The Most Racist Thing I Read Today!

This was the illustration in the New York Times.
  • Victor Kerlow
  • This was the illustration in the New York Times.

It wasn’t even a close contest!

So that you won’t have to read it, I will paraphrase Celeste Ploumis’s entry for the New York Times’s Metropolitan Diary.

Here we go:

Dear Diary, today I saw a man who had skin of a different color than my own.

Oh, Diary! I was so scared!!!

So I gave him a dirty look and made note of “every stitch of his clothing, every hair from his fade to his braids, perfectly placed to intimidate” so that I could identify him in a police line-up if necessary.

And, Diary! You’ll never guess what happened next!

He smiled at me and actually just wanted to watch me knit because I reminded him of his grandmother.

Oh, Diary! Did I feel ashamed? No! Because you know the next dark-skinned guy is probably going to try and rape me. I mean, his hair was so different than mine. How was I to know he wasn’t the devil?

Congratulations, New York Times! That’s the most racist thing I read today!

Just when the world already feels like the kind of crappy place where people get massacred just for looking different, a mentally-disturbed man gets gunned down in Times Square while tourists snap pictures, and , would you believe it, kids are smoking all of the pot, it turns out that things are just fine after all!

Because, as the Times’s Metropolitan Diary feature demonstrates, even though a white woman who knits on the subway feels threatened by a man of color who does nothing to threaten her except EXIST AS A MAN OF COLOR, it all turned out okay!

The woman in question, Celeste Ploumis, was not harmed in any way!

What a relief.

Maybe next time she gets on the subway, she won’t automatically assume that any guy in a fade haircut is trying to intimidate her? Maybe that’s just how he likes to wear his hair?

And, maybe, New York Times, you don’t have to play into this lady’s racist bullshit by illustrating this post with a cartoon of a cowering white woman with her knitting needles on alert sitting next to a large, black man with tattoos of knives on his forearms?

Fuck you, New York Times!

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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  1. Hi Kristen,
    A friend of mine forwarded me your enthusiastic article from Brooklyn Magazine about today’s NYT metro diary and I felt it merited a response from the illustrator of that drawing, who happens to be me. The reference i used for the scary looking guy I drew was a photo of myself from high school. I added knife tattoos because well, while I think they look dumb, I’m pretty sure most people find them scary and no one gets them to NOT look tough. 
    I can understand that someone might overreact and be like ” woah thats so awful that an old lady was scared by a big tough guy” but as a Hispanic guy with an “abuela” (though I call mine Abuelita) of my own, I wasn’t offended by what I drew, and the story just kind of reminded me how nice it is when different types of people actually do get along and assumptions are changed for the better.
    And for the record, you’re the only person who says that the tough guy is black, when he is never identified as a black guy in the story and even clearly shows he is Spanish when he mentions that he has an “Abuela,” so maybe you should think about why you assumed he was black in the first place?
    Hope you don’t think this post is racist as well.

  2. @Victor Kerlow
    Fist of all, thanks for weighing in; it’s nice to have primary sources in comment threads.

    I think it would probably end up in a deep and endless internet vortex if we got into levels of melanin as they correlate to perceived otherness, but in the context of the Times essay and the accompanying illustration, it’s still kind of amazing to all of us here that a Times editor read this submission and decided to have it illustrated. That you and the character you illustrated (who is quite obviously of a darker skin tone than the narrator) speak Spanish, isn’t exactly a gotcha moment. Maybe the (obviously very nice guy with bad taste in tattoos) was Cuban or Honduran or… who knows how dark someone’s skin can get while they still refer to their grandmothers in Spanish…

    I’m sure we can agree to disagree, but there really is something off and retrograde about the “feel good” denouement of this diary, and I feel like Kristin’s enthusiasm was entirely warranted.

  3. Yeah, kristen and your intense speculation as to “how dark was he?” is kind of weird to me and is never even mentioned in the metro diary piece so I think agreeing to disagree with you both would be the right thing to do. Only you two have turned it into a race thing; Instead of drawing from a photo of myself I could have drawn him pale white- then how would you have responded? Is it ok for a big tough white guy to scare some lady but not a big tough Spanish guy?

  4. Hi Victor,
    While I appreciate your measured response to my post and I can understand the sensitivity inherent to having something you created being associated with racism, I think that you clearly miss the point of what I was saying when you comment “Is it ok for a big tough white guy to scare some lady but not a big tough Spanish guy?”
    The answer to that, of course, is no. It is not ok for any person, no matter their color or “toughness” or size to scare or knowingly intimidate anybody else.
    But, you see, the woman who wrote the Metropolitan Diary, was intimidated by this man for reasons that were not based on anything he did. She was intimidated based on the fact that “He was bad by design. Scary bad. Every move he made, every stitch of his clothing, every hair from his fade to his braids, perfectly placed to intimidate.”
    She was intimidated by him based on how he looked.
    Now, based on her description and on the illustration you made, I assumed that this man was a man of color. I never specified whether or not I thought he was Latino or African-American. I did, at the end of my post, say that I thought the drawing you made depicted a black man. To my knowledge, that does not exclude him from being of Latino heritage. Whether or not that drawing was based on you is irrelevant because that drawing does depict a man with a markedly different complexion than the woman next to him, who appears to be sidling away from him in apprehension.
    Maybe that too is a wildly incorrect assumption? I don’t know.
    You say that you “could have drawn him pale white.” But you didn’t. Why? Maybe because of certain indicators in the text? Other reasons? The fact remains that you didn’t draw him as pale white. You drew him as a man of color, which is troubling to me when we live in a world when men of color are overwhelmingly profiled in a negative light and subject to stop-and-frisk actions by the police and disproportionately arrested and jailed based on their skin color.
    You might think that this makes me guilty of turning “it into a race thing.” That doesn’t really bother me. I welcome opportunities to question why we make the assumptions that we do based on appearances and I will always question the New York Times, a paper that proudly proclaims itself as being the paper of record while blithely publishing things that play into a facile, and I think dangerous, view of race relations.
    You can certainly disagree with how I viewed both this piece and your illustration and I have no doubt that your intentions were not to provoke this reaction.
    I respect your views and wish you well.
    Kristin Iversen

  5. Kristin,

    Something tells me you have little or no experience with violence and violent people, specifically the kind of people who will attack women, perhaps killing them. Let me be the first to tell you that any one of them might have a grandmother who knits and any one of them might like to reflect on his grandmother and her knitting. But such a human quality does not save them from possessing a homicidal rage.

    A while ago I was at my nearby deli buying a paper when a somewhat thuggish-looking black guy, age about 30, struck up a conversation with me. To make a long story short, this complete stranger and I had a discussion that lasted almost a half hour covering an extraordinary range of topics including racism and the fact that he’d spent time in prison.

    He seemed like a reasonable guy who’d had a tough start but had matured and was heading the right way. We both had places to go so our conversation, which had fascinated me, came to an end.

    Several months later I came across him again. This time he was in the paper. He was the news. A liquor store clerk who lived a couple of blocks from me had been murdered in the store that employed him, shot to death. The photo with the article showed my acquaintance from the deli in handcuffs between two cops.

  6. “People of color” don t need you to defend them. You are not helping when you say “Hey this lady is racist, she thinks black people murder and steal… Her words, not mine!” You re reinforcing this mentality, not combating it.
    It only shows where YOUR mind goes when you think of a “Bad Man”. I would hope that maybe you ll reflect upon this, but more than likely, you ll just further defend yourself and throw in more examples of white-on-black injustice. Racism ends when you treat people as equals, not as victims. It s belittling.

  7. @Wade and flatbush, I feel that both of you guys are imbiciles. You guys need to stop putting your two cents into this whole issue on race because you guys obviously can not relate to it. At the end of the day the women prejudged the guy because of how he looked and that makes her a racist.

  8. I would think that it would be quite healthy for a small defenseless woman to be wary of a large male dressed in criminal chic. I mean signs and signals, what they mistakenly called hermeneutics in the 90’s , are very useful in all sorts of situations, just pick up any issue of Cosmo.
    If the gentleman in question was black, she, as a white woman had little to fear, statistically speaking.
    One should make a practice of ignoring the Times on race, actually, on anything else, for that matter.