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.


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?

Up is a Racist Downer

[Note: This was written with Carmen Lugo-Lugo, and Mary Bloodsworth-Lugo]

Pixar's Up in 3D at the Castro May 29 - June 17Creative Commons License photo credit: Steve Rhodes

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.

Gloria Steinem, Where Are You Now?

3005744513_a264349f2bIf you’ve been following the increasingly racist, sexist, and thoroughly disgusting attacks on Sonia Sotomayor, then you’ve no doubt seen this headline: “G. Gordon Liddy on Sotomayor: ‘Let’s Hope the Key Conferences Aren’t When She’s Menstruating.’ ”

While striking, this revolting statement is not that far of a stretch from other classics of the last few days: Sotomayor as dumpy, schoolmarmish, and too “emotional.”

These statements are obviously grossly offensive and fairly reek of profoundly sexist ideals. I do not claim to be a Supreme Court expert, but I’ve been following nominations pretty closely since the Clarence Thomas debacle in the 1990s and have yet to hear any criticisms of any male justices’ appearance or emotional tenor. As far as I can tell, when it was time to consider his nomination to the Court, no one cared what Antonin Scalia looked like or bothered to describe him as dumpy, fat, or bloated. No one asked whether Clarence Thomas had the temperament for the Supreme Court, even though he looked mad enough to spit nails when he had to face accusations of sexual harassment, while Anita Hill remained calm and unflappable when Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter basically called her a liar.  The double standard here is a glaringly obvious, clear cut, basic example of sexism in American politics. How else to explain that looks and emotion suddenly became significant issues for Judge Sotomayor when they never mattered for any of her predecessors?

But I don’t need to point all this out, because fortunately we have a number of prominent feminist women who are quick to use their public platform to denounce obvious cases of sexism, and to condemn those who are instrumental in perpetuating these assaults against women…right? Why, just last year, noted feminist icon Gloria Steinem (image from here), wrote a widely discussed editorial in the New York Times defending then-Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton against charges of sexism, and lamenting that “the sex barrier was not taken as seriously as the racial one.”

During this same election cycle, Geraldine Ferraro made controversial statements arguing that Obama’s race was an advantage, and contended that “if he were a woman of any color he would not be in this position,” implying, like Steinem, that male privilege was so endemic that it could elevate a black man over any woman of any color.  Martha Burk got a lot of attention a few years back for demanding that the Masters golf tournament allow women to join its hallowed ranks, and was a clear, cogent voice in drawing attention to this institutionalized sexism in the athletic world.

Funny how I haven’t heard any statements from these women castigating G. Gordon Liddy, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, or Michael Steele for their repugnant, sexist, and racist remarks about Judge Sotomayor. Funny how they haven’t jumped out in front of this issue the same way they did when Hillary Clinton was the one on the receiving end of a barrage of sexist statements. Funny how the PUMAs (Party Unity My Ass) who were so outraged at the way the Democratic Party ostensibly treated Hillary Clinton now don’t seem to see this as a worthy cause of their efforts, and aren’t outraged by Democratic politicians’ unwillingness to call these abhorrent statements the blatant misogyny that they are.

What’s not funny are the implications this has for women of all races. When white feminists look the other way when Michelle Obama is callously referred to as “Obama’s Baby Mama,” when Sonia Sotomayor is savaged by right wing conservatives who engage in the basest types of sexism, or more broadly, when women of color across the country face higher rates of abuse, incarceration, and poverty than white women, it sends a clear message about their lack of respect for and interest in the ways sexism impacts women of other racial groups and class positions. It reinforces the idea that white women feminists are interested in maintaining their white privilege while undermining sexism, a process that keeps women of color oppressed but broadens the category of whites who have access to and are able to wield power over others. It perpetuates the (erroneous) message that feminism has nothing to offer women of color, even though they too suffer from the gender wage gap, sexual violence, and all the other manifestations of gender inequality.

I do not understand why white feminists like Steinem, Ferraro, Burk, and others still don’t seem to get this message that intersections of race and gender matter and that the feminist movement cannot succeed without the influence and involvement of ALL women.

This point has been made for years, by many progressive white women (playwright Eve Ensler, sociologist Margaret Andersen) and feminists of color (sociologist Patricia Hill Collins, activist Pauli Murray, writer Alice Walker). It would be really nice if the rampant sexism being directed towards Sonia Sotomayor finally served as an overdue wake-up call about the importance of both race and gender.

Social Class, Race, and Intimate Partner Violence

Chris BrownChris Brown’s February 8th assault of his girlfriend, Rihanna, has put the problem of intimate partner violence in the media spotlight (Chris Brown Creative Commons License photo credit: O.M.Gee!). From Oprah Winfrey to Larry King to numerous entertainment and news websites, talk show hosts, commentators, bloggers and others have examined the incident from multiple angles, spinning off questions about abusive relationships more generally. One of the most frequently raised issues is the social class of the couple. As a writer for CNN recently noted:

Both singers are young, apple-cheeked, immensely talented and squeaky clean – the last couple you’d imagine as domestic violence headliners. Perhaps the only good that will come from the Rihanna/Brown publicity is destruction of our culture’s misconception that abusers and their victims can only be universally poor, uneducated and powerless.

Certainly this is an important lesson to be learned and one that domestic violence advocates have been emphasizing for more than 30 years: Intimate partner violence affects individuals in all social classes and racial/ethnic groups; no one is protected by virtue of their class or race privilege. Rihanna_2That said, one of the most consistent findings from research is a strong inverse relationship between social class and intimate partner violence: As social class goes up, rates of intimate partner violence go down. Analyses of large, national surveys, for example, show that women living in households with the lowest annual incomes were five times more likely to have experienced intimate partner violence than women in households in the highest income category, and three times more likely than women in the middle income category (Rihanna Creative Commons License photo credit: Trangdepp).

Poor women, of course, are not a homogeneous group.  For instance, some poor women are homeless or living in temporary shelters, while others are housed. Some are employed, even if only in low-paying jobs without benefits, while others are unemployed or receive public assistance. Although poor women overall are at greater risk of intimate partner violence victimization, studies show that the poorest of the poor have the highest rates. Consider, for example, that nationally representative surveys of the general U.S. population estimate that about 25% of women are victimized by an intimate partner at some time during their lives. That is an unacceptably high number, but appears slight when comparing it to studies of women on welfare, which report a range of 28% to 63% lifetime victimization rates; the majority of estimates from these studies are 40% to 60% (Richard Tolman, “Guest Editor’s Introduction,” Violence Against Women, 5[1999]:355-369).

Research also indicates that poor women have higher lifetime rates of all forms of violent victimization. In a Massachusetts study, for instance, researchers found that among their sample of 216 housed, low-income, single mothers and 220 homeless single mothers in which the average age was 27, only 16% had not been physically or sexually abused in their relatively short lifetimes. Nearly 33% reported severe physical violence by a current or former boyfriend, 60% reported physical violence perpetrated by a male partner during adulthood, 63% reported severe physical violence by a parent or caregiver during childhood, and over 40% reported that they had been sexually molested during childhood. As the authors of this research point out, the majority of the women in this study had experienced only brief periods of safety during their lives (Angela Browne, Amy Salomon, & Shari S. Bassuk, “The Impact of Recent Partner Violence on Poor Women’s Capacity to Maintain Work,” Violence Against Women, 5[1999]:393-426).

One issue that has not been mentioned in the Rihanna/Brown case is the fact that the couple is black. Since the early 1980s, large national surveys have shown that black women are at greater risk of being violently victimized by their intimate partners than white women are. Some researchers have argued that the higher rate of intimate violence among black couples is the result of culturally specific factors that include beliefs about marriage and fidelity along with negative stereotypes of black women. But in studies that have examined both race and social class, differences in rates of intimate partner violence between black and white couples are significantly reduced or disappear completely when social class is controlled. The higher rate of intimate partner violence victimization – and, indeed, all types of violent victimization – among black women, then, is another outcome of racism: the result of the disproportionate number of black people who live in poverty. In her recent research on gendered violence in the lives of urban black girls, the vast majority of which is perpetrated by peers and acquaintances, criminologist Jody Miller informs readers:

This book should not be read as an indictment of young Black men and their treatment of their female peers. . . . [W]e, as a society, have created the circumstances that lead to cultural adaptations to situational contexts that shape urban African American young women’s risks. The indictment is of all of us. (Getting Played, New York: New York University Press, 2008, p. xvii)

Thus, while the attention given to intimate partner violence because of the Rihanna/Brown case is important and welcome, the emphasis being placed on the couple’s social status and how intimate partner violence happens even among wealthy couples should not allow us to overlook the fact that the greatest burden of this violence falls on poor women. And, as a direct result of racism, women of color are disproportionately poor and have the fewest resources available to them to cope with this problem.

Countering Racist and Other Stereotyping

Anti-racism protest

We like to accent here resources for dealing with various forms of racism, sexism, and heterosexism (Creative Commons License photo credit: uwdigitalcollections). Leslie Aguilar has put together an important website and book that suggests various strategies for dealing with stereotyped and prejudiced commentaries and performances that you may encounter in your daily rounds.

The suggestions include responding to racist and other stereotyped comments from acquaintances or others with a simple reaction like, “ouch, that hurts” or “ouch, that stereotype hurts.” I have suggested similar modest counters such as, “what does that mean?” or “what did you mean by that?” Or “can you explain that joke to me?”

Such counters are important for several reasons, including the act of calling out the racist, sexist, or homophobic remark for what it is–that is noting the stereotyped image, notion, or emotion in such a remark and not letting it pass by unremarked upon. By calling it out, you often keep more such remarks from coming. Calling it out also may allow a further discussion about why that remark or joke hurt, and who was hurt. We need to build such actions into regular Stereotyping 101 and Racism 101 courses at all levels of U.S. schooling.

Try out his video preview here.

Black Beauty, French Racism, and Obama’s International Impact

W. Hassan Marsh has an interesting article on theRoot.com about Chloe Mortaud, the new Miss France, who self-defines as Black, something unusual in France for people of biracial heritage (her father is white French, her mother is African American). I think “beauty queens” and “beauty pageants” are sexist phenomena whose time should be long gone, but Marsh accents some interesting points about the global impact of Obama’s election and some changes in symbolism across the globe that are well worth thinking about (photo credit).

The French media have started calling Ms. Mortaud, interestingly, “Miss Obama,” which also suggests the global impact of the Obama election. Marsh makes the following contentions about “blackness is in vogue”:

Blackness is fast moving to the center of the world’s psyche. For proof, look no further than last month’s crowning of a binational and biracial Miss France 2009. Chloe Mortaud’s selection as the face of French beauty and elegance has so few precedents that the French media have named her, perhaps cheaply, “Miss Obama.”

The first sentence is a huge exaggeration. (More accurate would be that there is a negative view of blackness at the center of too much of the “world’s psyche.”) Indeed, not everybody in France is happy with a black face representing classical “French beauty” (traditionally pasty white?):

Around the Web, some French commentators have complained that Mortaud is not pretty.

But Marsh sees the debate on her race and her calling herself Black as healthy and an advance for France:

The very discussion of Mortaud’s worthiness represents an advance in the way the French deal with race. The enduring myth of a colorblind France has obscured the relative invisibility of non-white French people in France’s public life. The French government does not keep statistics on race. The official position is that there are no differences among the races—therefore, there is no reason to keep an account of it. That means disparities among racial groups cannot be quantified. However, a trip to an impoverished banlieue (suburb) of Paris or Marseille, where “race riots” in neighborhoods inhabited by large numbers of African and Arab immigrants have made world headlines, shows a qualitative difference.

It is interesting that he means an advance for WHITE France in thinking Mortaud worthy, a point he seems to miss here. Note too that the white oppressors and discriminators substantially responsible for the impoverished suburbs remain implicit here, and are not explicitly mentioned. It is interesting how the sensitivities of whites gets privileged even it what is otherwise a good critical analysis.

He then argues that Obama has helped to make Blacks in France feel a certain new unity, and shared experience:

Thanks in part to the Obama effect, French blacks who have traditionally been divided by designations like Caribbean, African or mixed ancestry, have started to make claims on transnational “blackness,” a feeling of a mutual experience if not shared origin.

Marsh does seem to be right about the great international impact of Obama’s election, an impact very much worth watching. In Brazil, the largest African-origin population outside of Africa, there has been much public and private celebration. One Brazilian official, Edson Santos, the black minister of racial equality, accented the impact on many youth there:

I think it is important for young black Brazilians to know how the civil rights movement progressed in the U.S. and how it produced not just Obama, but blacks at the highest levels of American businesses. It is important that they have contact with this reality.

A young Brazilian agreed with him about the significance and possible impact of this new U.S. reality: “Obama has arrived and taken us to the next level, We black Brazilians need him as much as the Americans do.” The main reason for this is that black Brazilians, who make up at least half the Brazilian population, suffer widespread racial discrimination; they make up only 3 percent of college graduates and only eight percent of the 28 top government ministers. And the black Brazilian civil rights movement has only recently come of age. A black organizer who works with Brazil’s poor agreed that Obama symbolized the hopes of all people of African descent:

Obama represents what every black person in the world has been hoping for: that the fight of the dream for racial equality in North America can spread to the entire world.”

AMA Apologizes for Institutionalized Racism: Another Look

In mid-July Jessie did a post on the AMA apology, but I would like to add a bit more on this issue, especially about how racism works in US medicine. One good result from anti-racism efforts in the last decade may be that we are getting more serious apologies from white organizations about slavery or Jim Crow segregation. Harriet Washington reports in a late July 2008 New York Times article on one of the most institutionally racist sectors of our society, U.S. medical care institutions. Highly (photo of AMA building: Steve and Sara) and blatantly segregated until the late 1960s, she notes, the American Medical Association has recently apologized the National Medical Association, the country’s leading black medical association:

An apology to the nation’s black physicians, citing a century of ”past wrongs.”

From the beginning, U.S. medicine’s institutions have been racially and gender segregated, but Jim Crow and gender segregation increased in the early 1900s with the implementation of private and government “reforms” designed to get rid medical practitioners who were not officially licensed—which usually meant they were not from the more elite (almost all white) medical schools and often practiced various kinds of folk medicine (including midwives). These reforms did raise U.S. medical standards, at least for allopathic mainstream medicine, yet also effectively excluded many white women and practitioners of color from their traditional medical practices. And Jim Crow segregation became very central to this newly reformed medical system:

. . . black patients and doctors were often relegated to subterranean ”colored” or charity wards or banned from hospitals altogether; they had responded with their own hospitals and medical schools, at least seven of which existed in 1909. By 1938, the situation had grown so dire that Dr. Louis T. Wright of Harlem Hospital declared, ”The A.M.A. has demonstrated as much interest in the health of the Negro as Hitler has in the health of the Jew.”

Washington notes that the American Medical Association continued to be a problem until the end of the civil rights movement era:

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed without active support from the A.M.A. Title VI of the act closed the Hill-Burton loophole: segregation within hospitals became illegal….But for African-American and other antisegregationist physicians, there remained a final bastion of racial exclusion to conquer: the A.M.A.

Demands by African American physicians and some white allies that the association desegregate were ignored by its leadership until the late 1960s. From 1963 to 1968 the association had to endure public protests against its racist practices. In 1968 the association finally took action to end legal segregation in its constituent state societies.

Still, today, the percentage of U.S. physicians who are African American (2.2 percent) is still smaller than it was in 1910 (2.5 percent). And our medical care system is riddled with numerous kinds of institutional racism, as recent research reports (see various chapters here and chapter 7 here) frequently make clear. There are some very good scholarly bloggers like U. Dayton’s Prof. Vernellia Randall (see her great website here) who have given even more details on how such institutionalized racism works and how it is a violation of international human rights and anti-discrimination laws.

Note: I have given more than 100 invited lectures over the years on my research on racism at many schools and colleges within our top universities and liberal arts colleges across the country, and I have only had one invited lecture cancelled–ever. This was after two faculty members saw at the xerox machine the handout (it had quotes from whites making various racist comments, from my research interviews) that I was going to talk about. This was a Florida medical school, which had invited me and other researchers to talk about racial matters because they had had racist graffitti in their medical school classrooms. They reportedly still have problems today.

White Women Who Don’t Get Racism

News anchor Katie Couric has made news of her own recently with her analysis of the male-dominated news business (image from here). Couric didn’t stop there, though. She went on to suggest that there is sexism in the news business and beyond in the larger society, but that “sexism is worse than racism.” Here’s the full quote from Couric, via Politico:

“Unfortunately I have found out that many viewers are afraid of change. The glory days of TV news are over, and the media landscape has been dramatically changed. News is available now for everyone, everywhere, all the time, and everybody fights for the last pieces of the shrinking pie. The corporate pressure and the ratings terror are intensifying all the time, and the situation is not simple. I find myself in the last bastion of male dominance, and realizing what Hillary Clinton might have realized not long ago: that sexism in the American society is more common than racism, and certainly more acceptable or forgivable. In any case, I think my post and Hillary’s race are important steps in the right direction.”

With this assessment, Couric joins a long and growing list of white-women-who-don’t-get-it, when it comes to racism, such as Geraldine Ferraro. As Adia Harvey wrote here back in March, “Making the case that sexism is worse than racism or even that it is the primary source of women’s oppression ignores the experiences of minority and working-class women (who simultaneously contend with racism and capitalist exploitation) and ultimately alienates these women from feminism and feminist causes.” Couric, like Ferraro, is no doubt speaking from her own experience in which she certainly encounters sexism but doesn’t encounter racism. Why would she? Given her skin-and-class privilege, it’s almost certainly the case that the only kind of inequality Couric faces in gender inequality. And, she’s right to call it out for what it is. But this doesn’t mean that Couric is right about racism, or about sexism’s significance relative to racism.

Instead, Couric’s comments simply reveal that she’s clueless about the pervasiveness of racism in this society because she’s never encountered it herself.

She’s not alone. Another white woman in the news recently who has revealed her lack of recognition about racism is Elisabeth Hasselbeck, a celebrity co-host on the television show “The View.” In an exchange with Whoopi Goldberg last week about the use of the “N-word” and the fact that racism is pervasive in our society, Goldberg asserted that she and Hasselbeck live in “different societies” at which point Hasselbeck broke down in tears. This isn’t the first time that Whoopi and Elisabeth have gotten into in about racism on the show. Back in March of this year, when Hasselbeck said she was “offended” by the fact that Barack Obama referred to his grandmother a “typical white woman” who would be fearful if she saw a group of African-Americans on the street. Elisabeth explained that she is a “typical white woman” herself and would never be afraid of a group of black kids on the street. Whoopi, however, didn’t buy it, and called her on it. At the end of the exchange, Hasselbeck pleaded with Whoopi for a “rule book on racism,” basically admitting that she didn’t get racism.

I think it’s understandable, really, that the privileged white women like Couric, Ferraro and Hasselbeck don’t get racism given how little analysis of it there is in our society.

A Model of Women’s Empowerment in Africa: Dr. Conceptia Denis Ouinsou

Written by Yanick St. Jean and Pedro Marius Egounleti (posted from Benin, Africa)

Docteur Conceptia Denis Ouinsou was born in Haiti, September 21, 1942 in Grande Saline, a city whose name indicates its main activity – the harvest and sale of marine salt. Her mother thought it best to send her to the capital for schooling. She attended the Soeurs de la Ste Trinité and Collège St. Pierre, schools guided by the American Anglican values of obedience. Then she entered the Université d’Etat d’Haiti earning a Licence in Social studies and Administration, and another in Legal Studies.

Valedictorian of her Law School class, Conceptia Denis earned a scholarship to pursue a doctorate in France, which she completed. She married a Beninese, came to the country in 1977 and, immediately, joined the faculty of Law at the University of Abomey-Calavi. She has lived in Benin 31 years.

Aggregated in 1985, she became the departmental Chair of the School of Law, then director of Academic Affairs and, later, Minister of Higher Education and Social Research. From this post she was named Counsel of the Constitutional Court then, in 1998 President of the Court (Chief Supreme Court Justice). In the exercise of her function, she met no resistance: « Je n’ai pas peur. Je continue toujours mon chemin». For her success, Docteur Ouinsou credits her mother:

There is nobility of character that can be found everywhere. My mother had natural nobility. She demanded excellence. Nothing was ever good enough for her. I always feared her nitpicking ‘you are first in your class, but your grade average decreased; such and such grade decreased in comparison with last month.’ She pushed me to produce my maximum, and I believe it is what shaped me. This may be why some people think I am too stiff, too stern. One should always be in quest of the excellence. Today, it is not sufficient to be good.

Being a Professor of Law has been her goal:

In our system, teaching full-time in the School of Law requires an aggregation, which is very difficult to obtain. I was determined. It was the only objective of my life which I reached in 1985. Everything that happened after that was sheer luck.

She recognizes limitations placed on women’s achievements, but also wants women to sweat.

From the start, women meet many obstacles that restrict progress and are hard to surmount. I remember in the amphitheater male students saying all women must have a husband always. I would ask them to bring me the chapter that says so. To them, a woman who doesn’t have a husband is a prostitute, regardless of her life. These myths do not encourage the development of women who feel obliged to conform to the mold, find a husband, and open themselves to additional constraints of married life.

Solving the problem requires education and hard work.

If girls can have sufficient education, I believe they are capable of major accomplishments. But I also think it is necessary that women work hard. I would not take an incompetent woman over a competent man only because she is a woman. At equal competence, I take the woman. I am sorry to say it, but I think each person must be able to “mouiller le maillot” (sweat) before receiving anything. And it is why my leitmotif is, a woman must work to be able to receive what she asks. Women should not count entirely on the law for promotion.

Beninese journalist Abdul-Wahab Bakary described Docteur Ouinsou as

une femme qui ne se laisse pas faire. She is a high-caliber lawyer, a prominent figure with the capacity to address issues and give her opinion based on the law. She has nothing to envy from a man.

Graduate student Florence Megninou agrees that “in the political sphere, Madame Ouinsou does not let herself be intimidated by men.”

New members of the Court took the oath on Saturday June 8. Before she left office in June, Docteur Ouinsou received many decorations from governments of Germany, Haiti and Benin. On Friday June 6, she was enthroned Princess of the Royal Court of Allada by the King of Allada.

Tim Wise on Some White Female Clinton Supporters: Whiteness Showing?

The ever savvy Tim Wise has a sharp new piece called “Your Whiteness is Showing: An Open Letter to Certain White Women Who are Threatening to Withhold Support From Barack Obama in November,” in which he raises the key counter arguments to some of Senator Hillary Clinton’s supporters who say they plan to vote for John McCain or sit out the November election because of the way Cinton was treated by the sexist white commentators in the mass media, and by some of Senator Obama’s scattered supporters. Tim makes clear the distinctively white-framed thinking involved in much of this reaction:

You claim that your opposition to Obama is an act of gender solidarity, in that women (and their male allies) need to stand up for women in the face of the sexist mistreatment of Clinton by the press. On this latter point–the one about the importance of standing up to the media for its often venal misogyny–you couldn’t be more correct. As the father of two young girls who will have to contend with the poison of patriarchy all their lives, or at least until such time as that system of oppression is eradicated, I will be the first to join the boycott of, or demonstration on, whatever media outlet you choose to make that point. But on the first part of the above equation–the part where you insist voting against Obama is about gender solidarity–you are, for lack of a better way to put it, completely full of crap….Voting against Senator Obama is not about gender solidarity. It is an act of white racial bonding. 

He then adds: 

If it were gender solidarity you sought, you would by definition join with your black and brown sisters come November, and do what you know good and well they are going to do, in overwhelming numbers, which is vote for Barack Obama. But no. You are threatening to vote not like other women–you know, the ones who aren’t white like you and most of your friends–but rather, like white men! 

And then nails the lid shut on his argument by pointing out a plausible way to protest that no Clinton supporters have suggested: 

You could always have said you were going to go out and vote for Cynthia McKinney. After all, she is a woman, running with the Green Party, and she’s progressive, and she’s a feminist. But that isn’t your threat is it? No. You’re not threatening to vote for the woman, or even the feminist woman. Rather, you are threatening to vote for the white man, and to reject not only the black man who you feel stole Clinton’s birthright, but even the black woman in the race. And I wonder why? . . . See, I told you your whiteness was showing. 

The comment is right on target. McKinney would make a great president. (And why do we not know more about her, and her platform? Notice the racism and sexism in the media, in ignoring her candidacy. If she were white and male, like Ralph Nader, she would indeed get attention.) Then Wise wisely concludes with this key action point: 

. . . you are now left with two, and only two choices, so consider them carefully: the first is to stand now in solidarity with your black brothers and sisters and welcome the new day, and help to push it in a truly progressive and feminist and antiracist direction, while the second is to team up with white men to try and block the new day from dawning. 

Sexism is systemic in this society and much in need of as direct attack as systemic racism does. But voting against Obama does not advance the anti-sexism agenda. Indeed, it does just the opposite. John McCain is infamous for his patriarchal views, his sexism, such as in his treatment of his first wife, and his view of women’s rights and women’s choices, such as his hard-right commitment to put more patriarchal theorists and activists on the Supreme Court such as Roberts and Alito. Electing the clearly patriarchal and right-wing McCain will likely mean justices who will cut back the rights of women, in numerous ways–as well as the rights of Americans of color, and thus ultimately, all Americans.