Archive for discrimination
The pending Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas presents a new challenge to the Court’s decision of a decade earlier in the Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger cases at the University of Michigan. In the Michigan cases, the Court clearly recognized the value of student body diversity in the educational process and upheld the inclusion of race as one factor among others in a narrowly tailored holistic review process. Numerous expert studies support the Court’s position on diversity and student learning outcomes. For example, four studies presented at the most recent meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) provide empirical support for the benefits of diversity for college students, using longitudinal assessment of the scores from the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency and the Collegiate Learning Assessment.
Yet a recent Inside Higher Ed survey of 841 college presidents conducted by Gallup found that 70% agreed that consideration of race in admissions has had a “mostly positive effect” on education in general, while only 58% agreed that such consideration has had a “mostly positive effect” on their campuses.
Dr. Benjamin Reese, president of the National Association of Chief Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) and Vice President for Institutional Equity at Duke University, suggested that framing the question around race rather than the benefits of diversity resulting from a holistic review of applications may have elicited less positive responses. In reporting Reese’s perspective in his March 1 article, editor Doug Lederman writes, “That, though, is not the question before the courts.” He then cites Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, who indicates that “the Presidents are completely out of step with where the courts seem to be heading and where the American public is on this issue.”
A closer reading of the Grutter decision suggests that the Court was focused on the overall benefits of diversity. It specifically reaffirmed the opinion of Justice Powell in the landmark 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke decision who found that “diversity is a compelling state interest” essential to the university’s mission. Writing for the narrow 5-4 Grutter majority, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor focused on the concept of “critical mass” in summarizing the positive impact of diversity at the University of Michigan’s Law School. She noted the effects of diversity on learning outcomes and the preparation of students for a diverse workforce, society, and legal profession:
But the Law School defines its critical mass concept by reference to the substantial, important, and laudable educational benefits that diversity is designed to produce, including cross-racial understanding and the breaking down of racial stereotypes.
The crux of the issue in Fisher relates to critical mass. How is it defined? How will we know when we reach it? What benefits derive from it? We have seen the concept of critical mass in the research literature as it refers to a substantial presence of women and minorities on campus. It refers to the sufficient presence of underrepresented groups to be able to overcome isolation, defeat stereotypes, and provide a welcoming atmosphere for diversity.
The concept of critical mass is a qualitative rather than a quantitative concept. Yet justices sympathetic to Fisher have been asking for quantification of the attainment of critical mass, even though quotas are not permitted under prior judicial rulings. Chief Justice Roberts repeatedly questioned Gregory Garre, the lawyer for the University of Texas asking: “What is that number? What is the critical mass of Hispanics and African Americans at the university that you are working toward?” When Garre argued that the school did not have a specific point of critical mass and would make this determination, Roberts responded, “So I see, when you tell me, then it’s enough.”
From this perspective, the responses of the college and university presidents to the Inside Higher Ed Survey do not appear to be “out of step” with the American public. Rather these responses reflect a very real awareness of the complexities and nuances relating to the implementation of affirmative action in admissions processes. Support for affirmative action was strongest among presidents of public master’s (81%) and public doctoral universities (80%). In Alvin Evans’ and my review of institutional diversity plans in Are the Walls Really Down? Behavioral and Organizational Barriers to Diversity , we found that public universities have been in the forefront in the development of institutional diversity plans, perhaps due to their legal reporting requirements, size, resources, and requirements for public accountability.
Although the outcome of Fisher v. Texas remains uncertain, the fact that numerous legal briefs have been filed by associations and groups asserting that curtailing affirmative action would hurt the quality of the education students receive is promising. The voices of educational leaders, professional associations, and scholars are critical in the ongoing debate of how education can continue to serve as the gateway to opportunity and the great equalizer in our richly diverse society.
In the March 8 edition of the Chronicle Review, Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, sums up the importance of presidential voice as “the most influential public voice of the institution”:
I have always believed that courageous views, thoughtfully expressed, are actually less risky than silence in the face of serious wrong. I have spoken out, in my role as president of Macalester College, on many contentious issues, and I have chosen to remain silent on others. What has guided my decision-making, and what I believe guides that of most of my colleagues, is not cowardice or self-interest, but careful judgment about what is in the best interest of the institutions we hold in trust.
From casual to pandering to deadly, there have been several disturbing reports about anti-Asian American racism in the news. In the more casual forms of racism, it seems that the whole using someone’s name as a way to retrieve an order at fast food places has gone horribly awry. About a month ago a Chick-Fil-A cashier at a store in Irvine, California assigned racist names to two customers and even typed them into the printed receipts (images here). And, just in the past few days, a woman went into a Papa John’s pizza chain in New York City and got called a racist name on her receipt (see that receipt here). Here’s an idea – maybe we could just go back to the “we’ll call your number when your order is ready?” system.
AngryAsianGrrlMN sums this up well when she writes:
This is the kind of casual racism that isn’t talked about, but that Asian people deal with on a regular basis. We are the invisible minority, and we rarely get the kind of attention that other minorities do.
I’ll just state the obvious here and point out that these incidents didn’t happen in the distant past or some rural backwater, but in supposedly tolerant, cosmopolitan urban areas in the present, putatively post-racial era.
The pandering form of anti-Asian American racism is coming through, not surprisingly, the presidential campaign. John Huntsman, Republican candidate and former Ambassador to China, is fluent in Mandarin and, rather remarkably, spoke Chinese during the Republican presidential debate recently. Huntsman and his wife have also adopted children from China and India. All this “foreign-ness” has proven too tempting for some of his political opponents who are using these facts to pander to peoples’ racism and xenophobia. As AngryAsianMan notes:
“It’s an election year, so you know what time it is. Racist campaign ads! This latest gem is from someone claiming to be a Ron Paul supporter, attacking Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman for his “un-American” values. … Here we go with another round of equating China with all things evil. Complete with an extra Oriental soundtrack — never has Mandarin made to sound so sinister. [This video] is one of the most unabashedly racist attack ads we’ve seen in a while.
The ad asks whether Huntsman’s values are “American” values or Chinese? And, then rather sinisterly photoshops Huntsman into a portrait of Chinese leader Mao Zedong while thoroughly mixing the fear-mongering metaphors and comparing him to the “Manchurian Candidate.” This kind of strategy is what some people refer to as “dog whistle racism,” in other words, political campaigning that uses coded words and themes that appeal to conscious or unconscious racist concepts and frames. For example, the terms ‘welfare queen,’ ’states’ rights,’ ‘Islamic terrorist,’ ‘uppity,’ and ‘illegal alien’ all activate racist concepts that already exist within a broader white racial frame.
Among the most disturbing news are the details that are emerging surrounding the death of Private Danny Chen in October, 2011. Chen, 19, grew up in New York City’s Chinatown, and is thought to have committed suicide in Afghanistan after enduring racial taunts and bullying (although some now question whether it was suicide at all). A group of his superiors allegedly tormented Chen on an almost daily basis over the course of about six weeks in Afghanistan last fall. They singled him out, their only Chinese-American soldier, and spit racial slurs at him: “gook,” “chink,” “dragon lady.” They forced him to do sprints while carrying a sandbag. They ordered him to crawl along gravel-covered ground while they flung rocks at him. And one day, when his unit was assembling a tent, he was forced to wear a green hard-hat and shout out instructions to his fellow soldiers in Chinese.ethnic slurs. At other times, they forced him to do push-ups or hang upside down with his mouth full of water.
New York Magazine has an extensive piece about Chen’s experience, including his letters home from the military. Here’s some of what he wrote to his parents:
“Everyone knows me because I just noticed, I’m the only chinese guy in the platoon,” he wrote home. His fellow recruits called him Chen Chen, Jackie Chan, and Ling Ling. But, he added, “Don’t worry, no one picks on me … I’m the skinniest guy and weigh the least here but … people respect me for not quitting.”
Four weeks later, the Asian jokes hadn’t stopped. “They ask if I’m from China like a few times day,” he wrote. “They also call out my name (chen) in a goat like voice sometimes for no reason. No idea how it started but now it’s just best to ignore it. I still respond though to amuse them. People crack jokes about Chinese people all the time, I’m running out of jokes to come back at them.”
The eight men later charged in connection with his death are all white and range in age from 24 to 35; they include one lieutenant, two staff sergeants, three sergeants, and two specialists. Danny’s parents, of course, are inconsolable at the loss of their only son.
What in the world could Arizona’s challenge of the Voting Rights Act and the requirement passed in 12 states that citizens show government-issued picture ID’s before voting have in common? The answer is simple: Both are being used by white racists to impede people of color’s right to vote and nullify their vote’s impact.
One tactic is the removal of the Federal Government oversight of the often tainted state electoral process. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 as part of Lyndon Johnson’s anti-racist agenda. It outlawed poll taxes and other obstacles that impeded people of color’s access to the ballot box.
Arizona has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of parts of the Voting Rights Act. The parts in question require states that did not meet certain requirements in 1972 to secure federal approval for any state legislation or change that could affect voting. Arizona is one of the states.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who filed the lawsuit, said that the original criteria for pre-approval are no longer relevant or constitutional, and Arizona no longer needs the federal government’s scrutiny. “The historical Voting Rights Act was meant to overcome horrendous voting discrimination that occurred in the South,” Horne said. “We are being severely penalized for something that happened in 1972 that was corrected in 1975.”
Many Mexican American legislators disagree. They argue that federal government oversight is still necessary in Arizona. They say that the Department of Justice was forced to intervene on numerous occasions, as was the case ten years ago when it mandated a redrawing of proposed legislative boundaries that would have put Mexican American voters at a disadvantage. Rep. Richard Miranda states their current goal succinctly:
We are asking the Independent Redistricting Commission not to dilute the impact of minority voters.
A second subterfuge pertains to the requirement that citizens show government-issued ID’s before they can vote. In an August 26 New York Times Op-EdJohn Lewis, a Democratic congressman from Georgia, discusses a law passed by 12 Republican state legislatures this year. The law requires “that citizens obtain and display unexpired government-issued photo identification before entering the voting booth.” It so happens that as many as 25 percent of African American voters lack adequate identification.
Conservative supporters of the law allege that this regulation is necessary to forestall voter impersonation. However, there is no evidence that voter impersonation is a widespread problem. When the state of Indiana defended its picture ID provision before the Supreme Court, it could not produce evidence of even one instance of the offense in Indiana. Similarly, in the last ten years Kansas, another state that passed the legislation, experienced a larger number of alleged U.F.O. sightings than claims of voter impersonation.
I believe that if these white attacks fail, more will follow. Racism is a tough nut to crack.
The U.S. Human Rights Network has a good summary of the weaknesses in U.S. civil rights laws and civil rights enforcement. In 1965 the United Nations adopted an antidiscrimination treaty called the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The U.S. Senate took until 1994 to ratify it largely because of white conservative opposition to it. We have only ratified three international human rights treaties, which are binding on U.S. states and the federal government.
We as a nation are way behind in our law and Supreme Court interpretations of CERD. Here are two excerpts from this critical analysis (The document is at the Poverty and Race Research Action Council website; look for the June 23 weekly update. It is well worth joining their list too):
The CERD treaty embodies an obligation not just to avoid policies with a discriminatory impact, but also to affirmatively take action to address racial disparities in outcomes for people of color, both within government programs and in society at large. This principle of affirmative obligations to redress past discriminatory practices and present day outcomes is largely absent from federal civil rights law (with the notable exception of the Fair Housing Act, which calls on the government to “affirmatively further” fair housing. The CERD treaty requires its signatories to use carefully tailored race-conscious measures to redress past racial discrimination and continuing racial disparities. But the U.S. Supreme Court has recently been undermining this basic principle of our civil rights law by making it harder for government to use race as a factor in student assignment to promote voluntary racial integration. The CERD Committee has recommended a government-wide “Plan of Action” to implement CERD, and a central agency or commission to educate the public and monitor treaty compliance. No such mechanisms exist in the U.S.
Civil rights enforcement vs. human rights compliance: the Obama Administration has done a good job of reviving the dormant civil rights enforcement units within each federal agency that are responsible for investigating complaints of discrimination by state and local recipients of federal funds, and the revived Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is once again at the forefront of civil rights enforcement. But civil rights enforcement is only a part of compliance with the CERD treaty – the federal government is also supposed to be addressing racial disparities and impacts in the way it spends its money and runs its domestic programs (including federal programs affecting health, education, labor, environment, criminal justice, housing, transportation, etc). The federal government is still falling short of its CERD obligations in this area.
That is the U.S. is out of compliance with a major treaty, and indeed in several ways fairly weak in its civil rights enforcement and action on racial and other discrimination.
The Charlotte Observer newspaper recorded a Delta (ASAConnection) incident of probable discrimination against two Muslim clerics who, ironically enough, were travelling to Charlotte for a meeting that will deal with Islamophobia.
Reportedly the fearful chief pilot and a passenger pressed for the plane to go back to the gate after it was taxing. The pilot reportedly refused to fly with them even though they had been fully checked by the TSA screeners:
Imams Masudur Rahman, an adjunct professor of Arabic at the University of Memphis, and Mohamed Zaghloul said they and their bags were checked twice by security agents at the Memphis airport before boarding the 8:40 a.m. Delta Connection Flight 5452 to Charlotte.
The conference on Islamophobia is timely given the outbursts of anti-Islamic rhetoric since the U.S. killing of Bin Laden last Sunday:
Organizers said more than 150 religious leaders from across the country will meet through Sunday to discuss prejudice and fear of Islam or Muslims.
Jibril Hough of the Islamic Center of Charlotte put it succinctly: “These guys definitely have something to talk about.” And the Memphis professor also noted that this discrimination:
reminded him of Rosa Parks and her famous 1955 stand against riding in the back of an Alabama bus because she was black. “That racism, I felt today in the plane … should not happen to anyone.”
The media are reporting that they were detained because of their “Muslim dress,” and I would guess too because of their beards. That is, certain physical characteristics. Clearly, most native-born European Americans do not see them as “white,” as one survey we did made quite clear. (Only 7 percent of self-defined white college students saw Middle Eastern Americans as clearly “white.” See Chapter 12 here)
As I have described elsewhere, Middle Eastern Americans have been part of the U.S. mix since about 1900. And European American legal-political authorities have grappled with defining them racially. Between 1909 and 1944, at least eight court decisions by European American judges legally assessed whether certain Arab Americans were “white.” Four ruled that they were, and four ruled that by “common knowledge” or “legal precedent” they should not be considered white. Note too that the many white supremacist writers of the early twentieth century saw them as “parasites” and “Mongolian plasma” that would “contaminate the pure American stock.” Middle Eastern immigrants (both Christians and Muslims) were then cataloged with southern and eastern Europeans as “inferior races” by European American intellectuals. They suffered extreme stereotypes that many European Americans drew from the already entrenched white racist frame, including old derogatory terms such as “blackie,” “camel jockey,” and “sheeny.” Some of this racialized stereotyping and framing clearly persists on a large scale today, renewed by events of the last few decades.
In addition to physical features such as skin color and facial features, many European Americans, in the early period and today, have used distinguishing markers that are cultural in character, such as clothing (hijab, turban), language accents, and religious customs. In the too common racial-ethnic framing of Muslim and Christian Middle Eastern Americans today, certain cultural markers are added to skin color marking to target them for racialized stereotyping and discrimination.
This short clip (7:08) is the second half of a story that the ABC “20/20″ news show did called “True Colors.” It features Julianne Malveaux as one of the experts. The whole piece is 19 minutes long (part 1 is here) and is one of the most powerful teaching tools I’ve ever used for demonstrating how everyday racism works:
Basically, what the ABC crews does is set up a “matched study” – a white guy and a black guy are matched on every quality except skin color – and films the results. They put these two gentlemen, both recent college grads, in St. Louis, Missouri to establish themselves. They are sent to find work and a place to live. Hidden cameras record the very different treatment that they receive at almost every turn. It’s a compelling look at how everyday racism operates and the way that it “grinds exceedingly small,” as Malveaux says.
You can purchase a licensed copy (the one above is definitely a pirated copy) of the full video here. Unfortunately, the official copy is priced for institutional buyers ($595), not the individual user. The original story aired in 1991, about the time current college sophomores were born, so the video is vulnerable to being dismissed as “the kind of thing that happened a long time ago, in the distant past.”
Of course, those of us who study racism know that this continues to happen and it continues to “grind exceedingly small” for those who experience it. It’s definitely time for some enterprising investigative reporter to re-make this classic video about everyday racism.
On 24 January 2011, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and the Association for Canadian Studies released the results of a four country (Canada, the U.S., Spain, and Germany) survey on racism and discrimination.
Amongst the findings:
• German respondents were more likely than Canadian, American, and Spanish respondents to believe that visible minorities and whites are treated equally in the work place.
• One in three Canadian, American, and Spanish respondents claimed they witnessed a racist incident in the past year.
• Opposition to interracial marriage was lowest in Canada and highest in Spain.
• Spanish and German respondents were more likely than American and Canadian respondents to agree that their national government should take the lead in combating discrimination.
Findings specific to Canada were as follows:
• Canadians were evenly divided over whether racism is on the rise within its borders.
• Québec francophones were more likely to favor living in neighborhoods surrounded by people from the same racial background than any other group in Canada or the U.S. The second most likely to prefer racially homogeneous neighborhoods were white Americans.
• Canadian allophones (who are more likely to include visible minorities) were the most likely to have a preference for racially diverse neighborhoods.
Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, said the poll results call into question assumptions regarding what motivates a person to select a given neighborhood, stating:
It makes you think about that theory that minorities self-impose segregation on themselves and they are the ones who want to live in clusters or enclaves… This survey suggests the contrary…. It actually suggests that it’s not the allophones or ethnics who prefer living in clusters or enclaves. It is actually the francophones and, to a slightly greater extent than allophones, the anglophones.
Meanwhile, Ayman Al-Yassini, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation stated
[t]he reality is that Canadians are more aware of the whole issue of racism and discrimination than other countries.
Jedwab concurred, explaining that while the U.S. survey indicates the same proportion of those surveyed view racism as an increasing difficulty, the breakdown within different categories of people produced variations between the countries that are worthy of note.
Canadians were categorized as English, French, or allophone. Half of English Canadians considered racism a growing problem, while that proportion was approximately 40 percent for francophones and allophones. In the U.S., people were categorized as whites, blacks, or Hispanics. Among blacks and Hispanics, more than 55 percent view racism as a growing problem, while 44 percent of whites did. For that reason, Jedwab suggests that Canadians view racism as outside their personal experience, while Americans view the issue more subjectively:
In the United States, it’s more those groups who are expressing the phenomenon through the lens of how they feel they’re affected through those groups. As opposed to in Canada, you’re seeing an assessment being made on the part of English Canadians about what the situation is, not so much as whether they’re affected by it individually.
The study is based on polling by firms in each country. In Canada, Leger Marketing polled 1,707 respondents online between 31 August and 4 September. In the U.S, the online poll of 1,048 respondents was conducted by the Opinion Research Corp. between 30-31 August.
Stephen A. Mutch, Tessa M. Blaikie, Crystal S. Van Den Bussche, and Kyla E. Doll are sociology students at University of Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada). Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.
Do leadership and decision-making processes in the research university mirror the racial stratification of American society? The structure of higher education is strikingly white male-dominated in its senior leadership ranks. According to “Pathway to the Presidency” published by the American Council on Education , close to 85 percent of the top-ranked positions in doctorate-granting institutions are held by whites and 66 percent held by males (King & Gomez, 2008).
The only exception to this pattern is the Chief Diversity Officer position–70.8 percent of these positions are held by African-Americans, with white incumbents holding 12.3 percent, And according to a NACUBO (2010) survey, Chief Financial Officers are 90% white and 68% male, a demographic that is considerably similar to Chief Academic Officers who are 85% white and 60% male.
In our forthcoming book, Diverse Administrators in Peril: The New Indentured Class in Higher Education, (Paradigm, 2011), Alvin Evans of Kent State University and I examine the fragile and unstable working conditions faced by women, minority and lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) administrators in the highest ranks of the research university. Unlike faculty who pursue individualistic accomplishments solidified through the tenure process, university administrators generally serve in an “at will” status without employment protection to support the success of the entire institution.
In our survey and followup interviews with administrators from public and private research universities at the level of director and up, we discovered remarkable similarity in how the process of subtle discrimination unfolds through acts of marginalization, exclusion, and social closure. These patterns of discrimination transcend geographical location, institutional prestige, and public/private research university status. What it tells us that power is still highly concentrated in the hands of a few, and that the covert, difficult-to-prove nature of subtle discrimination heightens the vulnerability of diverse administrators to forms of differential treatment.
Joe Feagin, reminds us of the high cost of wasting talent and creativity in The White Racial Frame, indicating that “a society that ignores such a great store of knowledge and ability irresponsibly risks its future.” And he also reminds us of the need for moral thinking and action that “frees up the knowledge and energy” of those who have faced barriers to achievement, knowledge-generation, and prosperity.
Based on the poignant yet courageous testimonials of diverse administrators shared in our study, structural changes that strengthen employment stability for administrators will help ensure more inclusive leadership practices. These changes will not only enhance the success of diverse administrators but immeasurably contribute to the dynamism, viability, and competitiveness of our American institutions of higher education.
Truthdig.com has a good report on the racist commentaries of Iowa’s resident right-wing provocateur, Rep. Steve King. His comments were in regard to the class action lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman, which attempted to get some redress for the large-scale and routinized discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) against black farmers in the 1980s and 1990s
Government denial of legal redress to the aggrieved black farmers who were protesting discrimination in Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs resulted in a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Across the nation black farmers gave evidence about widespread discrimination in many aspects of the process of getting FSA loans and benefits. This discrimination took the form of FSA officials misinforming black farmers that there were no loan applications or benefits available in particular local FSA offices. Or, if a farmer somehow got an application, some FSA agents held back the information necessary for its completion. In many cases, completed applications were lost, delayed in the extreme, or denied for no legitimate reason. Once complaints from black farmers started coming in, the USDA went into a stonewalling mode for more than ten years and refused to deal with them.
Eventually, the targets of this discrimination had their day and court and won a major settlement of the class action suit, which was approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The black farmers involved could choose among three options: reject the settlement, get $50,000 if they could show injury, or petition for more in binding arbitration. However, for many farmers the standard compensation offered was insufficient as a response to many years of discrimination, for they had lost their homes, farm equipment, and land, some of which had been in the family for generations. In the initial complaint, the requested damages had been for $1 million for each farmer, which appears to be more appropriate compensation for the damages and pain incurred by most of those involved.
The truthdig report indicates that
The USDA settled out of court in 1999, admitting to widespread racial discrimination against black farmers …. About 15,000 farmers were paid a total of more than $900 million in the settlement, but tens of thousands of farmers filed claims after the deadline, and many charged that the government’s outreach had been insufficient and that they had incompetent legal counsel, causing them to miss their opportunity. … President Barack Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack promised an additional $1.15 billion to cover the remaining claims, which was [belatedly] appropriated by Congress.
Speaking about this lawsuit, Rep. King let loose with his unreflective white racist framing:
Obama supported the farmers because he is “very, very urban”. . . . “King emphasized the word ‘urban’ ” in his speech by “drawing the first syllable out.”
This is a case about rural farmers, so “urban” here is a barely disguised way of saying he did it because he is black. Truthdig continues with King’s website comments:
On Dec. 1, King’s website described the case as a “fraud” because 94,000 African-Americans have submitted claims when the authorized compensation encompasses only 18,000. [However]… Tens of thousands of farmers never had their claims considered because they missed the deadline due to bad legal advice. On Nov. 30 he stated that Obama introduced “legislation to create a whole new Pigford claim.” [Yet] …The “new claim” was actually an act to make all injured parties whole, including those who didn’t get the best legal counsel because they couldn’t afford it or because the statute of limitations expired.
King keeps pushing his white racial framing, also claiming that all these black farmers wanted was reparations for slavery. Yet, much statistical data cited in the truthdig piece and in our book show that the real problem is contemporary racial discrimination, institutionalized racism, not slavery:
The farmers were seeking equal funding by the USDA for work they did within their lifetimes, not for the unpaid work of their ancestors.
King just cannot keep quiet. On one right-wing talk show he continued but arguing that
Obama supports the farmers because he “has a default mechanism in him that breaks down on the side of race, on the side that favors the black person.” . . . All of this speaks to the larger issue of who gets to define what “side of race” Obama, the USDA or anyone else favors. It is striking that nobody is calling King’s opposition to the farmers and the president his “default mechanism of breaking down the side of race” in action.
Maybe that’s . . . because the default mechanism for the white side of race is, in fact, our default.
Indeed, well put.
After tracing his maternal ancestry in 2005 through genealogical DNA testing, or personal genomics, and finding his ancestral links to the Mende and Temne peoples of Sierra Leone, actor Isaiah Washington attested to his “rebirth” saying he believes that “DNA will finally become the tool to bridge the gap between our brothers and sisters who have been lost.” Earlier this year, now “DNA-branded” [see note at end on this term] as Sierra Leonean, Washington was sworn in as a citizen of that country. Citizenship by way of mitochondrial DNA.
But what about the role of DNA for our brothers and sisters who have been stranded or detained abroad? Enter “the lips case”.
On May 21st 2009, Somali-born Canadian citizen Suaad Hagi Mohamud attempted to board a flight out of Nairobi to return home to Toronto, after a three-week visit to Kenya. Upon inspecting her passport, Dutch KLM airline authorities claimed that her lips looked different than that observed in her four-year-old passport photo, branded her an “imposter” and not the rightful holder of the passport that she presented. Mohamud was detained overnight in the airport. Two Canadian High Commission officials met with her the following morning, told her “you are not Suaad” and confiscated her passport. Mohamud was held in the airport for four days until she was released on a bond, tasked with proving her identity within a two-week time frame.
Canadian High Commission officials did not accept Suaad’s ID cards and she was charged with using a false passport, impersonating a Canadian and with being in Kenya illegally. Subsequently she was jailed by Kenyan authorities from June 3rd to June 11th, facing possible deportation to Somalia. While Mohamud was in limbo in Kenya, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon was quoted on July 24th as saying, “there is no tangible proof” that Mohamud is Canadian and that “all Canadians who hold passports generally have a picture that is identical in their passport to what they claim to be.”
It wasn’t until Mohamud requested DNA testing through a motion filed before the Canadian Federal Court by her attorney in Toronto, and then had that test conducted on August 10th 2009 that charges against her were dropped. Mohamud’s DNA was compared to that of her Canadian born son, confirming her identity with a probability of 99.99%. She was issued an emergency passport and she boarded a plane to Amsterdam to make her way home to Toronto arriving on August 15th. This DNA verification not only proved who she said she was, but, apparently, determined her citizenship status as well. This case raises the question of “who can be abandoned by the state and by what technological means? and “will this case be used to argue for even more surveillance by way of a genomic encoded passport?”
The Mohamud case reveals that although identification documents function as a key technology in the contemporary management of state sanctioned human mobility, the discretionary power exercised by the customs inspector, and increasingly by the airline official as proxy customs inspector, is a power that makes it plain that, as David Lyon puts it, “all technologies are human activities.” (Identifying Citizens: ID Cards as Surveillance) Meaning, that these technologies of border control (passports, biometrics, airport pre-boarding passenger screening zones) are developed within, put to use and often replicate existing socio-spatial inequalities. (See this deadly example too)
For Mohamud, DNA testing was a technology of hope that allowed her to challenge her abandonment or “racial purging” by the state. The answer to whether Mohamud’s abandonment was racially charged is found in an interview with the CBC where Mohamud contested that
The Canadian High Commission wouldn’t be treating me the way they treat me. If I’m a white person, I wouldn’t be there in one day. I wouldn’t have missed the flight.
Mohamud has since filed a 2.6 million dollar lawsuit against the Canadian government.
Note: Sociologist Patricia Hill Collins uses the term “DNA-branded” in discussing the “freak” show that is ‘Whose Your Daddy?’ episodes of The Maury Povich Show and The Montel Williams Show, where potential fathers are subject to paternity testing and if DNA-branded as father they are subject to the requisite lecture on responsibility by the hosts.
Simone is now tweeting surveillance stories and links at @wewatchwatchers