Archive for August, 2009
The white racial frame seems to be operating everywhere in this society, including in the way children’s books are written, framed, and produced by the mostly white-run publishing industry. This dominant frame is amazingly well-conditioned, inbedded deeply in minds and brains, and often relatively unconscious. For example, Mitali Perkins has an interesting article in a recent School Library Journal examining stereotypes in children’s books.
She raises important questions for teachers (and thus libraries and others) about what to look for in assessing how a children’s book deals with racial matters, questions such as these:
How and why does the author define race? Is the cover art true to the story? Who are the change agents? How is beauty defined?
Consider her reasoning on a few of these issues. One question and answer set is about whether and how authors of children’s books take note of the racial realities of characters:
Ask . . . Why did the author choose to define race? If the only answer you come up with is “maybe he wanted to show how open-minded he is” or “she could have been trying to move the world toward a better day,” that’s not good enough. A better answer might be, “because the particular community where the action is set is diverse.” Or, “because the protagonist knew how to make kimchee from scratch.” The story and characters, not the author’s best political intentions, should determine whether or not he or she defines race.
I see her point about making racial identification part of a real story, but I think it is fine for authors to intentionally work a diversity of characters into a book with an eye to moving our racist “world toward a better day” — and indeed making it realistic for children living in our multiracial world. She next makes this very point in discussing how most children’s books leave out characters of color. Books
must express diversity lest we fall into the trap of the television show Friends, in which an all-white cast lived and worked in an apparently all-white New York City. Sadly, in the children’s book world we’re not too far from portraying that kind of nonexistent America. Statistics show that 17 percent of students enrolled in American schools are African American. During 2008, however, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center . . . found that among the 3,000 or so titles they received, only six percent had significant African or African-American content. While 20 percent of the country’s students are Latino, only about two percent of all books reviewed by CCBC had significant Latino content.
Once again, we see how the deep white framing of mostly white publishers keeps the children’s book world pretty white. The impact on all children of such white framing is quite significant, as numerous studies show. Another issue she raises is in regard to book covers for children’s books. Numerous books are published with covers that downplay the main characters’ racial group if that group is not white:
Consider the advance readers’ copy of Ursula Le Guin’s Powers . . . released with a white model on the cover despite the protagonist’s Himalayan ancestry.
The final cover was belatedly changed to be more realistic. In these cases, and there are a great many, the envisioned sales audience is white, and in the publishers’ view the latter should not have to encounter faces of people of color on covers. On this point, Felicia Pride at theroot.com writes about a recent incident where the initial cover put on books had a white girl on it:
Looks like book publishing isn’t all that post-racial, but we already knew that. A controversy has been brewing regarding the book cover for “Liar,” a young adult novel by Justine Larbalestier that’s set to publish at the end of September by Bloomsbury Children’s Books. The cover (see right) features a young white girl whose faced is partially covered by her long straight hair. The problem? The book’s main character is black.
The publisher eventually pulled the many first covers and put an African American, but still light-skinned skinned, girl on the new covers. In this case protests against the whitewashed cover had a significant impact. One sign of anti-racist action, and a first step in antiracist action, is the problematizing of what was once seen as just normal and natural framing.
[Reposted from Redroom.com]
If you get a chance, today or perhaps tomorrow, do yourself a favor. Look up some file footage, perhaps on YouTube, of Adolf Hitler, addressing his followers. I know, it doesn’t sound like the best way to spend your day, or even a few minutes of it, but trust me, there’s a point to the recommendation. While you watch, notice the unhinged shouting, the wild eyes, the veins on his neck, the psychotic bodily gesticulations. Then, take a look at footage from yesterday’s town hall meeting, called by President Obama in New Hampshire, in which he sought to lay out his case for health care reform to an audience that included supporters and opponents of his plan. Notice: no shouting, no wild eyes, no bulging jugular vein, no apparent sociopathy whatsoever. Indeed notice as the President actually seeks out questions from people who disagree with him, and then thanks them for making good points and raising legitimate concerns, even when the premises of their questions are dead wrong, and largely originated in crazy town.
Then ask yourself, is this the man that much of right-wing talk radio would have us believe is a Nazi? The political reincarnation of Hitler–ya know, the lunatic I asked you to watch first? Really? Really? Wow. Sometimes, it’s hard to know where to begin.
On the one hand, the comparisons seem literally bat-shit insane. Especially when considering that at the same time folks are comparing Obama to the world’s most infamous right-wing fascist, they are at the same time calling him a Marxist, and a left-wing radical. Oh sure, they try and say that Hitler was really a leftist, ya know, because the Nazis were National Socialists. Of course. And hot dogs are made from puppies.
Anyway, it seems at first blush to make no sense. Any reading of the Nazi era makes it all too clear how far afield from the Third Reich the Obama administration is. After coming to power, the Nazis moved to outlaw all opposition parties, suspend the nation’s constitution, round up and detain their political adversaries (or better yet, kill them), and destroy the trade unions. All this, well before initiating the murderous campaigns against Jews, Romany, homosexuals and others deemed “life unworthy of life.” Needless to say, Obama has done none of this, has proposed none of this, and only the most truly unstable person could really believe such things were just around the corner. Although there are such persons to be found in the body politic, such as Ron Paul acolytes, Ayn Rand devotees and real estate agent/dentist/professional far-right activist, Orly Taitz, surely even the most cynical would have to agree that the numbers of persons who seem to buy into this rhetoric far and away exceed the likely national percentages of the truly mentally ill.
And those propagating the comparisons–the Limbaughs and Becks and Savages, and Hannitys (who have the top four radio talk shows in the nation right now)–despite their fervent commitment to right-wing ideas, surely cannot believe that an American Reich is on the horizon. In short, they can’t possibly be serious.
So why then, do they keep saying it? It is this question that I’ve been pondering for the past few days. What could possibly be the purpose of making an argument that has so little intellectual validity; so little indeed that it can be easily shot down by the average 12th grade European history student (who, it should be noted, would have as much education as either Limbaugh or Hannity)? What would be the value, symbolically speaking, of putting forth on protest signs this Obama=Hitler meme, and visually representing that meme, straight down to the little mustache, side-swept hairdo and swastika adornment?
And then it struck me. This analogy, as absurd as it is factually, and as offensive as it is historically, makes almost perfect sense politically, to a movement that is trying desperately to create a groundswell of support behind the notion that white people are the new victims of massive discrimination, the new victims of the Obama era: the ones who don’t get picked first for the Supreme Court, and who can no longer take for granted their hegemonic power. And that is precisely the kind of movement they are trying to build, what with their equally facile rantings that white men, according to Limbaugh, are being sent to the “back of the bus” under Obama, because he literally hates white people, and that white men are now experiencing, to hear Pat Buchanan tell it, “exactly what black folks” experienced during the days of Jim Crow. Within a politics of white resentment and white victimology, the Hitler meme works. After all, Hitler was not just a fascist, but is understood to have been a racial fascist: one whose dictatorial and murderous schemes were directed at a distinctly racialized “other.” So to make the black man atop the U.S. political system into Hitler, is to plant the idea in white minds that he too will be a racial fascist. And if that is the case, the question is quite obviously begged, which race will he be coming for? Ah yes, white man, see? Now are you scared?
By playing upon white fears–fears of a black President with a funny name, fears of a country that within about 30 years will no longer be majority white, fears of the inability to take for granted that our Leave-it-to-Beaver, Norman Rockwell, Boy Scout-approved national narrative will continue to predominate–the right hopes to prove resurgent, and the GOP hopes to remain a living entity. They have all but abandoned any hopes of attracting large numbers of people of color. The writing in that regard is on the wall and they seem to very much know it. So they have retreated into the laager–South African imagery very much intended here–and decided to go all in as the party of nostalgia, a white nationalist party, in effect, whose only hope is to claim that the nation has lost its greatness, and that everything that made America, well, America (ya know, back in the days of segregation) has been lost. And that such a transformation, from a formal white supremacist state, to a multicultural society, is of course a bad thing.
In addition to rallying the troops of white backlash, the Obama/Hitler analogies also serve another function, one that would be immediately recognizable to most any psychologist. That function is called projection: when someone recognizes a trait within themselves, and then, ashamed of that trait seeks it out in others and locates it there, displacing the shame and self-hatred that might otherwise manifest onto someone else.
For these right-wing louts to accuse President Obama of being a racist, let alone a potentially genocidal one at that, is the ultimate in projection. After all, it is the right whose authors regularly publish books with hateful and prejudicial comments about racialized others, not Obama, whose own writing reveals a deep and abiding love for his family–all of it, including the white half.
It is the right that channels Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebells, every time they spew lies about the health care bill’s euthanasia provisions, or about how Obama is going to confiscate all the guns, or casting doubt on Obama’s citizenship, or about how Mexicans are looking to “reconquer” the American southwest, or about how illegal immigrants are a major source of leprosy and disease. All of these things have been debunked, time and again, and yet they are repeated daily, as if facts don’t matter. Because to anti-intellectual brownshirts, they don’t.
It is the right channeling the thuggishness of the Nazi bullies by sending folks to public forums to shout and disrupt, and to intimidate people by carrying weapons.
It is the right that would like to smash the trade unions.
It is the right that stood by while the last president circumvented the Constitution on such matters as wiretaps, torture, the primacy of international treaties to which the U.S. is a party, and the suspension of habeas corpus for suspected “terrorists.” Read More→
(Reposted from RedRoom)
Throughout the first six months of his administration, President Obama–perhaps one of the most politically cautious leaders in contemporary history–has been routinely portrayed as a radical by his opponents on the far-right. In particular, persons who have apparently never actually studied Marxism (or if they did, managed to somehow find therein support for such things as bailing out banks and elite corporations) contend that Obama is indeed a socialist. Reducing all government action other than warmaking to part of a larger socialist conspiracy, the right contends that health care reform is socialist, capping greenhouse gas emissions is socialist, even providing incentives for driving fuel efficient cars is socialist. That the right insists upon Obama’s radical-left credentials, even as they push an Obama=Hitler meme (something they apparently think is fair, since, after all the Nazis were National Socialists, albeit the kind who routinely murdered the genuine article) only speaks to the special brand of crazy currently in vogue among the nation’s reactionary forces.
As real socialists laugh at these clumsily made broadsides, and as scholars of actual socialist theory try and explain the absurdity of the analogies being drawn by conservative commentators, a key point seems to have been missed, and it is this point that best explains what the red-baiting is actually about.
It is not, and please make note of it, about socialism. Or capitalism. Or economics at all, per se. After all, President Bush was among the most profligate government spenders in recent memory, yet few ever referred to him in terms as derisive as those being hurled at Obama. Even when President Clinton proposed health care reform, those who opposed his efforts, though vociferous in their critique, rarely trotted out the dreaded s-word as part of their arsenal. They prattled on about “big government,” yes, but not socialism as such. Likewise, when Ronald Reagan helped craft the huge FICA tax hike in 1983, in a bipartisan attempt to save Social Security, few stalwart conservatives thought to call America’s cowboy-in-chief a closet communist. And many of the loudest voices at the recent town hall meetings–so many of which have been commandeered by angry minions ginned up by talk radio–are elderly folk whose own health care is government-provided, and whose first homes were purchased several decades ago with FHA and VA loans, underwritten by the government, for that matter. Many of them no doubt reaped the benefits of the GI Bill, either directly or indirectly through their own parents.
It is not, in other words, a simple belief in smaller government or lower taxes that animates the near-hysterical cries from the right about wanting “their country back,” from those who have presumably hijacked it: you know, those known lefties like Tim Geithner and Rahm Emanuel. No, what differentiates Obama from any of the other big spenders who have previously occupied the White House is principally one thing–his color. And it is his color that makes the bandying about of the “socialist” label especially effective and dangerous as a linguistic trope. Indeed, I would suggest that at the present moment, socialism is little more than racist code for the longstanding white fear that black folks will steal from them, and covet everything they have. The fact that the fear may now be of a black president, and not just some random black burglar hardly changes the fact that it is fear nonetheless: a deep, abiding suspicion that African American folk can’t wait to take whitey’s stuff, as payback, as reparations, as a way to balance the historic scales of injustice that have so long tilted in our favor. In short, the current round of red-baiting is based on implicit (and perhaps even explicit) appeals to white racial resentment. It is Mau-Mauing in the truest sense of the term, and especially since Obama’s father was from the former colonial Kenya! Unless this is understood, left-progressive responses to the tactic will likely fall flat. After all, pointing out the absurdity of calling Obama a socialist, given his real policy agenda, will mean little if the people issuing the charge were never using the term in the literal sense, but rather, as a symbol for something else entirely. Read More→
The dominant white racial framing downplays social realities that contradict its notions, including that of a “postracial America” where black Americans are doing as well as whites in regard to jobs, education, health care. (For data, see Chapter 1 here.) Contradicting such foolish notions with data, Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad have analyzed how this super-recession is now badly hurting the black middle class. They note that most are not like those black Americans (Henry L. Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby) who get so much mainstream media attention these days:
According to a study by Demos and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy, 33 percent of the black middle class was already in danger of falling out of the middle class at the start of the recession. . . . Millions of the black equivalents of Officer Crowley — from factory workers to bank tellers and white collar managers — are sliding down toward destitution. For African Americans — and to a large extent, Latinos — the recession is over. It occurred between 2000 and 2007, as black employment decreased by 2.4 percent and incomes declined by 2.9 percent. During the seven-year long black recession, one third of black children lived in poverty and black unemployment — even among college graduates — consistently ran at about twice the level of white unemployment.
They mean that blacks and Latinos are now in an economic depression:
Black unemployment is now at 14.7 percent, compared to 8.7 for whites. … the Economic Policy Institute estimates that 40 percent of African Americans will have experienced unemployment or underemployment by 2010, and this will increase child poverty from one-third of African-American children to slightly over half.
They note several explanations for this economic crisis and its job decline. These include the export of manufacturing and other blue collar jobs overseas and the reality that past discrimination has put many black workers in least-seniority positions in workplaces. There is also the export of jobs out of cities into suburban areas where African Americans (and Latinos) do not live. All these and other societal processes that operate differentially across racial lines have been proceeding aggressively in recent decades.
There is no fallback position for most African Americans, because of the society’s massive racialized wealth gap. Recent Federal Reserve studies show huge differentials in household wealth between white and black families. White families’ net worth is ten times that of black families’ net worth, with much of that in housing equities built up over 9-15 generations of slavery, Jim Crow, and contemporary discrimination severely limiting black access to housing equities and other family wealth-building resources. Social inheritance mechanisms are imbedded in society and disguised to make intertemporal inheritance appear fair. For example, almost all the federally assisted home mortgages provided on a large-scale to soldiers returning after World War II went to white soldiers and their families. Large-scale mortgage and other housing discrimination was commonplace and overt until the late 1960s. Much housing discrimination has continued, if more subtly, since then.
Most significantly, the white wealth built up in these housing equities fostered by discriminatory federal programs has often been passed along to children and grandchildren. Each new generation of whites has inherited an array of racial privileges and substantial socioeconomic resources. A central societal process producing this reality can be called the societal reproduction of wealth, a concept that is linked fundamentally to the societal reproduction of racial oppression and in my view needs to be central to theories of race and racism.
With the Senate’s confirmation and swearing in now out of the way, Sonia Sotomayor is now a Supreme Court Justice. Liberal whites, as well as many Latinos, are jubilant at what they view as a great step forward for Latinos.
After a time of reflection, however, the realities of racism bring a sobering realization: her ascent to the Supreme Court is both a personal triumph over anti-Latino racism and thus a reminder of the deeply embedded racist apparatus of this country.
Sotomayor is a brilliant woman whose achievements were won through great discipline and admirable effort. Yet she is heralded as the “first Latino” to become a member of the Supreme Court by almost all commentators, left, right, and center. Clearly, her master status is “Latino.” Her great achievements and qualifications lie somewhere in the background.
The appointment of a white Protestant man to the Supreme Court attracts only a modicum of attention, and virtually never to his whiteness or maleness. That is seen as normal. Once again, the deep, unconscious white racial frame shapes common sense and blinds us to the fact that white privilege is the cause of both the ordinariness of white accomplishments and the momentousness of Latino achievement.
A danger that lies ahead is that Sotomayor’s appointment may be interpreted by many conservative and “mainstream” observers as further evidence that “race” is a thing of the past. However, even as Sotomayor succeeds as a justice, unauthorized immigrants are still widely exploited and persecuted, the Spanish language is routinely assailed and vilified, and Sotomayor’s homeland, Puerto Rico, remains a nation under U.S. control.
Sotomayor has been accused by her conservative opponents for her putative “activism” as a judge. As far as I’m concerned, it was not her so-called activism but her encounters with racism that helped her see past the white racial frame and make such great achievements.
The Sotomayor nomination and confirmation process has raised much discussion about Latino issues, so we do need to consider what some good sources of information and research on Latinos are. For teachers, students, researchers, and especially media analysts (e.g., Lou Dobbs) who seem often to be quite ignorant on these issues. Let me mention one here briefly.
The Julian Samora Institute website is an excellent source for information on Latino/Hispanic issues, including research publications and recent events like the tasering of a grandfather by Virginia police recently at a party. Their website statement says this about the Institute:
The JULIAN SAMORA RESEARCH INSTITUTE is committed to the generation, transmission, and application of knowledge to serve the needs of Latino communities in the Midwest. To this end, it has organized a number of publication initiatives to facilitate the timely dissemination of current research and information relevant to Latinos.
Here is their research url, with research publications like this one on health “The Impact of Race/Ethnicity, Household Structure, and Socioeconomic Status on Health Status in the Midwest, 2006-2008.”
They also offer this really useful set of links to both research data sites and news information sites.
I’m dashing off to the airport this morning for the national meetings in San Francisco. First, I’ll be attending SSSP and presenting some of my research on cyber racism there. Then, I’m organizing a panel at ASA. If you’re around, please make a point to drop in on this important and interesting thematic session:
Feminism(s) 2.0: Gender, Sexuality, Race, and Community in Cyberspace
Unit: Thematic Sessions
Scheduled Time: Sun, Aug 9 – 2:30pm – 4:10pm, Building: Parc 55 Hotel
Panelists: Judy Wajcman, Saskia Sassen, Elizabeth Friedman, Wendy Christiansen, Discussant: France Winddance Twine, Organizer: Jessie Daniels.
And, more informally, I’ll be hanging out at the book exhibit a lot and plan to crash this blogger party on Sunday evening. So, if you spot me (or my name badge!), say hello. You can also @ me via Twitter (@JessieNYC). In the meantime, Joe will be holding down the blogging here and taking a break from the meetings to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary ~ congratulations!
I’m gearing up for teaching this fall in an Urban Public Health program; part of what I like about the field is that it requires a very practical application of what can seem like abstractions in the field of sociology. So, to talk about racism and racial inequality in public health means to talk about how these affect people’s bodies, health and illness. Most eloquent on this subject recently is Marion Wright Edelman who has written about the impact of racial inequality on the health of children, she writes:
Right now, we live in a nation where children of color experience significant health disparities that begin before birth and follow them throughout their lives. Black infants are more than twice as likely as white infants to die before their first birthday and have higher infant mortality rates than children in 62 nations including Barbados, Malaysia and Thailand. One in every seven babies born to black mothers is born at low birthweight, a core risk factor for infant mortality and childhood developmental disorders. The rate of black infants born at low birthweight in the United States is worse than the rate of low birthweight in more than 100 nations including Algeria, Botswana and Panama.
Not surprisingly, black and Latino children also have higher incidences of childhood illnesses than white children. For example, one out of eight black children has asthma — one of the most common illnesses in children — compared to one in 12 white children. One out of every four black two-year-olds and one out of every five Latino two-year-olds is not fully immunized, although we know that every dollar spent vaccinating children against measles, mumps and rubella saves $16 in future costs. More than 30 percent of black children and about 40 percent of Latino children report not receiving dental care. Minority children are more likely to be living in poverty. However, racial disparities aren’t just about socio-economic status, although more than three-quarters of uninsured black children have a working parent, and more than half have a parent who works full-time throughout the year.
Edelman, a long-time defender of children’s rights, emphasizes “It doesn’t have to be this way,” and urges for reform on health care which would help address these persistent inequalities. Yet, even as much of the national public debate right now is focused on “health care reform” and that discussion has been derailed by racism.
Some anti-health care protesters, like the one in this photo (from here), cast their objections to health care reform in rather explicitly racist terms. As Maggie Mahar writes, the health care reform effort has reignited what she refers to as the “Culture Wars,” a familiar story in the American political landscape. When viewed in terms of Edelman’s point about the impact of racial inequality on children’s health, these kinds of battle lines seem even more cruel.
I want to suggest that we re-frame the current health care reform debate in terms of social justice. In my view, supporting universal health care for everyone in the U.S. is an important step toward re-dressing the persistent racial inequality that is endemic in our society.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor was just voted on in the U.S. Senate and was confirmed in a 68-31 vote, with ailing Senator Kennedy not present but also a supporter. We now have the first woman of color and the first Latino ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. (She is also only the third woman out of about 111 justices who have ever served!) (Photo Source: Wikipedia)
Senator Robert Menendez (NJ), the only Latino Democratic senator had this to say:
History awaits, and so does an anxious Hispanic community in this country the Senate’s lone Hispanic Democrat and the head of his party’s campaign arm, just minutes before the vote. When she places her hand on the Bible and takes the oath of office [scheduled for Saturday], the new portrait of the justices of the Supreme Court will clearly reflect who we are as a nation, what we stand for as a fair, just and hopeful people.
Yes, finally. There are about 47 million Latinos now in this country of about 300 million.
In Cyber Racism, I examine the many ways racism is being translated into the digital era from the print-only-era of newsletters (such as those I explored in my earlier book, White Lies). I also spend some of the new book exploring ways of fighting cyber racism (see Chapter 9). There is a recent example that illustrates both the pernicious threat of cyber racism and an effective strategy for combating it.
Allen McDuffee is a NYC-based freelance journalist whose writing has appeared in The Nation, Mother Jones, DailyKos and HuffingtonPost. McDuffee as well as for his own site, Governmentality. Here’s McDuffee’s account of how this incident began (from July 15, 2009):
Last night as I looked at the results from my statistical gathering software program, I was disgusted to learn that an individual had posted and linked to some content from my blog. Most writers and bloggers work hard to get their work linked to, but when I saw the content of this individual’s blog, I literally became sick to my stomach.A white supremacist, with a screen id and blog called Kalki666, found a post I had written critical of Israel and decided to repurpose it for his anti-Semitic agenda. He also used me as his research assistant for the main part of that same post when he found this post on my blog from May 21 and just re-posted it yesterday. And then there are the swiped images, too. Not only had he posted my content and linked to me on his blog, he further linked on white supremacist discussion boards. In no way, shape or form will I allow him to attribute his agenda to my reporting and blogging. I fully condemn Kalki666′s actions and everything that he, his blog and his community stand for. Yes, I am critical of Israeli policies. I am also critical of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. But beyond that, it needs to be clear that being critical of Israel does not make one anti-Semitic.
This kind of “re-purposing” of content intended for a white supremacist agenda is one of the characteristics of cyber racism. In the book, I talk about the way other white supremacists have used this same strategy to re-frame material from the Library of Congress archive of WPA recordings with freed, former slaves to make their argument that slavery was “sanitary and humane” rather than the brutal and de-humanizing institution it was, in fact. Lifted out of context and re-posted on a white supremacist website, the oral history of slavery becomes part of an arsenal of web savvy white supremacists. In McDuffee’s case, text he authored critical of Israel – but not intended as antisemitic – ends up re-posted on a white supremacist forum to further their antisemitic agenda. On the web, as in print publishing, context and authorship matter; but, unlike printed-media, the copy/paste technology of the web makes the migration of ideas from one context and author to another several orders of magnitude easier.
Then, McDuffee’s story gets even more interesting. He writes:
Now, upon further research, I learned that Kalki666 was surfing and posting from an IP address registered to Wheaton College (IL)–a conservative, Evangelical Christian college. [And...] I’m writing to Dr. Duane Liftin, the President of Wheaton College. He should be made aware of the types of activities that are occurring on the Wheaton College IP address. If it’s an employee, I’m sure this violates the usage policy of the College. If it’s a student, well I suppose this opens a whole host of other issues.
I’m also going to bring it to the attention of WordPress, where the blog is hosted. While the post that I’ve described here probably does not violate their usage policy, I’m certain that I saw several others that do–ones that, in my mind anyway, provoke violence. To me, this is the difference between free speech and injuring speech that ought be censored. As a journalist, I take this issue very seriously and, again, I think this deserves its own post where I will elaborate in the next few days.
So, while the form of this digital-era white supremacy is thoroughly web-based, so is the response. First, McDuffee identifies the IP address (the unique identifier for each computer) and locates it geographically and institutionally to a suburban Chicago college. He then uses email to contact the president of the college and the software company that runs the blog software. McDuffee smartly invokes the “usage policy” (sometimes called “TOS” for “Terms of Service”) in place at the college. Indeed, most institutions, software platforms, and Internet Service Providers (the company that provides your Internet service) have some sort of TOS that prohibits explicitly racist / antisemitic language that encites hatred or violence. I’m often asked if fighting cyber racism isn’t “impossible” because of “free speech protection” – and the answer is no, it’s not impossible. This sort of hate speech over the Internet is a “TOS” issue, not a free speech issue. However, enforcement of these policies is almost entirely left up to individuals – like McDuffee – to pursue the issue and demand action.
Furthermore, McDuffee deftly uses his blog to document and post the responses from the college president, the blogging software and from the white supremacist in question. McDuffee was understandably horrified by this turn of events, and he was tenacious in his quest for a just resolution. And, his efforts paid off. Within 48-60 hours (approximately 2 days) of the initial discovery, McDuffee posted this:
UPDATE #9: Wheaton College President Duane Litfin emails me (July 17 1:44pm)
The culprit has been found and escorted off campus. More details to follow shortly.
As it turned out, the culprit was neither a student, nor an employee of the college, but was an interloper who had accessed one of several free-to-the-public computers in the college library. He was identified as Merrill Sech, 38, of Westmont, IL. When the campus police and a local Wheaton police confronted him on the college campus to escort him off campus and issue a do not return letter because he violated their computing policy, he assaulted the officers. So, Sech was arrested. According to McDuffee’s FOIA request, Sech also has a history of other criminal offenses and is currently in DuPage County Jail. For more info, there’s also this podcast about the incident. According to McDuffee, the story is still unfolding in various ways, so you’ll want to check his Governmentality blog (or follow him on Twitter @allen_mcduffee) to catch all the updates.
For my purposes here, I want to highlight that in order to effectively fight cyber racism, you need people who are 1) committed to the value of racial equality, 2) web-savvy and 3) willing to take action. McDuffee embodies all these qualities as an individual. On what might be called the structural side, you need laws and policies in place that regard hate speech as unacceptable (as the college did in this case), and officials that are willing to take action against these sorts of violations (as the college president, campus and local police did).
McDuffee’s encounter with this white supremacist illustrates several of the points that I make in Cyber Racism, chiefly that the threat from white supremacy online is less a threat of “recruiting” and more a threat to ideas and values of racial equality. McDuffee’s encounter also illustrates that the political struggle for racial equality is one that requires us to be committed, web-savvy and willing to take action and demand a response from institutions and organizations that may be unwitting perpetrators of white supremacy.