2009: The First Black Female Flight Crew

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On Thursday, February 12, 2009 history was made when an all African American flight (ASA) crew departed Atlanta. Get this, all of the crew, from the pilot and first officer to the two flight attendants serving in the cabin all were African American and all were female! It only took a century of flying in this country (Creative Commons License photo credit: James Willamor).

During my years working as a flight attendant, this never happened at my airline. As a matter of fact, I can recall easily the number of African American flight crew that I flew with over a five year period. The pilots of color were usually minimal and on the occasion that they would board the aircraft they were usually males. What is interesting here is that as I would stand along with the pilots at the front of the aircraft, it would never fail that several passengers would question how long they’d been flying and would amazingly ask if they were truly qualified to fly the aircraft.

Aviation has historically been a field dominated by whites, specifically white males. The exclusion often faced by people of color is continually evident in the airline industry. The fact that it is 2009 is suggestive of how systemic both sexism and racism is in this and many other industries. Seeing these African American women take flight is indeed long overdue. Let us now hope that a barrier is being broken and a path is being carved for others wishing to break into the airline industry. Please join me in looking forward to seeing many others when we board our next flight.

Supposedly We Now Live in a “Post-Racial” Society?

I was looking for news clips to show to my Race and Ethnicity class today and I remembered that a friend of mine had told me about some of Karl Rove’s comments during Tuesday’s election results on Fox News. Listening to them today, he does have a few positives to share about what these results mean…that is before he compares the Obama family to the Cosby show by saying “Well look, we’ve had an African American first family for many years in different forms. You know, when the Cosby show was on, it wasn’t a black family, it was an American family.” While that alone is worthy of a blog post, what was also concerning to me was a comment Rove made before that. He was asked, as a “realistic political analyst,” to talk about the degree of color-blindness in our country:

I think particularly among younger people, they are color-blind. Uh, you know, older people, people who grew up and remember the 60s and remember the 50s and the 40s and the 70s, they to varying degrees remain observant of the color of, of the color break in America. But you go on a college campus or you go be around younger people, and they are “post-racial.” You know, and just, the idea of race very rarely enters into their thinking.

While I think many of us will agree that things have changed in some positive ways since the 60s and that this election has been historic in a number of ways, I’m not sure anyone is ready to say that first of all, we live in a society where race isn’t a factor anymore and second that young people don’t think about race anymore. Rove’s comments seem to imply that once older generations pass on, everything will be fine in terms of race, because young people just aren’t thinking about it. In my research talking with Latino undergraduate students, I found instead that for many of them, race continues to be a salient issue on their campuses.

A student at Southern University talked about how some major racial incident seemed to come up on his campus a few times a month when I spoke with him in the Fall of 2006.

This is my 7th semester here. In all my semesters, I’ve never seen like racial tensions like I have right now. (Oh really? What’s going now?)…Like students in the law school had like a ghetto party. They dressed up as stereotypically hip-hop clothing, and they wore like nameplates of stereotypically black and Latino last names. Um, there was a black face incident during Halloween where a couple of students took some pictures and they posted them online on facebook.com. It was a couple of members from a historically white fraternity… Even I mean yesterday the Young Conservatives had an Affirmative Action bake sale…like their own way of protesting the affirmative action policies in this country…I mean…usually like every semester like one or two big things happen, like at the most, but this semester its literally been like one or two big things every month. (“Southern University” Latino Male, 22)

His statement, as well as the comments of others on this campus indicate that race in the thinking of young, white students on college campuses. And it’s not only in their thinking, but it is evident in their racist actions on this campus. Incidents like this one demonstrate that racism is still alive and well on college campuses.

Another student at Southern University talks about an encounter she had with some white students before a football game. Again, we see that the whites racialized the situation in a way that would indicate that they are not free from prejudice:

I just have heard and I got the taste of a kid, of boys came in for the “Southern Tech”- “Southern University” game and uh, we were listening to Shakira, some friends of mine. There was another Hispanic girl in the front seat with me and then a Bosnian girl in the backseat…But we were having so much fun and we needed to sell our tickets and so these guys had their windows open. And we asked “Hey, do you guys want a ticket?… And they said “Oh, we don’t speak Spanish.” And at first I was I like, “What did he mean by that? I wasn’t, did I speak Spanish?” Because I don’t normally speak Spanish. And then I was like “Oh, oh…that still happens? Like, people still are like that?” And so it was just kind of, I was taken aback. And my friend started crying actually. But I was just like, I didn’t realize that still happened nowadays. ( “Southern University” Latina Female 23)

When this woman asked in English if the men in the car next to her needed tickets, they immediately racialized the interaction by informing her that they don’t speak Spanish. The Latina students were shocked and hurt by this reaction. Perhaps initially they thought things were more positive between the races, as Rove seems to think, and then were disappointed and discouraged to find out that, in fact, these incidents still happen.
These incidents were not isolated to just Southern University, so we can’t make the claim that somehow racism only exists in the South. In fact, on each of the campuses (one in the South, one in the Southwest, and one in the Midwest), students faced discrimination when they spoke Spanish on campus. They faced assumptions that the only reason they were attending their university was because of Affirmative Action policies and not because of their own academic talents. One student talked about an experience he had a football game at Southwest University.

I was at a football game last week. . .And somebody said, one of the fraternity guys that were yelling “Immigration bus is here. It’s waiting for you. Get on it.” Even though [At the other players?] Yes, at [the other] players. “Juarez is not here. This isn’t Juarez.” They were calling them all sorts of bad things. . .And they were just being, real, real bad about it. Even though the make-up of [this] football team is hardly any Hispanics. . .And so it was kind of surprising to me that, why would you say such things? (“Southwest University” Latino Male 26)

Notably, Southwest University is almost 35% Latino and still this was the response of white students in the crowd. They heckled the other team by implying that because they were coming from a predominately Latino school. And ironically, whites were racializing a football team that was mostly white!
Even light-skinned Latinos who reveal their racial background faced discrimination:

You see the tone of their voice, how they look at you, what you’re gonna say. After they know that I’m Mexican and stuff, some are like “Oh that’s so cool,”. . .They’re like ‘Wow, you look Italian’ and I’m like ‘I’m 100 percent [Mexican]’. . .So they’re like ‘Wow’, a little bit shocked. They would not talk to me after that. And you feel it, but it’s their problem if they’re not accepting. ( “Midwest University” Latino Male 18 )

This student went on to say that sometimes whites respond that they feel like he lied to them by not revealing this information when they first met him. Somehow, he was under some obligation to reveal his racial background and by not doing so, he was being deceitful. So contrary to what Rove claims, college students are concerned about race in a variety of ways that are both overt and quite subtle. By proclaiming such things, Rove is distorting the reality of the pain that students of color face on a daily basis because of discrimination and mistreatment based on race. As these examples, and many more like them that I could have shared, demonstrate is that racism is not absent from our universities and college campuses or in the mind of white students. Our society has made history this week, but this does not mean we’re living in a “post-racial” utopia.

AMA Apologizes for Institutionalized Racism: Another Look

In mid-July Jessie did a post on the AMA apology, but I would like to add a bit more on this issue, especially about how racism works in US medicine. One good result from anti-racism efforts in the last decade may be that we are getting more serious apologies from white organizations about slavery or Jim Crow segregation. Harriet Washington reports in a late July 2008 New York Times article on one of the most institutionally racist sectors of our society, U.S. medical care institutions. Highly (photo of AMA building: Steve and Sara) and blatantly segregated until the late 1960s, she notes, the American Medical Association has recently apologized the National Medical Association, the country’s leading black medical association:

An apology to the nation’s black physicians, citing a century of ”past wrongs.”

From the beginning, U.S. medicine’s institutions have been racially and gender segregated, but Jim Crow and gender segregation increased in the early 1900s with the implementation of private and government “reforms” designed to get rid medical practitioners who were not officially licensed—which usually meant they were not from the more elite (almost all white) medical schools and often practiced various kinds of folk medicine (including midwives). These reforms did raise U.S. medical standards, at least for allopathic mainstream medicine, yet also effectively excluded many white women and practitioners of color from their traditional medical practices. And Jim Crow segregation became very central to this newly reformed medical system:

. . . black patients and doctors were often relegated to subterranean ”colored” or charity wards or banned from hospitals altogether; they had responded with their own hospitals and medical schools, at least seven of which existed in 1909. By 1938, the situation had grown so dire that Dr. Louis T. Wright of Harlem Hospital declared, ”The A.M.A. has demonstrated as much interest in the health of the Negro as Hitler has in the health of the Jew.”

Washington notes that the American Medical Association continued to be a problem until the end of the civil rights movement era:

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed without active support from the A.M.A. Title VI of the act closed the Hill-Burton loophole: segregation within hospitals became illegal….But for African-American and other antisegregationist physicians, there remained a final bastion of racial exclusion to conquer: the A.M.A.

Demands by African American physicians and some white allies that the association desegregate were ignored by its leadership until the late 1960s. From 1963 to 1968 the association had to endure public protests against its racist practices. In 1968 the association finally took action to end legal segregation in its constituent state societies.

Still, today, the percentage of U.S. physicians who are African American (2.2 percent) is still smaller than it was in 1910 (2.5 percent). And our medical care system is riddled with numerous kinds of institutional racism, as recent research reports (see various chapters here and chapter 7 here) frequently make clear. There are some very good scholarly bloggers like U. Dayton’s Prof. Vernellia Randall (see her great website here) who have given even more details on how such institutionalized racism works and how it is a violation of international human rights and anti-discrimination laws.

Note: I have given more than 100 invited lectures over the years on my research on racism at many schools and colleges within our top universities and liberal arts colleges across the country, and I have only had one invited lecture cancelled–ever. This was after two faculty members saw at the xerox machine the handout (it had quotes from whites making various racist comments, from my research interviews) that I was going to talk about. This was a Florida medical school, which had invited me and other researchers to talk about racial matters because they had had racist graffitti in their medical school classrooms. They reportedly still have problems today.

Continuing Significance of Institutional Racism: Latino Undergrads

The US Census Bureau just released population projections that by 2050, minorities will be the numeric majority of the population. For Latinos especially gains in the percentage of the population are expected to increase dramatically. In an article on cnn.com, Dave Waddington, chief of the Census Bureau’s population projection branch, stated that “Who’s going to do the jobs that are characteristically held right now by certain types of people…All those things are subject to change.” As the white population decreases and the number of people of color increase, it is critical that we take a look at how systemic racism plays out in some of our major institutions, especially education. Change is coming and in so many cases needs to happen in order to prepare for a future that is more diverse (photo: Brewer).

Education is important to Latinos, and universities often claim to value diversity by actively recruiting students of color. This effort by universities can be interpreted either as a cynical effort to enhance the image of their school, or more benignly as a true reflection of a deeply held value of cultural difference on campus. Nevertheless, there is often concern at universities about recruiting and retaining students of color. However, through my interviews with Latino undergraduate students at three universities (“Southern University,” “Southwest University,” and “Midwest University”) across the country, I found that institutional discrimination continues to be a major impediment to student success. Universities are historically white arenas and they continue to be so today, regardless of their rhetoric about diversity.

My research showed that many aspects of the university are still white dominated. Almost universally, students reported an underrepresentation of Latino faculty on their campuses. It was difficult for students to find faculty members that looked like them or that they could relate to. When students did have Latino instructors, they were often non-tenured and/or teaching only in Latino areas (like Mexican American studies or Spanish.)

“I think that that does happen. There probably aren’t that many Latina professors or working as the dean or something like that. And there are more cooks and janitors that are Hispanics or—[Have you had any Latino professors?] No, I haven’t. [How do you feel about that?] I hadn’t really thought about it, but I would like to have a professor who has similar, I guess, cultural background as me. That could connect more I guess, but I haven’t really noticed.” – Southwest University Female 19

Increasing Latino faculty membership and tenure, as well as diversifying departments are important issues that institutions of higher education must face if they truly want to retain Latino students. Most of the adult Latino faces that students saw were those working in lower (and underappreciated) positions at the university. This included food service, landscaping, maintenance, and custodial work. Latino students saw this pattern of work as lowering their status at the university, as well as reinforcing what they see as low expectations from whites about their potential.

Latinos are also underrepresented in the curriculum and symbolically on some campuses. Though Southwest University has done a better job with symbolic representation in terms of artwork, statues, and celebrations that represent Latinos, all three campuses lacked diversity in their curriculum. Latino culture and history are not often discussed in general education classes (like American history) and instead are relegated to specialized courses. Though students are not denying the importance of those courses and departments, the result is that diversity becomes optional. If they do not take those courses, they will not learn about their people, and neither will whites. At Midwest and Southern University, symbolic representation was also a big issue. Latinos were rarely represented around campus in things like artwork and statues, though Southern University students were looking forward to the arrival of a statue of Cesar Chavez. Midwest University did a poor job of representing any students of color symbolically, but students noticed that when they did see art, it was often in the form of photographs from the university’s past—a past that did not include people of color. At Southern University, symbols of white racism are present in the statues of Confederate soldiers and buildings named after racists. These symbols (or lack of symbols) create an atmosphere that is not welcoming to Latinos. Often there are very few places on campuses that they feel they can call their own because of racialized space.

On all three campuses students could point to examples of institutional racism. Institutions of higher education, whether they are in the South, in predominantly Latino areas, or in located big cities, still organize themselves around white ideals and values. Students of color are admitted in greater numbers, but by and large the institutions remain a white place. Because of the changes that are being predicted about our population composition, the institution will have to change and adapt to a more diverse student body.

Blacks Banned in China During the Olympics? Say What?

The South China Morning Post reported that that the Chinese government had ordered Beijing bar owners to ban Blacks and Mongolians (“undesirables”) from entering during their establishments during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. The article stated: (photo credit:kk)

Bar owners near the Workers’ Stadium in central Beijing say they have been forced by Public Security Bureau officials to sign pledges agreeing not to let black people enter their premises… Security officials are targeting Sanlitun (district), which Olympic organizers expect to be a key destination for foreign tourists looking for a party during the Games. The pledges that Sanlitun bar owners had been instructed to sign agreed to stop a variety of activities in their establishments, including dancing and serving customers with black skin, they said.

When pondering this news, it is easy to recall the quote, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Non-Whites and some Blacks become engrossed with the historical White articulation that negatively stereotypes Black males as unintelligent, lazy, hypersexual, etc. Therefore, it is easy to see how Asians, Latinos, and other non-Blacks have embraced the fear of Black males. (See here).

The White social reproduction of racism utilizes stereotypes that creates fear of Black males affects other groups that are non-Black within the U.S. and abroad as well. Feagin argues that the images of Blacks, and stereotypes and fear created from these images are a central component to the operation of systemic racism:

What most Americans and those internationally who have never met a person of a darker hue know about racial and ethnic matters beyond their own experience is what they’re taught by those who control major avenues of socialization, such as the movies, music videos, television, radio, and print media that circulate racist images not only in the United States, but across the globe.

Thus, the attitudes and actions adopted by others across the globe in regards to the reproduction of racism are not independent, but contingent upon the White racial machine targeting people of color for the goal of ultimate White supremacy. Feagin quotes a survey in the 1990s that targeted Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese Americans who had been in the U.S. for one generation. The results indicated that this sampled group had adopted and accepted the fourteen generations of anti-Black attitudes that has existed within the U.S. Many groups such as these mentioned, Irish, and Italian U.S. citizens have positioned themselves to Whiteness and all social, economic, and psychological benefits it encompasses.

If anything, due to the crimes against Asians historically within the world, the bars near the Olympic gatherings should be first closed to Whites instead of a group of people for whom they have shared holding the links to their oppression.

New Book: The Myth of the Model Minority

Rosalind Chou and Joe have a new book, just out, that is described as follows in the catalog copy (sorry for the self promotion!):

With their apparent success in schools and careers, Asian Americans have long been viewed by white Americans as the “model minority.” Yet few Americans realize the lives of many Asian Americans are constantly stressed by racism. This reality becomes clear from the voices of Asian Americans heard in this first in-depth book on the experiences of racism among Asian Americans from many different nations and social classes. Chou and Feagin assess racial stereotyping and discrimination from dozens of interviews across the country with Asian Americans in a variety of settings, from elementary schools to colleges, workplaces, and other public arenas

They got some very nice cover comments from social science and legal researchers you may know:

Missing from the discussion of whether Asian Americans can be considered ‘honorary whites’ are the voices of Asian Americans themselves and the ways they experience and negotiate their racial status. This book captures how individual Asian Americans encounter racial hostility and discrimination in a variety of social and institutional spaces, and the distinct ways they strategically respond to such treatment. Some respondents resign themselves to situations while others challenge and actively resist stereotyping, inequitable treatment, and harassment. But as Chou and Feagin convincingly argue, all are both blessed and cursed with the “double consciousness” shaped by a pervasive ‘white racial frame.’-Michael Omi, University of California-Berkeley

This landmark work covers new research ground in documenting the significant yet unrecognized barriers of discrimination and marginalization faced by Asian Americans in the United States today. As an often invisible and silent minority, Asian Americans can at last find voice in this brilliant work that recognizes the reality of their experience. The courage, nobility, and honesty of the authors will assist all involved in the struggle for equity and inclusion.”\ -Edna B. Chun, Broward Community College

Most Americans believe Asian Americans are content, do not suffer from discrimination, and are all in the path to whiteness. Chou and Feagin document convincingly with interview data that they are not content, suffer from discrimination, and are, for the most part, regarded as ‘perpetual foreigners.’ Bravo to the authors for bringing to the fore the racial oppression endured by Asian Americans!  Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Duke University

Through a compelling analysis of white racism experienced by Asian Americans in their everyday lives, Chou and Feagin offer a powerful examination of the psychological and emotional burdens imposed by racism in contemporary society. This book offers an insightful critique of research on assimilation that focuses on indicators of integration such as educational and occupational attainment while ignoring the serious forms of racism examined in this book. Leland T. Saito, University of Southern California

This is the book we have long needed. Asian Americans have been stereotyped since the nineteenth century as the ‘model minority’: overachieving whiz kids who are too polite to protest about civil rights. It is difficult to explain to even sympathetic students of race relations how this apparently positive image has been damaging to Asian Americans as well as other minority groups. In this study, however, the authors are persuasive because they are comprehensive and thoughtful. They show how the ‘model minority’ is a myth, and, like most generalizations of this nature, too inaccurate to be useful. They reveal how it reflects invidious assumptions and is abused for political purposes, not only serving as a means of attacking African Americans and Latino/as but also generating backlash against Asian Americans as too good for their own good. Anyone who cares about Asian Americans-indeed, who is interested in the dynamics of diversity-should be interested in this detailed critique. Very highly recommended. Frank H. Wu, Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White.

We welcome your comments too, if you get a chance to look at our book.

Bush Conservatives Help Preserve Racism in Housing

USA Today has a recent story on how the Bush administration is not vigorously pursuing housing discrimination cases even as discrimination complaints against real estate agents, landlords, and lending companies have grown in recent years. (photo: Licht)

In effect, real estate agents, landlords, lenders, and other (mostly white) housing actors can discriminate on racial, gender, and other illegal grounds in the United States until the cows come home, with very little chance of suffering any significant penalty for that discrimination. This has been true for many years in this country. That is, our civil rights laws in the housing area are not enforced or they are weakly enforced. The USA Today reporter summarizes the U.S. reality of no redress for housing discrimination:

Most renters and buyers who seek help from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are unlikely to get relief for their complaints, which can include alleged discrimination by landlords and sellers based on race, religion, sex or disability. The agency is throwing out a growing number of complaints, federal data show. The housing agency, responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases under the Federal Fair Housing Act, filed 31 discrimination charges in 2007 and 36 in 2006. Charges for those two years combined dropped 65% from the last two years of the Clinton administration — 111 charges were filed in 1999; 82 in 2000. Complaints during the same period rose from fewer than 7,100 in both 1999 and 2000 to more than 10,000 in both 2006 and 2007.

The shocking lawlessness of HUD can be seen in the continuing lethargy in charging housing discriminators this year, with only 12 housing providers being charged so far this year, with two other cases referred to the Justice department. The article quotes National Fair Housing Alliance head, the veteran housing advocate Shanna Smith, as noting that none of the major Bush agencies responsible for enforcing fair housing laws is doing its job: “It’s a drop in the bucket for the number of complaints that happen annually.”

HUD defends itself with the claim that they prefer to negotiate settlements, rather than to go to court:

The agency is settling more cases overall than during the previous administration, but the percentage of settled cases has declined. In 1999, HUD settled 778 cases, 42% of the total investigated. In 2007, it settled 948 cases — 36.5% of the total investigated.

No presidential administration since the housing laws were passed has made this national housing scandal a priority to address. There are millions of housing discrimination acts in this country each year, but only 10,000 people file complaints—and only a few thousand cases (at most) of the housing discrimination cases are resolved each year by federal agencies or HUD-certified and funded local and state housing agencies.

A major Urban Institute study done for the previous HUD administration in 2000 involved 4,600 paired tests in 23 metropolitan areas. These paired tests involved a person of color and a white person posing as home seekers as they visit real estate or rental agents and inquire about advertised housing. According to this report, rental agents in metropolitan markets were less likely to give people of color information about available housing or an opportunity to inspect available housing than they were for whites. Nationally, rental agents subjected African Americans and Asian Americans to discrimination about 22 percent of the time; Latinos, 26 percent of the time; and Native Americans, 29 percent of the time. In metropolitan markets, real estate agents were less likely to give home buyers of color an opportunity to inquire about or inspect available homes in predominantly white neighborhoods. Agents were less likely to give home buyers of color assistance with financing. African Americans homebuyers were discriminated against 17 percent of the time, and Latino home buyers were discriminated against 20 percent of the time, with Asian American and Pacific Islander home buyers experiencing discrimination about 20 percent of the time and Native American home buyers facing discrimination 17 percent of the time.

Moreover, if we look beyond this initial-stage (one-visit) discrimination and examine later-stage housing discrimination, such as for multiple housing searches and dealing with mortgage lenders, and if we extrapolate these data to all people of color searching for housing across the country over a year, we can reasonably estimate that several million cases of housing discrimination are carried out each year, a large proportion being racial discrimination cases. Roberta Achtenberg, assistant HUD secretary in the 1990s, estimated that the number could be as high as 10 million cases of housing discrimination annually.

It is interesting how often whites, especially white conservatives, claim we are no longer a racist country. I gather that looking at actual data on housing and much other institutionalized discrimination as it affects Americans of color is too much of burden for these analysts. (photo: josho99)

Note: In addition to the National Fair Housing Alliance, the National Fair Housing Advocate Online has good research discussions on fair housing issues, as well as good links to helpful legal and other resources.

In Memory of Sean Bell; In Recognition of the Devaluation of Black Men

         This morning I learned that the officers who faced trial for the 2006 murder of Sean Bell were acquitted of all charges. For those who don’t know, Sean Bell was murdered on the morning of his wedding as NYPD officers fired a torrent of over 30 bullets into his car. The officers were working undercover at the club where

        Bell held his bachelor party. They allegedly heard a member of Bell’s group say he was going to get his gun, and followed the group outside. Though the events immediately following are disputed—the officers claimed they identified themselves as police, witnesses claimed they did not and opened fire without provocation—the end results are unambiguous. Bell was murdered in a hail of gunfire hours before his wedding. There were no weapons on him or in the car. At age 23, he left behind a fiancé and two daughters.

        Few incidents drive home the bleak devaluation of Black men’s lives the ways that stories like this do. Even one case like this is too many, but New York police officers are developing quite a record of murdering Black men with little to no punishment or repercussions. In 1999, Amadou Diallo lost his life in a hail of 41 bullets after trying to produce his wallet for identification. Abner Louima was one of the “lucky” ones. In 1997, he escaped police custody with his life, but only after officers savagely beat him and sodomized him with the handle of a toilet plunger. As Black men are increasingly represented among the ranks of the un- and underemployed, in prison, and in caskets, I find myself almost overwhelmed with sadness that our society can’t seem to view—and value–these men as people with loved ones and lives that can’t be replaced. Sean Bell could have been my husband, stepson, or cousin; indeed, he was someone’s father, someone’s fiancé, someone’s son. Cases like his, however, are a cruel reminder that at the core of racism is a denial of someone else’s humanity, complexity, and inherent value and worth.

        It’s interesting to me to connect the life and sad death of Sean Bell with Bill Cosby’s recent news coverage for coming to the defense of an African American judge who kicked white lawyers and spectators out of his courtroom to deliver a stern lecture on appropriate behavior to black defendants. The judge initially claimed to have been inspired by Cosby’s speeches chastising the black poor for failing to take responsibility for their lives and recognize the value of hard work and education. The biases, logical errors, and factual misrepresentations of the implication that the black poor are primarily for their plight have been articulated in several spaces, so I won’t repeat them here. I will say, however, that Sean Bell’s tragic death (and the criminal justice system’s sanctioning of it) does more than any verbal argument can to illuminate how taking personal responsibility falls far short of changing the social systems, institutions, and ideologies that reproduce the racist thought that contributed to Sean Bell’s murder.

         Sean Bell was the responsible, upstanding citizen Cosby exhorts poor blacks to be, but ultimately, personal responsibility couldn’t save his life. Instead, the racist framing of black men as criminals prevailed with deadly consequences, and social systems worked to reflect once more how little value our society places on the lives of black men.

ACLU To Testify on US Systemic Racism

Here is another interesting development on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination:

The ACLU will be in Geneva this week to testify before the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on the contents of a flawed U.S. government report that underreported the state of racial discrimination in the United States. In December 2007, the ACLU released a responsive independent shadow report highlighting the pervasive institutional, systemic and structural racism in America. The U.N. committee reviewed the ACLU and other NGOs’ reports before determining what questions it will ask the U.S. government at this week’s hearings. Here


It appears that the ACLU and the UN officials can see and talk about the deep and systemic racism in the US, while our own government is fearful of doing so.

New York City Pays for Employment Discrimination

New York City has agreed to pay more than $20 million to settle a federal class-action lawsuit charging that the Department of Parks and Recreation systematically discriminated against black and Hispanic employees in awarding jobs and setting salaries, according to the New York Times.   The details should sound familiar to anyone’s who knows about racial discrimination.  Reports are that under Henry J. Stern,  the long-serving commissioner of the Parks Department, routinely rewarded a “coterie of inexperienced white workers with plum assignments at the expense of experienced black and Hispanic employees.” In addition, white employees earned more than black and Hispanic workers performing the same jobs, and those who complained faced punishments like being reassigned to dusty basement desks or to an office far from home.

Mayor Bloomberg is, according to the Times article, “eager to move beyond the accusations of discrimination.”   The mayor also used the sort of distancing rhetoric so frequently used by white liberals when he says:

“It was something that took place a long time ago, and I think we are satisfied that our procedures today in that department and I think in all departments do not discriminate against anybody.”

In this instance, a “long time ago” is 1999.   I doubt seriously that it seems like ancient history to the 3,500 employees involved in the class action suit.