Archive for August, 2012
All the white conservative talk lately about conventional white-racist framing (e.g., in regard to “welfare”) of African Americans and indeed about “taking back our country” calls to mind the eloquent reply to such ethnocentric racism given by the great W. E. B. Du Bois more than a century ago in his sharp and still highly relevant Souls of Black Folk book (see here). He accents the many positive black impacts on this country:
Your country? How came it yours? Before the Pilgrims landed we were here. Here we have brought our three gifts and mingled them with yours: a gift of story and song—soft, stirring melody in an ill-harmonized and unmelodious land; the gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer the soil, and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire two hundred years earlier than your weak hands could have done it; the third, a gift of the Spirit.
Around us the history of the land has centered for thrice a hundred years; out of the nation’s heart we have called all that was best to throttle and subdue all that was worst; fire and blood, prayer and sacrifice, have billowed over this people, and they have found peace only in the altars of the God of Right.
Nor has our gift of the Spirit been merely passive. Actively we have woven ourselves with the very warp and woof of this nation,—we fought their battles, shared their sorrow, mingled our blood with theirs, and generation after generation have pleaded with a headstrong, careless people to despise not Justice, Mercy, and Truth, lest the nation be smitten with a curse. Our song, our toil, our cheer, and warning have been given to this nation in blood-brotherhood. Are not these gifts worth the giving? Is not this work and striving?
Would America have been America without her Negro people? Even so is the hope that sang in the songs of my fathers well sung. If somewhere in this whirl and chaos of things there dwells Eternal Good, pitiful yet masterful, then anon in His good time America shall rend the Veil and the prisoned shall go free. Free, free as the sunshine trickling down the morning into these high windows of mine, free as yonder fresh young voices welling up to me from the caverns of brick and mortar below—swelling with song, instinct with life, tremulous treble and darkening bass. My children, my little children, are singing to the sunshine, and thus they sing: Let us cheer the weary traveller, Cheer the weary traveller, Let us cheer the weary traveller Along the heavenly way. And the traveler girds himself, and sets his face toward the Morning, and goes his way.
Reference: W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (pp. 125-126). Public Domain Books. Kindle. (Free version here)
What? Wait, I thought I just saw something. Yes, someone was there! There it goes again…another one just disappeared. Where? No it is not an aberration? Are you kidding me…right there? Did you see it that time? Am I going crazy? No. On the contrary, I am quite sane. Even though my mother continues to follow this conclusion, only after witnessing my attempt as a child to place my tongue into an electrical socket as a child, my faculties have yet to escape into the void of emptiness and paranoia. They truly are disappearing, you know? The problem is not with me, but with your eyes. Or rather what you chose to avoid. At times, many of you do not care to venture into what I see. Many of you find their disappearance irrelevant. You say, “How do I know?” Well, even though whispers are present within small circles, in general I see the absence of it presence within your so-called intellectually constructed confines you call “the academy.” I notice your care for the topic within your incomplete descriptive statistical reports relating to educational attainment. I do not see the subject in print within presentation and roundtable discussions which take place inside your large educational and sociological conferences that cater to the intellectual highbrow. In fact, I do not see largely publicized proactive stances within the confines of the government and or public and post-secondary education. Where is the alarm? Sound the alarm . . . . sound the alarm!
Many Americans, particularly people of color, have joined in the celebration of this momentous occasion and expressed an opinion that Obama’s election ushered in a colorblind era. To them, this occasion symbolized for all that the historic caste system which hindered the progress of Blacks since the beginning of our nation has come to an end. On the day of Mr. Obama’s inauguration, I had the pleasure of walking down the hallways of a few public elementary schools and bore witness to the cheers, smiles, hugs, and celebration of many educators who could have not imagined a couple of years earlier they would have the honor to watch on school televisions and news websites the swearing in of our first Black U.S. president. “If Barrack can do it, you have no excuse not to,” was avowed to little Black faces in creepy harmony across the spectrum of a particular ED classroom that was populated with all Black males, except for one White male. In truth, that celebration across the country and sentiments of a colorblind era are nothing but distractions that serve as a curtain to hide underlying racial realities affecting Blacks, particularly those within the lower SES brackets. Through a critical analysis, gains witnessed by many are in fact gains and breakthroughs that primarily benefit middle and upper class Blacks. The racial caste system rooted in society since the founding of America is still in full operation. As a consequence, those at the bottom of the tiered system have continuously been prone to sophisticated measures of extreme supremacy and chastisement within the U.S. The consequential effects of targeting and all around affront toward Black males can be decisively identified through a multifaceted examination of the current state of Black males within this country.
Why? The 21st century condition of Black males is not comparable to any other group within the United States. Nowhere is this more strongly seen than in their educational experiences.
The state of Black males in education is dismal. The Chronicle of Higher Education stated within their Almanac of Higher Education 2012 issue, out of Bachelor’s (164,844), Master’s (76,458), and doctoral degrees (10,417) awarded to Blacks, Black males respectively earned 34.1%, 28.9%, and 34.8 respectively. Black females respectively earned 65.9%, 71.1%, and 65.2%. Today in terms of population, Black females outnumber their male counterparts as well. This does not improve within the domains of public education.
Public schools throughout Florida, New York, and Georgia, that Black males were twice as likely not to graduate with their 2005 and 2006 class cohorts than their other classmates (pdf here). Did you know that Delaware, Indiana, Michigan, South Carolina, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Georgia graduate fewer Black males than any other states? Distinctively my home state of Illinois can take credit, along with Wisconsin, for having close to a 40% gap between White and Black male graduation rates. Likewise, the bleak states of Nevada, Wyoming, Ohio, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Indiana graduate less than 50% of their Black male students from public schools. Sadly, the rare states that graduate Black males at a 70% rate are only Arizona, North Dakota, New Jersey, Vermont, and Maine.
The Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) in 2007 stated that Black males suffered from the largest achievement gap in comparison to any other racial/ethnic group in the U.S. The National Center for Education Statistics in 2007 reported that the rate of Black females receiving a college and university degrees was approximately two times that of Black males. Some reports have gone so far as to note the current academic gap between students of color (Black and Hispanic/Latino) and White students is primarily due to “socioeconomic factors.” Simply put, they dispute racial disparities between Blacks and non-Blacks. Neutralizing the discussion of race has seemingly emerged as one approach to address the achievement gap between Black and White students. Nonetheless, studies and findings in the area of mathematics have proven to dispute this claim and yield no better result. As a case in point, in 2009, Black males in large urban settings who were classified eligible for free and reduced lunch due to low SES, academically performed 20 points lower than comparable White males. White males not receiving free and reduced lunches averaged 11 points higher than Black male classmates who were ineligible. The data indicate that regardless of socioeconomics, racial disparity exists within a vast number of academic areas. Further, Blacks from affluent suburban areas have been shown to suffer from the same concerns as poor urban students.
Why? Overall I feel that a large percentage of governmental and institutional policies and programs enacted today are essentially continuing a legacy of control. This in fact is a legacy many deny even when confronted with surmounting evidence that affirms otherwise. But then again, why admit transgressions when the effort to continue the heritage of oppression endured by people of color subsequently benefits them—the elite proprietors of money, power, and resources within this country. Within this setting they continue to hold the reins of supremacy over the marginalized and less fortunate. Their influence and direction set the rhythm for those on the outside of their inner circle to dance to. They determine who is worthy of their attention and admiration and those who are to be ignored and detested. They determine those who should be considered safe and those who should be seen as dangerous. They have the power to influence the minds of those here and abroad. This is simply a dangerous game of thrones people of color have never seemed to master. Within every game there exists a potential wild card that has the capability to alter the dynamics of a game. A wild card is to be watched by the leaders of the game. All their efforts must be focused to discourage this improbable player from moving from behind to overcome and leader and as a result win. Within this country, Black and Latino males are the impeding wild card.
Within this malevolence operation, Black males are particularly at risk of being exposed to noteworthy doses of oppressive measures that are in general experienced by women or other ethnic groups. Oppressive systems and people who operate on the grounds of the systemic social reproduction of racism as Albert Memmi stated, “want distinctions and advantages to be given by birth to those who simply declare themselves by self-decree to be best.” Today as witnessed within the past, the systems within the U.S. were simply created by our country’s forefathers to give advantage to some, but not all. The effects of the seeds and thus vines of oppression that have encased the internal and external surfaces of the U.S. continue to render the minds, hearts, and actions of the world. The world has blindly come to be served the toxic proverbial “Kool-Aid,” and consequently continue the undertaking of condemning, demonizing, and psychologically and physically antagonizing Black males.
The character Captain, in the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, famously said, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. But I feel that the message that is being sent is quite clear and present. The conversation pertaining to the social and academic well-being of Black males is not only missing, but also insignificant.
Atlantic magazine’s usually very sharp Ta-Nehisi Coates has a fine article this week laying out in some detail the limitations on blacks in politics, historically and today. And especially the major limits on what a black president can do in a racist society. For example,
The irony of President Barack Obama is best captured in his comments on the death of Trayvon Martin, and the ensuing fray. Obama has pitched his presidency as a monument to moderation. He peppers his speeches with nods to ideas originally held by conservatives. He routinely cites Ronald Reagan. He effusively praises the enduring wisdom of the American people, and believes that the height of insight lies in the town square. Despite his sloganeering for change and progress, Obama is a conservative revolutionary, and nowhere is his conservative character revealed more than in the very sphere where he holds singular gravity—race.
He adds the key point:
Part of that conservatism about race has been reflected in his reticence: for most of his term in office, Obama has declined to talk about the ways in which race complicates the American present and, in particular, his own presidency.
However President Obama occasionally transgresses his white-imposed boundaries, as when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. Then President Obama ventured out of his restricted environment on racial matters and said something poignant, appropriate, and rather mild,
When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together—federal, state, and local—to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened … But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.
These rather accurate, normal, and mild comments got him a very large-scale attack from white conservatives, who made very clear that a black president did not have their permission to venture out even this far on U.S. racial matters. So, it is not surprising that Obama — who wished to be effective in policymaking and re-elected — has mostly not touched racial matters over the long years of his presidency.
Coates has this sharp interpretation of the negative reactions to Obama moving outside his racial-political “limits”:
The election of an African American to our highest political office was alleged to demonstrate a triumph of integration. But when President Obama addressed the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, he demonstrated integration’s great limitation—that acceptance depends not just on being twice as good but on being half as black. And even then, full acceptance is still withheld. The larger effects of this withholding constrict Obama’s presidential potential in areas affected tangentially—or seemingly not at all—by race. Meanwhile, across the country, the community in which Obama is rooted sees this fraudulent equality, and quietly seethes. Obama’s first term has coincided with a strategy of massive resistance on the part of his Republican opposition in the House, and a record number of filibuster threats in the Senate. It would be nice if this were merely a reaction to Obama’s politics or his policies—if this resistance truly were, as it is generally described, merely one more sign of our growing “polarization” as a nation. But the greatest abiding challenge to Obama’s national political standing has always rested on the existential fact that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin. As a candidate, Barack Obama understood this.
Twice as good, and half as black. That is, whites set the conditions under which limited racial “integration” can even take place, well into the 21st century. No post-racial US here.
Sadly, too, not even the usually on target and very sharp Coates is able to name, call out, and systematically analyze the white agents here, most especially the elite whites, as the principal actors creating the severely limited political and social environment in which Obama must daily operate. In this very perceptive quote, he does not once mention the white actors as such. He certainly implies them, and elsewhere in his sharp analysis a few Republicans are named for particular nasty racial incidents, but their individual and group racialized actions specifically as whites or white elites today are not named and assessed as such, or as part of our contemporary political and social system of white racial oppression.
Almost never in the media or scholarly writings do Elite whites, named as such and as the major white decisionmaking group, appear as contemporary actors in the subject position of key sentences that get at the particular contextual limitations that Obama faces, such as from the white elites (often operating out of a white racial frame) who control the mass media and elite political organizations — although they do periodically appear in other phrasing as the dominant group in society (as in this piece by Coates).
On Wednesday August 15, eligible undocumented immigrants throughout the nation began to apply for work permits under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. As The New York Times put it, “The work permit young immigrants can receive with the deferral opens many doors that have been firmly shut. They can obtain valid Social Security numbers and apply for driver’s licenses, professional certificates and financial aid for college.” On the same day, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer issued an Executive Order aimed at keeping those doors firmly shut in Arizona.
Her order [pdf] directs state agencies to initiate any changes necessary to prevent “Deferred Action recipients from obtaining eligibility . . . for state funded public benefits and state identification, including a driver’s license.”
Brewer’s order contradicts Arizona’s current policy that provides driver’s licenses to undocumented individuals who have secured jobs and attorneys doubt that it will have any practical effects.
Brewer’s action might have been motivated by her notorious animosity towards President Obama (pictured above in an encounter in January, 2012). An editorial in the August 17 issue of the Arizona Republic characterizes Brewer’s executive order as a “Move that Goes Too Far”.
in her efforts to oppose the president, “Even if the issue is something as seemingly straightforward as allowing Dream Act kids to obtain driver’s licenses, a fundamental precondition for Americans seeking to improve their lot in a mobile society.”
This is just another episode in Brewer’s relentless campaign against the undocumented. It is another instance of the racism that has tarnished Arizona’s reputation. Sadly, it delights racist voters, which evidently trumps human decency.
The Obama administration just submitted their amicus brief in regard to the Fisher v. University of Texas (Austin) affirmative action case, which our substantially conservative Supreme Court has decided to hear in the fall.
The brief is indeed fairly brief and mostly sticks to fairly narrow affirmative action arguments based largely in the language and logic of the University of Michigan Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) Supreme Court decision and a few related decisions, such as by arguing that the University of Texas (UT) remedial admissions plan tried unsuccessfully other admissions approaches first, only uses “race” as one variable among several “diversity” variables, is limited in time (reviewed every five years), and has had a modest but good effect in improving UT campus diversity. The brief lays out these conditions and the Grutter perspective allowing “race” as on variable among many pretty well, as a historically rather mainstream and white-centrist position on these university affirmative action issues.
The central arguments, and main rationale, of this brief use common but tepid “diversity” language and cite various important legal cases and agency/research studies (see here for one other study) to back up the argument that diversity helps (especially white, but they don’t use the word in that context) people adjust to and work with (including in the military and business) people who are different from them. The brief is generally cast in that more modest “diversity is important to student careers and success in the ‘real world’” rationale for adding some (modest, actually) “race” diversity to the student body.
What is not here in the rather timid Obama administration brief is rather striking. The brief never uses the word “racism,” nor does it directly reference the fact that UT was for many decades a prominent Jim-Crowed university. It still was firmly segregated, like all historically white southern universities, when I attended college in Texas in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Indeed, UT’s football coach then famously said he would not have an “N-word” on his football team, one of the last teams in the old southwest athletic conference to be racially desegregated. That prominent view of the coach was well-known in Texas’s black communities and indeed alienated many black parents and students from considering going to UT. I know that from personal efforts when I was a UT faculty member trying to recruit black students to this university in the 1970s and 1980s. Relatively few black students went to UT until the 1970s.
None of this long and extreme racist segregation background is noted in the administration’s brief, and the very high level of racial segregation still obvious in Texas high schools, from which UT draws most of its students, is only noted briefly and is not analyzed as to why that racial segregation was created or still persists.
Striking in this connection, too, is that there is no mention of the numerous white policymakers who historically and openly created (even into the 1960s), and still often create or maintain less blatantly, the state’s segregated high schools. White elite decisionmakers are only implicit in this brief, as they are in almost all discussions of U.S. systemic-racism issues. Clearly, the authors were afraid to call out and assess frontally the white racism that is foundational and systemic for Texas’s educational system, as elsewhere in the U.S. educational system.
Even the word “white” appears just four times in the document, once in reference to the plaintiff’s identity and only in vague passing comments for the other three cases. The reality of whiteness and white private in connection with such university cases, especially in the South, is nowhere addressed.
A major underlying structural and systemic issue ignored in this brief is the white-created system of Jim Crow racial segregation that dominated the state’s educational system from not long after its establishment by Reconstruction era state constitutions in the 1860s (ironically, shaped significantly by white and black “radical Republicans” then) for nearly a century, indeed until the mid- to late-1960s. The many impacts of that educational Jim Crow and other Jim Crow oppression cannot be undone by even more aggressive “affirmative” action than this modest plan of UT. That is especially true because a great many whites abandoned the public high schools as a reaction to the end of legal segregation. Whites have set up private overwhelmingly or completely white high schools across Texas, from the 1960s to the present, to avoid contacts with black (often Latinos too) students, and thus have usually destroyed much of the economic support and viability of all but the most well-funded public schools, and those mostly in white suburban areas of Texas cities.
The brief goes just as far as it had to go with its “diversity is essential” perspective in order to support the rather modest UT affirmative action program, and does that pretty well. Only a non-centrist, far-right white perspective would find the brief’s main arguments and this modest UT affirmative action program in admission really objectionable. It is but a very modest first step in the large scale change necessary for real and meaningful diversity in higher education.
Our conservative-controlled Supreme Court, an essentially undemocratic US institution, has decided to hear the Fisher v. University of Texas case that involves the use of racial characteristics as one factor in a multifaceted (leadership ability, other personal abilities and talents, family situation, racial characteristics) supplemental admissions program aimed at more significant desegregation of what was once an all-white, Jim-Crowed student body. This modest University of Texas undergraduate admissions approach–itself weaker that earlier more aggressive “affirmative action” to break down decades of racial barriers in higher education–has been attacked, again, as harmful to the long-dominant white group that controls most U.S. institutions. Apparently, many white Americans still cannot even envision rather small-scale “losses” in white privilege and power from such modest desegregation programs in higher education and other institutions in the 21st century. (Significantly, however, both the federal district judge and the circuit court judges ruled in favor of the U. Texas program.)
One issue raised in recent Supreme Court decisions dealing with racial desegregation in education under the term “affirmative action” is whether such desegregation has significant educational benefits that validate it under our current mostly individualistic and backtracking court decisions dealing with what is in fact systemic racism.
A University of North Carolina press release describes new research examining benefits of racial diversity for educational programs, in this case for law schools. A ten-year study by a psychologist (Abigail T. Panter), sociologist (Walter Allen), educational research professor (Linda F. Wightman), and law professor (Charles E. Daye) found an array of positive educational benefits.
This press release notes a few issues in the University of Texas case and links to useful pdfs of this social science research (a research article pdf) and of the amicus brief filed by the University of North Carolina–one of ten universities expected to file in support of the Texas position.
The press release summarizes a few points about the study and its significance:
[They] examined links of race (and other factors) with educational diversity, tracking law students from their enrollment in law school through graduation . . . . data from more than 6,500 incoming law students attending a random representative sample of 50 American Bar Association-approved U.S. law schools.
Racial diversity in student populations, not surprisingly, encouraged more significant interpersonal interaction across racial lines and had
positive educational outcomes that benefit students, institutions and society. In addition, when a law school’s racial diversity was significant and group interaction was high, graduating law students perceived their law school as more open and respectful of diverse ideas.
One result for post-law-school careers, the report indicates, is to make graduates broader and more “culturally competent,” as the often sanitized jargon of academia says. More accurate understandings about matters of “race” and racism often result from these more desegregated educational settings–most especially for white students who in the past are likely to have lived largely segregated lives in their neighborhoods and public areas they most often frequent.
. . . you’re going to be dealing with all kinds of races when you graduate, so you better have some of that respect or that appreciation that people can think differently,” said Aaron, a Northern California student quoted in the article.
Our past of 400 years of racial oppression will not be remedied by a couple of decades of modest to weak remedial programs for that past and its continuing impact in the form of racial discrimination. Law professor Charles Daye accented the point that racial differences are essential admissions factors to consider, among other important factors, if law schools (and other educational programs) are to be desegregated enough for a major educational impact:
“There is no other factor that will adequately target the qualities needed in a student body in which the students can interact and learn from each other and learn the ways the others see the world.”
One clear sign of the continuing backwardness on racism matters in the United States, of the continuing power of white-controlled systemic racism and its racial framing, is that even such a modest program of desegregation of the student body at the University of Texas is under such aggressive white challenge.
The colorblind mythology central to contemporary versions of that white racial frame, naively or intentionally, continues to assert fairy tales about this country being “post-racial” and “beyond race.” Unfortunately, those fairy tales are still believed by a majority of the white elite and the general white population, and by many others, in the face of mounds of empirical data refuting such notions. One does not have to look far to see the dramatic contradictions, such as the still widespread racist joking and other racist commentaries among white students on college campuses and on thousands of internet websites and among elite white politicians and judges. As is often the case, important societal frames like that white racial frame tend to trump facts about our actual societal realities.
Like many another person who had read of lynching in the South, I had accepted the idea meant to be conveyed—that although lynching was irregular and contrary to law and order, unreasoning anger over the terrible crime of rape led to the lynching; that perhaps the brute deserved death anyhow and the mob was justified in taking his life.
Crusade for Justice—Ida B. Wells
You know, I can see how Kobe Bryant could have done it…how he acts, his personality…I mean, he looks like a rapist.
Conversation with popular Black feminist blogger
The ongoing debate between Ebony.com and the popular feminist blog “What About Our Daughters” over the now removed article entitled “From Notorious to Glorious: Why Genarlow Wilson Is No Child Molester and Never Was,” by Chandra Thomas Whitfield, demonstrates more than a war of ideas—it has come to articulate a central idea between what is popularly considered feminist— and by effect for Black women— and how everything else that is not feminist is by necessity against Black women. Unfortunately, the central idea under contention is not one of degree, measured by the extent to which an action or concept benefits Black women, but categorical, as to whether or not a Black women’s magazine MUST on that basis understand a Black man charged with rape as being culpable, a priori, of rape.
Unfortunately, the discussions by Ebony.com concerning the celebration of Mr. Genarlow Wilson’s matriculation from Morehouse University have been depicted as the magazine and organization “siding with a rapist,” despite the fact that Mr. Wilson was never convicted of rape. Rather than a call for any substantive justice, these conversations demonstrate how deeply rooted the myth of the Black rapist is within the discursive moralism of these recent Black feminist pronouncements, and ask a public, without evidence or factual context, to treat Mr. Wilson as a rapist and sexual predator regardless of policy and legal opinion to the contrary. As the aforementioned quote by Wells cautions, Black men and anti-racist thinkers alike cannot take on faith than any ideology, including Black feminism, has totally separated itself from the historical and sexual vulnerability of the Black male to the rapist myth.
The Genarlow Wilson Case: The Facts and Context of Wilson’s Conviction for Aggravated Sexual Molestation.
It was a New Year’s Eve party at a Day’s Inn in 2003 where Mr. Genarlow and five of his high school friends had sex with a 17 year old classmate and oral sex with a fifteen year old Tiffany Cannon. When 17 year old (Morgan) awoke to find herself naked, she called her mother to pick her up from the hotel, and claimed that she thinks “they raped her.” Morgan’s mother called the police; they raided the hotel room, found a video tape of the sex act, and charged the boys with “rape, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated child molestation.” Mr. Genarlow, the only accused of the Douglasville Six to not take a plea deal, was acquitted of the rape charge of the 17 year old Morgan, but convicted for having consensual oral sex with a 15 year old Cannon. Because oral sex was considered “sodomy” under Georgia law, Mr. Genarlow was not protected under Georgia’s “Romeo and Juliet” law (close-in-age exemption) established by Dixon v. State (2004), which according to O.C.G.A. 16.6.3. would have made his “[felony] aggravated child molestation conviction which carries a mandatory 10 year sentence and registry as a sex offender into a [misdemeanor] statutory rape conviction punishable by up to a year in prison.” In fact, the very next year, (April 28, 2006), the Georgia legislature changed the law that imprisoned Wilson for 10 years eliminating the distinction between sodomy and sexual intercourse.
The details of this case, which seemed to be clear cut in the mind of the jurors and legal analysts for the last decade, especially since there was a video tape of the sex acts between the six boys and two girls that night, have recently come under attack by some Black feminists who seem to believe that Mr. Wilson has in fact gotten away with rape. Despite being convicted for consensual oral sex with a 15 year old when he was 17, and sentenced for 10 years by a law that was later deemed “cruel and unusual punishment” by the Georgia Supreme Court, Mr. Wilson is now said to be a “gang-rapist,” who continues to lie and erase the suffering of the female victims in the incident..
To substantiate her claim that Mr. Wilson is a rapist, Ms. McCauley offers a quote from an “attorney who saw the videotape during the trial,” and believes that the tape showed “a gang rape of a semi-conscious, 17-year-old girl, followed by a bizarre display of sexual precociousness by a 15-year-old girl.” What Ms. McCauley fails to disclose to the reader is that this is not the testimony of just any attorney interested in the case, but the unsolicited opinion of William J. Atkins, the longtime friend and employee of Georgia District Attorney David McDade, who published a defense of McDade’s (non-racist) character and integrity.. The irony of this defense, and the narrative advocated by McDade, who has been tried for sexual harassment (Atlanta Journal Constitution, July 16, 1999), is that McDade himself was threatened with criminal charges for the distribution of child pornography, since he believed it was legal to make copies of and distribute the “sex tape” of minors to the public, news outlets, and members of the Georgia legislature. McDade later defended his actions as necessary due to Georgia’s “open records” laws (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 7/16/2007), but the federal prosecutors office of Georgia declared possession and distribution of the tape a violation of child pornography laws (Carlos Campos, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 7/13/2007).
Despite the concerns of community leaders, federal prosecutors, and even juvenile and family experts like Karen Baynes who warned that the release of that tape victimizes all the juveniles involved and “re-victimizes the girls involved,” there has been no serious journalistic or academic conversation as to how the criminalization of teen sex and the puritanical adjudication of this common and normal activity victimizes Black children ignorant of the law and its use.
What I find most troubling and dangerous about the position that the author of “What About Our Daughters” takes is the hypocrisy of how a public audience is supposed to evaluate the character and culpability of Mr. Wilson. On the one hand, Ms. McCauley urges the readers, and Ebony to label Mr. Wilson based on his conviction as a “child molester.” As Ms. McCauley says about Ebony.com’s article “From Notorious to Glorious: Genarlow Wilson is No Child Molester and Never Was,” “Yes, this article title is a lie—he is in fact a convicted child molester.” Ms. McCauley is correct; he was convicted by a jury of aggravated child molestation, but also acquitted by that very same jury of rape. So why does Ms. McCauley insist on believing Mr. Wilson is a rapist despite the findings of the jury and courts she tells us as readers we should trust?
The tape was shown on CNN on February 17, 2007, and seems to suggest quite strongly that rape was not a justifiable conviction. When Georgia Senator Eric Johnson tells viewers that we are witnessing a rape of an unconscious 17 year old, and the molestation of a 15 year old drugged and intoxicated by the 6 boys, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez steps in correcting his interpretation of the events pointing out that the 17 year old was not unconscious and was not physically forced to have sex with the young men, the 15 year old did not drink at all that night, and points out that Johnson maintains an interpretation of events the jurors said was not present on the tape. Journalist Maureen Downey (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 10/10/2006) reported that one of the boys was concerned for the health of the 17 year old and asked if “she needs to go to the hospital.” Even the 15 year old’s mother, Veda Cannon, came to the defense of Genarlow Wilson and stated that her daughter told her that the sex between her and Wilson as well as the other four boys was consensual (Jeremy Redmon, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 6/14/2007), though McDade was adamant in censoring and even threatening Veda Cannon when this hit the airways (Maureen Downey, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 7/9/2007).
The O.J. Defense?: Just Because It’s Black and Feminist Doesn’t Make it Right!
The conversations surrounding Mr. Wilson’s path to matriculation from Morehouse by popular Black feminist blogs perpetuate a dangerous complacency towards institutional racism, white supremacy, sexual predator myths, and ideology that Black intellectuals cannot afford. The trope of “centering Black men,” judging situations by the “genitalia involved and not the circumstance” strives to deem the moralization of Black men as rapists as the categorical imperative of gender advocacy. I find it morally deplorable that readers are being told to support a sodomy law that not only is deployed against Black men disproportionately, but homosexual teens as well. Remember even the author of the Child Protection Act of 1995, Sen. Matt Towery was clear that his bill was never meant to police teen sex, or convict Genarlow Wilson as a felon child molester.
Should we ignore the historical milieu of these charges, and ignore the tribulations of Marcus Dixon, the reality that oral sex between married (hetero) couples was illegal until 1998, the fact that until 1996 sex with a 14 year old was legal, or that Kari McCarley, a 27 year old white woman who had sex with a 16 year old male student got 3 months in jail and probation in Georgia? Identity politics should not trump facts; if anything they should make us better aware of the complexities and dynamics of white supremacy. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the aim of this recent attack against Mr. Wilson. We want to avoid the logic of a recent feminist reply to the disclosure of these facts I recently received on Facebook: “People are acquitted of crimes they commit all the time! Need I say OJ? Come on Tommy, we all know he did it!”
It’s happened again. A white man gone mad has walked into a group of people and started shooting. Yesterday, in a suburb outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin a man with ties to white supremacist groups entered a Sikh Temple and opened fire. While this has prompted many to ask if it’s time to talk about gun control, I want to talk about racism and white supremacy.
(Image from here)
The gun man has been identified as Wade Michael Page, someone that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) had been tracking for some time as a potential threat. Page was a front man for a couple of white power bands and was heavily tattooed with white power symbols. However fascinating it may be to “decipher the tattoos” he wore, it would be a mistake to dismiss Page was an isolated actor from a lunatic fringe disconnected from the mainstream of U.S. society.
In fact, the reality is that white supremacy is a persistent, tragic feature of the American cultural and political landscape. The extreme expressions of white supremacy – like this shooting, or like some of the violent images and messages previously circulated in print and now online – are part of a larger problem. White supremacy is woven into the fabric of our society and it kills people.
Vijay Prashad, author of Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today (New Press, 2012), has studied the deadly consequences of racism directed toward South Asians, including many of whom are Sikh (a religion, not an ethnicity). Following 9/11, Sikh men and women were targeted for their turban and head-scarf. The (il)logic of white supremacy seems to be that since Osama Bin Laden wore a turban, it was the turban-wearing Sikhs who ought to be attacked. As Prashad noted in Uncle Swami, within the first week after 9/11, a disproportionately large number of the 645 bias attacks took place against Sikhs. Prashad goes on to make the connection between everyday racist acts and the recent violence when she writes:
“Patterns are shunned. Structural factors such as the prevalence of guns and the lack of social care for mentally disturbed people should of course be in the frame. But so too should the preponderance of socially acceptable hatred against those seen as outsiders. Intellectually respectable opinions about who is an American (produced, for example, by Sam Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenge to National Identity) comes alongside the politician’s casual racism (Romney’s recent suggestion that the US and the UK are “part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage,” erased in a whip lash the diversity of the United States and Britain). Racist attacks are authorized by a political culture that allows us to think in nativist terms, to bemoan the “browning” of America.”
As Rinku Sen points out here, there’s nothing “random” or “senseless” to this event but it is, instead, linked to the everyday microaggressions in our (white) families. She writes:
“I implore of my white friends, when your nutty uncle or classmate goes off about some set of foreigners, you must make a fuss, cause a family crisis, become unpopular, speak up. We cannot do this for you.”
This is precisely the kind of thing that Jenni Mueller talked about doing here. Some of us are doing this, making a fuss, causing a family crisis, but not enough of us, not nearly enough. Harsha Walia in a guest post at Racialicious echoes this when she writes:
“Whites might actually have to start distancing themselves from white supremacy.”
Where was Page’s family, one wonders, as he got more and more overtly extremist in his views and body art? Quietly ashamed or happily cheering him on? We won’t know from the usual bland, mainstream reporting on stories involving race.
Perhaps more pressing, there need to be more white people who will educate themselves and start exposing white supremacy in all its forms whether shooting up Sikh temples or heralding the superiority of “Anglo-Saxon heritage.”
Anna Holmes has an excellent post on the great achievement of Gabrielle Douglas, the first African American to win the women’s all-around gymnastics gold medal in the Olympics. (And to win the two particular gold medals she got in this one Olympics.) What an achievement for any 16-year-old, but especially for one who has faced the barriers she has faced.
Holmes demonstrates the extraordinarily naïveté and role in systemic gendered racism of key white commentators, in this case the famous Bob Costas. Costas interviewed Douglas and asserted this:
“You know, it’s a happy measure of how far we’ve come that it doesn’t seem all that remarkable, but still it’s noteworthy, Gabby Douglas is, as it happens, the first African-American to win the women’s all-around in gymnastics. The barriers have long since been down, but sometimes there can be an imaginary barrier, based on how one might see oneself.”
As you might expect, this type of white racial framing, in its colorblind Pollyanna-ism, was Holmes’s
In a political and cultural environment in which the patriotism—the very Americanness—of people of color (including the current president…) is often called into question, Costas’s scripted deep thought .. . was at worst dishonest . . .. What leveled barriers … was Mr. Costas referring to? Who, excepting the most Pollyanna-ish or cloistered … would believe the assertion that Gabby Douglas’ challenges were primarily psychic, a statement that can be contradicted by … the undeniable whiteness of being that is high-level American gymnastics?
Other writers echoed this same white racial framing, reverberating Costas’s colorblindism.
Holmes then picks up on the Costas point that our view of ourselves does makes a difference. But, she adds, structural situations often create that problem for people of color:
Douglas’ triumph seems extremely remarkable, both because of the commonality of her situation—the big dreams, the economic hardships, the one-parent household—and its unusualness: A minority in a historically “white” sport. . . . a 2007 diversity study commissioned by USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport in the U.S., said that just 6.61% of the participants in American gymnastics programs were black.
Numerous members of USA Gymnastics, the mostly white coaches and other leaders in the field, often had a negative reaction to this honest report. Many whites there and elsewhere have tended, as they often do, to blame everything but white agents and white decisionmakers for this systemic-racism condition.
Holmes concludes by accenting how powerful the Douglas achievement was, especially for girls and young women around the globe, most of whom are girls and women of color. It will be interesting to see how the mainstream media treat Douglas, and the general white (and other) public too, when this great gymnast and her fine team return to the United States. Holmes concludes with this fine sharp point:
The 16-year-old’s triumph—not to mention her poise, her maturity, her focus, her elegance—will help recalibrate what young females of color believe is within their reach, while also influencing Western ideas and concepts of black womanhood, strength, agency and femininity—which has been historically objectified, sexualized and, it should be noted, feared.
It is way past time for these negative images of black women in the common white racial frame to be attacked for the mythological and racist framing they have always been–and indeed attacked constantly in the mainstream media until they are eliminated in the heads of way too many white (and some other) Americans.
My 72 year old neighbor helps my husband chop down a tree that had been damaged in a storm last winter, so as a thanks we invite him and his wife over for a BBQ. My neighbor, who is a retired Vietnam veteran asks me about my next book, which is on undocumented Latino youth. He responds with a statement that left me stunned and speechless. He says: “Mexicans are a unique immigrant group. They are the only immigrant group in U.S. history that isn’t interested in upward mobility. They are perfectly fine working in the fields.”
This is a perfect example of the social construction of Mexicans that leads to perverse, perverted policy design vis-a-vis tough on crime, mass incarceration, school tracking etc. It is also an example of what Feagin calls racism in the backstage as I’m not sure my neighbor knows my parents are Mexican. He knows I’m “something” but I believe that because he only knows I’m a college professor he isn’t sure what my race could be—certainly not a Mexican-American professional. So, I have been made privy to two racist comments about Mexicans in our neighborhood in the past week, but this is another blog. Returning to the belief that Mexicans lack the desire for social mobility. The consequences of this stereotype on Latinos are found in many public policies.
According to the well-known scholars and leading figures in the public policy studies area Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram, public policies are strongly implicated in the reinforcement of social stratifications of different target groups. Some groups get constructed (i.e., middle class and/or business) as being worthy of advantage, while other groups (minorities, feminists, or homeless) are often socially constructed as social deviants whose differences from the mainstream should be subject to scrutiny as potential threats to the public order and prevailing norms. A description of Schneider and Ingram’s book states, “Public policy in the United States is marked by a contradiction between the American ideal of equality and the reality of an underclass of marginalized and disadvantaged people who are widely viewed as undeserving and incapable.” That is how Latinos are impacted by public policy in America. This is explains why the Dream Act has not passed or comprehensive immigration reform for that matter, resulting in far greater obstacles through life than necessary for most Latinos.
Did I say anything to correct my neighbor’s perspective? I wish I could report that I responded with something witty such as, “I should have stayed in the fields like my parents working 12 hour days getting sprayed w/pesticides for less than minimum wage instead of going to college and then to grad school to become a professor!” Or something less sarcastic, more wise and kind such as, “Mexican immigrants and other Latinos are stuck in low-wage jobs because of large complex societal impediments that make upward mobility almost impossible.” But I said neither of these statements. Instead I just stared in stunned silence. Did his wife say anything? She “fixed” it by adding, “Well, at least the Mexicans we know are like this.”
In Policy Design for Democracy Schneider and Ingram explain that politics, culture, socialization, history, the media, literature, and religion all contribute to the social construction of societal groups and the individuals associated with those groups.
White Eurocentrism is expressed in candidate Mitt Romney’s comments about how “Culture makes all the difference” when describing the difference in economic development between the U.S. and Mexico. This statement was described as “ahistorical, prejudiced and very biased” according to Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy.
All this contributes to strong messages about the inferiority of Latinos and other ethnic and racial groups that my neighbors have learned quite well.