Race, Racism & the Internet: 10 Things Sociologists Should Be Researching

There was exactly one session on “Race and New Media” among the hundreds of panels at the recent American Sociological Association meetings last week in Atlanta.  The panel was interesting, thought-provoking and presented by a diverse group of sociologists, and I’m not just saying that because I organized it.   I think there should be lots more research like this.

Creative Commons License photo credit: atxryan

One of the main points I make in my book Cyber Racism is that white supremacy has entered the digital era, and that means it’s changing, morphing into new forms.  Some of those centuries-old components continue to exist, but now they exist alongside new forms of racism, such as cloaked websites.   This is true not only of the extremist groups I’ve studied, it’s also true of lots of other dimensions of race and racism.   This seems like an arena ripe for sociological investigation, yet I continue to be puzzled by the fact that there’s not more research in this area.

Within sociology there’s a gap between researchers who critically study race and those who study the Internet.  I talked with several prominent sociologists who study Internet and society at the meetings, and they concurred with my assessment of the field.  As one scholar told me when I mentioned the few submissions I received for the “Race and New Media” panel: “That’s because no one studies that.”    Another prominent scholar suggested that the problem is that the critical race folks just don’t know the Internet research and vice versa.  I tend to agree. I talk to people who know the Internet and the research about it, and they generally don’t know much about critical race scholarship.  And, the people I talk to who are critical race scholars, generally don’t know much about the Internet.

In many ways, the study of race and the Internet has been ceded by sociologists to scholars working in other fields such as history, psychology, communications, cultural studies, and political science.   There’s good work going on in those fields, most notably Lisa Nakamura’s work, which I admire and have mentioned here before.     One of the things I enjoy about the growing field of Internet-related research is that it’s interdisciplinary, so maybe it’s not worth raising these intra-sociology disciplinary issues, but it strikes me as a missed opportunity for the field.   Part of the problem here is that the Internet changes quickly, and sociology is just slow. One of my graduate professors used to refer to sociology as “slow journalism”.  If journalism is the first draft of history, sociology is the re-draft of history in many ways. I think that sociologists have something valuable to offer in terms of our understanding of how the Internet is transforming patterns of human social behavior.   While lots of sociologists who study race are using the Internet as a tool for their research (everything from Google Scholar to analyzing messages on email listservs), only a very few are considering the Internet as an object of study, and exploring the ways it’s changing the production of and resistance to race and racism.

So, in an attempt to suggest ways to bridge this gap, I’ve sketched out 10 areas I think sociologists should be researching:

  1. infrastructure / design – How computers and the “graphic user interface” (GUI) – like web browsers are designed affects how people use the Internet.  In 2008, I wrote about the development of a custom browser, Blackbird, designed for use by African Americans, that cause some uproar.  How does the way that interfaces are designed affect the way people use the Internet and how is race implicated in this?  There’s terrific research on user-centered design being done by sociologist Nalini Kotamraju and some on open source software by Jon Smajda which highlight the useful bridge between a deep knowledge of infrastructure and software design.  Michelle White (cultural studies) has done some interesting work on this (why is that little hand always white?), and of course, Nakamura’s relevant here again.   I don’t know of any one in sociology doing research like this on race and interface design.
  2. industry –   The leading tech firms in Silicon Valley are dominated by white men and a few white women, yet the manual labor of putting together circuit boards that run computers is largely done by immigrant and global south women.  How does the predominantly white tech industry located in the global north and the immigrant / global south labor that powers the Internet say about race and technology?  (See, J. Shih, Circumventing Discrimination: Gender and Ethnic Strategies in Silicon Valley, Gender & Society, 2006, 20; (2): 177-206).
  3. gaming – Literally millions of people are playing online games, and meeting in person at gaming conferences, yet this social phenomenon is going largely unremarked upon by sociologists.    Lori Kendall’s Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub (UCPress, 2002) looks at the reproduction of race and gender in one of these game spaces, but I see little other work on this important topic by sociologists.
  4. popular culture / fandom – There are huge – again in the millions – of online groups for everything from tennis to celebrities to popular fiction.   How is being a “fan” shaped by race, and how is online “fandom” in popular culture shaped by race and racism?   Sociologist Sarah Gatson has explored some of this in her work and is seeking papers [pdf] for a special issue of a journal about this.
  5. mobile technology – It’s been a few years since Howard Rheingold (whom I think of as an honorary sociologist) wrote his groundbreaking book, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, and I’ve yet to see anyone extend that work to look at mobile technology and race.   There’s research by the Pew Internet & American Life Project documenting that African Americans and Latinos are more likely to access the Internet through mobile devices.  What does this suggest for all that talk of the “digital divide” among sociologists a few years ago?
  6. identity +  community –  In the early days of the Internet, lots of people thought that we would go online to “experiment” with identity, to engage in “identity tourism” to use Nakamura’s phrase.   Yet, that’s not turned out to be the case.  In fact, the way people use the Internet most often is to reaffirm their offline identities.  Sociologist Emily Ignacio’s excellent book Building Diaspora: Filipino Community Formation on the Internet (Rutgers UP, 2005) is an example of this type of work and there should be more.
  7. social movements :  I mentioned my book on racist social movements, and I’d like to see more done on progressive social movements around race, such as the march organized around the Jena6, which was mobilized primarily through young, African American bloggers. One of the strategies I used in my research was to examine movement discourse pre-Internet and post-Internet, and this is another angle that could be pursued by those interested in race and the offline mobilization of social movements around race.
  8. racist framing in Facebook, MySpace, Twitter – Social media is framed by racist language, and within a larger white racial frame, yet there’s very little sociology that looks at this.  Stephanie Laudone (graduate student at Fordham) is at work on a dissertation that takes up some of these issues in Facebook.
  9. health/science – Internet users increasingly look for health and scientific knowledge online.    Victoria Pitts (a CUNY colleague) has written about these issues as they relate to gender, (see Illness and Internet empowerment: writing and reading breast cancer in cyberspace, Health, 2004, Vol 8 (1):33-60), but I don’t know of any similar research that looks critically at race and health.
  10. surveillance culture – We live in what some have called a ‘surveillance culture.’   Sociologist Simone Brown is writing about some of these surveillance technologies as they relate to border crossings (fascinating work), and there are implications of this surveillance culture for understanding race and the Internet.    As just one example, given the millions of Black and Latino men locked up in the U.S., what are the implications of the “inmate locator” websites run by state and federal governments?  How do systems of incarceration work together with online registries and databases of Black/Latino men to shape racial inequality in the digital era?

Of course, this is just a back-of-the-envelope sketch of what I think are the promising areas of investigation for sociologists.    Where I know about people’s work in these areas, I’ve included it (let me know if I left your work out and i’ll add it).  So, what did I miss?  What are some other areas of research?

Apology Not Accepted Dr. Laura!: Another Take on the Racist Rant

Well known Dr. Laura Schlessinger, conservative talk show host and author, has done it again. Recently, in an on-air conversation with a Black female caller who was calling into the show to ask Dr. Laura for advice on how to handle issues of racial discomfort with the racially charged rhetoric of her White husband’s friends and family members; the host, as my good mother would say, “lost her damn mind” and displayed her intolerance and oppressive mindset toward people of color. This is not the first time she has exhibited intolerance and blatant ignorance toward a marginalized group. In 1998, she was quoted on her website as saying:

1. A huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys.
2. If you’re gay or lesbian it’s a biological error.
3. I call homosexual practices deviant.
4. When we have the word ‘homosexual,’ we are clarifying the dysfunction, the deviancy, the reality.
5. ….[reparative] therapies which have been successful in helping a reasonable number of people become heterosexual.
6. …I believe that homosexual behavior is deviant; that when homosexuals adopt children, these children are intentionally robbed of a necessary mom and dad…
7. I’m sorry, hear it one more time perfectly clearly: If you’re gay or a lesbian, it’s a biological error that inhibits you from relating normally to the opposite sex. The fact that you are intelligent, creative and valuable is all true. The error is in your inability to relate sexually intimately, in a loving way to a member of the opposite sex – it is a biological error


Later she took out a full page in the Daily Variety noting,

While I express my opinions from the perspective of an Orthodox Jew and a staunch defender of the traditional family, in talking about gays and lesbians, some of my words were poorly chosen … Many people perceive them as hate speech. This fact has been personally and professionally devastating to me as well as to many others. Ugly words have been relentlessly repeated and distorted for far too long …

In The Boston Herald, Schlessinger said was quoted as saying her words were not an apology, but simple “clarification.”

In terms of the recent Black female caller, there are several points of importance. First, Dr. Laura began by asking the caller for an example of a racist comment, “Cause sometimes people are hypersensitive.” Later within the conversation, she says, “…hypersensitivity, OK, which is being bred by black activists.” The said quotes are examples of her in ability to take acts of racism and oppression serious. She devalues the plight of Blacks. Next, Dr. Laura says the N-word eleven times while debating that it is alright to use because Blacks use to word so freely. My final and most important point is that using the word was horrible enough. But when one listens to the actual conversation, one will be able to notice her “devil may care attitude” she takes. She seems to have no fear or disinclination with using the N-word or other degrading racist rhetoric. Researchers Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin discuss and explain explains the racial attitudes and behaviors exhibited by Whites in private vs. public settings in their profound book, Two-Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage. Simply, their case studies proved that Whites will discuss oppressive and racists words in regards to marginalized people more so in private when surrounded by other Whites they feel are liked minded. Well, you might be thinking, “Dr. T, what she did was not in private, but on a publically national syndicated talk show.” What is interesting and escapes many that have attempted to discuss this issue, is the fact that a majority of those who dial into her show weekly, those that sponsor her show, share a like mindedness in regards to her social and racial ideology. She felt so freely to degrade the caller’s concerns while spewing the N-word because she knew the majority of her audience was simply like her. She felt feely to discuss interracial marriage in a degrading manner because she knew the majority of her audience was simply like her.

On her website, she said,

“ I talk every day about doing the right thing. And yesterday, I did the wrong thing. I didn’t intend to hurt people, but I did. And that makes it the wrong thing to have done. I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the “n” word all the way out – more than one time. And that was wrong. I’ll say it again – that was wrong. I ended up, I’m sure, with many of you losing the point I was trying to make, because you were shocked by the fact that I said the word…

Well Dr. Laura, I am sure Plato is rolling around in his toga due to your attempt to “philosophize.” Next, in regards to losing the point; THIS FACT IS TRUE! This is obvious by the views of news media coverage that has taken place on CNN, and other venues. The media once again exemplifies their fear to have real scholars on to discuss the matter. Instead they go to their shoe box of so-called experts who have no idea what exactly they are witnessing (who always happens to be Black). Sorry Rolland! To me, they all missed your point due to their inability to dissect your overall argument, words used, and tone. But do not worry, Dr. Laura. I got it…I got it.

The ‘Mosque’ Controversy

What’s quickly become known as ‘the mosque at ground zero’ controversy should be a local story about land use and zoning, has blown up into a national disgrace that says a lot about the current state of religious intolerance, Islamophobia and racism in the U.S.     As Keith Olbermann cogently pointed out, there is no “mosque” (it’s an interfaith community center) and it’s not “at Ground Zero” (it’s several blocks away in a former Burlington Coat Factory).  I was here on 9/11 and watched those towers fall to the ground.   I’ve also watched as a particular group of survivors from that day, often referred to as “The Families,” have been valorized in the press and by themselves beyond all reason.  This group, “The Families” never includes any of the relatives of the workers from the restaurant at the top of the towers, many of them undocumented immigrant workers.

In many ways, the objection this project in lower Manhattan (aka, the ‘mosque’) is one that appeals to the lowest common denominators of racism, religious intolerance and Islamophobia.   But, there are other voices.

Earlier this month, Mayor Bloomberg (not always my favorite flavor) gave this speech which was brilliant, i thought, and hit just the right note:

“We’ve come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that more than 250 years later would greet millions of immigrants in this harbor. And we come here to state as strongly as ever, this is the freest city in the world. That’s what makes New York special and different and strong.

“Our doors are open to everyone. Everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it’s sustained by immigrants — by people from more than 100 different countries speaking more than 200 different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here or you came here yesterday, you are a New Yorker.

“We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That’s life. And it’s part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11, 2001.

“On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn’t want us to enjoy the freedoms to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams, and to live our own lives. Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that even here — in a city that is rooted in Dutch tolerance — was hard-won over many years.

“In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue, and they were turned down. In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies, and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.

“In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion, and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780s, St. Peter’s on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site, and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.

“This morning, the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted to extend — not to extend — landmark status to the building on Park Place where the mosque and community center are planned. The decision was based solely on the fact that there was little architectural significance to the building. But with or without landmark designation, there is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building.

“The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.

“This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.

“For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, ‘What God do you pray to?’ (Bloomberg’s voice cracks here a little as he gets choked up.) ‘What beliefs do you hold?’

“The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

“Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation, and in fact their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. But doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our city even closer together, and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any ways consistent with Islam.

“Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right. The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal. And if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city.

“Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest.”

Much of the fury around this faux-issue has been generated by the vengeful rhetoric of George W. Bush immediately following 9/11 and his misguided “war on terror” and attack on Iraq. Bush’s rhetorical legacy continues in Sarah Palin’s bumbling vitriol.  If Bush had given this kind of speech immediately following 9/11, I believe we’d have a safer world and dramatically less of the Islamophobic racism fueling this controversy.    Very recently, President Obama has defended the notion of a mosque in downtown Manhattan, and then seemed to equivocate on it.   One of Obama’s strengths has been his pitch-perfect ability to reach that note of America’s highest ideals and, drawing on Lincoln’s rhetoric, to appeal to the better angels of our nature. If ever there were a time for Obama – and each one of us – to appeal to the better angels of our nature, it is now and around this controversy.

Dr. Laura’s Racist Rant (Updated)

While Joe and I’ve been away from blogging for face-to-face conferencing, it seems that racism seems to have rolled along without our review. One of the more egregious offenders seems to have been one talk-show host known as Dr. Laura. Here’s are some of our colleagues in anti-racist struggle, Jill Merritt, John Ridley, and Tim Wise, speaking on a panel hosted by CNN’s Don Lemon recently about the Dr. Laura mess:

Thoughts about all this, dear readers?

UPDATED 8/18 @ 7:19amET: Dr.Laura to End her Radio Show. Now there’s a silver lining! 🙂

Racism & Health: New Evidence

Racism is bad for your health, new evidence suggests.  We’ve written before about the link between racism and health.  Traditionally, scholars have conceptualized this in only one direction; that is, racism is bad for people of color.   African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans who are the targets of racism are worse off than whites in terms of their health on a wide range of measures.   Some of this is about health disparities rooted in income inequality, but there’s a growing body of research that points to racism as a root cause for at least part of these differences.  Now, some new research suggests that racism may also be harmful for white people.

Elizabeth Page-Gould discusses some of this in a recent piece at Alternet:

In one study, Wendy Berry Mendes, Jim Blascovich, and their colleagues invited European-American men into the laboratory to engage in social interactions with African-American men or with men of the same race as themselves. The participants were hooked up to equipment that measured the responses of their autonomic nervous system while they played the game Boggle with their white or black partners.  When interacting with African-American partners, the white men tended to respond as to a physiological threat, marked by diminished blood pumped through the heart and constriction of the circulatory system. However, European Americans who had positive experiences with African Americans in the past responded as though the game posed a challenge—increased blood pumped by the heart and dilation of the circulatory system.

This doesn’t seem to be an isolated finding.  Page-Gould conducted similar research and found that those who scored high on a measure of prejudice had increases in cortisol during the friendly interaction with a cross-race partner, but produced less cortisol when interacting with a same-race partner.  Those who were low in prejudice were not stressed during either cross-race or same-race interactions. In other words, prejudiced individuals perceived partners of a different race as a physical threat, even though they were in a safe laboratory setting and engaging in a task that was structured to build closeness between the participant pairs.

While this research focuses on individual level prejudice, other research points to the harmful effects of structural, institutional racism for whites’ health.

The good folks at Sociological Images caught some new research by Philip Cohen of Family Inequality which demonstrates one of the many hidden costs of racism.  In Cohen’s recent paper published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, he illustrates that in any given neighborhood in addition to the traditional way we’ve understood racism and health – that black people are always less likely to get access to a kidney specialist before their kidneys fail – there’s also another trend that’s bad news for white folks.  White people living in a neighborhood with a higher percentage of blacks are less likely than whites in a predominantly white neighborhood to see a specialist.  In other words, whites also suffer from the institutional racism that structures residential segregation.

(Image from SocImages)

I think it’s important to point out the ways that racism also costs whites as a strategy for dismantling this American version of apartheid that continues here.  Both of the pieces that report on this research frame the research in terms that are meant to appeal to whites’ self-interest.   Page-Gould (Alternet) writes:

“In the urban metropolises of the United States and Canada, it is almost impossible to avoid talking to someone of another race. So imagine the toll it would take if every time you did, your body responded with an acute stress reaction: You experience a surge in stress hormones, and your heart pumps harder while your blood vessels constrict, inhibiting the flow of blood to your limbs and brain.These types of bodily reactions are helpful in truly dangerous situations, but a number of recent studies have found that racially prejudiced people experience them even during benign social interactions with people of different races. This means that just navigating the supermarket, coffee shop, or modern workplace can be stressful for them. And if the racist person then has to go through this every single day, the repeated stress can become a chronic problem, which places them at heightened risk for disease in later life.   Harboring prejudice, it seems, may be bad for your health.”

The intended audience member here seems to be the prejudiced white reader who, unable to avoid encounters with people of color, should learn to react differently or risk harming their health.   As powerful as the imperative to health is (especially among whites), I doubt this is going to shift anyone’s approach to cross-racial interactions.    As an urban dweller in the U.S. in a reasonably diverse city, I can attest to the ways that people remain racial segregated and can quite easily never interact with someone of another race.

The persistence of racial segregation in housing is also part of the problem I have with the analysis of whites’ self-interest in the kidney failure study.  It seems just as likely – maybe more – that whites would read that research by Cohen and conclude, “ah, note to self: do not live in predominantly black neighborhood.”  Lisa, writing at SocImages, is more pointed in her framing of the research:

White people should worry about racism.  They should worry about racism because it’s wrong.  But if that’s not enough of a motivation, they should worry about it for their own damn good.

Yeah, they should.  We should.   I’m just skeptical that self-interest will triumph where an entire civil rights movement based on moral reasoning has failed.

Sociology Meetings in Atlanta

I’m posting this from Atlanta where I’ll be attending a variety of meetings with assorted flavors of sociologists that go by a bundle of acronyms (SSSI, SSSP, ASA, SWS, ABS).  I’ve organized a few sessions at one set of meetings and am presenting on a panel at another, so feel obliged to promote those a bit.  If you’re in Atlanta and can drop by any of these sessions, I’d be delighted to see a friendly face or two.

Here’s the line up:

Race and New Media (ASA) Marriott Marquis
Sun, Aug 15 – 8:30am – 10:10am
Blogs and Belonging: Online Representations of Harlem
*Danielle M. Jackson (City University of New York – The Graduate Center)
Describing the Process of The Mexican Cyber-Moral Panic in The United States
*Nadia Yamel Flores (Texas A&M University), Guadalupe Vidales (University of Wisconsin, Parkside), April Plemons (Texas A&M University)
Facebook: A “Raced” Space or “Post-Racial”?
*Stephanie Marie Laudone (Fordham University)
Reviewing Whiteness: The White Savior Film and the Online Film Reviewers
*Matthew W. Hughey (Mississippi State University)

Networking and Building Coverage of Your Research, (aka, Blogging + Twitter for Scholars) – SWS
Sun, Aug 15 – 10:30am-12noon

Crystal Jackson, Theta Pavis, Jessie Daniels

Internet and Society (ASA) Marriott Marquis
Sun, Aug 15 – 12:30pm – 2:10pm

Open Source and the Moral Field of Computing
*Jon M. Smajda (University of Minnesota)
Reconceptualizing the Public/Private Distinction in the Age of Information Technology
*Sarah M. Ford (University of Massachusetts-Amherst)
The Young in São Paulo: Media Use and Global Participation
*Heloisa Pait (Universidade Estadual Paulista-São Paulo State University)

Internet and Society (ASA) Marriott Marquis
Mon, Aug 16 – 8:30am – 10:10am

Bottom-up Internet Political Activities with General Internet Intermediaries
*Ho Young Yoon (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Gender Authenticity in MMORPGs: Heralding Solid-to-Virtual World Consistency
*Zek Cypress Valkyrie (University of Colorado at Boulder)
Meeting Online: The Rise of the Internet as a Social Intermediary
*Michael J. Rosenfeld (Stanford University)
The Tension between User-centered Design (UCD) and E-government
*Nalini P. Kotamraju (University of Twente)

Cheers, sociology friends!

Roma Face Discrimination in Europe

Roma people, an ethnic minority group in Europe, suffer from widespread violence, poverty and widespread discrimination in employment, education and housing. Compared to other groups in Europe, Roma people have poorer health, lower life expectancy, less education, lower income and live in worse housing. Roma women are subject to forced sterilization.   Although there are no longer anti-Roma laws on the statutes in Europe, the mountain of reports from the Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Commission Against Racism And Intolerance (ECRI), show that virulent anti-Gypsyism not only survives but is growing in many countries.

For decades, the Council of Europe (COE) in particular has worked to fight anti-Gypsyism, through its Dosta! (Enough) Campaign. Increasingly, scholars and activists in Europe are turning to media to help combat this form of racism. This video (28:25) produced by the COE, features a panel of experts, including a number of sociologists, explores the problem and efforts to address it:

This pervasive discrimination have led some to make the case that the Roma people share much with African Americans in the U.S. Among those who draw this parallel is Robert Rustem, from the European Roma and Travellers Forum. He writes:

Rather than recognise the plight of Roma as an urgent social and political issue, too many European governments ignore the application of their own laws, see Roma as primarily the concern of local councillors or the criminal justice system or simply do nothing at all. A similar intransigence served as a call to action for the African-American leadership in the 1950’s. It responded by mobilising support among black and white people and set out to pour shame on America’s political elite. Bus boycotts, sit-ins, marches, demonstrations and the emergence of more militant political forces such as Malcolm X, focussed the international spotlight on the injustice of Jim Crow apartheid and created the political pressure needed for lasting change. There are those in the Roma community who believe that similar non-violent tactics may now be needed in Europe to end the cycle of good intentions, warm words and neglect that has marked the post-war discussion of the ‘Roma Question.’

Rustem concedes that the Roma issue remains “on the fringes of political activism” in Europe. Still, Rustem and others in Europe who are committed to equality for Roma people say they will be looking to the anniversary of Dr. King’s March on Washington August 28th for inspiration.

Frontiers of Racism: Anti-Immigrant Bigotry

Many times, those who defend the anti-immigrant movement do so by denying any connection to racism. This short (6:48) video from The Center for New Community explores the connections between anti-immigrant bigotry, immigration, and African Americans in the United States:

This video (h/t @NativismWatch) makes a connection between contemporary anti-immigration bigotry particularly against Mexicans and Mexican Americans, which seems to be growing, and historical, institutional racism against African Americans.

“Illegals” are Helping to Save Social Security — for Other Americans

Another good story on The Root (from the NY Times) points out that the U.S. government actually depends on and counts the contributions of Social Security by undocumented immigrants! Actually counts on their contributions to keep Social Security solvent! (The Times story here has personal examples of people paying $2400 a year on modest jobs, with no hope of Social Security or Medicare.) You do not hear about that in the nativistic mainstream media these days:

According to an article in The New York Times, the estimated 7 million illegal immigrants in the United States are adding $7 billion to the Social Security system each year. . . . working and paying into Social Security and Medicare, but since they are not citizens, they cannot benefit from the programs once retired.

And the amount is very substantial:

The money contributed by “illegal immigrants” added up to about 10 percent of last year’s surplus — the difference between what the system currently receives in payroll taxes and what it gives out in pension benefits. What’s even more interesting is that the money paid by illegal workers and their employers is factored into all of the Social Security Administration’s projections.

Hmm. So if we keep them out of the United States, the white nativists will quickly volunteer to pay much more in Social Security taxes to make up for these huge government losses. Right.

Faking Democracy: More Evidence of Racist Barriers in US Voting

Cord Jefferson at TheRoot has a good piece on the 1965 Voting Rights Act now 45 years later. There are still many barriers to black voting, both as a result of disenfranchisement because of (often nonviolent) crimes and very direct discriminatory blocking of voters of color:

Currently, 10 states — including Florida, Virginia, Arizona and Kentucky — permanently disenfranchise at least some convicted felons, and 20 more require criminals to complete prison, parole and probation before being allowed to vote again. … An estimated 5.3 million Americans, 4 million of whom are out of prison, are denied the right to vote based on their felony convictions. About a third of them are black, including 13 percent of all African-American men.

Much of this disenfranchisement, as Michelle Alexander has shown in her fine book, The New Jim Crow, comes from being imprisoned for drug crimes that whites, who do much of the drug crime, rarely get imprisoned for.

There is also the issue the substantial discrimination against black voters and other voters of color that still is carried out by white conservative forces, including Republican operatives. As I pointed out recently in Racist America (second edition, 2010):

Researchers have identified an array of blocking strategies used by white officials to reduce black representation: gerrymandering political districts, changing elective offices into appointive offices, adding new qualifications for office, purging voter-registration rolls, suddenly changing the location of polling places, creating difficult registration procedures, and using numerous other strategies to dilute the black vote. One dilution strategy consists of intentionally setting up or continuing at-large electoral systems, instead of utilizing elections by smaller districts. The purpose is to enable white voters, who dominate the larger political unit, to determine who will be the political representatives in that unit. Research data on local and state elections indicate that, taken together, these strategies have significantly reduced black political power in many areas.

Jefferson also notes that legislators have been slow to do anything about these mostly white-generated anti-voter felonies:

For five years now, lawmakers have attempted to push through the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, to no avail. That means it’s still not a federal crime to knowingly lie to voters in order to keep them from the polls, even during a federal election. Maryland Senator Ben Cardin spoke to the Deceptive Practices Act’s importance in 2007, citing a false flyer that had been handed out in black communities in Milwaukee during the 2004 presidential election.

The flyer made phony, sometimes wild claims–such as that a traffic ticket disqualified you from voting. Still no protective law has been passed. Could it be that the U.S. is still far from being a real democracy?