Archive for racism
On October 01, 2010 Sam Houston State University (SHSU) student Aman Abdulaziz was stopped by campus police for a parking violation that quickly escalated into a police brutality incident as shown in the officer’s dash cam (and in the image below).
(Aman Abdulaziz image from here.
Used with permission from Isiah Carey of Fox 26 News, Houston)
Abdulaziz is battling the charges against him and suing SHSU for civil rights violations and failure to train its officers properly. Below, students from Sam Houston State University react and offer their analysis.
As a structural phenomenon resulting from racism and other biases deeply engrained in U.S. society, we connect this incident with the larger national racialized landscape as a social issue focused on the following questions, 1: Whose interest’s does law enforcement and security serve ? And 2: Is law enforcement and security as it currently operates in everyday operations qualified to work with diverse populations and adequately serve and protect all people? Read More→
“Health is politics by other means,” is the first sentence in Alondra Nelson’s Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (2011). This sentence echoes a certain veracity not only in the present day obstacles that continue to confront Black Americans, the poor and the ill, but also points out the multidimensional and rich considerations of the civil rights movement that are usually overlooked in favor of dogmatic recitations of equality. Today, the same racial and socio-economic inequalities like access to health care or the ability of minorities to obtain an equitable quality of treatment that were of concern to our civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, are still largely ignored in academic and policy circles alike. Unlike these past conversations that focused on the ability of Blacks, the poor and women to obtain treatment, we are currently confronted with a situation where FDA policies declaring human blood and the cells within this blood to be biologic “drugs” in need of federal regulation.
While there has already been some critical commentary on the regulatory over-reach of the FDA in declaring that “stem cells are drugs,” in Mary Ann Chirba and Stephanie M. Garfield’s “FDA Oversight of Autologous Stem Cell Therapies,” race-crits, critical sociologists, and critical theorists have not yet commented on how this denial treatment to sick and ailing patients–which not only violates one’s personal liberties, but propagates the already widening gap of pain and suffering for marginalized groups in America. While there will be any number of debates as to the effectiveness and long term safety of adult mesenchymal stem cells for years to come, early clinical studies have shown positive results—namely the decrease of pain, the increase of knee cartilage, and the improved functionality of joints. (See S. Wakitani et al., “Safety of Autologous Bone Marrow-derived Mesenchymal Stem Cell Transplantation for Cartilage Repair in 41 Patients with 45 Joints Followed for up to 11 Years and 5 Months,” Journal of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine 5.2 : 146-150). Beyond the clinical efficacy of said treatments, there remains a central concern raised by Patricia A. King in “Justice Beyond Belmont,” that is often overlooked in addressing healthcare disparities amongst the most vulnerable populations in America—namely do these groups have the same right to innovative medical treatments that show promise in decreasing their pain and suffering as the privileged?
The FDA’s argument for Regulating Adult Mesenchymal Stem Cells and the Slippery Slope towards an Indifference of Pain
What we are dealing with today is the attempt of a federal entity to extend its power over human bodies and the blood and blood products of those bodies under the auspices of its obligation to protect public safety. Remember the idea that stem cells could be regulated as drugs is the result of a procedural change in 21 CFR 1271 in 2006. The relevant section of that document currently states that:
[h]uman cells, tissues, or cellular or tissue-based products (HCT/Ps) means articles containing or consisting of human cells or tissues that are intended for implantation, transplantation, infusion, or transfer into a human recipient.
Before 2006, the bolded section here stated “another human recipient.” This legalese now gives the FDA an unbridled authority to regulate blood and blood/tissue products that do or could be used therapeutically in the human body. While the legal debate is concerned with the parameters of “minimal manipulation,” the societal effects of such indeterminate language opens the door to any number of FDA regulatory claims of human blood and cell products without clear guidelines and delineations as to the how or why human bodies and the blood and blood products of these bodies are subject to government oversight.
This is a dangerous precedent and one whose larger social, political and ethical implications have been overshadowed by the deliberate manufacturing of a looming public safety catastrophe from therapies involving stem cell treatments. If we read this procedural change in the context of the Regenerative Sciences case, and the recent attempts of the FDA to regulate the reproductive freedoms of consenting adults in America, we can observe a frightening pattern of government encroachment on individual freedoms and our civil rights—those rights that are supposed to protect American citizens from government intervention in their private lives. What is of even more concern for the civil rights minded and social justice oriented is how this small governmental regulation can amplify already disparate and racially determined healthcare treatment and failure of meaning pain intervention in racial and ethnic minorities’ lives.
Racism, Economic Exploitation and the Ethical Significance of Pain and Suffering
Poverty and the lives of the injured working class are filled with complex dissonances meant to deny the effects of disability and chronic pain to remain employed and economically viable. (Irmo Marini “The Psycho-Social World of the Injured Worker,” in Psychosocial Aspects of Disability: Insider Perspectives and Strategies for Counselors [New York: Springer Publishing, 2012], 287-314.) This effect is only amplified when we speak to race and racism in the healthcare system. As Carmen Green et. al. argue in “The Unequal Burden of Pain: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Pain,” racial minorities experience more severe pain and less pain intervention by physicians throughout the healthcare system. (Pain Medicine 4.3 : 277-294.) As a group, African Americans are more emotionally and psychically tied to pain (Joseph Riley et al. “Racial/ethnic differences in the experience of chronic pain,” Pain 100.3 :291-298), but less likely to pursue medical treatments to intervene in cases of arthritis or other orthopedic ailments. In short, they don’t want to be cut on (Joanne M. Jordan, “Prevalence of knee symptoms and radiographic and symptomatic knee osteoarthritis in African Americans and Caucasians: the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project,” The Journal of Rheumatology 34.1 : 172-180.)
This is not simply an issue of disparate access to treatment, but the deliberate regulative intervention that suggests that pain and suffering can be concentrated amongst specific racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups without hesitation. Just as we think of racism and economic exploitation as the intentional dehumanization of human beings, so to should we begin to think of pain and suffering as the vacating of humanity the unhealthy socially marginalized minority. As Edwin Lisson powerfully states in his 1987 article “Ethical Issues Related to Pain Control,”
pain is dehumanizing. The severer the pain, the more it overshadows the patient’s intelligence. All she or he can think about is pain, there is no past pain free memory, no pain free future, only the pain-filled present. Pain destroys autonomy: the patient is afraid to make the slightest movement. All choices are focused on either relieving the present pain or preventing future pain, and for this one will sell one’s soul.
Currently, there is not a bioethical conversation concerning the benign neglect of the oppressed’s suffering through the manipulation of medical disparity.
While the emphasis on intersectionality and discourse analysis have continued to privilege individual identity over structure, so to have these politics overlooked the overt manipulation of policy against racial/ethnic/ and economically disadvantaged folks. The overlap between the economic and racial segregation of urban African Americans and their experience of chronic pain suggests that the silence of race-crits and social justice scholars in this area, specifically concerning FDA regulations, is unjustified. The reduction of pain and suffering amongst the racially oppressed remains as it was in the 1960’s a very real and tangible civil rights issue. We only ignore this reality at the peril of our work and attempt to effect meaningful social change.
Quentin Tarantino certainly has a knack for igniting controversy with his films. Perhaps no movie of his has started such a hullabaloo than his latest work, Django Unchained, drawing criticism from a variety of circles, from both the political left and right.
After finally seeing it myself, the film has many issues addressed by critics, including (but not limited to): Tarantino’s gratuitous use of the n-word, excessive violence; being just another white messiah flick, or just plain irreverent.
All of these topics are important, but one issue that interested me was the questioned accuracy of the so-called “mandingo fighting” portrayed in the movie; i.e., fight-to-the-death matches between slave men. A commonly cited article at Slate authoritatively stated that mandingo fighting never existed, paraphrasing David Blight, a historian from Yale, that no such thing occurred because doing so would have been irrational to do so. This take on the film’s mandingo fights got picked up from other outlets, following Slate’s lead. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has a great post at The Root regarding the issue of mandingo fighting, as well as using bloodhounds for tearing apart and eating, not just capturing, runaway slaves. In the post he asks, “Did this happen — could this have happened — given the fact that the ultimate goal of a master was to exploit his human chattel for maximum profit, and destroying property would not be perhaps the best business decision?” Specifically regarding the dogs issue, Gates finds that it did sometimes happen. Certainly this same approach can be applied to the portrayal of mandingo fighting. However, Gates does not go that far, giving support to the Aisha Harris article at Slate and adding, “Destroying one’s property was not the smartest business strategy.” Unfortunately, Gates seems to contradict himself when it comes to the issue of mandingo fighting.
So, did “mandingo fighting” ever take place in the antebellum South? In fact, as Adam Rothman pointed out, new historical texts on the antebellum period describe the situation in Mississippi during the time having been even crazier and more bizarre than that portrayed in the film. Slaveholders constantly feared uprisings and runaways, and they commonly cracked down on supposed wrongdoers to “send a message” to the other slaves.
Still, I think more the pertinent question is: does it even matter whether they existed or not? I think that social scientists like Blight and others need to take great care in stressing the rationality of a social system, whether it be economic, political, etc. A dialectical approach is helpful here, as in George Ritzer’s notion of the “irrationalities of rationality,” in which rationalized structures produce undesired outcomes (such as the horrors of modern warfare). The whole point to take from this is that Americans of African descent, with the exceptions of freedmen and women, were PROPERTY of whites. This means they had no rights. While those fights may not have taken place, it seems folly to believe it never could have happened in such a rational economic system. Even worse, whether intentionally or not such a line serves to whitewash the antebellum South as a land of happy darkies and benevolent—even kindly—slave masters who would never abuse or kill their slaves due to enduring economic losses.
Whatever your thoughts about the film, it certainly was very powerful. Gates finished his piece this way: “Whether you like Django’s post-modern take on slavery or not, one of its most salutary effects is that it has generated a greater conversation about the enslavement of our ancestors than any that I have witnessed perhaps since Roots.”
It’s Valentine’s Day. Here in the U.S., the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold in the mid-19th century (about 1847). Now, the Greeting Card Association estimates that some 190 million cards will be exchanged this Valentine’s Day.
(CC image from Flickr user @atbondi)
Of course, we’re living in a digital age now, so Valentine’s Day is marked by a Google Doodle and, for many people, by (re-)subscribing to an online dating service. According to some estimates, more than 20 million people per month use online dating services.
Increasingly, the research indicates that online dating is shaped not only by the desire to find love (for the moment or something more lasting) by race and racism. For example, this research on heterosexual dating and this research on same-sex dating indicates some interesting patterns along racial lines.
The online dating service OKCupid analyzed their internal data by race (in 2010) and found that: “although race shouldn’t matter … it does. A lot.” The way OKCupid works, in case you’ve never dipped your toe in the waters of online dating, is that you set up an ad, or “Profile” describing yourself, your interests, what you’re looking for in a date. Then, when people read your profile, they can send you a “Message” within the site, indicating their interest in you.
What the data show pretty clearly is that in figuring out who gets “messages” and “replies” – or traffic from potential dates – race matters. The patterns for the straight crowd looks like this (from here):
- White men get more responses. Whatever it is, white males just get more replies from almost every group. We were careful to preselect our data pool so that physical attractiveness (as measured by our site picture-rating utility) was roughly even across all the race/gender slices. For guys, we did likewise with height.
- White women prefer white men to the exclusion of everyone else—and Asian and Hispanic women prefer them even more exclusively. These three types of women only respond well to white men. More significantly, these groups’ reply rates to non-whites is terrible.
- Black women write back the most. Black women are by far the most likely to respond to a first contact attempt. In many cases, their response rate is one and a half times the average, and, overall, black women reply about a quarter more often that other women.
The interesting contradiction is that OKCupid also asks people “Is interracial marriage a bad idea?” and, as with most liberals, the responses are overwhelmingly positive in the direction of “no, not a bad idea” (98% answering in the negative to the question). They also ask “Would you prefer to date someone of your own skin color/racial background?” Again, a huge majority (87%) say no. OKCupid chalks this up to a collective “schizophrenia” about race.
- White gays and lesbians respond by far the least to anyone.
- Black gays and lesbians get fewer responses. This is consistent with the straight data, too.
- Asian lesbians are replied to the most, and, among the well-represented groups, they have the most defined racial preferences: they respond very well to other Asians, Whites, Native Americans, and Middle Easterners, but very poorly to the other groups.
The folks analyzing this data at OKCupid rightfully note that they’re the only ones (among dating sites) releasing this data, and take pains to note that there’s likely nothing uniquely ‘biased’ about their users:
It’s surely not just OkCupid users that are like this. In fact, it’s any dating site (and indeed any collection of people) would likely exhibit messaging biases similar to what [is] written up [here]. According to our internal metrics, at least, OkCupid’s users are better-educated, younger, and far more progressive than the norm, so I can imagine that many sites would actually have worse race stats.
It’s an interesting point that highlights in many ways, how facile our thinking is when it comes to race and racism. We’re stuck, it seems, in the collective myth that “racism” looks like Bull Connor, when in fact, racism can – and often does – appear to be “well educated, younger, and progressive.” As Sharon P. Holland notes in her excellent book, The Erotic Life of Racism (Duke U Press, 2012), these quotidian, daily choices about who we choose to love shape not only individual, personal lives, but also the contours of collective society.
About 15 years ago, John Stanford became head of Seattle Public Schools. He had a vision. Recognizing the demands of a global economy and an increasingly diverse student body, he proposed an international language school. Key components included: proficiency in English and at least one other language, global perspectives infused into all areas of study (rather than being “add-ons”), and partnerships with parents, community leaders, and international sister schools. His vision led to Seattle creating a network of international schools, featuring immersion programs and curriculum that prepare students to be globally competent in the 21st century. The first, John Stanford International School (elementary), opened in 2000 with two immersion tracks, Japanese-English and Spanish-English.
International public schools, now seen across the nation, are a huge departure from trends of the recent past which discouraged multilingual learning based on the assumption that it would be confusing for young children. Implicit in this assumption was an insidious message about assimilation to mainstream culture through fluency in English and abandonment of native tongues. Immigrant parents were led to believe their children would suffer, be slow, or “dumber” than their monolingual counterparts. Many Americans today are all too familiar with our history of educational pressure to conform, and can easily recount personal and painful stories about loss of heritage language and access to culture.
Research on dual language development has grown substantially since the 1970s. We now know there are actually many cognitive benefits for young children simultaneously exposed to more than one language. These children have greater brain activity and denser tissue in areas related to memory, attention, and language. They have performed better on measures of analytical ability, concept formation, cognitive flexibility, and metalinguistic skills. Evidence also suggests that children who continue to learn academic concepts in their native language while gradually learning English outperform academically and socially children who are immersed in English-only programs.
So, did John Stanford lay the foundation for global elementary education in Seattle? Not quite. In her long awaited second book Can We Talk About Race? Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D., alarmingly spotlights the slow resegregation of our nation’s schools over the last decade. She shows how a series of recent legislations reverting school assignments to neighborhood have led to the undoing of much achieved by Brown v. Board of Education. Given that much of the U.S. is still severely divided across racial lines when it comes to housing, schools have naturally fallen back into segregated patterns.
Seattle is no exception. After a decade of other unsuccessful efforts to desegregate its schools, Seattle School District instituted mandatory busing in 1977. reaching its racial-enrollment goals 3 yrs later. However the District ended busing in 1989 and the racial balance at Seattle schools began to unravel. In 2007 Seattle parents played a pivotal role in legislative resegregation in the Supreme Court case Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1. The Court prohibited assigning students to public schools solely for the purpose of achieving racial integration and declined to recognize racial balancing as a compelling state interest. For years, Seattle parents had been given wide latitude to pick and choose schools for their children. In June 2009 however, Seattle Public Schools adopted a new student assignment plan reverting to a community-based approach, sending students to schools closest to home. The plan was phased in from 2010-2011.
2010 Census results indicated that more than a third of Seattle residents were persons of color. This population grew 26% from 1990-2000, and 32% from 2000-2010. The largest non-White racial group in Seattle is Asian and Pacific Islander living predominantly in the South end (International District, Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill) and outside the city in parts of Bellevue, Redmond, Kent, Bothell, Auburn, SeaTac and Maple Valley. Despite these statistics, John Stanford’s visionary first International School and Japanese immersion program, is located in North Seattle, Wallingford. A predominantly White neighborhood. Originally parents from all over the city could apply to John Stanford. Children with Japanese heritage were given priority.
But since the district reverted to neighborhood assignment, only students within the assignment zone may attend. According to the School District’s own annual reports (before 2010) and school reports (2010-), while John Stanford’s Asian student body remained constant at about 23% from 2004-2010, its White student body grew from 41% in 2004 to 56% in 2009/10. When the neighborhood school assignment was phased in from 2010-2011, John Stanford’s White student body jumped up to 61% while it’s Asian student body dropped to 13% (though 10% newly identified as multiracial and some may have been part Asian). This racial demographic shift certainly doesn’t reflect what is happening in the city at large. When I called the school to confirm, an impatient woman curtly told me that the drop in Asian attendees was not true and that the school had just added a kindergarten class. When I told her my own son has Japanese heritage and I was interested to apply, she told me I couldn’t because we didn’t live in the zone.
Is John Stanford International School teaching students to be globally competent in the 21st century? Or is it teaching them racial exclusion and preferences of old?
Sharon Chang’s great blog is here.
On 28 January 2013 Idle No More protesters gathered in no fewer than 30 Canadian cities. They were joined by solidarity protests around the world as the indigenous grassroots movement marked a global day of action.
We contend that: The Treaties are nation to nation agreements between The Crown and First Nations who are sovereign nations. The Treaties are agreements that cannot be altered or broken by one side of the two Nations. The spirit and intent of the Treaty agreements meant that First Nations peoples would share the land, but retain their inherent rights to lands and resources. Instead, First Nations have experienced a history of colonization which has resulted in outstanding land claims, lack of resources and unequal funding for services such as education and housing.
We contend that: The state of Canada has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world by using the land and resources. Canadian mining, logging, oil and fishing companies are the most powerful in the world due to land and resources. Some of the poorest First Nations communities have mines or other developments on their land but do not get a share of the profit. The taking of resources has left many lands and waters poisoned – the animals and plants are dying in many areas in Canada. We cannot live without the land and water. We have laws older than this colonial government about how to live with the land.
We contend that: Currently, this government is trying to pass many laws so that reserve lands can also be bought and sold by big companies to get profit from resources. They are promising to share this time…Why would these promises be different from past promises? We will be left with nothing but poisoned water, land and air. This is an attempt to take away sovereignty and the inherent right to land and resources from First Nations peoples.
We contend that: There are many examples of other countries moving towards sustainability, and we must demand sustainable development as well. We believe in healthy, just, equitable and sustainable communities and have a vision and plan of how to build them. Please join us in creating this vision.
A rather malicious reaction to the Idle No More Movement concerns the widely held belief that “it is about time these people moved out of the past and into the 21st century”. Just assimilate and get over it! After all, conventional “wisdom” suggests that white Europeans “conquered” the “Indians.” This is, of course, propaganda.
Contrary to popular belief, indigenous peoples did not surrender their land or sovereignty to the Europeans. Treaties were a scheme devised by the white man to circumvent costly Indian Wars, like those ensuing in the American West (see also here). Moreover, it was believed that once whites “killed the Indian and saved the man,” the treaties would prove unnecessary because supposedly all indigenous peoples would become “civilized” and assimilate into white society.
The white man believed indigenous peoples were just that docile! The white man was wrong!
Aaron Paquette, one of Canada’s premiere First Nations artists, recently captured just how erroneous this thinking was when discussing the Idle No More Movement. He asks: “why are Canada’s Indigenous Peoples the only ones who are standing up? Why are they now the World’s Protectors?”
This is much greater than angry protesting natives, this is about becoming aware. First they gutted the sciences, long term studies that would help us understand our ecosystem better so we could develop more responsibly, and no one said a word. Then they cut funding for our shared history and those who work to preserve it, while at the same time dumping tens of millions of dollars into celebrating a British colony war that happened before we were even a country, and still no one said anything. Then the world was made aware of the shameful conditions for small children growing up on underfunded, polluted Reservations. A small murmur and then nothing. And now, because of the apathy they see, this government has taken galling steps to sell out our wilderness, our resources and sovereignty. And not even to the highest bidder. It’s a yard sale with no regard for responsibility or care for anyone who might be negatively affected (in other words, all of us). From millions of protected waterways a couple weeks ago, we now have hundreds. Yes, you read that right.
As Kent McNeil, professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University (Toronto) has argued, the Idle No More Movement deserves the thanks of all Canadians as it has exposed a lack of respect for aboriginal and treaty rights on the part of the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
April Blackbird is a sociology honours students and politics major at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada and a First Nations activist. Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.
Following the post here by Sharon Chang about racism in children’s toys, there was a whole conversation about that post on Twitter. Jen Jack Gieseking was kind enough to Storify the Tweets in this conversation (Storify is just a say of gathering Tweets and putting them in an easy-to-read order – when you get to the bottom, click where it says ‘read more’). Here’s how that conversation unfolded:
This is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing, on January 1, 1863, the famous Emancipation Proclamation. The mainstream media have over the last few days recognized this date and commented on it, usually too briefly.
In the New York Times, scholar Eric Foner has an interesting commentary on this proclamation. Foner summarizes succinctly what many scholars have long documented and discussed:
Contrary to legend, Lincoln did not free the nearly four million slaves with a stroke of his pen. It had no bearing on slaves in the four border states, since they were not in rebellion…. [and exempted] parts of the Confederacy occupied by the Union. All told, it left perhaps 750,000 slaves in bondage. But the remaining 3.1 million, it declared, “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The proclamation did not end slavery in the United States on the day it was issued.
Lincoln also made clear in the proclamation that military necessity justified the proclamation, which got more emphasis than the moral justification.
Foner also points out that during the Civil War’s first couple of years Lincoln persisted in his dislike of slavery, but his view was that the (white) country could not handle thousands of free African Americans, so he
devoted considerable energy to a plan for ending slavery inherited from prewar years. Emancipation would be undertaken by state governments, with national financing. It would be gradual, owners would receive monetary compensation and emancipated slaves would be encouraged to find a homeland outside the United States — this last idea known as “colonization.”
Lincoln was voted a few years, by historians, as the number one U.S. president of all time. Presumably this is because he presided over the country during the difficult Civil War, and much action he took, such as the Emancipation Proclamation and belatedly accepting Blacks as Union soldiers, during that era deservedly gets this high level of praise.
Yet, few of the current discussions of Lincoln-–in this hagiographic mood the country is in–seriously focus on Lincoln’s extensive racist framing of U.S. society and what that has meant, then as now. Most historians dealing with Lincoln now touch on his racism, but only a few like Lerone Bennett, Jr., in his much debated but pathbreaking Forced into Glory, get to the heart of the matter. Even left historians seem to lack the conceptual tools to make sense out of Lincoln’s deep racism. Their discussion usually focuses on just a few of Lincoln’s views and actions, with an argument he got less racist over time–and not centrally on the much bigger picture of racial oppression being the foundation of the nation, then as now, and on the white racial frame that was essential to rationalizing that foundation, then as now. And not centrally on how the war and Lincoln, and the war’s aftermath, were shaped by and shaped that systemic racism and its rationalizing frame. And what it meant that Lincoln stayed racist in his views to the end.
Lincoln was a willing servant of that foundational racism. Several years before he became president, in his famous debate with Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln demonstrated that he operated out of a strong version of the white racist frame. For example, he argued in that debate that the physical difference between the “races” was insuperable:
I am not nor ever have been in favor of the social and political equality of the white and black races: that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the free negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office or having them to marry with white people…. I as much as any other man am in favor of the superior position being assigned to the white man.
Soon to be called the “Great Emancipator” because of his Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln had made his white supremacist views clear, and his racist framing would later be cited by southern officials many times, including in their 1960s struggle to protect Jim Crow segregation against civil rights demonstrators. They are still quoted by whites, especially in supremacist groups, today. One reason is clear: They reflect in some ways a deeply held white racist framing of African Americans as inferior to whites that is still all too commonplace.
At the time of the Civil War, a majority of whites, like Lincoln, in most northern areas held to a white-nationalist view of this country. African Americans were routinely seen as aliens. Across the country, in all regions, the overwhelming majority of whites held an image of this relatively new nation as ideally a “white republic.” Lincoln and other whites unsympathetic to the spread of slavery also saw the nation as fundamentally white.
Early on as president, Lincoln was willing to support a constitutional amendment (the first 13th amendment, which is ignored in the recent Lincoln movie) making slavery permanent in the existing southern states if that would prevent a civil war. Some members of the Republican Party talked with representatives of the southern planters and proposed a thirteenth amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee slavery in the South. Lincoln was willing to accept this. However, the southern slaveholding oligarchy rejected this compromise proposal, apparently because they thought they could win a war.
December 18, 1865 is arguably the date of the real birth of a United States committed substantially, if still rhetorically and haltingly, to expanding human liberty. That was the day that the actual Thirteenth Amendment freeing all enslaved Americans was finally ratified. This legal action would not likely have taken place without the active resistance to oppression by African Americans, who thereby played a central role in bringing their own liberation. At base, it was not Abraham Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation that did the most to bring an end to slavery in these late years of the Civil War, but rather the active efforts of those who had been enslaved.
The African American soldiers and support troops in Civil War somehow get left out in most of the public discussions of US history, and in too many accounts of contributions as well. As a result of successful recruiting by the outspoken Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and other black (and some white) abolitionist leaders, during the last years of the Civil War several hundred thousand African Americans (men and women), many formerly enslaved, served as Union soldiers and support troops. Without them the war might have ended in a draw or worse. Lincoln was having trouble getting enough white men to right for the Union.
Like the black abolitionists, most of these Union soldiers and support troops undoubtedly held some version of a black liberty and justice counter-frame to the dominant white-racist frame in their minds. For example, the formerly enslaved John Washington, who ran away and became part of the Union Army’s support troops, described his new situation thus:
Before morning I had began to feel like I had truly escaped from the hands of the slaves master and with the help of God, I never would be a slave no more. I felt for the first time in my life that I could now claim every cent that I should work for as my own. I began now to feel that life had a new joy awaiting me. I might now go and come when I please This was the first night of freedom.
The next morning I was up early and took a look at the rebels country with a thankful heart to think I had made my escape with safety after such a long struggle; and had obtained that freedom which I desired so long. I now dreaded the gun, and handcuffs and pistols no more.
For formerly enslaved men and women, liberty and justice were much more than rhetorical abstractions. Their sacrifices on Civil War battlefields and behind the lines helped not only to free those enslaved, but also to put the United States on track to become a freer country.
Thus, this is also a day to remember and give thanks for the circa 500,000 African American soldiers and support troops, many formerly enslaved, volunteered for the Union Army at its low point. We should also remember the great “strike” of black labor against the treasonous Confederate slaveholders and other farmers–the thousands of black laborers who fled slavery to the North or sabotaged the slave plantation economy during the war.
Even President Lincoln belatedly admitted the Union forces would have had trouble winning indeed without the black volunteers for the Union cause. That is, in a very real sense, “the former slaves freed the slaves.”
Significantly for the country’s future, the antislavery white legislators who composed and fought for the Thirteenth Amendment in the U.S. Congress understood it to mandate an end not only to slavery but also to the “badges and incidents” of slavery. (“Badges” referred to indicators of racial rank, while “incidents” referred to heavy burdens accompanying enslavement.) Senator Lyman Trumbull, an Illinois Republican, introduced the Thirteenth Amendment in the U.S. Senate in 1864. Two years later, when he and his colleagues sought passage of a comprehensive 1866 Civil Rights Act to eradicate those “badges and incidents” of slavery, Trumbull aggressively defended the view that this Thirteenth Amendment gave Congress the authority to
destroy all these discriminations in civil rights against the black man, and if we cannot, our constitutional amendment amounts to nothing. It was for that purpose that the second clause of that amendment was adopted, which says that Congress shall have authority, by appropriate legislation, to carry into effect the article prohibiting slavery. (This was, interestingly, quoted in the important 1968 Supreme Court decision, Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., on racial discrimination in housing.)
That is, this white “Radical Republican” was thinking in systemic terms, and breaking to a significant degree with the white racist framing of Lincoln and others of his day.
Today, the final Thirteenth Amendment, as well as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, should still be read as exerting significant pressure for the eradication of the many vestiges of slavery that appear in the guise of contemporary racial discrimination that is still at the heart of our systemic racism. We have in 2013 not yet ended the still widespread “discrimination in civil rights” against African Americans and other Americans of color.
As 2012 draws to a close, I pulled together some of the biggest news in racism for the year.
Election Politics – Of course, much of the year we were focused on the racism in election politics.
- New scholarship on the Obama years, the 2012 election and systemic racism appeared in the Journal Qualitative Sociology by our very own Joe Feagin and Adia Harvey Wingfield.
- As a voters, Latinos had a big impact in this election, as Maria Chavez noted here.
- Even though white privilege was not enough to secure a victory for Mitt Romney, he still did well among white voters who overwhelmingly supported him at the polls.
- Even so, The New York Times was unable to marshal a sophisticated critique of the racism in the GOP.
White Male Shooters – In some of the saddest news of the year, 2012 was bracketed by white male shooters unleashing violence on innocent strangers.
- In January, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on a crowd at an Arizona political rally, killing 6 and injuring 14.
- In August, white supremacist Wade M. Page walked into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, where he shot and killed 7 people.
- In December, Adam Lanza killed 26 people, including 20 children at an elementary school in Connecticut. With this most recent shooting, some in the mainstream press began to identify white men as a group that “should be profiled,” a point that Joe Feagin has been making for many years.
Racial Profiling – Racial profiling was in the news a great deal this year, and was implicated in at least one death.
- The senseless killing of teenager Trayvon Martin seemed to be case of racial profiling taken to a violent extreme when volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman perceived the unarmed Martin as a “threat” and shot him.
- Racial Profiling is not only an issue in the U.S., it is also characteristic of policing in France as well.
- In the city where I live, racial profiling combines with racial disparities in marijuana arrests and results in over 400,000 Black and Latino young men needlessly caught up in the criminal justice system each year.
Law & Economy – Institutions, such as the law and the economy, are fundamental to the perpetuation of racism.
- The Supreme Court heard a case about affirmative action brought against the University of Texas by a white woman who was refused admission.
- Even with the election of Obama, deportations of Black and Latino men based on immigration status continued at an alarming rate, as Tanya wrote about here.
- And, the election of Obama has done little to stem the tide of the racial gaps in wealth and income.
Athletics – There were some new stars in athletics who faced racism.
- Gabrielle Douglas won a gold medal in gymnastics at the Olympics, yet faced a huge wave of criticism about her hairstyle, which many saw rooted in racism.
- Jeremy Lin played in the NBA after a less-than-stellar college basketball career, and sparked “Linsanity” from enthusiastic fans; others made racist jokes at his expense.
- There remain significant racial barriers to becoming a coach in the NFL, as Michael R notes here.
Passages – We lost some people who played a role in racial politics.
- Rodney King, focus of a shocking video of police brutality, and when officers were acquitted in that beating, he famously tried to quell rioting by asking “Can’t we all just get along?” – died. He was 47.
- Russell Means, a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), and an Ogala Sioux Indian, died. He was 72.
Personal Essays – We were delighted to post a couple of really moving personal essays from guest bloggers.
Hate & Violence – Overt racist hate and violence continued in 2012.
- The SPLC reported that there has been a resurrgence in hate groups in the years since Obama’s election.
- There was a spate of anti-Asian American racism in the news, perhaps none more tragic than the murder of Danny Chen.
Technology – Despite claims that Internet technology would usher in a new era in which “there is no race,” racism continues to be built into our technologies.
- This year, Microsoft unvieiled – then quietly removed – their “Avoid Ghetto” App meant to help guide presumably white drivers away from “dangerous ghettos” with predominantly Black or Latino residents.
- As the election news spread, so did the racist tweets about Obama. Some clever folks made a map of those racist tweets, and I wrote a critique of it.
- I also created a short video explaining how racism operates in the digital era.
Culture – Sometimes, when I consider the progress that’s been achieved around racism, I think some of the most important progress is achieved in culture, both popular culture and more rarefied high culture.
- The gift that just keeps on giving is the change in lineup that happened this year at MSNBC when they (finally!) removed Pat Buchanan and then Melissa Harris-Perry got her own show.
- A major museum in the nation’s capitol featured a show of all African American artists, simply called “30 Americans.”
- And, when an artist made a cake that many viewed as racist, it seemed the whole world spoke out against it.
Viral Videos – The year 2012 was a good one for viral videos about racism.
- Stuff White Girls Say took off and made a point about the racism of white women.
- Similarly, Randy Newman skewered white people in his spoof of his old song “Short People.”
- Somewhat unintentionally, the highly crafted marketing video “Kony 2012″ ended up being about racism as well in its facile portrayal of ‘evil’ in Africa in need of ‘white saviors.’
Documentaries – I continue to believe that documentaries can be a crucial tool in the effort to bring about racial justice.
- Central Park Five - an important, devastating critique of racism.
- Deconstructing Racism – a funder makes a call for documentary filmmakers to address racism.
May 2013 bring more racial justice!