White Reaction to Being Called Out on Racism: Jane Hill’s Research

The reaction of Tea Party defenders, including Sarah Palin, to the NAACP’s calling out some Tea Party members and leaders for their racism calls to mind a fine book by Jane Hill, The Everyday Language of White Racism. She has many insights in the book – which I highly recommend to you – but one that fits this calling out of racism by Black Americans at the NAACP is this one on how whites often react to being called out with a line of reasoning about white innocence like this:

I am a good and normal mainstream sort of White person. I am not a racist, because racists are bad and marginal people. Therefore, if you understood my words to be racist, you must be mistaken. I may have used language that would be racist in the mouth of a racist person, but if I did so, I was joking. If you understood my meaning to be racist, not only do you insult me, but you lack a sense of humor, and you are oversensitive.

Hill adds that this “chain of reasoning makes the speaker the sole authority” over what her or his racist commentaries actually mean. Not surprisingly, many whites are today unwilling to listen to the views of those Americans who are regularly targeted by white racism–even to views about the reality and pain of that everyday racism. I also deal with these important listening and empathy issues in the newsecond edition of my Racist America book.

International Athletes Protest Racism: US Media Ignore Protests

At OpEdNews, Bill Hare scooped the mainstream media with a story I still have not seen anywhere else, the reality of numerous antiracism protests by World Cup athletes in South Africa recently. Not only were there pictures of former Black president Nelson Mandela everywhere at the various playing arenas, but there were regular demonstrations of a

fervent commitment to stamp out international racism. . . . Before the games begin player representatives of the competing national teams deliver statements condemning racism.

He added:

After that, in a show of unity, pictures are taken of both teams as the players that will shortly be locked in determined competition are shown posing together. The focus is on understanding and camaraderie as opposed to hate, bigotry and ignorance.

The diversity on some of these football teams was also impressive.

I wonder why in our mainstream media we have had several stories of racist actions across the country by our lunatic fringe–such as at some Tea Party events and by far-right talk show hosts–and yet no stories of these demonstrations against such racism by many of the world’s leading athletes.

It is good to see some modest, if too quickly and weakly analyzed, reporting on U.S. racism, but we should pay more attention to the actions and words of such antiracist activism, especially in the international context.

There is a certain public and media provincialism and parochialism that seems to go with our conventional America-first nationalism.

The American Nightmare: Jamaican Immigrants

Jamaican migrants in the United States are often hailed as a “model minority” – black immigrants who are able to succeed against the odds. It is remarkable that blacks can succeed in a society where being black is criminalized. Yet, the truth is that many Jamaicans do not succeed. Many Jamaican men, it turns out, fall prey to the lure of the streets and end up deported.
(Creative Commons License photo credit: paul.hartrick)
Many Jamaican deportees I have met through my research were left with relatives in Jamaica while their parents traveled abroad to earn money and establish themselves. Their parents sent for them when they were teenagers. Arriving in New York City in the 1970s, these Jamaican boys, raised by their grandmothers, did not fit in. They spoke the wrong way, wore the wrong clothes, and didn’t know the code of the streets. They often had misunderstandings with their parents, as their years of separation had created distance between them. Their parents worked long hours and often did not provide the emotional support they needed and expected. Many of them dropped out of high school.
After dropping out of high school, some were able to find menial jobs. But, like their parents’ jobs, these jobs paid little, and didn’t allow them to attain the glitz and glamour they saw all around them. They found solace hanging out with other young Caribbean men, on the streets of New York.
As teenagers, living the street life of New York in the 1970s, they weren’t angels. But, a couple of years in the United States had not turned them into hard-core criminals either. Many Jamaican deportees I met found themselves in a situation where they were in a car or a house and the police came and found drugs and/or guns. Each of them did hard time for this.
One man, Samuel, explained to me that he had been raised by his grandmother in Jamaica. At age 14, he went to the US to live with his parents, who had obtained legal permanent residency. Samuel went to high school in Brooklyn for a couple of years. Eventually, he couldn’t take the teasing and taunting about his accent and his clothes anymore. When he dropped out, his tenuous relationship with his parents soured and they kicked him out of the house. He went to live with some friends, and slowly got pulled more and more into the street life. One afternoon, he was riding down the street with some buddies, and the cops pulled them over.
Samuel told me he had no idea the car was stolen. When he realized what was going on, he ran. The cops cornered him in a back yard and arrested him. When it was time for him to stand trial, the police officer said that, in the back yard, Samuel had pointed a gun at him, and Samuel was charged with attempted murder of a police officer. At age 19, his first conviction turned into a fifteen year sentence in prison. Turns out he served twenty-six years, as the parole board did not release him. He said that was in part because he would never admit guilt and in part because the board was particularly harsh on violent crimes when his turn came up.
The story of the devastation of black communities because of the loss of black men to the prison system is well-known. The incarceration of Jamaicans in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s adds another dimension to this. Upon release, these men are deported to Jamaica, a land many of them left as teenagers. Many of them have nearly all of their family members in the United States, and few or none in Jamaica.
Samuel spent five years on the streets of New York, and then spent twenty-six years in the penitentiary. In 2005, he was deported to Jamaica. He was 45 years old, and had not been in Jamaica since he was 14 years old. No prison release program, no orientation to Jamaica, and all of his family in the United States. Moreover, his father was too embarrassed of him to help him find family members in Jamaica. Eventually, he found a cousin who lets him stay with her for a couple of months.
When Samuel applies for jobs, they ask him about his work history. If it becomes evident that he spent over two decades in prison, no one wants to hire him. Samuel fights back tears as he tells me his story. He never lets one drop. “Everyone in prison says they are innocent,” he says. I look into his eyes and see a life wasted.
Samuel is calm, intelligent, articulate, poised. He has to sacrifice his dignity every day to get a plate of food and a warm bed to sleep on. He is currently staying with a childhood friend who is willing to hide Samuel’s past from others.
For these men, the American dream turned into a nightmare, and no one believes them. Jamaicans look at them and see that they had the opportunity to go to where the streets are paved with gold. They went to America, and came back with nothing.

Racism and the LeBron James Story

This blog post requires a few disclaimers for clarity. I have been a basketball fan for 25 years, and I do mean fan as in fanatic. I truly love that game. LeBron James is not my favorite basketball player. I do not particularly care for him as a person, or for how he handles himself. There is much to criticize about LeBron’s conduct and I have spent some time on sports blogs doing that. However, it is impossible to ignore the system within which this is all occurring and the invisibility of the wealthy white actors in this drama.

With that out of the way, the systemic racism blatantly evidenced in reactions to LeBron James conduct is appalling even to one as accustomed to being appalled by both racism and sports as myself.

If you have somehow escaped the coverage of LeBron James decision and actions in the recent NBA free agency period, I applaud you and you can get up to speed here. Briefly, James, a black man and Ohio native who has played for the home team Cleveland Cavaliers for the past 7 years, recently decided at the end of his contract to join the Miami Heat and play with 2 friends and fellow superstars for less money. Less money is a relative term here since he will be making in excess of $100 million in the next 6 years. James announced this decision on an hour long special on ESPN called The Decision.

In the wake of the announcement James was vilified in Cleveland and around the sports world for breaking the hearts of Cleveland fans, being a narcissistic immature villain and various other less complimentary charges. His fellow black star Dwyane Wade, who has been with the Heat since he was drafted, has also been vilified for defending him against these accusations. The Cleveland owner, Dan Gilbert, wrote a scathing letterwhich is entirely indicative of the sort of plantation mentality evident in sports owners. This system is eloquently described in the book “Forty Million Dollar Slaves.”. Gilbert calls James a “coward”, a “quitter”, a “traitor”, and makes other unsavory accusations. His jerseys were burned in effigy in Cleveland and the film of it ran nonstop on sports news and continues to grace the front pages of sports sites days later.

Rev. Jesse Jackson attempted to shine the spotlight on the systemic nature of the racism weaving through so many of these discussions and decisions pointing out that Gilbert’s letter showed a plantation mentality and endangered LeBron’s safety in Ohio. This set off an entirely new set of sports discussion on James, Gilbert and Jackson. This video clip shows two white commentators deriding Jackson and James while a black commentator tries to get anyone to focus on the safety issue that Jackson raises. The NBA fined Gilbert $100,000 dollars for his comments, however Commissioner Stern is clear in his objections to Rev. Jackson’s injection of race into the debate. These white commentators appear entirely clueless as to the widespread nature and systemic operation of racism in sports.

This saga continues to imprint the embedded nature of good white billionaires and selfish black athletes in a next generation. Kids in Cleveland are selling lemonade to pay Gilbert’s fine because he is a “good man.” In this piece, Kelly Dwyer has an interesting rebuttal chronicling the business interests of Gilbert which include loan foreclosure businesses and casinos as the money sourcing which enabled him to purchase a sports team. James’ motives and methods have been endlessly debated while Gilbert’s motives and methods in his profession are rarely mentioned. He is the wronged billionaire who may have gotten a bit out of hand.

In all of this debate, the reasons stated by the 3 stars for signing in one place becomes lost, friendship and winning. Athletes are regularly taken to task for going for the money; owners who pay it are regularly bailed out by league policies. These athletes chose winning and friendship over money and they are somehow wrong and immature for doing so. What appears to infuriate many is that the athletes took the process and power into their own hands to decide their fate. Because they did not take the biggest money route, they gained power over their lives and their situation and took vicious criticism for not behaving to stereotype. The reactions to this are eerily familiar to any woman or minority, see Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, etc.

What is missing in this endless round of coverage on “the decision” and its aftermath is an analysis of the white actors in this drama. While Gilbert has come under some fire for his inappropriate remarks in equal measure with defense of his actions, there has been nothing but praise for Heat president Pat Riley who engineered the move. The players have been criticized for their decisions and their legacy has been debated. Riley has insured his legacy with this move. Riley personifies the invisible white actor in this drama. The black athletes take the hit and the heat, Riley gets the praise and the payday. The white owners of the Miami heat are also completely blameless while accruing vast monetary benefit.

James will be booed, Riley will be canonized, and the Heat owners will smile all the way to the bank. Whiteness wins again, because the system is inherently fixed for that outcome.

New Education Report: High Levels of Racial Inequality, Again

The National Center for Education Statistics has just released a very interesting and revealing 2010 statistical report– Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups–on children and parents, with a main emphasis on educational issues. Here are just a few of their findings:
Little Rock Nine
Creative Commons License photo credit: Steve Snodgrass

The percentages of children who were living in poverty were higher for Blacks (34 percent), American Indians/Alaska Natives (33 percent), Hispanics (27 percent), and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders (26 percent), than for children of two or more races (18 percent), Asians (11 percent) and Whites (10 percent).

Forty-eight percent of public school 4th-graders were eligible for free or reduced- price lunches in 2009, including 77 percent of Hispanic, 74 percent of Black, 68 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native, 34 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander, and 29 percent of White 4th-graders.

These revealing data show extreme poverty levels for major groups of color, with very high levels qualifying for reduced-price or free lunches. Among other things the data demonstrate huge problems of structural inequality and racism that seem to be off the white-controlled policy agenda for the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

In 2008, some 44 percent of White 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in colleges and universities, while in 1980 some 28 percent were enrolled. In addition, approximately 32 percent of Black 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in colleges or universities (an increase of 12 percentage points from 1980) and 26 percent of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled (an increase of 10 percentage points from 1980).

Inequality and structural racism at lower grades contribute substantially to inequalities up the line at college. Here, again, very substantial differentials. Some other data also tell us something significant about current immigration and demographic patterns:

In 2008, a higher percentage of Asian children (51 percent) had a mother with at least a bachelor’s degree than did White children (36 percent), children of two or more races (31 percent), Black children (17 percent), American Indian/Alaska Native children (16 percent), and Hispanic children (11 percent).

The Asian children are more likely to be the children of documented immigrants, who have come in under a biased U.S. immigration system that increasingly tends to “cream off” the world’s middle and upper middle classes. Thus, many documented immigrants come in with college degrees and some social or economic capital that facilitates socioeconomic their and their children’s mobility in the U.S. Other children of color are no so fortunate, including those who are the children of undocumented Latino immigrants. Other data are also revealing:

In 2007, a higher percentage of White (18 percent) children ages 12 to 17 reported drinking alcohol in the past month than did their Hispanic (15 percent) peers, peers of two or more races (13 percent), and Black (10 percent) and Asian (8 percent) peers.

I wonder why we do not have white leaders and politicians talking a lot about the “white problem” of drug (alcohol) use among white youth in the U.S.

And like other studies they also show the trend toward an more diverse society where whites are gradually becoming a statistical minority, especially among children:

Between 1980 and 2008, the racial/ethnic composition of the United States shifted— the White population declined from 80 percent of the total population to 66 percent; the Hispanic population increased from 6 percent of the total to 15 percent; the Black population remained at about 12 percent; and the Asian/Pacific Islander population increased from less than 2 percent of the total population to 4 percent. In 2008, American Indians/Alaska Natives made up about 1 percent and people of two or more races made up about 1 percent of the population.

And these demographic changes continue at a fast pace today.

Political Candidates Now Running as Open White Supremacists

Interesting piece over at the Huffington Post about a white supremacist , Ryan J. Murdough, who is running for a seat in the New Hampshire State House on a platform of hate.

Several things come to mind. First of all, the organization “American Third Position” is but one more burgeoning white supremacist organization advocating a racialized version of grassroots populism. This group states that it is “represent[ing] the political interests of White Americans, because no one else will.” I do not need to explain how this logic is faulty, as Joe Feagin has already outlined this on this blog and in his most recent book The White Racial Frame. As Feagin states, there is already a party that represents the political interests of white people and it is called the current Republican Party.

More disturbing, however, is the twisting of civil rights language for the furtherance of white racism. For instance, Murdough’s equating of diversity initiatives as “anti-white” legislation. This is a reactionary technique that whites have long used to fight against the hard-won gains of people of color. And as Feagin also outlines in his book, the ascension of “post-racial” rhetoric only exacerbates these sentiments.

Murdough, and the A3P he represents, are similar to the Tea Party Movement and the emerging Glenn Beck-ers, all of whom seem to think the language of civil rights applies to perceived white racial disenfranchisement. The appearance of privileging people of color is enough to set the white racial frame in motion, rationalizing the undeserved privileges that white people have always enjoyed in this country and denying equal opportunities to non-white groups (who are seen as less deserving and inherently not allowed to reap the same rewards).

Finally, as mentioned in this blog many times before, this sort of white anger is particularly virulent when it comes to the Tea Party movement. This group seeks to re-establish/protect/maintain white racial hegemony in politics, ideology, and culture. That is the political subtext to the “Take back our nation” speeches and placards they carry. Even Glenn Beck, with all his “liberty and justice rhetoric” is but a white racial zealot fighting to maintain his privilege. Much like the above mentioned white supremacist, Beck plans to use the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement for his personal (and collective white racial) gain. His “Take America Tour,” which will commence with a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 2010 (the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech) is in my opinion, blasphemy to the extreme.

Unfortunately, the sentiments of Murdough, Beck, and Tea Partiers will continue so long as the white racial frame remains supplanted in the political consciousness and as long as neoliberal doctrine continues to avoid discussing the reality of racial inequality in America.

White Criminals as Celebrities?

There seem to be a number of white criminals in the news just in these last few days, but no mainstream media analysts or politicians are discussing the “problem of white crime” these days.

There is the “image makeover” of the serial murderer, David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”), who killed six people and injured seven others. Now serving a 25-year-to-life sentence, he has attracted numerous, apparently mostly white, friends:

from outside prison who, though they deplore his murderous past, have become friends, acquaintances and in some instances a kind of ad hoc set of assistants. This circle of admirers, to a great degree, is made up of evangelical Christians, including a Town and Village Courts judge in upstate New York and a financial adviser in Manhattan, who have been moved by Mr. Berkowitz’s story of becoming a born-again Christian 23 years ago, and many of them have sought to publicize his account of redemption.

How many people of color put into prisons, including many who are eventually shown to be innocent or become converted, get this kind of attention and favorable public support?

Perhaps the most unusual of these white criminals is the “barefoot burglar,” Colton Harris-Moore, of Washington state. He has been on the run from the police over two years because of numerous burglaries, car, boat, and airplane thefts:

After fleeing a Washington halfway house in 2008, his run from the law took him across the country, including an alleged 1,000-mile flight from Indiana to Florida in a stolen airplane.

As one of our readers (thanks, Benjamin)–who pointed this story out to us—has noted: white privilege is written all over this story. How did he go so long and do so much criminal activity without being discovered? White privilege.

Now he is a celebrity with no fewer than 58,000 fans on his Facebook page. His story is being treated as a “human interest” story by the media and lots of Americans:

Moore’s story has captured the interest of tens of thousands on, many of them now offering encouragement, praise and advice. He’s also got a fan page on the Internet, which sells T-shirts with his face on them and is taking donations for a Colton Harris-Moore defense fund. . . . it’s easy to see why Harris-Moore, a tall, lanky, regular-looking kid, has garnered so much attention. While it’s yet to be seen how he will fare in court, there’s doubtless a book/movie deal in store somewhere down the line.

Apparently, a relative is lining up such a deal now. “Regular-looking kid” also seems to be code for “white kid” in some mainstream media analyses. Youth of color almost never get this kind of treatment. Black and Latino teenagers routinely get picked up and sent away to prison for many years for doing much less in the way of law violations than this young white man.

How often do youth of color get such beneficial mainstream media coverage and widespread sympathy for their exploits and difficult home conditions? Instead, as the experienced legal scholar and prisons specialist Michelle Alexander shows, they have gotten a new institutionalized Jim Crow prison system designed to imprison many youth of color for law violations that many similar white law violators do not even go to prison for.

Battling Racism in Drag

I’ve written here before about the racism in the gay community and this is one of the most egregious examples.  Shirley Q Liquor is one of the drag personas of Chuck Knipp, a white guy who performs in blackface.   The centerpiece of his act seems to be trading on the crassest stereotypes of black women.

The following is an excerpt from the Shirley Q. Liquor MySpace page, describing the character:

“How you derrin’! I’m Shirley Q. Liquor. I is from Texarkana and is mother of 19 chillrens. I love some brown bakeded beans, sermons on ignunce, K-Mark, and Shlitz malt liquor. I enjoys goin’ to get my nails did. I think I’m gonna get my nails painted blue with a lil’ gold jessie picture on my littlest nail. I also enjoys hangin’ out with my girl Watusi. Good lawd, she got’s some crazy ass drivin’s. Oh, and she so ugly. She 7″1′ and no amount of make up gonna help her. Oh lawd, she look AWFUL. Well honey, that’s it for now. Tell yo momma I axed her how she durrin’. Bye suga.”

In Shirley Q. Liquor’s repertoire are numbers with titles such as as “Church Slave,” “Who is My Baby Daddy?” and “Jailed.” Although Knipp defends his act as a parody of Tyler Perry’s Madea character, just saying that you’re mimicking black-created foolishness isn’t enough to absolve Knipp of the overtly racist content of his Shirley Q. character.  And, just because white, predominantly gay audiences pay for this crap is no excuse either (boys of Queer Eye – I’m *so* disappointed in you for getting your pic snapped with Shirley Q!).

If you object to Knipp’s Shirley Q. Liquor drag character, take a second and sign this online petition.

50th Anniversary of “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee.   The novel tells the story of Tom Robinson, a black man who is falsely accused of raping a white woman.  What makes the story so engaging is that it is told from the perspective of a child – Jean Louise Finch, or “Scout,” as she’s known.   The story is set in the depression-era fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama was based on Lee’s actual hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.

I read this novel as a kid and it had a profound effect on me.  In fact, for years I had two dogs named for characters in the book:  “Scout” and “Boo.”   And, when I once toyed with the idea of collecting data on white supremacist groups by signing up for their mailing lists (pre-Internet days, and an idea I later abandoned), I used the alias “Jean Louise Finch.”

(In the movie version, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, Brock Peters as Tom Robinson)

The key figure in the novel is Atticus Finch, often heralded as a kind of white, southern civil rights hero,  but that view has recently been called into question.

What’s your memory of this book? Have you  ever read it? Or, re-read it recently.  Do you think that Atticus Finch was a hero?  Or, was he as much a part of the problem with the Jim Crow south as the lynch mob?

Verdict in the Oscar Grant Shooting Trial: No Justice

When BART cop Johanes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant as he lay face down, handcuffed on a train platform he committed involuntary manslaughter, not murder.  Or, so said a Los Angeles jury yesterday.  With an involuntary manslaughter charge, Mehserle will face at least two years in prison and a maximum of six years, rather than the life sentence he would have faced if he’d been convicted of murder.

(Image from here.)

As the verdict came in last night, here in New York I watched as one of the cruelest ironies played out in the press.  While much of the blogosphere and almost all of my Twitter stream was filled with news of the verdict, the mainstream news media devoted its considerable attention to the faux-news money-making event of where a certain basketball player would decide to shoot hoops.   The juxtaposition of these two black men – one shot dead by a white cop and the verdict in the trial of his killer largely ignored, the other bid on by some of the wealthiest white men in the country to entertain them — is striking.    The spectacle of the press fawning over LeBron James while Oscar Grant lies murdered, dead and buried is says a lot about the way America wants to see black men: entertain us or your life has no value.

There was no justice in this case, but no one who is even a casual observer of racial politics in this country can feign any surprise over the verdict.  White cops shooting black men, even when they kill them, do not get convicted of murder in the U.S.   The thing is, the shooting of Oscar Grant is not an anomaly.  It doesn’t happen every day, but it happens with enough regularity that – as a sociologist – it’s impossible not to see a pattern here, and the pattern falls unmistakably along lines of race, class and gender.    White cops shoot black or brown people, usually poor, usually men, and for the most part, get away with it.  As Adam Serwer points out, what’s remarkable in this case is that Mehserle ever stood trial at all.    The good folks at Colorlines did some excellent investigative journalism which highlights the systematic pattern at work in white-police-involved-shootings:

New York City consistently has the highest number of shooting deaths by police in the country, an average of 12 every year. The city also has substantially disproportionate killing of Black people, who make up 26 percent of the population but represented 66 percent of those killed by police.

Perhaps the most striking data of the period concerns the fates of active officers, on or off duty, found to have fatally shot civilians. Including all shootings–even cases where victims were unarmed–only one officer was convicted of wrongdoing. In 2005, Judge Robert H. Straus found Officer Bryan Conroy guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the 2003 death of Ousmane Zongo, a West African immigrant and art restorer who rented a storage room at a Chelsea warehouse where the NYPD was conducting a raid targeting a counterfeit CD and DVD operation. A jury trial had previously deadlocked when considering the case.

In many ways, the murder of Oscar Grant illustrates an extension of the new Jim Crow in which black men who are not fabulously wealth basketball stars are regarded as dangerous, even when they are laying face down with their hands cuffed behind them.  Just as important in the new Jim Crow is the notion of the white cop as hero-victim.    Mehserle will, like other white-cop-shooters before him, get lots of press attention focusing on how difficult it is to be a cop (hero) and how “afraid” (victim) he was in his job (generally) and of Grant (specifically).

The caste system perpetuated by the new Jim Crow is sustained by the white racial frame.  In other words, the shooting of Oscar Grant and the near-acquittal of Mehserle is going to be legitimated and justified by a majority of whites who will talk about the ways that Grant deserved to be killed, or was a menace and the ways that Mehserle was honorable and just doing his job.  For evidence of this you can check the comments at Serwer’s piece here, or pretty much any other blog or news site that’s writing about this verdict.    And, as if to drive this point home, last night as the verdict came in and even before we’d posted anything about the verdict, we started getting racist hate mail through the blog saying all that and more.