Police Kill Black People, Get Rewarded

Rekia Boyd, Eric Harris, Natasha McKenna, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray. Just some of the recent names in the scourge of black people who are killed every 28 hours by police in the U.S. And, each time police kill black people, it seems they are rewarded. The policeman who shot Michael Brown became a millionaire because of the crowdfunded support he received.  The prosecutor, Daniel Donovan, who failed to indict any of the officers who killed Eric Garner has recently been tapped by the Staten Island GOP to run for a plum senate seat.

Rekia Boyd

  • Rekia Boyd.After midnight, on March 21, 2012, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd was hanging out with friends in a Chicago park. Dante Servin, an off-duty cop who lived nearby, called to report a loud party in a park near his home. He left his home to get food, armed with an unregistered semiautomatic handgun, and got into an altercation with the group of people hanging out. He fired several shots, one struck a young man in the arm, another shot struck Boyd, who was unarmed, in the head. She was taken to the hospital where she later died. On April 20, 2015 a Cook County judge acquitted Servin (who is white/Hispanic) of several homicide-related charges. It was the first time in 15 years that a police officer had been charged in Chicago for a fatal shooting.

 

Eric Harris and his brother Andre

Eric Harris (right) with his brother Andre.

 

(Image source: © Courtesy of Andre Harris/Smolen, Smolen & Roytman, PLLC via BCN)

  • Eric Harris. Harris is the 44-year-old man in Tulsa, Oklahoma who was shot and killed April 2. Video footage from the scene, captures Harris saying, “I’m losing my breath…” and an officer can be plainly heard telling him “Fuck your breath.” The 73-year-old volunteer sheriff’s deputy who shot Harris – saying he mistook his gun for his taser – is taking a vacation in the Bahamas ahead of his court date for manslaughter.

Natasha McKenna

 

  • Natasha McKenna. McKenna, 37, of Fairfax, Virginia, was diagnosed with schizophrenia.She had been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment and was subsequently charged with felony assault for allegedly punching an officer in January, 2015. On February 3, 2015, McKenna was scheduled to be transferred to another location for a hearing. Then, according to published reports, this is what happened next:  McKenna initially cooperated with deputies, placed her hands through her cell door food slot and agreed to be handcuffed, the reports show. But McKenna, whose deteriorating mental state had caused Fairfax to seek help for her, then began trying to fight her way out of the cuffs, repeatedly screaming, “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me!” the reports show.Then, six members of the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, dressed in white full-body biohazard suits and gas masks, arrived and placed a wildly struggling 130-pound McKenna into full restraints, their reports state. But when McKenna wouldn’t bend her knees so she could be placed into a wheeled restraint chair, a lieutenant delivered four 50,000-volt shocks from the Taser, enabling the other deputies to strap her into the chair….

The multiple, high-voltage shocks killed Natasha McKenna, who was shackled and masked and weighed all of 130-pounds. No actions have been taken against any of the six people in Virginia who were involved in her death, nor against the manufacturer of the Taser. In another case in which an officer tasered a woman to death, the officer was cleared of all charges.

Walter Scott, Coast Guard veteran

Walter Scott, Coast Guard veteran

  • Walter Scott. Walter Scott, 50-years-old, father of four children, studying massage therapy while working as a forklift operator, and a Coast Guard veteran had recently become engaged to his longtime girlfriend, when he was stopped for a broken tail light on his car.  The routine traffic stop on April 5 in No. Charleston, South Carolina turned into a deadly shooting when officer Michael Slaeger opened fire on Scott who fled the scene because of a bench warrant for failure to pay child support (see this for more on this vicious cycle of failure-to-pay and job-loss). After a citizen-video emerged of the shooting, Slaeger was fired and charged with murder. The reward here was more immediate and visceral for Slaeger, who in an audio recording describes the “adrenaline pumping” from the shooting. This is similar to the research that Scully & Marolla did with convicted rapists, asking them why they raped; for some, it was simply for the “thrill” or the adrenaline rush.
Freddie Gray

Freddie Gray

  • Freddie Gray. We don’t know much yet about Freddie Gray, except that he was 25-years-old, African American, lived in Baltimore, and now he is dead after an encounter with Baltimore PD. He died Sunday, April 19, after being taken into police custody. It’s still not clear what he was charged with or what happened after his arrest, but a picture is beginning to emerge. Again, citizen-capture cellphone video is helping to build a record of what happened at the scene. Initial video shows Gray shouting and moving his head as he was carried into a police van. Later, he had three broken vertebrae. Gray lapsed into a coma, was resuscitated, underwent extensive surgery and eventually died. Protests surrounding Gray’s death have begun in Baltimore and six officers involved in this case have been suspended, with pay. So, that’s like early retirement, I guess.

This litany of names-become-hashtags is a recitation of black bodies sacrificed at the altar of white supremacy. As Steven Thrasher points out, while it is hard for black people to breathe these days, yet for those who do the policing, they are breathing quite easily.

"I Can Breathe" T-shirts at Pro-Police Rally -  by Steven Thrasher

“I Can Breathe” T-shirts at Pro-Police Rally – by Steven Thrasher

This is what white supremacy looks like in practice: the routine, systematic killing of black people and a reward system for those who do the killing. More diversity in police forces will not fix this. More cameras-on-cops will not fix this. More black elected officials, as in Baltimore, will not fix this.

The only thing that will fix this is to work on dismantling a system of white supremacy that rewards the killing of black people with freedom from consequences, keeping your job, getting promoted to senator, million-dollar crowd-funded jackpots, paid suspensions, vacations to the Bahamas, and adrenaline rushes. As Toni Morrison observes, “the hostility, the racism — is the money-maker. And it also has some emotional satisfaction for people who need it.”

Until we can disrupt that connection between the hostility and the reward, we will continue to recite this litany of names-become-hashtags.

Timeline: Terror from the Right Since Oklahoma City Bombing

Today marks the twentieth year since the April 19 bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City by white supremacists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nicholas, in which 168 people were killed and dozens more were injured.

Since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, there have been many more terrorist plots, seditious conspiracies, individual killings and murder sprees. This timeline, compiled from SPLC data, offers an overview.

Yet, despite this record of right-wing violence, there is still a tendency to dismiss and ignore the threat of right-wing extremism in the US.

Racial Justice After Obama

In response to my post about Hillary Rodham Clinton the other day, several people — including Rebecca Spiff, in comments here — wrote to remind me that President Obama has been pretty terrible on a number of racial justice issues. Fair enough. I thought it was worth taking a look at some of what Obama’s done and what the landscape of racial justice looks like as he leaves office.

GTY_president_obama_jef_140910_16x9_992

 

From my perspective, I’d chalk up these in the category of “accomplishments” toward racial justice for Obama:

  • Symbolic Barrier Busted. Until Barack Obama was elected president, it was merely a theoretical idea that a black person could be president of the United States. It’s hard to know how to measure the impact of this on the world, it could be that it has an aspirational effect (also difficult to measure).
  • Aspirational. For young people born after 2007 or so, a black president is all they have ever known of the U.S. Perhaps this will aspire one young African American, like Marquis Govan – the inspiring 11 year old from Ferguson, Missouri –  to run for the highest office in the land.
  • Speeches. President Obama has given some amazing speeches, a few of them about race, and one in speech in particular that stands out.

And, now for his policies, which have not done much to advance racial justice:

And then there is the attitudinal research.

In a poll from January, 2015 by Al Jazeera America and Monmouth University, researchers asked respondents about about “race relations” found just 15% say they’ve improved since Obama was elected, while nearly half say they believe that race relations in the United States have gotten worse since 2008.

Race Relations Bar Graph

 

 

And, a 2012 poll by the Associated Press found an increase in racist attitudes — or, I should say, an increased willingness to express racist attitudes — among people in the U.S. that they surveyed. This short video (3:40) from Al Jazeera discusses the findings:

Perhaps the point that Rebecca made is the relevant one here: that HRC and Obama are cut from the same cloth and we can expect about the same progress on racial justice under her that we’ve had under him, which is to say, not much. The larger point is that politicians will follow where the people lead and it’s up to us to lead with our activism and holding them accountable.

Municipal “Violations” as Racial and Class Injustice

Municipal violation you say? Such a lofty term, but to many it simply translates to a heedless financial hassle. Many of us have received parking and/or speeding tickets in our past. I myself have racked up my share as a lead-footed and non-paying-metered teen and college student.

Boring topic, right? But when one begins to peel the layers back, they encounter a metaphoric fetid smell surrounding an intricate topic of injustice, judicial misappropriation, and economic subjugation concerning the poor. For many with the monetary means and legal resources, a hit to the bank account and possibly some time with your attorney is procurable. But for a certain segment of the U.S. population that continue to be overlooked (with the exception of amusing attempts during presidential elections) due to their economic status or racial makeup, these so-called small municipal violations can lead to dire financial and criminal consequences.

Case in point, the findings of the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the week of March 5th. They revealed that the city council of Ferguson, Missouri was successful at maximized their city fiscal revenue by urging the local police department to issue more tickets for minor offenses. With very little applicability toward the ultimate goal of ensuring public safety, Ferguson police not only habitually, but competitively amongst themselves conducted traffic stops and issued citations. The DOJ report went as far to state that,

“‘Issuing three or four charges in one stop is not uncommon. Officers sometimes write six, eight, or, in at least one instance, fourteen citations for a single encounter.”

The moral and legal corruption did not stop with the police department and city council. The DOJ described how municipal court judges are influenced by their appointed city council members to generate revenue from the bench as well. In fact, their job performance is partly based on their abilities to financial generation proceeds to the city’s coffers.

An internal report in 2011 noted that regardless of municipal judge Ronald Brockmeyer’s failure to perform justly (i.e., not listening to testimony, reviewing relevant reports/criminal records of defendants, or allowing relevant witnesses appear for testimony before issuing a verdict), a requested reappointment was denied due to his illustrated previous ability to contribute to the city revenue from the bench. Further, the report stated:

“…it goes without saying the City cannot afford to lose any efficiency in our Courts, nor experience any decrease in our Fines and Forfeitures.”

The impact of said findings are even more pronounced when accounting for population trends. In 2013, Ferguson, a city with a population of 21,135 citizens issued approximately 32,975 arrests warrants. These warrants were issued for people mostly accused of non-violent driving violations, parking tickets, and housing code intrusions. In 2012, the city of collected 2.6 million dollars in municipal court fines and fees. Racially, statistics indicate that Blacks are disproportionately affected. Respectively, it has been shown that 86 percent and 12.7 percent of Black and White motorist were stopped. This is astounding when one recognizes that the population of Blacks and Whites are 67 and 29 percent respectively. In addition, In regard to traffic stops, Blacks citizens are stopped, searched, and arrested approximately two times more than their White counterparts.

Since there are no public defenders assigned to municipal courts, many of the 22 percent living below the poverty line who may have been on the wrong side of luck and consequentially arrested for frivolous traffic accounts, do not have access to free, and definitely not paid legal representation. Due to their inability to pay court fines, many defendants perform the “Curly Shuffle” and avoid court. Even if they did happen to appear, employees of the court have reported that hearings have a likelihood of beginning 30 minutes before their designated time. Doors are often locked at least 5 minutes before the official time began. This sort of court supervised shell game leads to additional charges mounting for those appearing before the court.

But do not worry; there is help. But this type of assistance comes with an unadorned high price. But this is not uncommon in our nation. As always, there are parasites falsely disguised as saviors who prey on the weak and suffering. Unscrupulous companies such as Judicial Correction Services (JCS) and Sentinel Offenders Services are blindly used by the judicial system to subjugate countless people living in poverty. If you are unfamiliar with the scheme, here is how it goes:

Let’s say you received a speeding ticket in Alabama for driving less than 25 miles over the posted limit. The actual fee and cost of the ticket is 20 and 162 dollars respectively. This brings you to a whopping total of 182 “American dollars (insert verbal emphasis).” But do not forget you are working two part-time jobs and attempting to provide for your family alone. It is hard enough simply keeping the lights on and some food in your baby’s belly. You try, but ultimately you cannot pay the total cost of fines and cost of the speeding violation.

The city in which you live then puts you on “pay-only” probation. The state of probation is not to ensure that you are avoiding the bad elements of street or drug life. It is merely a form of probation that is in place to make sure the state collects that cash money (ex. Any fines, fees and associated court costs). But in order for this to occur, you must first pay a fee of 10 dollars to be enrolled in the probation (set up fee). Once enrolled, your new monthly obligation is to visit (regardless of your employment obligations) your local JCS to pay 140 dollars. The problem is, a place such as JCS pockets 40 dollars. But you find yourself now falling behind on your payments. Additional fees are accrued alongside your standing debt. All of which prolongs your involvement in the court system. This is how these for-profit companies get their take. Slowly but surely, you find yourself sinking more and more into that all too familiar financial pit of misery. A bothersome, but easily dealt with obligation for the financially able, is a heavy yoke not easily removed from the neck of the poor.

In response to such practices, advocacy and social justice groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have begun to fight for the marginalized. On behalf of Roxanne Reynolds, a federal lawsuit was filed on March 12, 2015 accusing JCS of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act due to their effort to extort funds from economically poor citizens of Alabama who fell behind on their payment plan. To coerce people, JCS used the threat of jail (debtors’ prison) to force people to continue with their payments. Attorney for SPLC stated that through court manipulation, places such as JCS have created a “two-tiered system of justice.” One tier houses those who can afford to pay and quickly settle all financial obligations. The other is occupied with those without the means who get entombed for months and possibly years in their system. ” In regards to Mrs. Reynolds, SPLC stated:

Reynolds earned very little on an assembly line making automobile parts. Plus, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had to miss three months of work. When she fell behind on her payments, a JCS employee threatened her with jail. She did everything she could to pay. She ignored her mounting medical and utility bills. Once, she barely ate for a week. She was terrified about what would happen to her health in jail…Last year, Reynolds was finally able to pay off her debt – after 15 months and a four-day stint in jail.

Similar lawsuits have been filed throughout Alabama and Georgia. In Georgia for example, companies such as Sentinel Offender Services were extending “pay only” probation periods when citizens were unable to pay their costs. Further, in Sentinel Offender Services, LLC., v. Glover et al, (S14A1033 and S14X1036 et al., 2012, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously ruled that municipal courts cannot “legally lengthen a person’s misdemeanor sentence beyond what was originally ordered by the sentencing court.” In fact, the Court declared that probation companies do not have the authority to “put fee collections on hold–a practice called tolling–or extend a probation sentence.” There is a maximum sentence of twelve months for a misdemeanor conviction.

Now that I am thinking, this practice seems very familiar. Oh yes, white America has a funny way of revising its racial practices of oppression to fit with the times. If we look back throughout the American history books, one would stumble upon a period from the end of the Civil War until World War II were Blacks, especially Black males were forced into a state of compulsory slavery in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia. In the eyes of Pulitzer Prize recipient Douglas Blackmon, these poor Blacks were seen to be involved in the practice of human labor trafficking. They were essentially sold to White owners of labor farms, timber mills, pine tar companies, and coal and road construction operations. These men were often physically and emotionally abused. Before being imprisoned, these men were initially jailed on trumped-up charges by paid off law enforcement officials (on the take of wealthy owners and compensated for their collection of Blacks). Once appearing before court, these kidnapped men were ordered to pay overpriced court costs or fines that resulted from their false charges. If they we unable to pay in court, local law officials gave them to rich land and business owners for as low as 25 dollars. Once the men were traded, they were told that they could not leave their employer until their debt was paid in full. Of course, this almost never occurred. Not only state, but also federal bodies of government knew of this practice. This custom continued in some form or fashion until the 1960s (Counter to Blackmon’s claim that it ended after WWII).

History does truly repeat itself. Again and Again, and . . . . . .

Digital Movements: Panel Discusses Racial Justice and Social Media

I attended a panel and performance tonight called “Digital Movements: Black Publics, Black Discourse,” that featured Jasiri X, Jamilah Lemieux, and Alondra Nelson. Hosted by Charlton McIlwain. The panel took up the issue of racial justice and social media in considering questions like: do moments like #BlackLivesMatter constitute a new civil rights movement? This is a storify of some of the live Tweets from the event.

I’m still thinking about the complicated relationship between technology and racial justice that this event surfaced and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it at some point soon, but for now I wanted to collect these initial notes and reactions for pondering further.

St. Patrick’s Day: A History of Racism, A Celebration of Whiteness

Today in New York City and throughout the U.S., Irish-Americans will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and Irish heritage.  What few will acknowledge in this day of celebration is the way in which the Irish in American deployed whiteness in order to deflect the racism they encountered in the U.S.

Kerry Band from the Bronx

(photo credit: ktylerconk)

Like many immigrant groups in the United States, the Irish were characterized as racial Others when they first arrived in the first half of the 19th century. The Irish had suffered profound injustice in the U.K. at the hands of the British, widely seen as “white negroes.” The potato famine that created starvation conditions that cost the lives of millions of Irish and forced the out-migration of millions of surviving ones, was less a natural disaster and more a complex set of social conditions created by British landowners (much like Hurricane Katrina). Forced to flee from their native Ireland and the oppressive British landowners, many Irish came to the U.S.

Once in the U.S., the Irish were to negative stereotyping that was very similar to that of enslaved Africans and African Americans. The comic Irishman – happy, lazy, stupid, with a gift for music and dance – was a stock character in American theater. Drunkenness and criminality were major themes of Irish stereotypes, and the term “paddy wagon” has its etymological roots in the racist term “paddy,” a shortening of the name “Patrick,” which was used to refer to the Irish. However, this is also a gendered image and refers to Irish men, specifically. The masculine imagery of “paddy” hides the existence of Irish women, but did not protect Irish women from racism as they were often more exposed to such racism through domestic jobs. Women typically played a key role in maintaining Catholic adherence, which resonates closely with Irishness and difference. The “model minority” (if you will) stereotype of Irish-American women is of a “Bridget,” recognized for her hard work and contribution to Irish upward class mobility.

Simian, or ape-like caricature of the Irish immigrant was also a common one among the mainstream news publications of the day (much like the recent New York Post cartoon). For example, in 1867 American cartoonist Thomas Nast drew “The Day We Celebrate” a cartoon depicting the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day as violent, drunken apes. And, in 1899, Harper’s Weekly featrued a drawing of three men’s heads in profile: Irish, Anglo-Teutonic and Negro, in order to illustrate the similarity between the Irish and the Negro (and, the supposed superiority of the Anglo-Teutonic). In northern states, blacks and Irish immigrants were forced into overlapping – often integrated – slum neighborhoods. Although leaders of the Irish liberation struggle (in Ireland) saw slavery as an evil, their Irish-American cousins largely aligned with the slaveholders.

And, following the end of slavery, the Irish and African Americans were forced to compete for the same low-wage, low-status jobs. So, the “white negroes” of the U.K. came to the United States and, though not enslaved, faced a status almost as low as that of recently-freed blacks. While there were moments of solidarity between Irish and African Americans, this was short lived.

Over the course of the 19th and early 20th century, Irish Americans managed to a great extent to enter and become part of the dominant white culture. In an attempt to secure the prosperity and social position that their white skin had not guaranteed them in Europe, Irish immigrants lobbied for white racial status in America. Although Irish people’s pale skin color and European roots suggested evidence of their white racial pedigree, the discrimination that immigrants experienced on the job (although the extent of the “No Irish Need Apply” discrimination is disputed), the simian caricatures they saw of themselves in the newspapers, meant that “whiteness” was a status that would be achieved, not ascribed.

For some time now, Irish-Americans have been thoroughly regarded as “white.” Evidence of this assimilation into whiteness is presented by Mary C. Waters (Harvard) in a recent AJPH article, in which she writes that “the once-rigid lines that divided European-origin groups from one another have increasingly blurred.” Waters goes on to predict that the changes that European immigrants ahve experienced are “becoming more likely for groups we now define as ‘racial.'” While I certainly agree that the boundaries of whiteness are malleable – it is a racial category that expands and contracts based on historical, cultural and social conditions – I don’t know if it is malleable enough to include all the groups we now define as ‘racial’ Others.

As people rush to embrace even fictive Irish heritage and encourage strangers to “Kiss Me I’m Irish” today, take just a moment to reflect on the history of racism and the pursuit of whiteness wrapped up in this holiday.

From the archive (originally posted 03-17-2009)

Research Brief: An Interview with Robin DiAngelo about ‘White Fragility’

For this week’s research brief, we’re highlighting the work of Robin DiAngelo. She was recently interviewed by Sam Adler-Bell, a journalist and policy associate at the Century Foundation, a NY-based think tank.

Research in the Dictionary

Last year, a white male Princeton undergraduate was asked by a classmate to “check his privilege.” Offended by this suggestion, he shot off a 1,300-word essay to the Tory, a right-wing campus newspaper.In it, he wrote about his grandfather who fled the Nazis to Siberia, his grandmother who survived a concentration camp in Germany, about the humble wicker basket business they started in America. He railed against his classmates for “diminishing everything [he’d] accomplished, all the hard work [he’d] done.”

His missive was reprinted by Time. He was interviewed by the New York Times and appeared on Fox News. He became a darling of white conservatives across the country.

What he did not do, at any point, was consider whether being white and male might have given him—if not his ancestors—some advantage in achieving incredible success in America. He did not, in other words, check his privilege.

To Robin DiAngelo, professor of multicutural education at Westfield State University and author of What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy, Tal Fortgang’s essay —indignant, defensive, beside-the-point, somehow both self-pitying and self-aggrandizing—followed a familiar script. As an anti-racist educator for more than two decades, DiAngelo has heard versions of it recited hundreds of times by white men and women in her workshops.

She’s heard it so many times, in fact, that she came up with a term for it: “white fragility,” which she defined in a 2011 journal article as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include outward display of emotions such as anger, fear and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence and leaving the stress-inducing situation.”

When the Black Lives Matter movement marched in the streets, holding up traffic, disrupting commerce, and refusing to allow “normal life” to resume—insofar as normalcy means a system that permits police and vigilantes to murder black men and women with impunity—white people found themselves in tense conversations online, with friends and in the media about privilege, white supremacy and racism. You could say white fragility was at an all-time high.

I spoke with DiAngelo about how to deal with all the fragile white people, and why it’s worth doing so.

Sam Adler-Bell: How did you come to write about “white fragility”?

Robin DiAngelo: To be honest, I wanted to take it on because it’s a frustrating dynamic that I encounter a lot. I don’t have a lot of patience for it. And I wanted to put a mirror to it.

I do atypical work for a white person, which is that I lead primarily white audiences in discussions on race every day, in workshops all over the country. That has allowed me to observe very predictable patterns. And one of those patterns is this inability to tolerate any kind of challenge to our racial reality. We shut down or lash out or in whatever way possible block any reflection from taking place.

Of course, it functions as means of resistance, but I think it’s also useful to think about it as fragility, as inability to handle the stress of conversations about race and racism

Sometimes it’s strategic, a very intentional push back and rebuttal. But a lot of the time, the person simply cannot function. They regress into an emotional state that prevents anybody from moving forward.

SAB: Carla Murphy recently referenced “white fragility” in an article for Colorlines, and I’ve seen it referenced on Twitter and Facebook a lot lately. It seems like it’s having a moment. Why do you think that is?

RD: I think we get tired of certain terms. What I do used to be called “diversity training,” then “cultural competency” and now, “anti-racism.” These terms are really useful for periods of time, but then they get coopted, and people build all this baggage around them, and you have to come up with new terms or else people won’t engage.

And I think “white privilege” has reached that point. It rocked my world when I first really got it, when I came across Peggy McIntosh. It’s a really powerful start for people. But unfortunately it’s been played so much now that it turns people off.

SAB: What causes white fragility to set in?

RD: For white people, their identities rest on the idea of racism as about good or bad people, about moral or immoral singular acts, and if we’re good, moral people we can’t be racist – we don’t engage in those acts. This is one of the most effective adaptations of racism over time—that we can think of racism as only something that individuals either are or are not “doing.”

In large part, white fragility—the defensiveness, the fear of conflict—is rooted in this good/bad binary. If you call someone out, they think to themselves, “What you just said was that I am a bad person, and that is intolerable to me.” It’s a deep challenge to the core of our identity as good, moral people.

The good/bad binary is also what leads to the very unhelpful phenomenon of un-friending on Facebook.

SAB: Right, because the instinct is to un-friend, to dissociate from those bad white people, so that I’m not implicated in their badness.

RD: When I’m doing a workshop with white people, I’ll often say, “If we don’t work with each other, if we give in to that pull to separate, who have we left to deal with the white person that we’ve given up on and won’t address?

SAB: A person of color.

RD: Exactly. And white fragility also comes from a deep sense of entitlement. Think about it like this: from the time I opened my eyes, I have been told that as a white person, I am superior to people of color. There’s never been a space in which I have not been receiving that message. From what hospital I was allowed to be born in, to how my mother was treated by the staff, to who owned the hospital, to who cleaned the rooms and took out the garbage. We are born into a racial hierarchy, and every interaction with media and culture confirms it—our sense that, at a fundamental level, we are superior.

And, the thing is, it feels good. Even though it contradicts our most basic principles and values. So we know it, but we can never admit it. It creates this kind of dangerous internal stew that gets enacted externally in our interactions with people of color, and is crazy-making for people of color. We have set the world up to preserve that internal sense of superiority and also resist challenges to it. All while denying that anything is going on and insisting that race is meaningless to us.

SAB: Something that amazes me is the sophistication of some white people’s defensive maneuvers. I have a black friend who was accused of “online harassment” by a white friend after he called her out in a harsh way. What do you see going on there?

RD: First of all, whites often confuse comfort with safety. We say we don’t feel safe, when what we mean is that we don’t feel comfortable. Secondly, no white person looks at a person of color through objective eyes. There’s been a lot of research in this area. Cross-racially, we do not see with objective eyes. Now you add that he’s a black man. It’s not a fluke that she picked the word “harassed.” In doing that, she’s reinforcing a really classic, racist paradigm: White women and black men. White women’s frailty and black men’s aggressiveness and danger.

But even if she is feeling that, which she very well may be, we should be suspicious of our feelings in these interactions. There’s no such thing as pure feeling. You have a feeling because you’ve filtered the experience through a particular lens. The feeling is the outcome. It probably feels natural, but of course it’s shaped by what you believe.

SAB: There’s also the issue of “tone-policing” here, right?

RD: Yes. One of the things I try to work with white people on is letting go of our criteria about how people of color give us feedback. We have to build our stamina to just be humble and bear witness to the pain we’ve caused.

In my workshops, one of the things I like to ask white people is, “What are the rules for how people of color should give us feedback about our racism? What are the rules, where did you get them, and whom do they serve?” Usually those questions alone make the point.

It’s like if you’re standing on my head and I say, “Get off my head,” and you respond, “Well, you need to tell me nicely.” I’d be like, “No. Fuck you. Get off my fucking head.”

In the course of my work, I’ve had many people of color give me feedback in ways that might be perceived as intense or emotional or angry. And on one level, it’s personal—I did do that thing that triggered the response, but at the same time it isn’t onlypersonal. I represent a lifetime of people that have hurt them in the same way that I just did.

And, honestly, the fact that they are willing to show me demonstrates, on some level, that they trust me.

SAB: What do you mean?

RD: If people of color went around showing the pain they feel in every moment that they feel it, they could be killed. It is dangerous. They cannot always share their outrage about the injustice of racism. White people can’t tolerate it. And we punish it severely—from job loss, to violence, to murder.

For them to take that risk and show us, that is a moment of trust. I say, bring it on, thank you.

When I’m doing a workshop, I’ll often ask the people of color in the room, somewhat facetiously, “How often have you given white people feedback about our inevitable and often unconscious racist patterns and had that go well for you?” And they laugh.

Because it just doesn’t go well. And so one time I asked, “What would your daily life be like if you could just simply give us feedback, have us receive it graciously, reflect on it and work to change the behavior? What would your life be like?”

And this one man of color looked at me and said, “It would be revolutionary.”

SAB: I notice as we’ve been talking that you almost always use the word “we” when describing white people’s tendencies. Can you tell me why you do that?

RD: Well, for one, I’m white (and you’re white). And even as committed as I am, I’m not outside of anything that I’m talking about here. If I went around saying white people this and white people that, it would be a distancing move. I don’t want to reinforce the idea that there are some whites who are done, and others that still need work. There’s no being finished.

Plus, in my work, I’m usually addressing white audiences, and the “we” diminishes defensiveness somewhat. It makes them more comfortable. They see that I’m not just pointing fingers outward.

SAB: Do you ever worry about re-centering whiteness?

RD: Well, yes. I continually struggle with that reality. By standing up there as an authority on whiteness, I’m necessarily reinforcing my authority as a white person. It goes with the territory. For example, you’re interviewing me now, on whiteness, and people of color have been saying these things for a very long time.

On the one hand, I know that in many ways, white people can hear me in a way that they can’t hear people of color. They listen. So by god, I’m going to use my voice to challenge racism. The only alternative I can see is to not speak up and challenge racism. And that is not acceptable to me.

It’s sort of a master’s tools dilemma.

SAB: Yes, and racism is something that everyone thinks they’re an authority on.

RD: That drives me crazy. I’ll run into someone I haven’t seen in 20 years in the grocery store, and they’ll say, “Hi! What’ve you been doing?”

And I say, “I got my Ph.D.”

And they say, “Oh wow, what in?”

“Race relations and white racial identity.”

And they’ll go “Oh, well you know. People just need to—”

As if they’re going to give me the one-sentence answer to arguably the most challenging social dynamic of our time. Like, hey, why did I knock myself out for 20 years studying, researching, and challenging this within myself and others? I should have just come to you! And the answer is so simple! I’ve never heard that one before!

Imagine if I was an astronomer. Everybody has a basic understanding of the sky, but they would not debate an astronomer on astronomy. The arrogance of white people faced with questions of race is unbelievable.

~ Sam Adler-Bell is a journalist and policy associate at the Century Foundation, a NY-based think tank. Follow him on Twitter: @SamAdlerBell. This interview was originally published March 12, 2015 on Alternet.

“Walk the Walk but Don’t Talk the Talk”: Color-Blind Ideology in Interracial Movement Organization

Color-blind ideology, which developed as part of the backlash to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement promoted the idea that skin color should not matter. In contemporary society, this often translates into the belief that racism no longer matters and that those who continually point racism out are trouble-makers “playing the race card.” In this context, even those organizations that repudiate racism are pressured to use racism-evasive strategies. Ironically, M. Hughey finds that white nationalist organizations are also using this post-racial rhetoric to their advantage by arguing that everyone, regardless of color, should have equal rights, including “whites.” For the white nationalist, organizing in a color-blind society means coming up with new ways to be taken seriously, since it is no longer appropriate to argue that people are inherently unequal. For progressive organizations, it means fighting an ambiguous form of racism that many refuse to see or discuss.

My study draws on three years of field work and interviews with twenty-five members of an interracial organization and coalition, analyzing the ways in which they address racism in private and public settings. I find that European American, Latino/a, and African American activists equally downplay the role of racism internally, and while they recognize the significance of racism externally, they do not make it a central part of their campaign. One African American woman summed it up this way,

There’s a way that you can bring that [racism] out without actually saying…Everything will speak for itself. It will eventually come to the forefront. (Personal Interview).

She felt that using the word racism against their opponents or addressing it explicitly in public settings would appear “unprofessional.” People of color who noticed racism within the organization also felt it better not to address it. A Latino organizer stated,

Anglos have a way of doing things, being so conniving…They are not in the fight, in the trenches. But if the publicity is there and the newspapers are there…they’ll show up…We do deal with that. We don’t talk about it, because if you talk about it and you say racism and all that, then you can jeopardize the whole movement (Personal Interview).

Activists justify these racism-evasive strategies by emphasizing action over talk. In their view, because they “walk the walk” they do not need to “talk the talk” on racism. Activists see themselves as “walking the walk” literally through marches and rallies and working within communities of color. As a European American organizer stated:

You know I think that the [the organization] does address that [racism]…we live in a city here that’s 60% African American and Latino…disproportionately members of those communities are poor…I think [the organization] makes the point without…using the labels (Personal Interview).

These findings have both theoretical and practical implications for studies of racial ideology and progressive movements. The term color-blind racism is problematic, because it combines a number of different components—racism, colorblind ideology, and racism evasiveness—which should be analyzed as separate but interrelated concepts. I suggest that colorblindness, as an ideology, promotes a certain racial worldview and political climate that leads to racism evasiveness. This racism evasiveness is what scholars are finding when their respondents argue that “the past is the past” or explain protests as “black unruliness.” These responses have typically been referred to as color-blind racism, color evasion, or power evasion. However, what is really being evaded is a specific form of racial power and racism.

While activists view racism evasiveness as necessary to solidarity, these strategies also limit their ability to challenge racism both within and outside of their organization. In fact, an African American man who left the organization stated:

They do too much over strategizing, over thinking [in the organization]. You know, it’s almost like, ‘We want to ruffle the feathers, but we only want to ruffle them to a certain point.’ No! Let’s ruffle the feathers until that chicken is bald, naked (Personal Interview).

For the most part, activists believe that there is a dichotomy between organizations, which talk about racism and those that act on it. Their pragmatic avoidance of talk is understandable, given the failure of many organizations to translate talk into action and the problems that may arise from calling out racist situations. However, the solution to the problems with talk is to throw it out entirely and instead focus on showing up to meetings, rallies, and marches. Avoiding discussions on racism internally may prevent the organization from dealing with complaints of racism when they arise. Also, if members are only communicating problems through a class analysis, how are they to justify their demands for greater representation of people of color on the job, in access to health care, and education, all racialized issues? Some antiracist training programs stress common language and analysis of structural racism for successful community organizing. Having that common language in the organization is important, because members noted different understandings of racism. Given these varied understandings, the organization could benefit from discussing how racism figures into their work. Progressive organizations must achieve a balance between talk and action, without relying on racism evasiveness.

~ Angie Beeman is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Department of Anthropology & Sociology, Baruch College-CUNY. 

Circulating Racist Videos, Emails and Outrage

The DOJ report on Ferguson highlighted the circulation of racist emails by police and city officials. Among the first fired in Ferguson were city officials who circulated those emails, such as Court Clerk Mary Ann Twitty.
Mary Ann Twitty Court Clerk Ferguson
Mary Ann Twitty, Fired Over Racist Emails
(Image source)
Within days of the DOJ report about racist emails, a YouTube video of a racist chant by SAE fraternity members, went viral with more than 2 million views in the first 24 hours. The video, and the protests that followed, resulted in the swift closing of the fraternity’s house on OU’s campus and the expulsion of several students.
OU SAE Racist Chant Video - screen shot
The irony, of course, is that while outrage about racist emails and videos leads the news and trends on Twitter, young black men – like Tony Robinson and Anthony Hill most recently – continue to die at the hands of police with alarming regularity.
But why? Why is the outrage about racist emails and videos so swift and severe? Part of the answer, to be sure, is this observation from Zak Cheney-Rice:

Americans have no idea what to do about racism. But “racists”? We can handle those. Racists are loud and obvious. Racists can’t hide; they trip and reveal themselves. Their emails leak. Videos of them circulate. Racists lose jobs and favor, because racists have bosses, and bosses know the best way to show they’re not racist is to point at racists and say, “That’s the bad guy.”

He’s right, of course. But there’s something else going on with the videos and racist emails that I no one’s talking about, and that’s the way that these things circulate and what that tells us about race, technology and call our culture.

Mary Ann Twitty and her white co-workers at the Ferguson Police Department routinely shared racist emails with each other. This is commonplace in American workplaces, as even conservative FoxNews reader Megyn Kelly acknowledges (she just think that should negate the DOJ report on Ferguson – because everyone else is doing it too, I guess).
MegynKelly
The point is, this is how many white Americans pass their time at work, sending emails that the senders likely characterize as “funny” or maybe “politically incorrect” but probably not racist (even though they are). They forward these emails for the same reason anyone forwards an email, “hey I saw this, and thought you would appreciate it.”

The forwarded racist email presumes a particular kind of audience: a receptive, like-minded reader. Mary Ann Twitty lost her job for sending racist emails, but it’s not clear that the emails were original content that began with her. If the responsibility for such email content rests solely with one sender and ends before it gets to the recipient, then it is a peculiar kind of individual responsibility for something – forwarding emails – which is in reality a type of collective activity.

Similarly, the video of the racist chant on the SAE bus at OU was circulated on Snapchat by friends of Parker Rice, Levi Pettit because it was the kind of thing that they and their friends felt comfortable sharing. They anticipated an audience filled with an imagined community of their like-minded, white college student friends.

That racist jokes and stories and, yes, chants are circulating among white friends and family in ways that are routine and that go unchallenged is, in some ways, not new. White people have long shared racist comments in white-only family gatherings or friendship groups. This is what’s known as the “backstage” . Leslie Houts Picca and Joe Feagin have collected extensive data on this phenomenon and written about it in their book Two-Faced Racism. The upshot of thousands of data points is that in white-only spaces white people tell racist jokes because they think such conversation will find a receptive audience. And, the evidence suggests, that it mostly does.

Remarkably, what most white people sending racist emails or recording racist videos fail to consider is that other people in the “frontstage”  — people who are not in their family or their immediate friendship circle and people who do not share their whites-only worldview – may not be such a receptive audience.

Instead, what happens now with this technology is that it can be used to call out people who behave in racist ways and expose such behavior to wider scrutiny. This is part of what has been referred to as “call out culture,” and not everyone is a fan of it because they see it as destructive to left-leaning causes because it’s a kind of eat-your-own quality.

But here’s the thing.

If the combination of call out culture and digital technologies can be used to expose and de-sanction white supremacy – and that’s really what connects Ferguson and the guys on the Sig’s bus – then that is a very good thing that we should be encouraging.

Liberate all the racist emails from the police departments and offices in the country. Expose them. Record those racist jokes at your next all-white meeting, and post it on YouTube. Call it all out.

Then, maybe we can begin addressing the dead black bodies in the streets.

Research Brief: Books, books and more books

This week’s research brief highlights several new (and new-ish) books for your scholarly reading list.

Research in the Dictionary

 

 

Morris, Scholar Denied, book cover

Description: In this groundbreaking book, Aldon D. Morris’s ambition is truly monumental: to help rewrite the history of sociology and to acknowledge the primacy of W. E. B. Du Bois’s work in the founding of the discipline. Taking on the prevailing narrative of how sociology developed, Morris, a major scholar of African American social movements, probes the way in which the history of the discipline has been written, giving credit to Robert E. Park at the University of Chicago, who worked with the conservative black leader Booker T. Washington to render Du Bois invisible. Uncovering the seminal theoretical work of Du Bois in developing a “scientific” sociology through a variety of methodologies, Morris examines how the leading scholars of the day disparaged and ignored Du Bois’s work. The Scholar Denied is based on extensive, rigorous primary source research; the book is the result of a decade of research, writing, and revision. In uncovering the economic and political factors that marginalized the contributions of Du Bois, enabling Park to be recognized as the “father” of the discipline, Morris delivers a wholly new narrative of American intellectual and social history that places one of America’s key intellectuals, W. E. B. Du Bois, at its center. The Scholar Denied is a must-read for everyone interested in American history, racial inequality, and the academy. In challenging our understanding of the past, the book promises to engender debate and discussion.  The first chapter is available open access here.

Moraga Anzaldua Book cover

 

Description: Originally released in 1981, This Bridge Called My Back is a testimony to women of color feminism as it emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Through personal essays, criticism, interviews, testimonials, poetry, and visual art, the collection explores, as coeditor Cherríe Moraga writes, “the complex confluence of identities—race, class, gender, and sexuality—systemic to women of color oppression and liberation.” Reissued here, nearly thirty-five years after its inception, the fourth edition contains an extensive new introduction by Moraga, along with a previously unpublished statement by Gloria Anzaldúa. The new edition also includes visual artists whose work was produced during the same period as Bridge, including Betye Saar, Ana Mendieta, and Yolanda López, as well as current contributor biographies. Bridge continues to reflect an evolving definition of feminism, one that can effectively adapt to, and help inform an understanding of the changing economic and social conditions of women of color in the United States and throughout the world.

Lentin_Titley_Bookcover

Description: Across the West, something called multiculturalism is in crisis. Regarded as the failed experiment of liberal elites, commentators and politicians compete to denounce its corrosive legacies; parallel communities threatening social cohesion, enemies within cultivated by irresponsible cultural relativism, mediaeval practices subverting national ‘ways of life’ and universal values. This important new book challenges this familiar narrative of the rise and fall of multiculturalism by challenging the existence of a coherent era of ‘multiculturalism’ in the first place. The authors argue that what we are witnessing is not so much a rejection of multiculturalism as a projection of neoliberal anxieties onto the social realities of lived multiculture. Nested in an established post-racial consensus, new forms of racism draw powerfully on liberalism and questions of ‘values’, and unsettle received ideas about racism and the ‘far right’ in Europe. In combining theory with a reading of recent controversies concerning headscarves, cartoons, minarets and burkas, Lentin and Titley trace a transnational crisis that travels and is made to travel, and where rejecting multiculturalism is central to laundering increasingly acceptable forms of racism.

Mulder_Bookcover

 

Description: Since World War II, historians have analyzed a phenomenon of “white flight” plaguing the urban areas of the northern United States. One of the most interesting cases of “white flight” occurred in the Chicago neighborhoods of Englewood and Roseland, where seven entire church congregations from one denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, left the city in the 1960s and 1970s and relocated their churches to nearby suburbs. In Shades of White Flight, sociologist Mark T. Mulder investigates the migration of these Chicago church members, revealing how these churches not only failed to inhibit white flight, but actually facilitated the congregations’ departure. Using a wealth of both archival and interview data, Mulder sheds light on the forces that shaped these midwestern neighborhoods and shows that, surprisingly, evangelical religion fostered both segregation as well as the decline of urban stability. Indeed, the Roseland and Englewood stories show how religion—often used to foster community and social connectedness—can sometimes help to disintegrate neighborhoods. Mulder describes how the Dutch CRC formed an insular social circle that focused on the local church and Christian school—instead of the local park or square or market—as the center point of the community. Rather than embrace the larger community, the CRC subculture sheltered themselves and their families within these two places. Thus it became relatively easy—when black families moved into the neighborhood—to sell the church and school and relocate in the suburbs. This is especially true because, in these congregations, authority rested at the local church level and in fact they owned the buildings themselves. Revealing how a dominant form of evangelical church polity—congregationalism—functioned within the larger phenomenon of white flight, Shades of White Flight lends new insights into the role of religion and how it can affect social change, not always for the better.

Happy reading!

Want to see your favorite sociology book here (including your own)? Drop us a note using the contact form and we’ll include it in an upcoming research brief.