Archive for December, 2010
Over at Dailykos.com, Joan MacCarter has an interesting blog post on the new white head of the House judiciary subcommittee on immigration, citizenship, refugees, border security and international law–Representative Steve King of Iowa. He is the one who recently referred to President Obama as “ very very urban” in connection with the black farmers compensation (for severe discrimination) program. She notes King’s clear antiblack, antipoor agenda:
In an interview with local western Iowa radio station KCIM, King discussed the oversight efforts that the new GOP House would undertake. First and foremost, he said, would be his pet cause of investigating ACORN — which no longer exists as a national organization, but whose activists at the state level could be targeted. “And there’ll be other investigations looking into the Pigford farms issue,” King added, “which I think is full of fraud, that’s — what it amounts to is paying reparations to black farmers in America. We don’t do reparations in America.”
King has previously attacked the settlement for discrimination in past decades by the Department of Agriculture as “slavery reparations.”
Actually, among other things, King is revealing his illiteracy in regard to recent US governmental history, which includes federal monetary reparations to Japanese Americans for their racist-motivated imprisonment in US concentration camps during World War II and reparations in Florida by the state legislature–to black Americans who survived the Rosewood, Florida massacre at the hands of white mobs. Rep. King has also asserted that, in regard to the black farmers compensation program:
The fraudulent claims might be, well Johnny, yeah he was raised on a farm but he wouldn’t help his dad. He went to the city, became a drug addict, and when Daddy needed the help, Johnny wouldn’t come and help his daddy. But now his daddy’s died and Johnny wants the $50,000 that comes from the USDA under this claim.
It appears that at least one arch-conservative member of the new U.S. Congress with a head full of white racist framing of black Americans and a clear antiblack agenda is now in control of an important congressional committee – in our supposedly “postracial society.” I wonder if optimistic books by social scientists (for example, by John Hartigan here) and other commentators asserting or speculating that Obama’s election was bringing “a new era in U.S. race relations” and “dramatic changes in white racial perceptions” will now be revised to show that such optimism was not warranted. Or maybe too few of these social science and media commentators actually looked at the extensive field research on systemic racism before they wrote about such trendy optimistic commentaries and predictions.
Texas NAACP/LULAC groups have filed a major complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, asking them to investigate the new Texas State Board of Education Texas Curriculum Standards:
The Texas NAACP, Texas LULAC and Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education (TABPHE) are holding a press conference, with partnering groups to announce the filing of a request for a proactive review by the U.S. Department of Education and its Civil rights division. The request addresses many aspects of discrimination against minority public school students in Texas, including recent changes to history and educational standards in social studies. Texas State NAACP President and National Board Member Gary Bledsoe said, “Education remains the most critical element in the long term economic and social interests of all American citizens. Reasonable people of good will must guarantee that all students, regardless of race or economic circumstances, be given the tools needed to become successful in a rapidly changing global economy. We must also be held to a high standard of accuracy in conveying historical events to students who will use this information to compete for educational access not only in Texas, but increasingly around the country and world. We must not allow the use of our compulsory education system to misinform and negatively impact the academic capacity of our most important natural resource – our children. Our action today seeks on objective review of the partisan attack on the public education system in the State of Texas.”
State LULAC President Joey Cardenas said, “We were shocked at the actions by the State Board of Education in emasculating our history. It is necessary for our own well-being and that of the people of our State that we do all that we can to ensure that what they have done does not end up being a reality. Our State and nation will suffer from what they have done and emotionally and psychologically it will greatly harm our young people. Dr. Rod Fluker of TABPHE said that one of the things we are most worried about is how this will impact teachers and the kinds of attitudes it will bring to our next generation of young people to move into this field. This is a serious problem.” Bledsoe said that one thing we are looking for is to invalidate the standards so that they do not become a reality. “This is like a criminal assault. The message is that you have no worth. We cannot let this become official policy.” Cardenas added that “we have engaged the State in litigation before and will do so again if necessary. “
In challenging the Standards, the Texas NAACP wishes to applaud State Board of Education Members Lawrence Allen and Mavis Knight for supporting us in this initiative. Dr. Felicia Scott of TABPHE said that it is important to note that the most offensive items were opposed by all 5 minority Board members who voted as a block, “that really says something about how offensive these matters are, and this is from a purely academic and humanistic perspective with no injection of politics.”
A Houston Chronicle report provides information on why the complaint has been filed:
A school curriculum teaching children about violent Black Panthers while playing down Ku Klux Klan violence against blacks is not only inaccurate but discriminatory, the Texas NAACP and LULAC said Monday in a joint complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education. The complaint asks the department’s Office of Civil Rights to review Texas’ new social studies curriculum standards approved by the State Board of Education and to take legal action if the state tries to implement the standards the groups call “racially or ethnically offensive,” as well as historically inaccurate. The new standards also balance the speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis and attempt to point out positive aspects of slavery.
The Chronicle story adds some other important points:
A review of the new social studies curriculum standards by historians and college professors indicates that 83 percent of the required historical figures and notable persons for students to study are white. Only 16 percent are African American or Latino. Minority groups, including state legislators, warned the 15-member State Board of Education throughout the curriculum standards process that it was shortchanging the achievements of minorities. Of the 4.8 million children attending Texas public schools last year, 66 percent were minorities. Whites make up two-thirds of the State Board of Education.
The complaint to OCR statement has generated considerable debate and discussion in the Texas media.
Just recently, Professor Kevin Michael Foster, a graduate faculty member in the Departments of African and African Diaspora Studies, Curriculum and Instruction, and Educational Administration, at the University of Texas at Austin added these savvy comments (he gave me permission to reprint this email sent to those working with NAACP/LULAC) on the problems of teaching our best high school students who know little, or are miseducated about, U.S. and Texas history:
On the tail of the complaint to the Dept of Ed’s OCR, I can’t help but again express my thorough frustration with the social studies knowledge (and dispositions) among the Texas-taught undergraduate students I work with at UT Austin. Encouraged by Board Member Knight’s interest in what is taught elsewhere, I’d also like to think about multiple strategies — a program of activities — to see to the good sense education of Texas school children regardless of the “standards” that we end up with.
. . . . My general experience is that the miseducation of high achieving students in Texas is thorough — not simply that they have been undereducated, but that they have been and are systematically miseducated in the sense used by Carter G. Woodson. Black and non-black, Hispanic and non-Hispanic, huge numbers across demographic groups doubt the intelligence and worth of non-whites as students as UT. It is especially painful to see Black and Brown kids who finished in the top ten percent of their high school classes yet come to UT with doubts about their own intelligence and worth. They have been taught the glories of The Alamo and Texas Independence with no context to bring out (for instance) the historic role of the slavery issue in the region. In defiance of the historical record and decades of historical analyses, they are taught that the Civil War was about “state’s rights” and not really about slavery (as if in this context those two were separable). They are taught that Affirmative Action is among the greatest unfairnesses today — a red herring of the first order — especially for settings like UT, where the only meaningful affirmative action that takes place is for student athletes (and in a context where even there it is not done with adherence to the spirit of the original concept).
By contrast, and to Board member Knight’s query, in my youth I was required to read Souls of Black Folk (Du Bois), Up From Slavery (BTW), The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Why We Can’t Wait (MLK), The Autobiography of Ms. Jane Pittman (Gaines), Mules and Men (Zora Hurston), large chunks of The New Negro (Alain Locke, ed) and other texts. During most of those years I lived on Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue and was expected to know who this important and great woman was as well. Much of my reading was required in school. That which was not required by the school was required by my father and nurtured by my (former schoolteacher & guidance counselor) grandmother. Today we still need both forces — what the approved curriculum standards require and what we as a community require in addition.
As I raise my 10 year old son and 8 year old daughter, I perceive a profound need for a war on multiple fronts. One front is that of the specific Texas Curriculum Standards. And even here, while there is a need for straight on attack (e.g. “complaints” to OCR), there is also space for battle on the flanks (for instance cataloging and publicly rebutting the problems with the standards and providing parents with talking points for conversations with teachers and principals as they ensure that their children aren’t fully subject to the brainwash education).
Another space for action is to actively create and disseminate a supplemental curriculum, one specifically aimed at correcting for the anticipated (and realized) negative consequences of students (of all backgrounds) being taught histories that validate the indefensible, that force classroom discussion into ridiculous directions, and that undermine true knowledge of self and history among African American students, Latino students and others who find their well-informed understandings (or even nascent yet accurate understandings) of themselves and their world under assault. To take just one example,what if students were expected to read and consider Uncle Tom’s Cabin, easily one of the most important books in U.S. History, gigantically influential in its time, for the longest time second in sales only to the Bible, and a text that raises the paradox of having emancipatory goals while simultaneously cementing damaging stereotypes. There is so much to work with in this highly readable text — for history, for literature, for critical thinking — and yet most students have not read it.
In this sad state of affairs I am sure of at least two things: 1) We must act to alter inaccurate standards; and 2) we must in the meantime produce and disseminate viable supplements to counter the damage that the inaccurate standards are doing in the meantime. For those whose official capacities allow it, proaction should not be seen as an option but rather as a responsibility.
Because Texas has this central selection of textbooks process, publishers often adapt their textbooks used across the country to these biased and racialized Texas standards. So these reactionary decisions affect children and others in many other states. As George Orwell once said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
On Christmas Eve, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a five speeches in the prestigious Massey Lecture series. He titled the series “Conscience for Change.” These lectures are compiled in both text, as a book, and audio format, as a CD) [The book was re-released as "The Trumpet of Conscience."] Although these lectures were recorded almost fifty years ago, King’s words still resonate as we continue to come to terms with many of the same issues.
You can also listen to the entire message here (about 1 hour in length and the site requires free registration). What many people forget (or never knew) about King is how radical he really was. In this lecture, he explains that part of the reason people are so upset about riots that had happened recently is that these were attacks on property, which he says, “is symbolic of the white power structure.” Not only is the content of what he says here compelling and contemporary, his oratory is unparalleled by anyone else.
There is a provocative article called “The weirdest people in the world?” by Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayanon on the western biases in much anthropological, psychological and other social science literature. WEIRED stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies bias. This critical article has serious implications for much of the research on psychological attitudes, such as prejudice and stereotyping, as well as for other social science research that is automatically generalized extended to non-European groups in the West and to non-western cultures/countries. Indeed, a key point of this review of research is that the social science research samples are usually not just biased in terms of being only western, but also usually white, “educated,” rich, and, one might add, often young and college students.
The responses to the original article are also very interesting too. One commentator, for example,
notes that in 510 samples published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (JPSP) in 2002, 85% of them were student samples, 71% of the participants were female, more than 80% were white, and the mean age was 22.9 years (Gosling et al. 2004).
Many studies – and thus textbooks — base their psychological generalizations on these mostly white, female, and young college students.
One commentator explains some problems with broad social science generalizations from such WEIRD samples:
Weinberg et al. (2001) and Nichols et al. (2003) showed that American students of European ancestry and American students of East Asian ancestry have different intuitions about a variety of thought experiments that have played a central role in contemporary philosophy. They also report differences in intuitions between high- and low-socioeconomic status (SES) participants, where years of education was the major determinant in classifying a participant as high or low SES. . . . The classic work of Brandt (1954) [also] reports some dramatic differences between the moral judgments of Hopi people and white Americans that apparently cannot be explained by differences in factual beliefs.
Interestingly, another commentator points out one of the advantages of the new use of Internet research methods, including Internet surveys. Several studies using Internet samples reveal they
are not as dominated by WEIRD participants as are samples currently published in behavioral science journals. Moreover, even though the percentages of non-WEIRD participants in the Internet samples may seem modest, Internet methods permit the collection of large samples, so the absolute sample sizes of non-Weird participants can be quite impressive. For example, although the sample was predominantly North American … the sample represented a breadth of geographic regions from around the world: 111 countries, from Albania (N ¼ 215) to Venezuela (N ¼ 1,920), were represented ….
So, it appears that too much western social science is indeed WEIRD and thus ethnocentric and parochial in its often too global generalizations. Or is it?
Adding to the discussion of Haley Barbour, The Rachel Maddow Show did a nice segment on him last night:
Over at Dr. Boyce’s fine blog, Dr. Julianne Malveaux (President – Bennett College and economist and founder of Last Word Productions, Inc.) has some interesting comments on positive aspects of Black Americans surviving and thriving drawing on her latest book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History.
(Photo: from her website here)
A prolific book and article writer on racial issues (USA Today, Black Issues in Higher Education, Ms. Magazine, Essence Magazine, the Progressive), in this commentary Malveaux makes some key points about progress under great oppression for African Americans. First she notes the data on the dismal conditions that systemic racism has brought:
When I look at the data that define the reality for African Americans in the economy, I am often alarmed and discouraged. One in four African American lives in poverty. Nearly one in three is out of work. . . . This is hardly the first time African Americans have experienced disproportionate pain.
But in spite of these and many other disturbing statistical data, she reminds us all that
even in harsh times African Americans have been more than survivors, we have been thrivers. We have made it despite horrible conditions, despite unfairness, despite racism. The playing field has never been level, and yet we have played on the slanted field, returning, returning, and sometimes winning.
She discusses numerous cases of those who have survived and thrived against high odds. Here are just a few:
Madame C.J. Walker is on the book’s cover, and everyone knows about this first self-made woman millionaire in the United States, but few know of Maggie Lena Walker, the woman who started the Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Virginia. . . . The most powerful acts of economic history, acts at our foundation, were those African Americans who bought their own freedom. . . . I wrote my book because everyone needs to know about self-emancipation, about the will and the tenacity of people of African descent.
After noting too how enslaved African Americans not only bought their own freedom but that of relatives, Malveaux ends her commentary with a timely call for yet more collective efforts:
And so we need Kwanzaa now more than ever. We need the principle of Ujamaa – cooperative economics. The statistics tell a grim story about our status, but our history is a compelling reminder that in good times and in bad, African Americans have survived and thrived.
I have recently heard Malveaux speak at the U. Pittsburgh conference on racism issues last summer. If you get the chance to hear her, I encourage you to do so. She is one of the powerful thinkers and speakers on race and racism issues in the US today.
Thinking about her book and comments, I would suggest this: They say that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, but it seems that eternal organization may be even more important.
Haley Barbour, Mississippi’s governor, is interviewed in the conservative Weekly Standard and his remarks there reveal much about how white racism operates. The profile and interview with Barbour is long, and there’s a lot to take objection to in there.
Perhaps the one thing that people are pulling out as most offensive is Barbour’s defense of the segregationist era Conservative Citizens’ Council (the CCC instead of the KKK, get it?) and his description of how it operated in his hometown of Yazoo City, MS. Here’s the passage that’s lighting up the blogosophere and the mainstream news outlets:
…Yazoo City was perhaps the only municipality in Mississippi that managed to integrate the schools without violence. I asked Haley Barbour why he thought that was so.
“Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “You heard of the Citizens’ Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”
Most of the reactions from bloggers calls out Barbour for defending white supremacists (e.g., the CCC) and they’re right. But, this analysis of Barbour’s remarks misses part of how white racism works. In fact, the Citizens’ Council did see themselves as ‘better than’ the KKK. While Barbour’s absolutely wrong that the Citizens’ Council was just “an organization of town leaders,” in fact, they were as committed to racial inequality as any robe-wearing Klansman. What’s true is that there were divisions among whites during the civil rights struggle. Barbour reveals more here about his class standing that perhaps he intends to, but it the Citizens’ Council was the refuge of upper-middle class racists while the KKK drew more from the working class. This move – distinguishing the ‘good (supposedly) non-racist whites’ from the ‘bad (obviously) racist ones’ is always the way that upper-middle class whites let themselves off the hook when it comes to racism. It was true in 1954, and it’s true today. (This good whites vs. bad whites game is something sociologist Matthew Hughey has documented in his research and written about here.)
The fact that upper-middle class whites like Barbour thought the KKK was unseemly in their overt displays of racism doesn’t mean that the Citizens’ Council embraced the end of segregation. This is clear in another part of the Weekly Standard profile. When recalling a visit to Yazoo City by Dr. Martin Luther King, Barbour offers this account:
“I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in ’62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white.” [...] I don’t really remember. The truth is, we couldn’t hear very well. We were sort of out there on the periphery. “We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do. We paid more attention to the girls than to King,” he added.
Barbour gives us another textbook example of how white racism works. First, it’s clear from this anecdote that Barbour didn’t see the speech by King as any that was interesting or relevant to his life. And, second, there’s the positive view of himself in the rear view mirror. Barbour’s patting himself on the back here for even attending this speech, while at the same time minimizing the importance of King, his words, and the civil rights movement as a whole. And, you know, throwing in a little gratuitous sexism just for fun. This sort of positive, retrospective labeling of white involvement in the civil rights movement is a key feature of the white racial frame in the post-civil rights era. For a glimpse of this in popular culture, take a look at the Gene Hackman and Wilem Dafoe roles of white FBI agents in the Hollywood film, “Mississippi Burning.” Uhm, it didn’t happen like that (e.g., SL Brinson, “The Myth of White Superiority in Mississippi Burning,” Southern Communication Journal, 1995). When whites – especially upper middle class whites – look back on the civil rights era (or, slavery, or the Holocaust) they like to imagine themselves as the hero in that story. I’m sorry white people, but you just do not look good in the story of the civil rights movement, or lynching, or slavery, no matter how much you try to re-imagine history. That goes for you, too, Haley Barbour.
Barbour offers us yet another lesson on how white racism works. When recalling the atrocities of white people do all you can to minimize. Here’s Barbour on how he recalls the civil rights struggle in Yazoo City:
“I just don’t remember it as being that bad.”
Yeah, well, you wouldn’t. This is classic white racism. Horrible years of grueling oppression? Ah, get over it. One of the white supremacist sites I looked at in Cyber Racism makes a similar argument about slavery – a supposedly ‘humane institution’ that slaves ‘loved and wanted to return to’ after emancipation.
This would be comical (on a par with Privilege Denying Dude) if it weren’t for the fact that Barbour is a governor with aspirations for high office. We don’t need someone like this leading the country, but he does offer a good object lesson in white racism, upper-middle class flavored.
This week the U.S. Senate voted on two landmark pieces of legislation: the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (DADT) and the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for young people who came to this country as children. The repeal of DADT succeeded, while the DREAM Act failed to pass. Gay and lesbian activists and their allies who fought for the repeal of DADT are understandably elated with the overturning of the 17-year-old ban. But, so far at least, white gay and lesbian progressives have failed to see the DREAM Act as part of the same struggle for human rights.
Don’t get me wrong, leading gay and lesbian organizations, such as NGLTF have mentioned both the DREAM Act and DADT – but as separate, single issues. In separate press releases this week, Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) came out in favor of the repeal of DADT and the DREAM Act. In contrast, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest (and predominantly white) gay rights organization, has had a lot to say on DADT, but has had very little to say about the DREAM Act. White gay bloggers like Dan Savage and Joe.My.God. have mentioned the DREAM Act along with DADT, as they have been updating their readers about the lame-duck session of Congress. The Advocate, a magazine popular with white gays and lesbians, has tons of coverage about the repeal of DADT, but has had only one piece about the immigration (in November) but nothing to date in the archive about the DREAM Act, except as the scheduling of that vote threatened to affect repeal of DADT. And, perhaps most disappointing for me to see personally as a church-going lesbian, the moderator for my denomination issued a press release that heralded the triumph of this single issue.
What’s the matter with single issue politics? Isn’t this simply a pragmatic strategy for getting things done in the current political climate? I don’t think so. And, neither does Urvashi Vaid. In a recent speech at the CUNY Graduate Center, Vaid, a longtime activist working at the intersections of LGBT rights and racial justice articulated the dilemma of single-issue gay politics this way:
The key structural reason why neither branch of the LGBT movements has operationalized its stated intersectional politics, is quite simple: the default definition for what “Gay” means has been set by, and remains dominated by, the ideas and experiences of those in our communities who are white and this really has not changed in more than fifty years. Issues, identities, problems that are not “purely” gay – read as affecting white gay men and women – are always defined as not the concern of “our” LGBT movement – they are dismissed as “non-gay” issues, as divisive, as the issues that some ‘other movement’ is more suited to champion. We have our hands full we are told. We need to single-mindedly focus on one thing.
This is an argument that many LGBT liberationists and gay-equality focused activists have made to each other and bought wholesale for decade– without malice, without prejudice – just because there has been an unquestioned assumption that this narrow focus works, that we are getting results because we are making a “gay rights” argument, that this is smart and successful political strategy.
My contention is that it is exactly this narrow and limited focus that is not only causing us to stall in our progress towards formal equality, it is leading us to abandon or ignore large parts of our own communities, with the consequence of making us a weaker movement. The gay-rights focus was historically needed but is a vestigial burden we need to shed. It leads to an unsuccessful political strategy where we try to win on one issue at a time, it narrows our imagination and vision, it does not serve large numbers of our own people, and it feeds the perception that we are generally privileged and powerful, and not in need of civil equality.
What this means right now, at this critical juncture when the repeal of DADT has passed and the DREAM Act hasn’t, is that gay and lesbian activists should be calling for the passage of the DREAM Act and other (even broader) immigration reforms. I’ve yet to hear one white gay or lesbian activist stand up and say, “Let’s use this momentum from the DADT victory to see the passage of the DREAM Act.” Not one. As Vaid said, by focusing on one, single issue at a time, we’re narrowing our imagination and our vision.
Instead of this broadening of vision and building toward a common goal, among white gays and lesbians there’s a kind of collective “oh, well, the Brown people didn’t get their bill, quelle sad, but we got ours – so let’s celebrate!” What white gay and lesbian progressives fail to understand is that among those young people hoping to achieve citizenship through the (very restrictive) DREAM Act are gay and lesbian teens. It’s not that DADT and the DREAM Act are separate issues, they’re part of the same struggle. It’s just that white gays and lesbians don’t see that. I hope that changes.
A nearly 60 percent majority of the black caucus in Congress voted against President Obama’s Republican-oriented, compromised tax bill, including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.
Their website put it this way:
“We are headed towards fiscal disaster.”
— Rep. Bobby Scott, 12.17.10
“Obamanomics is more like Reaganomics.”
— Rep. Jessee Jackson, Jr. 12.10.10
“This measure does not create a single job or stimulate the economy in any way.”
— House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, 12.16.10
24 members of the CBC voted against Pres. Obama’s tax deal with the Republicans. Many cited the huge price tag. The bill will cost 900 billion dollars. More than the Stimulus bill, more than TARP. Other members felt the President should have and could have secured a better deal with the other side and that the legislation sets the Democrats up to be confronted with massive spending cuts to social programs over the next two years.
Jim Clyburn’s full statement was thus:
While I am pleased that the tax package approved by the House tonight extends important tax cuts to middle-income families and unemployment insurance for millions of Americans, adding $25 billion to the deficit to give a major tax benefit to the estates of the richest 6,600 families in America made it impossible for me to vote for the final package. This measure does not create a single job or stimulate the economy in any way. I hope that as we move forward and our economy continues to recover, we will restore some fairness to the tax code and reduce the burden we are putting on future generations.
A very clear indication of the political independence of the representatives of Black America in Congress–and probably of whom President Obama’s and Congress’s tax compromise is skewed toward.