About US: “Where you headed?” A brown-skinned man confronts his fears on a trip across America

Candid conversations about identity in 21st-century America
The Washington Post

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Candid conversations about identity in 21st-century America
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“Where you headed?” A brown-skinned man confronts his fears on a trip across America

Another woman of color makes history at the ballot box

Why Nike is not afraid to make Colin Kaepernick the face of its brand

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How I fought fear and found faith on a motorcycle trip across America

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Arvin Temkar
freelance writer

Halfway through my cross-country motorcycle trip this summer, I stopped at a gas station in Indiana. A white man in camouflage shorts and a white sleeveless shirt walked up to me. I stiffened, suddenly self-aware and on guard.

I am brown-skinned and ethnically ambiguous. One of the first questions people often ask me is what my ethnic background is. (I’m Filipino and Indian.)

“Nice bike,” the man said, eyeing Clementine, the name I’ve given my orange 650-cc Suzuki V-Strom, all loaded up with luggage and camping gear. “Travelin’?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Where you headed?”

“Back home to San Francisco.”

“That’ll get you there,” the man said. “Have a good one.”

He ambled away with a wave. And that was it.

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The author took photos of people he met during his cross-country road trip. Sister Peace, a Buddhist nun in Mississippi, is working on a program to bring mindfulness to youth in juvenile detention in Memphis. (Photo by Arvin Temkar) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

During my three-month journey across the United States, I noticed something unsettling about the American people. We are afraid.

On an Illinois freeway, I passed a series of gun-rights signs with dire messages like: “Dialed 911 and I’m on hold, sure wish I had that gun I sold.” In an Arizona suburb, as I circled a neighborhood block in search of a friend’s house, a man tailed me in his truck and took a photo of my license plate. In Alabama, a store owner told me that he’s afraid immigration will change the white, Christian culture of the nation.

As for me, at every gas station, motel and diner I entered, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the color of my skin was going to land me in some sort of trouble.

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Mario is a supervisor at Homegirl Cafe, part of the nonprofit @homeboyindustries, which serves former gang members in Los Angeles. (Photo by Arvin Temkar)

While I’ve always been self-conscious about my looks, now — as hate crimes against brown-skinned people are on the rise and white supremacy has returned to the spotlight — that awareness has turned into anxiety. How easily, I wondered, could that neighborhood incident in Arizona have turned into a Trayvon-Martin-like situation? Would I become the next Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was told to “get out of my country” before being shot and killed by an angry white man at a bar in Kansas?

This was my first time driving across the country, and my first time visiting most of the places I found myself in. I was alone and often afraid.

Noam Chomsky has said that fear is a characteristic part of the American identity.

“The United States is an unusually frightened country,” he said in an interview on the progressive website Alternet. The fear, he said, “goes back to the colonies.”

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Bob runs #Dixie General Store, in Helfin, Ala., which promotes and celebrates #Southern and #Confederate heritage. (Photo by Arvin Temkar)

Americans have always been afraid of something — Native Americans attacking, slaves revolting, Mexican immigrants “bringing drugs” or “bringing crime.” The irony though, is that white Americans often brought this paranoia on themselves: The Native Americans were defending themselves from invasion, the slaves were fighting for their freedom. And new immigrants — including illegal immigrants — are less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.

National tensions, Chomksy said in another interview are often manipulated by leaders who aim to create a “world-conquering system on the basis of fear.”

Since the election of Donald Trump, fear and manipulation have become everyday talking points. In a recent speech in South Africa, former president Barack Obama decried the rise of “a politics of fear and resentment,” and warned against “strongman politics.” Investigative journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, to be released Sept. 11, is titled “Fear: Trump in the White House.”

But I found that, on the road, fear had taken an outsize role in my mind as compared to the decency and kindness I experienced from people of all backgrounds.

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This woman was part of a group of Sikhs who marched in the Independence Day parade in Washington. Many of the women wore American flag shawls, and the men wore American flag ties. (Photo by Arvin Temkar)

To see more images, visit Temkar’s Instagram page.

Keep reading this essay

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Women of color continue to upset and excite during this primary season

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Ayanna Pressley celebrates her victory over Rep. Michael Capuano, (D-Mass.,) in Tuesday’s primary. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Ayanna Pressley’s insurgent primary victory in Massachusetts’s 7th Congressional District sent yet another shock wave through the Democratic Party. Her opponent, Rep. Michael E. Capuano, is a white, male, 10-term incumbent with a liberal record, and secured several key endorsements — including from civil rights era hero Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). But Pressley made the case that it was time for a changing of the guard.

Since she faces no general election challenge, she is nearly certain to become the first African American woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress.

Her victory is part of a greater trend during this year’s primaries in which women of color — particularly on the Democratic side — have been challenging the old guard. The Washington Post produced a short documentary that features congressional candidates Lauren Underwood, Pearl Kim and Deb Haaland, who are all striving to change the face of power in the United States.

“Congress is an elite institution. In the early days of our country, our congressmen were wealthy white landowners. And that’s the only people who had access to run,” Underwood said.

Now, she says, “This is our time. I get really excited about this moment and the opportunities as a young woman and person of color to hold this role and to advocate and work on and introduce policies that could help our future.”

— Kayla Epstein, Post staff writer

Watch the video below:

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‘This is our time’: Women of color break barriers in 2018 midterms
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Colin Kaepernick, at the time a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, kneels during the national anthem before an NFL football game in 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Why Nike isn’t stressing over those burning sneakers

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Sally Jenkins
Post columnist

Kicks have always been political, and Nike has always sought to capture new generations with its use of intense color. This is a company that built itself on chroma-fluorescent blues and acetate volt greens. The Colin Kaepernick campaign falls in that category: It’s a transactional piece of advertising that seeks to hook into the vanguard yearnings and values of its buyers by using a surprising hue. If the campaign is important, it’s not as an act of corporate conscience, but rather as a reflection of coming American demographics, which Nike is always so good at identifying and signifying.

Burning shoes and flaming hashtags are not unwelcome at Nike. The viral images of swooshes on fire won’t bother the marketers who decided to use Kaepernick one bit. This is a company that has been losing ground to Vans and for the first time in a decade didn’t have the most popular shoe in America in 2017, surpassed by Adidas Superstar. What Nike always has been best at is staying ahead, and the risk of employing Kaepernick in a campaign is nothing compared with what it risks by falling behind. Here’s why:

Millennials, those Americans between the ages of 22 and 37, are projected to surpass baby boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation in 2019, and fully 44 percent of them are of some race other than white. For post-millennials, that number rises to 48 percent, and for post-post-millennials (American children under age 10), it grows to more than 50 percent.

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‘Just Do It’: Colin Kaepernick stars in new Nike ad campaign

These Americans are “very different than earlier generations” in a variety of ways, according to demographer William Frey, author of “Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America.” They are more prone to interracial marrying, friendlier to immigration and often want their consumption to have a social component. If Nike is willing to offend its graying buyers in order to court these multiple generations with a racial justice campaign, “it’s a good bet that a lot of younger people will be attracted and go along with that,” Frey said.

Andrew McCaskill, senior vice president of global communications at Nielsen, puts these demographics in stark business terms. “If you don’t have a multicultural strategy, you don’t have a growth strategy,” he says.

Nike’s mentions on social media skyrocketed after news of the Kaepernick ad broke. In 24 hours, there were more than 2.7 million references to the brand, according to the analytic firm Talkwalker. And Kaepernick is just one small piece of what is apparently a much larger millennials strategy: Last year, CEO Mark Parker announced a new 12-city drive, as the company tries to become once again an entity that “obsesses the needs of the evolving consumer.” Among the target cities are Mexico City, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul and Milan, and the company projects 80 percent of its projected growth will come from metropolitan areas. Why? Because that’s where diverse, high-earning, younger people live.

They want apps that let them buy instantly on demand, shorter “creation cycles” and flashy new shoes faster. And they apparently want to feel better about what they buy. According to Nielsen’s McCaskill, significant percentages of millennials and post-millennials say they expect the brands they buy to support social causes. Fifty-seven percent of Hispanics agree they are more likely to buy brands that support something they care about. The old assumption and traditional wisdom that companies must avoid activist stances is over.

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#NotInvisible: Why are Native American women vanishing?
(Associated Press)

India’s Supreme Court decriminalizes gay sex in historic ruling
(The Post)

Merriam-Webster adds ‘Latinx’ to its dictionary
(Latino Rebels)

The NFL protest are not the first time athletes have used the field or court to voice political opinions.
(Origins)

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