TIME

The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race

Ferguson Lowenstein
A protestor during demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo. on August 17, 2014. Jon Lowenstein—Noor for TIME

Ferguson is not just about systemic racism — it's about class warfare and how America's poor are held back, says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Will the recent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, be a tipping point in the struggle against racial injustice, or will it be a minor footnote in some future grad student’s thesis on Civil Unrest in the Early Twenty-First Century?

The answer can be found in May of 1970.

You probably have heard of the Kent State shootings: on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on student protesters at Kent State University. During those 13 seconds of gunfire, four students were killed and nine were wounded, one of whom was permanently paralyzed. The shock and outcry resulted in a nationwide strike of 4 million students that closed more than 450 campuses. Five days after the shooting, 100,000 protestors gathered in Washington, D.C. And the nation’s youth was energetically mobilized to end the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, and mindless faith in the political establishment.

You probably haven’t heard of the Jackson State shootings.

On May 14th, 10 days after Kent State ignited the nation, at the predominantly black Jackson State University in Mississippi, police killed two black students (one a high school senior, the other the father of an 18-month-old baby) with shotguns and wounded twelve others.

There was no national outcry. The nation was not mobilized to do anything. That heartless leviathan we call History swallowed that event whole, erasing it from the national memory.

And, unless we want the Ferguson atrocity to also be swallowed and become nothing more than an intestinal irritant to history, we have to address the situation not just as another act of systemic racism, but as what else it is: class warfare.

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)

Then we’ll start debating whether or not the police in America are themselves an endangered minority who are also discriminated against based on their color—blue. (Yes, they are. There are many factors to consider before condemning police, including political pressures, inadequate training, and arcane policies.) Then we’ll question whether blacks are more often shot because they more often commit crimes. (In fact, studies show that blacks are targeted more often in some cities, like New York City. It’s difficult to get a bigger national picture because studies are woefully inadequate. The Department of Justice study shows that in the U.S. between 2003 and 2009, among arrest-related deaths there’s very little difference among blacks, whites, or Latinos. However, the study doesn’t tell us how many were unarmed.)

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

And that’s how the status quo wants it.

The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it’s crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long.

One way to keep these 50 million fractured is through disinformation. PunditFact’s recent scorecard on network news concluded that at Fox and Fox News Channel, 60 percent of claims are false. At NBC and MSNBC, 46 percent of claims were deemed false. That’s the “news,” folks! During the Ferguson riots, Fox News ran a black and white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the bold caption: “Forgetting MLK’s Message/Protestors in Missouri Turn to Violence.” Did they run such a caption when either Presidents Bush invaded Iraq: “Forgetting Jesus Christ’s Message/U.S. Forgets to Turn Cheek and Kills Thousands”?

How can viewers make reasonable choices in a democracy if their sources of information are corrupted? They can’t, which is exactly how the One Percent controls the fate of the Ninety-Nine Percent.

Worse, certain politicians and entrepreneurs conspire to keep the poor just as they are. On his HBO comedic news show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver ran an expose of the payday loan business and those who so callously exploit the desperation of the poor. How does an industry that extorts up to 1,900 percent interest on loans get away with it? In Texas, State Rep. Gary Elkins blocked a regulatory bill, despite the fact that he owns a chain of payday loan stores. And the politician who kept badgering Elkins about his conflict of interest, Rep. Vicki Truitt, became a lobbyist for ACE Cash Express just 17 days after leaving office. In essence, Oliver showed how the poor are lured into such a loan, only to be unable to pay it back and having to secure yet another loan. The cycle shall be unbroken.

Dystopian books and movies like Snowpiercer, The Giver, Divergent, Hunger Games, and Elysium have been the rage for the past few years. Not just because they express teen frustration at authority figures. That would explain some of the popularity among younger audiences, but not among twentysomethings and even older adults. The real reason we flock to see Donald Sutherland’s porcelain portrayal in Hunger Games of a cold, ruthless president of the U.S. dedicated to preserving the rich while grinding his heel into the necks of the poor is that it rings true in a society in which the One Percent gets richer while our middle class is collapsing.

That’s not hyperbole; statistics prove this to be true. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center report, just half of U.S. households are middle-income, a drop of 11 percent since the 1970s; median middle-class income has dropped by 5 percent in the last ten years, total wealth is down 28 percent. Fewer people (just 23 percent) think they will have enough money to retire. Most damning of all: fewer Americans than ever believe in the American Dream mantra that hard work will get them ahead.

Rather than uniting to face the real foe—do-nothing politicians, legislators, and others in power—we fall into the trap of turning against each other, expending our energy battling our allies instead of our enemies. This isn’t just inclusive of race and political parties, it’s also about gender. In her book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, Laurie Penny suggests that the decreased career opportunities for young men in society makes them feel less valuable to females; as a result they deflect their rage from those who caused the problem to those who also suffer the consequences: females.

Yes, I’m aware that it is unfair to paint the wealthiest with such broad strokes. There are a number of super-rich people who are also super-supportive of their community. Humbled by their own success, they reach out to help others. But that’s not the case with the multitude of millionaires and billionaires who lobby to reduce Food Stamps, give no relief to the burden of student debt on our young, and kill extensions of unemployment benefits.

With each of these shootings/chokehold deaths/stand-your-ground atrocities, police and the judicial system are seen as enforcers of an unjust status quo. Our anger rises, and riots demanding justice ensue. The news channels interview everyone and pundits assign blame.

Then what?

I’m not saying the protests in Ferguson aren’t justified—they are. In fact, we need more protests across the country. Where’s our Kent State? What will it take to mobilize 4 million students in peaceful protest? Because that’s what it will take to evoke actual change. The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

Otherwise, all we’re going to get is what we got out of Ferguson: a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy and outrage. If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how—we will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.

I hope John Steinbeck is proven right when he wrote in Grapes of Wrath, “Repression works only to strengthen and knit the oppressed.” But I’m more inclined to echo Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” written the year after the Kent State/Jackson State shootings:

Inflation no chance

To increase finance

Bills pile up sky high

Send that boy off to die

Make me wanna holler

The way they do my life

Make me wanna holler

The way they do my life

TIME politics

Rand Paul: We Must Demilitarize the Police

Police Shooting Missouri
Police in riot gear watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 13, 2014. Jeff Roberson—AP

Anyone who thinks race does not skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention, Sen. Rand Paul writes for TIME, amid violence in Ferguson, Mo. over the police shooting death of Michael Brown

The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown is an awful tragedy that continues to send shockwaves through the community of Ferguson, Missouri and across the nation.

If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.

The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.

The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.

Glenn Reynolds, in Popular Mechanics, recognized the increasing militarization of the police five years ago. In 2009 he wrote:

Soldiers and police are supposed to be different. … Police look inward. They’re supposed to protect their fellow citizens from criminals, and to maintain order with a minimum of force.

It’s the difference between Audie Murphy and Andy Griffith. But nowadays, police are looking, and acting, more like soldiers than cops, with bad consequences. And those who suffer the consequences are usually innocent civilians.

The Cato Institute’s Walter Olson observed this week how the rising militarization of law enforcement is currently playing out in Ferguson:

Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?

Olson added, “the dominant visual aspect of the story, however, has been the sight of overpowering police forces confronting unarmed protesters who are seen waving signs or just their hands.”

How did this happen?

Most police officers are good cops and good people. It is an unquestionably difficult job, especially in the current circumstances.

There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement.

Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.

This is usually done in the name of fighting the war on drugs or terrorism. The Heritage Foundation’s Evan Bernick wrote in 2013 that, “the Department of Homeland Security has handed out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns across the country, enabling them to buy armored vehicles, guns, armor, aircraft, and other equipment.”

Bernick continued, “federal agencies of all stripes, as well as local police departments in towns with populations less than 14,000, come equipped with SWAT teams and heavy artillery.”

Bernick noted the cartoonish imbalance between the equipment some police departments possess and the constituents they serve, “today, Bossier Parish, Louisiana, has a .50 caliber gun mounted on an armored vehicle. The Pentagon gives away millions of pieces of military equipment to police departments across the country—tanks included.”

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them. Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.

This is part of the anguish we are seeing in the tragic events outside of St. Louis, Missouri. It is what the citizens of Ferguson feel when there is an unfortunate and heartbreaking shooting like the incident with Michael Brown.

Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.

The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.

Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security. This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country.

Let us continue to pray for Michael Brown’s family, the people of Ferguson, police, and citizens alike.

Paul is the junior U.S. Senator for Kentucky.

TIME Ole Miss

Dear Ole Miss: Minorities Are Done Being Haunted by Confederate Ghosts

Students protest the enrollment of James Meredith, the University of Mississippi's first black student. September, 1962.
Students protest the enrollment of James Meredith, the University of Mississippi's first black student. September, 1962. Rolls Press—Getty Images

Clinging to nostalgia will only hold back everyone at our university

It was my second semester of Ancient Greek class at the University of Mississippi when I finally raised my hand and asked.

“The statue on the Circle, of the Confederate soldier,” I began earnestly — I was still excited about learning new things — “has a Greek inscription on the side. Could you translate it for us?”

The answer came the next time class met. It was an elegiac couplet by the Greek poet Simonides, engraved first on a monument to the Spartan dead of the Battle of Thermopylae, presented to us by The Histories of Herodotus. My professor had taken the time to copy the inscription on individual slips of paper for all of us to keep, then read it aloud, the Greek consonants somersaulting over his lips, before he offered us one of its numerous English translations.

“‘Foreigner, go tell the Spartans that we lie here, obedient to their commands,’” he said. “Quite a sentiment to put on a Confederate statue.”

It took half an hour of research that night for me to realize how much of an understatement that was. The voice of the poor dead Spartans begs you to return to their loved ones the news that they didn’t tap out for nothing. That they died defending Sparta, Spartan ideals, and Spartan soil from foreign invasion — their glory in defeat is forever memorialized with that epitaph. The Spartans were heroes. According to the statue that thrusts its imposing figure over the Circle, the Confederate dead of Oxford and the Ole Miss campus, are, too.

Unfortunately, Ole Miss can’t seem to make up its mind about who its heroes are, or, at least, how much to value them. The statue of the Confederate soldier stands within a section of campus designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark due to the riots that accompanied the enrollment of James Meredith, the university’s first black student, 52 years ago next month. Just a few hundred feet away stands a statue of Mr. Meredith. It is made of bronze, and, for now, it is free of nooses and Georgia flags.

It is not for me to decide whether or not Confederate soldiers deserve glory, but I do know that it is not the responsibility of an educational institution and its students to maintain the last bastion of the Confederacy, or to stand as a symbol of the “Old South,” a period of assumed refinement and class that would maybe seem more romantic if it hadn’t all been built on the backs of slaves. Ole Miss has spent too long marinating in such an idyll, willfully and disappointingly ignorant of the antebellum period and its shame, and claiming that those who are not blind on purpose are traitors whose criticism should not be heard; but, as another professor of mine claims, nostalgia is about forgetting, not remembering. Selective memory and a painful lack of racial consciousness, however, are for the enjoyment of the privileged only. Minority students have no opportunity to forget, and it is irresponsible to tell them they have no voice to criticize aspects of a place that cheerfully romanticizes a society that would have enslaved them. As it stands, white privilege is a horrible litmus test for the acidity of racism. White students must no longer talk only to other white people about racism, or accept the myth that racism does not exist and that talking about racism is somehow worse than racism itself.

I teared up when I read the letter from Chancellor Dan Jones that detailed his action plan for the continued diversification of the university, which includes creation of a vice chancellor position for diversity and inclusion, the establishment of a Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, and the cultivation of a National Pan-Hellenic Council garden to give Black Greek Letter Organizations a permanent physical fixture on campus. Chancellor Jones also calls for not using the school’s nickname within an academic context; though referring to the university as “Ole Miss” is unlikely to change soon (I continue to use it when I’m not speaking about academics, simply because it’s much shorter), the nickname has paternalistic origins.

His leadership reflects the acknowledgement of the university’s — whatever you choose to call it — much- and long-needed diversity measures. The action plan inconveniences literally no one, but has received criticism from people who feel as if a tradition is being snatched away from them—people who view their own contrarian rather than constructive opinions above the offense they undeniably incur. One Ole Miss student (who is not from Mississippi) who objected to these changes wrote in an open letter to Chancellor Jones that she felt that “one of easiest forms of diversity a campus can attain is by attracting students from other states.” Out-of-state-ism is real, y’all.

Luckily, out-of-state tuition is not a recognized form of discrimination. Neither is it a “problem” unique to the university the way that romanticizing racist traditions is. The fact of the matter is that this plan of action is not an indictment of students for choosing to attend Ole Miss, ­for joining Greek organizations, or for being white; rather, it is a call for awareness of the discriminatory climate of campus. Reactionary students who will never be subject to racial slurs when they’re walking on campus in broad daylight, who were never afraid that their skin color would subject them to violence in a place where they’re supposed to be protected, who didn’t experience terror the night a noose appeared around the Meredith statue, shout their perceived victimhood so loudly that those whose lives would benefit most from the action plan cannot be heard.

Those who truly love Ole Miss push forward for necessary change, leadership, and inclusiveness for all who wish to be educated here; it is laughable to act as if impeding progress is somehow healthy for the university’s continued success. For Ole Miss to grow and rightfully be the flagship university for the state of Mississippi, its students must not only support this plan of action, but also allow those whose experiences are germane to the issues to lead the conversation.

 

Sierra Mannie is a rising senior majoring in Classics and English at the University of Mississippi. She is a regular contributor to the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, and her writing has previously appeared on TIME.com.

TIME Race

Abraham Lincoln’s Handwriting Found in Racial Theory Book

Lincoln Handwriting Race
This undated photo provided by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., shows what historical experts say is Abraham Lincoln's handwriting they’ve found inside a tattered book justifying racism that he may have read to better understand his opponents' thinking on slavery. Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum—AP

The Great Emancipator was reading a book that seeks to justify racism

Experts confirmed Tuesday what had long been whispered at a public library in the small town of Clinton, Illinois — a name written on a page in the book Types of Mankind was penned by none other than Abraham Lincoln.

On an early page of the book is written the name Clifton Moore, a local attorney and colleague of Lincoln, NBC Chicago reports. Below that note is one from a different attorney attesting that Lincoln wrote it in 1861, just before he was elected president. Lincoln is presumed to have written Moore’s name in the book to remind himself, or someone else, as to the identity of its rightful owner.

“There are certain letters of the alphabet that Lincoln wrote in a way that were not common to his era,” says the curator of Lincoln’s presidential museum James Cornelius. “A forger can typically do some of the letters in a good Lincolnian way. They’ll give themselves away on a couple of the others. This all adds up.”

The 700-page tome offers up the theory that different races on earth were created at different times and thus could not be equal and it was part of the natural order that Caucasians would enslave Africans and Native Americans. The book, published in 1854, was popular among racists and slave owners for lending support to their way of life.

Historians at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential stressed that Lincoln did not subscribe to the beliefs put forth in the book, but that racial division was a hot button issue at the time of his presidency and he was likely educating himself on opposing arguments.

“Everything we know about Lincoln’s legal, religious and scientific thinking tells us he rejected that argument,” adds Cornelius.

[NBC Chicago]

TIME NBA

Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer Meet for the First Time, Unproductively

A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles
A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles on April 29, 2014. Mario Anzuoni— Reuters

No progress was made on Ballmer's bid to buy the L.A. Clippers, but ESPN reports it was otherwise a "friendly conversation."

It was a private meeting between two men very recently and very publicly ushered from power: one the erstwhile leader of a once iconic tech company whose stock prices swiftly rebounded upon news of his resignation, the other the former owner of a basketball team whose departure from it only parenthetically had anything to do with basketball (in that his apparently racist vitriol was targeted at, well, people the color of some of his basketball players).

The latter, Donald Sterling, was banned from the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the remainder of his life after TMZ leaked a recording of some comments he made to his girlfriend V. Stiviano, concerning her friendship with black people. He’s consequently in the throes of selling the Los Angeles Clippers to the former, ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who stepped down from the company last year after thirteen tumultuous years at the helm, marked by the surge of the Apple Empire and the ultimate marking of his once-eminent firm as a brand that just wasn’t cool anymore. When all else fails, one supposes, buy a basketball team; Ballmer successfully made a bid of $2 billion to buy the Clippers within a month of the Sterling controversy.

The two men met at Sterling’s Beverly Hills home to negotiate the sale of the Clippers franchise together with Sterling’s wife Shelly. And while the crew reached no definitive settlement, ESPN reports that it was otherwise a perfectly pleasant conversation, considering Sterling’s notorious obstinacy on the matter.

It’s a trickier deal than just writing a check. Two years after Sterling bought the team in 1979, he granted co-ownership rights to Shelly, from whom he has been estranged since December 2012. Donald is banned from the NBA; Shelly is not. The NBA briefly considered snatching all license of ownership from the entire Sterling clan — their son-in-law, Eric Miller, has served as the Clippers’ “director of basketball administration” — but not before Shelly arranged the sale to Ballmer in late May. Donald condemned her actions, and a day later sued the NBA for $1 billion.

He’d drop the suit all of three days later, though he has since called his wife of 59 years a “pig.”

The warring couple met on Sunday to finally discuss business, two days before Shelly was to testify in the civil case between them over whether or not she was justified in her negotiations with Ballmer (she’ll be in court on Tuesday in Los Angeles). After a three hour conversation concerning all the tumult of the last few months — oh, to be a fly on that wall — the two invited Ballmer to come over the next day to further address the matter of the Clippers’ sale, which was supposed to have been finalized a week ago. It’s the first time the two men met in person to talk about the deal.

The NBA, meanwhile, twiddles its thumbs and waits. It’s widely assumed Ballmer will ultimately take the reins from the Sterlings, but if nothing’s certain by September 15, the league has the option to take matters into its own hands and sell the team itself, since the 2014-15 season will begin just six weeks later.

TIME Education

Maya Peterson: Why Lawrenceville Prep Needs a Jolt of Diversity

Maya Peterson
Maya Peterson © instagram—© instagram

The elite private school's former student body president explains why she used satire to fight privilege.

Earlier this year, I posted a photo of myself dressed in a Yale sweatshirt, embroidered pants, L.L. Bean boots and a hockey stick to my personal Instagram account. I captioned it “Lawrenceville Boi” (boi being a word used in the queer community to describe butch lesbians) and added hashtags like #confederate, #romney2016, #peakedinhighschool, #nwa and #ilikerap. The photo stirred up controversy at the elite private boarding school in New Jersey I attended at the time, where I was also student body president. I was told by my school’s administration and some students that I had offended a large portion of the school’s population, and I would have to either step down as student body president of The Lawrenceville School or face disciplinary action for the photo. I resigned in March.

Since then, I’ve been accused of trying to bring Lawrenceville down. While I understand how people might get that impression, it couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I love Lawrenceville so much that I refuse to stand by while the pressures of systematic oppression that plague our entire country go to work at the school I once called home. I consider Lawrenceville a microcosm of the United States, where discrimination and racism must be addressed.

Let me say first that the photo was strictly satirical. Earlier in the year, my friends and I had taken a Black Power photo for the yearbook, with our fists raised, that caused some backlash on campus. Because of that backlash, we decided to take another photo for our other yearbook page in which we all wore “typical Lawrenceville” apparel. That’s where the offending photo originated from.

As student body president, and Lawrenceville’s first black woman to hold the position, my actions were undoubtedly immature. But I hold firm that the use of satire to bring light to issues is not only effective, but also sometimes necessary when coping with oppression and injustice.

I was never called a nigger at Lawrenceville. Once a faggot. A few times a dyke. A trans friend was once called a “tranny” and a cross-dresser. The majority of the discrimination at Lawrenceville is subtle, almost unnoticeable unless you really pay attention to the anti-minority sentiments that linger in the minds and show themselves in the words of a few vocal Lawrentians.

It’s unclear to me where the insensitive, anti-PC attitude that I see so often in Lawrenceville men (women as well, but men in particular) comes from, though it’s certainly not exclusive to my alma mater. But I’m invested in changing such attitudes on campus and among the student body because Lawrenceville is the place where I gained the majority of my knowledge. Without the help of the school and the faculty, I probably wouldn’t have been able to write this piece. Though the educational value of Lawrenceville is priceless (the price tag, on the other hand, is $70,000 a year), there’s a crucial lack of appreciation for peoples and cultures that don’t fit the traditional American norm.

Lawrenceville preaches its own diversity, but the student body is predominantly white. From my observations, African Americans and Latinos make up a small portion of the student body. Lawrenceville was created for the children of wealthy, white, Protestants. In its 200-some years, Lawrenceville’s student body has included students of color for only around half a century, and women for only a quarter. Lawrenceville is also focused on honoring tradition. In the late 19th Century, the Southern Club was advertised in the yearbook with a caricature of an African American man. Last year, a Confederate flag was used at the club fair. It’s important to remember Lawrenceville’s history with pride, but modern Lawrentians and school administrators must understand that that history was not kind to all people.

Progress at Lawrenceville can be as simple as a more diversified curriculum or a non-gendered dress code. It will require overriding some traditions and ensuring minority students the same safety and comfort (physical and emotional) as the traditional Lawrenceville boy. I say this with full confidence that Lawrenceville will progress. I say this with gratitude for every person I have met and everything I have learned on the school’s stunning campus.

To the young women, students of color, disabled students, queer students, students who aren’t wealthy and straight white men who understand the plight of minorities who may be considering Lawrenceville: Don’t allow the recent articles and my story to dissuade you from attending. Although I don’t believe Lawrenceville knew how to effectively deal with me as a queer woman of color and as another brash teen, I owe all that I am to the school, the teachers who influenced and supported me and the amazing friends that I made. Lawrenceville needs your voices and your strength. There is a lot of work to be done, and we have to do it together.

(Note: Lawrenceville’s response to the controversy is here.)

Maya Peterson is a poet, rapper and activist. She will be a freshman at Wesleyan University pursuing a degree in Creative Writing and Sociology.

TIME

An Open Letter to Maya Peterson: On the Politics of Humor

Maya Peterson
Maya Peterson © instagram—© instagram

The first black woman president of The Harvard Lampoon addresses The Lawrenceville School's first black woman student body president—who recently resigned amid controversy

Hi Maya,

You don’t know me, but my name’s Alexis.

I recently heard you were forced to resign from your position as the first black, female student body president at Lawrenceville School—the most expensive private boarding school in the country—because you made fun of the typical “Lawrenceville boi” on Instagram by posting a photo of yourself in a Yale sweatshirt holding a hockey stick, adding hashtags such as “#confederate” and “#peakedinhighschool.”

Of course, it was meant to be a joke. It was meant to parody the sort of privileged, conservative, prep school boy who embodies the reason Lawrenceville did not admit black students until 10 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, and didn’t get around to women until 1987. It was you taking a satirical stand against the kind of people who apparently tormented you because of your race and sexuality, opposed your candidacy from the start, and called for the voting tally to be released just to be absolutely sure you had actually won that election.

I got the joke. I understand your context. As the first black female president of a historically white male institution, I knew exactly where you were coming from. Comedy, particularly in black communities, has always been a way of making fun of a system carefully rigged from its foundation to create success for some and failure for everybody else. Jokes at their best are both funny and enlightening, and that’s what makes them powerful. They can take the edge off and cut deep at the same time.

Your offended constituents, however, do not want to be cut deep—or cut at all. They do not want to be reminded of their context, your context. They want their “uber-diverse” President—but hold the controversy, hold the humor directed at their expense, and, please, eighty-six any real critique of the racist system that created this situation in the first place. Instead of lavishing praise on them for being “open-minded” enough to elect you, you showed them a reflection of themselves, and they were repulsed. How fitting that an Instagram was the tipping point because there is nothing more disturbing than holding up a mirror and not liking or recognizing the image that you see.

It is a harsh reality that the people who ushered you in are often the same ones who will revile you the moment you toe the line, the second you fail to reward them with enough politically correct Scooby Snax, the instant you remind them that racism and sexism and homophobia aren’t over just because you’re in charge.

To me, it is that power dynamic that made your Instagram post comical and harmless. And it is that power dynamic that allowed you to be stripped of your position for it. Because, as much as you are “in charge,” it is the people you mocked who have the capacity to remove that power, not the other way around.

So, from one black person who occasionally makes fun of white people to another, the system is rigged and I am sorry. I only hope that you do not let the persistent mechanisms of disenfranchisement make you ashamed, or fearful, or any less confident in your ability to make real change. In the words of Jesse Jackson, “Keep hope alive.” In the words of Mark Twain, “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made School Boards.” In the words of Lily Tomlin, “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.”

That last one isn’t super pertinent. But it’s pretty funny.

All my best,

Alexis

Alexis Wilkinson is a rising senior at Harvard College pursuing a degree in economics and psychology. She is the current president of the Harvard Lampoon.

TIME Football

This Powerful Anti-Redskins Ad Will Play During the NBA Finals

The California tribe Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation paid to run the minute-long commercial during the NBA Finals

Sports fans will see more than ads for fast food, cars and beer during commercial breaks in Tuesday night’s NBA Finals. An anti-Washington Redskins ad will run during the game’s halftime, in the hope that the NFL will force the team to change its name from what many consider a racial slur.

The California tribe Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation paid to run the minute-long ad, an edited version of the commercial above, which was created by the National Congress of American Indians. Adweek reports that a 30-second ad slot cost advertisers $460,000 in the 2013 NBA Finals.

The ad, called “Proud to be,” highlights tribes across the country. The final voiceover says, “Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t…” before flashing to an image of a Redskins helmet.

While the Redskins name and logo has been a source of controversy for decades, it received particular bad press after Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life after his racist rant was leaked to the public. NFL player Richard Sherman told TIME’s Sean Gregory that he didn’t think the NFL would have the same response.

“Because we have an NFL team called the Redskins,” Sherman said. “I don’t think the NFL really is as concerned as they show. The NFL is more of a bottom line league. If it doesn’t affect their bottom line, they’re not as concerned.”

The Redskins is preparing for a political fight over its name, hiring a lobbying firm in May after 50 Democratic senators sent the NFL a letter asking for a name change.

The National Congress of American Indians praised the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation for airing the ad during the NBA finals, and said it would send a “loud and clear” message to the league and the team.

“Contrary to the team’s absurd claims, this dictionary-defined racial epithet does not honor our heritage. The Change the Mascot campaign continues to gather strength every time that people are educated about the origin of the R-word and its damaging impact on Native peoples,” NCAI Executive Director Jackie Pata and Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said in a statement. “By airing this ad during the NBA Championships, the message will be brought into the living rooms of millions of American all across the country.”

TIME

Europe’s Problem With Politically Correct Fashion

Pharrell wears a headdress on Elle U.K. cover
Pharrell wears a headdress on Elle U.K. cover Elle U.K.

It's not a coincidence that Pharrell's fashion faux-pas happened in a European publication—recent history shows a trend

Since moving from New York City to London six months ago, I’ve realized that fashion on this side of the pond is a different beast. On the street, there’s a more natural, less labored personal style—utilitarianism rules, and that American fondness for flash is nearly invisible. On the other hand, fashion is culturally held in much higher regard here; Dior, McQueen and Ghesquière score mention in the same conversation as Koons, Picasso or Michelangelo. Families with no ties to the fashion industry are just as likely to take in the Isabella Blow or Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibits as they might the new Matisse, all of which are given equally prominent advertising in subway stations, and critical attention in the arts sections of newspapers. And yet, for all the seeming cultural awareness, incidents like this latest one involving ELLE UK, Pharrell, and a Native American headdress seem to happen far more frequently in European publications than in American ones.

Only halfway over, 2014 has already been a banner year for European fashion editors’ bad judgment. In January, Dasha Zhukova, founder and editor of Garage (based in London) was featured in the magazine Buro 24/7 (an online Russian fashion publication) sitting on topless black mannequin so lifelike that upon looking at the image, it’s almost impossible to tell that the Bjarne Melgaard-designed “chair” isn’t a black model conforming to the pretty white lady’s tush. Buro’s editor was quick to issue an apology, explaining that Melgaard’s work was a “commentary on racial politics.” That the editorial had been released on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day hardly matters—King was American, so it’s not a memorial holiday over here. But that is part of the problem; if a society doesn’t take note of its mistakes, its horrors, it’s all too easy to forget how wrong things can go.

A couple of months after the Buro debacle,Vogue Italia, which has a long and complicated relationship with race, published “Abracadabra,”a multi-page fashion story featuring white model Saskia De Brauw in tribal paint, posing semi-nude, gape-mouthed with safari animals. Not surprisingly, the feature did not go over well internationally. When interviewed by The Cut about Vogue Italia’s repeat bouts of racism, longtime editor in chief Franca Sozzani was far from apologetic: “You can just take pictures like in a catalog so you will never be controversial, but that’s not my choice of life.”

Misguided as Sozzani may have been, at mainstream American fashion magazines, photo shoots are rarely if ever used as commentary on a serious subject like race or misogyny or religion. And there are plenty of reasons why. First, magazines live and die by advertising pages; the more advertisers you have, the more editorial content you can include. Today, advertising in print is a hard sell, so once you’ve clinched that deal editors, why do anything to jeopardize the relationship? In Europe, the major fashion magazines function more or less as art books, and are supported and embraced by an art-hungry culture. Second, the American fashion magazine audience primarily reads for aspirational fantasy and commerce. Does that mean the former is more willing to take a risk making a statement—the risk occasionally resulting in disaster? Maybe. A generalization to be sure, but having lived in both cultures and witnessed a marked difference between the content, I think it stands.

The Pharrell incident, in the grand scheme of fashion offenses, seems more a case of irresponsible styling than a political statement gone wrong. Karl Lagerfeld came under similar fire for placing headdresses on models at his Chanel metiers d’arts show in Dallas this spring. Again, Europeans do not have an intimate understanding of the atrocities committed against Native Americans. But the lesson learned is clear: next time, just don’t.

Johanna Cox is a writer living in London.

TIME celebrities

Justin Bieber’s Racist Joke Apology Actually Gets It Right

Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber performs on March 23, 2013, in Bologna, Italy Roberto Serra / Iguana Press / Redferns via Getty Images

The pop singer's mea culpa hit all the right notes

Over the weekend, when video footage surfaced of Justin Bieber telling a racist joke, the cycle of celebrity scandal kicked into high gear. The video was posted by TMZ in the morning; by the evening, the Associated Press had an apology out of him.

The only thing unexpected about the order of events? Even though the joke is awful — and in some ways made worse by the fact that he was unconcerned enough about it to say it in front of a camera crew — the apology itself is solid.

As TIME’s Katy Steinmetz reported last month, when Donald Sterling was the celebrity-apology story of the moment, there are a few points that experts look for when assessing whether an apology is forgiveness-worthy, a no-go or just plain weird. You can read Bieber’s whole statement over at The Hollywood Reporter, but here are the points that make it pass muster:

  1. Bieber states what he did wrong and admits that it’s wrong: “I thought it was ok to repeat hurtful words and jokes, but didn’t realize at the time that it wasn’t funny and that in fact my actions were continuing the ignorance.”
  2. He says he’s sorry and owns the mistake, rather than using cop-outs like refusing to take responsibility (“mistakes were made”) or placing blame for being offended on those who are (“sorry if you’re offended”): “I’m very sorry. I take my friendships with people of all cultures very seriously and I apologize for offending or hurting anyone with my childish and inexcusable mistake.”
  3. He explains why the error is not one that he’ll make again, along with his hopes that his apology will help others do a better job of not making the same mistakes: “I was a kid then and I am a man now who knows my responsibility to the world and to not make that mistake again. Ignorance has no place in our society and I hope the sharing of my faults can prevent others from making the same mistake in the future.”

His only potential misstep comes with mentions of his age at the time, which can get a little close to making excuses or implying that the mistake was less bad than it seems. But, as a bonus, Bieber’s apology manages to fold in a nod to the deeper problem at hand, “the power of certain words and how they can hurt.” There’s no “I didn’t mean anything by it,” and he acknowledges that, even if he doesn’t think his joke was expressing a real racist sentiment, he was still participating in a larger history of racism. Even though he characterizes telling the joke as a “mistake,” he’s not saying that he accidentally spoke words he didn’t mean to say but that he didn’t understand what the words he said on purpose really meant.

So, kudos to Justin Bieber, or at least to whichever member of his entourage crafted the statement. But then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised: it was less than two months ago that he got some practice, apologizing for visiting a contentious shrine to Japan’s war dead.

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