Leah Donnella | Texas Public Radio

Leah Donnella

One effect of the widespread protests across U.S. cities this week has been to renew discussions of what role the police should play in society.

For many Americans, it goes without saying that the police are critical in maintaining public safety. Have an emergency? Call the police. But many others — especially black people and poor people — have long countered that the police pose more of a threat to their safety than a boon. See a police officer? Walk in the other direction.

It happens on every road trip — you're driving from city to city, natural wonder to natural wonder. Every hour is a magical combination of rustic beauty and historic landmarks and fascinating people. Until, one day, things change: The scenery turns gray; the people lose their charm. You find yourself at a rest stop with no toilet paper, where the vending machine eats your last single. It's 90 miles to the nearest motel. Small, but menacing-looking rodents scurry across the road.

You, my friend, are in Podunk. Or as some people say, "Some Podunk town in the middle of nowhere."

There's no shortage of terrible things to think about. Our history — everyone's history — is full of them. This July marked 100 years since the start of the Red Summer of 1919, where race riots broke out in cities all over the United States. September will mark two years since Hurricane Maria devastated much of Puerto Rico. Eighteen years since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Quick — think of the most beautiful person you know. Is it your partner? Your mother? Rihanna? (Wait, you know Rihanna? That's amazing!)

There are a million different reasons we find certain people beautiful. But there's no denying that a lot of current beauty standards in the U.S. are based on a particular type of beauty — one that centers a type of white femininity that's only accessible to a select few.

President Trump traveled to a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, today, continuing on his campaign to drum up support for a $5.7 billion border wall. The visit came after weeks of Congressional debate about border security that has resulted in a partial government shutdown.

Talking about race is hard. It often involves hurt feelings and misunderstandings. And the words and phrases we use can either push those conversations forward or bring them to a standstill. One such term: white tears.

Some people say New Orleans is haunted because of witches. Others say it's haunted by vampires, or ghosts, or all those swamps. But if you were around between 1817 and 1905, you might say the city was haunted by death. And that death, in large part, was caused by yellow fever.

You can get away with calling something "white trash" in polite company, on cable television and in the headline of a magazine article. An article in The New Republic once posed the question of whether President Trump might be "a white trash icon." For some reason, the term manages to come across as less offensive than most other racial slurs.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

For many people, the dog days of July mean grabbing an ice pop, lounging outside, and letting the summer sun hit your skin. And for people of color, we're often doing those things sans sunscreen. After all, our melanin will protect us. Right?

Not so fast.

This week on Ask Code Switch we're taking on a question from Liz Mitchell, from New York. She writes:

"Dear Code Switch,

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