And Today’s “Madness! Madness!” Item Of The Day: “The Unintentional Racism Found In Traffic Signals”

I didn’t make that title up. “The Unintentional Racism Found in Chex Mix,” I made up. Not  the other one.

You can read the article here.

The writer, David Kaufman, says in the article that he is black, so I’ll take his word for it. I’m not going to fisk or rebut the piece, any more than you would take the time fir rebut my Chex Mix conspiracy theory, if I really wrote it down. Both articles inhabit the special category  of “res ipsa loquitur” reserved for things that, without further analysis or explication, prove that their creator is mentally ill, or, in the alternative, trying, for whatever reason, to make people believe waht isn’t so, or, possibly engaging in satire. When you  read the article, the latter possibility is quicklyerases, and so is the second. The author is serious. He is deranged.

Here’s one section, just to illustrate:

“And there you have it: The government-approved origins of the “little White men” telling us to cross the street at corners across New York….I am now convinced that technology and necessity, rather than some anti-Black conspiracy, propelled the shift from verbal crosswalk cues to a lunar-white Walking Person. But my heart still sinks at the specter of teaching my sons to ask a White man for permission to do — well, anything. Because so much of the world already insists that we do.”

This diseased state of mind is, tragically, not typical (I hope) but also not rare among African Americans, who have been told, persuaded, and conditioned to see racism everywhere…in every setback, every failure, every slight, every raised eyebrow provocative tone or grimace, ,every insult, real or imagined, every misfortune or defeat, in short everything that mature, mentally healthy adults learn to cope with, accept and rise above, sometimes altering their own conduct as a result, Those so warped have been rendered permanently handicapped, and not by United States society. They have been rendered paranoid  and irrational by the self-serving propaganda of own leaders and supposed supporters, to make them fearful.

There was a time when the fear and paranoia was justified.  Paul Morella and I recently did a Zoom version of our ethics CLE program, “Clarence Darrow’s Ethics Lessons For Today’s More Ethical Lawyers” for the D.C. Bar. (It averaged 4.9 approval in all but two categories, 4.7 in those, within a  1-5 scale.) A highlight, as always, was Paul’s rendition of Darrow’s 1926 closing argument as he defended 11 blacks accused of murder when one of them shot a member of a white mob outside their home in a segregated neighborhood in Detroit. (I wrote a post about that amazing speech here.) In one memorable passage, Darrow tells the all-white jury,

Make yourselves colored for a little while. It won’t hurt, you can wash it off. They can’t, but you can; just make yourself black men for a little while; long enough, gentlemen, to judge them, and before any of you would want to be judged, you would want your juror to put himself in your place. That is all I ask in this case, gentlemen. They were black, and they knew the history of the black.

… I should imagine that the only thing that two or three colored people talk of when they get together is race. I imagine that they can’t rub color off their face or rub it out of their minds. I imagine that it is with them always. I imagine that the stories of lynchings, the stories of murders, the stories of oppression are a topic of constant conversation. I imagine that everything that appears in the newspapers on this subject is carried from one to another until every man knows what others know, upon the topic which is the most important of all to their lives.

What do you think about it? Suppose you were black. Do you think you would forget it, even in your dreams? Or would you have black dreams? Suppose you had to watch every point of contact with your neighbor and remember your color, and you knew your children were growing up under this handicap. Do you suppose you would think of anything else?

Darrow’s assessment wa accurate and fair. That trial, however, took place at the height of Jim Crow. There was open and pervasive racism; black citizens rights were suppressed and denied.

Those who profit and acquire power by convincing African Americans, including children, that they should still have the state of mind in 2020 that Darrow described in 1926, do incalculable harm to them and the nation.

But that is how we get articles like “The Unintentional Racism Found In Traffic Signals.”

23 thoughts on “And Today’s “Madness! Madness!” Item Of The Day: “The Unintentional Racism Found In Traffic Signals”

  1. From the article:

    “My friend is White and I’m not — something I’d never given a second thought until we reached a crosswalk.”

    I don’t believe for a second that he never gave their race a second thought. I doubt that this person could look at a vanilla ice cream cone without feeling oppressed.

    (I also don’t believe that the incident here describes ever happened but that’s beside the point. )

    • Agreed. Anyone who would see the little white man at the crosswalk as racist has definitely thought a lot about the differences in race between he and his friend.

      The article actually reminds me of an episode of “The Office”. Michael is reading off a list of grievances by the employees and comes to this gem:
      Michael: Someone complained that the men’s room is “whites only.” Stanley, you know that’s not true.
      Stanley: I didn’t say that.
      Creed: Then why is there a picture of a white man on the door?

      And that was meant to be funny. Who knew the showrunners were actually exposing racism.

  2. You may safely ignore Kaufman. Anyone who is so un-woke as to ignore and fail to condemn the inherent sexism in that little man image is nor worth your time. Like Kaufman, I never think about the gender or gender identity of my friends and associates until I see some kind of image, and boom, I’m triggered to the point of tears that such sexist imagery even exists, no matter the reason.
    The inherent heightism also is troubling.

  3. Martin Luther King gave a speech in 1957 in which he said the following:

    Let us be honest with ourselves, and say that we, our standards have lagged behind at many points. Negroes constitute ten percent of the population of New York City, and yet they commit thirty-five percent of the crime. St. Louis, Missouri: the Negroes constitute twenty-six percent of the population, and yet seventy-six percent of the persons on the list for aid to dependent children are Negroes. We have eight times more illegitimacy than white persons. We’ve got to face all of these things. We must work to improve these standards. We must sit down quietly by the wayside, and ask ourselves: “Where can we improve?” What are the things that white people are saying about us? They say that we want integration because we want to marry white people. Well, we know that is a falsehood. (That’s right) We know that. We don’t have to worry about that. (All right) Then on the other hand, they say some other things about us, and maybe there is some truth in them. Maybe we could be more sanitary; maybe we could be a little more clean. You may not have enough money to take a weekend trip to Paris, France, and buy all of the fascinating and enticing perfumes. You may not be able to do that, but you are not so poor that you cannot buy a five cents bar of soap (Yeah) so that you can wash before [word inaudible]. [applause]

    And another thing my friends, we kill each other too much. (All right, yes) We cut up each other too much. (Yes, Yes sir) There is something that we can do. We’ve got to go down in the quiet hour and think about this thing. We’ve got to lift our moral standards at every hand, at every point. You may not have a Ph.D. degree; you may not have an M.A. degree; you may not have an A.B. degree. But the great thing about life is that any man can be good, and honest, and ethical, and moral, and can have character. (Well, Yes) [applause]

    We must walk the street every day, and let people know that as we walk the street, we aren’t thinking about sex every time we turn around. (No, That’s right) We are not animals (No) to be degraded at every moment. (Yeah) We know that we’re made for the stars, created for eternity, born for the everlasting (Yes), and we stand by it. [applause] (All right, All right)

    There are some things that we can do. (Yes) We must improve our standards (Yeah); improve our conduct; we must improve our sanitary conditions; we must even improve our cultural standards. There are many things that we can do. Opportunities are open now that were not open in the past, adult education and all of these things-we must take advantage of them. (Yeah) There are things that we can do to make ourselves respected by others. Let me rush on.

    There’s a third thing we must do, that we can do. We must achieve excellency in our various fields of activity and our various fields of endeavor. This is a new day, and that simply means that doors are opening now that were not open in the past. Opportunities stand before us now that did not stand before us in the past. And the great challenge before the Negro at this hour is to be ready to enter these doors as they open. (Yes, All right) Ralph Waldo Emerson said in an essay back in 1871 that if a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.13 (Yes) We must get ready and do the job, the opportunities will stand there for us.

    Now let me rush on to say that in this day we are going to compete with people, not Negro people. So don’t set out to do a good Negro job. Do you see what I mean here? [laughter] That we are not out to be good Negro anything, especially at this hour. Set out to do a good job. I was in a fraternity meeting not long ago, and you know when you’re pledging a fraternity, they ask you what you plan to do, or what are some of your ideals, and what is your life’s work? What do you plan to do for life? And I remember very vividly, a fellow looked up and said, “Well, my aim is to be a good Negro high school principal.” And I looked at him and said, “Brother, you aren’t ready for this new order which is emerging. [laughter] You see, we are trying to get in an order where you won’t have Negro high schools, and what do you mean, you’re going to be a good Negro high school principal?” [laughter]

    We’ve got to get ready to do a good job, a good job. Let us build up our standards of excellence in all of these areas. Businessmen, professional men—and when I say men, I’m speaking in a generic sense, I mean women also who are in these areas—set up your businesses and your professions on such a level that they will stand up anywhere. (Yeah, All right) Don’t just set them up so that you go out begging people to come to trade with you because you’re a Negro, but because you have a good business (Yeah), not because you’re a Negro. Keep your business up and run it on a business basis, and keep it clean and well-developed so that people will come to your business (Yeah) because you have a good business, and not because you’re a Negro (That’s right) out here in need of a little help. You must do a good job. And I’ve said, you know, everywhere along the way, I preach about this thing, that we must patronize Negro business. And that’s not forming a new type of isolationism, but it simply means that we make jobs for other Negroes because we can’t get jobs in these other places, in white businesses, so often, so we must make jobs for ourselves. [source tape damaged] […] for all of us; that’s for all of us. Let’s get ready to achieve excellence in all of these fields of activity.

    I submit that MLK, or at least the MLK of that speech, would be appalled at what’s going on now, and disgusted with the writer of that article. He would ask the writer if he had nothing better to do than find racism everywhere he looked, in the most unlikely places, and then turn it into a grievance. He would probably also say that his dream has been twisted by those who came after him, indeed, made the absolute opposite of what he said. I’m also sure he’d say that if some white shopkeeper at a mall gives you nonsense, the answer is to take your business elsewhere and encourage others to do likewise, not make a phone call and have a mob show up to intimidate the person and possibly wreck the business. He would not encourage defacing the public landscape by tearing down statues or writing huge graffiti on the street. He wouldn’t be ok with any of what’s going on now, and he’d say it was going to be counterproductive in the long run.

  4. Speaking of, here’s an interesting article by them. I was intrigued to read it as I’m always open to listening to other people’s ideas about breaking out of our hyper-partisan culture, while I maintain my own relatively radical ideas for structural changes while holding fairly cynical ideas about the real problem.

    View at

    I think they’ve pulled some subtle bait and switch on the reader. About halfway down, you hit a chart called “The Hidden Tribes in America”, where this ‘Unity’ party tries to carve out an open-minded and compromising group. The chart breaks down the nation into:

    Progressive Activists
    Traditional Liberals
    Passive Liberals
    Politically Disengaged
    Traditional Conservatives
    Devoted Conservatives

    Laying the groups out on the traditional linear political chart of Left and Right, I have no idea why they presume “politically disengaged” has any business in the middle, let alone anywhere on the chart. They’re disengaged and history tends to imply they mostly stay disengaged for the rest of their lives, barring a few exceptions. But being placed in the middle ignores the likelihood that if they miraculously somehow became engaged they would fall all over the continuum of voting patterns.

    But I suspect that cohorts placement has more to do with the sleight of hand as the originators try to hide their own political biases. But not well…it would seem in an effort to show leftwingers as generally more reasonable and in “in the middle”, moderates and the so-called “disengaged” are placed to help put the slightly-tolerable left dead in the middle in order to pull off their next sleight of hand– the smearing of “traditional conservatives” while considering “traditional liberals” in the big tent.

    The ‘Unity’ party’s claim for unity here is the idea of creating a big tent majority of middle of the road but “exhausted” constituencies by sacrificing each side of the aisle’s ‘extremists’, as the article labels them “the wings”. Now, I’m no mathematician, but I do dabble in the basics of arithmetic, and it seems to me that when building a majority, one typically looks at combining the larger components into a sum, leading to a certain level of skepticism when I see the ‘Unity’ party excluding “Traditional Conservatives” at 19% which would build a larger majority than the included “Traditional Liberals” at 11%.

    Adding to their inability to hide their intention, they further lump “Traditional Conservatives” in with the smeared group “wings” of the Right. What a farce. We get it, they aren’t for ‘unity’, they are for carving out a left-leaning organization which will ultimately do what all left-leaning organizations do…break for their own radical wing once they’ve got hostages on board.

  5. I asked this question on Quora and got answers.

    San Diego Gas and Electric Fired an Employee for using a white supremacist hand gesture. How can it be a white supremacist sign if Barack Obama used it?

    Remember when you were on a long car ride as a kid and you were poking your sister and she said, “Mom, he’s touching me” and your mother told you to knock it off and you spent the rest of the car ride get as close to touching your sister as you possibly could without touching her and she complained again and you said, “What? I didn’t touch her! I’m just sitting here!” Remember what a little prick you were?

    Same thing, for the same reason, and with the same level of maturity. “I wasn’t making a White Power hand sign! I was just cracking my knuckles!” Fuck this guy, fuck all the assholes seeing how far they can push things while staying within the letter of the law and fuck anyone posting this kind of faux naive passive aggressive question to needle people they’re no longer allowed to kill outright.

    – Marc Clamage

    Either people care about racism or they don’t.

    Trumpism is about silly arguments that go no where.

    And that’s just where Trump wants to take America.

    No where.

    Trump wants us mired in racism.

    Trump’s finished.

    – Rodney Pressley

    • Thanks for posting the photo. I didn’t know he was talking about the little neckless, faceless, handless and footless pedestrian guy. He’s black on non-illuminated signs. Would Mr. Kaufman feel better if the background was lit white to outline the little fellow in a black/unlit figure? Doesn’t he also turn green or red on certain cross walk signage? Madness indeed.

      I bet this guy is a sociologist and a teacher at a college. Some ideas are so stupid only intellectuals can believe in them.

  6. Let’s not forget to include the unintentional racism of black text on a white background!!!
    The white background is the dominant visual presence that lifts the black text off the page.
    The black text does all the work of carrying the meaning of the written word.

  7. Is the don’t walk orange don’t walk man racist too because it reminds us of orange man bad and we all know he’s racist?

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