Archive for January, 2011
Brisenia Flores was a 9-year-old girl murdered in Arizona by anti-immigrant vigilantes, yet her death – unlike that of the 9-year old killed last week in Arizona – is getting almost no attention in the U.S. mainstream media.
According to reports by the UK press, Brisenia Flores was gunned down at point-blank range in her own home in Flores, Arizona, as her terrified mother Gina Gonzalez, who had also been hit, played dead on the floor.
Shawna Forde, the head of the Minutemen American Defence group, is on trial accused of two charges of first degree murder. Her trial is underway in Arizona now. Forde and her co-conspirator Bush — who reportedly has ties to the white supremacist Aryan Nation — broke into the home of 29-year-old Raul Flores, Brisenia’s dad, on May 30, 2009. This was just six weeks after Forde’s issued a call for a political revolt. As related this week at Forde’s trial:
According to testimony, Bush shot Flores, then Gonzalez. Gonzalez was hit in the shoulder and leg and slumped to the floor. She testified that she played dead as she heard Bush pump more bullets into her husband as Brisenia woke up.
“Why did you shoot my dad?” the girl asked, sobbing, according to Gonzalez’s testimony. “Why did you shoot my mom?”
Gonzalez said she heard Bush slowly reload his gun and that he then ignored Brisenia’s pleas and fired.
It’s hard to comprehend such an act of violence, especially one involving a child. Certainly, the links to anti-immigrant politics and rhetoric seem to be much clearer in this case than in the more recent shooting, but this story is receiving virtually no attention from mainstream media. In part, this is the white racial frame at play, drawing our attention to white victims and obscuring from view the lives of people of color.
Note: This is an adumbrated version of a paper that was published in the web edition of the Boston Review on January 13, 2011. (The full text can be found here.)
“Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback.” So read the headline of Patricia Cohen’s front-page article in the October 17, 2010 edition of The New York Times. The article was prompted by a recent issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science under the title, “Reconsidering Culture and Poverty.” In their introductory essay, the editors, Mario Luis Small, David J. Harding, and Michèle Lamont, strike a triumphant note:
Culture is back on the poverty research agenda. Over the past decade, sociologists, demographers, and even economists have begun asking questions about the role of culture in many aspects of poverty and even explicitly explaining the behavior of the low-income population in reference to cultural factors.
Cohen begins with a similar refrain:
For more than 40 years, social scientists investigating the causes of poverty have tended to treat cultural explanations like Lord Voldemort: That Which Must Not Be Named. The reticence was a legacy of the ugly battles that erupted after Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant labor secretary in the Johnson administration, introduced the idea of a ‘culture of poverty’ to the public in his 1965 report on ‘The Negro Family.’
Cohen uncritically accepts two myths woven by William Julius Wilson, the prominent Harvard sociologist, and repeated by his acolytes: first, Moynihan was clobbered for bringing to light compromising facts about black families, and second, that this torrent of criticism constrained a generation of social scientists from investigating the relation between culture and poverty, for fear that it would be pilloried for “blaming the victim.” Thus, a third, patently self-serving myth: thanks to some intrepid scholars who reject political correctness, it is now permissible to consider the role that culture plays in the production and reproduction of racial inequalities….
The problem from the beginning was not Moynihan’s publication of what were actually well-established facts, but rather his distorted interpretation of these facts. Moynihan made the fatal error of inverting cause and effect. Although he acknowledged that past racism and unemployment undermined black families, he held that the pathology in “the Negro American family” had not only assumed a life of its own, but was also the primary determinant of the litany of problems that beset lower-class blacks…. In other words, the imbroglio over the Moynihan report was never about whether culture matters, but about whether culture is or ever could be an independent and self-sustaining factor in the production and reproduction of poverty….
If Moynihan’s critics were unusually vociferous, this was because they understood what was at stake. Moynihan and his supporters contended that the poor were victims of their own vices, thus shifting attention away from powerful political and economic institutions that could make a difference in their lives. If those institutions were absolved of responsibility, the poor would be left on their own.
….If the cultural practices under examination are merely links in a chain of causation, and are ultimately rooted in poverty and joblessness, why are these not the object of inquiry? Why aren’t we talking about the calamity of another generation of black youth who, excluded from job markets, are left to languish on the margins, until they cross the line of legality and are swept up by the criminal justice system and consigned to unconscionable years in prison where, at last, they find work, for less than a dollar an hour, if paid at all? Upon release they are “marked men,” frequently unable to find employment or to assume such quotidian roles as those of husband or father.
….The new culturalists can bemoan the supposed erasure of culture from poverty research in the wake of the Moynihan Report, but far more troubling is that these four decades have witnessed the erasure of racism and poverty from political discourse, both inside and outside the academy….
Thus there is no thought of restoring the safety net. Or resurrecting affirmative action. Or once again constructing public housing as the housing of last resort. Or decriminalizing drugs and rescinding mandatory sentencing. Or enforcing anti-discrimination laws with the same vigor that police exercise in targeting black and Latino youth for marijuana possession. Or creating jobs programs for disconnected youth and for the chronically unemployed. Against this background, the ballyhooed “restoration” of culture to poverty discourse can only be one thing: an evasion of the persistent racial and economic inequalities that are a blot on American democracy.
Ms. Kelley Williams-Bolar, is an Akron, Ohio resident, poor, law abiding, single mother of two daughters (14 and 16 years of age), student in education at Akron University, and now a convicted felon for deciding to break “the rules” and falsify proof of residential documentation in order to bypass the school designated by the local school district. Instead of going to schools that are unsafe, violent, provide below standard academics, and consisting of a population approximated between 92-93% Black, she took it upon herself to send them to a school in the Copley-Fairlawn district where her father resided.
Within this district, the schools her children attended for two years were meeting state adequate academic progress benchmarks and had a population of White students between 73-82%. How do we know this sort of colossal atrocity that impairs the moral compass that guides our society occurred? It so happens that the rich White suburban school district hired a private investigator to unravel the dastardly deed. What do you expect though? The district has even gone as far in the past to pay $100 to anyone giving information on students who were attending the schools illegally. It was evident to all on-lookers that the school district was doing everything possible to keep outsiders out. Well, Ms. Williams-Bolar was sought, arrested, and convicted of tampering with records. She was sentenced to five years in prison. The judge in the case reduced the time down to 10 days, 80 hours of community service, and three years probation.
(Numerous other blogs and websites have discussed these issues and one has a place you can sign up in protest (see here).
Brian Poe, the Copley-Fairlawn Superintendent reported that the case cost the district $30,000 of lost tuition and $6,000 for investigative purposes. He denied that the mother was singled out due to her race. In the words of Representative Wilson of South Carolina, “You lie!”
Today, a persistent ideology is looming where Whites and an increasing number of middle to upper class Blacks blindly believe that racism no longer exists in the 21st century. However, evidence otherwise dictates that racism, oppression, and control, does exist and is persistent to survive the tides of time. Moreover, Joe Feagin scholarly noted that since slaves were first stolen from Africa, White’s intent was to not only physically enslave them through force, but by creating a system that transcended through generations to advantage Whites through the social and psychological control mechanisms that targeted people of color, subsequently holding them to their placement on the second class tier upon the White constructed racial ladder of hierarchy. This transcends still throughout all major institutions within the U.S., such as education.
Research has noted that the increasing residential segregation of Whites is closely related to their schools of choice. Simply put, heavily White suburban areas are mostly chosen by white parents due to the low number of Black and Latino populations within the area and within the schools. By blocking and alienating the abilities of Blacks, and Latinos from attending these schools, Whites are able to continue to benefit from the existence of the sites and strangleholds of White power. As in the past, within the 21st century, these “normal” actions that enable the power and privilege of Whites in part are fueled by the old White racial frame. Therefore, Ms. William Bolar is simply a casualty of “The Machine.” This racist machine constantly reminds us that there exist two unequal worlds today.
photo credit: Steve Snodgrass
Do leadership and decision-making processes in the research university mirror the racial stratification of American society? The structure of higher education is strikingly white male-dominated in its senior leadership ranks. According to “Pathway to the Presidency” published by the American Council on Education , close to 85 percent of the top-ranked positions in doctorate-granting institutions are held by whites and 66 percent held by males (King & Gomez, 2008).
The only exception to this pattern is the Chief Diversity Officer position–70.8 percent of these positions are held by African-Americans, with white incumbents holding 12.3 percent, And according to a NACUBO (2010) survey, Chief Financial Officers are 90% white and 68% male, a demographic that is considerably similar to Chief Academic Officers who are 85% white and 60% male.
In our forthcoming book, Diverse Administrators in Peril: The New Indentured Class in Higher Education, (Paradigm, 2011), Alvin Evans of Kent State University and I examine the fragile and unstable working conditions faced by women, minority and lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) administrators in the highest ranks of the research university. Unlike faculty who pursue individualistic accomplishments solidified through the tenure process, university administrators generally serve in an “at will” status without employment protection to support the success of the entire institution.
In our survey and followup interviews with administrators from public and private research universities at the level of director and up, we discovered remarkable similarity in how the process of subtle discrimination unfolds through acts of marginalization, exclusion, and social closure. These patterns of discrimination transcend geographical location, institutional prestige, and public/private research university status. What it tells us that power is still highly concentrated in the hands of a few, and that the covert, difficult-to-prove nature of subtle discrimination heightens the vulnerability of diverse administrators to forms of differential treatment.
Joe Feagin, reminds us of the high cost of wasting talent and creativity in The White Racial Frame, indicating that “a society that ignores such a great store of knowledge and ability irresponsibly risks its future.” And he also reminds us of the need for moral thinking and action that “frees up the knowledge and energy” of those who have faced barriers to achievement, knowledge-generation, and prosperity.
Based on the poignant yet courageous testimonials of diverse administrators shared in our study, structural changes that strengthen employment stability for administrators will help ensure more inclusive leadership practices. These changes will not only enhance the success of diverse administrators but immeasurably contribute to the dynamism, viability, and competitiveness of our American institutions of higher education.
Our “famous” talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh now often get away with aggressively racist comments and performances. We have sunk so low that we as a country give them of millions of dollars to create this high level of disrespect for people who are a little different. In a recent comment using stereotyped mocking of the Chinese president we got this racist framing from Limbaugh:
Hu Jintao — he was speaking and they weren’t translating. They normally translate every couple of words. Hu Jintao was just going ching chong, ching chong cha.
He continued for a bit more with this mocking stereotyped dialect. This is the type of stereotyped mocking that all too many schoolchildren—mainly white children–do on the playground, and apparently in this regard Limbaugh is living out what he learned as a nine or ten year old on the playground. He is not alone in this racist mocking, as I note here is this passage from a recent book:
Asian American children and adults often are forced to endure hostile mocking such as: “Ching chong Chinaman sitting on a rail, along came a white man and snipped off his tail”; “Ah so. No tickee, No washee. So sorry, so sollee”; and “Chinkee, Chink, Jap, Nip, zero, Dothead . . . Flip, Hindoo.” A Toledo radio station’s white disc-jockey recently phoned Asian restaurants using mock-Asian speech, including “ching, chong chung” and “me speakee no English.” On her talk show prominent comedian Rosie O’Donnell repeatedly used “ching chong” to mock Chinese speech.
Such language stereotyping and mocking has long been part of the dominant racial frame and has been directed not only at Asian Americans but also earlier at African, Native, and Latino Americans. This hostile language mocking is usually linked to other important racialized images that whites hold of those Americans of color they often oppress.
Language researcher Rosina Lippi-Green has noted a very important point about such routinized mocking: “Not all foreign accents, but only accent linked to skin that isn’t white . . . evokes such negative reactions.” (Full source references for these examples and others can be found in notes to Ch. 5 of The White Racial Frame)
One very striking thing about this racist mocking and language is how unoriginal most of it is. Whites, including those “well educated,” seem to repeat it again and again and again and again, and almost verbatim. One obvious conclusion is that the white racial frame, and its originators and maintainers, score close to zero on the racism originality scale, if there is such a thing.
News and social media, bloggers, and readers have flocked upon Amy Chua’s controversial article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Since appearing in The Wall Street Journal last week, the article has generated over 7,000 comments, countless blog posts, rebuttals from Chua and her daughter, and even death threats.
Scholars have widely criticized the model minority myth, and Chua deserves no passes. But I want to examine the media’s interest in pursuing this dialogue in the first place. Notice that Chua’s article falls under the “Life & Culture” category. Lifestyle news isn’t simply a space wherein readers escape from depressing and laborious facts of hard journalism. It’s a soft arm to more overt U.S. geopolitics set forth by hard news, guiding readers toward a cultural view supportive of these politics. From this angle, we see Chua’s article playing to Sino-anxiety and tensions around the family as a unit of politics.
China’s economic ascension is an obsession of Western news media; so is the family. Consider, how often issues buttressing the conservative and liberal divide in American politics contend over defining the family—reproductive rights, gay marriage, the military. No wonder readers were riled up. Chua’s claim that Chinese parenting is “superior” to American families provokes both conflicts, hedging forth the fear that America’s apparent economic decline is also cultural, and accelerated by Chinese families “abroad” and within U.S. borders. Bourgeois trends might feel tacky for American readers struggling with their wallets; unacceptable are insinuations that “foreign parenting” would overpower the Western family.
Chua embodies “yellow peril,” a classic xenophobia scripting East Asians as willfully destructive toward Western civilization. (Interestingly, Chua has written on violence toward Chinese and other “market-dominant minorities” in the Global South.) But is this peril not contradictory, when it’s brought to the verge through affluence and dominance—values of a distinctly Western, neo-liberal lifestyle? The tensions are messy, but as they’re framed, not coincidental.
Sunday’s edition of the Arizona Republic features an article about Henry Cejudo, a gifted athlete from Phoenix.
Henry, the son of parents who at one point in time were “illegals” from Mexico, won a wrestling gold medal in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Henry was interviewed recently to ascertain his views about current efforts to deny children of undocumented immigrants what the Constitution grants unambiguously to every individual born in this country: U.S. citizenship. Although not “an anchor” baby himself (his mother became a documented immigrant before Henry’s birth), Henry identifies with them. He is quoted as saying, “That’s [denial of citizenship to illegals’ children] ridiculous. Are they going to take my gold medal back?”
After Henry won his gold medal in 2008, the Republic’s article reports, Senator McCain told Katie Couric, CBS new anchor, that Henry was someone “he would like to have dinner with.” I wonder how McCain, paladin of the anti-immigrant movement, reconciles his current views with his past invitation to Henry.
Henry is a true patriot. After his victory in Peking, Henry ran around the gymnasium floor wrapped in an American flag. He has stated that he would die for this country. But after his 2008 victory, right-wing talk radio asked for his mother’s deportation, in spite her being a legal U.S. resident since 1986.
As an immigrant myself, I empathize with Henry’s gratitude toward this country. But I have to regularly remind myself that assimilation has an oppressive side. The unsavory experiences provoked by the dominant racial frame become more evident as our knowledge of this society deepens.
“Pascua Yaqui Native-American Carlos Gonzales gives a Native American blessing to start a memorial service for the Tucson shooting victims.” So states the text that accompanies a remarkable passing of time and politics in the place we call America.
When some colleagues told me that controversy and criticism had arisen about the introductory blessing at the service where President Obama spoke so well, I looked at it more deeply, recognizing a focus on the “Four Doors” and on Balance and Harmony (the Navajo literally say “Walk in Beauty” and as when I returned from S.E. Asia for medical treatment where traditional healers kept a focus on “balance”) after the personal introduction of “who I am” and being “given the right to speak” – and ending the blessing “All My Relations” (an interpretation of “Mitakuye Oyasin”), itself indicative of an Indigenous way of Healing and Restoring Harmony.
Here is the site you can link to for the youtube replay.
But then, what could cause controversy from FOX News Brit Hume, or the deep criticism of Glen Beck and others calling the Blessing both political and partisan? Could it be when Doctor Gonzales described his relatives as being survivors of “genocide” (which the Yaqui like so many other Native peoples assuredly are), and/or when Professor Gonzales described himself as descendant of Mexican peoples and coming from the “barrio” of Tucson (where many native and Latino peoples have shared families over the centuries, in his case fifth generation)? Why do “Sacred Words in Tucson” seem to enrage right-wing commentators?
Yet these are quite typical ways of introducing oneself in Native circles. Perhaps it is because, as I have respectfully noted, Carlos Gonzales not only had been given the right to speak by traditional elders, but had earned a medical degree and received tenure as an Associate Professor in a respected medical school at a Research I University, hardly the stereotypical minister or medicine man that one could dismiss with such simple mockery as “peculiar” (as Fox commentators did). Perhaps it is because so many pundits want to believe the memorial service only existed within the individual acts of a mentally ill person, not within the highly diverse society that Arizona has, represented so well by Carlos Gonzales in his many personae.
Herein lies the rub, of course. Arizona had just passed what amounts to racist legislation against immigrant populations (using the dehumanizing term “illegals” with reference to “hostiles” used to justify genocide against Native peoples who were not citizens or even accepted by a historical America), and further had just passed racist, hegemonic censure and attacks against ethnic studies curriculum which simply tells the stories of these many diverse peoples. These last set of attacks could only be focused on the K-12 educational systems, but the conflict has definitively moved to the universities who train the teachers and future leaders, potentially affecting the next generation in Arizona, and of America.
And Arizona has become ground zero for the hyperbole and suggested violence by Right Wing commentators and their closeted racist discourse, evidenced by the now infamous cross-hairs on Congresswoman Giffords district, the use of “target” along with “M-16 training” and “elimination” language in political ads, nearly all of it with historical antecedents in the repression of Native Nations, potential slave uprisings, and later the Mexican claims to treaty-rights in the great southwest taken from them under invasion and violent conquest. This confluence of events and attitudes assuredly is representative of what many scholars have called the “new racism” which, even as it actively denies a racist underpinning, attacks and censures those who historically racism has destroyed, exploited, and suppressed.
Perfect evidence of this is found in Sarah Palin’s response, attempting to paint herself as the victim of “blood libel” which refers to how the Jewish peoples have had their histories distorted and denied, leading to the ultimate decimation of the Holocaust, and a perfect reference to how Arizona wants to eliminate its history of destruction against Mexican immigrants, descendents, and the genocide of its Native peoples.
Rather than have a simple discussion of possible gun control or a civil discourse, perhaps what we need is what Professor / Doctor / Traditionalist Carlos Gonzalez has asked us to do, to pray and prepare ourselves for the Balance and Harmony necessary for healing and movement into a future. Here I can speak to what Lakota have done after one hundred years remembering the slaughter at Wounded Knee, instituting the Big Foot riders memorializing the “Wiping Away the Tears” ceremony which allows us to move forward as a people without forgetting the past. In this, I think an indigenous voice was a perfect blessing and philosophy for understanding what happened in Tucson, in Arizona, and in the United States of America.
“Mitakuye Oyasin” (respect to all my relatives, all my relations in the world)
James Fenelon, Professor, Poet, Native Philosopher (given right to speak by elders)
(See also: Indian Country media )