The New York Times has an astounding, depressing op-ed by a black woman, a “journalist and an author” named Erin Audrey Kaplan in which she announces unequivocally racist, bigoted, anti-white sentiments without a hint of self-awareness. It would be nice to think the Times printed her hateful essay as a “Don’t be like this bigot!” cautionary tale. Knowing the Times as I do, I doubt it.
Kaplan writes that she lives in “a mostly Black and Latino city in southwestern Los Angeles County.” She decided to build a Little Free Library (one of my neighbors in Alexandria has one) in her front yard. The birdhouse-like object (see it in the photo above?) invited pedestrians walking by to borrow (and later return) a book. Kaplan says she erected hers “to signal to my longtime neighbors that we had our own ideas about [community] improvement, and could carry them out in our own way…I envisioned it as a place for my neighbors to stay connected during the pandemic.”
She relates that she took pleasure in observing various neighbors stopping at the tiny library and accepting its friendly invitation, until…
..a young white couple happened by. She writes,
I had set out this library for all who lived here, and even for those who didn’t, in theory. I would not want to restrict anyone from looking at it or taking books, based on race or anything else. But while I had seen white newcomers to the neighborhood here and there, the truth was, I hadn’t set it out to appeal to white residents.
Now that they were in front of my house, curious about this new neighborhood attraction, I didn’t know how to feel. By bringing this modern cultural artifact here from white neighborhoods, had I set myself up, set up the neighborhood? Was I contributing to gentrification and sending the wrong message about how I wanted the neighborhood to be?
What I resented was not this specific couple. It was their whiteness, and my feelings of helplessness at not knowing how to maintain the integrity of a Black space that I had created. I was seeing up close how fragile that space can be, how its meaning can be changed in my mind, even by people who have no conscious intention to change it. That library was on my lawn, but for that moment it became theirs. I built it and drove it into the ground because I love books and always have. But I suddenly felt that I could not own even this, something that was clearly and intimately mine.
As the couple wandered on, no books in hand, I thought about how fragile my feeling of being settled is. It didn’t matter that I own my house, as many of my neighbors do. Generations of racism, Jim Crow, disinvestment and redlining have meant that we don’t really control our own spaces. In that moment, I had been overwhelmed by a kind of fear, one that’s connected to the historical reality of Black people being run off the land they lived on, expelled by force, high prices or some whim of white people.
We get it, Erin. You’re a racist, and worse, you think you are justified in being a racist. You resented a young couple you know nothing about, because of their skin color. Based only on that, you assumed, or maybe just suspected, that they would do you and the neighborhood harm by their existence. You can rationalize (and indeed you try) how your reaction is somehow different from homeowners in white neighborhoods who resented black families moving next door because they feared that it would depress the racist market for their home if they decided to sell, but it’s not. Those whites were and are racists who undermine and soil the brilliant idea of America, and they need to be shunned, and reprimanded, and shamed. So should you.
Kaplan then writes (reactions I cannot suppress are in italics)
Ultimately, the moment with the couple I saw through my window raised for me a serious moral question about how I should act. [Really? How hard is “traet them like anyone else, and as you would want to be treated”?] Screaming at them to get off my lawn would be adopting the values of the oppressor, as my racial-justice activist father used to say. [Ya think?] Yet my resentment was not analogous to the white resentment of generations past (and of now, I’d argue). [ That’s the essence pf hypocrisy and double standards. Racism is different when it’s your racism, and those white folks deserve to it.] White resentment has always been legitimized, and reinforced, by legal and cultural dominance, a dynamic evident in everything from the rise of Trumpism to the current battle against the political boogeyman of critical race theory. [You knew she’d find a way to blame this on Trump!]
Despite being one of those White Devils myself, I will now generously and benignly supply the author with my expert opinion as a professional ethicist regarding “how she should act,” gratis. She should recognize that her reaction to the innocent white couple, who deserve the benefit of any doubt and the same presumption of good will that Erin would want herself to be accorded, marks her as bigot and an anti-white racist, so poisoned with hate and prejudice that she can’t grasp the universal ethical values of respect, fairness, reciprocity and forgiveness. Bias has not only made her stupid—for it is thobbingly stupid to write an essay like this and not understand that it reveals exactly the kind of ugliness and tit-for-tat racial payback that the “political boogeyman’ embodies—it has made her a destructive force in the community she claims to want to enrich.
How does she “need to act”? She needs to look in the metaphorical mirror, see the racist staring back at her, and get to work. She must recognize her bias, and act aggressively to reject it, overcome it, purge it, or at least adjust her ethics alarms to start ringing loudly every time she feels it seeping into her thinking and distorting her judgment.
Work on that first, Erin.
The little library can wait.
20 thoughts on “Is Your “Little Library Contributing To the Gentrification” Of Your Black Neighborhood? No, The Problem Is That You’re A Racist And A Hypocrite. Fix It!”
Nope. She should tell those cracker yuppies to get the fuck off her lawn. The only antidote to racism is more racism. Her neighborhood is a safe space for people of color. White people need to stay the fuck away. She’s perfectly entitled to be a racist. Actually, she’s morally obligated to be one.
And whoever at the NYT published her piece thinks and feels the same way.
Uh, the Little Free Library was started by a white guy from my current hometown of Hudson, WI.
Not only is she a racist, she’s a cultural appropriator and she needs to knock it off.
And her name is Erin; an Irish name. This chick 0 for 3.
Guess she’s just appropriating from the old days of Irish and Italian neighborhoods, where if you took a wrong turn and ended up in the neighborhood where you didn’t belong, you’d be dodging bottles and bricks. “Andiamo, you dumb-a Mick!” “Get outa here, ya Dago bastard!”
FFsS, this makes The Apologetic Gynecologist almost appear sane!
Agh! What a low down perspective! Even lower for the NYT.
Thanks for exposing it, I never read that paper but its good to gauge their downward spiral.
I just want to put this out there that it’s a mistake to generalize about the New York Times. Frankly, this year, especially from the late spring on, there’s been quite a change. Yes absolutely, their opinions section publishes some really far-our-there material like this. But they also have a number of columnists and guest writers who regularly challenge the various orthodoxies of what is clearly their reader base. Almost more importantly, there are often now news stories that expose at ground level the very problems that a lot of the base of this blog’s readership seem to be concerned about. Just yesterday there was one about how angry parents are at the sudden one-day-a-week closure of some public schools due either to labor shortages or simply pandemic exhaustion, which has come to mean more the unintended effects of the gone-too-far mitigation efforts rather than the virus itself.
In all of these, an interesting sport is to open the reader comments and watch the reader base angrily fight with the newspaper itself. In my opinion the NYT is doing much better at this than the Washington Post, whose against-the-grain reporting has been far less and whose comments section is simply the typical free-for-all Internet mess. As far as a downward spiral in the so-called mainstream media, I’d say we now have CNN as the best example of that. I hope this helps.
Thank you David for taking the time to comment and clarify. I haven’t read the NYT in a long while and will consider what you shared here. Thanks.
Thank you and it was not meant at all toward you in particular. I simply replied to the comment you happened to make, which I’m sure is shared by others. And it most certainly works in the other direction as well. To take the most extreme example, habitual MSNBC watchers, of whom I know a few, desperately need to diversify their news sources. It’s not even the opinions expressed there, it’s the extraordinarily narrow range of topics they’ll actually address (over and over and over). I cannot see how anyone can be well informed when they consume “news” this way.
Using the art of fear perception on Erin Audrey Kaplan, and based on what she’s written, I strongly suspect she’s missing the first step of the collaborative problem-solving process: understanding one’s own values. (She’s missing the next two steps as well, but first things first.)
Kaplan can’t very well protect, maintain, or enrich her and her community’s space if she doesn’t know what she values about it. The only thing she can do is try to keep people out if she perceives them as a threat.
Any outsiders will look like a threat to her, because without knowing what she values about her space, she can’t tell the difference between a person who will detract from it and one who will add to it. It’s far easier just to shut out any strangers. This approach is a very common cultural phenomenon, frequently tied to dogma.
I recommend that she talk through what she values about her community, perhaps with someone else supplying key concepts, so that she can be confident in her ability to preserve those values in an assertive yet nuanced fashion.
No, to tell at them would be to adopt the tactics of an oppressor, your entire reaction to their presence demonstrates you have already adopted the values of an oppressor.
Such a fabulous opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade. If I lived nearby; I would obtain books from the following authors and then slowly, gradually, drop them off in the little culturally appropriated free library. It is the season of giving after all. Oh what wonderful fun…
Dinesh D’ Souza
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
I’ll throw in some Victor Davis Hanson, Ann Coulter, Daniel Flynn, and David Horowitz, free of charge. De-stupidize your bookshelf.
Indeed, all excellent additions to the list Steve-O but they are authors of unacceptable color.
McWhorter was an oversight.
Love that list, Batman. I’d also throw in John McWhorter.
Not gonna lie, I can’t stand “little free libraries”. They are neighborhood eye sores packed with the Dean Koontz books and maybe a Country Living Magazine no one wants to read (not even the owners, which is why they put them out of their houses). The books, exposed to the elements, deteriorate inevitably, while the McMansion looking birdhouses that the books are stored in, likewise inevitably deteriorate into spider and vermin infested hovels.
All while “big free libraries” are almost typically within a 5 minute drive and offer precisely 10,000 times greater selection and are generally architecturally delightful to look at in a neighborhood and other than the odd cat that manages to infiltrate are pretty much cob-web and rat free.
I understand the *notional* intent of those who build them being kind and neighborly, but it also feels like the intent is to *look like* you are being kind and neighborly.
But in her case? She was offended that a couple *didn’t* take the books she offered. What books were offered? That she was offended enough to take to an editorial rant implies to me that most of the books she offered were radical political reads…which I think is supported by her point: “…the integrity of a Black space that I had created…”.
In which case her little spider-house, filled with slowly molding paper, was less about the neighborhood and more about her own passive proselytization. But, barring a book list, that’s just speculation.
She seems to have a well-manicured lawn…which I’ve been recently informed is a sign of white supremacist colonialism or some other meaningless string of academic sounding terms. Pumpkins in front of her house? How can she celebrate a holiday so Anglo-centric as Halloween – let alone that Halloween is derivative of the euro-centric All-Saint’s Day.
She should really get caught up on all the ways she’s somehow supposed to be offended.
Yes, the little free libraries are a means of virtue signaling, for sure. Hah!
Well, maybe there isn’t any “community center” within easy walking distance of the neighborhood, where she could start a free reading room. That would have the added advantage of having a marquee to name it after some well-known black activist and plenty of wall-space to post anti-whi…sorry, anti-racist slogans to warn off outsiders. Failing that, there’s always the desk inside where Aisha or Fatima or Chimmiqua with her cornrows and kente top can challenge outsiders, “you lost or sumthin?” and, if they still don’t get the message, she can gesture to Obalaji with the dreadlocks and Malik with the shaved head to ah, encourage them on their way (“Let’s go, white boy, you ain’t needed or wanted here.”).
There is hope. Not everyone is on board with her position: