Bystander Intervention

My older son’s godmother recently included me in an email message she sent to a number of her friends and relatives. The subject line of the email was “What would you do?” and the message contained a link to two ABC News videos. She further disclosed that she and her husband had bets on how each recipient would react to the videos and answer their question, “What would you do?”

I encourage readers to click on these links (, and ask themselves this question. The videos are disturbing and yet, at the same time, somewhat encouraging.

ABC News conducted a social experiment in which an actor working in a New Jersey deli refuses to serve two Hispanic men or women, also working for ABC News, who cannot speak English. The actor makes a variety of racist comments to the men and women in the presence of other store patrons. The objective was to see if anyone intervened on the Hispanics’ behalf. Of the 80+ customers who witnessed this overt racism, some did nothing and many supported the actor by adding racist comments of their own; the victims’ and bystanders’ gender did not seem to make a difference in the reactions. About 30 bystanders, though, did intervene and were quite strong in denouncing the actor’s words and behavior. That’s a little more than 35%, which in 2009, when we are about to inaugurate our first African American president, may seem discouragingly low.

But being familiar with the extensive research on bystander apathy, I found reason to be optimistic in considering this outcome, and I was especially heartened by the vehemence of the bystanders’ denunciations.

An important component of these videos is the point that the racist behavior of the deli counter worker/actor is not unusual. Interviews with Hispanic day laborers reveal that they encounter this sort of treatment on a regular basis. And as moving as they are infuriating, the day laborers’ accounts give viewers a sense of the toll this everyday racism takes on those who are subjected to it. It is perhaps this aspect of the videos that will motivate viewers to work harder to ensure that future experiments of this type will find every bystander who witnesses racism clearly and strongly denouncing it.

“Gran Torino,” White Masculinity & Racism

HarryThe recently released film “Gran Torino,” which Clint Eastwood stars in, directs and partially scores, is being hailed as a tour de force of filmmaking and a harbinger of a hopeful future by many critics.   The review of the film that appeared in The New York Times entitled, “Hope for a Racist, and Maybe a Country,” written by Manhola Dargis, is characteristic of the kind of praise the film is receiving (Creative Commons License photo credit: Daquella manera).  The film also reveals a good deal about white masculinity and racism.  [WARNING: *SPOILERS* follow]

The plot of “Gran Torino” revolves around Walt Kowalski (played by Eastwood), a Korean war veteran, a retired autoworker, and an extremely misanthropic and apparently deeply racist man.  The film opens just after the death of Kowalski’s wife.  His grandchildren are shallow and self-absorbed, and Kowalski has no interest in nor affection for them.   His two grown sons are anti-Eastwood figures of masculinity: weak, ineffectual men, dominated by their shrewish, materialistic wives.  He has no interest in bonding with his parish priest, another representation of weak, white masculinity.   Kowalski is a loner and he likes it that way as he sits on his front porch, growling at people and drinking can after can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.   Kowalski seems incapable of interacting with a non-white person without using the most offensive racial epithets, and his racism is played mostly for laughs throughout the first part of the film.   This snarling character represents a particular form of white masculinity that relies on overt racism as a constituitive feature. Continue reading…

Black Beauty, French Racism, and Obama’s International Impact

W. Hassan Marsh has an interesting article on about Chloe Mortaud, the new Miss France, who self-defines as Black, something unusual in France for people of biracial heritage (her father is white French, her mother is African American). I think “beauty queens” and “beauty pageants” are sexist phenomena whose time should be long gone, but Marsh accents some interesting points about the global impact of Obama’s election and some changes in symbolism across the globe that are well worth thinking about (photo credit).

The French media have started calling Ms. Mortaud, interestingly, “Miss Obama,” which also suggests the global impact of the Obama election. Marsh makes the following contentions about “blackness is in vogue”:

Blackness is fast moving to the center of the world’s psyche. For proof, look no further than last month’s crowning of a binational and biracial Miss France 2009. Chloe Mortaud’s selection as the face of French beauty and elegance has so few precedents that the French media have named her, perhaps cheaply, “Miss Obama.”

The first sentence is a huge exaggeration. (More accurate would be that there is a negative view of blackness at the center of too much of the “world’s psyche.”) Indeed, not everybody in France is happy with a black face representing classical “French beauty” (traditionally pasty white?):

Around the Web, some French commentators have complained that Mortaud is not pretty.

But Marsh sees the debate on her race and her calling herself Black as healthy and an advance for France:

The very discussion of Mortaud’s worthiness represents an advance in the way the French deal with race. The enduring myth of a colorblind France has obscured the relative invisibility of non-white French people in France’s public life. The French government does not keep statistics on race. The official position is that there are no differences among the races—therefore, there is no reason to keep an account of it. That means disparities among racial groups cannot be quantified. However, a trip to an impoverished banlieue (suburb) of Paris or Marseille, where “race riots” in neighborhoods inhabited by large numbers of African and Arab immigrants have made world headlines, shows a qualitative difference.

It is interesting that he means an advance for WHITE France in thinking Mortaud worthy, a point he seems to miss here. Note too that the white oppressors and discriminators substantially responsible for the impoverished suburbs remain implicit here, and are not explicitly mentioned. It is interesting how the sensitivities of whites gets privileged even it what is otherwise a good critical analysis.

He then argues that Obama has helped to make Blacks in France feel a certain new unity, and shared experience:

Thanks in part to the Obama effect, French blacks who have traditionally been divided by designations like Caribbean, African or mixed ancestry, have started to make claims on transnational “blackness,” a feeling of a mutual experience if not shared origin.

Marsh does seem to be right about the great international impact of Obama’s election, an impact very much worth watching. In Brazil, the largest African-origin population outside of Africa, there has been much public and private celebration. One Brazilian official, Edson Santos, the black minister of racial equality, accented the impact on many youth there:

I think it is important for young black Brazilians to know how the civil rights movement progressed in the U.S. and how it produced not just Obama, but blacks at the highest levels of American businesses. It is important that they have contact with this reality.

A young Brazilian agreed with him about the significance and possible impact of this new U.S. reality: “Obama has arrived and taken us to the next level, We black Brazilians need him as much as the Americans do.” The main reason for this is that black Brazilians, who make up at least half the Brazilian population, suffer widespread racial discrimination; they make up only 3 percent of college graduates and only eight percent of the 28 top government ministers. And the black Brazilian civil rights movement has only recently come of age. A black organizer who works with Brazil’s poor agreed that Obama symbolized the hopes of all people of African descent:

Obama represents what every black person in the world has been hoping for: that the fight of the dream for racial equality in North America can spread to the entire world.”

Racist Murder of Oscar Grant: An Update

Sign CloseupThe BART cop, Johannes Mehserle, who shot and killed an unarmed Oscar Grant in Oakland on New Year’s Day, has been arrested and charged with murder.   This is a rather stunning turn of events given the way that police brutality is usually ignored here in the U.S., as Joe noted in his recent post about the incident in Houston, Texas and the pervasiveness of police brutality encountered by emergency room physicians.  As I said in the original post about this story, and as the voluminous comments attacking Oscar Grant revealed, the current system of policing is premised on institutional racism in which some citizens are treated as ontological suspects, that is, they are presumed to be guilty of some crime based solely on who they are, particularly young black and brown men. Although some may dismiss Oscar Grant’s murder as merely a tragic accident, the fact is that his death has everything to do with his race, and the fact that this made him automatically “suspect” in the eyes of police.

The racist murder of Oscar Grant is less to do with the individual bigotry of Mehserle and everything to do with the systemic racism of policing in the U.S.  The racially discriminatory practices of a different California police department, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), was the subject of an extensive study by Yale University legal scholar, Ian Ayers, in 2008.   Ayers summarized his research this way:

The study, which I wrote with my research assistant, Jonathan Borowsky, asked not simply whether African Americans and Latinos are stopped and searched by the LAPD more often than whites — it’s clear that they are — but the more complex question of whether these racial disparities are justified by legitimate policing practices, such as deciding to police more aggressively in high-crime neighborhoods.

We found persistent and statistically significant racial disparities in policing that raise grave concerns that African Americans and Latinos in Los Angeles are, as we put it in the report, “over-stopped, over-frisked, over-searched and over-arrested.” [emphasis added]   After controlling for violent crime rates and property crime rates in specific neighborhoods, as well as a host of other variables, we found the following:

  • For every 10,000 residents, about 3,400 more black people are stopped than whites, and 360 more Latinos are stopped than whites. Stopped blacks are 127% more likely to be frisked — and stopped Latinos are 43% more likely to be frisked — than stopped whites.
  • Stopped blacks are 76% more likely to be searched, and stopped Latinos are 16% more likely to be searched than stopped whites.
  • Stopped blacks are 29% more likely to be arrested, and stopped Latinos are 32% more likely to be arrested than stopped whites.

Perhaps in addition to “over-stopped, over-frisked, over-searched, and over-arrested,” we could add “over-killed.”   The study, released in fall of 2008, initially drew only silence from the LAPD which refused to respond.   And, when they did finally respond (just in the last several days), the LAPD chose to reject the reports findings, minimize the significance of the report, and deny the implications for reviewing its policing practices, by saying only “we live in an imperfect world” (according to Police Chief William J. Bratton).

This notion of an “imperfect world” suggests that the routine brtuality visited upon black and brown people by cops is some sort of unfortunate law of nature that it is impossible to reverse.    Nothing could be further from the truth.  This is a human-created system of inequality and it is well within the realm of the possible that human beings could dismantle this brutal, racially discriminatory regime of policing.   What we lack is the collective will to make it happen.    And, until we summon that will, many more Oscar Grants will be over-stopped, over-frisked, over-searched, over-arrested, and “over-killed.”

It’s my hope that the street protests in Oakland (Creative Commons License photo credit: NeitherFanboy ) will be part of a broader and more sustained effort to address the racial profiling and police brutality that are endemic in the contemporary U.S.

Unveiling Systemic Racism: “Barack the Magic Negro” Revisited

Recently, Chip Saltsman, former chair of the Tennessee Republican party and candidate for chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), sent a parody CD entitled “We Hate the USA” to party members as a holiday gag gift. The CD included a song “Barack the Magic Negro,” (listen to the song  here) which many public officials deemed odious. In an interview with CNN, Saltsman defended his song by asserting:

I think most people recognize political satire when they see it. I think RNC members understand that.

Saltsman’s retort is a classic example of European American denial about their active role in propagating racism. Like Saltsman, most European Americans mistakenly believe that racial bigotry is a product of intentional (though perhaps sometimes unconscious) interactions between individuals. Contrary to this popular belief, a large and well-established body of social scientific research empirically reveals that racial bigotry is the result of deeply rooted social and institutional processes referred to as systemic racism. Systemic racism includes a complex array of racially bigoted practices, unjustly gained political-economic power of European Americans, continuing economic and other resource inequalities along racial lines, and racist ideologies and attitudes that maintain and rationalize European American privilege and power. Since European Americans are so immersed in the propaganda of systemic racial conditioning they readily accept the deceptive equation of racism with prejudice and believe “race” rather than racism is the reason for racial injustice. This view is fallacious because it ignores the fact that racial bigotry is not merely a product of intentional interactions between individuals but racialized social relationships developed over generations and manifested in all of society’s major institutions.

Though many European Americans, like Saltsman, can correctly surmise that many current disparities besetting communities of racialized “others” (i.e., Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos) are traceable to inequalities passed on from earlier generations that suffered under state sanctioned racism, they refuse to accept the fact that historical patterns of racism/“race”-based exclusion from social, economic and political processes did not simply disappear when legalized racism was outlawed. Long after many European Americans ceased to consciously and actively discriminate against racialized “others,” there persists racist social patterns dictating where people live, which organizations they belong to, what schools they attend and so on – that were created during slavery and de jure segregation. For this reason contemporary social and institutional structures are products of racist foundations. As such, they perpetuate practices of the nation’s racist past even though many of the people populating these structures may not be overtly racially bigoted. Consequently, it is troublesome to hear media and public officials spin discussion of racial bigotry as a relic of the past during exchanges around Saltsman’s joke song “Barack the Magic Negro,” while many Americans recognize and experience racism every day through its various forms.

Saltsman’s bigoted “satire” is eerily reminiscent of the “Harold, Call Me” ad ran by the Tennessee RNC in the 2006 Senate race between European American Republican Bob Corker and African American Democrat Harold Ford in which a European American female jokingly remarked: “I met Harold at the Playboy party,” and then winked towards the camera. This scene within the ad is framed in a way to heighten European American racial bias about interracial sex (view the ad here ). The regularity of such RNC racial “satire” suggests these “joke” ads are calculated attempts by party officials, like Saltsman, to tap into European Americans’ conscious and unconscious racially bigoted sentiments to win elections. This same practice was evident during the presidential campaign when racist imagery of then Senator Barack Obama consistently appeared at RNC campaign rallies and political leaflets such as the “Obama Buck,” (picturing Obama with fried chicken, watermelon, kool-aid and other racially stereotyped imagery ads; view the ad here ) mailed by the California GOP to
RINOcratconstituents. In addition, the Family Research Council, a Republican connected organization, facilitated the distribution of racially bigoted political “satire” at their annual convention by sanctioning the sale of “Obama Waffles” whose box cover depicted Obama as a racial stereotype wearing an Arab-like headdress (Creative Commons License photo credit: neolibertariandotcom).

By arguing that racially bigoted political “satire” such as “Barack the Magic Negro” is “just a joke,” Saltsman and others of his ilk promote the social acceptability of negative racial stereotypes. Americans, particularly European-Americans, must always bear in mind the link between humor and racism, especially when one hears the claim that a joke is just a joke. A joke is a form of social communication that can only be comprehensible in the social context in which it is created. The point is that the meaning of racially bigoted “satire” is impossible to understand if white supremacy/white racism were not an endemic constituent of U.S. society. Moreover, racially bigoted “satire” permits timid and not so timid bigots to derive enjoyment from expressing what is normally inhibited. Therefore offensive racial humor designed for the public consumption enables perpetrators to reject overt racially bigoted “satire” by saying “It was just a joke.” However, within the private confines of the organization or group, such racially offensive humor is uncloaked for what it is, racial bigotry.

Racial bigotry expressed in disguised forms is called covert racism as opposed to overt racism where racial bigots openly express their aversive sentiments towards racialized “others.” Sometimes the covert racist is not even aware of the fact that s/he is racially bigoted. Because it is now unacceptable to express openly racist views, European American racial bigotry has morphed into a systemic process of oppression that is less overt, far more subtle, and less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the hateful acts. Since systemic racism operates as an established and respected force in America, it receives far less public condemnation than openly expressed bigoted acts. Saltsman’s racial political “satire” is a compelling example of covert systemic racism in that political officials widely deplored Saltsman’s individual act of bigotry – at least in words but remain mum about the systemic racism that keep racialized “others” in poor health, jobless, disenfranchised and so on.

Since systemic racism is often unconscious and insidious, we, especially European Americans, need to be very vigilant against its seepage into the formulation of institutional social policy and practices. Research often presented on the site here shows compellingly that the best way to counteract systemic racism is to substantively embody anti-racist policies and practices in every dimension of societal life (e.g., political, economic, social, educational, culture, etc.). This will force overt and covert racial bigotry out into the open where we cannot ignore it. Whether or not the nation is prepared to confront and dismantle systemic racism depends heavily, as my colleague Abby Ferber at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, asserts on European Americans’ willingness to consciously see and accept their own racial bigotry (read her article “I Am Racist!” here) In order to reach this position Ferber rightly contends, “the answer is not to ignore racism, but to increase its visibility. Focus on it, examine it, understand it and dismantle it.”

Johnny E. Williams is a Professor of Sociology at Trinity College in Connecticut and the author of African American Religion and the Civil Rights Movement in Arkansas (2003).

Prince Harry & Elite Racism

Royal plonkerPrince Harry, the second in line to the British throne, got in some very public hot water for racist remarks he made on video.  In the video, Prince Harry refers to one of his fellow cadets as a ‘Paki’ and another as a ‘raghead.’  For American readers, the impact of the terms Harry used may not be clear, and this statement by Iftakhar Raja, uncle of Ahmed Raza Khan, the fellow cadet that Harry demeaned, illuminates this a bit:

“I am proud to be British and if someone called me Pakistani I would be proud to be called that, but Paki is definitely a derogatory remark. We expect better from our royal family, on whom we spend millions and millions of pounds for training and schooling.” [emphasis added]

More about the schooling in a moment.   The video was made three years ago and only just now been heard in public, but the elasped time is no excuse, according to Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Ramadan Foundation a Muslim youth organization in the UK, said he was shocked and saddened:

“This rant, whether today or three years ago is sickening and he should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.”

While some have pointed out to the supreme irony of Harry’s military service which makes it an offense “to call them ragheads, but not to shoot them,” as a commenter at this blog noted, others have suggested that they do not find such expressions surprising given Harry’s appearance at a party in a Nazi uniform (Creative Commons License photo credit: psd).  Still others have said that this is merely an aberration that demonstrates ‘racism is a dying activity.’

What strikes me about this very telling incident is the way that it reveals a rupture in the usual operation of what Dutch scholar T.A. van Dijk calls the elite discourse and reproduction of racism.  In his research, van Dijk writes the following:

“Elite racism today is seldom overt and blatant. Rather it often takes the modern form of ‘new’ or ‘symbolic’ racism and is typically enacted in the many forms of subtle and indirect discrimination (in action and discourse) in everyday situations controlled by  these elites. It is also enacted whenever elite interests are threatened, for instance in hiring and affirmative action, cultural beliefs, political power, and so on (Barker, 1981; Dovidio & Gaertner, 1986; Essed, 1990, 1991; Wellman, 1977). Because of their positive self-image as tolerant citizens, elites’ racism is typically denied and therefore hard to oppose (van Dijk, 1992). One of the strategies of denial is precisely to attribute racism to the white lower class or the ‘poor inner cities,’ or to identify racism exclusively with the ideologies of the extreme Right (van Dijk, 1993, p.5).”

The outrage over Prince Harry’s recently revealed racism has everything to do with his class position.  As the uncle, quoted above, noted,  “We expect better from our royal family, on whom we spend millions and millions of pounds for training and schooling.And, indeed, it’s true that British citizens do spend millions of pounds on the royal family, who did little for this enormous sum beyond appearing at ceremonial occasions. It’s interesting then that this, rather than anti-racism or simple, human decency, are the standards to which Prince Harry is held.  He’s a disappointment for his overt expressions of racism, when as van Dijk points out, elite racism is seldom overt and blatant. Again, Sheila MacVicar, blogging at World Watch for CBS News, once again captures the class expectations around expressions of elite racism when she writes:

“No one thinks Harry is a racist, at least in the visceral Ku Klux Klan sense of the word. But he is part of a culture where this casual, everyday racism is prevalent and no one seems to pay much attention.”

One wonders what it would take for Harry to be a racist.  What seems clear from this incident is that there are different expectations for expressions of racism. The kinds of asinine remarks and behavior of Prince Harry are, in many ways, inconsequential even if offensive.   What we need to be more attuned to are, as van Dijk points out, the articulate, seemingly well-argued, apparently moderate and humane expressions of elite racism that effectively establishes, maintains, and legitimates the dominance of the white group in the increasingly multiethnic societies of Western Europe and Northern America.

More on Racism in US Policing: It Never Ends?

The Grant case that Jessie blogged on certainly has gotten a lot of discussion. Well, another suspected police malpractice case this week, with a white officer shooting a young black ballplayer, Robbie Tolan, in a general area of Houston where both the creators of this blog grew up, Bellaire, Texas, today a pretty white Houston suburb with few black residents. For years Bellaire and numerous other Houston suburban areas have been known as dangerous places for black men to encounter white police officers. (Houston was a center for slavery, segregation, and open resistance to desegregation. Has had Klan operating in local police departments in the past.) Indeed, Houston area police forces were, until fairly recently, famous for their openly brutal treatment of black and Latino residents they were supposed to protect.

The CNN report on the Tolan incident put it this way:

Tolan sits in a Houston, Texas, hospital bed with a bullet from a police officer’s gun lodged in his liver. The son of a famed baseball player was shot in his own driveway. But how this unarmed 23-year-old and his cousin ended up in the cross-hairs of an officer’s gun, suspected of stealing a car, is a question sparking allegations of racial profiling. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if these had been white kids this does not happen,” said David Berg, Tolan’s attorney. It was 2 a.m. on December 31 when Tolan and his cousin [Anthony Cooper]. . . were confronted in the driveway of their home by Bellaire, Texas, police officers. Police officials say the officers suspected the two young men were driving a stolen car. … As they walked up the driveway to their home, Anthony Cooper said an unidentified man emerged from the darkness with a flashlight and a gun pointed at them. “We did not know it was a police officer,” said Cooper. “He said, ‘Stop. Stop.’ And we were like, ‘Why? Who are you?'” The officers ordered both men to lie down on the ground. Tolan’s parents heard the commotion and came outside. … But Tolan’s SUV wasn’t stolen. Both men were unarmed and relatives say they were hardly a threat to the police officer.

This case is being investigated, and of course the white authorities are claiming it is not about racial profiling. That seems unlikely, as anyone familiar with Houston policing historically and recently would be suspicious.

The data on the general issue of police brutality cases in the U.S. are pretty clear. These are mostly white-on-black and white-on-Latino crimes, and seem to have been that way now for a century or more. For example, in one analysis of 130 police-brutality accounts in numerous major cities, criminologist, Professor Kim Lersch, found those targeted for this malpractice were almost always African Americans or Latinos. People in these two groups made up 97 percent of the victims of police brutality,

(source: powerbacks)

(source: powerbacks)

while the overwhelming majority (93 percent) of the offending officers were white. Such data, together with the absence of an outcry against these events from the white population, suggest that a great many whites in cities across the country tolerate excessive police violence against people of color. Such instances of brutality, as well as more common police harassment and profiling just short of overt violence, still seem to be part of the ongoing process not only of subordinating African Americans and Latinos generally, but also of sustaining the racial segregation of residential communities by pressuring black Americans to stay out of traditionally white areas.

Some more data of interest: EMJ Online has an interesting new study, “Excessive use of force by police: academic emergency physicians,” that suggests how high the level of police malpractice/brutality may be in this country. While the study does not directly deal with racial matters, there are some clear implications of their findings for the discussion of the Grant killing on this blog. Here is part of their summary of findings from a survey of a carefully done random sample of academic emergency physicians across the country:

Of 393 emergency physicians surveyed, 315 (80.2%) responded. Of the respondents, 99.8% (95% CI 98.2% to 100.0%) believed excessive use of force actually occurs and 97.8% (95% CI 95.5% to 99.1%) replied that they had managed patients with suspected excessive use of force. These incidents were not reported by 71.2% (95% CI 65.6% to 76.4%) of respondents, 96.5% (95% CI 93.8% to 98.2%) had no departmental policies and 93.7% (95% CI 90.4% to 96.1%) had not received training in the management of these cases.

Extremely high percentages here. Almost all physicians had dealt with patients who they suspected were victims of excessive police force. Even if this means just a few real brutality cases a year per emergency physician among the 2239 physicians at the 122 approved emergency residency training hospitals, that would be thousands of such incidents. And then factor in other hospitals, and you have a national calamity of police malpractice.

The article also provides other important data relevant for some of the Grant debate too:

There are currently approximately 800 000 full- time law enforcement officers in the USA. In 2002, nearly 45 million people in the USA had a face-to-face encounter with a law enforcement officer, the majority of which (59%) were initiated by the officer.

That is a lot of police officers, indeed more than there are people in the booming city of Austin, Texas. That is a huge number of contacts with police. The best estimate of the percentage of these encounters where “coercive force” is used is about 8 percent, with an unknown part of this being excessive force, malpractice force. The study introduction points out what coercive force means, as law enforcement officers are rare in that they have

legal authority to use coercive force when circumstances deem it necessary. The variety of escalating coercive force options available to police officers in any confrontational setting is commonly described as the ‘‘force continuum’’: from voice commands (normal voice to aggressive and assertive commands) to physical restraint (grabbing, pushing, shoving, holds) to less lethal use of force weapons (chemical sprays, batons, flashlights, beanbag guns, electrical stun guns, police dogs) and ultimately to lethal weapons (firearms).

The U.S. Attorney General is supposed to collect data on excessive use of force by police, but has not done so. The report adds, however, that

Injury and death from excessive use of force by police officers is classified as a human rights violation by the World Health Organization.

One central finding of this study too is that

Despite the classification of excessive force as a form of violence, medical researchers have produced scant data characterizing law enforcement-perpetrated abuse.

The percentages above indicate most suspect brutality incidents are not reported, and that few hospitals have departmental policies or training in the management of these cases. This is rather outrageous, considering that these emergency physicians are required by law to report suspected child, spousal, and elder abuse. Why do law enforcement officers get off so easily, yet have such opportunity to abuse people with excessive violence?

The possible racial implications can be seen in a finding on public hospitals:

This study found that EPs at public teaching hospitals were more likely to suspect cases of excessive use of force than those at university and community-based teaching EDs. . . . EPs at public teaching hospitals consistently see patients who are in custody or incarcerated and therefore evaluate more patients where coercive police-citizen contact is more likely to have occurred.

These are the hospitals that have large numbers of patients of color. It would be very revealing, I suspect, to have a racial breakdown on all these suspected cases.

The Black Prison Called “Special Education”

“If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have to worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one.”-Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Mis-Education of the Negro (1933)

Even though the physical chains have been removed from the ankles of the ancestors of slaves, today the chains kneaded from the clay of oppression have been reshaped through the fires of time into covert racist components which are embedded within all major institutions in America in a continued effort to disable and control Blacks, but more often, specifically targeting Black males. Due to this major difference, Black males are then subjected to a more intense measure of control and hardship directed by Whites and their system of oppression.

As children, young Black males are handcuffed on the tilted playing field of opportunities designed by the dominant White majority that consciously and subconsciously reproduces subjugation and control. Effects of this control can be seen in the high rate of Black males within special education. Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) of 1975, (P.L. 94-142), known presently as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 (Reauthorized in 2004), was initially enacted to provide all students classified as special education students, access to a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE).

As noted by Turnbull and Turnbull in 1998, the message conveyed to the public by lawmakers who devised IDEA was that they intended to protect the rights of parents and their children as well as assisting state and local education agencies (LEA) in educating these students in an effective least restrictive environment (LRE) while attending to the issue of race in special education classification. Before IDEA, it was estimated that at least four millions of children, especially children of color were segregated from their regular education peers and did not receive “appropriate educational services” and sufficient access to the educational prospects that were offered to their counterparts within the public school system. IDEA was enacted to deter these incidences of discrimination.

The enactment of IDEA, as many today believe, was to halt discrimination of those with special needs and children of color who were previously stored away from their regular education counterparts. But today it is evident that discrimination, segregation, and overall inequities exist toward special education students of color. Racism very much exists today with respect to students of color. Sec. 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” But, in general, Black, and to some extent Latino students (the majority from low socioeconomic homes), in relation to their population are still being denied and excluded through their placement in the category of special education.

In fact this is occurring at disproportionate rates in comparison to Whites and others; Black (and Latino) students are kept apart (outside of the regular education settings) and denied the proper benefit of an inclusive education as mandated by IDEA. Specifically, it has been estimated that Blacks are placed in special education at a rate of 3 to 1 in comparisons to White students. The special education analysis completed by the Department of Education in 2001 and 2006 noted this occurrence, but did not expand upon this topic as it relates to gender. Due to the disproportionate number of Black males that are within special education with such arresting labels as Emotionally Disturbed, Mentally Impaired, and etc., the conclusion can be drawn that they are more likely to be educated in segregated learning environments than their White counterparts.

The fact that this is occurring within rich and poor districts can be construed as reckless on the behalf of public schools–when faced with scholars that have noted and criticized the diagnostic criteria and testing currently used as vague, invalid, and culturally biased against people of color. But we , in the public schools, continue to use them. If this clandestine and at times overt plight to hamper students of color, specifically Black males’ academic and social progress, is not addressed from a policy and social justice structural approach, said population will continue to be seriously hindered, which will result in an increasing number of young people not gaining the benefits of a quality education. Due to areas and ramifications of the topic addressed, social scientists within education and sociology should feel challenged to continue the work directed at investigating this issue. No, in fact, we as a people should challenge the threads continuously woven by an archaic racist system that has a foundation soaked with oppressive spew.

Taking Anti-Racist Action: Why Rare for Whites?

The Associated Press just reported on a research project in Toronto that shows how 120 college-educated whites reacted to a racist act. They were recruited for a “psychology study,” and faced this experimental set-up whose purpose they were unaware of:

A participant was directed to a room where two actors posing as fellow participants — one black, one white — waited. The black person said he needed to retrieve a cell phone and left, gently bumping the white person’s leg on the way out. The white actor then did one of three things: Nothing. Said, “I hate when black people do that.” Or used the N-word.

The researcher then came in to start the “study” and asked each participant to pick the white or black person as a partner for the study.

Students who actually experienced the event didn’t seem bothered by it — and nearly two-thirds chose the white actor as a partner, the researchers reported Friday in the journal Science. “It’s like these nasty racist comments aren’t having an effect,” said York University psychology professor Kerry Kawakami, the lead author. . . . The study can’t say why people reacted that way, although the researchers speculate that unconscious bias is at work.

CNN’s report on the same study added this:

The magnitude of the results surprised even the authors, Kawakami said. Experiencers reported little distress in all three scenarios . . . . “Even using that most extreme comment didn’t lead people to be particularly upset,” said co-author Elizabeth Dunn, assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

Even white researchers working on racism issues like this seem to be unaware or unreflective about how fundamental and widespread the white racial framing of North America really is. A great many whites react this way because they in fact do think in blatantly racist terms about black people (but may reserve openly racist comments for white backstage areas) or because they do not find the racist actions of others to be “serious,” especially serious enough for them to intervene in and risk losing a friend or acquaintance.
Leslie Picca and I found this reaction to be commonplace. Nowhere in our 9,000 diary accounts of racial events from 626 white college students at 28 colleges and universities is there even one account of whites, including the student diarists, assertively protesting a case of racial discrimination by white actors and authorities in a frontstage setting.

Only occasionally in the journal accounts do we even see whites, the students and other whites, engaging in sustained or assertive verbal dissent to the racist performances of friends, acquaintances, and relatives in the backstage settings. Just a few student journal accounts show one or more whites aggressively confronting other whites’ racist performances and interactions backstage. This lack of assertive confrontation was true for the journal writers themselves, even when they later said that they should have intervened. Many of our white college students commented later in their diaries that they recognized their friends and relatives were indeed doing racist stuff, but said they were still “nice people” to be with–that is, whites doing even extreme racist performances are given a “pass” and viewed at though they are doing something relatively harmless, like picking their nose.

Reviewing thousands of accounts that the college student writers provide, we estimate that no more than one percent indicate that at least one white person in a setting took some dissenting action, such as a strong verbal demurral or more active counter at the time of a racist incident. In the rare cases, white women were more likely than white men to try to hold other whites accountable for their actions.

Interestingly, in several of our relatively few accounts of active dissent, those whites who break with the traditional expectations and take some action to counter the racist performances of other whites act thus to protect intimate friends or relatives who are people of color. Apparently, very few whites take aggressive antiracist action solely because of a commitment to the egalitarian tradition of protest against racial inequality that erupts periodically in U.S. history–the antiracist protest that takes seriously the framing of society in terms of “liberty and justice for all.”

Our research also suggests that anti-racist action can be (modestly) socially costly even for privileged whites, such as losing friends, which is one likely reason it is rare even for whites who know racism is quite wrong. At least our students see such anti-racist action as potentially costly for them.

Racism & The Murder of Oscar Grant III

Like many of the readers here (h/t: Victor, Ilish), I’ve been following the news of the shooting death of Oscar Grant, III (photo from Facebook) in Oakland, California by a transit cop.

At the time of the shooting, Grant was unarmed, on the ground, his hands were hand-cuffed behind him.  Grant was employed as a butcher at Farmer Joe’s Marketplace in Oakland, had a young daughter, Tatiana, age 4.   Several people at the BART train station recorded the incident on their mobile phones, and witnesses reported that Grant begged officers not to shoot him, telling them he had a young daughter.

The BART cop who shot him, Johannes Mehserle, has since resigned his position, thus avoiding internal affairs investigators. And, lawyers have filed a $25 million lawsuit against the transit authority on behalf of Grant’s family.

As Grant was laid to rest today, protestors gathered at the Fruitvale BART station where he was killed to demand justice (update: the protest prompts The New York Times to take notice).

While officials at BART are suggesting that the shooting was an “accident” in which Mehserle mistook his gun for his taser, the videos taken at the scene suggest otherwise.  The BART cops move Grant from a seated (and hand-cuffed) position, place him on the ground face down, and then Mehserle reaches for his gun and shoots Grant in the back. It is not hyperbole to call this an execution. Clearly, this is an example of excessive force, and it is a nothing less than a racist murder.  And, racists are lining up to defend Mehserle’s actions.  For example, Michael Crook joined the Facebook group “Justice for Oscar Grant,” then started a discussion thread called “Quit Whining,” in which he writes:

“This was a justified shooting, and even if the officer was in error, another ape is off the streets. … This is just another family of black monkeys wanting a payday.”

I suppose the good news is that the other members of that Facebook group called out Crook for his racism.   At this point, no one knows  whether or not Mehserle held these kinds of overtly racist views.  And, to some extent it’s beside the point.    Whatever Mehserle’s individual level of racism, Grant is still dead because of racism.  The racist idea expressed by Crook that some lives are less valuable than others is one that pervades our institutions, particularly criminal justice institutions, and operates without individual racists. Institutional racism assures that some people, particuarly young black men, are continually viewed as suspects and are perpetually vulnerable to assault by police.

As I mentioned, there are multiple videos of this shooting taken by concerned passers-by.  This may persuade some that there is incontrovertible evidence of this outrageous, criminal act.  But, the institutionalized racism that creates black men as ontological suspects has already started denying the reality of this mobile phone video evidence.   In one report, there’s mention that Grant possibly had a criminal record; in another, a BART spokesman calls the video evidence is “inconclusive”; and, reports are painting Mehserle as sympathetic for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he is getting death threats.    For observers of racial politics in the U.S., this should all sound eerily similar to the kinds of strategies used in the trial of the LAPD cops accused of beating Rodney King.   As you may recall, even though there was clear, stomach-turning video of those officers brutally beating and tasering the unarmed King, defense lawyers for the cops successfully portrayed King as a “monster” and a “thug” and cast the officers as “victims” who felt threatened by him.   All the officers were acquitted of beating King, and if past is prologue, I expect Mehserle to walk without criminal prosecution.

The sort of citizen journalism and activism of cop-watch style actions are promising for addressing brutal acts such as the racist murder of Oscar Grant. Yet, the lessons of racism in the recent past are that these are important, but not sufficient in and of themselves to bring about justice.  For that, we must work much harder.  Take action.