Black Like Them

Who can be blamed for a disaster like the Challenger explosion, viagra a decade ago? No one, hospital according to the new risk theorists, and we’d better get used to it.

1.

In the technological age, there is a ritual to disaster. When planes crash or chemical plants explode, each piece of physical evidence-of twisted metal or fractured concrete- becomes a kind of fetish object, painstakingly located, mapped, tagged, and analyzed, with findings submitted to boards of inquiry that then probe and interview and soberly draw conclusions. It is a ritual of reassurance, based on the principle that what we learn from one accident can help us prevent another, and a measure of its effectiveness is that Americans did not shut down the nuclear industry after Three Mile Island and do not abandon the skies after each new plane crash. But the rituals of disaster have rarely been played out so dramatically as they were in the case of the Challenger space shuttle, which blew up over southern Florida on January 28th ten years ago.

Fifty-five minutes after the explosion, when the last of the debris had fallen into the ocean, recovery ships were on the scene. They remained there for the next three months, as part of what turned into the largest maritime salvage operation in history, combing a hundred and fifty thousand square nautical miles for floating debris, while the ocean floor surrounding the crash site was inspected by submarines. In mid-April of 1986, the salvage team found several chunks of charred metal that confirmed what had previously been only suspected: the explosion was caused by a faulty seal in one of the shuttle’s rocket boosters, which had allowed a stream of flame to escape and ignite an external fuel tank.

Armed with this confirmation, a special Presidential investigative commission concluded the following June that the deficient seal reflected shoddy engineering and lax management at NASA and its prime contractor, Morton Thiokol. Properly chastised, NASA returned to the drawing board, to emerge thirty-two months later with a new shuttle-Discovery-redesigned according to the lessons learned from the disaster. During that first post- Challenger flight, as America watched breathlessly, the crew of the Discovery held a short commemorative service. “Dear friends,” the mission commander, Captain Frederick H. Hauck, said, addressing the seven dead Challenger astronauts, “your loss has meant that we could confidently begin anew.” The ritual was complete. NASA was back.

But what if the assumptions that underlie our disaster rituals aren’t true? What if these public post mortems don’t help us avoid future accidents? Over the past few years, a group of scholars has begun making the unsettling argument that the rituals that follow things like plane crashes or the Three Mile Island crisis are as much exercises in self-deception as they are genuine opportunities for reassurance. For these revisionists, high-technology accidents may not have clear causes at all. They may be inherent in the complexity of the technological systems we have created.

This month, on the tenth anniversary of the Challenger disaster, such revisionism has been extended to the space shuttle with the publication, by the Boston College sociologist Diane Vaughan, of “The Challenger Launch Decision” (Chicago), which is the first truly definitive analysis of the events leading up to January 28, 1986. The conventional view is that the Challenger accident was an anomaly, that it happened because people at NASA had not done their job. But the study’s conclusion is the opposite: it says that the accident happened because people at NASA had done exactly what they were supposed to do. “No fundamental decision was made at NASA to do evil,” Vaughan writes. “Rather, a series of seemingly harmless decisions were made that incrementally moved the space agency toward a catastrophic outcome.”

No doubt Vaughan’s analysis will be hotly disputed in the coming months, but even if she is only partly right the implications of this kind of argument are enormous. We have surrounded ourselves in the modern age with things like power plants and nuclear-weapons systems and airports that handle hundreds of planes an hour, on the understanding that the risks they represent are, at the very least, manageable. But if the potential for catastrophe is actually found in the normal functioning of complex systems, this assumption is false. Risks are not easily manageable, accidents are not easily preventable, and the rituals of disaster have no meaning. The first time around, the story of the Challenger was tragic. In its retelling, a decade later, it is merely banal.

2.

Perhaps the best way to understand the argument over the Challenger explosion is to start with an accident that preceded it-the near-disaster at the Three Mile Island (T.M.I.) nuclear- power plant in March of 1979. The conclusion of the President’s commission that investigated the T.M.I. accident was that it was the result of human error, particularly on the part of the plant’s operators. But the truth of what happened there, the revisionists maintain, is a good deal more complicated than that, and their arguments are worth examining in detail.

The trouble at T.M.I. started with a blockage in what is called the plant’s polisher-a kind of giant water filter. Polisher problems were not unusual at T.M.I., or particularly serious. But in this case the blockage caused moisture to leak into the plant’s air system, inadvertently tripping two valves and shutting down the flow of cold water into the plant’s steam generator.

As it happens, T.M.I. had a backup cooling system for precisely this situation. But on that particular day, for reasons that no one really knows, the valves for the backup system weren’t open. They had been closed, and an indicator in the control room showing they were closed was blocked by a repair tag hanging from a switch above it. That left the reactor dependent on another backup system, a special sort of relief valve. But, as luck would have it, the relief valve wasn’t working properly that day, either. It stuck open when it was supposed to close, and, to make matters even worse, a gauge in the control room which should have told the operators that the relief valve wasn’t working was itself not working. By the time T.M.I.’s engineers realized what was happening, the reactor had come dangerously close to a meltdown.

Here, in other words, was a major accident caused by five discrete events. There is no way the engineers in the control room could have known about any of them. No glaring errors or spectacularly bad decisions were made that exacerbated those events. And all the malfunctions-the blocked polisher, the shut valves, the obscured indicator, the faulty relief valve, and the broken gauge-were in themselves so trivial that individually they would have created no more than a nuisance. What caused the accident was the way minor events unexpectedly interacted to create a major problem.

This kind of disaster is what the Yale University sociologist Charles Perrow has famously called a “normal accident.” By “normal” Perrow does not mean that it is frequent; he means that it is the kind of accident one can expect in the normal functioning of a technologically complex operation. Modern systems, Perrow argues, are made up of thousands of parts, all of which interrelate in ways that are impossible to anticipate. Given that complexity, he says, it is almost inevitable that some combinations of minor failures will eventually amount to something catastrophic. In a classic 1984 treatise on accidents, Perrow takes examples of well-known plane crashes, oil spills, chemical-plant explosions, and nuclear-weapons mishaps and shows how many of them are best understood as “normal.” If you saw last year’s hit movie “Apollo 13,” in fact, you have seen a perfect illustration of one of the most famous of all normal accidents: the Apollo flight went awry because of the interaction of failures of the spacecraft’s oxygen and hydrogen tanks, and an indicator light that diverted the astronauts’ attention from the real problem.

Had this been a “real” accident-if the mission had run into trouble because of one massive or venal error-the story would have made for a much inferior movie. In real accidents, people rant and rave and hunt down the culprit. They do, in short, what people in Hollywood thrillers always do. But what made Apollo 13 unusual was that the dominant emotion was not anger but bafflement–bafflement that so much could go wrong for so little apparent reason. There was no one to blame, no dark secret to un-earth, no recourse but to re-create an entire system in place of one that had inexplicably failed. In the end, the normal accident was the more terrifying one.

3.

Was the Challenger explosion a “normal accident”? In a narrow sense, the answer is no. Unlike what happened at T.M.I., its explosion was caused by a single, catastrophic malfunction: the so-called O-rings that were supposed to prevent hot gases from leaking out of the rocket boosters didn’t do their job. But Vaughan argues that the O-ring problem was really just a symptom. The cause of the accident was the culture of NASA, she says, and that culture led to a series of decisions about the Challenger which very much followed the contours of a normal accident.

The heart of the question is how NASA chose to evaluate the problems it had been having with the rocket boosters’ O-rings. These are the thin rubber bands that run around the lips of each of the rocket’s four segments, and each O-ring was meant to work like the rubber seal on the top of a bottle of preserves, making the fit between each part of the rocket snug and airtight. But from as far back as 1981, on one shuttle flight after another, the O-rings had shown increasing problems. In a number of instances, the rubber seal had been dangerously eroded-a condition suggesting that hot gases had almost escaped. What’s more, O-rings were strongly suspected to be less effective in cold weather, when the rubber would harden and not give as tight a seal. On the morning of January 28, 1986, the shuttle launchpad was encased in ice, and the temperature at liftoff was just above freezing. Anticipating these low temperatures, engineers at Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of the shuttle’s rockets, had recommended that the launch be delayed. Morton Thiokol brass and NASA, however, overruled the recommendation, and that decision led both the President’s commission and numerous critics since to accuse NASA of egregious-if not criminal-misjudgment.

Vaughan doesn’t dispute that the decision was fatally flawed. But, after reviewing thousands of pages of transcripts and internal NASA documents, she can’t find any evidence of people acting negligently, or nakedly sacrificing safety in the name of politics or expediency. The mistakes that NASA made, she says, were made in the normal course of operation. For example, in retrospect it may seem obvious that cold weather impaired O-ring performance. But it wasn’t obvious at the time. A previous shuttle flight that had suffered worse O-ring damage had been launched in seventy-five-degree heat. And on a series of previous occasions when NASA had proposed-but eventually scrubbed for other reasons-shuttle launches in weather as cold as forty-one degrees, Morton Thiokol had not said a word about the potential threat posed by the cold, so its pre-Challenger objection had seemed to NASA not reasonable but arbitrary. Vaughan confirms that there was a dispute between managers and engineers on the eve of the launch but points out that in the shuttle program disputes of this sort were commonplace. And, while the President’s commission was astonished by NASA’s repeated use of the phrases “acceptable risk” and “acceptable erosion” in internal discussion of the rocket-booster joints, Vaughan shows that flying with acceptable risks was a standard part of NASA culture. The lists of “acceptable risks” on the space shuttle, in fact, filled six volumes. “Although [O-ring] erosion itself had not been predicted, its occurrence conformed to engineering expectations about large-scale technical systems,” she writes. “At NASA, problems were the norm. The word ‘anomaly’ was part of everyday talk. . . . The whole shuttle system operated on the assumption that deviation could be controlled but not eliminated.”

What NASA had created was a closed culture that, in her words, “normalized deviance” so that to the outside world decisions that were obviously questionable were seen by NASA’s management as prudent and reasonable. It is her depiction of this internal world that makes her book so disquieting: when she lays out the sequence of decisions which led to the launch- each decision as trivial as the string of failures that led to T.M.I.-it is difficult to find any precise point where things went wrong or where things might be improved next time. “It can truly be said that the Challenger launch decision was a rule- based decision,” she concludes. “But the cultural understandings, rules, procedures, and norms that always had worked in the past did not work this time. It was not amorally calculating managers violating rules that were responsible for the tragedy. It was conformity.”

4.

There is another way to look at this problem, and that is from the standpoint of how human beings handle risk. One of the assumptions behind the modern disaster ritual is that when a risk can be identified and eliminated a system can be made safer. The new booster joints on the shuttle, for example, are so much better than the old ones that the over-all chances of a Challenger-style accident’s ever happening again must be lower-right? This is such a straightforward idea that questioning it seems almost impossible. But that is just what another group of scholars has done, under what is called the theory of “risk homeostasis.” It should be said that within the academic community there are huge debates over how widely the theory of risk homeostasis can and should be applied. But the basic idea, which has been laid out brilliantly by the Canadian psychologist Gerald Wilde in his book “Target Risk,” is quite simple: under certain circumstances, changes that appear to make a system or an organization safer in fact don’t. Why? Because human beings have a seemingly fundamental tendency to compensate for lower risks in one area by taking greater risks in another.

Consider, for example, the results of a famous experiment conducted several years ago in Germany. Part of a fleet of taxicabs in Munich was equipped with antilock brake systems (A.B.S.), the recent technological innovation that vastly improves braking, particularly on slippery surfaces. The rest of the fleet was left alone, and the two groups-which were otherwise perfectly matched-were placed under careful and secret observation for three years. You would expect the better brakes to make for safer driving. But that is exactly the opposite of what happened. Giving some drivers A.B.S. made no difference at all in their accident rate; in fact, it turned them into markedly inferior drivers. They drove faster. They made sharper turns. They showed poorer lane discipline. They braked harder. They were more likely to tailgate. They didn’t merge as well, and they were involved in more near-misses. In other words, the A.B.S. systems were not used to reduce accidents; instead, the drivers used the additional element of safety to enable them to drive faster and more recklessly without increasing their risk of getting into an accident. As economists would say, they “consumed” the risk reduction, they didn’t save it.

Risk homeostasis doesn’t happen all the time. Often-as in the case of seat belts, say-compensatory behavior only partly offsets the risk-reduction of a safety measure. But it happens often enough that it must be given serious consideration. Why are more pedestrians killed crossing the street at marked crosswalks than at unmarked crosswalks? Because they compensate for the “safe” environment of a marked crossing by being less viligant about oncoming traffic. Why did the introduction of childproof lids on medicine bottles lead, according to one study, to a substantial increase in fatal child poisonings? Because adults became less careful in keeping pill bottles out of the reach of children.

Risk homeostasis also works in the opposite direction. In the late nineteen-sixties, Sweden changed over from driving on the left-hand side of the road to driving on the right, a switch that one would think would create an epidemic of accidents. But, in fact, the opposite was true. People compensated for their unfamiliarity with the new traffic patterns by driving more carefully. During the next twelve months, traffic fatalities dropped seventeen per cent-before returning slowly to their previous levels. As Wilde only half-facetiously argues, countries truly interested in making their streets and highways safer should think about switching over from one side of the road to the other on a regular basis.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how risk homeostasis applies to NASA and the space shuttle. In one frequently quoted phrase, Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize- winning physicist who served on the Challenger commission, said that at NASA decision-making was “a kind of Russian roulette.” When the O-rings began to have problems and nothing happened, the agency began to believe that “the risk is no longer so high for the next flights,” Feynman said, and that “we can lower our standards a little bit because we got away with it last time.” But fixing the O-rings doesn’t mean that this kind of risk-taking stops. There are six whole volumes of shuttle components that are deemed by NASA to be as risky as O-rings. It is entirely possible that better O-rings just give NASA the confidence to play Russian roulette with something else.

This is a depressing conclusion, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The truth is that our stated commitment to safety, our faithful enactment of the rituals of disaster, has always masked a certain hypocrisy. We don’t really want the safest of all possible worlds. The national fifty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit probably saved more lives than any other single government intervention of the past twenty-five years. But the fact that Congress lifted it last month with a minimum of argument proves that we would rather consume the recent safety advances of things like seat belts and air bags than save them. The same is true of the dramatic improvements that have been made in recent years in the design of aircraft and flight- navigation systems. Presumably, these innovations could be used to bring down the airline-accident rate as low as possible. But that is not what consumers want. They want air travel to be cheaper, more reliable, or more convenient, and so those safety advances have been at least partly consumed by flying and landing planes in worse weather and heavier traffic conditions.

What accidents like the Challenger should teach us is that we have constructed a world in which the potential for high-tech catastrophe is embedded in the fabric of day-to-day life. At some point in the future-for the most mundane of reasons, and with the very best of intentions-a NASA spacecraft will again go down in flames. We should at least admit this to ourselves now. And if we cannot-if the possibility is too much to bear-then our only option is to start thinking about getting rid of things like space shuttles altogether.
When the means justify the ends.

1.

Leo Katz begins “Ill-Gotten Gains: Evasion, clinic Blackmail, advice Fraud, and Kindred Puzzles of the Law” (Chicago; $29.95), his elegant defense of circumvention and subterfuge, with a fable for tax day. There was once, he writes, a wealthy shoemaker who was looking for a way to lessen the burden of supporting his son, to whom he was paying, year in and year out, an annual allowance of a thousand dollars. Cutting him off wasn’t an option, because the shoemaker loved his son dearly. Nor was writing the thousand dollars off his taxes, because the I.R.S., understandably, doesn’t allow family gifts to serve as tax deductions. But the shoemaker had a brainstorm. He gave his son ten thousand dollars, and then he asked for that same amount back in the form of a business loan, promising in return to pay interest on the loan at the rate of ten per cent a year, which amounts, of course, to a thousand dollars. Voilà! With a minor sleight of hand, the shoemaker turns his family obligation into a seemingly legitimate business deduction.

This is what Katz, who teaches law at the University of Pennsylvania, calls “avoision”–behavior a little too fishy to seem like simple avoidance of illegality but not so obviously illegal as to constitute clear-cut evasion. Avoision covers those acts which lie in the awkward middle, and Katz sees the potential for avoision everywhere in the modern world. Imagine, for example, a tourist from a third-world country who comes to America and decides, at the last minute, that she wants to stay here. She then makes a series of provocative statements about her country which render her unwelcome at home and thereby qualify her for political asylum. Or what about a pornographer who, worried about running afoul of decency laws with his collection of highly explicit photographs, decides to put them in a book entitled “Sex in Marriage,” together with long, windy essays on the future of marriage. The shoemaker, the tourist, and the pornographer all adhere to the form of the law, but they violate its spirit: they have exploited a loophole. Is what they are doing right? Should they be allowed to get away with it?

I think it’s fair to say that most of us, intuitively, have a problem with avoision. Few would raise much of a fuss if the opportunistic tourist was deported, and even fewer would be fooled by the pornographer’s cynical repackaging. And if the wealthy shoemaker managed to slip his ruse past the I.R.S. we would expect him at the very least to have the decency to be ashamed of what he had done. Even the authors of the self-help tax books that proliferate at this time of year rarely present their various tax-dodging schemes without some kind of moral justification. (“What is most important is not what a tax law says, but how the I.R.S. interprets and acts on it,” Martin Kaplan and Naomi Weiss write in the best-selling “What the I.R.S. Doesn’t Want You to Know,” after reeling off a handful of anecdotes of capricious and vindictive government audits.) In fact, if the brief rise of Steve Forbes teaches us anything, it is that Americans have come to associate the paperwork, the complexity, and the game-playing surrounding the tax code with its corruption. What is the flat tax, after all, but a secular version of the tithe, an attempt to imbue what has become essentially a commercial transaction between citizen and state with the purity and simplicity of religious obligation?

This is the attitude that “Ill-Gotten Gains” sets out to confront. Katz likes loopholes. He thinks that the wealthy shoemaker has a point. And if, in the end, Katz is not entirely convincing it does not really matter. This is a heroically counterintuitive book that will make it difficult to think about tax day in quite the same way again.

2.

The problem with the way we feel about loopholes, according to Katz, is that we don’t give them enough credit. We think of them in narrow, legal terms, as the unintended result of badly drafted laws. If the wealthy shoemaker can get away with masking his son’s allowance as a business deduction, it’s assumed that there is something amiss with the law, or with the vigilance of the I.R.S. But avoision is something that runs much deeper than that.

Katz produces one example after another from history and literature–from the confrontation between Neil Klugman and Brenda Patimkin over her diaphragm in Philip Roth’s “Goodbye Columbus” to the way Freud phrased his exit statement to the Gestapo upon leaving Vienna–to prove that avoision is a kind of basic human strategy. Consider this, for example, from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Watergate memoir, “All the President’s Men.” Katz quotes the passage where the two Washington Post reporters are trying to get a senior Justice Department official to confirm off the record a rumor that Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, was about to be indicted:

“I’d like to help you, I really would,” said the lawyer. “But I just can’t say anything.”

Bernstein thought for a moment and told the man they understood why he couldn’t say anything. So they would do it another way: Bernstein would count to 10. If there was any reason for the reporters to hold back on the story, the lawyer should hang up before 10. If he was on the line after 10, it would mean the story was okay.

“Hang up, right?” the lawyer asked.

That was right, Bernstein instructed, and he started counting. Okay, Bernstein said, and thanked him effusively.

“You’ve got it straight now?” the lawyer asked.

This is classic avoision, a perfectly transparent piece of self-justification. Failing to deny the story has exactly the same consequence as confirming it. Nonetheless, in the eyes of the lawyer the difference between those alternatives was quite real. Using the loophole allowed him to live with his own conscience, to convince himself that he had not actively violated the confidentiality requirements of his position.

It is Katz’s argument that we play these avoision games all the time, and that, far from being trivial or contemptible ruses, they embody real moral distinctions. Here is another of his many examples, involving a trolley driver whose brakes are shot. As the driver hurtles along, he comes to a fork in the track. Ahead are five people who cannot get out of the way in time. To his right is one person stranded on the track. We would all agree, I think, that the trolley driver should steer right, choosing to kill one person instead of five. But now consider an analogous situation: A physician has in his hospital five people who will die unless they receive immediate organ transplants. Two need kidneys. Two need lungs. One needs a heart. At that moment, a perfectly healthy person walks into the doctor’s office. The doctor realizes that if he sacrifices that patient he can save five lives for the price of one. But this time, it’s safe to say, no one would maintain that the physician should act as the trolley driver did. It’s not good enough to want to save lives. You have to save lives in the right way.

This, at least, is what Katz believes. He describes himself as a “deontologist,” which is to say that he thinks the morality of any outcome depends very much on how that outcome is achieved. It is in the illustration of this point that “Ill-Gotten Gains” truly takes flight. In one brilliant riff in the middle of the book’s first section, for example, Katz gleefully plunges into Jesuitical theology, since he believes that the Jesuits were the ones who raised hairsplitting and loopholes to an art. Let’s say that one wants to guiltlessly communicate an untruth. All one need do is, in the words of a Jesuit theologian quoted by Katz, “swear . . . that one has not done something, though one really has done it, by inwardly understanding that one did not do it on a certain day, or before one was born, or by implying some other similar circumstance.”

Ridiculous? Not really, says Katz. For a man to disguise himself as a woman’s boyfriend, creep into her bedroom in the middle of the night, and have sex with her is rape. But if another man met the same woman at a bar and by pretending to be a famous C.E.O. successfully seduced her his falsehood in that instance would not invalidate her consent. In other words, here are two lies, identical in their intent and in their result. Yet one is a crime and the other, however deplorable, is not. The Jesuits had a point. The circumstances under which a lie is told can make a big difference. Or consider the case of a woman standing in line for a movie who sees a man pointing a pistol right at her. If she grabs the person behind her and uses that person as a shield, we would say she was guilty, at least, of manslaughter. If she simply ducks, and the bullet hits and kills the person behind her, we would call her lucky–even if she was fully aware that if she ducked the person behind her would die.

This is how Katz resolves the question of whether the wealthy shoemaker is in the right. Here we have two identical actions–the gift of a thousand dollars from father to son. But in the first case the gift is direct, and in the second case it is not. The father gives the son an asset, and that asset, in turn, generates the income. How important is this distinction? Well, imagine that the son took his father’s ten thousand dollars, put it in the bank, and lived off the interest. And suppose the shoemaker borrows ten thousand dollars not from his son but from the same bank at an identical interest rate. This is essentially the same transaction as before, just a bit more roundabout. But now no one would deny the shoemaker his tax deduction.

According to Katz, there is an important ethical principle involved here. Suppose I had designed the world’s most powerful telescope, the only machine capable of glimpsing far- off planets. If I discovered a new galaxy and published my results under my son’s name, we would all agree that my son would not deserve the ensuing fame. It would be like John F. Kennedy’s accepting the Pulitzer Prize for “Profiles in Courage,” a book that he is often said not to have written. You can’t assign your fame to someone else. But suppose I gave the telescope to my son, and, armed with this unique instrument, he stumbled upon the same discovery. Now we would all concede that at least some of the fame due to this discovery should accrue to my son. Putting a little distance between the father and the son changes everything.

3.

How far should we go in accepting Katz’s deontological fixation? Does he go overboard in his adherence to form? This is the question raised, indirectly, by a Yale University law professor, Stephen L. Carter, in his new book, “Integrity,” an essay-length exploration of the consequences of the decline of public morality. Carter argues that integrity requires three things: “(1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong.” Like Katz, Carter believes that an action should be judged by how it came about, by its adherence to rights and rules, by its form. But Carter’s idea of form is far more restrictive than Katz’s. Carter’s precepts don’t seem to make much of an ethical distinction, for example, between the man who posed as a woman’s boyfriend in order to seduce her and the man who posed as a C.E.O. Neither had discerned right from wrong. Neither was acting on what he had discerned and certainly neither was “saying openly” that he was doing what he thought was right. Carter locates the morality of an act in its intention: Did the man deliberately mislead in the aid of the seduction? Katz is much more sensitive to the particulars of the act’s execution.

A good example of this difference is found in an anecdote Carter tells at the beginning of his book about an incident he once saw while watching a football game on television. A player who had failed to catch a pass thrown his way rolled on the field, scooped up the ball, and jumped up, exultantly, as if he had caught the ball after all. The referee, shielded partially from the play, was so misled by the player’s acting that he ruled the pass complete. The player, Carter concludes, lied, and he presents this incident as a telling example of the lack of integrity in American public life.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s add two new wrinkles to the story. Suppose that the player, after scooping up the ball, didn’t go through the pantomime of exultation. He simply ran over to the referee and loudly and hotly began insisting that he had caught the ball, even though he knew that he hadn’t. Or suppose that the player, after attempting the catch, made no attempt to convince the referee that he had caught the ball at all. He was tired, and sick of playing football, and no longer interested in winning, so he shrugged and walked away, indifferent to the outcome of the game. Carter’s rules, I think, end up lumping the faker, the arguer, and the quitter together: in one way or another, they all fail his integrity test.

Now, let’s imagine how Katz would think about this incident. In the first instance, I think he might make the case that the faker was practicing avoision. Football, after all, deliberately does not use instant replay to review close calls. It relies on the judgment of referees, even though that judgment will occasionally be flawed, or there will be plays (like this one) that the referees cannot see. That’s the loophole the player was exploiting–the inherent subjectivity of the way the rules are enforced. Notice as well how he chose to exploit this loophole. Carter says that the faker lied. But that’s not quite right. It was the arguer who lied. He purposefully and directly misrepresented what happened on the play to the referee, putting himself clearly outside the realm of good sportsmanship. By contrast, the faker didn’t say anything at all. What he did was bluff, and if Carter doesn’t see a difference between lying and bluffing then I hereby extend to him a permanent invitation to my poker game.

That leaves us with the quitter, who is the only player who does not attempt to mislead. But isn’t he really the worst of the three? Sports–organized games–can continue to function if players attempt to mislead one another, because there are referees who (most of the time) will catch and punish that conduct. But sports can’t survive if players no longer try. The quitter, whose actions make him appear to be the most honest of the players, actually threatens the integrity of the entire game.

The point of all of this is that Carter’s rules, for all their superficial appeal, turn out to be somewhat unsatisfying. Because he won’t go as far as Katz in scrutinizing the form of actions, he ends up papering over some fairly important distinctions. Yes, in some broad moral sense all three of the players lack a certain integrity. But there isn’t a football player in the world who wouldn’t rather play with fakers than with arguers, or with arguers than with quitters.

This is not to say that Katz prefers those who play avoision games to those who act with perfect integrity, although it is sometimes tempting to read his book this way, since he spends so much time and enthusiasm talking about the people searching for loopholes and not a great deal of time talking about people who play fair. What Katz is trying to do is show that the loophole is not an arbitrary creation, that the ambiguities of our law reflect deep ethical conundrums that cannot be wished away. There is, in other words, a certain deontological dignity to our tortuous circumventions of the I.R.S. If the Jesuit theologians of the seventeenth century were here today, Katz believes, they would probably all be accountants, which is, when you think about it, probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about the tax system.
Through the lens of his own family’s experience, this the author explores why West Indians and American blacks are perceived differently.

1.

My cousin Rosie and her husband, check Noel, live in a two-bedroom bungalow on Argyle Avenue, in Uniondale, on the west end of Long Island. When they came to America, twelve years ago, they lived in a basement apartment a dozen or so blocks away, next to their church. At the time, they were both taking classes at the New York Institute of Technology, which was right nearby. But after they graduated, and Rosie got a job managing a fast-food place and Noel got a job in asbestos removal, they managed to save a little money and bought the house on Argyle Avenue.

From the outside, their home looks fairly plain. It’s in a part of Uniondale that has a lot of tract housing from just after the war, and most of the houses are alike–squat and square, with aluminum siding, maybe a dormer window in the attic, and a small patch of lawn out front. But there is a beautiful park down the street, the public schools are supposed to be good, and Rosie and Noel have built a new garage and renovated the basement. Now that Noel has started his own business, as an environmental engineer, he has his office down there–Suite 2B, it says on his stationery–and every morning he puts on his tie and goes down the stairs to make calls and work on the computer. If Noel’s business takes off, Rosie says, she would like to move to a bigger house, in Garden City, which is one town over. She says this even though Garden City is mostly white. In fact, when she told one of her girlfriends, a black American, about this idea, her friend said that she was crazy–that Garden City was no place for a black person. But that is just the point. Rosie and Noel are from Jamaica. They don’t consider themselves black at all.

This doesn’t mean that my cousins haven’t sometimes been lumped together with American blacks. Noel had a job once removing asbestos at Kennedy Airport, and his boss there called him “nigger” and cut his hours. But Noel didn’t take it personally. That boss, he says, didn’t like women or Jews, either, or people with college degrees–or even himself, for that matter. Another time, Noel found out that a white guy working next to him in the same job and with the same qualifications was making ten thousand dollars a year more than he was. He quit the next day. Noel knows that racism is out there. It’s just that he doesn’t quite understand–or accept–the categories on which it depends.

To a West Indian, black is a literal description: you are black if your skin is black. Noel’s father, for example, is black. But his mother had a white father, and she herself was fair-skinned and could pass. As for Rosie, her mother and my mother, who are twins, thought of themselves while they were growing up as “middle-class brown,” which is to say that they are about the same shade as Colin Powell. That’s because our maternal grandfather was part Jewish, in addition to all kinds of other things, and Grandma, though she was a good deal darker than he was, had enough Scottish blood in her to have been born with straight hair. Rosie’s mother married another brown Jamaican, and that makes Rosie a light chocolate. As for my mother, she married an Englishman, making everything that much more complicated, since by the racial categories of my own heritage I am one thing and by the racial categories of America I am another. Once, when Rosie and Noel came to visit me while I was living in Washington, D.C., Noel asked me to show him “where the black people lived,” and I was confused for a moment until I realized that he was using “black” in the American sense, and so was asking in the same way that someone visiting Manhattan might ask where Chinatown was. That the people he wanted to see were in many cases racially indistinguishable from him didn’t matter. The facts of his genealogy, of his nationality, of his status as an immigrant made him, in his own eyes, different.

This question of who West Indians are and how they define themselves may seem trivial, like racial hairsplitting. But it is not trivial. In the past twenty years, the number of West Indians in America has exploded. There are now half a million in the New York area alone and, despite their recent arrival, they make substantially more money than American blacks. They live in better neighborhoods. Their families are stronger. In the New York area, in fact, West Indians fare about as well as Chinese and Korean immigrants. That is why the Caribbean invasion and the issue of West Indian identity have become such controversial issues. What does it say about the nature of racism that another group of blacks, who have the same legacy of slavery as their American counterparts and are physically indistinguishable from them, can come here and succeed as well as the Chinese and the Koreans do? Is overcoming racism as simple as doing what Noel does, which is to dismiss it, to hold himself above it, to brave it and move on?

These are difficult questions, not merely for what they imply about American blacks but for the ways in which they appear to contradict conventional views of what prejudice is. Racism, after all, is supposed to be indiscriminate. For example, sociologists have observed that the more blacks there are in a community the more negative the whites’ attitudes will be. Blacks in Denver have a far easier time than blacks in, say, Cleveland. Lynchings in the South at the turn of this century, to give another example, were far more common in counties where there was a large black population than in areas where whites were in the majority. Prejudice is the crudest of weapons, a reaction against blacks in the aggregate that grows as the perception of black threat grows. If that is the case, however, the addition of hundreds of thousands of new black immigrants to the New York area should have made things worse for people like Rosie and Noel, not better. And, if racism is so indiscriminate in its application, why is one group of blacks flourishing and the other not?

The implication of West Indian success is that racism does not really exist at all–at least, not in the form that we have assumed it does. The implication is that the key factor in understanding racial prejudice is not the behavior and attitudes of whites but the behavior and attitudes of blacks–not white discrimination but black culture. It implies that when the conservatives in Congress say the responsibility for ending urban poverty lies not with collective action but with the poor themselves they are right.

I think of this sometimes when I go with Rosie and Noel to their church, which is in Hempstead, just a mile away. It was once a white church, but in the past decade or so it has been taken over by immigrants from the Caribbean. They have so swelled its membership that the church has bought much of the surrounding property and is about to add a hundred seats to its sanctuary. The pastor, though, is white, and when the band up front is playing and the congregation is in full West Indian form the pastor sometimes seems out of place, as if he cannot move in time with the music. I always wonder how long the white minister at Rosie and Noel’s church will last–whether there won’t be some kind of groundswell among the congregation to replace him with one of their own. But Noel tells me the issue has never really come up. Noel says, in fact, that he’s happier with a white minister, for the same reasons that he’s happy with his neighborhood, where the people across the way are Polish and another neighbor is Hispanic and still another is a black American. He doesn’t want to be shut off from everyone else, isolated within the narrow confines of his race. He wants to be part of the world, and when he says these things it is awfully tempting to credit that attitude with what he and Rosie have accomplished.

Is this confidence, this optimism, this equanimity all that separates the poorest of American blacks from a house on Argyle Avenue?

2.

In 1994, Philip Kasinitz, a sociologist at Manhattan’s Hunter College, and Jan Rosenberg, who teaches at Long Island University, conducted a study of the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, a neighborhood of around thirteen or fourteen thousand which lies between the waterfront and the Gowanus Expressway. Red Hook has a large public-housing project at its center, and around the project, in the streets that line the waterfront, are several hundred thriving blue-collar businesses–warehouses, shipping companies, small manufacturers, and contractors. The object of the study was to resolve what Kasinitz and Rosenberg saw as the paradox of Red Hook: despite Red Hook’s seemingly fortuitous conjunction of unskilled labor and blue-collar jobs, very few of the Puerto Ricans and African-Americans from the neighborhood ever found work in the bustling economy of their own back yard.

After dozens of interviews with local employers, the two researchers uncovered a persistent pattern of what they call positive discrimination. It was not that the employers did not like blacks and Hispanics. It was that they had developed an elaborate mechanism for distinguishing between those they felt were “good” blacks and those they felt were “bad” blacks, between those they judged to be “good” Hispanics and those they considered “bad” Hispanics. “Good” meant that you came from outside the neighborhood, because employers identified locals with the crime and dissipation they saw on the streets around them. “Good” also meant that you were an immigrant, because employers felt that being an immigrant implied a loyalty and a willingness to work and learn not found among the native-born. In Red Hook, the good Hispanics are Mexican and South American, not Puerto Rican. And the good blacks are West Indian.

The Harvard sociologist Mary C. Waters conducted a similar study, in 1993, which looked at a food-service company in Manhattan where West Indian workers have steadily displaced African-Americans in the past few years. The transcripts of her interviews with the company managers make fascinating reading, providing an intimate view of the perceptions that govern the urban workplace. Listen to one forty-year-old white male manager on the subject of West Indians:

They tend more to shy away from doing all of the illegal things because they have such strict rules down in their countries and jails. And they’re nothing like here. So like, they’re like really paranoid to do something wrong. They seem to be very, very self-conscious of it. No matter what they have to do, if they have to try and work three jobs, they do. They won’t go into drugs or anything like that.

Or listen to this, from a fifty-three-year-old white female manager:

I work closely with this one girl who’s from Trinidad. And she told me when she first came here to live with her sister and cousin, she had two children. And she said I’m here four years and we’ve reached our goals. And what was your goal? For her two children to each have their own bedroom. Now she has a three bedroom apartment and she said that’s one of the goals she was shooting for. . . . If that was an American, they would say, I reached my goal. I bought a Cadillac.

This idea of the West Indian as a kind of superior black is not a new one. When the first wave of Caribbean immigrants came to New York and Boston, in the early nineteen-hundreds, other blacks dubbed them Jewmaicans, in derisive reference to the emphasis they placed on hard work and education. In the nineteen-eighties, the economist Thomas Sowell gave the idea a serious intellectual imprimatur by arguing that the West Indian advantage was a historical legacy of Caribbean slave culture. According to Sowell, in the American South slaveowners tended to hire managers who were married, in order to limit the problems created by sexual relations between overseers and slave women. But the West Indies were a hardship post, without a large and settled white population. There the overseers tended to be bachelors, and, with white women scarce, there was far more commingling of the races. The resulting large group of coloreds soon formed a kind of proto-middle class, performing various kinds of skilled and sophisticated tasks that there were not enough whites around to do, as there were in the American South. They were carpenters, masons, plumbers, and small businessmen, many years in advance of their American counterparts, developing skills that required education and initiative.

My mother and Rosie’s mother came from this colored class. Their parents were schoolteachers in a tiny village buried in the hills of central Jamaica. My grandmother’s and grandfather’s salaries combined put them, at best, on the lower rungs of the middle class. But their expectations went well beyond that. In my grandfather’s library were Dickens and Maupassant. My mother and her sister were pushed to win scholarships to a proper English- style boarding school at the other end of the island; and later, when my mother graduated, it was taken for granted that she would attend university in England, even though the cost of tuition and passage meant that my grandmother had to borrow a small fortune from the Chinese grocer down the road.

My grandparents had ambitions for their children, but it was a special kind of ambition, born of a certainty that American blacks did not have–that their values were the same as those of society as a whole, and that hard work and talent could actually be rewarded. In my mother’s first year at boarding school, she looked up “Negro” in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. “In certain . . . characteristics . . . the negro would appear to stand on a lower evolutionary plane than the white man,” she read. And the entry continued:

The mental constitution of the negro is very similar to that of a child, normally good-natured and cheerful, but subject to sudden fits of emotion and passion during which he is capable of performing acts of singular atrocity, impressionable, vain, but often exhibiting in the capacity of servant a dog-like fidelity which has stood the supreme test.

All black people of my mother’s generation–and of generations before and since–have necessarily faced a moment like this, when they are confronted for the first time with the allegation of their inferiority. But, at least in my mother’s case, her school was integrated, and that meant she knew black girls who were more intelligent than white girls, and she knew how she measured against the world around her. At least she lived in a country that had blacks and browns in every position of authority, so her personal experience gave the lie to what she read in the encyclopedia. This, I think, is what Noel means when he says that he cannot quite appreciate what it is that weighs black Americans down, because he encountered the debilitating effects of racism late, when he was much stronger. He came of age in a country where he belonged to the majority.

When I was growing up, my mother sometimes read to my brothers and me from the work of Louise Bennett, the great Jamaican poet of my mother’s generation. The poem I remember best is about two women–one black and one white–in a hair salon, the black woman getting her hair straightened and, next to her, the white woman getting her hair curled:

same time me mind start ‘tink
’bout me and de white woman
how me tek out me natural perm
and she put in false one

There is no anger or resentment here, only irony and playfulness–the two races captured in a shared moment of absurdity. Then comes the twist. The black woman is paying less to look white than the white woman is to look black:

de two a we da tek a risk
what rain or shine will bring
but fe har risk is t’re poun’
fi me onle five shillin’

In the nineteen-twenties, the garment trade in New York was first integrated by West Indian women, because, the legend goes, they would see the sign on the door saying “No blacks need apply” and simply walk on in. When I look back on Bennett’s poem, I think I understand how they found the courage to do that.

3.

It is tempting to use the West Indian story as evidence that discrimination doesn’t really exist–as proof that the only thing inner-city African-Americans have to do to be welcomed as warmly as West Indians in places like Red Hook is to make the necessary cultural adjustments. If West Indians are different, as they clearly are, then it is easy to imagine that those differences are the reason for their success–that their refusal to be bowed is what lets them walk on by the signs that prohibit them or move to neighborhoods that black Americans would shy away from. It also seems hard to see how the West Indian story is in any way consistent with the idea of racism as an indiscriminate, pernicious threat aimed at all black people.

But here is where things become more difficult, and where what seems obvious about West Indian achievement turns out not to be obvious at all. One of the striking things in the Red Hook study, for example, is the emphasis that the employers appeared to place on hiring outsiders–Irish or Russian or Mexican or West Indian immigrants from places far from Red Hook. The reason for this was not, the researchers argue, that the employers had any great familiarity with the cultures of those immigrants. They had none, and that was the point. They were drawn to the unfamiliar because what was familiar to them–the projects of Red Hook–was anathema. The Columbia University anthropologist Katherine Newman makes the same observation in a recent study of two fast-food restaurants in Harlem. She compared the hundreds of people who applied for jobs at those restaurants with the few people who were actually hired, and found, among other things, that how far an applicant lived from the job site made a huge difference. Of those applicants who lived less than two miles from the restaurant, ten per cent were hired. Of those who lived more than two miles from the restaurant, nearly forty per cent were hired. As Newman puts it, employers preferred the ghetto they didn’t know to the ghetto they did.

Neither study describes a workplace where individual attitudes make a big difference, or where the clunky and impersonal prejudices that characterize traditional racism have been discarded. They sound like places where old-style racism and appreciation of immigrant values are somehow bound up together. Listen to another white manager who was interviewed by Mary Waters:

Island blacks who come over, they’re immigrant. They may not have such a good life where they are so they gonna try to strive to better themselves and I think there’s a lot of American blacks out there who feel we owe them. And enough is enough already. You know, this is something that happened to their ancestors, not now. I mean, we’ve done so much for the black people in America now that it’s time that they got off their butts.

Here, then, are the two competing ideas about racism side by side: the manager issues a blanket condemnation of American blacks even as he holds West Indians up as a cultural ideal. The example of West Indians as “good” blacks makes the old blanket prejudice against American blacks all the easier to express. The manager can tell black Americans to get off their butts without fear of sounding, in his own ears, like a racist, because he has simultaneously celebrated island blacks for their work ethic. The success of West Indians is not proof that discrimination against American blacks does not exist. Rather, it is the means by which discrimination against American blacks is given one last, vicious twist: I am not so shallow as to despise you for the color of your skin, because I have found people your color that I like. Now I can despise you for who you are.

This is racism’s newest mutation–multicultural racism, where one ethnic group can be played off against another. But it is wrong to call West Indians the victors in this competition, in anything but the narrowest sense. In American history, immigrants have always profited from assimilation: as they have adopted the language and customs of this country, they have sped their passage into the mainstream. The new racism means that West Indians are the first group of people for whom that has not been true. Their advantage depends on their remaining outsiders, on remaining unfamiliar, on being distinct by custom, culture, and language from the American blacks they would otherwise resemble. There is already some evidence that the considerable economic and social advantages that West Indians hold over American blacks begin to dissipate by the second generation, when the island accent has faded, and those in positions of power who draw distinctions between good blacks and bad blacks begin to lump West Indians with everyone else. For West Indians, assimilation is tantamount to suicide. This is a cruel fate for any immigrant group, but it is especially so for West Indians, whose history and literature are already redolent with the themes of dispossession and loss, with the long search for identity and belonging. In the nineteen-twenties, Marcus Garvey sought community in the idea of Africa. Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae singer, yearned for Zion. In “Rites of Passage” the Barbadian poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite writes:

Where, then, is the nigger’s
home?
In Paris Brixton Kingston
Rome?
Here?
Or in Heaven?

America might have been home. But it is not: not Red Hook, anyway; not Harlem; not even Argyle Avenue.

There is also no small measure of guilt here, for West Indians cannot escape the fact that their success has come, to some extent, at the expense of American blacks, and that as they have noisily differentiated themselves from African-Americans–promoting the stereotype of themselves as the good blacks–they have made it easier for whites to join in. It does not help matters that the same kinds of distinctions between good and bad blacks which govern the immigrant experience here have always lurked just below the surface of life in the West Indies as well. It was the infusion of white blood that gave the colored class its status in the Caribbean, and the members of this class have never forgotten that, nor have they failed, in a thousand subtle ways, to distance themselves from those around them who experienced a darker and less privileged past.

In my mother’s house, in Harewood, the family often passed around a pencilled drawing of two of my great-grandparents; she was part Jewish, and he was part Scottish. The other side–the African side–was never mentioned. My grandmother was the ringleader in this. She prized my grandfather’s light skin, but she also suffered as a result of this standard. “She’s nice, you know, but she’s too dark,” her mother-in-law would say of her. The most telling story of all, though, is the story of one of my mother’s relatives, whom I’ll call Aunt Joan, who was as fair as my great-grandmother was. Aunt Joan married what in Jamaica is called an Injun–a man with a dark complexion that is redeemed from pure Africanness by straight, fine black hair. She had two daughters by him–handsome girls with dark complexions. But he died young, and one day, while she was travelling on a train to visit her daughter, she met and took an interest in a light-skinned man in the same railway car. What happened next is something that Aunt Joan told only my mother, years later, with the greatest of shame. When she got off the train, she walked right by her daughter, disowning her own flesh and blood, because she did not want a man so light-skinned and desirable to know that she had borne a daughter so dark.

My mother, in the nineteen-sixties, wrote a book about her experiences. It was entitled “Brown Face, Big Master,” the brown face referring to her and the big master, in the Jamaican dialect, referring to God. Sons, of course, are hardly objective on the achievements of their mothers, but there is one passage in the book that I find unforgettable, because it is such an eloquent testimony to the moral precariousness of the Jamaican colored class–to the mixture of confusion and guilt that attends its position as beneficiary of racism’s distinctions. The passage describes a time just after my mother and father were married, when they were living in London and my eldest brother was still a baby. They were looking for an apartment, and after a long search my father found one in a London suburb. On the day after they moved in, however, the landlady ordered them out. “You didn’t tell me your wife was colored,” she told my father, in a rage.

In her book my mother describes her long struggle to make sense of this humiliation, to reconcile her experience with her faith. In the end, she was forced to acknowledge that anger was not an option–that as a Jamaican “middle-class brown,” and a descendant of Aunt Joan, she could hardly reproach another for the impulse to divide good black from bad black:

I complained to God in so many words: “Here I was, the wounded representative of the negro race in our struggle to be accounted free and equal with the dominating whites!” And God was amused; my prayer did not ring true with Him. I would try again. And then God said, “Have you not done the same thing? Remember this one and that one, people whom you have slighted or avoided or treated less considerately than others because they were different superficially, and you were ashamed to be identified with them. Have you not been glad that you are not more colored than you are? Grateful that you are not black?” My anger and hate against the landlady melted. I was no better than she was, nor worse for that matter. . . . We were both guilty of the sin of self-regard, the pride and the exclusiveness by which we cut some people off from ourselves.

4.

I grew up in Canada, in a little farming town an hour and a half outside of Toronto. My father teaches mathematics at a nearby university, and my mother is a therapist. For many years, she was the only black person in town, but I cannot remember wondering or worrying, or even thinking, about this fact. Back then, color meant only good things. It meant my cousins in Jamaica. It meant the graduate students from Africa and India my father would bring home from the university. My own color was not something I ever thought much about, either, because it seemed such a stray fact. Blacks knew what I was. They could discern the hint of Africa beneath my fair skin. But it was a kind of secret–something that they would ask me about quietly when no one else was around. (“Where you from?” an older black man once asked me. “Ontario,” I said, not thinking. “No,” he replied. “Where you from?” And then I understood and told him, and he nodded as if he had already known. “We was speculatin’ about your heritage,” he said.) But whites never guessed, and even after I informed them it never seemed to make a difference. Why would it? In a town that is ninety-nine per cent white, one modest alleged splash of color hardly amounts to a threat.

But things changed when I left for Toronto to attend college. This was during the early nineteen-eighties, when West Indians were immigrating to Canada in droves, and Toronto had become second only to New York as the Jamaican expatriates’ capital in North America. At school, in the dining hall, I was served by Jamaicans. The infamous Jane-Finch projects, in northern Toronto, were considered the Jamaican projects. The drug trade then taking off was said to be the Jamaican drug trade. In the popular imagination, Jamaicans were–and are–welfare queens and gun-toting gangsters and dissolute youths. In Ontario, blacks accused of crimes are released by the police eighteen per cent of the time; whites are released twenty-nine per cent of the time. In drug-trafficking and importing cases, blacks are twenty-seven times as likely as whites to be jailed before their trial takes place, and twenty times as likely to be imprisoned on drug-possession charges.

After I had moved to the United States, I puzzled over this seeming contradiction–how West Indians celebrated in New York for their industry and drive could represent, just five hundred miles northwest, crime and dissipation. Didn’t Torontonians see what was special and different in West Indian culture? But that was a naïve question. The West Indians were the first significant brush with blackness that white, smug, comfortable Torontonians had ever had. They had no bad blacks to contrast with the newcomers, no African-Americans to serve as a safety valve for their prejudices, no way to perform America’s crude racial triage.

Not long ago, I sat in a coffee shop with someone I knew vaguely from college, who, like me, had moved to New York from Toronto. He began to speak of the threat that he felt Toronto now faced. It was the Jamaicans, he said. They were a bad seed. He was, of course, oblivious of my background. I said nothing, though, and he launched into a long explanation of how, in slave times, Jamaica was the island where all the most troublesome and obstreperous slaves were sent, and how that accounted for their particularly nasty disposition today.

I have told that story many times since, usually as a joke, because it was funny in an appalling way–particularly when I informed him much, much later that my mother was Jamaican. I tell the story that way because otherwise it is too painful. There must be people in Toronto just like Rosie and Noel, with the same attitudes and aspirations, who want to live in a neighborhood as nice as Argyle Avenue, who want to build a new garage and renovate their basement and set up their own business downstairs. But it is not completely up to them, is it? What has happened to Jamaicans in Toronto is proof that what has happened to Jamaicans here is not the end of racism, or even the beginning of the end of racism, but an accident of history and geography. In America, there is someone else to despise. In Canada, there is not. In the new racism, as in the old, somebody always has to be the nigger.