have friends? Will she ever be able to live on her own? How would we pay for all that she needs?

Last week a white lesbian couple from Uniontown, Ohio, filed a lawsuit against their sperm bank for mistakenly receiving sperm from the wrong donor. While raising their mixed-race child, who is now two, Jennifer Cramblett and Amanda Zinkon came to realize how “intolerant” some family members and people in their 98% white town were. As Payton got older, they realized they couldn’t change other people’s mindsets. They don’t want Payton to suffer and are now looking to relocate to a more tolerant area where Payton can feel like less of an outsider, and are seeking redress to do so.

This doesn’t mean they’re racist, ungrateful, unloving of their daughter or financial opportunists. They are trying to right a wrong. There is no denying that the sperm bank committed an error. If they do receive a financial reward, it will serve the family well and also lead such businesses to be held accountable for their errors.

Having had and adopted two children with achondroplasia, I was ready and well-prepared for certain life challenges. Discovering two years later that one has significant learning disabilities was not what I envisioned for my daughter, myself or my family, and if there were someone I could hold responsible for this challenge, I would pursue financial compensation to pay for tutors and testing. Doing so wouldn’t mean I love my daughter any less. All it means is that I want to provide the best support for my children, both emotionally and financially.

Barbara Spiegel is a certified elementary school teacher, stay-at-home mother and active member of Little People of America.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME 2014 Election

Two-Thirds of Elected Representatives Are White Males, Study Finds

President Obama Delivers State Of The Union Address
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Meanwhile, the nation is 52% female and 38% people of color

Two-thirds of elected representatives in the U.S. are white males, while two-thirds of their constituents are not, according to a new research effort that spotlights demographic gaps between America’s leaders and their electorate.

Researchers at “Who Leads Us,” a project backed by the Women Donors Network, collected demographic information on 42,000 elected officials in order to answer the question, “Do America’s elected officials reflect our population?” Judging by their race and gender, not so much. 71% of elected officials are men and 90% are white, representing a national population that, according to Census data cited by the study, is 52% female and 38% persons of color.

Women of color stood out as the most underrepresented group in elected office, making up 4% of elected officials and 19% of the population. This incongruity between electorate and representatives, the study’s authors conclude, confirms “that the face of America’s leadership bears little resemblance to our country’s population.”


Dear White Ladies, You Will Have To Raise Your Black Baby and Love Every Minute of It

Jennifer Cramblett
Jennifer Cramblett is interviewed at her attorney's home in Waite Hill, Ohio, on Oct. 1, 2014. Mark Duncan—AP

During her pregnancy, Jennifer Cramblett found out what she thought was sperm from donor vial No. 380, a white guy, actually came from donor No. 330, a black man


This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

What to do? What to do? Jennifer Cramblett is suing a Chicago sperm bank for wrongful birth because a lab mix-up produced a baby of the wrong color — black.

The Uniontown, Ohio, resident who lives with her lesbian partner Amanda Zinkon and biracial daughter Payton, two, also alleges breach of warranty in the suit filed this week in the Circuit Court of Cook County, which has the largest population of black folks in America, by the way. (This population is what probably explains the creature that is Barack Obama, but that’s another story.)

During her pregnancy, Cramblett found out what she thought was sperm from donor vial No. 380, a white guy, actually came from donor No. 330, a black dude. So now this lesbian couple living what until very recently was widely considered a nontraditional lifestyle is clutching their chests over the prospect of having to raise a black girl, though they report having “bonded with Payton easily.”

It’s just that the neighbors are a problem. And the family.

“Family members, one uncle in particular, speak openly and derisively about persons of color. [Cramblett] did not know African-Americans until her college days at the University of Akron,” the suit says.

“Because of this background and upbringing, Jennifer acknowledges her limited cultural competency relative to African-Americans, and steep learning curve, particularly in small, homogenous Uniontown, which she regards as too racially intolerant.”

This suit, these women, America’s un-evolved racial attitudes present some problems, so let me start here:

They’re right.

The couple questions their “cultural competence” to raise a black child given their limited experience with black folks. Not enough white parents involved in what’s called transracial adoption question their competency in these matters. “Love will conquer all,” they say, until the first time they’re perplexed by the inability to get a comb through their little black girl’s hair, then cut her “bangs” that shrivel up into a curious forehead afro. Mark that No. 1 on things to discuss with the therapist when that little girl grows up.

As white women, they’re certainly typical. Most white people don’t have any black friends, as we know from a recent Public Religion Research Institute study showing three-quarters of white Americans don’t have any non-white pals. It’s so easy to pretend America’s racial problems (think: #jordandavis #ferguson) don’t exist until they populate your Twitter feed.

The couple also say they live in what they consider a racially insensitive town that might give the child hell one day. Yup, that could happen. Just ask Trayvon Martin. Oh, we can’t.

They didn’t ask for their lives to be turned into a giant social experiment. Yes, the sperm bank messed up big time, and they should take the hit for it. Whatever money this family receives could be used for Payton’s education or to provide enrichment opportunities of the culturally enriching kind so she just grows up happy and well rounded regardless of her skin color. I hope she doesn’t grow up hating herself or other black people because that happens, you know.

They’re wrong.

They’re gay, so they’re already a social experiment (meaning, homosexuality is only now being accepted as a norm in mainstream society). Gay marriage may soon one day be the law of the land, but the fact that it’s a fight proves the point.

They’re women living in what author Tara Mohr calls a “transitional historical moment.” On one hand, women have more freedom and opportunity than ever, thanks to everything from the first-wave feminism of 1848 Seneca Falls to the success of the 50-year-old Civil Rights Act of 1964, largely thought to be aimed at minorities like Payton. This law is totally responsible for breaking open workplace doors for women, mostly white ones. The very nature of being a woman is a social experiment.

Both women say they were sexually abused as girls, so when “you think of sperm, you think of sexual encounters and neither of us wanted to think of males in our lives again,” according to the suit. In other words, the fact that the baby came out in a way they didn’t plan underscored the lack of control they have felt over their own bodies.

These are strong women for surviving sexual abuse and carefully planning to have children who would be blood relatives by virtue of being inseminated by the same sperm. But did they consider the fact they could have had a boy?

The genetic engineering (and entitlement) tendencies of these women is nauseating. So what, life didn’t turn out the way they planned. Look at employment stats, housing numbers, the failure of public education and mass incarceration — that’s black life, baby.

And what? They don’t know any black lesbians? With children?

Each woman seeks an undetermined amount that exceeds $50,000 in damages. Because they certainly are — damaged.

Deborah Douglas is a journalist living in Chicago.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Crime

Watch Demonstrators Interrupt a St. Louis Symphony to Sing a ‘Requiem for Mike Brown’

Audience members sang "Which side are you on, friend, which side are you on?"

About 50 audience members interrupted the St. Louis Symphony’s performance Saturday night to sing a requiem for Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager whose killing sparked weeks of often protests in Ferguson, Mo.

As the orchestra was about to play the second act of German Requiem following intermission, a man stood up in the audience and sang, “What side are you on, friend, what side are you on?” according to the St. Louis American. He was soon joined by dozens of the audience members for the second refrain, “justice for Mike Brown is justices for us all.” The demonstrators repeated the verses over and over again, you can watch the video (shot by St. Louis American reporter Rebecca Rivas) above.

Demonstrators in the balconies hung banners that said “‘Requiem for Mike Brown, 1996-2014″ and “Racism lives here.” After a few minutes of singing, they started chanting “black lives matter” as they left the theater. The demonstration was organized by Sarah Griesbach, a 42-year old white woman who has been protesting against racial inequalities in the St. Louis area since Brown’s death in early August.

[St. Louis American]

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser