40th Anniversary of Loving v. Virginia. Loving Indeed!

NPR had this important report on a key anniversary today. I strongly recommend it. It begins:

This week marks the 40th anniversary of a seminal moment in the civil rights movement: the legalization of interracial marriage. But the couple at the heart of the landmark Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia never intended to be in the spotlight. On June 12, 1967, the nation’s highest court voted unanimously to overturn the conviction of Richard and Mildred Loving, a young interracial couple from rural Caroline County, Va.

Here are a couple of passages from that Loving decision, with clear implications for marriage debates today:

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State. . . . There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.

This country can change when people of principle make key decisions. This was the greatest rights court in US history, operating in the late 1960s. Soon Nixon began its destruction. Would the current court’s right-wing majority have decided it the same way?

Democracy or Authoritarianism: What are we becoming?

A standard part of most political science introductory textbooks are definitions and examples of different kinds of political systems. Robert A. Heineman’s textbook outlines the three main types of governmental systems: democratic, authoritarian, and totalitarian systems.

Most Americans are familiar with the democratic system. As participants in such a system we have come to believe, and indeed to expect, we have certain rights and freedoms. These are things like rights to select who will represent us, rights of assembly, rights of free speech, and freedom of association. However, people are less familiar with some of the characteristics of authoritarianism, at least not when these characteristics are exhibited by American governmental institutions.

Unfortunately, because of current immigration policies in many states, it is becoming important for Americans to reacquaint themselves with the definition of authoritarianism. According to Heineman, the characteristics of authoritarian governmental systems include greater control of political processes, greater citizen obedience to a strong government, restricted freedoms of expression of ideas or association, and of course governmental punishment of disobedience (p.3).

Many state immigration public policies are regrettably looking more and more authoritarian and less democratic. The most recent example is Alabama’s immigration policy, which has passed by large margins in both houses of the legislature is expected to be signed by Governor Robert Bentley.

Alabama’s new immigration policy requires children to provide documentation before being enrolled in public school, bars landlords from renting to people who are undocumented, allows police officers to ask about one’s immigration status based on “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, denies businesses tax deductions on wages paid to unauthorized immigrants, criminalizes the failure of an immigrant to carry documentation proving their legal status on their person, and criminalizes the transport of an illegal immigrant.

Through the measure, Alabama has gone a very long distance from our ideals of American democracy, so much so that even being in a car with someone who is undocumented becomes a crime. One wonders if public bus drivers will now ask for documentation and a bus token before letting a brown person board their bus. Alabama has a history of denying basic liberties and justice for blacks. Now it has found a new group to target its unjust and arbitrary use of state power and racism.

In a Michele Wucker’s chapter in Lockout: Why America Keeps Getting Immigration Wrong When Our Prosperity Depends on Getting it Right she quotes George W. Bush’s presidential inaugural address:

America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them. And every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more not less American (p. 139).

Based on Arizona’s, Utah’s, and now Alabama’s most recent anti-immigration bill, we are becoming less American every day.

Why and How Race Ties to Place: California

Here is a new and interesting report on “race and place”published by PolicyLink and California Endowment that explores much important territory with data on the costs of structural and systemic racism. It begins this way:

One number may determine how healthy you are and how long you live. It is not your weight, cholesterol count, or any of those numbers doctors track in patients. It is your address. If you live in a community with parks and playgrounds, grocery stores selling nutritious foods, access to good jobs and to other economic opportunities, clean air, safe streets, good schools, ample health care and social services, and neighbors who look after one another, you are more likely to thrive. If you live in a neighborhood without these essentials, you are more likely to suffer from obesity, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic ailments You are also more likely to die of a stroke, a hear attack, or certain forms of cancer. You are more likely to be injured or killed during a crime, in a car crash, or simply crossing the street. Healthy people and healthy places go together. This simple fact, supported by a deep, evolving body of research, is propelling a broad- based movement in California and in this nation to improve the health of people. . . .

and then adds:

Woven throughout the nexus of health and place is the often unspoken strand of race.

There is much food for thought in this research report about the links of space and racism in this report, and it uses a “structural racism” perspective from the Aspen Institute.

Yet the report never really calls out white decisionmakers as such, as the responsible white parties for the many racial inequalities the report’s data document so well. ‘Tis interesting how most critical reports on racial inequality still defer to white sensibilities in that way. Is this sidestepping of white racism by name a sort of white racial frame in its liberal version?

Mexican American Democrats (MAD): Will Texas become a Democratic State Again?

I just got a Constitution for an organization called the Mexican American Democrats of Texas, dated June 1 of this year. It clearly reflects the growing demographic and political strength of Mexican Americans in Texas, a state where all statewide elected officials are currently Republicans. Since Mexican American voters tend to vote for the Democratic Party (about 67 percent voted for Obama in 2008), will this mean that Texas may soon move back into the “blue column,” especially given the new attacks on immigrants just this week mounted by the mostly white Republicans in the special session of the Texas legislature. The dramatic growth of the Mexican American (and larger Latino) population in Texas has led to reasonable forecasts that Texas will be more than half Latino in just a few decades. It has also led to forecasts that the Latino growth in numerous states will likely be to the benefit of Democratic Party candidates.

Even the usually savvy on immigration issues Texas governor, Republican Rick Perry, has joined in the rather nativistic support for severe limitations on the rights of the many undocumented Texans with their roots in Mexico. These Texans do much of the hardest and toughest work in Texas.

(That anti-immigrant political position is a bit ironic given that “Texas” history started as an invasion of US citizens mostly of European origin [and usually without documents] flooding what became Texas. Eventually the US invaders decided to secede from Mexico by force, in part so these whites could protect the enslavement of black Americans they enforced in the Texas area. That immigration story is often told in a substantially mythological form some distance from the historical truth.)

Here is the first part of the new constitution for the Mexican American Democrats. (Here is their email address: mexicanamericandemocrats@yahoo.com)



We, the Mexican American Democrats of Texas, seeking to ensure the benefits of a free society for ourselves, our families, our communities, counties, state and nation, and seeking to achieve full representation at all levels of the Democratic Party, do hereby adopt the Constitution and Bylaws of the Mexican American Democrats of Texas.


The name of this organization shall be the Mexican American Democrats of Texas, hereinafter referred to as “MAD” or as “Texas MAD”.


The purpose of this organization shall be to seek full representation of Mexican Americans at all levels and in all activities of the Democratic Party. This shall include, but not be limited to, participating in the delegate selection and committee processes at all levels of the Democratic Party conventions and organizations; selecting, screening, supporting, and endorsing Democratic candidates; taking appropriate public stands on issues relevant to our communities; and proposing, supporting, and, when necessary, opposing legislation relevant to the Mexican American community.


Section 1. Qualifications: The General Membership of Texas MAD shall be open to any member of the Mexican American community, but will not be limited to the Spanish surnamed.

Section 2. Application Procedures: The Credentials Committee of Texas MAD shall adopt a mandatory application form which shall at a minimum include the applicant’s name, address, voter registration number, effective date of state membership, and a mandatory signature line. The Credentials Committee of Texas MAD shall also adopt verification procedures of membership.

[and it continues at some length]

Black Ancestry, White Supremacist Confederate Officer

The New York Times Opinionator online site has a very interesting commentary by law professor Daniel j. Sharfstein (Vanderbilt) on how some relatively well-off men in the slaveholding South were able to move from being “black” under the later very common one drop of blood rule (that is, some African ancestry) to being treated as “white” because they had some property, including sometimes property in enslaved African Americans, and connections and had done well in the pre-Civil War South.

Sharfstein makes this point about the historical data he has analyzed on a Confederate officer named Randall Lee Gibson in Louisiana who strongly supported the Confederacy, secession, and slavery:

The son of a wealthy sugar planter and valedictorian of Yale’s Class of 1853, Gibson had long supported secession. Conflict was inevitable, he believed, not because of states’ rights or the propriety or necessity of slavery. Rather, a war would be fought over the inexorable gulf between whites and blacks, or what he called “the most enlightened race” and “the most degraded of all the races of men.”

The great, sad, and sick irony about Colonel Gibson’s extremely racist view of the racial hierarchy and white supremacy was that he himself was the descendant of a free black man named Gideon Gibson who came to the South Carolina colony in the 1730s. Because he had married a white woman and had been a landowner in another colony, Gideon Gibson was granted substantial land in expanding South Carolina and eventually became a well-off planter and slaveholder there. This worked out because before the Civil War, as Sharfstein notes,

Most Southern states followed a one-quarter or one-eighth rule: anyone with a black grandparent or great-grandparent was legally black, and those with more remote ancestry were legally white.

As the Gibson’s descendants moved west and thrived in Louisiana, their African origins got “watered down” by more marriages and interactions with whites, and forgotten or hidden, and soon the descendant of a black man, Randall Gibson, became a raving white supremacist and Confederate Officer. This probably happened dozens if not hundreds of times over slavery’s centuries.

This is a clear example not only of how “race” is socially and societally constructed, but also of how powerful the age-old white racial frame is.

Even those whose ancestry is linked outside Europe to Africa can most certainly buy into and operate out of the white racial frame. What Sharfstein and commentators I have seen so far on this story do not do, is to call out the role of elite white men and the broader U.S. racist system and its imposed white racial frame as the reasons why Colonel Randall Lee Gibson felt the need to inferiorize black people and superiorize white people so aggressively. And to conform to the racial oppressor class so aggressively.

The U.S. racist system is so powerful that it dominates all who come within its sphere, including the minds of Americans of color, and counter-framing and resistance to whites’ systemic racism are very difficult for any person, and thus are only rarely attempted in a big way – in part because one can certainly die in this large-scale resistance and counter framing.

Patrolling the Image of the Educated: Reflections from a Bronx Classroom

Part Three. Recall that along with a few other Middlebury College students, I spent my January winter term working in a public school in the Bronx. Our Education Studies Program coordinated this valuable learning experience outside of Middlebury’s “bubble.” However, I found this “bubble” not easily escapable; at each turn I found the racist pumps that keep it inflated and witnessed rapid “repairs” to any momentary puncture of its surface, those longing for the fresh air of a counter-frame silenced by the same dominant ideologies that plague the halls of my campus. The following is part of a reflection on my experience.

One day I helped out in a classroom so loud the principal made multiple visits, but to no avail. As the substitute teacher yelled at the students, they responded by making fun of him. “McLovin” they taunted, something to which he did not take kindly. A vicious cycle of verbal attacks escalated between them as I sat down with a small group of students and worked to make the assignment accessible to them. As the pocket of students were producing amazing work, it was clear that if we simply divided up the room amongst us we could reach the students more individually and help them better to engage in the material. When I offered that suggestion to the sub he shut it down without the least bit of hesitation: “That would work in an ideal world, but this happens to be a world of criminals and rapists, and that is who these kids are going to become.”

When I informed the assistant principal of his remarks she halted in disbelief; the administration had just praised him with the offering of an extended position at the school. She thanked me for telling her and ensured he would never be welcome in the school again. “I never would have known,” she admitted. “He looks just like an educated guy.”

It was obvious that white, clean shaven, tie, and a dress shirt equaled educated. Just as obvious was the fact that if any of those elements were lacking it did not hold through. In defining the educated through the white racial frame, the assistant principal defined who her students will never be.