An Open Letter to Those Devastated by the Jordan Davis Decision

As my friend and fellow professor Heidi Oliver-O’Gilvie says, “There is always something you can do.”  It’s been a long year for black people.  But what can we do?  First, there was the “not guilty” decision in the George Zimmerman case, which set free a white man who killed an unarmed black youth in his own neighborhood.  Then came the pseudo-conviction of Michael Dunn, who murdered a black Jordan Davis for pumping what he considered “thug music” too loudly.  All this while a white Ethan Couch drunkenly killed a family of four and was given no jail time due to “affluenza,” or excessive privilege.  It’s been a long year indeed, and I refuse to be helpless about it.  But again, there is always something you can do.

Jordan Davis

(Jordan Davis, 1995-2012)

So on this, what would have been Jordan Davis’ 19th birthday (he is deceased now, by the way, of horribly unnatural causes.  Not attempted dead, but actually dead, says my friend Wayne Au of Rethinking Schools), I am wondering what I can do about living in a country that appears to have one set of legal rules for white people, and another for everyone else.

Literally, what can I do?

I suppose I could take to the streets and riot, but you cannot fight violence with violence.  I could hate the country, or hate the legal system, or hate white people.  But you cannot overcome hate with hate.  You can only do that with love, patience, and repaying evil with good.  So, then, what can I do?

First, I have the second most important job in the world.  I used to have the most important job in the world—I used to be a preschool teacher.  Twenty-four children at a time, I used to influence the next generation of US youth by fomenting their love of learning, helping them to understand the importance of using education to actualize their dreams, and teaching them to value all human beings despite their differences from ourselves.  Now I am a teacher educator.  A teacher of teachers.  I am a professor of education at the Center for Urban Education, which is a graduate program that prepares educators for the nation’s must under-supported, black and brown-filled urban schools.  Now, instead of touting the importance of education to 24 children at a time, I do it with 24 teachers who will teach 24 children at a time, for what could be 24 years or longer each.  And that’s powerful.

The late Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  And he was right.  Even Adolph Hitler, with his Nazi Youth programs, understood that if you wish to change a country, you begin with its youth and patiently wait for generational change.  So if evil can use education (the largest form of organized socialization in any society, says Joel Spring, in Globalization of Education, 2009) and youth (generations are defined in 20-year spans) to alter the beliefs, practices, and culture of a nation, then so too can I use it for good.  And use it I shall.

So what can I do?  Continue to be an awesome professor.  When I teach my “Culture, Context, and Critical Pedagogy” course, I will continue to discuss race, privilege, whiteness, anti-oppression, and the affirmation of all forms of human diversity.  After all, you cannot change that which you don’t understand.

I will continue to teach my teachers—to teacher their students—that all human life is valuable.  That skin color is not a marker of automatic danger (blackness) or automatic innocence (whiteness).  That way, young black boys won’t be presumed guilty as they walk home with candy in their pockets, or when they blast their music loudly at a convenience store. And the white men who gun them down won’t be presumed to be acting in self-defense.  And get away with murder.  Literally.

And that’s not all I can do.  I’m a consultant for inclusion and diversity.  Oh, yes.  I will continue to accept invitations from private corporations, non-profit organizations, school systems, and teacher preparation programs to discuss difference, systemic privilege and oppression, racism, and most importantly, anti-racism.

And I vote.  In presidential and mid-term elections.  I will continue to educate myself about which candidates understand institutional “isms” such as sexism, classism, ageism, heterosexism, and racism.  Martin Luther King taught me that all forms of oppression are related, and that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.  I learned that lesson well, and I plan to use it at the polls as I vote for candidates, laws, and those who will legislate on my behalf with an eye toward valuing the importance of justice for all.

And I plan to have children.  Highly educated, social-justice-loving, politically active children who believe in the common good.  Who will understand that, as Kimberly Wallace-Sanders of Emory University says, “No human beings are better than other human beings.”  Amen to that.  My children will be taught that, and they will live it out each day in these United States.

Look out, injustice.  I have a plan.  I am simultaneously seething and saturated with heartbreak at all I’ve seen in the media this year, and all I experience as a multiracial woman who is often perceived as black.  In addition to the story of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Darrin Manning, and Oscar Grant (on whose life the film Fruitvale Station is based), I experience similar disdain all the time.  Just the other day, a white woman in a dentist’s office hurried to her purse and buried it in her arm as soon as she noticed I had walked in.  She shot me a long glance to make sure I knew her actions were aimed at protecting her valuables from me.  At least she shot me a glance and did not actually shoot me.  Because if she had, she would have killed an unarmed, Ph.D-holding, two-time Harvard graduate.  And probably been let go.

As someone who is devastated by pervasive racism in American life and law, there is much I can do.  Racism and injustice had better watch their backs.  Because I am—we are—not helpless. And their time is limited.

Happy Birthday, Jordan Davis.  You should have had the chance to celebrate turning 19.

~ Guest blogger Taharee Jackson is Asst. Professor (Visiting) at the Center for Urban Education at the University of the District of Columbia.  She specializes in teacher education, multicultural education, and urban education reform.  Dr. Jackson holds a magna cum laude B.A. from Harvard University, an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Ph.D. from Emory University.  

Remembering Stuart Hall: Socialist and Sociologist

On Monday February 10th 2014, news broke that Stuart Hall had passed away. He was 82 years old.  Regarded by many as one of the most important public intellectuals of our age, Hall’s oeuvre is hard to categorize and adequately summarize because it is so varied and his achievements so vast.

Stuart Hall

Despite some lazy reductionism within the media that curiously labeled him “the Godfather of multiculturalism” – a term I have never heard applied to Hall in the two decades I’ve been reading his work – Hall was largely known for his key contributions to and involvement with British politics and his prolific writing career that incredibly spanned six decades. Among other things, Hall was a founding member of the New Left Review; the intellectual most associated with challenging the crude economic reductionism that plagued Marxist accounts of culture, offering instead a radically contextual approach that eventually led to the creation of Cultural Studies as an academic field of study; the writer who first recognized the political importance of neo-liberalism and coined the term Thatcherism; an ardent critic of New Labour and Tony Blair; a key figure within the Black British visual arts movement; and perhaps the most astute theorist of the political predicament of living with difference in our post/colonial moment.

Stuart Hall

Hall was also, for almost two decades, a Professor of Sociology at the Open University. But Hall’s sociological approach is directly at odds with what passes for sociological enquiry today, especially as practiced by American professional sociologists. It’s worth remembering that Hall didn’t have a PhD in Sociology – in fact, he never finished his doctorate on Henry James – and he never published an article in any major sociology journal. Despite being one of the most of widely read, cited and influential sociologists of his generation, Hall would never likely have been hired by an American sociology department. This is just as well as he wouldn’t have wanted to be there either. This curious fact of Hall’s anti-sociology sociological approach is worth reflecting upon as it tells us more about the current state of American academia and of US sociology (and therefore how it might be changed) than it does about any “failing” on Hall’s part.

Hall observed when he was President of the British Sociological Association (1995-1997) that Cultural Studies, as practiced at the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University, from the very start set itself in opposition to the naive positivism of American sociology.  Hall said during his BSA Presidential address, and only slightly tongue in cheek, “whatever Talcott Parsons rejected, we went and read closely”.  As a young graduate student in the audience that day, Hall’s model of sociology seemed so much more attractive than the anodyne sterility of traditional sociology, constrained as it is by artificial boundaries and a penchant at times for mindless apolitical empiricism. As Hall once remarked, “although sociology thinks it’s a predictive science, it doesn’t predict anything very much, very well” (seen in this short video clip from MEF, 6:08):

 

 

Instead, Hall offered a more creative and exciting sociology focused on interrogating the complex economic, social, and above all political conjunctures. While Henry Louis Gates’ pronouncement that Hall was “the Du Bois of Britain” obscures as much as it highlights, it is true that both proffered a version of sociology driven by a concern to address and intervene into the political conditions of the day and both wrote with unique and brilliant clarity on the vexed question of national belonging and racial dislocation.

The week since Hall’s passing has also been notable for “the appalling absence of any notice of his death in the U.S. mainstream press as well as the alternative media”, as Larry Grossberg stridently put it. There was a short piece on NPR and a few other outlets carried obituaries and short reflections, but not many. Some of this can be explained by American cultural insularity and a certain intellectual myopia in which the American public sphere struggles to engage with debates occurring beyond its borders.

Stuart Hall

But it also perhaps relates to the hyper segregation of the American academy and how disciplinary gatekeepers have fought to preserve their status and power from the perceived threat of “British Cultural Studies”. The area where Hall’s work has undoubtedly been recognized and celebrated is within the alternative public sphere of African American Studies and other allied areas of study.  As Cornel West noted many years ago, “The thing you have to understand…is that we all grew up reading Stuart. We wouldn’t be here without him. We all stand on his shoulders”.  Similarly, the cultural theorist and critic Mark Antony Neal suggested that everything he had ever written about black popular culture had been shaped by Hall’s ideas. High praise indeed.

For those of us influenced by Hall, his ideas, his mentorship, his kindness, his generosity, his brilliance, it’s easy (and perhaps understandable), to feel an overwhelming sense of loss in this moment that threatens to produce a certain inertia.  Yet the way to honor Hall, as rampant neo-liberal managerialism threatens to expunge the resistant spirit from academic life, is to return to the motivating impulses that Hall embodied and helped to usher in, namely a socialist commitment to a better tomorrow, rooted in a serious analysis of contemporary conjunctures in which nothing is guaranteed politically and a pedagogical commitment to collaboration that avoids, in Suzanne Moore’s words, “the conservatism of academia, with its fetishizing of autonomous scholarship.”

Hall has departed from the stage but thanks to his legacy we are now better equipped to engage the political struggles against injustice and to remake the future.

~ Guest blogger Ben Carrington is Professor of Sociology, UT-Austin. Follow him on Twitter: @BenHCarrington.

Honoring Indigenous Women: Resisting V-Day, OBR and Carceral Feminism

Today is February 14, traditionally marked as Valentine’s Day. For more than 20 years, Indigenous Women in Canada have led Women’s Memorial Marches to signify the strength of decolonization and the power of Indigenous Women’s leadership. Known as the “Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” (#MMIW), the commemoration has its origins in tragic events of January 1991 a woman was murdered on Powell Street in Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. Her murder in particular acted as a catalyst and  February 14 became a day of remembrance and mourning. This year marches are held across the lands and each march reflects the nuances and complexities of the particular region with the common goals of expressing, community, compassion, and connection for all women. February 14 marks a day to protest the forces of colonization, misogyny, poverty, racism and to celebrate survival, resistance, struggle and solidarity and to make visible these forces and women’s resistance.

Justice for MM Indigenous Women

(Image source)

Here is a collection of blogs by women on “Why I March”:

While this memorial commemoration was well-established in Canada, a number of individuals and organizations have chosen to link February 14 to their own lobbying for women-themed causes, most notably Eve Ensler’s campaigns V-Day and her more recent endeavor One Billion Rising (OBR). Many indigenous women in the US and beyond are not only standing in solidarity with indigenous women of Canada on February 14, they are actively resisting the Ensler-industrial-complex of events. A leader in this resistance is Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk), who writes:

We love the idea of using Valentine’s Day to talk about what respect and consent look like and how we can stand up against sexual violence. However, due to the mistreatment and disrespect of women of color, indigenous women, and queer women by Eve Ensler and the V-Day campaign, we can no longer support her work.

In an Open Letter to Eve Ensler Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk) says, in part, the following:

This all started because on Twitter, I addressed some issues that I had with V-Day, your organization, and the way it treated Indigenous women in Canada. I said that you are racist and dismissive of Indigenous people. You wrote to me that you were upset that I would suggest this, and not even 24 hours later you were on the Joy Behar Show referring to your chemotherapy treatment as a “Shamanistic exercise”.

Your organization took a photo of Ashley Callingbull, and used it to promote V-Day Canada and One Billion Rising, without her consent. You then wrote the word “vanishing” on the photo, and implied that Indigenous women are disappearing, and inherently suggested that we are in some type of dire need of your saving. You then said that Indigenous women were V-Day Canada’s “spotlight”. V-Day completely ignored the fact that February 14th is an iconic day for Indigenous women in Canada, and marches, vigils, and rallies had already been happening for decades to honor the missing and murdered Indigenous women. You repeatedly in our conversation insisted that you had absolutely no idea that these events were already taking place. So then, what were you spotlighting? When Kelleigh brought up that it was problematic for you to be completely unaware that this date is important to the women you’re spotlighting, your managing director Cecile Lipworth became extremely defensive and responded with “Well, every date on the Calendar has importance.” This is not an acceptable response.

When women in Canada brought up these exact issues, V-Day responded to them by deleting the comment threads that were on Facebook. For a person and organization who works to end violence against women, this is certainly the opposite of that. Although I’m specifically addressing V-Day, this is not an isolated incident. This is something that Indigenous women constantly face. This erasure of identity and white, colonial, feminism is in fact, a form of violence against us. The exploitation and cultural appropriation creates and excuses the violence done to us.

When I told you that your white, colonial, feminism is hurting us, you started crying. Eve, you are not the victim here. This is also part of the pattern which is a problem: Indigenous women are constantly trying to explain all of these issues, and are constantly met with “Why are you attacking me?!” This is not being a good ally.

In my view, Lauren Chief Elk speaks the truth here. Her critique of Ensler’s work is a clear illustration of the #troublewithwhitewomen I have been attempting to articulate in the Tuesday series.

Eve Ensler

 

(Image source)

Ensler and her organizations are part of what many have begun to name as “carceral feminism, much of it around claims about “trafficking.” In a recent peer-reviewed article in Signs, scholar Elizabeth Bernstein writes:

“…feminist and evangelical Christian activists have directed increasing attention toward the “traffic in women” as a dangerous manifestation of global gender inequalities. Despite renowned disagreements around the politics of sex and gender, these groups have come together to advocate for harsher penalties against traffickers, prostitutes’ customers, and nations deemed to be taking insufficient steps to stem the flow of trafficked women. In this essay, I argue that what has served to unite this coalition of ‘strange bedfellows’ is not simply an underlying commitment to conservative ideals of sexuality, as previous commentators have offered, but an equally significant commitment to carceral paradigms of justice and to militarized humanitarianism as the preeminent mode of engagement by the state.”

To put it more plainly, what the focus on incarceration as a solution to gender inequalities does is both insufficient to address the problems that women (of all races) are confronted with and shifts them on to another system of oppression that literally consumes the bodies of black and brown men. The blog Prison Culture puts this succinctly here:

I’m a feminist and a prison abolitionist. I have previously mentioned that there was actually a time when prison abolition was a feminist concern. Times have changed and it’s more likely that you’ll find feminists calling for more & longer prison sentences than for an end to them. One Billion Rising for Justice seems to want to hew to some feminists’ histories of resisting the carceral state. Unfortunately, it falls way, way short.

Indeed, it does fall way, way short. Today, I stand in solidarity with indigenous women, #MMIW marches, and against the rise of carceral feminism.

White Women and the Defense of Lynching

When I wanted to change my name to disrupt the legacy of white supremacy I’d inherited as a white girl in Texas, I chose Jessie Daniel Ames as my namesake. Revolt_Against_Chivalry_coverI’d read about her in Jacqueline Dowd Hall’s book Revolt Against Chivalry.

Jessie_Daniel_Ames_picJessie Daniel Ames started an organization called The Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL), founded in November, 1930. To interpret this to mean that “not all white women were bad,” is too facile and misses the purpose and context of her organization. She started the ASWPL– quite late, it should be noted, in the ‘reign of terror’ known as lynching – precisely because the prevailing ideology was that lynching was justifiable because it served to protect white women who were believed to be besieged by brutish black men.

Birth_of_a_Nation_theatrical_posterThis theme – pure, virginal, victimized white women set upon by violent, rapacious, black men – was the central theme in the film Birth of a Nation (1915), screened at the White House for President Woodrow Wilson, who proclaimed it “history writ in lightening.”

The conventional norm among white women in the U.S. at this time was to ignore or dismiss this justification for the extra-legal murder of hundreds of black men each year as a problem that didn’t concern them. Ames, unusual for a white woman (and especially for one from the South), saw lynching as a practice that was centrally about the mythology of white womanhood, and she set about to change it. This installment in the Tuesday series on #troublewithwhitewomen is meant to do much the same, call into question the prevailing norms about white women, and point out the ways that the oppression of others relies not only on racism, but on the privileged structural position of white womanhood.

Historical Background on Lynching
Lynching, scholar Jennie Leitweis-Goff argues in her book Blood at the Root, is central to American culture. The facts about lynching are well known to historians, but most people with a high school diploma in the U.S. don’t know a thing about it, because it’s generally not taught in K-12 curriculum. I’ve written lots more about the definition, geographical patterns and historical context of lynching here.  The peak period of lynching in the U.S. was from 1882-1930 (note: after slavery and well into the 20th century), and estimates are that some 4,742 people have been lynched in the U.S. (through 1968). A few key points to keep in mind: lynching refers to any death outside due legal process and at the hands of a mob (many think it only refers to death by hanging, which is incorrect); white people were lynched, women (mostly black) were lynched, but by 1919 and the notorious “Red Summer” the practice was reserved almost exclusively for black men; lynchings happened in almost every state in the U.S., but predominated in the South, because this is where most black people lived during that time; and, class played a role, as research indicates that the number of lynchings went up as cotton prices went down.  There was also an element of macabre display to many lynchings, as Amy L. Wood notes in Lynching and Spectacle.  All that being said, white women, and a particular way of thinking about white womanhood, were central to the practice of lynching.

White Women’s Complicity in the Practice of Lynching
“White womanhood’ haunts lynching….,” Shawn Michelle Smith writes in her compelling book, Photography on the Color Line, She goes on in the chapter “The Spectacle of Whiteness,” to say this about lynching photography:

“[white womanhood]… is that phantom that is resurrected over and over again as a symbol of white racial purity defining the limits of the white lynch mob. …the figure of a threatened or raped white woman, evoked as the innocent victim of a ‘terrible crime,’ was conjured in attempts to justify lynching as the ‘understandable’ retribution of white fathers, brothers, and lovers. Ida B. Wells herself claimed to have believed this ideology at one time, before her extensive research revealed the cry of rape to be largely myth” (pp.129-30).

Indeed, it was Ida B. Wells who courageously began calling out the mythology of white womanhood promulgated in the service of lynching, a call that often fell on the deaf ears of white women. More often than listen to such claims, white women were actively participating in lynch mobs, as is clear in the many photographs Smith analyzes in her book. White men and women are present in the hundreds and thousands in these images. They have come to witness and to participate in these spectacles of racial violence with family and friends: they are dressed for an occasion; they meet the camera directly, unashamed, even gleeful.

White Women in Lynch Mob(Image source)

In Smith’s analysis, lynching photographs work as defining images that make whiteness visible to itself. “Lynching photographs consolidate a fluid signifier; a pale crowd enacts and fiercely embodies whiteness” (p.140). And, this whiteness is deeply gendered, sexualized. It is the specific, repeated theme of “black man attacking white woman” that is the lynchpin – if you will – to inciting mob violence, as Dora Apel notes in her book, Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women and the Mob.

There are as many individual stories about lynchings as there are murdered black men (and women) in the historical record. This account, from Smith, about the lynching of Rubin Stacy, murdered in Fort Lauderdale, Flordia, on July 19,1935, captures the role of white women in inciting mob violence:

“According to the New York Times, as recorded in James Allen’s footnotes, [Rubin] Stacy, a homeless tenant farmer, had approached the home of Marion Jones [a white woman] to ask for food. On seeing Stacy, Jones screamed. Stacy was then arrested, and as he was being transported to a Miami jail by six deputies, a mob of over one hundred masked men seized and murdered him. Finally, Stacy’s corpse was hung in sight of Marion Jones’ home.” (p.130)

A white woman screamed, a black man died. This is the ‘logic’ of white supremacy. White womanhood, that ‘lily of the South,’ had to be protected at all costs was the prevailing ideology. All an individual white woman like Marion Jones had to do to activate the network of white fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins who would come to her “defense” and murder a black man who was asking for help was scream.

Lynching was a form of racial terrorism intended to subordinate black people following slavery, and in particular, black men. There were lessons in lynching for young white girls, too. Smith goes on in her analysis of the photograph of the lynching of Rubin Stacy (not posted here), writing:

“It is plausible that the young white girls who regard Stacy’s hanging corpse in the photograph are the children of Marion Jones. As they look at Stacy’s lifeless body, the girls are instructed in the nature of the white patriarchal power that ‘protects’ them, a power that will define their womanhood and confine it to the reproduction of white supremacy. If this is a lesson in white patriarchal protection, it is also a lesson of fatal consequences, of the wrath of white fathers and brothers, uncles and cousins roused by the sight of an African American man near a white woman’s house.” (p.130)

In many ways, it is the ‘fatal consequences’ to which Smith alludes that kept (and continues to keep) white women in line, conforming to and benefitting from white patriarchal protection. White women were not merely victims of patriarchal power; they gained power by supporting white supremacy. And they did so through families.

“Here’s the barbecue we had…” : Women’s Labor in Maintaining White (Supremacist) Familial Ties
White women actively participated in weaving together families knit with the thread of white supremacy. We can see this clearly in the messages written on the back of lynching postcards. Postcards of lynchings were sold in dime stores throughout the U.S. well into the 1950s and 1960s, and they continue to circulate today through sites like eBay. Featuring gruesome images of murdered corpses, mostly black men, on the front, the backs of postcards often carry casual familial exchanges, such as this one:

Indiana Lynching Postcard

 (Image source;

handwriting reads: This is where they lynched a negro the other day.
They don’t know who done it. I guess they don’t care much. I don’t, do you?)

The notation follows the conventions of postcard greetings, but with a murderous twist. How can we understand these postcards, not only the images, but the inscriptions? Here again is Smith writing:

“The example provided by a Katy Election, one that records the lynching of Jesse Washington in Robinson, Texas on May 16, 1916, proves especially disturbing in this regard. A note scrawled on the back of this particular postcard in large, looping hand reads: ‘This is the barbecue we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your sone Joe.’ By sending the postcard, Joe perhaps demonstrates to his mother how he participates in upholding the mythology of pure white womanhood, he ‘defends’ his mother. …. Joe looks directly out at the camera, perhaps anticipating the eyes of his mother….To what degree is the white supremacist’s ‘family album’ supported by such terrible, inverted relics?” (p.122)

lynching-postcard

(Image source;
handwriting reads: ‘This is the Barbecue we had last night
my picture is to the left with a cross over it your sone [sic] Joe.”

It is women who do the domestic labor of stitching together family relationships, keeping family albums, encouraging their children to keep in touch, send a postcard. And, it is that labor that is put to use in the service of white supremacy in these postcards.

Photographic postcards of lynching victims functioned to solidify the ties for a white community, reinforced through the spectacles of dead black bodies. Sentimental and material familial bonds were reconfirmed through images of white violence, reasserting a larger imagined (white) community.

Resistance to Lynching
People resisted lynching. The list of white women resisting lynching is a short one. The broad pattern of resistance to lynching was that some people, mostly black people, resisted much more than others. Ida B. Wells stands as a towering figure in the struggle against lynching. And, as scholar Koritha Mitchell points out in her book, Living with Lynching, popular lynching plays were mechanisms that African American communities used to survive day-to-day under the threat of actual and photographic mob violence. Professor Kidada Williams continues that legacy of resistance through her Lynching in American Life & Culture course. Acts of truth and reconciliation like this one continue. In Monroe, Georgia people gather every year to re-enact a lynching that took place at Moore’s Ford in 1946.  The patterns set by lynching have created a template in American culture that not only shaped our past but continues to reverberate in the present.

The Defense of White Womanhood Now
In September, 2013 Jonathan Ferrell, a former FAMU student, crashed his car near Charlotte, N.C., crawled out the back window looking for help, and then knocked on the door of the first house he saw. A white woman, thinking it was her husband knocking, answered. When she saw Ferrell she shut the door, hit her alarm and called the police.  Ferrell, who was unarmed, was shot 10 times by a Charlotte police officer.

Jonathan Ferrell

 

In one account, Ferrell family attorney Chris Chestnut wondered Monday what role race may have played in Saturday’s shooting.”The officer is white, Mr. Ferrell is black. This might be more of a reflection of where we are as a country,” he said. But to my mind, this observation is partial one. The observation not made here is: The woman (Sarah McCartney) who called was white. Mr. Ferrell is black. The officer is white.  It is a reflection of where we are as a country that a white woman calls out, activating a network of white male protection, and a black man is dead.  Marion Jones screams, a mob gathers, Rubin Stacy is dead.

The brilliant Ta-Nehisi Coates, comes to the defense of the woman who called:

“There’s been some rage directed at the woman who called the police. I think this is wrong. You may believe racism is an actual force in our interactions–I certainly do–but you don’t know whether it was an actual force in this one. It’s important to recognize that this is both a woman and an individual. You might speculate about what she thinks of black people. I might speculate about whether she’d been a victim of sexual assault, or any other kind of violence. That also happens in America. But it would be better to speculate about nothing, since all we actually know is that this was a woman who was home with a young child, opened the door in the middle of the night, and found a dude standing outside.”

I disagree with Coates here. This is not about the individual racism of a particular white woman. It’s about the structural position that we find ourselves in as white women. When Sarah MCartney was frightened to find ‘a dude standing outside,’ she had a powerful resource at her disposal: white womanhood. It lends her credibility, victim status, protection at the hands of police. When she called the police, she did so from that cultural position and mobilized police. A white police officer arrived and interpreted the situation: white woman, in danger; black man, attacking. His protection of Sarah McCartney meant the death of Jonathan Ferrell, unarmed, asking for help.

It’s the template of white womanhood in American culture that’s been shaped by lynching, and it’s deeply ingrained.

* * *

Next Tuesday, the #troublewithwhitewomen series continues.

>>>> Read next post in series

Research Brief: Special Issue on Intersectionality

As part of our research focus on Mondays here at the RR blog, today we highlight the work of the good folks at the Du Bois ReviewGiven some of the shoddy journalism of late which has revealed the appalling lack of knowledge about intersectionality, the folks at the Du Bois Review are on it with a new special issue.

This special issue, Intersectionality: Challenging Theory, Reframing Politics, and Transforming Movements (Issue 10.2), is guest edited by Devon W. Carbado, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Vickie M. Mays, and Barbara Tomlinson.

DuBois Review Journal Cover

The volume reflects upon the genesis of the phenomenon, engages some of the debates about its scope and theoretical capacity, marks some of its disciplinary and global travels, and explores the future trajectory of the theory. Including academics from across the disciplines and from outside of the United States, this issue seeks to both map and understand how intersectionality has moved.

Some of the pieces in the issue are open access for a limited time (until 2/17/14). For the rest, you’ll need a university login or pay an access fee directly to Cambridge Journals.

Table of Contents 

Happy reading intersectionality!

Race, Nationality, & Fertility: The Transnational Value of Whiteness

Surrogacy (the act of a woman carrying a fetus to term for another person) has been a controversial topic for many years now. From a critical race perspective, Dorothy Roberts and others have pointed out how surrogacy and other fertility techniques have been used by mostly wealthy whites to produce blond, blue-eyed white babies while employing black, brown, or yellow women to take the time and effort to have them.

Indeed, surrogacy has gotten so expensive in the U.S. (and elsewhere) that many Americans have sought out surrogates in India, creating “baby factories” and “surrogacy tourists.” Roberts notes how nonwhite surrogates can be used by single, wealthy white men to retain their wealth (as well as genetic) inheritance. Further, affluent women (regardless of race) can avoid the health dangers and inconveniences associated with pregnancy and childbirth, yet still have their own biological children.

In more recent years, however, the use of surrogacy to increase the “lily white” has expanded to affluent nonwhites employing white women. In China, for example, surrogacy is growing in popularity for the upper-class, due to a variety of factors including infertility, China’s one-child policy, and desire to obtain U.S. citizenship for both themselves and their children.

While many couples use their own eggs and sperm, a growing number are accepting egg donations for their surrogates. In fact, some seek tall, blond (i.e., white) donors to produce a Eurasian looking child, whom many clients claim to look smarter and more attractive. Meanwhile, a recent expose of a clinic in Ghana claims to produce “half-caste” babies in order to create a “half-caste world.” The founder of the clinic claims that Africa needs more biracial individuals, while claiming to provide his clients children with “mental and physical beauty.” Additionally, he purports that such biracial individuals would help to improve Africa’s future. Gametes from countries including the U.K. and U.S. are reportedly proffered for $3,000 USD.

While most people think helping people have children is a good thing, there are a number of tricky issues related to this phenomenon. While many of us may wish to ignore this issue and hope it goes away, surrogacy is on the rise in the world. Furthermore, the exploitation of poor women of color is on full display, using them as little more than incubators to produce offspring for mostly affluent white people. Why do some Chinese (as well as other Asians) prefer individuals who have fairer skin and “white” looking features? Why would Africans come to view the continent as too Black? The cases of wealthy Chinese, Ghanaian, or other nonwhites who seek “half-caste” children presents another issue: the effects of white supremacy exported abroad, producing symbolic violence.

Resisting Racism through Comedy

On Fridays, we’re bringing you innovative ways to think about resisting racism. We’ve written here before about comedy as a way to resist racism. One of the best people at using the weapon of comedy these days is Hari Kondabolu. Kondabolu is a Brooklyn-based, Queens-raised comic who has been described by Timeout NY as “smart, analytical and rising.” In this short clip (14:13) from a BBC show, you’ll see why he’s so good.  (warning for some profanity)

Happy Friday!

Patterns and Politics of Large-Scale Poverty

Over the last half-century, since the passage of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty, there has been a major retrenchment of efforts to help the poor. Over the last five decades, the poverty rate of the elderly dropped significantly from 37 percent in 1960 to 9 percent in 2012. Poverty dropped much more modestly for children and the workforce.

In that era, jobs were at the center of efforts to alleviate poverty. Dr. King’s monumental march on Washington on August 28, 1963, was actually called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The Economic Opportunity Act, the centerpiece of the war against poverty, sought to provide work and education for the needy to improve their lives.

Fifty years later, major educational gaps continue to distinguish the poor and non-poor members of the labor force. For example, one-fourth of the poor did not have a high school diploma in 2012 compared to nearly one-tenth of the non-poor. Further, the non-poor are three times more likely to be college graduates than the poor.

According to census public-use data for 1960 and 2012, the poverty rate of the U.S. workforce fell only slightly, from 14 percent in 1960 to 10 percent in 2012 — a mere 4 percentage points over 52 years. While the poverty gap between the minority and white workforce narrowed over the last five decades, black and Latino workers are still about 2.5 times more likely than whites to be impoverished today.

In fact, the poverty rate of the black labor force (17.2 percent) and the Latino labor force (16 percent) in 2012 was higher than that of whites (10.6 percent) in 1960.

Even more disturbing is the ballooning of the unemployment gap between the U.S. poor and non-poor workforce. While the poor were about 2.5 times more likely than the non-poor to be without a job in 1960, the unemployment gap increased to more than 4.5 times today. In 2012, 32 percent of the nation’s poor labor force was unemployed compared to 7 percent of the non-poor workforce. It is likely that the unemployment rate is actually higher, especially among the destitute, due to people leaving the labor force after lengthy periods of unsuccessful job searches.

The unemployment gap between the poor and non-poor was particularly wide among whites, where the white poor (30 percent) were five times as likely to be without a job compared to the white non-poor (6 percent) in 2012. Nonetheless, many impoverished people in the country are searching for employment. Indeed, the unemployment rate of the poor varied widely in 2012 from 43 percent among blacks to 30 percent among whites to 26 percent among Latinos.

However, among the poor, it is Latino immigrants who have the lowest unemployment rate (20 percent). This challenges notions that Latino immigrants come to the United States to live off the largesse of social services. In fact, Latino immigrants are more likely to be employed than other workers. In addition, Latino immigrants among the working poor are more likely than other impoverished employees to work longer hours and to hold jobs that are the least rewarded and desired.

Of course, a job does not ensure that the poor get out of poverty. Indeed, nearly 70 percent of the poor who are in the labor force are working. While the portion of U.S. workers who are poor declined from 1960 to 2000, there has been a reversal since. In 2012, about one of every 14 U.S. workers was in poverty. But being among the working poor is especially likely among workers of color. About one of nine black workers is poor, one in 10 native-born Latinos, and one in six Latino immigrants.

A lot has changed since the eve of the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964. The economy then was one in which manufacturing provided a good living for many Americans who had a high school diploma or less. Over the next few decades, such jobs shifted to the hands of workers abroad who toiled for a mere pittance of the pay of American workers. U.S. labor unions saw a major drop in membership and in bargaining power. The American economy increasingly took the shape of an hourglass where job growth expanded at the highest and lowest levels of the job hierarchy. The middle class progressively shrank.

The latest economic crisis has taken a toll on so many people, many of whom had never been poor before. Many people who are working today are still destitute and still others among the poor are desperately looking for employment. Increasingly, our society consists of a small elite body that controls an expanding share of wealth and income and a growing population of disadvantaged people whose sliver of resources is being whittled down.

In the mid-1960s, President Johnson passionately etched the face of the poor on the American consciousness and forcefully pushed for the establishment of policies to improve the lives of people on the margins. A half-century later, there is a stark absence of political leaders who see the poor as a priority.

Today, Republican-led policies, with relatively little resistance from Democrats, are escalating the war against the poor. Instead of creating opportunities to better the lives of the needy, legislators blame the poor for their dire straits. Congress has slashed food stamp allocations, terminated unemployment payments and thwarted the increase of the minimum wage for people viewed as too powerless to matter.

Over the last half-century, there has not been a more desperate time than today for visionary leaders who boldly push for the establishment of opportunities to improve the lot of our nation’s poor.

This commentary was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News.

Backlash for Article in Asian Fortune Magazine

 black+and+white

Just as I thought it was going alright

I found out I’m wrong, when I thought I was right

It’s always the same

It’s just a shame

That’s all

 

I could say day

And you would say night

Tell me it’s black when I know that it’s white

Always the same

It’s just a shame

That’s all

— “That’s All” by Genesis

 

In December (2013),  I was contacted by Asian Fortune Magazine to be interviewed for an article on what they called H.A.P.A. “half Asian Pacific American” (a mostly unused acronym in the mixed race Asian community). I immediately said yes because exploring multiracial Asian identity and giving that exploration a voice is centrally what I do. I was excited at the chance to speak and be heard. But the experience quickly deteriorated into a racial nightmare, and one that just wouldn’t leave me alone. On my blog I wrote about the saga twice. First about the red flags I saw, how I sabotaged my own inclusion and tried to warn editor Jenny Chen. Then when I saw the published result which was awfully titled “Growing Up Asian Half Asian American: Curse or Gift?” used divisive/dichotomous language, did not include non-white mixes, expressed white ownership of multiraciality (via lookism and white/non-white framing) and perpetuated harmful multiracial Asian stereotypes, I felt as a multiracial community advocate I had to say something and wrote a rebuttal.  Many activists and multiracials online resonated with my words and rallied around my critique. But Asian Fortune offered only an empty apology so I got ready to walk away. I felt at that point whatever work could be done, had been done.

Screen shot 2014-01-22 at 5.11.38 AM

But then this weekend I received a hateful email from the piece’s original writer, Tamara Treichel. After positioning herself as a very serious, accomplished writer, she then accused me of “clowning around,” “making a fool of myself,” being “unprofessional” and someone she didn’t have time for. She informed me my “talk about race” was “just an excuse” because I was miffed at not being included, pointed at reverse racism, that she’d written a complaint to her publisher/editor and never wanted to work with me again. The harshness in her message was very palpable. In my view, she leveraged all her power as a white woman, published author and professional journalist to imply I was lesser than herself and to attempt to lower my self-worth. This is the very essence of race which leaves some feeling entitled and others voiceless or punishable for voicing dissent. Perhaps Treichel doesn’t realize the dominant overtones of her choice not to listen, but even that in and of itself is a hallmark of white privilege.

Screen shot 2014-01-22 at 5.11.45 AM

I sat with Treichel’s email for a good 48 hours waiting for it all to just go away. But again, it just wouldn’t leave me alone. And as I found myself in rutted in ongoing rumination I realized why it continued to be a thorn in my side — because it speaks to something so much larger. This woman’s damaging way of looking at race through an uninterrogated white lens has been published and is potentially about to be published again (she is currently working on a book about her expat experiences in China). She has the distinct opportunity to be heard. And yet, while she seems to consider herself somewhat of an authority on cross-cultural issues, when challenged by a multiracial person of color who embodies crossed cultures and races, she was unreceptive and became aggressively defensive. Meanwhile voices of color and their stories continue to be marginalized and go widely unheard ranging from the infantilizing/silencing of adult transracial adoptees to the shocking underrpresentation of color in children’s literature. This stark juxtaposition of easy volume versus forced quiet is one of the cornerstones of inequity in this nation.

I am less interested in this specific writer and more interested in what I see here as some profound truths. One is the necessary acknowledgement that racism continues to minimize people of color but now in a contemporary way that is often veiled and covert. For instance, I was very struck by Treichel’s choice to abrasively criticize me in private instead of engaging in a space where others could weigh in. Especially considering the original piece was public and that she has the freedom of many choices in today’s digital world. Community conversations and debate can be so powerful and yet she chose one-on-one. Also, I think this experience shows so painfully how mixed race people are not transcending nor breaking down race as many believe. “Just because race has become more subtle and clever does not mean that it is less significant,” writes mixed race scholar Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain in her 2006 book Pure Beauty: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants, “The mixed-race body then does not destroy race, but leads to a repoliticization and problematization of race” (Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain. Pure Beauty: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Print. p.22).

While multiracials may fly under the radar or seem to have access to certain advantages, in fact such “privileges” are only honorarily given and may be swept out from under our feet at any point if we step out of line. For instance, as Laura Kina & Wei Ming Dariotis point out in their new 2013 book War Baby / Love Child: Mixed Race Asian Art, mixed race itself “implies that there are separable ‘races’” and it is because and within this context that we need to form a “critical multiraciality” as part of an “anti-racist struggle” (Laura Kina & Wei Ming Dariotis. War Baby / Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013. Print. p.xv.).

Age-old race thinking persists and until we can really deconstruct it, things may only shift and not change as much as we hope. I make a call here for continued group dialogue critically dissecting race concepts that continue to intrude upon our thinking and a perpetual reminder that even those of us who straddle color lines need to be included.

~ Guest blogger Sharon H Chang writes at the MultiAsianFamilies blog.