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.

Happy reading!

Want to see your favorite sociology book here (including your own)? Drop us a note using the contact form and we’ll include it in an upcoming research brief. 

President Obama’s Speech at Selma (full text)

Today marks 50 years since protestors marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to demand equal voting rights for African Americans.

Marchers in Selma, 1965

(Image source)

To commemorate this historic event, and re-focus attention on voting rights, President Obama gave a speech at the site of the march and led a large contingent over the bridge. Many people are saying this is his best speech yet  and will be one of the historic high points of his of his presidency.

President Obama - Selma

(Image source)

The video of the speech is here and the full text of the speech (as prepared for delivery) is here:

“It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning fifty years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind. A day like this was not on his mind. Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about. Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked. A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones. The air was thick with doubt, anticipation, and fear. They comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:

No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;

Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.

Then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, a book on government – all you need for a night behind bars – John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.

President Bush and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Members of Congress, Mayor Evans, Reverend Strong, friends and fellow Americans:

There are places, and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war – Concord and Lexington, Appomattox and Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character – Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

Selma is such a place.

In one afternoon fifty years ago, so much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher – met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America.

And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. King, and so many more, the idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, a generous America – that idea ultimately triumphed.

As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice.

They did as Scripture instructed: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” And in the days to come, they went back again and again. When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came – black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope. A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing. To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

In time, their chorus would reach President Johnson. And he would send them protection, echoing their call for the nation and the world to hear:

“We shall overcome.”

What enormous faith these men and women had. Faith in God – but also faith in America.

The Americans who crossed this bridge were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities – but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.

What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.

As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, half-breeds, outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse – everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. Their lives were threatened. Their patriotism was challenged.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?

What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people – the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many – coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:

“We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

These are not just words. They are a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny. For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all our citizens in this work. That’s what we celebrate here in Selma. That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.

The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge is the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot and workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.

That’s what makes us unique, and cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity. Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down a wall. Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid. Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule. From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest superpower, and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.

They saw that idea made real in Selma, Alabama. They saw it made real in America.

Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed. Political, economic, and social barriers came down, and the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African-Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus to the Oval Office.

Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities came through those doors. Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.

What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say.

What a solemn debt we owe.

Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?

First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough. If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done – the American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.

Selma teaches us, too, that action requires that we shed our cynicism. For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.

Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country. I understand the question, for the report’s narrative was woefully familiar. It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement. But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom; and before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress – our progress – would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character – requires admitting as much.

“We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”

This is work for all Americans, and not just some. Not just whites. Not just blacks. If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. All of us will need to feel, as they did, the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize, as they did, that change depends on our actions, our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such effort, no matter how hard it may seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.

With such effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some. Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on – the idea that police officers are members of the communities they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland just want the same thing young people here marched for – the protection of the law. Together, we can address unfair sentencing, and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and workers, and neighbors.

With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity. Americans don’t accept a free ride for anyone, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes. But we do expect equal opportunity, and if we really mean it, if we’re willing to sacrifice for it, then we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts their sights and gives them skills. We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.

And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge – and that is the right to vote. Right now, in 2015, fifty years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood and sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, stands weakened, its future subject to partisan rancor.

How can that be? The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic effort. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. President Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. One hundred Members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right it protects. If we want to honor this day, let these hundred go back to Washington, and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore the law this year.

Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or the President alone. If every new voter suppression law was struck down today, we’d still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap. It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life. What is our excuse today for not voting? How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?

Fellow marchers, so much has changed in fifty years. We’ve endured war, and fashioned peace. We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives, and take for granted convenience our parents might scarcely imagine. But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship, that willingness of a 26 year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five, to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.

That’s what it means to love America. That’s what it means to believe in America. That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.

For we were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people. That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter. We know America is what we make of it.

We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea – pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, entrepreneurs and hucksters. That’s our spirit.

We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some; and we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth. That’s our character.

We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free – Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan. We are the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because they want their kids to know a better life. That’s how we came to be.

We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South. We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent, and we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, Navajo code-talkers, and Japanese-Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied. We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, and the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We are the gay Americans whose blood ran on the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge.

We are storytellers, writers, poets, and artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.

We are the inventors of gospel and jazz and the blues, bluegrass and country, hip-hop and rock and roll, our very own sounds with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.

We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway.

We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of, who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”

We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”

That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American as others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for it. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day. You are America. Unconstrained by habits and convention. Unencumbered by what is, and ready to seize what ought to be. For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, and new ground to cover, and bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.

Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.

Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished. But we are getting closer. Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding, our union is not yet perfect. But we are getting closer. Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile. Somebody already got us over that bridge. When it feels the road’s too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.”

We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.

May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America.”

If you’d like to do something to support voting rights, you can click this link to sign a petition in support of a new voting rights act amendment.

DOJ: Ferguson Police Engaged in Systemic Racism

Today the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released their report the Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, following the shooting death of Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer.

The 102-page report documents the systemic racism that the police department of Ferguson, Missouri engaged, and it reads a bit like a piece of sociological research. The methodology included the following:

we interviewed City officials, including City Manager John Shaw, Mayor James Knowles, Chief of Police Thomas Jackson, Municipal Judge Ronald Brockmeyer, the Municipal Court Clerk, Ferguson’s Finance Director, half of FPD’s sworn officers, and others. We spent, collectively, approximately 100 person-days onsite in Ferguson. We participated in ride-alongs with on-duty officers, reviewed over 35,000 pages of police records as well as thousands of emails and other electronic materials provided by the police department. Enlisting the assistance of statistical experts, we analyzed FPD’s data on stops, searches, citations, and arrests, as well as data collected by the municipal court. We observed four separate sessions of Ferguson Municipal Court, interviewing dozens of people charged with local offenses, and we reviewed third-party studies regarding municipal court practices in Ferguson and St. Louis County more broadly. As in all of our investigations, we sought to engage the local community, conducting hundreds of in-person and telephone interviews of individuals who reside in Ferguson or who have had interactions with the police department. We contacted ten neighborhood associations and met with each group that responded to us, as well as several other community groups and advocacy organizations.”

What they found was certainly not surprising for regular readers here, but it was no less shocking for its grim familiarity. The stories of the routine, systematic, racist practices of the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) reveal that the African American citizens of that municipality live under a repressive, brutal regime that circumscribes the boundaries of their lives in ways that appear totalizing and inescapable. Through a pattern of police stops that the report deems “improper” and likely unconstitutional for things like jay-walking, coupled with a revenue-generating scheme when the inevitable violations occur, followed by an elaborate system of fines, penalties and warrants for failure to appear in court over those violations, the predominantly white FPD maintains an effective system of apartheid against the predominantly black residents of the town of Ferguson. This is a moral outrage, and it is also life-threatening in its consequences for African American residents.  Here is one account:

While the record demonstrates a pattern of stops that are improper from the beginning, it also exposes encounters that start as constitutionally defensible but quickly cross the line. For example, in the summer of 2012, an officer detained a 32-year-old African-American man who 19 was sitting in his car cooling off after playing basketball. The officer arguably had grounds to stop and question the man, since his windows appeared more deeply tinted than permitted under Ferguson’s code. Without cause, the officer went on to accuse the man of being a pedophile, prohibit the man from using his cell phone, order the man out of his car for a pat-down despite having no reason to believe he was armed, and ask to search his car. When the man refused, citing his constitutional rights, the officer reportedly pointed a gun at his head, and arrested him. The officer charged the man with eight different counts, including making a false declaration for initially providing the short form of his first name (e.g., “Mike” instead of “Michael”) and an address that, although legitimate, differed from the one on his license. The officer also charged the man both with having an expired operator’s license, and with having no operator’s license in possession. The man told us he lost his job as a contractor with the federal government as a result of the charges.

This account is not an isolated incident, but rather suggests the broader pattern of racial disparity in Ferguson.

The FPD also used police dogs against low-level, nonviolent offenders, according to the report. In 14 of the police dog attacks, all those attacked were African Americans, including one minor. The use of dogs against African American citizens conjures an earlier era of repression when dogs were key part of upholding Jim Crow. The reintroduction of trained attack dogs against African Americans raises questions about the progress the U.S. has made on civil rights.

The DOJ report also reveals a small cache of emails that circulated in the Ferguson Police Department in the days and weeks following the death of Michael Brown. Here is a recap of these provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Racist Emails

That this new technology – email – is joined with the old technologies of trained attack dogs, bullets, and policing practices routed in racist brutality – highlights the mix of old and new mechanisms of racism that circulate today. In taking stock of the racist emails, the DOJ report has this to say:

“The racial animus and stereotypes expressed by these supervisors suggest that they are unlikely to hold an officer accountable for discriminatory conduct or to take any steps to discourage the development or perpetuation of racial stereotypes among officers.”

The cold, bureaucratic language of ‘racial animus’ seems too tepid for a police force that murders an 18-year-old, leaves his body in the street for hours, and then sends racist ‘joke’ emails around afterward. This, it is safe to say, is looking into the abyss of depravity that is white supremacy.

Expressed in pie chart form (h/t @digiphile) the racial disparities in Ferguson policing practices look like this:

DOJ_Ferguson01

This is a textbook illustration of what the term “disproportionate” means. If the stops and arrests of African Americans were proportional to their percentage of the population, those charts at the bottom there would both read “67%” – but since they’re higher, that’s disproportionate. In other words, something else is going on here. Something systematic having to do with race. Here’s another set of charts from the DOJ:

DOJ_Ferguson02

 

This kind of stark racial disparity is characteristic of what we, in the U.S., are taught to believe happened in the distant Jim Crow past, or in apartheid South Africa, but we have trouble believing this is happening now, in our own time.

To be sure, this is not an isolated police department, this is not unique, or an unusual set of racial disparities.

 

This is America.

Research Brief: Recent Publications on Race and Racism

Here is our latest update on some of the recent scholarly publications the sociology of race and racism. A couple of this research (e.g., Chaudry, Velasquez) could also be categorized as digital sociology, but more about that in a future post.

As always, I’ve noted which pieces are freely available on the web, or “open access” with (OA), and those behind a paywall with (locked). Why do I do this? Some people have begun to question the morality of publishing scholarly work behind paywalls with publishers that ‘make Murdoch look like a socialist.’  I think that’s a discussion we should be having as academics. For those unpersuaded by moral arguments, the purely self-interested academic should note they carry a cost in forgotten, rarely cited work.  Increasingly, open access publications get more widely cited than those locked behind paywalls.

Onward, to the latest research about race and racism.

Research in the Dictionary

 

  • Chaudry, Irfan. “#Hashtagging Hate: Using Twitter to Track Racism Online.” First Monday, 20(2), 2015. doi:10.5210/fm.v20i2.5450.  Abstract: This paper considers three different projects that have used Twitter to track racist language: 1) Racist Tweets in Canada (the author’s original work); 2) Anti-social media (a 2014 study by U.K. think tank DEMOS); and, 3) The Geography of Hate Map (created by researchers at Humboldt University) in order to showcase the ability to track racism online using Twitter. As each of these projects collected racist language on Twitter using very different methods, a discussion of each data collection method used as well as the strengths and challenges of each method is provided. More importantly, however, this paper highlights why Twitter is an important data collection tool for researchers interested in studying race and racism. (OA)
  • Garner, Steve. “Injured nations, racialising states and repressed histories: making whiteness visible in the Nordic countries.” Social Identities ahead-of-print (2015): 1-16. Abstract: This paper sets out some parameters for the special issue, focusing on Nordic countries studied as ‘injured nations’, racialising states and repressed histories. The distinctiveness of using whiteness paradigms to accomplish this are specified, and then the individual contributions to the topic are outlined. The processes of racialisation identified and analysed link the past to the present. There are different pathways, from colonised to colonising, from subaltern to dominant racialised position. The specifics of each country’s journey are noted, whilst links to contemporary discourse elsewhere are also established. Although there are populist nationalist parties active in the Nordic countries, the contributors argue that first, it is the mainstream political discourse that enables the more extreme versions: it is not a question of rupture but continuity. Secondly, racialising discourses that place people belonging to the nation in a privileged position vis-à-vis Others can be found outside the formal political arena, in development aid, national cuisine, and in national debates about violence, for example. (locked)
  • Huber, Lindsay Pérez, and Daniel G. Solorzano. “Visualizing Everyday Racism Critical Race Theory, Visual Microaggressions, and the Historical Image of Mexican Banditry.” Qualitative Inquiry 21, no. 3 (2015): 223-238. Abstract: Drawing from critical race and sociolinguistic discourse analysis, this article further develops the conceptual tool of racial microaggressions—the systemic, cumulative, everyday forms of racism experienced by People of Color—to articulate a type of racial microaggression, we call visual microaggressions. Visual microaggressions are systemic, everyday visual assaults based on race, gender, class, sexuality, language, immigration status, phenotype, accent, or surname that emerge in various mediums such as textbooks, children’s books, advertisements, film and television, dance and theater performance, and public signage and statuary. These microaggressions reinforce institutional racism and perpetuate ideologies of white supremacy. In this article, we use a racial microaggressions analytical framework to examine how the “Mexican bandit” visual microaggression has been utilized as a multimodal text that (re)produces racist discourses that in turn reinforce dominant power structures. These discourses have allowed for the Mexican bandit image to pervade the public imagination of Latinas/os for over 100 years.  (locked)
  • Pulido, Laura. “Geographies of Race and Ethnicity: White Supremacy vs White Privilege in Environmental Racism Research,” Progress in Human Geography published online before print January 21, 2015, doi: 10.1177/0309132514563008. Abstract: In this report I compare two forms of racism: white privilege and white supremacy. I examine how they are distinct and can be seen in the environmental racism arena. I argue that within US geographic scholarship white privilege has become so widespread that more aggressive forms of racism, such as white supremacy, are often overlooked. It is essential that we understand the precise dynamics that produce environmental injustice so that we can accurately target the responsible parties via strategic social movements and campaigns. Using the case of Exide Technologies in Vernon, California, I argue that the hazards generated by its longstanding regulatory noncompliance are a form of white supremacy. (locked)
  • Selod, Saher, and David G. Embrick. “Racialization and Muslims: Situating the Muslim experience in race scholarship.” Sociology Compass 7, no. 8 (2013): 644-655. Abstract: This article reviews how racialization enables an understanding of Muslim and Muslim American experience as racial. Race scholarship in the United States has historically been a Black/White paradigm. As a result, the experiences of many racial and ethnic groups who have become a part of the American landscape due to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 have largely been ignored in race scholarship. By reviewing racialization and its application to Arabs and Muslims, it is apparent that scholars must continuously explore newer theories and languages of race. Racialization not only provides a way to understand the fluidity of race and racism but it also contributes to the advancement of race scholarship by reflecting on the current contextual influences on race. (locked)
  • Selod, Saher. “Citizenship Denied: The Racialization of Muslim American Men and Women post-9/11.” Critical Sociology (2014): 0896920513516022. Abstract:The racialization of Muslim Americans is examined in this article. Qualitative in-depth interviews with 48 Muslim Americans reveal they experience more intense forms of questioning and contestation about their status as an American once they are identified as a Muslim. Because Islam has become synonymous with terrorism, patriarchy, misogyny, and anti-American sentiments, when participants were identified as Muslims they were treated as if they were a threat to American cultural values and national security. Their racialization occurred when they experienced de-Americanization, having privileges associated with citizenship such as being viewed as a valued member of society denied to them. This article highlights the importance of gender in the process of racialization. It also demonstrates the need for race scholarship to move beyond a black and white paradigm in order to include the racialized experiences of second and third generations of newer immigrants living in the USA. (locked)
  • Shams, Tahseen. “The Declining Significance of Race or the Persistent Racialization of Blacks? A Conceptual, Empirical, and Methodological Review of Today’s Race Debate in America.” Journal of Black Studies (2015): 0021934714568566. Abstract: The sociological literature of the past several decades has emphasized two apparently contradictory perspectives—the “declining significance of race” and persistent racialization of Blacks. This article surveys the empirical evidence in support of both these perspectives and attempts to explain this seeming contradiction. Based on a thorough review of recent literature on this polarized debate, this article argues that proponents of the decline of race argument misconceptualize race and apply methodologies that fail to measure the hidden ways in which structural racism still operates against African Americans today. The article concludes that White racial framing of colorblindness operating on a flawed conceptualization of race and inadequate methodology masks a reality where racism persists robustly, but more subtly than during the pre-civil rights era. (locked)
  • Thompson, Cheryl. “Neoliberalism, Soul Food, and the Weight of Black Women.” Feminist Media Studies ahead-of-print (2015): 1-19. Abstract: This article examines the representation of Black women’s weight in contemporary diet advertising and African American film. It positions socioeconomic class as a significant factor that distinguishes between “good” weight and “bad” weight. I argue that there is a distinction to be made between representations of poor and working-class fat Black women and middle-class fat Black women. The increased presence of Black women as diet spokeswomen is also questioned. The social construction and filmic representation of the African American cuisine “Soul Food” and the political economic notion of neoliberalism are used as frameworks to deconstruct how notions of self-discipline, personal responsibility, and citizenship impact upon Black women’s bodies. As a case study, I examine the careers of Oprah Winfrey and Gabourey Sidibe and the ways in which their weight has been differently coded based on class, the neoliberal rhetoric of “personal responsibility,” and food. I ultimately critique how contemporary media has helped to shape contemporary discourses on Black women’s weight.
  • Velasquez, Tanya Grace. “From Model Minority to “Angry Asian Man”: Social Media, Racism, and Counter-Hegemonic Voices.” In Modern Societal Impacts of the Model Minority Stereotype, ed. Nicholas Daniel Hartlep, 90-132 (2015). doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-7467-7.ch004. Abstract: In various social media formats, Asian Americans have posted angry and creative reactions to cyber racism. This chapter discusses the benefits of using social media discourse analysis to teach students about the modern societal impact of the model minority stereotype and Asian Americans who resist online. Methods and theories that support this interdisciplinary approach include racial identity development theory, racial formations, critical race theory, feminist perspectives, and culturally relevant pedagogy. As a result, students learn to deconstruct cultural productions that shape the sociopolitical meanings of Asian American identity while critically reflecting on their own experiences with the stereotype. The work discussed in this chapter is based on participatory action research principles to develop critical media literacy, foster counter-hegemonic stories, and promote social change that expands our knowledge, institutional support, and compassion for the divergent experiences of Asian Americans, particularly in college settings. (locked)

 

Happy scholarly reading!

If you’d like to see your research appear in an upcoming brief, don’t be shy, drop your shameless self-promotion in the contact form.

Arquette and the Trouble with White Feminism (with updates)

I thought for sure that my next update in the trouble with white feminism series would be about Jessica Williams’ decision to take herself out of the running to replace Jon Stewart as the next host of The Daily Show.

Jessica Williams on The Daily Show

Following her very clear declaration about her decision, a number of white feminists stepped into Williams to let her know that she wasn’t doing feminism properly, needed to “lean in” and was likely “the latest victim of impostor syndrome.” Quickly afterward, several black feminists and womanists, including Mikki Kendall and LaToya Peterson, explained in detail all that was wrong with this.  Quite capable of speaking for herself, Jessica Williams fired back at white feminists and urged them to “Lean the F*** Away From Me,” in a counter to the Sandberg-ian admonition to “lean in”.

But that was last week.

On Sunday, Patricia Arquette won an acting award and gave a controversial acceptance speech on primetime network television that made Jessica Williams and that cable show where she works all last week’s news.

Arquette speech with quote

 

Since Arquette’s speech, a rather remarkable thing has been happening. Suddenly, ALL kinds of people are talking about, acknowledging and critiquing white feminism –  like it’s a thing now. All sorts of people who aren’t usually critical of and, indeed, barely acknowledge that there is even something called “white feminism,” are now writing about it like it’s their regular beat. I’m not mad, I’m just noticing. So, perhaps my work here with the trouble with white feminism series is done!

Well, almost, but not quite yet.

Arquette’s speech about “taxpayers” and “citizens” (pictured above) was for many folks a dog whistle about race and immigration. Put another way, lots of people thought “taxpayers” and “citizens” was a not very thinly veiled reference for racially coded language that meant “white people”. So when Arquette joined the ideas of “taxpayers” and “citizens” with her language about feminism, well, the “equal rights for women” part was hard to disentangle from the “taxpaying citizens” white supremacy part.

Arquette’s comments in backstage interviews have generated almost as much critique as what she said from the front stage. When asked to follow up, she said:

“The truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface there are huge issues that are at play that really do affect women. And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for, to fight for us now.”

When I read this, I was reminded of Duke University Professor Sharon Holland’s book The Erotic Life of Racism (Duke U Press, 2012). Holland, who is African American, opens that book with a story about an encounter between herself and a white woman in a grocery store parking lot. The white woman is annoyed that Holland won’t move her car out of the way fast enough, and when she gets the chance to air her grievance, the white woman says to Holland, “And to think, I marched for you.”  For me, Arquette’s words are perfect echo of this encounter: “we’ve all fought for you, now it’s time you fought for us.”

So, what is wrong with this? What is the trouble with white feminism here?

As many others have noted already, there’s a bunch of trouble here. It is a condescending move, to demand that “Others” enroll in one’s struggle. The “intersectional fail” that Andrea Grimes is about who is included in the term “woman” or “women” as Arquette uses it. If you ask, “the gays” and “the people of color” to join in your fight for “women’s equality” the immediate question becomes: which women do you mean? Because actual people – actual human beings – get left out of that way of talking about “women.” Arquette’s call to action is one that leaves out queer, trans, lesbian women of all races and women of color of all gender and sexual identities.

This is where many, many white feminists (and other folks) part with the critique of Arquette. “She was just clumsy in her language – of course, she meant ALL women,” or “Everyone is criticizing her too harshly,” or “You think you’re so smart, who are you to judge how someone else does their activism” as someone said to me recently.  And, to be fair, I imagine it’s difficult to have such a huge platform and then get criticized. I also think it’s fair to say that not everyone knows what “intersectionality” means. (Part of why I built yesterday’s research brief around intersectionality.)

But here’s the thing.

White feminists keep getting to drive the bus of feminism by saying “yes all women” or “I meant to include trans/women of color, I just forgot,” but that is a form of structural erasure, as Imani Gandi explains. It’s also a form of erasure to when white women tell a woman of color she’s doesn’t “lean in” because she must be suffering from “impostor syndrome.” Very few white feminists came to Jessica Williams’ defense (or, for that matter, marched in the streets for #BlackLivesMatter), but when Patricia Arquette does her thing (or Justine Sacco), then there is an outcry about hurt feelings. There seems to be a double-standard in which white women’s feelings get special consideration, but I want to think more deeply about feelings for, as Sara Ahmed observes:

“It matters how we think about feeling. …if the violences that leave us fragile are those that bring us to feminism, no wonder a feminist bond is itself fragile: an easily broken thread of connection. Perhaps we need an account of some of these breaking points by not assuming we know what breaks at these points.”

What I see is happening again and again with white feminism is the way it causes these breaking points, if I understand Ahmed correctly here.  So, it is the condescension in Arquette’s speech, which comes from a position of power, that causes a breaking point. And then, when she is critiqued, this causes hurt feelings among white feminists, another “breaking point.”

There is also something to the aggrieved feeling (“we’ve fought for you” and, “I marched for you”) that is a key part of white feminism, and maybe even white womanhood as it’s currently constructed in the US. There is something in this which says, “I’ve done too much, I’ve fought battles for others I wasn’t actually invested in, I’ve done too many favors, and now it’s time for payback.”

Perhaps it is because I was raised in Texas under a particular regime of white womanhood, that these words, this tone sound familiar to me. This is what we used to call being “put upon,” the idea that someone was taking advantage of your good nature. White women, like my Big Granny, were especially good at it: “I’m just going to sit here, and suffer in silence, you’ll never hear a word out of me,” she used to say, with her strong Texas accent and not a hint of irony. She was aggrieved – as were most white women I knew in my family – because they had done too much for everyone else, and, a life time of that builds up bitterness, resentment and a sense of being aggrieved by the whole world. While it may be that a patriarchal culture demands this of (some) women, no one is asking white feminism to save them.

There are other “breaking points” when challenging white feminism. For people of color, the initial challenge is simply being heard, as they are frequently ignored. Once their voices have registered, they risk being bullied and verbally abused (or worse). Most likely they will be called “angry”, or in some cases, accused of starting a “race war”. These misreadings of critique as attack cause white women to further retreat from engaging about race and may even lead them to excluding women of color from feminist organizing in order to avoid even the possibility of criticism. For white women, like myself, speaking out about white feminism is to risk losing connection with white women – and the opportunities that come with that – and, to risk hurt feelings. Even as I was writing this piece, I could not keep from my mind the white women I know who might be upset by my writing this. To speak about white feminism, then, is to speak against a social order.

In many ways, the reaction to challenges to white feminism causes “unhappiness” which, to again turning to Sara Ahmed, can be a good thing:

“To be willing to go against a social order, which is protected as a moral order, a happiness order is to be willing to cause unhappiness, even if unhappiness is not your cause. To be willing to cause unhappiness might be about how we live an individual life (not to choose “the right path” is readable as giving up the happiness that is presumed to follow that path). …To be willing to cause unhappiness can also be how we immerse ourselves in collective struggle, as we work with and through others who share our points of alienation. Those who are unseated by the tables of happiness can find each other.”

As I read it, Ahmed’s is a hopeful analysis for those who seek to challenge white feminism. For those who are willing to cause unhappiness by challenging white feminism we can find each other as we work together and share our alienation from it.

The trouble with the white feminism in Arquette’s speech is tied to the historical past of white colonialism and the messy present of liberal feminism that centers white women’s experiences as the archetype, the conveners, the agenda-setters, the deciders for what matters.

Since everyone it seems is now writing about white feminism, I had a momentary flash when I thought we had reached some cataclysmic change. And then, Yasmin Nair’s piece (h/t Minh-Ha Pham), reminded me with a jolt that Arquette’s speech is a harbinger of the white feminism on the horizon:

Arquette’s brand of white female liberal feminism, the sort that brings other liberal feminists like Meryl Streep to her feet in cheers, is the sort that will overtake this country should Hillary Rodham Clinton finally decide to run in 2016.  Women like Arquette and Clinton are the reasons why I plan on not being in the US at all in 2016; my anger at their myopic, ahistorical, and entirely condescending politics — don’t you people of colour and gays ever forget what we did for you — is likely to result in either an angry ulcer or a deep, long fit of depression for me.

Nair is right to point out the looming white feminism of an Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential bid. And, as if confirming this, in a New York Times report about an event in Silicon Valley, identified the other high profile white feminist in the room in the following way:

“At the event was Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, who was a high-level Treasury Department aide in President Bill Clinton’s administration before becoming a generous Democratic donor. Her 2013 book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” became a much-debated guide for wealthy working mothers.”

The last line about “a guide for wealthy working mothers” is shade from the NYTimes, friends, and about as close as the paper of record will get to doing a piece on white feminism.  Until then, I’ll keep offering a context for understanding the trouble with white feminism that goes beyond “people (mostly women of color) on the Internet are mean.”

* * *

List of posts about Arquette and critical of white feminism since the awards show (in no particular order, updated 3/1 12:23amET):

* * *

~ This post is part of a series, The Trouble with White Feminism. If you’re new here, this is the sixteenth post in an on-going series I began in 2014. To read the previous entries, begin with the initial post and navigate through using the “Read next post in series” link. I’ll eventually compile all these into an eBook, for ease of reading. If you have suggestions for what to include in the series, use the contact form on this blog, or hit me up on the Twitter machine: @JessieNYC

Research Brief: Intersectionality

For today’s research brief, I’ve pulled together some sources on intersectionality. The acceptance speech by Patricia Arquette at last night’s Academy Awards show has a lot of people talking about the importance of understanding intersectionality, but as Akiba Solomon at Colorlines reminds us, not everyone understands what intersectionality means. So, if you’re unclear about what it means, here are a few items to add to your reading list. As always in these research briefs, I note whether articles are behind a paywall (locked), or freely available on the open web (OA).

Research in the Dictionary

 

  • Brah, Avtar, and Ann Phoenix. “Ain’t IA Woman? Revisiting Intersectionality.”Journal of International Women’s Studies 5, no. 3 (2013): 75-86. Abstract: In the context of the second Gulf war and US and the British occupation of Iraq, many ‘old’ debates about the category ‘woman’ have assumed a new critical urgency. This paper revisits debates on intersectionality in order to show that they can shed new light on how we might approach some current issues. It first discusses the 19th century contestations among feminists involved in anti-slavery struggles and campaigns for women’s suffrage. The second part of the paper uses autobiography and empirical studies to demonstrate that social class (and its intersections with gender and ‘race’ or sexuality) are simultaneously subjective, structural and about social positioning and everyday practices. It argues that studying these intersections allows a more complex and dynamic understanding than a focus on social class alone. The conclusion to the paper considers the potential contributions to intersectional analysis of theoretical and political approaches such as those associated with post-structuralism, post-colonial feminist analysis, and diaspora studies. (OA)
  • Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color.” Stanford law review (1991): 1241-1299. No abstract available, but this is the article that sparked an intellectual movement. Unfortunately, it’s also behind a paywall. (locked)
  • McCall, Leslie.“The complexity of intersectionality.” Signs 40, no. 1 (2014). Opening (in lieu of abstract): Since critics first alleged that feminism claimed to speak universally for all women, feminist researchers have been acutely aware of the limitations of gender as a single analytical category. In fact, feminists are perhaps alone in the academy in the extent to which they have embraced intersectionality—the relationships among multiple dimensions and modalities of social relations and subject formations—as itself a central category of analysis. One could even say that intersectionality is the most important theoretical contribution that women’s studies, in conjunction with related fields, has made so far. Yet despite the emergence of intersectionality as a major paradigm of research in women’s studies and elsewhere, there has been little discussion of how to study intersectionality, that is, of its methodology.(locked)
  • Nash, Jennifer C. “Re-thinking intersectionality.” Feminist Review 89, no. 1 (2008): 1-15. Abstract: Intersectionality has become the primary analytic tool that feminist and anti-racist scholars deploy for theorizing identity and oppression. This paper exposes and critically interrogates the assumptions underpinning intersectionality by focusing on four tensions within intersectionality scholarship: the lack of a defined intersectional methodology; the use of black women as quintessential intersectional subjects; the vague definition of intersectionality; and the empirical validity of intersectionality. Ultimately, my project does not seek to undermine intersectionality; instead, I encourage both feminist and anti-racist scholars to grapple with intersectionality’s theoretical, political, and methodological murkiness to construct a more complex way of theorizing identity and oppression. (locked)
  • Yuval-Davis, Nira. “Intersectionality and feminist politics.” European Journal of Women’s Studies 13, no. 3 (2006): 193-209. Abstract: This article explores various analytical issues involved in conceptualizing the interrelationships of gender, class, race and ethnicity and other social divisions. It compares the debate on these issues that took place in Britain in the 1980s and around the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism. It examines issues such as the relative helpfulness of additive or mutually constitutive models of intersectional social divisions; the different analytical levels at which social divisions need to be studied, their ontological base and their relations to each other. The final section of the article attempts critically to assess a specific intersectional methodological approach for engaging in aid and human rights work in the South. (locked)

Happy intersectional reading!

10 Things To Watch Instead of the Oscars

The unrelenting whiteness of the annual Academy Awards show has finally gotten to be too much. After decades of ridiculous votes, like the Academy’s preference for “Driving Miss Daisy” over Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” in 1989, folks have had enough.

driving_miss_daisy do_the_right_thing

The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite created by lawyer, blogger and social media professional, April Reign (@ReignofApril) has exploded on Twitter, with people posting something like 95,000 tweets per hour. For the full rundown on the hashtag and the unbearable whiteness of the Oscars, see this terrific piece by Rebecca Theodore-Vachon (@FilmFatale_NYC).

So, what to watch now if you’d planned to tune into the Oscars tonight? Here are 10 things you could watch instead:

1. Coming to America. The classic comedy with Eddie Murphy, who plays an African prince who travels to Queens, NY to find a wife whom he can respect for her intelligence and will. As a direct counter to the Oscars, April Reign is leading a live ‘watch and tweet’ party at 9pmET. (Currently streaming on Netflix.)

2.  Selma. The powerful drama about the epic march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 and Dr. King’s campaign for equal voting rights, directed by Ava DuVernay, is currently available on iTunes.

3. Reel Injun. A documentary about the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood. (Currently streaming on Netflix.)

4. A Good Day to Die. Dennis Banks, leader of the American Indian Movement, looks back on his life and reflects on the rise of the movement.  (Currently streaming on Netflix.)

5. Documented. In 2011, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in the New York Times Magazine. ‘Documented’ chronicles his journey to America from the Philippines as a child; his journey through America as an immigration reform activist/provocateur; and his journey inward as he re-connects with his mother, whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years. (Currently streaming on Netflix.)

6. Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People. A really fascinating documentary that explores the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations, and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to the present, this film probes the recesses of American history through images that have been suppressed, forgotten, and lost. (Currently streaming on PBS.)

7. The Other Side of Immigration. Based on over 700 interviews in Mexican towns where about half the population has left to work in the US, this film asks why so many Mexicans come to the U.S. and what happens to the families and communities they leave behind.  (Currently streaming on Netflix.)

8. Klansville, USA. North Carolina, long seen as the most progressive state in the South, became home to the largest Klan organization in the country, with more members than all the other Southern states combined, during the 1960s. This film tries to understand this seeming contradiction in the North Carolina and its history with the Klan. (Currently streaming on PBS.)

9. The Book of Negroes. Based on historical accounts, this is a mini-series about Aminata, who is kidnapped in Africa and subsequently enslaved in South Carolina, and who must navigate a revolution in New York, isolation in Nova Scotia and treacherous jungles of Sierra Leone, in an attempt to secure her freedom in the 19th century. (Currently airing on BET, available as VOD in some areas.)

10. How to Get Away with Murder. This is a series starring Viola Davis as law professor Annalise Keating who instructs a group of ambitious law students in the intricacies of criminal defense through real-world experience. The episode with Cicely Tyson playing the mother of Annalise Keating is some of the best acting I’ve seen on any type of screen in a very long time. Not to be missed. (Currently airing on ABC, available as VOD in some areas.)

Enjoy counter programming your evening. Or, more radical still, read a book.

Race and Online Dating

Valentine’s Day for many people means (re-)subscribing to an online dating service. According to some estimates, more than 20 million people per month use online dating services.

Does race affect dating? The folks at OKCupid have interesting data about this, and the answer is: yes. They’ve been collecting data on their site (and others they’ve acquired) about racial patterns in dating from 2009-2014.

(CC image from Flickr user @atbondi)

 

OKCupid analyzed their internal data by race and found that: “although race shouldn’t matter … it does. A lot.” 

Have things changed in dating patterns at OKCupid since 2009? Their answer: “In some ways, no. OkCupid users are certainly no more open-minded than they used to be. If anything, racial bias has intensified a bit.”

The way OKCupid works, in case you’ve never dipped your toe in the waters of online dating, is that you set up an ad, or “Profile” describing yourself, your interests, what you’re looking for in a date.  Then, when people read your profile, they can send you a “Message” within the site, indicating their interest in you.

What the data show pretty clearly is that in figuring out who gets “messages”  and “replies” – or traffic from potential dates – race matters. The patterns for the straight crowd looks like this (from here):

  • White men get more responses. Whatever it is, white males just get more replies from almost every group. We were careful to preselect our data pool so that physical attractiveness (as measured by our site picture-rating utility) was roughly even across all the race/gender slices. For guys, we did likewise with height.
  • White women prefer white men to the exclusion of everyone else—and Asian and Hispanic women prefer them even more exclusively. These three types of women onlyrespond well to white men. More significantly, these groups’ reply rates to non-whites is terrible.
  • Black women write back the most. Black women are by far the most likely to respond to a first contact attempt. In many cases, their response rate is one and a half times the average, and, overall, black women reply about a quarter more often that other women.

The interesting contradiction is that OKCupid also asks people “Is interracial marriage a bad idea?” and, as with most liberals, the responses are overwhelmingly positive in the direction of “no, not a bad idea” (98% answering in the negative to the question). They also ask “Would you prefer to date someone of your own skin color/racial background?” Again, a huge majority (87%) say no. OKCupid chalks this up to a collective “schizophrenia” about race.

In same-sex dating “the prejudices are a bit less pronounced,” but the predominance of white men persists.  Here’s what the gay-lesbian dating looks like (from here):

  • White gays and lesbians respond by far the least to anyone.
  • Black gays and lesbians get fewer responses. This is consistent with the straight data, too.
  • Asian lesbians are replied to the most, and, among the well-represented groups, they have the most defined racial preferences: they respond very well to other Asians, Whites, Native Americans, and Middle Easterners, but very poorly to the other groups.

The folks analyzing this data at OKCupid rightfully note that they’re the only ones (among dating sites) releasing this data, and take pains to note that there’s likely nothing uniquely ‘biased’ about their users:

It’s surely not just OkCupid users that are like this. In fact, it’s any dating site (and indeed any collection of people) would likely exhibit messaging biases similar to what [is] written up [here]. According to our internal metrics, at least, OkCupid’s users are better-educated, younger, and far more progressive than the norm, so I can imagine that many sites would actually have worse race stats.

It’s an interesting point that highlights in many ways, how facile our thinking is when it comes to race and racism.

We’re stuck, it seems, in the collective myth that “racism” looks like Bull Connor, when in fact, racism can – and often does – appear to be “well educated, younger, and progressive.”  As Sharon P. Holland notes in her excellent book, The Erotic Life of Racism (Duke U Press, 2012), these quotidian, daily choices about who we choose to love shape not only individual, personal lives, but also the contours of collective society.