How Diverse is the Dominant US Culture?

Often when I am talking about how the dominant culture in the U.S. is white-centered, shaped, and maintained, someone usually pipes up with a comment about the “diverse” array of foods that are now central to our “highly diverse” general culture.

They like to cite Chinese food, Japanese food, Middle Eastern food, Asian-Indian food, Mexican food, and so on, to try to make the point that whites of European origin no longer dominate U.S. culture, and thus that the U.S. is a truly “diverse” culture. There is certainly some truth to this reality of diverse foods and some other cultural features, such as music, but the typical comments miss very important points.

One of these is how adulterated much of this “diverse food” really is. I have been reading former FDA Commisioner (and MD) David Kessler’s relatively new book, The End of Overeating, and at one point he makes this very important point:

Bottled teriyaki sauce … combines soy sauce and rice wine to mimic Japanese flavorings, putting an American spin on a classic Japanese cooking technique. The amount of added sugar makes it far sweeter than anything found in Japan. We’ve also invented new approaches to sushi classics—for example, mayonnaise-topped tempura shrimp now comes wrapped in rice as a sushi roll. . . . The dish we call ‘General Tso’s chicken’ is loaded with sugar, much to the consternation of the Taiwanese chef who created it. . . . Traditional Chinese cuisine also makes use of a lot more vegetables than are included in our versions.

Many other international foods are similarly adulterated with high fat, high sugar and/or high salt.. Kessler discusses throughout his book how U.S. food corporations have aggressively added sugar, fat, and salt to—and otherwise significantly altered–many food items from across the world. So, Chinese food is not really Chinese food, and Mexican food is not exactly Mexican food. And so on.

Working for top corporate executives in the food industry, who are aggressively seeking so much added profit that people are often harmed, thousands of U.S. workers are constantly redesigning the world’s foods to fit what Kessler calls “American desires.” Once again, as we often ask here, just who are the Americans who have disproportionate power to redesign the world’s foods — and then to successfully manipulate via advertising, the media and other avenues U.S. (and then overseas) consumers to eat them (and, increasingly, become obese)?

I have not seen any demographic data on these top food industry executives lately, but I’ll bet they are mostly white, male, and upper middle class and middle class. And the Us food culture is not as international and diverse as it is often made out to be.

Arizona Legislators Take on Ethnic Studies — as Subversive

Well, if the Arizona legislature’s autocratic approach to its large immigrant-worker population was not enough, last night the wild-west legislature’s white legislators decided to take on first amendment rights to freedom of speech in the form of courses being taught in the schools. Of course, the attack once again is centered on its Mexican American population, and other people concerned with the histories and racist realities faced by Americans of color, and with creating pride in groups resisting oppression. One news report by Capitol Media Services today puts it this way:

HB 2281 would make it illegal for a school district to have any courses or classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity “instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” It also would ban classes that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.”

So I guess an honest discussion of the history of whites’ racial oppression targeting Mexican Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, and other Americans of color in the southwest and elsewhere will be out of the question when and if this legislation goes into effect. Truth-telling about our white-racist history, and resistance to it by Americans of color, that gives people honest understandings (and/or group pride) will actually be illegal, as seen in this legislation of the folks in the Arizona legislature. They clearly fear that such a history might create resentment toward the oppressors. Will other states soon follow up on this lawmaking?

One Tucson state senator, Democrat Linda Lopez, has pointed out that an immediate cause of this white attack seems to be an academically successful program by the school district’s Mexican-American studies department that

simply provides historical information, which conflicts with state School Superintendent Tom Horne’s assessment the program is promoting racial hatred and “ethnic chauvinism.”

Senator Lopez has also pointed out just how serious is this attack on honest discussion, indeed pointing to its absurdity:

To make her point, she proposed schools be prohibited from teaching about the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor because that would promote hatred of people of Japanese ancestry. The proposal was rejected. She had no better luck with a measure precluding teaching about the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Lopez said the 700 incidents targeting Arab-Americans in the nine weeks after the incident prove that teaching about the event promotes resentment toward a class of people.

The courses actually being taught seem to be rather modest in orientation, yet they are stimulating this type of white supremacist reactions. Freedom of thought and honest discussion of the U.S.’s racial history are once again considered to be dangerous. (Here is one honest history of white-on-Mexican oppression by the major social scientist Rodolfo Acuña, which will not likely be seen in Arizona public schools if this becomes law.) Arizona seems to be pioneering in this police-state approach to U.S. polity and society. It is interesting that those who say they fear government and oppose government intervention in regard to things like federal health care legislation are often the first to push government intervention when it comes to their often reactionary notions about society.

Black Unemployment in the U.S.: So Bad the UN is Investigating

The level of black unemployment in the U.S. is so bad that the United Nations is launching an investigation.  And, indeed the figures on unemployment by race are grim for blacks, especially black men.  The latest unemployment figures show a stark racial disparity. For black men, the unemployment rate was 20.2%, compared to 9.6% unemployment for white men.  (Of course, these numbers are low given that “discouraged workers,” those who are no longer looking for employment, are not included, nor are those who are incarcerated.)   The outrageously high unemployment among black Americans means the United States has failed to live up to commitments it made under United Nations human rights agreements, a coalition of advocacy groups charges (pdf), according to a recent report by City Limits.

In a filing to the UN’s Human Rights Council last week, a group that includes New York’s Urban Justice Center and National Employment Law Project, casts “the over-representation of women and racial and ethnic minorities in unemployment, underemployment, and poverty” as a human rights issue and calls on Washington “to take specific steps to create employment opportunities for these groups.”  Thus far, the U.S. permanent mission to the U.N. has not commented.

These stark numbers unemployment figures reflect an egregious reality of ongoing discrimination and historical structural inequality in the U.S. that has placed an especially harsh burden on the shoulders of black men, according to a report from the Center for American Progress called “Weathering the Storm” (pdf):

Black men’s ability to access high-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector played a significant role in building the black middle class after World War II. Yet those jobs have steadily declined in the past several decades. A study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimated that the share of African Americans in manufacturing jobs fell from 23.9 percent in 1979 to 9.8 percent in 2007. Blacks were actually 15 percent less likely than other groups in 2007 to have a job in manufacturing. These jobs have also been among the first cut in this recession, accelerating the decline of available positions with decent pay for black men.

Black men have also been disproportionately affected by the instability in the automotive industry. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that African Americans have above average employment and earn much higher wages in auto industry jobs than in other industries. If one or more domestic automakers were to file for bankruptcy, more than 3 million jobs could be lost within the next year, a result that would be especially devastating for African Americans.

Black workers have not only suffered from a severe decline in decent employment opportunities, but they have also faced decreasing rates of unionization related to the shrinking manufacturing industry. Unionized African-American workers on average earn higher wages than nonunion black workers with similar characteristics. From 2004 to 2007, the median unionized black worker earned about $17.51 per hour, compared to $12.57 per hour for the median nonunion black worker. Unionized black workers were also more likely to have health insurance and pension plans than nonunion black workers.

The employment rates of African-American men remained stagnant even during the economic booms in the 1980s and 1990s. The group’s continued high unemployment rates and inability to achieve prior employment peaks even after many years of a strong economy are influenced by multiple factors, including high rates of incarceration, limited education, child support arrearages, and discrimination.

Ongoing discrimination is a factor as well.  As Joe Feagin and Melvin Sykes note in their book, Living with Racism (1993), even highly educated, middle class blacks face routine, persistent discrimination in employment and a host of other arenas of everyday life.   Devah Pager’s research of nearly 1,500 employers in New York City found that black applicants without criminal records are no more likely to get a job than white applicants just out of prison. The statistics from the study also suggested that employer discrimination against people of color and ex-offenders has significantly undermined the job opportunities for young black men with little education and training. And, more recently, Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow (2010), details the system of mass incarceration that contributes to keeping black men trapped in a subordinate status.

This systemic oppression gets multiplied when there is any sort of downturn in the economy and the current recession has hit black men particularly hard, with unemployment rates expected to rise even higher.

The fact is that the population of out of work black men is not monolithic. It includes young guys and middle-aged men, ex-convicts and aspiring entrepreneurs, the college educated and those who didn’t finish high school.  Yet, the fact remains that there is a systemic difference in unemployment rates that’s so egregious, so pervasive, so persistent over decades in the U.S., that it’s now an issue worthy of examination as a violation of international human rights by the United Nations.

Blog Admin: Comments and Trolls

Our goal here at Racism Review is to inform, engage, educate, and whenever possible, create an atmosphere for lively discussion in the comments section. However, given the anonymity of the Internet (among many other factors, including the competing pulls on the blog admins’ time) this is often difficult to do.

Therefore, in an attempt to keep down the volume of traffic from trolls and to increase the quality of discussion in comments, we’ve recently adjusted the settings on the blog so that people cannot comment on posts that are older than seven (7) days.

As you may have noticed, we’ve also recently turned comments “off” on some posts. There are times when the blog admins are weary of deleting troll-comments and so, simply turn the comments off.

And, if you’ve suddenly found yourself blocked from posting comments to the site, it’s because you’ve been deemed a troll by the blog admins. A troll is someone who posts comments that do not add value to the discussion but rather only serve to feed the troll’s ego and they are not welcome here.

Everyone who has something intelligent, constructive, relevant, on-topic, and timely, to add to the discussion is welcome and invited to post a comment.

White Supremacist Tied to Arizona Anti-Immigration Law

White supremacist, J.T. Ready, is one of the key players behind Arizona’s new anti-immigration law. J.T. Ready lead a recent neo-Nazi rally in Riverside, CA. Ready, a resident of Mesa, Arizona, is also one of the leaders of the anti-immigration movement in Arizona and a key figure behind the recent legislation. Rachel Maddow reported some of this in her segment on April 22 (clip is 9:08, bit about J.T. Ready is at about 3:20):

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As John Carlos Frey noted earlier in April, hate crimes against Latinos in Arizona are up 40%, yet John McCain and his primary challenger, JD Hayworth, claim they are tough on undocumented immigrants and neither of them have the courage to denounce the racially motivated legislation.

The involvement of J.T. Ready is more than a case of “one bad apple” in an otherwise good system. J.T. Ready – an avowed white supremacist – has a political agenda that is completely consistent with the mainstream conservative movement in Arizona. This overlap between the extreme white supremacist movement and the more mainstream expressions of whiteness is a point that I noted this in my earlier book, (White Lies, Routledge, 1997). While most want to dismiss white supremacists as ‘fringe’ groups that have nothing to do with the mainstream, in fact, the ideology of these groups is much closer to core American values than most choose to recognize.

Ignoring “Illegal Employers”: Arizona’s Police-State Legislation

Now we have a state government, a Republican-led state government, in Arizona taking on federal responsibilities for immigration control. The Arizona governor signed SB 1070, the first state law making undocumented immigrants criminals.

Even though the governor claims this law will not result in racial profiling, which it certainly will (given past research evidence on policing, see here and here), she herself issued an executive order requiring police to train to avoid racial profiling in their street-level discretionary actions as they operate on a “reasonable suspicion” in dealing with brown-skinned Arizonans. The striking thing is that mainstream media have not asked, again and again, why such police training should be at all necessary unless the Arizona police already do a lot of racial profiling.

New America Media’s Valeria Fernández has a good summary of key issues in this police-state type legislation:

SB 1070, also known as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act,” would allow police officers to arrest a person based on “reasonable suspicion ” that he or she is an undocumented immigrant. Police departments could face lawsuits by individuals who believe they are not enforcing the law. … SB 1070 would also impose penalties for transporting or harboring an undocumented immigrant, which could include family members.

So family members get put in jail too? Among other issues Fernández notes the issue of the law’s constitutionality:

Several legal challenges to keep the legislation from taking effect are in the works by the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). “Arizona would have the same place in history as South Africa,” said Salvador Reza, organizer for the PUENTE movement, which advocates for human rights, comparing the new law to apartheid.

Actions often have unintended consequences, and one may be the growth of both pro-immigration rallies and legislation:

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Illinois, is expected to hold a rally in Arizona on Sunday. “We hope President Obama can join us at the rally to announce swift action the federal government will take to protect the civil rights of its residents,” said Pablo Alvarado, the executive director of NDLON. President Obama criticized the Arizona bill earlier today, saying it threatens to “undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.” . . . Opponents of the bill are holding ongoing protests and planning economic boycotts of the state convention center.

Numerous state and local Arizona business leaders, perhaps not unexpectedly, are often opposed to the new law as “damaging the he Arizona economy.” Well, U.S. employers inside and outside Arizona are the ones who, in effect, put up the signs at the border saying “jobs to be filled,” which are indeed filled by the hundreds of thousands in Arizona alone by undocumented immigrants. This is indeed the main issue.

One critical part of the “immigration debates” is just how powerful the conservative framing of these issues is. Conservatives frame it as “illegal immigrants” or “illegal aliens,” while even liberals are focusing on “undocumented immigrants” and “immigration problems.” This is yet another example of how we get trapped in deep unreflective frames.

How about reframing the entire debate as about “lawless employers,” “illegal employers,” and “illegal employment”? Mostly white employers are certainly at the center of this national “problem.”

If you want to protest the Arizona profiling law, one way is this petition here.

Antiracist Action and Lives Lost: William L. Moore

At DailyKos today Blueness reminds us of how brave Americans can be in the struggle for racial equality. On this day, some 47 years ago the courageous William Moore, a postal worker and civil rights activist from Baltimore began his walk from Chattanooga to Jackson, Mississippi. He had a letter for one of our leading autocratic, white supremacist politicians, heading up a totalitarian Jim Crow system, Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi– a letter pressing him for racial desegregation. This was Moore’s third freedom walk:

On Moore’s final walk, as soon as he crossed the state line into Alabama, he was assailed by white motorists who denounced him as a “nigger-lover,” and pelted him with rocks. On April 23, radio station WGAD in Gadsden, Alabama received an anonymous phone tip as to Moore’s location. Reporter Charlie Hicks drove out to find Moore walking along a rural stretch of Highway 11 near Attalla. Moore told Hicks, “I intend to walk right up to the governor’s mansion in Mississippi and ring his door bell. Then I’ll hand him my letter.” …. Less than an hour after Hicks left him, a motorist found Moore’s body about a mile farther down the road, shot twice in the head at close range with a .22 caliber rifle. The gun was traced to one Floyd Simpson, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, with whom Moore had discussed integration, interracial marriage, and religion earlier in the day.

“I don’t see how anybody,” Simpson later said, “could believe in such things as intermarriage between the white and Negro races unless he was being paid for it. I told him they are having trouble in Birmingham, and I advised him to turn back as he would never get through Birmingham.”

Moore’s letter to Governor Barnet thad this message:

the white man cannot be truly free himself until all men have their rights. . .. Be gracious and give more than is immediately demanded of you.

Blueness continues with the follow-up:

Over the next month, 29 other people, black and white, tried to complete Moore’s walk. All carried signs reading “Mississippi Or Bust.” All were arrested and jailed.

And of course there was little white support, even from “liberal sources” for such protests, something we should not forget either:

The New York Times opined that Moore had died on a “pitifully naive pilgrimage”; two years previously, in the wake of brutal assaults on Freedom Riders, a Gallup poll found that 63% of white Americans who were aware of white civil-rights activists, like Moore and the Freedom Riders, disapproved of them. Just weren’t ready yet, most white folk.

Many whites still are not prepared for a truly desegregated society. Moore was 36 years old, a CORE member and veteran civil rights activist, and he was white. (see here).

Colorblindness Linked to Racism Online and Off

An important and path breaking new study links colorblind racial ideology to racism online and off.  The study, by Brendesha Tynes, a professor of educational psychology and of African American studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Suzanne L. Markoe of the University of California, Los Angeles, is published in the March issue of Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.

The study, which examined the relationship between responses to racial theme party images on social networking sites and a color-blind racial ideology,  found that white students and those who rated highly in color-blind racial attitudes were more likely not to be offended by images from racially themed parties.  In other words, the more “color-blind” someone was, the less likely they would be to find parties at which attendees dressed and acted as caricatures of racial stereotypes (e.g., photos of students dressed in blackface make-up attending a “gangsta party” to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day) offensive.

To conduct the study, Tynes and Markoe showed 217 ethnically diverse college students images from racially themed parties and prompted them to respond as if they were writing on a friend’s Facebook or MySpace page.   Fifty-eight percent of African-Americans were unequivocally bothered by the images, compared with only 21 percent of whites. The majority of white respondents (41 percent) were in the bothered-ambivalent group, and 24 percent were in the not bothered-ambivalent group. n the written response portion of the study, the responses ranged from approval and nonchalance (“OMG!! I can’t believe you guys would think of that!!! Horrible … but kinda funny not gonna lie”) to mild outrage (“This is obscenely offensive”).

The students also were asked questions about their attitudes toward racial privilege, institutional discrimination and racial issues. Those who scored higher on the measure were more likely to hold color-blind racial attitudes, and were more likely to be ambivalent or not bothered by the race party photos.  Respondents low in racial color-blindness were much more vocal in expressing their displeasure and opposition to these images, and would even go so far as to “de-friend” someone over posting those images.

Tynes’ research also revealed an incongruence of reactions among white students that she’s dubbed “Facebook face,” which she explains in an interview:

“To their friends, they would express mild approval of the party photos or just not discuss race,” Tynes said. “But in private, in a reaction that they thought their friends wouldn’t see, some students would let us know that they thought the image was racist or that it angered them. We think that it’s because whites have been socialized not to talk about race.”

According to Tynes, a color-blind racial attitude is the prevailing racial ideology of the post-Civil Rights era, and is the view that seeing race is inherently wrong:

“If you subscribe to a color-blind racial ideology, you don’t think that race or racism exists, or that it should exist. You are more likely to think that people who talk about race and racism are the ones who perpetuate it. You think that racial problems are just isolated incidents and that people need to get over it and move on. You’re also not very likely to support affirmative action, and probably have a lower multi-cultural competence.”

Since a color-blind racial ideology is associated with endorsement of the racial theme party photos, Tynes says that mandatory courses on issues of racism and multicultural competence are necessary for students from elementary school through college.

Tynes, who recently was awarded a $1.4 million grant to study the effects of online racial discrimination by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said that along with the role children and adolescents play in producing online hate, her inspiration for the study was the numerous racially themed parties that occurred on college campuses across the country in 2007 and the resultant blowback when images from the parties were posted on Facebook and MySpace.

“Christian Racism”: These Wounds I Suffer in the House of My Friends

(Note: I am posting this for a colleague of color who wishes to remain anonymous.)

This week researchers at Baylor University published a study finding that people who were primed with Christian words (Jesus, Bible, faith, Christ, etc) demonstrated more covert and overt racism against African Americans than people who were not primed with Christian words. In other words, people who are thinking about American Christianity (or thinking through a Christian frame, the study speculates) feel and express more anti-Black racism than people who are not thinking about Christianity. The ABP news service, with a quotation by one of the study’s authors, sums up the point nicely:

The study [pdf here], published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that people subliminally “primed” with Christian words reported more negative attitudes about African-Americans than those primed with neutral words. “What’s interesting about this study is that it shows some component of religion does lead to some negative evaluations of people based on race,” said Wade Rowatt , associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, who led the study.

According to Rowatt, there is something about American Christianity that leads to whites’ anti-black racism. Rather than preventing white on black racism, white Christianity actually leads to (i.e. activates, maybe even produces) racism.

The study only subliminally primed people with Christian words and measured the effect of that incredibly minuscule stimulus. That they found any effect at all is remarkable! In reality, people are not subliminally primed with singular Christian words; they are overwhelmed with Christian words and symbols. Extrapolating from the study, each Christian stimulus primes people for anti-Black sentiment. If people in short laboratory studies in which they “heard” only one Christian word exhibit increased anti-Black racism, how much greater is the effect when people have been in church!!! Given the flood of Christian symbols around us–crosses, t-shirts with verses, people praying over their food, “blessings” when we sneeze–it is no wonder people of color face white racism everywhere, all the time.

Of course, the Church is not the only central purveyor of white racism. But the study is important because it indicates two critical things: 1) in the United States, Christianity and white racism reinforce one another; and 2) churches are sites where whites do racial harm and amplify racism. White churches are not sites of racial harmony; they are places where people of color are wounded in the houses of their white friends (see Zechariah 13:6, from which I drew this post’s title).

I have many thoughts on this subject, but I will save most of them for another time. Suffice it to say here, the white Church has a lot of work to do if it hopes to succeed at the “racial reconciliation” project many churches have taken up over the last half century. Having worshiped and served in predominantly white churches, I can give innumerable first hand accounts of the covert and overt racism the researchers found. In one instance, a white evangelical with whom I was living actually said to me “if you were my slave, it would be fine.” My experiences are not unique. People of color who have taken the leap of faith to join white churches usually find those churches to be houses of racialized pain, and suffer many wounds as a result. The book, Reconciliation Blues, has many accounts documenting that fact.

Dorothy Height Dies: Key Civil Rights Leader

225px-DorothyHeight_Book_Nordstrom_VA_15feb97Civil rights activist, Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, died today at age 98. In her long and distinguished career she was an educator and civil rights activist. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 during the Clinton administration.(photo: wikipedia)

President Obama made this comment on her life, calling her “the godmother of the civil rights movement”:

Dr. Height devoted her life to those struggling for equality … and served as the only woman at the highest level of the Civil Rights Movement — witnessing every march and milestone along the way.

Wikipedia has this on key aspects of her long life:

Height was born in Richmond, Virginia. At an early age, she moved with her family to Rankin, Pennsylvania. Height was admitted to Barnard College in 1929, but upon arrival, she was denied entrance because the school had an unwritten policy of admitting only two black students. She pursued studies instead at New York University, earning a degree in 1932, and a master’s degree in educational psychology the following year.

Height started working as a caseworker with the New York City Welfare Department and, at the age of twenty-five, she began a career as a civil rights activist when she joined the National Council of Negro Women. She fought for equal rights for both African Americans and women, and in 1944 she joined the national staff of the YWCA. . . . In 1957, Height was named president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she held until 1997. During the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Height organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi” . . . which brought together black and white women from the North and South to create a dialogue of understanding.

American leaders regularly took her counsel, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Height also encouraged President Dwight D. Eisenhower to desegregate schools and President Lyndon B. Johnson to appoint African American women to positions in government. In the mid 1960s, Height wrote a column entitled “A Woman’s Word” for the weekly African-American newspaper, the New York Amsterdam News.

She will be greatly missed.