Archive for September, 2008
Make no mistake, all the available evidence suggests that the American political economy is headed for a major crash. Some are even speculating that this is the end of American economic dominance in the world’s financial market. But don’t be deceived by the blame-the-victim rationalizing that’s being floated now. Let’s be clear about what policies and which people are behind the current financial crisis: neoliberal policies and the overwhelmingly majority of economically privileged white men (photo from same link) who created, implemented and benefited from those policies.
Neoliberalism refers to a set of policies that encourage “less government” and unfettered (and unregulated) capitalism. The key elements of neoliberalism include: 1) the rule of the market, 2) reducing government expenditures on social services, 3) deregulation, 4) privatization, and 5) gutting the notion of “the public good.” While this may strike some readers as sounding astonishingly similar to any recent Republican stump speech, neoliberalism has infected Democratic politics as well, and either Clinton’s policies (and way too many of Obama’s, for my tastes), fit neatly within the framework of neoliberalism. Remember, “welfare reform” was a large part of what got Bill Clinton elected, and that’s a quintessential neoliberal policy. Now, it seems self-evident to me what the connection is between neoliberalism and the current financial crisis, but allow me to connect a few of the dots here. As those in the White House and Congress, including John McCain, touted the benefits of deregulation (link opens video of interview with McCain) of the financial markets and passed legislation “freeing” up those industries from any sort of government oversight, whole new markets developed and a few people got very, very rich. Many of those who got very, very rich did so in financial services that are obtuse at best and an elaborate shell game at worse. Others got very, very rich by targeting minority communities for subprime mortgages, the new version of “redlining.” Now, those who conceived of, established and profited from these businesses have either cashed out or, if they’re still in the game, are looking to the U.S. tax-payers (some of the same people who’ve been fleeced by these schemes) for a $700 billion bailout, making the U.S. government the insurer-of-last-resort for these highly risky capitalist ventures. The end result of neoliberal policies is that while a handful of people get very, very rich, these policies simultaneously exacerbate the suffering of just about everyone else and increase domestic and international instability. So, what we’re seeing now is just the logical, perhaps inevitable, result of these policies.
Economically privileged white men have had a disproportionate level of involvement in the development, administration and profit from neoliberalism. If you look at the roster of those in power on Wall Street and in the financial services sector more broadly in the U.S., what you will see is overwhelmingly white men who have gone to elite schools and, for the most part, come from upper-middle class and upper-class backgrounds. Granted, there are token women (usually white) and people of color (some African American men), but these exceptions highlight the prevailing demographic fact about the industry. While the “secret societies” of the wealthy occasionally make the news, the fact is, the power elite has been a feature of American life since before C. Wright Mills wrote about it in the 1950s, yet it rarely gets discussed in any meaningful way in the mainstream news. Instead, we get a lot of reporting about how the bailout failure was the result of partisanship – certainly part of the story, but doesn’t explain why conservative republicans and democrats rejected the plan. Instead, what we need is more reporting, more information about how the state is working to protect the interests of the power elite.
Fortunately, critics on the left have pointed out the elite interests behind this crisis and the proposed bailout. The reality is that bailout or not, the worsening economic landscape is not going to affect everyone in the U.S. – and the world – evenly. Instead, people of color, women, and particularly women of color, are going to get laid off, not have health care, lose their homes and be forced into bankruptcy, while privileged white men may have to sell one of their vacation homes. It’s time to shift this burden back onto the shoulders of the people who created it.
A few days ago a rather clueless John McCain told a standard joke about Irish Americans and drunkenness. In response, Seamus Boyle, the National President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, sent him this September 23, 2008 letter:
Dear Senator McCain, Thank you for meeting with us on Monday September 22 in Scranton Pennsylvania to discuss our issues concerning the Irish American community. You did address the seven issues which we had given to you on a previous occasion and we were generally satisfied with your answers and your ideas to implement action on our behalf should you be elected in November. It was a great meeting but when you began your speech with a joke about the Irish, I and many of our fellow Irish Americans in the Ancient Order of Hibernians, were shocked. It was really an insult to a whole nationality to be stereotyped as drunks. The Irish are a jovial people who enjoy life, work hard, help the needy, support our community and our country yet get depicted as drunkards and partiers. As you stated in your speech yesterday the Irish have a great education and work ethic. Senator, I was not the only one offended and I received numerous complaints from a variety of people throughout Pennsylvania and other parts of the country. On behalf of these people, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and myself and my family, I wish you would refrain from demeaning the Irish or any other ethnic group by telling such jokes in the future. I think an apology is in order to those millions of Irish in the United States who were offended by your joke.
As an Irish American, I have had this response for years now to all such Irish stereotyping and joking, and I think it is well beyond time to take all such widespread ethnic and racist stereotyped joking out of the U.S. communication system in public frontstage settings and in the private backstage.
It would be particularly good too, in my view, if powerful national organizations like this would take on all racist and ethnic joking as hurtful, inappropriate, degrading of this society, and stimulative of discrimination, as they hint at in the next to last sentence, and make it a major organizational cause to press for national education about such racist and ethnic joking and stereotyping.
Indeed, we need to start teaching Stereotyping 101 at all levels of U.S. education. It is odd that almost no US school system anywhere that I know of has even 6 weeks of Stereotyping 101 required of all children at any grade level. Why is that? I welcome your thoughts and comments on that, and how to change this reality.
Despite the fact that 99% of those in charge of the financial and political institutions that are responsible for the current political crisis are rich, white men, it seems that black and brown folks are being set up to the take the blame for this. Apparently, the bank Washington Mutual (WaMu) failed because it “hired minorities,” if you are to believe National Review‘s Mark Krikorian. This is not a new stance for the National Review, and their elite, articulate version of racism is a good reminder that white supremacy doesn’t always wear Klan robes. Daniel De Groot, writing at Open Left, has an excellent piece about racism and the current financial crisis (h/t Paul at BS). To highlight the NR’s current racism and connect to a legacy of this kind of thinking at the magazine, De Groot posts a quote from them in 1957:
The Central question that emerges–and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal is whether the White community in the South is entitle [sic] to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes–the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race… [emphasis from De Groot].
De Groot goes on to comment that:
none of this has changed. NR still believes the enlightened minority should prevail over the “atavistic” majority, and violence is an acceptable solution to make that happen.
The violence is economic violence rather than cracking the heads of lunch-counter-protestors, and it seems clear that the mechanisms for a bailout being put into motion now are intended to benefit the wealthy – and the overwhelmingly white – elite.
In a recent column called “White Privilege and Barack Obama,” John Stossel, the co-anchor of ABC’s show 20/20, deploys the white racial frame – and hides behind the writing of African American neo-con Shelby Steele to disguise his own ignorance about racial matters in the U.S.
Stossel begins his piece by sharing his “assumption” about the significance of Obama’s success, then picking up on the widely circulated Tim Wise piece on Obama and white privilege, (which Adia Harvey wrote about here first), and then attacks Wise for his message. Here’s Stossel:
I assumed that the success of Barack Obama, as well as thousands of other black Americans and dark-skinned immigrants — many of whom thrive despite language problems — demonstrates that America today is largely a colorblind meritocracy. But a white campus lecturer, Tim Wise, gets tremendous applause from students by saying things like, “[W]hite supremacy and privilege continue to skew opportunities hundreds of years after they were set in place” and in America, “meritocracy is as close to a lie as you can come.” His message is in demand — he is invited to more than 80 speaking engagements a year.”
Stossel never refutes the charges that Wise and Harvey (and lots of others) make about white privilege and the way it operates in U.S. society and particularly in this campaign. Instead, he engages in a rhetorical strategy that’s best described as “nuh-uh, Shelby Steele says…” The line that immediately follows the paragraph quoted above starts like this:
But black writer Shelby Steele argues that whites do blacks no favors wringing their hands about white privilege.”
The rest of Stossel’s column consists mainly of lots of re-tread quotes from Steele’s book White Guilt. The bottom line: “nuh-uh, Shelby Steele says all that stuff is minor and he should know, ‘cuz he’s black.” So there. The only ground that Stossel ever concedes to racism is this bit:
Of course, there is still racism in America. At ABC News we’ve aired hidden-camera video showing sales clerks spying on black customers, cab drivers passing blacks to pick up whites and employers favoring white-sounding names.
Steele says those are minor problems.
Here, Stossel is referring to one 19-minute segment called “True Colors” that 20/20 did back in the early 1990s when Diane Sawyer was still on the show. It’s an excellent piece. I’ve used in classes and I include here on our list of recommended videos to use in teaching about racism. That’s one segment – in the twenty-plus years the show has been on. What Stossel fails to grasp here, and what Steele minimizes in his analysis, is that this discrimination is daily, ongoing, and life-threatening. In fact, in the very segment that Stossel references here African American economist and social commentator Julianne Malveaux points out how damaging and pervasive this sort of discrimination, when she says “it grinds exceedingly small.” Yet, this is not the African American Stossel chooses as his spokesperson to address racial inequality; instead, it’s Shelby Steele because his message is much more consistent with the white racial frame that Stossel deploys here. Once again, he quotes Steele to make his point:
“The fact is,” he adds, “we got a raw deal in America. We got a much better deal now. But we can’t access it unless we take … responsibility for getting there ourselves.”
He makes good points. White privilege does still exist, but Barack Obama’s success is more evidence that it’s not the whole story. There are plenty of people in America who want to vote for someone because he is black. Or female.
Next, Stossel trots out that tired old trope in discussions of racism: “political correctness.” And, he slips easily between race and gender here, deftly protecting white, male privilege as he goes:
It’s not politically correct to say that. Hillary Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro said she wouldn’t have been nominated for vice president in 1984 were she not a woman and that Obama would not have been doing so well were he not black. “Could I have said … his experience is what puts him there? No. Could I say because his stand on issues have distinguished him? No … If Obama were a white man, he would not be in this position. … He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”
For saying that, she was repeatedly called racist.
Yes, yes she did. (Including this excellent piece, again by Adia Harvey.)
In the closing line, Stossel makes the non-sensical claim that there is “black privilege” that is somehow the equivalent of white privilege. And, predictably, calls for a stop to “complaining” and for race-blindness:
There is black privilege — and white privilege. It’s time to stop complaining about past discrimination and to treat people as individuals, not as members of a certain race.”
Yesterday, I wrote about Kristof’s call to fellow journalists for more critical analysis of racism in the presidential campaign. And, as the election grows closer and the polling data continues to show that racism is costing Obama the votes of whites, such an analysis is sorely needed. Unfortunately, most journalists – like Stossel – are blind to the reality of racism and ill-equipped for such an analysis due to the white racial frame.
Nicholas Kristof’s Sunday column in the New York Times is about the deplorable effort to “otherize” Obama. One of the key points that Kristof highlights in the piece is that:
Almost one-third of voters “know” that Barack Obama is a Muslim or believe that he could be. … A Pew Research Center survey released a few days ago found that only half of Americans correctly know that Mr. Obama is a Christian. Meanwhile, 13 percent of registered voters say that he is a Muslim, compared with 12 percent in June and 10 percent in March. …In conservative Christian circles and on Christian radio stations, there are even widespread theories that Mr. Obama just may be the Antichrist. Seriously.
It’s shocking and Kristof links to some of these outrageous sites at his blog. Take a look, too, at the comments on Kristof’s blog. Several of the people who believe these lies weigh in to reinforce their own delusion. (And yet, this is not that shocking if you believe this argument, or if you subscribe to the old H.L. Mencken adage.) To his credit, Kristof nails the analysis with this (and confirms much of what Joe’s been saying here for months):
What is happening, I think, is this: religious prejudice is becoming a proxy for racial prejudice. In public at least, it’s not acceptable to express reservations about a candidate’s skin color, so discomfort about race is sublimated into concerns about whether Mr. Obama is sufficiently Christian. The result is this campaign to “otherize” Mr. Obama. Nobody needs to point out that he is black, but there’s a persistent effort to exaggerate other differences, to de-Americanize him.
Kristof ends his column by calling on fellow journalists to “do more than call the play-by-play,” and do more to expose the egregious “fouls” that magnify the ugliest prejudices. I’m glad to see Kristof finally acknowledging what we’ve been writing about here for months now. If ever there were a time when those reporting on this campaign, not to mention the American citizenry, needs to get more sophisticated in its analysis of racism, that time is now.
A 527 outfit called by the Orwellian and oxymoronic term, Freedoms Defense Fund, has been running this racist smear ad on Senator Obama, reportedly in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, and other states. (H./T. John Foster) It tries to tie Senator Obama to the disgraced mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, with a harsh looking mug shot of the latter much like the old much like the racist Willie Horton ad of the 1988 Republican (first Bush) presidential campaign:
And Jonathan Martin at politico.com calls out the Tennessee Republican Party for a similar attack web-video ad trying to tie Senator Obama to Mayor Kilpatrick:
In the web video, the state party features a clip of the two praising one another and embracing while listing Kilpatrick’s legal and political woes on the screen. Kilpatrick’s problems could damage Obama in Michigan, especially in the white areas outside Detroit, but why is the Tennessee party the one airing this video? Asked if they’re really just trying to connect an allegedly corrupt big-city black politician to Obama, Tennessee GOP spokesman Bill Hobbs denied that was the case, saying: “We categorically reject the suggestion — the Web ad focuses on yet another example of Obama’s lousy character judgment, a growing list of examples that includes folks like the unrepentant terrorist William Ayers, the race-baiting Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the other race-baiting preacher, Father Phleger; and the corrupt real-estate wheeler-dealer, Tony Rezko.”
Martin is critical but did not call it racist, yet this ad like the first one is straight out of the white racist frame and appeals aggressively to the negative framing of Black men in most white minds. Senator Obama has done fairly well with segments of the white population, such as young political activists and better educated whites, but has drawn some support from other segments of the white population. I suspect that much of this white support is there because these whites, implicitly or explicitly, view Senator Obama as “an exception to his race,” at least to some degree. That is the old racist notion that certain African Americans are acceptable to whites if they do not press against the racist system openly and fit in well with certain white expectations and assumptions.
These Republican ads seem to be designed, and aggressively so, to link Senator Obama ever more clearly to what that white racial frame considers the “dangerous black man.” We see that expressly in Bill Hobbs comment, which mentions Dr. Wright and even two “corrupt” and “dangerous” white men.
And just now the McCain campaign has put out this ad linking Senator Obama to Frank Raines who was head of Fannie Mae when it got into trouble. This ad has two Black men and one white woman looking hurt. Not-so-subtle racist attempts to make Senator Obama into the typical black man in the white racist framing:
Earning an “A” in Chicago Public High Schools, a freshman student could gross $50 dollars. Receiving a “B” or “C” could put $35 and $20 dollars respectively in the pockets of 5000 high school freshmen students in 20 Chicago public schools. This initiative is part of a Harvard-designed test. The study was noted in the September 11, 2008 Chicago Tribune . The program, “Green for Grade$” which involves no tax payer money, received 2 million to pilot the program from private sources.
This is a new manner in approaching the academic gap between Black and White students in America. Recently on the CNN special, “Black in America,” Harvard economist Roland Fryer’s efforts to engage Black elementary-aged Black students by means of paying them to do their assigned school work was briefly discussed. Chicago is following programs in cities like New York and Washington D.C. Some proponents noted that this is approach is not harmful for many parents have always paid their children allowances for good grades. In addition, some see the program as a way to motivate students “who are not getting the motivation at home…” Critics believe that the program will not “cultivate an interest in learning, curiosity…”
In my scholarly opinion, programs like this will do more harm than good. Black students have substantial stereotypes already playing to their demise. Moreover, as in the past, within the 21st century, actions that enable the power and privilege of Whites in part are fueled by stereotypes and the fear of non-Whites.
The bold scholar and intellectual hero, Frantz Fanon said:
I was hated, despised, detested, not by the neighbor across the street, or my cousin on my mother’s side, but by an entire race. I was up against something unreasoned. The psychoanalysts say that nothing is more traumatizing for the young child than his encounters with what is rational. I would personally say that for a man whose only weapon is reason there is nothing more neurotic than contact with unreason.
Paying Black students for their grades sends a covertly accurately translated message to Whites that Blacks proverbially fit within the historical stereotypes of lazy and “shiftless.” Strategies such as paying students are nothing but a continuation of the medical model which simply illustrates a focus on the flaws of the individual instead of the system. The system of public education needs to be seen as a factor affecting the academic outcomes of students of color. Until this is honestly approached, we as a society will continue to look for cures to the symptoms instead of the disease which is merely institutional racism in public education.
The Sun Journal on September 13, 2008 reported that
activists at a conservative political forum snapped up boxes of waffle mix depicting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as a racial stereotype on its front and wearing Arab-like headdress on its top flap. (Source: AP News)
The conference where the product was first introduced to the public was at the Values Vote Summit which was co-sponsored by the conservative American Values and Focus on the Family Action.
Values Voter Summit organizers cut off sales of Obama Waffles boxes on Saturday, saying they had not realized the boxes displayed “offensive material.”
The Summit and the exhibit hall where the boxes were sold had been open since Thursday afternoon. On the back of the box, Obama is depicted in stereotypical Mexican dress, including a sombrero, above a recipe for “Open Border Fiesta Waffles” that says it can serve “4 or more illegal aliens.” The recipe includes a tip: “While waiting for these zesty treats to invade your home, why not learn a foreign language?” The article goes on to note that the boxes were simply “political satire” and that the waffle reference was “poking fun at [Obama’s] public remarks and positions.” Even though the product was reportedly pulled, I noticed one could still purchase the boxes from a sponsored website.
On the site it is noted that
Obama Waffles are selling like, well, like hot cakes!
To me that simply signal that those running the machine of oppression are simply feeding the hunger that is the heart of many Americans. We as a nation should be mortified.
[Open Thread: What Do You Make of This Story and the Image?]
UPDATE: Courtesy of M. in comments, and of stuffwhitepeope do, here is a video of the white guys who did this.
It is interesting now that Senator Obama is not doing as well in numerous polls, with McCain leading in several and ahead now in the electoral vote estimates, some writers are talking about the “Bradley effect” and beginning to make arguments, albeit with less data, that I have made for many months now. They still seem afraid to call this the “white racism” effect, which it actually is, but at least a few are beginning to raise the issue. (Photo: Tashland) Yet, they still do not understand just how uphill Senator Obama’s struggle really is. And they are not discussing at all the impact and significance, especially for African Americans, of a loss.
In a recent (September 25, 2008) New York Review of Books, Andrew Hacker argues a modest version of my argument about racist barriers under the vague title, “Obama: The Price of Being Black.”
After some initial discussion of voting barriers and other matters, as part of reviewing a publication on voting, he finally gets to the central problem for Senator Obama:
I’ve been careful so far not to use the word “racism.” The term itself has become an obstacle to understanding. Once white people hear it, they tend to freeze, and start listing reasons why it doesn’t apply to them. After all, most Americans admire Oprah Winfrey, like Tiger Woods, and respect Colin Powell. Yet racism persists, albeit not publicly voiced, especially in the belief that one’s own is a superior strain.
Wow! Here is one of the important analysts of “race” in the U.S., in his past work, using rare examples (which whites see as “exceptions to their race”) and backing off from calling racism what it actually is and accenting it front and center. Of course, even the word “racism” offends a great many whites. They do not wish to face the underlying reality of racial oppression in this society.
Then Hacker buys into “whites are now less racist” argument:
… not many whites regard Barack Obama as their inferior; effete or arrogant perhaps, but they don’t fault him on intellect. To some, indeed, he may seem too much the intellectual. Resentment of perceived black privilege is also involved, as we have seen with respect to affirmative action, and even fear of some kind of racial payback. Over half of a largely white sample told a Rasmussen poll that they feel Obama continues to share at least some of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s positions on America.
Of course, many whites see Obama as their inferior, their racial inferior on numerous dimensions. And the poll cited makes that very clear. A white majority think Dr. Wright was a “dangerous black man” who “hates America,” and that is certainly inferiority for a great many whites. This hostile view of Black men, by the way, is nearly 400 years old now in this country, yet scholars and analysts seem reluctant to even call it out. Then Hacker cites polls:
… in an ABC News /Washington Post poll in June, 20 percent of the whites who responded said a candidate’s race would factor heavily in their vote, while 30 percent admitted to feelings of racial prejudice. If the Bradley Effect was at work, as many as one third of the voters may count race as important.
We see in the polls just how huge the barrier is for Obama, for presidential candidates usually win by less that 8 or so percentage points. A good point, but Hacker’s analysis seems very odd–that is, for a leading social scientist of racial issues like him not to pay attention in an important review for the general public to the substantial research data which show quite clearly that a majority of whites today, including a majority of young well-educated whites, still think and talk in very racist, blatantly racist terms, about African Americans.
Moreover, when I engaged in a long discussion with numerous otherwise savvy sociologists about the Obama presidential campaign over at the Contexts blog, I was the only one to discuss and consider these data on white racist thinking as likely blocking his election. Almost all there thought he would probably be elected. The other discussants seemed to think the data I cited about the extensiveness and impact of the white racial frame on white voters and voting can be more or less ignored–and generally moved on to discuss the significance of the black presidency.
Whites are not part of some “new racism,” for it is the same old racism of four hundred years. And why are the social science data on how deeply racist in their thinking a majority of white Americans still are, being so ignored even by social scientists discussing the Obama campaign? I predict that many social scientists will eventually have to face and analyze openly the deep US foundation of white racism between now and what seems like November’s increasingly likely loss for Senator Obama. (The Republican 527 attacks are just beginning again, and are trying to tie Obama again and again to the negative images of the old white racial frame. More are doubtless coming.)
Again, in my view the only way to stop that loss is for many people in his campaign and the media to take on and highlight the deep hidden racist thinking that lies behind many whites being so comfortable with McCain — and, most importantly, to accent aggressivly in every way possible, for white Americans in particular, the old liberty and justice frame this country claims to live by, but in fact does not. The only hope, as I see it, is to somehow get whites to listen “to their better angels.”
This is a short clip (2:58) of candidate John McCain’s appearance on the television show “The View,” this week, along with the full couch of women who serve as co-hosts for the show (H/T: bfp via Twitter). Hasselback asks McCain about his views on Roe v. Wade, and when he responds that he want justices who strictly interpret the constitution as the founders wrote it, Whoopi Goldberg calls him on the racial implications of that stance. Listen for Barbara Walter’s reassurance to her black co-hosts:
So, what do you think about Barbara Walter’s statement? Racism? Paternalism? A harmless joke? Or, some combination of all the above. Drop a comment before you go.