Archive for November, 2008
The United American Indians of New England (UAINE) have this never-given speech on their website. It comes from the story of Frank James, who was asked in 1970 to address a celebratory dinner of the “American” descendants of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1970. (H/T btchakir) James is from the Wampanoag indigenous society that was mostly destroyed by the Pilgrims and their descendants. Much of the Thankgiving story ignores the reality accented by James. (Painting by J. Ferris, Photo Source: wikimedia) The white committee asked to review it, and when he refused changes, he was not allowed to speak. Here is what he planned to say:
I speak to you as a man — a Wampanoag Man. I am a proud man, proud of my ancestry, my accomplishments won by a strict parental direction (“You must succeed – your face is a different color in this small Cape Cod community!”). I am a product of poverty and discrimination from these two social and economic diseases. I, and my brothers and sisters, have painfully overcome, and to some extent we have earned the respect of our community. . . .
It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you – celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People. . . .
We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people. . . .
What has happened in the last 300 years? History gives us facts and there were atrocities; there were broken promises – and most of these centered around land ownership. Among ourselves we understood that there were boundaries, but never before had we had to deal with fences and stone walls. But the white man had a need to prove his worth by the amount of land that he owned. Only ten years later, when the Puritans came, they treated the Wampanoag with even less kindness in converting the souls of the so-called “savages.” Although the Puritans were harsh to members of their own society, the Indian was pressed between stone slabs and hanged as quickly as any other “witch.”
And so down through the years there is record after record of Indian lands taken and, in token, reservations set up for him upon which to live. The Indian, having been stripped of his power, could only stand by and watch while the white man took his land and used it for his personal gain. This the Indian could not understand; for to him, land was survival, to farm, to hunt, to be enjoyed. It was not to be abused. We see incident after incident, where the white man sought to tame the “savage” and convert him to the Christian ways of life. . . .
Has the Wampanoag really disappeared? There is still an aura of mystery. We know there was an epidemic that took many Indian lives – some Wampanoags moved west and joined the Cherokee and Cheyenne. They were forced to move. Some even went north to Canada! Many Wampanoag put aside their Indian heritage and accepted the white man’s way for their own survival. . . .
History wants us to believe that the Indian was a savage, illiterate, uncivilized animal. A history that was written by an organized, disciplined people, to expose us as an unorganized and undisciplined entity. Two distinctly different cultures met. One thought they must control life; the other believed life was to be enjoyed, because nature decreed it. Let us remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white man. The Indian feels pain, gets hurt, and becomes defensive, has dreams, bears tragedy and failure, suffers from loneliness, needs to cry as well as laugh. He, too, is often misunderstood. . . .
Although time has drained our culture, and our language is almost extinct, we the Wampanoags still walk the lands of Massachusetts. We may be fragmented, we may be confused. Many years have passed since we have been a people together. Our lands were invaded. We fought as hard to keep our land as you the whites did to take our land away from us. We were conquered, we became the American prisoners of war in many cases, and wards of the United States Government, until only recently.
Our spirit refuses to die. Yesterday we walked the woodland paths and sandy trails. Today we must walk the macadam highways and roads. We are uniting We’re standing not in our wigwams but in your concrete tent. We stand tall and proud, and before too many moons pass we’ll right the wrongs we have allowed to happen to us. . . .
We now have 350 years of experience living amongst the white man. We can now speak his language. We can now think as a white man thinks. We can now compete with him for the top jobs. We’re being heard; we are now being listened to. The important point is that along with these necessities of everyday living, we still have the spirit, we still have the unique culture, we still have the will and, most important of all, the determination to remain as Indians. We are determined, and our presence here this evening is living testimony that this is only the beginning of the American Indian, particularly the Wampanoag, to regain the position in this country that is rightfully ours.
Wamsutta, September 10, 1970
The UAINE website is part of the indigenous social movement in the US. It has the real story of Thanksgiving and much else of interest on indigenous issues today. Check it out.
[This reflective post was written by three college student researchers, Amanda, Dave, and Hannah]
Much like Jessie and Adia, this election has been a momentous event for young people, many voting for the first time. The three of us (Amanda, Dave, and Hannah) grew up in white, middle class neighborhoods and were taught a white-washed version of history. Since entering college and realizing the gaping holes in our education, we have taken deliberate steps to learn the complete history of America. This compounds the significance of Obama’s run for President for us.
At the daycare where Hannah works, one of the few black students said to her on the day after the election, “Barack Obama has a haircut like me.” This sentiment coming from a five-year-old boy marks the significance of the election for us. Obama and his family are constant reminders to all Americans that “Joe the Plumber” is not and never was the true face of America. We hope this is the beginning of a time in our country where whites never ignore the true faces of America. We are proud of this America, the one that has elected Barack Obama, and not the white-washed one of our past, that teachers taught to us by glazing over reality. We agree with Michelle Obama, this is the first time we have felt proud of our country.
We decided to talk with white students and community members to see how they viewed this historic election. We found many people were unsure of Obama’s religion and expressed fear at the possibility of electing a Muslim president. Some respondents wanted Obama to openly declare his religion and others were explicitly hostile towards Muslims. The prevailing excuse for this overt prejudice was the 9/11 attack and President Bush’s “War on Terror.” We found that both conservatives and liberals shared this sentiment.
People often hid their racist comments to distance themselves from appearing prejudiced. This is a front stage technique and is not surprising since we interviewed people in coffee houses and other public settings.
We also found people held contradictory views about Obama as both a radical Christian and a potential Islamic terrorist. When confronted with this inconsistency, they were unable to express both views clearly. Some were confused and ended their statement in uncertainty.
As Joe has stated, many felt that Obama’s victory spelled the end of racism in America. But we found the open prejudice towards Muslims contradicts this. In addition, Obama and his family were seen by many as “white” and therefore “an exception to the race.” This statement reveals the prevalence of racism because it implies that African Americans need an exception, and it also plays into the idea that whiteness equals goodness. It attempts to minimize the significance of electing a man of color as president.
As we move forward, we must not overlook the importance of Obama’s presidency. He is our first black president and a symbol of racial progress. The election of Obama is a strong foundation for addressing our racist history but this event does not signal the end of racism or the beginning of a “color-blind” American society.
As I mentioned at the end of my last post, there’s another, more extreme, example of cyber racism, over at Stormfront, a long-running white supremacist site. In the days following the election, white Internet users rushed to Stormfront.org to vent their anger and disbelief that voters had chosen an African American president. In fact, so many visited the site that they caused the server to crash at the site. And, the numbers there are quite astonishing.
I include data about Stormfront in my forthcoming book, and as it went to the publisher in August, I had included the number of registered users as 124,000. As of Friday, 11/21/08 when I last checked, Stormfront now has 152,734 members, an increase of over 28,000 since August. If the numbers at the site continue to increase at this rate, Stormfront will be very close to half a million members at the end of Obama’s first term, according to my back-of-the-envelope calculation (28,000 every 3 months over 48 months of the first term, comes to 448,000 – feel free to let me know if my math is wrong). Of course, there’s not necessarily going to be a steady and consistent increase over a four year period of time, but it should give anyone concerned about racism pause.
Young people’s use of social networking sites, like Facebook, have quickly become an established feature of youth culture, according to a new report. Facebook in particular, is proving incredibly popular; and, current estimates are that there are 120 million active users of the social networking site, as this bar graph illustrates (as of 2007, image from here). Yet there’s scant little attention paid to the emergence of new forms of racism that accompany these new forms of media. Recently, there have been some notable examples of Facebook racism that I want to explore (H/T Mordy for sending this my way). As Joe’s been writing here, there’s been a real surge in overt racist actions in the wake of the election, and this incident, as reported by the Houston Chronicle, illustrates how the white racial frame can be used to completely distract from racism (from the top):
A template on facebook.com asks, “What are you doing right now?” An ill-advised response led to Buck Burnette’s expulsion from the University of Texas football team.
What began as a private text-message exchange on Election Night between Burnette and a friend soon became available for anybody with a computer to see.
Burnette, a sophomore offensive lineman from Wimberley, was dismissed from the team Nov. 5 for posting a racially insensitive remark about President-elect Barack Obama on his Facebook page.
“I told (our players) to be careful with Facebook and MySpace,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “Those things are really dangerous.”
A survey taken during Monday’s Big 12 coaches conference call found most of the league’s coaches are concerned about how much information is available on popular social-networking Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
The major concern: Users can voluntarily provide personal information, and the more popular the athletes, the more contact “with hundreds of people they don’t know,” Iowa State coach Gene Chizik.
“It’s a challenge for coaches, because ultimately we’re responsible,” Chizik said.
In the status update section of his Facebook page, Burnette posted, “All the hunters gather up, we have a (slur) in the White House,” in reference to Obama’s becoming the first African-American elected to the presidency. Burnette said the comment was a text message he received from a friend and that he exercised bad judgment posting it on his page. He later apologized in a written note that was read by Brown during a team meeting.
Apologies for the long quote, but it’s relevant to my point. The article begins with a discussion about how “dangerous” social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are, but let’s be clear – the danger here as it is being described by this football couch, and reported on without comment by the Chronicle, is to the football player. The “danger” is that he will post something on his page that’s “Ill-advised” and he will be expelled from the team, which is what happened to Burnette. This is a rather profound shift away from what’s actually going on here. What has happened here is that a young, white college student at a top school has threatened the president-elect and referred to him by using a racist slur. And yet the newspaper article is framed as though there is an inherent “danger” in Facebook. It seems to me that the danger is in the way that Facebook (and other forms of new media) give rise to heretofore unseen versions of racism that combine new technology with old hatred. This combination of old and new forms of racism expressed through Internet technology is what I refer to as “cyber racism” (I explore it more depth in my forthcoming book of the same name).
Interestingly, this is not the first time college football players in the U.S. have gotten in trouble for Facebook racism. In 2007, members of the USC football team created a Facebook group called “White Nation,” which featured a graphic with the caption, “arrest black babies before they become criminals.” The description of the group reads like this:
“This group is not for the faint of heart,” read the group’s description. “All members are athletes of Caucasion (sic) descent. DISCLAIMER: In no way are the following memebers (sic) intolerant of others, we are just doing our duty of protecting the Arian (sic) brotherhood.”
According to the USC college paper, an unnamed source from the athletic department said that the group was “a joke and had no serious purpose.” While the athletic department may find humor in such antics, the joke is lost on the rest of us. This sort of Facebook racism is not the sole purview of college athletes.
In 2005, University of Virginia first year student Maryann Li was horrified when she stumbled across a Facebook group that some of her college classmates had created. The group, called “Asian Fetish,” for those who think “Asian women are truly the most scrumptrillescent delicacy abroad,” and the description of the group’s purpose: “to bang out Asians. Bang hard or go home. Yes, even the ugly bitches.” The racist and deeply misogynistic group description goes on: “I can’t help it if my dick likes the taste of Teriyaki sauce. Or soy. Or duck for that matter. And when I’m feeling a little risky, wasabi…” it proclaimed. The creator of the Facebook group, white U.Va. sophomore Patrick Gieseke defended his creation of the group, saying that he intended it as satire. This article quotes Gieseke saying,
“I couldn’t see anyone reading that and being like, ‘Wow, someone really wants to do this to Asian girls.’ I thought it was pretty blatant that it was just a joke,” he said.
So once again, Facebook racism gets dismissed by whites as “just joking” and therefore not something harmful or worth addressing. Not surprisingly, Asian American students at U.Va. were not amused by Gieseke’s “joke.” Two students, Elizabeth Chen and Julie Chu, attempted to organize a “Speak Out” to invite students who have faced discrimination to share their stories with the community at U.Va’.s amphitheater but found little interest. When it comes to race, Chu said, “the majority of white people at U.Va. don’t care.” The emergence of this sort of gendered racism on Facebook is characteristic of the racialized pornography in print-media that Pat Collins talks about in Black Feminist Thought. The fact that this has now moved to the new media environment of Facebook means that these old versions of racism are being translated into the digital era and some of the centuries old racism remains as it is mashed-up against new forms of social interaction.
For its part, Facebook has removed the most extreme and offensive racist groups for violation of their terms-of-service (TOS) agreement. This is the right stand for Facebook to take in my view, and it’s one that other sites should follow through on. But, Facebook did not take this without significant pressure.
The European Parliament lodged the most significant complaint with the California-based Facebook. Martin Schulz, Socialist leader within the EP, said, “The existence of these groups is repulsive.” And, indeed it is. According to this report, the pressure on Facebook came mainly from European sources about Italian neo-Nazi groups. Still, the “White Nation” group in the USC controversy is still hosted on Facebook (or, it’s a group by the same name with an identical description), and there are over 60 groups that come up if you search using the terms “Asian Fetish.” So, while Facebook may be responding to pressure from Europeans to remove the most repulsive and extreme groups from the site, apparently there is little or no pressure from people in the U.S. In my view, it’s time for some of those 120 million active users to step up and put some pressure on Facebook to enforce its terms-of-service agreement by not allowing such groups on the site.
Meanwhile, extremist white supremacist websites have proven so popular in the days since the election that the flood of traffic by white people has crashed the servers at one site. More about that form of cyber racism in a subsequent post.
While going over the exit polling from Mississippi for the Election, something jumped out at me when observing the cross-tabs for race and gender: the fact that the gender gap in voter turnout for blacks was double that of whites. The gender gap regardless of race exists likely for several reasons, including women’s longer life expectancies. With the 2000 Election debacle in mind (along with Gov. Crist’s rather surprising push to reform the law), I looked here to see which states have the most stringent (i.e., repressive and racist; see here) anti-felon voting laws, and the bulk of them are ex-slave states.
Anti-felon voting laws are part of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation in this country because they disproportionately affect black men’s ability to vote. The following is a chart examining the gender gap for blacks and whites in selected states with the toughest voting laws regarding felons (note: each number listed represents the percentage of the total voter turnout for the state; women are listed first for each category):
AL— 33-32% 18-11%
AR— 45-37 7-6
GA— 32-33 19-11
KY— 44-41 7-4
LA— 36-30 19-10
MS— 33-29 21-13
MO— 44-38 7-5
NC— 37-35 14-9
SC— 37-34 14-11
TN— 42-42 9-3
VA— 38-32 10-10
So in Mississippi, for example, where “many” felons can never vote again in the state, black men made-up 13 percent of the total vote, eight points below that of black women. Although white women also made-up a higher percentage of the total vote than white men, the difference was only four percent. Meanwhile, the gender gaps in states like Louisiana and Tennessee were even higher. There are some disparities in the data, perhaps based on other factors (e.g., Obama’s time and money spent in the state, such as Virginia) or the variations in the anti-felon laws (e.g., the laws are less restrictive in the Carolinas than in Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama).
Still, the important analysis put forth by Charles Franklin (see here) may shed light on the issue of white fear and its relationship to the percentage of blacks in the population. It appears that the higher the proportion of the black population, the more severe the anti-felon voting laws are in that state. Imagine if the gender gap for blacks had not existed in this election…in a state like Mississippi (where Obama won the black vote 98-2), perhaps that increased black turnout could have made the difference in the outcome. What do you think?
The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) has an important story, “2008 Jewish Vote for Obama Exceeds All Expectations,” showing what has been clear for a century: Jewish Americans are the strongest group among whites in support for racial change and broad civil and human rights. Historically, Jewish Americans have provided the most white-group support for civil rights efforts for and by Americans of color–like the creation and sustenance of the NAACP and the Freedom Summer in the South in the 1960s. (See chapter 5 here) They have provided a disproportionate number of whites killed or injured in civil rights efforts. One reason for this strong support of racial change and civil rights is their own experience as immigrants to the U.S. who were not initially considered white, but were treated as a very “inferior not-white race” by north-European Americans. Jewish Americans still experience significant anti-Semitism, and some white supremacist groups still do not consider them “white” and engage in anti-Semitic violence of various kinds. (See chapter 5 in here, for example)
The NJDC story summarizes the election results this way:
When the general election campaign began in June of this year the consensus opinion among political pundits was that Barack Obama was going to underperform among Jewish voters. In the four presidential elections between 1992 and 2008 the Democratic presidential nominee averaged 79%. The Republican Jewish Coalition and other Republican spokespeople were quite confident that McCain would outperform past Republican nominees in the Jewish community. A few even predicted that McCain would surpass the 39% of the Jewish vote that Reagan received in 1980.
Yet, according to exit polls, the Jewish American vote for Obama was about the same as for those previous elections: Obama 78 percent; McCain 21 percent; others 1 percent. This nearly eight-in-ten Jewish voters was even higher than the percentages for Latinos and Asian Americans, who also voted very substantially for Obama. Indeed, the Jewish percentage seems to be one of the two or three highest percentages among major US racial-ethnic groups (after African Americans). Their lopsided vote was likely very important in several states.
Some Republican-oriented groups targeted Jewish Americans with ads trying to generate significant fear about Senator Obama’s policies toward Middle Eastern crises and Israel. But an email from the NJDC also lays this notion of an ad impact to rest, at least on the East Coast:
Andrew Silow-Carroll, the Editor-in-Chief of the New Jersey Jewish News, refuted the Republican Jewish ad campaign in his column this week, noting, “Considering that Republicans actually lost ground among Jewish voters [there] on Election Day — despite some real qualms about Obama — it’s reasonable to assume that the ad campaign actually turned off voters who might otherwise have voted for McCain.”
CNN just did a nationwide poll on the reactions of Americans to the election of Senator Obama as president, which they only break out for white and black African Americans. A couple of their questions are rather suggestive, possibly deeply revealing, about the great gulf between the majorities of white Americans and of black Americans in the framing of this historic election:
For most African-Americans, the election of Barack Obama as president was a dream come true that they didn’t think they would see…. Eighty percent of African-Americans questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey said that Obama’s election was a dream come true, and 71 percent said they never thought a black candidate for president would get elected in their lifetime.
However, the white majority had a rather different reaction:
Among white Americans, only 28 percent said Obama’s victory in the race for the White House was a dream come true, with the vast majority, 70 percent, saying it was not.
A majority of whites also claimed that they thought this might happen:
Fifty-nine percent of white respondents said they thought a black president would be elected in their lifetime, but only 29 percent of black respondents agreed.
These survey questions are rather superficial and not the best one might have asked, but that first one on a “dream come true” does seem to reveal a huge difference in the positive emotional reactions and interpretive framing of this pathbreaking election across the old racial hierarchy. (Are many whites implying it is the opposite, a nightmare?)
Even those whites who have celebrated this election usually seem to be coming from a substantially different perspective and frame (certainly experiential history) than those black Americans who are dramatically celebrating a dream come true.
What do you think? Please add comments.
Bob Sackamento at mydd.com (HT/John) has a good overview titled, “Today, the US Senate lost another rising star,” on Senator Obama resigning his Senate seat, with an interesting biographical take on the five (and only five!) African Americans who have ever served in that political body, probably the most powerful legislative body on earth.
The first two black senators served during the Reconstruction era (see some history here and here), when this country’s whites had the chance to abandon this country’s racist foundation but did not do so. They were Hiram Rhodes Revels (1870-1871) and Blanche Bruce (1875-1881), both Republicans from, guess where, Mississippi. The only other black senators have been the Republican Edward Brooke (1967-1979), from Massachusetts and the Democrat Carol Moseley Braun (1993-1999), from Illinois. Braun is the only black woman to ever serve in that relatively exclusive, mostly white men’s, rather undemocratic political club called the U.S. Senate.
Now that Senator Obama is stepping down, there are no black senators in that body. This is yet another signal of how systemic racism still is in the United States. There is speculation that the governor of Illinois may appoint a black person as the new senator in Obama’s place. It is time, in my view, for another African American woman.
Timothy Noah adds a bit more to the important analysis that John offered today, titled “What We Didn’t Overcome: Why you can’t blame it all on the South”:
Obama won the white vote in 18 states and in Washington, D.C. All 18 states lie outside the South, and most are predictably liberal. (New York, Vermont, etc.). But Obama lost the white vote in eight of the states where he won the overall popular vote. That’s no great surprise in North Carolina or Virginia, the two Southern states Obama carried, or even in Pennsylvania or Ohio, where white working-class voters were known to be resistant. It’s a little surprising in Maryland, New Jersey, and New Mexico. All three states have Democratic governors and Democratically controlled state legislatures.
That is, Obama lost the white vote in 60+ percent (32) of the states. And, of course, whites are the largest group of voters, and Senator Obama lost them at about the same rate as Gore in 2000, by 12 percentage points.
— In the worst economic meltdown since the 1930s so far and likely getting worse, with many retirement pensions way down by 30-50 percent, with massively declining health care, and two disastrous wars–all substantially the result of the “white Republican” party’s (and especially its wealthy supporters’) decisions in its 8 years in power…..
Attention mass media, you should do major stories on this: White racism is not dead in the US.