Pedro Albizu Campos: The Apostle of Puerto Rican Nationalism (1891-1965)

April 21 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Pedro Albizu Campos, the notable leader of the struggle to free Puerto Rico from US colonial rule. Albizu was born in the Puerto Rican city of Ponce in 1891. His father was a Spanish Basque merchant and his mother a domestic worker of mixed African and indigenous Taino background. Albuzu grew up in humble circumstances. His parents never married and Albizu’s father did not officially recognize him as his son (filed legal documents) until Albizu was at Harvard.

He was a brilliant student. Although he did not start his schooling until he was 12, he finished his elementary education and high school in seven and a half years. He received a scholarship from the University of Vermont to study engineering and his performance was so outstanding that a professor recommended him for admission to Harvard.

During his stay at Harvard, Albizu completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and Letters, the requirements of a Chemical Engineer, and a Law Degree. He learned Portuguese, French, Italian, and German as well as Latin and Greek.

Albizu was a victim of crass racism at “august” Harvard, where he was robbed of an academic honor. He had the highest grade-point average in his Law class and as a result it fell upon him to deliver the valedictory speech. He never got the chance. One of his professors delayed Albizu’s third-year final exams so that Albizu could not graduate on time. The professor wanted to avoid the “embarrassment” of a Puerto Rican law valedictorian. Sensitive to US racism, Albizu published in 1932 a letter accusing a US physician, Dr. Cornelius P. Rhoads, of killing Puerto Ricans as part of his research. Someone gave Albizu a letter that Dr. Rhoads wrote to a friend where he made savagely racist comments about Puerto Ricans and advocated their genocide. He also admits that he killed Puerto Rican patients and transplanted cancerous tumors into others:

They [Puerto Ricans] are beyond doubt the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and thievish race of men ever inhabiting this sphere. It makes you sick to inhabit the same island with them. They are even lower than Italians. What the island needs is not public health work but a tidal wave or something to totally exterminate the population. It might then be livable. I have done my best to further the process of extermination by killing off 8 and transplanting cancer into several more. [My emphasis]

In light of these experiences with US racism, it is not surprising that Albizu joined the movement that pursued Puerto Rico’s independence from the United States. In 1930 he became president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. His nationalist militancy resulted in three separate prison sentences and died in prison. Again: A brilliant man and a Harvard graduate who still came face-to-face with racism in the US.

Scholarship for the 23rd Anniversary of the Los Angeles “Riots”

 

NYTimes Front Page, April 29, 1992

The New York Times Front Page, April 29, 1992

On Tuesday, President Obama told reporters that the events in Baltimore were “not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new,” and indeed, they’re not. Today marks the twenty-third anniversary since Los Angeles policemen were acquitted in the brutal beating of Rodney King. Following that, people in LA were outraged and took to the streets. In what are typically called the “LA riots” people watched a 24-hour news cycle broadcast live from helicopters above the streets. Since that time, there has been a good deal of scholarship specifically about the events in Los Angeles in 1992. Here are a few of the books, with links to WorldCat for locating a copy at your nearest library:

  • Gooding-Williams, Robert, ed. Reading Rodney King/reading urban uprising. Routledge, 1993. Abstract: Like many “news events,” the Rodney King incidents – the beating, the trial, and the uprisings that followed – have so far played a superficial role in public dialogue. Reading Rodney King/Reading Urban Uprising deepens the public debate by exploring the connections between the incidents and the ordinary workings of cultural, political, and economic power in contemporary America. Its recurrent theme is the continuing though complicated significance of race in American society.ReadingRodneyKing Book cover
    The Rodney King incidents raised a number of questions regarding the relationships between poverty, racial ideology, economic competition, and the exercise of political power. What is the relationship between the beating of Rodney King and the workings of racism in America? How was it possible for defense attorneys to convince a jury that the videotape it saw did not depict an excessive or unjustified use of violence? In the burning of Koreatown, what role did racial stereotypes of African Americans and Korean Americans play, and what role did various economic factors play? What, moreover, is the significance of the fact that the L.A. police department, when it responded to the uprising, sent its officers to Westwood but not Koreatown? And how, finally, are we to understand the fact that not all of Los Angeles’ various Latino communities took part in the uprising? 

 

  • Hunt, Darnell M. Screening the Los Angeles’ riots’: Race, seeing, and resistance. Cambridge University Press, 1997.Screening the Los Angeles RiotsAbstract: Screening the Los Angeles ‘Riots’ explores the meanings one news organization found in the landmark events of 1992, as well as those made by fifteen groups of viewers in the events’ aftermath. Combining ethnographic and experimental research, Darnell M. Hunt explores how race shapes both the construction of television news and viewers’ understandings of it. In the process, he engages with longstanding debates about the power of television to shape our thoughts versus our ability to resist.

 

Blue Dreams book cover

Abstract: No one will soon forget the image, blazed across the airwaves, of armed Korean Americans taking to the rooftops as their businesses went up in flames during the Los Angeles riots. Why Korean Americans? What stoked the wrath the riots unleashed against them? Blue Dreams is the first book to make sense of these questions, to show how Korean Americans, variously depicted as immigrant seekers after the American dream or as racist merchants exploiting African Americans, emerged at the crossroads of conflicting social reflections in the aftermath of the 1992 riots. The situation of Los Angeles’s Korean Americans touches on some of the most vexing issues facing American society today: ethnic conflict, urban poverty, immigration, multiculturalism, and ideological polarization. Combining interviews and deft socio-historical analysis, Blue Dreams gives these problems a human face and at the same time clarifies the historical, political, and economic factors that render them so complex. In the lives and voices of Korean Americans, the authors locate a profound challenge to cherished assumptions about the United States and its minorities.

Gay Marriage and the Illusion of Equality

 

This week the U.S. Supreme Court will consider making marriage equality a reality for several same sex couples across the country. Despite this possibility, LGBT people of all backgrounds will still be fired from their jobs for being who they are, LGBT youth will continue to experience incredibly high rates of homelessness, and many LGBT people (and trans women of color in particular) will continue to face extremely high rates of violence and death. And to top things off, even if marriage equality does in fact become a reality, issues of racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and body shaming continue to further marginalize different groups of people in gay communities across the nation.

But none of this should come as a surprise to people who study race and racism in the U.S. Many groups have adopted the strategies and political maneuvering from the Civil Rights movement of the 60s as a means to gain political power in the U.S. while simultaneously engaging in anti-black activities. Gay communities are no different. For example, it is quite common for white gay establishments to deny entrance to Black gay men by asking for multiple ID’s, and to deny Black men access to leadership positions in gay organizations. Gay media such as magazines, films, and television often does not include men of color unless to discuss HIV/AIDS, and Black and Asian men are usually considered the least desirable as sexual and relationship partners. These realities alone should show us that LGBT communities are just as susceptible to racism as any other group.

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What is important to notice about this discussion though is not only who is preferred in sexual relationships among gay men, but why. Why is it that the research is showing time and time again that White men are more desired across all racial groups than any other? And why are we allowing gay White men to guide the direction of the gay civil rights movement when they are unwilling to even have this discussion about the isms and bigotry’s in our LGBT communities? It is time for us to do better, because once gay marriage passes, many gay Whites (especially many gay White men) will be happily married to each other, enjoying the privileges their Whiteness and maleness afford them while ignoring the plight the rest of us experience. Luckily some groups are fighting back and countering gay racism. If pages such  as sexualracismsex.com and the well-known Douchebags of Grindr are any indication, queer people of color are not going to drink the cool-aid much longer.

 

IMG_7706

 

Often times the most common manifestation of racism in gay communities is online through dating sites and apps such as Grindr, Jack’d and Scruff. On these sites it is quite common too see such signs as “no fats, fems, or Asians/Blacks” sprawled across profiles. This new form of gay racism has been difficult for people in LGBT communities to grapple with and understand. It is not uncommon for White gay men to claim that desiring only White lovers is no different than desiring only men, thus conflating biological arguments of sexual orientation with racist arguments of individual preference. Yet, if we contextualize these debates within the larger social structure of a systemic racist society, we can understand why Whiteness is most preferred in gay spaces, and Blackness least.

IMG_3608

 

As the above profiles from Grindr demonstrate, Blackness is associated with many other forms of social undesirability such as fatness, thinness, femininity, and oldness (to name a few). We can see that all these different things represent qualities gay men have come to despise such as being out of shape, being too old so as not to be the fresh new meat on the market as well as anything feminine, much of which is tied to internalized homophobia.

 

"No Dogs, Negroes, Mexicans" - Sign from Texas, ca 1940s

“No Dogs, Negroes, Mexicans” – “1942 DALLAS, TX”

They are also the antithesis of the young, fit, masculine, WHITE man, which can be understood as desirable when viewed through a lens of European White Patriarchy. It was not that long ago when Whites were using other signs to keep people of color out from social spaces and arguing that this was the “natural” order to things.

So, even if the Supreme Court overturns the state-level prohibitions on gay marriage and marriage equality does in fact become a reality across the U.S., many in the gay community will be celebrating but not everyone will be welcome at the party.

 

~ Guest blogger, Jesús Gregorio Smith, M.A., is a  Ph.D Candidate in Sociology and a Diversity Fellow at Texas A&M University. He is also President of the Hispanic/Latino Graduate Student Association.

Baltimore Uprising in Context

Baltimore Uprising, 2015 Image: CNN

Baltimore Uprising, 2015 Image: CNN

The events in Baltimore today are part of a long tradition of urban uprisings in the U.S.

Some social scientists, like the late Harlan Hahn and I, have been researching black urban uprisings in great detail since the 1960s. Yet, when urban uprisings occur every few years, this major research and the deep historical background it assesses are regularly ignored or forgotten—not surprisingly, of course, given that the mainstream media and most political institutions are controlled by elite white men with no interest in remedying the underlying conditions that create so-called “urban riots.”

CNN Breaking News Today

CNN Breaking News Today

 

In the first sustained analysis of the black urban rebellions ever done by social scientists, Harlan Hahn and I (Ghetto Revolts, Macmillan, 1973, nominated for a Pulitzer) dissected and refuted the prevailing conservative theories of these black rebellions— always blaming the victim theories— and laid out an alternative power-and-oppression interpretive framework. We showed how these were not “wild riots,” but were urban uprisings. Given that, they were, and are, better conceptualized as part of centuries-old racial power struggles. In our book we examine, for the years between the early 1960s and early 1970s, the hundreds of black urban revolts that occurred throughout the United States. These included massive uprisings in the Watts district of Los Angeles in 1965, in Detroit and Newark in 1967, and in Washington, D.C., in 1968.

Washington, DC 1968

Washington, DC 1968

The impact of these large-scale revolts was felt across the nation, which was confronted by a militant new generation of proud African Americans willing to engage in this ultimate type of anti-racism protest, much like we seem to be witnessing again. Critical studies of the 1960s-1970s black revolts regularly emphasized the concepts of “precipitating events” and “underlying conditions.”

Police malpractice – usually police brutality – like the many cases in Baltimore – of various kinds often has been the precipitating event for black rebellions, now for seven decades. White police officers have historically played, and still play, a major role in the violent repression of black Americans, especially those who seek to protest racism. Historical data on police violence are chilling. In the years 1920-1932 alone substantially more than half of all African Americans killed by whites were actually killed by police officers. Police were also implicated in the 6,000 lynchings of black men and women from the 1870s to the 1960s.

Not surprisingly, in recent decades police harassment and violence have been openly resisted by black Americans in the form of large-scale community rebellions. Our analysis of black community rebellions for the years 1943-1972 indicated that the immediate precipitating event of a great many uprisings was the killing or harassment of black men by white officers.

This reaction to police harassment can also be seen in more recent rioting by black citizens, such as in Los Angeles and Miami in the 1980s and 1990s, and in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, and many other cities since. In spite of some desegregation and other improvements in policing since the 1960s, police violence and malpractice have continued to oppress black communities.

Black Lives Matter Protest New York City in November 2014  Image: Wikimedia

Black Lives Matter Protest New York City in November 2014 Image: Wikimedia

The role of white officials and the police in generating and accelerating rioting, while often rationalized or overlooked by a majority of white Americans, has been significant. Police brutality and other malpractice targeting African Americans remain a major problem across the United States. In one nationwide poll, nearly 80 percent of the black respondents said that in most cities the police did not treat black residents as fairly as white residents.

Yet urban black rebellions have always been about much more than these precipitating events, including police malpractice. As we showed four decades ago in Ghetto Revolts, a full understanding of urban uprisings requires much attention to the underlying foundation of three-plus centuries of white-on-black oppression. This oppression set in place, and keeps in place, numerous highly exploitative, inegalitarian, and undemocratic national and local-urban political-economic institutions. The “underlying conditions” of urban uprisings mostly involve the structural realities of economic oppression that create much unemployment and underemployment and have a severe impact on black individuals and communities. It is not surprising that economic institutions are often targets of those who protest by violent means.

History suggests too that the current uprisings in Baltimore can get much worse. For example, in major uprisings in Miami in spring 1980, black residents lashed out against the police and the larger white society with extensive burning and looting of stores. That uprising resulted in 16 deaths, 400 injuries, and $100 million in property damage. A poll asked black Americans nationally whether that rioting was justified. Twenty-seven percent said “Yes,” and another 25 percent replied “Don’t know” or “Not sure.” More black uprisings occurred in Miami between 1982 and 1991, triggered by incidents involving police officers. Recall too that in Los Angeles in spring 1992, the acquittal on charges of police brutality of four officers who had been videotaped brutally beating an unarmed black man (Rodney King) triggered the most serious urban rebellion in the 20th century. After days of rioting, more than 10,000 blacks and Latinos had been arrested, and more than 50 people had been killed. Property damage exceeded one billion dollars. At one point, 20,000 police officers and soldiers patrolled large areas of Los Angeles. The events there triggered uprisings in other cities. As in the 1960s urban rebellions, the underlying conditions included poverty, unemployment, and poor housing conditions.

The Miami News

The Miami News

The exploitative, discriminatory, and unjust-enrichment-hoarding actions by whites who run our inegalitarian political-economic institutions, generally elite white men and their acolytes, have actually generated black rebellions from the 1930s, through the radical 1960s, to the present day. They have intentionally generated unjust enrichment for a majority of whites, and unjust impoverishment for a majority of black Americans, past and present. This country, from colonial years, has been firmly grounded in highly oppressive political-economic institutions –under slavery (about 240 years of that) and then under legal and official segregation (another 90 years of that). Not even official freedom for this country, and for black Americans, came until the 1969 Civil Rights Act when into effect, barely two generations ago.

If one gives serious attention to understanding that foundation of white-generated, white-maintained oppression and its ever-present institutions (for example, we still live under a Constitution made by slaveholders), one can see more clearly how and why some of the earliest historical “riots” (for example, Chicago in 1919) were actually white “riots of control” involving rank-and-file whites and elite whites enforcing centuries-old racial oppression. Only later do we see large-scale black rebellions (the 1960s rebellions and those since) against that system of racial oppression. To make sense of all this, one needs to accent much more the critical white actors, especially elite white actors, in the institutional contexts that generate the unjust impoverishment and unjust police malpractice that generates urban black uprisings.

 

Where does this leave us today? Certainly, in a highly and systemically racist society. In a summer 1857 speech in New York, the great abolitionist and intellectual Frederick Douglass, long ago noted the reality of this racial oppression and what it often takes to truly combat it:

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. . . . If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. . .. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. . . . If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.

Research Brief: Ancestry, Race and Genealogy

  • Bolnick, Deborah A., Duana Fullwiley, Troy Duster, Richard S. Cooper, Joan H. Fujimura, Jonathan Kahn, Jay S. Kaufman et al. “The science and business of genetic ancestry testing.” SCIENCE-NEW YORK THEN WASHINGTON- 318, no. 5849 (2007): 399. Abstract: Commercially available tests of genetic ancestry have significant scientific limitations, but are serious matters for many test-takers. (OA)
  • Kramer, Anne-Marie. “Mediatizing memory: History, affect and identity in Who Do You Think You Are?.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 14, no. 4 (2011): 428-445. Abstract: Along with Australia, Canada and the USA, contemporary British society is immersed in a seemingly unprecedented boom in the family heritage industry. Drawing on recent work in memory studies which attends to the relationship between individual and collective historical experiences, this article analyses the celebrity genealogy BBC TV programme Who Do You Think You Are?, as well as viewers’ and critics’ reception of it, to problematize genealogy as a form of mediated or mediatized memory practice which mobilizes traces of the past through the idiom of family. It asks: what is the role of genealogy in facilitating the relationship between identity and memory, both for celebrity participants and viewers? How does television make memories remotely accessible, and how do viewers engage with such modes of accessing the past? (locked)
  • Nelson, Alondra. “Bio Science Genetic Genealogy Testing and the Pursuit of African Ancestry.” Social Studies of Science 38, no. 5 (2008): 759-783. Abstract: This paper considers the extent to which the geneticization of `race’ and ethnicity is the prevailing outcome of genetic testing for genealogical purposes. The decoding of the human genome precipitated a change of paradigms in genetics research, from an emphasis on genetic similarity to a focus on molecular-level differences among individuals and groups. This shift from lumping to splitting spurred ongoing disagreements among scholars about the significance of `race’ and ethnicity in the genetics era. I characterize these divergent perspectives as `pragmatism’ and `naturalism’. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, I argue that neither position fully accounts for how understandings of `race’ and ethnicity are being transformed with genetic genealogy testing. While there is some acquiescence to genetic thinking about ancestry, and by implication, `race’, among African-American and black British consumers of genetic genealogy testing, test-takers also adjudicate between sources of genealogical information and from these construct meaningful biographical narratives. Consumers engage in highly situated `objective’ and `affiliative’ self-fashioning, interpreting genetic test results in the context of their `genealogical aspirations’. I conclude that issues of site, scale, and subjectification must be attended to if scholars are to understand whether and to what extent social identities are being transformed by recent developments in genetic science. (locked)
  • Tyler, Katharine. “The genealogical imagination: the inheritance of interracial identities.” The Sociological Review 53, no. 3 (2005): 476-494. Abstract: The aim of this article is to examine ethnographically how ideas of descent, biology and culture mediate ideas about the inheritance of racial identities. To do this, the article draws upon interviews with the members of interracial families from Leicester, a city situated in the East Midlands region of England. The article focuses upon the genealogical narratives of the female members of interracial families who live in an ethnically diverse inner-city area of Leicester. Attention is paid to the ways in which the women mobilise and intersect ideas about kinship, ancestry, descent, belonging, place, biology and culture when they think about the inheritance of their own and/or their children’s interracial identities. The article’s emphasis upon the constitution of interracial identities contributes to the sociological study of race and genealogy by exploring the racialised fragmentation of ideas of inheritance and descent across racial categories and generations. (locked)
  • TallBear, Kim. “Narratives of race and indigeneity in the Genographic Project.” The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 35, no. 3 (2007): 412-424. Abstract: In its quest to sample 100,000 “indigenous and traditional peoples,” the Genographic Project deploys five problematic narratives: (1) that “we are all African”; (2) that “genetic science can end racism”; (3) that “indigenous peoples are vanishing”; (4) that “we are all related”; and (5) that Genographic “collaborates” with indigenous peoples. In so doing, Genographic perpetuates much critiqued, yet longstanding notions of race and colonial scientific practice. (OA)
  • Reardon, Jenny, and Kim TallBear. “Your DNA is our history.” Current Anthropology 53, no. S5 (2012): S233-S245. Abstract: During the nineteenth century, the American School of Anthropology enfolded Native peoples into their histories, claiming knowledge about and artifacts of these cultures as their rightful inheritance and property. Drawing both on the Genographic Project and the recent struggles between Arizona State University and the Havasupai Tribe over the use of Havasupai DNA, in this essay we describe how similar enfoldments continue today—despite most contemporary human scientists’ explicit rejection of hierarchical ideas of race. We seek to bring greater clarity and visibility to these constitutive links between whiteness, property, and the human sciences in order that the fields of biological anthropology and population genetics might work to move toward their stated commitments to antiracism (a goal, we argue, that the fields’ antiracialism impedes). Specifically, we reflect on how these links can inform extralegal strategies to address tensions between U.S. and other indigenous peoples and genome scientists and their facilitators (ethicists, lawyers, and policy makers). We conclude by suggesting changes to scientific education and professional standards that might improve relations between indigenous peoples and those who study them, and we introduce mechanisms for networking between indigenous peoples, scholars, and policy makers concerned with expanding indigenous governance of science and technology. (OA)
  • Wagner, Jennifer K., and Kenneth M. Weiss. “Attitudes on DNA ancestry tests.”Human genetics 131, no. 1 (2012): 41-56. Abstract: The DNA ancestry testing industry is more than a decade old, yet details about it remain a mystery: there remain no reliable, empirical data on the number, motivations, and attitudes of customers to date, the number of products available and their characteristics, or the industry customs and standard practices that have emerged in the absence of specific governmental regulations. Here, we provide preliminary data collected in 2009 through indirect and direct participant observation, namely blog post analysis, generalized survey analysis, and targeted survey analysis. The attitudes include the first available data on attitudes of those of individuals who have and have not had their own DNA ancestry tested as well as individuals who are members of DNA ancestry-related social networking groups. In a new and fluid landscape, the results highlight the need for empirical data to guide policy discussions and should be interpreted collectively as an invitation for additional investigation of (1) the opinions of individuals purchasing these tests, individuals obtaining these tests through research participation, and individuals not obtaining these tests; (2) the psychosocial and behavioral reactions of individuals obtaining their DNA ancestry information with attention given both to expectations prior to testing and the sociotechnical architecture of the test used; and (3) the applications of DNA ancestry information in varying contexts. (locked)
  • Wailoo, Keith, Alondra Nelson, and Catherine Lee, eds. Genetics and the unsettled past: The collision of DNA, race, and history. Rutgers University Press, 2012.GeneticsUnsettledPast

     

    Abstract: Genetics and the Unsettled Past considers the alignment of genetic science with commercial genealogy, with legal and forensic developments, and with pharmaceutical innovation to examine how these trends lend renewed authority to biological understandings of race and history. This unique collection brings together scholars from a wide range of disciplines—biology, history, cultural studies, law, medicine, anthropology, ethnic studies, sociology—to explore the emerging and often contested connections among race, DNA, and history. Written for a general audience, the book’s essays touch upon a variety of topics, including the rise and implications of DNA in genealogy, law, and other fields; the cultural and political uses and misuses of genetic information; the way in which DNA testing is reshaping understandings of group identity for French Canadians, Native Americans, South Africans, and many others within and across cultural and national boundaries; and the sweeping implications of genetics for society today. (locked)

This brief review just barely scratches the surface of this area of research but gives you some key names in the field to continue reading. Would you like to see your research featured in an upcoming research brief? Drop a note using the contact form.

Happy reading! 😉

Police Kill Black People, Get Rewarded

Rekia Boyd, Eric Harris, Natasha McKenna, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray. Just some of the recent names in the scourge of black people who are killed every 28 hours by police in the U.S. And, each time police kill black people, it seems they are rewarded. The policeman who shot Michael Brown became a millionaire because of the crowdfunded support he received.  The prosecutor, Daniel Donovan, who failed to indict any of the officers who killed Eric Garner has recently been tapped by the Staten Island GOP to run for a plum senate seat.

Rekia Boyd

  • Rekia Boyd.After midnight, on March 21, 2012, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd was hanging out with friends in a Chicago park. Dante Servin, an off-duty cop who lived nearby, called to report a loud party in a park near his home. He left his home to get food, armed with an unregistered semiautomatic handgun, and got into an altercation with the group of people hanging out. He fired several shots, one struck a young man in the arm, another shot struck Boyd, who was unarmed, in the head. She was taken to the hospital where she later died. On April 20, 2015 a Cook County judge acquitted Servin (who is white/Hispanic) of several homicide-related charges. It was the first time in 15 years that a police officer had been charged in Chicago for a fatal shooting.

 

Eric Harris and his brother Andre

Eric Harris (right) with his brother Andre.

 

(Image source: © Courtesy of Andre Harris/Smolen, Smolen & Roytman, PLLC via BCN)

  • Eric Harris. Harris is the 44-year-old man in Tulsa, Oklahoma who was shot and killed April 2. Video footage from the scene, captures Harris saying, “I’m losing my breath…” and an officer can be plainly heard telling him “Fuck your breath.” The 73-year-old volunteer sheriff’s deputy who shot Harris – saying he mistook his gun for his taser – is taking a vacation in the Bahamas ahead of his court date for manslaughter.

Natasha McKenna

 

  • Natasha McKenna. McKenna, 37, of Fairfax, Virginia, was diagnosed with schizophrenia.She had been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment and was subsequently charged with felony assault for allegedly punching an officer in January, 2015. On February 3, 2015, McKenna was scheduled to be transferred to another location for a hearing. Then, according to published reports, this is what happened next:  McKenna initially cooperated with deputies, placed her hands through her cell door food slot and agreed to be handcuffed, the reports show. But McKenna, whose deteriorating mental state had caused Fairfax to seek help for her, then began trying to fight her way out of the cuffs, repeatedly screaming, “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me!” the reports show.Then, six members of the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, dressed in white full-body biohazard suits and gas masks, arrived and placed a wildly struggling 130-pound McKenna into full restraints, their reports state. But when McKenna wouldn’t bend her knees so she could be placed into a wheeled restraint chair, a lieutenant delivered four 50,000-volt shocks from the Taser, enabling the other deputies to strap her into the chair….

The multiple, high-voltage shocks killed Natasha McKenna, who was shackled and masked and weighed all of 130-pounds. No actions have been taken against any of the six people in Virginia who were involved in her death, nor against the manufacturer of the Taser. In another case in which an officer tasered a woman to death, the officer was cleared of all charges.

Walter Scott, Coast Guard veteran

Walter Scott, Coast Guard veteran

  • Walter Scott. Walter Scott, 50-years-old, father of four children, studying massage therapy while working as a forklift operator, and a Coast Guard veteran had recently become engaged to his longtime girlfriend, when he was stopped for a broken tail light on his car.  The routine traffic stop on April 5 in No. Charleston, South Carolina turned into a deadly shooting when officer Michael Slaeger opened fire on Scott who fled the scene because of a bench warrant for failure to pay child support (see this for more on this vicious cycle of failure-to-pay and job-loss). After a citizen-video emerged of the shooting, Slaeger was fired and charged with murder. The reward here was more immediate and visceral for Slaeger, who in an audio recording describes the “adrenaline pumping” from the shooting. This is similar to the research that Scully & Marolla did with convicted rapists, asking them why they raped; for some, it was simply for the “thrill” or the adrenaline rush.
Freddie Gray

Freddie Gray

  • Freddie Gray. We don’t know much yet about Freddie Gray, except that he was 25-years-old, African American, lived in Baltimore, and now he is dead after an encounter with Baltimore PD. He died Sunday, April 19, after being taken into police custody. It’s still not clear what he was charged with or what happened after his arrest, but a picture is beginning to emerge. Again, citizen-capture cellphone video is helping to build a record of what happened at the scene. Initial video shows Gray shouting and moving his head as he was carried into a police van. Later, he had three broken vertebrae. Gray lapsed into a coma, was resuscitated, underwent extensive surgery and eventually died. Protests surrounding Gray’s death have begun in Baltimore and six officers involved in this case have been suspended, with pay. So, that’s like early retirement, I guess.

This litany of names-become-hashtags is a recitation of black bodies sacrificed at the altar of white supremacy. As Steven Thrasher points out, while it is hard for black people to breathe these days, yet for those who do the policing, they are breathing quite easily.

"I Can Breathe" T-shirts at Pro-Police Rally -  by Steven Thrasher

“I Can Breathe” T-shirts at Pro-Police Rally – by Steven Thrasher

This is what white supremacy looks like in practice: the routine, systematic killing of black people and a reward system for those who do the killing. More diversity in police forces will not fix this. More cameras-on-cops will not fix this. More black elected officials, as in Baltimore, will not fix this.

The only thing that will fix this is to work on dismantling a system of white supremacy that rewards the killing of black people with freedom from consequences, keeping your job, getting promoted to senator, million-dollar crowd-funded jackpots, paid suspensions, vacations to the Bahamas, and adrenaline rushes. As Toni Morrison observes, “the hostility, the racism — is the money-maker. And it also has some emotional satisfaction for people who need it.”

Until we can disrupt that connection between the hostility and the reward, we will continue to recite this litany of names-become-hashtags.

Cecil Rhodes and Mohandes Gandhi in South Africa

The statue of Cecil Rhodes was removed after 81 years. A few days later, a statue of Mohandes Gandhi was vandalized. What can these two events tell us?

It was Rhodes who funded the racist establishment of white minority rule in the South African region. When I read that the statue of Cecil Rhodes had been removed from its plinth at the University of Cape Town after being smeared with shit, I recalled the TV miniseries (1996) that captured the life and legend of the establishment man. I saw each glamorized episode of the mini-series on PBS; I cannot remember the fine details now.

(Image credit: Mike Hutchings/Reuters via The Guardian)

Four days after Rhodes’s statue was removed, Gandhi’s statue in Johannesburg was also vandalized. Gandhi is “the hero of anti-colonial rule”; the role model for Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. But the vandalism of Gandhi’s statue has unveiled again uncomfortable truths about Mahatma. I saw the gripping movie about his life starring Ben Kingsley on the big screen; I cannot remember the details now.

(Image source)

The wikipedia version of the Gandhi legend acknowledges that he shared racist views “prevalent of the times and that his experiences in jail sensitized him to the plight of South Africa’s indigenous peoples.” So, Gandhi’s racist views in his early years and segregationist ideas when he was in South Africa are not in dispute. The Encyclopedia Britannica says this about Gandhi’s sojourn in South Africa: “What he did to South Africa was indeed less important than what South Africa did to him.”

In 1993, at the unveiling of the Gandhi statue, Mandela gave a speech praising Gandhi. Mandela reportedly said: “This event is also very significant because we are unveiling here the very first statue of an anti-colonial figure and a hero of millions of people worldwide. Gandhiji influenced the activities of liberation movements.”

Cecil Rhodes was perhaps 40 years old when Gandhi, aged 24, arrived in Natal. By then Cecil Rhodes was a very wealthy man, well on his way to becoming the establishment man for minority rule in the region. The racist superstructure of British and Afrikaner colonial rule was under construction. This was the superstructure of racism that erected Apartheid.

The official legacy of Gandhi is the struggle for freedom. But I am nonplussed by the meaning of the vandalism of Gandhi‘s statue. Is it all forgiven, the virulent racist writings of the young Gandhi? Or does it even matter anymore?

Timeline: Terror from the Right Since Oklahoma City Bombing

Today marks the twentieth year since the April 19 bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City by white supremacists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nicholas, in which 168 people were killed and dozens more were injured.

Since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, there have been many more terrorist plots, seditious conspiracies, individual killings and murder sprees. This timeline, compiled from SPLC data, offers an overview.

Yet, despite this record of right-wing violence, there is still a tendency to dismiss and ignore the threat of right-wing extremism in the US.

Fight for $15 is Fight for Racial Justice

Yesterday, people around the U.S. took to the streets to demand $15 an hour wages and a union for fast food workers. This struggle is a fight for racial justice.

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(Protestors in New York – Image from Democracy Now)

A truly multi-racial and multi-ethnic movement, this mobilization of low-wage workers that began with fast-food workers in New York in November 2012.

Why is the fight for $15 a fight for racial justice? Some of the reasons that the Black Youth Project 100 lists include:

  • Black folks make up only 11.4% of the national employed population in 2014, but we made up 20.5% of fast food workers.
  • 46% of Chicago’s Black workers are in low-wage jobs.
  • 1/2 of all Black workers in New York City are low wage workers
  • A $15 per hour Chicago minimum wage would give a raise to an estimated 510,000 workers representing 38 percent of Chicago’s workforce.
  • 1/2 of all low wage workers in NYC are Women

This 2013 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) finds that nearly 20% of all fast-food workers are Latino/a. Looking at fast-food workers as a whole, the majority (53%) are more than 21 years old, with a high school diploma – contradicting the notion that these are “jobs for teens, who only want to work part-time”. In fact, fast-food workers are adults, trying to support themselves and their families on poverty wages.  The overwhelming majority of fast-food workers in the U.S. — a staggering 68% — are earning between $7.26-$10.09. These are wages that guarantee you remain in poverty even if you’re working full-time.

These poverty wages are what support huge profits at franchises and corporations like McDonald’s and Burger King. So, it’s perhaps not surprising that one of the big opponents of the Fight for $15 is the International Franchise Association, the world’s largest organization representing franchise owners, which calls the protests “a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign”.

Reports are that some 60,000 workers took part in the Fight for $15 demonstrations in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Los Angeles and more than 200 cities across the US. While the Fight for $15 movement started with fast-food workers and a one-day strike by about 200 or so cooks and order-takers in NYC, that galvanized other people into a broad movement of low-wage workers around the U.S.

Chicago Protestors

(Chicago Protestors – September, 2014 – Image source)

 

“This is the whole civil rights movement all over again,” says Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Professor Chaison (quoted in The Guardian), says:

“What is really significant about the Fight for $15 movement is – most labor disputes, look inside, they’re about a group of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement. In the Fight for $15, unions are helping to organize on a community basis, a group of workers who are on the fringe of the economy. It’s not about union members protecting themselves. It’s about moving other people up. This is the whole civil rights movement all over again.”

If you’d like to take some action to support the Fight for $15, visit the organizers’ website.

Racial Justice After Obama

In response to my post about Hillary Rodham Clinton the other day, several people — including Rebecca Spiff, in comments here — wrote to remind me that President Obama has been pretty terrible on a number of racial justice issues. Fair enough. I thought it was worth taking a look at some of what Obama’s done and what the landscape of racial justice looks like as he leaves office.

GTY_president_obama_jef_140910_16x9_992

 

From my perspective, I’d chalk up these in the category of “accomplishments” toward racial justice for Obama:

  • Symbolic Barrier Busted. Until Barack Obama was elected president, it was merely a theoretical idea that a black person could be president of the United States. It’s hard to know how to measure the impact of this on the world, it could be that it has an aspirational effect (also difficult to measure).
  • Aspirational. For young people born after 2007 or so, a black president is all they have ever known of the U.S. Perhaps this will aspire one young African American, like Marquis Govan – the inspiring 11 year old from Ferguson, Missouri –  to run for the highest office in the land.
  • Speeches. President Obama has given some amazing speeches, a few of them about race, and one in speech in particular that stands out.

And, now for his policies, which have not done much to advance racial justice:

And then there is the attitudinal research.

In a poll from January, 2015 by Al Jazeera America and Monmouth University, researchers asked respondents about about “race relations” found just 15% say they’ve improved since Obama was elected, while nearly half say they believe that race relations in the United States have gotten worse since 2008.

Race Relations Bar Graph

 

 

And, a 2012 poll by the Associated Press found an increase in racist attitudes — or, I should say, an increased willingness to express racist attitudes — among people in the U.S. that they surveyed. This short video (3:40) from Al Jazeera discusses the findings:

Perhaps the point that Rebecca made is the relevant one here: that HRC and Obama are cut from the same cloth and we can expect about the same progress on racial justice under her that we’ve had under him, which is to say, not much. The larger point is that politicians will follow where the people lead and it’s up to us to lead with our activism and holding them accountable.