A recent opinion essay in The New York Times is drawing scathing reactions because the black author admits she was upset when she saw white people using the “little free-standing library” box she set up in her ethnically diverse neighborhood.
Little Free Libraries are the quaint, colorful boxes often erected in communities to allow neighbors to share books with one another. Erin Aubry Kaplan, a journalist, said she started an independent version in her Inglewood, California, neighborhood after spotting them in upscale, “white” areas. At first, she was pleased to see her neighbors using it. Until, that is, she spotted a white couple taking a book:
Then one morning, glancing out my front window, I saw a young white couple stopped at the library. Instantly, I was flooded with emotions — astonishment, and then resentment, and then astonishment at my resentment. It all converged into a silent scream in my head of, Get off my lawn!
Kaplan went on to reveal that she felt hostility toward the pair because of their skin color and their decision to unknowingly make use of a neighborhood amenity she had only intended for minorities. “What I resented was not this specific couple,” she said in the opinion published Saturday, “It was their whiteness, and my feelings of helplessness at not knowing how to maintain the integrity of a Black space that I had created.”
At that point, Kaplan referenced incidents related to “white flight” in the 1950s and 60s — when white homeowners moved out of neighborhoods due to black and Hispanic residents moving in:
As more Black families moved to the neighborhood, white people moved out in droves…That white flight forged the chiefly Black and brown South Central of popular imagination and created similar demographics in other city neighborhoods across the country …
While those are examples of historical prejudice, then Kaplan cited “white return” — white residents moving into minority dominant communities — as also being evidence of present-day racism.
“But now, as younger generations of white people move back to the neighborhoods their parents shunned, in the phenomenon I call ‘white return’ … instead of the blatant racism of what happened at Bruce’s Beach, we now have gentrification,” she wrote.
She ended her piece seeming to argue for re-segregation of neighborhoods based on race, saying, “In 2021, it has become increasingly important to maintain and grow Black space, on its own terms.”
Many pundits and politicians immediately slammed the piece as an example of rank bigotry.
Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) expressed his disappointment that NYT would publish “blatant racism.”
Alex Tabarrok, an economics professor at George Mason University, called it “an astounding defense of racism.”
And independent journalist Michael Tracey joked, “I have one of those Little Free Library things on my street but now I’m going to keep my head down and skulk past it to avoid stoking racial resentment from crazy ladies.”
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