What Would You Do? Racism in Public Surveillance

The ABC news magazine show 20/20 features a regular feature (and erstwhile show) called “What Would You Do?” that poses ethical dilemmas and then films them using a hidden camera. This one highlights the stark differences in the way white and African American adolescents are treated in a public park in the northeastern part of the U.S. (Ridgewood, NJ). This seems like a clear case of racism in public surveillance, but watch for yourself and decide. The video is long for digital video at 6:43, but worth watching all the way through:

In this clip, three white youths who are actively engaged in overt acts of vandalism in broad daylight are barely given any notice. After literally hours of engaging in this clearly illegal behavior, someone finally calls the police. Yet, three African American youths – whose only offense seems to be sleeping while black – have the police called on them, not once but twice.

This social experiment illustrates the way that people who would never identify as ‘racists’ (or even ‘white nationalists’) see the world through a white racial frame. Looking through this frame, the white vandals are given the benefit of the doubt (e.g., “Is that your car?”) while the young black men, even while asleep, are regarded with suspicion (e.g., “They look like they’re getting ready to rob someone.”)

Really people, we’ve got to do better than this as a culture. This video and the recent discussion in comments on a previous post about anti-racism makes me think that the time is right for some enterprising DIY-videographer with a commitment to racial justice to start actively shooting digital video like this one to highlight racial inequality. That’s one way we could do better as a culture.

Cree folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie’s New Album

Over at dailykos.com blog Meteor Blades has a nice commentary on the new album of Cree Indian folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie, accompanied on a long tour by a 5-piece all-Aboriginal band.running-for-the-drum (Photo: Her Website)

One song in which includes these critical words on U.S. capitalism and racism:

Ol Columbus he was lookin good
When he got lost in our neighborhood
Garden of Eden right before his eyes
Now it’s all spyware Now it’s all income tax

Ol Brother Midas lookin hungry today
What he can’t buy he’ll get some other way
Send in the troopers if the Natives resist
Same old story, boys; that’s how ya do it , boys

Here is her interesting website.

Anti-Racism Rally in Glasgow: Why Not More in the U.S. ?

Hundreds marched in Glasgow, Scotland yesterday in a rally (opens short video, 1:17) to call for an end racism.   According to this report, the march and rally were organized to remind people of the dangers of allowing prejudice and discrimination to go unchallenged, and was organized by the STUC, a labor union.   Reading the news about this anti-racism rally in Glasgow got me wondering, why aren’t there more of these in the U.S.?  While I recognize that a rally is not the same thing as a social movement, but it is noteworthy that the only time there’s an anti-racism rally here, it’s in response to a KKK (or other white racist group) rally, and there’s not a sustained anti-racist movement in the U.S.

There’s some recent research by sociologists Jill McCorkel and Jason Rodriguez that may shed some light on this question (recently highlighted in Contexts).   McCorkel and Rodriguez explored the experience of those who participate in movements dominated by people of other races, specifically, they used multi-year participant observation to study how white people become accepted in civil rights organizations dominated by African Americans (e.g., “pro-black” abolitionism and “conscious” hip hop). They found that white people are rarely recruited into such organizations and, when a white person seeks membership, they’re often relegated to “supporter” roles rather than given full membership. In order to move into the core of the movement, white people had to prove their “realness”— that is, their commitment to political struggle. But regardless of their efforts to “fit-in,” white ­participants in black social movements never could become full members. (You can read the entire article in the journal Social Problems, March 2009).

While McCorkel and Rodriguez’s research is focused more on the challenges that an influx of progressive, anti-racist whites posed to two racially progressive movements, their research also suggests a few speculative explanations for why there’s not a robust anti-racist movement in the U.S.  First, it suggests that whites are rarely seen as natural allies by people leading organizations focused on racial equality.  Further, it suggests that anti-racist whites are not organizing among themselves to form a movement against racism, but rather are seeking out organizations dominated by African Americans.    Yet, once in those organizations, anti-racist whites must do the work of proving their “realness” to others rather than engaging work that might change structural inequality, dismantle institutional racism, or raise the consciousness of other whites.  Perhaps anti-racist whites who want to see real social change should work on doing something to change the school-to-prison pipeline, as just one example, rather than trying to get demonstrate how “real” they are.

Or, maybe like whites in Glasgow, whites here in the U.S. could organize an old-fashioned anti-racism rally.

Teaching Doctors to Recognize Racism

Racism and unconscious bias in medicine is a persistent problem in the delivery of medical care in the U.S.   Now, it seems there may be a way to use virtual simulations to teach doctors how to recognize racism.

I wrote here recently about the racism in virtual worlds that some researchers.  Other researchers at the University of Florida have been using the same technology subvert the trend toward racism among medical doctors.

Take a look at this short video (1:31) about new research using virtual worlds to teach doctors to recognize racism (sorry, no video embed available). Finally, a promising use of new technologies to address racism.

Cyber Hate Divide: Contrasting Responses to Hate Online

In the last few days, there have been two stories in the news which highlight the very different approaches to hate online in the U.S. and in the U.K.    The story from here in the U.S. involves a racist image of Michelle Obama (drawn to look like an ape).   The image first appeared online because someone posted it on their blog (the image has since been removed from the blog).  Once the image was online, it quickly appeared at the top of Google’s results when anyone did a Google-image search for “Michelle Obama.”   Whether or not this was a result of a “Google bomb” (an intentional manipulation of Google’s algorithm) or just a fluke, remains the subject of some debate.   Those on the right in the U.S., such as FoxNews, are pointing out that this Google bomb was quickly diffused, unlike Bush’s Google bomb.  For it’s part, Google (the leading search engine company based in California), bought ads warning users about “offensive results” and apologized, yet still claims no responsibility for the images appearing in Google search results.

Mostly, though, opinion in the U.S. about this incident follow along the line of this piece in the AtlanticOnline (a mainstream to left publication).  Derek Thompson writes:

The Internet is unwieldy boundlessness of content, some of which is utterly depraved. But that’s to be expected when you’re talking about the sum of all knowledge and information in the world. Racist images aren’t illegal. And researching examples of racism online isn’t only legal, it’s can also be useful for journalists, social academics and anybody trying to piece together fragments of the zeitgeist. Google isn’t the editor in chief of the internet, it’s a curator. It’s job is to organize and I hope it doesn’t delete or de-index content just because it’s offensive — and especially not because it’s offensive to important people.

And, Thompson is correct in his assessment of the U.S. landscape around these issues.  The bind, of course, is in the line I’ve highlighted in bold there above: Racist images aren’t illegal here in the U.S.  This one fact makes taking other sorts of action difficult, but not impossible.  And, the reason these images are not illegal in the U.S. is that many people here want to argue that the First Amendment, which is designed to protect dissent against the government, protects all manner of racist speech.   Or, in the line of reasoning above, the Internet simply contains too much information for it to be possible to ever regulate it.   But, the right to free speech and being indexed by the search engine Google are two different things.   As one of the commenters after that piece at the AtlanticOnline points out: being on the Internet and being indexed by Google are two different things.  No one has a constitutionally protected right to have their online content indexed by Google.

Let’s take a look at another example from the U.K.    Two men were convicted  for publishing racist hate speech, including “Tales of the Holohoax.”  These postings of online hate were reported to the police in 2004 after concerned citizens saw them.  This action is possible in the U.K. because it is against the law to incite racial hatred either in print or online.  The two men were sentenced under U.K. law to four years and two years in Leeds Crown Court in July, 2009.  The story is back in the news now because the two men are appealing their convictions saying that the websites, which were hosted on servers in the U.S., would be “entirely lawful” here.  And, they’re right.  Effectively poinitng out that the U.S. functions as a haven for hate online.

What’s still unclear is how the courts will rule in this case.

“Saygo”: A Native American Thanksgiving (from the archive)

(This is a re-post from the archive, Nov.22, 2008):

“Saygo,” a roughly anglicized version of the word for “greetings” in the Seneca and Ojibway languages, seems like an appropriate salutation for this Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. Although the holiday has been almost completely overrun by the commercial interests such as Macy’s, the christmas-industrial-complex, football and the travel industry, it’s important to remember the history behind the event. This “open letter” to Senator Dodd and the people of Connecticut from Lawrence Otway, Tribal Court Judge, Golden Hill Paugeesukq, Tribal Nation is one reminder. And, Jacqueline Keeler, a member of the Dineh Nation and the Yankton Dakota Sioux, writes powerfully about the tradition of the “First Thanksgiving”:

In stories told by the Dakota people, an evil person always keeps his or her heart in a secret place separate from the body. The hero must find that secret place and destroy the heart in order to stop the evil. I see, in the “First Thanksgiving” story, a hidden Pilgrim heart. The story of that heart is the real tale than needs to be told. What did it hold? Bigotry, hatred, greed, self-righteousness? We have seen the evil that it caused in the 350 years since. Genocide, environmental devastation, poverty, world wars, racism.

Where is the hero who will destroy that heart of evil? I believe it must be each of us. Indeed, when I give thanks this Thursday and I cook my native food, I will be thinking of this hidden heart and how my ancestors survived the evil it caused. Because if we can survive, with our ability to share and to give intact, then the evil and the good will that met that Thanksgiving day in the land of the Wampanoag will have come full circle.

And the healing can begin.

Hold a good thought today that each of us can move toward that healing vision. Peace ~

Obama Painted as a Rapist: White Conservatives



Kudos to Rachel Maddow for her story Friday night’s show (see here , beginning at about the one minute mark) about the way cons on radio and TV have referred to President Obama as a rapist. Much of this reporting was based on the research from the folks at Media Matters (see here). Also kudos to Ana Marie-Cox who rightly points out the obvious “that they’re saying this about a black man.”

For example, Michael Savage said on his radio show that

Obama is raping America. Obama is raping our values. Obama is raping our democracy.

Meanwhile, Neil Boortz said (back in June, mind you)

They’re gonna rape us. They’re gonna bend us over and nail us, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

See here (at 0:16 of the 0:49 clip) for Glen Beck’s rant in which he compares the President to Roman Polanski while “we” are the “little girl.”

Considering how utterly offensive these comments really are, I find it disturbing how little attention they have received from major news media outlets (e.g., the fact that the Boortz quote is nearly five months old now). These statements are straight out of the white racial frame, stoking the centuries-old stereotype of black men as sexual predators. This stereotype lingers on (as these statements show), despite the fact that it is WHITE MEN who are overwhelmingly guilty of interracial rape in four centuries of U.S. history.

Even worse, commentators like Chris Matthews and others continue to give these racists like Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan legitimacy by discussing their latest statements or even inviting them as regular guests on their shows. Meanwhile, they continue to drool over Sarah Palin’s book tour and discuss Lou Dobbs’ hinting at a run for the Presidency. These individuals are profiting off white supremacist fears of a truly democratic society; i.e., one in which non-whites have increased access to the privileges that whites have long enjoyed.

On Thanksgiving: Why Myths Matter


Pumkin (Photo source: Gracie)

The Myth:
The Pilgrims landed in 1620 and founded the Colony of New Plymouth. They had a difficult first winter, but survived with the help of the Indians. In the fall of 1621, the grateful Pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving Day and invited the Indians to a big Thanksgiving-Day feast replete with turkey and pumpkins.

The History:
In 1614, a band of English explorers landed in the vicinity of Massachusetts Bay. When they returned home to England, they took with them Native slaves they had captured, and left smallpox behind. By the time the Puritan pilgrims sailed the Mayflower into southern Massachusetts Bay, entire nations of New England Natives were already extinct or greatly disseminated due to disease.
There was indeed a big feast in 1621, but it was not “Thanksgiving.” It was a three-day feast described in a letter by the colonist Edward Winslow. Moreover, it was a shooting party; there was neither a “Thanksgiving Day” proclamation, nor any mention of a 1621 thanksgiving celebration in any historical record.

The history of the colony was chronicled by Governor William Bradford in his book, History of Plymouth Plantation (written circa 1650, republished in 1968 by Russell and Russell publishers). Bradford relates how the Pilgrims set up a “geoist” system (a merger of what we now understand as libertarianism and communism). The land was owned in common and could not be sold or inherited, but each family was allotted a portion, and they could keep whatever they grew on that portion. As Governor Bradford describes it, “At last after much debate of things, the governor gave way that they should set corn everyman for his own particular… That had very good success for it made all hands very industrious, so much [more] corn was planted than otherwise would have been.”
Yet, poor harvests prevailed, especially over the summer as the rains stopped. In response the Pilgrims held a “Day of Humiliation” in which they fervently prayed. The rains finally came in the fall and the harvest was saved. Many of the Pilgrims saw this as a sign that God blessed their new economic system and Governor Bradford proclaimed 29 November 1623 a “Day of Thanksgiving.”

This was the first proclamation of thanksgiving found in Bradford’s chronicles or any other historical record. Much later, this first “Day of Thanksgiving” was confused with the shooting party of 1621. Until approximately 1629, there were only about 300 Puritans living in widely scattered settlements around New England. As the numbers of Puritans grew, the question of ownership of the land became a major issue. It was clear to the new Puritans that there was no definite claim on the land because it had never been subdued, cultivated, and farmed in the European manner. The land was seen as “public domain.” This attitude met with great resistance from the original Puritans and so they were summarily excommunicated.

The excommunicated Puritans and others that wished to find new lands, decided to push further West away from the sea. Joined by British colonizers, they seized land, took Natives as slaves to work the land, and killed the rest. When they reached the Connecticut Valley around 1633, they met a different type of force. The Pequot Nation, a large and powerful nation that had not entered into any peace treaty as other New England Native nations had done. When two slave raiders were killed by resisting Natives, the Puritans demanded that the killers be turned over. The Pequot refused. What followed was the Pequot War, the bloodiest of the Native wars in the northeast. Pequot villages were attacked and Pequot were sold into slavery in the West Indies, the Azures, Spain, Algiers and England; everywhere the Puritan merchants traded. This rather forgotten aspect of the trans-Atlantic slave trade was so lucrative that boatloads of 500 at a time left the harbors of New England.

In 1641, the Dutch governor of Manhattan offered the first scalp bounty; a common practice in many European countries. This was broadened by the Puritans to include a bounty for Natives fit-to-be-sold for slavery. The Dutch and Puritans joined forces to exterminate Natives from New England. Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, the churches of Manhattan announced a “Day of Thanksgiving” to celebrate victory over the “heathen savages.” This was the second Day of Thanksgiving that was officially celebrated. It was marked by the hacking off of Native heads and kicking them through the streets of nearby Manhattan.
The killing took on frenzied tone, with days of thanksgiving held after each successful massacre. Even the relatively friendly Wampanoag did not escape. Their chief was beheaded, and his head placed on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts—where it remained for 24 years. Each town held thanksgiving days to celebrate their own victories over the Natives until it became clear that an order for these occasions was needed. It was George Washington who brought a system and a schedule to thanksgiving when he declared one day to be celebrated across the nation as what we now know as “Thanksgiving Day.” And it was Abraham Lincoln who decreed Thanksgiving Day to be a legal national holiday during the Civil War (on the same day he ordered US troops to march against the Lakota nation in Minnesota).

Why Myths Matter:
That we believe in such myths is not, in and of itself, shocking. And that the US has achieved “greatness” through criminal brutality on a grand scale is not news. These arguments have been well-rehearsed and mud-slinging for its own sake does little. This myth matters because it can serve the purposes of unethical and anti-democratic interests.
A key vehicle for taming history toward such narrow interests, remain our various patriotic holidays, with Thanksgiving at the heart of our social myth-building. From an early age, we are taught a wonderful story about the hearty Pilgrims, whose search for freedom took them from England to Massachusetts. There, aided by the friendly Indians, they survived in a new and harsh environment, leading to a harvest feast. It is a disturbingly pleasant fiction.

Since history is not stable, but open to protestation and debate, I propose we replace our social practices of remembering “Thanksgiving Day” with fasting and/or service to the homeless and hungry, done together with our families and our friends. Some indigenous people have offered such a model; since 1970 many have marked the fourth Thursday of November as a Day of Mourning in a ceremony on Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, one of the early sites of the European invasion of the Americas.

Matthew W. Hughey, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mississippi State University. His current research investigates racial identity formation, racialized organizations, and mass-media representations of race. He can be reached at MHughey@soc.msstate.edu

Thanksgiving and Racism: Link Roundup

It’s that time of year again, the U.S. celebration of gratitude and turkey and colonialism.   Whether that holiday means tryptophan and football, or trying to avoid conversations about religion and politics with the relatives, I thought that readers here might be interested in a roundup of what people are saying around the web about Thanksgiving and racism:

Robert Jensen, author of Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Light Books, 2005) has several pieces critical of this most American of holidays, each worth a look:

  • “Give Thanks No More: It’s Time for a National Day of Mourning” – a 2005 piece in which Jensen calls for an end to this holiday.
  • “Raining on the Thanksgiving Day Parade” - a follow-up to the previous piece, in which Jensen takes another tack [thanks Curmudgeon]:  “rather than mount another attack on the national mythology around Thanksgiving — a mythology that amounts to a kind of holocaust denial, and which has been critiqued for many years by many people — I want to explore why so many who understand and accept this critique still celebrate Thanksgiving, and why rejecting such celebrations sparks such controversy.” Jensen refuses to participate in the holiday gatherings at all.
  • “How I Learned to Stop Hating Thanksgiving and Be Afraid” - Jensen further reflects on his refusal to be complicit in this holiday and he writes: “In recent years I have refused to participate in Thanksgiving Day meals, even with friends and family who share this critical analysis and reject the national mythology around manifest destiny. In bowing out of those gatherings, I would often tell folks that I hated Thanksgiving. I realize now that “hate” is the wrong word to describe my emotional reaction to the holiday. I am afraid of Thanksgiving. More accurately, I am afraid of what Thanksgiving tells us about both the dominant culture and much of the alleged counterculture.”

Do you think Thanksgiving should, as Jensen suggests, become a “national day of mourning”?  Leave a comment or take our new poll (top left, under the banner).

Useful Sites for Students: The Covenant with Black America website

Since the 1980s black leaders have held several State of the Black Union overview conferences. In 2006 a document, “The Covenant with Black America,” was presented to eight thousand attendees at the seventh conference in Houston, a book-length statement of strong recommendations to policymakers that would improve the lives of African Americans. In addition to suggesting action options for African Americans with regard to issues such as renewal of voting rights legislation and boycotting discriminatory companies, these conferences have generated renewed interest in an array of political campaigns accenting issues of concern to black communities.

Subsequent black conferences have confirmed these goals, and the book version of the Covenant became a New York Times best-seller. A third book in the Covenant series is now out, and is described on the website thus:
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Accountable is the the yardstick that will determine whether we, the people—both political leaders and citizens—have lived up to the aspirations enshrined in The Covenant and operationalized in THE COVENANT In Action. It offers a pragmatic model for holding our new president and political leaders accountable for what they have promised and must deliver. It also holds us accountable both as individuals and as a community for our actions or inactions in keeping our agenda on track. Because the stakes have never been higher, Accountable teaches American citizens how to be driven by “the cause and not the candidate,” and how to sustain the new political dialogue in which “our votes cannot be separated from our voices.”

The Covenant with Black America website has some very useful interactive maps (from http://www.blackstat.com) dealing with important statistical data by state on Health, Education, Justice, Democracy, Environment, Digital Divide, and Rural America.

There is also a good link to race, poverty, and related news events.

This is a good site for students to access.