Picking Smelly up from Jail

Abstract: My brother asked me to pick up Smelly, his friend from jail, and let him stay with me, and I was initially hesitant, but agreed. Smelly turned out to be remarkably normal and this experience reaffirmed my understanding of ex-inmates as being no different than anyone else. This experience also showed me how desperately we need available aid for those transitioning from incarceration to normal life.


From a Fellow White Person, An Open Letter to the White People of America

Stephanie Wismer
Reaction Paper #3
Newspaper Editorial

From a Fellow White Person, An Open Letter to the White People of America

About a year ago, my mom and her friend were driving down the freeway when a police officer pulled them over. They had not been speeding or driving erratically—they were literally just driving down the freeway. After peering into the car and exchanging a few words with them, the officer allowed them to continue on their way. “Can you believe that?” My mom fumed as they resumed driving. “What?” Her friend asked, dumbfounded by her sudden anger. “He was just checking in on us.”
This story might seem insignificant, and maybe even downright boring, but it represents the state of modern America’s race relations. See, my mom is a white woman and her friend is a black man. And so for my mom, being pulled over without a discernible reason was infuriating, while for her friend, it was nothing out of the ordinary. (Let’s all wave hello to my mom’s white privilege.)
Oftentimes, white people don’t really like to acknowledge white privilege. I think we worry that if we acknowledge it, it will seem like we’re condone it. Like saying, “White people have an advantage in America,” is the same as saying, “Let’s raise a glass to the KKK, and institution that’s doing God’s work.” But those two statements have nothing in common, and it’s time to get over this whole acknowledging-white-privledge-phobia. Emma Gray said it best when she argued, “Confronting privileges and structures far larger than yourself—ones which you may feel you have little-to-no control over or no idea how to change—will always be uncomfortable. But…tough shit.”
White privilege is all around us, every single day. It’s around us when the salesgirls as Victoria’s Secret don’t follow us around, concerned about possible theft. It’s around us when we aren’t stopped for (supposedly) random selections at the airport. It’s around us when authority figures turn a blind eye to our underage drinking, our drug use, and our breaking of curfew. So prevalent is white privilege that prominent news stations showed the white victims of Katrina stealing groceries, while the black victims were shown stealing televisions and jewelry (Jones). (And if you’re thinking to yourself that maybe black and white people were just stealing different things, they weren’t. And I hope you either change your attitude or step on a lego.)
White privilege has the power to color our thinking. After the riots in Baltimore, so many of us asked the wrong questions. We asked, “how could they destroy their own community?” Instead of, “What led them to take such drastic actions?” (Corley, comments below article.) Instead of looking at the rioters as our equals, our fellow human beings, we labeled them as criminals as hoodlums. We downgraded them, and in doing so we intensified to the problem.

As white people, we have the privilege of being able to ignore our privilege. But we shouldn’t. White privilege comes at a cost, and our fellow America’s are footing the bill for no reason other than that they’re a dew shades darker than we are. Let’s confront our white privilege right now, because until we acknowledge it and start to do something about it, we are the reason why our fellow american’s are rioting.




Corley, Cheryl. “Ferguson Businesses Struggle To Rebuild Post-Riots.” <i>NPR</i>. NPR, 07 Aug. 2015. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Gray, Emma. “11 Things White People Need to Realize About Race.” <i>Huffington Post</i>. N.p., 23 July 2015. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Jones, Van. “Black People “Loot” Food … White People “Find” Food.” <i>The Huffington Post</i>. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 01 Sept. 2005. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Comparing 1968 Chicago to Present Day Fredericksburg

Stephanie Wismer
November 6, 2015
Reaction Paper #2

Comparing 1968 Chicago to Present Day Fredericksburg

The Chicago of 1968 and present day Fredericksburg have almost nothing in common. They vary in size and racial makeup of population, they are in different parts of the country and are separated in time by roughly half a century. However, the comparison of the two is a valuable one as it illuminates which methods for achieving racial equality that hold the most value.

Chicago’s historical race relations are riddled with inequality, discrimination, and abuse. Chicago crowded its black citizens into two small ghettos, provided them with infrequent and unsavory employment opportunities, and attempted to segregate them entirely from the white population. Its reasons for doing these things are difficult to untangle, but stem primarily from Chicago’s status as a large, northern, primarily white city.(Abu-Lughod, 2007)
Historically speaking, Fredericksburg’s treatment of black people has been relatively uncomplicated. Fredericksburg is southern and small, which prevented many of the issues that arose in Chicago. However, simple is not a euphemism for better; historical race relations in Fredericksburg were markedly worse than those of Chicago. Not only was racism more prevalent in Fredericksburg during the twentieth century, but slavery was alive and well for much of the nineteenth century. Indeed, the corner of William and Charles Streets served as a slave auction block, and many of the taverns that lined Caroline Street sold slaves from their front porches and stoops. Slaves could even be purchased at the courthouse on Princess Anne Street. (Fitzgerald, n.d.) Fredericksburg’s historical abuse and commodification of black people is unmistakable, which left quite a hurdle for its present day citizens who are seeking racial equality.

In Chicago the Riot of April 1968 left little room for doubt among politicians: something had to be done to combat the racial tensions and ensuing violence. Taking this fact into consideration, Mayor Daley decided to establish a Riot Study Committee. The Committee made 39 recommendations on how to prevent another race riot from taking pace. Chief among them were closing ghetto schools if another incendiary event like the assassination of Martin Luther King should occur, calling the National Guard in early, should the beginning stages of a riot be seen, and improving police equipment and training. Of course, there are many vague—and somewhat condescending—recommendations that are not blatantly racist (like that “the skill, experience and financial support of downtown institutions (private as well as public) must be made available to the ghetto communities”); however, none of the recommendations are specific enough to be put into action, and all of them were ignored. (Abu-Lughod, 2007) Had the Riot Study Committee realized that race relations are difficult to manage from a top-down approach, then they might have made different recommendations. They might have even recommended that citizens simply gather and talk—the approach that Fredericksburg is taking today. Roughly one year ago Fredericksburg hosted a town hall discussion in which local residents gathered for a “dialogue and story sharing session…about the impact of race and racism on [their] lives and the community.” The discussion was a success and the participants reported that, “it was freeing to be able to open up, and also reassuring to hear other people’s stories. They felt connected to the others with whom they shared their experiences.” (Sidersky, 2014)

When comparing the Chicago of 1968 to modern day Fredericksburg, there are several things to keep in mind. First of all, Fredericksburg has had the benefit of almost fifty years to grow and learn and work towards equality. Fredericksburg also started from a much more blatantly racist place, which facilitated the combat against it. Because Chicago is a northern city, its racial issues were (and continue to be) more subtle, and thus more difficult to tackle. It should also be noted that the means by which black people came to live in Fredericksburg and Chicago were drastically different; in Fredericksburg black people were largely brought as slaves and remained after being freed, while in Chicago black people migrated there after in search of work after being freed. These elements make it somewhat difficult to fairly compare the two cities side-by-side.

However, this comparison is not an attempt to shame the Chicago of years past or proclaim Fredericksburg to be a beacon of racial equality—it is not. This comparison serves only to illuminate the fact that racial tensions are best assuaged from the bottom up. Equality is not issued or signed into existence. It is coaxed forth by citizens who are willing to talk and work openly about racial inequality. Of course, this is not to suggest that the government does not have a role in race relations—it does—this is only to say that bringing about racial equality does not lie on the shoulders of our government, it lies on the shoulders of each individual American citizen.



Abu-Lughod, J. L. (2007). Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fitzgerald, R. (n.d.). African-American History of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Retrieved November 06, 2015, from http://www.librarypoint.org/african_american_history_of_fredericksburg_virginia

Sidersky, R. (2014, November 14). Race Relations Draw Discussion at Town Hall Meeting. Retrieved November 6, 2015, from http://www.fredericksburg.com/news/race-relations-draw-discussion-at-town-hall-meeting/article_eaecda64-fe1f-5ef0-a77e-31e6f445ece2.html

Poor Black Lives Matter (A Newspaper Editorial)

Everyone has heard that Black Lives matter. We have heard it in the news and from our slightly-annoying-political-activist friends. We have been bombarded with it on Facebook and every other social media site. We all understand: black people matter just as much as white people. But what if those black people also happen to be poor? I’m sure you’d say that they do. In fact, you might even be slightly irritated that I asked. “It’s 2015!” You might say. “We aren’t racist anymore and we certainly don’t hate the poor, so what right do you have to say we don’t treat poor black people fairly?”

I wonder, though, if a stranger were to look at our collective behavior and guess whether we value rich white lives and poor black ones equally, what would they say? See, even today “racial inequality continues to be normalized and legitimized.” We employ “symbolically antiracist gestures, such as naming an African American—or other racial minority—to endorse or head a substantially racially inequitable practice,” and by doing so, we contribute to the problem. This type of thinking is what allows us to argue that America can’t have racism because we have a black—or, at least a blackish—president. But let’s get real. Having a black president does not magically eliminate racism, just like the presence of Vince Lane didn’t magically make HOPE IV antiracist.

Think about it—when it comes time to decide where to put a new waste management center, where do we put it? Where the poor black people live. And we can tell ourselves that if they really cared, then they’d stop it. They’d say, “no way, we’ll stake out every local politician’s office if we have to, you are not building that here.” But deep down, don’t we all know that isn’t true? Because we certainly aren’t trying to build wast management centers where the wealthy white folks live. The truth is, America, that we exploit the poor black people. Our behavior today arguably isn’t that different from that of the white doctors involved in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. It’s like somehow white America decided to:
Pick a population that is “disenfranchised” (read: no one cares about them)
Do whatever wealthy white America wants
Act like its is somehow justified (and maybe put multiple Obama stickers on our cars to support our antiracist claims)

We cannot continue to treat poor black people this way. And we can’t only think about the value black lives where there has been a murder or an instance of police brutality. We need to think about them now, and every single day until we have truly reached racial equality—until we are no longer forcing poor blacks into undesirable living situations, and in extreme instances, homelessness. We need to stop acting indignant that poor black people don’t just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. We need to stop acting like they’re offered the same opportunities as wealthy whites. They aren’t, and pretending that they do isn’t going to solve anything.

Satija, Neena. “A Waste Solution May Lean Again on a Low-Income Area.” The New York Times (New York, NY), Aug. 23, 2014.

Arena, John. Driven From New Orleans: How Nonprofits Betray Public Housing and Promote Privatization. University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Doggone Crazy: The Media’s Influence on Breed Specific Legislature

Research Project One, Attempt 2

This paper was inspired by my dog, Zeus, who is the greatest dog or human ever to roam this earth, and who happens to be a Pit Bull. In this paper I examine how Pit Bulls are unfairly portrayed by the media as unstable and violent dogs, and I link this to our emerging breed specific legislature. I examine the sharp contrast between how the media portrays public opinion of Pits (everyone hates them) to the actual public opinion of Pits (less than half of people dislike them), and conclude with a warning about the possible path were headed down, as well as some encouragement to get involved in local politics.