ABC Privileges Breitbart, Source of Anti-Sherrod Myths

We got this letter today from about how conservative white media pundits/activists get no penalty for extreme and biased antiback reports:

Dear Friends, Remember Andrew Breitbart? He was the man who used selectively-edited video to paint Shirley Sherrod as a racist, to smear the NAACP, and to accuse the Obama administration of reverse racism. It was all a big, premeditated lie. Unbelievably, ABC News now plans to have Breitbart participate in their Election Night coverage, despite his history as a deceitful operative who distorts, lies, and race-baits. ABC’s decision is a slap in the face to Shirley Sherrod, to Black America, and to everyone who believes in the value of telling the truth….It’s why I’m joining ColorOfChange in calling on ABC News and its parent company Disney to drop their plans to include Breitbart now

They summarize what Breitbart did:

The video pushed by Breitbart showed Ms. Sherrod telling a story about how she once was asked for help from a White farmer, and how she didn’t “give him the full force of what [she] could do” to help him, because of his race. … Breitbart touted the video as evidence that the NAACP and the Obama administration tolerated racial discrimination against White people…. Breitbart’s doctored video and false storyline moved quickly to FOX News, where on-air personalities called for Sherrod’s firing…. Sherrod was forced to resign from her post at the USDA

The problem is that this was a mythology created apparently for political purposes:

The truth is that Sherrod was telling a 25-year old story about her work for a non-profit organization whose mission was to help Black farmers. Discrimination against Black farmers was rampant, and she described how she was first reluctant when approached by a White farmer named Roger Spooner for help (in her speech, Sherrod connects her reluctance to the fact that her father was killed by a White farmer 45 years ago). But after seeing that no one wanted to help Spooner, she worked to save his farm, and eventually became good friends with his family.

Once called out, Breitbart did not apologize and persisted in attacking the NAACP. Sherrod is now suing him. ABC is keeping him on in spite of the great opposition that has grown about him getting such a commentary job. The color of change folks ask for help:

It’s not too late for ABC to do the right thing. Please join us in demanding that they do: [go here]

This is What Institutional Racism Looks Like

Concepts like ‘institutional racism’ can be hard to get a firm hold on sometimes.  Then, along comes a perfectly illustrative example, and it’s really clear what institutional racism looks like.

This week NPR reported the shocking details of the funding behind Arizona’s immigration law.  Private prison corporations, such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), among those who were the primary drafters and proponents of Arizona’s SB 1070 legislation.  The law would systematically fill Arizona’s prisons with hundreds of thousands of brown-skinned undocumented immigrants in a way never done before.  And, at the same time, it would mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies who are in the business of housing them.

Montana jail

(Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: harrachglass)

The private prison industry is a result of neoliberalism which holds that “the market” is a better solution for society’s problems than government.   When it comes to the private prison industry, the “pitch” to local communities is that these are industries that provide a “stable employment base.”   Some of this comes through on the CCA website:

“currently holds approximately 75,000 inmates including males, females, and juveniles at all security levels, in more than 60 facilities under contract for management in 19 states and the District of Columbia.  CCA currently partners with all three federal corrections agencies (The Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement), nearly half of all states and more than a dozen local municipalities. Since its inception, CCA has maintained its market leadership position in private corrections, managing more than 50 percent of all beds under contract with such providers in the United States.  … The company also provides valuable economic benefits to its local community partners by paying property, sales and other taxes, and providing a stable employment base that focuses on building careers with unlimited growth and development opportunities. As a strong corporate citizen, recognized by Corporate Responsibility Officer magazine, CCA contributes generously to host communities through volunteerism and charitable giving.”

Of course, what doesn’t get addressed in the glossy corporate promotion materials is that the prison-industrial complex is one of the central mechanisms that maintains the stark institutional racism that characterizes the U.S.  The fact is that those who are incarcerated are disproportionately black and brown folks, even though lawbreakers are fairly even distributed across racial groups.    This is what Michelle Alexander has referred to as The New Jim Crow.

Who is running the private prison industry, you may ask?  For the most part, it’s wealthy, white men like John Ferguson, head of CCA.

As the rest of the economy tanks, state economies shrivel, and prisons now look more clearly like the economic drain they always have been, the private prison industry has suffered some losses. The industry is in a position now where it has to scramble in order to keep offering a “stable employment base” and continue to profit off of this new form of institutional racism.  The industry leaders point to immigration detention as the growth sector that will save them.    This is from a February 2009 article about CCA:

“Corrections Corporation of America’s share prices sunk Tuesday after it announced lower earnings than expected in its annual report, but executives said they are “bullish” about the leading private prison provider’s long term future. Even as states cut their corrections budgets, immigrant detainees will provide CCA a steady source of income.
‘The detainee growth will come from lots of sources,” CCA CEO John Ferguson told analysts during a telephone conference call. “So there is no reason to believe that these populations won’t just creep up over time.’

And, clearly from the NPR report, people like Ferguson are willing to draft legislation and get it passed that ensures that the population continues to “creep up” and along with CCA’s profits.

If you’ve followed news about prisons in the U.S. for awhile, none of this is particularly surprising although it is still shocking somehow.  What’s so very important about the NPR report is that it offers a rare glimpse into the way that policies and legislation that have a huge negative impact on black and brown people get created by a handful of powerful, white men as they, and others like them, stand to benefit.    This is what institutional racism looks like.

Cuéntame: Award Winner for Most Racist Ad 2010

The 2010 midterm elections have distinguished themselves for the torrent of racist ads produced by political candidates and their campaign staff. In order to counter this, the Cuéntame the ¡Latino Instigators! are highlighting this ad as the ‘most racist’ ad for 2010:

Cuéntame has done some expert work around combatting racism in the media. They were part of the effort to remove Lou Dobbs from CNN for his immigrant-bashing rhetoric. And, in April of this year, launched the “Do I look illegal campaign?” in protest against Arizona’s anti-immigration law. If you’d like to support the work of Cuéntame , you can connect with them on Facebook.

Flying While Black: Border Control, DNA and the Case of the Lips

After tracing his maternal ancestry in 2005 through genealogical DNA testing, or personal genomics, and finding his ancestral links to the Mende and Temne peoples of Sierra Leone, actor Isaiah Washington attested to his “rebirth” saying he believes that “DNA will finally become the tool to bridge the gap between our brothers and sisters who have been lost.” Earlier this year, now “DNA-branded” [see note at end on this term] as Sierra Leonean, Washington was sworn in as a citizen of that country. Citizenship by way of mitochondrial DNA.

But what about the role of DNA for our brothers and sisters who have been stranded or detained abroad? Enter “the lips case”.

On May 21st 2009, Somali-born Canadian citizen Suaad Hagi Mohamud attempted to board a flight out of Nairobi to return home to Toronto, after a three-week visit to Kenya. Upon inspecting her passport, Dutch KLM airline authorities claimed that her lips looked different than that observed in her four-year-old passport photo, branded her an “imposter” and not the rightful holder of the passport that she presented. Mohamud was detained overnight in the airport. Two Canadian High Commission officials met with her the following morning, told her “you are not Suaad” and confiscated her passport. Mohamud was held in the airport for four days until she was released on a bond, tasked with proving her identity within a two-week time frame.

Canadian High Commission officials did not accept Suaad’s ID cards and she was charged with using a false passport, impersonating a Canadian and with being in Kenya illegally. Subsequently she was jailed by Kenyan authorities from June 3rd to June 11th, facing possible deportation to Somalia. While Mohamud was in limbo in Kenya, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon was quoted on July 24th as saying, “there is no tangible proof” that Mohamud is Canadian and that “all Canadians who hold passports generally have a picture that is identical in their passport to what they claim to be.”

It wasn’t until Mohamud requested DNA testing through a motion filed before the Canadian Federal Court by her attorney in Toronto, and then had that test conducted on August 10th 2009 that charges against her were dropped. Mohamud’s DNA was compared to that of her Canadian born son, confirming her identity with a probability of 99.99%. She was issued an emergency passport and she boarded a plane to Amsterdam to make her way home to Toronto arriving on August 15th. This DNA verification not only proved who she said she was, but, apparently, determined her citizenship status as well. This case raises the question of “who can be abandoned by the state and by what technological means? and “will this case be used to argue for even more surveillance by way of a genomic encoded passport?”

The Mohamud case reveals that although identification documents function as a key technology in the contemporary management of state sanctioned human mobility, the discretionary power exercised by the customs inspector, and increasingly by the airline official as proxy customs inspector, is a power that makes it plain that, as David Lyon puts it, “all technologies are human activities.” (Identifying Citizens: ID Cards as Surveillance) Meaning, that these technologies of border control (passports, biometrics, airport pre-boarding passenger screening zones) are developed within, put to use and often replicate existing socio-spatial inequalities. (See this deadly example too)

For Mohamud, DNA testing was a technology of hope that allowed her to challenge her abandonment or “racial purging” by the state. The answer to whether Mohamud’s abandonment was racially charged is found in an interview with the CBC where Mohamud contested that

The Canadian High Commission wouldn’t be treating me the way they treat me. If I’m a white person, I wouldn’t be there in one day. I wouldn’t have missed the flight.

Mohamud has since filed a 2.6 million dollar lawsuit against the Canadian government.

Note: Sociologist Patricia Hill Collins uses the term “DNA-branded” in discussing the “freak” show that is ‘Whose Your Daddy?’ episodes of The Maury Povich Show and The Montel Williams Show, where potential fathers are subject to paternity testing and if DNA-branded as father they are subject to the requisite lecture on responsibility by the hosts.

Simone is now tweeting surveillance stories and links at @wewatchwatchers

Racist “Joking” Once Again: Conservative Republican Humor?

According to the Blue Virginia website

David Bartholomew, Chair of the Virginia Beach Republican Committee, has been forwarding around a “joke” via email. …

I went down this morning to sign up my Dog for welfare.
At first the lady said, “Dogs are not eligible to draw welfare”.
So I explained to her that my Dog is black, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak
English and has no frigging clue who his Daddy is.
So she looked in her policy book to see what it takes to qualify…
My Dog gets his first check Friday.
Is this is a great country or what?

This electoral season has brought much lurking, blatantly racist framing and commentary back out of the white backstage and again into the frontstage.

It did not disappear, contrary to much public discussion of a post-racial America. Much of this stuff was only “hiding” in many white backstage settings of white friends and relatives. And notice how many elements of the old white racial frame appear in this short email “joke.” Notice the white privilege, and the numerous anti-black stereotypes.

Apparently, numerous conservative whites do not understand that the Internet is not really such a “safe” backstage.

President Obama Courts Latino Voters

I have seen little in the mainstream media about the warm welcome that President Obama is getting in many Latino communities. Here is one rare msnbc story about his appearance on Univision’s very popular “Piolin por la Manana” radio show today. (H/T: dailykos diarist here) It is revealing:

President Obama discussed immigration reform, health care, and the economy . . . part of a White House effort to drive turnout among Latino voters. … After a glowing introduction that incorporated clips from past Obama speeches, Sotelo joked that he would give the president a choice of topics to talk about it: A) immigration reform, B) immigration reform, C) immigration reform, or D) all of the above. He went on to say that many Hispanics were “disappointed” that the president had not been able to get comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed.

It continues:

The president said he, too, was disappointed, but that he needed more Republican support to pass a bill, a common refrain from a White House that struggled to get major legislation — like the health-care overhaul — through the Senate despite having a majority. “I have not backed off this issue,” Obama said.

These heavy political pressures from Latino voters and media analysts of color are relatively new in our political system. In our rather undemocratic system, political party candidates and officials, including presidents, usually have to work with and please the underlying “investor” business blocs that really control our major parties. (See the excellent “investment theory of party politics” of political scientist Thomas Ferguson here).

The Democratic Party is actually not controlled by unions, voters of color, or white women, as is often assumed in the mass media and electorate. It is actually controlled — on most matters — by key business blocs (as is the Republican Party), which is why President Obama has made so many decisions favoring Wall Street financial corporations and other big businesses.

On immigration issues, President Obama is caught between these pressures from Latinos and other Americans who want a liberal and facilitative educational policy (including the Dream Act)–who in this case are partially joined by many employers who seek low-wage immigrant labor–and the majority-white, often middle-class voters, many politicians, and some business officials opposed to this Latino immigration.

White Nationalism and the Tea Party

The NAACP recently released a Special Report on Tea Party Nationalism, which addresses the overlap and interconnectedness between white nationalist hate groups and the various Tea Party groups that are sprouting like bad weeds across the U.S.    As if to highlight this connection, David Duke, former KKK leader, early Internet adopter for the cause of white supremacy, and one-time candidate for Louisiana governor, has released a video addressing the Tea Party.

The report, written by Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind, is just 80 pages, 9 chapters and includes 17 figures and maps.   It’s in Chapter 8, “Racism, Anti-Semitism, and the Militia Impulse,” that the authors address the link to overt racists such as Duke, a connection that many Tea Partiers vigorously deny.      In this chapter, the authors write:

“In preparation for Tea Party protests held on July 4, 2009, national socialists and other white supremacists created a discussion thread on, the largest and most widely accessed of the many white nationalist websites.216 While highlighting the distinction between themselves and the majority of Tea Partiers who were not self-conscious about their own racism, one person argued, ‘We need a relevant transitional envelop-pushing flyer for the masses. Take these Tea Party Americans by the hand and help them go from crawling to standing independently and then walking towards racialism.’ “(p.60)

This quote highlights the use of the Internet by white nationalists who see the Tea Party as an opportunity for “walking Tea Party Americans…towards racialism.”   And, this seems to be the general take in the report, that the Tea Party includes some white nationalists, but is mainly seen as an opportunity for those in the white nationalist movement.    The authors take this stance with regard to Duke, as well.  The video linked to above appears to have been around awhile, as the authors refer to it in the NAACP report.

David Duke’s embrace of the Tea Parties reveals less about the Tea Parties than it serves as a reminder of the former Klansmen’s never-ending opportunism. He used the Internet to broadcast a ten minute video speech, “Message to the Tea Party.” Duke began the “message” by paying homage to the Tea Parties and the “Founding Fathers,” and ended with his usual roundhouse attack on “the Zionists” (meaning Jews). Over the decades Duke has switched organizational allegiances as new openings emerged for him, but he never abandoned his core national socialist ideology.
“Most recently, Duke had spent time flitting across the globe: In France, Duke had his picture taken with Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant Front National. In Russia, he turned a 1995 meeting with Zhirinovsky into a spot at a 2002 “anti-Zionist” conference in Moscow. In November of that year, he spoke at a meeting in Bahrain. He reappeared in Iran in 2006 for a Holocaust denial conference where he thanked President Ahmadinejad for his “courage” and “foresight.” And in 2009, the once and future Republican, David Duke, was unceremoniously expelled from the Czech Republic (although the charges were later dropped.)
Duke’s announcement that he will use a year-long speaking tour to gauge potential support for another campaign in the Republican presidential primaries (in 2012) should not be understood as anything more than a declaration of his perennial search for contributions from new followers. He is quite unlikely to repeat anything near the successes he has had in the past, when he won a majority of white voters in two statewide Louisiana elections. It is, however, one more sign that hardcore white nationalists regard the Tea Party movement as a reservoir of racists, and as potential supporters of a more ideologically defined white nationalism.
The actions of the Council of Conservative Citizens, the posters and other white nationalists need be understood, in aggregate, as one measure, among many, of the Tea Party movement’s political characteristics. Together they point to a truth many Tea Party leaders will not want to acknowledge.” (p.62)

This is the cautious tone of analysis taken throughout the report.  The Tea Party is dangerous for the way that it appeals to white nationalists and for what it could become, but less so for what it is now.   Here’s is another passage from the report which illustrates this point:

“Despite the fact that Tea Partiers sometimes dress in the costumes of 18th century Americans, wave the Gadsden flag and claim that the United States Constitution should be the divining rod of all legislative policies, theirs is an American nationalism that does not always include all Americans. It is a nationalism that excludes those deemed not to be “real Americans;” including the native-born children of undocumented immigrants (often despised as “anchor babies”), socialists, Moslems, and those not deemed to fit within a “Christian nation.” The “common welfare” of the constitution’s preamble does not complicate their ideas about individual liberty. This form of nationalism harkens back to the America first ideology of Father Coughlin. As the Confederate battle flags, witch doctor caricatures and demeaning discourse suggest, a bright white line of racism threads through this nationalism. Yet, it is not a full-fledged variety of white nationalism. It is as inchoate as it is super-patriotic. It is possibly an embryo of what it might yet become.” (p.11)

The rise of the Tea Party, with its embryonic white nationalism and the racism, antisemitism and xenophobia of videos like David Duke’s, are political trends that people committed to racial justice should watch closely.

The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords

If the recent post about white journalists grappling with their own racism made you wonder about black journalists, California Newsreel may have some answers.

For a brief time, the folks at California Newsreel are making one of their films available for free viewing online.   The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords (86 minutes, 1998) is a documentary by Stanley Nelson that is the first to chronicle the history of the Black press, including its central role in the construction of modern African American identity. It recounts the largely forgotten stories of generations of Black journalists who risked life and livelihood so African Americans could represent themselves in their own words and images.

It’s an excellent resource for teaching about news media, race and ethnicity, or popular culture.  It also comes with a facilitator guide with ideas for discussion questions.

New Research: Journalists “Grappling With Our Own Racism”

There is interesting new research just published about journalists and racism in the production of news. The research is reported in an article, “Coming to Terms with Our Own Racism: Journalists Grapple with the Racialization of their News,” by Emily Drew, Assistant Professor at Willamette University, and appears in the October issue of Critical Studies in Media Communication (behind a paywall).

It came as something of a surprise to me to learn that from 1990 to 2005, 28 major metropolitan newspapers in the United States sought to grapple with race relations and racism by devoting significant time, staff, and financial resources to launching systematic examinations of the ‘‘state of race.’’ (p.2)

All the news that's fit to print | 088/365
Creative Commons License photo credit: mfhiatt

Drew’s research was well-designed.  She interviewed 31 of the editors and writers who brought their newspaper’s race series into being.  In this research, she argues that explicit and intentional ‘‘racial projects’’ can foster antiracist consciousness in their producers and promote changes in news production. (p.3)

Specifically, she examines how a journalistic project that was seemingly about ‘‘them’’ (society), ultimately became about ‘‘us’’ (news media). Drew found that as journalists sought to ‘‘discover the facts’’ about how racism manifested in their communities, they began recognizing its manifestations in their own profession. As one editor put it, her paper’s race series, ‘‘challenged us to go beyond the rhetoric and hold up a mirror, an honest mirror . . . one that was not tainted by our own thinking that we were too sophisticated to be part of that.’’ (pp.2-3).  Here is one of her respondents, explaining the change:

“We thought we were reporting on ‘them’ . . . those people, and organizations, and institutions that were still disenfranchising racial minorities. As it turned out, racism was about ‘us’ in the media, our news production, our editorial decisions and our own lack of diversity. (Editor of a ‘‘Race Series’’ at a major U.S. newspaper)” (p.1)

Returning to Drew’s analysis of this process, she writes:

“In the process of investigating how ‘‘new racism’’ operated in their local communities, journalists began engaging in a reflexivity, one that illuminated the need to probe their own institution’s relationship to race and racism. Most interviewees indicated that analyzing the media — let alone their own newspaper — was not a part of their agenda or design when they first began. But once the series began publication, community responses and discussions in the newsroom meant they could not avoid examining the racialization of their newsroom. As one interviewee noted, newspapers across the country, for 20 years, had been ‘‘guilty of their own sort of ‘benign neglect’ towards race as a newsworthy issue’ ” (p.8).

She concludes by talking about the dismay that some of the white participants in her research expressed about the lack of opportunity to address race:

Having undergone significant learning through the race series, one white journalist expressed tremendous frustration at the lack of opportunity wite people have to learn and grow. ‘‘There is not a forum in which we can discuss race, genuinely, with people listening. How can we have such a risky and honest [conversation] without a reason?’’ he asked. When white people have reason, and people of color have safe opportunities to address race and racism with openness and intentionality, they interrupt the mechanisms of racism that socialize people into blindness and silence about the structures of privilege and oppression” (p.16).

There are a number of things to note about this study, perhaps foremost is the focus on the process of news production which is often lamented for its role in the production of racist images, but too little studied. I also appreciate the nuance here in examining people who are “well-meaning” and filled with “good intentions” not to replicate racism, yet find themselves in an occupation and industry which does this in many unexamined ways.

If you’d like to read more about racism in the production of news, I recommend Pamela Newkirk’s Within the veil: Black journalists, white media. (New York, NY: NYU Press, 2000) and Darnell M. Hunt’s Channeling Blackness: Studies on Television and Race in America (NY: Oxford UP, 2004).(H/T to @dr_grzanka for that second ref.)

Race, Racism and the Politics of Reproduction

This is long, but worthwhile, video (around 20 minutes) from Laura Flanders’GritTV about race, racism and the politics of reproduction:

More GRITtv

In this first installment of a new GRITtv series, “Conspiracy Tactics,” producer Charlie Stuart unravels a right-wing strategy that is attacking reproductive freedom and breaking up Barack Obama’s voting base by equating fetal rights with civil rights.