As I’m sure you’ve heard by now (how could you possibly miss it?), a baby was born in Great Britain, considered to be the third in line to the monarchy.
A story that came to receive almost as much attention as the birth itself was the media coverage of the royal birth, much of it by comics and, thus, not meant to be taken all that seriously (e.g., John Oliver’s criticism). Despite complaints of the coverage, the general attitude was to shrug your shoulders and accept it, like it or not.
There are any number of reasons discussed for the obsession with the royal birth. Some suggest that the death of Princess Diana sparked interest in the royal family in recent years, while others point to the “special relationship” between Britain and the U.S. Still others point to the appeal of the vivacious young Duke and Duchess (i.e., not as stuffy as Prince Charles). Ultimately, it may be that the royals’ lives speak to some of our deepest cultural mythologies about “fairytales.”
(image from This Charming Mum)
One particular factor that received little if any attention was the role of whiteness in the media coverage.
While Dutch immigrants to the U.S. are among the earliest white settler-colonialists in this country, the standard-bearer of whiteness has always been white Protestants of Anglo-Saxon heritage (or WASPs). The churches that many Americans attend have fairly direct links to the monarchy in Britain, such as Episcopalians, or are denominations with origins in the British Isles, such as Presbyterians.
Of course, this fascination with the royals here in the U.S. is not new. Prince Williams’ birth in 1982 was another royal birth that received much attention. And, Prince Williams’ entire life has been chronicled by the tabloid press, including the U.S.-based People magazine which features his “biography.”
One thing that seems clear with the media surrounding the birth of Prince George Alexander-something or other is how at least some of those covering the story seem to be at least partially critical their own complicity in the spectacle hype. For instance, many news casters were assigned to watch a door of the hospital awaiting the official announcement of the birth and more than one that I saw seemed chagrined at such a “news” assignment. Of course, plenty of the backlash has as much to do with anti-royal sentiment as with the ridiculous media stunts, but I wonder if there’s something else at play here.
In my new book, White Race Discourse, I discuss how the sample of whites I interviewed seem trapped by a structure that limits their ability to talk rationally and reasonably about race matters and even their own racial experiences.
I see this same concept at play here with the coverage of the royal birth. In other words, for both producers of the story’s coverage as well as its consumers, people are locked into a given structure that limits their possibilities to think and act in rational and reasonable always. It was clearly irrational to be sitting around and waiting for a hospital door to open, but they did it anyway, and for what reasons exactly? This isn’t our monarch (at least not anymore), is it? Or, is there something else afoot here?
As Joe Feagin points out in his book, Racist America, there is a growing sense of insecurity among at least some white Americans over the increasingly majority-minority nation of ours. Whites like Pat Buchanan warn of the coming white minority due to declining birthrates for white women and the ongoing “invasion” of mostly brown people into this country.
Perhaps what the image of the royal baby conjures is white power and wealth, as well as the fertility of white women necessary to maintain white supremacy and dominance. These signifiers of white supremacy continue to proliferate in the U.S. mass media and throughout society. We watch in part because we want to, but we also watch in part because we are compelled to do so by the way white dominance is built into media events, such as the royal birth.
Quentin Tarantino certainly has a knack for igniting controversy with his films. Perhaps no movie of his has started such a hullabaloo than his latest work, Django Unchained, drawing criticism from a variety of circles, from both the political left and right.
After finally seeing it myself, the film has many issues addressed by critics, including (but not limited to): Tarantino’s gratuitous use of the n-word, excessive violence; being just another white messiah flick, or just plain irreverent.
All of these topics are important, but one issue that interested me was the questioned accuracy of the so-called “mandingo fighting” portrayed in the movie; i.e., fight-to-the-death matches between slave men. A commonly cited article at Slate authoritatively stated that mandingo fighting never existed, paraphrasing David Blight, a historian from Yale, that no such thing occurred because doing so would have been irrational to do so. This take on the film’s mandingo fights got picked up from other outlets, following Slate’s lead. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has a great post at The Root regarding the issue of mandingo fighting, as well as using bloodhounds for tearing apart and eating, not just capturing, runaway slaves. In the post he asks, “Did this happen — could this have happened — given the fact that the ultimate goal of a master was to exploit his human chattel for maximum profit, and destroying property would not be perhaps the best business decision?” Specifically regarding the dogs issue, Gates finds that it did sometimes happen. Certainly this same approach can be applied to the portrayal of mandingo fighting. However, Gates does not go that far, giving support to the Aisha Harris article at Slate and adding, “Destroying one’s property was not the smartest business strategy.” Unfortunately, Gates seems to contradict himself when it comes to the issue of mandingo fighting.
So, did “mandingo fighting” ever take place in the antebellum South? In fact, as Adam Rothman pointed out, new historical texts on the antebellum period describe the situation in Mississippi during the time having been even crazier and more bizarre than that portrayed in the film. Slaveholders constantly feared uprisings and runaways, and they commonly cracked down on supposed wrongdoers to “send a message” to the other slaves.
Still, I think more the pertinent question is: does it even matter whether they existed or not? I think that social scientists like Blight and others need to take great care in stressing the rationality of a social system, whether it be economic, political, etc. A dialectical approach is helpful here, as in George Ritzer’s notion of the “irrationalities of rationality,” in which rationalized structures produce undesired outcomes (such as the horrors of modern warfare). The whole point to take from this is that Americans of African descent, with the exceptions of freedmen and women, were PROPERTY of whites. This means they had no rights. While those fights may not have taken place, it seems folly to believe it never could have happened in such a rational economic system. Even worse, whether intentionally or not such a line serves to whitewash the antebellum South as a land of happy darkies and benevolent—even kindly—slave masters who would never abuse or kill their slaves due to enduring economic losses.
Whatever your thoughts about the film, it certainly was very powerful. Gates finished his piece this way: “Whether you like Django’s post-modern take on slavery or not, one of its most salutary effects is that it has generated a greater conversation about the enslavement of our ancestors than any that I have witnessed perhaps since Roots.”
Based upon the results from Tuesday’s election, are we in post-racial society? As Joe pointed out in his post after the election, of course not. I will take this one step further: is U.S. society coming closer (if not there yet) to being a “post-racial” society? The exit polling from the election Tuesday suggests not. In fact, a preliminary look at the numbers suggest something rather disturbing: that white Americans are beginning to consolidate their support behind the (white) Republican candidate, regardless of a variety of factors.
When interviewing white college students, a common claim I found was that U.S. society is getting more progressive due to the impending deaths of the old racist whites. However, exit polling from the election and comparing it to what happened in the previous cycle (see here), we find that all of the President’s losses were among various groups of white voters, including young white voters. As Joe pointed out earlier, President Obama lost whites aged 18-29 by a margin of 44 percent to 51 percent. This was a complete reversal of 2008, when then Senator Obama carried the same group of voters by a ten-point margin (54-44). Meanwhile, white women’s support for the white Republican candidate this time doubled its spread from 46-53 in 2008 to 42-56. Meanwhile, Independent voters also flip-flopped from supporting Senator Obama 52-44 in 2008 to Romney 45-50 (note: the first number listed is President Obama’s on the chart below).
Group 2012 2008
Whites (overall) 39-59 43-55
Whites (18-29) 44-51 54-44
Latinos (18-29) 74-23 76-19
Moderates 56-41 60-39
Independents 45-50 52-44
Suburban 48-50 NA
Democrats 92-7 89-10
This rejection of President Obama by white America was quite extensive. We must push back against the MSM to paint a distorted picture of how this man won re-election. Besides young voters and women, Catholics is another group the MSM could generalize and say “Catholics supported Obama by a 50-48 margin…” The reality is that white Catholics overwhelmingly rejected President Obama by a 40-59 margin, while white Protestants were even worse at 30-69. After a far too brief look at the exit polls, I see incredible support for the President coming from Blacks and Latinos (considering that the turnout was actually down from 2008 and 2004, see here), and his campaign did a great job of maintaining support among the Party faithful (he won Democrats 92-7) while convincing enough voters that he cared more about them than Romney did (he won those earning below $50,000 60-38).
What we race scholars should be focusing on is the disturbing gap among our young people (e.g., nearly one-third more Latinos 18-29 supported Obama than whites in the same age cohort), and the consequences of such a major gap.
For the annual ASA conference in Atlanta, the session on racism and antiracism (organized by Eileen O’Brien) was divided into two, held back-to-back in the same room. With my presentation in the second of the two, I had a chance to catch the discussion portion of the first session, with Charles Gallagher present. As expected, the room was packed (and unfortunately most left after their session had ended). I was (at least somewhat) taken aback at how optimistic Gallagher was with the alleged absence of racism among young white people today. I wish more had been in attendance for my session that followed (including Gallagher), or that I had presented my material for that session, because my research paints a very different picture of young whites than what Gallagher sees.
Granted, I’m not saying that young whites today are tripping over themselves to join the Klan or anything. But a complete absence of racism? In my presentation titled “‘It’s not on the news, so…’: Ambivalence towards White Supremacy Among White College Students,” I presented evidence about how white college students go out of their way to not see white supremacist activities, while defending their right to exist and even flourish. They seem to feel it necessary to say that white supremacists and their organizations are a serious problem in our society, yet contradict themselves when they call them impotent, ridiculous, limited to the south, etc. This contradiction creates an ambivalence towards these groups, and whether intended or not, this ambivalence towards white supremacy assists in efforts to protect white supremacist speech.
I mentioned a couple of examples from the interviews that I found to be most intriguing. The first was Odella, who told me of an incident involving “good ole southern boys” burning “a black doll” in effigy on the grounds of her high school. She immediately minimized the incident, saying it had been resolved and called it “an isolated event.” Incredibly, later on when discussing the significance of white supremacists and their organizations today, she said:
“I don’t think white supremacy is a serious problem in our society, I know it exists, but um (.) maybe I just don’t see it (.) like maybe in other places it’s more prominent, but…”
After asking her if that incident at her high school constituted white supremacy, she answered “yeah, probably” but said it was “spur of the moment” and that these good ole boys had simply made a bad decision.
The other example came from Troy, who rationalized discriminatory behavior in the pursuit of profit. When he recalled his “training” as a club bouncer he provided extensive details on who he was supposed to keep out of the establishment: baggy jeans, Fubu clothes, and Timbaland boots, and most of all, black skin. Although he seemed to struggle with the racist thinking of his boss at one time, he said “it sounds terrible but it’s kind of like the line from The Godfather ‘It’s business, not personal,’” and saying it’s alright if “they’ve got bills to pay.” He admitted that the whole point of the dress codes those establishments enforce are a way to keep blacks out (“because they can’t just come out and say ‘all right black people [don’t] come in’ so they have to make a dress code and basically they find stuff that applied to [the] black crowd and say ‘you can’t come in wearing that’”).
Although these are just a couple of examples from the research, there were many others that showed young white people are generally ambivalent towards white supremacists and their organizations. I believe that this attitude makes it virtually impossible to get the needed public policies and societal resources to fight these groups and to protect the rights of those they seek to harm. I wish I were as optimistic as Gallagher is about our young white children today, but for now I say wait 10 or 20 years and see where they will be and how they behave.
Last week a former wrestling promoter named Don “Moose” Lewis announced his intention to start up a new basketball league called the “All-American Basketball Alliance,” or AABA. In this league only U.S. born players of Caucasian parents would be allowed to play and coach. The proposal was for teams in 12 cities across the southeast, with its headquarters in Atlanta (See here and here )
News of this proposal first appeared last week in the Augusta Chronicle in which Lewis was interviewed. Since then the story has received little attention from news outlets, especially “major” outlets like CNN. Of those who have covered the story, many say that people like Lewis are ridiculous and/or silly, even to the point where one has assumed it must be a hoax? Perhaps it was, but if so, why would Lewis choose this topic? Is he trying to spark a conversation on the issue?
During his interview with the Chronicle, Lewis made the following comment as to whether he thought such a league would be racist:
There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing. I don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like.
This comment underscores the point that even when racists engage in overtly racist acts, they refuse to call it racist (Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists). However, I’m interested not so much in Lewis’ comments or the league itself (which probably won’t see the light of day) but the response to the issues Lewis has raised, especially by white Americans. I have yet to see a more developed critique of this line of thinking, such as that from Charles Barkley (from here):
It’s just blatantly racist if you look at the code words used. I don’t take it seriously, but it just lets you know there’s blatant racism out there. It lets you know, as a black man, there are people out there who don’t like you.
Barkley’s reference to “code words” is right on point. The title of the proposed league is a good place to start, and something that one still hears every now and again; i.e., that “American” is synonymous with “white.” Second, Lewis talks about starting such a league because people yearn for “fundamentals” basketball and an alternative to “street” ball, which he argues has taken over the NBA. The notion that black players don’t play with “fundamentals,” while insinuating that white players do, is rooted in the white racial frame that whites are inherently rational and blacks are incapable of “civilized” activity. This frame of thinking continues with the proposed league limiting the amount of tattoos players have. Considering that tattoos have become almost blasé in today’s society, only those worn by African Americans get criticized. Finally, Lewis made reference to unique examples like the recent incident involving Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittendon bringing guns into the team locker room as emblematic of why he feels a need for a new league. This is a classic ecological fallacy in which an exception is used to categorize the entire group.
My concern is our inability to acknowledge just how much support there is out there for Lewis’ opinions, if not for such a league. Perhaps if this was indeed a hoax, the dialogue could be revealing. The white racial frame places a filter over our eyes that affects the way we see things. For example, it is common to hear comments of how a black player is naturally gifted while focusing on the “fundamentals” of a good white player, and how he’s intelligent. Meanwhile, this frame affects our discourse, such as using animal imagery when describing players’ performances, including phrases like “beast on the boards” or calling linemen’s hands “paws” when they knock down balls at the line of scrimmage…do you hear such terminology used for white players?
A Harris Interactive poll taken last year found that pro basketball has declined considerably in popularity . Is this due to white racism? The percentage of black players has actually remained steady over the years (though the NBA has increased its number of international players significantly), so is it something more specific than color of the players on the court?
Kudos to Rachel Maddow for her story Friday night’s show (see here , beginning at about the one minute mark) about the way cons on radio and TV have referred to President Obama as a rapist. Much of this reporting was based on the research from the folks at Media Matters (see here). Also kudos to Ana Marie-Cox who rightly points out the obvious “that they’re saying this about a black man.”
For example, Michael Savage said on his radio show that
Obama is raping America. Obama is raping our values. Obama is raping our democracy.
Meanwhile, Neil Boortz said (back in June, mind you)
They’re gonna rape us. They’re gonna bend us over and nail us, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.
See here (at 0:16 of the 0:49 clip) for Glen Beck’s rant in which he compares the President to Roman Polanski while “we” are the “little girl.”
Considering how utterly offensive these comments really are, I find it disturbing how little attention they have received from major news media outlets (e.g., the fact that the Boortz quote is nearly five months old now). These statements are straight out of the white racial frame, stoking the centuries-old stereotype of black men as sexual predators. This stereotype lingers on (as these statements show), despite the fact that it is WHITE MEN who are overwhelmingly guilty of interracial rape in four centuries of U.S. history.
Even worse, commentators like Chris Matthews and others continue to give these racists like Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan legitimacy by discussing their latest statements or even inviting them as regular guests on their shows. Meanwhile, they continue to drool over Sarah Palin’s book tour and discuss Lou Dobbs’ hinting at a run for the Presidency. These individuals are profiting off white supremacist fears of a truly democratic society; i.e., one in which non-whites have increased access to the privileges that whites have long enjoyed.
While going over the exit polling from Mississippi for the Election, something jumped out at me when observing the cross-tabs for race and gender: the fact that the gender gap in voter turnout for blacks was double that of whites. The gender gap regardless of race exists likely for several reasons, including women’s longer life expectancies. With the 2000 Election debacle in mind (along with Gov. Crist’s rather surprising push to reform the law), I looked here to see which states have the most stringent (i.e., repressive and racist; see here) anti-felon voting laws, and the bulk of them are ex-slave states.
Anti-felon voting laws are part of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation in this country because they disproportionately affect black men’s ability to vote. The following is a chart examining the gender gap for blacks and whites in selected states with the toughest voting laws regarding felons (note: each number listed represents the percentage of the total voter turnout for the state; women are listed first for each category):
AL— 33-32% 18-11%
AR— 45-37 7-6
GA— 32-33 19-11
KY— 44-41 7-4
LA— 36-30 19-10
MS— 33-29 21-13
MO— 44-38 7-5
NC— 37-35 14-9
SC— 37-34 14-11
TN— 42-42 9-3
VA— 38-32 10-10
So in Mississippi, for example, where “many” felons can never vote again in the state, black men made-up 13 percent of the total vote, eight points below that of black women. Although white women also made-up a higher percentage of the total vote than white men, the difference was only four percent. Meanwhile, the gender gaps in states like Louisiana and Tennessee were even higher. There are some disparities in the data, perhaps based on other factors (e.g., Obama’s time and money spent in the state, such as Virginia) or the variations in the anti-felon laws (e.g., the laws are less restrictive in the Carolinas than in Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama).
Still, the important analysis put forth by Charles Franklin (see here) may shed light on the issue of white fear and its relationship to the percentage of blacks in the population. It appears that the higher the proportion of the black population, the more severe the anti-felon voting laws are in that state. Imagine if the gender gap for blacks had not existed in this election…in a state like Mississippi (where Obama won the black vote 98-2), perhaps that increased black turnout could have made the difference in the outcome. What do you think?
As you’ve probably heard or read about by now, many commentators and analysts (see here) have announced that there was no evidence of a “Bradley Effect” (or more accurately called the “white racism” effect). Obama’s victory was indeed monumental, and more whites supported him than John Kerry in 2004. Pollsters like Blumenthal at Pollster.com have declared the results “unambiguous” in the rejection of any Bradley Effect. Still, there were 22% of U.S. counties that increased their vote for Republican John McCain, and they are concentrated in places like my home state, Arkansas (see here). Obama actually did ten points worse among white women than John Kerry did in 2004. Some I’ve talked to here think that was due to a “Hillary Effect,” but I don’t buy that, given her endorsement and campaigning for him, as well as their policy similarities. See the following table, which breaks down the white votes for states in the southern/southeastern U.S. (McCain’s percent is listed first in each category):
WHITE MEN% /WHITE WOMEN% /WHITE TOTAL %
AL —– 88-9—– 88-12—– 88-10
AR —– 68-30—– 67-31—– 68-30
FL—– 55-42—– 57-42—– 56-42
GA—– 78-21—– 74-26—– 76-23
KY—– 64-34—– 63-36—– 63-36
LA—– 83-16—– 85-13—– 84-14
MS—– 90-9—– 87-13—– 88-11
SC—– 76-23—– 70-29—– 73-26
TN—– 64-31—– 63-36—– 63-34
As Blumenthal has noted, it’s difficult to tell if the Bradley Effect was a factor in these states, since so few polls were taken in these states—being considered safe states for McCain quite early during the cycle. However, the few polls I have reviewed do suggest that white support was higher in the polls than what occurred on Election Day. But regardless whether the Bradley Effect was involved or not, what explains such overwhelming support of McCain over Obama in these states? I think that there is a whitewash in effect for yet another slice (certainly an important one) of U.S. history, in which powerful whites interpret an event that credits whites for its successes (while often marginalizing nonwhites for the successes or even demonizing nonwhites for the failures; see the Prop 8 coverage, as Jessie discussed or atfor example ).
Obama’s victory in Florida, for example, was essentially due to his support from Latino/a voters. Second, I think there is yet another attempted denial of white racism, still alive and well in our society. This election certainly presented us evidence of regional—as well as generational, educational, community type, etc.—differences among whites and how it affects their voting patterns. White denials of racism require selective consciousness and attention to events. Now we have to listen to commentators discuss the “end of racism,” despite the evidence in the data that it indeed persists.
(Note from Joe: also see the correlational analysis by Charles Franklin of the black vote versus the total white vote. He concludes thus:
There is considerable variation in the percentage of whites who voted for Obama. Where African Americans made up less than 20% of the vote (according to exit polls), whites varied from 30% to 60% in their support for Obama but with no relationship to the size of the African American vote. As the African American electorate rose above 20%, white support for Obama fell sharply to barely 10%.
Like so many others at this point, I’m suffering from election fatigue. Despite promising poll numbers, many argue that McCain shouldn’t be counted out .
After wondering why the heck McCain was continuing to campaign in places like Iowa and Pennsylvania, states in which Obama leads on average by double-digits (see this), there seems to be only one explanation: that the McCain campaign is hoping for the Bradley Effect, along with the Wilder Effect.
The former refers to whites lying to pollsters about supporting the black candidate while actually voting for someone else (i.e., the white candidate), while the latter refers to the remaining undecideds to break overwhelmingly for the white candidate. (Thus, it is more accurately called the “white racism effect.”)
In both RCP averages in those states, Obama’s raw score is above 52 percent, meaning that the Wilder Effect alone would be insufficient for McCain to win in those states. So why spend time campaigning there with such little time left before Election Day? Part of the explanation could be that they have nothing left at this point, but why ignore Colorado at this juncture? Turns out that they may be banking on the older white populations of Iowa and Pennsylvania (along with others like Florida and Ohio), while giving up on Colorado (the youngest state in the union). Apparently the recent charges ranging from “palling around with terrorists” to “socialist” to “Marxist” are attempts to gain favor with these voters. What do you think: could the McCain camp be onto something (say, based on their own polling), or is this just another poor decision of an utterly miserable campaign?