Archive for intersectionality
This week the U.S. Senate voted on two landmark pieces of legislation: the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (DADT) and the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for young people who came to this country as children. The repeal of DADT succeeded, while the DREAM Act failed to pass. Gay and lesbian activists and their allies who fought for the repeal of DADT are understandably elated with the overturning of the 17-year-old ban. But, so far at least, white gay and lesbian progressives have failed to see the DREAM Act as part of the same struggle for human rights.
Don’t get me wrong, leading gay and lesbian organizations, such as NGLTF have mentioned both the DREAM Act and DADT – but as separate, single issues. In separate press releases this week, Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) came out in favor of the repeal of DADT and the DREAM Act. In contrast, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest (and predominantly white) gay rights organization, has had a lot to say on DADT, but has had very little to say about the DREAM Act. White gay bloggers like Dan Savage and Joe.My.God. have mentioned the DREAM Act along with DADT, as they have been updating their readers about the lame-duck session of Congress. The Advocate, a magazine popular with white gays and lesbians, has tons of coverage about the repeal of DADT, but has had only one piece about the immigration (in November) but nothing to date in the archive about the DREAM Act, except as the scheduling of that vote threatened to affect repeal of DADT. And, perhaps most disappointing for me to see personally as a church-going lesbian, the moderator for my denomination issued a press release that heralded the triumph of this single issue.
What’s the matter with single issue politics? Isn’t this simply a pragmatic strategy for getting things done in the current political climate? I don’t think so. And, neither does Urvashi Vaid. In a recent speech at the CUNY Graduate Center, Vaid, a longtime activist working at the intersections of LGBT rights and racial justice articulated the dilemma of single-issue gay politics this way:
The key structural reason why neither branch of the LGBT movements has operationalized its stated intersectional politics, is quite simple: the default definition for what “Gay” means has been set by, and remains dominated by, the ideas and experiences of those in our communities who are white and this really has not changed in more than fifty years. Issues, identities, problems that are not “purely” gay – read as affecting white gay men and women – are always defined as not the concern of “our” LGBT movement – they are dismissed as “non-gay” issues, as divisive, as the issues that some ‘other movement’ is more suited to champion. We have our hands full we are told. We need to single-mindedly focus on one thing.
This is an argument that many LGBT liberationists and gay-equality focused activists have made to each other and bought wholesale for decade– without malice, without prejudice – just because there has been an unquestioned assumption that this narrow focus works, that we are getting results because we are making a “gay rights” argument, that this is smart and successful political strategy.
My contention is that it is exactly this narrow and limited focus that is not only causing us to stall in our progress towards formal equality, it is leading us to abandon or ignore large parts of our own communities, with the consequence of making us a weaker movement. The gay-rights focus was historically needed but is a vestigial burden we need to shed. It leads to an unsuccessful political strategy where we try to win on one issue at a time, it narrows our imagination and vision, it does not serve large numbers of our own people, and it feeds the perception that we are generally privileged and powerful, and not in need of civil equality.
What this means right now, at this critical juncture when the repeal of DADT has passed and the DREAM Act hasn’t, is that gay and lesbian activists should be calling for the passage of the DREAM Act and other (even broader) immigration reforms. I’ve yet to hear one white gay or lesbian activist stand up and say, “Let’s use this momentum from the DADT victory to see the passage of the DREAM Act.” Not one. As Vaid said, by focusing on one, single issue at a time, we’re narrowing our imagination and our vision.
Instead of this broadening of vision and building toward a common goal, among white gays and lesbians there’s a kind of collective “oh, well, the Brown people didn’t get their bill, quelle sad, but we got ours – so let’s celebrate!” What white gay and lesbian progressives fail to understand is that among those young people hoping to achieve citizenship through the (very restrictive) DREAM Act are gay and lesbian teens. It’s not that DADT and the DREAM Act are separate issues, they’re part of the same struggle. It’s just that white gays and lesbians don’t see that. I hope that changes.
Last week, noted social critic and philosophy professor Judith Butler refused the Berlin Civil Courage Award saying, “I must distance myself from this racist complicity” (h/t @blacklooks via Twitter). Butler was referring to anti-immigrant media campaigns that repeatedly represent migrants as ‘archaic’, ‘patriarchal’, ‘homophobic’, violent, and unassimilable while at the same time prominent (white) gay organizations in Berlin encourage a heightened police presence in gay neighborhoods where there are more people of color. The group SUSPECT condemned white gay politics and applauded Butler’s refusal saying:
It is this tendency of white gay politics, to replace a politics of solidarity, coalitions and radical transformation with one of criminalization, militarization and border enforcement, which Butler scandalizes, also in response to the critiques and writings of queers of colour. Unlike most white queers, she has stuck out her own neck for this. For us, this was a very courageous decision indeed.
SUSPECT is a new group of queer and trans migrants, Black people, people of color and allies whose aim is to monitor the effects of hate crimes debates and to build communities which are free from violence in all its interpersonal and institutional forms.
Angela Davis, noted scholar, activist and UC-Santa Cruz professor, has also voiced support for Butler’s refusal of the prize, saying “I hope Judith Butler’s refusal of the award will act as a catalyst for more discussion about the impact of racism even within groups which are considered progressive” (h/t @blacklooks via Twitter).
There’s certainly room for such a discussion about race and racism in the white LGBT community here in the U.S., and surprisingly little analysis of it to date. As I noted back in November 2008, the racism among white gay marriage supporters is a problem. Prominent white gay men such as Dan Savage make a good living off of saying ignorant, racist crap while claiming the “oppression” card. This is not to say that people who identify as LGBT are not oppressed in the U.S. and around the world, in fact, there’s quite a lot of evidence to support this claim, including the murder and torture of people because they are same-gender-loving. This is a human rights issue, and a global one.
What Dan Savage and other privileged white gay men fail to understand is the way one struggle is connected to another. In part, I think this is because they fail to see the ways that sexuality and race are intertwined. When you begin to see this, it shifts our understanding of oppression. Rather than seeing “blacks” and “gays” as somehow distinct, disparate groups, such an analysis allows you to recognize the reality of black and brown LGBT lives (such as the recently out entertainer Ricky Martin, who is both gay and Puerto Rican). And, such an analysis makes visible the white privilege that still adheres to the lives of LGBT folks like Savage. The challenge then, for white LGBT folks, is whether they are going to continue to wage a campaign for the rights of some or whether we will join the struggle for LGBT human rights with other human rights struggles.
What’s maddening about the ignorance around race among white LGBT people, is that it represents such a lost opportunity for – as SUSPECT points out in their statement – a “politics of solidarity, coalitions and radical transformation” and replaces it with one of criminalization, militarization and border enforcement. What might this look like? As just one example, the organization Immigration Equality, is coming out against Arizona’s draconian immigration law:
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community knows all too well how easily people who “look different” can be singled out for harassment and prosecution. In addition, LGBT immigrant families are too familiar with the double burden of immigration discrimination. Now Arizona’s LGBT families have yet another reason to be alarmed. The state’s new law threatens to tear apart families, separate children from their parents and rip apart loving couples who are building their lives together. Forty percent of LGBT binational couples in the United States include a Latino family member. For them, and their loved ones, Arizona is now the most dangerous place in America.
As people in New York City and around the U.S. celebrate Pride today, my hope is that we will all embrace a politics of solidarity, coalitions and transformation.
March 1 marks “National Women of Color Day,” situated at the end of Black History Month and at the beginning of Women’s History Month. Over the weekend, I attended the SexTech conference in San Francisco and heard a discussion by feminist sexual health educators that was interesting and flawed because it largely left out black women’s experience of sexual and reproductive health. This confluence of events seemed like an opportune moment to address the controversy churning around race and abortion. The current discussion, which is highly politicized in the U.S. in ways that it’s not elsewhere, has been touched off by a new multimedia activist campaign, called “The Endangered Species Project.”
The campaign was launched in early February at a press conference by Georgia Right to Life and The Renaissance Foundation announcing a provocative billboard which proclaims “Black Children are an Endangered Species” and urges people to go to the site TooManyAborted.com (more about which below). Here’s one of the billboards in the campaign (which reportedly costs $20,000 for approximately 65 signs around Georgia):
The main group behind the billboard campaign is the predominantly white organization, Georgia Right to Life (GRTL). Prior to this campaign, the GRTL was probably best known in the region for its “Miss Right to Life” pageant. With the new ‘endangered species project’ campaign, GRTL is partnering with a Ryan and Bethany Bomberger. The very slick website for the campaign, says the effort is a “collaborative effort between The Radiance Foundation and Georgia’s Operation Outrage.” The three layers of identification here — “Too Many Aborted.com,” then The Radiance Foundation, and then Operation Outrage — work as a kind of Internet slight-of-hand. The illusion of a multi-layered organizational structure disguises the fact there’s no staff here beyond the Bombergers. Ryan Bomberger is a former ad exec, and wife Bethany is a former school teacher, and they live in Georgia with their three children. Ryan Bomberger, who is biracial, has a compelling story about being the product of rape and the beneficiary of adoption, and this narrative frames much of the discussion in this multimedia campaign. Bomberger wants more mothers of black and biracial children to consider adoption rather than abortion.
Perhaps more disturbing even than the slickly deceptive multimedia campaign is the corporate involvement of CBS. According to RHRealityCheck, the billboards are the property of CBS Outdoors, a subsidiary of the multi-media CBS corporation. This pro-life campaign comes very quickly on the heels of the CBS decision to air a Super Bowl ad earlier this month from Focus on the Family, the ultra-right conservative organization that seeks to limit the rights of women, LGBT folks, and people of color generally. CBS simultaneously denied ad space to advertisers for condoms and organizations representing gay advertisers. At this point, it’s not clear whether CBS is endorsing or underwriting the ads in any way, but it’s certainly a telling coincidence.
At the launch of the ‘endangered species project’ GRTL also announced that they would seek to pass House Bill 1155, legislation that would:
“make it a crime to ‘solicit a woman to have an abortion based on the race or sex of the unborn child.’ “
GRTL’s “endangered species” ad campaign is an incredibly sophisticated strategy for reaching out to black women about issues of reproduction because it trades on a rhetoric that evokes the long history of racist practices directed specifically at black women. For example, forced sterilization of black women was so commonplace in parts of the deep south during the Jim Crow era that it was referred to as a “Mississippi Appendectomy.” It was routine for white doctors who perform these sterilizations on black women without their knowledge or consent, presumably “for their own good” and the “good of the larger society.”
It’s also true that black women, like women of other races, want to control their reproductive lives. Usually what this means is deciding on when and how many children to have. For many African American women in Georgia (and around the U.S.), a lack of access to birth control, lack of education, and even a high rate of sexual violence make this kind of control difficult to achieve. The fact is that a disproportionately high percentage of black women seek abortions, from the New York Times:
Data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that black women get almost 40 percent of the country’s abortions, even though blacks make up only 13 percent of the population. Nearly 40 percent of black pregnancies end in induced abortion, a rate far higher than for white or Hispanic women.
As the state’s largest anti-abortion group, GRTL has been trying to find ways to address the issue of abortion in the black community, but without much success until they began to reframe the issue as one of genocide. GRTL also did a very savvy thing and hired an African American woman, Catherine Davis, to be its minority outreach coordinator. Ms. Davis travels to black churches and colleges around the state, delivering the message that abortion is the primary tool in a decades-old conspiracy to kill off blacks. Not surprisingly, given the genocidal practices in the U.S. against black and brown people over centuries, this is a message that has resonated with African American audiences.
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective in Atlanta works for reproductive justice for women of color. Executive Director Loretta Ross refers to the controversy this way:
“It’s a perfect storm. There’s an assumption that every time a girl is pregnant it’s because of voluntary activity, and it’s so not the case.”
SisterSong also notes that “the association between the born and unborn with endangered animals provides a disempowering and dehumanizing message to the Black community, which is completely unacceptable.” Other people, such as this blogger, have noted that the “endangered species” ad campaign sends an insidious message about African American women’s sexuality that:
African Americans are more promiscuous, practice unsafe sex, and because they obtain more abortions, are less responsible. This has many lasting effect across the country that further enables historical constructs and stereotypes surrounding race to flourish. (Such as the construct in which the African American Women are portrayed to be an out-of-control sexual being that always wants sex).
The billboards also imply that “black women somehow are perpetrators of a coordinated and intentional effort to ‘execute’ black babies is harmful, deplorable and counterproductive.” This assessment comes from SPARK, another reproductive justice organization that, along with SisterSong, is pushing back against the “endangered species” ad campaign and the proposed House Bill 1155. SPARK released this statement in support of black women’s self-determination over their own reproductive lives:
“Black women know what is best for our lives, our families, and our communities and are capable of making these decisions without a coordinated assault by organizations that are not genuinely committed to addressing the host of social issues confronted by the black community. We strongly reject and denounce these billboards and the sponsoring organizations, Georgia Right to Life, the Radiance Foundation, and Operation Outrage for speaking about us, demonizing our decisions, and assuming they know what is best for our lives.”
While the Bombergers and other pro-life advocates like the GRTL say they want to encourage adoption because they care about black children, the reality is that adoption placements are heavily influenced by race and the racial preferences (if not outright racism) of adoptive parents. According to one recent study, both straight and gay adoptive parents in the U.S. exhibit racial biases when applying to adopt a child, consistently preferring non-African-American babies (pdf). So the reality is that if more African American babies are given up for adoption, they will very likely languish in the foster care system rather than being adopted due to the racism of prospective adoptive parents.
The “Endangered Species Project” is yet another villification of black women (there are so many available), and a rather cynical effort to play upon some well-founded suspicions of black people. If groups like GRTL really cared about black children they might better spend their time working to reduce or eliminate the racism which negatively affects birth outcomes for black mothers (pdf). Rather than the narrowly focused agenda of preventing black women from getting abortions, we need think differently about abortion, not as a “right to life” versus a choice, but as part of a broader reproductive justice agenda that places black women’s experience at the center.
Updated 3/1/10 @ 12:10pmET: A reader responded saying she was confused by the stance toward abortion in the original post. The point here is not to re-hash “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” arguments which are framed by a white feminist movement and the mainstream media, but rather, to put reproductive justice at the center of the analysis. One way to do that is to begin my looking at women of color’s experience with reproduction, such as African American women’s lives. For an excellent analysis from this perspective, I encourage readers to read Renee at Womanist Musings (also linked in the original post). Miriam writing at Feministing has a good analysis of the bias in the NYTimes piece (which I linked to above) that also offers some insight into reproductive justice and women of color.
And, I was remiss in leaving out a call to action from the organization SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, mentioned in the original post, which has a campaign to urge CBS Outdoor to bring the billboards down. Click here to take action.
On December 9, 2009, Amber Cummings walked into her husband’s bedroom and fired two bullets into his head while he slept, then fled with her 9-year-old daughter to a neighbor’s home and called police. On January 8, 2010, Cummings appeared in court and received a suspended sentence for the killing. In granting the suspended sentence, the judge said that James Cummings had subjected his wife and their daughter to years of extreme abuse. What’s noteworthy in the story for discussing here is this bit about James Cummings:
“The killing drew the FBI’s attention after Nazi mementos, radioactive materials and instructions on how to build a ‘dirty bomb’ were found in their home. ….Her husband was angered by Barack Obama’s election as president and the bomb-making materials were discovered near the time of Obama’s inauguration… “
James Cummings, then, gets added to the growing list of white people – mostly white men – who are so angered by the election of black president that they are contemplating resorting to violence. Amber Cummings reported feeling an “escalating sense of doom” about her husband’s plans to set off large scale destruction and his increasing abuse of her and their daughter. Following the sentencing, Amber Cummings referred to her husband as “mentally ill,” and that’s undoubtedly one part of the explanation for his behavior. I also want to offer another explanation that directly takes into account race, gender and sexuality. James Cummings’ abusive treatment of his wife and daughter and his white supremacy are connected to more mainstream manifestations of gender and racial entitlement.
Entitlement is the sense that one is deserving of some particular reward or benefit. In many ways, gender and racial entitlement are a defining characteristic of white men in contemporary U.S. society, whether as “white saviors” in popular culture or as “masters of the universe” in banking, white men – by their own words - see themselves as those who are most entitled to material wealth and psycho-sexual power over individual women and children. Yet, if anyone dares to point this out, there are lots of people – frequently white women – who are eager to call this is “lunacy.”
Examples from the mainstream of this sort of connection between gender and racial entitlement abound, but there is a very recent one in the news that makes this point quite nicely. John Mayer, a white male, a pop singer, most known for his ballad “Wonderland,” and for dating actress Jennifer Anniston. Mayer is about as far away from the popular notion of a ‘white supremacist’ as anyone would imagine. He’s also not visibly mentally ill. In a recent interview for Playboy magazine (to understand how the underpinnings of this magazine’s founding in a sense of male entitlement, read: Barbara Ehrenreich’s Hearts of Men), Mayer revealed perhaps more than he intended. When asked if he dated black women (actually, the interviewer revealed his own racial/gender assumptions by asking “do black women throw themselves at you?”), Mayer’s answer was no, because his (male member) “is sort of like a white supremacist,” and went on to refer to it as “David Duke.” While Mayer’s racist response has quite reasonably offended lots of people and he’s apologized for the interview, it’s emblematic of the same sort of intertwined gender and racial entitlement that extreme white supremacists like Cummings exhibit. Interestingly, while Mayer is not being portrayed as “mentally ill” for his statements in the interview, at least one report attributes his remarks to the fact that he was drinking Scotch during the interview, which brings me back to the putatively mentally ill James Cummings.
Entitlement, in its extreme form, is often associated with a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and this may have been part of what went so terribly awry with James Cummings. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss this story as merely a personal tragedy separate and apart from a broader social and political context. In that broader context, white men have a disproportionate amount of resources, wealth and privilege and feel entitled to it. Like the old joke that Jim Hightower used to tell about George W. Bush, “he was born on third base and think he hit a triple.” That’s the essence of entitlement. Whether or not Amber Cummings did the only thing she could by killing her husband, I don’t know. The fact Amber Cummings took extreme action to save her daughter and herself from – and possibly lots of other people – from her husband’s excessive sense of aggrieved entitlement and violent tendencies is a symptom of a larger set of social conditions.
Updated (Friday, 2/12/10): Another name to add to the growing list of angry, violent white men: Gregory Girard, a Massachusetts technology consultant who said he feared an imminent “Armageddon” and appears to have been active in the Tea Party movement, was found with a stash of military grade weapons, explosive devices including tear gas and pepper ball canisters, camouflage clothing, knives, handcuffs, bulletproof vests and helmets, and night vision goggles, reports TPM. Online news reports I found did not mention whether Mr. Girard was married, or whether his wife was also heavily armed.
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.
Around the world, children from ethnic, racial and linguistic minorities are being left behind in the quest for universal education, according to Lauren Feeney, multimedia producer for PBS’s documentary television series, Wide Angle. Feeney explains that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a set of targets for international development agreed to at the turn of the millennium, call for universal primary education by 2015. While some progress has been made towards that goal in the last decade — today, nearly 90 percent of children are enrolled in primary school, compared to 85 percent in 2000.
Even as that is a victory to celebrate, there remain 75 million children are still out of school; and of those, the majority are children from racial and ethnic minority groups. Although the U.N. doesn’t track progress based on racial or ethnic criteria, but a new report from Minority Rights Group International estimates that between 50 and 70 percent of out of school children are from minority and indigenous populations.
This kind of racial inequality exists around the globe, in Latin America, in Australia, in Africa, in India and in Europe. As Joe wrote here recently, the treatment of Roma in Europe is one that is steeped in racism that few are willing to face. Indeed, speaking out about their treatment prompted crowds to boo pop-icon Madonna for speaking out in support of them. When it comes to the treatment of the Roma, and how Roma children are doing meeting the Millennium Development Goals, it’s difficult to tell. Fenney writes that most reports on the Millennium Development Goals don’t bother to track progress in highly developed countries such as those in the European Union, which Romania joined in 2007. But Snjezana Bokulic, the Minority Rights Group International program officer for Europe, says that conditions for the Roma minority are “comparable to sub-Saharan Africa,” so, while European countries are likely to surpass most of the goals, “a segment of the population will be left out.” As for the goal of universal primary education, only 31 percent of Roma in Romania complete primary school, and Roma comprise between 2 and 10 percent of the population (depending on who’s counting), so the goal is unlikely to be met. “It’s an issue of mathematics,” says Bokulic.
Extrapolating from the non-data-collection on Roma in Europe, I assume that these reports are not being collected on indigenous and racial/ethnic minority groups here in the U.S. either. That would be a worthy research project for someone to do is find out what percentage of indigenous and migrant workers children are enrolled in school.
In a rather striking example of what happens when you fail to take into account intersections of race, class and gender, the Millennium Development Goals include a specific provision calling for an end to gender disparity at all levels of education, but there is no similar targeting of disparity based on racial or ethnic difference. One observer from the Minority Rights Group calls this a “glaring omission.” Maurice Bryan, who contributed the chapter on Latin America to the Minority Rights Group International report, says that no one realized it at the time, and goes on to say this:
“People didn’t used to think that you should pay special attention to women but once they realized that it was necessary, there has been progress on the gender gap. Now the racial gap is the new kid on the block.”
I found that a remarkable quote. While it’s pointless to try and say which is “more” or “less” necessary – it’s both and – I was just found it interesting that at least according to Millennium Goals the idea of addressing of gender is more established than the idea of addressing racism and inequality. If it’s still the case that 50-70 percent of the world’s children who are not in school are from ethnic or indigenous populations, then it seems long overdue to start addressing this form of inequality.
I think that the national discussion about racism and health care reform gets so abstract sometimes that we forget that when we’re talking about health, we’re talking about people’s lives. And, as this short clip (about 4 minutes) demonstrates very powerfully, leading researchers contend that racism plays an important role in infant mortality among African American women, even when controlling for income and education. This clip, from Episode 2, “When the Bough Breaks,” in the video series “Unnatural Causes,” (2007), features UCLA obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Michael Lu. Lu believes that for many women of color, racism over a life time, not just during the nine months of pregnancy, increases the risk of preterm delivery, one of the leading risk factors for early infant death:
And, in an interesting piece of research by one of the experts featured in the full episode, Dr. Camara Jones, concludes that: “being classified by others as White is associated with large and statistically significant advantages in health status, no matter how one self-identifies.” So, there’s a very real, somatic level at which racism both takes a toll on some and provides an advantage to others.
I think we should keep this in mind as the health care debate rages on. What kind of society do we want to create?
A series of recent hate crimes in the news make the case for the importance of understanding the intersections of racism with other forms of hatred based on identity.
- A gay African American sailor is killed at Camp Pendelton. The murder of August Provost, the gay African American sailor killed at Camp Pendelton, is being heralded by the gay blogosphere as an anti-gay hate crime. As such, Provost’s murder is taken as political fodder in the battle to repeal the unjust “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy implemented by Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, few in the gay blogosphere seem to be deploying an analysis which also takes Provost’s racial identity into account in this account. This is a missed opportunity, in my view, to build coalition across communities.
- A white San Diego man arrested in a series of attacks on Asian women. Thomas Parker, was arrested after a woman — who happened to be a marathon runner — fought off an attack in her garage and chased him down the street. She flagged down others driving nearby and an off-duty Border Patrol agent stopped at a traffic light joined in the chase and arrested Parker. According to police, Parker was linked through DNA and other evidence to a series six of similar home-invasion robberies and sexual assaults targeting Asian-American women over the past year. AngryAsianMan reports that Parker committed suicide before he could be brought to trial. Despite what appears to be a clear pattern of targeting Asian-American women, there’s little outcry from the public – and no action from police – to suggest that this was considered a ‘hate crime.’
- On July 13, the trial will begin in the murder of LaTeisha Green, a transgendered African American woman. LaTeisha Green was killed in November, 2008, and the trial of her alleged assailant, Dwight DeLee, was originally set to begin in June of this year. Yet, there’s been virtually no mainstream media attention on this hate crime. As TransGriot notes: “I guess if the victim is a Black transwoman, nobody gives a shit, especially if the trial is falling just before the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion that peeps who share Lateisha’s ethnic heritage helped jump off.” There’s still speculation about whether or not the prosecution will use a “trans panic” defense in the trial, but it’s clear that LaTeisha was killed for who she was.
As research has shown, hate crimes are worse crimes by definition because of that focus on identity. Each one of these crimes is a horrible tragedy in which a family somewhere has to plan a funeral for a loved one that was killed simply for who they were. And, to better understand them, we have to comprehend the ways that racism intersects with other forms of oppression.
If you’ve been following the increasingly racist, sexist, and thoroughly disgusting attacks on Sonia Sotomayor, then you’ve no doubt seen this headline: “G. Gordon Liddy on Sotomayor: ‘Let’s Hope the Key Conferences Aren’t When She’s Menstruating.’ ”
These statements are obviously grossly offensive and fairly reek of profoundly sexist ideals. I do not claim to be a Supreme Court expert, but I’ve been following nominations pretty closely since the Clarence Thomas debacle in the 1990s and have yet to hear any criticisms of any male justices’ appearance or emotional tenor. As far as I can tell, when it was time to consider his nomination to the Court, no one cared what Antonin Scalia looked like or bothered to describe him as dumpy, fat, or bloated. No one asked whether Clarence Thomas had the temperament for the Supreme Court, even though he looked mad enough to spit nails when he had to face accusations of sexual harassment, while Anita Hill remained calm and unflappable when Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter basically called her a liar. The double standard here is a glaringly obvious, clear cut, basic example of sexism in American politics. How else to explain that looks and emotion suddenly became significant issues for Judge Sotomayor when they never mattered for any of her predecessors?
But I don’t need to point all this out, because fortunately we have a number of prominent feminist women who are quick to use their public platform to denounce obvious cases of sexism, and to condemn those who are instrumental in perpetuating these assaults against women…right? Why, just last year, noted feminist icon Gloria Steinem (image from here), wrote a widely discussed editorial in the New York Times defending then-Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton against charges of sexism, and lamenting that “the sex barrier was not taken as seriously as the racial one.”
During this same election cycle, Geraldine Ferraro made controversial statements arguing that Obama’s race was an advantage, and contended that “if he were a woman of any color he would not be in this position,” implying, like Steinem, that male privilege was so endemic that it could elevate a black man over any woman of any color. Martha Burk got a lot of attention a few years back for demanding that the Masters golf tournament allow women to join its hallowed ranks, and was a clear, cogent voice in drawing attention to this institutionalized sexism in the athletic world.
Funny how I haven’t heard any statements from these women castigating G. Gordon Liddy, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, or Michael Steele for their repugnant, sexist, and racist remarks about Judge Sotomayor. Funny how they haven’t jumped out in front of this issue the same way they did when Hillary Clinton was the one on the receiving end of a barrage of sexist statements. Funny how the PUMAs (Party Unity My Ass) who were so outraged at the way the Democratic Party ostensibly treated Hillary Clinton now don’t seem to see this as a worthy cause of their efforts, and aren’t outraged by Democratic politicians’ unwillingness to call these abhorrent statements the blatant misogyny that they are.
What’s not funny are the implications this has for women of all races. When white feminists look the other way when Michelle Obama is callously referred to as “Obama’s Baby Mama,” when Sonia Sotomayor is savaged by right wing conservatives who engage in the basest types of sexism, or more broadly, when women of color across the country face higher rates of abuse, incarceration, and poverty than white women, it sends a clear message about their lack of respect for and interest in the ways sexism impacts women of other racial groups and class positions. It reinforces the idea that white women feminists are interested in maintaining their white privilege while undermining sexism, a process that keeps women of color oppressed but broadens the category of whites who have access to and are able to wield power over others. It perpetuates the (erroneous) message that feminism has nothing to offer women of color, even though they too suffer from the gender wage gap, sexual violence, and all the other manifestations of gender inequality.
I do not understand why white feminists like Steinem, Ferraro, Burk, and others still don’t seem to get this message that intersections of race and gender matter and that the feminist movement cannot succeed without the influence and involvement of ALL women.
This point has been made for years, by many progressive white women (playwright Eve Ensler, sociologist Margaret Andersen) and feminists of color (sociologist Patricia Hill Collins, activist Pauli Murray, writer Alice Walker). It would be really nice if the rampant sexism being directed towards Sonia Sotomayor finally served as an overdue wake-up call about the importance of both race and gender.
On April 3, In Binghamton, NY a Vietnamese immigrant, Jiverly Linh Phat Wong — (or Voong) — blocked the back exit of a civic community center where immigrants attended English-language classes and shot 13 people to death before killing himself. On April 4, Richard Poplawski shot and killed three Pittsburgh, PA police officers – and injured two others – during a standoff that lasted nearly four hours. Understanding race and gender is crucial here given that one of these is about anti-Asian discrimination, the other is about antisemitism and white supremacy, and both are about masculinity.
Rampage & Race: Reacting to Anti-Asian Discrimination
Understanding what happened in Binghamton requires understanding the way anti-Asian discrimination operates in the U.S. Many people don’t even realize that there is such a thing as anti-Asian discrimination, so perhaps it’s best to start with a recent example, such as the truly asinine remarks of Rep. Betty Brown (R-Texas). On Tuesday (April 7), Brown said that Asian Americans should consider changing their name to make it “easier for Americans to deal with.” Brown has resisted efforts to apologize for her remarks. This sort of comment might be offensive enough from an ordinary citizen, but coming from an elected official with legislative power to implement her racist ideas is alarming and indicative of the kind of discrimination that Asian Americans routinely face. This sort of discrimination takes a toll.
In the opening chapter of The Myth of the Model Minority, authors Chou and Feagin highlight the many costs of anti-Asian racism on mental health:
Few researchers have probed Asian American mental health data in any depth. One mid-2000s study of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese immigrant youth examined acculturation to the core culture, but only briefly noted that some of these youth experienced substantial “cultural stress, such as being caught between two cultures, feeling alienated from both cultures, and having interpersonal conflicts with whites.”47 Another study examined only Korean male immigrants and found some negative impact on mental health from early years of adjustment and some mental “stagnation” a decade so after immigration. Yet the researchers offered little explanation for the findings. One recent study of U.S. teenagers found that among various racial groups Asian American youth had by far the highest incidence of teenage depression, yet the report on this research did not even assess the importance of this striking finding.48
In the modest statistical analysis that exists, Asian American statistics on suicide and alcoholism stand out. Elderly Chinese American women have a suicide rate ten times that of their elderly white counterparts. While Asian American students are only 17 percent of the Cornell University student body, they make up fully half of all completed suicides there.
Despite the high-profile cases of Asians and Asian-Americans involved in violent crimes, such as the Binghamton and Virginia Tech cases, the majority of Asian-Americans tend to hold in their rage over discrimination, part of what is responsible for the highest suicide rates of all racial groups in the U.S.
Andrew Lam, author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, writes at New American Media, that:
Whenever a minority commits a heinous crime, it seems to beckon us in the media to search beyond an individual motive for a cultural one.
Yet, there is a certain level of hypocrisy in this, as Lam points out, because there is very little analysis of American culture when these crimes make news.
If the Asian shame-based culture is still prominent, keeping its citizens in line and well behaved, it is the gun culture in America that is most conspicuous. It is there on TV and video games and the Internet and the silver screen, and it is the most accessible language for the tongue-tied. For them the gun –- be it in video games or at the practicing range — speaks volumes.
So, for instance, when a white man commits one of these rampage killings, there’s very little analysis of the dominant white culture in most of the mainstream news reports about the event. The incident in Pittsburgh is a case in point.
Rampage & Race: Acting on Antisemitism & White Supremacy
Several press reports have noted that Richard Poplawski, the shooter in the Pittsburgh case, held virulently antisemitic views and frequented conspiracy-theory websites such as Alex Jones’ Infowars. CNN refers to him as a white supremacist who believes that Jews control American media, financial institutions and government and that federal authorities plan to confiscate guns owned lawfully by American citizens, based on ADL reports about Poplawki’s postings at Don Black’s Stormfront.
Mainstream press accounts like the one from CNN tend to represent Poplawski as a “nutcase,” without offering any sort of analysis of how his views might be shared by other whites. David Weigel, of The Washington Independent, does make this connection between mainstream white culture and incidents like the Pittsburgh shooting. He writes that after spending the weekend attending the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in Kentucky where all manner of Third Reich memorabilia was available for sale, that he is not surprised by Poplawski’s beliefs. Weigel also calls out conservative talk show host Glenn Beck for fanning the flames of conspiracy theorists with rants like this one.
Gender & Rampage: Enacting Violent Masculinity
Unfortunately, what almost no one in the mainstream press or the blogosphere has pointed out about the recent shootings is the connection to gender, and specifically, to a particulalry violent form of masculinity. Harvard sociologist Katherine Newman and colleagues in their 2004 book, Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, observe the following about the relationship of rampage shooters in their study to violent masculinity:
“The shooters appear to be working from widely available cultural scripts that glorify violent masculinity. …. The shooting solves two problems at once: it provides them the ‘exit’ they are seeking and it overturns the social hiearchy, establishing once and for all that they are…’gutsy and daring,’ not ‘weak and slow-witted.’ The problem is they didn’t just fail at popularity — they failed at the very specific task of ‘manhood,’ or at least they felt that way. The solutions to this failure are popularized in the media in violent song lyrics, movies, and video games. But the overall script of violent masculinity is omnipresent. ‘Men’ handle their own problems. They don’t talk; they act. They fight back. And above all, ‘men’ must never let others push them around.” (Newman, et al., 2004: 269).
While the Binghamton and Pittsburgh incidents did not take place within the context of schools, as did the incidents that Newman and colleagues studied, there are some real similarities between them with regard to violent masculinity. The stance that Wong adopted for his pose with the guns he later used for murder and suicide evokes the cool pose of violent masculinity that is glorified in any number of mainstream American movies, music and television. Poplawski’s former girlfriend filed for a domestic abuse protection order against him because he dragged her by the hair across the floor and threatened to kill her. Both Wong and Poplawski seem to have internalized, and eventually acted on, a violent version of masculinity in which they “handled” their problems in a way that reaffirmed their manhood – at least in their own minds. And, given the ways that becoming a “real man” in U.S. society is tied to the economic success and the role of “breadwinner” for the family, the continued economic decline suggests even more of these kinds of violent rampages by men who are unable to earn a living.
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Shooting rampages like the ones in Binghamton and Pittsburgh are becoming more common here in the U.S. As Nickie Wild writing at Sociology Lens explains, this may be part of a “super anomie,” in which the gap between what one wants to achieve and what seems possible widens (or seems insurmountable) and then violence increases. Others have pointed to the shooting incidents as indications that U.S. gun laws need re-thinking, and this is truly the case. Yet, to really understand what’s behind these sorts of rampage shootings, we must have a more complex understanding of the ways race and gender are intricately woven into the fabric of these violent incidents.