America the Beautiful, America the Violent

Antoinette Tuff performed miracles on that crucial day at an Atlanta area charter school. Talking an obviously distressed and irrational young man down from what would most assuredly be another catastrophe of America’s young children at the hands of a man with mass casualty weapons. Listening to the 9-1-1 recording and her interview with Anderson Cooper, the nation saw just how close these school officials and students escaped tragedy. And even more astounding is that neither Antoinette herself nor the intended shooter lost their lives. It was indeed a miracle. But what touched many of us through this ordeal was exactly how Ms. Tuff handled the situation. She did not use special operations 101 or psychological training in crisis management, nor did she fight violence with more violence to defuse the situation. She used the principle of love to save lives. Tuff was able to connect in that brief moment with the shooter, conveying to the young man that he mattered in the world and was loved. Where others had likely failed to convince him otherwise, Tuff got through. She penetrated the man’s soul, and by that, the plan was averted and the nation was spared.

We are in the midst of a national crisis—a fight to recover the souls of young men lost, caught in the throws of a self-deprecating patriarchy and its stratified emphasis on race, class and gender. These particular interlocking social constructions of a manufactured reality have not served the emotional well-being of our young men especially well. If you are a young man in our society and you are black, mentally ill, poor, homosexual, or emotionally traumatized from early childhood experiences (whether it be from a fractured home or abuse)—you are among those at greatest risk of killing or being killed. We care very little about those who are outside the norm of white, middle-class, mentally/emotionally healthy, heterosexual males. And yet we emphasize that their masculinity is of utmost importance.

Our society places emphasis on masculinizing male children by withholding affection (in comparison to females), consigning to them gender-appropriate toys, and communicating calculated signs of “appropriate” forms and displays of affection. This image of masculinity is only hastened by the over-exposure of violence to our culture (and young men), which reaffirms their image-conscious masculine identities. In other words, what it means to be a man is further manufactured by media outlets including Hollywood films, sports broadcasting, hunting & fishing shows, and video games—all which commodify maleness, branding it for profit.

Interestingly, we expect our children to decipher and understand the difference between “good” violence (hunting, defending the country in times of war, sport shooting, etc.) from that of “bad” violence. This task is difficult enough by loving, informed and concerned caregivers . Without positive and influential role models, these young men not only lack the ability to categorize violence, but they also lack effective coping strategies.

These same young males who emerge with little guidance, are the same ones who believe in their mind that (whether real or imagined) they matter very little in the world and often feel left out and left behind, particularly young men of color (our most vulnerable resource). This can evoke the deepest sense of pain, driving many young people to make life-altering decisions with dire consequences. Enveloped within our nation’s narcissism, we pretend that human conflict found in the popular saying “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” cannot hurt as bad as physical pain. We now know this could not be further from the truth. It matters greatly that we humans feel loved, affirmed and empowered in ways that allow us to flourish in productive ways rather than destructive ones.

These “random” acts of violence are not entirely individualistic actions and maybe not so random after all; they were created and maintained due to our unapologetically and grossly unequal society, predicated on the status hierarchy of white over black, male over female, Christian over non-Christian, and wealth over poverty. The inequality in our country serves to make these men feel emasculated as they often relate manhood to material objects like cars, ostentatious jewelry, neighborhoods, shoes and women, which may explain why disrespect, humiliation and shame are often triggers of violent acts.

When men of all stripes do not have an equal voice, they have few options. Between our emphasis on patriarchy and our skewed definition of masculinity combined with our lack of direction for these souls, it is no wonder they turned to destructively violent means when they feel unheard or threatened. Many turn to affirming themselves by “being a man” and resorting to violence, chaos and self-destruction. Others who feel unheard, make the world see them through a horrific and monumental event. Either way, the lack of positive, self-worth-promoting entities in a patriarchal society make the affirmation of self through violence all the more likely.

Antoinette Tuff accomplished something that few others could have done. She was able to divert another potential Sandy Hook and national tragedy by showing genuine concern and love for the shooter. (That is not to say that anyone could have reasoned with the other mentally ill individuals who have killed our children and loved ones in other mass shootings. I wonder if the strong souls who lost their lives were even given a chance to do so. But in this case, one person was given a chance—and it was the right person.) She practiced the convictions of her faith in Jesus who taught his followers to love our enemies; she was able to affirm to Brandon Hill that he mattered in the world. She let him know that he was loved. And she meant every word.

Dr. Darron Smith is an assistant professor in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Follow him on twitter @drdarronsmith.

50 Years After March on Washington, A New Dream

Tomorrow marks the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On Saturday, thousands marched on Washington to commemorate the anniversary. I’ll be attending the events in D.C. For me, one of the most important dreams to shine a light on is the one to end mass incarceration, what some have referred to as the “new Jim Crow.” This short video (11:52 – h/t Julie Netherland) explains more about the problem of mass incarceration and what one man in Dothan, Alabama is doing to address it:

My 3-Year-Old has Experienced Racism (and yours probably has too)

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But if there is a child of color in your life and if you ever read to them – then they have already experienced racism.

 

 (image [by artist Tina Kugler)

First let’s clear one thing up. When many people think racism, they think extreme. Overtly aggressive, easily-identifiable. Slavery, KKK, Jim Crow, Japanese internment, etc. To be sure, very racist. But these overt forms of racism are now widely condemned and far less common. They still happen no doubt, but nowhere near the level they used to. No. These days racism has gone stealth; often taking less obvious, insidious forms. Harder to find. Harder to fight? Nowadays we understand racism as a system of oppression that unfairly advantages some (whites) over others on the basis of phenotype (skin color). Take a look around you and it’s easy to see this system of privilege in place. Who lives in the poorest neighborhoods? Who lives in the richest? Whose children go to the lowest funded, most scantily equipped schools? Whose children go to the most expensive, richly resourced private schools?

When my son was born I enthusiastically set out to find children’s books that celebrated and reflected our family’s unique multiracial Asian heritage. I figured there were so many mixed kids now I’d find tons of stuff. If not about mixed Asian (which admittedly is very specific) at least about Asian, multiracial or multicultural. I found a handful of books and then? Myself beating my head against a brick wall. I was mystified, frustrated and then infuriated. What was going on? I suddenly got that sinking-yucky-PoC feeling, “Uh oh there’s something racial happening here.” Not sure what else to do I began blogging, researching and collecting resources on my own.

Then early this summer my fears were confirmed. About the same time data revealed that, for the first time, whites had fallen to a minority in America’s under-5 age group  a 2012 report from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison garnered quick internet and media attention.

The CCBC report found that despite our increasing diversity, the number of children’s books written by or about people of color is very low and has not changed in 18 years. Of the 3,600 books the CCBC received last year, only 3% were about African Americans, 2% were about Asian Pacific Americans, 1.5% were about Latinos, and less than 1% were about Native Americans and these numbers have stayed fairly consistent since the CCBC started keeping statistics in 1994.

 

 

(Image credit: Flickr/Global Partnership for Education)

Some argue there isn’t large enough demand for main characters of color while others argue there can’t be a demand for something that’s not on the market.

But boil it down and it very simply looks like this. There are still few minority owned publishing companies in the U.S. Publishing is disproportionately controlled by whites who continue to favor producing products by, for, and about their own race despite very real evidence that the market demands something more diverse. This then has the trickle down effect of impacting what’s available to you and your family at bookstores, libraries, schools, etc. Yes people. It’s systemic. It’s institutional. It’s covert. It’s about power and race. That’s racism. And your children of color are at a disadvantage because of it.

In one of the most influential works on anti-bias early education, Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards address the omission of diversity as a major dynamic of advantage and disadvantage in early learning materials. They reframe under- and over-representation as a form of societal (in)visibility that works to undermine some children’s sense of self at the same time it teaches other children that they are more deserving than others. They write:

 

“Young children are learning about who is and isn’t important. Invisibility erases identity and experience; visibility affirms reality. When children see themselves and their families reflected in their early childhood setting, they feel affirmed and that they belong. When children’s identities and families are invisible, the opposite happens. Children feel that they are unimportant and do not belong. These lessons from societal visibility or invisibility are among the most powerful messages children receive…Children absorb these messages every day, often without the adults in their lives even knowing what the children are learning” (pp.13-4).

 

And at the end of the day, as these authors point out, this is something that impacts everyone regardless of race. According to FirstBook, a nonprofit dedicated to overcoming illiteracy, literacy is one of the best predictors of a child’s future success but when children see characters and hear stories that aren’t relevant to their lives, it makes it harder to engage and interest them.

Low levels of literacy are associated with lower educational, employment and health outcomes, and that will ultimately cost the United States more than a quarter of a million dollars each.

 

(image from here)

 

Children’s books are also one of the most important launching pads for discussions about tough things (e.g. trying new foods, being scared of the dark, bullying, etc). If there aren’t many diverse children’s books then we can guess adults aren’t starting meaningful conversations on the subject at home, in school, etc.

Indeed in the popular 2011 Nurtureshock, authors Pro Bronson and Ashley Merryman verify 75% of white parents almost never talk to their kids about race  Let’s follow this through to its obvious conclusion. We’ve got silence from the critical adults in children’s lives. We’ve got covert societal messages about who is and is not important via (in)visibility. We’ve got our children, left to themselves, easily making misinformed generalizations about groups of people (and not telling us about it). And then we’ve got their fairly innocent pre-prejudices, left mostly unattended, growing with them into…bias. And voila! Racism is reborn.

The early years are critical in setting the stage for who we become and the things we learn as children are the hardest to unlearn. So this is also a critical point of intervention for addressing racial inequities in this country. How can we ever undo racism if its foundation continues to be solidly, firmly poured in place? It isn’t only about naïve children and cute children’s books. It’s about the fact that we still aren’t having the conversations and we aren’t having them early enough. If we truly want to make a difference, let’s head it off at the gate.

Find out who’s trying to make a change and how you can help. Here’s are a couple of places to start: FirstBook’s solution and Lee&Low Books and Cinco Puntos discussion of multilcultural publishing.

 

 

~ Guest blogger Sharon Chang maintains the blog MultiAsian Families.

Illusions of Meritocracy: Does It Favor Certain Groups?

The notion of meritocracy hinges on the belief in a just system, or what researchers have called “system justification theory.” As theorists John Jost and Masharin Banaji explain, system justification theory is a psychological process by which people justify existing social arrangements as legitimate and fair, such as the belief that hard work, effort, and motivation lead to success. This theory locates the cause of events within personal attributes, and indicates that individuals should take personal responsibility for outcomes. For example, a recent article by John Jost, Brian Nosek, and Samuel Gosling notes that stability and hierarchy provide both structure and reassurance, in contrast with social change and equality that imply unpredictability and greater chaos, especially in large social systems.

The irony of system justification theory is that members of minority groups can view the locus of individual success or failure as solely due to their own efforts and discount the impact of socially-mediated forces of discrimination. We have seen examples in the recent press where minority leaders themselves emphasize personal responsibility while remaining silent on the impact of the forces of systemic discrimination. As Alvin Evans and I point out in Diverse Administrators in Peril , this viewpoint can undermine self-esteem when individuals impacted by discrimination internalize contemporary forms of oppression and become their own oppressors through self-blame and inappropriate attributions of instances of everyday discrimination to their own dispositional or personal inadequacies. It heightens what Wesley Yang calls “self-estrangement” by removing the factor of difference from the equation.

A study conducted by Frank Samson at the University of Miami highlighted in a recent article in Inside HigherEd clearly demonstrates the fluidity of the notion of meritocracy when applied to different minority groups. When one group of white adults in California was asked about the criteria that should be used in admissions processes, a high priority was placed on high school grade-point averages and standardized tests. Yet when a control group was told that Asian Americans make up more than twice as many undergraduates in the University of California system compared to their representation in the state population, the participants then favored a reduced role for test and grade scores in the admissions process. They further indicated that leadership should be given greater weight.

Since Asian American scores on the SAT topped white average scores by 1641 to 1578 this year and the leadership abilities of Asian Americans tend to be unrecognized , the shift in criteria by study participants shows that meritocracy means different things when applied to different groups. Samson attributes this shift to “group threat” from Asian Americans and suggests that key Supreme Court decisions based upon the framework of meritocracy might have been decided differently if different groups had been involved. Samson notes the exclusionary rhetoric that emphasizes “qualifications” applied in discussions of opportunities that can exclude African-Americans and how this framework shifts when applied to Asian Americans. In an earlier post, I cited a June 14 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Stacey Patton that explains how the frequent argument about “lack of qualified candidates” for top roles becomes a loaded and coded divergence—a smoke screen that feeds stereotypes of minorities as less capable, intelligent, or experienced (p. A4).

Certainly the road to attainment of meritocracy will require consideration of the many detours we have taken in the course of American history. Perhaps we need to be reminded that a true meritocracy is still an aspirational goal and in the words of Martin Luther King, represents “a promissory note” that will “open the doors of opportunity” to all Americans.

Bigot Brother: Reality TV and White Denial, Pt.2

Reality TV celebrities Aaryn Gries, GinaMarie Zimmerman, and Amanda Zukerman are receiving some attention for their bigotry on CBS’s Big Brother, as we explained here.

Still, a measure of that narrative is largely missing. There is a particular burden of responsibility placed on racial minorities in the Big Brother House.  Following his eviction on 1 August, Big Brother host Julie Chen asked Howard Overby, who is black, why he “didn’t confront [the racism] head-on and say, ‘I’m not going to put up with this?’”  He replied, “It’s probably the hardest thing in the world.”

Above: Big Brother 15 HouseGuest GinaMarie Zimmerman speaking about fellow HouseGuest, Candice Stewart. (Image source)

Various media sources have gone so far as to dub Howard, “Coward”, for allegedly choosing to remain silent in pursuit of the $500,000 prize. In other words, not only are racial minorities assumed to be solely responsible for speaking out against racism in the Big Brother House; they are reprimanded when they allegedly refuse to do so.  And, as we have seen (see Part 1), they are dubbed by white HouseGuests as unreasonable, antagonistic, and intellectually narrow-minded when they confront racism.

Indeed, why have the white HouseGuests (with the exception of Elissa Slater) remained bystanders (at best)?  Why is it the responsibility of racial minorities to educate whites on racism?  Why is the onus of challenging racism placed on racial minorities?  Why is the broader context of racism omitted from most media discussions of the issues?

Dr. Ragan Fox, who was part of the season 12 cast of Big Brother in 2010, and who is an Associate Professor of Communication at California State University, argues that CBS has ignored the broader context:

“Racism and homophobia are unfortunately common, ordinary, everyday phenomena. When Big Brother constructs a narrative that suggests anti-gay and anti-people of color speech is extraordinary and relegated to a single person [i.e., Aaryn Gries] … the show misses the point … Ratings jumped by over a million viewers when they initially included racism into the plot. Viewers are clearly ready for a more nuanced discussion about race and sexuality in the House….”

 

As for the HouseGuest who has received the most attention for her bigotry, Gries suggested that she is likely being portrayed unfairly on television as a “racist bitch”.  She more recently speculated that she might be portrayed as “misunderstood”. When talk in the Big Brother House turns to racial slurs, Gries argues that she would not make racial slurs because it would be “dangerous” once she left the reality show.  The fact that racism is immoral, unjust, and cruel seems lost on her!  In defense of herself, Gries says she got caught in the middle of being a “mean girl” because she thought people were against her and she was just trying to fight back.

Despite her apparent awareness of how she likely comes across to most Big Brother fans, Gries continues to utter racist slurs. As seen on the Internet feeds on 1 August, talking about Candice Stewart, she commented: “Hey Aunt Jemima, make me some pancakes”.

Recently, she asked other white HouseGuests, “So, you guys think I should do a tweet that says ‘white power?’”  A white HouseGuest advised her not to do so. In response, Gries laughed and said she was kidding, proceeding to discuss the Confederate flag. She explained that some people think the flag is racist and added, “You can’t do anything. You can’t breathe or you’re racist.”

Gries claims she will not read anything about herself in the press once she leaves Big Brother because she will be too affected if what is said about her is “mean.”  Reportedly, she will have some assistance in controlling the consequences of her appalling behavior now that her mother has hired a PR firm to help with spin control.

We suggest she hire a critical race theorist to tutor her.

Indeed, through denial and spin control, Gries may largely escape what she perceives as unwarranted meanness; unfortunately, racial minorities are unable to escape the “reality” of racism. 

Big Brother demonstrates this.  Just ask Stewart and Overby.  Overby says that the racism was “disheartening,” but he was kind of prepared for it, “I was kind of [expecting it]”.

~ This post was written by guest bloggers April Blackbird, sociology honours student and politics major at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada and a First Nations activist; Shanise Burgher is a sociology honours student at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada; and Dr. Kimberley A. Ducey, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.

Bigot Brother: Reality TV and White Denial, Pt.1

A key player on CBS’s Big Brother reveals the bigotry and white denial of reality TV.

The show, now in its fifteenth season, follows sixteen HouseGuests, twenty-four hours a day, as they compete for $500,000.  Under constant surveillance, with more than sixty cameras recording their every move, they are isolated from the outside world for three months.  Weekly evictions by fellow HouseGuests are the crux of the show.  The HouseGuest who eludes banishment wins the prize money.

In addition to one-hour television episodes three times a week, including a live portion on Thursday nights, fans can tune into 24/7 Internet feeds for a small fee.  Mainly via the feeds, viewers have witnessed inexcusable bigotries.

CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves – husband of Big Brother host Julie Chen – has voiced disgust for the derogatory remarks, asserting: “I find some of the behavior absolutely appalling personally”.  This YouTube video captures some of the offences.

According to the majority of media reports, the most horrendous comments have come from Aaryn Gries, GinaMarie Zimmerman and Amanda Zukerman.  Gries, however, has received the majority of attention for her bigotry.

A petition, which currently boasts more than 25,000 supporters, was posted by Big Brother fans on Change.org for the removal of Gries for her “racist and homophobic comments” about other HouseGuests.

Zephyr Talent, the Texas modeling agency that represented Gries, announced on its Facebook page that it was dropping her as a client, saying: “Aaryn, season 15 cast member of Big Brother, revealed prejudices and other beliefs that we (Zephyr Talent) do not condone”, the agency explained on its website. “We certainly find the statements made by Aaryn on the live Internet feed to be offensive.”

(Image source)

Meanwhile, Zimmerman lost her job with East Coast USA Pageant, Inc., where she has worked as a pageant coordinator for five years. “We have never known this side of GinaMarie or have ever witnessed such acts of racism in the past. We are actually thankful that this show let us see GinaMarie for who she truly is as we would never want her to be a role model to our future contestants”, CEO Lauren Handler said in a statement.

 

(Image source)

Dr. Ragan Fox, who was part of the season 12 cast of Big Brother in 2010 – and who is an Associate Professor of Communication at California State University, offers a concise summary of the three women’s inexcusable behaviour:

Scenario 1: A majority of the Big Brother house votes out one of Aaryn’s allies. Aaryn places the blame for this move on a black person (Candice). She flips Candice’s mattress on the floor, taunts her with race-baiting stereotypes, and laughs as her ally GinaMarie repeatedly mentions Candice’s race … Candice … cries about the sustained abuse she’s suffered in the house….

Scenario 2: Amanda Zuckermann has called Andy ‘Faggoty Ann’, called Candice’s hair … ‘greasy and nappy’, characterized Helen (a Korean) as ‘the ***** Chinaman’, and referred to the ‘the black guy, the Asian, and the gay guy’ as the ‘three outcasts’.  CBS has shockingly made Amanda the primary narrator of Aaryn’s racism. Producers have also featured scenes wherein Amanda directly confronts Aaryn about her racial animus.  [When] Aaryn’s in power, Amanda has backpedaled and told Aaryn that she does not think she is racist and claims people like African American contestant Howard [Overby] use the ‘race card’ to get ahead in the game. If anyone in the house plays a ‘race card,’ or exploits racism, it’s Amanda, who shifts between vocalizing racist speech, deriding other people’s racism, and suggesting racism in the house is not real.

The Big Brother House painfully brings to mind Fries-Britt and Griffin’s remarks concerning the consequences to black students who resist racism. They are “typecast as hostile for always raising ‘racial issues’, labeled as intellectually narrow-minded because they continue to place race on the agenda, and [are] more likely to become socially isolated as their peers perceive interactions with them as confrontational”. (Sharon Fries-Britt and Kimberly Griffin, “The Black Box: How High-Achieving Blacks Resist Stereotypes About Black Americans,” Journal of College Student Development 48, no.5 (2007): 517, doi:10.1353/csd.2007.0048).

This is precisely what has unfolded in the Big Brother House and in no small part due to Zukerman – whose bigotry has largely escaped the media’s attention – and who is presently leading the charge to convince the other white HouseGuests that Stewart is unreasonable, antagonistic, and intellectually narrow-minded for continuing to protest the racism she has endured.  In so doing, Zukerman is playing a colossal role in the alienation and isolation Stewart undoubtedly felt, as well as her ultimate eviction.

Shame on you Zukerman, Zimmerman, and Gries!  Shame on you!

Part 2 is here.

~ This post was written by guest bloggers April Blackbird, sociology honours student and politics major at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada and a First Nations activist; Shanise Burgher is a sociology honours student at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada; and Dr. Kimberley A. Ducey, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.

What Riley Cooper Should Have Said About the N-Word?

The power of sport in the American psyche and the lengths to which competitive play entertains and thrills fans is one reason why we watch sports. Americans are equally captivated by the personal lives of athletes off the field—from their charity and romances to their antics and meltdowns. The viewing world often venerates athletes, particularly in the high revenue sports of football and basketball, placing them on a public pedestal for their talents and assuming their personal character should be infallible because of their athletic prowess.

To the chagrin of many fans, players, coaches and owners, Philadelphia Eagles wide-receiver Riley Cooper just had to go there at a recent public concert and put the “er” in the N-word. Whether folks believe this act to be shameful and appalling or believe the recourse of his actions in the media to be blown out of proportion, the majority of white Americans don’t understand that it’s not about the word. It’s about a 400-year-old history contained in this word. Let’s call it what it really is—the nigger word. This word is symbolic. It was originally borrowed from the Spanish word “Negro” and used extensively in early European history beginning with the Portuguese, Spanish and English. Then landing a home in colonial America during the transatlantic slave trade, the nigger word rose in prominence as an offensive epithet. Wide spread in usage during the emerging slave economy with the intent to gain a psychological advantage over people of African descent, the nigger word has a long and curious life within US society.

It is deemed the “worst of the worst” of words, representing a reprehensible time in our country—a time when folks were dehumanized, enslaved, tortured, and even killed for the color of their skin. It’s not simply that Riley Cooper uttered this word. It’s that this word is a part of his vocabulary, which must mean that it was acceptable language somewhere along the course of his life, whether at home or school with family or friends. It is doubtful this is first time that Cooper has used the word, despite his pleas to the contrary. Yet, even if he cognitively refrains from speaking such language nowadays, countless other Whites do engage in racially charged discourse—of course, most only do so behind closed doors. This is called backstage racism. Research reveals that white Americans often engage in backstage racism using offensive racist language behind the scenes and out of earshot of the public. And when it is said at those dinner tables and backyard discussions free of any Blacks, it is NOT in an attitude of deep respect and equality toward one’s fellow man. What Cooper did was bring that backstage racism to the front stage—something that millions of white Americans are terrified of doing for fear of being called a racist. But when this word is spoken as a means to show power or privilege over another, that’s a form of racism, regardless in what company you are among.

The Florida native’s recent usage of the highly offensive language and his sincere, though uncritical apology is deeply unsettling for many sports fans. The fact that Cooper felt comfortable uttering the nigger word in public speaks volumes to its continued usage in popular culture. In fact, one common though oblivious argument by Whites is that “Blacks use this word as well.” But black Americans use the “niggah” word from an entirely different context. This is termed counter-framing. Counter-framing is a strategy that opposes an original objectionable frame. This can be done in a multitude of ways. Here, Blacks have attempted to take back a word that was used for centuries to abuse and denigrate them. Just listen to any popular Hip Hop star and the use of the word is evident. This same type of counter-framing was seen several years ago when a few black rappers such as Outkast and Lil John were seen wearing the confederate flag. In the white imagination, this is confusing. And when the public chastises a fellow white person caught in public spewing anti-black hate, many white people come forward crying foul. But they don’t grasp the concept of counter-framing. Hence, thinking this gives oneself a free pass to say racist terms is ignorant of history, if not senseless and unabashedly racist. Right or wrong, some Blacks are taking the nigger word back and using it in attempts to empower themselves. By doing this, it deflects a painful history, thus taking some of the sting out of it. Sadly, the reality is that this form of counter-framing can never fully undo the original white racial frame(s). The word “nigger” will no longer hold Blacks down under the yoke of white supremacy as it once did, but it still insults their personhood when spoken by a white person.

It should be no surprise that athletes bring with them to the competitive world of sport a broader racial framing of society they inherited from their forbearers. Race lessons are passed on within social networks and kinship circles of family, peers, and significant friends. Lurking just beneath the surface of our reality, racial biases are formed through a process of historical relations of unequal power and distribution of resources for more advantaged groups at the expense of people of color in what analysts call “systemic racism.” At the heart of American racial inequality is a system grounded in an ordered ranking of men over women, white over black, and Christian over non-Christian; a hierarchy where early Europeans and their North American contemporaries conveniently placed themselves at the top and Blacks at the bottom of the social ladder. White folks continue to experience this (often unknowingly) through white racial priming. That is to say, how white Americans systematically internalize racist attitudes, stereotypes, assumptions, fears and fictitious racial scripts, which fit into a Eurocentric framing of the world, is expressly negative.

Riley could have set a new precedent among white people by going on record and admitting that like most white Americans, he is recovering racist, having grown up engrossed in the word as it was freely used in his extended white social networks. At some point, he began befriending and competing alongside African Americans. It was then, likely, that he began to demystify his received racial biases that many Whites struggle to overcome. But ingrained deep within one’s consciousness, it will inevitably bubble to the surface at some point(s) in life, despite the cognitive awareness of its despicable nature.

Instead, Riley planted doubt in the minds of his fellow black NFL teammates, as they know full well America’s deplorable past. Until then, his words are empty for all of his black teammates are still left wondering if and when he says this behind closed doors. This was evident when Michael Vick was asked if he knew that Cooper was capable of saying such terminology. “No,” Vick said. “That’s the thing. That’s not the guy we know. We know Riley.” But then Vick paused for a beat and followed with, “Or maybe we don’t.”

Dr. Darron Smith is an assistant professor in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
Follow him on twitter @drdarronsmith.

The Fisher decision misses the point: Separate and unequal

A new Georgetown University report titled “Separate and Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Privilege” by Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl reinforces why the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas misses the point. Recall that in Fisher v. the University of Texas, while the justices recognized the value of diversity in the higher education experience, universities and colleges must prove that no workable race-neutral alternatives could have produced the same diversity benefit. And strikingly, Justice Kennedy stated that in this process “the university receives no deference.” A reviewing court will be the arbiter of this determination.

The report by Carnevale and Strohl debunks the assumption that the United States has attained a level educational playing field in which consideration of race is no longer relevant. The study demonstrates that American higher education has two separate and unequal tracks: the 468 selective colleges and the 3250 open-access institutions. The divergence between these two tracks is increasing rather than diminishing. The authors identify two prominent themes that characterize these tracks: 1) racial stratification in the 4400 two- and four- year colleges analyzed for the study; and 2) polarization between the most selective schools and open-access schools. And from a student perspective, they conclude that “disadvantage is worst of all when race and class collide.”

Between 1995 and 2009, despite increases in the enrollment of African American and Hispanic students attending postsecondary institutions, more than 8 in 10 of new white students enrolled in the 468 most selective institutions, whereas more than 7 in 10 new Hispanic and African-American students have gone to open-access two and four-year colleges. White students account for 78 percent of the growth in the more selective institutions, while 92 percent of the growth in open-access institutions went to Hispanic and African-American students.

In addition, stratification by income is marked in more selective colleges, with high-income students overrepresented relative to population share by 45 percentage points and African-American and Hispanic students underrepresented relative to population share by 9 percentage points. This disadvantage is magnified by pre-existing geographic (spatial) isolation in the location of high schools as well as economic and educational deprivation in the pre-college years.

Why does this matter? The 468 most selective schools spend two to nearly five times more per student, have higher ratios of full- to part-time faculty, higher completion rates, and greater access to graduate schools, even when considering equally qualified students. Also, the college completion rate for the most selective schools is 82 percent, compared with 49 percent for open-access, two- and four-year institutions.

The report responds to two important questions. First, it provides substantive evidence that contradicts the “mismatch” theory which posits that minority students fare better in universities where the median test scores are nearer their own. In contrast, it reveals that Hispanic and African-American students benefit from attending selective institutions even when their test scores fall substantially below the averages at these schools, with a graduation rate of 73 percent from top colleges when compared to a graduation rate of 40 percent at open-access institutions.

Second, the report sheds light on the difficulty of substituting race-neutral alternatives such as class or to produce the same educational diversity benefit. The authors find that it would take more than five or six times the current level of class-based admissions to maintain the current racial mix in the most selective colleges. In fact, the pool of low-income white students far exceeds the pool of Hispanic and African-American students eligible for selective college admissions. The flood of low-income students that could result from using class as a proxy for disadvantage would create intense resource challenges for all but the most wealthy of selective institutions in the financial aid process. More selective institutions would also have difficulty to maintain current standards in the competition for students with higher test scores.

The report does not include an identical analysis for Asians and Native Americans due to data limitations. It does note that while 50 percent of new Asian enrollments have gone to the most selective schools, 30 percent have also gone to the open-access schools. In this regard, a 2005 College Board study reveals that Asian American/Pacific Islander students are evenly concentrated in two- and four-year institutions, with over half of the students in California and Nevada enrolled in community colleges. And a study produced by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute concludes that, like other minority students, AAPI students often struggle with poverty, with 47.4 of Asian American families classified as low income compared with 39.5 percent of the general population.

The challenge ahead for universities is to develop the statistical models that will satisfy the Supreme Court’s requirement to prove that alternative race-neutral alternatives are not sufficient for producing the educational benefits of diversity. In the evolution of the new criteria required to satisfy Fisher’s requirements, the Georgetown University report takes an important step in laying the groundwork for the evidentiary data and metrics needed.

Summing up the complexity of the court’s newly imposed requirements for justifying the consideration of race as one factor among others in college admissions, Thomas Kane and James Ryan point out in a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that:

The court sometimes seems to labor under the belief that there is some magical combination of race-neutral proxies that will produce exactly the same group of students as in a class admitted under a race-conscious plan. Admissions officers know differently….