Spanish in the US: Racialization (Part II)

Victorious intruders often justify their actions by playing up their self-defined probity vis-à-vis the supposed wickedness of their victims. White settlers in the 19th Century Southwest were no exception: they held an undisguised contempt for Mexican citizens residing in the region. Their attitude was couched in the language of race and they referred to Mexicans as “niggers” and mongrels.

One of the “racial” traits that “tainted” Mexicans was their language. In the aftermath of the 1848 Mexican-American War, the eradication of Spanish became an important goal of whites in power. They started early in a person’s life. To “divest” Mexican children of their racial baggage, the elimination of Spanish was pursued avidly in schools.

In 1929 some Mexican Americans in Corpus Christi, Texas, decided that to improve their lot they would succeed in areas in which they were supposedly deficient. To this end, they founded the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), restricting membership to US citizens and emphasizing English-language skills. Predictably, their efforts were insufficient to penetrate staunch racist barriers. : LULAC members and their mother language remained racialized.

The efforts to squelch Spanish extended well into the 20th Century. They included the portrayal of Spanish as an intruder in English’s linguistic realm. Harvard luminaries Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Huntington (2004) were among the proponents of this perspective. Schlesinger said unequivocally that “The language of the new nation [US] . . . [is] primarily derived from Britain.”

In a similar vein, the Huntington asserted that

America’s culture … is still primarily the culture of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century settlers who founded American society. The central elements of that culture … include . . . the English language.

There is overwhelming evidence that the “establishment” still favors the hegemony of English. However, white economic and political elites have been forced to relent in their “monoglot” policies, not so much as a gesture of sympathy toward Latinos but as a necessity for these elites to pursue Latino votes and markets.

SPANISH IN THE US: A “RESPECTABLE” LANGUAGE (Part I)

References to Spanish in the US tend to evoke memories of Latinos’ racist oppression. However, there was a time in the early days of this country when Spanish was regarded by important whites as a “respectable” language.

Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wrote about the importance of Spanish to the US. In a document he penned outlining his ideas about the education of youth in Pennsylvania, Franklin recommended that young men interested in business should consider the study of Spanish!.

Jefferson’s admiration for Spanish is evident in this passage: “With respect to modern languages . . . Spanish is most important to an American . . .” One scholars notes, “His interest in Spanish was instrumental in its incorporation into the curriculum of William and Mary in 1780″ (Madeline Wallis Nichols)

Franklin’s and Jefferson’s positive view was shared by other members of the elite then. For example, a Puritan divine, Cotton Mather, found in Spanish an important tool to spread the “Christian” message to Spanish-American Catholics. In 1699 Mather wrote a pamphlet in Spanish, La fe del Christiano, hoping to convert them “from Darkness to Light,” that is, from the Catholic faith to Protestantism.

There was an early demand for private instruction in Spanish. In 1747 the New York Gazette announced the establishment of an Academy where Augustus Vaughn taught several languages, including Spanish, “correctly and expeditiously.” In 1773 another New Yorker, Anthony Fiva, advertised instruction in Romance languages, including Spanish, “in their greatest purity.” (Seybolt).

Instruction in Spanish began at the college level in the 18th Century. It was offered at major colleges and universities such as Pennsylvania (1750), Dickinson (1814) , Yale (1826), Princeton (1830) and Amherst (1827). However, the great prestige of Spanish instruction at the university level did not reach its peak until 1816 with the establishment of the Smith Professorship of the French and Spanish Languages and Literature at Harvard (Spell).

As US expansionism grew, however, the esteemed status of Spanish turned into contempt as white settlers moved to Texas and the US seized Mexican territory after the conclusion of the US-Mexican war. Conquering whites made the squelching of Spanish a central component of their takeover. Their strategy was familiar in history: to break a people, you dispossess them of such an important part of their lives as language. Their justification was simple: the language of an inferior race was necessarily an inferior language. Thus began the racialization of Spanish in the US.

Critiques of Richwine: Not Attacks on Academic Freedom


Jason Richwine’s dissertation
has provoked a firestorm in the media. Many people find it shocking that Harvard professors would approve a dissertation that argues that Hispanics have lower innate intelligence than native-born whites.

More than 1200 Harvard students demanded an investigation into the “racist claims” made in Richwine’s dissertation and have called for a public response from Harvard’s Kennedy School. Additionally, over 1200 scholars have signed a statement in opposition to scientific racism – the use of science to argue that a racialized group is inferior.

Richwine denies the charges of racism and claims he never argued that any group is inferior to another. In his dissertation, Richwine contended that Hispanics have lower innate IQs than native-born whites, and that this disparity is likely to persist across generations. This claim fits a widely-accepted definition of racism – understood as an ideology that certain racialized groups are inherently inferior to others, and that they will pass down these traits to their children.

The question for academics, however, is whether or not the public outcry with regard to the Richwine dissertation is an assault on academic freedom, as Jeff Jacoby claimed at the Boston Globe on Wednesday. I believe the critiques of Richwine do not constitute an attack on academic freedom and I will explain why I think that Harvard professors should not have guided and approved Richwine’s dissertation.

Before I begin, I will clarify that it is within my right to critique a dissertation and to critique my colleagues at Harvard. How could it not be? I critique and evaluate scholarship every day as part of my job as an academic. Now, let’s look at the dissertation.

Richwine provides data that shows that Hispanic immigrants have lower IQ scores than native-born whites. This data is fairly uncontroversial and not novel. If a student came to me and asked me to work with them on a dissertation that examines why Hispanic immigrants have lower IQ scores than native-born whites, I would likely agree to work with them. The question of why Hispanics’ IQ scores are lower than white Americans is a valid academic question and worthy of academic debate.

There are many reasons for these disparities, and there are many statistical manipulations you could do to figure out why Hispanic immigrants have low IQ scores. Richwine, however, was not interested in why they have low IQs. This is a central problem with his work – he does not conduct empirical analyses on why the disparities exist. IQ scores are designed to have an average score of 100. By definition, some people have to do better than others. The finding that some people do better than others is not at all interesting in an academic debate. What is interesting is why people or certain groups of people do better or worse. The reasons for the disparities are extremely varied and have to do with how the tests are designed, what the tests measure, and a host of environmental and educational factors.

Instead of looking into why some people do better than others on IQ tests, Richwine uses other studies to argue that there is most likely a genetic component to their low IQ scores. Richwine reviews some of the literature surrounding intelligence testing, and concludes that substantial indirect evidence exists that IQ differentials are genetic. Thus, although his argument does not hinge on IQ differences being genetic, it does hinge on the disparities being persistent. Attributing these differences to genetics helps his arguments.

In his dissertation, Richwine also fails to contend to any extent with what it means to be Hispanic. He simply takes it at face value that Hispanics are those people who claim to be Hispanic. This way of defining Hispanic would be acceptable. However, when you make the claim that the IQ disparities between whites and Hispanics are due to genetics, then, you have to define what Hispanic means. Otherwise, you leave wide open the question of how one could make the claim that Hispanics have anything in common genetically with one another. For me, this continues to be an enormous unanswered question. How could anyone possibly think that Hispanics share a genetic makeup?

Richwine then provides data that shows that Latin American countries are “low IQ countries” – so it is not the case that only low IQ people emigrate, but that Latin America is filled with low IQ people (68). Richwine claims that it may be the case that Latin Americans have low IQ scores because of material deprivation, but that could not be the only answer, as their IQ scores do not improve once they come to the United States, which is a richer country. This section is problematic because the relative material deprivation of Hispanics compared to non-Hispanic whites is not something we can ignore. To cite one piece of evidence for this, 35% of Hispanic children live in poverty, as compared to 12% of white children. There is no doubt that these disparities contribute to IQ score differentials.

Richwine provides data that shows that European immigrants’ scores have improved over time, but that those of Hispanic immigrants have not. Because Hispanics’ IQs have not improved over time in the past, he contends they will not improve in the future. Of course, if the material environment does not improve for Hispanics (which, by many measures, it has not), we would not expect for IQ scores to improve.

He concludes by arguing that IQ scores should be a factor in immigration policy. He makes this argument without recognizing the racialized history of both US immigration policy and intelligence testing. US immigration policy has a long history of being overtly racist – one of the first immigration laws ever passed was the Chinese Exclusion Act. The 1924 Immigration Act was designed specifically to reduce immigration from Eastern Europe and to all but eliminate immigration from Africa and Asia. Ignoring this history in a policy dissertation is problematic. The suggestion that we incorporate IQ scores into immigration policy is not innocuous because it reeks of eugenics – of the United States attempting to build a county with the most intellectually fit people from around the world.

When Richwine first approached professors at Harvard about his topic, he would have had to discuss what he was measuring, what literature he planned to use, and how he would formulate his policy-based arguments. I continue to find it hard to believe that his dissertation chair would have approved a study that simply shows IQ disparities without doing any data analysis into why those disparities exist. I also believe that his chair should have told him that he needed to contend with the racist history of US immigration policy. Finally, his advisors should have told him a dissertation could not rely on discredited publications by Charles Murray and J. Philippe Rushton – both of whom have spent much of their careers trying to prove the intellectual inferiority of blacks and Latinos.

In sum, I continue to find it appalling that three Harvard professors guided and approved a dissertation that attributed IQ to genetic differences without seriously engaging the accompanying issues and that made policy recommendations that sound similar to eugenics policies without any acknowledgement of the similarities. Pointing this out is not an attack on academic freedom. It is an exercise of academic freedom.

“Articulate While Black”: Interview

In a recent interview, Stanford Professor H. Samy Alim discussed his new book, Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language and Race in the U.S. (Oxford University Press, 2012, co-authored with Geneva Smitherman). In case you missed it, here’s the short clip (about 7:00, with an ad I couldn’t remove).

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Alim and Smitherman make an interesting argument about “code switching” – that is, moving from standard ‘white’ American dialect to a ‘black’ dialect. This facility with language is both a lightening rod for figures on the far-right in the U.S., such as Rush Limbaugh, and at the same time, lends Obama legitimacy in the eyes of many because it ties him to the legacy of Dr. King.

Limbaugh Parrots Racist Mock Language for Asians



Our “famous” talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh now often get away with aggressively racist comments and performances. We have sunk so low that we as a country give them of millions of dollars to create this high level of disrespect for people who are a little different. In a recent comment using stereotyped mocking of the Chinese president we got this racist framing from Limbaugh:

Hu Jintao — he was speaking and they weren’t translating. They normally translate every couple of words. Hu Jintao was just going ching chong, ching chong cha.

He continued for a bit more with this mocking stereotyped dialect. This is the type of stereotyped mocking that all too many schoolchildren—mainly white children–do on the playground, and apparently in this regard Limbaugh is living out what he learned as a nine or ten year old on the playground. He is not alone in this racist mocking, as I note here is this passage from a recent book:

Asian American children and adults often are forced to endure hostile mocking such as: “Ching chong Chinaman sitting on a rail, along came a white man and snipped off his tail”; “Ah so. No tickee, No washee. So sorry, so sollee”; and “Chinkee, Chink, Jap, Nip, zero, Dothead . . . Flip, Hindoo.” A Toledo radio station’s white disc-jockey recently phoned Asian restaurants using mock-Asian speech, including “ching, chong chung” and “me speakee no English.” On her talk show prominent comedian Rosie O’Donnell repeatedly used “ching chong” to mock Chinese speech.

Such language stereotyping and mocking has long been part of the dominant racial frame and has been directed not only at Asian Americans but also earlier at African, Native, and Latino Americans. This hostile language mocking is usually linked to other important racialized images that whites hold of those Americans of color they often oppress.

Language researcher Rosina Lippi-Green has noted a very important point about such routinized mocking: “Not all foreign accents, but only accent linked to skin that isn’t white . . . evokes such negative reactions.” (Full source references for these examples and others can be found in notes to Ch. 5 of The White Racial Frame)

One very striking thing about this racist mocking and language is how unoriginal most of it is. Whites, including those “well educated,” seem to repeat it again and again and again and again, and almost verbatim. One obvious conclusion is that the white racial frame, and its originators and maintainers, score close to zero on the racism originality scale, if there is such a thing.

Texas’s Racist Textbook Standards: Challenged by NAACP and LULAC



Texas NAACP/LULAC groups have filed a major complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, asking them to investigate the new Texas State Board of Education Texas Curriculum Standards:

The Texas NAACP, Texas LULAC and Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education (TABPHE) are holding a press conference, with partnering groups to announce the filing of a request for a proactive review by the U.S. Department of Education and its Civil rights division. The request addresses many aspects of discrimination against minority public school students in Texas, including recent changes to history and educational standards in social studies. Texas State NAACP President and National Board Member Gary Bledsoe said, “Education remains the most critical element in the long term economic and social interests of all American citizens. Reasonable people of good will must guarantee that all students, regardless of race or economic circumstances, be given the tools needed to become successful in a rapidly changing global economy. We must also be held to a high standard of accuracy in conveying historical events to students who will use this information to compete for educational access not only in Texas, but increasingly around the country and world. We must not allow the use of our compulsory education system to misinform and negatively impact the academic capacity of our most important natural resource – our children. Our action today seeks on objective review of the partisan attack on the public education system in the State of Texas.”

State LULAC President Joey Cardenas said, “We were shocked at the actions by the State Board of Education in emasculating our history. It is necessary for our own well-being and that of the people of our State that we do all that we can to ensure that what they have done does not end up being a reality. Our State and nation will suffer from what they have done and emotionally and psychologically it will greatly harm our young people. Dr. Rod Fluker of TABPHE said that one of the things we are most worried about is how this will impact teachers and the kinds of attitudes it will bring to our next generation of young people to move into this field. This is a serious problem.” Bledsoe said that one thing we are looking for is to invalidate the standards so that they do not become a reality. “This is like a criminal assault. The message is that you have no worth. We cannot let this become official policy.” Cardenas added that “we have engaged the State in litigation before and will do so again if necessary. “

In challenging the Standards, the Texas NAACP wishes to applaud State Board of Education Members Lawrence Allen and Mavis Knight for supporting us in this initiative. Dr. Felicia Scott of TABPHE said that it is important to note that the most offensive items were opposed by all 5 minority Board members who voted as a block, “that really says something about how offensive these matters are, and this is from a purely academic and humanistic perspective with no injection of politics.”

A Houston Chronicle report provides information on why the complaint has been filed:

A school curriculum teaching children about violent Black Panthers while playing down Ku Klux Klan violence against blacks is not only inaccurate but discriminatory, the Texas NAACP and LULAC said Monday in a joint complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education. The complaint asks the department’s Office of Civil Rights to review Texas’ new social studies curriculum standards approved by the State Board of Education and to take legal action if the state tries to implement the standards the groups call “racially or ethnically offensive,” as well as historically inaccurate. The new standards also balance the speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis and attempt to point out positive aspects of slavery.

The Chronicle story adds some other important points:

A review of the new social studies curriculum standards by historians and college professors indicates that 83 percent of the required historical figures and notable persons for students to study are white. Only 16 percent are African American or Latino. Minority groups, including state legislators, warned the 15-member State Board of Education throughout the curriculum standards process that it was shortchanging the achievements of minorities. Of the 4.8 million children attending Texas public schools last year, 66 percent were minorities. Whites make up two-thirds of the State Board of Education.

The complaint to OCR statement has generated considerable debate and discussion in the Texas media.

Just recently, Professor Kevin Michael Foster, a graduate faculty member in the Departments of African and African Diaspora Studies, Curriculum and Instruction, and Educational Administration, at the University of Texas at Austin added these savvy comments (he gave me permission to reprint this email sent to those working with NAACP/LULAC) on the problems of teaching our best high school students who know little, or are miseducated about, U.S. and Texas history:

On the tail of the complaint to the Dept of Ed’s OCR, I can’t help but again express my thorough frustration with the social studies knowledge (and dispositions) among the Texas-taught undergraduate students I work with at UT Austin. Encouraged by Board Member Knight’s interest in what is taught elsewhere, I’d also like to think about multiple strategies — a program of activities — to see to the good sense education of Texas school children regardless of the “standards” that we end up with.

. . . . My general experience is that the miseducation of high achieving students in Texas is thorough — not simply that they have been undereducated, but that they have been and are systematically miseducated in the sense used by Carter G. Woodson. Black and non-black, Hispanic and non-Hispanic, huge numbers across demographic groups doubt the intelligence and worth of non-whites as students as UT. It is especially painful to see Black and Brown kids who finished in the top ten percent of their high school classes yet come to UT with doubts about their own intelligence and worth. They have been taught the glories of The Alamo and Texas Independence with no context to bring out (for instance) the historic role of the slavery issue in the region. In defiance of the historical record and decades of historical analyses, they are taught that the Civil War was about “state’s rights” and not really about slavery (as if in this context those two were separable). They are taught that Affirmative Action is among the greatest unfairnesses today — a red herring of the first order — especially for settings like UT, where the only meaningful affirmative action that takes place is for student athletes (and in a context where even there it is not done with adherence to the spirit of the original concept).

By contrast, and to Board member Knight’s query, in my youth I was required to read Souls of Black Folk (Du Bois), Up From Slavery (BTW), The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Why We Can’t Wait (MLK), The Autobiography of Ms. Jane Pittman (Gaines), Mules and Men (Zora Hurston), large chunks of The New Negro (Alain Locke, ed) and other texts. During most of those years I lived on Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue and was expected to know who this important and great woman was as well. Much of my reading was required in school. That which was not required by the school was required by my father and nurtured by my (former schoolteacher & guidance counselor) grandmother. Today we still need both forces — what the approved curriculum standards require and what we as a community require in addition.

As I raise my 10 year old son and 8 year old daughter, I perceive a profound need for a war on multiple fronts. One front is that of the specific Texas Curriculum Standards. And even here, while there is a need for straight on attack (e.g. “complaints” to OCR), there is also space for battle on the flanks (for instance cataloging and publicly rebutting the problems with the standards and providing parents with talking points for conversations with teachers and principals as they ensure that their children aren’t fully subject to the brainwash education).

Another space for action is to actively create and disseminate a supplemental curriculum, one specifically aimed at correcting for the anticipated (and realized) negative consequences of students (of all backgrounds) being taught histories that validate the indefensible, that force classroom discussion into ridiculous directions, and that undermine true knowledge of self and history among African American students, Latino students and others who find their well-informed understandings (or even nascent yet accurate understandings) of themselves and their world under assault. To take just one example,what if students were expected to read and consider Uncle Tom’s Cabin, easily one of the most important books in U.S. History, gigantically influential in its time, for the longest time second in sales only to the Bible, and a text that raises the paradox of having emancipatory goals while simultaneously cementing damaging stereotypes. There is so much to work with in this highly readable text — for history, for literature, for critical thinking — and yet most students have not read it.

In this sad state of affairs I am sure of at least two things: 1) We must act to alter inaccurate standards; and 2) we must in the meantime produce and disseminate viable supplements to counter the damage that the inaccurate standards are doing in the meantime. For those whose official capacities allow it, proaction should not be seen as an option but rather as a responsibility.

Because Texas has this central selection of textbooks process, publishers often adapt their textbooks used across the country to these biased and racialized Texas standards. So these reactionary decisions affect children and others in many other states. As George Orwell once said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Somos Republicans Condemns Extremist Republican Leaders



Mother Jones online has a very interesting article on a Hispanic Republican group (Somos Republicans) that is sharply criticizing some white members and leaders of the Republican Party for their “extremist” and nativistic views, as the party becomes more controlled by far-right members. Their letter to the leadership targets the views and likely committee positions of Texan Lamar Smith, probable chair of House Judiciary Committee, and Steve King, probable chair of House subcommittee on immigration:

Steve King has used defamatory language that is extremely offensive to Hispanics, which is found in numerous congressional records. We believe Steve King’s behavior is not appropriate for a high-level elected Republican who might be in charge of a committee that handles immigration rules. Steve King and Lamar Smith have adopted extreme positions on birthright citizenship, and promise legislation that would undermine the 14th amendment of the constitution, which both swore an oath to uphold.

After noting that the Lamar-King views have chased many Latinos to the Democratic Party, they add this:

We ask that you review Mr. King’s and Mr. Smith’s congressional statements desiring to “pass a bill out of the House to end the Constitution’s birthright citizenship for U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants,” or what Steve King has made reference to “anchor babies.” We find both this rhetoric and this un-constitutional conduct reprehensible, insulting and a poor reflection upon Republicans because we don’t want our Party to be viewed as the Party of changing the United States Constitution.

They note some Hispanic Republican candidates (including Cuban Americans) that won with the help of Hispanic voters, but then note that

Hispanics also vehemently and strongly rejected those Republicans that utilized harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and opted for a Democrat, as it occurred in the West Coast, Colorado and Nevada.

Pointing to the 2012 election they add this worry:

Most of those states with the highest number of Electoral College delegates reside in highly populated Hispanic states such as California, Texas, Florida and New York. Hispanic Republicans have proven to be reliable for an average 30% voting bloc when it comes to voting for the Republican party, however, as proven with the 2010 midterm elections, one can see that GOP candidates such as Jan Brewer, Tom Tancredo, and Sharron Angle dipped just below that 30% when you take a look at the 2010 midterm exit polls. In fact, one can see in looking at the exit poll data that 40% of the Latino vote in Arizona went towards McCain while a mere 27% of Latinos voted for Brewer.

And they accent this:

With Representative Lamar Smith who represents Texas, our party cannot afford to risk losing Texas during the 2012 Presidential elections if he were put into a position that would create a toxic anti-Hispanic environment.

James Baldwin’s Birthday



The Smithsonian noted that this is the birthday of James Baldwin, one of the greatest analysts of U.S. racism, and much more about humanity and life in the US, ever:

Essayist, novelist and playwright James Baldwin in Harlem in New York City. After stints as a preacher and railroad worker, Baldwin turns to writing. In 1948 he moves to Paris where he produces, among other works, his famous essay collection on race in America and Europe, Notes of a Native Son (1955). He dies in France in 1987 at age 63.

Read more here.

White Reaction to Being Called Out on Racism: Jane Hill’s Research



The reaction of Tea Party defenders, including Sarah Palin, to the NAACP’s calling out some Tea Party members and leaders for their racism calls to mind a fine book by Jane Hill, The Everyday Language of White Racism. She has many insights in the book – which I highly recommend to you – but one that fits this calling out of racism by Black Americans at the NAACP is this one on how whites often react to being called out with a line of reasoning about white innocence like this:

I am a good and normal mainstream sort of White person. I am not a racist, because racists are bad and marginal people. Therefore, if you understood my words to be racist, you must be mistaken. I may have used language that would be racist in the mouth of a racist person, but if I did so, I was joking. If you understood my meaning to be racist, not only do you insult me, but you lack a sense of humor, and you are oversensitive.

Hill adds that this “chain of reasoning makes the speaker the sole authority” over what her or his racist commentaries actually mean. Not surprisingly, many whites are today unwilling to listen to the views of those Americans who are regularly targeted by white racism–even to views about the reality and pain of that everyday racism. I also deal with these important listening and empathy issues in the newsecond edition of my Racist America book.

Is White the New Black?



Kelefa Sanneh has an interesting article in the New Yorker titled “Beyond the Pale: Is white the new black?” He first notes some of the famous racist commentaries like that of Glenn Beck, who said this about President Obama:

“This President, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture. I don’t know what it is.” … Beck sat for an interview with Katie Couric, and she asked him a deceptively simple question . . . posed by a Twitter user named adrianinflorida: “what did u mean white culture?” Whatever adventurous thoughts this query inspired, Beck did not seem eager to share them. “Um, I, I don’t know,” he said. Finally, [he said] “What is the white culture? I don’t know how to answer that that’s not a trap, you know what I mean?”

After discussing this extremist commentary, Sanneh then discusses the odd blog/website, “Stuff White People Like,” which was set up by the white Canadian, Christian Lander. Sanneh makes the insightful point that

… Lander isn’t really talking about white people, or, at any rate, not most of them. In fact, he sometimes defines “white people” in opposition to “the wrong kind of white people,” because his true target is a small subset of white people, a white cultural élite. Most white people don’t “hate” Republicans—they have voted Republican in every Presidential election since 1968.

Then he discusses the interesting and informative new book by Rich Benjamin “Searching for Whitopia, which we have discussed here before. Benjamin highlights the movement of whites into certain types of residential enclaves, an important study whose deeper implications Sanneh does not puruse. After pointing out how few black voters went for Republicans in 2008 (but omitting a discussion of how few other voters of color also did not vote Republican, a revealing omission? See Yes We Canour full book length discussion of this here), he then ends on a somewhat puzzling, punch-pulling note:

But what of it? Why is it that, from Christian Lander to Jon Stewart, a diagnosis of whiteness is often delivered, and received, as a kind of accusation? The answer is that the diagnosis is often accompanied by an implicit or explicit charge of racism. It’s become customary to suppose that a measure of discrimination is built into whiteness itself, a racial category that has often functioned as a purely negative designation: to be white in America is to be not nonwhite….

After noting that labor historian David Roediger

published an incendiary volume, “Towards the Abolition of Whiteness.” … “It is not merely that whiteness is oppressive and false; it is that whiteness is nothing but oppressive and false,” he wrote. In his view, fighting racism wasn’t enough; white people who wanted to oppose oppression would have to do battle with whiteness itself. Nearly two decades later, amid a rancorous debate over our first black President, the idea of abolishing whiteness seems no less tantalizing—and no less remote.

Actually, Roediger’s book is accurate and well-documented, and only “incendiary” to whites and others who do not like to hear the truth about US society. Sanneh waffles throughout this piece, and it is confusing. He does not dig deeply enough into the foundational reality underlying these matters, or else does not understand that self-defined “whites” invented most of the racial and racist terminology that we have used in North America, and often across the globe. Whites invented “whites” and “blacks” as racialized terms and as key parts of the white racial frame, just as they did most aspects of that racial framing of society, and its other language (including almost all major racist epithets.) In his phrases like measure of “discrimination is built into whiteness itself, a racial category that has often functioned as a purely negative designation,” he fails to see that the historical data demonstrate quite clearly that whites invented the whiteness reality as past of a centuries-old white racial frame that rationalized whites’ extensive racial oppression, so of course racial discrimination and other racial oppression is built into whiteness itself. In addition, the last part of this phrase seems to miss the point that for whites, whiteness is almost always a positive thing (his few examples to the contrary notwithstanding) and has “often functioned” in negative way only for those who have been oppressed by white domination and racial oppression.

And the last line, about abolishing whiteness, also seems to miss the critical point. The only way to abolish whiteness is to abolish the system of racial oppression, with its still-dominant racial hierarchy, and thus the dominant white racial frame. There is much more here than abolishing the term whiteness or some notion of whiteness. This is about a system and foundation of racial oppression, not just about terms and dialogue–or some notion that whites are now fully problematized, and thus that “white is the new black.” What a strange notion!