Mickey the Dog and Kevin the Child

In Phoenix on February, 2014 a pit bull named Mickey attacked a 5-year-old named Kevin Vicente. According to the Arizona Republic, Kevin arrived at Maricopa Medical Center “with skin and tissue ripped off his face, a broken eye socket, detached tear ducts and a fractured jaw.” Kevin “eats and breathes through tubes while awaiting a series of reconstructive surgeries. “ He is expected to have permanent and painful scarring.

It seems that Mickey has a history of violence. A few months before his attack on Kevin, Mickey killed a neighbor’s dog. According to a County Report, Kevin was playing with other children in the presence of a baby sitter. Kevin ran past Mickey, within the range of Mickey’s chain, who “caught the boy from behind, took him to the ground and attacked his face . . . Adults were present and pulled the dog off.” Accounts of the incident are mixed. A neighbor who witnessed the event said that what provoked the attack was that Kevin took one of the dog’s bones.

Dogs may bite someone who takes their bones, but what Mickey did went far beyond that. John Schill, Mickey ‘s attorney , did not seem to agree. He blames the child: “Everybody supports Mickey. . . . Everybody is taught, from the moment they walk, you do not take a bone from a dog.”

Let me get this straight, Mr. Schill: a 5 year old in the middle of play has the nerve to take a vicious dog’s bone and the dog almost kills him. Man, “that’ll teach the little brat.”

Support for Mickey has been so extraordinary that it boggles the mind. An ABC news report outlines steps taken by Mickey’s friends to save his life.

Action was brought against Mickey, asking for him to be euthanized. A Phoenix attorney stepped in on behalf of Mickey and after several months of legal battles and an outcry from tens of thousands of people on social media asking Mickey’s life be spared, a judge ruled that Mickey is indeed vicious but his life could be saved if an appropriate sanctuary could be found.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio got in the act. The details of his intervention may be found at Mickey’s cam website:

He [Arpaio] went to court on behalf of the dog and offered the judge a way to save Mickey ….the Sheriff’s Office would give Mickey a ‘life sentence’ inside Arpaio’s MASH jail (Maricopa County Sheriff’s Animal Safe House). The pit bull would be offered no parole, and no probation in exchange for taking the death sentence off the table.

Incidentally, “Cam” refers to the fact that Mickey‘s website includes live footage of the pit bull in his living area.

Although the boy’s needs are serious, the concern for him doesn’t come close to that of Mickey’s:

[A] fundraising website for Kevin and his mother [has] raised $1,179 as of Tuesday [March 11]. . .Flora Medrano [a neighbor]said Kevin’s mother, a single parent, had to quit her job to take care of her son full time. With no other family in the U.S., Medrano said, the mother needs family and emotional support — yet neither is pouring in.

The 5-year-old Latino is in pain and suffers from nightmares. “He asks me [his mother] when his scars will go away. I say I don’t know.”

Has this (white) country lost its mind? A vicious dog that mauls a 5-year-old child has a big following, a lawyer, and its own website? A sheriff gets involved in the fate of the dog, but does nothing to help a gravely injured and poor child. The little boy is blamed for being nearly killed by a vicious dog and damaged for life. But it is the dog that captures the white public’s imagination. This seems the epitome of human degeneracy.

The obvious issue of race was addressed in only one of the articles I found. Its author puts it succinctly:

I may be wrong, but I seriously doubt that the pit bull would be alive if Kevin was a little white child, whose mother spoke English fluently.

Poor Reason: Culture Still Doesn’t Explain Poverty (Part 1)

Editors’ Note: Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson recently published an article in “The Chronicle Review” (Chronicle of Higher Education) in which he bemoans the fact that sociologists have not been drawn into President Obama’s special race initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper.” On this flimsy basis he trots out the claim that ever since Daniel Patrick Moynihan got pilloried for his 1963 Report on the Black Family, sociologists have shied away from cultural work dealing with black Americans out of fear that they will be accused of “blaming the victim.” This myth, originally advanced by William Julius Wilson, was thoroughly demolished by Stephen Steinberg in a 2011 piece in The Boston Review. Two excerpts from his article, which went viral after it was listed on the “Arts & Letters Daily” of the Chronicle of Higher Education, are republished here.

Part I, “Old Wine in New Bottles” shows how sociologists have repackaged discredited cultural explanations of poverty in recent decades. Steinberg’s claim is not that culture does not matter, but rather that culture is not an independent and self-sustaining cause of poverty. Poverty must be seen within the matrix of structural and institutional factors in which that culture is embedded. Part II, “The Comeback of the Culture of Poverty,” focuses on William Julius Wilson’s descent into cultural explanations of poverty, contradicting his earlier work on structural matters. In terms of social policy, Wilson has been a champion of the Harlem Children’s Zone and Obama’s Race to the Top, which provide erudite justifications for the defunding of public education and have led to the closing of important public schools in black neighborhoods across the nation.

PART I: VERY OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLES
The claim that the furor over the Moynihan report stymied research on lower-class culture for four decades is patently false. What was the massive underclass discourse of the 1980s if not old wine in new bottles—Moynihan’s culture arguments repackaged for a new generation of scholars and pundits?

As with the culture of poverty, the conception of the underclass had liberal origins. In his 1962 book Challenge to Affluence, Gunnar Myrdal borrowed a Swedish term for the lower class, underklassen, to refer to people who languished in poverty even during periods of economic growth and prosperity. This term entered popular discourse with the 1982 publication of Ken Auletta’s The Underclass, based on a series in The New Yorker.

Then, between 1986 and 1988, there was an outpouring of articles in U.S. News and World Report, The Atlantic Monthly, Fortune, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, and Time, all providing graphic and frightening portrayals of pathology and disorder in the nation’s ghettos. The image was of poverty feeding on itself, with the implication that cultural pathology was not just a byproduct of poverty but was itself a cause of pathological behavior. This was the explicit claim of a 1987 Fortune article by Myron Magnet:

What primarily defines [the underclass] is not so much their poverty or race as their behavior—their chronic lawlessness, drug use, out-of-wedlock births, nonwork, welfare dependency and school failure. ‘Underclass’ describes a state of mind and a way of life. It is at least as much cultural as an economic condition.

Social science lagged behind journalism, but by the late ’80s, with the backing of charitable foundations, a cottage industry of technocratic studies appeared charting the size and social constitution of the underclass. In his 1991 article “The Underclass Myth,” Adolph Reed noted the reinstatement of the culture-of-poverty theory during the Reagan-Bush era. The pendulum had swung so far to culture that Reed was pleading for a restoration of structure:

We should insist on returning the focus of the discussion of the production and reproduction of poverty to examination of its sources in the operations of the American political and economic system. Specifically, the discussion should focus on such phenomena as the logic of deindustrialization, models of urban redevelopment driven by real-estate speculation, the general intensification of polarization of wealth, income, and opportunity in American society, the ways in which race and gender figure into those dynamics, and, not least, the role of public policy in reproducing and legitimating them.

Reed ended on a note of personal exasperation:

I want the record to show that I do not want to hear another word about drugs or crime without hearing in the same breath about decent jobs, adequate housing, and egalitarian education.

Culturalists confuse cause and effect, arguing that lack of social mobility among black youth is a product of their culture rather than the other way around. Yet here we are, two decades later, with a special issue of a prestigious journal, the Annals, launched with fanfare and a congressional briefing, bombastically claiming that “culture is back on the policy agenda,” as though it had not been there all along. Even as the editors take up this “long-abandoned topic,” however, they are careful to distance themselves from culture-of-poverty theorists who were accused of “blaming the victim,” and they scoff at the idea that the poor “might cease to be poor if they changed their culture.” Indeed, readers are assured that “none of the three editors of this volume happens to fall on the right of the political spectrum.” Alas, the culture of poverty has not made a comeback after all. The new culturalists have learned from the mistakes of the past, and only want to study culture in the context of poverty—that is, in the selective and limited ways that culture matters in the lives of the poor.

True to form, the rest of the Annals issue is a compendium of studies informed by this “more sophisticated” conception of culture. One study examines “How Black and Latino Service Workers Make Decisions about Making Referrals.” Another explores how poor men define a “good job.” Still another ventures into the perilous waters of the black family, examining the “repertoire of infidelity” among low-income men.

The problem is less with the questions asked than with the ones left unexamined. The editors and authors are careful to bracket their inquiries with appropriate obeisance to the ultimate grounding of culture in social structure. But their research objectives, methodology, data collection, and analysis are all riveted on the role of culture. Is obeisance enough? If the cultural practices under examination are merely links in a chain of causation, and are ultimately rooted in poverty and joblessness, why are these not the object of inquiry? Why aren’t we talking about the calamity of another generation of black youth who, excluded from job markets, are left to languish on the margins, until they cross the line of legality and are swept up by the criminal justice system and consigned to unconscionable years in prison where, at last, they find work, for less than a dollar an hour, if paid at all? Upon release they are “marked men,” frequently unable to find employment or to assume such quotidian roles as those of husband or father.

Enter the sociologist, to record the agony of the dispossessed. Does it really matter how they define a “good job” when they have virtually no prospect of finding one? Does it matter how they approach procreation, how they juggle “doubt, duty, and destiny” when they are denied the jobs that are the sine qua non of parenthood? Aren’t we asking the wrong questions? Do the answers bring us any closer to understanding why this nation has millions of racial outcasts who are consigned to a social death?

Note: Portions of the post appeared in The Boston Review in 2011.

The Stacked Deck

So this happened:

After driving around that corner and through this yellow light, up the one-way street and around again through the morning work traffic in an unfamiliar neighborhood of Brooklyn, I found a parking spot in front of a row of brownstones. I grabbed my gym bag from the back seat, double-checked the locks on the doors, and kicked down the cracked sidewalk toward the YMCA. I had never been here before. This particular neighborhood had fences. Not the decorative ones skirting the trees and patches of grass pervasive to NYC in general to keep unaware pedestrians and wandering animals at bay. Here the fences were prohibitive rather than suggestive. The fences here climbed high over the first story windows and barred the second.

Here they laced even the doorways. As I approached the intersection, I noticed a middle-aged woman with a drag-behind, travel carryon walking my direction from across the street. She hoisted her bag against her side with one arm, not utilizing the wheels. Even this early in the morning, her shoulder length hair fell in smooth brown curls to frame her warm complexion, her make-up flawless. There was little movement on this street. A few people lingered by the YMCA entrance. One man sat on his steps watching the morning pass. I noticed them as I did the approaching woman and, adhering to New York social code, did not avert my eyes from my destination. No salutary smile or nod as my Southern manners dictated. I was far from home and the only person of my race in sight; my only objective here was to exercise and get cleaned up for the day ahead listening to the presentations at The New School. As the woman and I crossed paths she paused to yell, “Why don’t you jump off the bridge, you white bitch.” I kept my eyes forward and laughed a little to myself not having expected any acknowledgment—let alone one of such caliber. Seconds later she continued. “If you are white, stay on the other side of the river.” I smiled to myself and went inside, not giving the matter much more thought.

OK, that last sentence was a lie. This interaction turned and turned inside my mind—as I ran, as I showered, as I rode the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan, even as I listened to bell hooks’ discussion on transgression and the presentation of black bodies in media.

Here’s the rub: this is not racism. The woman who yelled at me was not being racist.

Granted, she was not being polite, but the equivocation of affronted political correctness with racism has too long overshadowed the underlying issue. This was outside of politesse but not racist even though the comment referred to my race. And here is why: I laughed. Perhaps I laughed at the tale as a possible narrative for, as a writer, I constantly look for novel anecdotes about what “happened on the way to the forum.” Or it could have been the oddity and surprise of the situation which amused me. Or it could have been the realization of completely misreading her that morning and possessing zero understanding of what experiences occupied her mind or the possible slights she was diffusing. But the point is still there: I laughed. Her invective was not a threat. My safety, ability to comport myself, or my socio-economic progression was in no way hampered by her anger. Hell, my day wasn’t even ruined.

Racism is not about the feelings of one person toward another. Let us not confuse it with prejudice where a personal predilection dictates action based upon stereotyped assumptions or fears about a perceived racial, sexual, or class orientation. It is much, much bigger than that.

Much, much bigger than you or me or the aforementioned woman. It is a systematic discrimination and withholding of privilege, safety, ability, and comfort because of color and/or nationality. It exists as an institution above us, behind our language, and within our social code.

Even as an outsider dissimilar with the majority of the inhabitants of an unfamiliar neighborhood, I felt perfectly at ease to conduct my business and to move freely without inhibition or concern for my safety or any fear of oppression. I was not going to be stopped by the police for looking suspicious or for not fitting in. My earning potential was not hampered by her displeasure. No possibility was barred me for looking as I do. Nor did I feel the threat of danger or assault on my person because of my racial positionality. The system, even when a physical minority, has been established to give me a chance. And that chance affords a place, an ability to determine my own definition, and even the ability to laugh at situations that could have been risky or frightful had the mechanisms of privilege been switched.

Racism is not only within an inappropriate joke, a look askance at someone as they pass by, a burning cross, or discrimination of housing and/or employment. Each one of those acts are complicit participation within a system which is established and reinforced by the hetero-normative, imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.

Now don’t get me wrong here.

This is not to vilify or cast blame upon any particular person who participates or identifies with the dominant socio-class. No offense, but this system is bigger than that. We are past the days when we can point at any particular white, straight, business man as the enforcer of the system.

But unless you are actively working to dissemble the mechanisms of privilege and empower diversity in all forms, you are simultaneously upholding the system which benefits one while restricting others.

An aspect of privilege most of us privileged don’t want to admit is that we don’t have to think about privilege. Peggy McIntosh called facing white privilege “elusive and fugitive,” over twenty-five years ago, and as a whole, we have not encroached upon any robust apprehension of it since. White (and male) privilege is rarely considered until threatened. When I walk into the room, no one wonders why I am where I am, if I am alone, if I am leaving alone, or going home with them. Their thought is not one of belonging or whether or not I have upset delicate social relationships in being where I am. And since I have not upset persona particular expectations, the perceivers are not confronted with their own self-definition. They continue on without ever wondering where they stand within the social spectrum. It is frighteningly easy to ignore. And unless confronted, acknowledged, and challenged, it will refuse to reconstruct within a paradigm of greater equality. Life is most profoundly felt at its perimeters. Society has given me a berth where the perimeters lie upon who I know, what kind of girls I date, and what car I drive. Those are the requisites and possible impediments to perceived success within the “myth of meritocracy” wherein most people benefited by privilege believe privilege itself is hinged upon personal drive and acumen.

Because that is the locus of struggle for most who have the same socio-economic identity as I do, that is also the limits of perceived persona. Still, worlds exist outside of that monolithic worldview which are as valid and beautiful as any sphere imaginable. Unfortunately, by most, these worlds are not seen.

This works to the depth that most of you reading this probably assumed my white male-ness as a given in the short episode above because it was not mentioned (and props to those of you who didn’t). It is that pervasive. Think about that. What does that then mean when the perception shifts? What are the other assumptions which are inferred? Do any of those assumptions restrict or endanger someone’s freedom and ability to express themselves? If it is easy for you to pass a police officer without worry of being frisked or arrested for looking how you do, remember that.

If you can walk home alone without worry of being assaulted, taken, violated or worse, remember that. If you are able to declare the love of your beloved without fear of being beaten, fired, or ostracized, remember that. Now think about all those who can’t—think of all those who are struggling under a system which demands of their identity explanation, justification, or apology. And what are you doing to champion difference?

~ This post was written by Steele Peterson Campbell, a graduate of Auburn University, with a Master’s Degree in Literature. He is a writer who is currently completing his first novel and currently resides in Nashville, TN. You can follow Steele on Twitter @TheSteeleC.

No Indictment in Eric Garner Case

On July 17, 2014 Eric Garner was approached by NYPD officers on a street in Staten Island. The NYPD suspected Garner of selling untaxed cigarettes, not in packs or cartons, known as “loosies”, a violation of the law usually handled by a ticket. This interaction quickly escalated and ended with the death of Mr. Garner at the hands of NYPD officers.

GarnerProtests_Lynchings

  (Image by Jessie Daniels – CC – attribution, non-commercial)

Almost all of the interaction between the NYPD and Mr. Garner was recorded on a cell phone video camera. One officer, Daniel Pantaleon, can clearly be seen pressing down on Mr. Garner’s body while several other officers gather around his body. On the recording, you can plainly – and painfully – hear Mr. Garner yelling,“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” The person who recorded that video, Ramsey Orta, was indicted on a previous and unrelated charge.

Garner’s death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. And, in August, several thousand of us from around NYC marched on Staten Island to protest this death at the hands of police.

GarnerProtest_Justice

(Image by Jessie Daniels – CC – attribution, non-commercial)

Yet, today, a grand jury on Staten Island decided to not to indict Pantaleon. The reporting by most mainstream news outlets here in New York is focused on the scurrilous “will there be ‘rioting’ in the wake of this decision?” angle. But make no mistake, the no-bill decision by the grand jury in New York is not a local issue. As Nick Mirzoeff argued in a post earlier today about the Mike Brown case in Ferguson:

This is a systemic failure, not a local issue in St. Louis. For the election of Barack Obama has not changed the underlying structures of what Joe Feagin and Sean Elias call “systemic racism,” which “refers to the foundational, large-scale and inescapable hierarchical system of US racial oppression devised and maintained by whites and directed at people of color” (Feagin and Ellis 2013: 936). As Angela Davis has argued, the penitentiary system was a vital pillar for the white supremacy created after the abolition of slavery (2007). Legal scholar Michelle Alexander has called her analysis of the New Jim Crow at work in today’s prison-industrial complex, a “racial caste system” which is “creating and perpetuating a racial hierarchy in the United States” (New Jim Crow: 16).

In short, white supremacy and racial hierarchy are not incidental parts of the justice system as we now have it but are constitutive of it. What Ferguson has made visible cannot be simply “fixed” by a review of the grand jury system or other tinkering. White supremacy is the system. Many (white) people are not ready to go there yet. We have to help them.

Just as the decision in Ferguson to not indict Darren Wilson in the death of Mike Brown is not an aberration, so too is the decision to not indict Daniel Panteleon in the death of Eric Garner. This is the system of white supremacy at work, and it works with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine. Justice isn’t merely indicting one officer or locking up one cop, it’s changing the whole system. Justice means dismantling the machine of white supremacy so that it no longer churns up black bodies with regularity.

Rodney King speaks with fans before pres (Rodney King)

Right now, there are many people that I respect who are calling for body cameras on police as a way forward to racial justice, but a video didn’t make a difference for Eric Garner. And, a video helped ACQUIT the officers who beat Rodney King nearly to death. So, even as President Obama goes ahead with a request for $263 million of dollars for body cameras for 50,000 police, I’m not persuaded this is a solution. While I get the desire to “do something” in the face of the ongoing injustice, body cameras seem like a techno-solution to systemic racism that needs to be addressed by other means. The fact is, the system of white supremacy keeps churning in a way that protects (white) cops and keeps damaging black bodies.

Police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012. A recent report by grassroots activists estimates that every 28 hours a black man is killed by police. While the report can and should be faulted for not paying enough (or, indeed any) attention to the extrajudicial killings of cisgender and transgender women of color, the report is valuable to the extent that documents killings that the federal government is not.

As the Wall Street Journal reported today, hundreds of police killings are not counted in federal statistics (paywall).  The report looked at data from 105 of America’s largest police agencies and found that it is “nearly impossible to determine how many people are killed by the police each year.” They also found that the FBI numbers about police killings vary greatly from those provided by the Centers for Disease Control and by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to the report:

“more than 550 police killings between 2007 and 2012 weren’t included in the FBI’s national tally.  The Journal looked at internal FBI records and found that while the 105 departments had 1,825 police killings, only 1,242 were reported as “justifiable homicides” by the FBI. The Journal “identified several holes in the FBI data” — of the 105 agencies contacted, justifiable police homicides from 35 agencies weren’t in the FBI records at all. Police in Washington, D.C., for example, didn’t report police killings to the FBI from 1998 to 2008, when the city “had one of the highest rates of officer-involved killings in the country.” In 28 of the 70 agencies that did report homicide data, the FBI report was missing records of police killings. And “missing from the FBI data are killings involving federal officers.” (from Meghan DeMaria, The Week)

Instead of body cameras on police, I’m more inclined to want to see federal action to collect data on police involved killings. Yet, the research tells me that gathering statistics is not likely to change the system of white supremacy either.

As Jamelle Bouie noted in his piece about the research of Jennifer Eberhardt, we know that—among white Americans—there’s a strong cognitive connection between “blackness” and criminality. “The mere presence of a black man can trigger thoughts that he is violent and criminal,” observes Eberhardt and colleagues in a 2004 paper. Basically, the twisty-racial dynamic plays out like this: tell people that blacks are over-represented in prison, and it triggers thoughts of crime, which leads to fear, which causes people to follow their fear and embrace the status quo of unfair, overly punitive punishments, like not indicting NYPD cops for homicide.

So, what is to be done to dismantle this system of white supremacy? To paraphrase Ella Baker, until the killing of black people is as important to the whole nation as the killing of a white person, we cannot rest.

GarnerProtest_EveryMothersSon (Image by Jessie Daniels – CC – attribution, non-commercial)

Native Americans Mark Thanksgiving with ‘National Day of Mourning’ Protests

FirstMourning_1970

(Image source)

Today, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Native Americans will gather to mark a “National Day of Mourning,” as they have for more than 40 years. The protests began in 1970 by Wamsutta Frank James and are carried on by his son, Moonaum James.

PlymouthProtest_2008

(Image source)

In an interview with the Boston Globe, James said demonstrators are not against Thanksgiving, but rather want to “correct the history” of the holiday that suggests that the Pilgrims and Native Americans coexisted peacefully. “We’re not there to condemn, and not there to do anything other than point out some truths,” he said.

 

NationalDayOfMourning

(Image source)

It’s expected that more than 100 people will gather today at noon and then continue with rallies at Plymouth Rock and at the site of the Metacomet (King Philip) historical marker to remember the Native Americans who died after the Europeans arrived in the 1600s and to highlight the struggles some Native Americans face today.

 

Ferguson: No Indictment in Shooting of Michael Brown

On August 9, Ferguson Missouri officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, African American teenager. Brown’s dead body was left in the street for four and a half hours, baking on that hot summer asphalt. On August 25, Michael Brown’s parents buried their son, a young man who had been college-bound at the time he was gunned down. Tonight – 108 days later – Missouri prosecutor Robert McCulloch chose not to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown, citing a lack of physical evidence and “conflicting eyewitness accounts” in the case. In a long, sometime rambling public statement, McCulloch blamed “social media” and the “24-hour news cycle”  as “challenges” in coming to a verdict in the case.

parents of michael brown hold a photo of the slain teen

(image source)

If you have not been following the case of Michael Brown, his death joins a long lineage of young, black and brown men (and women and trans people) killed by white supremacist violence. Since his death in August, many have been placing Michael Brown alongside Emmett Till, as part of a tragic legacy. And, this legacy is only getting worse through legitimation. Whereas Emmett Till, and so many other lynched, were killed by extrajudicial means – as Ida B. Wells found – the killing of Michael Brown is intrajudicial – it is within the law. Sanctioned. Blessed, even, by the prosecutor as a “tragedy” which we can learn to “profit from” in a “productive way.”

The fact is that there is no reason that the U.S. has to have so many deaths each year of its citizens at the hands of police. It’s simply not required. Other western, industrialized nations organize themselves differently, do policing differently, and have radically fewer police-induced-deaths than we do here in the US.

police shootinss by country

(Image source)

These deaths at the hands of police, primarily of young black and brown men, is a choice. And, we can make a different choice.

Shortly after the press conference by McCulloch in Missouri, President Obama made a statement from the White House about the events in Ferguson. He began his remarks by emphasizing the “rule of law” and highlighting the need for “peace” and the importance of protecting “property.” As he began speaking, police in Ferguson began deploying teargas, resulting in a telling split screen of the President and the protests.

SplitScreen

(Image source)

On the same day that President Obama offered this tepid, muted and halfhearted support for the people of Ferguson, Missouri he also awarded civil rights heroes Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner the (posthumous) Medal of Freedom honor.

Even as the prosecutor refused to indict Wilson and the President of the US moved to mollify collective outrage at the shooting, protestors were in the streets.

Dasha, 29, arrested in Ferguson

(Image source)

Such protests speak to the deep rage at the continued injustice of the routine killings of young black people on the streets of the U.S.

The events in Ferguson puts me in mind of this quote from a speech from an earlier movement for social justice:

“[There comes] a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.”

I want to know: where do I go to put my body upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus to make the destruction of black bodies stop?

Because I am ready.

This must end.

 

Research Brief: Race, Perception, Reality

I attended the #FacingRace14 conference and I’m still processing that experience, but one of the most interesting breakout sessions I attended was about research on language, perceptions and “racial anxiety.” So, I’m using that as a jumping off point to share some related research in today’s research brief.  As always, I note which pieces are freely available on the web, or “open access” with (OA), and those behind a paywall with (locked).

Research in the Dictionary

  • Godsil,Rachel D., Philip Atiba Goff, Linda Tropp and john a. powell,  The Science of Equality Volume 1: Addressing Implicit Bias, Racial Anxiety, and Stereotype Threat in Education and Health Care. (Report, Perception Institute, 2013). Abstract: Synthesizing hundreds of studies, this report details how unconscious phenomena in our minds–implicit bias, racial anxiety, and stereotype threat–impact our education and health care systems, while offering empirical, research-driven solutions to overcome their effects. (OA)
  • Hall, Erika V., Katherine W. Phillips, and Sarah SM Townsend. “A rose by any other name?: The consequences of subtyping “African-Americans” from “Blacks”.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 56 (2015): 183-190. Abstract: Racial labels often define how social groups are perceived. The current research utilized both archival and experimental methods to explore the consequences of the “Black” vs. “African-American” racial labels on Whites’ evaluations of racial minorities. We argue that the racial label Black evokes a mental representation of a person with lower socioeconomic status than the racial label African-American, and that Whites will react more negatively toward Blacks (vs. African-Americans). In Study 1, we show that the stereotype content for Blacks (vs. African-Americans) is lower in status, positivity, competence, and warmth. In Study 2, Whites view a target as lower status when he is identified as Black vs. African-American. In Study 3, we demonstrate that the use of the label Black vs. African-American in a US Newspaper crime report article is associated with a negative emotional tone in that respective article. Finally, in Study 4, we show that Whites view a criminal suspect more negatively when he is identified as Black vs. African-American. The results establish how racial labels can have material consequences for a group. (locked)
  • powell, john a. Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society. (Indiana University Press, 2012). Short description: Meditations on race, identity, and social policy provide an outline for laying claim to our shared humanity and a way toward healing ourselves and securing our future. The book challenges us to replace attitudes and institutions that promote and perpetuate social suffering with those that foster relationships and a way of being that transcends disconnection and separation. (locked)

 

Happy reading!

Want to see your research featured in one of our upcoming briefs? Drop us a note using the contact form.

 

SlutWalk, #Hashtag Activism and the Trouble with White Feminism

When Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti gave a talk on health and safety to a group of students in Toronto, he told them that “women should avoid dressing like sluts”  so as not to get raped.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Sanguinetti’s remarks outraged many of the people. Instead of just getting angry, some of these young women organized the first “SlutWalk” protest in early 2011 demanding an end to what they called “slut shaming.” Thanks in large measure to the affordances of social media, the tactic of slut walks quickly crossed national boundaries to become what scholar Joetta Carr calls an “transnational feminist movement,” with historical antecedents in “Take Back the Night” marches and parallels with contemporaneous grassroots protest movements that are organized through and fueled by social media. In July 2014, Toronto feminists held the third SlutWalk with, of course, an updated hashtag #SWTO2014.

Protesters in SlutWalk Toronto

(Image source)

The history of hashtag activism is still in first draft to be sure, but there is already an emergent scholarship on SlutWalks that can be illuminating for understanding this mediated form of feminist activism, race, and the trouble with white feminism – and there has been quite a lot of trouble with white feminism in SlutWalks.

SlutWalks were (and are) primarily organized by white women who “are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result.” SlutWalk aims to “reclaim” the word “slut,” through street protests organized online. Black women and other women of color have participated in the marches. The marches have spread to other countries, such as Buenos Aires,

SlutWalk_WOC

(Image source)

Through most of 2011, feminist blogs and some more mainstream media covered SlutWalks. While most of the mainstream media coverage focused on the role of social media in ‘toppling a dictator’ in Egypt at around the same time, SlutWalks got covered in a rather trivializing way that focused on the ‘scantily clad’ women and mostly ignored race in any meaningful way. This coverage in mainstream feminist blogs – Jezebel, Feministing – largely ignored the fact that for the most part, the SlutWalk marches as a cultural phenomenon are by, for and about white women of the Global North.

But women of color writers, such as Aura Bogado, noticed and called out the marches, as in Bogado’s SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy piece from May, 2011. That’s not to say there were many outlets – either news outlets or feminist blogs – eager to publish this work. In a preface to this piece on her blog, Bogado explains her difficulty getting the piece published, and by so doing, speaks to the trouble she faces with the white feminism that shapes SlutWalks, she writes:

With so much dialogue surrounding SlutWalk lately, I wanted to insert the voice of a woman of color to add critical pressure from the margins; however, I found it difficult to find an outlet that would publish me. I first queried The Guardian, which had already printed a couple of pieces authored by white women about the event, and never heard anything back (they have, subsequently, posted more pieces about SlutWalk, all authored by white women). I then attempted to add this post on HuffPo, where I have contributed in the past – although they were nice enough to at least respond to me, they rejected my post. Rather than waste another week trying to find an outlet, I’ve taken the advice of people I love and trust and have revived my once-retired blog to post a piece that (oddly enough) explains some of the ways in which white women have constructed a conversation that women of color can’t seem to participate in.

 

SlutWalk_WhiteSupremacy

 (Screenshot from ToTheCurb by Aura Bogado)

 

Bogado calls into question the very genesis of the SlutWalk movement as rooted in a white feminist view of the world, as when she says:

I understand the need to denounce this type of speech (Sanguinetti’s remarks), particularly when uttered by a law enforcement officer. But what struck me was the fact that a group of students gathered with law enforcement to begin with. As people of color, our communities are plagued with police brutality, and inviting them into our spaces in order to somehow feel safer rarely crosses our minds. I’ve attended several workshops and panels on sexual violence and would never imagine seeing law enforcement in attendance. Groups like INCITE! have done a tremendous amount of work to address the way that systemic violence is directed against women in communities of color through “police violence, war and colonialism,” as well as to address the type of interpersonal violence between individuals within a community, such as sexual assault and domestic violence. SlutWalk “want[s] Toronto Police Services to take serious steps to regain [their] trust;” our communities, meanwhile, never trusted the police to begin with.

Bogado was among the first to call out the privileged position inherent in a political movement whose goal is focused on “regaining” a trustworthy relationship with police while immigrant women, Black and brown women, poor women, and transgender women whether born in the U.S. or not, are presumed to be sex workers, targeted as “sex offenders,” and are routinely abused by police with impunity, and their deaths ignored.  Bogado notes that,

“Despite decades of work from women of color on the margins to assert an equitable space, SlutWalk has grown into an international movement that has effectively silenced the voices of women of color and re-centered the conversation to consist of a topic by, of, and for white women only.”

In many ways, SlutWalks – like so much of white feminist activism of the digital era – is simply repeating the historical mistakes of previous generations of feminism. This repetition of previous feminist history is the focus of scholars Dow and Wood note in their article, “Repeating History and Learning From It: What Can SlutWalks Teach Us About Feminism?” (Women’s Studies in Communication 37, no. 1 (2014): 22-43).

However, Dow and Wood ultimately take a stance that effectively recuperates the SlutWalks by arguing that the “dissent” by women of color is not “an indicator of feminism’s weakness,” but rather “a symptom of its continuing vitality.” Such a turn undermines the powerful critiques of Bogado, which are rooted in the work of queer, feminist scholars of color such as  Gloria Anzaldúa.

Bogado’s assessment of SlutWalks as a “stroll through white supremacy” in May 2011 proved to be prescient given the way the rest of the movement has unfolded.

In September, 2011 the organization Black Women’s Blueprint issued An Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk. The Open Letter included this passage, juxtaposing the contemporary SlutWalk movement against the history of Black women’s movements in the U.S.:

Black women have worked tirelessly since the 19th century colored women’s clubs to rid society of the sexist/racist vernacular of slut, jezebel, hottentot, mammy, mule, sapphire; to build our sense of selves and redefine what women who look like us represent. Although we vehemently support a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants anytime, anywhere, within the context of a “SlutWalk” we don’t have the privilege to walk through the streets of New York City, Detroit, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, L.A. etc., either half-naked or fully clothed self-identifying as “sluts” and think that this will make women safer in our communities an hour later, a month later, or a year later.  Moreover, we are careful not to set a precedent for our young girls by giving them the message that we can self-identify as “sluts” when we’re still working to annihilate the word “ho”, which deriving from the word “hooker” or “whore”, as in “Jezebel whore” was meant to dehumanize.  Lastly, we do not want to encourage our young men, our Black fathers, sons and brothers to reinforce Black women’s identities as “sluts” by normalizing the term on t-shirts, buttons, flyers and pamphlets.

The Open Letter also explicitly challenged the political goal of “reclaiming” offensive terms, saying, “We are perplexed by the use of the term “slut” and by any implication that this word, much like the word “Ho” or the “N” word should be re-appropriated.” 

There were dissenting views, to be sure. For example, both Salamishah Tillet, writing at The Nation and Janell Hobson, writing at the Ms. Magazine blog, wrote responses to the Open Letter from Black Women , expressing concern about what they saw as the “politics of respectability” in the letter.

This Open Letter, and these responses, were widely circulated through social media networks and, presumably, among SlutWalk organizers, but there is little evidence that the message from the Black Women’s Blueprint got any traction with white feminists given what happened next.

Not quite a month after the Open Letter was published, there was a SlutWalkNYC march in Union Square and a young white woman held up a hand-lettered sign with a quote from  Yoko Ono. The intentionally provocative line from 1969 is meant to evoke women’s subjugation through the use of a racial slur. It was controversial when Ono first said it, and as Aishah Shahidah Simmons reminds us about that time, “Several Black feminists, including Pearl Cleage, challenged Yoko Ono’s racist (to Black women) statement. “If Woman is the “N” of the World, what does that make Black Women, the “N, N” of the World?”.

SlutwalkNYCsign

Organizers of SlutWalkNYC apologized, but other white feminists continued to defend the use of the term, saying things like “but rappers…”

Aishah Shahidah Simmons, activist and filmmaker and self-described “supporter of the goals of SlutWalk”, raised the following questions about the appearance of the sign:

How can so many White feminists be absolutely clear about the responsibility of ALL MEN TO END heterosexual violence perpetrated against women; and yet turn a blind eye to THEIR RESPONSIBILITY TO END racism? Is Sisterhood Global? This picture says NO! very loudly and very clearly.

Simmons ends her piece with a postscript of links to other women of color writing responses to the sign, including the Crunk Feminist Collective, Akiba Solomon, and LaToya Peterson.

Yet, despite all this excellent and openly available critique by feminists of color writing about SlutWalks, the emerging scholarship on the movement largely ignores this, thus effectively replaying the erasure of women of color in this act of knowledge production about the movement.

One scholar, Joetta Carr, heralds SlutWalk as a successful transnational feminist movement in The Journal of Feminist Scholarship (Issue 4, Spring 2013). While Carr quotes at length the women of color who defend SlutWalk (or, more to the point, who are critical of the Open Letter), she doesn’t mention the appearance of the sign at SlutWalkNYC. Carr ends her piece by saying that the full extent and meaning of the contributions of the SlutWalk movement to the overall struggle against gender oppression and the patriarchy may only be understood in the decades to come.” 

In fact, I think the SlutWalk movement is already over, hoisted on its own pitard of white feminism.

Writing at the blog Sustainable Mothering in mid-October 2011, J. (Jake) Kathleen Marcus calls the movement’s failure the “implosion of SlutWalk” and apologizes for her own complicity in the racism of the movement. Marcus basically taps out of the movement by the end of that piece, saying to fellow activists “I hope our paths cross again” in movement building but clearly indicating it won’t be at a SlutWalk march.

Telling the story of SlutWalk’s in the feminist scholarly literature is rarely, if ever, laid at the feet of white feminism, but rather at the “continuation of racial divides in North American feminism,” as Jo Reger puts it in “The Story of a Slut Walk Sexuality, Race, and Generational Divisions in Contemporary Feminist Activism.” (Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (2014): 0891241614526434).

The discursive use of “racial divides” is an interesting one here because within the North American context, white women are not “racialized” – are not seen to “have” race – in the way that women of color have been and continue to be. Thus, such unspecific language – “racial divides” instead of “white women” or “white feminism” – is a rhetorical move that once again places blame on women of color for the “divides” happening in feminism. This is precisely the move that Michelle Goldberg takes in her Toxic Twitter Wars piece, and it’s a move that we see again and again from white feminists, which basically says, “we were all good setting the agenda for what feminism is and should be until those unruly women of color came along and spoiled it for everyone.”

Cyberfeminists of the 1990s imagined a new technoculture in which feminist would be “hacking through the constraints of old programming and envisioning a postpatriarchal future.” Instead, we find ourselves in a 21st-century reality that is augmented by digital technologies yet continues to serve the interests of white feminists.

 

 <<<< Previous post in series

Anti-Racist Protest in Minneapolis against NFL Team Name

Earlier this week (Nov.3), approximately 5,000 anti-racist activists marched from the University of Minnesota campus to the nearby NFL stadium to demand change of the name of the ‘Redskins’ franchise.

According to one report, a Native American (name not given) speaker said, “They don’t know how to honor us. We honor ourselves today.” People marching held up signs, some of which read: “Racial slurs are not an honor” and “There is no honor in a name that represents racism.” The comments contrasted those made previously by team owner Dan Snyder, who has insisted that the dictionary-defined offensive term actually means “honor” and “respect” toward Native Americans.

This short news video (3:02) reports on the march:

What action will you take to counter systemic racism?

Race, Racism + Sperm Banks

Jennifer Cramblett and Amanda Zinkon love their daughter, but have sued the Midwest Sperm Bank that made her conception possible because of the racial realities of their chosen community.

 

Jennifer Cramblett and her attorney Tim Misny.

Jennifer Cramblett and her attorney Tim Misny.

This case not only demonstrates that two white women can sue and potentially settle for large sums of money over the racial identity of their child, but that whiteness is a commodity that puts a price tag upon a contractual agreement.

Two issues are central in this suit.

First, the Midwest Sperm Bank and the couple have a contractual agreement for the delivery of sperm. Because sperm from a different donor was delivered, this contract between the two parties may have been broken.

Second, the issue has to do with the conception of a biracial child in a white homogenous community. The plaintiffs, Cramblett and Zinkon, assert that the racial characteristics of their daughter pose a “problem” that they must now deal with in a variety of ways that are financially costly and emotionally taxing.

Sperm Bank Advertisement, London

Sperm Bank Advertisement, London

Race and ethnicity are crucial in the marketing of sperm. Future parents typically select sperm donors based on physical, racial, and sometimes religious characteristics that represent one or both parents. Although race or ethnicity are not often explicitly discussed by couples, they do inform lesbian couples’ decisions of sperm donors. According to research presented by Ryan, Moras and Shapiro in a paper presented at the American Sociological Association (2010) this type of choice is often based on an attempt to match the resemblance of relatives of both partners. Thus, it’s not surprising for Cramblett and Zinkon to pick sperm that physically and racially matched the non-biological partner. Even in the era of assisted reproductive technologies, women’s reproductive choices continue to be highly shaped by racial concerns of the children, including for this white lesbian couple.

However, in my article, “Skin tone, biracial stratification and tri-racial stratification among sperm donors,” (Racial and Ethnic Studies, Vol. 37, No. 3, 2014) I examined an online sperm bank catalog.  In my study, I tested three hypotheses related to skin tone, black-white polarity, and tri-racialism.  I found that the selection of donors did not reflect any general preference for lighter skin tone donors, a higher selection of white donors in the black-white polarity, or any trend towards tri-racialism.

Cramblett and Zinkon are asking the court to find in their favor because they believe they have personally suffered emotional, economic, and physical harms for conceiving a biracial daughter. The case’s argument is based upon individual harm to this couple and their daughter.

The court is essentially being asked to pay the couple for the cost incurred due to white racism and the loss of white privilege.

On the one hand, this case demonstrates that white racism still exists in our supposedly post-racial society and has emotional, economic, and physical impact. On the other hand, as others have pointed out, we have documentation of the cost of racism, yet when the court has been asked to compensate by people of color for this cost they have generally answered with a resounding “no”. For instance, it wasn’t until 2013 that there was any acknowledgement by North Carolina that African American women who were forcibly sterilized. North Carolina has not paid reparations to these women. This reality raises a number of questions.

Among these questions: why should this white lesbian couple be paid for the sperm bank’s mistake and to raise a biracial daughter when so many others have been denied this?

~ Guest blogger Carol Walther is Associate Professor of Sociology, Northern Illinois University