A Queering of Black Theology:
James Baldwin’s Blues Project and Gospel Prose
by El Kornegay Jr.
My Life in Medicine
by Louis W. Sullivan with David Chanoff
(University of Georgia Press)
Community Action Against Racism in West Las Vegas:
The F Street Wall and the Women Who Brought It Down
by Robert J. McKee
Women, Slavery, and the Legacy of Margaret Garner
edited by Mary E. Frederickson and Delores M. Walters
(University of Illinois Press)
River of Hope:
Black Politics and the Memphis Freedom Movement, 1865–1954
by Elizabeth Gritter
(University Press of Kentucky)
The Great White Way:
Race and the Broadway Musical
by Warren Hoffman
(Rutgers University Press)
On Friday’s here, we’re highlighting resistance to racism. How do you tell someone they sound racist? In this short video (2:59) from 2008 Jay Smooth breaks it down:
This video has almost 1 million views since it first appeared, so maybe he’s on to something. What do you think?
“Racial identity and racism shape white women’s lives: that is the repeated argument of this book,” writes Ruth Frankenberg in In her book, White Women, Race Matters. And, indeed, in many ways this is the framework for this series, the Trouble with White Women.
Frankenberg goes on to pose the question: “What are the social processes through which white women are created as social actors primed to reproduce racism within the feminist movement?”
Today, I turn to white women’s role in the second wave of the feminist movement, which spans roughly the early 1960s through the early 1980s. Any discussion of second wave feminism must start with The Feminine Mystique.
Many people credit Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminism Mystique, with launching the second wave of the feminist movement. The book, which celebrated its 50th “birthday”, is still lauded with reverential praise. What could have launched a movement and garner praise 50 years later?
Friedan’s argument in the book is often boiled down to her famously coined phrase, “the problem that has no name,” which she used to articulate the malaise felt by college-educated, middle- and upper-class, (heterosexually) married white women who were bored with leisure, with the home, with children, with buying products, who wanted more out of life. Friedan concludes her first chapter by stating: “We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my house.’” To be sure, this was a radical notion in 1963 for white women who, like my working-class-raised mother for whom “a husband, children and a house” were a fine constellation of aspirations to have.
(Shirley, my mother, circa 1960)
What Friedan defined as the “more” that women wanted were careers. Personally, I’m grateful that someone came along, about the time I was born, and shifted the expectations for what a (white) girl child could do in this world, because that literally changed the trajectory of my life. I’m grateful, too, that my mother was able to see some of the possibilities that feminism opened up for me, if she wasn’t able to see those possibilities for her own life.
There’s a serious problem with Friedan’s vision, however. What Friedan didn’t articulate was who, exactly, would do all that work of caring for a home and taking care of children if women were “liberated” from those tasks. Nor did Friedan leave room to consider women who highest aspirations included neither men nor children.
She did not discuss who would be called in to take care of the children and maintain the home if more women like herself were freed from their house labor and given equal access with white men to the professions. She did not speak of the needs of women without men, without children, without homes. She ignored the existence of all non-white women and poor white women. She did not tell readers whether it was more fulfilling to be a maid, a babysitter, a factory worker, a clerk, or a prostitute than to be a leisure-class housewife. … When Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, more than one-third of all women were in the work force. Although many women longed to be housewives, only women with leisure time and money could actually shape their identities on the model of the feminine mystique.
Raising children and doing housework require labor. And, Friedan’s vision of feminism was one that liberated some women (mostly white, upper-middle-class) and contributed to the oppression of other women (mostly poor, working-class, women of color).
Shirley, my mother, was certainly one of those women who “longed to be a housewife.” When she married my father (her second husband), she achieved that goal, gave up her career and never worked in the paid labor force again. But she imagined something different for me. When I would ask her to teach me something having to do with housework – how to do laundry, for example – she’d shoo me away, with a dismissive “you don’t need to know how to do that.” And, for the most part, she resolutely refused to teach me such things.
When I would press her on why not, she would answer that: “you can hire someone to do that.” You see, in my mother’s vision of my upper-middle-class, white (heterosexually) married future, she imagined that I would employ a woman of color to do the housework. While certainly not a feminist, my mother’s vision for my life was certainly consistent with Friedan’s vision of feminism.
The central problem of Friedan’s analysis of ‘the problem that has no name’ is that she takes it as universal, representative of ‘all’ women, when it is so clearly now in hindsight, the plight of an elite segment of women. Here again is bell hooks:
From her early writing, it appears that Friedan never wondered whether or not the plight of college-educated white housewives was an adequate reference point by which to gauge the impact of sexism or sexist oppression on the lives of women in American society. Nor did she move beyond her own life experience to acquire an expanded perspective on the lives of women in the United States. I say this not to discredit her work. It remains a useful discussion of the impact of sexist discrimination on a select group of women. Examined from a different perspective, it can also be seen as a case study of narcissism, insensitivity, sentimentality, and self-indulgence, which reaches its peak when Friedan, in a chapter titled “Progressive Dehumanization,” makes a comparison between the psychological effects of isolation on white housewives and the impact of confinement on the self-concept of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps.
It’s this move – placing white women at the center of all women’s experience – that is the real trouble with white feminism. Once you begin to notice this tendency, you can see that it’s a pattern that repeats itself again and again.
Returning to Ruth Frankenberg’s book, White Women, Race Matters, she an interview with “Cathy” a (white woman) participant in her study who is reflecting on her experience of being in multi-racial feminist organizations:
[I thought] I had the line on everything. And then I found out that I didn’t… I started to see that just because everybody didn’t talk like I did, it didn’t mean they didn’t have anything to say. And the reason maybe they didn’t talk like I did was because I did talk like I did. And so I started to learn about apportioning space and stuff like that. And that was all tied in with learning about the world being made up of more than one kind of person, i.e., white. It was all in the same lesson.
As Frankenberg goes on to interpret this interview by saying: “Encapsulated here is a recognition of one way in which white women may dominate feminist discourse, setting the terms and mode of discussions and not providing conceptual or auditory space for the viewpoints of women and men of color.” (p.120)
This compulsion to believe “I had the line on everything,” to know the answers, to be right, to be the center, to be the normative example, to be the index case, this is at the heart of the trouble with white feminism. The real progress begins with, “And then I found out that I didn’t…”
The interviews that Frankenberg conducted bring to light the contours of how “racial identity and racism shape white women’s lives,” not merely in terms of personal beliefs or political attitudes, but also a set of material relationships. Here is Frankenberg:
[This] clarifies some of the forms race privilege and racism may take in the lives of white women… educational and economic inequality, verbal assertions of white superiority, the maintenance of all-white neighborhoods, the ‘invisibility’ of Black and Latina domestic workers, white people’s fear of people of color, and the ‘colonial’ notion that the cultures of people of color were great only the past. …racism emerges not only as an ideology or political orientation chosen or rejected at will but also as a system of material relationships with a set of ideas linked to and embedded in those material relations.” (p.70)
What I so appreciate about this analysis is the fact that she explicitly locates white women here, and that she also names the material reality of “the maintenance of all-white neighborhoods,” and “the ‘invisibility’ of Black and Latina domestic workers.” These two seem especially tied to a particular kind of white motherhood that I see here in New York, in which “good white liberal” women have children and then, either want to move out of the city to an all-white suburb or stay in the city where they employ a Black or Latina woman to care for their children. If you want an up-close view of neo-colonialism take a ride on the M101 bus down Lexington Avenue through the Upper East Side and listen to the way that 4-and-5 year old white children speak to the mostly Black and Latina women employed to take care of them. It is clear that these interactions are part of the system of material relationships linked sustained in large measure by the white women in these households.
Separate Roads to Feminism
There is excellent research that offers an important corrective to the conventional narrative about the Friedan-inspired second wave of feminism. In Benita Roth’s Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America’s Second Wave, she argues that scholars must move beyond the common presumption that there existed a single “women’s movement” in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Instead, she contends that black and Chicana feminist organizations constituted separate feminist movements, not simply different organizations within one movement. The notion that there was one, single ”second wave” of the feminist movement leads other scholars to a line of questioning that goes something like: ”why did so few Chicanas and Black women join white women’s liberation collectives?” You can see this, for example, in works such as The Trouble Between Us: An Uneasy History of White and Black Women in the Feminist Movement. This line of inquiry situates the feminist activism of women of color as peripheral to the history of the “second wave,” and Roth’s work offers an important corrective to this tendency.
The trouble with white feminism, including some scholarship about the second wave, is that it places white women at the center, as the universal example of “all women” when in fact, we are a global minority of women on the planet.
Next week, I’ll be back with more #troublewithwhitewomen as I explore the issue of affirmative action.
Your Monday research brief with a round up of some of the latest work in the field of race and racism is here.
- Fitzgerald, Kathleen J. “The Continuing Significance of Race Racial Genomics in a Postracial Era.” Humanity & Society 38, no. 1 (2014): 49-66. (locked)
While most scientists of the twentieth century argued for understanding race as a social construction, this understanding has shifted considerably in the past decade. In the current era, biological notions of race have resurfaced not only in the scientific community but in the form of direct consumer use of DNA tests for genetic ancestry testing, sometimes referred to as genetic genealogy, and the emergence of pharmacogenomics, or the marketing of race-specific pharmaceuticals. In this article, I argue that the return of race as a biological concept in the form of racial genomics can best be understood through an application of Blumer’s race as group position theory. Using that, I argue that during the past 20 years, four specific challenges to the racial hierarchy have emerged that have threatened white dominance: the original interpretation of the Human Genome Project results declaring humans to be 99.9 percent similar, thus, dispelling the idea that race has a genetic basis, the electoral wins of President Barack Obama and the ensuing rhetoric that America is a “postracial” society, and finally, the increase in interracial relationships and biracial/multiracial identities. The emergence of racial genomics, I argue, is a response to these specific threats to the racial hierarchy and to white dominance.
- Florini, Sarah. “Recontextualizing the Racial Present: Intertextuality and the Politics of Online Remembering.” Critical Studies in Media Communication (online ahead-of-print) (2014): 1-13. (locked)
Remembering is never an end in its own right, but a means of asserting power and legitimizing social hierarchies. Thus, voices that seek to interpret the past in contradictory ways are often silenced (Zelizer, 1995). No part of the U.S. past is more called upon to legitimize contemporary racial relations than the Civil Rights Movement, which is constructed as the end of the nation’s systemic racism. Institutionalized racism is thereby relegated to history. Troubling aspects of the past that might lead citizens to interpret the contemporary U.S. as anything other than an egalitarian meritocracy are erased or rendered ideologically safe. This article examines how the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), one of the largest contemporary Black Nationalist organizations in the U.S., uses its website to challenge the notion of a “post-racial” U.S. by undermining the history upon which this conception is built. The MXGM’s website recontextualizes contemporary events within marginalized accounts of the past to decrease the temporal distance between the racism of the past and present racial politics, constructing an uninterrupted historical continuum of racial oppression. This recontextualization process is reinforced at the structural level of the website through the inherently intertextual nature of hypertext.
- Kraszewski, J. “Branding, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Race on VH1′s Flavor of Love,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video,Volume 31, (3), 2014, 240-254. no abstract available - (locked)
- Moore, Wendy Leo. “The Legal Alchemy of White Domination Embedding White Logic in Equal Protection Law.” Humanity & Society 38, no. 1 (2014): 7-24. (locked)
The U.S. Constitution, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states that no person shall be denied the equal protection of the law. Despite this Constitutional protection, however, the United States remains structured by deep racial inequality. Human rights advocates have suggested that this contradiction stems from unwillingness on the part of the U.S. government to go beyond equal protection of the law and provide state protection for a broader scope of human rights such as economic and cultural rights. Although this criticism of U.S. law and policy is warranted, I suggest even the notion of U.S. commitment to equal protection of the law must be critically interrogated given this country’s history of white racial domination. Through an explication of the equal protection jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court, I illustrate how the Court has embedded within the equal protection legal frame a postcivil rights racial logic, particularly tropes of black criminality and white innocence. In doing so, the Court has constructed a substantive legal definition of equal protection of the law that naturalizes and supports contemporary mechanisms and structures of white racial domination.
- Pierce, Jennifer L. “White racism, social class, and the backlash against affirmative action.” Sociology Compass 7, no. 11 (2013): 914-926. (OA)
Among scholars in sociology and history, the backlash against affirmative action has been blamed on White working-class Americans. What has received far less attention is the individual and collective institutional role(s) played by the White middle and upper middle-class in backlash politics. Given that individuals in these social classes have far greater institutional power than White working-class Americans, their beliefs and practices deserve sustained critical attention, and, as the few existing research studies demonstrate, White middle-class and upper middle-class Americans have played an influential role in backlash politics. Part of the reason for this gap in the literature is that these groups are more difficult to access as research subjects. Gaining access to this population may require working through many levels of a bureaucratic organization designed to protect their time and privacy. Moreover, when interviewed, these Americans are more likely than their working-class counterparts to mask racist sentiments through the polite language of “color blindness.” Research methods that complement surveys and in-depth interviews are recommended as strategies for probing White middle and upper middle-class Americans’ deeply hidden beliefs.
- Pierce, Jennifer L. “The History of Affirmative Action in the USA: A Teaching and Learning Guide.” Sociology Compass 8, no. 1 (2014): 89-98. (OA)
This Teaching and Learning Guide is designed to accompany my Sociology Compass article on affirmative action. The sample syllabus is organized historically beginning with FDR’s New Deal and the first use of the term affirmative action and ending with the most recent Supreme Court’s deliberations on this policy. In doing so, it attends not only to the varied meanings and forms of affirmative action across time but also the different interest groups arguing for and against this remedial policy. Along the way, it explores the changing history of race relations in the USA, considers the value of personal narratives as sources in exploring meaning and personhood, examines the ways the news media has framed the debate in contemporary America, and finally, speculates about the future of this controversial policy.
- Strmic‐Pawl, Hephzibah V. “The Influences Affecting and the Influential Effects of Multiracials: Multiracialism and Stratification.” Sociology Compass 8, no. 1 (2014): 63-77. (OA)
Early research on multiracials documents the existence of a newly emergent population, those who identify with more than one race or what is commonly now known as multiracials. Contemporary research on multiracialism has a new focus on the stratification that multiracials experience and how multiracials may be influencing a new racial hierarchy. This paper discusses some of the primary issues of multiracialism and stratification including colorism, the racial hierarchy, social class, gender and sexual orientation, and multiracial as a celebrity-like status. As the multiracial population grows, so must the field of multiracialism grows to include critical issues and questions regarding stratification.
- van Wormer, K., Jackson, D. W. III, Sudduth, C. (2014). “What We Can Learn of History from Older African American: Women Who Worked as Maids in the Deep South.” Western Journal of Black Studies 37 (4), 227-235. (locked)
This paper examines the life stories of six African American women who worked as maids for white families in the Deep South from the 1920s to the 1950s. Together their narratives present the facts about life during those times that are not contained in the history books. The role of older Americans as preservers of history and teachers of the younger generation is explored.
- Yancy, George, and Maria del Guadalupe Davidson, eds. Exploring Race in Predominantly White Classrooms: Scholars of Color Reflect. Routledge, 2014. (locked)
Although multicultural education has made significant gains in recent years, with many courses specifically devoted to the topic in both undergraduate and graduate education programs, and more scholars of color teaching in these programs, these victories bring with them a number of pedagogic dilemmas. Most students in these programs are not themselves students of color, meaning the topics and the faculty teaching them are often faced with groups of students whose backgrounds and perspectives may be decidedly different – even hostile – to multicultural pedagogy and curriculum. This edited collection brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars of color to critically examine what it is like to explore race in predominantly white classrooms. It delves into the challenges academics face while dealing with the wide range of responses from both White students and students of color, and provides a powerful overview of how teachers of color highlight the continued importance and existence of race and racism.
“She can do what she wants, she’s free, white and 21.” This was an expression I grew up hearing in Texas from lots of people, my Granny was particularly fond of saying this. “Free, white and 21,” was a way of conveying that a person occupied a position of freedom and citizenship, of racial privilege, and of adulthood. While this phrase was not gender-specific, there was something gendered about growing up white and (cisgendered) female. Today, in the ongoing series Trouble with White Women, I explore some of the research on learning to be a white woman.
Whiteness is a Made Up Category
Sociologists and other academics say things like “whiteness is a social construction.” Another way of saying that is “whiteness is a made up category.” The notion of being “white” is a relatively new one, historically, one rooted in colonialism. Precisely who counts as “white” in the U.S. is something that has changed over time, and changed rather dramatically.
In hearings before the U.S. Congress prior to the Immigration Act of 1924, social science experts of the day testified that southern Italians were a different “race,” decidedly not “white,” and ontologically incapable of assimilating into mainstream U.S. culture. Therefore, the argument went, they should be barred from entering. The law was intended to restrict immigration by Southern and Eastern Europeans, including many Jewish people who had migrated in large numbers since the 1890s to escape persecution in Poland and Russia, as well as prohibiting the immigration of people from Middle Eastern nations, people from India, and people from Japan and China. According to the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian the purpose of the act was “to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity.”
Over the next several decades of the 20th century, people from those groups categorized as “non-white” and incapable of assimilation - and barred from the U.S. on that basis – became white. How did that happen?
A number of scholars have written about this phenomenon of racial transformation (e.g., Ignatiev on the Irish) but few have taken up gender in this discussion. However, Karen Brodkin, in her book, How the Jews Became White Folks and What that Says about Race in America, does include gender in her analysis. Brodkin makes a convincing, systematic argument that post-war policies like the GI bill and those of the Federal Housing Administration effectively translated into de facto “affirmative action” for the male children and grandchildren of immigrants, thus promoting the whiteness of southern and eastern Europeans while purposefully excluding African Americans from those crucial mechanisms of race and class privilege. For Jewish men, accepting whiteness and its privileges also meant incorporating the patriarchal domesticity of dominant American culture. In other words, because some (immigrant) men were able to get good educations, jobs and buy houses through government subsidies, they had the opportunity to access the affordances of whiteness, and specifically, white masculinity. Brodkin also suggests that “becoming white” also meant leaving aside more radical politics and adopting mainstream American political views.
But what about the women? In Brodkin’s analysis, to become white, Jewish women give up the power they once held in the family in exchange for the lifestyle of bourgeois white women. She argues that Jews had to conform to the gender norms of the dominant culture that was different from the culture they had brought from Eastern Europe. In the wake of that shift in gender norms, Jews were left with anxiety and ambivalence which manifest in, among other things, Jewish American Princess (JAP) jokes and misogyny toward the “Jewish mother.” This anxiety is a brief rupture which, according to Brodkin, masks the larger trend of becoming white, of blending into the dominant white culture.In the bid to assimilate into the category “white,” part of the deal is accepting the gender norms and relationships of the dominant, white culture.
So, when my Granny would say to me, “you’re free white and 21,” she had no idea that at another time or place who was considered “white” would have been an entirely different collection of people. What are those lessons we learn about becoming a white woman?
Growing Up White, Female, Suburban
When I was growing up in suburban South Texas, there were particular moments when whiteness – though no one called it that – entered the narrative about what I could and could not do. There was, of course, a particular kind of taboo about who I could date: black men or boys were off limits, Latino men or boys were to be considered on a case-by-case basis. The Greek boys down the street were fine, cosmopolitan even, but all these potential suitors were marked by “difference” from my whiteness. (Neither my parents nor I considered that I might date a girl of whatever race. I didn’t discover that possibility until much later.)
A particular form of white womanhood was what my mother was trying to impart to me when she insisted that I should take tennis lessons in hot summers in Corpus Christi, so that one day I might join a Country Club (after I had married well, and heterosexually).
And, my whiteness was part of what my father was trying to preserve when he moved our family four hours north to the (then) all-white Houston suburb of Spring, Texas rather comply with the Cisneros v. Corpus Christi ISD court order mandating school desegregation.
These lessons about whiteness are not bound by Texas, or the South, nor restricted to a distant past. In her book, Daughters of Suburbia: Growing up white, female and middle class, Lorraine Kenny offers a glimpse at what growing up on suburban Long Island is like, and what some of the lessons of whiteness are there. In many ways, I think of Kenny’s book as a sequel to Brodkin’s, as she traces the consequences the architecture of whiteness that Brodkin describes.
Kenny argues that what gets defined as “normal” about gender reinforces the cultural practices of whiteness. She highlights both the experiences of the middle-school students and the stories of three notoriously “bad” white middle-class teenage girls: Amy Fisher, the “Pistol-Packing Long Island Lolita,” Cheryl Pierson, who hired a classmate to murder her father, and Emily Heinrichs, a former white supremacist and a teen mom. According to Kenny, middle-class whiteness thrives on its invisibility–on not being recognized as a cultural phenomenon. For these women, the lessons of being a white woman were were central to what they learned growing up on Long Island. All of the women who learned the same lessons and followed those norms, did not make the evening news. When Fisher, Pierson and Heinrichs violated these norms in different ways, they did make the evening news. When we examine what mainstream media identifies as aberrant, Kenny suggests, we can begin to identify the unspoken assumptions that constitute middle-class whiteness as a cultural norm.
This is where trying to talk about or study whiteness becomes so difficult. If it’s invisible, how do you see it? If it’s the cultural norm, doesn’t that mean whiteness is everywhere? This is especially challenging when it comes to white women who, by and large, continue to exist in an unmarked racial zone.
Social Geographies of Race
The scholar Ruth Frankenberg offers a way through this conundrum. Frankenberg interviewed white women and set out a conceptual framework for thinking about these issues, what she called a social geography of race. For her, social geography of race means, “a complex mix of material and conceptual ingredients for I saw increasingly that, as much as white women are located in racially marked physical environments, we also inhabit ‘conceptual environments’ or environments of ideas, which frame and limit what we see, what we remember and how we interpret the physical world.” She uses this framework to analyze the narratives of white women’s lives that are the focus of her study. In her piece, “Growing up white: feminism, racism and the social geography of childhood.” Feminist Review 45, no. 1 (1993): 51-84. she writes:
These narratives… clarify some of the forms, obvious and subtle, that racism and race privilege may take in the lives of white women: including educational and economic privilege, verbally expressed assertions of white superiority, the maintenance of all-white neighbourhoods, the ‘invisibility’ of Black and Latina domestic workers, white people’s fear of people of colour and the ‘colonial’ notion that the cultures of peoples of colour were great only in the past. Racism thus
appears not only as an ideology or political orientation chosen or rejected at will; it is also a system and set of ideas embedded in social relations.
My analysis underscores the idea that there is no place for us to stand ‘outside’ racism, any more than we can stand ‘outside’ sexism. In this context, it seems foolish to imagine that as individuals we can escape complicity with racism as a social system. We cannot, for example, simply ‘give up’ race privilege. I suggest that as white feminists we need to take cognizance both of the embeddedness of racism in all aspects of society and the ways this has shaped our own lives, theories and actions. Concretely, this means work in at least three linked areas: work on re-examining personal history and changing consciousness; thorough-going theoretical transformation within feminism; and participation in practical political work towards structural change. (p.78)
There’s much (still) to be gained from Frankenberg’s work, particularly her analysis that “there is no place for us to stand ‘outside’ racism.” In her book (from which this article is drawn), Frankenberg poses the question: “What are the social processes through which white women are created as social actors primed to reproduce racism within the feminist movement?” I’ll take this up in the next installment of our #troublewithwhitewomen series.
It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for a research brief, our roundup of some of the latest publications about race, ethnicity and racism. Whenever possible, I’ll include an abstract or brief description about each piece of research. I’ll also note which citations are Open Access (OA) or locked behind a paywall or otherwise not available on the open web (locked).
Here’s today’s round up:
- Chao, En-Chieh. “The-Truth-About-Islam. Com: Ordinary Theories of Racism and Cyber Islamophobia.” Critical Sociology (2014): 0896920513508662. (locked)
This essay contends that the digital debates over Islamophobia show a curious resemblance to pre-existing American folk theories of racism. The outcry surrounding the reality show All-American Muslim is the case study, but the argument applies to a broader development of cultural racism and Islamophobia in American society. Starting from a discussion of the politics of racialization and ‘post-civil rights’ racism in the USA, the article outlines the mediation of racial politics through reality television and online commenting in relation to Islamophobia. Finally, appropriating the work of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Jane Hill on the underlying theories of American racism, I examine two seemingly opposing discourses entailed in the AAM controversy, and demonstrate that the entire online outcry has closely followed the old paradigms through which Americans talk about racism.
There’s a new edited volume out that has several pieces about race, racism and the intersection with queer politics that looks interesting:
- Bassichis, Morgan, and Dean Spade. “Queer politics and anti-blackness.” in Queer Necropolitics (2014): 191. (locked)
- About Queer Necropolitics, edited by Jin Haritaworn, Adi Kuntsman, Silvia Posocco (Routledge, 2014). The book will appeal to activist scholars and students from various social sciences and humanities, particularly those across the fields of law, cultural and media studies, gender, sexuality and intersectionality studies, race, and conflict studies, as well as those studying nationalism, colonialism, prisons and war. It should be read by all those trying to make sense of the contradictions inherent in regimes of rights, citizenship and diversity.
There is a special issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine that focuses on structural racism, here are a few key articles:
- Came, Heather. “Sites of Institutional Racism in Public Health Policy making in New Zealand.” Social Science & Medicine (2014). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.01.055
Although New Zealanders have historically prided ourselves on being a country where everyone has a ‘fair go’, the systemic and longstanding existence of health inequities between Māori and non-Māori suggests something isn’t working. This paper informed by critical race theory, asks the reader to consider the counter narrative viewpoints of Māori health leaders; that suggest institutional racism has permeated public health policy making in New Zealand and is a contributor to health inequities alongside colonisation and uneven access to the determinants of health. Using a mixed methods approach and critical anti-racism scholarship this paper identifies five specific sites of institutional racism. These sites are: majoritarian decision making, the misuse of evidence, deficiencies in both cultural competencies and consultation processes and the impact of Crown filters. These findings suggest the failure of quality assurance systems, existing anti-racism initiatives and health sector leadership to detect and eliminate racism. The author calls for institutional racism to be urgently addressed within New Zealand and this paper serves as a reminder to policy makers operating within other colonial contexts to be vigilant for such racism.
- Feagin, Joe, and Zinobia Bennefield. “Systemic racism and US health care.”Social Science & Medicine 103 (2014): 7-14. (locked)
This article draws upon a major social science theoretical approach–systemic racism theory–to assess decades of empirical research on racial dimensions of U.S. health care and public health institutions. From the 1600s, the oppression of Americans of color has been systemic and rationalized using a white racial framing–with its constituent racist stereotypes, ideologies, images, narratives, and emotions. We review historical literature on racially exploitative medical and public health practices that helped generate and sustain this racial framing and related structural discrimination targeting Americans of color. We examine contemporary research on racial differentials in medical practices, white clinicians’ racial framing, and views of patients and physicians of color to demonstrate the continuing reality of systemic racism throughout health care and public health institutions. We conclude from research that institutionalized white socioeconomic resources, discrimination, and racialized framing from centuries of slavery, segregation, and contemporary white oppression severely limit and restrict access of many Americans of color to adequate socioeconomic resources–and to adequate health care and health outcomes. Dealing justly with continuing racial “disparities” in health and health care requires a conceptual paradigm that realistically assesses U.S. society’s white-racist roots and contemporary racist realities. We conclude briefly with examples of successful public policies that have brought structural changes in racial and class differentials in health care and public health in the U.S. and other countries.
- Lukachko, Alicia, Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, and Katherine M. Keyes. “Structural racism and myocardial infarction in the United States.“ Social Science & Medicine 103 (2014): 42-50. (locked)
There is a growing research literature suggesting that racism is an important risk factor undermining the health of Blacks in the United States. Racism can take many forms, ranging from interpersonal interactions to institutional/structural conditions and practices. Existing research, however, tends to focus on individual forms of racial discrimination using self-report measures. Far less attention has been paid to whether structural racism may disadvantage the health of Blacks in the United States. The current study addresses gaps in the existing research by using novel measures of structural racism and by explicitly testing the hypothesis that structural racism is a risk factor for myocardial infarction among Blacks in the United States. State-level indicators of structural racism included four domains: (1) political participation; (2) employment and job status; (3) educational attainment; and (4) judicial treatment. State-level racial disparities across these domains were proposed to represent the systematic exclusion of Blacks from resources and mobility in society. Data on past-year myocardial infarction were obtained from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (non-Hispanic Black: N = 8245; non-Hispanic White: N = 24,507), a nationally representative survey of the U.S. civilian, non-institutionalized population aged 18 and older. Models were adjusted for individual-level confounders (age, sex, education, household income, medical insurance) as well as for state-level disparities in poverty. Results indicated that Blacks living in states with high levels of structural racism were generally more likely to report past-year myocardial infarction than Blacks living in low-structural racism states. Conversely, Whites living in high structural racism states experienced null or lower odds of myocardial infarction compared to Whites living in low-structural racism states. These results raise the provocative possibility that structural racism may not only harm the targets of stigma but also benefit those who wield the power to enact stigma and discrimination.
- Smith, Justin M. “Interrogating Whiteness Within Criminology.” Sociology Compass 8, no. 2 (2014): 107-118. (OA)
This paper merges critical White studies with the sociological field of criminology as a means to progress understanding of criminal behavior, justice, and social control. Up to this point, criminology has largely neglected the significance of whiteness within its boundaries of study. Thankfully, a strong foundation of research and theoretical statements has been completed in the interdisciplinary field of critical White studies. The formation of criminal law can be more clearly understood through the inclusion of frameworks offered by critical White studies. Additionally, nuanced explanations of criminal behavior and hate crime among Whites can be attained through this perspective.
Challenging White Supremacy (CWS) workshops organizers Martinas and Ellinger believe that the most effective way to create fundamental social change in the U.S. is by building mass-based, multi-racial grassroots movements led by radical activists of color. They also believe that the major barrier to creating these movements is racism or white supremacy.
CWS workshops were designed by a group of white anti-racist organizers and rooted in a commitment to help white social justice activists become principled and effective anti-racist organizers — both to challenge our white privilege and to work for racial justice in all our social justice work.
Martinas and Ellinger think that anti-racist training and organizing with white social justice activists complements and supports grassroots organizing and leadership development in communities of color, and that both kinds of work are necessary to help build mass-based, multi-racial social justice movements.
“The history of American feminism has been primarily a narrative about the heroic deeds of white women.” Beverly Guy-Sheftall writes in the opening of her book, Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. In this oft-repeated narrative, “Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are invoked, predictably, as the quintessential feminists.” Although there is plenty of evidence to suggest a different narrative, such as Guy-Sheftall’s edited volume and the many, many volumes of black, Latina, and indigenous feminists’ writing, Stanton and Anthony have been canonized as “quintessential feminists” in the popular imagination. For evidence of this, one need look no further than the Ken Burns/Paul Barnes documentary for PBS, “Not for Ourselves Alone.”
(Screenshot from PBS, “Not for Ourselves Alone”)
In the Burns/Barnes version of the early “women’s movement” in the U.S., race is barely mentioned and racism not at all. Instead, there is a comforting fiction that the women’s movement grew, untroubled, out of the struggle for the abolition of slavery. The historical reality departs quite dramatically from this narrative and is the subject of today’s installment of the #troublewithwhitewomen series.
During the mid-nineteenth century there were alliances between those in the abolitionist movement and those beginning to advocate for women’s rights, sometimes called Suffragists or “Suffragettes.” Most notably, Frederick Douglass described himself as a “woman’s rights man,” largely based on the influence of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
The abolitionist movement and the women’s movement split over the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed the right to vote based on a citizens’ “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Despite the early support of African American men such as Douglass, suffragists like Stanton could not abide the idea that black men might get the franchise to vote ahead of white women.
Stanton didn’t hesitate to voice her opinion that white women were superior to black men, and thus more deserving of the vote. Lori Ginzberg, in her biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Hill and Wang, 2009), recounts some of the racial politics here:
“Asked straight out whether she were ‘willing to have the colored man enfranchised before the woman,’ she answered ‘no; I would not trust him with all my rights; degraded, oppressed himself, he would be more despotic with the governing power than even our Saxon rulers are.’ “
“These were not merely figures of speech, thoughtless slips of the tongue and the pen. Rather, when she evoked these images, Stanton was drawing upon a powerful sense of her own class and cultural superiority.”
Yet, many feminist accounts of this history dismiss and distance racism from the core values of feminism or feminist leaders. For instance, Nancy F. Cott, in The Grounding of Modern Feminism (Yale University Press, 1987), locates this racism outside the movement for women’s rights and shifts it to ‘the surrounding society,’ as in this passage:
“Despite links between early woman’s rights and anti-slavery reformers, the suffrage movement since the late nineteenth century had caved in to the racism of the surrounding society, sacrificing democratic principle and the dignity of black people if it seemed advantageous to white women’s obtaining the vote.”
Here, Cott paints the women of the suffrage movement as passive victims who “caved in to” the racism “of the surrounding society,” rather than the active, political agents they, in fact, were.
Stanton was no passive victim “caving in to” racism of the society around her. Returning to Ginzberg (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 2009), the political landscape of the late nineteenth century was one in which fault lines of race and gender were especially sharp, and Stanton played an active role in sustaining them and using them to her political advantage. In this passage, Ginzberg recounts some of the ways Stanton’s racism was an effective mobilizing tool for the women’s movement:
“Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s positions on the relative worthiness of black men and white women as citizens …. her choice of all-too-familiar racist language had broad and lasting consequences, both theoretical and strategic, for the movement she helped lead. By claiming that some American citizens were more worthy of rights than others, Stanton helped lay the groundwork for a defense of woman’s rights based on race, respectability, religion and class that would be hard to shake. Surely Stanton and Anthony understood this when they reported on the formation of a ‘White Woman’s Suffrage Association’ in Washington, D.C., or admitted that the proposed Fifteenth Amendment ‘rouses woman’s prejudices against the negro’ while increasing ‘his contempt and hostility toward her as an equal.’ Furthermore, this appeal to prejudice, whether it was an intentional strategy or not, worked. One woman wrote Stanton and Anthony’s newspaper, The Revolution, to declare that she had ‘never thought, or cared, about voting till the negroes began to vote,’ but now ‘felt my self-respect rise.’ She went on: ‘If educated women are not as fit to decide who shall be the rulers of this country, as ‘field hands,’ then where’s the use of culture, or any brain at all? One might as well have been ‘born on the plantation.’”
“Elizabeth Cady Stanton had been arguing for years that it was women’s lack of self-respect that caused them to defer their demands….[now] white women’s self-respect, as this letter writer suggested, could be heightened by comparison with people of ‘lesser’ races. Pleased by evidence that women were developing their self-esteem and so would demand their rights, Stanton seems not to have worried that advocating woman’s rights on this basis, and severing the movement’s ties to its abolitionist and antiracist roots, might damage the cause’s claims to universal justice. Nor did she express any concern that her use of racist language to denigrate black men, along with her implicit embrace of a politics of white racial pride, might diminish the movement’s appeal to African American women themselves. Whether or not she meant to endorse an explicitly racist tactic to draw new groups of white women into the cause is impossible to know; that she published the letter, entitling it, ‘A Washington Convert,’ suggests that she was willing to take the risk.”
I’m struck here by the affective, that is the way emotion plays into the political strategy. Stanton had identified white women’s “lack of self-respect” (today, we’d say “self-esteem”) as a barrier to her efforts at organizing. The woman writing in to their newspaper confirms this, saying “I never had an interest in voting.” What sparks the sudden boost in this woman’s “self-respect”? The prospect of that “the negroes began to vote” and then she “felt my self-respect rise.”
There is additional evidence that the racism of the early women’s movement was central rather than peripheral to the movement. In Barbara Andolsen, in her book about racism and the woman suffrage movement, “Daughters of Jefferson, daughters of bootblacks”: racism and American feminism (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1986), she observes:
“… the white women who led this movement came to trade upon their privilege as the daughters (sisters, wives, and mothers) of powerful white men in order to gain for themselves some share of the political power those men possessed. They did not adequately identify ways in which that political power would not be accessible to poor women, immigrant women, and black women.” Yet despite the blatant racism and class bias of the women’s suffrage movement, black women, discouraged and betrayed, continued to work for their right to vote, both as blacks and as women, through their own suffrage organizations.”
The Guy-Sheftall anthology Words of Fire, mentioned at the top of this piece, offers an account of continuous feminist intellectual tradition in nonfictional prose of African American women going back to the early nineteenth century when abolition and suffrage were urgent political issues. Works like this one provide a useful correction to the familiar narrative of American feminism, but this history is largely unknown to most white feminists today. More than simply the absence of knowledge about black feminist intellectual tradition in the U.S., there is a real lack of awareness about the role of whiteness in shaping early feminism.
An important corrective to this lack of awareness is Louise Newman’s excellent book, White Women’s Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the U.S. (Oxford University Press, 1999). Newman makes a convincing case that eveloped an explicit racial ideology to promote their cause, defending patriarchy for “primitives” while calling for its elimination among the “civilized.” She writes:
“Feminism developed in conjunction with—and constituted a response to—the United States’ extension of its authority over so-called “primitive” peoples, and feminism was part and parcel of the nation’s attempt to assimilate those peoples whom white elites designated as their racial inferiors.” (p.181)
Newman’s argument is that in the time period from 1848 to 1920, the “white woman movement” – as she rightly refers to it – affirmed (white) women’s racial similarity to (white) men while at the same time asserting (white) women’s sexual difference from (white) men because they believed sexual differences formed the bedrock of whites’ civilization. This “functional ambiguity,” (as Nancy F. Cott describes it) was not so ambiguous at the time. Social evolutionary theories of the time specified quite plainly that white women were both fundamentally similar to white men (because of “race”) and fundamentally different from white men (because of “sex”).
These evolutionist theories that white women were both the same as and different than white men opened up new social and political roles for white women as “civilizers” of the race, strengthening longstanding beliefs in (white) women’s moral superiority. Moreover, the effort to establish the United States as an empire, and the extension of missions, both domestically and abroad, fundamentally influenced the direction and content of white feminist thought in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The reality is that white supremacy and feminism were completely intertwined at the root. This is not simply an old problem of a previous century, or of individual white women who “caved in to” the racism of the surrounding society. Rather, white supremacy is baked into white feminism. White feminism – if it’s only focused on a kind of crude parity with (white) men – is not incompatible racism. In fact, many of the avowed white supremacist women I studied in my study of Cyber Racism view themselves as feminists. And, there’s nothing inconsistent between white supremacy and white feminism. That’s why it’s so important for a critically engaged feminism include a commitment to racial justice.
The white feminist thought shaped by evolutionist theories, imperialism, and missionary zeal continue to shape the feminist movement today. You can see this in any number of examples, such as the critique of Eve Ensler’s brand of white feminism I mentioned last week, in the corporate feminism we’re presented with today, and in popular culture portrayals of white women.
I’ll have more to say about all this in another installment of the #troublewithwhitewomen series.
Today is February 14, traditionally marked as Valentine’s Day. For more than 20 years, Indigenous Women in Canada have led Women’s Memorial Marches to signify the strength of decolonization and the power of Indigenous Women’s leadership. Known as the “Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” (#MMIW), the commemoration has its origins in tragic events of January 1991 a woman was murdered on Powell Street in Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. Her murder in particular acted as a catalyst and February 14 became a day of remembrance and mourning. This year marches are held across the lands and each march reflects the nuances and complexities of the particular region with the common goals of expressing, community, compassion, and connection for all women. February 14 marks a day to protest the forces of colonization, misogyny, poverty, racism and to celebrate survival, resistance, struggle and solidarity and to make visible these forces and women’s resistance.
Here is a collection of blogs by women on “Why I March”:
- February 14th in Toronto: Ceremony as an Act of Sovereignty by Audrey Huntley
- Why I March? Women’s Memorial March February 14, 2014 — Winnipeg, Manitoba by Sandra DeLaronde
- Why I March in the February 14th Women’s Memorial March by Lorelei Williams
- Memorial March for All the Missing and Murdered Women of Edmonton by Danielle Boudreau
- We March On… by Raven Bowen
- February 14 Women’s Memorial Marches: Not forgetting the legacy and honouring through action by Native Youth Sexual Health Network
- Why I March at the Annual Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women in Montreal by Maya Rolbin-Ghanie
- From Juarez to Vancouver: Why I march on February 14 by Rosa Elena Arteaga
While this memorial commemoration was well-established in Canada, a number of individuals and organizations have chosen to link February 14 to their own lobbying for women-themed causes, most notably Eve Ensler’s campaigns V-Day and her more recent endeavor One Billion Rising (OBR). Many indigenous women in the US and beyond are not only standing in solidarity with indigenous women of Canada on February 14, they are actively resisting the Ensler-industrial-complex of events. A leader in this resistance is Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk), who writes:
We love the idea of using Valentine’s Day to talk about what respect and consent look like and how we can stand up against sexual violence. However, due to the mistreatment and disrespect of women of color, indigenous women, and queer women by Eve Ensler and the V-Day campaign, we can no longer support her work.
This all started because on Twitter, I addressed some issues that I had with V-Day, your organization, and the way it treated Indigenous women in Canada. I said that you are racist and dismissive of Indigenous people. You wrote to me that you were upset that I would suggest this, and not even 24 hours later you were on the Joy Behar Show referring to your chemotherapy treatment as a “Shamanistic exercise”.
Your organization took a photo of Ashley Callingbull, and used it to promote V-Day Canada and One Billion Rising, without her consent. You then wrote the word “vanishing” on the photo, and implied that Indigenous women are disappearing, and inherently suggested that we are in some type of dire need of your saving. You then said that Indigenous women were V-Day Canada’s “spotlight”. V-Day completely ignored the fact that February 14th is an iconic day for Indigenous women in Canada, and marches, vigils, and rallies had already been happening for decades to honor the missing and murdered Indigenous women. You repeatedly in our conversation insisted that you had absolutely no idea that these events were already taking place. So then, what were you spotlighting? When Kelleigh brought up that it was problematic for you to be completely unaware that this date is important to the women you’re spotlighting, your managing director Cecile Lipworth became extremely defensive and responded with “Well, every date on the Calendar has importance.” This is not an acceptable response.
When women in Canada brought up these exact issues, V-Day responded to them by deleting the comment threads that were on Facebook. For a person and organization who works to end violence against women, this is certainly the opposite of that. Although I’m specifically addressing V-Day, this is not an isolated incident. This is something that Indigenous women constantly face. This erasure of identity and white, colonial, feminism is in fact, a form of violence against us. The exploitation and cultural appropriation creates and excuses the violence done to us.
When I told you that your white, colonial, feminism is hurting us, you started crying. Eve, you are not the victim here. This is also part of the pattern which is a problem: Indigenous women are constantly trying to explain all of these issues, and are constantly met with “Why are you attacking me?!” This is not being a good ally.
In my view, Lauren Chief Elk speaks the truth here. Her critique of Ensler’s work is a clear illustration of the #troublewithwhitewomen I have been attempting to articulate in the Tuesday series.
Ensler and her organizations are part of what many have begun to name as “carceral feminism,“ much of it around claims about “trafficking.” In a recent peer-reviewed article in Signs, scholar Elizabeth Bernstein writes:
“…feminist and evangelical Christian activists have directed increasing attention toward the “traffic in women” as a dangerous manifestation of global gender inequalities. Despite renowned disagreements around the politics of sex and gender, these groups have come together to advocate for harsher penalties against traffickers, prostitutes’ customers, and nations deemed to be taking insufficient steps to stem the flow of trafficked women. In this essay, I argue that what has served to unite this coalition of ‘strange bedfellows’ is not simply an underlying commitment to conservative ideals of sexuality, as previous commentators have offered, but an equally significant commitment to carceral paradigms of justice and to militarized humanitarianism as the preeminent mode of engagement by the state.”
To put it more plainly, what the focus on incarceration as a solution to gender inequalities does is both insufficient to address the problems that women (of all races) are confronted with and shifts them on to another system of oppression that literally consumes the bodies of black and brown men. The blog Prison Culture puts this succinctly here:
I’m a feminist and a prison abolitionist. I have previously mentioned that there was actually a time when prison abolition was a feminist concern. Times have changed and it’s more likely that you’ll find feminists calling for more & longer prison sentences than for an end to them. One Billion Rising for Justice seems to want to hew to some feminists’ histories of resisting the carceral state. Unfortunately, it falls way, way short.
Indeed, it does fall way, way short. Today, I stand in solidarity with indigenous women, #MMIW marches, and against the rise of carceral feminism.