Not So Post-Racial After All

So, while white liberals like Chris Matthews blather on about how post-racial we all are now with a black president, other folks are not so post-racial after all.  Allen McDuffee sent me this disturbing image circulating via a Facebook group dedicated to denigrating Haitians and the earthquake relief effort.  While it appears that Facebook has pulled the group once already for violating the Terms of Service (TOS), the group is back and loudly proclaiming its alleged protection under the First Amendment and threatening to contact the ACLU to defend it.

There is no constitutionally protecting right to have a racist group on Facebook.   And, given the threat to the president implied by the image linked above, I’m surprised that those who are generating such an image are not under investigation by the Secret Service.

As I’ve said here before, it’s certainly possible to disagree with the policies of President Obama and not be a racist, there is something about linking the threat to Obama with the vitriolic hatred of Haitian people which suggests not only a criticism of Obama’s presidency, or lack of empathy for earthquake victims but a deep well of racist antipathy as well.  I guess we’re not so post-racial after all.

Matthews: I Forgot Obama was Black

MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews was attempting to be effusive in his praise of President Obama’s State of the Union Speech a few nights ago when he declared that Obama was “truly post-racial” because he “forgot that Obama was black” during the speech. Here’s a clip of Matthews’ comments (2:11):

Matthews has gone on to defend his statement, and in an interview with The Grio, Matthews said, “I thought I was saying something wonderful and positive about America.” Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic, cleverly points out the corollary, when he writes that “I just remembered Chris Matthews is white.” And, of course, that’s the point. Matthews’ perverse version of ‘colorblindness’ – in which forgetting blackness and assuming whiteness are the standards – is one in which white privilege still prevails.

College Racism — Again

Graffiti was discovered warning that on Feb. 2, 2010, the safety of black students here on campus at Hocking College would be in jeopardy

said Hocking College president Dr. Ron Erickson, as reported by the Associated Press. A follow-up note stating “kill the [n-word]” was also found. At least two African American students have permanently withdrawn from the school, and numerous others have moved off-campus.
As reported by the Associated Press, campus spokesperson Judy Sinnott said

Any time that there are young people, you know, there’s going to be tension. Young people will be young people.

Let’s just be clear: Dismissing racial violence (expressed in words or in action) as just “kids being kids” sends a dangerous and clear message of who is protected and, hence, valued at the university, and who is not.

The news coverage (such as here ) reveals striking differences in responses from white students, who thought it was overblown and just a joke, compared to responses from African American students, who reported concern for their safety. In Two-Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage (Routledge, 2007), Joe Feagin and I discuss the frequency of backstage racist joking among white college students who often dismissed it as “no big deal” as long as they didn’t get caught.

For these students in our research, racist joking was just part of the fun: There were no negative repercussions, and no connections to the larger racial hierarchy. A hostile racial climate could absolutely account for the ambivalent reaction by some white students at Hocking College.

The threats at Hocking College are absolutely a way of instilling fear. Whether or not the threats are carried out, it has already achieved the consequences desired by the person(s) who wrote the threat. The African American students likely did not withdraw simply due to fear of this isolated event, but we can speculate about a hostile racial climate on this campus, and sadly, on many college campuses across the country.American

“All-American” Basketball League? All White?

Last week a former wrestling promoter named Don “Moose” Lewis announced his intention to start up a new basketball league called the “All-American Basketball Alliance,” or AABA. In this league only U.S. born players of Caucasian parents would be allowed to play and coach. The proposal was for teams in 12 cities across the southeast, with its headquarters in Atlanta (See here and here )
News of this proposal first appeared last week in the Augusta Chronicle in which Lewis was interviewed. Since then the story has received little attention from news outlets, especially “major” outlets like CNN. Of those who have covered the story, many say that people like Lewis are ridiculous and/or silly, even to the point where one has assumed it must be a hoax? Perhaps it was, but if so, why would Lewis choose this topic? Is he trying to spark a conversation on the issue?

During his interview with the Chronicle, Lewis made the following comment as to whether he thought such a league would be racist:

There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing. I don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like.

This comment underscores the point that even when racists engage in overtly racist acts, they refuse to call it racist (Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists). However, I’m interested not so much in Lewis’ comments or the league itself (which probably won’t see the light of day) but the response to the issues Lewis has raised, especially by white Americans. I have yet to see a more developed critique of this line of thinking, such as that from Charles Barkley (from here):

It’s just blatantly racist if you look at the code words used. I don’t take it seriously, but it just lets you know there’s blatant racism out there. It lets you know, as a black man, there are people out there who don’t like you.

Barkley’s reference to “code words” is right on point. The title of the proposed league is a good place to start, and something that one still hears every now and again; i.e., that “American” is synonymous with “white.” Second, Lewis talks about starting such a league because people yearn for “fundamentals” basketball and an alternative to “street” ball, which he argues has taken over the NBA. The notion that black players don’t play with “fundamentals,” while insinuating that white players do, is rooted in the white racial frame that whites are inherently rational and blacks are incapable of “civilized” activity. This frame of thinking continues with the proposed league limiting the amount of tattoos players have. Considering that tattoos have become almost blasé in today’s society, only those worn by African Americans get criticized. Finally, Lewis made reference to unique examples like the recent incident involving Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittendon bringing guns into the team locker room as emblematic of why he feels a need for a new league. This is a classic ecological fallacy in which an exception is used to categorize the entire group.

My concern is our inability to acknowledge just how much support there is out there for Lewis’ opinions, if not for such a league. Perhaps if this was indeed a hoax, the dialogue could be revealing. The white racial frame places a filter over our eyes that affects the way we see things. For example, it is common to hear comments of how a black player is naturally gifted while focusing on the “fundamentals” of a good white player, and how he’s intelligent. Meanwhile, this frame affects our discourse, such as using animal imagery when describing players’ performances, including phrases like “beast on the boards” or calling linemen’s hands “paws” when they knock down balls at the line of scrimmage…do you hear such terminology used for white players?

A Harris Interactive poll taken last year found that pro basketball has declined considerably in popularity . Is this due to white racism? The percentage of black players has actually remained steady over the years (though the NBA has increased its number of international players significantly), so is it something more specific than color of the players on the court?

We Need a Revolution! The Weakened State of Black Solidarity

This past weekend, I was in need of some invigorating stimulus that did not include research, reading, writing, or any other academic venue that I normally enjoy to partake in as a form of higher enlightenment. I needed an escape from the term “seriousness.” Therefore, I took my best friend up on a one hour drive for a meat and potato dinner and then some fun at a riverboat casino. I am not a real gambler. This fact is easily surmised when one discovers that I have always had a $50 dollar limit when gambling. But I needed something different this particular weekend. Observing the array of people always seems to be more enjoyable to me then the thrill of decide to either hit or stay as I play Blackjack or allow my silly side to indulge and attempt to do my best Passenger 57 (Wesley Snipes, 1992) imitation and “Always bet on black” at the roulette table.

This particular night I was down to my last $5 bucks after losing the rest on a game I had no idea what I was doing. So I decided to finish the night by blowing the remaining $5 dollars at Blackjack. As I looked around, I noticed all the tables were full except one. It was a table consumed with one Black male and three Black females who seemed to be within my age range. Before walking over, I noticed there were actually two seats open. My visual observations noticed onlookers who were constantly maneuvering their chips within their hands nervously. It was apparent to me that they all seemed to have a desire to play at the only open table in the busy casino, but their eyes signaled to me a caution to avoid the loud, laughing, and at times cursing gamblers already present. I had no fear and had seen worse public behavior, so I sat down next to one of the females. My first and possibly only hand had been dealt 13 and the dealer had a 3 face card. I was about to ask the overly heaving busty woman within a ridiculously tight outfit to “hit” me. But just before my shaky hand was about to signal the dealer, the woman next to me said, “Honey don’t do that. Just stay.” I could tell in her eyes she was serious and quite concerned, so I then told the dealer I was staying at 13. Soon the dealer had busted. I won! I was excited and thanked my chair coach graciously. She later went on to advice me for the next 30 minutes. Due to her efforts it was possible for me to win all of my money back plus $40 dollars. I knew I was lucky, and decided it was time to do my best Kenny Rogers, by walking away and counting my money. Just before I left the table, I gave my new buddy a hug and then proceeded to say, “Thank you sista.” The others at the table began to laugh and in a way mocked me and kept repeating, “Your sista”?

Later in the car on the way home, the event made me think. Why was that gesture so foreign and funny? Was I somehow socially disconnected from them? As I pondered today, I came to the conclusion that possibly there were the ones disconnected. Why? Well, I argue that there has been a steady bleeding of the Black collective identity within the U.S. since the Black Power and Black is Beautiful era ended.

I am conscious of the fact that Blacks in America have never had total and mutual solidarity across all avenues of possible social and economic differences throughout history. But what was present at the height of solidarity within the late 50s, 60s, and 70s has declined. The muscle of solidarity that was once bulging has begun to undergo uremic myopathy. Mabogo More argues in Black Solidarity: A Philosophical Defense (2009) that Black solidarity and identity has been the response and “rallying call” for liberation against racial injustice.

In fact, Kevin Cokley and Collette Chapman note that the marginalization and oppressive measures that have targeted Blacks in the past resulted in periodic bolstering of Black collective racial identity and solidarity . Simply, Blacks have not had an opportunity to rejuvenate our collective bond as a historically oppressed people due to the fact that there seems to be no viable issue to bring us together. If this is true, the argument is conceivable. I argue that the covert manner in which the White racial frame operates today, has pulled the biggest trick on the on looking crowd as it has made what was so concretely seen disappear into thin air.

The French poet Baudelaire noted that “la plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas!” Simply translated, he was saying that “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” The illusion of people of color in prestigious positions in government, major corporations, medical fields have shown us that the chains that once stopped out feet from moving toward the brace ring of success have been cracked.

The media has helped to convince us as well that racism and oppression no longer loom their ugly heads to the country. When people do speak out against oppression or racism, cable television stations such as Fox and CNN bring on other people of color to discard these social anarchists. A day later, the topic has then faded into the night to never be revisited. Raphael Cohen-Almagor in The Limits of Objective Reporting (2008) concluded that in many cases the media does not display objective reporting either because they choose to be or are being manipulated by their sources.

The sense of “we” that was once present can only occur again once we as Blacks again align ourselves by pulling the blinds that have been placed upon our eyes in order to see the exclusion that is occurring within our public schools, universities, public policies, government, and etc. And once this occurs, we must promise each other to never forget the collective identity and shared pains that allows me to feel engulfed with joy when I call another my brother or sister.

Problems in “Honorary White” Notions for Asian Americans?

There is a lot of discussion these days about “middle groups” of Asian Americans and Latinos being or becoming white as the country gets less and less white, and speculating about whether they will inflate the white group versus black Americans, who will remain at the bottom of the racial ladder and hierarchy with a few other darker skinned folks. This makes significant assumptions about Asian Americans, both collectively and as subgroups. Today, I was reading a provocative paper (“Critical Thoughts on Asian American Assimilation in the Whitening Literature”) by sociologist Nadia Kim, which is one of the very good places you can find a serious challenge to this “honorary whites” discussion of Asian Americans. I encourage you to take a look at her entire paper , but here are two concluding paragraphs:

Concerning the fate of the American racial landscape, this essay challenged the increasingly accepted sociological forecast that Asian Americans (and Latinos) are whitening or aligning with whites in a new black/non-black divide…. these studies do not incorporate the dimensions along which Asian Americans’ racial status depends, namely hierarchies of citizenship within a context of global inequalities (i.e., U.S.-Asian relations). As such, scholars need to address both the limits and dangers of Asian Americans’ high social class status and an American national identity as a cornerstone of whiteness. Methodologically, this essay questioned why the racial assimilation literature does not engage the qualitative and quantitative studies that directly investigate issues of racialized citizenship.

In her paper she questions the meanings put on certain data:

…. the data presented here problematized and contextualized three major predicates of the thesis on Asian Americans’ racial mobility: high socioeconomic status, high rates of intermarriage with whites and racial attitudes and ideology. Taken together, these arguments yield to a larger and more pressing point: the need to consider how white- American dominance has been secured for about 400 years by exercising racial power over all non-whites. Of the racial assimilation studies on Asian Americans, Bonilla-Silva (2002) and Gans (1999) acknowledge this larger project of racial hegemony. Both contend that lighter-skinned and higher class Asian Americans could, respectively, join an honorary white and residual category (while darker-skinned, lower income Asian ethnics would “blacken”). These “middle” Asian ethnics would thereby shore up white racial dominance by being politically palatable and serving as a buffer for black counter-movements, a purpose which “in between” groups have often served.

While these studies should be applauded for their claims about tripartite models, they need also investigate, and act on, the specificity of Asian-American racialization – to take seriously the denial of social citizenship to Asian groups on a racial basis and to capture how it is linked to anti-black subordination and the racial system writ large. In other words, Asian and black Americans have been played off of one another, respectively, as “harder working than blacks” and “more American than Asians” and, at different points in time, “more like those blacks” (“Filipino brown brothers”) and “more like us.”

A key point implicit here is that whites – elite whites — in key US institutions run the show, including the racial hierarchy and the system of racial oppression. These whites control the oppression of Asian Americans in society, and the latter as white-imaged, as “foreign,” “unassimilable,” “nerdy-strange,” and/or “exotic,” are a long way from really being “white” in the persisting white racial frame in white minds, or the white-controlled racial hierarchy it rationalizes. Indeed, what one thing I take from Kim’s essay is that asking if they are becoming “honorary whites” often buys into the white-constructed “model minority” notions that are important in that white racial frame. Indeed, that is the wrong question.

A White Supremacist Century: Supreme Court as White Oligarchical Power

The recent Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission, which essentially forbids any restrictions on corporate financing of political candidates, has garnered much media attention this past week. Ostensibly, the ruling extends ridiculous precedents granting corporations status as persons and endowing them with accordant rights. Liberal commentators and politicians have rightly expressed outrage at the serious threat Citizens United poses to the last vestiges of American democracy. Most of the outrage has been on one or more of several grounds: Marxist/class-based, partisan, and/or politico-structural (i.e. how laws and the structure of federal and state governments will change as a consequence of corporate influence). Too little analysis has focused explicitly on the racial causes and implications of the ruling.

I believe the timing of this ruling is an intentional effort by white [male] elites to restore whites’ structural political advantages. For whites, Obama’s election and Latinos’ increased voting power threaten whites’ historical dominance. The ruling is designed to immediately weaken the currently ascendant political coalition of people of color and liberal whites. It is also sets the social, political, and economic conditions for whites to continue racial domination after they cease to be the numerical and electoral majority in the United States.

MSNBC noted the irony of the Supreme Courts’ ruling, which greatly empowers banks and other large financial institutions, coming down within hours of President Obama announcing proposals to reestablish limits on the nation’s largest banks. On its face, the timing of events appears to be either oddly coincidental or, more likely, the first shots in a war between two ruling sectors in the United States—the state and the capital class. But from a critical racial perspective, the Supreme Court ruling smacks of racism. Over the past three years, much was made about Obama’s ability to raise money through non-corporate vehicles. To be sure, he received much corporate support, but the rhetoric surrounding his campaign was a populist one, and the campaign greatly benefitted from “small” contributions from “regular people.” For the first time in many cycles, the Democratic candidate had a significant financial advantage over his Republican rivals. Obama effectively used that financial advantage to exhaust the resources of the McCain campaign. The Democrats held vulnerable territories without much challenge (e.g. Michigan) and won Republican-trending states (e.g. North Carolina and Virginia) via sustained (and expensive) media and grassroots efforts. This change in presidential campaign norms was all the more stunning given that it was done by the first Black candidate to lead the ticket of a major party.

Sociological research indicates that dominant groups (e.g. white policy-makers and Supreme Court justices) respond to threats (i.e. a Black man becoming chief executive) by using state institutions to weaken the threat and strengthen the dominant group. (See the introduction to the second edition of McAdam’s Political Process and the Black Insurgency, 1930-1970, for one of many examples.) The research seems to be especially applicable in this case. If Obama’s political strength comes, at least in part, from his advantage in non-corporate funding, allowing corporations to spend infinite dollars in support of oppositional candidates diffuses Obama as a political threat and greatly strengthens his opposition.

The racial elements are clear. Most obviously, as the first Black president, Obama represents a racialized threat to white power generally. (See Harvey-Winfield and Feagin 2009 for whites’ fears that Obama would serve Blacks’ economic and political interests.) Secondly, the Republican Party, which is the only electorally significant opposition to Obama and the Democrats, is increasingly a white, male party. Empowering corporations to financially prop up the shrinking party of, for, and by white men is an attempt to counter emerging electoral trends (e.g. the majority of each minority group voting for Obama and Democrats; the shrinking percentage of the voting population that is white and male) and promote white privilege. As the only branch of the federal government currently under direct control of white men, the Supreme Court is the best, if not only, tool available to immediately effect whites’ racial politics. That Republicans and big business have long been bed fellows only makes the Supreme Court’s strategy of “freeing” corporate funds a more certain path for achieving white elites’ racist goals. The potential of a split in the capitalist class (i.e. capitalists funding both parties equally) is precluded by the strong overlaps between whiteness, corporate leadership, and the Republican Party.

In short, the timing of the ruling seems to be obviously racially motivated. Democrats have ruled before, but the combination of Black and Brown leadership, increased Black and Brown voting activity, decreased white voting potential, and sufficient non-corporate funding pools for campaigns was a new threat to which whites were compelled to respond immediately. Whites’ desperation and determination to act now are revealed in their naked over-reaching in the case at hand. Section I of the official “syllabus” (i.e. summary of the case, written by the Reporter of Decisions) of United Citizens details the convoluted logic the Court used to justify both acting immediately and overreaching. The Court is explicit in arguing that they wanted to remove the restrictions on corporate funding before upcoming elections and that they wanted to ensure national impact. In the Syllabus, the Court’s political agenda is in the guise of protection of the First Amendment, but I have articulated reasons to believe the agenda is largely racial.

In my view, the Court’s ruling sets the stage for whites to continue their racist dominance after they lose majority status. Whites’ unjust enrichment (Feagin 2000) gives them a host of weapons with which to oppress people of color. Among the most potent of those weapons is liquid cash. Since Watergate, campaign laws have restricted corporate funding of candidates. Consequently, one of whites’ primary weapons was limited. The limitation was not crucial at the moment because 90 percent of the electorate was white (as of 1980). Therefore, whites’ control of government was unthreatened. However, the decrease in whites’ percentage of the electorate (now under 70%) places their continued electoral dominance in question.

The writing is on the wall for whites’ numerical majority. By and large, most Americans assume a one-to-one relationship between racial demographics and politico-economic dominance. I am constantly impressed by the consistency of undergraduates’ responses to demographic data. Often Latinos are encouraged and empowered by the data. In each of my research projects interviewing Latino students, almost all view their racial/ethnic group as the future dominant group in the U.S. In their version of the cohort effect, racism will “die out” as Latinos replace whites at the heads of major political and economic institutions. Whites usually respond with similar assumptions that their racial and social dominance depends entirely on their numbers. As their relative population falls, so too will their power (and vulnerability to charges of racism). Scholars vary on their takes, but some have adopted a tripartite model in which whites will continue to dominate by extending whiteness to include more groups and bestowing “honorary whiteness” on other groups. These two groups would then derive privileges by oppressing “collective Blacks” (e.g. African-descended peoples, Native Americans, and Southeast Asians).

I respond to all of these assumptions with my own prediction that whites’ primary strategy will be oligarchic in nature. Whites’ dominance of political, social, and economic institutions will far outlast their numerical majority. Whites will use their current majority to construct institutions in a way that ensures they can keep control even without majority status. From these powerful social locations, whites can continue to generate and reproduce a racial structure very similar to the contemporary one. White school boards and a disproportionately white academy will still control the content of education; white executives will still use formal and informal methods to reproduce economic inequality; whites will still have vested interests in segregated neighborhoods; whites will still use wars and other coercive tactics to exploit people of color’s land and labor. Just as the 13th amendment did not end slavery in practice, whites’ fall to plurality status will not change the racial status quo. Demographic majority status is not the basis of racial domination. Access to institutional power, material resources, and control of discourse are. Unleashing white executives to spend corporate dollars as they choose only serves to cement white people and white ideology at the levers of power in America.

So then, the Supreme Court’s decision has clear structural impacts that promote white supremacy for the foreseeable future. White executives will use corporate dollars to put in place laws, ideologies, and individuals to sustain the white supremacist status quo. These structural moves, however, will still take place in public arenas (e.g. elections, mass media). Consequently, whites will need justifications for taking their actions. They will have to convince the public to vote for their candidates and accept occasional visible legal changes. With these goals, white corporate executives will buy lots of ads and command much attention. What worries me is the probable content of those ads. American history teaches us that whites often use African Americans and other people of color as threats and scapegoats to justify oppression. Recently, the “welfare queen,” “crack baby,” and “Latin drug lord” were powerful images in the 1980s and 1990s that whites used to dismantle the social safety net for everyone. Whites have used images of hypersexual people of color (of all stripes) to justify everything from segregating “dangerous” Asian “sexual predators” to castrating and sterilizing Black men and women involuntarily (see Dorothy Roberts’ Killing the Black Body). Each of these projects, and innumerable others, served white elites’ corporate interests and were popularized via corporate actions and financial contributions. Whites are not finished with this type of business. Corporations will undoubtedly turn up the heat again and aggressively use racist imagery to motivate [white] masses to support corporate ends.

As people interested in racial justice, we must quickly consider how we can act now to address the serious racial threats white elites launched via the Supreme Court. Despite the electoral successes of 2008 and people of color’s growing electoral strength, we may currently be at the peak of our power to resist. With each passing day, whites are plotting ways to mobilize and use their considerable economic resources to reshape the government, influence our views, and frustrate all organized resistance efforts. Very soon, they will begin implementing those plans in earnest. Then we will have a very tough fight on our hands, indeed!

Judge to FDNY: ‘Pattern, Practice and Policy of Intentional Discrimination’

First, let me begin with a personal note about the FDNY.    I was in New York City when the terrorist attacks occurred on 9/11.  I was grateful on that day that my loved ones came home that day from working in lower Manhattan, shaken but not physically harmed.  I was so moved by the heroism, and devastating loss, to the FDNY (343 died) on that day — and so befuddled about what to do in the face of that overwhelming tragedy — that one of the things I did was what my people do when someone dies:  I cooked and delivered food.  Specifically, I cooked a huge batch of fried chicken and walked it over to the firehouse nearest my apartment.   I say that to let readers know that I have a tremendous respect for the day-to-day heroism of firefighters and the work that they do.  And, yet, in watching all those funerals for firefighters after 9/11 it was impossible not to notice how overwhelmingly white and male the FDNY remains.    The racial composition of the fire department is no accident.

A judge in New York ruled that the FDNY had engaged in a deliberate “pattern, practice, and policy of intentional discrimination.” Back in July, 2009, Judge Garaufis  ruled that the FDNY used a test in 1999 and 2002 that had a discriminatory effect on black applicants.   In his ruling on Wednesday, January 13, 2010,  the judge found that the city intentionally discriminated against blacks in using those tests and in ignoring calls over the years to change the testing procedure. The suit was brought by three people who took the test and by the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black city firefighters.

E 280 Gear racks

Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: MAG Photography Studio (Marc-Anthony G.)

Legal experts said the decision was the first in recent memory in which a court had found that the city had intentionally discriminated against a large group of people in the workplace.  There is also evidence that those at the highest levels in city government, including (former) Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scopetta and Mayor Bloomberg, were aware of this “pattern, practice and policy of discrimination” at the FDNY and did nothing to stop it, although the judge’s ruling stopped just short of holding them legally responsible.   However, the judge did write that he found strong evidence to suggest that they were made aware numerous times that the Fire Department’s entrance exams were discriminatory, yet failed to take sufficient remedial action. Mayor Bloomberg testified at a deposition in August that he “did not recall” receiving a report more than six years ago warning him about sharp differences in the pass rates between white and minority candidates for firefighter jobs.  Part of what is so remarkable about this decision is that it is one of the few court decisions in recent memory that finds there was racially discriminatory intent, rather than simply a disparate-impact.

The New York Times article quotes Paul Washington, 48, a firefighter in Brooklyn and a former Vulcan Society president, who said that the ruling validated “what we’ve been saying for the longest time, and which I’ve been saying since 1999 — that the Fire Department discriminates, intentionally, and they just continue to do it.” Washington says he believes that over the department’s 145-year history, there were probably “thousands of thousands of black men and women who should have had this job and didn’t get it.”

Washington’s comment in the NYTimes highlights gender discrimination, not addressed by this court decision.  Make no mistake, the FDNY has also systematically and intentionally discriminated against women over its 145-year history.  The story of Brenda Berkman  illustrates how difficult it is even for women with white skin privilege who still face gender discrimination.   Berkman is a white woman who sued the FDNY and eventually became a Captain in the Fire Department,  There is an excellent documentary by Bann Roy about Berkman, called “Taking the Heat.” The film also touches on the struggle of black firefighters and includes some interviews with members of the Vulcan Society.

Federal Judge Garaufis struck a blow for racial equality with this decision, but the FDNY has a long way to go before it will be an equitable organization in practice.   Until that time, the kind of excessive valorization of firefighters that goes on – perhaps especially in this city – will always be a bit tempered for me by the knowledge that this particular form of on-the-job heroism is only available to a few, white men.

Racial Bias Affects Perceptions of Victims’ Need

Researchers at Kansas State University have found that racial bias affects people’s perceptions of those in need. Researchers Donald Saucier, associate professor of psychology, and psychology graduate students Sara Smith, Topeka, and Jessica McManus, Maineville, Ohio, surveyed undergraduate students a year after Hurricane Katrina to examine their perceptions of the hurricane victims and the helping response. Here’s a brief recap of the study from Science Daily:

The researchers created a questionnaire that evaluated the participants’ perceptions of Hurricane Katrina victims. The questionnaire evaluated whom the participants perceived to be the victims based on measures like gender, race and socioeconomic status. The results showed that participants generally thought people impacted by Hurricane Katrina were black and lower class.

“What we wanted to do was see how perceptions of victims of Hurricane Katrina would interact with things like racism,” Saucier said. “We wanted to look at how much the participants felt that the victims may have been to blame for their own situation in Katrina.”

The researchers measured differences in the participants, including their levels of conservatism, empathy and racism. The findings showed that when recalling victims of Hurricane Katrina, participants who were less racist thought the victims did not receive adequate help from the government. Participants who were more racist thought the victims received adequate government assistance and were at fault for their situation. The survey also asked questions that measured whether the participants thought the victims had enough time to evacuate and whether they had enough resources to get out before the hurricane hit.

“We asked the participants to make personality attributions about individuals, such as whether they thought the victims were lazy, stupid, sinful or unlucky,” Saucier said. “If they said they were lazy, stupid or sinful, they were putting more blame on the victims for the situation. If they said they were unlucky, they took away the blame.”

The results of the study showed that when recalling victims of Hurricane Katrina, participants who were less racist thought the victims did not receive adequate help from the government. Participants who were more racist thought the victims received adequate government assistance and were at fault for their situation.

Their findings are not surprising but disturbing nonetheless given the continued harrowing news out of Haiti. Recent news from Democracy Now confirms what I anticipated last week, namely that racism is hindering relief efforts in Port-au-Prince.

Once Again, Women – Especially Black Women – Are to Blame

How many readers remember the Moynihan Report, the shorthand title for The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” written by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965?  Supposedly, the rationale for the report was to draw attention to the need for social policies and programs that would address the many problems faced by Black families, especially single-parent, female-headed Black families, in the United States.  Regardless of the intent, the Moynihan Report soon became one of the most frequently cited sources to support the argument that the problems facing Black, single-parent, female-headed families – e.g., disproportionately high rates of poverty, crime, illness, substance abuse, “illegitimate” births – were not the products of racism, but were actually caused by Black women themselves: by their strength, their independence, their emasculation of Black men. In subsequent years, the “myth of the Black matriarchy” was refuted by sound empirical research, but such myths, it seems, die hard, and it appears that this one has been resurrected recently, albeit in somewhat different form.


I am referring to the substantial media coverage recently of “the successful, but lonely Black single woman.” As one recent Washington Post article put it, there is now a large group of young Black women who seem to “have it all” – good jobs, high incomes, nice homes and cars and clothes – but they’re lonely; they don’t have a man or the prospect of marrying anytime soon. It turns out, according to a report released today by the Pew Research Center, that young, successful White women are experiencing the same relationship troubles.  Among Americans aged 30-44 years old, women are more likely than men to have a college degree.  They are also less likely to have lost their jobs in the recent economic recession; men held about 3 out of every 4 jobs that were lost. These changes are producing a “role reversal,” according to the Pew report, that is “profoundly affecting the marriage pool.” While the Pew report, which analyzes recent Census data, shows that the education and income gap by gender is greater for Blacks than for Whites, the focus of many media stories it seems to me is a new twist on the notion of the Black matriarchy.

Creative Commons License photo credit: craigfinlay

In a recent ABC News Nightline segment, for example, it was reported that the number of never-married Black women is about double the number of never-married White women. The segment mentions various reasons for this difference, including the smaller number of “marriageable” Black men due to higher mortality, incarceration, and unemployment rates. But the segment focuses primarily on Black women. Several young, successful Black women were interviewed about their intimate relationships and what they desire in men they date. The women come across as strong and independent – and as wanting too much. “Relationship guru” Steve Harvey is also interviewed and he makes it fairly clear that these women have unrealistic expectations. He is shown advising the women to adjust their goals by, for instance, dating older Black men.


The Washington Post article I mentioned previously is even more explicit. It features Helena Andrews, author of Bitch is the New Black, a collection of satirical essays about young, successful Black women in Washington, DC.  Andrews and her friends, according to the article, pride themselves on being “mean girls,” especially when it comes to meeting and dating men. But their “bitchiness” is just a mask; in their public presentations of self they convey a “don’t mess with me” attitude, but beneath this veneer is a well of loneliness and, it appears, it’s all their own fault. What do they expect?  Instead of exploring with men – men of all races – why perhaps strong, independent women might be threatening to their masculinity and why this is their problem not the women’s problem, the implication of these and other similar stories is what man would want a woman like this? According to the Pew Research Center study, women’s educational and occupational successes in recent years mean that men benefit more from the economic gains of marriage than women do; in 1965, when the Moynihan Report was issued, the reverse was true.  So why aren’t we applauding young, successful Black women for their achievements instead of blaming them for lower marriage rates? Why are we ignoring the fact that young, successful White women are also reporting difficulties finding compatible marriage partners? And why aren’t we analyzing why men cannot let go of norms of hegemonic masculinity and why they find successful, strong, and independent women intimidating?  Sexism and racism are alive and well.