Archive for media
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.
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 [http://www.tnr.com/sites/default/files/Sep92PolRepRacist_0.PDF]
• 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.
As the Republican presidential context heats up, so does the racist rhetoric. And, in some quarters, white voters are giving that kind of rhetoric a standing ovation. Yet, The New York Times, the nation’s leading news organization, seems unwilling to clearly and unequivocally call out the obvious racism of the GOP.
(Image from CNN)
In an excellent piece at FAIR, Peter Hart writes that:
“When a Republican presidential candidate goes around talking about Barack Obama as the ‘food stamp president,’ eventually reporters are going to have to write about racism.”
Mr. Gingrich was clearly making the case that he is the candidate most able to take the fight to Mr. Obama in the fall, but he was also laying bare risks for his party when it comes to invoking arguments perceived to carry racial themes or other value-laden attack lines.
Hart’s take on the reporting here is, “this is the kind of language one expects to encounter when reporters have to figure out ways to talk about racism without calling it racism.”
It’s also an excellent example of the kind of white racial framing that the NYTimes routinely offers readers. And, of course, this is no coincidence. The NYTimes is a HWO (historically white organization) serving a predominantly white readership. (If you have any doubts about how how white the NYTimes is, watch the documentary “Page One” for a glimpse of who’s running the shop there.) So, it makes sense that their reporting is from a white perspective for a white audience.
The NYTimes does not seem to have trouble acknowledging, at least on the opinion pages, the whiteness of the GOP candidates, most notably the unmitigated whiteness of Mitt Romney. (Yet, even in that article, the title is “What’s Race Got to Do With It?” eliding a bit the thoroughly racial content of the article.)
Political heavyweights who declined to enter the 2012 race all had uniquely personal reasons. Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana faced family resistance; former Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi feared being bogged down in the politics of race; Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey doubted his readiness for the Oval Office.
Again, Harwood is side-stepping the obvious issue of racism here with the euphemism of “the politics of race.” Those with a political memory longer than a minute will recall that just last year (2010), Barbour was extolling the supposed virtues of the white supremacist Citizens Council groups in Mississippi. In Barbour’s re-imagined civil rights history, these were anti-Klan activists, when of course, these were simply the suit-and-tie version of the KKK, founded to oppose school integration as critics pointed out at the time. Yet, the NYTimes obfuscates this with their description of the “bog” of racial politics.
Fortunately, there are excellent writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic) who do not share the timidity of the NYTimes when it comes to the racism of the GOP. Coates writes:
“When a professor of history calls Barack Obama a ‘Food Stamp President,’ it isn’t a mistake to be remedied through clarification; it is a statement of aggression. And when a crowd of his admirers cheer him on, they are neither deluded, nor in need of forgiveness, nor absolution, nor acting against their interest. Racism is their interest. They are not your misguided friends. They are your fully intelligent adversaries, sporting the broad range of virtue and vice we see in humankind.”
Coates is right, of course. Those who stood and cheered Gingrich in South Carolina earlier this week were standing and cheering their own interests. Gingrich’s performance in South Carolina is part of what prompted Chauncey DeVega to call this “air raid siren” racism (instead of “dog whistle” racism).
Rather than offer a scathing critique and analysis of this, the NYTimes gives the GOP and racism a pass.
There are some big changes happening at MSNBC. Melissa Harris-Perry will host her own weekend show on the network, starting in February. Harris-Perry is a professor of political science at Tulane University, where she is founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South. She’s also the author of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. Harris-Perry has been a frequent guest on other MSNBC shows where she is offers a consistently strong analysis on progressive issues and a cogent critic of the racism in mainstream politics.
This is the first time that an African American woman has had her own show on MSNBC. Harris-Perry follows in the footsteps of other African American firsts, including Carol Jenkins whose career included 23 years as co-anchor of the 6 p.m. newscast and her own local show.
During the same week, MSNBC announced that Pat Buchanan is “out indefinitely” at the network. We’ve written quite a lot about Buchanan’s racism here (and here and here and here) before, so of course, it’s not a surprise to us or regular readers here that Buchanan has some pretty deplorable views. He’s also been the focus of an ongoing campaign by progressive organizations CREDO and ColorofChange to have MSNBC to remove him from airing those views on a major cable news outlet.
What is surprising, and indeed refreshing, is that over the weekend, MSNBC President Phil Griffin announced that Buchanan would not be allowed on the air indefinitely after the release of his latest book, Suicide of a Superpower, and has not decided whether to allow the commentator to return. Deadline‘s Ray Richmond first reported that Griffin was unhappy with Buchanan’s book, and had not made a final decision on whether he would be back on MSNBC:
Griffin told me after the panel, “I don’t think the ideas that [Buchanan] put forth [in the book] are appropriate for national dialogue on MSNBC. He won’t be coming back during the book tour.” Will Buchanan be back at all? “I have not made my decision,” replied Griffin, who did say he will be tinkering with the network’s format as the year goes on. Pat’s a good guy. He didn’t like [being removed from the air], but he understood.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was the most recent civil rights group to join the effort to drop Buchanan. The ADL noted that Buchanan’s book includes racist and anti-Semitic remarks, among them claims that America is being damaged “ethnically, culturally, morally, politically” by the rise in minority populations and the lament that the “European and Christian core of our country is shrinking.” MSNBC President Griffin described the ideas Buchanan expressed in his book as not being “really appropriate for national dialogue, much less the dialogue on MSNBC.”
I couldn’t agree more with Griffin on this point. This is part of the argument that we’ve been making about Buchanan for a long time here. It’s not a free speech issue to take away Buchanan’s platform. He doesn’t have a constitutional right to a spot as a commentator on a cable news show. By allowing him to air his views, the network effectively skews the terms of the debate to the far-right for viewers of that show. While it’s quite possibly (likely even) that Buchanan will find a welcome audience for his views over at FoxNews, I still think it’s the right decision (if belated) for MSNBC to suspend him. Griffin should look seriously into Buchanan’s views over the long term and make the next right decision, which is to fire him.
The combination of these shifts at MSNBC – Buchanan out, Harris-Perry in – signal a shift in the direction of a major news outlet. Only time will tell if this contributes to a shift in the conversation about race at the network and in the broader arena of mainstream political discourse.
Who do I have a grudge with this week? Of course, it is with the U.S. government. In particular, my emotions are directed at the United States Board on Geographic Names. In 1967, they were charged with changing the word “nigger” at 143 locations to “Negro.” How dare they have the chutzpah to forget about “Niggerhead” in Paint Creek, Texas? This is the same property owned by the family of poor debating tongue-tied Ricky Perry, Republican presidential nominee and current governor of Texas.
It seems the government run geographical board did not forget about “Negro Bill Canyon” (formerly known as Nigger Bill Canyon, Utah), or “Negrohead Mountain,” which is a peak above Santa Monica, California (renamed in February 2010 to Ballard Mountain). Poorly handled media demonization forced Perry to respond by saying,
When my Dad joined the lease in 1983, he took the first opportunity he had to paint over the offensive word on the rock during the 4th of July holiday…It is my understanding that the rock was eventually turned over to further obscure what was originally written on it.
See, he had to do the job of the federal government on his own. Well, yes it took him three years after the property was bought to paint over it. But still he rolled up his Texas sleeves and did the job. And yes I am aware of the fact that some have reported to the media that they have been guests of the family while hunting on the property and seen the rock that depicts the name at the entrance to the property displaying the naughty name. But come on, who can blame the guy. He has been very busy. When defending his morality, he stated,
I judge folks by their character and ethics. As Governor, I represent a big, fast-growing and diverse state. My appointments and actions represent the whole state, including our growing diversity, such as appointment of the first African-American Supreme Court Justice — whom I later appointed to Chief Justice — and the first Latina Secretary of State.
One cannot forget the hard work he has displayed while helping his home state to increase the number of Blacks executed on death row either. That is one for the record books of equality, huh? Again, how can we solely blame Rick? He is a slave to the chains of the white racial frame. Perry’s allowances for the rock to exist in the first place are driven by the rationale that drove the operation of U.S. slavery. Moreover, Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin in Two Faced Racism (2007) discuss how Whites have the ability to publicly object or not participate in expressions of racism or bigotry, but in private amongst other whites they have the ability to be overtly racists.
Well those are the pains of the white racial frame. Perry is simply a victim of the “oppression.” So shouldn’t we give him a break? But then again, one has to question the good sense of anyone attempting to run for president while shooting (no pun intended) to gain favor from a select group of special people who cheer during a republican debate regarding the execution of hundreds of inmates, allowing the uninsured to die, and turning back to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy. Oppression of the marginalized is indeed an immortal ideological symbiote that has latched upon the psyche of world consciousness. So do me a favor and leave Perry alone!:)
There is a very good discussion of “liberal racism” online right now. I was pointed to this debate by this “smartypants” site’s excellent discussion. It began recently with a commentary by Professor Melissa Harris-Perry at the Nation, where she suggests somewhat cautiously that significant aspects of the backtracking from support of and political attacks on President Barack Obama from liberal/left whites are often racialized:
Electoral racism cannot be reduced solely to its most egregious, explicit form. It has proved more enduring and baffling than these results can capture. The 2012 election may be a test of another form of electoral racism: the tendency of white liberals to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their white counterparts. If old-fashioned electoral racism is the absolute unwillingness to vote for a black candidate, then liberal electoral racism is the willingness to abandon a black candidate when he is just as competent as his white predecessors.
She later accents Obama’s sharp decline in white support in opinion polls and certain contrasts with what happened politically to President Bill Clinton:
I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation. His record is, at the very least, comparable to that of President Clinton, who was enthusiastically re-elected. The 2012 election is a test of whether Obama will be held to standards never before imposed on an incumbent. If he is, it may be possible to read that result as the triumph of a more subtle form of racism.
Her analysis of subtle racism is of course right on target, even too cautious, as almost all whites still view the society out of a strong white racial frame and do not even try to look seriously at it the way many people of color do. Not to mention the still high levels of blatant racist thought and activity documented in much social science research.
Then the liberal columnist Gene Lyons at Salon attacks Harris-Perry rather aggressively, from a liberal version of the white racial frame:
One Melissa Harris-Perry, a Tulane professor who moonlights on MSNBC political talk shows, wrote an article for the Nation titled “Black President, Double Standard: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama.” . . . . See, certain academics are prone to an odd fundamentalism of the subject of race. Because President Obama is black, under the stern gaze of professor Harris-Perry, nothing else about him matters. … not 9 percent unemployment, only blackness. Furthermore, unless you’re black, you can’t possibly understand. Yada, yada, yada. This unfortunate obsession increasingly resembles a photo negative of KKK racial thought. It’s useful for intimidating tenure committees staffed by Ph.D.s trained to find racist symbols in the passing clouds.
So a white Arkansas columnist mocks a reasonable racial and political analysis by a savvy analyst and tosses issues of white racism out the window, comparing this black professor’s views to, of all things, the KKK. This actually demonstrates the privileged racist framing of too many white liberals. Indeed, “Smartypants” asks readers to post a call for an apology from Lyons for such wild assertions at the Salon site.
White liberalism often has had much trouble with the issue of marginalizing certain common black views and majority opinions, for white liberals also operate out of some version of the white racial frame most of the time.
Commentator Ishmael Reed raised related issues some time back. He suggested that much of Obama’s conformity in regard to tough political realities is necessary given that he is a black man operating in a fully white-controlled society. Reed criticized white and other progressives who have periodically asserted that “He’s weak, he’s spineless, he’s got no balls, primary him in 2012.” The prominent white progressive analyst, Glenn Greenwald, has regularly criticized Obama for being weak in dealing with Republicans:
Obama supposedly “doesn’t try, doesn’t use the weapons at his disposal: the ones he wields when he actually cares about something (such as the ones he uses to ensure ongoing war funding . . . . [This] leads to the rational conclusion that he is not actually committed to (or, worse, outright opposes) many of the outcomes which progressive pundits assume he desires.”
Indeed, Obama’s policy actions, especially on economic matters, have often suggested to many progressives that he is only a political moderate and not the liberal they expected.
Looking at these difficult political decisions, Ishmael Reed has emphasized that the white progressive critics miss certain key racial and other structural realities surrounding Obama. These white progressives
have been urging the president to ‘man up’ in the face of the Republicans. . . . What the progressives forget is that black intellectuals have been called ‘paranoid,’ ‘bitter,’ ‘rowdy,’ ‘angry,’ ‘bullies,’ and accused of tirades and diatribes for more than 100 years.
Therefore, if President Obama ever appeared too aggressive, say like Harry Truman did, he would be strongly dismissed by most whites as another “angry black man,” which is a very negative part of traditional white framing. Such widespread dismissals would make policy goals very difficult to achieve. Instead, President Obama’s rather “cool” approach to political action, as Adia Wingfield and I have argued, has involved being at all times and places calm and in control, never really being angry or threatening. Always conciliatory. The continuing white-racist contexts that prevail inside and outside U.S. politics make this a necessary strategy, as likely seen from Obama’s own perspective.
In the summer I barely read emails. This summer in particular, I am too concerned with enjoying the midwestern summer while I sit outside attempting to write my second book before the academic year begins again and I become lost in the day-to-day grind. Deciding to check it a few days ago in order to simply rid myself of spam, or the ridiculous comment notices from Facebook of my so-called “friends” I have collected over the summer, I came across an interesting message. It was from a sociology listserv. It was titled, “Black Female Historians Slam ‘The Help.’” Since every female in my life to my mother has talked about no other anticipated movie this summer, the message caught my attention and forced me to put on my academic propeller cap and become engaged. Here is what the message said:
The Association of Black Women Historians has joined the tide of negative voices rising up against The Help. The group has released a statement urging fans to reconsider their support of the wildly popular film, saying it portrays African-American women in subjugated roles and relies on tired stereotypes of black men.
On behalf of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), this statement provides historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel version of The Help. The book has sold over three million copies, and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.
During the 1960s, the era covered in The Help, legal segregation and economic inequalities limited black women’s employment opportunities. Up to 90 per cent of working black women in the South labored as domestic servants in white homes. The Help’s representation of these women is a disappointing resurrection of Mammy –a mythical stereotype of black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families. Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them. The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for the days when a black woman could only hope to clean the White House rather than reside in it.
Now, I must confess, I have no inclination of ever seeing the film due to the fact that I simply do not gravitate toward heartfelt sobbing movies that neither make me want to put on ultra tight uniform and adopt a cool superhero name or ones that remind me to either laugh hysterically or be terrified of the dark. Nevertheless, I began to receive group texts from my academic Black female friends calling all to boycott the film. The comments made by them and the Association of Black Women Historians made me think and say, “You have got to be kidding me.” Now this may anger many of my Black female peers, but I was a bit upset. Why? My argument is not with the totality or rationality of their concerns, but the fact that the initial email also mentioned the depiction of Black males. The beginning of the email said the movie, “…portrays African-American women in subjugated roles and relies on tired stereotypes of black men.” If that is the case, why was there no mention to Black males in the official open-statement made by the organization? The next notion that seeped through my psyche was concerning the fact that over the past years, where was the outcry against, let’s see—The long list of Tyler Perry movies, Terry McMillian’s male hating movies, The Color Purple (1985), and the buffoonery and modern-day Amos and Andy Soul Plane (2004) just to name a few.
Researching the Black male reaction to movies such as The Color Purple I discovered a few accounts of Black males picketing the movie due to the demeaning manner in which males were depicted. Regardless of comments made by the great Spike Lee who believed the film was only produced due to the fact that the movie depicts Black males as “‘ “one-dimensional animals,’” the film received a larger Black female pool of constituents who rallied behind in support of the movie.
As I am writing my new book on the oppression of Black males in education, I have begun interviews with other Black males in regards to their perspective on education and why Black females are moving ahead of them (i.e., graduation in realms of public and higher education). One question that I ask them is, “Why has the plight of Black and Latino males not received a great degree of public attention?” Unanimously from the diverse pool, they all have noted that the reason is due to the fact that they are the invisible population—The Whipping Boys. One participant noted,
Black males have always been the population that receives little attention and the most overall abuse. It is easy in the world to make us look like the bad guy. Both Whites and Black females accept it. Look at the depiction of us in the media. My own people have bought in to this crap.
When I asked if Black females were the ones with the lowest graduation rates and killing each other in the urban streets of America, what do you feel would happen? One ex-convicted felon told me that, “Hell would pay. Black women know how to organize. They come out for their own. We barely believe we are worthy of life at times.”
This way of thinking and thus reacting to the presence of Black males through the social vehicles within the media today are nothing but a continuation of the influences of the white racial frame that supported the demonization and oppression of people of color. The power of the frame has undoubtedly influenced people of color as well. Therefore, today exists ingredients of centuries-old faming that have not withered, but have been overhauled and updated in order to go easily undetected in order to continue the centuries old thinking that Black males are simply “the inferior” and deserve to be treated as such.
The depiction of Black males males as dumb, lazy, and at times childlike in commercials and movies is rampant. You know: If we are educated, we have lost connections with our heritage as we drive in our expensive European cars alongside a blond haired beautiful female. If we are uneducated, we are violent, drug dealing, or buffoons. This happens so much that few like the Association of Black Women Historians and others deem it necessary to combat it. So I say to the opponents of The Help, do not forget about me… that is, us.
People sometimes contend we are in a post-racial America, but you have to be pretty naïve or deceptive to really say that. It is not just colorblind racism, it is usually intentional deception when whites say “I don’t see race” or “we live in a pro-racial society.” Most know better from their daily lives as much social science data on whites’ backstage discussions reveals.
Some have asked about how our old and deep racial framing gets perpetuated, A very good example of how the 400-year-old white racial frame is perpetuated can be seen in the ongoing contemporary celebration and viewing of the old white racist movie, Gone with the Wind.
CNN has this long article on the recent celebrations of 75 years of the novel. And in “post-racial America” and world, it is still making huge amounts of money, as a book and as a film that teaches people everywhere lies and misrepresentations of the old, brutal, and bloody slaveholding South:
More than 30 million copies of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel are in print worldwide, . . . [and] Selznick’s 1939 adaptation finishes atop most reckonings of the biggest-earning films of all-time, …. Throw in sequels, licensing and merchandise, and …. “It’s making more money now than it ever did in Mitchell’s lifetime,” says John Wiley…
That means huge numbers of people are still reading the novel or watching the movie worldwide, probably many each hour of each day of each year. People still meet to really celebrate for two days the highly racist book and movie, as 100 folks did recently, including at least one person of color. They met at the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum, not far from Mitchell’s Atlanta grave. Interestingly, they had a GWTW museum before we had a museum in Washington, D.C. to deal with our heritage of slavery. And this is about the only weak criticism in the CNN story:
Of course, the book does have political problems of its own. Its apologetic depiction of slavery and liberal use of the N-word are hard for modern audiences to overlook.
So that is the best CNN can do as a critique of the novel and the movie—“political problems”—as though GWTW’s rather rosy depictions of slavery and plantations are somehow just debatable “problems” of a political sort? Actually, GWTW as novel and movie is more like the contemporary denial histories of the European Holocaust. We, or at least many of us, are still in denial about the brutality and oppressiveness of our long racist history–and the lasting consequences.
At least as sad as the rosy celebrations of America’s slave labor camps–called plantations and slave farms—and their fictional Civil War history is the fact that CNN thought a mostly positive review of celebrations of Gone with the Wind was in order. Clearly, not even the media are ready to take on a real critique of the depth and reality of the North American racial foundation we call slavery. No mention of that reality in this story, or how the novel, movie, and celebrations get our history quite wrong.
This country, after all, is the only “Western advanced industrialized” country that is based on 246 years of slavery, more than half its history, which was followed by nearly a century of the near-slavery of Jim Crow segregation. Clearly, the fictions and denials are not gone with the wind. One sees very well here how little we have progressed as a nation, when we cannot have an honest and ongoing discussion of the enslavement of millions of human beings in slave labor camps that kidnapped them, exploited them, tortured them, killed them or shortened their lives, and built up the great wealth of the white-run nation. Even the election of an African American president has not changed this reality.
At one level, we see the difference afforded in victory and defeat. Reflective of the hypermasculine values of sporting culture that affords privileges and latitude to those who win, Dirk gets a pass because he is victorious. Those defeated, whose are subjected to losses, and who otherwise are weaker (on the court, in elections, or on the battlefield) must accept defeat graciously and must accommodate the rules established by society at large. Yet, the moment also reveals the ways that race operates in the context of humanity.
In each and every instance, we see the emotionality of sports. In victory and in loss, emotions are great, and the responses from players (and fans alike) should be understood as a reflection of the power of emotions within sports. Whether Dirk in victory or LeBron (or Westbrook) in defeat, we “witness” the emotions of sports. We understand this and have no problem with it. Yet, its makes us wonder who can be allowed to be human? Who is allowed to be both imperfect and who is allowed to show emotions?
Frantz Fanon, in “The Fact of Blackness,” argues, dirty or not, professionally dressed or not, law-abiding or not, employed or not, African Americans are never able to be fully human within the white imagination. To be black is to remain savage and inhuman; it is to remain dirty, dangerous, destructive, and dysfunctional, all while maintaining a relationship to the “ontology of whiteness,” which is assumed to embody “rationality and universality” (Bhabha 2000, p. 355). More importantly, whiteness constitutes a marking of civilization and humanity, otherwise not available to black bodies. Homi Bhabha highlights how blackness constitutes a suffering of the stains of white supremacy as “a member of the marginalized, the displaced, and the Diasporic.” He writes: “To be amongst those whose very presence is both ‘overlooked’— in the double sense of surveillance and psychic disavowal – and at the same time over-determined – physically projected made stereotypical and symptomatic” (Bhabha 2000, p. 355).
The handshake double standard brings to light Bhabha’s poignant and provocative commentary, in that black NBA players, and their brothers and sisters living outside America’s arenas and inside a post-Jim Crow America, are simultaneously subjected to state-mandated acts of violence – “surveillance and physical disavowal” – and the logics of racism that reduce black bodies, aesthetics, styles, and cultural performances to little more than those seen has savage and otherwise inhuman. As evidenced by both the demonization of the James during this playoffs (and elsewhere) and the rightful understanding afforded to Dirk in this case, race operates in the context of a discourse of humanity:
The black is both savage (cannibal) and yet the most obedient and signified of servants (the bearer of food); he is the embodiment of rampant sexuality and yet innocent as a child; he is mystical, primitive, simple-minded and yet the most worldly and accomplished liar, and manipulator of social forces. In each case, what is being dramatized is a separation – between race, cultures, histories, within histories – a separation between before and after that repeats obsessively and mythical moment of disjunction (Bhabha in Location of Culture, p. 118).
As Bhabha and Fanon remind us, a handshake is never just a customary gesture, it is a ritual act that anchors racialized scripts, clearing a powerful narrative spaces for the reiteration of the white racial frame. It is a micro-practice in granting or denying shared humanity, whose significance cannot be diminished on a day where broad more macro-practices do the same: Oscar Grant’s murderer was released from jail after a single year in prison, the differences between the humanity afforded to Dirk versus LeBron (and others) provides a window into the material consequences of white supremacy in contemporary America.