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.

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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.

Muting Rihanna and Commercializing Domestic Abuse

January’s GQ Magazine features singer Rihanna on the cover, with a story about her recent experiences and upcoming CD. As has been widely reported in the press, earlier this year Rihanna was badly eaten by her ex boyfriend, singer Chris Brown.   Claire Renzetti wrote about social class, race and intimate partner violence  here last March.

Since then, Chris Brown has pled guilty to charges of felony assault, is attending domestic violence classes, and is currently on probation. He has apologized for beating Rihanna and has appeared on several news outlets to discuss the events.

Rihanna’s GQ cover is one of a few cases where she’s talked publicly about the events of “that night.” (She spoke to news correspondent Diane Sawyer prior to sitting down with GQ.) In GQ, she says that she welcomes the opportunity to speak to young women and to give them insights, that she finds discussing her situation liberating, and that doing so helps her to “move on” and to avoid being defined by this one event. This is an admirable goal, but in the article, there are precious few examples of the insights that she wishes to share with young women. When asked specifically, she says that the biggest insight she learned is

“really really really that love is blind. It took a lot of strength to pull out of that relationship. To finally just officially cut it off. It was like night and day. It was two different worlds. It was the world I lived for two years, and then having the strength to say, ‘I’m gonna step into my own world. Start over.’”

She also states,

“I didn’t realize how much of an effect it had on young girls’ lives, and that’s part of the insight that I wanna give. Stop blaming yourself for that outcome. There’s nothing you can do, ever, to excuse a man’s behavior like that.”

The reporter goes on to ask Rihanna if she ever blamed herself, to which she replies that

“I never blamed myself, but I wondered, what, what did I do to provoke it?” (italics in original.)

At this point, Rihanna’s manager tells the reporter to move on to a different subject.

I found this interview rather troubling on a number of levels. For one thing, there can be no question that Rihanna’s choice to speak out now about her abuse does not just happen to coincide with the release of her new album. GQ speculates as much when they assert that “in the record business, domestic violence isn’t just a tragedy; it’s an image crisis. So now Team Rihanna had to decide how to ‘handle it.’ Their plan was this: She’d talk about it for the release of the album. She’d do Diane and Glamour and announce that she wanted to help young women who’d been in her position. Even if that meant addressing what really happened that ugly night last February” (pp. 56). This isn’t hard to believe, given that Rihanna didn’t immediately discuss her abuse at Chris Brown’s hands, and the more obvious likelihood that she’d be reluctant to offer such a painful, traumatic incident up for public consumption. However, by talking about her experiences with various media outlets around the time that her album is released, she is doing just that.

What I find problematic is that by encouraging Rihanna to do interviews based on the expectation that she’ll discuss her abuse—but then cutting off interviewers who attempt to discern her insights about it—her experience becomes trivialized and commodified in the worst way. What insights are young women supposed to gain from Rihanna if handlers only allow her to repeat platitudes about domestic violence (e.g., it’s never your fault, it’s hard to leave)? Essentially, these interviews lure people to buy the magazines or watch her interviews with the expectation that they’ll hear Rihanna share the salacious details of what was probably one of the worst nights of her life. They get a teaser that fortunately spares us the worst, but also doesn’t provide much in the way of actual insights or inspiration. What does emerge is a carefully calculated, if transparent, effort to use Rihanna’s tragedy to encourage people to buy her CD.

The tragedy of this is multifaceted. It’s horribly unfortunate that a young woman’s trauma is seen as something to be “handled” and “managed” as a way to boost record sales. What’s equally significant is that Rihanna’s abuse touched on many racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes that go unaddressed when her discussion of it becomes cynically packaged and sold as currency. Following the initial stories that Chris Brown had beaten Rihanna, many blogs, discussion circles, and conversations resonated with the predictable discussions over whether she “brought it on herself,” but also evoked comments that “island women are crazy” and that black men’s shortcomings and mistakes receive more attention and criticism than those of their white peers. All of these points warrant greater analysis and/or debunking, but using Rihanna’s experience so callously precludes her from actively being part of this. Perhaps most tragically, some of these statements about Rihanna’s culpability in her assault came from young women of color, who are disproportionately likely to experience domestic assault from boyfriends, lovers, and husbands. They are also the women who are usually overlooked if and when the media does decide to focus on issues of domestic abuse and violence. Ironically, then, some of the very women who maligned Rihanna are perhaps those who might benefit the most if she were to make the informed, autonomous decision to offer whatever insights she’s gained.

This is not to say that Rihanna should now be obligated to take on this role. I think if she wants to maintain her privacy about this, she should be entitled to do so. But it does a disservice to Rihanna and to all women to commodify abuse in an effort to climb the charts, and it obscures rather than drawing attention to the depth and extent of domestic violence and abuse among women of color.

“It’s a Wonderful Life”: Honoring Lillian Randolph

During this holiday season, lots of people go to the movies and watch classic holiday-themed films like, Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The film can be read as a critique of capitalism through its indictment of the Potter character, and an affirmation of hope and the beauty friends as “true riches.”   There is one African American character in an otherwise entirely white cast, perhaps not surprising for a Hollywood film released in 1946.    That character is “Annie,” the Bailey family’s maid, and she is played by Lillian Randolph.    Yet, she maybe best known for is her brief role and memorable quote near the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which she offers some comic relief in the climactic last scene.  Offering George Bailey, her employer, all of her savings, she says:

I been savin’ this money for a divorce, if ever I got a husband!

The line is funny, but not.  It speaks to the fictive notion in the white imagination that black women have no families of their own, but live to serve their white masters.   Scholar Jacqueline Jones in her powerful book, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, dissects the many facets of this erroneous belief as she details the historical record of black women’s struggles to raise their own families while often laboring under the most oppressive conditions of white employers.    There are few accurate portrayals in mainstream Hollywood films that speak to this reality, but perhaps Oprah Winfrey’s portrayal of the character “Sofia” in “The Color Purple,” (1985) comes closest.  In this film, Sofia goes to jail for talking back to and striking her white employer.  The contrast between Sofia’s resistance to her white employer and Annie’s acquiescence is striking and, in many ways, speaks to the social changes brought by the civil rights movement in the years between 1946 and 1985.

Still, it would be a mistake to think that Lillian Randolph (the actress who portrayed “Annie,” in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” )  shared the same acquiescence to the white power structure as her character.  Lillian Randolph (died 1980) enjoyed a long career in radio, film and television.  Many of those roles, including ones in “Roots,” offered a very different view of black women’s struggle.  And, in fact, Lillian Randolph’s own daughter Barbara Sanders briefly followed her mother into acting (pictured here).  This holiday season, I’d like to honor Lillian Randolph, and all the black women who’ve played the maids, servants and walk-on roles in white-dominated Hollywood films.

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Over the next few days, I’ll be doing a series of movie-themed posts about the way race and racism are addressed or perpetuated in Hollywood films.

World AIDS Day: Black Women, Racism and HIV/AIDS

Today is World AIDS Day, when people around the globe stop to reflect on those lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is almost in its third decade. While many people may associate the disease with white, gay men because they were one of the groups initially infected and affected by HIV and among the most political vocal about it, the fact is the epidemic has changed.   Within the U.S., if you examine the epidemic across racial and ethnic groups, you will see that HIV/AIDS is not a disease that exclusively, or even primarily, affects whites.   Blacks and Latinos are increasingly affected by the disease, as this graph based on 2007 CDC statistics illustrates:

aids-diagnoses-2007

The changing nature of the epidemic is even more striking when you include gender.Today, black women are the group with the highest rates of new HIV/AIDS infections.  According to CDC:

  • African American women account for a majority of new AIDS cases (66% in 2006); white women and Latina women account for 17% and 16% of new AIDS cases, respectively.
  • African American women account for the largest share of new HIV infections among women (61% in 2006), an incidence rate nearly 15 times the rate among white women.   (For more detailed look at statistics about the epidemic’s impact on African Americans, see: “Black Americans and HIV/AIDS” compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, opens PDF.)

During the first decade of the epidemic, most social science research focused on changing individual behavior (e.g., wearing condoms, using clean needles) as the primary intervention strategy to prevent HIV infection, these efforts often failed in the face of complex settings of social inequality.  For example, telling a woman that her partner should wear a condom becomes a risky proposition if she is economically dependent on that man for survival and he sees the request to wear a condom as an affront of some kind.   Thus, researchers and community activists interested in stopping the spread of the disease began to look at the dynamics of sexuality within a broader social and cultural factors.

Just as an increasing amount of research demonstrates that mothers who experience racism are more likely to have low-birth-weight babies, the experience of racism and sexism are part of the social and cultural factors affecting HIV/AIDS rates among African American women. One way to measure this combined racism and sexism, is to look at what national leaders have to say about the HIV/AIDS epidemic among black women.  In 2004, when journalist and vice-presidential debate moderator Gwen Ifill raised this important issue in the form of a question to then-candidates John Edwards and Dick Cheney, neither one could stammer out a coherent answer.  It was clear that the alarming rates of HIV/AIDS among black women were simply not a concern for powerful political leaders (who also happened to be white men).

Some of the most exciting research that attempts to address this inequality is the pioneering intervention studies conducted by Gina Wingood and Ralph DiClemente of Emory University who, drawing on Connell’s gender and power theory, began to think differently about HIV prevention for young, black women.  Wingood and DiClemente developed an intervention study for African American adolescent girls that used workshops that emphasized ethnic and gender pride along with the usual HIV-prevention information.  Basically, the researchers included a consciousness-raising group about race and gender along with the usual health education information.  These positive messages about racial and gender pride are important for enabling and empowering young, black women who encounter a layered burden of racism, sexism and often, poverty.

However, not all black women who are HIV-infected are poor, as several activists remind us. Marvelyn Brown, for example, diagnosed at age 19 with HIV/AIDS has become an outspoken proponent and visible spokesperson for HIV-prevention among young, black women.  The author of Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and (HIV) Positive, Brown has won several awards for her activism. Rae Lewis-Thornton, diagnosed at age 23, was featured on the cover of Essence magazine in 1994 and described as, “I’m young, I’m educated, I’m drug-free, and I’m dying of AIDS.” It’s been fifteen years and, fortunately, Lewis-Thornton is still very much alive and an tireless activist.  Yet, she struggles with the legacy of her diagnosis (powerful video interview with Lewis-Thornton here).   And, young black women who are allies, are harnessing the power of new media to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, such as Karyn and Luvvie of the Red Pump Project.

The growing epidemic among black women in the U.S. reflects a global trend.  The World Health Organization’s estimate (via AIDS.org) is that there are over three million women with HIV in the world, most of them in Africa. In fact, one in 50 women in sub-Saharan Africa is infected with HIV.  AIDS is the leading cause of death for women ages 20-40 in major
cities in the Americas, Western Europe, and Africa.   The fact that this disease is shape-shifting into one what disproportionately affects black women both here in the U.S. and globally raises important questions about whether or not we will, collectively, be able to put aside our racism (and sexism) to address this epidemic.

As you go to a service, attend a vigil, or just hold a good thought or observe a moment of silence on this World AIDS Day, reflect also on the ways that racism shapes the epidemic and who we lose because of it.  If you care about racial and gender equality, you need to start paying attention to HIV/AIDS.  IF you’re concerned about HIV/AIDS, you need to start learning about racism and sexism.

For more on the public health crisis affecting black women, you can watch this video (approximately 27 minutes) which features a discussion with C. Virginia Fields, President of National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Monica Sweeney, MD, Assistant Commissioner for the Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and Marvelyn Brown.

(Comments OFF.)

Exotifying Asian Women: The White Racial Frame Again



Marie Clare online (ht Rosalind) has a recent article on “The New Trophy Wives: Asian Women,” which is both insightful and naïve at the same time, even white-framed. The author, Ying Chu, raises the provocative question of why many powerful, older white men are now partnering with younger Asian women:

When the venerable director [Woody Allen] scandalously left Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter, South Korean-born Soon-Yi Previn . . . he may as well have sent out a press release: Asian-girl fantasy trumps that of Hollywood royalty! . . . Rupert Murdoch walked down the aisle with fresh-faced Wendi Deng . . . .Then, CBS head Leslie Moonves wed TV news anchor Julie Chen; Oscar winner Nicolas Cage married half-his-age third wife Alice Kim; billionaire George Soros coupled up with violinist Jennifer Chun; and producer Brian Grazer courted concert pianist Chau-Giang Thi Nguyen. Add the nuptials of investment magnate Bruce Wasserstein to fourth wife Angela Chao and the pending vows between venture capitalist Vivi Nevo and Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang.

She then asks why this is happening, first suggesting this may be a type of colonial “yellow fever”:

The excruciating colonial stereotypes — Asian women as submissive, domestic, hypersexual — are obviously nothing new.

Her primary answer is that these are after all now omnipresent images and

often entertaining. Even now, how many cinematic greats, literary best sellers, or even cell-phone ads . . . characterize Asian women as something other than geishas, ninjas, or dragon ladies? . . . I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at the cheeky blog stuffwhitepeoplelike.com, which ranks Asian girls at number 11 because “Asian women avoid key white women characteristics, such as having a midlife crisis, divorce, and hobbies that don’t involve taking care of the children.”

So these old and new racialized images are entertaining? We are supposed to laugh at such stereotyping of Asian and white women? Racialized steretoyping is no laughing matter, even if some naïve websites think it is. Then she moves back to a more critical analysis:

“It’s like a curse that Asian-American women can’t avoid,” says C.N. Le, director of Asian and Asian-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “From an academic point of view, the perception still serves as a motivation for white men.” . . . Richard Bernstein found that the Orientalist illusion continues to influence. “Historically, Asia provided certain sexual opportunities that would be much more difficult for Western men to have at home. But it remains a happy hunting ground for them today,” he says, citing one phenomenon in the northeastern region of Thailand called Issan, where 15 percent of marriages are between young Thai women and Western men well into their 60s.

She introduces the importance of the exotic Asian woman stereotype, but quickly drops it instead it and does not exploring what it means in the West. This sexualization of Asian American women in white-male minds is a major aspect of contemporary racism, and one deserving of much more analysis than we have in social science, never mind in the stereotype-riddled popular media. This stereotype is central not only for the elite-men-partnering issue, but much more generally to white (male) framing of Asian and Asian American women. There are, for example, a great many websites dedicated to pleasing the racialized exotic-Asian-female fantasies and images held by many white men across the Internet.

After suggesting that the partnering actions of white men may have some connection to their recognizing the power of China and the rest of Asia in contemporary globalization, she then reverses direction and asks why these often high-achieving Asian or Asian American women pair up with these aging white men of power:

While I’m sure that real love and affection is sometimes the bond in these culture-crossing May-December romances, could it be that power divorcés of a certain ilk make the perfect renegade suitors for these overachieving Asian good girls — an ultimate (yet lame) attempt at rebellion? Maybe these outsized, world-class moguls are stand-ins for emotionally repressed Asian dads (one cliché that is predominantly true).

So now we get her own stereotype of Asian men as somehow not really men as one explanation for the actions of Asian women such as these. As we point out in our recent The Myth of the Model Minority:

In the 19th century Asian American [and Asian] men were stereotyped in the white framing as oversexed and threatening to white women, but in more recent decades they have been more likely to be stereotyped as feminized or emasculated, a shift that may link to the rise of model minority stereotyping. . . . In the United States Asian American women are the group most likely to marry outside of their racial group. They outmarry more than other women and men of color, and much more than Asian American men. In many such cases a white racial framing in the minds of Asian American women may intersect with the sexualization of Asian American women in white male minds. Because their standard of an attractive male has become white-normed and because of the potential to enter directly into white middle-class [or upper-class] world, many Asian women find a white male partner appealing. In contrast, some white men are drawn to the Asian female stereotype of exoticized sensuality and submissiveness.

A Look at Latina Teen Pregnancies: Intersections of Race, Gender, and Class

Silvia Henriquez has an interesting article on today’s Huffington Post entitled “Policies to Curb Latina Teen Pregnancies Have the Reverse Effect.” In the piece, Henriquez argues that the policy efforts designed to curb Latina teen pregnancies are too narrow and shortsighted—they focus on birth control and marriage rather than on big picture issues like immigration, poverty, and inequality. What’s most important about Henriquez’s article is that she skillfully highlights the ways intersecting factors of race, gender, and class overlap to shape these high rates of teen pregnancy.  Henriquez begins by offering some important context in which to situate the debate. She writes:

“Latina teens give birth at a rate more than twice that of white teens. Latinos have a much lower high school and college graduate rate compared to white teens.”

This background information gives insight into the environment facing pregnant Latina teens. Other sociological research has shown that when women give birth at young ages they are less likely to finish school, less likely to land well paying, stable jobs, and thus more likely to be poor. When the fathers are in comparable situations (like the lower high school and college graduation rates Henriquez describes), this only compounds young women’s likelihood of raising children in poverty. And given that institutional and employer-based racial discrimination still runs rampant, Latino/as are likely to face higher jobless and underemployment rates than whites, further exacerbating the chances of remaining poor. (Deirdre Royster’s book “Race and the Invisible Hand” is one such example of insidious racial discrimination in low skilled labor markets, though there are many others.) Henriquez continues on to say that:

“Myths — rather than realities — have too often guided the public discourse about Latinas and pregnancy. Latina teens don’t have sex more often than their white counterparts and most desire a college education. In addition, despite the demonization of immigrants in recent health care debates, most Latina teen moms are not immigrants.”

These are critical points that highlight the ways Latinas are cast in what Joe Feagin insightfully describes as the white racial frame. This frame (discussed elsewhere on this blog) encompasses stereotypes, sincere fictions, and ideologies about different racial groups. However, these stereotypes, images, and beliefs are shaped by gender as well as race. Thus, women of color often are cast as hypersexual, while men of color are likely to be depicted as criminals. As such, when Henriquez writes that Latina teens do not have sex more often than white teen girls, nor are they mostly immigrants, she counters white racial framing of Latinas as hypersexual, irresponsible, and a drain on national resources. (Similar imagery and framing was present in Ronald Reagan’s depictions of “welfare queens” in the 1980s.)  Henriquez then identifies some of the factors that influence Latina teens’ high birth rates:

“Compared to white teens, Latina teens have higher pregnancy rates because they use birth control much less often and reject abortion much more often. Religion and family influence are very important factors, but for sexually active Latina teens these are not the only or even most relevant obstacles to birth control usage. For many Latinas, the top barriers to birth control usage are much more mundane: transportation, lack of health insurance or cash for health services, confusing and intimidating immigration regulation for households with a combination of citizens and non-citizens, and lack of guidance about available services. When teen pregnancy prevention programs and messages ignore these obstacles, Latinas become distanced from sex education efforts.”

Here is an incredibly important point that highlights Henriquez’s central thesis that bigger issues than simple individual choice are at play for Latina teen moms. The issues she cites—transportation, lack of health insurance—are directly linked to social class. If you’re a teenager in the suburbs with your own car, it’s relatively easy to head off to your local Planned Parenthood for condoms. If you have health insurance, you can visit your doctor, tell him or her you’re planning on becoming sexually active, and get safe, confidential counseling and birth control. Switch out the car, the suburbs, and the health insurance for an impoverished neighborhood, no access to a doctor, and no money to find one, and the picture gets much bleaker.

Note also that these aren’t just class issues. For Latinas, intersections of race and gender are also factors. Henriquez astutely points out that immigration regulation can add layers of bureaucratic confusion that can make it difficult for these teen girls to access social services. This is a point that highlights that race makes a difference, and that not all racial groups are interchangeable—these issues of immigration regulation are less likely to impact poor black teens, for instance. But they are more likely to impact teen Latinas who, by virtue of their sex, face greater potential consequences of sexual activity than do Latinos. Gender, race, and class all come together to shape this issue. Henriquez continues:

“Sex education programs often tell teens that delaying parenthood until they finish high school and college will bring them some version of the American dream: a good job, economic security, family stability. The troubling reality is that for Latinas this promise comes true for only a limited few. Recent research confirms that Latina teen mothers have roughly the same socioeconomic circumstances at age 30 as those Latina teens who delay childbirth. The unfortunate reality is that access to college and the opportunities that emerge as a result is starkly different for Latina teens and white teens.”

This reiterates Henriquez’s point that broader issues than personal choice are at play here. If Latina teen mothers are in the same socioeconomic place by age 30 as those who’ve chosen to delay childbearing, then this points to major issues in our educational and economic spheres. Most studies show that more education translates into increased economic rewards. Do Latinas have the same access as women of other racial groups to access higher education and its attendant rewards? Perhaps more importantly, do women of all racial groups have the same access as white men, who despite being a numerical minority of the population remain overrepresented in the highest paid, most prestigious positions?

I agree with Henriquez that these are the structural conditions that should be the subject of focus, rather than simplistic, “one-size-fits-all” policies that fail to take into consideration the ways that intersections of race, gender, class, and other factors shape groups’ experiences differently. Latino/as are the fastest growing segment of our population, and by the middle of this century, whites will cease to be a numerical majority as the population of other racial groups continues to grow. Given our rapidly changing national demographics, we would be wise to establish policies that eliminate institutional disadvantage for all groups of color.

Dr. Regina Benjamin: HIgh Achievement



President Obama has just nominated Dr. Regina Benjamin to the post of Surgeon General, the AP reported yesterday. Obama said that Dr. Benjamin “has seen in a very personal way what is broken about our health care system” and that she will bring important insight as his administration tries to revamp that system.

Dr. Benjamin truly has seen her fair share of personal and family tragedy, as her brother died at age 34 of HIV-AIDS, her mother of lung cancer, and her father of complications resulting from diabetes. With her entire family victimized by these diseases, her life is a testament to the health problems facing this country and the racial injustices plaguing the Black community. She has faced lots of other tragedy, as her medical clinic was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and again by a fire just after it was rebuilt. She then rebuilt this very important New Orleans clinic yet again.

Benjamin(Photo: Wikipedia) Not surprisingly, the right-wing press is again mocking President Obama’s well-qualified nominee. A Fox News headline reads, “Obama Taps ‘Genius’ Doctor, Katrina Victim for Surgeon General,” an obtuse reference to a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation award she received for her dedicated and selfless service following Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Benjamin is receiving some gendered-racist attacks like Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has gotten the last few days, with some right-wing (like Senator Jeff Sessions, famous for his “joking” comments about the nice folks at the KKK) attacks on her “wise Latina” comments.

Contrary to the opinions of many on the right, Dr. Benjamin is more than qualified for the position. Her amazing list of academic, medical, and civic service qualifications are listed thus in wikipedia:

Dr. Benjamin attended Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans and was a member of the second class of the Morehouse School of Medicine. She received her M.D. degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. . . Benjamin is former associate dean for rural health at the University of South Alabama’s College of Medicine in Mobile, where she administers the Alabama AHEC program and previously directed its Telemedicine Program. She serves as the current president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama. In 1995 she was elected to the American Medical Association’s board of trustees, making her the first physician under age 40 and the first African-American woman to be elected. Benjamin is a diplomate of the American Board of Family Practice and a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

That should be enough to be Surgeon General, right. But then the list of her achievements continues:

She was a Kellogg National Fellow and also a Rockefeller Next Generation Leader. She has served on a variety of boards and committees, including the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Catholic Health East, Medical Association of the State of Alabama, Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, Alabama State Committee of Public Health, Mobile County Medical Society, Alabama Rural Health Association, Leadership Alabama, Mobile Area Red Cross, Mercy Medical, Mobile Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Mobile, and Deep South Girl Scout Council. She was appointed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act Committee and to the Council of Graduate Medical Education. . . .In Alabama, she formerly served as vice president of the Governor’s Commission on Aging, and also formerly as a member of the Governor’s Health Care Reform Task Force and the Governor’s Task Force on Children’s Health. . . . Dr. Benjamin was named by Time Magazine as one of the “Nation’s 50 Future Leaders Age 40 and Under.” She . . . was chosen “Person of the Week” by ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, “Woman of the Year” by CBS This Morning, and “Woman of the Year” by People Magazine.

Wow! Can any of her critics come close to matching this remarkable list of achievements? Talk about having to be the proverbial “water walker” to get nominated for high office. In discussing this nomination with Adia, we agree with her view that it is often the case that people of color, and certainly women of color, are told to work hard and play by the societal rules. But when they, like Dr. Benjamin and Judge Sotomayor, do that extremely well and then seek out or get nominated for nontraditional jobs not open to them until recently in U.S. history, or when they literally shatter the conventional glass ceilings, certain white racist folks, talk show hosts, and politicians start articulating racist stereotypes and narratives and engage in name-calling, like the calling of Dr. Benjamin as “fat” and racist commentaries, including racist epithets, on various news and right-wing websites. Instead, why isn’t the right celebrating them for doing exactly what they were told, working very hard and achieving great things? One would think these women would be celebrated in all corners of conservative America? Is the reason they are not because that work-hard rhetoric is really a ruse and cover often used to rationalize a racist system that has little or no attention of changing its basic structure for those who more than meet the calls of this work rhetoric?

While being overweight is a health concern that Dr. Benjamin and others in the health field are likely very aware of, why is it that none of these right-wing folks talk about how fat Justice Antonin Scalia is, or Karl Rove, or the huge Rush Limbaugh in regard to their “qualifications”? Indeed, we have not seen anyone suggest that these white men’s overweightness interferes with their ability to do their jobs. Yet, for women of color like Benjamin, this immediate accent on their being overweight is a common gendered/racial stereotype that seems to be linked to the old black “mammy” image, which is part of the 400 year old white racial frame.

Racist Attacks on the Obama Children: New Lows for the Racist Right? (UPDATED)


Just when you think the racist right has reached its low point, some hyper-racist folks there show they can go yet lower. For some time now, they have sunk to attacking the Obama children for their clothes, looks, and actions. This seems to be yet another, often racist, way of attacking President Obama. Have they no shame, as Senator Joe McCarthy was once asked.malia_obama

Lately, Malia Obama has gotten much attention for the peace symbol she wore in Italy while her father was at the G8 summit. Also for the way she looked, her natural hair style, and the Black rapper walking nearby. This photo was put up at the New York Post, the conservative free-republic website, and numerous other sites. It has generated much racist commentary below news stories, which reveal the extent of racist thinking still commonplace in white America.

The New York Post described Malia Obama’s appearance thus:

President Obama’s eldest daughter brought Woodstock chic to Rome yesterday as she toured the Eternal City wearing a T-shirt that bore the peace emblem of the ban-the-bomb movement.

Revealing an age difference perhaps, the older newspaper reporter is doing a bit of mocking here. The peace symbol is worn by millions of US kids who know nothing of the earlier Woodstock and peace movements. Then someone placed this racist commentary below their news story:

Looking at that picture is like seeing ghetto-fabulous failures win the lottery and going nuts – driving Escalades and buying disgustingly garish-looking homes. This is pathetic. We grab a worthless social worker off the street because he speaks well with a teleprompter and toss him into a job with 230 years of history and class. Anyone else see the problem with this? All the presidents before this idiot knew the enormity and responsibility of the office. This retard goes out and buys DVD’s for other heads of state. This ain’t one of your neighborhood block parties “homey. “

Much of the negative commentary on Malia Obama obviously seems to be using her as a way to make hostile, often racist commentaries on her father. This last comment is not only racist and highly stereotyped but rather ignorant about U.S. history. For example, the U.S. presidency has had a few “losers” and numerous problematical characters of dubious virtue, beginning with the numerous slaveholders who served as U.S. president from Washington to Grant (both slaveholders themselves). Rather clearly, President Obama towers over many of our past presidents in “class.”

CatM over at Dailykos counted something like 100 racist and gendered racist comments like these after the free republic posted the photo of Malia Obama, but only one of the comments dissented from this highly negative thread:

“We’re being represented by a family of ghetto trash.”
“Looks like a bunch of ghetto thugs. A stain on America.”
“Looks like a typical street whore.”
“What we now are sending the ghetto over to represent us. and if so who the hell is that flea bag who looks to be dragged from the trash dumpster.”
“you could go down any ghetto right now and see exactly the same.”
“could you imagine what world leaders must be thinking seeing this kind of street trash and that we paid for this kind of street ghetto trash to go over there”
“the world must be laughing like mad right now at that we have this kind of street trash in our white house.”
“Wonder when she will have her first abortion.”
“sad isn’t it that we now have ghetto street trash over there representing us in Europe.”
“This disgusting display makes me more and more eager for the revolution.
“They make me sick…. The whole family… mammy, pappy, the free loadin’ mammy-in-law, the misguided chillin’, and especially ‘lil cuz… This is not the America I want representin’ my peeps.”

Other sites have more mixed commentary, some of it quite positive about Malia Obama’s dress, look, and actions. There does seem to be an obsession even then about the way the Obama’s dress. What is it with this obsession with their “fashion”? I do not remember the Bushes getting so much fashion focus? By the way, our own Adia has explored the gendered racism that black women commonly face in her fine new book, Doing Business with Beauty. Check it out.

Apparently protests about these many racist, gendered-racist, and sexist comments got the thread pulled at the free republic site. The free republic had some postings by the infamous Von Brunn who attacked the Holocaust Museum. Something about the Internet allows this explosion of racist thinking from the most extreme forms of the old white racial frame, views once heard mostly by a few street corner extremists or in backstage settings of white friends and relatives. One wonders now just how widespread this commentary is now in the ordinary backstage settings across the country, especially given all the racist incidents we have discussed on this site over the last few years. It may be increasing there and in new organizations, thanks to the echo chamber effects of the Internet. These are issues Jessie has raised in her find new book on cyberracism.

UPDATE:

On Saturday Malia and Sasha Obama, with their parents, visited a major slave castle Cape Coast, Ghana, which was the headquarters for the British slave trade on Africa’s Gold Coast. MSNBC reports it thus:

Inside the whitewashed fortress, the first family got a tour of the oven-like brick dungeons where slaves were crammed as they awaited their fate. The Obamas walked through the “Door of No Return” — the gateway through which thousands passed to ships bound for America — and paused in contemplation, arms around each others backs.

Afterward, the president called the castle “a place of profound sadness.” He told reporters it put him in mind of Buchenwald, the German concentration camp he saw last month — evidence of “the capacity of human beings for great evil.” Yet he also found it inspiring, and hoped Malia and Sasha would grasp its import. “It is here where the journey of much of the African-American experience began,” he said.

One can only imagine what impact this trip to the slave castle had on these black children. It was likely traumatic. It certainly was for their father.

I wonder if the conservative websites will probe that issue of impact and of Anglo-American slavery as deeply as they did Malia’s shirt and hair?

Racists calling “Racist”

sotomayorBarbinMD at dailykos has a useful summary of some of the right-wing white male commentators calling Sonia Sotomayor “racist,” even with their own extensive records of racist commentaries and actions (Image Source: Wikipedia). Barbin MD reproduces this nice little discussion centered on congress critter, Tom Tancredo, and a young white male associate:

TANCREDO: If you belong to an organization, called La Raza in this case, which is from my point of view anyway, just nothing more than a Latino, it’s a counterpart, it’s a Latino KKK without the hoods …
SCHUSTER: A Latino KKK — would you like to take this opportunity to apologize?
TANCREDO: (Laughs) No.
SANCHEZ: It turns out that Tom Tancredo has some explaining to do on this very front, because the Executive Director of his political action committee, his political action committee, has admitted to a blatantly racist act. It’s now revealed that in 2007, this man, Marcus Epstein, according to a Secret Service witness, came out of a bar in Washington, called a woman the “n” word, and then slapped her in the head. Slapped her in the head. He fled the scene, but he was eventually arrested. Epstein, who is due back in court next month, is blaming his behavior on too much alcohol. But according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, it’s more than that. They have described Epstein as a man with a network of racist connections. Back to Tancredo now — who said on this show, people who associate with racist organizations are racists. Congressman, why is Mr. Epstein still in charge of your political organization? And what sir, does that say about you? We got in touch with Tancredo. He declined to answer our questions yesterday, repeatedly.

Various folks like Tom Tancredo, Newt Gingrich, and Rush Limbaugh first called not only the La Raza civil rights group, but also Judge Sonia Sotomayor a racist, but then later started backing off on this and sounding confused.Rush Limbaugh is one good example, as here in this meandering gibberish:

… it’s racism, reverse racism, whatever, but it’s still racism. And she would bring a form of racism, bigotry to the court. But as I said yesterday, folks, I may look past that. I’ve got a whole stack on Sotomayor today. You know she would be the sixth Catholic on the Supreme Court and there are a lot of people worried about that. That does not bother me at all. I know a lot of Catholics, I love Catholics. But Sotomayor, she’s a Catholic, and she doesn’t have a clear record on abortion and I’m, overturning Roe versus Wade, well, that could be huge. I don’t know that it’ll ever happen, but if, you know, the opportunity to get somebody like her — she’s a Catholic, she’s a devout Catholic. She’s a Hispanic Catholic, Puerto Rican, they tend to be devout. She hasn’t got a record on this. Normally liberals do have a record, I mean when they’re pro-choice, man they’re, they, they, they champion it. They shout from mountaintops, they trumpet it. She hasn’t so I, I can see a possibility of supporting this nomination. If I can be convinced that she does have a sensibility toward life.

Given his own record of racist comments, this is very strange indeed.

Living in this country, when it comes to issues of race and racism is often like being Alice in Wonderland. The white-controlled mainstream media commentators get to define any word, like “racist” or “racism,” just about any way they want to. Why then do we have social scientists working so hard on trying to gather data on racism and defining it more precisely?