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.

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.

Fight-15-Protest-NYC-4

(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.

Hillary Clinton: Good for White Feminism, Bad for Racial Justice

 

 

 

 

Today in New York City, Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that she is officially a candidate for the 2016 presidential campaign. While many people are excited about the prospect of the first woman president, I think that a Hillary Clinton presidency will be another in a long series of triumphs for white, corporate feminism and defeats for racial justice.

Hillary R. Clinton announcing 2016 presidential bid on YouTube

 

Clinton’s announcement with the “Getting Started” video on YouTube  features people facing new beginnings — a couple getting ready for a baby, a stay-at-home mom about to return to work, two men getting married  — “everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion,” Clinton assures us. For some on the left, this ad signals her “feminist family values”.  A group of feminist academics and writers has formed Feminists for Clinton to support her candidacy and the National Organization for Women (NOW) endorsed her in 2008, and I assume that endorsement will hold for 2016.

For her part, noted feminist Gloria Steinem said (in 2008) that she supported Clinton over Barack Obama because, “Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women…”

But what’s missing from the hagiography of Clinton superfans is any recognition or critique of her corporate-themed white feminism and the deleterious consequences this could have for black and brown people in the US and globally.

 

Art for Resisting Hillary Clinton

(Image source)

Here’s a very incomplete, yet still telling, run-down on Clinton’s résumé to date:

  • Despite trumpeting her work on behalf of “mothers and children,” she and her husband worked to reduce federal assistance to women and children living in poverty. In her book, Living History, Clinton touts her role: “By the time Bill and I left the White House, welfare rolls had dropped 60 percent.”  This 60% drop was not due to a 60% decrease in poverty. Instead, it was a reduction in federal benefits to those living in poverty, many of them working poor, like those employed at Wal-Mart.
  • Clinton sat on the board of Wal-Mart between 1986 and 1992, where she says she learned a lot from Sam Walton, and she remained silent while the corporation fought the unionization of its workers.
  • In Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, she notes that it was Hillary Clinton who lobbied Congress to expand the drug war and mass incarceration in ways that we continue to live with today, and that have a significantly more harmful impact on black and brown people than white people. According to The Drug Policy Alliance, people of color are much more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, harshly sentenced and saddled with a lifelong criminal record due to being unfairly targeted for drug law violations. Even though white people and people of color use drugs at about the same rates, it is black and brown people’s bodies that continue to fuel the machine of mass incarceration.
  • As Secretary of State, Clinton left a legacy that included both a hawkish inclination to recommend the use of military force coupled with  “turning the state department into a machine for promoting U.S. business.”  This does not bode well for black and brown people in other parts of the world, since the US is not likely to attack Western Europe under a (second) Clinton presidency, but some region of the world with people who do not have light-colored skin tones.

As I’ve noted in the trouble with white feminism series here, this form of feminism has a long history here in the US and within colonialism. To the extent that Hillary Clinton’s ascendancy is consistent with her record to date, and with the record of white feminism to date, this is very bad news, indeed, for black and brown people the world over. As I said, this is an incomplete recap of what Hillary Clinton has given the world so far under the guise of feminism. For a more thorough recounting, see this and this and this.

While I realize that Hillary Clinton has been the target of many sexist attacks, and, likely, will be again in this campaign, I do not think that these attacks should require anyone to support her out of some sort of misguided idea about feminist loyalty.  As Young & Becerra observe:

“A more robust vision of feminism doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t defend women like Hillary Clinton against sexist attacks: we should, just as we defend Barack Obama against racist ones. But it does mean that we must listen to the voices of the most marginalized women and gender and sexual minorities — many of whom are extremely critical of Clintonite feminism — and act in solidarity with movements that seek equity in all realms of life and for all people.  These are the feminists not invited to the Hillary Clinton party, except perhaps to serve and clean up.”

It’s going to be a long, long road to November, 2016. Ready for Hillary, with the side-eye.

Little Girl Gives Side-Eye to Hillary Clinton

(Image via Cherrell Brownsupport Cherrell!)

 

 <<<Read the previous post in the series

 

 

Reclaiming Holy Week for Racial Justice

Tonight, like so many other folks, I’ll be going to religious services to mark the start of Holy Week. Good Friday, the day in the christian tradition that Jesus was crucified. And for me, this is a day about racial justice.

At my multi-racial, queer, urban church steeped in liberation theology, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson are patron saints, and Good Friday is when we mark the stations of the cross by remembering those who have died as the result of hate crimes and police violence. This inevitably results in a Big Ugly Cry for me, and I will be bringing extra tissues.

It’s a risky thing for an academic to admit having a spiritual life or a religious affiliation, but I mention it here because I think it’s important for people to know that it’s possible to be an intellectual and have a spiritual practice. I also think that we – on the academic, lefty-liberal side of the political spectrum – have ceded conversations about faith to the far-right in the U.S., and that’s at least in part, driven the culture wars.

To be clear, I don’t believe in the made-up white supremacist Jesus that Britney Cooper recently took down so well. For me, Jesus was a marginal character who was outside the power structure in every way. He was down with call-out culture long before social media and called out the Pharisees about their hypocrisy, flipped some tables and staged some protests against the 1% of his day. Ultimately, he was killed for pointing out there was injustice and that some people were benefitting from it. For me, the only kind of prayer I believe in is praying with your feet in a protest march. My decidedly not-mainstream beliefs are rooted in liberation theology.

Radical liberation theology is a theology that proposes that knowledge of God based on revelation leads necessarily to a practice that opposes unjust social and political structures.  When you include this with a specific critique of racial injustice, then you come to what Professor James Cone has called black liberation theology. When Good Friday comes each year, I think of Cone’s book The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis, 2011) in which he focuses on “the Christianization of lynching” as a means of social and political control.

Cross and the Lynching Tree book cover

Not unlike the way Michael Brown’s murdered body was left on display for hours in the hot August sun, the public torture and execution of black bodies were carried out by ‘good Christian folk’ who created spectacles of these killings. It is no coincidence that most of the lynchings from the late 19th to mid-20th century occurred in the Bible Belt, as white supremacy and a particular kind of white Christian identity became linked.

Cone’s challenge to his readers is this:  How do we bear witness to the power of life in the midst of a world awash in violence, lethal inequity and the impoverishment of bodies and souls? How do we celebrate life without being oblivious of those suffering on the cross or a tree?

This year, there’s a national call to action that in many ways, is a response to Cone’s challenge. The call is to make this year a Holy Week of Resistance that will:

“contribute to the manifest liberation struggles of all Oppressed Persons, beginning with Black and Brown Peoples. The love and justice ethic of an unarmed Palestinian Jew named Jesus—who was wrongfully convicted and publicly executed by the empire—spurs us to resist state violence that targets Black and Brown lives today.”

 

The conversation about this call to action is happening, in large part, via a Twitter hashtag #ReclaimHolyWeek.There are several street actions, including two in New York City this afternoon – one at Union Square, the other at One Police Plaza.

An organizer of #ReclaimHolyWeek, Jorge Juan Rodriguez V, explains some of the rationale behind this effort:

Every 28 hours police murder a Black body without any consequence for the killer and yet we who celebrate Palm Sunday continue talking about palms instead of protest. Along the United States-Mexico border countless children are detained, women raped, and individuals killed by border patrol without any record of injustice and yet those of us who celebrate the Last Supper continue raising our forks instead of our fists. In the last four years our government has launched more drone strikes than ever in the history of this country, killing hundreds of innocents, and yet those of us who celebrate Good Friday continue singing hymns instead of halting traffic on the streets. Over the last two years progress achieved on voting rights has been almost completely repealed and yet those of us who celebrate Easter continue searching for eggs instead of equality. We of faith cannot continue to be distracted by the injustice that occurs around us and cater the message of Holy Week to serve of our comfortable living.

As Mavis Staples, sings “my god is a freedom god…”

May your holy week be filled with justice and peace.

Digital Movements: Panel Discusses Racial Justice and Social Media

I attended a panel and performance tonight called “Digital Movements: Black Publics, Black Discourse,” that featured Jasiri X, Jamilah Lemieux, and Alondra Nelson. Hosted by Charlton McIlwain. The panel took up the issue of racial justice and social media in considering questions like: do moments like #BlackLivesMatter constitute a new civil rights movement? This is a storify of some of the live Tweets from the event.

I’m still thinking about the complicated relationship between technology and racial justice that this event surfaced and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it at some point soon, but for now I wanted to collect these initial notes and reactions for pondering further.

St. Patrick’s Day: A History of Racism, A Celebration of Whiteness

Today in New York City and throughout the U.S., Irish-Americans will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and Irish heritage.  What few will acknowledge in this day of celebration is the way in which the Irish in American deployed whiteness in order to deflect the racism they encountered in the U.S.

Kerry Band from the Bronx

(photo credit: ktylerconk)

Like many immigrant groups in the United States, the Irish were characterized as racial Others when they first arrived in the first half of the 19th century. The Irish had suffered profound injustice in the U.K. at the hands of the British, widely seen as “white negroes.” The potato famine that created starvation conditions that cost the lives of millions of Irish and forced the out-migration of millions of surviving ones, was less a natural disaster and more a complex set of social conditions created by British landowners (much like Hurricane Katrina). Forced to flee from their native Ireland and the oppressive British landowners, many Irish came to the U.S.

Once in the U.S., the Irish were to negative stereotyping that was very similar to that of enslaved Africans and African Americans. The comic Irishman – happy, lazy, stupid, with a gift for music and dance – was a stock character in American theater. Drunkenness and criminality were major themes of Irish stereotypes, and the term “paddy wagon” has its etymological roots in the racist term “paddy,” a shortening of the name “Patrick,” which was used to refer to the Irish. However, this is also a gendered image and refers to Irish men, specifically. The masculine imagery of “paddy” hides the existence of Irish women, but did not protect Irish women from racism as they were often more exposed to such racism through domestic jobs. Women typically played a key role in maintaining Catholic adherence, which resonates closely with Irishness and difference. The “model minority” (if you will) stereotype of Irish-American women is of a “Bridget,” recognized for her hard work and contribution to Irish upward class mobility.

Simian, or ape-like caricature of the Irish immigrant was also a common one among the mainstream news publications of the day (much like the recent New York Post cartoon). For example, in 1867 American cartoonist Thomas Nast drew “The Day We Celebrate” a cartoon depicting the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day as violent, drunken apes. And, in 1899, Harper’s Weekly featrued a drawing of three men’s heads in profile: Irish, Anglo-Teutonic and Negro, in order to illustrate the similarity between the Irish and the Negro (and, the supposed superiority of the Anglo-Teutonic). In northern states, blacks and Irish immigrants were forced into overlapping – often integrated – slum neighborhoods. Although leaders of the Irish liberation struggle (in Ireland) saw slavery as an evil, their Irish-American cousins largely aligned with the slaveholders.

And, following the end of slavery, the Irish and African Americans were forced to compete for the same low-wage, low-status jobs. So, the “white negroes” of the U.K. came to the United States and, though not enslaved, faced a status almost as low as that of recently-freed blacks. While there were moments of solidarity between Irish and African Americans, this was short lived.

Over the course of the 19th and early 20th century, Irish Americans managed to a great extent to enter and become part of the dominant white culture. In an attempt to secure the prosperity and social position that their white skin had not guaranteed them in Europe, Irish immigrants lobbied for white racial status in America. Although Irish people’s pale skin color and European roots suggested evidence of their white racial pedigree, the discrimination that immigrants experienced on the job (although the extent of the “No Irish Need Apply” discrimination is disputed), the simian caricatures they saw of themselves in the newspapers, meant that “whiteness” was a status that would be achieved, not ascribed.

For some time now, Irish-Americans have been thoroughly regarded as “white.” Evidence of this assimilation into whiteness is presented by Mary C. Waters (Harvard) in a recent AJPH article, in which she writes that “the once-rigid lines that divided European-origin groups from one another have increasingly blurred.” Waters goes on to predict that the changes that European immigrants ahve experienced are “becoming more likely for groups we now define as ‘racial.'” While I certainly agree that the boundaries of whiteness are malleable – it is a racial category that expands and contracts based on historical, cultural and social conditions – I don’t know if it is malleable enough to include all the groups we now define as ‘racial’ Others.

As people rush to embrace even fictive Irish heritage and encourage strangers to “Kiss Me I’m Irish” today, take just a moment to reflect on the history of racism and the pursuit of whiteness wrapped up in this holiday.

From the archive (originally posted 03-17-2009)

Circulating Racist Videos, Emails and Outrage

The DOJ report on Ferguson highlighted the circulation of racist emails by police and city officials. Among the first fired in Ferguson were city officials who circulated those emails, such as Court Clerk Mary Ann Twitty.
Mary Ann Twitty Court Clerk Ferguson
Mary Ann Twitty, Fired Over Racist Emails
(Image source)
Within days of the DOJ report about racist emails, a YouTube video of a racist chant by SAE fraternity members, went viral with more than 2 million views in the first 24 hours. The video, and the protests that followed, resulted in the swift closing of the fraternity’s house on OU’s campus and the expulsion of several students.
OU SAE Racist Chant Video - screen shot
The irony, of course, is that while outrage about racist emails and videos leads the news and trends on Twitter, young black men – like Tony Robinson and Anthony Hill most recently – continue to die at the hands of police with alarming regularity.
But why? Why is the outrage about racist emails and videos so swift and severe? Part of the answer, to be sure, is this observation from Zak Cheney-Rice:

Americans have no idea what to do about racism. But “racists”? We can handle those. Racists are loud and obvious. Racists can’t hide; they trip and reveal themselves. Their emails leak. Videos of them circulate. Racists lose jobs and favor, because racists have bosses, and bosses know the best way to show they’re not racist is to point at racists and say, “That’s the bad guy.”

He’s right, of course. But there’s something else going on with the videos and racist emails that I no one’s talking about, and that’s the way that these things circulate and what that tells us about race, technology and call our culture.

Mary Ann Twitty and her white co-workers at the Ferguson Police Department routinely shared racist emails with each other. This is commonplace in American workplaces, as even conservative FoxNews reader Megyn Kelly acknowledges (she just think that should negate the DOJ report on Ferguson – because everyone else is doing it too, I guess).
MegynKelly
The point is, this is how many white Americans pass their time at work, sending emails that the senders likely characterize as “funny” or maybe “politically incorrect” but probably not racist (even though they are). They forward these emails for the same reason anyone forwards an email, “hey I saw this, and thought you would appreciate it.”

The forwarded racist email presumes a particular kind of audience: a receptive, like-minded reader. Mary Ann Twitty lost her job for sending racist emails, but it’s not clear that the emails were original content that began with her. If the responsibility for such email content rests solely with one sender and ends before it gets to the recipient, then it is a peculiar kind of individual responsibility for something – forwarding emails – which is in reality a type of collective activity.

Similarly, the video of the racist chant on the SAE bus at OU was circulated on Snapchat by friends of Parker Rice, Levi Pettit because it was the kind of thing that they and their friends felt comfortable sharing. They anticipated an audience filled with an imagined community of their like-minded, white college student friends.

That racist jokes and stories and, yes, chants are circulating among white friends and family in ways that are routine and that go unchallenged is, in some ways, not new. White people have long shared racist comments in white-only family gatherings or friendship groups. This is what’s known as the “backstage” . Leslie Houts Picca and Joe Feagin have collected extensive data on this phenomenon and written about it in their book Two-Faced Racism. The upshot of thousands of data points is that in white-only spaces white people tell racist jokes because they think such conversation will find a receptive audience. And, the evidence suggests, that it mostly does.

Remarkably, what most white people sending racist emails or recording racist videos fail to consider is that other people in the “frontstage”  — people who are not in their family or their immediate friendship circle and people who do not share their whites-only worldview – may not be such a receptive audience.

Instead, what happens now with this technology is that it can be used to call out people who behave in racist ways and expose such behavior to wider scrutiny. This is part of what has been referred to as “call out culture,” and not everyone is a fan of it because they see it as destructive to left-leaning causes because it’s a kind of eat-your-own quality.

But here’s the thing.

If the combination of call out culture and digital technologies can be used to expose and de-sanction white supremacy – and that’s really what connects Ferguson and the guys on the Sig’s bus – then that is a very good thing that we should be encouraging.

Liberate all the racist emails from the police departments and offices in the country. Expose them. Record those racist jokes at your next all-white meeting, and post it on YouTube. Call it all out.

Then, maybe we can begin addressing the dead black bodies in the streets.

Research Brief: Books, books and more books

This week’s research brief highlights several new (and new-ish) books for your scholarly reading list.

Research in the Dictionary

 

 

Morris, Scholar Denied, book cover

Description: In this groundbreaking book, Aldon D. Morris’s ambition is truly monumental: to help rewrite the history of sociology and to acknowledge the primacy of W. E. B. Du Bois’s work in the founding of the discipline. Taking on the prevailing narrative of how sociology developed, Morris, a major scholar of African American social movements, probes the way in which the history of the discipline has been written, giving credit to Robert E. Park at the University of Chicago, who worked with the conservative black leader Booker T. Washington to render Du Bois invisible. Uncovering the seminal theoretical work of Du Bois in developing a “scientific” sociology through a variety of methodologies, Morris examines how the leading scholars of the day disparaged and ignored Du Bois’s work. The Scholar Denied is based on extensive, rigorous primary source research; the book is the result of a decade of research, writing, and revision. In uncovering the economic and political factors that marginalized the contributions of Du Bois, enabling Park to be recognized as the “father” of the discipline, Morris delivers a wholly new narrative of American intellectual and social history that places one of America’s key intellectuals, W. E. B. Du Bois, at its center. The Scholar Denied is a must-read for everyone interested in American history, racial inequality, and the academy. In challenging our understanding of the past, the book promises to engender debate and discussion.  The first chapter is available open access here.

Moraga Anzaldua Book cover

 

Description: Originally released in 1981, This Bridge Called My Back is a testimony to women of color feminism as it emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Through personal essays, criticism, interviews, testimonials, poetry, and visual art, the collection explores, as coeditor Cherríe Moraga writes, “the complex confluence of identities—race, class, gender, and sexuality—systemic to women of color oppression and liberation.” Reissued here, nearly thirty-five years after its inception, the fourth edition contains an extensive new introduction by Moraga, along with a previously unpublished statement by Gloria Anzaldúa. The new edition also includes visual artists whose work was produced during the same period as Bridge, including Betye Saar, Ana Mendieta, and Yolanda López, as well as current contributor biographies. Bridge continues to reflect an evolving definition of feminism, one that can effectively adapt to, and help inform an understanding of the changing economic and social conditions of women of color in the United States and throughout the world.

Lentin_Titley_Bookcover

Description: Across the West, something called multiculturalism is in crisis. Regarded as the failed experiment of liberal elites, commentators and politicians compete to denounce its corrosive legacies; parallel communities threatening social cohesion, enemies within cultivated by irresponsible cultural relativism, mediaeval practices subverting national ‘ways of life’ and universal values. This important new book challenges this familiar narrative of the rise and fall of multiculturalism by challenging the existence of a coherent era of ‘multiculturalism’ in the first place. The authors argue that what we are witnessing is not so much a rejection of multiculturalism as a projection of neoliberal anxieties onto the social realities of lived multiculture. Nested in an established post-racial consensus, new forms of racism draw powerfully on liberalism and questions of ‘values’, and unsettle received ideas about racism and the ‘far right’ in Europe. In combining theory with a reading of recent controversies concerning headscarves, cartoons, minarets and burkas, Lentin and Titley trace a transnational crisis that travels and is made to travel, and where rejecting multiculturalism is central to laundering increasingly acceptable forms of racism.

Mulder_Bookcover

 

Description: Since World War II, historians have analyzed a phenomenon of “white flight” plaguing the urban areas of the northern United States. One of the most interesting cases of “white flight” occurred in the Chicago neighborhoods of Englewood and Roseland, where seven entire church congregations from one denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, left the city in the 1960s and 1970s and relocated their churches to nearby suburbs. In Shades of White Flight, sociologist Mark T. Mulder investigates the migration of these Chicago church members, revealing how these churches not only failed to inhibit white flight, but actually facilitated the congregations’ departure. Using a wealth of both archival and interview data, Mulder sheds light on the forces that shaped these midwestern neighborhoods and shows that, surprisingly, evangelical religion fostered both segregation as well as the decline of urban stability. Indeed, the Roseland and Englewood stories show how religion—often used to foster community and social connectedness—can sometimes help to disintegrate neighborhoods. Mulder describes how the Dutch CRC formed an insular social circle that focused on the local church and Christian school—instead of the local park or square or market—as the center point of the community. Rather than embrace the larger community, the CRC subculture sheltered themselves and their families within these two places. Thus it became relatively easy—when black families moved into the neighborhood—to sell the church and school and relocate in the suburbs. This is especially true because, in these congregations, authority rested at the local church level and in fact they owned the buildings themselves. Revealing how a dominant form of evangelical church polity—congregationalism—functioned within the larger phenomenon of white flight, Shades of White Flight lends new insights into the role of religion and how it can affect social change, not always for the better.

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