Racial/Gender Homogeneity in Corporate Board Leadership

In response to criticism from two major shareholders about the lack of diversity in its board of directors, Apple Inc. recently added language to its governance charter committing to seek women and minorities for consideration. The board currently consists of seven white males under the age of 50 and one Asian American woman. In an industry known to be built on the need for innovation, the singular homogeneity of Apple’s board is surprising, although far from unusual.

Other Silicon Valley companies have faced similar questions about their male-dominated leadership including Facebook and Twitter who were criticized for not having female directors prior to their initial public offerings.

The biannual report of the Alliance for Board Diversity reveals that both women and minorities are underrepresented in Fortune 500 boardrooms. Only about 17 percent of the 5,488 board seats are held by women. And minority women comprise 3.2 percent of these positions, while minority men hold 10.1 percent. The report also notes that African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, and Asian/Pacific Islanders have experienced losses or only small gains in corporate board representation in the past year.

In our new book, The New Talent Frontier: Integrating HR and Diversity Strategy in the Private and Public Sectors and Higher Education , Alvin Evans and I argue that talent is the primary strategic asset needed for organizational survival in a globally interconnected world. As a result, organizations need to optimize their talent resources by building synergy between HR and diversity programs. Maximizing organizational capability requires that organizations respect, nurture, and mobilize the contributions of a diverse and talented workforce.

In an article entitled, “Does a Lack of Diversity among Business Leaders Hinder Innovation?” Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin share the results of a survey conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation of 1800 men and women in white-collar professions that also included Fortune 500 executives. The authors found that due to homogeneity in the leadership ranks, the majority of companies fail to realize their full innovative potential. Fifty-six percent of the respondents indicated that leaders at their firms failed to find value in ideas that they have difficulty relating to or don’t see a need for. As a result, senior leaders lose revenue-generating opportunities when they do not create a “speak-up culture” in which employees can contribute innovative or out-of-the-box ideas. The findings appear to support a strong correlation between inclusive behaviors and acquired diversity.

As Joe Feagin eloquently observes in Racist America:

When Americans of color are oppressed in this country’s institutions, not only do they suffer greatly, but the white-controlled institutions and whites within them often suffer significantly if unknowingly. Excluding Americans of color has meant excluding much knowledge, creativity, and understanding from society generally. A society that ignores great stores of human knowledge and ability irresponsibly risks its future.

In this sense, the exclusion of minorities and women from the board rooms of American corporations indeed irresponsibly risks the future of American entrepreneurialism by overlooking the innovative contributions of diverse leadership.

The Craziest Person in the Room: Reflections on How a Mediocre White Guy Can Try to Be Useful

[Edited version of a talk at the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education in New Orleans on June 1, 2013.]

I recognize that the title for this presentation—“The Craziest Person in the Room: Reflections on How a Mediocre White Guy Can Try to Be Useful”—is not particularly elegant or enticing, maybe not very clear or even coherent. So, let me begin by explaining what I mean by some of these terms.

First, the “white guy”: For some years now, I’ve begun talks on injustice and inequality by acknowledging my status: White, male, educated, comfortably middle class, and born in the United States—in short, a privileged citizen of a predatory imperial nation-state within a pathological capitalist economic system. Borrowing a line from a friend with the same profile, I observe that, “If I had been born good-looking, I would have had it all.” That approach communicates to people in this room who don’t occupy these categories that I recognize my unearned privilege and the unjust systems and structures of power from which that privilege flows. (It also indicates that I am not afraid to look in a mirror.)

But today I won’t offer much more of that reflexive white liberal/progressive/radical genuflecting, which while appropriate in many situations increasing feels to me like a highly choreographed dance that happens in what we might call “social-justice spaces.” In rooms such as this, such a performance feels like that—just a performance. So, yes, there are some things I don’t know and can’t know because I’m a white guy, and that demands real humility, a recognition that people on the other end of those hierarchies have different, and typically deeper, insights than mine. But after 25 years of work to understand the world in which I live, there are some things I am confident that I do know and that are more vitally important than ever.

This confidence flows from an awareness that I am mediocre. About “mediocre”: Don’t worry, I don’t have a self-esteem problem. I am a tenured full professor at a major state research university, a job that I work hard at with some success. This is not false modesty; I believe I’m an above-average teacher who is particularly good at expressing serious ideas in plain language. I describe myself as mediocre because I think that, whatever skills I have developed, I’m pretty ordinary and I think that most of us ordinary people are pretty mediocre—good enough to get by, but nothing special. If we put some effort into our work and catch a few breaks (and I’ve had more than my share of lucky breaks), we’ll do ok. Too many bad breaks, and things fall apart quickly. I think this is an honest, and healthy, way to understand ourselves.

So, for me, “coming out” as mediocre is a way of reminding myself of my limits, to help me use whatever abilities I do have as effectively as possible. I’ve spent a quarter-century in academic and political life, during which time I’ve met some really smart people, and I can tell the difference between them and me. I have never broken new theoretical ground in any field, and I never will. I probably have never had a truly original idea. I’m a competent, hard-working second-tier intellectual and organizer.

As a result, I’ve focused on trying to get clear about basic issues: Why is it so difficult for U.S. society to transcend the white-supremacist ideas of its founding, even decades after the end of the country’s formal apartheid system? Why do patriarchal ideas dominate everywhere, even in the face of the compelling arguments of feminists? Why do we continue to describe the United States as a democratic society when most ordinary people feel shut out of politics and the country operates on the world stage as a rogue state outside of international law? Why do we celebrate capitalism when it produces a world of unspeakable deprivation alongside indefensible affluence? And why, in the face of multiple cascading ecological crises, do we collectively pretend that prosperity is just around the corner when what seems more likely to be around the corner is the cliff that we are about to go over? Those are some really heavy questions, but people don’t have to pretend to be something special to deal with these challenges. We can be ordinary, average—mediocre, in the sense I mean it—and still do useful things to confront all this. Instead of trying to prove how special and smart we are, it’s fine to dig in and do the ordinary work of the world. But people like me—those of us with identities that come with all that unearned privilege—do have one opportunity to do at least one thing that can be special: We don’t have to pretend to be the smartest, but we can strive to be the craziest person in the room.

Third, and final, clarification, about “crazy”: In this context, I mean crazy not in a pejorative but in an aspirational sense. I want to be as crazy as I can, in the sense of being unafraid of the radical implications of the radical analysis necessary to understand the world. When such analysis is honest, the implications are challenging, even frightening. It is helpful to be a bit crazy, in this sense, to help us accept the responsibility of pushing as far and as hard as is possible and productive, in every space.

I take that to be my job, to leverage that unearned privilege to create as much space as possible for the most radical analysis possible, precisely because in some settings I am taken more seriously than those without that status. If it’s true that white people tend to take me more seriously than a non-white person when talking about race, then I should be pushing those white folk. If I can get away with talking not just about the need for diversity but also about the enduring reality of racism—and in the process, explain why the United States remains a white-supremacist society—then I should talk “crazy” in that way, to make sure that analysis is part of the conversation, and to make it easier for non-white people to push in whatever direction they choose. Once I’ve used the term “white supremacy,” it’s on the table for others who might be dismissed as “angry” if they had introduced it into the conversation.

If it’s true that men tend to take me more seriously than a woman when talking about gender, then I should be pushing the envelope. If I can get away with talking not just about the importance of respecting women but also about the enduring reality of sexism, then I should talk “crazy” about how rape is not deviant but normalized in a patriarchal culture, about how the buying and selling of women’s bodies for the sexual pleasure of men in prostitution, pornography, and stripping is a predictable consequence of the eroticizing of domination and subordination.

I should talk about the violent reality of imperialism, not just questioning the wisdom of a particular war but critiquing the sick structure of U.S. militarism. I should talk not just about the destructive nature of the worst corporations but also about the fundamental depravity of capitalism itself.

As someone with status and protection, I should always be thinking: What is the most radical formulation of the relevant analysis that will be effective in a particular time and place? Then I should probably take a chance and push it a half-step past that. I should do all this without resorting to jargon, either from the diversity world or the dogmatic left. I should say it as clearly as possible, even when that clarity makes people—including me—uncomfortable. This isn’t always as difficult or risky as it seems. Outside of overtly reactionary political spaces, most people’s philosophical and theological systems are rooted in basic concepts of fairness, equality, and the inherent dignity of all people. Most of us endorse values that—if we took them seriously—should lead to an ethics and politics that reject the violence, exploitation, and oppression that defines the modern world. If only a small percentage of people in any given society are truly sociopaths—incapable of empathy, those who for some reason enjoy cruel and oppressive behavior—then a radical analysis should make sense to lots of people.

But it is not, of course, that easy, because of the rewards available to us when we are willing to subordinate our stated principles in service of oppressive systems. I think that process works something like this:

–The systems and structures in which we live are hierarchical.
–Hierarchical systems and structures deliver to those in the dominant class certain privileges, pleasures, and material benefits, and some limited number of people in subordinated classes will be allowed access to most of those same rewards.
–People are typically hesitant to give up privileges, pleasures, and benefits that make us feel good.
–But, those benefits clearly come at the expense of the vast majority of those in the subordinated classes.
–Given the widespread acceptance of basic notions of equality and human rights, the existence of hierarchy has to be justified in some way other than crass self-interest.
–One of the most persuasive arguments for systems of domination and subordination is that they are “natural” and therefore inevitable, immutable. There’s no point getting all worked up about this—it’s just the way things are.

If this analysis is accurate, that’s actually good news. I would rather believe that people take pains to rationalize a situation they understand to be morally problematic than to celebrate injustice. When people know they have to rationalize, it means they at least understand the problems of the systems, even if they won’t confront them.

So, our task is to take seriously that claim: Is this domination/subordination dynamic natural? Yes and no. Everything humans do is “natural,” in the tautological sense that since we do it, human nature obviously includes those particular characteristics. In that sense, a pacifist intentional community based on the collective good and a slave society based on exploitation are both natural. We all know from our own experience that our individual nature includes varied capacities; we are capable of greedy, self-interested behavior, and we also can act out of solidarity and compassion. We make choices—sometimes consciously, though more often without much deliberation—within systems that encourage some aspects of our nature and suppress other parts.

Maybe there is a pecking order to these various aspects of human beings—a ranking of the relative strength of these various parts of our nature—but if that is the case, we know virtually nothing about it, and aren’t likely to know anytime soon, given the limits of our ability to understand our own psychology. What we do understand is that the aspect of our nature that emerges as primary depends on the nature of the systems in which we live. Our focus should be on collective decisions we make about social structure, which is why it’s crucial to never let out of our sights the systems that do so much damage: white supremacy, patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism. There are serious implications to that statement. For example, I do not think that meaningful social justice is possible within capitalism. My employer, the University of Texas at Austin, doesn’t agree. In fact, some units of the university—most notably the departments of business, advertising, and economics—are dedicated to entrenching capitalism. That means I will always be in a state of tension with my employer, if I’m true to my own stated beliefs.

Education and organizing efforts that stray too far from this focus will never be able to do more than smooth the rough edges off of systems that will continue to produce violence, exploitation, and oppression—because that’s what those systems are designed to do. If we are serious about resisting injustice, that list of systems we must challenge is daunting enough. But it is incomplete, and perhaps irrelevant, if we don’t confront what in some ways is the ultimate hierarchy, the central domination/subordination dynamic: the human belief in our right to control the planet.

Let me put this in plain terms: We live in a dead world. Not a world that is dying, but a world that is dead—beyond repair, beyond reclamation, perhaps beyond redemption. The modern industrial high-energy/high-technology world is dead. I do not know how long life-as-we-know-it in the First World can continue, but the future of our so-called “lifestyle” likely will be measured in decades not centuries. Whatever the time frame for collapse, the contraction has begun. I was born in 1958 and grew up in a world that promised endless expansion of everything—of energy and material goods, of democracy and freedom. That bounty was never equitably distributed, of course, and those promises were mostly rhetorical cover for power. The good old days were never as good as we imagined, and they are now gone for good.

If that seems crazy, let me try again: The central illusion of the industrial world’s extractive economy—propped up by a technological fundamentalism that is as irrational as all fundamentalisms—is that we can maintain indefinitely a large-scale human presence on the earth at something like current First-World levels of consumption. The task for those with critical sensibilities is not just to resist oppressive social arrangements, but to speak a simple truth that almost no one wants to acknowledge: This high-energy/high-technology life of affluent societies is a dead end. We can’t predict with precision how resource competition and ecological degradation will play out in the coming decades, but it is ecocidal to treat the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump. We cannot know for sure what time the party will end, but the party’s over.

Does that still sound crazy? Look at any crucial measure of the health of the ecosphere in which we live—groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of dead zones in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species, and reduction of biodiversity—and ask a simple question: Where are we heading?

Remember also that we live in an oil-based world that is rapidly depleting the cheap and easily accessible oil, which means we face a major reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds daily life. Meanwhile, the desperation to avoid that reconfiguration has brought us to the era of “extreme energy,” using more dangerous and destructive technologies (hydrofracturing, deep-water drilling, mountaintop coal removal, tar sands extraction). Instead of gently putting our foot on the brakes and powering down, we are slamming into overdrive.

And there is the undeniable trajectory of global warming/global weirding, climate change/climate disruption—the end of a stable planet.

Scientists these days are talking about tipping points (June 7, 2012, issue of Nature) and planetary boundaries (September 23, 2009, issue of Nature), about how human activity is pushing Earth beyond its limits. Recently 22 top scientists warned that humans likely are forcing a planetary-scale critical transition “with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience,” which means that “the biological resources we take for granted at present may be subject to rapid and unpredictable transformations within a few human generations.” (Anthony Barnosky, et al, “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere,” Nature, June 7, 2012).

That conclusion is the product of science and common sense, not supernatural beliefs or conspiracy theories. The political/social implications are clear: There are no solutions to our problems if we insist on maintaining the high-energy/high-technology existence lived in much of the industrialized world (and desired by many currently excluded from it). Many tough-minded folk who are willing to challenge other oppressive systems hold on tightly to this lifestyle. The critic Fredric Jameson wrote that, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” but that’s only part of the problem—for some, it may be easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of air conditioning.

I’m not moving into rapture talk, but we do live in end-times, of a sort. Not the end of the world—the planet will carry on with or without us—but the end of the human systems that structure our politics, economics, and social life.

All this matters for anyone concerned not only about the larger living world but also the state of the human family. Ecological sustainability and social justice are not separate projects. One obvious reason is that ecological crises do not affect everyone equally—as those in the environmental justice movement say, the poor and oppressed of the planet tend to be hit “first and worst, hardest and longest” by ecological degradation. These ecological realities also affect the landscape on which we organize, and progressive and radical movements on the whole have not spent enough time thinking about this.

First, let me be clear, even though there is no guarantee we can change the disastrous course of contemporary society, we should affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability. We take on projects that we realize may fail because it’s the right thing to do, and by doing so we create new possibilities for ourselves and the world. Just as we all know that someday we will die and yet still get out of bed every day, an honest account of planetary reality need not paralyze us.

Then let’s abandon worn-out clichés such as, “The American people will do the right thing if they know the truth,” or “Past social movements prove the impossible can happen.” There is no evidence that awareness of injustice will automatically lead U.S. citizens, or anyone else, to correct it. When people believe injustice is necessary to maintain their material comfort, some accept those conditions without complaint.

Social movements around race, gender, and sexuality have been successful in changing oppressive laws and practices, and to a lesser degree in shifting deeply held beliefs. But the movements we most often celebrate, such as the post-World War II civil rights struggle, operated in a culture that assumed continuing economic expansion. We now live in a time of permanent contraction—there will be less, not more, of everything. Pressuring a dominant group to surrender some privileges when there is an expectation of endless bounty is a very different project than when there is intensified competition for increasingly scarce resources. That doesn’t mean nothing can be done to advance justice and sustainability, only that we should not be glib about the inevitability of it.

If all this seems like more than one can bear, it’s because it is. We are facing new, more expansive challenges. Never in human history have potential catastrophes been so global; never have social and ecological crises of this scale threatened at the same time; never have we had so much information about the threats we must come to terms with.

It’s easy to cover up our inability to face this by projecting it onto others. When someone tells me “I agree with your assessment, but people can’t handle it,” I assume what that person really means is, “I can’t handle it.” But handling it is, in the end, the only sensible choice. To handle it is to be a moral agent, responsible for oneself and one’s place in a community.

Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities—those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult—not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous.

Facing this doesn’t demand that we separate from mainstream society or give up ongoing projects that seek a more just world within existing systems. I am a professor at a university that does not share my values or analysis, yet I continue to teach. In my community, I am part of a group that helps people create worker-cooperatives that will operate within a capitalist system that I believe to be a dead end. I belong to a congregation that struggles to radicalize Christianity while remaining part of a cautious, often cowardly, denomination. We do what we can, where we can, based on our best assessment of what will move us forward.

That may not be compelling to everyone. So, just in case I have dug myself in a hole with some people, I’ll deploy a strategy well known to white people talking about social justice: When you get in trouble, quote an icon from the civil-rights movement. In this case, I’ll choose James Baldwin, from a 1962 essay about the struggles of artists to help a society, such as white-supremacist America, face the depth of its pathology.

On this question of dealing honestly with hard truths, Baldwin reminds us,

Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” In that essay, titled “As Much Truth as One Can Bear,” Baldwin suggested that a great writer attempts “to tell as much of the truth as one can bear, and then a little more. (James Baldwin, “As Much Truth As One Can Bear,” in Randall Kenan, ed., The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings (New York: Pantheon, 2010), pp. 28-34.)

He was speaking about the struggle for justice within the human family, but if we extend that spirit to the state of the larger living world, the necessary formulation today would be “to tell as much of the truth as one can bear, and then all the rest of the truth, whether we can bear it or not.”

By avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe. All we do is undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability and guarantee the end of the human evolutionary experiment will be ugly beyond our imagination. We must remember, as Baldwin said, “that life is the only touchstone and that life is dangerous, and that without the joyful acceptance of this danger, there can never be any safety for anyone, ever, anywhere.”

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Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. His latest books are Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialogue, and We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out (on Kindle)

Jensen is also the author of All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film “Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing” (Media Education Foundation, 2009), which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist. An extended interview Jensen conducted with Osheroff is online Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to here. Twitter: @jensenrobertw.

Hull House Dies After 122 Years



Sadly, the most famous anti-poverty institution created in the United States had to close–the very influential Hull House in Chicago (now a National Historic Landmark). This settlement house was founded in the late 1880s by Jane Addams, an American mostly known as a social worker but who was also a famous sociologist (much published in sociology journals) and leading social justice activist and author. (See the excellent books of sociologist Mary Jo. Deegan.)

Addams is one of only two sociologists to win a Nobel Prize (for peace activities in the World War I era). Numerous other women, white and black, helped set up Hull House and run it effectively in early decades. Eventually serving thousands weekly, it has continued to have an important impact locally and nationally to its closing this week.

Addams and the pathbreaking white and black women professionals at Hull House played an important role in supporting the research and career of the young Harvard Ph.D., W. E. B. Du Bois, the great sociologist, historian, and activist whose influence continues to impact critical theorists and analysts of U.S. racism. They helped him in his research for the first sociological book that detailed urban racial issues, The Philadelphia Negro, and invited him to Hull House for lectures and consultation. These women were very important in the development of the first important graduate department of sociology at the University of Chicago, where some taught for a time.

An associated press report noted that Hull House had a very high demand these days from poor Chicagoans, some 60,000 a year being served, but had to close and suddenly lay off hundreds because it could not get enough funding in this economic depression. Not surprisingly, they were devastated, as are many of their many clients:

“It’s been my life,” said Dianne Turner, who spent 25 years teaching families in Chicago housing projects how to break the cycle of poverty. “It wasn’t about the pay. It was about seeing a family go from feeling hopeless to being hopeful and feeling like they can do things. …[She] said the organization helped teach her the value of education, how to save money and how to be a leader.
. . . . Regina Boyd, who has been a housing case manager at Hull House … said. “But I love the legacy of Jane Addams, and I’m hoping that someone or something comes along,” to continue that legacy. I feel her spirit. Her legacy is not over in my heart and spirit. It’s not.”

This seems another major sign of our declining times in terms of social justice efforts, unfortunately. Many in this society, and especially much of the white elite that runs key sectors, seem to have lost their moral sense of what a healthy and just society should be. Serving the poor and troubled Americans with meaningful programs aimed at support, survival, and/or socioeconomic mobility are essential, in my view, to the future of any society committed to social justice. And the end of Hull House also marks the end of a key intellectual institution that fostered much early social science research on Chicago, helped to create modern sociology as a discipline, and stimulated much local and national thinking about social justice, including in regard to racism and sexism.

Latina Struggles: Challenges Within the Culture



Discussing dysfunctions within a minority culture that already experiences oppression and discrimination by mainstream white society is a difficult thing to do. Many women of color—Asian, Indian, and Black women understand sexist treatment from both dominant white society and from their cultures. Black women have courageously written about the unique oppression as women of color from Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I a Woman to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s pathbreaking article in the late1980s, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Anti-discrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” to the writings of Audre Lorde, and bell hooks to name a few. These and many other women of color have provided the foundation for analyses that examine how multiple identities such as race, class and gender result in increased oppression for women of color that are separate from those of white women. The same is true for Latinas.

The unequal treatment of Latinos in many aspects of traditional Latino culture is one of the greatest dysfunctions of our culture. And my study on Latino lawyers demonstrates that even for Latina professionals, this dysfunction does not easily go away. It is evident within the law firm and it is also evident in many traditional Latino families.

For example, Josefa one of the Latina attorneys I interviewed had this to say about sexism in the firm environment:

I see women more involved. Men often get the limelight, but women do the work….What’s ironic is that women are not reaping the benefits and success that men generally experience as a result of community involvement. All you have to do is look at the rate of women making partnership in firms. The percentage is absolutely dismal.

Reflecting on her time in law firms, Josefa commented,

There is such isolation. Even after you ‘make it,’ you are probably the only Latina or the only woman of color. You are always viewed as the outsider, with little support to help you succeed. No one tells you of the land mines because, frankly, you make them uncomfortable and they really want you to go away. . . . Perhaps it is our past that prevents Latinas from fitting into a profession where people frequently come from very privileged backgrounds.

Latinas experience sexism in our culture as well. As one Latina respondent shared with me,

When I was in law school and I’d go to Latino dances with my friends, we would have to lie to the guys so they would ask us to dance again.

She and her friends discovered that once they revealed they were law school students they would not get asked to dance again. So they developed the strategy of telling the Latinos whom they were interested in dancing with again that they were secretaries in order to be asked for more dances. Sharing this experience made her laugh. However, she quickly stopped laughing and said that one of her greatest personal challenges has been with her traditional Latino family stating it has been very difficult “to be taken seriously . . . being taken seriously that this was my career choice and that I would be good at it.”

Many of the Latina respondents also expressed feeling trapped between unreasonably rigid gender roles in Latino culture and stereotypes and limitations from mainstream society. As one Latina attorney from Seattle stated:

I think people need to understand the challenges of becoming a lawyer in spite of our culture that expects different from us, from our families that expect less from us, from our husbands that are not always supportive. The fact that in our culture humbleness is a virtue but not in American culture. That culturally we sometimes feel caught between acting as advocates for Latinos in an American system or acting as Americans representing foreigners.

In fairness, many Latinos recognize the problem with traditional sexist roles in Latino culture as well. One of the male Latino attorneys relayed the following experience during one of his volunteer Latino youth educational outreach efforts:

One thing during undergraduate work at the business school, once in a while they sent out brochures and those kinds of things, and we asked high school students from Eastern Washington, especially [which] is where we were trying to focus. You know, get them here to the U [the University of Washington] so they can experience it. And I remember one response from this high school girl that she really wanted to come but her parents felt that a girl’s position was in the house. So you had those cultural barriers as well.

Rigid gender roles hurt the entire Latino community, are recognized by both Latinos and Latinas, and unfortunately, are also perpetuated by both Latinos and Latinas. Until we face this dysfunction in our culture we hold ourselves back. I am not saying that white culture isn’t sexist, but Latinas and other women of color have to fight for equality, respect, and freedom not just within dominant mainstream society, but also within their own families and culture.

We have to fight being oppressed and controlled at many levels. And my study on Latino lawyers’ experience underscores this huge problem. There is a long entrenched historical pattern of unequal treatment and even the devaluing of Latinas in traditional Latino culture. Ignoring these challenges within our culture will only keep us all down.

Do Subtle Discrimination and Social Justice Belong in Leadership Development Programs?



Mary Rowe, ombudsperson at MIT argues that subtle discrimination is the primary scaffolding for segregation in the U.S., a scaffolding that maintains inequality through micro-inequities–small, ephemeral, covert events that marginalize historically disadvantaged groups. She writes about how micro-inequities come to her attention everyday:

I hear of racist and anti-gay graffiti, of ethnic jokes in a lab, of someone failing to introduce a minority person, or confusing the names of two people of color I hear of someone ascribing the work or idea of a woman to a nearby male, of people who think exclusively of male contacts when a job or coveted assignment is open, of someone’s obvious discomfort at being assigned to travel with a woman or a person of another race. I hear of women who take a different path to class because of a man who seems to hang around on the path. I hear of a minority employee not notified of a vital matter at work. I hear of a woman trainee assigned to a certain office she did not want to be in, ‘because the man in that office was lonely and wanted to be assigned with a woman.’

Are these issues that leaders need to know about? Are the dynamics of subtle discrimination a subject for leadership development programs?

A thought-provoking new report on leadership and race entitled “How to Develop and Support Leadership that Contributes to Racial Justice” has just been issued by the Leadership Learning Community. The report suggests the leadership programs that simply focus upon diversity practices, equal opportunity, and individualism, do not recognize how systems such as culture, institutional practices, and policies, impact career and life opportunities for disadvantaged groups. A revealing chart in the report indicates that almost 90 percent of the 122 institutional leadership programs surveyed address diversity, but only half include training on structural racism and white privilege. An even smaller number (a little over 30 percent) include GLBTQ concerns.

Why does this matter? Should structural considerations relating to racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, and other forms of exclusion be included in our leadership development programs? Should we not simply continue to talk about the value of diversity without addressing the systems that perpetuate social stratification within our institutions and organizations?

These questions remain controversial. It is easier to focus upon general discussions of diversity and multi-culturalism without delving into the difficult problems that this country has faced and is still facing. As American’s foremost theorist on systemic discrimination, Joe Feagin, reminds us in The White Racial Frame , the United States is a country shaped by extensive slavery and comprehensive legal segregation for a time period of 350 years, between 1619 to 1969, when legal segregation officially ended.

In the field of higher education, we know from recent reports that a high degree of racial and gender stratification persists in the administrative leadership ranks. My colleague, Alvin Evans of Kent State University, and I are exploring the implications of this stratification for university leadership in an upcoming book.
And as Adrianna Kezar and Rosana Carducci point out in Rethinking Leadership in a Complex, Multicultural and Global Environment now is the time for a revolutionary reconceptualization of leadership models from hierarchical, individualist leadership models that focus on power over others, to process-centered, nonhierarchical, collective forms of leadership that emphasize mutual power.

We agree. In Bridging the Diversity Divide: Globalization and Reciprocal Empowerment in Higher Education my co-author and I identify the importance of a framework of demography, diversity, and democracy that infuses the climate and culture and fosters reciprocal empowerment. Reciprocal empowerment corrects the imbalance in asymmetrical power relations through distributive justice, collaboration, and self-determination. In this era of globalization, the need for new approaches in our leadership programs that address critical social justice issues has never been stronger.

Once Again, Women – Especially Black Women – Are to Blame

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.

IMG_9777
Creative Commons License photo credit: craigfinlay


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.

The Rape of Black Women under Slavery: Part II



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.

Racism, Sexism and the ‘Beer Summit’ (SECOND UPDATE)

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.

.The White House

(Creative Commons License photo credit: C. Young Photography)

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.

UPDATE 1:

CNN has this report on another white Boston police officer:

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?

Judge Sonia Sotomayor: Issues of Empathy, Gender, and Gendered Racism



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:

.........Yes   No
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.

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: Wikipedia)

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.

Racist Attacks on the Obama Children: New Lows for the Racist Right? (UPDATED)


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.malia_obama

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.

UPDATE:

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?