On Black Death and LGBTQ Politics

On Friday, December 12, I had the profound pleasure of attending the Kessler Award ceremony hosted by The Center for LGBTQ Studies: CLAGS at The Graduate Center, CUNY in honor of Professor Cathy J. Cohen (University of Chicago). Cohen has a large body of work at the intersection of race, class, gender and sexuality, but is perhaps best known for a 1997 GLQ article, referenced this talk, called, “Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics” (locked). The title of her talk was, “#Do Black Lives Matter? From Michael Brown to CeCe McDonald: On Black Death and LGBTQ Politics.” What follows is a brief summary of her remarks, and the video and transcript are linked below.

Cohen’s talk began with the screening of a video that included the murders of Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Kaijeme Powell, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice in one devastating 2-minute clip, she said to “re-center us and remind us what the movement is about.”

Cohen then turned to a discussion of the context surrounding the murder of Michael Brown, what she calls the ‘multicultural turn in neoliberalism.’ She uses the traditional definition of neoliberalism, as a “prioritizing of markets and a corresponding commitment to the dismantling or devolution of social welfare.” She argues that with the election of the first African American president in Barack Obama, neoliberalism has taken a “multicultural turn” that requires us to “complicate our understanding of state power and neoliberal agendas.” About this, and as part of her critique of Obama, she said:

Colorblind racial ideology, by both decrying racism and designating anti-racism as probably one of the country’s newly found core values, actually works to obscure the relationship between identity and privilege. Thus, through colorblind ideology one can claim to be in solidarity with black people while at the same time denigrating the condition of poor black people, faulting them for their behaviors or lack of a work ethic and not their race. Moreover, one could declare that ‘black lives matter’ while undermining any state-sponsored programs that would address the special needs of poor black people. One could say, in fact, that I’m heartbroken with the death of Trayvon Martin because if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon, and recognize that that means nothing in terms of justice for black people.

She began here, with neoliberalism and its multicultural turn because “it is a reminder of the sustained attack on the basic humanity of poor black people that provides the context in which we should understand the killing of young black people, in particular young black men, and the less visible assaults on black women and the murder of black trans people.”

The second section of her talk, called “Performing Solidarity: LGBT Complicity = Black Death,” was a thorough recap of the critique made by Urvashi Vaid, Lisa Duggan, Dean Spade and Michael Warner, of the way that mainstream (read: predominantly white) LGBT organizations have prioritized a neoliberal agenda with policies agendas that emphasize, marriage, access to the military and increased criminalization through hate crime legislation. Then, she argued that the kinds of letters issued by mainstream LGBT organizations in support of Michael Brown’s family

The third part of her talk, which she called “This is Not the Civil Rights Movement: The Queering of Black Liberation,” is where she addressed the possibility of transformational politics. She began this section by screening this short video:

This young brother, Tory Russell is from Hands Up United, one of the grassroots groups organizing people in Ferguson, Missouri. In response to a question from Gwen Ifill (PBS Newshour) about what he sees happening now, Russell says:

“I mean it’s younger, it’s fresher. I think we’re more connected than most people think. I don’t, this is not the civil rights movement, you can tell by how I got a hat on, I got my t-shirt, and how I rock my shoes. This is not the civil rights movement. This is an oppressed peoples’ movement. So when you see us, you gonna see some gay folk, you gonna see some queer folk, you gonna see some poor black folk, you gonna see some brown folk, you gonna see some white people and we all out here for the same reasons, we wanna be free.”

In many ways, Russell here articulates Cohen’s vision for transformational politics and what she refers to as substantive, rather than performative, solidarity.

Cohen, along with a growing chorus of voices, sees what is happening now as a movement, rather than simply a momentary response to aggressive policing.

Near the end of her talk, Cohen describes this movement, echoing Russell, as a “movement made up, as Tory Russell described, made up of some gays, some queer folk, some poor black people, some brown folks, some white folks, …all of them united in their position as oppressed people, aka politically queer, and all fighting for freedom, not marriage, not increased criminalization, not access to the military, but for freedom.”

You can view Cohen’s lecture online here (beginning about the 25:50 mark). A transcript of Cohen’s remarks is available here.

Black Lives Matter Protests in NYC and DC

Over the weekend in New York City and Washington, DC thousands of people marched in protest against racist police violence in the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and so many others. The march in NYC, which I attended, was a multi-ethnic, multi-racial crowd of people from many different backgrounds. While there were folks there of all ages, the march was youth-led and organized, mostly through social media and with little to no money, as Linda Sarour observed on Twitter.

I took a bunch of photos that day, but lost them in an ill-timed software update on my phone. It’s just as well because none of my photos were as good as some of the others, like this one of a haunting series of posters of Eric Garner’s eyes.

Eric Garner's Eyes on protest signs

 (Image source: Joel Franco)

While estimates of the crowd in NYC varied widely (from 12,000 to 50,000), this amazing time-lapsed video taken at the intersection of 6th Avenue and 29th Street of the march in NYC gives you some idea of the scale of the protests:

The rallying cry for the march and the movement, is #BlackLivesMatter, which was created by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, as a call to action following the murder of Trayvon Martin. Garza has authored a compelling piece at The Feminist Wire about the attempts at theft and co-opting a movement started by queer, women of color. Garza explains the deeply intersectional vision behind #BlackLivesMatter:

“Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes. It goes beyond the narrow nationalism that can be prevalent within some Black communities, which merely call on Black people to love Black, live Black and buy Black, keeping straight cis Black men in the front of the movement while our sisters, queer and trans and disabled folk take up roles in the background or not at all. Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.”

This is a movement, not a moment, and on Saturday I was humbled to be able to walk as part of it. Today, I’m grateful that I’ve lived long enough to see the start of this movement.

This is the New Civil Rights Movement and It Will be Digital

I’ve been going to racial justice marches in New York City for nearly 20 years (for Abner Louima, for Amadou Diallo, for Sean Bell, for Ramarley Graham) and I’ve never seen anything like the mass protests in response to Eric Garner. This gives me hope.

This is one view of what the movement looked like last night in New York City:

Protests like this one happened all over the U.S. With respect to Gil Scott Heron (who told us that The Revolution Will Not be Televised), this movement is and will be digital. More precisely, this new civil rights movement is spreading quickly because it is digitally augmented through Twitter, Vine, Instagram and other social media platforms. The movement is also, simultaneously, in the streets. It is both/and – both digital and material – at the same time. And this, too, gives me hope.

The both/and, digital/material feature of the new civil rights movement means several hopeful things.

It means that it’s both youth-led movement, and it is intergenerational. It means that it’s both youth-led and leaderless, in the traditional sense. It also means that it both circumvents and subverts legacy civil rights organizations that are now mostly corporate-funded or corporate-affiliated. It means that it is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic movement.

The both/and quality of the new civil rights movement means that while much of the organizing is happening online – through websites like Ferguson Action, and email newsletters like thisisthemovement published by DeRay McKesson (@deray) and through Twitter hashtags #EricGarner #BlackLivesMatter #ShutItDown – people have been showing up in the streets for 118 days now.

The demands of the new civil rights movement are, of course, both posted online and demand real, concrete action in the material world.

Today is a day for hope.

No Indictment in Eric Garner Case

On July 17, 2014 Eric Garner was approached by NYPD officers on a street in Staten Island. The NYPD suspected Garner of selling untaxed cigarettes, not in packs or cartons, known as “loosies”, a violation of the law usually handled by a ticket. This interaction quickly escalated and ended with the death of Mr. Garner at the hands of NYPD officers.

GarnerProtests_Lynchings

  (Image by Jessie Daniels – CC – attribution, non-commercial)

Almost all of the interaction between the NYPD and Mr. Garner was recorded on a cell phone video camera. One officer, Daniel Pantaleon, can clearly be seen pressing down on Mr. Garner’s body while several other officers gather around his body. On the recording, you can plainly – and painfully – hear Mr. Garner yelling,“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” The person who recorded that video, Ramsey Orta, was indicted on a previous and unrelated charge.

Garner’s death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. And, in August, several thousand of us from around NYC marched on Staten Island to protest this death at the hands of police.

GarnerProtest_Justice

(Image by Jessie Daniels – CC – attribution, non-commercial)

Yet, today, a grand jury on Staten Island decided to not to indict Pantaleon. The reporting by most mainstream news outlets here in New York is focused on the scurrilous “will there be ‘rioting’ in the wake of this decision?” angle. But make no mistake, the no-bill decision by the grand jury in New York is not a local issue. As Nick Mirzoeff argued in a post earlier today about the Mike Brown case in Ferguson:

This is a systemic failure, not a local issue in St. Louis. For the election of Barack Obama has not changed the underlying structures of what Joe Feagin and Sean Elias call “systemic racism,” which “refers to the foundational, large-scale and inescapable hierarchical system of US racial oppression devised and maintained by whites and directed at people of color” (Feagin and Ellis 2013: 936). As Angela Davis has argued, the penitentiary system was a vital pillar for the white supremacy created after the abolition of slavery (2007). Legal scholar Michelle Alexander has called her analysis of the New Jim Crow at work in today’s prison-industrial complex, a “racial caste system” which is “creating and perpetuating a racial hierarchy in the United States” (New Jim Crow: 16).

In short, white supremacy and racial hierarchy are not incidental parts of the justice system as we now have it but are constitutive of it. What Ferguson has made visible cannot be simply “fixed” by a review of the grand jury system or other tinkering. White supremacy is the system. Many (white) people are not ready to go there yet. We have to help them.

Just as the decision in Ferguson to not indict Darren Wilson in the death of Mike Brown is not an aberration, so too is the decision to not indict Daniel Panteleon in the death of Eric Garner. This is the system of white supremacy at work, and it works with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine. Justice isn’t merely indicting one officer or locking up one cop, it’s changing the whole system. Justice means dismantling the machine of white supremacy so that it no longer churns up black bodies with regularity.

Rodney King speaks with fans before pres (Rodney King)

Right now, there are many people that I respect who are calling for body cameras on police as a way forward to racial justice, but a video didn’t make a difference for Eric Garner. And, a video helped ACQUIT the officers who beat Rodney King nearly to death. So, even as President Obama goes ahead with a request for $263 million of dollars for body cameras for 50,000 police, I’m not persuaded this is a solution. While I get the desire to “do something” in the face of the ongoing injustice, body cameras seem like a techno-solution to systemic racism that needs to be addressed by other means. The fact is, the system of white supremacy keeps churning in a way that protects (white) cops and keeps damaging black bodies.

Police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012. A recent report by grassroots activists estimates that every 28 hours a black man is killed by police. While the report can and should be faulted for not paying enough (or, indeed any) attention to the extrajudicial killings of cisgender and transgender women of color, the report is valuable to the extent that documents killings that the federal government is not.

As the Wall Street Journal reported today, hundreds of police killings are not counted in federal statistics (paywall).  The report looked at data from 105 of America’s largest police agencies and found that it is “nearly impossible to determine how many people are killed by the police each year.” They also found that the FBI numbers about police killings vary greatly from those provided by the Centers for Disease Control and by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to the report:

“more than 550 police killings between 2007 and 2012 weren’t included in the FBI’s national tally.  The Journal looked at internal FBI records and found that while the 105 departments had 1,825 police killings, only 1,242 were reported as “justifiable homicides” by the FBI. The Journal “identified several holes in the FBI data” — of the 105 agencies contacted, justifiable police homicides from 35 agencies weren’t in the FBI records at all. Police in Washington, D.C., for example, didn’t report police killings to the FBI from 1998 to 2008, when the city “had one of the highest rates of officer-involved killings in the country.” In 28 of the 70 agencies that did report homicide data, the FBI report was missing records of police killings. And “missing from the FBI data are killings involving federal officers.” (from Meghan DeMaria, The Week)

Instead of body cameras on police, I’m more inclined to want to see federal action to collect data on police involved killings. Yet, the research tells me that gathering statistics is not likely to change the system of white supremacy either.

As Jamelle Bouie noted in his piece about the research of Jennifer Eberhardt, we know that—among white Americans—there’s a strong cognitive connection between “blackness” and criminality. “The mere presence of a black man can trigger thoughts that he is violent and criminal,” observes Eberhardt and colleagues in a 2004 paper. Basically, the twisty-racial dynamic plays out like this: tell people that blacks are over-represented in prison, and it triggers thoughts of crime, which leads to fear, which causes people to follow their fear and embrace the status quo of unfair, overly punitive punishments, like not indicting NYPD cops for homicide.

So, what is to be done to dismantle this system of white supremacy? To paraphrase Ella Baker, until the killing of black people is as important to the whole nation as the killing of a white person, we cannot rest.

GarnerProtest_EveryMothersSon (Image by Jessie Daniels – CC – attribution, non-commercial)

Angela Davis on Stuart Hall’s Policing the Crisis Today

Last week, scholars at Goldsmiths, University of London, convened to remember the work, life and legacy of Stuart Hall. Professor Emerita Angela Davis offered the key note (35:00):

Professor Angela Davis: Policing the Crisis Today from Goldsmiths, University of London on Vimeo.

In this talk she ties the events of Ferguson, Missouri to Stuart Hall’s classic text Policing the Crisis. (H/t to @WailQ)

There are more videos from the conference here.

Research Brief: Race, Racism, Policing and Cameras

Here is your weekly research brief with some of the latest research in the field of race and racism. Given the recent attention on police brutality as a form of racism, and the call among many activists for body cameras (or, OOVCs -“on officer video cameras”), I thought I would take use today’s research brief to share some of the relevant research. One special note about this research brief: below I include a report from “The Police Foundation” that strongly supports the use of OOVCs. This report has been reported on by the Guardian and the New York Times, but beyond that, I cannot vouch for it since I do not know who or what is beyond the foundation publishing it and it hasn’t been subjected to the usual peer review. That said, I thought people might be interested in reading the actual report since it is getting a good deal of attention.

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

Race, racism and policing:

  • Bhattacharyya, Gargi S. Dangerous Brown Men: Exploiting Sex, Violence and Feminism in the ‘War on Terror’. Zed Books, 2008. Abstract: Why is the public presentation of the war on terror suffused with sexualised racism? What does this tell us about ideas of gender, sexuality, religious and political identity and the role of the state in the Western powers? Can we diffuse inter-ethnic conflicts and change the way the West pursues its security agenda by understanding the role of sexualised racism in the war on terror? In asking such questions, Gargi Bhattacharyya considers how the concepts of imperialism, feminism, terror and security can be applied, in order to build on the influential debates about the sexualised character of colonialism. She examines the way in which western imperial violence has been associated with the rhetoric of rights and democracy – a project of bombing for freedom that has called into question the validity of western conceptions of democracy, rights and feminism. Such rhetoric has given rise to actions that go beyond simply protecting western interests or securing access to scarce resources and appear to be beyond instrumental reason. The articulations of racism that appear with the war on terror are animated by fears and sexual fantasies inexplicable by rational interest alone. There can be no resolution to this seemingly endless conflict without understanding the highly sexualised racism that animates it. Such an understanding threatens to pierce the heart of imperial relations, revealing their intense contradictions and uncovering attempts to normalise violent expropriation.
  • Brunson, Rod K., and Jody Miller. “Young Black Men and Urban Policing in the United States.” British journal of criminology 46, no. 4 (2006): 613-640. Abstract: People of colour living in disadvantaged urban communities have been shown to be the disproportionate recipients of both proactive policing strategies and various forms of police misconduct. As a consequence, a growing body of research has begun to examine the relationship between blacks’ experiences with the police and their perceptions of police legitimacy. While urban minority young men are primary recipients of proactive policing efforts, few studies have examined in depth their particular experiences with the police. Drawing from a broader qualitative study of violence in the lives of African-American youths from a distressed urban community, this paper examines 40 young men’s experiences with and perceptions of police harassment and misconduct. Our findings highlight young men’s sense of themselves as symbolic assailants in the eyes of the police, suggest the importance of measuring the impact of accumulated negative experiences to better understand minority/police relations, and add additional currency to recent findings on the significance of procedural justice. (locked)
  • Cashmore, Ernest, and Eugene McLaughlin, eds. Out of Order?: Policing Black People. Routledge, 2013. Abstract: First published in 1991, this book evaluates and compares the problematic relationships that have sometimes existed between police and Afro-Caribbean people in Britain and in the United States of America. Contributors from both sides of the Atlantic assess conflicting claims from police and black communities, as to whether some police are racist or too brutal in their operations. Although this book was written in the early 90s, many of the issues discussed remain interesting and relevant to our society today. (locked)
  • Rowe, Michael. Policing, Race and Racism. Taylor & Francis, 2004. Abstract: Over recent years race has become one of the most important issues faced by the police. This book seeks to analyse the context and background to these changes, to assess the impact of the Lawrence Inquiry and the MacPherson Report, and to trace the growing emphasis on policing as an ‘antiracist’ activity, proactively confronting racism in both crime and non-crime situations. Whilst this change has not been wholly or consistently applied, it does represent an important change in the discourse that surrounds police relations with the public since it changes the traditional role of the police as ‘neutral arbiters of the law’. This book shows why race has become the most significant issue facing the British police, and argues that the police response to race has led to a consideration of fundamental issues about the relation of the police to society as a whole and not just minority groups who might be most directly affected. (locked)
  • Shalhoub‐Kevorkian, Nadera. “Racism, Militarisation and Policing: Police Reactions to Violence against Palestinian Women in Israel.” Social Identities 10, no. 2 (2004): 171-193. Abstract: This article moves beyond the discussion of police racism to a broader account of the militaristic racism of policing in Israel. The highly permeable boundaries between the military, society and the political conflict all affect how violence against women is policed. Focusing on case studies of police officers’ perceptions of abused Palestinian Israeli women — members of an ethnic and indigenous minority — this paper considers key features of the policing of violence against women in a militaristic context and during a continuous political conflict. Police officers’ philosophies and actions in law enforcement concerning violence against women are critically scrutinised. The findings indicate that while some aspects of cultural difference between the indigenous ethnic group and the majority are relevant to policing, focusing predominantly on the ‘cultural characteristics’ or ‘ethnic traditions or rituals’ of the policed population and denying the effect of the political conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as a factor in the militarisation of policing can reinforce rather than ameliorate ethnic prejudice, racism and discrimination. (locked)

 

Cameras and policing:

  • Ariel, Barak and Tony Farrar. “Self-Awareness to Being Watched and Socially Desirable Behavior: A Field Experiment on the Effect of Body-Worn Cameras on Police Use-of-Force.”  (Report of The Police Foundation, 2014) This randomized controlled trail represents the first experimental evaluation of body-worn video cameras used in police patrol practices. Cameras were deployed to all patrol officers in the Rialto (CA) Police Department. Every police patrol shift during the 12-month period was assigned to experimental or control conditions. Wearing cameras was associated with dramatic reductions in use-of-force and complaints against officers. The authors conclude: “The findings suggest more than a 50% reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment.” (OA)
  • Goold, Benjamin J. “Public area surveillance and police work: the impact of CCTV on police behaviour and autonomy.” Surveillance & Society 1, no. 2 (2002): 191-203. Abstract: Drawing on a recent study of the impact of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras on policing practices in a large English police force, this paper considers whether the presence of surveillance cameras affects the working attitudes and behaviour of individual police officers. In particular, this paper asks whether CCTV makes the police more accountable or more cautious in the exercise of their discretion in public spaces. Although noting that in certain circumstances CCTV may inadvertently help to reduce incidences of police misconduct, this paper concludes by arguing that more needs to be done to prevent the police from interfering with the operation of CCTV and gaining unauthorised access to potentially incriminating video evidence. (OA)
  • Harris, David A. “Picture This: Body Worn Video Devices (‘Head Cams’) as Tools for Ensuring Fourth Amendment Compliance by Police.” Texas Tech Law Review, Forthcoming (2010). Abstract: A new technology has emerged with the potential to increase police compliance with the law and to increase officers’ accountability for their conduct. Called “body worn video” (BWV) or “head cams,” these devices are smaller, lighter versions of the video and audio recording systems mounted on the dash boards of police cars. These systems are small enough that they consist of something the size and shape of a cellular telephone earpiece, and are worn by police officers the same way. Recordings are downloaded directly from the device into a central computer system for storage and indexing, which protects them from tampering and assures a defensible chain of custody. This article explores the good that BWV can do for both the police and members of the public, particularly how these recordings might play a role in assuring that officers comply with Fourth Amendment search and seizure rules. Field tests of BWV in Britain have shown that police used the devices to keep records and record evidence, and that the devices were a uniquely effective bulwark against false complaints. Coupled with a requirement that every citizen encounter involving a search or seizure be recorded, and a presumption that without a recording the factfinder must draw inferences in favor of the defendant, BWV can help resolve disputes over search and seizure activities, and give the public a heretofore unattainable degree of assurance that police officers enforcing the law obey it as they do so. While BWV is certainly no panacea, and presents significant issues of tampering and reliability, it can help bring accountability and rule following to an aspect of police behavior that has largely proven resistant to it. (OA)
  • Young, Jacob TN, and Justin T. Ready. “Diffusion of Ideas and Technology: The Role of Networks in Influencing the Endorsement and Use of On-Officer Video Cameras.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice (2014): 1043986214553380. Abstract: On-officer videos, or body cameras, can provide objective accounts of interactions among police officers and the public. Police leadership tends to view this emerging technology as an avenue for resolving citizen complaints and prosecuting offenses where victims and witnesses are reluctant to testify. However, getting endorsement from patrol officers is difficult. These incongruent cognitive frames are a cultural barrier to the utilization of innovative technologies. Understanding the mechanisms that lead to the deconstruction of these barriers is essential for the integration of technology into organizations. Using affiliation data collected from a large police department in Southwestern United States over a 4-month period, we find that interactions with other officers provide a conduit for facilitating cognitive frames that increase camera legitimacy. (locked)

 

Happy reading! Let me know if you’d like your publication to appear in an upcoming Research Brief by using the ‘contact’ form.

Native Americans Mark Thanksgiving with ‘National Day of Mourning’ Protests

FirstMourning_1970

(Image source)

Today, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Native Americans will gather to mark a “National Day of Mourning,” as they have for more than 40 years. The protests began in 1970 by Wamsutta Frank James and are carried on by his son, Moonaum James.

PlymouthProtest_2008

(Image source)

In an interview with the Boston Globe, James said demonstrators are not against Thanksgiving, but rather want to “correct the history” of the holiday that suggests that the Pilgrims and Native Americans coexisted peacefully. “We’re not there to condemn, and not there to do anything other than point out some truths,” he said.

 

NationalDayOfMourning

(Image source)

It’s expected that more than 100 people will gather today at noon and then continue with rallies at Plymouth Rock and at the site of the Metacomet (King Philip) historical marker to remember the Native Americans who died after the Europeans arrived in the 1600s and to highlight the struggles some Native Americans face today.

 

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.

 

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!

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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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