How I Use This Blog as a Scholar

Digital media is changing how I do my work as a scholar. How I work today bares little resemblance to the way I was trained as a scholar, but has everything to do with being fluid with both scholarship and digital technologies.  To illustrate what I mean by this, I describe the process behind a recent article of mine that started with a Tweet at an academic conference, then became a blog post, then a series of blog posts, and was eventually an article in a peer-reviewed journal.

My article, Race and racism in Internet Studies: A review and critique (New Media & Society 15 (5): 695-719), was just published in the August, special issue of New Media & Society on The Rise of Internet Studies, edited by Charles Ess and William Dutton.  The germ of an idea for the paper began at the American Sociology Association Annual Meeting in 2010.  I attended sessions about online discourse and, given my interest in racism in online discourse, I kept expecting some one to bring up this issue.

jessie daniels tweet1

I was disappointed by the lack of attention to racism, or race more generally, in the sessions I attended, and Tweeted that observation, using the hashtag of the conference (#asa2010).  When I consulted the program for the conference I was truly perplexed to find that the only session on race and digital media was the one I’d help organize.  In a lot of ways, a Tweet is just a “soundbite” in 140-characters of text.  And, as the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson suggests, there’s nothing wrong with a soundbite, especially if you want to reach a wider audience than just other specialists in your field.

 

That one Tweet – and the lack of scholarship it spoke to – got me thinking about the kinds of sessions I would like to see at the ASA and the sorts of things I thought sociologists should be studying in this area, so I wrote a blog post about it, “Race, Racism & the Internet: 10 Things Sociologists Should be Studying.”  As I usually do now, I shared that blog post via Twitter.

jessie daniels tweet 2

I got many responses from people who shared their work, and the work of their students, friends and colleagues, with me in the form of comments to the blog or @replies on Twitter. The suggestions for further citations came from people I know almost exclusively through our interactions via the blog or Twitter. That feedback from geographically-remote, institutionally-varied yet digitally-close colleagues got me thinking about expanding that single blog post into a series of posts.  I wanted to review the wide-range of interdisciplinary work happening in what Ess and Dutton call “Internet studies.”   Why bother with this, one might reasonably ask?

Central to this new workflow of scholarship is the blog, Racism Review (RR), which I started in 2007 with Joe Feagin, a past president of the ASA, with the goal of creating an online resource for reliable, scholarly information for journalists, students and members of the general public who are seeking solid evidence-based research and analysis of “race” and racism.  The blog has very much become part of “how to be a scholar” in the current, digital moment.  I use it to post first drafts of ideas, to keep up-to-date on the research literature, and since I firmly believe that writing is thinking, I often use it to work out just what I think about something.

The blog has also become a way to support other scholars both in their research and in teaching.  A number of academics have told us that they use the blog in teaching; one, Kimberley Ducey (Asst. Prof., University of Winnipeg) uses RR blog posts in an instructor’s manual for a traditional intro sociology textbook as lecture suggestions, in-class activities, and essays/assignments.  Through the many guest bloggers we host, I learn about other people’s scholarly work that I might not otherwise know about.  And, the blog has become a mentoring platform, where early career scholars often get started with blogging and then go on to create their own.  The blog is also content-hungry, so I’m always thinking about scholarship that might make an interesting blog post.  So, back to the series of posts.

From late February to early March, 2011, I did a series of blog posts that expanded on the initial “10 Things,” post from August, 2010.  Those posts were all about the current scholarship on race, racism and the Internet with each one focusing on a different sub-field in sociology, including: 1) Internet infrastructure and labor force issues; 2) digital divides and mobile technology; 3) racist social movement groups; 4) social networking sites; 5) dating; 6) housing; and 7) the comments sections of news and sports sites.  This last area, racism in comments sections, prompted a research collaboration with one of the presenters from that 2010 ASA session I organized. The paper from that project eventually appeared in the journal Media, Culture & Society.

At about the same, there was a fortuitous Call for Papers for the Ess & Dutton special issue on Internet studies at 15 years into the field.  So I combined all of the blog posts into one paper, and thought more about what my critique of the field as a whole might be.  For that critique, I ended up revisiting some of Stuart Hall’s earlier writing about the “spectacle” of race in media scholarship and incorporated that with elements of Joe Feagin and Sean Elias’ critique of “racial formation” as a weak theoretical frame for Internet studies.  The paper went into an extended peer review process, I revised it once, and it finally appeared (online ahead of print) in December 2012, and in print in August, 2013.

Except for the very end of this process – submitting the paper to the journal for peer-review – none of this way of working bares the least bit of resemblance to how I was trained to be a scholar.  My primary job as an academic is to create new knowledge, traditionally measured by the number of articles and books I produce. Traditional graduate school training has taught us to think of a “pipeline” of notes, posters, conference papers, journal submissions (and/or, book proposals), revisions, resubmissions and finally, print publication. For me, how to be a scholar now is completely different than when I went to graduate school because of the way that digital media infuses pretty much every step.

This process I’ve described here – from Tweet at an academic conference, to a blog post, to a series of blog posts to a paper that became an article – is just one of many possible iterations of how to be a scholar now using digital media.  Other permutations of how to be a scholar now might include live Tweeting an article you’re reading. Sometimes, when I get pre-set “alerts” in my email about newly published scholarship I’m interested in, I will share a title and a link via Twitter. If, upon reading further, I find the piece especially perspicacious, I may share select sentences via Twitter. If it happens that there’s a current event in the news that the article can help illuminate, then I’ll draft a blog post that incorporates it.

My experience with the germ of an idea shared as a Tweet at an academic conference that became a blog post, then a series of blog posts, and (eventually) a peer-reviewed is just one example of the changing nature of scholarship.  From where I sit, being a scholar now involves creating knowledge in ways that are more open, more fluid, and more easily read by wider audiences.

 

 ~ This blog post originally appeared at the LSE Impact Blog.

Race and Emotional Labor In the Workplace: A Prelude for Violence?

The pattern is fairly clear for those who are paying attention. The recent rash of mass killings in the past 15 years seem to be predominately committed by young, white, middle-class males living in mental isolation and painted as “outcasts,” many having a history of early childhood trauma. Routinely, these young men felt unloved, underappreciated and invisible; some were bullied, tormented and chastised for being “different.” There’s another similar pattern of violence emerging in black middle-class males where isolation, doubt, and despair exist exerting more emotional labor to cope with constant microaggressions and other power dynamics working to undermine their character and dignity.

African Americans are routinely branded as incompetent, insubordinate, and incapable of measuring up to an unattainable white standard. Many professional black men find themselves having to defend their credentials and right to exist in the workplace as an equal on a daily basis. In a forthcoming publication on workplace mistreatment among physician assistants (health care providers) by Smith and Jacobson, black PAs were found to experience discrimination at a rate of forty times that of their white counterparts. In other words, for every one white person that felt discriminated against in the workplace, there are forty blacks that feel similarly. Taking this idea a step further, where three white providers report feeling undervalued and mistreated, there are 120 black Physicians’ Assistants (PAs) that report similar experiences. The shear magnitude of mistreatment in this context underscores the daily hassles that black Americans face. These experiences do not dissipate; they accumulate within the souls of black folks, always teetering on that one tipping point. Everyone internalizes his or her experiences differently. Some suffer in silence, only to have it play out in the form of physiological disease and early death. Some take this pain and frustration out on themselves and those closest to them, causing strife in their home life. And others still, without social support of any kind, eventually turn to random acts of violence, mayhem, and even murder.

The nation experienced another tragedy as innocent victims fell at the hands of a seemingly deranged man with no known cause. Aaron Alexis, a civilian contractor for the Navy, reported similar accounts to Christopher Dorner with feelings of shame and disrespect at the hands of Whites. Beneath the carnage of unimaginable hurt and suffering of the families who lost loved ones at the hands of Alexis, of those physically and emotionally wounded by the actions of Dorner, and of those forever scared by the terror of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo lies an early desire for humans to connect, to be loved, and to feel as though we matter in life. These distraught men and many others like them, driven to kill innocent people in a fit of rage or despair, just as Klebold and Harris did at Columbine High School in 1999, are a reflection of our deep and unresolved inequalities as a society. As we overly pathologize the suspects, we fail to go deeper into the structural and unequal institutional arrangements in society that make these men feel as though they have been singled out for exclusion in the first place. Though the actions and reactions of these young men are deplorable and even considered evil by many, it does not discount the origins of their despair—our unequal society.

American racism imposes constraints on the material conditions of life by limiting access to society’s valued resources, which are the fundamental building blocks of good mental health and social well-being. When opportunities to fully participate in society as co-equals are denied or restricted because of arbitrary and superficial differences in melanin, some black Americans, understandably, crack under the constant pressure of having to measure up to white societal standards and norms of a community where the rhetoric of colorblindness prevail. Though most do not see murder as the outlet, black men in America from all socio-economic strata can relate to Christopher Dorner and Aaron Alexis in at least one important way, their persistent frustration working in a predominately white and hostile work environment where people of color are made to feel devalued in a supposedly equal society.

Most Americans refuse to talk about race, believing it does not exist the workplace. Yet, corporate America is teeming with unexamined white racial attitudes that Blacks must reconcile in some particular way. Because black men have largely been shut out, left out, locked up and left behind, there is very little else to turn to but one’s pride. We humans care a great deal of what others think and feel about us. The threat of being shamed and humiliated are often the trigger for violence, particularly in African Americans who are more vulnerable to these shame-producing and debilitating effects.

The degree of social isolation and exclusion that Dorner and Alexis both professed is a reality for many black people, especially black professionals, who know all too well about the difficult and isolated experiences they encounter in white spaces. Ignoring the perceived experiences and lived realities of subaltern peoples and seeing them as less competent than their white counterparts has been shown to result in a higher probability of mental health disorders among Blacks. So maybe it was mental illness and reports of schizophrenia that drove Alexis to commit these unspeakable acts. And maybe it was also the pressure of being black and male in a society of white domination and group entitlement that at least contributed to his collapse. These very public displays of mental corrosion by black men are a growing cancer in our society, a scourge that, in part, stems from deep systemic inequalities. And just maybe, we are asking the wrong questions when it comes to efforts of stopping these horrific and tragic events.

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.

2013: Still Dreaming of Justice

Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace
And criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears
Bob Dylan, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”

This Dylan song memorialized the unjust death of Hattie Carroll at the hands of William Zantzinger. As the song closes, Dylan chides Lady Justice for the injustice committed. The details of the incident and the song have been elaborated upon by several journalists, principally Ian Frazier who wrote “Legacy of a Lonesome Death” and Paul Slade who wrote “True Lies: The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.”

On February 8, 1963, Maryland’s most prominent citizens attended the Spinsters’ Ball held at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore. The guests included William Zantzinger, a rich white 24-year old tobacco farmer, and his wife, Jane. Among the staff working the event was Hattie Carroll, a black 51-year old grandmother and mother of 11 children who worked as a barmaid at that evening’s affair. Throughout the evening and deep into the night Zantzinger drank heavily and hit women guests and servants with his cane.

At approximately 1:30 a.m., while Hattie Carroll was tending to another guest, Zantzinger loudly demanded a drink from her and assailed her with a barrage of vulgarities and racial epithets. He also struck Carroll’s shoulder when she did not serve him immediately. After handing the drink to Zantzinger, Carroll complained to a co-worker that she was feeling deathly ill and shortly after collapsed. Carroll was taken to the hospital where she died, eight hours after Zantzinger had struck her. While the hospital ruled Carroll died from a brain hemorrhage, things were a bit more complicated given that an autopsy revealed that she suffered from hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, and an enlarged heart.

Zantzinger would be tried on manslaughter charges in Hagerstown, Maryland, after he requested to have his trial moved from Baltimore. The trial began on June 19, 1963 and eight days later on June 27, a panel of three judges found Zantzinger guilty of manslaughter in the death of Hattie Carroll. The sentencing was postponed two months. On August 28, 1963, the same panel of judges sentenced Zantzinger—six months in jail along with fines totaling $625, a relative slap on the wrist. He was allowed to postpone his jail sentence until after he harvested his tobacco crop.

On the same day, about 70 miles southeast of Hagerstown, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. In the shadow of the historic march, the injustice associated with Carroll’s death would have been lost from our collective memory but for Dylan’s song.

Much has changed since August 28, 1963. And much hasn’t. On July 13, a jury in Sanford, Florida found George Zimmerman, a 29-year old white-Peruvian and self-appointed neighborhood watchman, not guilty of second-degree murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old African American teenager.

It had all the appearances of a straightforward case. An armed 28-year-old man shoots to death an unarmed 17-year-old who was returning from the store after buying snacks. Even a half century after the Zantzinger case, however, such cases are anything but straightforward. Not if race is involved.

Trayvon Martin, the victim, was on trial. Zimmerman said and media repeated claims that he was a black youth “up to no-good,” as he walked in a neighborhood in which—the message was clear—he didn’t belong. He was, after all, a black youth in a hoodie—code that we all understand. There was talk of marijuana and school problems. All to buttress the claim that this armed man had to fear for his life.

The defense closed its case with a snowy video showing Martin at a convenience store making his purchase. It resembled the countless other videos we regularly see, capturing criminals in the act. Trayvon Martin was racially profiled and criminalized in Zimmerman’s trial. While Zantzinger was sentenced to six months in a county jail for the death of Hattie Carroll in 1963, Zimmerman will serve no time in the death of Trayvon Martin in 2013.

On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, let’s remember the senseless and unpunished deaths of Hattie Carroll and Trayvon Martin, though they occurred five decades apart. And let us recognize: Dr. King’s dream is not yet realized.

Rogelio Sáenz is a sociologist and demographer. He is Dean of the College of Public Policy at the University of Texas at San Antonio. This was originally published by the Rio Grande Guardian.

(Miss) America’s Racism Problem

America still has a problem with racism. That much was glaringly apparent in the intense, vitriolic reaction to Nina Davuluri’s victory in the Miss America pageant, the first time a woman of Indian descent has won an event as quintessentially American as baseball and pumpkin pie.

When Davuluri, 24, was crowned, instead of a flood of congratulations, a flood of abusive messages began to flow from her fellow Americans on Twitter, deriding her as ‘an Arab’, ‘a terrorist’ and ‘Miss Al Qaeda’.

 

(Image from IBT)

While some news outlets expressed shock at the response to the racist reaction to the new Miss America, others have trivialized it as merely a Twitter phenomenon.  The reaction to Ms. Davuluri’s coronation as Miss America was not that different than the reaction in some quarters of the American population to the election of President Obama. On the night of his first election, so many angry people logged on to a popular white supremacist site to complain that the site crashed.

The reaction that became visible online, against both Davuluri and Obama, might have been anticipated by anyone who has been paying close attention to American news, particularly those articles which dare to address the taboo of racism.

No group escapes

In many ways, the racism that Davuluri experienced is part of a larger pattern in which a variety of groups are targeted. In New York City, where I live, many more Sikhs have been attacked since 9/11 by people who believed they are Muslim, a mistake that many of those on Twitter made about Davuluri. In August, 2012 a white supremacist killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

The lives of African American men are also regularly constrained and endangered, 50 years after Martin Luther King made his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.  Just this passed week in Charlotte, North Carolina, an unarmed Jonathan Ferrell was seeking help after a car crash. Ferrell, African American, was shot ten times and killed by police. A woman who lived nearby had reported a man “she didn’t recognize.”

Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American, was killed by George Zimmerman because Martin seemed “suspicious.” Though Zimmerman was charged and stood trial, a jury of mostly white women found him not guilty.

A number of prominent, successful African American women in the U.S. have come under such vitriolic racist (and sexist) attacks that they have been forced from their jobs. For instance, technologist Adria Richards, government official Shirley Sherrod, and meterologist Rhonda Lee are a few who have been targeted by months long smear campaigns that combine racism and sexism.

And what of the Hispanic community? In June, 2013 in an incident reminiscent of the attacks against Ms. Davuluri, adorable little 11-year-old Sebastien De La Cruz sang the American national anthem at a basketball game, unleashing a flood of racism demanding that “an American” sing the anthem. De La Cruz is Mexican American and a U.S. citizen.  In fact, a recent Pew Center survey found that nearly a quarter of Americans (23%) say Hispanics, a group that includes Mexican Americans, face a lot of discrimination in society today. This, according to the Pew Center, gives this group the dubious distinction of being the racial or ethnic group the U.S. public sees as most often the target of discrimination.

Causes and Solutions

Each generation of Americans thinks that the “older generation” are the “real racists,” and that these dinosaurs will eventually die out and with them, racism will die too.  Would that it were so.  The fact is that racism is both handed down from one generation to the next and it is produced anew by each subsequent group of young people who think they have escaped its stain.

It is not difficult to understand why racism is still a problem in the U.S. We are a society with a great many exceptional resources, but as with the history of colonialism, these have been taken from indigenous peoples and built up with stolen labor of enslaved Africans. Those practices set the patterns, built the institutions, carved the ways of being a society in profound ways. The U.S., unlike South Africa, or Nazi Germany, has not had a truth and reconciliation process, except in small, piecemeal fashion.

Of course, some are working to address racism in the U.S.  There is, by now, a generation of scholars who are doing the deeply important work of what is often called African American studies, Latino/a and Chicano/a studies, and Asian American studies, but is in fact, simply American studies. This knowledge makes a real difference in transforming the culture.  One of the foremost scholars in this area, Professor Peniel Joseph, leads the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University. He recently led a “National Dialogue on Race Day” that coordinated efforts between several university departments of African American studies.  This national dialogue is urgently needed.

Following the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and unlikely pair formed to work to end racism. Pardeep Kaleka’s father was one of the six people killed in the shooting. So when Arno Michaelis, a former member of a white power group and author of My Life After Hate, reached out to Kaleka, he was hesitant. Eventually, Kaleka and Michaelis became allies, eventually friends. A year after the temple shooting, they go to schools and community groups together to talk about overcoming racism and working together for a common cause, bridging differences.

To really address the persistent problem of racism in the U.S., we need more efforts like those of Peniel Joseph, Pardeep Kaleka and Arno Michaelis. We also need to have a serious look at the rather profound ways racism is embedded in our institutions and continues to shape daily life, not only for the Nina Davuluri’s but for everyone.

 

~ This posted originally appeared on International Business Times, UK Edition

Birmingham, the Bombing and Restorative Justice

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the white supremacist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four young girls. The girls’ death and the long wait for justice raises important questions about civil rights, racism, and the nature of restorative justice.


(Clockwise from top left: Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Cynthia Wesley (aged 14),
Carole Robertson (aged 14) and Denise McNair (aged 11), image source.)

If you’re not familiar with the case, you can begin by listening to this interview from 2008, Mr. Christopher McNair – father of the youngest victim – offers his recollection of that devastating day with NPR reporter Michele Norris. And, if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to watch Spike Lee’s documentary about the bombing, “4 Little Girls,” which is quite compelling.

This year, President Obama awarded the four girls with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civil honor.  However, it took many decades before the bombers – four white supremacists, Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry –  were brought to justice.

The decades-long-delay in prosecuting the assailants in this case raises vexing questions about the nature of “justice,” questions that  Willoughby Anderson takes up in a 2008 analysis (“The past on trial: Birmingham, the bombing, and Restorative Justice.” California Law Review 96, no. 2 (2008): 471-504). Anderson writes:

“The community, media, and scholarly responses to these trials point to the way that a crime’s effects can reach far beyond the individual perpetrator and victim. In the context of unresolved civil rights-era violence, one murder or bombing inevitably expands outward and into the larger story of segregation and massive resistance; into the systemic, racially-based injustices of southern law enforcement; and to the New South’s willingness to move quickly forward without reconciling its troubled past. Restorative justice theory, a reform movement within the criminal justice system, can help contextualize the broad consequences of these crimes. Taking the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church as an example, I use restorative justice theory to expand the concept of harm resulting from this one incident. Rather than understanding the crime in traditional terms as an abstract harm against the state, we must imagine it as an act with consequences for the victims, the community at large, the offenders themselves, and the relationships between all three.”

I find Anderson most persuasive in his argument when he takes up the “harm to community” from these crimes, and offers a context for the return to prosecution after many decades. He writes:
“But what can this criminal justice reform movement teach us about approaching historic unsolved crimes from the civil rights-era? The responses of communities, the media, and scholarly observers to renewed civil rights-era investigations were critical and mixed. Some saw justice long-delayed, but ultimately achieved. Others questioned the value of trials delayed for so long. Most simply wondered about the years of non-prosecution. Murder trials have a limited ability to address broad concerns about systemic injustice and the passage of time between an offense and its prosecution. These infamous crimes exposed the harm inflicted on whole communities through the violence of segregation and selective enforcement of criminal laws, a harm that cannot simply be understood as Alabama v. Defendant.
His argument, to take a restorative justice theory frame to examine the Birmingham bombing, is less well developed when it comes to the perpetrators.  In discussing the impact of the trial on the family of Bobby Cherry, Anderson writes:
“The criminal justice context also overlooked the plight of the families of the perpetrators. The effects of the crime on Cherry’s family strife illustrate how the bombing’s harms were not restricted to one side of the equation. Thomas Cherry, estranged son of the bomber, describing how his childhood was blighted by the crime, forcing his family to relocate to Texas, and providing the subject of conversation at every family reunion. The son was subpoenaed to testify in front of the grand jury, and the newspapers described him as “anguished over his father but . . . also haunted by the bombing.”  After the verdict, Thomas Cherry tried to explain how the crime cast a long shadow: “[i]t leaves you an awful empty feeling in you [to] know that your father is going to the penitentiary for the rest of his life.”  Cherry’s trial also featured conflicting testimony from ex-wives and a loyal grandson as to his character, the meaning of his Klan membership, and his motives for racial violence. After the verdict, the Birmingham Post-Herald ran a large picture of Cherry’s daughter Karen Suderland sitting on the ground weeping. One wonders what the effect of the competency protests might have been on this wide spectrum of family members, both estranged and otherwise. How could the trial possibly have brought them a sense of closure? In evaluating harms and victims, an inquiry into the effects the crime has on the offenders’ families is necessary, no matter how much this complicates otherwise simplistic condemnation of criminal offenders.
While I’m generally in favor of restorative justice as at least one, possible way out of the current mass incarceration debacle, I’m skeptical of such an approach here. Anderson seems well aware of the context of racism and white supremacy in creating the harm of the bombing, but once it comes to the perpetrators and their families, those slip from view. Instead, Cherry becomes merely an “offender” whose family has suffered because of their “crime.” When Anderson writes that the son was forced  “to relocate to Texas,” and discuss the bombing “at every family reunion,” speaks to a kind of minimal (if any) harm.  What this version of restorative justice doesn’t address all the ways in which the descendants of the perpetrators still benefit from and are complicit with certain forms of white supremacy.

Fifty years on from the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four young girls we are still struggling to understand what the nature of restorative justice might look like in a society that remains mired in racism.

Why America Should Not Tolerate Low Pay For Fast Food Workers

Capitalism’s emphasis on property rights has been historically fraught with peril since its inception as an economic force in the Western world. Capitalism is an economic system in which assets are privately owned and commodities and services are produced for profit in an otherwise global and competitive market place. But, as seen when the many bloody European revolutions transpired during the fall of feudalism, capitalism has routinely placed property rights over human rights.

American roots in capitalism run deep, beginning early during the Transatlantic slave trade when Africans were brought to the eastern shores of what is now North America. Stolen from their native lands and placed in chains for the voyage to America, Africans were exploited for their labor power, leaving their status among the ranks of humans to be determined by elite white men. Slavery built up the economic engine that propelled American capitalism, creating enormous wealth for white elites on the backs of Blacks. The history of African Americans and other race-based conflicts provided a blueprint for further economic-based exploits that stratified people on the basis of social class position, further advancing economic class divisions by deepening the gulf between the haves and have nots. Class matters because it provides individuals with access to society’s most valued resources like good paying jobs, stability and other financial rewards. The higher the class position the more resources afforded for individuals and families.

(Image source)

But not all people benefit equally and few actually move up in social class position in life, as we uncritically tend to believe. People of color and women disproportionately make up the bulk of the working class and working poor who are generally invisible and out of sight from the daily happenings of the shrinking middle class. Given our past development in maintaining cheap labor such as the utilization of “sweat shops” by our nation’s major corporations, the mounting pressure of increasing inflation and economic instability have cause the working class to take matters into their own hands. Fast food workers in 60 cities walked off their jobs en masse recently, protesting the economic injustice they have long endured before a greedy restaurant empire.

The fast food industry has long exploited the working class for cheap labor, maintaining a protracted policy of low wages that only benefits corporate elites. Currently, the minimum wage of $7.75 per hour is on the edge of the poverty line for an individual and certainly cannot support a family of four. The reluctance on the part of the government (Department of Labor) to mandate steady increases has contributed, in part, to the wage disparities currently under scrutiny. There is much evidence to show that paying living wages to sustain life above poverty is good for society and makes good business sense.

Research consistently shows that more unequal societies generally have higher levels of social problems, negative self-perceptions, poorer health status, and increased mental and emotional disorders than more equal societies. Conversely, there are also positive benefits to equal societies that translate into a better-educated citizenry and overall better general health, more innovation from within society, higher social mobility and greater levels of societal trust, which results in a lowered crime rate. Thus, when working class individuals are able to secure and maintain steady decent employment and compensation that allows them to rise above the poverty line, society benefits as a whole. As Dr. King so eloquently said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The meager wages that fast food workers are paid in the United States compared to other parts of the Western world reveals much about where our national interests lie and the degree of pro-government involvement with the corporate world. This relationship has allowed many US corporations to flourish, at times creating extraordinary profits even during economic downturn. But capitalism comes at a high price for the oppressed, usually at the at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged. In this case, the proletariat is primarily women with children, who make up the bulk of low-wage fast food workers. This sort of labor requires no formal education and generally attracts people from the fringes of society who are trying to maintain a good living in our downwardly mobile economy.

Many Western European democracies consider the United States an unequal and stratified society, historically divided around skin tone, religious persuasion, sexuality, wealth and income inequality. Capitalism deepens this suffering as the very idea of a system designed to allow great economic success for one must come at the expense of another. This history is now being met with contemporary appeals by a growing economically disenfranchised populace who are left to fend for themselves in a class-based society where there is more rhetoric over the ability to move up the ladder than research actually shows.

The degree of American discontent over the uncertainty of the economy and the class-based society that defines us as a nation, divided not only by race but by social class position, is our legacy to bear and hopefully undue as it is a matter of public policy for the common good. Like other forms of white-imposed oppression, class-based injustice presents a growing threat to our national security, image and standing in the world as well as our well being as a nation. But it does not have to be this way. American understandings of work, which has notoriously placed property at the center of analysis, can reverse course by beginning to legislate and implement sound policies. To improve our society, these policies must include greater attention to wages and benefits that have the potential to economically empower its most valuable commodity, its citizens.

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.

Oneida Indian Nation Leads Effort to Change “Redskins” NFL Team Name

The Oneida Indian Nation of New York is leading a national effort urging the Washington NFL team to drop its offensive “redskins” name and mascot. The first ad in its “Change the Mascot” campaign has been released and some key people seem to be getting the message.

Recently, the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has declared that league and team officials “need to be listening” to the mounting calls for change. The commissioner’s declaration, made during an interview with a Washington, D.C. radio station.  Reporting on Goodell’s comments, the Associated Press noted that “momentum for a switch has been growing.”

Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said:

“We are encouraged to see that Mr. Goodell is joining us and so many others in calling for a serious discussion about ending the Washington team’s use of a racial slur. Mr. Goodell is absolutely right – it is time for the Washington team’s owners to start listening. If Dan Snyder continues to be dismissive of the concerns of Native Americans and disdainful of the fact his franchise bears a name that is defined in the dictionary as an epithet, it will be incumbent upon the other owners, the League and the Commissioner to step in and take action.”

The plan is to have ads that run each week in every city the Washington NFL team visits. The campaign isn’t about mere ‘political correctness’ because this sort of language carries with an implicit violence.

 

(Image posted by Twitter user @Mzhakdo)

Even if the NFL commissioner and the Washington, D.C. football franchise doesn’t want to change the mascot because it’s racist, perhaps they will be moved to change it so that they can distance themselves from images like the one above.  Surely, someone at the NFL thinks this sort of symbolic racial violence hurts their brand.

 

Reading for National Dialogue on Race Day

The  National Dialogue on Race Day happening later today at Tufts University Center for the Study of Race and Democracy hosted by Prof. Peniel Joseph will focus on three broad themes and questions. In anticipation of the event, we’ve selected a few previous posts from the six years of blogging here that touch on these topics.

50 Years after the March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom: How Far Have we Progressed as a Nation in Achieving Dr. King’s Dream of Multicultural and Multiracial Democracy?

 Trayvon Martin, Mass Incarceration, and the public school to prison crisis

Race and Democracy in the 21st Century: What does racial integration, justice, and equality mean in contemporary America and how can we shape and impact this dialogue in our respective communities, nationally and globally?

Read up and join the conversation! You can participate lots of ways, by commenting here, by watching the livestream from Tufts (beginning at 7pm ET) or through Twitter at the hashtag #NDRD.

National Dialogue on Race

Trayvon Martin’s tragic death has inspired nationwide demonstrations and calls for action that have reverberated all the way to the White House. President Obama’s spontaneous and heartfeltwords about the plight of race relations in America touched upon the need for a national conversation about race but expressed skepticism that politicians might effectively lead such an endeavor.

Obama is right on this score. It’s time for all citizens to participate in a dialogue on race in America because we all have a stake in our nation’s democratic institutions.

Such a day could go a long way toward jump-starting the dialogue on race, democracy and public policy that is desperately needed around the nation, especially (but not only) in poor communities of color. In contrast to previously called for conversations on race (including one launched by the Clinton administration) that bore little tangible fruit, this dialogue should be purposeful and policy-driven in pursuit of an agenda of democratic transformation at the local, state and national levels.

The dialogue would be led by activists, civil rights organizers, policy experts and community leaders for the express purpose of crafting public-policy solutions connected to issues of racial disparities in criminal justice, employment, public schools, housing, health care and overall life chances in America.

Fifty summers ago, the heroic period of the civil rights movement inspired a national conversation about race and democracy that engaged citizens of all races and affected virtually every sector of American life. Religious leaders, labor activists, welfare mothers, prisoners and politicians participated in this dialogue, one that included roiling street protests often accompanied by the passage of watershed legislation. The idea for a National Dialogue on Race Day is inspired by the collective activism and action of these citizens, many of whom turned out in droves for the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The march united disparate political strands into a mighty and unifying call for racial justice, economic equality and multicultural democracy. The historic event galvanized social, political and cultural awareness of racial injustice and helped lead to substantive public-policy transformations in the form of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The March on Washington’s approaching 50th anniversary should be a time of national reflection and democratic renewal to assess how far we have actually come.

But to continue the conversation, the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University is convening a National Dialogue on Race Day on Sept. 12, and we invite all to participate in local communities across the country.

 

(Download the NDRD Flyer here.)

The agenda for the inaugural National Dialogue on Race Day will be organized around three major issues:

  1. Fifty years after the March on Washington, how far have we progressed as a nation in achieving Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of multicultural and multiracial democracy?
  2. Trayvon Martin, mass incarceration and the public school-to-prison crisis.
  3. Race and democracy in the 21st century: What do racial integration, justice and equality mean in contemporary America, and how can we shape this dialogue locally, nationally and globally?

Community groups, universities and colleges, civic organizations, churches, synagogues and civil rights activists have natural constituencies to organize single panels or all-day symposiums to which students and surrounding community members would be invited to join in the conversation. Citizens seeking to participate might attend a live local event or simulcast of an event at a different location, stream an event online from their own computers and/or share their thoughts on social media with the hashtag #NDRD. Event organizers would publicize their affiliation with NDRD both on and offline. Ideally, a National Dialogue on Race Day could simultaneously occur in every community across the nation, and even those unable to organize such an event locally could easily participate online.

Ella Baker, the founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, famously remarked that “strong people don’t need strong leaders.” Neither the African-American community nor the nation as a whole can afford to wait on politicians to lead a discussion that will cast a strobe light on issues of inequality, racism and injustice. It’s uncomfortable because we’re out of practice — but we need to do it anyway.

The aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent voting-rights and affirmative action decisions, as well as proliferating urban violence, poverty and mass incarceration, make this conversation more necessary now than ever. A deliberate, widespread dialogue among American citizens is critical to push forward the transformation of our democratic institutions. Now is the time to revisit the energy and activism of the March on Washington to revive the goal of racial justice.

The same summer as the march, in a national television address to the nation, President John F. Kennedy defined institutional racism as a “moral” issue that reverberated through political institutions. Two months later Martin Luther King Jr., during his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, proclaimed that African Americans had come to the nation’s capital to cash a check that had been marked “insufficient funds.” King refused to believe, in his words, that the bank of American democracy could be bankrupt. Despite evidence to the contrary, many Americans of diverse backgrounds continue to believe in King’s dream of racial equality and economic justice.

President Obama’s recent admission that we are not in a “postracial” nation goes a long way toward combating the “colorblind” racism that stubbornly declares racial equality while ignoring growing social, economic and political disparities based on race. But politicians cannot lead this national conversation.

We are capable of being the architects of the democracy in which we want to live. This requires confronting racism openly and educating our fellow citizens that merely discussing, recognizing or “seeing” race does not make one a racist. The idea that one does not “see” race should be reserved for the political satire of Stephen Colbert and not be viewed as a serious political perspective. Only by seeing race can we begin to transform public policy and democratic institutions.

America is well on its way to becoming a majority-minority nation, but we still too often think and speak about race in binaries. A National Dialogue on Race Day should rightfully include the diverse racial and ethnic panorama that makes up 21st-century America.

As we approach the cusp of the 50th anniversary of King’s dream, a national conversation on race and democracy led by activists, scholars, community organizers and active citizens will help us reimagine American democracy while confronting the social, political and racial injustices that threaten King’s dream and our own.

 

~ Guest blogger Peniel E. Joseph is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy  (follow the Center on Twitter). and a professor of history at Tufts University. Follow Professor Joseph on Twitter. This post originally appeared on The Root.

 

~ Racism Review is pleased to be a participant in the National Dialogue on Race Day.


“GhettoTracker.com” : Technology, Race, and Place

Web developers created a site called “GhettoTracker.com” which PandoDaily yesterday called “the worst site on the Internet” for its thinly veiled racism.  The stockphoto of an uber-white family on the main page raised the question for at least one reporter if the site might not be satirical.

(Image originally at GhettoTracker.com – screenshot from PandoDaily)

When the site’s creator was asked whether the site was meant as satire, he gave the confusing answer:

“The only thing that’s satire is the name, and I’d classify it as more tongue-in-cheek. The functionality is very real and serious.”

The “very real and serious” function of the site can only be understood within the context of the (imagined) white family who would be threatened by a “ghetto.” Yet, the site’s supposed “ghettos” aren’t identified based on actual crime statistics, or any data, but rather they are determined by the site’s users and delineated by their prejudices. Yet, when people responded negatively to the site, the creator was reportedly “surprised.” 

In some ways, the developer shouldn’t have been surprised given the flop of the racist “Avoid Ghetto” app last year. Although, as Gawker points out, such a worldview would not be out-of-place in Silicon Valley, which has turned its disrupting gaze towards weeding out less fortunate members of society.

In the day or so since then, the URL has been redirected to “Good Part of Town,” and the stockphoto of the white family replaced with one of a black family.

 

(screenshot from Gawker)

The shift from “GhettoTracker” to “Good Part of Town,” along with the shifting iconography of white to black family, suggests a shift from race to class as the main signifier but is no less offensive for this shift.

As with the “Avoid Ghetto” app debacle of last year, this current eruption of racism disturbs the usual ‘colorblind’ discussions about technology. For a time, many leading scholars of technology assumed we were entering a colorblind techno-future.  That turned out not to be the case.

Rather than using Internet technology to “escape” racialized embodiment and spaces, human beings have continually invented new ways to reinscribe race on place and bodies.

Internet technologies like “GhettoTracker” are also revealing for what they tell us about the white fear of crime (part of the white racial frame) and the construction of so-called ‘bad’ neighborhoods. The reality is that “high risk” neighborhoods are most dangerous to those who are living in them, most often poor people, not the more affluent people who are driving through them. To the extent that race and class are mapped onto each other, technologies such as “GhettoTracker” will continue to appeal to their intended audience.