Ferguson: No Indictment in Shooting of Michael Brown

On August 9, Ferguson Missouri officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, African American teenager. Brown’s dead body was left in the street for four and a half hours, baking on that hot summer asphalt. On August 25, Michael Brown’s parents buried their son, a young man who had been college-bound at the time he was gunned down. Tonight – 108 days later – Missouri prosecutor Robert McCulloch chose not to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown, citing a lack of physical evidence and “conflicting eyewitness accounts” in the case. In a long, sometime rambling public statement, McCulloch blamed “social media” and the “24-hour news cycle”  as “challenges” in coming to a verdict in the case.

parents of michael brown hold a photo of the slain teen

(image source)

If you have not been following the case of Michael Brown, his death joins a long lineage of young, black and brown men (and women and trans people) killed by white supremacist violence. Since his death in August, many have been placing Michael Brown alongside Emmett Till, as part of a tragic legacy. And, this legacy is only getting worse through legitimation. Whereas Emmett Till, and so many other lynched, were killed by extrajudicial means – as Ida B. Wells found – the killing of Michael Brown is intrajudicial – it is within the law. Sanctioned. Blessed, even, by the prosecutor as a “tragedy” which we can learn to “profit from” in a “productive way.”

The fact is that there is no reason that the U.S. has to have so many deaths each year of its citizens at the hands of police. It’s simply not required. Other western, industrialized nations organize themselves differently, do policing differently, and have radically fewer police-induced-deaths than we do here in the US.

police shootinss by country

(Image source)

These deaths at the hands of police, primarily of young black and brown men, is a choice. And, we can make a different choice.

Shortly after the press conference by McCulloch in Missouri, President Obama made a statement from the White House about the events in Ferguson. He began his remarks by emphasizing the “rule of law” and highlighting the need for “peace” and the importance of protecting “property.” As he began speaking, police in Ferguson began deploying teargas, resulting in a telling split screen of the President and the protests.

SplitScreen

(Image source)

On the same day that President Obama offered this tepid, muted and halfhearted support for the people of Ferguson, Missouri he also awarded civil rights heroes Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner the (posthumous) Medal of Freedom honor.

Even as the prosecutor refused to indict Wilson and the President of the US moved to mollify collective outrage at the shooting, protestors were in the streets.

Dasha, 29, arrested in Ferguson

(Image source)

Such protests speak to the deep rage at the continued injustice of the routine killings of young black people on the streets of the U.S.

The events in Ferguson puts me in mind of this quote from a speech from an earlier movement for social justice:

“[There comes] a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.”

I want to know: where do I go to put my body upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus to make the destruction of black bodies stop?

Because I am ready.

This must end.

[[Note: Sharon Chang, one of our bloggers, is live-tweeting photos blacks killed by police every 15 minutes today at: https://twitter.com/multiasianfams]]

Research Brief: Race, Perception, Reality

I attended the #FacingRace14 conference and I’m still processing that experience, but one of the most interesting breakout sessions I attended was about research on language, perceptions and “racial anxiety.” So, I’m using that as a jumping off point to share some related research in today’s research brief.  As always, I note which pieces are freely available on the web, or “open access” with (OA), and those behind a paywall with (locked).

Research in the Dictionary

  • Godsil,Rachel D., Philip Atiba Goff, Linda Tropp and john a. powell,  The Science of Equality Volume 1: Addressing Implicit Bias, Racial Anxiety, and Stereotype Threat in Education and Health Care. (Report, Perception Institute, 2013). Abstract: Synthesizing hundreds of studies, this report details how unconscious phenomena in our minds–implicit bias, racial anxiety, and stereotype threat–impact our education and health care systems, while offering empirical, research-driven solutions to overcome their effects. (OA)
  • Hall, Erika V., Katherine W. Phillips, and Sarah SM Townsend. “A rose by any other name?: The consequences of subtyping “African-Americans” from “Blacks”.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 56 (2015): 183-190. Abstract: Racial labels often define how social groups are perceived. The current research utilized both archival and experimental methods to explore the consequences of the “Black” vs. “African-American” racial labels on Whites’ evaluations of racial minorities. We argue that the racial label Black evokes a mental representation of a person with lower socioeconomic status than the racial label African-American, and that Whites will react more negatively toward Blacks (vs. African-Americans). In Study 1, we show that the stereotype content for Blacks (vs. African-Americans) is lower in status, positivity, competence, and warmth. In Study 2, Whites view a target as lower status when he is identified as Black vs. African-American. In Study 3, we demonstrate that the use of the label Black vs. African-American in a US Newspaper crime report article is associated with a negative emotional tone in that respective article. Finally, in Study 4, we show that Whites view a criminal suspect more negatively when he is identified as Black vs. African-American. The results establish how racial labels can have material consequences for a group. (locked)
  • powell, john a. Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society. (Indiana University Press, 2012). Short description: Meditations on race, identity, and social policy provide an outline for laying claim to our shared humanity and a way toward healing ourselves and securing our future. The book challenges us to replace attitudes and institutions that promote and perpetuate social suffering with those that foster relationships and a way of being that transcends disconnection and separation. (locked)

 

Happy reading!

Want to see your research featured in one of our upcoming briefs? Drop us a note using the contact form.

 

SlutWalk, #Hashtag Activism and the Trouble with White Feminism

When Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti gave a talk on health and safety to a group of students in Toronto, he told them that “women should avoid dressing like sluts”  so as not to get raped.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Sanguinetti’s remarks outraged many of the people. Instead of just getting angry, some of these young women organized the first “SlutWalk” protest in early 2011 demanding an end to what they called “slut shaming.” Thanks in large measure to the affordances of social media, the tactic of slut walks quickly crossed national boundaries to become what scholar Joetta Carr calls an “transnational feminist movement,” with historical antecedents in “Take Back the Night” marches and parallels with contemporaneous grassroots protest movements that are organized through and fueled by social media. In July 2014, Toronto feminists held the third SlutWalk with, of course, an updated hashtag #SWTO2014.

Protesters in SlutWalk Toronto

(Image source)

The history of hashtag activism is still in first draft to be sure, but there is already an emergent scholarship on SlutWalks that can be illuminating for understanding this mediated form of feminist activism, race, and the trouble with white feminism – and there has been quite a lot of trouble with white feminism in SlutWalks.

SlutWalks were (and are) primarily organized by white women who “are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result.” SlutWalk aims to “reclaim” the word “slut,” through street protests organized online. Black women and other women of color have participated in the marches. The marches have spread to other countries, such as Buenos Aires,

SlutWalk_WOC

(Image source)

Through most of 2011, feminist blogs and some more mainstream media covered SlutWalks. While most of the mainstream media coverage focused on the role of social media in ‘toppling a dictator’ in Egypt at around the same time, SlutWalks got covered in a rather trivializing way that focused on the ‘scantily clad’ women and mostly ignored race in any meaningful way. This coverage in mainstream feminist blogs – Jezebel, Feministing – largely ignored the fact that for the most part, the SlutWalk marches as a cultural phenomenon are by, for and about white women of the Global North.

But women of color writers, such as Aura Bogado, noticed and called out the marches, as in Bogado’s SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy piece from May, 2011. That’s not to say there were many outlets – either news outlets or feminist blogs – eager to publish this work. In a preface to this piece on her blog, Bogado explains her difficulty getting the piece published, and by so doing, speaks to the trouble she faces with the white feminism that shapes SlutWalks, she writes:

With so much dialogue surrounding SlutWalk lately, I wanted to insert the voice of a woman of color to add critical pressure from the margins; however, I found it difficult to find an outlet that would publish me. I first queried The Guardian, which had already printed a couple of pieces authored by white women about the event, and never heard anything back (they have, subsequently, posted more pieces about SlutWalk, all authored by white women). I then attempted to add this post on HuffPo, where I have contributed in the past – although they were nice enough to at least respond to me, they rejected my post. Rather than waste another week trying to find an outlet, I’ve taken the advice of people I love and trust and have revived my once-retired blog to post a piece that (oddly enough) explains some of the ways in which white women have constructed a conversation that women of color can’t seem to participate in.

 

SlutWalk_WhiteSupremacy

 (Screenshot from ToTheCurb by Aura Bogado)

 

Bogado calls into question the very genesis of the SlutWalk movement as rooted in a white feminist view of the world, as when she says:

I understand the need to denounce this type of speech (Sanguinetti’s remarks), particularly when uttered by a law enforcement officer. But what struck me was the fact that a group of students gathered with law enforcement to begin with. As people of color, our communities are plagued with police brutality, and inviting them into our spaces in order to somehow feel safer rarely crosses our minds. I’ve attended several workshops and panels on sexual violence and would never imagine seeing law enforcement in attendance. Groups like INCITE! have done a tremendous amount of work to address the way that systemic violence is directed against women in communities of color through “police violence, war and colonialism,” as well as to address the type of interpersonal violence between individuals within a community, such as sexual assault and domestic violence. SlutWalk “want[s] Toronto Police Services to take serious steps to regain [their] trust;” our communities, meanwhile, never trusted the police to begin with.

Bogado was among the first to call out the privileged position inherent in a political movement whose goal is focused on “regaining” a trustworthy relationship with police while immigrant women, Black and brown women, poor women, and transgender women whether born in the U.S. or not, are presumed to be sex workers, targeted as “sex offenders,” and are routinely abused by police with impunity, and their deaths ignored.  Bogado notes that,

“Despite decades of work from women of color on the margins to assert an equitable space, SlutWalk has grown into an international movement that has effectively silenced the voices of women of color and re-centered the conversation to consist of a topic by, of, and for white women only.”

In many ways, SlutWalks – like so much of white feminist activism of the digital era – is simply repeating the historical mistakes of previous generations of feminism. This repetition of previous feminist history is the focus of scholars Dow and Wood note in their article, “Repeating History and Learning From It: What Can SlutWalks Teach Us About Feminism?” (Women’s Studies in Communication 37, no. 1 (2014): 22-43).

However, Dow and Wood ultimately take a stance that effectively recuperates the SlutWalks by arguing that the “dissent” by women of color is not “an indicator of feminism’s weakness,” but rather “a symptom of its continuing vitality.” Such a turn undermines the powerful critiques of Bogado, which are rooted in the work of queer, feminist scholars of color such as  Gloria Anzaldúa.

Bogado’s assessment of SlutWalks as a “stroll through white supremacy” in May 2011 proved to be prescient given the way the rest of the movement has unfolded.

In September, 2011 the organization Black Women’s Blueprint issued An Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk. The Open Letter included this passage, juxtaposing the contemporary SlutWalk movement against the history of Black women’s movements in the U.S.:

Black women have worked tirelessly since the 19th century colored women’s clubs to rid society of the sexist/racist vernacular of slut, jezebel, hottentot, mammy, mule, sapphire; to build our sense of selves and redefine what women who look like us represent. Although we vehemently support a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants anytime, anywhere, within the context of a “SlutWalk” we don’t have the privilege to walk through the streets of New York City, Detroit, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, L.A. etc., either half-naked or fully clothed self-identifying as “sluts” and think that this will make women safer in our communities an hour later, a month later, or a year later.  Moreover, we are careful not to set a precedent for our young girls by giving them the message that we can self-identify as “sluts” when we’re still working to annihilate the word “ho”, which deriving from the word “hooker” or “whore”, as in “Jezebel whore” was meant to dehumanize.  Lastly, we do not want to encourage our young men, our Black fathers, sons and brothers to reinforce Black women’s identities as “sluts” by normalizing the term on t-shirts, buttons, flyers and pamphlets.

The Open Letter also explicitly challenged the political goal of “reclaiming” offensive terms, saying, “We are perplexed by the use of the term “slut” and by any implication that this word, much like the word “Ho” or the “N” word should be re-appropriated.” 

There were dissenting views, to be sure. For example, both Salamishah Tillet, writing at The Nation and Janell Hobson, writing at the Ms. Magazine blog, wrote responses to the Open Letter from Black Women , expressing concern about what they saw as the “politics of respectability” in the letter.

This Open Letter, and these responses, were widely circulated through social media networks and, presumably, among SlutWalk organizers, but there is little evidence that the message from the Black Women’s Blueprint got any traction with white feminists given what happened next.

Not quite a month after the Open Letter was published, there was a SlutWalkNYC march in Union Square and a young white woman held up a hand-lettered sign with a quote from  Yoko Ono. The intentionally provocative line from 1969 is meant to evoke women’s subjugation through the use of a racial slur. It was controversial when Ono first said it, and as Aishah Shahidah Simmons reminds us about that time, “Several Black feminists, including Pearl Cleage, challenged Yoko Ono’s racist (to Black women) statement. “If Woman is the “N” of the World, what does that make Black Women, the “N, N” of the World?”.

SlutwalkNYCsign

Organizers of SlutWalkNYC apologized, but other white feminists continued to defend the use of the term, saying things like “but rappers…”

Aishah Shahidah Simmons, activist and filmmaker and self-described “supporter of the goals of SlutWalk”, raised the following questions about the appearance of the sign:

How can so many White feminists be absolutely clear about the responsibility of ALL MEN TO END heterosexual violence perpetrated against women; and yet turn a blind eye to THEIR RESPONSIBILITY TO END racism? Is Sisterhood Global? This picture says NO! very loudly and very clearly.

Simmons ends her piece with a postscript of links to other women of color writing responses to the sign, including the Crunk Feminist Collective, Akiba Solomon, and LaToya Peterson.

Yet, despite all this excellent and openly available critique by feminists of color writing about SlutWalks, the emerging scholarship on the movement largely ignores this, thus effectively replaying the erasure of women of color in this act of knowledge production about the movement.

One scholar, Joetta Carr, heralds SlutWalk as a successful transnational feminist movement in The Journal of Feminist Scholarship (Issue 4, Spring 2013). While Carr quotes at length the women of color who defend SlutWalk (or, more to the point, who are critical of the Open Letter), she doesn’t mention the appearance of the sign at SlutWalkNYC. Carr ends her piece by saying that the full extent and meaning of the contributions of the SlutWalk movement to the overall struggle against gender oppression and the patriarchy may only be understood in the decades to come.” 

In fact, I think the SlutWalk movement is already over, hoisted on its own pitard of white feminism.

Writing at the blog Sustainable Mothering in mid-October 2011, J. (Jake) Kathleen Marcus calls the movement’s failure the “implosion of SlutWalk” and apologizes for her own complicity in the racism of the movement. Marcus basically taps out of the movement by the end of that piece, saying to fellow activists “I hope our paths cross again” in movement building but clearly indicating it won’t be at a SlutWalk march.

Telling the story of SlutWalk’s in the feminist scholarly literature is rarely, if ever, laid at the feet of white feminism, but rather at the “continuation of racial divides in North American feminism,” as Jo Reger puts it in “The Story of a Slut Walk Sexuality, Race, and Generational Divisions in Contemporary Feminist Activism.” (Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (2014): 0891241614526434).

The discursive use of “racial divides” is an interesting one here because within the North American context, white women are not “racialized” – are not seen to “have” race – in the way that women of color have been and continue to be. Thus, such unspecific language – “racial divides” instead of “white women” or “white feminism” – is a rhetorical move that once again places blame on women of color for the “divides” happening in feminism. This is precisely the move that Michelle Goldberg takes in her Toxic Twitter Wars piece, and it’s a move that we see again and again from white feminists, which basically says, “we were all good setting the agenda for what feminism is and should be until those unruly women of color came along and spoiled it for everyone.”

Cyberfeminists of the 1990s imagined a new technoculture in which feminist would be “hacking through the constraints of old programming and envisioning a postpatriarchal future.” Instead, we find ourselves in a 21st-century reality that is augmented by digital technologies yet continues to serve the interests of white feminists.

 

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Research Brief: New Titles

Here is our latest update on some of the new titles from the research on race and racism. As always, I note which pieces are freely available on the web, or“open access” with (OA), and those behind a paywall with (locked).

Research in the Dictionary

  • Gulati-Partee, Gita and Potapchuk, Maggie (2014) “Paying Attention to White Culture and Privilege: A Missing Link to Advancing Racial Equity,” The Foundation Review: Vol. 6: Iss. 1, Article 4. Key Points:· Racial disparities are driven and maintained by public- and private-sector policies that not only disadvantage communities of color but also over-advantage whites. Foundation processes aimed at racial equity change often overlook the privileged side of inequity. · Through our experience as racial equity practitioners, we have encountered at least three challenges to engaging foundations in exploring white privilege and white culture in their internal and external racial equity work.· For foundations to work toward racial equity through their philanthropic investments and leadership, they must shine a light on white privilege and white culture both internally and externally. · This article discusses tools for tackling those challenges: creating a container with intentional group norms, exploring accumulated racial advantages and disadvantages, reflecting on white culture, and caucusing by racial identity.(locked)
  • Jablonski, Nina G. Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color (University of California Press, 2014). Abstract: Living Color is the first book to investigate the social history of skin color from prehistory to the present, showing how our body’s most visible feature influences our social interactions in profound and complex ways. Nina Jablonski begins this fascinating and wide-ranging work with an explanation of the biology and evolution of skin pigmentation, tracing how skin color changed as humans moved around the globe, exploring the relationship between melanin and sunlight, and examining the consequences of mismatches between our skin color and our environment due to rapid migrations, vacations, and other life-style choices. Chapter 1 of the book is (OA).
  • Mayorga-Gallo, Sarah. Behind the White Picket Fence: Power and Privilege in a Multiethnic Neighborhood (University of North Carolina Press, 2014). Abstract: The link between residential segregation and racial inequality is well established, so it would seem that greater equality would prevail in integrated neighborhoods. But as Sarah Mayorga-Gallo argues, multiethnic and mixed-income neighborhoods still harbor the signs of continued, systemic racial inequalities. Drawing on deep ethnographic and other innovative research from “Creekridge Park,” a pseudonymous urban community in Durham, North Carolina, Mayorga-Gallo demonstrates that the proximity of white, African American, and Latino neighbors does not ensure equity; rather, proximity and equity are in fact subject to structural-level processes of stratification. Behind the White Picket Fence shows how contemporary understandings of diversity are not necessarily rooted in equity or justice but instead can reinforce white homeowners’ race and class privilege; ultimately, good intentions and a desire for diversity alone do not challenge structural racial, social, and economic disparities. This book makes a compelling case for how power and privilege are reproduced in daily interactions and calls on readers to question commonsense understandings of space and inequality in order to better understand how race functions in multiethnic America. An (OA) excerpt of the book is available here.
  • Whitfield, Darren L., N. Eugene Walls, Lisa Langenderfer-Magruder, and Brad Clark. “Queer Is the New Black? Not So Much: Racial Disparities in Anti-LGBTQ Discrimination.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 26, no. 4 (2014): 426-440. Abstract: The present study examines the intersection of race and sexual orientation in the experience of discrimination among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. The results of the study suggest that while a majority of LGBTQ individuals report being victims of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, racial minorities experience even greater levels of anti-LGBTQ discrimination than do White LGBTQ people. The findings suggest that the intersection of race and sexual orientation creates elevated levels of discrimination risk beyond the already elevated rates of discrimination experienced by members of the LGBTQ community for LGBTQ racial minorities. (locked)

Happy reading! Want to see your research appear in an upcoming brief? Don’t be shy, drop your shameless self-promotion in the contact form.

Anti-Racist Protest in Minneapolis against NFL Team Name

Earlier this week (Nov.3), approximately 5,000 anti-racist activists marched from the University of Minnesota campus to the nearby NFL stadium to demand change of the name of the ‘Redskins’ franchise.

According to one report, a Native American (name not given) speaker said, “They don’t know how to honor us. We honor ourselves today.” People marching held up signs, some of which read: “Racial slurs are not an honor” and “There is no honor in a name that represents racism.” The comments contrasted those made previously by team owner Dan Snyder, who has insisted that the dictionary-defined offensive term actually means “honor” and “respect” toward Native Americans.

This short news video (3:02) reports on the march:

What action will you take to counter systemic racism?

Call for Papers: Ferguson, Social Media, and Activism

Hashtag Feminism started by Tara L. Conley (Teachers College, Columbia University) invites contributions that provide insightful perspectives on the recent events transpiring in Ferguson, Missouri. Specifically, we are looking for perspectives that account for the ways social media, namely Twitter has played a role in igniting activism in Ferguson and across the country.

Topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • The disconnect between Facebook and Twitter and how people talking about Michael Brown and Ferguson. This may also highlight a discussion on the different ways Facebook’s and Twitter’s algorithms are capturing conversations across social media. See this Medium piece as a useful example or starting point.
  • Criticism of ‘Twitter Activism’ and response from Black feminists.
    Resource roundup of follow-worthy hashtags, livestreams, and Twitter users covering and editorializing the events happening in Ferguson.
  • Activists story telling about their experiences organizing around Ferguson online and offline.
  • Youth organizers using Twitter to organize, raise awareness, and resist during the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

Refer to #F Submission Guidelines for further information about style, content, and pitch guidelines.

 

~ This is re-blogged from here.

#Hashtag Activism, Viral Videos and the Trouble with White Feminism

After a brief haitus to deal with some institutional shenanigans and the personal fall out from those, I’m back to writing about the trouble with white women and white feminism series. If you’re new to this series, you can read from the beginning, or just dive in here. The concept is that I’ll do a series of blog posts and compile them into a free reader. I started, ambitiously, thinking I would do this in a 15-week semester and be done with it, but life (and committee work) intervened. Meanwhile, white women and white feminism keep on doing what they do and in this call out culture, there’s not enough calling that out in my view. If you’re new to thinking about these ideas, Quinn Norton has given the world an excellent two-part series on whiteness. Do go read it.  Onward…. to Part IV. White Women’s Feminist/Digital Activism.

Hollaback is often pointed to as a success of online feminism. If you’ve ever ridden the subways in NYC and you have heard the announcement about “a crowded subway is never an excuse for unwelcome touching” you have witnessed some of the fruits of their activist labor. On October 28, 2014 they published this video called “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” that immediately went viral and now has over 32 million views (screenshot below). Screenshot of the viral video about street harassmentThis video was crafted by a PR firm to “go viral” – and to raise money for the Hollaback organization. Unfortunately, the video over-sampled in Harlem neighborhoods, and edited out white men who harassed the woman. As the ever insightful Zeynep Tufecki points out, there are some profound methodological problems with the video that result in a racially skewed result. Of course, the director of the video denies any racist intent, move along, nothing to see here.

This is not new, nor is it a mistake, rather it is a key element of the white feminism which is at the center of the Hollaback enterprise. As I noted in a 2009 WSQ piece, there is a preponderance of men of color represented on the Hollaback blog in photos taken by white women. This angle of vision is one that is consistent with carceral feminism, an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to street harassment and violence against women. (See Elizabeth Bernstein’s work on this.)

Carceral feminism is integral to white feminism and to this wildly popular, viral video campaign. The activism of Hollaback in this instance also raises questions about the potential for digital feminist praxis. As Susana Loza asks in the Queer/Feminist Praxis issue of Ada:

Is mainstream feminism destined to remain the terrain of white women? Or can the digital media praxis of women of color, their hashtag feminism and tumblr activism, their blogging and livejournaling, broaden and radically redefine the very field of feminism?” 

One of the insights I have gleaned from black feminist thought is that standpoint and positionality matter, in other words, who you are in relation to the research matters. I’ve done this here and here, and continue to do so in various ways. This seems to be one place that white feminism keeps messing up, thinking that the experience of “A Woman” who also happens to be white can stand in for the experiences of *ALL* women.

My own personal experience, my research on white supremacy, and the work of scholars such as Vron Ware, whose Beyond the Pale offers a discursive production of whiteness through a gendered reading of colonial history and Ruth Frankenberg, whose White Women, Race Matter, makes a compelling argument for the importance of examining the social position of white women, specifically, occupy in our society, lead me to the conclusion that it is crucial to critically analyze the position of white women in our society.

But – bracketing white women for now – to focus on the trouble with white feminism, and here, it is the critiques by scholars and feminists of color such as Jessica Johnson, Patricia Hill Collins, Chela Sandoval, Toni Morrison, bell hooks and many, many others I follow on Twitter whom Gramsci would consider “organic intellectuals” make the need for a critical examination of the trouble with white feminism a pressing one.

To return to Loza question about the digital media praxis, it seems clear now that that as Demetria Irwin has observed: “the feminist revolution will be tweeted, hashtagged, Vined and Instagrammed.”

When Mikki Kendall started the hashtag #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen in August, 2013 as a form of digital media activism directed at the predominantly white feminist bloggers, it was the hashtag heard around the feminist world. Kendall was calling out prominent white feminists who either rallied around or simply didn’t rebuke a rather unpleasant man claiming to be a feminist.  In her piece about the hashtag at The Guardian, Kendall noted that women of color were being “in favor of a brand of solidarity that centers on the safety and comfort of white women.” 

I would argue that a similar thing is happening with the Hollaback video, only this time, it’s white men as street harassers who are being edited out in favor of the brand solidarity that centers on the safety and comfort of white women.

You see this lots of places in white feminism, like in the Sandberg Lean In brand, which is a white, corporate brand of feminism, in which race, and more importantly white supremacy, is a taboo subject, as bell hooks notes. More recently, Susan Cox has observed the ways that Facebook – the company which Sandberg leads with Zuckerberg – is re-shaping our identities in ways that are antithetical to feminist notions of multiple, intersectional selves through their oppressive “real names” policies.

Kendall endured a vicious backlash after starting the hashtag heard ’round the world, and as far as (white feminist) Michelle Goldberg is concerned, it’s Kendall’s own fault.

For Goldberg, Twitter was “insouciant” women of color feminists like Kendall ruined it for white feminists with their “toxic tweets.”  Goldberg is critical of Kendall who seems to embody the archetypical angry black woman in the hatchet piece Goldberg wrote for The Nation.

The real “offense,” if you will, of Kendall and other women of color on Twitter is that white women are made uncomfortable when called out for bad behavior. And, on Twitter, it just feels a little closer, more intimate somehow.

In Sara Ahmed’s terms, this is a violation of the “politics of feeling good” which seems to be at the heart of white feminism. Ahmed’s contribution here is considering how certain bodies are seen as the origin of bad feeling, as getting in the way of public happiness, exploring the negative affective (feelings) value of the figures of the feminist kill-joy, unhappy queer and melancholic migrant. In other words, how women of color, immigrants, queers all disrupt the happy, unified, narrative of “women” feeling good about (white) womanhood by pointing out difference. This gives white women the sads. Then they seem to get very, very angry. This is why we can’t have nice things, like feminism.

Mandy Van Deven points out that there is discomfort for (some) white women in the #solidarityisforwhitewomen conversation. That may be so, but this discomfort is not going away because women of color speaking up and speaking out are not going away.

Hashtag activism amplifies the challenge to white feminism. The hashtag that Kendall created sparked lots of others, such as #NotYourAsianSideKick. These are going to continue and proliferate and those holding onto the mythologies of white feminism are going to be mighty uncomfortable. Personally, I think that’s a very good thing because, as Chela Sandoval has observed, the “structural deficiency within feminist praxis” is its inability to deal with the challenges of feminists of color (Sandoval 2000, 49). To be able to move beyond an entrenched, defensive, and “toxic” white feminism, we need to follow these words of Loza and Nguyen:

“Feminists of the digital age must refuse the nostalgic discourse of authentic selves, of natural bodies, of fixed communities and instead attend to the “structures and relations that produce different kinds of subjects in position with different kinds of technologies” (Nguyen 2003, 302).

The work is not easy but if we want a digital feminism that has a praxis informed by critical race theory, then those who have only known white feminism will have to decide to be brave enough to get past hurt feelings, to learn how to parse hatred from anger, and begin doing the work of anti-racist, anti-colonial feminism. Are any of us brave?

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Research Brief: New Publications on Race and Racism

Here is a recap of some of the latest research on race and racism. As always, I note which pieces are freely available on the web, or “open access” with (OA), and those behind a paywall with (locked).

Research in the Dictionary

 

  • Cunningham, Jennifer M. “Features of Digital African American Language in a Social Network Site.” Written Communication, October 2014, (Vol. 31 No. 4): 404-433. Abstract: This study examines a social network site (SNS) where specific interlocutors communicate by combining aspects of academic American English (AE), digital language (DL), and African American Language (AAL)—creating a digital form of AAL or digital AAL (DAAL). This article describes the features of DAAL in the discursive, online context of MySpace, by analyzing a corpus of DAAL comments (1,494 instances). The use of SNSs affords a space where AAL exists in written form, serving the function of approximating spoken AAL. More interesting, however, is the function that DAAL serves as a text that is visually distinct from AE, emphasizing the orthographic freedom of DAAL on SNSs. By examining how DL and AAL exist and combine in an SNS environment, this research found DAAL to be a robust form of written communication. (locked)
  • Holling, Michelle A., Dreama G. Moon, and Alexandra Jackson Nevis. “Racist Violations and Racializing Apologia in a Post-Racism Era.” Journal of International and Intercultural Communication ahead-of-print (2014): 1-27. Abstract: In theorizing the dialectic of public acts of white racial offenses and the in/sufficiency of apologia associated with white racial discourse, we examine racist violations and racializing apologia from 24 white public figures in the United States between 1996 and 2012. Analysis of racist violations reveals that each offense undermines race as a social and political marker, whereas racializing apologia makes explicit the constant force of racialization and latent nature of whiteness in apologia strategies. We view racializing apologia as potentially liberatory, capable of allowing for a defense of oneself and challenging reproduction of racial formations. (locked)
  • Reger, Jo. “The Story of a Slut Walk Sexuality, Race, and Generational Divisions in Contemporary Feminist Activism.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (2014): 0891241614526434. Drawing on a participant observation at a 2011 slut walk, I use elements of autoethnography to investigate issues and divisions in contemporary feminism. Slut walks emerged as a form of feminist protest early in 2011 when a police officer remarked that women should stop dressing like sluts if they did not want to be victimized, spurring a global mobilization promoting ideas such as “sexual profiling” and “slut shaming.” As quickly as the slut walks spread, critiques also emerged. In this essay, I explore the critiques of claiming slut as an empowering identity through my own experiences. I present five scenarios from the protest as a way of examining ideas such as “inverted” generational disidentification, the legitimization of patriarchal and feminist gazes, the articulation and silencing of women’s and girls’ sexual desire, social movement spillover, and the continuation of racial divides in North American feminism. (locked)
  • Titley, Gavin. “No apologies for cross-posting: European trans-media space and the digital circuitries of racism.” Crossings: Journal of Migration & Culture, March, 2014 Vol. 5, Issue 1, . doi:10.1386/cjmc.5.1.41_1. Abstract: This article proposes points of departure for researching the circulation and assemblage of racist ideas and racializing discourses in the trans-media space of interactive, hybrid digital media. It contends that racist mobilizations are increasingly invested in organized and opportunistic communicative actions that depend on the integration of interactive digital media to a wider media ecology and European political environment. Further, if social media can be understood as a constant ‘invitation to discourse’, then they also provide an invitation to discourse on the nature and scope of racism in a putatively ‘post-racial’ era. In contending that the affordances and dynamics of social media networks are politically generative in relation to the politics of racism, it proposes working with malleable resources in the sociology of racism to develop approaches that are not limited to the established focus on extremist sites, but that can account both for the circuitries of digital media exchange and the particularities of regional racial formations. (locked)
  • Von Robertson, Ray, Alma Bravo, and Cassandra Chaney. “Racism and the Experiences of Latina/o College Students at a PWI (Predominantly White Institution).”  Critical Sociology (2014): 0896920514532664. Abstract: This study explored Latina/o American college students at a predominantly white university in the South. The authors assessed how 12 Latina/o American college students understood racism and racial microaggressions, and developed counter-spaces to navigate the white college milieu. Qualitative analysis revealed instances of racism were dealt with through assimilation and working hard to excel. Additional responses involved aligning themselves with same-race groups and maintaining a high grade point average. Our findings demonstrated that Latina/o students often utilized counter-spaces and determination to excel in college. Finally, a major contribution of our research was that it provided an example of a small case study of Latinas/os, primarily consisting of males, a group that has traditionally been underrepresented in higher education, who performed very well academically at a PWI. (locked)
  • Weiner, Melissa F. “The Ideologically Colonized Metropole: Dutch Racism and Racist Denial.” Sociology Compass 8, no. 6 (2014): 731-744. Abstract: Many in The Netherlands deny the existence of race and racism even as significant research strongly suggests otherwise. This paper synthesized existing literature to illuminate The Netherlands’ unique form of racism, which is rooted in racial neoliberalism, anti-racialism (i.e. the denial of race), racial Europeanization, and the particular Dutch history of colonial exploitation. This article summarizes existing scholarship addressing racism in wide array of social institutions in The Netherlands before addressing the historical roots of Dutch racism and how Dutch aphasia and racial Europeanization deny the links between contemporary and historical oppression before, finally, offering an explanation for this disconnect. (OA)

Happy reading! Do you have some research you’d like to see in one of our upcoming Research Briefs? Let us hear from you in via the contact form. As always, bonus points for sharing open access readings.

Understanding Halloween Racism

Halloween is a centuries-old tradition for marking the end of summer that is now associated with overtly racist costumes worn by some whites. How did this come to be and how can we understand it?

ray rice racist halloween costume

(Image source)

Many people know that Halloween stands for “hallowed evening” and associated it with the Christian All Saints Day (Nov.1). But Halloween is actually much older than this, though precise details are obscure.

For the origins of Halloween, folklorists most often point to the Celtic festival of Samhain which comes from the Old Irish for “summer’s end,” while other scholars suggest that the origins of holiday might come from the Roman feast honoring Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia.

An estimated 93% of households celebrate Halloween in the U.S. today, but it wasn’t celebrated in the U.S. until the mid-1800s, when Irish immigrants brought the ritual with them.

The rituals and practices that emerged in the U.S., shaped the way the holiday is celebrated elsewhere. You can see this in a recent photo feature at The Guardian of “Halloween preparations around the globe” .

 

 

pumpkins in china

(Halloween in China, image source)

Nevermind that most of the photos from “around the globe” are from the U.S., the images that are from outside the U.S. seek to replicate a fall-in-New England version of Halloween.

Make no mistake, Halloween is big business. Americans will spend $2.8 billion on costumes, including $1.1 billion for children’s costumes, $1.4 billion adult costumes and $2.2 billion on candy and another $350 million on costumes for their pets, according to a National Retail Federation survey. What was once a relatively minor holiday primarily for children and celebrated by one ethnic group in the U.S., has turned into a major consumer ritual widely celebrated by adults, many of them in overly racist costumes. Why?

In their study of journal entries from college students (N=663), researchers Mueller, Dirks, and Houts Picca analyzed the study participants entries during Halloween.

The authors point to Durkheim who noted that although some holidays can be about reinforcing social control (watch “Home for the Holidays” and think of Durkheim), other holidays like New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras, are “rituals of rebellion” where all the usual rules of social life are temporarily suspended. Often this is a time when those in lower social positions temporarily assume more powerful roles,. Durkheim’s argument was that these types of rituals are a necessary safety valve for society because they allow people to blow off steam in short, neatly contained bursts. Once the holiday is over, then go everything goes back to the usual social order.

Halloween is now a “rituals of rebellion”, but not exactly in the way that Durkheim described it.

Mueller and colleagues found that many of the people in their study chose costumes that would be considered racist in other contexts, but they mostly minimized the significance by pointing to the holiday’s social context, like “Josh” described:

… because this is Halloween and anything goes. Normally dressing up as people from other cultures, such as the Rastafari, would be considered some sort of racism or people might be offended … This is the great thing about Halloween, people can go all out and be whoever they want to be, without having to worry about what people will think or who will be offended. (Mueller, Dirks, and Houts Picca, 2007, p.325).

By making light of racist costumes in the “safe” context of Halloween, the authors argue that this creates a way for people to trivialize and reproduce racial stereotypes while supporting the racial hierarchy. However, instead of the Durkheim-ian  “ritual of rebellion,” in which those in less powerful positions momentarily assume more powerful roles, racist Halloween rituals reverses this.

In the contemporary iteration of Halloween, it’s the more socially powerful group – whites – who temporarily take on the position of the less socially powerful group – African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.

By enacting this “reversed ritual of rebellion” whites are responding to what many see as a seemingly restrictive social context of the post-Civil Rights, “post-racial” era. And, a la Durkheim, when this short burst of rebellion is over, then the dominant social order is reinforced. In other words, this brief moment of ritualized acting out only serves to reinforce the already existing white dominance.

racist costumes not ok

(Image created by Ohio University, Students Teaching Against Racism in Society – STARS)

Research Brief: Open Access Edition

Today is the start of International Open Access Week, and so today’s research brief will feature only research that’s freely available on the web to anyone regardless of institutional affiliation.  (What’s open access you may be wondering and why should academics care about it? More about open access over here.)  Onward, to the latest open access research about race and racism.

Research in the Dictionary

 

  • Coleman, Robin R. Means. “Training Day and The Shield: Evil Cops and the Taint of Blackness” (book chapter from) The Changing Face of Evil in Film and Television (2007): 101. Abstract: “The police detectives of Hollywood’s Training Day (2001) and cable televisions The Shield (2002-) Alonzo Harris and Vic Mackey, represent the newest face of evil in entertainment media. Harris and Mackey are menacing, rough cops who rule their urban beats like the  street gangs and criminals who co-exist in the same cement terrain. Training Day and The Shield utilise a discourse that emphasises racial signifiers and class positioning to portray a social environment that justifies the presence of such troublesome policing. Through a critical, cultural analysis of these figures, we explore these sociopolitical themes while expounding upon definitions of evil that begin with describing a war between light and dark, black and white. Our analysis is informed by James McDaniel,
    St. Augustine, and Nietzsche’s definitions of evil. We argue that, by definition, only the Alonzo Harris characterisation, portrayed by a black body, in contrast with that of a white Vic Mackey, can be considered truly evil in nature by virtue of his undivided emersion in the ‘dark’ — morally and racially.” (OA)
  • Dreisinger, Baz, et al. “Prisons, Pipelines and Pedagogy: Diary of the Birth of a Behind-Bars College Program.”  Journal of Prison Education & Reentry, Vol. 1 No. 1, (2014), pp. 55-66. (A “practitioner paper” – no abstract available.) (OA)
  • Lavoie, Carmen. “Institutional Racism and Individual Agency: A Case Study using Foucault’s Disciplinary Power.”  Critical Social Work, (2014) Vol. 15, No. 1. Abstract: “Institutional racism is a principal factor in the exclusion and oppression of racialized groups. Social work scholars have examined the organizational indicators, attitudes, and actions of staff that contribute to institutional racism in order to elucidate its function. However, an understanding of the interplay between institutions and individuals within institutional racism has remained largely elusive. This paper aims to address this gap. Using the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault and his theorization of disciplinary power, this paper presents a case study of one social worker’s efforts to address racism in her organization. The result is a unique understanding of institutional racism that considers the dynamic interactions between institutional constraints and individual agency. Such an analysis enables those in direct practice as well as in leadership roles who are committed to anti-oppression social work to understand the barriers and routes to anti-racist institutional change.” (OA)

Happy open access reading!

Want to see your research featured here? Send us your latest research and please consider using an open access, peer-reviewed journal as the outlet for your next publication on race and racism.