Fear of the Other: Xenophobic & Racist Reaction to Syrian Immigrants

(Syrian refugees arrive in Greece, image source: Reuters)

At this moment, we as a nation are vehemently forced into the political abyss of media yapping, threats, erroneous talk of revenge, and fear mongering. The rhetoric is not only disguised as being purely rooted in the devout notion of protection, but it also invokes within the credulous hearts and minds among us those age old sentiments that signify love of country. In actuality, the beat to this poorly constructed rap mimic infused dogmatic arguments that are wrapped stringently by phobia and systemic racism.

By removing the white veil of deceit, one comes face to face with a ghastly reality—history repeating and pain afoot. History has a way of creeping back upon us all when lessons forged from times long gone go unheeded. Avoiding the pain and shame that are rooted in these mistakes should be a no brainer. But it seems as a country, we are many times absent of said brain. U.S. reaction to the horrific public executions that were witnessed throughout the globe in Paris and Mali (which has gotten very little attention), effortlessly and opportunely ushered in an unseemly side once thought repudiated by citizens and politicians of the past. Specifically, in regard to the attack in Paris, dissecting the words of presidential hopefuls, such as Ben Carson, one is left with the blood and guts of malignant and dogmatic arguments that strike to propose plans to refuse Syrian refugees access to safety within the borders of “these here United States”. The entire 2016 republican presidential candidates, 289 House of Representative legislators, 31 state governors, and most likely that village idiot you live next to who refuses to remove his McCain and Palin yard sign are all calling upon the President to halt all efforts of the administration to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees. Their stance is usually discussed in a nativist and superior tone. Take for example the current conservative darling, medically brilliant, and foreign policy and social commentator wag, Ben Carson who has recently inserted foot into mouth [] with his unapologetic comparison between rabid dogs and Syrian refugees. In addition, people such as Roanoke Mayor David Bowers calls for the use of actual internment camps for refugees, to Donald Trump’s injudicious idea of registering and requiring Muslims to carry religiously identifiable ID cards. An idea that surely invokes the hatred and racist ideology surrounding the treatment of Jews and U.S Japanese citizens during WWII. These few listed are not alone. FOX news and other conservative media columnists, as well as many citizens with the red, white, and blue coursing through their nationalistic veins warmly and proudly called upon the gods of hate to harness remarkable rhetoric and sentiment filled with classic xenophobia and racism. This stance is not taken on upon a minority as one would initially think. A survey conducted by Zogby Analytics found that 42 percent of U.S. citizens believe it is ok to profile Muslim and Arab Americans. In fact, the attitudes toward these populations have gotten worse since 2010. Controversies swirling around the building of mosques and Islamic centers in U.S. have increased. It would seem that the negative feelings and actions toward Muslims along side people such as Governor Christie who said, he would go as far as not permitting even “‘3-year-old orphan’s’” admission into the country, it is hard to turn away from the premise that race and fear are factor in this debate.

I am sure those who regularly subscribe to Fox news and have Martin Dugardon and Bill O’ Riley’s latest debacle, Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency, patiently waiting by their bedside nightstand would disagree. There are even some minor conservative Jewish advocacy groups that would disagree. But as Noam Chomsky said, “Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it’s from Neptune.” Therefore, my argument to the blind would indeed sound “out of this world.” Politicians, Joel B. Pollak, author of, Why Syrian Refugees are not Like Jewish Refugees in WWII, as well as those who cowardly practice the art of commenting to his online commentary have all missed reading a number of pages from the U.S. history book. For example, when openly proposing that the rhetoric and recommended treatment of Muslim refugees is xenophobic or racist, most conservatives media pundits and politicians predicate their argument on the notion that Jews during WWII were not attempting to threaten U.S. lives as violent Muslims fanatics today. In addition, today many would agree that Jews were not seen as threats to the stability of the U.S. Real Talk people—this was not the case. A U.S. poll published in 1938 in Fortune magazine reported that less than 5 percent of surveyed U.S. citizens believed that legislators should raise the immigration quote to protect those fleeing fascism in Europe. Many of those fleeing were in fact Jewish.


(Image source)

In fact, two-thirds of those surveyed agreed with the idea of keeping Jews out of the country. These feelings even were noted before the infamous Kristallnacht (Night of Crystal) took place on November 9th and 10th of 1938. Days also referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass” consisted of instigated violence toward Jews on behalf of Nazi Party. Throughout Germany, Sudetenland, and Austria, rioters destroyed 267 synagogues. Violence was also directed toward thousands of Jewish businesses and cemeteries. In addition, 30,000 Jewish males were arrested and transported to local prisons and later concentration camps (Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Buchenwald). After the hideous event was seen by the world, the feelings toward “political refugees” still did not dwindle in the U.S.. In January 1939, two-thirds of respondents of Gallup’s American Institute of Public opinion poll were opposed to allowing Jews into the country. The act of not only turning away of 937 Jewish passengers of the German transatlantic liner St. Louis, but also the lack of U.S. citizen outcry rationalized these polls.

You may be asking, “But why?” Why would such a country as ours turn away marginalized and racially persecuted people? Especially when they are White. It is important to understand the held feelings U.S. Government officials (FBI, legislators, and etc.), as well as President Franklin Roosevelt publically voiced regarding Jewish refugees. They were in fact seen as a potential threat to national security—spies and saboteurs.

You know, terrorists. Government officials, such as American ambassador to France, William Bullitt blamed the fall of France on Jews:

“More than one-half the spies captured doing actual military spy work against the French Army were refugees from Germany,” he said. “Do you believe there are no Nazi and Communist agents of this sort in America?”

In addition, to the voiced concern for allowing Jews into the country, U.S. government’s use of spy trials fueled American perception that accepting Jewish refugees could be catastrophic. Digging deeper into American history, beyond the polished chapters of American exceptionalism that are brought out like the good silverware when company comes over, we see a racial disregard to Jews that does not simply start with WWII. Anti-Semitism can be seen as far back as during the Civil War when General Grant issued General Order No. 11 that expelled Jews from territory under his control in the south (Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee).

Grant’s rationale was guided by his pattern of associating all Jews with the illicit business pertaining to the cotton trade in the south. President Lincoln agreed with his stance. U.S. Antisemitism continued throughout history. During large waves of immigration, roughly between 1880 and 1924, Eastern and Southern European immigrants were not classified as quite White. They were indeed seen as the racially “other”. During this period, groups such as the Klu Klux Klan (KKK), and powerful individuals like Henry Ford advocated for violence toward Jewish communities. They essentially blamed all social and economic ills on the Jewish community. For his anti-Semitic remarks and work, the Nazi Regime granted the Grand Cross of the German Eagle to Henry Ford in 1938. In addition, many are not familiar with the information that U.S. schools and universities also limited the enrollment of Jews and Catholics until non-Protestants such as Jews and Catholics until the late twentieth century. The Jewish Community was not alone in sharing similarities with Syrian refugees.

(Image source: Wikipedia)

Examples of Japanese American suffering under the tyranny of racism are tied to their treatment during WWII. Even though no evidence ever existed, they were seen a potential spies. Approximately three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Roosevelt. The U.S. government thusly imprisoned 127,000 Japanese Americans. Even before camp construction was complete, many were housed in racetrack stables like livestock. Thousands were forced to sell business and properties at fractions of their value. Even after the war had ended, anti-Japanese sentiment did not. Many of the imprisoned could not return home due to posted signs within communities that demanded for Japanese Americans to never return. One cannot forget that fear and racist ideologies supported the treatment and public sentiment. It is on display when observing the imaging of Japanese Americans during WWII. The act to dehumanization came by way of drawings, posters, and movies that depicted Japanese people as ruthless, buck-tooth, animalistic, knife carriers, and sneaky. Many characters were seen as menacing and murderous individuals out to destroy the U.S. Everyone was in harm’s way. This included the precious White woman.

Where was the mass outcry? None could be found because the nation in general already perceived the Japanese as the “other.” This can be linked to the treatment of Chinese immigrants. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Naturalization Act of 1870, the Chinese massacre of 1871, and the theory of the yellow peril all embody mistreatment built on the White racial frame.
But back to the future we must go. Here we see history actually repeating in terms of the treatment of Jews and Asian American to the current issue regarding Syrian refugees. In 2014, the Pew Research Center asked self identified republicans and those who politically leaned toward the party’s ideology to rate a number of religious groups on a “feeling thermometer (0 cold to 100 warmest),” Republicans subsequently gave Muslims an average of 33  Pew Research Center reported that White evangelical Protestants were the coldest to no other group than Muslims. In mostly republican states, these same people who receive the coldest regard as reported by Pew, are seen by Carnegie Mellon University as less likely to give job interviews to applicants who have public social networking profile that reveal them as Muslim. As discussed earlier, sentiment leads to action. Anti-Muslim hate crimes for example rose dramatically by 50% in 2010 and remained high in 2011. In 2014, hate crimes in general were reported to have dipped with the exception of anti-Muslim crimes.

The symbolism we see today is soaked in fear and hate. It has engulfing our nation once again. The cavalier nature and lack of outrage regarding the current course of ideological and political travels of those who claim to represent our interest, and bear the responsibility of upholding the best of our nation has principally gone unchecked. As a people, our lack of giving voice to the issue is deafening to my ears of social and racial justice. If we not careful, and the nation does not come together to quill the tongues of the Trumps that take up our televisions, and protect the innocent from hate, we will in deed repeat our mistakes. But unlike before, the stakes have worsened.


~ Dr. Terence Fitzgerald is Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California.

The White Racial Innocence Game

(Image source)

Just one day after a successful student movement forced a college president to resign, the “collective white” is playing the racial innocence game and blaming people of color for the racial climate on college campuses across the nation. Whether at Yale or Mizzou, most whites believe that students and faculty of color are “hypersensitive,” playing “the race card,” and censoring (mostly) innocent white students and administrators. Yesterday morning, for example, Joe Scarborough savaged two black journalists from the Washington Post who are regulars in his MORNING JOE show. He demanded they explain to him why the President of Mizzou had to resign for two “isolated incidents” (he actually used this phrase). Scarborough argued that there is no evidence of “systemic racism” at Mizzou and that the ousted President had agreed to the demand of establishing an ethnic studies requirement (faculty reading this post know these requirements have been in place in many colleges since the 1980s or early 1990s). Since Eugene Robinson and Jonathan Capehart did not answer Mr. Scarborough’s questions in a cogent way and since Mr. Scarborough’s questions represent, in my view, how most whites interpret events in college campuses, I want to take some time to explain how systemic racism operates in HWCUs (historically white colleges and universities).

First, whites need to understand that most colleges and universities in the USA are white-oriented and white-led. This is why I call them HWCUs and, as I have argued many times in my FB (Facebook) posts, these institutions reproduce whiteness through their curriculum, culture, demography, symbols, traditions, and ecology. The white innocence game begins with the assumption that these spaces are racially neutral, but that assumption is false! HWCUs were 100% white institutions until very recently and that white history shaped them in profound ways. The admission of a few people of color in the late 1960s and 1970s into HWCUs—and I must point out that their admission was because people of color protested and demanded inclusion—did not lead to their “integration,” a concept that involves much more than spatial cohabitation. In fact, many ways whites, the W in HWCUs, have remained central to their organization and culture. We were brought into these places as guests with the expectation that we would not ask for anything else—we have been for a long time but few dots of color in otherwise white canvasses. (As an aside, part of the white innocence game is the belief by whites that we are ungrateful for all they have done for us; for all they have given us over the years. To this “white sincere fiction” (Feagin and Vera, White Racism), given that we fought for our freedom and partial inclusion in America, I say, “Thank you massa!”)

Second, whites were not, and are still not, happy with our presence in universities. They think (and some even tell us to our face) that we are all “affirmative action babies.” We all know how horrible the first black and Latino folks who “integrated” (they were just the firsts guests in white canvasses) were treated in these places, but what many whites outside and inside the academy do not know—or pretend NOT no know–is that people of color are still treated as second-class members in the academy. We still do not feel as equal members of the academic club and all the reports on campus racial climate in HWCUs across the nation bear this out. Mr. Scarborough and whites in general, please check out the manifold reports that clearly show how we feel in these places.

Third, Mr. Scarborough and members of the “collective white,” racism (racial domination) is as SYSTEMIC in college campuses as it is in the nation at large. For example, college admissions are based on tests that are not reliable measures of the capabilities and likelihood of success of students of color. Faculty are hired based on their records, but no one discusses how race (racism) affects the productivity of whites (positively) and of non-whites (negatively), a situation that gives whites systemic advantages. The statues, names of buildings, and traditions in HWCUs are emblems of whiteness which makes us feel like we do not belong! And most of the localities in which HWCUs are located, reproduce and reinforce whiteness. Please liberal whites reading this post, do what you seldom do: talk to faculty and students of color and they will tell you how hard is to go out at night in their college town; how hard is to deal with campus and city cops; how hard is to go to a bar in your bucolic white town. And although I believe racial domination is accomplished mostly through subtle and institutionalized practices, WE ALL have experienced in college campuses what Dr. Elijah Anderson calls “the nigger moment”; we have been called names, mocked, or harassed in old-racism fashion.

Fourth, classrooms are hostile zones for most of us. If as students we raise concerns about the material used by our professors in the classes (“Professor Blanco, why are you not including African artists and artistic traditions in your WORLD ART HISTORY course?”), we are accused of trying to politicize things (“You folks always want to talk about race!”). If we are professors and dare suggest that racism is as American as apple pie (i.e., that it is structural), white students say we are calling them racist and making them feel bad (“You don’t know ME….I am a good person.”). We are disrespected and unappreciated as professors and suffer in our evaluations because of racism.

Fifth, if Scarborough and other whites asked us open, rather that accusatory questions, such as, “How do you feel in the college in which you work?” they would be surprised. They would hear about how often we experience microaggressions perpetrated by professors, students, staff, and the campus police. They would hear how we feel like most white colleagues (faculty and students) do not understand, care, or appreciate our work. They would hear about how alienated and tired we are in these institutions. They would hear about how the racialized stress we endure day in and day out is literally KILLING us. Yes, racism experienced in low but constant intensity is, as the work of David R, Williams clearly shows, a silent killer.

So Mr. Scarborough and whites in America, racism in the academy, like racism in the nation, is indeed systemic! Although it no longer operates primarily the way it did 50 years ago, the new “killing me softly” way in which racial domination is carried out is effective in maintaining the white house WHITE. So please, please, please STOP the racial innocence game; stop saying that you play no part of the American racial game in America because some of your “best friends are black” (you don’t know their names, but they are your very best friends); stop accusing people of color of dividing the academy (NEWSFLASH, we have been divided forever!) and “censoring” you (are you kidding me?); stop proclaiming that because you do not use the N-word and are a “good person,” that this is enough (you still receive the “wages of whiteness” so your claim to racial innocence is not credible)!

Finally, If you want protests on college campuses to cease and want racial peace in America, then admit that race matters, admit that racism is real and systemic, and work with us towards the transformation of society in general and HWCUs in particular. But if you just keep saying “I don’t see race (or racism),” if you continue the white innocence game, then we will continue believing wholeheartedly that you are part of the problem and will keep SHOUTING as loud as we can “No Justice, No Peace!” It is time for you, Mr. Scarborough and whites in America, to step up to the historical plate and, as Spike Lee would say, “Do the right thing!” The ball is on your court.


~ Eduardo Bonilla-Silva is Professor and Chair of Sociology, Duke University. This post originally appeared on Facebook and is re-posted here with the author’s permission.

Modern Romance and the Glaring Absence of Race

Race is at the center of how we construct and act on our notions of desire, but you wouldn’t know that from reading Modern Romance, a unique collaboration between a sociologist and a comedian.

In collaboration with sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Aziz Ansari wrote Modern Romance, a book that explores “dating in the digital age.” Addressing the contemporary dynamics of romantic relationships – which are often mediated through various forms of technology (cell phones, online dating websites, etc.) – a major draw of Ansari’s New York Times best-selling book is that it seems to explain why young people are so “awful” about dating more traditionally and therefore, are not good at getting married.

Ansari, a comedian by trade, has established himself as someone who makes (albeit marginally) insightful observations about inequality, particularly when it comes to race, as with his new Netflix series Master of None.

In fact, Ansari notes that racism in Hollywood – specifically the problematic representation of Indian and other South Asian characters – was a central motivator for his creation of Master of None, as no one else would have offered him this role:

When they cast these shows, they’re like, ‘We already have our minority guy or our minority girl.’ There would never be two Indian people in one show. With Asian people, there can be one, but there can’t be two. Black people, there can be two, but there can’t be three because then it becomes a black show. Gay people, there can be two; women, there can be two; but Asian people, Indian people, there can be one but there can’t be two. Look, if you’re a minority actor, no one would have wrote this show for you… Every other show is still white people.

This astuteness around issues of race, racism, and representation are what drew me to Ansari’s book on dating this summer.


The book, however, is deeply flawed when it comes to any form of analysis of race. Considering Ansari’s awareness around issues of race in his comedy, I found the glaring absence of race in this book extremely disappointing. How one can write about “modern” romance and not note the role that race plays in terms of who is or is not deemed attractive is actually quite mind-boggling.

Modern Romance assumes a consistency of dating experience across race that is problematic. Assuming that people of color have had the same experiences as, or with, white people with online dating is critically irresponsible and is contradicted by the research. White millenials in particular have proven time and time again they are not as progressive as they are assumed to be, including in who they choose to date (or exclude from dating).

Even best-selling author and OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder notes the continued role of racism in the chances of finding a partner online in his book Dataclysm and on the blog OKTrends. He reiterated this fact again during a Q&A at the 2015 meeting of the American Sociological Association in Chicago that I attended. When Helen Fisher of Match.com suggested that online dating had wiped out prejudice, he was quick to correct that misperception. Given the widely known and easily available data on race and online dating, the disappearing of race from Modern Romance’s analysis is all the more curious. This colorblind approach does little to help us understand contemporary intimacies that begin online and does even less to advance sociological understanding of modern romance.

Ansari does not mention the racial or class identities of the daters except for two Indian American men in a focus group. Thus, the text allows heterosexual middle class whiteness to masquerade as “universal.” This is particularly evident when Ansari and Klinenberg discuss the dynamics of traditional means of meeting potential dating partners with some residents of a New York City retirement home.

As the older informants in their book relate how they met their partners in their apartment buildings or in their neighborhoods, the book conveniently avoids noting how segregation and the white habitus were at play in terms of determining who people had access to decades ago and at present. When Ansari attempts to explicitly address race, it is treated as a cute joke. Ansari notes that he would have had a “hard time” trying to date in the 1950s due to being “brown” but he doesn’t go beyond that. Xenophobia, racism, and a variety of structural and legal inequalities also go without mention (Loving v. Virginia, for example) in Ansari’s brief commentary on his prospects in the time “before technology took over.”  It’s unclear what motivates this gaping lack of critical analysis other than a desire to maintain the levity of the book and, possibly, to avoid the “messiness” of race for Ansari’s predominantly white “progressive” audience.

More disturbingly, however, the book does an excellent job of perpetuating racist stereotypes. The author(s) herald the fact that they did not just rely on focus group and interview data from the States; they also talked with people in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Paris, France, Tokyo, Japan, and Doha, Qatar. Yet, the “international perspectives” chapter focuses mainly on contrasting Japan, Argentina, and the U.S.

In a problematic set of metaphors, the Japanese – particularly the men – are referred to as “herbivores” in contrast to the “rib eye-eating maniacs” of Argentina. This distinction perpetuates Western understandings of the sexuality of Asian and Latino men. There is a lengthy history of fetishizing the virility and “hot bloodedness” of Latino men while denigrating the lack of these qualities in Asian men in the United States, a dynamic that is well-documented in studies of interracial marriages (see Nemuto, Steinbugler or Frankenberg). These stereotypes inform not only dating and marriage dynamics in the U.S., but serve as motivation for phenomena such as sex tourism. Further, recent sociological studies have led to a focus in the media around the racist preferences of online daters, specifically the lesser prospects of black women and Asian men.

There may be nothing “new” about the relationships between race, sex, and romance, but if we truly want to understand “modern” romance, researchers (and comedians) must work to avoid strengthening colorblind logics.


~ Shantel Buggs is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research looks at dating and mixed race identity when mediated through online dating sites. 


What No One Will Say When a Cop Gets Killed

In New York City this week, an NYPD cop was killed and another man shot just a few blocks from where I live and work. Killed was Officer Randolph Holder who was a kind and brave man, an immigrant from Guyana, and his death is a senseless tragedy. This is what everyone will say now. This is what we are all obligated to say now.

(Randolph Holder, 33, NYPD, was shot and killed Tuesday, October 20, 2015 in East Harlem

Image source)

The man who allegedly shot the officer, Mr. Tyrone Howard, was in a diversion program – a kind of alternative sentencing program for those with non-violent, drug-related charges.  Mr. Howard, who was also shot and injured by Mr. Holder, had no history of violence, but instead had a series of arrests for low-level drug-related charges.

(Tyrone Howard, 30, accused of shooting Randolph Holder. Image source)

Mr. Howard, 30, had made bail in February for selling crack cocaine to an undercover cop in one of the NYPD’s buy-and-bust operations that serve as the daily machinery of the war on drugs, providing overtime pay for cops and locking up a huge swath of the citizenry. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Edward McLaughlin—acting within the law of the recently reformed harsh Rockefeller drug laws—decided Mr. Howard’s case should be sent to an alternative-to-prison system known as ‘diversion.’ There is lots of research that demonstrates these sorts of diversion programs are effective at reducing recidivism (e.g., Holly Wilson and Robert Hodge, “The Effects of Youth Diversion on Recidivism: A Meta-Analytic Review.Criminal Justice and Behavior 2013).

Almost before the bullets had stopped flying, NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio questioned why Mr. Howard was not locked up to begin with. Then, a cascade of calls began that urged an end to any alternative programs began right away even though this shooting had nothing to do with the effectiveness of diversion, and Bill de Blasio (mayor of NYC) knows this.  Leading progressive voices, like Kassandra Frederique of Drug Policy Alliance, called for reason and urged New York to keep successful alternative-to-incarceration programs like diversion.

But, a reasoned debate about the merits of diversion programs has not been on offer in the mainstream, local news in New York City this week. Instead, we’ve heard a lot from Pat Lynch.

The mainstream media coverage here has been a relentless, 24/7 cycle of very narrowly focused coverage, prominent featuring interviews with Pat Lynch, the thuggish NYPD union representative.  Much of that coverage has included law-and-order headlines like this one from the New York Daily News:

Manhattan DA’s office ‘puts gun in hands’ of accused cop-killer Tyrone Howard

Pat Lynch

(Pat Lynch, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association)

“Too Soon”

Months ago, activists with Rise Up October had planned a rally for Saturday, October 24 to call attention for an end to the systematic policy brutality that takes the lives of a disproportionate number of black and brown people. They could not have known that a cop would be killed in New York just days before. What these activists were rallying to call attention to is the sustained and systematic way police kill black and brown people.

Nationally, the U.S. Justice Department does not collect data on the number of people killed at the hands of police (no federal agency does), but according to research conducted by the Malcolm X Grassroots organization, every 28 hours in 2012 a Black man, woman, or child was killed by someone employed or protected by the US government. In New York, according to the NYPD’s own Firearm Discharge Report, the overwhelming majority of those killed by police are black and brown people.

Who is Shot by NYPD


Yet, this systematic destruction of black and brown lives is lost in the media coverage that the rally was a “disgrace” and “too soon” following the death of a cop.



(New York Post Front Cover, October 25, 2015)

Certainly, some of my fellow citizens are saying “f-ck you to the NYPD,” as the New York Post reports on its cover today. Activist and East Harlem resident Josmar Trujillo writes about the reaction to the shooting from neighbors and long-time residents in the area. “I don’t care about them getting shot because at the end of the day they don’t care when we get shot,” Trujillo reports one resident told him. He goes on:

The young woman [in East Harlem] I spoke to wasn’t even as blunt as local young people I spoke to that simply said “Fuck ’em” when I asked about the shot cop. What about the fact that the cop was black, I asked three young men walking down 119th street the day after the shooting. “It don’t matter,” they told me. “As long as he’s wearing that patch, fuck him too.”

It’s not surprising that in a neighborhood — and a city, and a nation — where black and brown lives are not respected by police, people have no respect for the police and are unmoved by their deaths. It’s also not surprising to me that people who live under police surveillance and under the constant threat of state-sanctioned violence by the police are hearing about the death of a cop and saying, “fuck the police.” This is something people are saying.

What No One Will Say

What no one will say, at least in public with a microphone, is that since Rockefeller Reform, the law-and-order crowd has been waiting for a cop to be killed to trot out their push-back on those reforms. Just a few years ago here in New York State a coalition of progressive activists got Rockefeller Reform passed. These reforms were part of what made diversion programs like the one Mr. Howard was in possible.

The coalition of progressive groups that fought for Rockefeller Reform have been noticeably quiet in the media since Mr. Holder was killed; and, who can blame them? There’s no winning a media cycle when the mainstream media is in lockstep about a cop who has been killed.

What no one will say when a cop gets killed is that this death is collateral damage in the trillion dollar failed war on drugs and its twin, mass incarceration.  In New York City what this means is 95% of the inmates in New York City jails are African American or Latino, while these two groups make up only about half the city’s population. A majority of those in NYC’s jails are there for low-level drug offenses like marijuana and these, too, are racially biased. U.S. government surveys have consistently found that whites use drugs, including marijuana, at higher rates than do African Americans and Latinos. Nonetheless, the NYPD arrests whites for drug possession at much lower rates than it arrests African Americans or Latinos, according to research by Professor Harry Levine. Mass incarceration and the war on drugs that fuels it, are part of the engine of white supremacy in NYC and the nation as a whole.

Tyrone Howard was a man with low-level drug charges who was being forced out of public housing because of those charges.  Randolph Holder was assigned to patrol public housing. A key part of his job was patrolling public housing for people with drugs or on outstanding warrants for drug offenses. Both men were cogs in the machinery of the drug war. If we want fewer cops killed on duty, we must stop the senseless pursuit of people for use, possession or sale of drugs, and tying every other human right – including housing – to those draconian laws.

What no one will say is that Tyrone Howard’s life has ended now in a social death in our gulag of prisons as much as the physical life of Randolph Holder has ended in death.

What no one will say is the rhetoric of “blue lives matter” is white supremacy dressed up in the guise of public safety.

What no one will say is that even now, even when a cop has been killed, we have to continue to demand an end mass incarceration, and the whole law-and-order apparatus that feeds that beast.

On the very same day that the shooting in East Harlem happened, more than 130 police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs — including NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton — met in Washington, D.C. They met as part of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, a group of law enforcement officials who recognize from the inside that the system of mass incarceration is broken. Rather than focusing on law-and-order solutions to a host of social problems, this group steps forward to say that reducing incarceration will improve public safety because people who need treatment for drug and alcohol problems or mental health issues will be more likely to improve and reintegrate into society if they receive consistent care, something relatively few jails or prisons offer. Mr. Bratton said that New York State and city law enforcement agencies “were well ahead of the curve in understanding that you can’t arrest your way out of the problem.”

And, then, a cop is killed and the media narrative immediately shifts into high gear with its low key “blue lives matter” agenda. The abrupt shift reminds me of the capitalists that Naomi Klein describes who wait for a ‘shock’ of some kind to strike so they can implement their brand of disaster capitalism.

What no one will say is that a cop killing is just the kind of ‘shock’ that the law-and-order opportunists needed to push forward their agenda to lock up more people.


The “Moynihan Report”: 50 years of Racist Poverty-Shaming

Debates about poverty play out over a heavy sub-text of race. Competing theories assign blame either to moral and cognitive deficiencies of poor people themselves, or to greedy over-lords who unjustly exploit and suppress workers and their families. The class politics are obvious, but arguing the essential unfitness of poor people is aided immeasurably by the rhetoric and logic of racism. If made of somewhat different stuff and recognized as lesser peoples, then both exploitation and the misery they experience seem defensible, or at least unavoidable. Science defeated the hard racial argument in the middle of last century when geneticists determined that race is a biological fiction. But the concept of culture offered a workaround that retained the utility of race by substituting ethnicity. The shift to culture, instead of hard-wired traits, has appealed to liberal “third way” reform thinkers as well as those on the right, forging an odd alliance who find common ground in the hagiography of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

The “culture of poverty,” a concept ironically made popular by a trio of liberal leftists in the 1960s, asserts that children raised in poverty learn failure from their upbringing and pass it on to their own children, much like inherited physical traits. Shared cultures in “ghetto” communities produce dysfunctional patterns of thought and behavior that perpetuate poverty. Oscar Lewis, anthropologist; Michael Harrington, muckraking journalist; and Daniel P. Moynihan, federal policy analyst and future politician, were the three figures who helped ignite a contentious debate early in the War on Poverty, which not coincidentally over-lapped with the Civil Rights movement.

Moynihan’s influence has been most enduring. His 1965 report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (PDF), brought this idea to the mass media in the midst of an extended urban uprising in the Watts section of LA. As an assistant secretary in Lyndon Johnson’s Department of Labor, he issued an official verdict that African American poverty was mired in a “tangle of pathology” resulting from excessive numbers of female headed households. Moynihan conceded that male unemployment unsettles marital stability, but believed that racial disparities in joblessness reflected a family structure that produced uncompetitive workers, implicitly justifying employer discrimination. Growing public unease over urban violence magnified the report’s message that African American culture was pathological.

The leaked report was followed by weeks of coverage and many extreme reactions. The government was launching a campaign to end poverty; an official report defined the problem in terms of gender, race, and culture, deflecting attention from substantive obstacles and economic problems then (and still) confronting African Americans. The report was dissected by critics and supporters alike. Moynihan’s naïve statistical inferences and reliance on limited secondary sources weakened his position and tended to discredit his thesis. Anthropologists and historians published research that contradicted his assertions. Through the 70s and early 80s, the report lost its luster. Moynihan complained periodically about the criticism he had endured over his report, claiming he had been the victim of ideological enemies on the left. It could have ended there.

The 1980s was a period of revanchism against the Great Society, backlash against what were deemed excessively liberal conditions in the preceding two decades. Under Reagan, Sen. Moynihan opposed the new harsh policies, but his earlier ideas about black poverty gained renewed support, especially from right wing commentators like Charles Murray. Also included, however, was liberal sociologist William Julius Wilson who praised Moynihan’s foresight, excoriated his critics, and instated culture into his quest to understand poverty. Wilson framed inner city poverty as the home of the “underclass” where black middle class flight had left a zone bereft of upstanding two parent families, a cultural sink lacking effective norms. Faced with wrenching industrial changes, their defective culture worsened the problems — a combination of cultural and structural causes, suggesting possible partial solutions addressing bad culture rather than unfair economics. This approach resonated with many in the Republican administration, but it also drew interest from a widening circle of academics and liberal policy analysts.

In 2007, the American Academy of Social and Political Science established an annual award in Moynihan’s name for public intellectuals of note. Their journal published a special issue titled “The Moynihan Report Revisited,” with largely praiseful articles and missing some noted critics. The Urban Institute borrowed the title for their own conference and publication [[http://www.issuelab.org/resource/moynihan_report_revisited_the]] that was also mainly an homage to Moynihan’s allegedly prescient contributions. In 2010 Herbert Gans, a sociologist who had written an early response to the report, revisited it in light of all the new praise for its importance. He came to the same conclusion he had 45 years earlier; it was not good research or a credible argument. He praised Moynihan’s work as a senator, but not as a scholar or early policy analyst.

Nevertheless, Moynihan’s fame as a social prophet has continued to grow and his ideas arguably have helped steer scarce poverty funding into neoliberal programs aimed at teaching poor people about the virtues of middle class culture, or forcibly displacing them for their own good. And we have spent billions more incarcerating and punishing non-violent poor people of color based on faulty perceptions of crime and risk. Both critics and supporters credit the Moynihan Report for helping shape the policy environment that ended welfare and anointed the view that poverty, race, and crime are all tied together. Alice O’Connor’s book, Poverty Knowledge, offers an incisive analysis, as described in my recent book, Blaming the Poor.

In the United States poverty and race are frequently connected in the mind’s eye, in what Joe Feagin has called the white racial frame, where facts disappear in the mist of centuries long racial conditioning, like the fact that “welfare queens” in the days before welfare was ended were overwhelmingly white. Current revivals of Moynihan’s haplessly racist caricature of immoral black single mothers and their dangerous teenaged sons disregard the fact that single motherhood has soared among all ethnic groups, especially among people with low incomes, a predictable response to dire economic conditions. It is not cultural, but structural; not racial but a reflection of class inequality and material scarcity. Moynihan was fond of saying that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Moynihan’s sloppy research and undeservedly popular conclusion illustrates that caution very well.

Susan Greenbaum is Professor Emerita of Anthropology, University of South Florida

Race and the Ghost of Jim Crow

According to political conservatives, racial discrimination is no longer an institutional issue, and there is no longer any need for policies that provide socioeconomic protections for Blacks. Political conservatives also say that if any racial discrimination is happening, it is being committed by only a few bigoted individuals. These individuals, they say, have been socialized to hold such bigoted notions and believe that Blacks are lazy and inferior and that it is okay to commit racist acts against them.

The Donald Sterlings and Robert Copelands of the United States have been undoubtedly shaped by a racist culture. The U.S. government sanctioned discrimination and gave Whites permission to denigrate Blacks openly. But these sorts of people don’t hold those beliefs anymore, right? After looking at demographics information, I’m not so sure. Consider this: according to the U.S. Census taken in 2010, there were more than 23 million Whites over the age of 70 in America. By contrast, there were slightly more than 39 million Blacks in all age brackets. Why is this significant? Because the number of Whites 70 years and older equals more than half of the total Black population, who are potentially voting on or in some way influencing policies that affect all Blacks. Whites born in the early 1960s (those over age 50) would have also been socialized and participated in the practice of Jim Crow Racism. They number more than 56 million.

Let’s remind ourselves what was going on when these older Whites were young. Whites currently over the age of 50 engaged in race relations in the context of Jim Crow. Until the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Jim Crow continued legally and unrestricted. Brown v. Board of Education was aimed at the integration of public schools in the South, but it had broader implications as well, which included the end of Jim Crow laws. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Jim Crow became a federal offense. This, of course, did not end racism. Despite being “illegal,” Jim Crow discrimination continued unofficially in small towns up until the 1990s.

If this lingering Jim Crow representation does not bother you enough, remember that these 80 million plus individuals had families, friends, and children. The racism of their social milieu became ingrained in their minds, and from them it spread passively and actively to their children and families: passively by imitation, actively by subtle, deliberate instruction. The end of legal, public discrimination has not prevented private discrimination from flourishing beneath the surface and continuing to have an effect on public policy, albeit in a subtler, more insidious way.

In light of this, it is evident that racism has strong institutional support. More than 80 million people in the United States were taught early on that it is okay to discriminate. Not only was it okay, but it is normal and expected. I don’t mean that every White person born during the era of legal racial discrimination is automatically a racist bigot. There have always been Whites who recognized the injustice of discrimination from the start. But if these Whites are of the same ilk as Donald Sterling and Robert Copeland, socialized during the 1920s through the mid-1960s when it was legally permissible in the United States to commit racial discrimination, then I have to raise a point against the political conservatives: More than 80 million people is certainly not “a few bigoted individuals.”

This institutional support aside, we cannot ignore the ugly fact that people can be racist, even violently racist, without this socialization. Dylann Roof, the White who wanted to start a “race war” by shooting nine Blacks in Charleston, South Carolina, was 21 years old. Not only that, but in a document reported to be his manifesto, he writes, “I was not raised in a racist home or environment.” Instead, he writes, he got his ideas from books. Contrary to how Roof is presented by various media outlets, he was not mentally disturbed or psychologically unstable. He was just plain racist. And Roof is surely not the only racist in America. Racial discrimination is therefore not just an artifact of Jim Crow socialization; it is a persistent cultural phenomenon that can overtake people of any age and any family background.

It is certainly not legally permissible now to discriminate against Blacks without a bona fide occupational qualification as it was back then, and it is not socially acceptable now as it was then to openly disparage Blacks or otherwise discriminate against them. But this does not protect Blacks from the political power of the racist vote, and it does not shield them from a bullet fired from a racist gun. It does not ensure that children will learn in their classrooms to actively accept those who look differently from them and to judge them “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” It does not ensure that Blacks will earn anything more than 64 cents on the dollar compared to Whites in similar professions. But it does ensure that privileged people will push aside racial issues as a thing of the past, what our President has called “dark chapters in our nation’s history,” embarrassing mistakes that we don’t—and shouldn’t—bring up anymore.

It should alarm us that a large group of privileged people who were socialized in a racist culture still hold significant representative power over Blacks. It should alarm us, and it should remind us that the abolition of Jim Crow is not a good enough reason to think that Black people in America can ease up on the struggle for freedom and equality. Blacks cannot passively accept the racist ideology according to which race “no longer matters.” Race does matter, and it will probably always matter, and Blacks need to lobby actively for policies that protect their socioeconomic interests against the real threat of racial discrimination.
What is lacking in numbers needs to be made up for in tenacity.

Lessie Branch is a Racial Policy Scholar whose research interests focus on race and class disparities in general and the discordance between Black racial attitudes and Black economic progress specifically. Lessie is on faculty at Monroe College in the School of Business and Accounting.

Death in South Carolina: The Denial of Truths

Viewing the narrated event of Charleston within the dark and secure confines that surrounded me under a waxing crescent moon, created a nauseating pit within the center of my chest. As the news began to sift in, the sensation proceeded to raise the minuscule fine hairs upon the back of my petered-out neck. Knowing nothing in particular about the city, beyond the fact that it was not on my bucket list of places to visit, seeing the old and famous AME church and Charleston, South Carolina police lights splashed across my high-definition screen created a sense of confounding distress and sadness my soul had issue in articulating. Before the picture was put to color and detail, I knew, I secretly knew. It was not simply a lunatic, as pundits like to describe the distant “other.” It was not ISIS. It was not gang violence. It was not a disgruntled parishioner or jealous spouse looking to settle a scorned romantic score. It was an ancient, but at the same time, an in-vogue thriving hate of another kind!

It was hard for me to watch as I rested that night, for my feelings were precipitously pointing to a racially motivated depiction of white violence. The next morning the world discovered what I assuredly suspected the night before. The following days after the shooting were filled with sights of racially mixed church audiences (normally segregated and unwilling to discuss this fact at the moment) in places of worship holding hands and singing the Lords prayers. Sights of communal prayer, shared tears, and hardened faces were captured through the lenses of still photography and video apparatuses from sources such as the New York Times and Fox News. Flowers and other symbols of sympathy are, for the time being, placed at the doorsteps of the church as well. Mourning and celebration of life were mentioned heavily by an array of people put on display by the media.

On the other hand, as the week progressed, not only were further details of the shooting available to the public, but also an assortment of rhetorical misdirections wrapped in hypocrisy began to seep throughout the landscape of America. At times, the verbal stench was hard to bear. As I watched and listened throughout the week, the rage overtook the initial distress and sadness in my heart. The muddied mix of liberal and conservative news organizations and pandering politicians brought to a boil an elixir of emotional and intellectual pain that created one overwhelming conclusion in my mind: The truth about race in America is once again seen as a narrative we choose to avert with due diligence. The all too familiar decaffeinated approach to racialized topics of importance was upon the lips of many. This included many within the media and their invited succubi whose ultimate job was to underwrite their hosts’ initial political perspectives. Oddly enough, perspectives such as Dr. Ben Carson, Republican presidential hopeful, were as rare as recent sightings of unicorns. Further, he stated:

Let’s call this sickness what it is, so we can get on with the healing. If this were a medical disease, and all the doctors recognized the symptoms but refused to make the diagnosis for fear of offending the patient, we could call it madness. But there are people who are claiming that they can lead this country who dare not call this tragedy an act of racism, a hate crime, for fear of offending a particular segment of the electorate.

His GOP political rivals decided to follow another path. In essence, they discussed the matter utilizing a more conservative-staunched narrative. Instead of observing the shooting through a racialized lens, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee both described the attack as an assault on religion’s liberties. In order to move the focus from the presence and current effect of a country built on systematic and racialized oppression, Bill O’ Riley, used the art of political and social deflection by interviewing the likes of David Clarke, Milwaukee County Sherriff. This tactic focused on illustrating that Blacks are not in danger from Whites, but from other Black elements within their own communities. Mr. Clarke states:

As a Black American, I do not live in fear in the United States…a persons fear has to be based on rationalization. I face more danger and I feel more danger putting my uniform everyday and going in the American ghetto to police.

When O’Riley asked if Clarke “had come across white supremacy in Milwaukee,” and if white supremacy, as stated by some in the media, was a legitimate rationale for the underlying cause of the shooting in South Carolina. Clarke argued:

[Clarke laughs]…that is high hyperbole and demagoguery…[those who used this argument] want to keep the animosity stoked up, this division between people. But I got over that a long time ago.

Fox “News” also used Bishop E. W. Jackson, of Virginia. He argued,

Most people jump to conclusions about race…I long for the day when we stop doing that in our country…He didn’t chose a bar. He didn’t choose a basketball court. He chose a church. And we need to be looking at that very closely.

In connection with divergent tactics to avoid in-depth conversations about white racism, many in the media and political candidates have exceptionally targeted the conveyance of forgiveness by the victims’ families and other Blacks within the community. To me, their actions are astounding and wonderful. But their actions have also served as a two-edged sword that has lead many (white) politicians to use it as a focal point while avoiding the hard questions about racism in this country.

Even though the killer at the time had yet to be captured, the clues leading one to conclude the shooting was racially motivated were quite clear. But people such as Governor Nikki Haley missed the crumbs of evidence due to their fear of alienating the right-winged conservative base of their political party. This was evident within Governor Haley’s outré tweet Wednesday night. She wrote:

While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.

While flaunting their sympathy, others such as GOP presidential candidates and heads of government expectedly and typically avoided the topic of race and gun legislation. For example, Rand Paul spoke to a group of religious conservatives and said, “It’s people not understanding where salvation comes from.” In addition, Rick Santorum stated:

All you can do is pray for those and pray for our country. This is one of those situations where you just have to take a step back and say we — you know, you talk about the importance of prayer in this time and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before…It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation

Baseless fearmongers such as Donald Trump even exposed their own narcissism and need for intense psychotherapy by making the death of nine innocent individuals about themselves.

The overall bobbing and weaving performed by these and others like Governor Nikki Haley, Ted Cruz to Marco Rubio were amazingly inept. It was not until more information confounding the initial clues (such as the obvious symbolizing of the pro-apartheid flags upon the jacket of the domestic terrorists or his connection to a white supremacist groups) that these same political pawns moved chaotically to the “left” during their performance of the cowboy bump on issues such as removal of the Rebel Dixie flag from South Carolina state property. Regardless, in terms of the flag being seen as a racist symbol in a state many feel shows its white oppressive teeth quite often in order to remind Blacks exactly where they are in terms of the hierarchies pertaining to power and humanity, Governor Nikki Haley once said,

What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.

After licking a finger and thusly putting it up in order to determine which way the political winds were blowing, she at that time did not call for the removal of the Dixie flag from state property. As long as it is politically convenient and creates no harm to your base, erring on the side of right is definitely seen as in fashion. Only later did she act.

Legislative initiatives to take down the flag down are simply the absolute least possible thing that can actually occur within the state of South Carolina. Is the creation of an authentic dialogue concerning white racism and current racial segregation within the country, and specifically in the state of South Carolina on the dockets for further analysis? No? Well surely the manner in which humanity was shown to the shooter of nine Blacks versus the behavior of law officers in the heinous shooting of Walter Scott will create healthy dialogue pertaining to racialized differential treatment of law enforcement? Are we at least going to recognize and discuss the fact that the Charleston County Magistrate, James B. Gosnell, who is overseeing the initial proceedings of the killer’s trial has said “nigger” in open court? No? Maybe deal with the fact that South Carolina is one of only five states that does not have hate crimes legislation? No? Are we as a nation going to at least change some of the names of the streets that represent pro-slavery historical Charleston characters or remove monuments of the likes of that celebrate historical individuals such as Dr. J. Marion Sims who is essentially in the same league, and hopefully burning in the same hell, as Josef Mengele? No? Oh well.

It is important to recognize that this city and this state were both built and flourished due to the huge slave trade that flourished in Charleston. By 1860, there were roughly 4 million Black slaves in the U.S. Importantly, ten percent of those slaves resided in chains and racial oppression in South Carolina. With a past such as this, in combination with our country’s avoidance of confronting a brutal history that continues to have power over the minds and actions of a great many non-Blacks regarding Black Americans, the rise of white hate groups and hate crimes, and ramifications of the racialized tongue-and-cheek political satire of members of the GOP, the Dixie flag is the least of South Carolina’s current and future worries.

Juneteenth and the Struggle Behind It

As with church going, sartorial display is connected to resistance and celebrations of the African American holiday Juneteenth. “By putting on their very best clothes, the black people were signaling they were free,” historian Jackie Jones relates. “It enraged white people. They hated to see black people dressed up because it turned their world upside down.”

Emancipation Day, Austin, Texas, 1900 (from Wikipedia)


Today is the 150th anniversary of the original  Juneteenth, a celebration marking the end of slavery. What began as a regional celebration in Galveston, Texas has grown to a national commemoration that people celebrate in a variety of ways. NPR’s Code Switch has been collecting stories of how people celebrate at the hashtag #WouldntBeJuneteenthWithout, but I there is a pall over the usual celebratory mood of this Juneteenth by recent events in Charleston.

Indeed, after a 21-year-old white gunman opened fire on a bible study group at the historic predominantly black Emanuel AME Church leaving nine dead, the celebration of Juneteenth and the struggle behind it, take on a renewed sense of urgency and poignancy.

The Struggle to Make Juneteenth a State Holiday

Juneteenth hasn’t always been recognized as a holiday, and in the family I came from it was often scoffed at (lots of derision about the name of the holiday).  So the fact that Juneteenth is now an official state holiday in Texas and many other communities across the US, is significant and is only possible because of a political struggle waged by one Houston Democratic legislator, (former) state representative Al Edwards.  It seems impossible now to mention a black, Democratic state representative and not call to mind, Rep. Clementa Pinckney, gunned down while leading that Wednesday night service in Charleston.

Former Texas State Rep. Al Edwards

Former Texas State Rep. Al Edwards

Edwards was born in Houston in 1937, the sixth of sixteen children, and was first elected as a state representative in 1978 from Houston’s District 146, the area known as Alief. A year later, in 1979, Edwards authored and sponsored House Bill 1016, making June 19th (“Juneteenth”) a paid state holiday in Texas.

Everyone, it seemed, opposed the idea. In a recent interview about this bill, attorney Doug McLeod, a conservative Democratic representative from Galveston at the time said of Edwards, “He really had an uphill battle. He had opposition from the left and the right.” Mostly white conservative Democratic majority viewed the bill as a hard sell to their constituents and many of Edwards’ 14 fellow black legislators saw it as a diversion from securing a holiday for Martin Luther King.

House Bill 1016 appeared to be headed nowhere when Edwards, a Democrat who was new to the legislature, originally filed it. Eventually, he got McLeod to sign on to the bill and Bill Clayton, then speaker of the Texas legislature.

Then-Gov. Bill Clements, a Republican, declined to endorse the Juneteenth bill, but he agreed to sign it if passed. Through a series of negotiations and brokered deals over votes, Rep. Edwards eventually prevailed and got the bill through the legislature.  When the bill passed, white conservative opponents urged the governor not to sign the bill, but Clements kept his word and signed the bill on the Texas State Capitol steps. This prompted other states to follow suit. Now 43 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth in some way or another.

History and Struggle Behind Juneteenth

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, but people remained enslaved within the state of Texas.

This happened for two reasons.

First, Texas slave owners refused to release the people they were holding as slaves.  They basically just wouldn’t acknowledge that the Emancipation Proclamation or Lee’s surrender had happened or had any bearing on them (cf. “States Rights,”  see also Texas is a Whole Other Country).

Second, slave owners from neighboring states in the south looked on Texas as a haven for slavery, so they poured into Texas with an estimated 125,000-150,000* enslaved people  from surrounding Confederate states (*historians debate the precise number).

In a recent interview, Jackie Jones,a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin.”The idea was Texas was so vast that the federal government would never be able to conquer it all. There is this view that if they want to hold onto their slaves, the best thing to do is get out of the South and go to Texas.”

This ended on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston and again declared the end of the Civil War, with General Granger reading aloud a special decree that ordered the freeing of some 200,000 people still in bondage in Texas.

Today, some 43 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth in some way. This would not have been possible without the vision of Rep. Al Edwards and the struggle to make it a reality.

In times like these, what’s to celebrate?

With the official, legal end of chattel slavery — and the enforcement of that decree in Texas — there was much to celebrate in 1865. It was no longer legal for human beings to be sold on auction blocks as they had been. And, to be clear, the US didn’t just tolerate slavery as an economic system, it expanded and prospered on it.  The overturning of this dehumanizing system was a momentous victory for a multi-racial group of abolitionists who waged a decades long campaign to end slavery.

Reconstruction followed, creating new opportunities for African Americans who owned and profited from their own land and began to participate in local politics.

Most Americans remain confused about the period of Reconstruction, and many still subscribe toA false story of Reconstruction disseminated in popular culture through things like the film Birth of a Nation.  Although historians including Columbia University’s Eric Foner have shown the extraordinary political, economic, and legal gains of Reconstruction, as Gregory P. Downs notes at TPM.

One historian, C. Vann Woodward, has called the period of “the forgotten alternatives.” During the period between 1870 and 1900, there was some racial integration in housing and privately-owned facilities. Black people could travel on public transportation, vote and get elected, get jobs, including on police forces, and enjoy many public facilities.

But. the gains of Reconstruction were short-lived.

This “alternative” approach to race during Reconstruction ended when what Woodward calls the “strange career” of Jim Crow segregation, began — first by whites in the North, and expanded with a vengeance by Southern whites. Within thirty years of emancipation, laws were instituted that stripped African Americans of their rights, making celebrations like Juneteenth a distant memory. A prison-labor paradigm developed. White jail owners profited from the hard labor of their black inmates who were incarcerated for petty crimes like vagrancy, which carried long sentences. White landowners replaced chattel slavery with a deceptive practice called debt peonage, a new form of bondage continued for many blacks for decades. It wasn’t until 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Circular No. 3591 which strengthened the Anti-Peonage Law of 1867, making it a criminal offense.  Roosevelt launched a federal investigation, prosecuted guilty whites and effectively ended peonage in 1942.


So, why celebrate Juneteenth if white supremacy re-emerged with such a bloody return thirty short years later? Because celebration, commemoration and community is how we gain strength for the larger struggle.

Douglas Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name land co-executive producer of the documentary film by the same name, said this about Juneteenth:

“It’s important not to skip over the first part of true freedom. Public education as we know it today and the first property rights for women were instituted by African-American elected officials.”

Even as there is terrible news out of Charleston, South Carolina by a young white man who was, by all accounts, “enraged” by the freedom of black people, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on other times, other struggles and other victories on this 150th anniversary of Juneteenth.




Fresh Off the Boat: The Asian American Race Conversation We Never Had

Phew, it got renewed. Thank goodness Fresh Off the Boat, only the second Asian American sitcom in US television history, will live on. Why am I so relieved? I’m not Taiwanese American like the main character Eddie (I’m ethnically Korean), nor did I move from a gritty Chinatown to a well-heeled suburb. But I didn’t have that much in common with Mr. Miyagi or Kumiko either, the Japanese-descent coach and paramour of Karate Kid Daniel LaRusso – but, boy, did I identify with both. The simple reason is that, despite some familiar stereotyping, I’d barely seen Asian folks, let alone human-like ones, until the Karate Kid franchise seared my preadolescent eyes. The sad truth is that I could say the same about Asian American family life almost 30 years later, that the trembling glee with which I watched and rewound Karate Kid post-homework matches the rush I feel today when I swipe my iPad for Fresh Off the Boat after a long day’s work.

I’m relieved because nearly a decade after Karate Kid, the first Asian American network sitcom, Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl (1994), was swiftly panned and canceled for failing to compel viewers like myself – effectively an Asian-faced blip on America’s radar. I’m relieved because I’m with Eddie Huang, the brash chef and restaurateur whose memoir is the inspiration for Fresh Off the Boat, when he says about Asian Americans: “Culturally, we are in an ice age … We don’t even have the wheel.”

To trace the source of my anxiety and relief, we must ask, Why did it take nearly 70 years (a television ice age) to get Fresh Off the Boat, and why would a so-called successful minority agonize over its content and fate anyway? The answers aren’t obvious because, frankly, America, we’ve never even had our conversation on race. Yes, we’ve seen the tragic limits of the race conversation for Black America. Need we say more than Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, or Freddie Gray? But at least the conversation’s not a mere idea frozen in time. Moreover, a tête-à-tête requires a back and forth, but on Asian ethnics we’ve mostly had America’s monologue about a “model minority” who has done so well in life that racism’s a non-issue. A model minority therefore gets no seat at the race relations table. Nor did Asian Americans get a spotlight in our more multicultural pop culture after the Civil Rights Movement.

Where did the model minority stereotype and its silencing, disappearing properties come from?: immigration laws that favored educated Asian professionals, academic writing (“model minority” was coined by a fellow sociologist–see Chou and Feagin for this and related issues), and a 1980s’ conservative agenda to dispel the racism argument to gut civil rights enforcement, anti-poverty programs, and affirmative action. Asian American success, conservatives alleged, proved Blacks and Latinos could no longer cry foul. Still today, fact tanks like the Pew Research Center inadvertently bolster model minority myths with controversial reports declaring “The Rise of Asian Americans.”

Make no mistake, there’s a kernel of truth in the model minority stereotype, but it’s a stereotype nonetheless. Asian Americans are a diverse, internally unequal group. Second, the model minority feeds and hides a more pernicious stereotype of the threatening “foreigner;” that is, it pats Asian Americans on the head for being a good kid “like us” but spurns her for being “the foreigner” who outsmarted teacher, then denies her the right to cry racism because, hey, look at all those rich and happy Asians.

Examples include the World War Two mass incarceration of 110,000 Japanese Americans despite the majority holding US citizenship and no evidence of any anti-US activity among this threatening “model minority.” In 1980’s Detroit, two laid-off White US auto workers saw a threatening, model Japan in Chinese American Vincent Chin, murdered him with a baseball bat, yet a night in jail they never spent. More recently, Bill Clinton’s Chinagate scandal prompted the Democratic National Committee to wage a racial witch-hunt of sorts for “foreign” donors within its Asian American constituency. Examples of race-based nativism against other successful Americans abound: Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Mirai Nagasu, Korean merchants in the LA unrest, Judge Lance Ito, South Asians since 9/11, Jeremy Lin.

Because the model minority myth implies that race doesn’t matter for Asian Americans at the same time that it feeds stereotypes of threatening competitors, Asian Americans effectively live a paradox of being racially invisible and visible as “forever foreigners.” Chef Huang claims the show completely ignored this struggle. But other millennials and this Gen X-er say yes and no. I was grateful to feel my youthful Karate Kid rush when I saw myself in Eddie, both invisible and clearly foreign at school and reliant on Black American hip hop for an Asian American voice. Dad Louis got my sympathy when he worried that he wasn’t “American” enough for his chophouse, so hire a “White face” he did. When Jessica perceived their vandalized billboard as a “hate crime” against “sneaky Asians,” I said, “Thank you! Finally!” To be sure, I cringed, at times, at Eddie’s brothers for verging on model minority poster children and at Jessica for too much Tiger Mom foreignness and exoticism. But I’m now exhaling relief that I’ll get to see more Asian American life on a box that had rarely shown it because we were a “model minority” of foreigners. So yes, this show is finally our wheel. But we shouldn’t expect one wheel to go everywhere. Until the struggles and diversity of Asian America grab the spotlight, I take comfort in knowing that Fresh Off the Boat has helped start, and will continue, a conversation that America didn’t know it was supposed to have. Let the ice thaw.

Nadia Y. Kim is a sociology professor at Loyola Marymount University and author of Imperial Citizens: Koreans and Race from Seoul to LA.