The Secrets within the Ivy: The Continuation of White Supremacy

Upon recently reading the New York Times op-ed piece by Ross Douthat, The Secrets of Princeton, I am reminded of Dr. Joe Feagin’s words:

White racism today remains “‘normal’” and deeply imbedded in most historically white institutions. Every such institution is still substantially whitewashed in its important norms, rules, and arrangements…it seems likely that a majority of whites cannot see just how whitewashed their historically white organizations and institutions really are.

The editorial piece discusses a recent submission from guest contributor of The Daily Princetonian and Princeton alumna, Susan Patton, who controversially declared that the women of Princeton should, “Find a husband on campus before you graduate.” She goes on to say:

I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians. My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless… As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

Oh no, she didn’t!! Sorry, I was channeling a number of high school students I work with. But nonetheless, apparently from the slings and arrows she received for publishing her essay, Susan forgot the first two rules of the Ivy League:

1st RULE: You do not talk about the secrets of the Ivy League.
2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about the secrets of the Ivy League.

Douthat noted many of her ideological opponents deem her as a turncoat to feminism. Her betrayal of acknowledging a truth, which Douthat feels many who attend Ivy League institutions are conscious of, is Patton’s biggest crime. A truth that encompasses the ideas that these places of highly manicured lawns and pristine historically well-kept buildings are focused not only on the pursuit of academic excellence, but also the charge of preserving racial entitlement while safeguarding the advantages accrued over generations in order to be safely transmitted to the next.

Even though these institutions over the decades have visibly discussed racial diversity and applied a dash of the finest cosmetic makeup to cover their blemished pale skin, Ivy League schools continue to be, as Feagin states, “whitewashed.” The quest for meritocracy continues within the 21st century. The current mode of protecting white interests, access to power, and purifying the elite is constant in country that attempts to convince its people that they are living in a post racial society. Albert Memmi understood this mechanism of racial supremacy when he stated,

racists are people who are afraid…generally it is because one wishes to obtain or defend something of value…the necessity to defend an individual identity and a collective identity, against all who come from elsewhere and don’t belong, is in operation.

This is not a declaration that all who attend these settings are racist per se, but the institution itself and those that practice the dark arts of the white racial frame, are definitely protecting historically privileged White placement on a hierarchy while simultaneously dispensing unequal treatment for a marginalized people. Its systems do not freely and equally entitle Blacks and Latinos to the same resources, power, and empathy as predetermined for the privileged placement of Whites. This is definitely illustrated within their modest number of students and faculty of color.

But then again, what do I know. I was poor and attended a state school.

“All My Babies’ Mamas”: Black Caricatures in the Media

On January 15, 2013 the Oxygen network released a tentative statement about discontinuing the production of All My Babies’ Mamas. This reality TV show would peek into the life of the not-so-well-known U.S. rapper Shawty Lo who currently has 11 children by 10 different women, a 19 year-old girlfriend, and is rumored to have another baby on the way by his ex-girlfriend Jai Jai. Thankfully, on January 16th the network canceled the show after receiving almost 40,000 signatures from In response to the cancellation requests, Oxygen V.P. Julie Rothman said, “[this show] is not meant to be a stereotypical representation of everyday life for any one demographic or cross section of society. It is a look at one unique family and their complicated, intertwined life.” Yet, Rothman’s statement leaves lingering questions. With all the unique families out there, why did Oxygen choose this family? Why didn’t Oxygen pursue a celebrity like Bill Clinton for a reality show? The focus could be upon Clinton’s many extra-marital affairs.

In the media, Black families have become representative of dysfunction. Americans have been laughing about stereotypical “Black people” for so long, such comic relief has become an addiction that many, like Julie Rothman, defend. Black parents often find themselves at the receiving end of media-based jokes about Black families. “Baby Daddy”/“Baby Mama” labels have become an omnipresent symbolic representation of broken Black families. The portrayal of unmarried Black mothers becomes yet another way in which dominant group values are juxtaposed against marginalized identities. These so-called “Baby Mamas” are most often caricaturized as being poor- but gold digging- welfare recipients who want nothing more than money, child support, and the latest hairstyle. Media portrayals frequently present uncaring mothers who leave their children in abject poverty while they go to receive beauty treatments or find another man to victimize in an effort to acquire more child support. These deleterious stereotypes become crystallized and reinforced through what the media decides to broadcast and rebroadcast to the public. For a more thorough discussion about media stereotypes of African Americans (see The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America by Robert M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki (University of Chicago Press, 2001).

Now back to Shawty Lo. There are men from various racial/ethnic backgrounds in the U.S. who father children out of wedlock, including Levi Johnston (the father of Sara Palin’s grandson) and Clint Eastwood. Eastwood has seven children by five different women though he has only married twice. Yet a show called “All Clint’s Babies’ Mamas” ridiculing Eastwood would never occur to reality show producers. And the mothers of Eastwood’s children would not become sideshow attractions to his extra-marital exploits. Why? Because he is White + Male + Affluent and in the U.S. we humanize those who fit these intersecting categories regardless of their transgressions. Shawty Lo represents those who are Black + Male + “Ghetto” and persons who fit these intersecting categories tend to be reduced to the transgressions they make.

In “Al My Babies’ Mamas” the mothers of Carlos Walker’s (aka Shawty Lo’s) children are cast as laughable, sideshow attractions in a nation where the disproportionately high number of Black single mothers is no laughing matter. In 2011, it was estimated by the Annie E. Casey Data Center that 67% of Black children grow up in single parent households; and 38.4% of children in Black female-headed households live in poverty according to 2011 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Given Julie Rothman’s claims above, why didn’t Oxygen take the more humanistic route of creating a documentary on the struggles of single mothers instead of a reality show that ridicules them? A documentary would do a far better job of presenting lives that are “complicated” and “intertwined”. “All My Babies’ Mamas” would have only served to keep African Americans wrapped in and warped by age-old dehumanizing stereotypes.

Nicole DeLoatch is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park. L. Janelle Dance is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska and a visiting scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden.

Livestreaming Now: Whiteness & Health Roundtable Today at CUNY Graduate Center (Updated)

The archived video(s) of An Exploration of Whiteness and Health A Roundtable Discussion

is available beginning here (updated 12/16/12):

The examination of whiteness in the scholarly literature is well established (Fine et al., 1997; Frankenberg, 1993; Hughey, 2010; Twine and Gallagher, 2008). Whiteness, like other racial categories, is socially constructed and actively maintained through the social boundaries by, for example, defining who is white and is not white (Allen, 1994; Daniels, 1997; Roediger, 2007; Wray, 2006). The seeming invisibility of whiteness is one of its’ central mechanisms because it allows those within the category white to think of themselves as simply human, individual and without race, while Others are racialized (Dyer, 1998). We know that whiteness shapes housing (Low, 2009), education (Leonardo, 2009), politics (Feagin, 2012), law (Lopez, 2006), research methods (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva, 2008) and indeed, frames much of our misapprehension of society (Feagin, 2010; Lipsitz, 1998). Still, we understand little of how whiteness and health are connected. Being socially assigned as white is associated with large and statistically significant advantages in health status (Jones et al., 2008). Anderson’s ground breaking book The Cultivation of Whiteness (2006) offers an exhaustive examination of the way whiteness was deployed as a scientific and medical category in Australia though to the second world war. Yet, there is relatively little beyond this that explores the myriad connections between whiteness and health (Daniels and Schulz, 2006; Daniels, 2012; Katz Rothman, 2001). References listed here.

The Whiteness & Health Roundtable is an afternoon conversation with scholars and activists doing work on this area.

Follow the livetweeting on Twitter at @jgieseking (Jen Jack Gieseking) and @SOSnowy (Collette Sosnowy), and via the #DigitalGC. You can also view the compilation of those Tweets on Storify here.

The roundtable is sponsored by the Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) and the Critical Social & Environmental Psychology program at the Graduate Center CUNY. The event is hosted by Michelle Fine (Distinguished Professor, Social Psychology, Women’s Studies and Urban Education), Jessie Daniels (Professor, Urban Public Health and Sociology) and Rachel Liebert, (PhD Student, Critical Social/Personality Psychology).

Racist Framing: Michelle Obama in a Spanish Magazine

Gracing the front page of magazines is nothing new for First Lady Michelle Obama. However, on August 8, a photoshopped picture of Michelle with her breast exposed appeared on the cover of Fuera de serie, a Madrid-based magazine. The image is the work of artist Karine Percheron-Daniels in which the First Lady is dressed in garb similar to that of enslaved Africans with her right nipple exposed and seated in a chair with the U.S. flag draped across it. While news pundits have been highly critical of the nudity on the cover, the racialized nature of the photo deserves attention.

Exploring the image of a half-nude Michelle Obama reveals the centuries old framing of black bodies as hyper-sexual and racist framing of black women. Racist imagery has long been a part of the dominant racial frame in media. As sociologist Joe Feagin (2010) notes, “A great range of racist imagery, stereotyping, and emotionality was communicated in popular entertainment settings from the early nineteenth century onward.”

One of the most pervasive images is the Jezebel, the hyper-sexual Black woman who uses her sexual prowess to beguile white men. The Jezebel has occupied a unique space within the white ethos as an exploited sexual object feared for her manipulate nature. Analyzing the Fuera de serie cover, the photo of Michelle is laden with Jezebel imagery.

At first glance, one notices the First Lady’s bare breast, suggesting she recently engaged in sexual activity. Further implying erotic intentions is the seductive gaze placed in the photo. Hence, the image asserts it was not Michelle’s intellect or ingenuity, which gained her popularity with Americans, but her sexuality. Such claims are central features of the racist framing of Black women. While the front page of Fuera de serie, is laden with racist framing, the article juxtaposes the first lady’s popularity as an intelligent, classy role model (especially among African-American women).

The troubling issue of the international media’s (in this case Spanish) use of Jezebel framing of Michelle Obama is then explicitly stated in the author’s claim that she was able to not only conquer the love of her husband, President Barack Obama, but able to seduce the American public (“Para conocer de qué manera Michelle ha conseguido seducir al pueblo americano, el periodista Pablo Scarpellini detalle los secretos de la mujer que no solo ha conquistado el corazón de Barack Obama.”).

The dominant racist frame has long be perpetuated through racist imagery. Racist images are central to racist framing because they create visual counterparts to racial narratives. This is the case in Fuera de serie cover. Presenting Michelle Obama as a lascivious Black woman seducing the American public, Percheron-Daniels is reinforcing the narrative of the Jezebel. Such framing is particularly harmful because is reaffirms the dominant racist frame in the international community.

Gabrielle Douglas: Accenting Black Women’s Talent, Agency, Femininity

Anna Holmes has an excellent post on the great achievement of Gabrielle Douglas, the first African American to win the women’s all-around gymnastics gold medal in the Olympics. (And to win the two particular gold medals she got in this one Olympics.) What an achievement for any 16-year-old, but especially for one who has faced the barriers she has faced.

Holmes demonstrates the extraordinarily naïveté and role in systemic gendered racism of key white commentators, in this case the famous Bob Costas. Costas interviewed Douglas and asserted this:

“You know, it’s a happy measure of how far we’ve come that it doesn’t seem all that remarkable, but still it’s noteworthy, Gabby Douglas is, as it happens, the first African-American to win the women’s all-around in gymnastics. The barriers have long since been down, but sometimes there can be an imaginary barrier, based on how one might see oneself.”

As you might expect, this type of white racial framing, in its colorblind Pollyanna-ism, was Holmes’s
main target:

In a political and cultural environment in which the patriotism—the very Americanness—of people of color (including the current president…) is often called into question, Costas’s scripted deep thought .. . was at worst dishonest . . .. What leveled barriers … was Mr. Costas referring to? Who, excepting the most Pollyanna-ish or cloistered … would believe the assertion that Gabby Douglas’ challenges were primarily psychic, a statement that can be contradicted by … the undeniable whiteness of being that is high-level American gymnastics?

Other writers echoed this same white racial framing, reverberating Costas’s colorblindism.

Holmes then picks up on the Costas point that our view of ourselves does makes a difference. But, she adds, structural situations often create that problem for people of color:

Douglas’ triumph seems extremely remarkable, both because of the commonality of her situation—the big dreams, the economic hardships, the one-parent household—and its unusualness: A minority in a historically “white” sport. . . . a 2007 diversity study commissioned by USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport in the U.S., said that just 6.61% of the participants in American gymnastics programs were black.

Numerous members of USA Gymnastics, the mostly white coaches and other leaders in the field, often had a negative reaction to this honest report. Many whites there and elsewhere have tended, as they often do, to blame everything but white agents and white decisionmakers for this systemic-racism condition.

Holmes concludes by accenting how powerful the Douglas achievement was, especially for girls and young women around the globe, most of whom are girls and women of color. It will be interesting to see how the mainstream media treat Douglas, and the general white (and other) public too, when this great gymnast and her fine team return to the United States. Holmes concludes with this fine sharp point:

The 16-year-old’s triumph—not to mention her poise, her maturity, her focus, her elegance—will help recalibrate what young females of color believe is within their reach, while also influencing Western ideas and concepts of black womanhood, strength, agency and femininity—which has been historically objectified, sexualized and, it should be noted, feared.

It is way past time for these negative images of black women in the common white racial frame to be attacked for the mythological and racist framing they have always been–and indeed attacked constantly in the mainstream media until they are eliminated in the heads of way too many white (and some other) Americans.

Entertaining While Black: Black Males in Popular Media

[Written with Brenda Juarez]
Regardless of whether they believe them or not, most people in US society are well aware of the many visceral stereotypes and images surrounding Black males. These negative representations of Black males are readily visible and conveyed to the public through the news, film, music videos, reality television and other programming and forms of media—the black sidekick of a white protagonist, for example, the token black person, the comedic relief, the athlete, the over-sexed ladies’ man, the absentee father, and most damaging, the violent black man as drug-dealing criminal and gangster thug.

These stereotypical one-dimensional characters in film negate the broader and deeper experience of Black life and the lives of Black men in particular. Reaching into people’s homes through the media, these negative images influence personal opinions, ideas and racial attitudes. As Dates and Barlow explain, “Images in the mass media are infused with color-coded positive and negative moralistic features. Once these symbols become familiar and accepted, they fuel misperceptions and perpetuate misunderstandings among the races.” Indeed, negative understandings of Black males are consistently used to justify the racial disparities they experience in exclusionary school discipline practices, underachievement in higher education, and rates of poverty, homicide, unemployment, and over involvement in the criminal system.

Capturing our imagination as a society, film exemplifies how media images provide us with a reality of misrepresentations that guides societal perceptions of Black men. Take the 2001 film Training Day, for example. Denzel Washington’s role as Alonzo Harris provides one of the most enduring and threatening depictions of Black men as violent criminals. The criminality of Washington’s character is underscored by the contrast to the antithesis of his character, Ethan Hawke, who plays the role of good cop, a moral and righteous man.

Will Smith, in successfully becoming one of film’s leading men, has strategically flipped Hollywood’s stereotypical white perceptions of blacks in the media as always violent and criminal. He is often seen starring as a protagonist fighting the good fight rather than the criminal to be apprehended. Although applauded for seeking and earning leading male roles in Hollywood, his often heroic and hyper-masculine characters play into the theme of protecting whiteness and its virtuous subthemes of justice and freedom such as in the films Independence Day and I Am Legend. In fact, in extreme attempts to avoid the villain prototype, Smith frequently plays the role of the “Magic Negro” archetype in the film The Legend of Bagger Vance and Hitch, for example, where his efforts to save and teach whites about what it means to be good facilitates a mystical theme in the minds of white people about the supernatural powers of a few exceptional Blacks, among a people perceived as being closer to nature.

News media has a similar effect on white consciousness as film in popular media. News, written and conveyed by purportedly unbiased and objective reporters, are nevertheless also influenced by negative images of blacks circulating in larger society reflected in popular American film. For instance, the Internet sports blog site Deadspin broke a story in April of 2011 that illustrates how news media representations of black male athletes reinforces the mythology of them as oversexed, aggressive rule-breakers. In this case, the story centers on a private confessional of a young black man that was leaked to the public.

A basketball player at Brigham Young University, a predominately white Christian school, Brandon Davies was suspended for breaking the honor code by having premarital sex. The elements were present that would make for a sensational story: race, religion, sex and sports. The news of his suspension came about in the midst of the NCAA tournament, and the school was heralded in Sports Illustrated as “America’s University” for upholding its values and standards in suspending him due to an honor code violation.

However, the news media, in its stereotypical portrayal of this young man, failed to report an important aspect of the story. As Deadspin noted upon closer examination of the honor code office at BYU, a troubling pattern emerged for athletes of color, especially African American men, going back to 1993. Athletes of color are more likely to be disciplined than white athletes despite their significantly lower numbers on campus and in the sporting arena. This creates the impression that only black men engage in illicit sex or other honor code violations while white men rarely, if ever, violate these standards, which holds a glaring resemblance to the criminal justice system where black males are convicted and locked up at much higher rates than their white male counterparts for similar crimes committed. As this story highlights, this trend is in part a direct result of negative media representations of Black males that strongly influence white perceptions and racial attitudes.

This is not to say that some African Americans don’t participate in their own marginalization, from music videos and reality TV to roles on the big screen. Yet, the parts they are offered leave black actors with limited options. Conventionally white screenwriters, who view the world through the prism of a white lens, write about subject matters that reflect their own narrow experiences living and existing in a highly racialized society.

As a result, the predominately white film industry (from producers to screenwriters to directors), in the market of pleasing their predominately white consumer base, lacks diversity in the depth of their characters. This would explain why most popular shows or cinematic themes of American life reflect the interest of white people with strong white themes and often very little representation of difference with respects to writing and casting. Based on past and current Nielsen ratings, the most popular shows consist of the likes of The Bachelor/Bachelorette, The Big Bang Theory, CSI, Friends, and Seinfeld.

Darron Smith and Brenda Juarez

The Chronicle of Higher Ed’s Naomi Schaefer Riley: Tyranny of White Privilege

Last week, we were reminded again of the false construct of a post-racial society when Naomi Schaefer Riley posted a vitriolic and careless article in The Chronicle of Higher Education maligning three Black studies graduate students at Northwestern University, their professors, and the entire area of study. In her piece, she openly sneered at each woman’s dissertation (none of which she had read) and basically characterized their work as useless, “irrelevant,” outdated, and predicated upon victimization.

Already, responses have been generated by the NU students as well as the faculty. A Chronicle editor has also responded with a rather weak defense of Riley’s blog, claiming that, “It is a blog for opinion . . . not news reporting by the staff.” Besides the feelings of intense rage and sadness I felt over Riley publicly defaming these scholars at the beginning of their careers, I had another overwhelming feeling.


It is simply exhausting to fight those who have no awareness of the presence and manifestation of their own White privilege. It is the additional energy that Blacks must expend particularly when they dare to trespass through areas perceived as “White terrain” (Feagin 1991) which academia most certainly is.

Riley’s piece exposed the White privilege that Peggy McIntosh spoke of long ago in her 1988 landmark essay. In it, McIntosh includes a laundry list of nearly 50 invisible privileges conferred to her at birth simply by virtue of being born White. Based on Riley’s piece and her equally as sarcastic and misguided non-apology, we could adapt and add to some of McIntosh’s original items, because through Riley’s pieces, we’ve learned White privilege also includes:

1) The ability to make pronouncements and declarations on which dissertation topics constitute “legitimate debate” and who is a “legitimate scholar” based on precious few sentences about the work in question.
2) The privilege to substitute snark for responsible research and have it published in the leading publication on higher education without the editors challenging its integrity and in fact defending its inclusion as merely “an opportunity– to debate.”
3) The privilege to stunt the spirit of academic inquiry and intellectual curiosity simply because a research topic pertains to Blackness.
4) The privilege to pretend all is well where race relations are concerned and that if there are racial disparities or tensions, it’s because people of color caused them. [FYI: Ms. Riley, any of Tim Wise’s books, or Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism without Racists (2009), or Joe Feagin’s recent White Racial Frame (2010) can help you with this one.]
5) The ability to attack any Black person at any time and particularly those who have achieved scholar status because they threaten White hegemony.

And so, because Ms. Riley decided to wield these elements of her privilege like a weapon, we are stuck defending ourselves and expending the energy to respond.

Essentially, what she told the NU students is: You do not belong. It’s a message sent to Blacks whether they are doctoral students at a leading research university, student-athletes on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, or a child walking around a White neighborhood armed only with an iced tea and Skittles. And yes, Ms. Riley, even President Obama is regularly told he doesn’t belong when he’s the only president who’s been called a “liar” in a televised address before a joint session of Congress or who has to prove citizenship over and over again like a freed slave showing manumission papers.

Fortunately, as Black folks, we have learned to multi-task—to resist our oppression and defend ourselves and our labor even as we go about our research, teaching, and daily lives. Yet, the fact that we must do both speaks to the very nature of the racial inequality Naomi Schaefer Riley claims has all but disappeared.

Jeremy Lin: Basketball Sensation, Target of Racism from ESPN

If you follow basketball at all, you’ve no doubt heard about Jeremy Lin, the basketball sensation currently playing for the NY Knicks.  Lin’s story is one of a classic underdog.  No NBA team drafted Lin out of Harvard. The Golden State Warriors signed him and then waived him after one year; the Houston Rockets waived him after two weeks. Until just a few weeks ago, he was sleeping on his brothers’ couch.  Once he got the chance to play with the Knicks, scoring an astounding 38 points (against Kobe Bryant’s 34 points), Lin became a sensation, puns abounded (“Linsanity!”) and remarkably, almost no one – hardly an NBA coach, general manager, scout or fan — saw it coming.


Jeremy Lin is also Asian American, and the NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. So, in the white-dominant culture of the U.S., this necessarily means that race is central to Lin’s story.  As David J. Leonard point out, Lin’s success has energized many in the Asian American community who see in Lin a role model, while at the same time, highlighting the persistence of racism.

The most recent, and high profile, form of racism directed at Lin has come from ESPN, the sports network, which ran the headline, “Chink in the Armor” on Friday, under an image of Lin in action, on its mobile website:



ESPN has now fired the employee responsible for an offensive headline.  In a statement today, ESPN says it conducted a thorough review and dismissed the employee responsible for the headline “Chink In The Armor” about Lin’s nine turnovers during Friday night’s game.  ESPN says it removed the headline 35 minutes after it was posted.  The term “chink” is a racial slur, used to denigrate people of Chinese descent.

But this is not the only racism toward Lin from ESPN. A similar incident went mostly unremarked upon.  On Wednesday, an ESPN anchor Max Bretos asked Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier: “If there is a chink in the armor, where can he improve his game?”

In a statement, ESPN says that Bretos has suspended for 30 days for his comment.  Kevin Ota, the director of communications in digital media for ESPN, posted a message today that reads, “We again apologize, especially to Mr. Lin. His accomplishments are a source of great pride to the Asian-American community, including the Asian-American employees at ESPN.”

More than apologize, it seems that ESPN needs to review its internal policies and beef up the corporate diversity training on the use of racial slurs.

“It’s hard to see racism when you’re white”: Un-Fair Campaign

The “Un-Fair Campaign,” a public awareness campaign about racism, is generating some discussion.  In light of the recent video from BYU (see previous post), this campaign makes a lot of sense and is quite timely. The tag line is: “It’s hard to see racism when you’re white.”  The idea behind the campaign: if we recognize racism, we can stop it.

The focus of the campaign is very clearly on white people and this makes sense given the demographics of the region where the campaign is posting billboards.  The Twin Ports (Duluth, MN and Superior, WI) is a predominantly white community (89%).


The campaign is the work of several organizations committed to racial justice in the Twin Ports area, and grows out of a recent Knight Foundation report, called  Soul of the Community. In a three-year study detailed in the report, researchers found that people in this region were less likely to say that it’s a good place for racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, than those in comparable communities elsewhere. Based on these findings, anti-racist activists in the area are trying to change things through the “Un-Fair Campaign.”  Here’s a brief description from the campaign’s website:

People of color experience incidents of racism every day, and they have long asked “when will white people in our community stand up and speak out about racism?”  This campaign is part of a response to that question.  Racial justice will never be achieved until we as white people address white privilege and work to change it.

The insight that “it’s hard to see racism when you’re white,” has been a central message here at this blog for some time, so perhaps not a new or controversial idea for regular readers here.

But the campaign (which just launched January 24) has already generated some heated backlash from whites who are not too keen on the ideas of having their whiteness pointed out to them, much less learning to notice white privilege or acknowledge racism.

The (white) mayor of Duluth has received death threats because of the campaign, and according to one account (h/t Lisa Albrecht, Assoc Prof, U of MN, member of leadership team of SURJ), other activists involved in the campaign are enduring a daily barrage of threatening emails and phone messages suggesting she should leave town, be raped because she ‘hates white people.’  And, of course, the campaign is getting a lot of play on the usual white supremacist sites.

The question the campaign – and the white backlash against – raises a perennial one for those interested in racial justice: how do you get white people to address white privilege and work against it?  The Un-Fair Campaign is an innovative approach to this persistent dilemma. The next challenge will be how to use the backlash to further the cause of racial justice.

Ghost of Christmas Past: Racism & Divisiveness in the Republican Party

Have you ever been somewhere or doing something and thought to yourself, “This is strangely familiar. I have been here before, right?” The American comic Steven Wright once said, “Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time.” At this moment in time, this quote holds true for the current process of nominating the Republican Great White Hope nominee. Even though I was not around during the 1940s and 1950s (thank God, I do not know if I would have been tough enough), I am feeling as if our country has been here before, politically and socially.

For me, I have seen this before with the political career of provocative Strom Thurmond. In the beginning, he was known as a progressive legislator with the Democratic Party. Although a racist Dixiecrat, he was once responsible for arresting members of a lynch mob that killed a Black man named Willie Earle in South Carolina. For his pursuit in this matter, he was congratulated by the NAACP.

Later as a presidential candidate in 1948, he began to change his proverbial tune. In order to win, he realized that the nation was negatively reacting to the actions of President Harry Truman and the general Civil Rights movement that was occurring in the U.S. He loudly played to the fear and hatred being felt by Whites. As the presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond won an astounding 39 electoral votes. The formula worked and he continued on this road to later be elected in 1954 to the U.S. Senate. Later in 1964, he even switched parties.

Today, the spirit of Strom Thurmond is present within the current Republican Party nomination process. The likes of Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul have all had their turn publicly battering people of color and the poor to the jeers of misguided conservatives who have felt that their country has been stripped from their White hands by a Black man.

Instead of explicitly spouting racist comments, their approach has been quite clever. Throughout the debates we have seen the emergence of exploiting the same “state rights” (10th Amendment) argument that was used to argue against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Simply, the candidates are utilizing the amendment that reserves rights to the state and its people and not to the federal government in order to rid the federal muscle protecting issues such as health care, abortion, immigration, new ID laws which make it difficult for marginalized populations to vote, and civil rights. This is a coded but clearly understood message that makes a call for times of yesterday.
A more explicit example of social ignorance that has been front and center during this election period can be found with Ron Paul and the evidence that has recently been discovered by the press. Ron Paul’s previous political newsletters have been shown to contain numerous statements marked by bigotry and racism. Even though Ron Paul and his supporters have claimed that many of the articles were written by others using his name, I still find him guilty of supporting the weight of what was said. He was a part of newsletters that called Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, a “Radical black Anglican.” In addition, Ron Paul’s newsletter has been connected with:

• Arguing that whites should arm themselves due to the oncoming race war
• Agreeing with the racist findings and comments of eugenics advocate Jared Taylor
• Asserting young Black males, unlike their counterparts, should be tried in adult courts due to the fact that they are “big, strong, tough, scary, and culpable as any adult, and should be treated as such []
• Defending the previous owner of the Cincinnati Reds, Marge Schott, when she referred to her players as “million dollar niggers.”

This is not to mention the fact that the newsletter agreed as well to her statements that held Hitler in high regard.

Moreover, during the greatly expected Republican debate in South Carolina, which happened to fall on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, racism and social ignorance were on full display. The Black moderator, and socially conservative Juan Williams, asked Newt Gingrich if he felt that his previously public comments relating to the need of Black Americans to demand jobs and not food stamps was insulting to the poor and Blacks. As Newt undauntedly said, “No, I don’t see that,” the crowd of mostly White participants erupted into cheers. As Juan attempted to push the matter further, the crowd booed and actually gave Newt a standing ovation.

What was equally upsetting was the fact that the other nominees said nothing. They stolidly stood silent as the social assault on the poor and people of color went down. They were all complicit in their silence to rhetoric that echoed white supremacy. Due to the lack of a critical examination by Matt Lauer or his other blockheaded news associates, I find them complicit as well. In my mind, they were all guilty of the message that was portrayed to the world. David Axelrod was correct when he said, “campaigns are like MRIs for the soul…” We as a country are truly diseased.