Racism in 2012: Year End Review

As 2012 draws to a close, I pulled together some of the biggest news in racism for the year.

Election Politics – Of course, much of the year we were focused on the racism in election politics.

White Male Shooters  – In some of the saddest news of the year, 2012 was bracketed by white male shooters unleashing violence on innocent strangers.

  • In January, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on a crowd at an Arizona political rally, killing 6 and injuring 14.
  • In August, white supremacist Wade M. Page walked into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, where he shot and killed 7 people.
  • In December, Adam Lanza killed 26 people, including 20 children at an elementary school in Connecticut. With this most recent shooting, some in the mainstream press began to identify white men as a group that “should be profiled,” a point that Joe Feagin has been making for many years.

 

 

Racial Profiling – Racial profiling was in the news a great deal this year, and was implicated in at least one death.

  • The senseless killing of teenager Trayvon Martin seemed to be case of racial profiling taken to a violent extreme when volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman perceived the unarmed Martin as a “threat” and shot him.
  • Racial Profiling is not only an issue in the U.S., it is also characteristic of policing in France as well.
  • In the city where I live, racial profiling combines with racial disparities in marijuana arrests and results in over 400,000 Black and Latino young men needlessly caught up in the criminal justice system each year.

Law & Economy  – Institutions, such as the law and the economy, are fundamental to the perpetuation of racism.

Athletics – There were some new stars in athletics who faced racism. 

  • Gabrielle Douglas won a gold medal in gymnastics at the Olympics, yet faced a huge wave of criticism about her hairstyle, which many saw rooted in racism.
  • Jeremy Lin played in the NBA after a less-than-stellar college basketball career, and sparked “Linsanity” from enthusiastic fans; others made racist jokes at his expense.
  • There remain significant racial barriers to becoming a coach in the NFL, as Michael R notes here.

Passages – We lost some people who played a role in racial politics.

 

  • Rodney King, focus of a shocking video of police brutality, and when officers were acquitted in that beating, he famously tried to quell rioting by asking “Can’t we all just get along?” – died.  He was 47.
  • Russell Means, a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), and an Ogala Sioux Indian, died.  He was 72.

 

Personal Essays – We were delighted to post a couple of really moving personal essays from guest bloggers.

 

Hate & Violence – Overt racist hate and violence continued in 2012.

Technology – Despite claims that Internet technology would usher in a new era in which “there is no race,” racism continues to be built into our technologies.

 

 

Culture – Sometimes, when I consider the progress that’s been achieved around racism, I think some of the most important progress is achieved in culture, both popular culture and more rarefied high culture.

 

Viral Videos – The year 2012 was a good one for viral videos about racism.

  • Stuff White Girls Say took off and made a point about the racism of white women.
  • Similarly, Randy Newman skewered white people in his spoof of his old song “Short People.”
  • Somewhat unintentionally, the highly crafted marketing video “Kony 2012″ ended up being about racism as well in its facile portrayal of ‘evil’ in Africa in need of ‘white saviors.’

Documentaries – I continue to believe that documentaries can be a crucial tool in the effort to bring about racial justice.

 

May 2013 bring more racial justice!

 

 

 

Documentary: “The Central Park Five”

There is an excellent, devastating, and powerful documentary out now in some theaters and on InDemand on cable, called “The Central Park Five.” The film, by Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers who, in 1989, were arrested and charged with brutally attacking and raping a white female jogger in Central Park. News media swarmed the case, referring to the incident as a “wilding” and to the young men as a “wolfpack.” The five young men spent years in prison before the truth about what really happened became clear. Here is a short (2:27) trailer:

Go see it if you can get to a theater, or call it up on your cable TV. Even though this documentary was inexplicably not included in the short list for Academy Awards, I’m certain that this film will be important in college classrooms for many years to come.

White People, Guns and the NRA

Today, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful, pro-gun lobbying organization, held a press conference in which the head of the organization, Wayne LaPierre, offered a stunningly tone-deaf set of proposals in the wake of last week’s events at a Newtown, CT in which 26 people died when an armed man opened fire in an elementary school.
LaPierre today proposed several actions as a response including: a national database of all people with diagnosed mental illness (38 states already have that) and an armed volunteer guard in every school. To say that the proposal is unrealistic, is to understate the reality.  Early estimates are that the proposal to place ‘armed volunteer guards’ in all 99,000 schools in the US would cost an estimated $18 billion dollars. (No word on the estimated cost for the pernicious database.)

Mike Bloomberg, mayor of NYC and outspoken proponent of gun control, called LaPierre’s speech a “paranoid, dystopian vision” of our society. I don’t always agree with Bloomberg, but he’s right in this instance. LaPierre’s claim that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with gun,” is not only offensive in terms of gender, especially given the heroic women who died trying to save their young students in Newtown, it also belies the NRA’s racial assumptions.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is through the brilliant animation by Trey Parker and Matt Stone featured in Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” (3:19):

White Men as the Major “Social Problem”

Journalist and commentator David Sirota has an interesting piece about the reaction to some statements about the role of white men as the typical killers in the mass murders like the ones in Columbine, Aurora, and Newtown which he made in an MSNBC commentary and interview with Chris Hayes:

I said that because most of the mass shootings in America come at the hands of white men, there would likely be political opposition to initiatives that propose to use those facts to profile the demographic group to which these killers belong. I suggested that’s the case because as opposed to people of color or, say, Muslims, white men as a subgroup are in such a privileged position in our society that they are the one group that our political system avoids demographically profiling or analytically aggregating in any real way. Indeed, unlike other demographic, white guys as a group are never thought to be an acceptable topic for any kind of critical discussion whatsoever, even when there is ample reason to open up such a discussion.

Calling out white men, and most especially elite white men, as a/the social or political problem is something I have written and lectured on for many years now, but it is still very rare for anyone, commentator or researcher, to even go as far as Sirota does in this important Salon article.

Toward the end of the article even he starts backing off on some of the logical implications of calling out white men and insisting that he is not calling for racial profiling of white men as potential killers. He notes that the current tempered and nuanced conversation of these mass killings is only occurring because “white guys” are the (usually unremarked upon) demographic so dramatically involved:

But the point here is that those tempered and nuanced conversations are only able to happen because the demographic at the center of it all is white guys. That is the one group in America that gets to avoid being referred to in aggregate negative terms (and gets to avoid being unduly profiled by this nation’s security apparatus), which means we are defaulting to a much more dispassionate and sane conversation — one that treats the perpetrators as deranged individuals, rather than typical and thus stereotype-justifying representatives of an entire demographic.

In my White Men on Race (With E. O’Brien) and The White Racial Frame book (soon out in a second edition in February) I have argued that these discussions such as Sirota raises barely begin to raise the issue of the role and significance of white men, particularly elite white men, in creating and maintaining our system of racial oppression, and the supporting social, political, and economic institutions that operate to protect that systemic racism and its white male regulators.

Here is a very brief overview of some historical points I make in that white frame book about that political background and current political reality:

The “founding fathers” created a U.S. origins narrative that was (and still is) substantially mythological, a story in which a mostly anti-democratic, often slaveholding, group of elite white men were said to be heroes championing ideals of equality and democracy for a new United States. These elite leaders created an imagined community, that is, a heralded “democratic” society in which all Americans supposedly shared comradeship. However, contrary to this mythology, the U.S. Constitution did not create a democracy where most adult Americans had the right to participate substantially and freely in political institutions. Native Americans and African Americans, constituting at least a fifth of the population, were excluded. (So were all women) As Vincent Harding has put it, the U.S. constitutional convention was “more like a poorly attended dress rehearsal, with most of the rightful and necessary performers and creators barred from the stage.”

From the beginning, the democratic rhetoric was usually more about public relations and the interests of the white elite than about creating actual democratic institutions. The new U.S. society was highly inegalitarian, with extreme inequality across the color line. The new United States was mostly led by white men who were overt white supremacists. It was a society that had no sense of shared comradeship among its white, black, and Native American residents. In 1843 no less a figure than former president and then member of Congress, John Quincy Adams, asserted in a congressional speech that the United States had never been a democracy because it had long been effectively controlled by a few thousand slaveholders. In this founding era U.S. political institutions were often openly proslavery, and an overtly white supremacist framing and dominance were asserted by many white leaders through these institutions until the ending of Jim Crow segregation in the 1960s.

Things mostly did not get better over time, as (especially elite) white men stayed completely in control of major institutions:

During the slavery and Jim Crow eras, the Supreme Court was a clear manifestation of white dominance, for only elite white men served on it. Examining the justices’ decisions on racial matters during most of the legal segregation era, one finds that they regularly reflect the dominant white-racist framing and routinely ignore or dismiss the civil rights counter-frames of Americans of color. Between the 1870s and the 1930s, Supreme Court decisions regularly eroded the civil rights that African Americans had theoretically gained under the 14th and 15th amendments that were added to the U.S. Constitution in the Reconstruction era. In the influential 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, a nearly unanimous court (one dissenter) upheld a Louisiana law requiring white-black segregation in public accommodations.

Things changed only because of centuries of protest by Americans of color, and then only as allowed by elite white men once again:

To the present day, the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court decisions interpreting it—almost all made over centuries by elite white men—have greatly shaped the basic contours of the legal and political systems, as well as other societal institutions. Important changes in the system of oppression, such as the official ending of Jim Crow in the 1960s, have come only when many whites have believed those changes to be in their group interest—that is, when there is what Derrick Bell has called “interest convergence” between the interests of the racially oppressed and the interests of whites, especially some in the white male elite.

When will any of the mainstream media call out and discuss various (elite) white male “social problems,” including problems of mass violence like at Newtown, as often and openly as they now do for non-white-male groups?

Racial Barriers to College Coaching

Have you ever wondered to yourself while watching a college football game on a Saturday afternoon why there are so many (often times a majority) black players on the field, but an overwhelming majority of fans and coaches are white? If you have not, rest assured you are not alone. The black athlete and everything else white seems to be the norm. The problem, however, is this racial standard continues to hamper blacks’ progression throughout US society, and is even more elucidated in the very institution one would expect the most progress to be made – sport.

(Image source)

When considering the historical and systemic nature of racism in the US (see Feagin, 2006), much more attention has been placed on economic, political, educational, and legal institutions. The institution of sport, however, tends to be overlooked. Perhaps this is the case because of its egalitarian façade that gets displayed to the public. What is not being shown is the real racial inequality that has and continues to exist in the leadership structure of sport. Most prominent is the multi-billion dollar industry of NCAA Division I collegiate athletics. For instance, according to Lapchick, Hoff, and Kaiser’s (2011) latest Racial and Gender Report Card for college athletics, black male student-athletes are overly represented (60.9% and 45.8%) in the two most revenue generating sports (basketball and football, respectively); however, black head coaches for men’s basketball and football are represented at 21% and 5.1%, respectively, and assistant coaches at 39.5% and 17.6%, respectively. Even worse, whites dominate (81.8%) the athletic director role as well. Considering sport represents a microcosm of society, reflecting its ideals, hierarchies, and problems (see Edwards, 1973; Eitzen & Sage, 1997; Sage, 1998), it is not surprising to see whites in a position that guarantees them the most abundant financial rewards. As a result of this white hierarchy, though, blacks wishing to enter the coaching profession continue to face racial barriers.

Hawkins (2001) argues the power structure of NCAA Division I predominantly white institutions of higher education (PWIHE) “operate as colonizers who prey on the athletic prowess of young black males, recruit them from black communities, exploit their athletic talents, and discard them once they are injured or their eligibility is exhausted” (p. 1). This colonial model seems fitting, given several researchers (e.g., Eitzen, 2000; Hawkins, 2001; Lapchick, 2003) have found that black student-athletes on PWIHE campuses are entrenched in a system that exploits them politically, economically, and racially. For those black student-athletes who do survive the abuse, they continue to find their professional outlook limited.

The notion of stacking in sport, or positioning of players to central or non-central positions on the field based on race and/or ethnicity, often surfaces as an explanation as to how whites carry on their dominance in sport leadership. Whites have traditionally placed themselves in more central positions, positions associated with greater interaction, leadership, and intelligence; while blacks have been situated in more peripheral positions, which are linked to less leadership, minimal interaction, and greater athletic ability. Brooks and Althouse (2000) found there to be a correlation between those higher up in the leadership ranks (e.g., head coach, athletic director) with past playing position. In particular, prestigious sport jobs are generally acquired by those who have played more central positions (e.g., quarterback in football, pitcher in baseball); thus, because blacks more often are relegated to peripheral positions (e.g., wide-receiver in football, outfield in baseball), blacks are often framed as less qualified to enter leadership positions beyond the playing field.

Further explanations (e.g., Sagas & Cunningham, 2005; Sartore & Cunningham, 2006) demonstrate blacks’ promotional and/or hiring coaching opportunities are thwarted due to the tendency of white decision-makers choosing white candidates (qualified and unqualified) over qualified blacks. This struggle for racial equality is more troubling given those with the final hiring decision (i.e., athletic director) perceive employment opportunities to be equal for blacks (Tabron, 2004), which ultimately trickles down to those wishing to enter the coaching profession (e.g., black student-athletes), since they perceive they will have to contend with racial inequality prior to and once in the profession (e.g., Cunningham & Singer; Kamphoff & Gill, 2008). This racist sporting reality, similar to wider US society, illustrates blacks have a long way to go for racial justice.

Michael R. Regan, Jr.
Texas A&M University

Notes on Whiteness and Health

Yesterday, a few of us at the Graduate Center hosted an interdisciplinary group of scholars to think critically about ‘whiteness and health.’  Across the day, with a kind of staccato arousal, I was struck by several ideas, including the following:

  • “Actionable Decoys” seemed to emerge as so many of the talks sketched the landscape of global, economic, and health “concerns” that are actually instances of structural injustice and violence in which “whiteness” comes to be privileged, the standard, normative, or even healthy, and people of color or those in poverty hold risk, contamination, disease, TB, waste.  That is the racist landscape which is built into material conditions and cultural constructions;  the “actionable decoys” are the sites of intervention that policy makers and public health advocates address. That is, instead of dealing with the power struggles of the Occupation in the Middle East, or structural/historic injustice in New Orleans following Katrina or in the Rockaways following Sandy, we address (just for a moment) mental illness.  Or, instead of attending to the wide and deep reach of structural racism under the skin and in the mind, we invest in MRI machines and psycho-physiological indicators to “document” how brains light up around racial anxiety. Or, the public health fetish with TB framed as a housing issue, that then enables the state to enter and destroy poor people’s housing (Samuel K. Roberts, Lisa O’Sullivan).

 

  • My worry of course is that “science” enables and creates a scientific lubrication and justification for the narrow shape of the problem, enabling a violent intervention that situates the problem in the body/mind/housing of racialized (and poor) people as if there were no connection to widening inequality gaps and swelling privilege. Thus, “actionable decoys” are the closing of public housing, obesity campaigns, limits on college access for formerly incarcerated students at the precise same time and as a reaction to the now quite predictable action of a white-boy-with-a-gun who blows up a community. What I want to argue is that actionable decoys appear to be a form of ‘care’, responding to the ‘pain’ and ‘crisis’ in  communities of color (particularly low income), while occluding issues of structure, privilege, history, whiteness-as-healthy, and ultimately generating a privatized market or opportunities for elites (a new pharmaceutical drug, new housing in gentrified neighborhoods, new schools in same neighborhoods).
  • In the language of social science, whiteness gets reinscribed as the independent variable (IV) becomes the dependent variable (DV). The grants we get, the funding and socialization of students are all saturated in a fundamental sea of epistemological violence so that “race disparities” (or “gender disparities” or both) reveal AND occlude the structural conditions of oppression in which gender/race/class/sexuality/disability… emerge as axes of power/lines of analysis – but not the Independent Variable to be ‘fixed. Funding streams fetishize “race” as a predictor (IV) and damage as an outcome (DV), occluding structure, history and the circuits that link privilege and marginalization
  • Several people raised the specter of whiteness becoming a market (Nadia Abu El-Haj, Alondra Nelson, Lisa Brundage, Barbara Katz Rothman). I was struck by the contrast to the hyper-criminalization of people of color. The result then is that if you support the market you can avoid criminalization – the methadone/bupe/oxycotin discussion (Helena Hansen, Julie Netherland) was superb on this point – but like enlisting in the military, those with green cards may become citizens. If you give your body to the market or the military – feed the system, you can avoid being criminalized; but if you won’t, or can’t, the cage awaits.
  • There were so many evocative and powerful ‘couplets’ during the same afternoon, it prompted me to think about other kinds of twinings, and the slippage between them. Questions arise about: Who is the addict vs. who is dependent? What is obscured vs. what is privileged?  Likewise, I started thinking about who is the ‘sex addict’ (which a predominantly white, and flourishing industry) and who is the ‘sexual predator’ (more often a person of color, incarcerated)?  In the panel on addition (Helena Hansen, Julie Netherland), I was led to wonder about who gets to be medicalized (bupenorphine) and who gets to be criminalized (methadone). And yet, it is so hard to speak about white pathology because as Richard Dyer suggests, it falls apart in your hands, or it appears merely ‘human.’  As Rebecca Tiger’s presentation suggested, it is difficult to talk about the “desire to excuse”Lance Armstrong , without the contrast of  Whitney Houston, because it appears to ‘natural’ and ‘we are all fallible’ when the case is White, and elite. In many ways, this extends the work of Sarah Carney who found that in press accounts of “failure to protect laws” (in which children die through accident while parents are distracted), that Black mothers are treated much more harshly than either white mothers or white fathers.
  • A corollary, as raised by Akemi Nishidi in conversation with Zinobia Bennefield, is that the “vulnerable” group or one under structural attack is often quick to distance from their more vile category-twin.  Thus, communities of color rightfully point to the over-enrollment of special education students who are Black. “We Are Not Crazy” is a rallying cry from communities that have been painted with the lamination of insanity, or even trauma without addressing the structural attack on madness, and the slippery construction of this swampy categorization, the real pain and the fantasy of the absence of pain in those of us not labeled (see Rachel Leibert’s work on this).
  • The eery presence of the (white)absence of white responsibility (more precisely white elites) was with us throughout the afternoon. It is so difficult to hold White people or whiteness  accountable, to speak the structural benefits of whiteness without doubling it as merit.  What this means is that whiteness makes it so hard to critique Lance Armstrong, or the white man whose child tragically dies in the back of his car, but so easy to condemn Whitney Houston, or the black mother when the same happens. It’s as though “white responsibility” is an oxymoron and black blame is redundant. Whiteness as Teflon.
  • Finally, I was struck by the ironies of anti-racist interventions being co-opted and exploited, toward racist (or racial?) ends.  So, for example, the Human Genome Diversity Project, or even the ‘discovery’ of bupe as an alternative to methadone, or the Implicit Association Test which measures unconscious racism, or the early ‘care’ given to persons/housing/communities with TB or VD, all of these presumably (maybe not bupe) emerged out of concern for communities of color, concern about racism, but all of these have been inverted and turned back to racial and often racist purposes, at minimum reiniscribing the very racial “differences”  and disparities they were presumably designed to combat.

 

~ Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor,  Graduate Center, CUNY


Livestreaming Now: Whiteness & Health Roundtable Today at CUNY Graduate Center (Updated)

The archived video(s) of An Exploration of Whiteness and Health A Roundtable Discussion

is available beginning here (updated 12/16/12):

The examination of whiteness in the scholarly literature is well established (Fine et al., 1997; Frankenberg, 1993; Hughey, 2010; Twine and Gallagher, 2008). Whiteness, like other racial categories, is socially constructed and actively maintained through the social boundaries by, for example, defining who is white and is not white (Allen, 1994; Daniels, 1997; Roediger, 2007; Wray, 2006). The seeming invisibility of whiteness is one of its’ central mechanisms because it allows those within the category white to think of themselves as simply human, individual and without race, while Others are racialized (Dyer, 1998). We know that whiteness shapes housing (Low, 2009), education (Leonardo, 2009), politics (Feagin, 2012), law (Lopez, 2006), research methods (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva, 2008) and indeed, frames much of our misapprehension of society (Feagin, 2010; Lipsitz, 1998). Still, we understand little of how whiteness and health are connected. Being socially assigned as white is associated with large and statistically significant advantages in health status (Jones et al., 2008). Anderson’s ground breaking book The Cultivation of Whiteness (2006) offers an exhaustive examination of the way whiteness was deployed as a scientific and medical category in Australia though to the second world war. Yet, there is relatively little beyond this that explores the myriad connections between whiteness and health (Daniels and Schulz, 2006; Daniels, 2012; Katz Rothman, 2001). References listed here.

The Whiteness & Health Roundtable is an afternoon conversation with scholars and activists doing work on this area.

Follow the livetweeting on Twitter at @jgieseking (Jen Jack Gieseking) and @SOSnowy (Collette Sosnowy), and via the #DigitalGC. You can also view the compilation of those Tweets on Storify here.

The roundtable is sponsored by the Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) and the Critical Social & Environmental Psychology program at the Graduate Center CUNY. The event is hosted by Michelle Fine (Distinguished Professor, Social Psychology, Women’s Studies and Urban Education), Jessie Daniels (Professor, Urban Public Health and Sociology) and Rachel Liebert, (PhD Student, Critical Social/Personality Psychology).

What Do You See When You See Me? Students of Color Speak Out

Below is a collection of creative vignettes and poems from a diverse group of Sam Houston State University students who were engaged in projects that involved critical examinations of white racial framing and counter-framing. Their work contests and challenges stereotypes generated by the white racist and gendered framing often deeply engrained in both the minds of dominate group members and subordinate group members who have internalized features of the framing toward their own groups and unacquainted subordinate groups.

The first four vignettes were created by students for their in-class group presentation on “Extending the White Racial Frame” from The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Framing and Counter-Framing. The last two poems were created by two students for their personal projects that focus on racial and ethnic, and gendered marginalization:
❁—-❁ —-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁
By Austin Campbell
African American

I think this is what you think when you see me, I don’t really have to ask. Sure I’m black so I must be a thug, full of ghetto love and talking like “yeah that’s my homeboy” or n-word what’s up? Yeah I’m black so the crack corner must be my throne, and yeah you think you got it all figured out thinking that I come from a really bad home. Oh and don’t forget to clutch your purse when I come your way because you know I’m black and looking for a pay day. So congrats to you for thinking that you’re all right, but I’m going to show you how that’s all a lie. Yes I am black and that true but let me make you aware of something new. No I don’t come from a bad home at all. In fact I may even be living next door to you. Yes my mom and dad got a divorce but my mom and step-dad raised me up too. Using the n-word, nah, that’s not my thing. Some rappers may say it but really that’s not me. And a crack corner or stealing your purse, phss, get out of here. Next time don’t believe every movie you see. You really want to know me then look around your own group and you’ll realize I’m just like you.

So next time you see me what will you say? All I want to know is after hearing me speak, is this what you will see or think when I come by your way?

❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁
By Erik Jackson
Native American

Is this what comes into your mind when you hear my name Sky? When I tell you that I am a Cherokee and not a Native American, is this what you think? Or is it when you see me and my Native American hair that you think, “boy I bet s/he can put down the alcohol. They are known for drinking, hell they even have alcohol made after them.” Or maybe it’s a different thought, a thought about the history of how my people have come to be treated by “Americans” and the policies that have been “thankfully given” to us. You know about our lands and our casinos that barely make any money and that we must live on welfare because we spend all of our money on gambling and alcohol. In fact none of these are true about me at all. Yeah I do go by my Cherokee-American background because I’m proud of it. Another thing that might surprise you I bet would be in fact that I nor my parents or anyone in my family for that matter drinks, so no we are not able to “put them down” like you might imagine. Also, we aren’t on welfare, as a matter of fact I live in your basic residential neighborhood and once again no one I know of Native American background works at a casino.

I’m just one of many voices speaking out about Native Americans. In all honesty it’s up to you to believe what you want, all I have to question is this—is this what you will think when you see me, is this what I am to you?

❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁
By Benjamin Prochazka
Asian American

Is this what you think when you see me? Yes I wear Sperry’s and I do tend to dress nicely on a regular basis but is this me to you? You think when you see me walk, sure thanks to my genes, I’m a little shorter, with my slanted eyes and jet black hair, and my calm quiet nature, this is me? Or is it my backpack stuffed with things weighing me down that makes you think “wow I bet he has a lot of sushi, and video games, and books in there. He’s probably on his way to study “ right? Well surprise! Most of this isn’t true. I’m an average student, C+ to be honest. You’ll find this hard to believe too that I don’t eat sushi. I’ve never really cared for it. As you can see I don’t have an Asian accent either, shocker right? I dress this way because I’m comfortable in these clothes. You know what I mean because y’all wear the same clothes as I do.

So is this what you think when you see me? Or have you always seen me as one of you?

❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁
By Denise Castillo
Mexican American

Is this what comes to mind when I tell you that I am a Latina? Do you automatically assume that I can dance and move my hips really well? Or that I’m an amazing cook because that’s what we are known for? Or is it that you think all the men in my family are lazy and begging for jobs on a street corner and desperately taking any job they can get just so they can have the money to support their family? You probably think that we all live in a small house on welfare in some horrible neighborhood with gang members on every corner. Do you assume that any Mexican you see on the street is illegal? Or that I have some family in jail for doing some illegal activity? Do you think that I eat tacos and rice and beans all day every day? Or that we all have accents or can’t even speak any English for that matter? Well to be perfectly honest with you, none of that about me is true. I am definitely not the best dancer out there and the only one thing I’m really good at cooking is Ramen! All the Mexicans I know are actually very far from being lazy in any way. We work our asses off and a majority of Mexicans I know are very successful in the businesses they are in. I grew up in your average household with my mom and dad and only 1 other sibling. My family is not big at all and not a single one of them has been to jail or involved in any gang related activities. One thing that will be sure to surprise you is that I’m really not a big fan of Mexican food at all so there is definitely no way that I could eat that every day! I have lived here in the U.S. my entire life and English was my first language that I learned. None of the Mexicans I know have an accent and surprisingly most Mexicans here in the U.S. can speak English pretty well.

So is this what you really think of me when you learn that I am a Mexican? Is this how you’ll always picture me?

❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁
By Lorin Perez

So Which Side of the Border Do I Belong?
I wasn’t brought up in “the barrio”
But I wasn’t raised in a white suburb either
I have never packed my car with relatives
But I would never just leave them to rot in a nursing home either
I’m not an amazing salsa dancer
But I’m not a lousy dander either
So which side of the border do I belong?

I’ve been called “illegal”
I’ve been called “gringa”
I was not born in Mexico but I am not white
So which side of the border do I belong to?

My mom makes turkey for Thanksgiving
But she makes tamales for Christmas
My dad works very hard every day of the week
But he is not a construction worker
My grandparents instilled American traditions in our family
But they didn’t let us forget our roots
So which side of the border do I belong?

I am a light skinned Hispanic
I don’t fit the stereotypical part of a Mexican girl
Yet I don’t fit the stereotypical part of a Caucasian female either
So which side of the border do I belong?

I can speak English
I’m not addicted to drugs
I have a passion for soccer
I love apple pie
I don’t want twenty kids
I like to put “chile” on my food
I enjoy country music
I don’t like PDA
I will graduate from college
I am religious
I am not racist
I would cry if my dog died
I am intelligent
I am not arrogant
I am unique
I am an individual

I am not only Mexican, and I am not only American
So which side of the border do I belong to?

❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁

By Gilisa Walls

I decided to touch on the theory of labeling. In society today it has become the norm to place labels on those by what they wear, how they act, their skin color, and the people they hang around. I wrote a poem based on some of the things I have been labeled and how it makes me feel and how I respond to those labels. I also touched on the topics of discrimination and prejudice because whenever talking about labeling you will always run into those issues as well. Labeling can be anything from calling you or a group of people certain names because of race, gender, beliefs, culture, etc. Most people don’t live up to the labels society places on them because society usually receives their source of information through the media, family values and beliefs, or the people they hang around or admire. Once people label you they feel as if they know exactly what you’re going to do, how you are going to act and react in any given situations. They base this off of past experiences from other people they have labeled the same as you.

If You’re Going to Label Me. . .

Label me as a rare form of a human not lesbian, black, or a female.
There’s only a few of my kind and we are very hard to find.
I’m the one that walks strong with my head high not letting the stereotypes get to me.
The one that knows I’m more than what this society labels me to be.
I’m a rare form of a human that realizes that, labels are only what you wear and put on, but you, you are just pure beauty from the inside out.
Society has labeled me as this stud, this black female, this statistic that all blacks are the same.
They don’t even label me the name that my mom created for me after carrying me for nine months.
They fail to realize that I’m not a part of the African American statistics and that my personality and attitude makes the substance of beauty within, distinguishing me from the rest.
Only a few of us know how to be more than what we are said to be and know how to reflect on the external judgment that comes for us.
From that first breath we breathe, to the time society sets a description of who we are on our lives, to the moments we cherish from overcoming the boundaries and perceptions of what “my kind” should do or how we should act.
There’s going to come a time when we do show weakness, that we like the same sex or that our skin is darker than others; but we, No I, won’t allow myself to let the obvious overtake my greatness.
But if you ever find one like me, that one that is one of a kind, don’t allow your prejudice ways make you assume that I’m just like the rest.
Don’t let your discrimination take over and you attack those of my kind because they are proud to be who they are.
Don’t be about of statistics that acts on prejudice and discrimination and attack or label those that are black.
Be the one that is will to get to know that rare form of a human.
Be the one to make a change towards equality instead of labeling us according to the definitions they give us on TV.

❁—-❁ —-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁—-❁

Dark Arts: Stormfront, Lacan and White Supremacy

One of the most-viewed topics on the white supremacist forum Stormfront—second only to a collection of the tenets of National Socialism—is a catalogue of “ethnic crime.” To anyone who has spent enough time reading online comments, the popularity of the subject will not come as a surprise. Any time that a member of a minority group appears in the media as the perpetrator of a crime, a vocal core of commenters emerges to point out the offender’s ethnicity, using the observation as a springboard for introducing a slew of canned statistics regarding minority crime rates. These talking points have become a fixation, an expression of what racists consider to be a profound truth: that non-white individuals commit a disproportionate amount of crime.

 

(God Speed! by Edmund Leighton)

 

Of course, the demagogues will gleefully rebuff any accusations of racism, insisting that they are, in fact, scientists, courageously presenting facts to illuminate the social world. This is nonsense, but to see why requires shifting attention from what was mentioned to that which was omitted. While there is undeniably a correlation between ethnicity and crime, there are many such correlations that go miraculously overlooked in these discussions. Males, for example, commit an overwhelming proportion of all crime, but you will never see one of these ersatz sociologists taking the time to point out just how overrepresented men are in the criminal justice system. In other words, the move from observing criminality to discussing the perpetrator’s ethnicity is not an inevitable one, but, rather, a careful emphasis of one particular property among many. As such, the mention of race should not be mistaken for authentic sociological curiosity, as it is, in fact, a conscious ontological choice motivated by underlying racist ideology.

The comments display a relationship between evidence and mindset analogous to psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan’s case of the jealous husband. Lacan argues that the husband who, through persistent investigation, uncovers proof that his wife is cheating on him, exhibits pathological behavior despite being vindicated by the facts. His jealousy is a pathology because the suspicion predates the evidence: the husband would be driven to hunt for evidence of infidelity regardless of whether there was any reason for him to think that his wife was having an affair. Given this disconnect from the facts, the important question for Lacan becomes investigating what it is that motivates the husband’s jealousy. What underlying psychological features give rise to an ungrounded suspicion that seeks confirmation?

The commenters who sort crime statistics by race are akin to the jealous husband in that they are not driven to a theory by the evidence, but in search of evidence to support their theory. Crime stories act as Rorschach tests, revealing latent ideology through what is perceived and emphasized. In theft, liberals will see the consequences of poverty while anarchists see its rectification; in violent crime, gender theorists will notice the masculinity while racists will emphasize the ethnicity, an ontological choice reflecting both their pre-held conviction of racial superiority and their desire to spread that belief to others.

One must then ask the same question of the white supremacist that Lacan does of the jealous husband: since the racism of the former is not derived from evidence and, instead, pathologically seeks corroboration, then what is its origin? What draws a person to racial superiority if not the facts? To answer these questions, it is necessary to turn away from the empirical to face the cultural, shifting focus from the news-based Stormfront threads to one in which members post pictures of their favorite pieces of visual art. It is a popular discussion that, while dominated by a few contributors, contains a set of clear patterns with the potential to reveal the inner workings of the racist mind. In the aesthetic preferences of the white supremacists, the attraction of their ethos becomes understandable, the posted images reflecting the psychological rewards that lead people to adopt the ideology in the first place.

The first sort of recurrent image is the depiction of white culture. Included within this category are paintings of attractive Aryan women with blonde, braided hair; Germanic parents telling stories to children or teaching them how to garden; depictions of Roman and Greek architecture; and Rockwellian images of segregation-era civic life. These paintings and photographs capture a sense of cultural value, an aesthetic of existence historically associated with white skin and, in the racist mind, necessarily so. The images have been chosen because they depict what white supremacists are proud of: an intuitively noble way of living that they wish to claim for themselves via their phenotype.

Interspersed among these images are the landscapes. While it is easy to discount these paintings as unimaginative filler, they, too, shed light on the allure of racism. Notably they depict not merely nature, but its intersection with civilization, juxtaposing the untamed dangers of the wild with the safe havens of human habitation. Repeatedly featured are small hamlets nestled among imposing mountains, wagon trains voyaging across the desolate plains, and ships battered by raging seas. In The Art Instinct, philosopher Denis Dutton proposes that an aesthetic preference for safe environments would confer a distinct evolutionary advantage on those early humans who possessed it. While their philistine counterparts wandered off into dangerous territory, the aesthetes would be lured out of harm’s way, their survival allowing them to produce offspring who shared their disposition. In the landscapes favored by white supremacists, we see this evolutionary preference manifested. They are the scenes that Dutton argued humans are predisposed to find attractive, where the evidence of human presence implies safety in the face of inhospitable wilderness.

From such an evolutionary perspective, we can see how the landscapes introduce an element of aesthetic danger into the thread, a sense of peril that can’t help but inject itself into the depictions of “white culture.” The connection between the domestic scene of a white family and the little cottage in the valley is quite literal: it is hard to not imagine the former inhabiting the latter—and from there, a more metaphorical reading follows. It is not merely that white people are aboard the ship being battered by the ocean, but that “white culture” is this ship, a small safe haven in an otherwise dangerous and barbaric world. Taken together, the landscapes and cultural images convey the unmistakable impression that “white culture” is something to be protected, a bastion of civilization in an otherwise-savage environment.

This narrative finds its completion in the images of mythic heroism that permeate the thread. It is a category comprised of paintings featuring subjects risking personal annihilation in order to defend their way of life against foreign invaders: knights wish maidens farewell before riding off into battle, American colonists bravely fire shots at the British, and, most significantly, one army after the next charges into battle to slay the conspicuously dark hordes who threaten them. Here the danger facing those little ships and villages is made tangible, the destructive power of the ocean embodied in these evil armies who would raze every remnant of civilization if given the chance. The brave soldiers depicted are all that stands between the mindless violence of these savages and the safety and virtuosity of “white culture.”

That these images appeal to white supremacists does much to explain their radical politics. Here we see a group of people who have a strong attraction to the motif of the hero, the protector who defends a community from the forces of darkness and evil. For those seeking a sense of purpose and meaning, these white knights offers a particular vision of what it means to be a protagonist, one that easily overlays onto the contours of contemporary political life. One must merely identify a culture that seems besieged and position oneself in opposition to whatever is perceived as threatening. The only question is which group to affiliate with—a lacuna that, for the unimaginative, is most easily filled by the white supremacist narrative. It is the facile choice, one obvious in both its historical prominence and its childishly literal reading of metaphorical struggles between light and darkness. Rather than develop novel or sophisticated views of group conflict, white supremacy allows would-be heroes to follow the path of least mental resistance to the clash of civilizations already formulated in the pages of Mein Kampf or The Lord of the Rings.

This proposition—that hero envy underlies a significant portion of racist thought—is supported not merely by the far Right’s obsession with  “ethnic crime,” but also its general preoccupation with victimhood. That a dominant and heavily privileged group would take so seriously the minor incursions of “reverse racism” seems bizarre until it becomes clear that such “threats” are essential to sustaining the perception that white people are in danger and, thus, in need of heroes to boldly protect them. Absent such encroaching peril, white supremacists are at risk of being revealed for what they truly are: self-important shills who oppress others to advance the interests of an arbitrary phenotype.

To confront racism, then, we must pass over the endless empirical debates and, instead, lay siege to the mythos. We should contest that race is a significant category—why fight for one’s race rather than one’s socioeconomic class?—or even a stable one: who exactly counts as “white?” Watching white supremacists debate these questions gives the distinct impression of adversaries tugging at the threads that threaten to unravel an uneasy truce. More challenging, however, is creating alternative conceptions of heroism that are not built upon zero-sum conflict between different groups. At their best, antifa movements act as just such an outlet, allowing young people to channel their heroic aggression towards universalist causes. Unfortunately, for those vulnerable to the temptation of racism, the far Left probably holds little appeal. If we are to divert these individuals, we must develop something new, an alternative aesthetic that provides a sense of purpose without necessitating the subjugation of others. While this is a daunting challenge, it is perhaps the best chance we have to undermine ideologies of hate. As tempting as it is to try to dissuade racists by presenting them with statistics and evidence, to do so is to merely grapple with the fringes of their racist paranoia. Only through art can we eliminate the pathology at its source.

 

~ Jesse Elias Spafford, BA, is a recent graduate of Pomona College, and currently works as a Research Assistant at the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University.

Mocking Mexican Americans: Young White Women

In this week’s edition of Inside Higher Education, Scott Jaschik reports on a picture taken of a group of Penn State Chi Omega sorority sisters mocking Mexicans. It is offensive enough that the picture depicts the group dressed in spaghetti western attire, but even more despicable are the signs featured in the picture:

“Will mow lawn for weed and beer” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it.”

What does this say about the collective views this group has of Mexicans? We have expectations about where certain groups belong based on generations of ethnic and racial stereotypes and societal stratification that are illustrated in this example. These views not only shape our expectations about one another, but also impact the way we treat each another.

For example, Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez writes about the experience of being mistaken as a criminal defendant in a federal courthouse. He states:

Let me mention for example attorneys of color who are sometimes in criminal cases mistaken for the defendant by the participants. How do we respond to that? Sometimes we are overly formal, by making sure that we’re dressed particularly well and that our speech is particularly professional, just to let people know who we are because we’re not always given the benefit of the doubt. I remember when I was a federal prosecutor I was traveling with my wife to Texas and we went to the federal courthouse in Laredo, Texas. I was curious, I thought I’m part of the federal family, so I’m going to go in and see what a different federal courthouse looks like. When I went into the courthouse I started getting tailed by security; they followed me through the courthouse, and when I walked into a courtroom the clerk said, “Defendants sit to the left.” That was the first thing she said to me as I walked in. And I realized that out of my suit, I looked to them like a suspicious person or a defendant in that context.

(soon available here)

Being out of his suit is only part of the story. The other part is the fact that there are negative stereotypes about Mexicans and Mexican Americans that follow us wherever we go. Latino professionals universally encounter these challenges as I highlighted in my book on Latino lawyers. The notion that we should be mowing lawns, drinking a beer (presumably under a cactus), or working as maids/custodians has certainly impacted my life both personally and professionally. The impact of the views represented by the Chi Omega sorority picture penetrate into all aspects of Latinos’ lives and certainly bring to mind many memories of my own experiences.

Some of mine include being asked for a my social security card during a routine traffic stop for speeding (it took me years to stop carrying my social security card), or being asked for a “green card and an ID” before being allowed to go into a club or being asked rather aggressively by an older woman at a health club I used to belong in, to bring her some water while I was sitting down on a bench waiting for my daughter to finish tennis lessons. (The coach teaching the lessons recognized what was going on before I did and turned to the woman after she’d asked me for water for the third time and tells her he’ll get it for her when he was done giving his lesson). These examples pale in comparison to the examples I’ve experienced as a professor. I am not alone. It has been recently documented in a book on academic women of color, Presumed Incompetent that cover topics from campus climate to tenure and promotion as experienced by female faculty of color.

At the heart of all these examples is the way Latinos continue to be stereotyped by others as so grossly illustrated in the Penn State Chi Omega sorority example.