Arquette and the Trouble with White Feminism (with updates)

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

Jessica Williams on The Daily Show

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

But that was last week.

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

Arquette speech with quote

 

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

Well, almost, but not quite yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But here’s the thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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List of posts about Arquette and critical of white feminism since the awards show (in no particular order, updated 2/26 9:53amET):

 

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

Research Brief: Intersectionality

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

Research in the Dictionary

 

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

Happy intersectional reading!

10 Things To Watch Instead of the Oscars

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

driving_miss_daisy do_the_right_thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race and Online Dating

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

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

(CC image from Flickr user @atbondi)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Islamophobia is a form of Racism

On Tuesday, three Muslim Americans were murdered by a white assailant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The victims, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were shot in the head by Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, a white man.

ChapelHill Shooting Victims

Deah Shaddy Barakat, left, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

(Image source)

A “dispute over parking,” was what led to the shooting according to some of the initial news reports. Ripley Rand, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, said at a news conference about the shootings: “We don’t have any evidence that this was part of an organized effort against Muslims. This appears, at this point, to have been an isolated incident.”

What the dominant news stories and Rand’s comments miss, are the connection between Islamophobia and systematic racism. As Professor Mohamad Elmasry points out, Muslims are consistently portrayed as “inherently dangerous” in western media.

As a response to what many saw as a denial of role of Islamophobia and racism in the murder, people took to Twitter to express their outrage, using the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter, which was soon trending.

There is a fairly well-established, and yet still growing, body of research which documents the racialization of Muslim people and the rise of Islamophobia in the West as forms of racism. Just some of this research includes the following (UPDATED 2/13/15 with additional citation by Stein & Salime):

  • Dunn, Kevin M., Natascha Klocker, and Tanya Salabay. “Contemporary racism and Islamaphobia in Australia Racializing religion.” Ethnicities 7, no. 4 (2007): 564-589. Abstract: Contemporary anti-Muslim sentiment in Australia is reproduced through a racialization that includes well rehearsed stereotypes of Islam, perceptions of threat and inferiority, as well as fantasies that the Other (in this case Australian Muslims) do not belong, or are absent. These are not old or colour-based racisms, but they do manifest certain characteristics that allow us to conceive a racialization process in relation to Muslims. Three sets of findings show how constructions of Islam are important means through which racism is reproduced. First, public opinion surveys reveal the extent of Islamaphobia in Australia and the links between threat perception and constructions of alien-ness and Otherness. The second data set is from a content analysis of the racialized pathologies of Muslims and their spaces. The third is from an examination of the undercurrents of Islamaphobia and national cultural selectivity in the politics of responding to asylum seekers. Negative media treatment is strongly linked to antipathetic government dispositions. This negativity has material impacts upon Australian Muslims. It sponsors a more widespread Islamaphobia, (mis)informs opposition to mosque development and ever more restrictive asylum seeker policies, and lies behind arson attacks and racist violence. Ultimately, the racialization of Islam corrupts belonging and citizenship for Muslim Australians. (locked)
  • Gottschalk, Peter, and Gabriel Greenberg. Islamophobia: making Muslims the enemy. Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Book description: The term “Islamophobia” reflects the largely unexamined and deeply ingrained anxiety many Americans experience when considering Islam and Muslim cultures. Until recently, America has had only a small domestic Muslim minority and few connections to Muslim cultures with whom to build familiarity. In times of crisis, the long-simmering resentments, suspicions and fears manifest themselves. This book graphically shows how political cartoons–the print medium with the most immediate impact–dramatically reveal Americans demonizing and demeaning Muslims and Islam. It also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the Muslim world in general and issues a wake-up call to the American people. (available at libraries)
  • Hussain, Yasmin, and Paul Bagguley. “Securitized citizens: Islamophobia, racism and the 7/7 London bombings.” The Sociological Review 60, no. 4 (2012): 715-734. Abstract: The London bombings of 7 July 2005 were a major event shaping the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain. In this paper we introduce the idea of ‘securitized citizens’ to analyse the changing relationship between British Muslims and wider British society in response to this and similar events. Through an analysis of qualitative interviews with Muslims and non-Muslims of a variety of ethnic backgrounds in the areas where the London bombers lived in West Yorkshire we examine the popular perceptions of non-Muslims and Muslims’ experiences. We show how processes of securitization and racialization have interacted with Islamophobic discourses and identifications, as well as the experiences of Muslims in West Yorkshire after the attacks. (locked)
  • Poynting, Scott, and Victoria Mason. “The resistible rise of Islamophobia Anti-Muslim racism in the UK and Australia before 11 September 2001.” Journal of Sociology 43, no. 1 (2007): 61-86. Abstract: This article compares the rise of anti-Muslim racism in Britain and Australia, from 1989 to 2001, as a foundation for assessing the extent to which the upsurge of Islamophobia after 11 September was a development of existing patterns of racism in these two countries. The respective histories of immigration and settlement by Muslim populations are outlined, along with the relevant immigration and ‘ethnic affairs’ policies and the resulting demographics. The article traces the ideologies of xenophobia that developed in Britain and Australia over this period. It records a transition from anti-Asian and anti-Arab racism to anti-Muslim racism, reflected in and responding to changes in the identities and cultural politics of the minority communities. It outlines instances of the racial and ethnic targeting by the state of the ethnic and religious minorities concerned, and postulates a causal relationship between this and the shifting patterns of acts of racial hatred, vilification and discrimination. (locked)
  • Saeed, Amir. “Media, racism and Islamophobia: The representation of Islam and Muslims in the media.” Sociology Compass 1, no. 2 (2007): 443-462. Abstract: This article examines the representation of Islam and Muslims in the British press. It suggests that British Muslims are portrayed as an ‘alien other’ within the media. It suggests that this misrepresenatation can be linked to the development of a ‘racism’, namely, Islamphobia that has its roots in cultural representations of the ‘other’. In order to develop this arguement, the article provies a summary/overview of how ethnic minorities have been represented in the British press and argues that the treatment of British Muslims and Islam follows these themes of ‘deviance’ and ‘un-Britishness’. (locked)
  • Sheridan, Lorraine P. “Islamophobia pre–and post–September 11th, 2001.”Journal of Interpersonal Violence 21, no. 3 (2006): 317-336. Abstract: Although much academic research has addressed racism, religious discrimination has been largely ignored. The current study investigates levels of selfreported racial and religious discrimination in a sample of 222 British Muslims. Respondents indicate that following September 11th, 2001, levels of implicit or indirect discrimination rose by 82.6% and experiences of overt discrimination by 76.3%. Thus, the current work demonstrates that major world events may affect not only stereotypes of minority groups but also prejudice toward minorities. Results suggest that religious affiliation may be a more meaningful predictor of prejudice than race or ethnicity. General Health Questionnaire scores indicate that 35.6% of participants likely suffered mental health problems, with significant associations between problem-indicative scores and reports of experiencing a specific abusive incident of September 11th–related abuse by respondents. The dearth of empirical work pertaining to religious discrimination and its effects is a cause for concern. (locked)
  • Stein, Arlene, and Zakia Salime. “Manufacturing Islamophobia: Rightwing Pseudo-Documentaries and the Paranoid Style.” Journal of Communication Inquiry (2015): 0196859915569385. Abstract: Rightwing organizations in the United States have produced and circulated a number of videos which exaggerate the threat Islamic militants pose to ordinary citizens in the West. These videos owe a great deal to the frames established two decades earlier in religious right campaigns against homosexuality. This article provides a textual analysis of these videos and their production, showing how they manifest “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy,” which Richard Hofstadter characterized as the “paranoid style.” We term these films “pseudo-documentaries” because while they utilize some of the conventions of the documentary genre—claims to “fairness and accuracy,” the use of “experts,” and the incorporation of news footage, testimonies, and “facts”—they are produced by political interest groups and are expressly made to persuade and mobilize through distortion. A comparison of homophobic and Islamophobic videos reveals continuities in rightwing rhetoric, as well as strategic shifts, and indicates the emergence of an increasingly fragmented, pluralized, and privatized political sphere. (OA)

Denying the link between Islamophobia and racism both discounts the weight of evidence and compounds the pain of those who have lost friends and loved ones to hate-motivated violence.

White Feminism and V-Day

As we approach February 14, the opportunities for learning about white feminism abound. The recent dust up with Rosie O’Donnell on Twitter began with questions for Eve Ensler – who was scheduled to appear on The View – and O’Donnell’s subsequent defensive response to those questions. But, to really appreciate the context of what happened, you have to understand the background on V-Day, indigenous women’s activism, and the substantial critique of Eve Ensler’s work.

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.

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.

In an Open Letter to Eve Ensler Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk) says, in part, the following:

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”.

The “Shamanistic exercise,” refers to the fact that Ensler was diagnosed with cancer and traveled to Congo, in central Africa, to seek alternative healing. She wrote a book about her experiences called, In the Body of the World.  In it, she refers to her cancer as similar to the injuries of women who had been raped, referring to it as “Congo Stigmata,” which of course, became a popular hashtag. For everything wrong with this bit of cultural appropriation, see this Storify by Mikki Kendall, or this piece by Jude Wanga, or this recap by Kelly Bennett.

Eve Ensler in Congo

(Eve Ensler, left. Image source)

Back to the  Open Letter to Ensler from Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk):

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.

Lauren Chief Elk speaks the truth and Ensler’s work is a clear illustration of the trouble with white feminism.

Eve Ensler

 

Ensler, her organizations, and the appropriation of V-Day 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 blogger 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. I’ll be back with more about Rosie’s defense of Ensler in a subsequent post in this series.

 

* * *

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

 >>>>Read the next post in this series

Research Brief: Sociology of Race and Ethnicity

The  American Sociological Association (ASA) has launched a new peer-reviewed journal, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. It is the official journal of a group of scholars within ASA, the Section of Racial and Ethnic Minorities(@ASA_SREM). The journal, co-edited by David L. Brunsma (Virginia Tech) and David G. Embrick (Loyola-Chicago), is scheduled to be published four times per year and the inaugural issue just came out in January of this year. At this time, all the articles in this issue are freely available online as open access (OA) without needing a university login to read them. This is a very good thing. (No word on whether the journal will continue to be open access but we hope so!) In the meantime, lots of new research for your stack of reading.

Research in the Dictionary

  • David  L. Brunsma, David G. Embrick, and Megan Nanney. “Toward a Sociology of Race and Ethnicity,” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity January 2015 1: 1-9. (OA)
  • Elijah Anderson.“’The White Space': Race, Space, Integration, and Inclusion?” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity January 2015 1:10-21. Abstract: Since the end of the Civil Rights Movement, large numbers of black people have made their way into settings previously occupied only by whites, though their reception has been mixed. Overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, restaurants, and other public spaces remain. Blacks perceive such settings as “the white space,” which they often consider to be informally “off limits” for people like them. Meanwhile, despite the growth of an enormous black middle class, many whites assume that the natural black space is that destitute and fearsome locality so commonly featured in the public media, including popular books, music and videos, and the TV news—the iconic ghetto. White people typically avoid black space, but black people are required to navigate the white space as a condition of their existence.(OA)

Continue reading…

Why We Need to Reclaim MLK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On this national holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. many of us nationwide took to the streets in “reclaim MLK” protests.  Why a need to reclaim the legacy of Dr.King?  Part of it has to do with that speech.

MLK_photo

 

(Photo from Sean Elias)

You know the one. The “I got a dream speech,” as someone referred to it recently. The speech that everyone half-remembers and selectively quotes every January. Based on a collective quoting-out-of-context from that speech, King has been elevated to a patriotic mascot praising America’s relentless and inevitable progress on racism. In his book, The Speech, Gary Younge lays out the story behind the speech which was, in fact, a searing indictment of American racism.  Younge describes our misremembering this way:

“Half a century after the March on Washington and the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, the event has been neatly folded into America’s patriotic mythology. Relatively few people know or recall that the Kennedy administration tried to get organizers to call it off; that the FBI tried to dissuade people from coming; that racist senators tried to discredit the leaders; that twice as many Americans had an unfavorable view of the march as a favorable one. Instead, it is hailed not as a dramatic moment of mass, multiracial dissidence, but as a jamboree in Benetton Technicolor, exemplifying the nation’s unrelenting progress toward its founding ideals.”

People forget, too, that King was very nearly a social pariah among most white Americans. In 1966, twice as many Americans had an unfavorable opinion of him as a favorable one.

Much less frequently quoted on this holiday is MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which he writes that:

“the great stumbling block in [the] stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

Or, his 1967 speech at Riverside Church, in which he responds to the question “What about Vietnam?” by saying:

“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”

Today, we have certainly made symbolic progress as a nation, and even some material progress. We have a black president of the US, who can say and do a very little to address racism. And, Oprah Winfrey is so fabulously wealthy she has an amphitheater in her backyard in which she can host a gospel brunch, because that was Dr. King’s dream. Or, so she says.

At the same time, we live in a nation in which more black people have been killed by police than were lynched during Jim Crow. Despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act, 1 in 13 African Americans are blocked from voting due to systematic disenfranchisement. And, the carceral machinery churns up black lives at a prodigious rate. Sixty years after Brown vs. the Board of Education, our schools are more racially segregated than ever. The black-white wealth gap has, at the end of 2014, reached at 24-year high.

MLKs_Dream

(Photo by Marina Ortiz, East Harlem Preservation)

So, when people to the streets and to Twitter to #reclaimMLK, it was to remind us all of the radical tradition of a Dr. King who called out the stumbling block of white moderates who value order more than justice and the violence of our own government.

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.