Domestic Terrorism: Racial, Gender, and Class Angles (UPDATED)

As you probably know by now, a white software engineer crashed his plane into an office building in Austin and killed himself and at least one other person. David Neiwert has a probing article at Crooks-and-Liars,” with a video from Fox News that moves strongly away from calling this an “act of terrorism.” They describe the act as like someone who wildly attacks with a gun at their workplace. The Obama administration’s press secretary and the Department of Homeland Security are also saying it probably was not an act of terrorism. A newsperson at Fox concluded:

Our Homeland Security contacts telling us, this does not appear to be terrorism in any way that that word is conventionally understood. We understand from officials that this is a sole, isolated act.

Neiwert notes that

Well, this is true only if the conventional understanding of the word “terrorism” has now been narrowed down to mean only international terrorism and to preclude domestic terrorism altogether. Since when, after all, is attempting to blow up a federal office as a protest against federal policies NOT an act of domestic terrorism? You know, Timothy McVeigh used a “dangerous instrument” to kill 168 people in Oklahoma City. He too was angry at the federal government, and was converted to the belief that acts of violence was the only means possible to prevent the government from overwhelming our freedom and replacing it with tyranny.

He was also not brown or black. That seems to have something to do with the way these events are reported and described as “not terrorism” by media and government officials. Indeed, I see no one at the mainstream media outlets analyzing that the likely suicide attacker was white, or even much analysis of his note below.

The very long letter from the apparent suicide attacker was left by him on the web, and reads in part:

If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, “Why did this have to happen?” …. Sadly, starting at early ages we in this country have been brainwashed to believe that, in return for our dedication and service, our government stands for justice for all. ..While very few working people would say they haven’t had their fair share of taxes (as can I), in my lifetime I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. . . . Yet, it mercilessly “holds accountable” its victims, claiming that they’re responsible for fully complying with laws not even the experts understand.

A major thrust of his suicide note is an attack on taxation, and this is what the media has played up. This is similar to the anti-government motivation for the kind of domestic terrorism engaged in my Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City. Very few in the mainstream media have so far explored his strong critique of the business world:

Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies.

He continues with a discussion of his efforts as an engineer and rails against people losing their pensions to corrupt management executives, unions, and officials. After much economic difficulty, he moved to Austin, which gets a bad review:

So I moved, only to find out that this is a place with a highly inflated sense of self-importance and where damn little real engineering work is done. I’ve never experienced such a hard time finding work.

He then had more economic troubles, and blames the IRS for this problems:

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual”. Now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes. . . . I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. . . .I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough. . . . Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the /only/ answer. . . . Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well. *The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.* *The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.* Joe Stack (1956-2010)

We get here a close look at the mind of a suicide attacker, and probably should read it closely. His rationale for violence is carefully presented. This event and its reporting have important racial and class angles.

There is also a major gender violence angle here. MSNBC reported some domestic dispute between the attacker and his wife before the incident, and he appears to have set to light his house on fire, and the fire department had to rescue his wife and daughter. Gender gets downplayed often in these cases. This man first terrorized his wife and daughter, then engaged in an act of domestic terrorism against the government. His wife and daughter are now homeless.

White anger and violence directed at the government is not usually reported as terrorism. White, heterosexual, Christian men infrequently get called out as such and generalizations developed on the basis of these demographics. If these recent incidents by white men had been committed by Muslim men or others of color it is quite likely those demographics would be foregrounded. @GuerrillaMama has put it eloquently (via Twitter):

Suppose two men committed separate acts of extremist murder in the United States within a month. Suppose the gunmen attacked a church and a national landmark, motivated by politics and religious prejudice, targeting a nationally controversial figure and innocent civilians. Suppose there was a history of attacks by similarly motivated men in America, ranging from individual shootings and bombings to an act of spectacular violence that destroyed a federal office building. Suppose two Muslim men had done this. Is there even a question that we would be using a particular term to describe this behavior? Might reporters and news anchors be terming these horrible acts, say, “terrorism”?

Still, Matt Yglesias cautions about an overreaction to this event:

But instead of complaining about the hypocrisy involved in not trying to whip people into a fit of terror and madness about this incident, I think it makes more sense to congratulate everyone on handling this in a calm and sensible manner. . . . Simply put, the odds of “death by disgruntled anti-tax activist flying an airplane into your office” are extremely small and it’s extremely difficult to think of cost-effective and efficacious methods of ensuring that this never happens again. Off the top of my head, this looks to me like a demonstration of the desirability of better mental health services in the United States, but that’s something that I would think was true one way or the other.

In my view, this is a good time for much careful reflection and action about the underlying, stressful, oppressive class, racial, gender conditions of this society. For example, the society’s structural conditions, mentioned in the suicide note, that sometimes play a role in driving people of any background to such extreme violence are also rarely examined in the mainstream media. One can and should examine these contextual conditions of suicide attackers closely without excusing such violence. They often tell us something about our societies. Clearly, the economic depression we are now in is likely part of his story. So, it seems to me, is the violent rhetoric of many in the “tea bag” movement and on white supremacist websites. This extremely violent talk and discussion probably makes violence seem “normal” to people like this suicide attacker. Why is there no mainstream media discussion of the broader racial and class and gender implications of this story, and the biased ways it is being handled?

UPDATE: MEMBER OFCONGRESS EMPATHIZES WITH WHITE DOMESTIC TERRORIST (VIA TPM)

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told a crowd at CPAC on Saturday that he could “empathize” with the suicide bomber who last week attacked an IRS office in Austin, and encouraged his listeners to “implode” other IRS offices, according to a witness. King’s comments weren’t recorded, but a staffer for Media Matters, who heard the comments, provided TPMmuckraker with an account. The staffer, who requested anonymity because she’s not a communications specialist, said that King, an extreme right-winger with a reputation for eyebrow-raising rhetoric, appeared as a surprise guest speaker on an immigration panel at the conservative conference.

We should note too that the only person this white domestic terrorist killed was a black veteran of Vietnam.

Children Learning Racism



The Intelligence Report has a very interesting article on how and where children learn racist ideas, with a focus on children of white supremacists. The report quotes a number of scholars on this how and where issue:

“Overall, there’s not a lot of evidence that, at least in the long term, kids get their prejudice from their parents,” said Charles Stangor, who runs the Laboratory for the Study of Social Stereotyping and Prejudice at the University of Maryland. “I would call it more of a community effect than a parental effect. The community fosters tolerance or prejudice.”

What is this “community”? The article cites another researcher:

That community includes peers and other adults, such as teachers, coaches and clergy, said Frances Aboud, a psychology professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who studies the development of racial prejudice in children. “There are so many other influences in a child’s life [besides parents], particularly once they start kindergarten.”

The account only mentions peers in passing, but research that Debi Van Ausdale did for 11 months in a multiracial daycare center showed clearly that children learn a great deal about racial matters from other children. That they form important peer groups and learn much from each other is a key finding of this study, yet these children’s groups still do not get enough attention in social science research on racial learning and systems of racial oppression. 512ENERVJDL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_Children, as young as three years old, teach each other the basics of the white racial frame and the dominant racial hierarchy.

There is much else to the lives of children and racism that does not get enough attention. Teachers are quite important, and some research does focus on them and the curriculum.

And then there are the children of the supremacists. The fears and stresses of children of white supremacists are explored a bit in the Intelligence Report article:

Children of racial extremists may have to contend with other effects of their parents’ bigotry, Aboud said. “I think [they] probably become sensitive to that type of adult; other kids might not be aware that there’s that kind of extreme emotional hate toward people,” she said. “[Children of racial extremists] might have lived with more fear. They might have felt vulnerable themselves to that kind of hate: What if I cross my parents in some way — am I going to get that hate directed at me?”

This is yet another seriously under-researched area.

Once Again, Women – Especially Black Women – Are to Blame

How many readers remember the Moynihan Report, the shorthand title for The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” written by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965?  Supposedly, the rationale for the report was to draw attention to the need for social policies and programs that would address the many problems faced by Black families, especially single-parent, female-headed Black families, in the United States.  Regardless of the intent, the Moynihan Report soon became one of the most frequently cited sources to support the argument that the problems facing Black, single-parent, female-headed families – e.g., disproportionately high rates of poverty, crime, illness, substance abuse, “illegitimate” births – were not the products of racism, but were actually caused by Black women themselves: by their strength, their independence, their emasculation of Black men. In subsequent years, the “myth of the Black matriarchy” was refuted by sound empirical research, but such myths, it seems, die hard, and it appears that this one has been resurrected recently, albeit in somewhat different form.

 

I am referring to the substantial media coverage recently of “the successful, but lonely Black single woman.” As one recent Washington Post article put it, there is now a large group of young Black women who seem to “have it all” – good jobs, high incomes, nice homes and cars and clothes – but they’re lonely; they don’t have a man or the prospect of marrying anytime soon. It turns out, according to a report released today by the Pew Research Center, that young, successful White women are experiencing the same relationship troubles.  Among Americans aged 30-44 years old, women are more likely than men to have a college degree.  They are also less likely to have lost their jobs in the recent economic recession; men held about 3 out of every 4 jobs that were lost. These changes are producing a “role reversal,” according to the Pew report, that is “profoundly affecting the marriage pool.” While the Pew report, which analyzes recent Census data, shows that the education and income gap by gender is greater for Blacks than for Whites, the focus of many media stories it seems to me is a new twist on the notion of the Black matriarchy.

IMG_9777
Creative Commons License photo credit: craigfinlay


In a recent ABC News Nightline segment, for example, it was reported that the number of never-married Black women is about double the number of never-married White women. The segment mentions various reasons for this difference, including the smaller number of “marriageable” Black men due to higher mortality, incarceration, and unemployment rates. But the segment focuses primarily on Black women. Several young, successful Black women were interviewed about their intimate relationships and what they desire in men they date. The women come across as strong and independent – and as wanting too much. “Relationship guru” Steve Harvey is also interviewed and he makes it fairly clear that these women have unrealistic expectations. He is shown advising the women to adjust their goals by, for instance, dating older Black men.

 

The Washington Post article I mentioned previously is even more explicit. It features Helena Andrews, author of Bitch is the New Black, a collection of satirical essays about young, successful Black women in Washington, DC.  Andrews and her friends, according to the article, pride themselves on being “mean girls,” especially when it comes to meeting and dating men. But their “bitchiness” is just a mask; in their public presentations of self they convey a “don’t mess with me” attitude, but beneath this veneer is a well of loneliness and, it appears, it’s all their own fault. What do they expect?  Instead of exploring with men – men of all races – why perhaps strong, independent women might be threatening to their masculinity and why this is their problem not the women’s problem, the implication of these and other similar stories is what man would want a woman like this? According to the Pew Research Center study, women’s educational and occupational successes in recent years mean that men benefit more from the economic gains of marriage than women do; in 1965, when the Moynihan Report was issued, the reverse was true.  So why aren’t we applauding young, successful Black women for their achievements instead of blaming them for lower marriage rates? Why are we ignoring the fact that young, successful White women are also reporting difficulties finding compatible marriage partners? And why aren’t we analyzing why men cannot let go of norms of hegemonic masculinity and why they find successful, strong, and independent women intimidating?  Sexism and racism are alive and well.

Young Children Doing Racism: A Newsweek Analysis Misses the Big Picture



The recent issue of Newsweek has an interesting article by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, award-winning science journalists, on some psychological research on children and racial matters, apparently an excerpt from a new book NurtureShock.

The psychological studies cited provide revealing data, yet they and this Newsweek article are written substantially from a white frame. Physical science and social science writers and researchers often seem to have trouble in seeing the larger context of systemic racism and its white racial frame as they assess even research findings on racial matters. The model of society implicit in most mainstream research on racial issues assumes we live in a basically healthy society where racial “prejudices” are just a “problem” that is matter of individual frailties and modest remedial actions.

The Newsweek article begins with a description of research at the Children’s Research Lab at the University of Texas, in liberal Austin, Texas. There researcher Birgitte Vittrup recruited 100 white families with children 5-7 years old. She first asked the children questions about “How many White people are nice?” and “How many Black people are nice?” (and similar questions with other adjectives), with options from “almost all” to “none” offered to children. Then she split the group into thirds. One parental group was asked to show multiculturally themed videos to their children. Another group was asked to show these videos and then talk with their children about interracial friendships using a checklist of points. The third group was given the checklist and asked to talk with their children for several days, but with no videos.

One surprise happened immediately:

Five families in the last group abruptly quit the study. Two directly told Vittrup, “We don’t want to have these conversations with our child. We don’t want to point out skin color.” Vittrup was taken aback—these families volunteered . . . . every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup’s entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. …

Very revealing data. Most parents wanted their children to be color blind, but they were not in her testing.

Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, “Almost none.” Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, “Some,” or “A lot.” . . . . Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: “Do your parents like black people?” Fourteen percent said outright, “No, my parents don’t like black people”; 38 percent of the kids answered, “I don’t know.”

And other negative views of black Americans. Very likely, the kids have learned by observing parental actions, and from their peers, but this is not discussed in the article. The writers note that the three groups of children tested much the same in racial attitudes, and the researcher found no significant effects from the different parental teaching conditions. However, studying the parent diaries revealed that the parents did not use the checklist much and actually only gave vague instructions to the kids about “everyone being equal.” The writers conclude that parents fear that talking about race will highlight it for the children and make them see racial differences. They then ask

The question is, do we make it worse, or do we make it better, by calling attention to race?

A rather naïve way of putting it. Denial of racism is never a way to solve it. But these data show that that even liberal white parents do not talk much about racial matters with their children. And then these writers go to make an assertion about our era, and cite some more interesting research:

The election of President Barack Obama marked the beginning of a new era in race relations in the United States—but it didn’t resolve the question as to what we should tell children about race. ….. For decades, it was assumed that children see race only when society points it out to them. However, child-development researchers have increasingly begun to question that presumption. They argue that children see racial differences as much as they see the difference between pink and blue—but we tell kids that “pink” means for girls and “blue” is for boys. “White” and “black” are mysteries we leave them to figure out on their own. . .. Within the past decade or so, developmental psychologists have begun a handful of longitudinal studies to determine exactly when children develop bias. Phyllis Katz, then a professor at the University of Colorado, led one such study—following 100 black children and 100 white children for their first six years. She tested these children and their parents nine times during those six years, with the first test at 6 months old. . . . When the kids turned 3, Katz showed them photographs of other children and asked them to choose whom they’d like to have as friends. Of the white children, 86 percent picked children of their own race.

Interesting data from Katz suggesting clearly that there is no “post-racial society.” These writers show here a naïve and white-framed notion about Obama bringing a new era. And here is another sentence toward the end of their piece:

Over the course of our research, we heard many stories of how people—from parents to teachers—were struggling to talk about race with their children.

Clearly they mean white parents here. Indeed, African American parents have to talk substantially with their children about race as a matter of course, and survival.

Moreover, sociologists like Debi Van Ausdale and me, among others, have at least since the 1990s shown very clearly that children as young as 3-4 years old have very substantial understandings of racial matters. Such data clearly reveal that children see “race” without it being pointed out formally to them. For example, we show in our research that young white children know how to use the N-word, and can explain what it means. They also show much knowledge that “white” means power and privilege. White children learn the white racial frame from parents and the media, but they learn perhaps most from each other in children’s groups and networks, the latter not mentioned in this article. We found that children are quite active actors in their own networks in making and using white-racist ideas and terms, that they are not just little mirrors of what they see adults doing. There is no mention in this psychologically oriented article of the structural and group realities in which these children live and learn–and indeed that this research is now at least a decade old. There is nothing new here.

Certainly, a structural and systemic analysis is very necessary to understand how children learn racist views and racist framing in this society. A structural analysis is required that sets young children in the larger family, peer group, community, regional, and national contexts where there is still systemic racism in every major nook and cranny of society. One is hard pressed to find any significant part of this society where white racism, individual and institutional, is not significant or widespread. This is true for children like everyone else.

Jim Crow Racism in a “Post-Racial” U.S.

The New York Times has yet another story on how segregated life often is in this supposedly “post-racial” United States. The reporter describes the “tradition” of a white prom and a black prom in Georgia Affirms States' RightsGeorgia’s Montgomery County (Creative Commons License photo credit: Caveman 92223), an area with several small towns:

The future looms large. But for the 54 students in the class of 2009 at Montgomery County High School, so, too, does the past. On May 1… the white students held their senior prom. And the following night … the black students had theirs.

This is not a new reality. This has mostly been the pattern now for nearly three decades of “school desegregation.” And this town is not unusual, for Jim Crow proms are still the rule in various small-town areas of the South. In this county the proms are regularly referred to by students and parents as “the black-folks prom” and “the white-folks prom.” The driving force, not surprisingly, is white not black:

All students are welcome at the black prom, though generally few if any white students show up. The white prom, students say, remains governed by a largely unspoken set of rules about who may come.

The Times reporter portrays the situation as one of white parents’ fully in control of the Jim Crow reality:

Black and white students also date one another, though often out of sight of judgmental parents. “Most of the students do want to have a prom together,” says Terra Fountain, a white 18-year-old who graduated from Montgomery County High School.

And a white male senior is quoted thus:

“I have as many black friends as I do white friends. We do everything else together. We hang out. We play sports together. We go to class together. I don’t think anybody at our school is racist.” Trying to explain the continued existence of segregated proms, Edge falls back on the same reasoning offered by a number of white students and their parents. “It’s how it’s always been,” he says. “It’s just a tradition.”

Well, there are no young whites there who are racist, even as they collaborate in old racist stuff. Reminds me of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism without Racists book and data from interviewing whites.

Interestingly, seven black high school students did go to this year’s white prom, and watched from the sidelines. After the ceremonies, they were ushered out with other bystanders. They went to a restaurant and talked about the prom segregation. The black students, according to the reporter, talked about

whether white parents really believed that by keeping black people out of the prom, it would keep them out of their children’s lives . . . . And finally, more somberly, they questioned their white friends’ professed helplessness in the face of their parents’ prejudice (“You’re 18 years old! You’re old enough to smoke, drive, do whatever else you want to. Why aren’t you able to step up and say, ‘I want to have my senior prom with the people I’m graduating with?’ ”). . . . Angel checked her cellphone to see if any of the white kids had texted from inside their prom. They hadn’t. Angel shrugged. “I really don’t understand,” she said. “Because I’m thinking that these people love me and I love them, but I don’t know.

This Jim Crow reality seems to be about a lot more than some white parents’ desires for their children to go to separate proms. There is nearly complete white student conformity to the Jim Crow “tradition,” yet the reporter portrays the youth as being quite different in their racial interactions (they have “black friends”) from their parents. But, for three decades now, each new group of parents (which includes many who were once students at this “integrated” high school) has maintained the old Jim Crow tradition. And then there is the likely segregated reality of much else that goes on in this town, and many others across the South. One can step into areas like this in numerous southern states where everyday life in many ways does seem more like the 1950s than like 2009 is supposed to be — as my graduate students from these areas regularly report. (Hint for grad students and other researchers: We really need some in-depth studies of everyday Jim-Crowing in these small towns across the South today, and probably in other US areas as well.)

There is also some naïveté in the black students viewing white students as liking, even “loving” them. Is this a case of many white young people just being “nice” in public frontstage settings, and professing not to be racist, and yet more like most of their parents – that is, more openly racist — in the private backstage settings?

And then, of course, there is the deepest aspect of the old white racial frame – white fears of black sexuality, as a “threat” especially to white girls and women. Proms have great symbolic significance when it comes to teenage sexuality.

What do you make of this?

Capitalism Crucifying Americans of Color



The Black Commentator has a good piece on the Bush Depression that has already hit hard many Americans of color. This is the black and Latino situation, which has many elite white male capitalists as the ultimate creators of it:

Unemployment now stands at 13.3 percent among African American – 15.4 percent for black men. There were 124,000 fewer black people at work in March than in February. Hispanic workers’ unemployment was 11.4 percent last month, up from 7.0 percent a year ago. The rate for white job seekers stood at 7.9 percent in March, up from 4.5 percent a year ago.

These are gross underestimates of unemployment since the government under top capitalists’ pressure leaves out people who have given up looking for work, or who want full time work but can only find part time work. Capitalism’s catastrophic failures can also be seen in many other areas:

Unemployment is not the only area where capitalism’s current crisis is battering African American individuals and families. Taken as a whole black people are getting poorer as a result of developments over which they have no control. The mortgage crisis has hit especially hard with housing foreclosures reducing economic assets that people had worked hard to acquire and was key to their plans for the future. African American median family income has actually declined over the past decade.

CAPITALISTS PROHIBITED
Creative Commons License photo credit: japetonida

United for a Fair Economy has a good report by Amaad Rivera, Jeannette Huezo, Christina Kasica, and Dedrick Muhammad on how dire this situation is, with related data on the “silent depression”:

Many American Blacks today are already experiencing a silent economic depression that, in terms of unemployment, equals or exceeds the Great Depression of 1929. Almost 12% of Blacks are unemployed; this is expected to increase to nearly 20% by 2010. Among young Black males aged 16-19, the unemployment rate is 32.8%, while their white counterparts are at 18.3%. Overall, 24% of Blacks and 21% of Latinos are in poverty, versus 8% of whites. In the corporate world, we are seeing the highest executive pay and the biggest bailouts in history. CEO pay is 344 times that of the average worker.* The riches of the few mask the deepening recession in the working class and the depression in communities of color. Extreme economic inequality (which the U.S. experienced in the 1920s and is again experiencing now) is often a key indicator of recession and/or depression.

The Black Commentator article also notes the international impact:

The situation facing African Americans and other people of color in the U.S. has a global corollary. The policies carried out by the major industrialized countries amid the expanded process of globalization have for decades increased the inequities both between and within many countries.

Farm Racism: More Data Destroying the “Post-Racial” Myth



Colorlines has a story by Jessica Hoffmann that demolishes the “post-racial America” mythology. Systemic racism is central to the 21st United States, no matter how much the white apologists, moderates or far-right supremacists, rattle on about an end to racism. Look at extreme racial inequality and continuing racial discrimination in allocation of farm supports. The U.S. government spends many billions yearly subsidizing farming. According to a recent GAO report, these government “welfare” recipients are overwhelmingly white, including

three thousand multimillionaires who derive most of their income from activities other than farming. The U.S. government spends billions each year subsidizing farm operations.

Haggard Farm Sunset
Creative Commons License photo credit: Schlüsselbein2007

The small farmers, justifiably celebrated as providing us with food and prosperity over centuries, mostly get stiffed by the government support system:

Crop-subsidy programs systematically fail to support small farmers—and this disproportionately impacts farmers of color. . . . Black farmers receive only one-third to one-sixth of the benefits that other farmers receive, according to the Environmental Working Group, a D.C.-based nonprofit research organization…. The Southern Rural Development Initiative found that less than 1 percent of agriculture subsidy payments between 2001 and 2003 went to Blacks, Native Americans and Asian Americans. [Note: Latinos are often counted as white in government accounting, so often not in these data.] …. Even in counties where people of color are the majority, researchers estimate that at a minimum, almost 95 percent of agriculture subsidies “are going to farms with white operators.”

How’s that for extreme racial inequality in the 21st century? Adding in Latino farmers still probably means that somewhere near 98 percent of government subsides go to white farmers. And even in counties with a majority of farmers who are people of color, the latter get a very small portion of the supports. This certainly looks like another white welfare system to me.

One reason for this is that whites control almost all the bigger farms:

Less than one percent of subsidies go Federal crop subsidies go to commodity crops like corn, cotton and rice, which require large farms, and most large farms in the U.S. are white-owned. …. USDA spokespeople maintain that disparities in subsidies payments are not a matter of race, but simply of “large farms and small farms.”

They, like many other whites, cannot see structures and systems of oppression. However, fairies did not generate a system where whites control most of the farm land. This took centuries of extreme racial segregation and discrimination:

Yet a history of systemic racism in the U.S. (including at the USDA) means that farmers of color disproportionately own small farms where they raise livestock or grow fruits and vegetables—crops that are ineligible for USDA crop subsidies. USDA crop payments are based not only on type of crop but also on historical acreage and per-acre yields. Given the long and documented history of discriminatory lending practices and foreclosures against farmers of color by the USDA, Black farmers today have fewer land holdings to make them eligible for the subsidies.

Significantly, there have been major efforts by farmers of color (not whites) in recent years to end the discrimination against farmers of color, and to get compensation for the large-scale past discrimination. For example, to stop the discrimination against African American farmers in government farm lending and benefit programs, thousands of black farmers brought a class action suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1997. Federal government denial of legal redress to the aggrieved black farmers who were protesting discrimination in Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs led to this lawsuit. 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. (For references, see chapter six in White Racism: The Basics)

Eventually, the black farmers had their day in court and won a major settlement, approved by a U.S. District Court. 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 the compensation offered was quite insufficient as a response to years of racial discrimination–for many had lost homes, equipment, and land, some of which had been in the family for generations.

Today, the situation of African American farmers (and other farmers of color) is particularly bleak. Over the last 80 years, denial of fair access to capital (bank loans) and many product markets, often because of racial discrimination, has gradually reduced the number of black farmers by more than 97 percent—from 890,000 in 1910 to fewer than 29,145 in 2002. (For details, see chapter 2 here)

According to Hoffman, one sad part of this is that now small farming is coming back in as an ideal that allows for more sustainable agriculture:

Although farmers of color have much to offer in a world that increasingly sees small-scale, biodiverse farming as essential to food security and environmental sustainability, they are locked out of major USDA funding streams.

And recent farm bills in Congress keep this extreme “post- post-racial” inequality going along much like is has for centuries.

Where is the American Dream Now? (And are White Families in Crisis?)



Dedrick Muhammad has an interesting publication, 40 Years Later: The Unfinished American Dream, out of the Institute for Policy Studies (April 2008) that provides strong challenges to the end-of-racism nonsense that we hear much about these days. In his summary he accents these points:

Since Dr. King’s death, the African American high school graduation rate has increased by over 214%. At this rate, African Americans will reach equality with white Americans by 2018.

It will take more than 537 more years for Blacks to reach income equality with whites if the income gap continues to close at the same rate it has since Dr. King was assassinated.

If the racial wealth divide continues to close as slowly as it has since 1983, it will take 634 years for Blacks to reach wealth equality with whites.

Forty years since Dr. King called for the abolition of poverty, the annual decline of poverty for Black children is about a quarter of a percentage point per year. At this rate it will take over a century to end poverty for Black children. Today a third of Black children live in poverty.

These facts about racial inequality are well-known to researchers and activists in this area.
martin luther king
Creative Commons License photo credit: caboindex
Since not long after Dr. King spoke often about them, since the late 1960s, they just have not had much impact on public policy action, especially in recent years. We certainly are a country where such catastrophic racial inequalities, which reflect basically the past effects of hundreds of years of past and present systemic racism, somehow stay on the policy backburner while white-collar, almost all white male, criminals on Wall Street get their companies bailed out with a trillion or more–and usually get golden parachutes of millions personally—even as they have raped and destroyed our economy.

Muhammad also makes two points that you probably have never heard in the mainstream media or among social science researchers:

While the incarceration rate of African Americans is extraordinarily high, the probability of incarceration for white men has been increasing at a faster rate (268%) than for Black men (240%) since 1974.

The increase in the share of white children living in a single parent home has been much higher (229%) than for Black children (155%) since 1960.

So, there is, in terms of acceleration in recent decades, a very serious problem of increase in white crime and incarceration and in terms of white children living without two parents. Of course, the baselines for whites are relevant here to the percentage increases, but these percentages are in any event very sharp increases, to say the least.

I certainly have not heard ANY politician or media commentator (or other scholar for that matter) make a point out of either one of these white problems. Why isn’t the “problem of white families” and their “lack of family values” being discussed? Or the problem of “increasing white incarceration” being discussed? Maybe if they were we could start getting into deeper issues of why these might be seen as “problems,” and what “family” really means in this society. Or is that wishful thinking?

Senator Obama’s Critique of Black Fathers: Playing to the White Frame?

CNN featured a news story today about Senator Obama lecturing the Black community today, and especially young Black men, on the need for them to be better fathers. (His prepared remarks are here. Photo: jmtimages) In this part of his speech in a predominantly Black church, Obama sounded much like Bill Cosby recently, and like most of white America, on the issue of “failed” black parents. Whites have been blaming the Black community for its supposedly self-generated “families” problems since at least the late seventeenth century, without of course dealing with the extreme circumstances that a highly racist and discriminatory system creates for all Black parents, past and present. According to CNN:

Barack Obama celebrated Father’s Day by calling on black fathers, who he said are “missing from too many lives and too many homes,” to become active in raising their children. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it,” the Democratic presidential candidate said Sunday at a largely black church in his hometown.

Obama does not deal with the racism these Black men face in his speech. What is always striking about such one-sided critiques, no matter who makes them, is that this problem is not a “Black fathers” problem. In the first place, this is a white-American and general American problem. He could have raised it in a much more balanced way. Why did he not address his sermon to all young men, including the large numbers of the “irresponsible” young fathers who are white? And, perhaps more importantly, where is the strong critique of a racist society that cannot provide decent educations and decent-paying jobs for young black men, indeed for every person who wants to work. Good fathers need decent jobs.

This critique of black fathers would be more honest if the hostile racist settings and racist job environments they face every day got at least equal time in talking about their lives. Why not do that? Is Senator Obama trying now to look more “moderate” to racist white America? Is that the only way to be elected in this country, to play into the white racist framing of black families?


And it is striking, if the CNN report is a full report and the website official speech is accurate, that he did not celebrate the fact that the majority of young black parents somehow, in this still highly discriminatory society, manage to create supportive home environments and to raise kids who do not “get into trouble.” Why not celebrate with equal time all those successful black fathers of all ages, past and present, especially on fathers’ day? This is a day to celebrate fathers.


And then of course there are all the black mothers, who have to deal with fathers who die young, get ill or disabled from lousy work conditions, or who end up in the crime/prison world because of getting involved in the drug economy, one of the few places that men of color can find jobs these days. Fortunately, Senator Obama does mention their struggles and importance but does not really celebrate their courage and he once again does not bring up the gendered racism they face every day.


The CNN reporter comments thus on Obama’s speech:

The issue adds to his family values credentials and lets voters see him delivering a stern message to black voters.

Notice here the white racist framing of the story. Like a fish in water, the reporter (or editor) does not even see the racist thinking in this sentence. The first “voters” word of course does not mean “voters” but actually means “white voters,” as those are the ones who want to see him preach like a white person to African Americans about their “family values” problems.


It is very sad that the very people who have had to work much harder on the average over four centuries of white-imposed oppression just to keep their families alive and surviving—those who were enslaved (for 246 years) and legally segregated (90 or so years)—than average whites had to work over that same 336-year period, get no credit for maintaining families and “family values” under such extreme circumstances to the present day. It is time to write more about the heroism of Black parents, like Robert Staples, fathers and mothers, in the past and the present, and to cease these one-sided playing-into-the-white-frame distortions of Black families and Black history. There is much more to this story than the “family values” and “broken families” rhetoric ever reveals.

According to CNN, Senator Obama accented another classical white-framed approach, to mention injustice but to play it down and to play up individual responsibility:

“We can’t simply write these problems off to past injustices,” Obama said Sunday. “Those injustices are real. There’s a reason our families are in disrepair … but we can’t keep using that as an excuse.

He did not, unfortunately, spend any time on these “injustices.” (And where is the word “racial” for the injustices here?)

In my view, such preaching about family issues is OK, but only if the real world of extensive racial discrimination, few decent jobs, and a still white-run racist society are brought in and given at least equal time with preaching one more time about the “problems” of “family values” in black communities.

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