Racism and Implicit Bias in Cambridge

If you wish to gaze upon the depth and breadth of America’s racial divide–particularly the canyon-like gulf between white folks and black folks–you need look no further than the recent incident involving Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Cambridge police officer James Crowley, and now, President Obama who weighed in on the matter a few nights ago, when asked for his reaction to Gates’s arrest on charges (since dismissed) of disorderly conduct. In this case, as with so many other news stories that have touched on race–the O.J. Simpson trial and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as just two of the more obvious examples–whites and blacks, generally speaking, and with obvious exceptions on both sides, see the story and the racial component of the story in fundamentally different (often diametrically opposed) ways.

To hear most white folks tell it, Gates was to blame. Yes, he was only trying to enter his own home when a white woman saw him (as well as his driver), assumed they were burglars and then convinced another woman to call the cops on her behalf. And yes, he produced identification for the officer when asked, indicating that he was indeed the resident of the house to which the officer had come to investigate the initial call. But because he became belligerent to Sgt. Crowley, and because he unfairly called Crowley a racist, he is guilty of escalating the situation, and thus, is the bad guy in the scenario. Meanwhile Crowley, according to the dominant white narrative, spread by media far and wide, is a wonderful and thoughtful cop, who is hardly a racist–after all he teaches a diversity training class and once gave mouth-to-mouth-resuscitation to a dying black athlete–and who was inappropriately smeared: first by Gates who accused the officer of asking him for proof of residency only because he was black, and then by Obama, who said the police had acted “stupidly” in arresting the esteemed professor in his own home.

Such a perception on the part of whites makes sense, given the white racial frame, as sociologist Joe Feagin calls it, through which most whites view these matters. That frame says, among other things, that as long as you are respectful to police, nothing bad will happen to you (thus, if something bad does happen to you it was likely your own fault), and secondly, that there can be no racism involved in an incident unless the person being accused of such a thing clearly acted with bigoted and prejudicial intent. In this case, since Gates mouthed off and Crowley is, from all accounts, hardly a bigot, the case is closed so far as the dominant white narrative is concerned. Continue reading…

Antiracist Organizations: Resources for Fighting White Racism

Though they get little attention, antiracist organizations are very important today in struggles against white-generated systemic racism. (Photo Source: National Resource Center for Healing of Racism)
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Typical of the range of current antiracist organizations are the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PI) and Antiracist Action (ARA). Located in New Orleans and created by African American activists, PI is a community-oriented group that sets up “Undoing Racism” workshops mostly to train people in community and nonprofit organizations. These multiracial workshops have now trained thousands of people, including many whites, since the 1980s. They are designed to help officials in various organizations and community activists to better understand white racism, to understand and value cultural diversity, and to show people how they can “undo racism” in their own lives and organizations.

Taking a somewhat different tack, the substantially white ARA groups, about 200 as of now, have worked aggressively against racism in numerous cities in the United States and Canada. Originally established to combat neo-Nazi and Klan-type organizations, ARA groups have developed other antiracist programs. For example, their Copwatch program has attempted to reduce police brutality by having members take video devices into the streets to record police actions in their dealings with citizens of color. Eileen O’Brien has a very useful book, Whites Confront Racism, in which she compares members of these two important antiracist groups, from field research interviews.

In addition, dozens of groups called the “Institutes for the Healing of Racism” regularly hold seminars and dialogues on issues of racism in numerous U.S. and some overseas cities. These multiracial groups work locally to heighten the awareness of racism, educate citizens about how to fight racial hostility and discrimination, and provide dialogue across racial group boundaries. These groups have dealt openly with racist framing and institutional racism in their own lives and areas. Check out the National Resource Center for the Healing of Racism.

While their objectives have varied, yet other antiracist organizations have also pressed for changes in systemic racism over the last few decades. A brief sampling includes the Dismantling Racism Program of the National Conference (St. Louis), the Anti-Racism Institute of Clergy and Laity Concerned (Chicago), the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, the Southern Empowerment Project, and the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence.

Note that a number of these antiracist organizations, as well as established civil rights groups like the NAACP and Urban League, have played important roles in openly countering the racist accusations and racist attacks that have been made against President Barack Obama and in helping to secure his election as president in 2008.

CNN Panel About Racial Profiling

CNN’s Don Lemon speaks with a panel about racial profiling in America. The panel includes Prof. Andra Gillespie (Emory University), Tim Wise (antiracist writer and activist) and James Andrews (social media entrepreneur). The conversation is only available in two clips from CNN, I’ll post them both. The first one here is about (4:45).

And, here’s the second part from CNN (7:36) which is where Prof. Gillespie and Tim Wise discuss the difference between ‘having a racist moment’ and working on one’s own individual issues of prejudice and racism:

We’re often critical of mainstream news coverage of racial matters, but I thought that this was a step in the right direction, even if it was all too brief and necessarily superficial. The panel seems to agree that the Gates’ arrest represents a ‘teachable moment’ in American culture. What are your thoughts?