Archive for June, 2011
The New York Times has an interesting overview of the many African Americans moving back to the South:
The economic downturn has propelled a striking demographic shift: black New Yorkers, including many who are young and college educated, are heading south. About 17 percent of the African-Americans who moved to the South from other states in the past decade came from New York, far more than from any other state… Of the 44,474 who left New York State in 2009, more than half, or 22,508, went to the South….
The article strongly accents economic reasons, but is there more here? One professor quoted in the article cites many African Americans’ spiritual and emotional (family) ties to the South as reasons for the reverse migration.
Recounting police abuse of her in New York, one black resident who has left suggests that the white racism now in New York is often as bad the old South:
“My grandmother’s generation left the South and came to the North to escape segregation and racism,” she said. “Now, I am going back because New York has become like the old South in its racial attitudes.”
She is likely right. Social science research shows that whites’ everyday racism does not really know geographical boundaries. Is it the case that the white majority in the South did not so much as catch up with the rest of the “liberal” country on racial matters, but rather that much of the rest of white America seems to be acting more like the racial ways that too many in the white South have long been famous for?
What do you make of the reasons given for the large African American migration back to the South?
(Note: Isabel Wilkerson, pulitzer prize winning NY Times journalist and now professor, has a major and fairly new book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration that I have just started looking at, and it may be of interest on the migrations north and south.)
People sometimes contend we are in a post-racial America, but you have to be pretty naïve or deceptive to really say that. It is not just colorblind racism, it is usually intentional deception when whites say “I don’t see race” or “we live in a pro-racial society.” Most know better from their daily lives as much social science data on whites’ backstage discussions reveals.
Some have asked about how our old and deep racial framing gets perpetuated, A very good example of how the 400-year-old white racial frame is perpetuated can be seen in the ongoing contemporary celebration and viewing of the old white racist movie, Gone with the Wind.
CNN has this long article on the recent celebrations of 75 years of the novel. And in “post-racial America” and world, it is still making huge amounts of money, as a book and as a film that teaches people everywhere lies and misrepresentations of the old, brutal, and bloody slaveholding South:
More than 30 million copies of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel are in print worldwide, . . . [and] Selznick’s 1939 adaptation finishes atop most reckonings of the biggest-earning films of all-time, …. Throw in sequels, licensing and merchandise, and …. “It’s making more money now than it ever did in Mitchell’s lifetime,” says John Wiley…
That means huge numbers of people are still reading the novel or watching the movie worldwide, probably many each hour of each day of each year. People still meet to really celebrate for two days the highly racist book and movie, as 100 folks did recently, including at least one person of color. They met at the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum, not far from Mitchell’s Atlanta grave. Interestingly, they had a GWTW museum before we had a museum in Washington, D.C. to deal with our heritage of slavery. And this is about the only weak criticism in the CNN story:
Of course, the book does have political problems of its own. Its apologetic depiction of slavery and liberal use of the N-word are hard for modern audiences to overlook.
So that is the best CNN can do as a critique of the novel and the movie—“political problems”—as though GWTW’s rather rosy depictions of slavery and plantations are somehow just debatable “problems” of a political sort? Actually, GWTW as novel and movie is more like the contemporary denial histories of the European Holocaust. We, or at least many of us, are still in denial about the brutality and oppressiveness of our long racist history–and the lasting consequences.
At least as sad as the rosy celebrations of America’s slave labor camps–called plantations and slave farms—and their fictional Civil War history is the fact that CNN thought a mostly positive review of celebrations of Gone with the Wind was in order. Clearly, not even the media are ready to take on a real critique of the depth and reality of the North American racial foundation we call slavery. No mention of that reality in this story, or how the novel, movie, and celebrations get our history quite wrong.
This country, after all, is the only “Western advanced industrialized” country that is based on 246 years of slavery, more than half its history, which was followed by nearly a century of the near-slavery of Jim Crow segregation. Clearly, the fictions and denials are not gone with the wind. One sees very well here how little we have progressed as a nation, when we cannot have an honest and ongoing discussion of the enslavement of millions of human beings in slave labor camps that kidnapped them, exploited them, tortured them, killed them or shortened their lives, and built up the great wealth of the white-run nation. Even the election of an African American president has not changed this reality.
The U.S. Human Rights Network has a good summary of the weaknesses in U.S. civil rights laws and civil rights enforcement. In 1965 the United Nations adopted an antidiscrimination treaty called the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The U.S. Senate took until 1994 to ratify it largely because of white conservative opposition to it. We have only ratified three international human rights treaties, which are binding on U.S. states and the federal government.
We as a nation are way behind in our law and Supreme Court interpretations of CERD. Here are two excerpts from this critical analysis (The document is at the Poverty and Race Research Action Council website; look for the June 23 weekly update. It is well worth joining their list too):
The CERD treaty embodies an obligation not just to avoid policies with a discriminatory impact, but also to affirmatively take action to address racial disparities in outcomes for people of color, both within government programs and in society at large. This principle of affirmative obligations to redress past discriminatory practices and present day outcomes is largely absent from federal civil rights law (with the notable exception of the Fair Housing Act, which calls on the government to “affirmatively further” fair housing. The CERD treaty requires its signatories to use carefully tailored race-conscious measures to redress past racial discrimination and continuing racial disparities. But the U.S. Supreme Court has recently been undermining this basic principle of our civil rights law by making it harder for government to use race as a factor in student assignment to promote voluntary racial integration. The CERD Committee has recommended a government-wide “Plan of Action” to implement CERD, and a central agency or commission to educate the public and monitor treaty compliance. No such mechanisms exist in the U.S.
Civil rights enforcement vs. human rights compliance: the Obama Administration has done a good job of reviving the dormant civil rights enforcement units within each federal agency that are responsible for investigating complaints of discrimination by state and local recipients of federal funds, and the revived Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is once again at the forefront of civil rights enforcement. But civil rights enforcement is only a part of compliance with the CERD treaty – the federal government is also supposed to be addressing racial disparities and impacts in the way it spends its money and runs its domestic programs (including federal programs affecting health, education, labor, environment, criminal justice, housing, transportation, etc). The federal government is still falling short of its CERD obligations in this area.
That is the U.S. is out of compliance with a major treaty, and indeed in several ways fairly weak in its civil rights enforcement and action on racial and other discrimination.
The conservative right-wing has remained unabashed about its racist talk. We have heard vitriolic metaphors such as “Don’t retreat, reload,” “armed and dangerous,” and talk evoking the second amendment to encourage (white) Americans to protect themselves against a “tyrannical government,” and I might add, African Americans and other Americans of color. This kind of discourse does not contribute to the development of the great debates on which this country was found and how it solved its problems. Even though we live in the 21st century, our conservative right has returned to the so-called “glorious” days of the Jim Crow era, where the lynching of African Americans was the way of southern life.
For Neal Boortz, an Atlanta-based right-wing radio host, the subtle practice of racism against African Americans and other Americans of color is not enough. Boortz is advocating that whites should take up arms to defend themselves against “urban thugs.” He literally has generalized the criminal activity of some urban black males to the entire black community as well as Hispanic communities. One danger of Boortz’s statement is that some hate-mongering neo-Nazi will use this as an excuse to target at random innocent Americans of color as an excuse to eliminate them, becoming judge, jury, and executioner. Boortz also fails to understand that crimes in urban areas are usually “black-on-black” crime.
Therefore, is Boortz using the phrase “urban thugs” as racist imaging of urban Black men generally — and maybe thereby justifying some whites’ attacking them? The late Marable Manning once said:
Black-on-black crime usually victimizes the working and poor, but it can paralyze virtually all Black people of whatever social class or neighborhood. It produces for capitalism and the state a deep despair, a destructive suspicion [blacks] hold against each other. It thwarts Blacks’ ability to achieve collective class consciousness, to build political agencies which advance [Black’s] material and cultural interests, and develop [themselves] economically. It forces Black inner-city merchants to strap revolvers on their calves or shoulders, while serving poor patrons behind plexiglass shields. It stops Black doctors from making emergency calls to their patients who live in the midst of a tenement slum or ghetto high rise complex. It instills a subconscious apathy toward the political and economic hierarchy, and fosters the nihilistic conviction that nothing can ever be changed in the interests of the Black masses.(p. 66)
Manning does not mention whites in this passage. His statements are limited to black neighborhoods regardless of social class. Any sensible law-abiding American citizen would never approve of criminal activity by any individual, regardless of race. But urban black males and their families live in poverty because systemic racism has incarcerated more black males at a greater exponential rate than poor white tattooed males, because of the outsourcing of jobs from urban and rural communities to overseas, because of the lack of educational opportunities, and because of the lack of a strong support system.
Moreover, systemic racism has economically underdeveloped the urban Black community (see Marable Manning’s book above). Because of the black male’s frequent inability to head his household because of the above mentioned reasons, many black women and children have remained in generational poverty. But the most devastating effect systemic racism has had on blacks was reducing them to animals in the minds of whites to justify the ill-treatment of them, then blaming them for their subsequent poor conditions.
“When the official subject is presidential politics, taxes, welfare, crime, rights, or values … the real subject is RACE.” So read the cover story for the May 1991 issue of The Atlantic. The authors, Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary D. Edsall were prescient in observing the subtle and insidious ways in which race and racism—through code words, euphemisms, and circumlocutions—have penetrated political discourse during the half-century since the passage of landmark civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965. In retrospect, the 1964 election, in which Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in a landslide, was the last hurrah of the Democratic Party. Republicans won 5 of the 6 elections between 1968 and 1988, and 7 of the 10 elections between 1968 and 2004, thus establishing firm control over the institutions of national power, including the Supreme Court. This can only be described as a counter-revolution in which many of the hard-won gains of the civil rights movement were eviscerated or wiped out altogether. From there, the conservative ideological crusade went on deploy the tropes of race and racism in a sweeping attack on liberalism and the liberal policy agenda.
After the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, there was a relentless effort to drive every last nail into the coffin of the civil rights movement. Furthermore, conservative intellectuals and strategists seized upon the mounting popular opposition to the Great Society and the racial liberalism of the Democratic Party. With the help of nascent neocons, conservatives underwent an ideological facelift: they now portrayed themselves as the champions of the rights and interests of white workers. This rhetoric gained momentum with an ideological crusade against affirmative action during the 1980s, followed by an attack on “welfare”—that is, Aid for Dependent Children (AFDC). However, these were only dress rehearsals for a larger assault on the welfare state itself. Emboldened by their success, the partisans of counter-revolution, with the backing of right-wing foundations and think tanks, launched a campaign against the New Left and “the Left academy.” Thanks to their control of the White House for 28 years, Republicans were able to pack the Supreme Court with judges weaned by the Federalist Society, which today has chapters in over 200 law schools across the nation. The result was the effective gutting of affirmative action, the most important policy initiative of the post-civil rights era. Affirmative action drove a wedge in the wall of occupational segregation that has existed since slavery, and produced, for the first time, a sizable black middle class with a foothold outside the ghetto economy. Without affirmative action, we are beginning to witness the erosion of these gains, and a widening of the gap between blacks and everybody else.
Only in hindsight is it clear that Bill Clinton, the New Democrat, represented a transitional period in a reactionary spiral that morphed into neoliberalism. Let me make two related points about race and neoliberalism. First, race and racism were used, with political cunning, to epitomize all that is wrong with the welfare state, to whip up antagonism toward the “big government” that gave us the New Deal and the Great Society, and to impart new legitimacy to “states rights,” which, let us remember, was the ideological linchpin behind the Civil War. Second, the policies enacted under the emergent neoliberal regime have all had particularly devastating effects on African Americans. Indeed, Glenn Beck has ridiculed universal healthcare, universal college, and green jobs as “stealth reparations.”
The Right has been ingenious in playing the race card over the last half-century, and if the Left is going to prevail, it will have to trump that race card with one of its own. Progressives and their allies in labor can begin by confronting their own complicity in a racial division of labor that privileged white men above all others. To paraphrase Justice Brennan, we need to engage race in order to transcend it. Only then will it be possible to restore “poverty” and “inequality” to political discourse. To build coalitions across racial and class lines. And to advance a political agenda that can effectively challenge class power and neoliberal rule.
This is a synopsis of a larger paper that was published in the current issue of LOGOS, an online journal.
[from the RR archive]
This is an African American holiday started in Texas, for obvious reasons. Wikipedia has a nice summary of key info:
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. State of Texas in 1865. Celebrated on June 19, the term is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, and is recognized as a state holiday in 31 of the United States.
That is, word of President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of January 1863 reached Texas only in June 1865:
The holiday originated in Galveston, Texas; for more than a century, the state of Texas was the primary home of Juneteenth celebrations. Since 1980, Juneteenth has been an official state holiday in Texas. It is considered a “partial staffing holiday” meaning that state offices do not close but some employees will be using a floating holiday to take the day off. Twelve other states list it as an official holiday, including Arkansas, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Alaska and California, where Governor Schwarzenegger proclaimed the day “Juneteenth” on June 19, 2005. Connecticut, however, does not consider it a legal holiday or close government offices in observance of the occasion. Its informal observance has spread to some other states, with a few celebrations even taking place in other countries.
As of May 2009, 31 states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or state holiday observance; these include Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
This is also a day to remember the 500,000 African Americans, who as soldiers and support troops, many of them formerly enslaved, volunteered for the Union Army at its low point, and who thus played a (the?) key role in winning the Civil War. This is an ironic day, too, given the very weak apology for slavery voted on this week in the mostly white US Senate. A bit late.
A handful of newly elected radical Republican governors are on a quest to destroy the Democrats electorate base by eliminating unions and passing stricter voter ID laws. They know this new law will reduce voter participation among a number of Americans of color, college students, the elderly, and the poor that typically vote for the Democratic Party. This law is being passed in many states under the pretext of voter fraud. Perhaps the governors themselves are perpetuating the greatest fraud in voter history to destroy the fabric of our democracy. The Republicans will stop short of nothing to get their way, if it means ramming their bills through the state houses and senate and removing all political dissidence. They are about dominance, reductionism, elimination, racism, classism, and the State Supreme Courts are validating these Republican-inspired voter ID laws.
Furthermore, the American people were hoodwinked into voting them back into power during the 2010 mid-term elections, and the only substance the Republicans have given us in the short time they’ve been in office is a far-right radical agenda and politics that operate outside of mainstream political thought. If the Republicans destroy the Democratic base and take full control of this country, they will place “federal policy and decision making” at the service of the wealthiest citizens of this country “who will fill the party’s coffers on an unprecedented scale.”
With the passing of new Voter ID laws, these states have added hurdles and rules that will hinder voter participation that will certainly affect a percentage of Americans of color, college students, the elderly, and the poor who will not be able to surmount this hurdle. In fact, it will deter them from voting, and this is on what the Republicans bank their political strategy. But it is up to the American people to protect our democracy and keep this country from turning into an elite plutocracy, the Republicans true political agenda. Every vote counts.
At one level, we see the difference afforded in victory and defeat. Reflective of the hypermasculine values of sporting culture that affords privileges and latitude to those who win, Dirk gets a pass because he is victorious. Those defeated, whose are subjected to losses, and who otherwise are weaker (on the court, in elections, or on the battlefield) must accept defeat graciously and must accommodate the rules established by society at large. Yet, the moment also reveals the ways that race operates in the context of humanity.
In each and every instance, we see the emotionality of sports. In victory and in loss, emotions are great, and the responses from players (and fans alike) should be understood as a reflection of the power of emotions within sports. Whether Dirk in victory or LeBron (or Westbrook) in defeat, we “witness” the emotions of sports. We understand this and have no problem with it. Yet, its makes us wonder who can be allowed to be human? Who is allowed to be both imperfect and who is allowed to show emotions?
Frantz Fanon, in “The Fact of Blackness,” argues, dirty or not, professionally dressed or not, law-abiding or not, employed or not, African Americans are never able to be fully human within the white imagination. To be black is to remain savage and inhuman; it is to remain dirty, dangerous, destructive, and dysfunctional, all while maintaining a relationship to the “ontology of whiteness,” which is assumed to embody “rationality and universality” (Bhabha 2000, p. 355). More importantly, whiteness constitutes a marking of civilization and humanity, otherwise not available to black bodies. Homi Bhabha highlights how blackness constitutes a suffering of the stains of white supremacy as “a member of the marginalized, the displaced, and the Diasporic.” He writes: “To be amongst those whose very presence is both ‘overlooked’— in the double sense of surveillance and psychic disavowal – and at the same time over-determined – physically projected made stereotypical and symptomatic” (Bhabha 2000, p. 355).
The handshake double standard brings to light Bhabha’s poignant and provocative commentary, in that black NBA players, and their brothers and sisters living outside America’s arenas and inside a post-Jim Crow America, are simultaneously subjected to state-mandated acts of violence – “surveillance and physical disavowal” – and the logics of racism that reduce black bodies, aesthetics, styles, and cultural performances to little more than those seen has savage and otherwise inhuman. As evidenced by both the demonization of the James during this playoffs (and elsewhere) and the rightful understanding afforded to Dirk in this case, race operates in the context of a discourse of humanity:
The black is both savage (cannibal) and yet the most obedient and signified of servants (the bearer of food); he is the embodiment of rampant sexuality and yet innocent as a child; he is mystical, primitive, simple-minded and yet the most worldly and accomplished liar, and manipulator of social forces. In each case, what is being dramatized is a separation – between race, cultures, histories, within histories – a separation between before and after that repeats obsessively and mythical moment of disjunction (Bhabha in Location of Culture, p. 118).
As Bhabha and Fanon remind us, a handshake is never just a customary gesture, it is a ritual act that anchors racialized scripts, clearing a powerful narrative spaces for the reiteration of the white racial frame. It is a micro-practice in granting or denying shared humanity, whose significance cannot be diminished on a day where broad more macro-practices do the same: Oscar Grant’s murderer was released from jail after a single year in prison, the differences between the humanity afforded to Dirk versus LeBron (and others) provides a window into the material consequences of white supremacy in contemporary America.
At the close of nearly every sporting even in the United States, competitors exchange handshakes. Long recognized as a conventional expression of respect, many take it to be a reaffirmation the ethics of sport, routinely glossed in more sexist shorthand as sportsmanship. Only rarely does the ritual make plain its place within predominant racialized modes of being and seeing. Such neglect, of course, limits our understanding of the limits race continues to place of humanity, precisely because it turns on respect, respectability, and the recognition of a shared humanity and became traditional during an era in which sport, like society generally, endorsed racial exclusion.
The conclusion of the 2011 NBA Finals offers a striking starting point to reconsider the racial significance of the post-game handshake. Amid the hoopla and the ample criticism directed at LeBron James, there has been very little critical discussion of Dirk Nowitzki’s quick exit from the court. Rather than celebrating with his team and congratulating the members of the Miami Heat for a well-fought series, Dirk retreated to the locker room. Responding to Hannah Storm’s question about his post-game activity, he explained his decision as such:
I had to get a moment. I was crying a bit. I was a little emotional. … I actually didn’t want to come out for the trophy, but the guys talked me into it.
While others noted this to be unusual and out-of-step with protocol, little has been made of his decision in a critical way. Some even described it as touching, while Skip Bayless on 1rst and 10 linked his decision to his justifiable anger against Wade and James for “mocking his illness.” Stacey King, on the same show, dismissed the issue since Dirk is “a classy guy, this is a guy with humility.” These reframings of the series Most Valuable Player championed his character, simultaneously affirming his humanity, while revealing a racial double standard.
What is curious here is how this silence can be read in relationship to past media discourse about (black) players leaving the court without the requisite hugs, handshakes, and pleasantries. In 2009, after the Magic defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James exited the court in such an “unsportsmanlike” way. James explained the situation:
I’m a competitor. “That’s what I do. It doesn’t make sense to me to go over and shake somebody’s hand.
His explanation was unsatisfying to many, leading to an avalanche of criticism directed at him for his lack of respect, sportsmanship, and maturity. “There’s not much debate to be had there. You’re not likely to find anyone who would seriously argue that snubbing the Magic was a classy move on King James’ part,” wrote Phil Taylor.
But so many athletes are now cut from that cloth. They think the inability to deal with defeat gracefully is a sign of competitive fire, when it’s often a sign of immaturity. A real competitor gives every ounce of effort to win, but is enough of a man to give respect to an opponent who does the same and prevails.
David Aldridge concurred, chastising James for poor sportsmanship:
Not one word of congratulations to a team that beat yours fair and square, after a tough series. That was poor sportsmanship, LeBron, no matter how you or any of your followers, acolytes and media protectors say otherwise.
Others were not so constructive with their criticism: While Ann Killion identified him as “the definition of a poor sport.”
Not surprisingly, sports writers took the moment to lament the lack of desired values in sport and the ways in which contemporary athletes were teaching kids the wrong lesson. “Every kid in every sports league—soccer, Little League, field hockey, lacrosse, football, you name it—from kindergarten to college has to shake hands with their opponents,” noted Mary Kate Cary.
Many times the coach will bench them if they refuse. So why don’t the adults have to do the same thing? I guess good sportsmanship is just for kids these days. It’s certainly not for the adults who make it to the top of their sport.
LeBron, who is no stranger to controversy and media “haterrade” (see Dave Zirin’s column on LeBron’s post game comments), is not alone in facing media criticism for failing to shake hands at the end of game. During the 2011 playoffs, Russell Westbrook faced a similar level of criticism for walking off the court without congratulating the Dallas Mavericks at the conclusion of the Western Conference finals. Described as like “LeBron,” as “Westpunk” and a “classless chicken shit” and otherwise criticized, the instance (as with LeBron) was used to once again question his emotional make-up, maturity, and respect for the game.
Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed a bill on Tuesday, May 31, 2011, that requires those seeking public assistance and those already on public assistance to be drug-tested, and they will have to pick up the cost for the test. This bill will affect approximately 58,000 recipients in the state of Florida. Since Americans of all races have lost their jobs, this piece of legislation, in the minds of scholars and practitioners, may be perceived to target so-called “criminally minded, welfare-depended blacks.” There are those who need some public assistance until the job market improves, which should obviate this racial stereotype. Howard Simon, Director of ACLU said:
Once again, this governor has demonstrated his dismissal of both the law and the right of Floridians to personal privacy by signing into law a bill that treats those who have lost their jobs like suspected criminals.
Many white Americans are already under the illusion that welfare is synonymous with people of color, specifically African Americans, resulting in various negative images such as “welfare queens” who eat well and drive fancy cars. The white racial frame can only see African Americans as the only racial group that is draining the system. Even white college students who prepare essays or speeches about welfare in our communication classes tend to overrepresent African Americans on the welfare rolls. However, they have overlooked in the research that more whites receive public assistance.
With this said, does Florida’s drug-testing measure deliberately target people of color, specifically African Americans, given the racial stereotype that they are lazy and want the government to take care of them?