Newsletter: Doesn’t anyone know how to talk about racism around here?

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. If you thought July was hot for you, thank the gods you do not live in Death Valley. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Trigger warning: Much of this newsletter will be devoted to discussions (if you can actually call them “discussions”) on racism, a topic that tends to make certain non-people-of-color blush or stop reading altogether. The first excerpt will summarize a serious treatment of the topic; the second will focus on a troll-driven, cynical attempt to destroy a journalist’s career under the banner of anti-racism.

It’s been said that the best antidote for willful ignorance and racial insensitivity is dialogue — in other words, that all those awkward holiday dinners with your Trump-supporting, MAGA hat-wearing cousins and uncles serve a purpose if only to have the various bubble denizens occasionally come into close contact with each other. Op-ed article writer Nadra Widatalla put this idea to the test by attending a dinner discussion on racism with complete strangers and came away disappointed:

A few weeks ago I had dinner with 10 strangers of different races and ethnicities. The topic at the table was racism.

We were brought together by L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson’s embRACE L.A. project, a series of intimate dinners in homes across the city held with the goal of fostering a healthy dialogue on race relations.

As a black woman, I was prompted by curiosity to RSVP. If my experience is any indication, the story of race relations in Los Angeles isn’t one of steady progress. There are still issues with police brutality, a major disparity in wealth, and the overwhelming problem of black people being gentrified out of their communities. I live in West Hollywood and I frequent Santa Monica for work, two predominantly white areas. Frankly, Angelenos are used to seeing black people in only certain parts of town. Once we step outside those spaces, dirty looks and aggression emerge.

That said, I always want to learn more about the complexities of race in one of the world’s most diverse cities. I was hoping this dinner could help teach me....

the group had barely touched on what we could do as a community to foster better racial understanding. We had made a bigger dent in the lasagna dish than we did race relations. Most of our dinner was spent just trying to process each other’s experiences, which I took as a testament to how much work needs to be done.

If there is anything I hope my fellow diners took away with them that evening, it’s that we can’t expect change without understanding both plight and privilege. Black people can be as open as they want about the racism they endure, but a real dialogue on race needs the honesty to go both ways.

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Next up is the fight over the New York Times’ newest editorial board member, technology journalist Sarah Jeong. It turns out Jeong has tweeted out some provocative, over-the-top, barbed jokes at the expense of white people (in particular white males) over the years, and the trolls of the alt-right pounced. Jon Healey, the editorial page’s deputy editor, says it’s pointless for Jeong to try to explain herself:

The battle Jeong was fighting is one that nobody can win. It’s simple to strip tweets of their context and weaponize them; doing the reverse can be next to impossible. The older a tweet is, the harder it is to reconstruct the conversations that led up to it. What the public inevitably is left with is a scrollable greatest hits compilation of the most outrageous comments a person has made. And once something is uttered online, it never goes away....

Jeong’s head is still on her shoulders, and her job at the New York Times appears intact. But even if you accept her explanation for her old tweets, it doesn’t seem like she’s won this game.

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Wait, C.L. Max Nikias is still president of USC? That’s the reaction any fair-minded person would have to finding out that Nikias, who supposedly agreed to resign amid the fallout of the scandal involving campus gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall, is still in charge at USC. The Times Editorial Board tells the scandal-plagued university to move on already: “The delay in Nikias’ departure and the uncertainty and consternation it has created suggest that USC still has a long way to go in restoring trust among faculty, students and supporters. Nikias’ slow walk out sends the message that some of the university’s leaders don’t grasp the gravity of the situation.” L.A. Times

The Koch brothers funded an attack that made the case for single-payer healthcare, although they certainly did not intend for their report on “Medicare for all” to come across that way. The widely reported study by longtime Republican aide Charles Blahous showing that Medicare for all would require $32.6 trillion in government spending inadvertently highlights single-payer advocates’ key point: Spending on healthcare in America is already extremely high, and adopting Medicare for all would actually reduce the overall amount of money that goes into healthcare. L.A. Times

Climate change is here. And by here, I mean in California. It’s hot and dry in Los Angeles, which is a lot better that people in other parts of the state have it. We know about the fires raging near Yosemite and around Redding, and as devastating as those disasters have been, they’re not as unusual as the infernos burning near the arctic circle (as in Norway and Sweden, not your typical dried-out hellscapes) and elsewhere in Europe. The conclusion? “There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Climate change is here, and we are living in its burning embers.” The Daily Beast

To hell with Obama’s fuel-efficiency rules. They’re ineffective salves that make liberals feel like they’re doing something, writes Matthew Fleischer. (And no, he isn’t trolling you.) Here’s why: The standards create different categories of automobiles that must achieve different efficiency targets, driving consumers to purchase larger vehicles that weigh more and consume more gas. “The current administration obviously doesn’t have the health of the planet in mind with its CAFE standard rollback,” Fleischer writes. “But putting Obama’s regulations on a pedestal is equally unproductive.” L.A. Times

There is no liberal case for Brett Kavanaugh. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee might be a nice guy or a great and gracious father. And hey, it would be wonderful for our government to return to the days of nonpartisan judicial hearings. But neither of those are reasons why liberals should support Kavanaugh, who has extreme views on issues including gun rights and limits on presidential power. L.A. Times