### If Black People Talked White

I've been told that I "talk white" or that "I don't sound like a Black person." I sense that these comments are often offered as compliments. But if so, a complement for what? My temporary acceptance by a white person? Thanks.

The fact of the matter is that I talk like a person born in this country. I speak English. But there is a way I could actually talk white.

If I wanted to speak white, I'd go around talking about the personal attributes of individual Black people as if they were not individuals, but rather merely representatives of a larger group; as fulfillments or exceptions to my ill-informed conceptions of Black people. If I wanted to talk like a white person, I'd make sure that my comments to Black people remind them of how they are other---non-normative---how they don't really belong to American society, and if they do, they are add-ons. They are options to be checked on a list of extras under the heading "Diversity." If I talked white, the existence of people of color in my institution would be a cause for me to pat myself on the back.

(Once, when I complained about the lack of diversity at Caltech, my colleague said, "How can you say we're not diverse? We hired you!" Once, when I tried to express my frustration of a racist incident I encountered on my walk across campus to visit a colleague, she told me, "You know, I don't even think of you as a Black person." At that moment of hurt and vulnerability, she didn't see me.)

If I talked like a white person, I'd become upset if a Black person called me white, because I'm an individual, I'd remind them. And if I talked like a white person, I'd see no conflict in my simultaneous view of a Black person as a member of a group of "minorities" and myself as an individual person, not a member of a group of whites. If I talked like a white person, all of this would make sense, and if any Black person attempted to point out my logical inconsistencies, well, I'd view that person as just a little bit insane. But they can't help it. They're Black, after all.

Okay, fine. I get it. What can I do to help?

• Recognize your whiteness, and pursue knowledge of what your whiteness means in our society, what it does for you, and how it affects people of color around you. Educate yourself. If you don't understand what white privilege is, don't assume it doesn't exist. Treat it like I treat asteroseismology: I didn't get it, so I picked up some books and papers and turned myself into a student again. Do the same with your whiteness, your white history, and your white privilege.

• Know that your whiteness is both impersonal and very personal. It's not personal, because you are one of roughly half a billion white Americans. It's personal because you, and not everyone else---not people of color---benefit from it. It's not personal in that your whiteness, by itself, does not make you a good or bad person. You can be terrible and still benefit. You can be an antiracism activist...and still benefit. It's personal in that you need to own it in order to counter it.

• Do not expect your local person of color (LPOC) to educate you. Your LPOC likely will not trust you, will not open up to you, will not be themselves around you until you can be yourself as a white person. Until you lay your privilege explicitly on the table before talking with them, and until you demonstrate your willingness to improve and learn. For every 10 "allies" in my life, only one of them has ever shown me that they can take actions to improve themselves, rather than pat themselves on the back for "mentoring" me and "teaching" me how to make it in their (white) world.
• Related to the second bullet above, taking real actions to help has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with you. It has nothing to do with you in that you cannot expect to earn a cookie for each step you take. You aren't out to earn a Top-Coder-like badge. You're in it to be a better citizen of your country. You are to do what you do to improve the world around you. You're in it because you want a just world and because you want to believe that you work in a meritocracy---this is a chance to make a real meritocracy. It's about you, because as part of the privileged class in our country, only you have full access to the social, economic and political power structures in your institution and greater world that need to change.

### On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

### The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…

### The Long Con

Hiding in Plain Sight

ESPN has a series of sports documentaries called 30 For 30. One of my favorites is called Broke which is about how professional athletes often make tens of millions of dollars in their careers yet retire with nothing. One of the major "leaks" turns out to be con artists, who lure athletes into elaborate real estate schemes or business ventures. This naturally raises the question: In a tightly-knit social structure that is a sports team, how can con artists operate so effectively and extensively? The answer is quite simple: very few people taken in by con artists ever tell anyone what happened. Thus, con artists can operate out in the open with little fear of consequences because they are shielded by the collective silence of their victims.
I can empathize with this. I've lost money in two different con schemes. One was when I was in college, and I received a phone call that I had won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. All I needed to do was p…