Archive for sexism
How many readers remember the Moynihan Report, the shorthand title for The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” written by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965? Supposedly, the rationale for the report was to draw attention to the need for social policies and programs that would address the many problems faced by Black families, especially single-parent, female-headed Black families, in the United States. Regardless of the intent, the Moynihan Report soon became one of the most frequently cited sources to support the argument that the problems facing Black, single-parent, female-headed families – e.g., disproportionately high rates of poverty, crime, illness, substance abuse, “illegitimate” births – were not the products of racism, but were actually caused by Black women themselves: by their strength, their independence, their emasculation of Black men. In subsequent years, the “myth of the Black matriarchy” was refuted by sound empirical research, but such myths, it seems, die hard, and it appears that this one has been resurrected recently, albeit in somewhat different form.
I am referring to the substantial media coverage recently of “the successful, but lonely Black single woman.” As one recent Washington Post article put it, there is now a large group of young Black women who seem to “have it all” – good jobs, high incomes, nice homes and cars and clothes – but they’re lonely; they don’t have a man or the prospect of marrying anytime soon. It turns out, according to a report released today by the Pew Research Center, that young, successful White women are experiencing the same relationship troubles. Among Americans aged 30-44 years old, women are more likely than men to have a college degree. They are also less likely to have lost their jobs in the recent economic recession; men held about 3 out of every 4 jobs that were lost. These changes are producing a “role reversal,” according to the Pew report, that is “profoundly affecting the marriage pool.” While the Pew report, which analyzes recent Census data, shows that the education and income gap by gender is greater for Blacks than for Whites, the focus of many media stories it seems to me is a new twist on the notion of the Black matriarchy.
In a recent ABC News Nightline segment, for example, it was reported that the number of never-married Black women is about double the number of never-married White women. The segment mentions various reasons for this difference, including the smaller number of “marriageable” Black men due to higher mortality, incarceration, and unemployment rates. But the segment focuses primarily on Black women. Several young, successful Black women were interviewed about their intimate relationships and what they desire in men they date. The women come across as strong and independent – and as wanting too much. “Relationship guru” Steve Harvey is also interviewed and he makes it fairly clear that these women have unrealistic expectations. He is shown advising the women to adjust their goals by, for instance, dating older Black men.
The Washington Post article I mentioned previously is even more explicit. It features Helena Andrews, author of Bitch is the New Black, a collection of satirical essays about young, successful Black women in Washington, DC. Andrews and her friends, according to the article, pride themselves on being “mean girls,” especially when it comes to meeting and dating men. But their “bitchiness” is just a mask; in their public presentations of self they convey a “don’t mess with me” attitude, but beneath this veneer is a well of loneliness and, it appears, it’s all their own fault. What do they expect? Instead of exploring with men – men of all races – why perhaps strong, independent women might be threatening to their masculinity and why this is their problem not the women’s problem, the implication of these and other similar stories is what man would want a woman like this? According to the Pew Research Center study, women’s educational and occupational successes in recent years mean that men benefit more from the economic gains of marriage than women do; in 1965, when the Moynihan Report was issued, the reverse was true. So why aren’t we applauding young, successful Black women for their achievements instead of blaming them for lower marriage rates? Why are we ignoring the fact that young, successful White women are also reporting difficulties finding compatible marriage partners? And why aren’t we analyzing why men cannot let go of norms of hegemonic masculinity and why they find successful, strong, and independent women intimidating? Sexism and racism are alive and well.
This is a much condensed version of analysis of the life of one black woman who endured slavery that I did in the Systemic Racism book. In the first published account of enslavement by a black woman, Harriet Jacobs begins her detailed description of enslavement in North Carolina about the year 1820. In this insightful account, which features a fictionalized character, Linda Brent as Jacobs herself, the author explains that her slavemaster was a lecherous physician named Dr. Flint (actually Dr. James Norcom), who enslaved at least fifty African Americans. While some scholars have emphasized that Jacobs fictionalized names and some details of her enslavement, there is much corroborating evidence for her long trial under Norcom, and her account is likely very accurate in essential evaluations.
Jacobs describes the incessant violence that North Carolina slaveholders used to extort labor and compliance from those enslaved. Many slaveholders would hide the worst realities of plantations from a northern white visitor, and how such a visitor would often go back home saying that abolitionists were exaggerating the severity of southern slavery:
What does he know of the half-starved wretches tolling from dawn til dark on the plantations? Of mothers shrieking for their children, torn from their arms by slave traders? Of young girls dragged down into moral filth? Of pools of blood around the whipping post? Of hound trains to tear human flesh? Of men screwed into cotton gins to die? The slaveholder showed him none of these things … .
Speaking from everyday experience, Jacobs is eloquent here in summarizing everyday dimensions of enslavement: extreme labor, poor rations, family destruction, child sexual abuse and rape, whipping and other violence, and the intense pursuit of those seeking freedom.
Repeatedly, Jacobs offers probing sociological commentaries on enslavement of black women throughout this autobiographical account. At one point Jacobs describes how working class white men were periodically given the chance by the slaveholding elite to muster and march with muskets, in demonstrations designed to intimidate the black population. The mustered whites would often take violent action against any blacks they could locate in the surrounding area:
Every where men, women, and children were whipped till the blood stood in puddles at their feet.
Jacobs’ enslaved life was one of many years in what she terms a “cage of obscene birds.” The often violent slavemaster, Dr. Flint (Norcom), constantly reminds her of his power to injure her if she does not obey his commands. When she resists his recurring attacks, he reminds her that she is “his property” and “must be subject to his will in all things.” When he found out Jacobs was pregnant with another white man’s child, he threatened her and then cut her hair off. She
replied to some of his abuse, and he struck me. Some months before, he had pitched me down stairs in a fit of passion; and the injury I received was so serious that I was unable to turn myself in bed for many days.”
In her accounts Jacobs describes many attempts at sexual violence by her slavemaster when she was a young teenager. She then adds that
My master was, to my knowledge, the father of 11 slaves. But did the mothers dare to tell who was the father of their children? Did the other slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves? No, indeed! They knew too well the terrible consequences.
Jacobs also notes that when she had a baby girl
my heart was heavier than it had ever been before. Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own.
Systemic gendered racism was central to slavery too. Resisting the alienation of slavery, as a young woman, she fell in love with a free black man. When her slavemaster found out, he was enraged. She pleaded with him, but he refused to let her to marry. Indeed, he described the particular black man as just a “puppy,” and Jacobs replied:
The man you call a puppy never insulted me, sir; and he would not love me if he not believe me to be a virtuous woman. He sprang upon me like a tiger, and gave me a stunning blow.
After his violent blow, Dr. Flint (Norcom) again told her that it was in his power to kill her for speaking back, as though she was not fully aware of that reality.
In her recounting the savvy Jacobs often speaks of liberty and freedom, which were indeed the driving force for much of her life. After several plans to escape from her North Carolina “prison” failed, Jacobs managed to conceal herself in the attic crawlspace of her free grandmother’s little house. For seven long years, she lived there, just beyond the touch of her family, and was unable to escape to the North. The winter cold and summer heat caused her much pain, yet she reports this pain of hiding was much less than that of her years in slavery.
Yet even when freedom came, she had no home of her own, but had to reside with the friend who had helped to liberate her. The economic losses that stemmed from having to work for whites for many of her most productive years meant that even the free Jacobs had no economic resources of her own to build up a home environment for herself and her children.
It looks like Lucia Whalen won’t be joining the guys for a beer tonight. The White House beer party seems to be a “guy thing.” Why wasn’t Whalen invited? If you’ve been following the news about the arrest of Prof. Gates, you know that Whalen is the woman who set the incident in motion with a 911 call to Cambridge police. There are still a few questions and puzzles about this highly racialized incident.
Whalen had mostly been silent until her press conference yesterday. At that conference she again said that she never said anything racist in her 911 call and that she had been taught by her Portuguese American parents to treat everyone the same. The transcript of her call backs her up on this point, as it clearly indicates she did not suggest black men were breaking in, which means there are very serious problems with the police reports that she told them those breaking in were black. Black men are not mentioned in her call, but she does mention that one of the men possibly looks Hispanic, so she did use that racial identifier, but one not mentioned by anyone else including the police reports.
According to a Boston.com report:
The Gates quagmire began shortly after lunch on July 16 when Whalen, a 40-year-old fund-raiser for Harvard magazine, saw from her office window what appeared to be two suspicious men trying to break in to Gates’ house. According to the police report, Whalen said she “observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch” about 12:45 p.m. “She told me that her suspicions were aroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry,” Sgt. James Crowley wrote in the police report.
Whalen’s attorney, Wendy Murphy, corrected what she and Whalen view as major errors in the police and media reports this way:
She did not know the race of the men when she called 911 because of her distance and that their bodies were turned away from her vantage point. Criticism was exacerbated when Mr. Gates challenged police to explain why they would believe “a white woman over a black man.” This statement is issued solely to correct the record and to emphasize that the woman is not racist and was acting as a responsible citizen, with appropriate concern for the safety of the community. She has worked in Cambridge for more than fifteen years, about a hundred yards from where Mr. Gates resides, and was aware of several recent break-ins in the area.
Whalen also says in her call and statements that an older woman called her attention to the Gates house, and Whalen then assisted with the 911 phone call, but had only a brief conversation with Officer Crowley. One question here is exactly how a neighbor and university colleague who made the initial 911 call failed to recognize prominent Harvard Prof. Gates in broad daylight at his Harvard house?
At the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson asked some tough questions about that police report:
So why, then, does Crowley’s official report say that Whalen told him she had seen “what appeared to be two black males with backpacks” on the porch of the Gates house? Is it Crowley’s position that Whalen is lying? Is Crowley lying? Or did the sergeant, or perhaps his dispatcher, just assume that if a break-in was taking place, the perpetrators had to be black?
Tenured radical makes an important point about how whites, including callers and police officers, often do not think about what they are doing. Whites in such settings are usually thinking out of a version of the white racial frame, and do not think about the dangers they have created and can create for black people. Indeed, white people
put black people in danger every day, an insight that was crucial to southern women’s activism against lynching as early as the 1930s. I have learned that while many of us believe racially integrated neighborhoods are desirable, and some of us actively seek them out, no one talks to white people about their responsibilities for reigning in the racism that inevitably follows when white and black people come into proximity with each other. There is no doubt in my mind that white people put black people into danger all the time as a result of their good intentions, and that being aware of this is a full time job. I worry, for example, every time a close friend of mine I have known since college — a major property owner in the neighborhood, with an Ivy degree, wealthy, and a football celebrity — borrows my lawn equipment, because to your average cop he is just another _________ (fill in the blank) walking down the driveway and up the street with someone else’s electric mower.
One national poll found that white respondents were much more likely to fault Gates than Crowley for the incident, but black respondents responded strongly in the opposite direction. Why is this? Retired Seattle police chief, Norm Stamper, notes why whites, who mostly have good experiences with the police, generally view them in a different way from black residents:
But if you’re a struggling black mom, for example, whose husband is serving a long prison term for simple possession of pot (when, under identical circumstances, more affluent offenders, disproportionately white, walk), and whose well-behaved male teens have been stopped and frisked repeatedly, called names and/or had guns drawn on them, you’re not so likely to have warm and fuzzy feelings toward the local PD.
Stamper then summarizes his experienced view of what may have happened, and how it could have been otherwise:
I did offer my opinion that had Gates been white he would not have been arrested. This belief was reinforced when Sgt. Leon Lasher, the imposing black officer pictured standing with Crowley and the small handcuffed prisoner on the porch of that cheery yellow home, answered a reporter’s question. Yes, he said, the outcome likely would have been different had he handled the contact with Gates. This from a man who supports his white colleague’s actions “100 percent.” The second thing we must do is strengthen police competence, and come up with a better definition of what it means to play “by the book.” See, Crowley may in fact have “followed protocol,” as Lasher maintains. But I take issue with the all-too-common practice of police officers baiting a citizen into committing an act of disorderly conduct so that he or she can arrest that citizen for… disorderly conduct. However offended Crowley may have been by Gates’s conduct inside his own home, that behavior was not a crime.
Given this veteran police view, and the issues noted above, it is more than odd that Officer Crowley is being treated as an “equal” in this little beer party (which he reportedly suggested) and not as a possible perpetrator of police racial profiling or worse. President Obama’s and others’ “let’s play nice” beer routine ignores the national black anger over chronic police malpratice such as profiling, which police malpractice is extremely widespread in all areas of the country.
Instead of focusing on the substantial data on racial profiling by the police, the mainstream media and most other public commentators are making this into a melodrama story of conflict and polarization. How about looking at the large amount of data on racist police profiling here and here and here and here, just to mention a few sources. One sign of continuing decline in the mainstream media is its failure to bother looking at social science and other important research data on the topics being debated.
A Boston police officer who sent a mass e-mail referring to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. as a “banana-eating jungle monkey” has apologized, saying he’s not a racist. .. Officer Justin Barrett told a Boston television station on Wednesday night that he was sorry for the e-mail. “I regret that I used such words,” Barrett told CNN affiliate WCVB-TV. “I have so many friends of every type of culture and race you can name. I am not a racist.”
The ape imagery straight out of the Thomas Jefferson’s racist frame. His lawyer says this was not meant to describe Prof. Gates himself, and his client is not racist. But of course no one is racist anymore just for operating out of that old white frame.
UPDATE 2 (August 3, 2009):
Here is an excellent article by African American author, Darryl Pinckney, who knows Gates and has experienced much racist profiling himself. He makes this point among many other good ones:
The thing about racial incidents these days is that the perpetrator usually denies that race supplied a motive for his actions, because everyone knows that racism is socially frowned upon, like smoking. Yet racism is still around; maybe more covert in some situations. It is not uncommon for a black person to be told that he or she is taking something that happened or was said the wrong way. Often the black person has no way of knowing if he or she has been, say, treated impolitely in a store or an office because of race. Maybe a clerk was just having a bad day. Think how hard it is to prove that one has been denied professional advancement because of race (or gender). Many black people have a conversation with themselves daily, about letting this or that go, about not being paranoid over every little thing. But sometimes you do know and are not in the mood to let the injustice go, even in the age of Obama. I was appalled by an article supposedly sympathetic to Gates that said he had been unwise to get angry with someone in uniform or that a professor with his skills should have calmed the situation down. Are we not frightened members of society if we recommend appeasing the police or showing respect for authority when it is undeserved?
As we watch the hearings in the US Senate on Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination, we can reflect on some images generated about her in most parts of the conservative sector and in the mass media that often plays lapdog for conservatives’ views. One conservative view accents her previous talks and speeches (but not, interestingly, her decisions in this regard) that indicate her important experiential understandings as a woman of color (“wise Latina”) and attacks her for thinking and operating necessarily out of her own racialized and gendered experience, as if that is possible for white men to do.
Indeed, when Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) questioned now Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito about these matters in his hearing a few years back, Coburn and other conservatives did not challenge this candid answer that Alito gave indicating that he operated very much out of his own experience (H/T Glenn Greenwald and Dailykos video ) in his own thinking about cases as a judge:
Because when a case comes before me involving, let’s say, someone who is an immigrant — and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases — I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn’t that long ago when they were in that positionAnd so it’s my job to apply the law. It’s not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result. But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, “You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.”
Isn’t Alito here speaking about having some human empathy for immigrants because of his own family’s immigrant experience? Yet, Coburn and other numerous conservatives (and some others) lately have tied some of what Sotomayor has said about her similar experiences to President Obama’s stated concern for judges to have empathy across important lines in society—apparently a bad thing to have, especially for many white conservatives, including many Republicans in Congress. Indeed, Sotomayor has been forced the last day or two to disagree with President Obama’s earlier statement on empathy in judging, and to assert what Alito does in this comment–that she does not make or bend the law to her personal views (etc.).
Is this conservative attack on the concept of empathy as it is raised by people of color like Obama and Sotomayor because they are afraid that real empathy across color lines is indeed corrosive of the oppressive structure of society, from which they greatly benefit? Hernan Vera and I have argued that individual racism and systemic racism generally require a lack of real inter-human empathy, what we call “social alexithymia”? Doesn’t US racism, past and present, require a breakdown of real empathy in the dominant racial group? Is real empathy corrosive of racist framing and much racist action?
Dailykos has an interesting June 2009 poll on how the public sees this judge/empathy issue. People we asked, "Do you think empathy is an important characteristic for a Supreme Court Justice to possess or not?" This was the breakdown for key demographic groups:
18-29 63 17
30-44 47 34
45-59 55 26
60+ ...46 35
All age groups have a majority or plurality that said yes, but those under 30 are more oriented this way than older groups.
White ..41 39
Black ..81 4
Latino .79 4
Other ..79 5
Whites barely have a plurality for judges having empathy, but you can see that folks of color, who experience the harsh end of everyday racism, are far more likely to see human empathy as important, even though it is not defined in this survey. Majorities there seem to be coming from the same place as Judge Sotomayor in her comments. It would be interesting to do in-depth interviews to see what people understand the word “empathy” to mean. The survey also had an interesting gender breakdown:
Men ......48 34
Women .56 24
Both men and women were more yes than no, but the women were more strongly in the yes column. A majority of the whole sample comes down on the side of empathy for judges, white male Senators notwithstanding!
Let us explore some more aspects of this gender and leadership issue in another major survey of 2,250 adults done last year by the Pew Center. It is revealing in regard to various gendered matters that clearly relate to societal debates on Judge Sotomayor, and on other women recently nominated or appointed to key positions. The survey asked about the leadership traits and assets of men and women. The public, interestingly, seems more enlightened than some US senators.
On most leadership traits women did better than men. Half of the survey respondents viewed
women are more honest than men, while just one-in-five say men are more honest (the rest say they don’t know or volunteer the opinion that there’s no difference between the sexes on this trait). And honesty, according to respondents, is the most important to leadership of any of the traits measured in the survey.
Then there is the old saw that men are more intelligent, which was not accepted by the sample:
Here again, women outperform men: 38% of respondents say women are smarter than men, while just 14% say men are smarter, and the remainder say there’s no difference between the sexes.
On the qualities of hard work and ambition, there was a tie, with equal percentages citing women and men on each as better. Men did best on only one of the traits, decisiveness
with 44% of respondents saying that men are more decisive and 33% saying women are.
Most strikingly, perhaps, women had huge
leads over men on the last three traits on the public’s rankings of the eight items measured: being compassionate (80% say women; 5% say men); being outgoing (47% say women; 28% say men) and being creative (62% say women; 11% say men).
Significantly, the African American women were the most pro-female (womanist) in their views:
Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) black women (compared with 51% of white women and 50% of all adults) say women are more honest than men. About two-thirds (65%) of black women (compared with 37% of white women and 38% of all adults) say women are smarter than men. And about half (49%) of black women (compared with 33% of white women and 28% of all adults) say women are more hardworking than men.
I could not find a breakdown for Latinas or other women of color in the sample, but one might expect them to be closer to black women than white women? Most of the respondents also thought women made as good leaders as men, about 69 percent said so. If so, then, why are there so few women leaders in many sectors of society? The survey respondents agreed that it was substantially because of gender discrimination and the old boy’s club, with smaller percentages accenting women’s family responsibilities and lack of experience. However, Even with high marks for these virtues, women (the 51 percent population majority in the US) do not do well at the top of the society, as these statistics indicate:
2 percent the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies
17 percent of U.S. House members
16 percent of U.S. senators and governors
24 percent of state legislators
11 percent of the U.S. Supreme Court justices
And the statistics are even worse for women (and men of color), especially for Latinos/as like Sotomayor. It is odd that no one in the hearings has analyzed well the point that out of 110 Supreme Ct. justices so far in our history, 106 have been white men, virtually all elite white men. And this is supposed to be some sort of democracy? It is more like a male-ocracy?
It is significant that there seems to be some recognition of the gender discrimination faced by women in the survey too:
A majority of adults (57%) say the nation needs to continue to make changes to give women equal rights with men. A similar majority (54%) says discrimination against women is either a serious or somewhat serious problem in society
Now, the greatest political difficulty is getting some real societal change in the gendered, and gendered racist, structure of this society.
Just when you think the racist right has reached its low point, some hyper-racist folks there show they can go yet lower. For some time now, they have sunk to attacking the Obama children for their clothes, looks, and actions. This seems to be yet another, often racist, way of attacking President Obama. Have they no shame, as Senator Joe McCarthy was once asked.
Lately, Malia Obama has gotten much attention for the peace symbol she wore in Italy while her father was at the G8 summit. Also for the way she looked, her natural hair style, and the Black rapper walking nearby. This photo was put up at the New York Post, the conservative free-republic website, and numerous other sites. It has generated much racist commentary below news stories, which reveal the extent of racist thinking still commonplace in white America.
The New York Post described Malia Obama’s appearance thus:
President Obama’s eldest daughter brought Woodstock chic to Rome yesterday as she toured the Eternal City wearing a T-shirt that bore the peace emblem of the ban-the-bomb movement.
Revealing an age difference perhaps, the older newspaper reporter is doing a bit of mocking here. The peace symbol is worn by millions of US kids who know nothing of the earlier Woodstock and peace movements. Then someone placed this racist commentary below their news story:
Looking at that picture is like seeing ghetto-fabulous failures win the lottery and going nuts – driving Escalades and buying disgustingly garish-looking homes. This is pathetic. We grab a worthless social worker off the street because he speaks well with a teleprompter and toss him into a job with 230 years of history and class. Anyone else see the problem with this? All the presidents before this idiot knew the enormity and responsibility of the office. This retard goes out and buys DVD’s for other heads of state. This ain’t one of your neighborhood block parties “homey. “
Much of the negative commentary on Malia Obama obviously seems to be using her as a way to make hostile, often racist commentaries on her father. This last comment is not only racist and highly stereotyped but rather ignorant about U.S. history. For example, the U.S. presidency has had a few “losers” and numerous problematical characters of dubious virtue, beginning with the numerous slaveholders who served as U.S. president from Washington to Grant (both slaveholders themselves). Rather clearly, President Obama towers over many of our past presidents in “class.”
CatM over at Dailykos counted something like 100 racist and gendered racist comments like these after the free republic posted the photo of Malia Obama, but only one of the comments dissented from this highly negative thread:
“We’re being represented by a family of ghetto trash.”
“Looks like a bunch of ghetto thugs. A stain on America.”
“Looks like a typical street whore.”
“What we now are sending the ghetto over to represent us. and if so who the hell is that flea bag who looks to be dragged from the trash dumpster.”
“you could go down any ghetto right now and see exactly the same.”
“could you imagine what world leaders must be thinking seeing this kind of street trash and that we paid for this kind of street ghetto trash to go over there”
“the world must be laughing like mad right now at that we have this kind of street trash in our white house.”
“Wonder when she will have her first abortion.”
“sad isn’t it that we now have ghetto street trash over there representing us in Europe.”
“This disgusting display makes me more and more eager for the revolution.
“They make me sick…. The whole family… mammy, pappy, the free loadin’ mammy-in-law, the misguided chillin’, and especially ‘lil cuz… This is not the America I want representin’ my peeps.”
Other sites have more mixed commentary, some of it quite positive about Malia Obama’s dress, look, and actions. There does seem to be an obsession even then about the way the Obama’s dress. What is it with this obsession with their “fashion”? I do not remember the Bushes getting so much fashion focus? By the way, our own Adia has explored the gendered racism that black women commonly face in her fine new book, Doing Business with Beauty. Check it out.
Apparently protests about these many racist, gendered-racist, and sexist comments got the thread pulled at the free republic site. The free republic had some postings by the infamous Von Brunn who attacked the Holocaust Museum. Something about the Internet allows this explosion of racist thinking from the most extreme forms of the old white racial frame, views once heard mostly by a few street corner extremists or in backstage settings of white friends and relatives. One wonders now just how widespread this commentary is now in the ordinary backstage settings across the country, especially given all the racist incidents we have discussed on this site over the last few years. It may be increasing there and in new organizations, thanks to the echo chamber effects of the Internet. These are issues Jessie has raised in her find new book on cyberracism.
On Saturday Malia and Sasha Obama, with their parents, visited a major slave castle Cape Coast, Ghana, which was the headquarters for the British slave trade on Africa’s Gold Coast. MSNBC reports it thus:
Inside the whitewashed fortress, the first family got a tour of the oven-like brick dungeons where slaves were crammed as they awaited their fate. The Obamas walked through the “Door of No Return” — the gateway through which thousands passed to ships bound for America — and paused in contemplation, arms around each others backs.
Afterward, the president called the castle “a place of profound sadness.” He told reporters it put him in mind of Buchenwald, the German concentration camp he saw last month — evidence of “the capacity of human beings for great evil.” Yet he also found it inspiring, and hoped Malia and Sasha would grasp its import. “It is here where the journey of much of the African-American experience began,” he said.
One can only imagine what impact this trip to the slave castle had on these black children. It was likely traumatic. It certainly was for their father.
I wonder if the conservative websites will probe that issue of impact and of Anglo-American slavery as deeply as they did Malia’s shirt and hair?
[Note: This was written with Carmen Lugo-Lugo, and Mary Bloodsworth-Lugo]
In May 2009, Pixar released Up, its tenth animated feature. It premiered as the top grossing film the week of its release, and has netted more than $226 million in its first four weeks alone. Beyond the box office, popular reception has been far from critical, as high profile film critics have offered reviews that might be described as positive, glowing, and celebratory.
Even in the blogosphere where we might anticipate a bit more reflection, acritical responses and ringing endorsements have ruled the day, raining praise upon Up for everything from its uplifting message of enlightenment and the scientific puzzles it posesto the kindness of the studio that produced it. Moreover, At first blush, it might appear that Up also confirms that the United States, as discernible in its popular cultural forms, has indeed entered an era after or beyond the difficulties of race, gender, and sexuality. After all, it features no princess in need of rescue or prince charming to slay the dragon; it contains none of the uncomfortable images of racial and ethnic difference so prominent (in retrospect) in some of the classics-such as the crows in Dumbo, King Louie in the Jungle Book, or the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp. However, such an analysis of Up would be a misreading of the film itself and of animated cinema over the past two decades-an argument we briefly rehearse here and elaborate in our forthcoming book Animating Difference. Moreover, as discuss in our forthcoming book, we advocate multiplying the white racial frame, which helps illuminate popular culture, as in the recent consideration of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but which we believe should more fully foreground the centrality of race, gender, and sexuality-what we dub white racial (hetero)sexist frames.
Up focuses on the life of Carl Fredericksen (voiced by Ed Asner). Although set in the present, the past weighs on the narrative, particularly Carl’s love for his childhood sweetheart and wife Ellie, whose death leaves him alone and isolated in a quickly changing world, truncating their shared dreams of traveling to Paradise Falls in South America (modeled after Angel Falls in Venezuela) to shed the burdens of modern life. The turning of the movie is Carl’s struggle to retain his autonomy, property, and memory of Ellie from the forces of development encroaching upon him. Resisting a court order compelling him to be institutionalized, he engineers his escape by attaching thousands of balloons to his house, which literally lift him, and inadvertently a young scout, named Russell, who has stowed-away, up. After crash landing near Paradise Falls, the odd couple set out to the explore the environs, encountering a legendary tropical bird that Russell names Kevin, who with the assistance of a talking dog they also encounter in the new land, the pair struggle to save from an unscrupulous explorer, idolized by Carl as a youth. In the end the adventure, driven by the force of heterosexual love, rejuvenates Carl who changes from crotchety shut-in to community volunteer, becoming Russell’s surrogate father in the process.
Up can be seen as a touching story and artistic triumph to be sure. But more importantly, the film underscores the ways in which animated films use difference without appealing to stereotypes to express prevailing understandings about human possibilities, social relationships, and cultural categories.
Nearly a half-century after the civil rights movement and the second wave of feminism, it centers on the adventures of two males (a boy and a man) transformed through the raceless, homosocial bond forged in the wild making the “right choices” as individuals, thus “doing the right thing,” in this case, defending the defenseless. This is extremely important, given that Russell (the child) is Asian, yet his race is rendered invisible during the adventure. Russell’s values, imparted to him by US society, his family, and the Boy Scouts are similar to those of Carl. Russell tells us he is basically fatherless, and seems to have a void his (Asian) mother cannot fill. The child is looking for a father and finds one in Carl’s individualistic white masculinity. This story of white masculinity burdened with special obligations and tested in a hostile environment beset by evil reiterates the facts of whiteness and the race of masculinity.
The setting of Up further underscores this racialized and gendered morality play: the threats of urban development and technology and the changes associated with them (integration, big government) provide an allegory and grounding for white male resentment, expressed daily on talk radio, cable news, and internet chat rooms, while encouraging a kind of nostalgia for simpler times in which individual action mattered and entities like the Boy Scouts groomed young white men for their duties in life. Thus, Russell may not be white, but the institutions he belongs to (like the Boy Scout), and his interactions with White men (like Carl, and the unscrupulous explorer) are teaching him how to become an honorary straight white man. Moreover, Paradise Falls anchors not only Carl’s and Ellie’s dreams, but a geography of difference in which exoticism, escape, and opportunity are projected onto a place in the South, surprisingly absent of indigenous people and surprisingly easy to get to and claim for yourself.
Hence, the ideal space of imperial fantasy is open to the discovery of and in need of protection by (white) adventurers of the North. Finally, heterosexual romance and a failed quest for family propel Up, for it is desire for difference as much as attraction and commitment that bind Carl and Ellie to one another and compel Carl to repulse the force impinging on him as a white man by casting off the constraints of modernity and the chaos of change.