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Judging a Book by its Cover: Dress White and Play Nice

A friend of mine is a criminal defense attorney. His job is tough and dirty. He deals with Racism on both sides of the justice scales. Lives hang in the balance on his shoulders. Some of his clients are guilty. His job is to defend them anyway. Some of his clients are set up by police, or enemies, or mistaken identity. His job is to defend them anyway.

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Activating Racial Stereotypes

During the infamous O.J. Simpson trial, attorney Johnnie Cochran — who used his magnificent mind to defend the indefensible and paid the wages of sin with an inoperable brain tumor — claimed during that awful trial it was Racist to identify a Black man by voice alone.
Do you agree with Cochran or not?

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When Minorities Act White

When minorities are accused of “acting White” by other minorities, tension and pain pierces both sides of that bloody coin of the cultural realm. Elijah Anderson presses that hot button in his excellent book, Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City, published in 1991, where he dissects the “code differences” between “decent” Blacks and “street” Blacks:

….street oriented people can be said at times to mount a policing effort to keep their decent counterparts from “selling out” or “acting white,” that is, from leaving the community for one of higher socioeconomic status. This retaliation, which can sometimes be violent, against the upwardly mobile points to the deep alienation present in parts of the inner-city community. Many residents therefore work to maintain the status quo, and so the individual who tries to excel usually has a great deal to overcome.

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The New York Black Street Slang Exam

Welcome to the Go Inside New York Black Street Slang Exam!

Before the politically correct police bust us — brand us racist bigots — and toss us to the thought cops… let me explain why I’m posting this “Exam” here.

I’m posting it because I failed it. Everyone I know failed it. I am a woman from Council Bluffs, Iowa and my parents are Irish and German: You can’t get Whiter or more Wonder Bread than that! (Some of my friends tease me that you can’t get any more “Redneck” than that!)

This test is a fascinating lesson in the culture of a language and a language as a culture. Don’t think of this exam as a “test” think of it more as an “examination.”

Most agree that all cultures must better understand each other. That spirit of understanding is what will drive me here in this article. I’ll try to help shed some light on the varied aspects of as many cultures as I can possibly find to share with you.

The exam is not an assault upon New York. I’d love to post a Los Angeles version of this exam or a Redmond, Washington version or a Lincoln, Nebraska version if they exist! Let me know if you have any thoughts on the matter.

This exam originally appeared on The Howard Stern Radio Show and it was quite real and not a joke. I can’t stand Howard or his show, but I can’t let my personal feelings bother this issue.

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