*Brown Face, Big Master*, by Joyce Gladwell

by on March 2, 2017 at 2:15 pm in Books, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

One of the most rewarding parts of preparing for my chat with Malcolm Gladwell earlier this week was discovering the autobiographical memoir of his mother, Joyce Gladwell, published in 1969.  It covers growing up in Jamaica, women’s rights and recognition, a mixed-race marriage in the England of the 1960s, and a Christian journey through this world.  The most striking passages are the account of a sexual assault on a ship and a stranger in the street hurling a racial epithet at her and her sons, in addition to Malcolm’s brief cameo as a very very young man on p.178.  Most of all, this is a tale of a contemplative humility, and an account of how struggle and “the medicine of acceptance” can blend together into a successful and fulfilling life.  It is especially valuable as a reflection of how a particular kind of quiet grace is closely tied to Jamaican heritage.  Here is a short summary of the book.

What was striking on a second reading is how much this is also a memoir of how she lost her faith in adolescence, and wandered through part of her life without it, only later returning to the fold.

Here is some background information on Malcolm and his mother.  Here is a 2007 radio chat with Malcolm and his mother, definitely recommended, despite her humble demeanor she has an amazing media presence and is not afraid to overrule her son.  Malcolm also profiles her in Outliers, but that section makes more sense when you have read her directly.

1 Art Deco March 2, 2017 at 2:55 pm

The most striking passages are the account of a sexual assault on a ship and a stranger in the street hurling a racial epithet at her and her sons, in addition to Malcolm’s brief cameo as a very very young man on p.178.

I assume Mrs. Gladwell selected this incident to recount because it was illustrative of something, not because it was much of an emotional trauma.

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2 Ray Lopez March 2, 2017 at 3:28 pm

Obviously it was selected to indicate racism and sexual abuse, not some sort of life changing trauma. In Greece until I guess recently women were groped all the time in buses; still happens in DC’s metro.

Bonus trivia: I didn’t know Malcom Gladwell was part black, did you? He looks white to me.

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3 Anon2 March 2, 2017 at 3:32 pm

Not to me. He has a groovy afro.

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4 The Other Jim March 2, 2017 at 3:56 pm

Bonus fun fact, Ray: did you know Obama is half white? I bet he looks black to you.

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5 Ray Lopez March 2, 2017 at 7:59 pm

Gladwell looks very white to me, more so than Obama does.

Bonus trivia: the great Russian poet, lionized by Stalin and the equivalent in Russia to the English Shakespeare, Pushkin, was half-black.

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6 The Centrist March 2, 2017 at 8:30 pm

He’s not the Russian Shakespeare–he’s the world’s Pushkin.

7 Anon2 March 2, 2017 at 10:46 pm

What? His great grandfather was Black. Does that make someone half Black?

8 anonymous reply to Ray Lopez March 3, 2017 at 12:48 am

Ray – to be slightly more accurate, one of Pushkin’s four grandparents was half-Ethiopian, the other three were apparently Russian or possibly, with respect to one of the four, half-German (well, at least with a German last name – could have been Baltic, Swedish, Jewish, or Polish – but probably German). Also, no literate Russian thinks of Pushkin as an equivalent to Shakespeare. A great poet, a magician with words, someone who cared deep in his heart about not boring people with his talents – and that is no small thing, believe me – but not an equivalent to Shakespeare (Ray, for the record, there are only three countries in Europe with writers that are considered to be as good as Shakespeare by the people of those countries – Greece, obviously, Italy, obviously, and Ireland. With a name like Ray Lopez you should have known that!!!!) Interestingly, as much as poets indulge themselves by thinking they look down on mathematicians, it was Kolmogorov, rather than one of the great Russian chess champions of his day, who was best known for a pure and inspiring devotion to the genius of Pushkin.

9 Troll me March 2, 2017 at 4:56 pm

Japan has women’s only subway cars for precisely this reason.

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10 NewHumianBeing March 2, 2017 at 5:47 pm

Obama is only black if you are a racist.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-drop_rule

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11 Milo Fan March 2, 2017 at 6:50 pm

The White and Black communities both seem pretty happy with the one drop rule.

12 Cliff March 2, 2017 at 10:57 pm

Does that make Obama a racist?

13 Josh March 3, 2017 at 6:15 am

I have not heard many express happiness with respect to the racial status quo.

14 Todd K March 2, 2017 at 7:59 pm

As does India, Egypt, Iran, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates.

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15 Troll me March 3, 2017 at 5:06 pm

An alternative solution when some women justifiably believe that the police themselves might rape a woman who tries to report sexual assault?

16 steveslr March 2, 2017 at 8:17 pm

When Gladwell came to the U.S. from Canada and worked for the conservative “American Spectator” magazine, he didn’t much identify as black. He thought American racial thinking was reductive and low brow.

His mother is from Jamaica’s mulatto middle class. As my son’s similar college roommate said: “In Jamaica, everybody calls me white. In America, everybody calls me black.”

In one of Gladwell’s books he details how carefully his Jamaican ancestors discriminated against potential marriage partners who were darker than them.

Only after his bestseller “The Tipping Point” did Gladwell grow his hair out into a Napoleon Dynamite-like afro and get more in sync with American racial conventional wisdom.

This proved not unlucrative for him.

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17 steveslr March 2, 2017 at 8:24 pm

One irony that Gladwell left unstated in his chapter sniping at his Jamaican’s ancestors’ paper bag test marriage strategy is that his mother marrying a 100% white college professor and their having a white-looking son who becomes a famous author was not at all repudiation of his mulatto ancestors’ biases, but a spectacular vindication of them.

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18 Itsallrigged March 3, 2017 at 1:38 am

The logic does not follow, unless your point of departure is some underlying axiom that looks, walks and quacks like a duck.

19 Jan March 3, 2017 at 7:09 am

She married the white guy because he was white?

20 steveslr March 2, 2017 at 8:27 pm

Gladwell appeared on Henry Louis Gates’ DNA test and genealogy research on PBS. Gates wrote:

In the end, we failed to find a single slave in Malcolm’s Jamaican ancestry. What’s more, we found a stunning instance of the opposite: black slave owners on the family tree. …

This means that Malcolm’s fifth-great-grandmother, a free woman of color, owned slaves. She even spelled one of them out by name, leaving her slave “Ruthie” to her grandson, Malcolm’s third-great-grandfather Benjamin Samuel Levy, another free man of color.

“Oh my goodness,” said Malcolm, stunned. “The kind of mental jujitsu you have to go through is quite remarkable. It was a class-based society, and so color was class, class was color. There it is. How far back in her history do we have to go, do we think, to find a slave? Her mother or maybe her grandmother?”

I told Malcolm that we didn’t know. Margaret Mullings is as far back along that line of his family as we could go. Her mother, most likely, was not a slave. But beyond that, it is unclear. Obviously, Malcolm descends from slaves at some point in his family tree: every black person in the New World, except for recent immigrants from Africa, did. But his ancestors did not stay slaves for very long. And as soon as they were free and could afford to do so, it appears that they began to buy slaves themselves.

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2010/10/henry-louis-gates-on-malcolm-gladwells.html

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21 Jan March 3, 2017 at 7:06 am

He made money because of his hair?

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22 Anon2 March 2, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Art, facts should never get in the way of a good story, especially when it fits into a larger narrative of How the World Works.

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23 Troll me March 2, 2017 at 4:55 pm

On the other side of the picture, I’ve never experienced racial epithets in that manner. With some minor exceptions relating to situations where many bombs had been dropped, and confirmation that I was not American was all that was necessary to relieve myself of the ill will.

In which case, not due to racism. I think the bombs might have something to do with it. Also, regular meddling in their internal politics might not always go over well.

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24 So Much For Subtlety March 2, 2017 at 5:34 pm

If you live in China I bet you have. It just means you are not aware enough of what people are saying, or you have no Chinese, or, and this is really the point, who cares if someone throws a racial epithet at a White person? Only the truth hurts and what can they say about a White Canadian? You invented poutine – Damn you all to hell?

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25 Troll me March 2, 2017 at 6:06 pm

Maybe a bit. But generally much much in the other direction. Less so than before.

Mostly it’s just repeatedly hearing children saying “other country person”. You might get some dirty looks, but that’s usually related to anti-Americanism, or perhaps some gripes related to the Opium wars that somehow still persist (possibly related to what’s in the textbooks).

Being neither British nor American, and easily speaking out against the Opium Wars (and the topic of Taiwan being essentially banned from consciousness, in which case you don’t encounter the issue), simply being a Canadian allows me to discover that it is not racism, but instead based on perception about geopolitics and history.

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26 The Cuckmeister-General March 2, 2017 at 6:10 pm

And based on penis envy

27 Sam Haysom March 2, 2017 at 6:55 pm

Maybe they just realize you aren’t worth it.

28 Cliff March 2, 2017 at 11:04 pm

That’s not very logical. Whether you are American or not you are equally not responsible for any political actions taken by the U.S. government

29 Troll me March 3, 2017 at 5:21 pm

Cliff, I agree with you. But this is a point that is extremely important to understand, if if you disagree with all aspects of its logic, meaning, likely outcomes, etc.

Why?

Because it’s one of the main ways that legitimizes terrorism against US civilians.

How?

Because you elected the government. Therefore what decisions are made by that government are made by all. Hence, civilians being a legitimate target in response to the actions of the government.

This logic cannoy apply under dictatorship, because it is presumed that the people could not have stopped the bombs from being dropped.

Please, I’m not taking a position on this logic right now. It is important to understand that it exists, that it is not void of good reasoning, and that it very much drives people’s views, precisely to the contrary of what you say.

(It could be related to some confusion on the notion of some “general will” in a democratic system.)

30 Harun March 3, 2017 at 12:11 am

Getting into a taxi in Taiwan once, the driver asked me if I was Canadian.

I said no and he said “Good!”

Apparently young Canadian language teachers are not always the best diplomats for their country.

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31 Troll me March 3, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Taxi drivers will say whatever leads you being more happy with the interaction and thus more likely to tip.

Don’t base such opinions on people who have a profit motive in your perception of their perception.

32 Troll me March 3, 2017 at 5:25 pm

Anyways, since you’ve spent a decent amount of time in China, the more relevant point I’d hope you could corroborate is that Chinese are not generally racist (against people of European descent).

33 Harun March 3, 2017 at 8:52 pm

You don’t tip taxis in Taiwan or china

34 Troll me March 4, 2017 at 4:06 am

Whatever … something about positive impressions.

Bombing the crap out of a places doesn’t always go over well.

FYI. Might be nice to know that some people care about that.

35 Sam Haysom March 2, 2017 at 6:46 pm

I don’t understand this perspective at all other than it how it illustrates Nathan’s complete mental subordination to ideology. During the Balkans Misadventure- a military action he didn’t support- my father was aggressively heckled by a bunch of Serbians in Vienna while walking with my brother and I. In Nathan’s perverse sense of morality (read virtue signaling) my dad deserved that treatment more than did Gladwell’s mom. Both were equally egregious (which is to say at most slightly unpleasant) examples of people being heckled for something they weren’t responsible for. But in Nathan’s warped mind my family and I haven’t any reason to complain after all bombs were falling.

Moreover it would never occur to me to dwell on that situation- afterward safely back to our hotel we all laughed at how my dad probally disliked Clinton more than the protestors did. People say mean things- it isn’t ennobling to suffer these kind of things it’s a part of life.

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36 Troll me March 3, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Well, there WAS an ongoing genocide at the time. Separating out boys and men, mass graves … that kind of stuff.

Did you bother to explain this to the people who were heckling you? Or that the genocide stopped …. oh, basically within a day or two of dropping bombs?

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37 rayward March 2, 2017 at 2:55 pm

One of the important things lost in contemporary America is mystery, the mystery of who we are and where we came from. I’m old enough to know that I didn’t know that much about my own parents or grandparents. Their lives were not the open book that is the current generation. There’s something appealing, to me anyway, in the mystery. It’s poetic, as captured in the linked piece about Gladwell’s parents. I’ve studied my ancestors, as it’s possible today with only a computer, back to the revolutionary war in the case of my maternal ancestors but only back to the early 19th century in the case of my paternal ancestors (because that’s when they immigrated). Knowing too much deprives one of the mystery. One of the things I appreciated about my parents is that their lives were not an open book, to be viewed by anyone who cared to look. They’ve been gone many years, but there’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new and interesting about them. I’m so glad they never knew Facebook, that they had secrets.

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38 Troll me March 2, 2017 at 4:57 pm

Do you not fel a deep sense of loss, not knowing what your grandfather had for breakfast precisely 3 days after his 65th birthday, or what he listened to on the radio after dinner that night? Possibly, even, he opted to turn the radio off. And on again. As he pleased.

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39 Thiago Ribeiro March 2, 2017 at 5:11 pm

My grandfather used to listen to the Voice of Brazil (now the Hour of Brazil), the government’s news program on his radio every night, except when it was not being aired.

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40 chip March 2, 2017 at 3:41 pm

I’m a nut for podcasts and Malcolm Gladwell has an intriguing series out called Revisionist History. The first installment discusses the famous painting The Roll Call using all the unique perspectives that Gladwell is known for.

It starts brilliantly with even my kids listening intently. Then about ten minutes in it lurches to a discussion of Hilary Clinton, the plague of misogyny, then Obama and the latent racism of not only those who oppose him, but those who voted for him.

All this within minutes of starting a podcast about an 1874 painting. Sorry, this is nuts. Worse, it’s inane, predictable and boring.

I hope you get more out of Gladwell than this.

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41 Jan March 2, 2017 at 6:54 pm

Misogyny and latent racism are real things. A black guy might even know quite a bit about the latter. It’d be shame if you dismissed a smart and entertaining person you seem to otherwise admire because he said something you disagree with.

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42 Sam Haysom March 2, 2017 at 10:05 pm

Welll you likely wouldn’t know much about either so why are you white mansplaining? White leftists should lead be example and shut up.

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43 Jan March 3, 2017 at 5:54 am

Sam, you poor, waling child. Take a breath and think.

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44 Sam Haysom March 3, 2017 at 12:56 pm

That’s what I thought the seduction of white priviledge is too much for you. Nothing could advance blacks more in this nation that white liberals resigning their jobs and ceasing to control the narrative. But you love you some privileged so cold dead hands and all that.

45 Chip March 2, 2017 at 10:37 pm

Pangolins are real things. But when a story about an 1874 oil painting instead talks about ill-feeling toward Pangolins, it suggests nothing other than an obsession with Pangolins.

Gladwell has obsessions and they’re not particularly enlightening or interesting.

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46 Jan March 3, 2017 at 5:57 am

He’s telling a story. Are you surprised that a podcast that is supposedly about an old painting isn’t really just all about an old painting? Maybe “not as advertised” is fair criticism, but I think what you’re really saying is that you don’t agree with him racism or misogyny, or perhaps that you just don’t want to hear him or anyone talk about those things.

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47 TMC March 3, 2017 at 12:06 pm

“perhaps that you just don’t want to hear him or anyone talk about those things.”

Pretty much. All getting old now that they are pretty much extinct.

48 dearieme March 2, 2017 at 4:07 pm

“she lost her faith in adolescence”: I don’t have much faith in adolescence either.

“a particular kind of quiet grace is closely tied to Jamaican heritage”: how I laughed. I can remember the wife of a much older friend recounting her experience as a schoolteacher, and her dismay as pleasant boys, whose families had come from the other Caribbean islands, were sucked into the nasty, violent subculture of young Jamaicans.

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49 Jan March 2, 2017 at 6:57 pm

I “ghetto Jamaicans” are a much bigger thing where you live than the US. We don’t really have a Jamaican subculture like that, except for maybe New York and Miami, to a limited extent.

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50 Jan March 2, 2017 at 7:00 pm

But then again, most Americans would probably laugh at your idea of violence in the UK. Everyone has a gun here, bruv. And we use them!

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51 Cliff March 2, 2017 at 11:08 pm

Not at violence in Jamaica

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52 Jan March 3, 2017 at 5:58 am

True.

53 Anon2 March 2, 2017 at 7:16 pm

Is “quiet grace” the delirium you experience after smoking too much fine Jamaican cannabis?

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54 The Vegetarian Cannibal March 2, 2017 at 4:28 pm

Yes, I am awed by this brave, intellectually daring, American university professor promoting a book written by a black woman denouncing racism ALTHOUGH HE HIMSELF IS WHITE! Do you feel the mind-boggling paradox, guys? I must say I had no idea that such noble figures existed and it is all the more remarkable that our host had to repress his natural modesty in order to let us appreciate his moral superiority over us . I would not be surprised to learn that he also disapproves of, wait for it!, the persecution of heretics (which he would write “heretics”, of course) by Torquemada.

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55 Troll me March 2, 2017 at 5:02 pm

Disgusting, that one white guy would tell another white guy that his racism is dumb.

White guys are above criticism, but also below the ability to deliver it.

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56 Sam Haysom March 2, 2017 at 6:50 pm

I consider you a pretty appalling racist myself- but let’s take you at your word. Why then are you so stupid?

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57 GoneWithTheWind March 2, 2017 at 4:38 pm

You live in La La land. You don’t have to live in 1960’s. If you want to hear racial epithets hurled at you in the streets just get yourself over to the nearest inner city and see for yourself where the racism is today. Make sure you get your white butt out of there before dark though…

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58 Troll me March 2, 2017 at 5:06 pm

It generally represents anger at the system, at not racism per se.

If you can stare through the epithets, you may find that they are really not directed at you. Unless you prove them to be correctly directed at you. Which isn’t really racism, regardless of what comes out of the mouth.

Sadly, this is not always the case.

One of the most troubling “threats” I encounter is when someone wishes upon white people what Europeans did to the world. No matter that I may protest that things very possibly would have been worse, and other rulers or warmongers even worse, it is still a very unpleasant thought to imagine having to tolerate what “we” have delivered. Incidentally, I’ll have no part in accepting responsibility of this “we” except to say that it happened, and to highlight the positives that came from it.

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59 So Much For Subtlety March 2, 2017 at 6:06 pm

We did to the world? You mean discover modern science, abolish slavery, cure diseases like smallpox, end hunger and give the world penicillin? You meet people who wish they could do as much for White people as White people have done for mankind?

That is kind of sweet.

If there is a single person on this planet who is not living a life of crushing poverty interspersed with regular famine, while having eight children so that one can survive to adulthood, it is because of White people. Not all of them, but some of them. Your only sensible response is to tell them they do not need to say thank you. Knowing we have made the world such a better place is thanks enough.

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60 Troll me March 2, 2017 at 6:08 pm

Yeah, so there’s all the good stuff you mention. We did some cool stuff with all that booty, and now there’s some fine technology going around, since knowledge loves to be shared.

How we got that booty? That’s part of the story too.

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61 Troll me March 2, 2017 at 6:15 pm

So long as you are asking people to thank you for conquering them, they will not appreciate what else you deliver, be it the sun, moon or stars themselves.

62 So Much For Subtlety March 2, 2017 at 6:26 pm

We got that booty by inventing stuff. Humanity is vastly more productive now – thanks to White people. And pretty much only White people by the way. Imperialism did not re-arrange the world’s stuff with more of it in the West. There is not a single country in the world that is not significantly richer now than it was before Imperialism. We made ourselves rich and then we offered the rest of the world a chance to be rich as well.

If people are upset because “we” conquered “them” perhaps it is a better idea to tell them to give up their racist category error? Why is it worse for the British to unify India than the Mughals? Why is the Opium War worse than CCP rule? If they lack objectivity that is not my fault.

63 Sam Haysom March 2, 2017 at 6:52 pm

Europe got a lot of booty taken out of it too. And yet we all can manage to not hold a grudge against Berbers and Huns.

64 Art Deco March 2, 2017 at 7:46 pm

How we got that booty? That’s part of the story too.

Nathan evidently thinks we lived in a Scrooge McDuck economy where no one produced any goods and services and The Man just had this enormous stash he stole from everyone else.

65 The Centrist March 2, 2017 at 8:40 pm

Thank you for explaining the highly questionable Marxist theory of primitive accumulation in the dumbest possible terms. Nothing to do with trade, but everything to do with conquest? You are a caricature of a thinker, Troll.

66 Troll me March 3, 2017 at 5:31 pm

The fact of millions of kg of sugar-based calories pouring into English workers’ teacups had zero relevant on their productive capacity?

You see, the sort of denialism you see here is absolutely part of the reason that in many places in the world you will be received as, at best, slightly better than the KKK.

67 Bob March 2, 2017 at 7:38 pm

What’s so good about those things? Shooting up heroin feels good too.

What has been “done for mankind”, as we’re reminded increasingly these days, is put it on track to be eliminated by AI, machines, cyborgs, the technological Singularity. Predations and genocides of various subgroups of mankind culminating in the final genocide of mankind itself.

But I guess it was all worth it for the baubles and trinkets along the way.

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68 Cliff March 2, 2017 at 11:13 pm

Something would have killed us off. At least this way we have a chance.

69 Turkey Vulture March 3, 2017 at 12:15 am

Every species is destined for oblivion. At least we get to do it on purpose.

70 Cliff March 2, 2017 at 11:11 pm

I like to sing them this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNNUk8oOg4I

You’re Welcome!!!

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71 Sam Haysom March 2, 2017 at 6:51 pm

The worst fate I can imagine for someone is to do unto them what you did unto your self via status envy, loneliness, and ideological tribalism.

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72 Troll me March 3, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Sam, you need to find a way of respecting yourself other than disrespecting others.

Sad.

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73 Art Deco March 2, 2017 at 6:52 pm

It generally represents anger at the system, at not racism per se.

We do enjoy being instructed by a Cannuck fantasist who wouldn’t know Bed-Stuy from a cord of wood.

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74 Troll me March 3, 2017 at 5:35 pm

Who knows. Maybe I had lunch there and didn’t care what it was called.

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75 Sam Haysom March 2, 2017 at 6:54 pm

I would offer this same advice to Malcolm’s mom. They aren’t directed at you- they are directed at rising crime and declining property values and insidious blockbusting of ethnic neighborhoods by WASP mandarins.

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76 GoneWithTheWind March 2, 2017 at 8:31 pm

“It generally represents anger at the system, at not racism per se.”
You know nothing if you say that. Another resident of La La land. The racism in black communites and black agendized organizations puts the Democrats KKK to shame.

Then to compound your ignorance you blame all the world’s problems on people or European descent which shows your bias. It may surprise you to discover that there is no country, no race or tribe that did not wage war and take the lands they live on today from someone else. But you seem to want to only blame one group. Left me guess your degree is in liberal arts and you are younger than 40. You have much to learn grasshopper.

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77 Bob March 3, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Unless there’s no such thing as race, there would indeed have to be races that did not take lands from other races. Races are groups that evolved in specific geographic areas.

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78 Troll me March 3, 2017 at 5:36 pm

I can identify a Manchester accent, therefore people in Manchester do not speak English, because I can identify their accent.

79 Cliff March 2, 2017 at 11:16 pm

“It generally represents anger at the system, at not racism per se.”

Wow, how arrogant can you get? Did you read their fricking minds with your crystal ball??? Some guys screamed at you and called you a white f*ggot and you just thought to yourself “they’re just mad at the system, it’s not me”?

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80 Troll me March 3, 2017 at 5:38 pm

Well, if you just listen to what they say instead of ignoring what they say and claiming that they think whatever you already thought they said without ever having listened to them …

… then it would seem that way.

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81 M March 2, 2017 at 5:44 pm

For Jamaicans, truly I would not doubt that “grace” tends to be “quiet” and gracelessness tends to be brash and obvious.

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82 Sam Haysom March 2, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Spoken like someone who has been to Jamaica.

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83 NewHumianBeing March 2, 2017 at 5:44 pm

Tyler must have been triggered by his thoughts about Gladwell today. This much work to cast a sophisticated claim about his resentment slave morality? Tyler’s ego is showing.

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84 Bob Knaus March 2, 2017 at 6:35 pm

Anyone acquainted with the ethnic aisle in the grocery would know that “Grace” is a Jamaican brand of prepared foods… sauces, spices, and many other things.

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85 The Engineer March 2, 2017 at 7:35 pm

So Gladwell isn’t American? Figures.

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