Racist Attacks on President Obama: Early and Often

A blogger over at DailyKos (blackwaterdog) has raised a question I have been thinking about for nearly a year now. How is President Obama being treated differently than other presidents and leading white politicians?

He first notes the differential treatment by the mass media in regard to President Obama’s intense and innovative meeting this week with Republicans:

With anyone else, CNN wouldn’t dare go to commercials every time the president speaks, like they did during that summit on Thursday. They wouldn’t dare counting how many minutes George Bush or Bill Clinton were talking. Chris Mathews wouldn’t dare making an issue out of Ronald Regan calling members of congress by their first name. . . .They fully cooperate with the Right-Wing smear machine when it comes to president Obama’s national security performance – even if almost every independent and military expert actually thinks that he’s a terrific Commander in Chief.

Presidente saluda de puño a trabajador
Creative Commons License photo credit: Embajada de Estados Unidos en Bolivia

Not just the white supremacists and extreme rightists have constantly quibbled about or directly disrespected our President:

On Thursday, almost every Republican had no trouble interrupting him in the middle of a sentence. They looked like they’re going to vomit every time they had to say “Mr. president”

Much has been made in various media about Obama being “professorish” and/or “arrogant,” but clearly this is a stereotyped way of putting down his distinctive intelligence and grasp of the facts on many issues, including health care. Many folks accuse him too of being

elitist (because he uses big words that they don’t understand). He is weak on national security (because he actually thinks about the consequences). He divides the country (well, he did that the day he had the audacity to win the election). Worst of all, he actually thinks that he’s the president.

The racist imaging has obviously come from the far right wing and white supremacists, but some criticism is also coming from the white left, which can be seen in the left political blogs:

. . . there’s also some hidden and maybe subconscious and disturbing underline tone behind some of the things . . . throughout the Left blogosphere…. “He’s weak, he’s spineless, he’s got no balls, primary him in 2012.”

Adia and I predicted some of this attack in our Yes We Can? Book, but it is already clear that we need to add a chapter to that book on how quickly and severe these attacks have become, and not much more than a year into his pathbreaking Presidency. What do you make of the many attacks on President Obama so far?

Majoring in Minstrelsy: White Students, Blackface and the Failure of Mainstream Multiculturalism

[This by Tim Wise piece was originally published, June 22, 2007 at Lip Magazine.]

Sometimes you just have to ask, “What is wrong with you?”

I’ve been asking this question a lot lately, given the almost monthly reports that white college students at one or another campus have yet again displayed a form of racist ignorance so stupefying as to boggle the imagination.

For some, it means dressing up in blackface. For others, a good time means throwing a “ghetto party,” in which they don gold chains, afro wigs, and strut around with 40 ounce bottles of malt liquor, mocking low-income black folks. For still others, hoping to spread around the insults a bit, fun is spelled, “Tacos and Tequila,” during which bashes students dress up as maids, landscapers, or pregnant teenagers so as to make fun of Latino/as.

The 2006-2007 school year saw at least fifteen such events transpire, bringing to well over thirty the number of such incidents in recent years. Among the institutions where white kids apparently think this kind of thing is funny, we have the University of Texas School of Law, Trinity College, Whitman College, Washington University, the University of Virginia, Clemson, Willamette College, Texas A&M, The University of Connecticut School of Law, Stetson University, the University of Chicago, Cornell, Swarthmore, Emory, MIT, Macalester, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, the University of Louisville, the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, William Jewell College, Oklahoma State, Auburn, the University of California at Irvine, Syracuse, Tarleton State, Union College and the Universities of Colorado, Tennessee, Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, Delaware, and Mississippi.

Whether racist parties like this are growing more common, or whether they’re just gaining more attention thanks to websites like Facebook, MySpace, and others that allow the sharing of photo files is unclear. But in either case, the question remains: Why do so many whites engage in these kinds of activities, without giving their appropriateness a second thought?

There are generally two theories postulated to answer this question. The first holds that these students are ignorant about the history of blackface, and the racist implications of mocking the so-called ghetto. The second suggests that the whites involved are anything but ignorant. According to the latter theory, the students know exactly what they’re doing, and are deliberately trying to make a statement, as a form of backlash against students of color on their campuses.

While it may be tempting to accept one or another of these explanations, both might contain a partial truth. For some–like those who have thrown these parties on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday (as happened a half-dozen times this past year)–it is hard to believe that they were unaware of the racial message they were sending. On the other hand, persons dressing in blackface as part of a Halloween costume, while offensive, may well be acting from sheer stupidity, absent malicious intent.*

The truth is probably somewhere between the two theories. It’s certainly true that most whites are unaware of the way that blackface has been used historically to denigrate the intellect and humanity of blacks. And most probably know little about the history of how ghetto communities were created by government and economic elites, to the detriment of those who live there. Yet, at some level, most of those engaged in these activities had to know they were treading on offensive ground. After all, never did the sponsors of these parties make the mistake of inviting real black people to the ghetto celebration. They knew better, apparently, than to approach their campus’s Black Student Associations and ask them to co-sponsor the events. They didn’t ask Latino students to come to “Tacos and Tequila,” so as to lend authenticity to the fun. Had they been acting out of pure ignorance, they wouldn’t have hesitated to try and make the events into multicultural funfests. But they never made this mistake, suggesting that even if only subconsciously, they had to know something was wrong.

There are several potential causes of racist theme parties. Among the more obvious would be the insular nature of the Greek system, from which a disproportionate number of these events have emanated. After all, fraternities and sororities mostly choose members based on how much alike they are to those already in the club. They are not, in other words, natural incubators for diversity. Nor are they the kinds of places where dissent typically flourishes. So if one’s brothers or sisters were planning a racist party, even those who were bothered by it might not speak up, for fear of being ostracized. But as easy as it might be to beat up on the Greeks, there are much larger institutional issues involved. Not to mention, there has also been a massive failure of white students, including those not involved in fraternities or sororities, to take a stand against these kinds of events.

Watered-Down Multiculturalism as a Cause of White Racist Behavior

For the past two decades, most colleges have engaged in various types of diversity efforts, from affirmative action policies, to the creation of multicultural affairs offices, to diversity-related programming. Yet the way in which diversity and multiculturalism have typically been approached on campus, leads one to wonder whether or not the messages being sent might actually contribute to the kinds of racism on display in events like ghetto parties or blackface incidents. Sadly, diversity on campus is still most often approached as it was at my college, Tulane University, in the 1980s, with little having changed since then. Namely, in most instances, schools push the “celebrate differences” paradigm of diversity, in which everyone is encouraged to be tolerant and to appreciate the cultural contributions of all the different racial and ethnic groups. While this may sound good, in practice it creates problems.

First, “tolerance” can be used as a weapon to insist that we should be tolerant of racist humor too. As such, emphasizing toleration rather than equity of treatment may contribute to a climate where students feel comfortable throwing these kinds of parties, because after all, “it’s just a joke.” Secondly, by implying that race issues are about culture (and not power differences between whites and folks of color), most diversity efforts allow whites to think of blackness as little more than style, which can be appropriated, copied or mimicked, without making fun of black people per se, or furthering inequity. In this kind of multiculturalism, the power dynamic that makes racially insensitive humor hurtful isn’t discussed. Students are encouraged to see how “We’re all different” (and gee, isn’t that interesting?), but are not asked to reflect on the biggest difference of all: in this case, the one regarding who’s on top and who’s not in the larger society.

Even worse, to copy what they see as black culture and style, is just as likely to be seen by such persons as celebratory and positive, as negative and demeaning. In other words, it’s as if they were saying, “Hey, we’re just celebrating difference! Look at me, I’m a rapper!” Now sure, they may have a horribly stunted view of what constitutes both celebration and true cultural difference (seeing as how they clearly equate blackness with the gangsta image), but their assumptions in this regard make sense, stemming from a context-absent analysis, in which issues of power are largely missing.

Additionally, by avoiding issues of power, mainstream multiculturalism makes it possible for whites who see no harm in blackface or ghetto parties, to respond to their critics by saying things like, “Well, what about that movie ‘White Chicks,’ where the Wayans brothers put on white face makeup and made fun of people like us?” In other words, whites see all groups as equally capable of objectifying each other, so what’s the big deal? Indeed, if you’re being taught to view issues of race as the mere pluralistic existence of different groups, perhaps competing for resources and attention, but without a discussion of power, this kind of argument has a certain kind of logic to it. Of course, once the social context is brought in, it makes no sense at all. There has been no history of whiteface as a mechanism for denigrating the intelligence of whites, whereas blackface served precisely that purpose. “White Chicks” conjures up no painful memories, and is so devoid of the historical ‘umph’ of blackface, that to consider it in the same category as minstrelsy is to call into question one’s ability to think rationally at all.

What’s more, because mainstream multiculturalism rarely explores the historical or sociological roots of what some now think of as cultural phenomena, it is also possible for whites to view “the ghetto” as an authentic expression of black culture, rather than understanding it as a geopolitical space occupied by persons whose opportunities have been constricted. To most whites, ghettos are culturally-specific spaces, either to be feared, turned into style, or even romanticized as more “real” than the places from which most of them come. If they had an understanding of how the ghetto became the ghetto–a history of residential segregation, urban “renewal,” which destroyed black homes and neighborhoods, and deindustrialization, beginning in the ’60s–many of the whites who have participated in these kinds of activities might have thought twice about it. If they understood that the ghetto is something that has been done to millions of black people–that indeed it is more an expression of white supremacist culture than anything authentically black–many might recognize that throwing parties celebrating or mocking ghetto life would be hardly different from throwing concentration camp or internment camp parties. But if whites think of the ghetto as an authentic expression of blackness, they’ll be less likely to feel shame while making fun of such a place. Indeed, they may not even view a ghetto party as making fun at all, so much as being a romanticization of a place that both fascinates and terrifies them.

So long as diversity talk avoids issues of power and privilege, opting instead for cultural tourism, whereby we’re encouraged to sample one another’s stuff, from food, to clothing, to hairstyles–note the phenomena of white boys wearing dreadlocks, and white girls with tight braids–we can expect this kind of thing to continue. After all, what could be more “touristy” than dressing like the people whose culture you’re sampling? To many whites, blackface, or putting on an Afro and fake bling, is just a more up-to-date and hipper version of the Hawaiian shirt their dad wears every time the family goes to Honolulu.

Until colleges include discussions of power, inequality and privilege (and how these can misshape the campus climate) during first-year orientation programs, and with all students, they really can’t feign shock or outrage when some proceed to act out their ignorance on a public stage. Until schools clearly define what a racially hostile environment is, and what is to be viewed as contributing to such a climate–and what kinds of acts will therefore not be tolerated, just as they would not be in the workplace–they can’t be surprised when students feel they can get away with virtually anything, no matter how offensive. Finally, so long as colleges turn a blind eye to the overwhelmingly white student pathology of epidemic binge drinking that has served as the backdrop for most if not all of these racist parties–indeed, white students are 130 percent more likely to binge drink than blacks, and 300 percent more likely to do so on a regular basis–not much is going to change. This means attacking problem drinking as an abuse of privilege, and not just alcohol.

White Protectionism and the Need for Ally Behavior

In addition to the need for school officials to take action, students must also take responsibility for addressing these occurrences head-on. In particular, whites who are not involved in these acts need to stand up against those who are. Although some whites have joined with students of color to condemn these events when they’ve happened, quite telling has been the speed with which others have sought to downplay the racism evinced in such instances.

At Oklahoma State, one young man minimized the seriousness of the incident in his fraternity–in which one of his “brothers,” wearing a Klan hood, posed for a picture while holding a rope around the neck of another member who was dressed in blackface–by noting that the perpetrators were just “young men, having fun, no one was hurt, and above all nothing was meant by their actions.” At Stetson, a group of young women who dressed in blackface, claimed that their event had the blessing of the mostly black basketball team; and at Illinois, white sorority girls defended their “Tacos and Tequila” event by noting that their two Latina members were “cool with it” (as if a handful of black and brown folks can speak for their entire groups). The attorney for a group of white frat boys at Auburn even suggested that his clients had actually been trying to be “inclusive” by dressing in blackface, since the party theme was to come dressed as something you might see in the Auburn community.

Or consider the internet posting of a University of Texas law student, who didn’t participate in last year’s “ghetto fabulous” party, but who found more fault with those critiquing it, than those who threw it in the first place:

“Get over it. You were offended. You complained…Prolonging the drama only makes you look like attention whores — you aren’t trying to educate people, and you aren’t trying to create an atmosphere of inclusion, where people can understand your point of view. You want to continue to spank the naughty 1Ls. The Dean gave you recognition. Everyone in the law school received that email. Do you honestly think that prolonging the drama is going to do anything productive? And for the record, equating ghetto fabulous with blackface is really fucking stupid.”

In other words, the students who engaged in the racist objectification of blacks are “naughty,” but the students of color who complained are “attention whores,” and “f–ing stupid.”

Other whites at the law school voiced their displeasure at the possibility that the school may now alter its curricula, thereby forcing them to learn about racism–imagine having to learn about such an irrelevant subject while studying law. Still others criticized the black students for going public about the event (instead of handling things internally), since it might harm the careers of whites who didn’t participate, but who would now be tainted by the actions of a few. Instead of being upset at their white peers for throwing the racist party, and thereby tainting them as whites, their anger was focused on the black students for discussing it openly!

And in keeping with the tendency for white folks to seek out black scapegoats whenever one of ours engages in racism (as happened with Don Imus), many students have sought to shift the blame for things like ghetto parties onto hip-hop and rap music. In other words, white kids are just copying what they see on MTV, and if black folks can glamorize the ghetto, why can’t they? That rappers, for good or ill, are often telling stories about their own lives and communities from which they come (or at least with which they have some familiarity), while white co-eds are engaging in vulgar voyeurism devoid of authenticity escapes them. Not to mention, rap can hardly be blamed for the ignorance here: after all, black students, who last time I checked often liked hip-hop too, don’t throw these parties. Not ever.

Then there’s the tendency to redefine racist incidents as something else, like simple bad taste, or even political satire. The latter of these was offered as the excuse last year, after one Willamette student came to a party in blackface to mock the school’s President, and another (albeit a student of South Asian descent, but by most accounts highly white-identified) dressed as an indigenous woman who had been raped. Funny stuff.

Until white students become less concerned about hurting the feelings of a bunch of racists, or drunks (or both) by calling them out, and more committed to the creation of a respectful and equitable environment on campus, those whites who engage in acts of racism will feel no need to change their behaviors. Unless whites ostracize such students, those who find racism humorous will continue to push the envelope. Only by making clear that these kinds of things are unacceptable to us, will other whites apparently get the message that their actions are inexcusable. It’s obvious by now that they won’t respond to black and brown protests alone.

Perhaps we should think of it as an updated version of the white man’s (and woman’s) burden: not, as with the original and racist version, to “civilize” others, but instead to civilize ourselves, to grow up, and to enter into the world of adults as more functional human beings, rather than as the walking, talking stereotypes into which we too often turn ourselves.

———————–
* Putting aside whether or not blackface incidents or ghetto parties are intentionally racist (as opposed to being mostly the result of ignorance), there is little question but that overt racism poses a serious problem on college campuses. Data going back to the 80s suggests that there are thousands of instances of ethnoviolence (ranging from assaults, to graffiti, to racial slurs) directed towards students of color each year. A study at the University of California-San Diego in the 90s found that over eighty percent of white students admitted to having seen or heard racial slurs or acts of race-based discrimination aimed at students of color. And a 2004 survey at the University of Virginia found that forty percent of all black students at the school had been the target of a direct racial slur, while ninety-one percent had either experienced or witnessed an act of racial discrimination or intolerance since coming to the college. Additional research by Joe Feagin and Leslie Picca, published in their recent book, Two-Faced Racism, finds that white students often use racial slurs and express blatantly racist beliefs around their white friends and colleagues, even though they would rarely if ever do so publicly, or in front of the persons to whom the slurs are directed.

Is There a Need for Black History Month? or Year?



We seem to forget the many civil rights organizations and efforts that still operate daily in this country, trying to bring change. One in New England is Basic Black, which was set up

in 1968 during the turmoil of the civil rights movement as a response to the demand for public television programs reflecting the concerns of African Americans. Now, forty years later, in the midst of another historical political shift, the mission of Basic Black remains strong.

On their useful website, Basic Black folks have many important discussions of racial issues today. One editorial recently is by Rev. Irene Monroe on debates, especially among conservatives and younger Americans of all politics stripes, about “Do We Still Need to Celebrate Black History Month? Her answer is a strong yes, and in the process she makes some important points:

February 1 began Black History Month, a national annual observance since 1926, honoring and celebrating the achievements of African-Americans. This February 1, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum (ICRCM) opened in Greensboro, North Carolina, honoring the courageous action of four African-American students. …. Fifty years ago on February 1, 1960, the now ICRCM was a Woolworth’s store and the site of the original sit-in . . . . And as a result of their civil disobedience, sit-ins sprung up not only in Greensboro but throughout the South.

She then quotes and dissects the problem of collective forgetting and societal erasure (Jane Hill’s term) that is so common in the U.S. today:

However, for a younger generation of African- Americans as well as whites, whose ballots helped elect this country’s first African-American president, celebrating Black History Month seems outdated.

Thanks of course to the aggressive socialization of almost everyone in elements of the old white racial frame, which naively or inaccurately insists white racism is now dead.

She also makes a key but rare point about how LGBTQ folks get left out of too much Black history, including in this month:

Within the African- American LGBTQ community, Black History Month has always come under criticism. … The absence of LGBTQ people of African descent in the month-long celebration is evidence of how race, gender and sexual politics of the dominant culture are reinscribed in black culture as well…. . And because of this heterosexist bias, the sheroes and heroes of LGBTQ people of African decent – like Pat Parker, Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, Joseph Beam, and Bayard Rustin – are mostly known and lauded within a subculture of black life.

We need a new era of collective remembrance on all these issues. How about 12 Black history months every year?

Celebrating Black History: W.E.B. DuBois

Today marks the birthday of pioneering sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963).   Du Bois was the first African American to earn a PhD in Sociology at Harvard University.  Du Bois was an prolific and insightful scholar who, over his lifetime, wrote wrote 21 books, edited 15 more, and published over 100 essays and articles.  He’s probably best known for The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899)  The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (1903),  and Black Folk, Then and Now (1939).  Du Bois also published John Brown (1909), a sympathetic portrayal of the controversial anti-racist.

From 1897 to 1910 Du Bois served as professor of economics and history at Atlanta University, where he organized conferences titled the Atlanta University Studies of the Negro Problem and edited or co-edited 16 of the annual publications, on such topics as The Negro in Business (1899), The Negro Artisan (1902), The Negro Church (1903), Economic Cooperation among Negro Americans (1907), and The Negro American Family (1908). In grad school, I spent a good deal of time pouring through the archives of these conferences and came very close to writing a dissertation on the conferences which were fascinating.  (I think there’s still a dissertation to be written on these conferences, in case any readers are looking for dissertation ideas!)

Du Bois was also an activist, in addition to being a scholar.  He was one of the founding members of the NAACP, and over his lifetime, his views became more radicalized.   He long identified with the African roots of black American culture, and was a leading Pan-Africanist.   As he aged, he grew more and more disillusioned with the seemingly intractable state of racism in the U.S. and emigrated to Ghana in West Africa.   He died there at age 95 in 1963 and was honored with a state funeral.

Racism and Anti-Racist Protests at U. of California, San Diego

To update Joe’s February 17 entry on racial tensions at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), stemming from a “Compton Cookout” party, students from the UCSD Black Student Union have issued a racial “state of emergency.” About 200 students met with UCSD administrators to present 32 points of demand

As a reaction to the outrage of the racially-themed party, a student organization aired a live segment on closed-circuit television, Koala TV, supporting the “ghetto-themed” party:

After Kris Gregorian, editor in chief of humor newspaper the Koala, said that protestors of last week’s controversial “Compton Cookout” party were “ungrateful niggers” on Channel 18, the Black Student Union declared a “State of Emergency” and issued a six-page list of demands to the university.

According to SignOnSanDiego.com:

Brewing tensions were made worse yesterday morning, when students searching for a copy of the videotape found a piece of cardboard in the student-run television studio with the words “Compton lynching” written on it — an apparent reference to the party, which was billed as the “Compton Cookout.” The discovery was publicized in the middle of the emotional meeting between students and administrators. It prompted tears and repeated outcries from black students, who said they do not feel safe or welcome on campus. African-Americans make up less than 2 percent of undergraduates, a level that has been unchanged for a decade, despite recruitment efforts.

Much of the commentary to these events is focused on “Free Speech”:

Sixth College senior Mike Randazzo is hosting a “Compton Cookout Part Deux: Equal Rights” party on March 4. He is requesting that guests come dressed as their favorite stereotype to promote free speech and show that the intentions of the original Compton Cookout were innocent. Currently, 120 people have RSVPed as attending. “I created this event to get people to understand that the creators meant no ill will,” Randazzo said. “It’s wrong that people are getting outraged and I want to help people come together and put an end to the hatred to show tht [sic] UCSD is not a racist place.”

Apparently this student believes that equal opportunity stereotyping is the solution to racial problems; he obviously has no comprehension of the legacy of and contemporary consequences of the racial hierarchy.

One student from the Black Student Union stated:

“I’m not saying that they don’t have the right to freedom of speech, but where’s my right to be protected from that?” …“I am a student in your class, and I have to sit next to these racist kids. What kind of college is this?”

Unfortunately, this is a question that needs to be addressed on many college campuses.

Domestic Terrorism: Racial, Gender, and Class Angles (UPDATED)

As you probably know by now, a white software engineer crashed his plane into an office building in Austin and killed himself and at least one other person. David Neiwert has a probing article at Crooks-and-Liars,” with a video from Fox News that moves strongly away from calling this an “act of terrorism.” They describe the act as like someone who wildly attacks with a gun at their workplace. The Obama administration’s press secretary and the Department of Homeland Security are also saying it probably was not an act of terrorism. A newsperson at Fox concluded:

Our Homeland Security contacts telling us, this does not appear to be terrorism in any way that that word is conventionally understood. We understand from officials that this is a sole, isolated act.

Neiwert notes that

Well, this is true only if the conventional understanding of the word “terrorism” has now been narrowed down to mean only international terrorism and to preclude domestic terrorism altogether. Since when, after all, is attempting to blow up a federal office as a protest against federal policies NOT an act of domestic terrorism? You know, Timothy McVeigh used a “dangerous instrument” to kill 168 people in Oklahoma City. He too was angry at the federal government, and was converted to the belief that acts of violence was the only means possible to prevent the government from overwhelming our freedom and replacing it with tyranny.

He was also not brown or black. That seems to have something to do with the way these events are reported and described as “not terrorism” by media and government officials. Indeed, I see no one at the mainstream media outlets analyzing that the likely suicide attacker was white, or even much analysis of his note below.

The very long letter from the apparent suicide attacker was left by him on the web, and reads in part:

If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, “Why did this have to happen?” …. Sadly, starting at early ages we in this country have been brainwashed to believe that, in return for our dedication and service, our government stands for justice for all. ..While very few working people would say they haven’t had their fair share of taxes (as can I), in my lifetime I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. . . . Yet, it mercilessly “holds accountable” its victims, claiming that they’re responsible for fully complying with laws not even the experts understand.

A major thrust of his suicide note is an attack on taxation, and this is what the media has played up. This is similar to the anti-government motivation for the kind of domestic terrorism engaged in my Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City. Very few in the mainstream media have so far explored his strong critique of the business world:

Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies.

He continues with a discussion of his efforts as an engineer and rails against people losing their pensions to corrupt management executives, unions, and officials. After much economic difficulty, he moved to Austin, which gets a bad review:

So I moved, only to find out that this is a place with a highly inflated sense of self-importance and where damn little real engineering work is done. I’ve never experienced such a hard time finding work.

He then had more economic troubles, and blames the IRS for this problems:

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual”. Now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes. . . . I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. . . .I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough. . . . Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the /only/ answer. . . . Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well. *The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.* *The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.* Joe Stack (1956-2010)

We get here a close look at the mind of a suicide attacker, and probably should read it closely. His rationale for violence is carefully presented. This event and its reporting have important racial and class angles.

There is also a major gender violence angle here. MSNBC reported some domestic dispute between the attacker and his wife before the incident, and he appears to have set to light his house on fire, and the fire department had to rescue his wife and daughter. Gender gets downplayed often in these cases. This man first terrorized his wife and daughter, then engaged in an act of domestic terrorism against the government. His wife and daughter are now homeless.

White anger and violence directed at the government is not usually reported as terrorism. White, heterosexual, Christian men infrequently get called out as such and generalizations developed on the basis of these demographics. If these recent incidents by white men had been committed by Muslim men or others of color it is quite likely those demographics would be foregrounded. @GuerrillaMama has put it eloquently (via Twitter):

Suppose two men committed separate acts of extremist murder in the United States within a month. Suppose the gunmen attacked a church and a national landmark, motivated by politics and religious prejudice, targeting a nationally controversial figure and innocent civilians. Suppose there was a history of attacks by similarly motivated men in America, ranging from individual shootings and bombings to an act of spectacular violence that destroyed a federal office building. Suppose two Muslim men had done this. Is there even a question that we would be using a particular term to describe this behavior? Might reporters and news anchors be terming these horrible acts, say, “terrorism”?

Still, Matt Yglesias cautions about an overreaction to this event:

But instead of complaining about the hypocrisy involved in not trying to whip people into a fit of terror and madness about this incident, I think it makes more sense to congratulate everyone on handling this in a calm and sensible manner. . . . Simply put, the odds of “death by disgruntled anti-tax activist flying an airplane into your office” are extremely small and it’s extremely difficult to think of cost-effective and efficacious methods of ensuring that this never happens again. Off the top of my head, this looks to me like a demonstration of the desirability of better mental health services in the United States, but that’s something that I would think was true one way or the other.

In my view, this is a good time for much careful reflection and action about the underlying, stressful, oppressive class, racial, gender conditions of this society. For example, the society’s structural conditions, mentioned in the suicide note, that sometimes play a role in driving people of any background to such extreme violence are also rarely examined in the mainstream media. One can and should examine these contextual conditions of suicide attackers closely without excusing such violence. They often tell us something about our societies. Clearly, the economic depression we are now in is likely part of his story. So, it seems to me, is the violent rhetoric of many in the “tea bag” movement and on white supremacist websites. This extremely violent talk and discussion probably makes violence seem “normal” to people like this suicide attacker. Why is there no mainstream media discussion of the broader racial and class and gender implications of this story, and the biased ways it is being handled?

UPDATE: MEMBER OFCONGRESS EMPATHIZES WITH WHITE DOMESTIC TERRORIST (VIA TPM)

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told a crowd at CPAC on Saturday that he could “empathize” with the suicide bomber who last week attacked an IRS office in Austin, and encouraged his listeners to “implode” other IRS offices, according to a witness. King’s comments weren’t recorded, but a staffer for Media Matters, who heard the comments, provided TPMmuckraker with an account. The staffer, who requested anonymity because she’s not a communications specialist, said that King, an extreme right-winger with a reputation for eyebrow-raising rhetoric, appeared as a surprise guest speaker on an immigration panel at the conservative conference.

We should note too that the only person this white domestic terrorist killed was a black veteran of Vietnam.

Man Arrested for Threats on White Supremacist Website

A man has been arrested for making threats on a white supremacist website against the President and First Lady (via @BlackInformant).  This arrest is good news, in my opinion, although I’m sure that some of first-amendment-absolutists will howl that this is an infringement of free speech.   Here’s the story and the screenshot via the Associated Press:

NewSaxon-homepage

“A Kentucky man has been arrested and charged with posting a poem threatening President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on a white supremacist Web site.

The U.S. Secret Service said Johnny Logan Spencer Jr. of Louisville wrote and posted the poem, titled “The Sniper,” on a site called NewSaxon.org.

Special Agent Stephan M. Pazenzia (PAH-zen-zee-ah) said the poem describes a gunman shooting and killing a “tyrant,” later identified as the president.

Spencer is scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Whalin on Friday for a detention hearing. He’s in federal custody charged with making threats against the president and threatening to kill or injure a major candidate for the office of the preside. “

There seems to be some awareness, at least when it comes to the president, that racist language online is not protected speech.   A jury in Roanoke, Virginia recently found white supremacist William A. White guilty on four counts of threatening and intimidation via email and online postings (as well as threats made through older technologies  such as letters and phone calls) to journalists.   When I was finishing my book, I made note of William White for his racist website attacking the young men in Louisiana known as the “Jena 6.”  He had posted a website with their addresses and phone numbers suggesting that (white) people take violent action against them, yet he was not arrested for this.   While I’m glad to see that White is finally getting his just due (he faces up to 35 years in prison for his recent convictions), it seems like a bit of justice delayed.

This is not the typical view in the U.S. of racist speech online.  For the most part, most people believe that anything that’s said online is protected by the First Amendment.    As I noted here back in November, the opinion in the U.S. about racist speech online usually follows along the line of this piece in the AtlanticOnline (a mainstream to left publication).  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.   This simply isn’t true.

The reality is that there are lots of legal restrictions on speech that apply to speech on the Internet, like threatening the president’s life.  We in the U.S. have to begin to think more critically about our notions of “free speech” in the digital era.

Briefly Noted: Online Database about Prejudice

This notice was posted in the January newsletter Footnotes, a publication of the ASA.   I thought this might be of interest to some readers here who didn’t see it there:

Prejudice and Conflict Reduction Online Database. The database is bibliography of approximately 1,000 empirical reports of interventions to reduce prejudice and/or intergroup conflict. The database consists of laboratory and field-based studies, examining interventions from priming to affirmative action policy. Visitors can do a keyword search to find specific types of interventions or outcome measures. Using the advanced search option, users can also search by study methodology. Users can export the studies they select into a bibliographic list in APA format, post comments on references, and sign up for an RSS feed to receive updates of new references added to the database. The database includes unpublished dissertations and policy reports. Users are encouraged to email new dissertations, unpublished reports, and any studies we may have missed. The database is meant to be a pragmatic resource for scholars and practitioners interested in evidence-based theory and intervention. The database is available at www.betsylevypaluck.com under the heading “Online Database.” Contact: Betsy Levy Paluck at epaluck@princeton.edu.

Immigrants and Citizens Alike Affected by Immigration Reform

The immigration policy debate is not solely about the fate of immigrants, or of non-citizens. The outcome of these debates and any measures enacted under the guise of immigration reform will affect United States citizens. In the contemporary United States, any policy that has negative implications for immigrants inevitably also will have negative consequences for citizens. This is because, in many ways, there is not a clear boundary between non-citizens and citizens nor between immigrants and citizens.

Some US citizens are immigrants, and some non-citizens will become citizens. In addition, most non-citizens have citizen family members. As Fix and Zimmerman point out, fully:

“85 percent of immigrant families (i.e. those with at least one non-citizen parent) are mixed status families. The meaning of this is clear: most policies that advantage or disadvantage non-citizens are likely to have broad spillover effects on the citizen children who live in the great majority of immigrant families” (emphasis in original).

In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is charged with handling the transition of the foreign-born either into citizenship or into leaving this country. As indicated on the DHS official website, the mission of the DHS is as follows:

We will lead the unified national effort to secure America. We will prevent and deter terrorist attacks and protect against and respond to threats and hazards to the nation. We will ensure safe and secure borders, welcome lawful immigrants and visitors, and promote the free-flow of commerce.

The primary mission of the DHS is to protect citizens from terrorist attacks. This projection involves protecting the borders, and enforcing laws in the interior, but at the same time, welcoming lawful immigrants and visitors and international commerce. For the DHS, lawful immigrants are potential citizens, whereas unlawful immigrants are unwelcome.  The DHS is charged both with enabling immigrants to become citizens and ensuring that those who are not eligible for citizenship are appropriately regulated.

Although the DHS is clear on its intent to regulate non-citizens and to protect citizens, it is not possible to divide the US into two discrete parts – citizens versus non-citizens. It is perhaps more useful to draw a divide between the foreign-born who are eligible for citizenship and those who are not. The foreign-born who are eligible for citizenship include legal permanent residents who have been in the US for several years, and have not violated US laws. Those who are not eligible for citizenship include most undocumented migrants, tourists, students, refugees, and non-citizen who have violated certain US laws.

Non-citizens who are convicted of a wide range of legal violations not only are ineligible for citizenship, but also face deportation. The legal violations that render non-citizens deportable include violent crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery. However, they also include minor crimes such as crossing the border without inspection, shoplifting, resisting arrest, and tax evasion. A US citizen who commits similar crimes faces the appropriate charges, serves any time sentenced, and goes about his or her life. A non-US citizen who commits these crimes faces deportation to his or her country of birth. In this sense, the law is clear as to the different nature of punishment for citizens versus non-citizens. The impact, however, is often felt by citizens. When a non-citizen is deported, his or her family often suffers greatly.

People who are not US citizens and are thus subject to deportation often have US citizen family members. They also often live in communities with US citizens. Some may have been in the country for a few days, but others have settled here and have been here for decades. Their deportation can be a tragedy for those left behind. For this reason, the immigration policy debate cannot take a narrow look simply at migrants, but must also take into consideration the significant impact on citizens, as well as recognize that immigrants and citizens are not mutually exclusive categories, but often stages in a person’s migrant career.

Racist Campus Climates, Again in California



The San Diego Union-Tribune has an article about a racist “ghetto” party by University of California (San Diego) students off campus:

An invitation to the “Compton Cookout” event urged participants to wear chains, don cheap clothes and speak very loudly, according to wording circulated by outraged students and verified by campus administrators. As a guide for girls attending the event, the invitation read, “For those of you who are unfamiliar with ghetto chicks — Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes. …”

White students at many colleges and universities have had these “ghetto fabulous” parties in recent years. Clearly, these white students are acting—likely regularly–out of a racist framing of whites as superior, and of African Americans and other Americans of color as odd and inferior. In this case their mocking images of African Americans seem to accent a modest range of rather old stereotypes, and include a reference to a black community in the Los Angeles area (Compton). Their emotions and narratives of superiority are on display here too.

Note too that “Outrage over UCSD Party Mocking Black Culture” is the title of the newspaper article, revealing a white racial framing by the newspaper writer or editors which appears similar to that of the white students. Gold teeth, fighting, cheap clothes seem to be their view too of “black culture.”

The university has so far responded like the racist performances are no big deal. The chancellor does not seem to be taking the racist partying very seriously since she only issued verbal statements saying “we were distressed” at the offensive party and strongly “condemn” it, but her administration has indicated that the university-recognized fraternity connected to the party will receive no sanctions of any kind for its hyper-racist activities. The meek university response includes a call for students and faculty to attend a teach-in in a few days “to explore how such incidents continue to occur today and to discuss the importance of mutual respect and civility.”

A bit slow and meely to the mark, since this is not the first such incident. University administrators seem uninterested in doing anything serious about their racist campuses, such as some required, term-length instruction in the basics of Stereotyping 101, Respect for Others 101, or Racism 101. One faculty member was also quoted in the Union-Tribune story noting there are few black faculty and students on campus, and that the university has had trouble recruiting them because “There’s something about the climate here that drives black students away.”

Indeed, “something” is not so vague, and it does drive the students away: large-scale white racism.

The article writer/editor also seems favorably inclined toward the fraternity since the article concludes by accenting (and quoting a student who graduated named Washom) that the fraternity

is known for having strong athletics, organizing philanthropic events and being diverse. “I never really found someone who wasn’t courteous or respectful of other people,” Washom said. “I couldn’t see someone doing anything deliberately racist.”

Well, I guess now he has seen it? And have the writer and editor?