I just did a detailed interview on my decades of research on systemic white racism with the leading philosopher of racial issues, George Yancy, at the New York Times Opinionator blog, the Stone. See this link.
According to political conservatives, racial discrimination is no longer an institutional issue, and there is no longer any need for policies that provide socioeconomic protections for Blacks. Political conservatives also say that if any racial discrimination is happening, it is being committed by only a few bigoted individuals. These individuals, they say, have been socialized to hold such bigoted notions and believe that Blacks are lazy and inferior and that it is okay to commit racist acts against them.
The Donald Sterlings and Robert Copelands of the United States have been undoubtedly shaped by a racist culture. The U.S. government sanctioned discrimination and gave Whites permission to denigrate Blacks openly. But these sorts of people don’t hold those beliefs anymore, right? After looking at demographics information, I’m not so sure. Consider this: according to the U.S. Census taken in 2010, there were more than 23 million Whites over the age of 70 in America. By contrast, there were slightly more than 39 million Blacks in all age brackets. Why is this significant? Because the number of Whites 70 years and older equals more than half of the total Black population, who are potentially voting on or in some way influencing policies that affect all Blacks. Whites born in the early 1960s (those over age 50) would have also been socialized and participated in the practice of Jim Crow Racism. They number more than 56 million.
Let’s remind ourselves what was going on when these older Whites were young. Whites currently over the age of 50 engaged in race relations in the context of Jim Crow. Until the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Jim Crow continued legally and unrestricted. Brown v. Board of Education was aimed at the integration of public schools in the South, but it had broader implications as well, which included the end of Jim Crow laws. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Jim Crow became a federal offense. This, of course, did not end racism. Despite being “illegal,” Jim Crow discrimination continued unofficially in small towns up until the 1990s.
If this lingering Jim Crow representation does not bother you enough, remember that these 80 million plus individuals had families, friends, and children. The racism of their social milieu became ingrained in their minds, and from them it spread passively and actively to their children and families: passively by imitation, actively by subtle, deliberate instruction. The end of legal, public discrimination has not prevented private discrimination from flourishing beneath the surface and continuing to have an effect on public policy, albeit in a subtler, more insidious way.
In light of this, it is evident that racism has strong institutional support. More than 80 million people in the United States were taught early on that it is okay to discriminate. Not only was it okay, but it is normal and expected. I don’t mean that every White person born during the era of legal racial discrimination is automatically a racist bigot. There have always been Whites who recognized the injustice of discrimination from the start. But if these Whites are of the same ilk as Donald Sterling and Robert Copeland, socialized during the 1920s through the mid-1960s when it was legally permissible in the United States to commit racial discrimination, then I have to raise a point against the political conservatives: More than 80 million people is certainly not “a few bigoted individuals.”
This institutional support aside, we cannot ignore the ugly fact that people can be racist, even violently racist, without this socialization. Dylann Roof, the White who wanted to start a “race war” by shooting nine Blacks in Charleston, South Carolina, was 21 years old. Not only that, but in a document reported to be his manifesto, he writes, “I was not raised in a racist home or environment.” Instead, he writes, he got his ideas from books. Contrary to how Roof is presented by various media outlets, he was not mentally disturbed or psychologically unstable. He was just plain racist. And Roof is surely not the only racist in America. Racial discrimination is therefore not just an artifact of Jim Crow socialization; it is a persistent cultural phenomenon that can overtake people of any age and any family background.
It is certainly not legally permissible now to discriminate against Blacks without a bona fide occupational qualification as it was back then, and it is not socially acceptable now as it was then to openly disparage Blacks or otherwise discriminate against them. But this does not protect Blacks from the political power of the racist vote, and it does not shield them from a bullet fired from a racist gun. It does not ensure that children will learn in their classrooms to actively accept those who look differently from them and to judge them “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” It does not ensure that Blacks will earn anything more than 64 cents on the dollar compared to Whites in similar professions. But it does ensure that privileged people will push aside racial issues as a thing of the past, what our President has called “dark chapters in our nation’s history,” embarrassing mistakes that we don’t—and shouldn’t—bring up anymore.
It should alarm us that a large group of privileged people who were socialized in a racist culture still hold significant representative power over Blacks. It should alarm us, and it should remind us that the abolition of Jim Crow is not a good enough reason to think that Black people in America can ease up on the struggle for freedom and equality. Blacks cannot passively accept the racist ideology according to which race “no longer matters.” Race does matter, and it will probably always matter, and Blacks need to lobby actively for policies that protect their socioeconomic interests against the real threat of racial discrimination.
What is lacking in numbers needs to be made up for in tenacity.
Lessie Branch is a Racial Policy Scholar whose research interests focus on race and class disparities in general and the discordance between Black racial attitudes and Black economic progress specifically. Lessie is on faculty at Monroe College in the School of Business and Accounting.
Jeb Bush finally announced his candidacy for President of the United States as a Republican. According to a reporter, Jeb portrays himself as
[A]n executive animated by big ideas and uniquely capable of carrying them out, pointing to his record in Florida of introducing a taxpayer-financed school voucher program, expanding charter schools, reducing the size of the state government by thousands of workers and cutting taxes by billions.
He also portrays himself as near-Latino.
One of Bush’s campaign major strategies is the pursuit of the Latino vote. It centers on Bush’s claim to Latinos that “I’m close to you, I understand you”: I speak your language, I embrace your culture and I know firsthand the immigrants’ experience. He says nothing about issues of importance to Latinos.
Bush’s repeatedly emphasizes his fluency in Spanish. He also asserts that Spanish is important in his family: He and his wife speak Spanish at home and their children are bilingual. OK Bush, it’s nice that Spanish is important to your family, but how does that help Latinos? Does that mean that you’ll champion immigration justice or accessible health care for poor Latinos? If not, which is certainly the case, your Spanish is just for show.
Bush also proclaims a deep attachment to Mexico:
Here in the U.S., Cinco de Mayo has become a day where we celebrate our ties with Mexico and the great contributions of the Mexican-American community in the U.S. In my case, this relationship is very profound. My wife Columba was born in Mexico, my family has always had strong ties with Mexico and I have great respect and affection for our neighboring country.
What Mexico are you talking about, Jeb? The Mexico of Mexican elites? I doubt that you are speaking of the large number of people that would need your help the most: the undocumented poor who experience exploitation in their jobs and racial profiling on the streets.
I know the power of the immigrant experience because I live it each and every day. I know the immigrant experience because I married a beautiful girl from Mexico.
Come on, Jeb: Are you serious? What immigrant experience are you talking about? Your wife married a wealthy white aristocrat whose family includes two former Presidents of the United States. Your wife’s experiences have nothing in common with the mass of Latin American immigrants. She has almost certainly not been racially profiled in public spaces or spent years in this country without papers afraid that after years of hard work she could be apprehended and deported.
Jeb touts portions of his biography that are vacuous and not substitutes for a clear statement about how he would address as President the needs of the mass of Mexican and other Latino immigrants or the large population of poor US born Latinos. Don’t expect Latinos to vote for you simply because you speak Spanish and your wife is a Mexican immigrant. Offer them concrete solutions to their problems.
Viewing the narrated event of Charleston within the dark and secure confines that surrounded me under a waxing crescent moon, created a nauseating pit within the center of my chest. As the news began to sift in, the sensation proceeded to raise the minuscule fine hairs upon the back of my petered-out neck. Knowing nothing in particular about the city, beyond the fact that it was not on my bucket list of places to visit, seeing the old and famous AME church and Charleston, South Carolina police lights splashed across my high-definition screen created a sense of confounding distress and sadness my soul had issue in articulating. Before the picture was put to color and detail, I knew, I secretly knew. It was not simply a lunatic, as pundits like to describe the distant “other.” It was not ISIS. It was not gang violence. It was not a disgruntled parishioner or jealous spouse looking to settle a scorned romantic score. It was an ancient, but at the same time, an in-vogue thriving hate of another kind!
It was hard for me to watch as I rested that night, for my feelings were precipitously pointing to a racially motivated depiction of white violence. The next morning the world discovered what I assuredly suspected the night before. The following days after the shooting were filled with sights of racially mixed church audiences (normally segregated and unwilling to discuss this fact at the moment) in places of worship holding hands and singing the Lords prayers. Sights of communal prayer, shared tears, and hardened faces were captured through the lenses of still photography and video apparatuses from sources such as the New York Times and Fox News. Flowers and other symbols of sympathy are, for the time being, placed at the doorsteps of the church as well. Mourning and celebration of life were mentioned heavily by an array of people put on display by the media.
On the other hand, as the week progressed, not only were further details of the shooting available to the public, but also an assortment of rhetorical misdirections wrapped in hypocrisy began to seep throughout the landscape of America. At times, the verbal stench was hard to bear. As I watched and listened throughout the week, the rage overtook the initial distress and sadness in my heart. The muddied mix of liberal and conservative news organizations and pandering politicians brought to a boil an elixir of emotional and intellectual pain that created one overwhelming conclusion in my mind: The truth about race in America is once again seen as a narrative we choose to avert with due diligence. The all too familiar decaffeinated approach to racialized topics of importance was upon the lips of many. This included many within the media and their invited succubi whose ultimate job was to underwrite their hosts’ initial political perspectives. Oddly enough, perspectives such as Dr. Ben Carson, Republican presidential hopeful, were as rare as recent sightings of unicorns. Further, he stated:
Let’s call this sickness what it is, so we can get on with the healing. If this were a medical disease, and all the doctors recognized the symptoms but refused to make the diagnosis for fear of offending the patient, we could call it madness. But there are people who are claiming that they can lead this country who dare not call this tragedy an act of racism, a hate crime, for fear of offending a particular segment of the electorate.
His GOP political rivals decided to follow another path. In essence, they discussed the matter utilizing a more conservative-staunched narrative. Instead of observing the shooting through a racialized lens, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee both described the attack as an assault on religion’s liberties. In order to move the focus from the presence and current effect of a country built on systematic and racialized oppression, Bill O’ Riley, used the art of political and social deflection by interviewing the likes of David Clarke, Milwaukee County Sherriff. This tactic focused on illustrating that Blacks are not in danger from Whites, but from other Black elements within their own communities. Mr. Clarke states:
As a Black American, I do not live in fear in the United States…a persons fear has to be based on rationalization. I face more danger and I feel more danger putting my uniform everyday and going in the American ghetto to police.
When O’Riley asked if Clarke “had come across white supremacy in Milwaukee,” and if white supremacy, as stated by some in the media, was a legitimate rationale for the underlying cause of the shooting in South Carolina. Clarke argued:
[Clarke laughs]…that is high hyperbole and demagoguery…[those who used this argument] want to keep the animosity stoked up, this division between people. But I got over that a long time ago.
Fox “News” also used Bishop E. W. Jackson, of Virginia. He argued,
Most people jump to conclusions about race…I long for the day when we stop doing that in our country…He didn’t chose a bar. He didn’t choose a basketball court. He chose a church. And we need to be looking at that very closely.
In connection with divergent tactics to avoid in-depth conversations about white racism, many in the media and political candidates have exceptionally targeted the conveyance of forgiveness by the victims’ families and other Blacks within the community. To me, their actions are astounding and wonderful. But their actions have also served as a two-edged sword that has lead many (white) politicians to use it as a focal point while avoiding the hard questions about racism in this country.
Even though the killer at the time had yet to be captured, the clues leading one to conclude the shooting was racially motivated were quite clear. But people such as Governor Nikki Haley missed the crumbs of evidence due to their fear of alienating the right-winged conservative base of their political party. This was evident within Governor Haley’s outré tweet Wednesday night. She wrote:
While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.
While flaunting their sympathy, others such as GOP presidential candidates and heads of government expectedly and typically avoided the topic of race and gun legislation. For example, Rand Paul spoke to a group of religious conservatives and said, “It’s people not understanding where salvation comes from.” In addition, Rick Santorum stated:
All you can do is pray for those and pray for our country. This is one of those situations where you just have to take a step back and say we — you know, you talk about the importance of prayer in this time and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before…It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation
Baseless fearmongers such as Donald Trump even exposed their own narcissism and need for intense psychotherapy by making the death of nine innocent individuals about themselves.
The overall bobbing and weaving performed by these and others like Governor Nikki Haley, Ted Cruz to Marco Rubio were amazingly inept. It was not until more information confounding the initial clues (such as the obvious symbolizing of the pro-apartheid flags upon the jacket of the domestic terrorists or his connection to a white supremacist groups) that these same political pawns moved chaotically to the “left” during their performance of the cowboy bump on issues such as removal of the Rebel Dixie flag from South Carolina state property. Regardless, in terms of the flag being seen as a racist symbol in a state many feel shows its white oppressive teeth quite often in order to remind Blacks exactly where they are in terms of the hierarchies pertaining to power and humanity, Governor Nikki Haley once said,
What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.
After licking a finger and thusly putting it up in order to determine which way the political winds were blowing, she at that time did not call for the removal of the Dixie flag from state property. As long as it is politically convenient and creates no harm to your base, erring on the side of right is definitely seen as in fashion. Only later did she act.
Legislative initiatives to take down the flag down are simply the absolute least possible thing that can actually occur within the state of South Carolina. Is the creation of an authentic dialogue concerning white racism and current racial segregation within the country, and specifically in the state of South Carolina on the dockets for further analysis? No? Well surely the manner in which humanity was shown to the shooter of nine Blacks versus the behavior of law officers in the heinous shooting of Walter Scott will create healthy dialogue pertaining to racialized differential treatment of law enforcement? Are we at least going to recognize and discuss the fact that the Charleston County Magistrate, James B. Gosnell, who is overseeing the initial proceedings of the killer’s trial has said “nigger” in open court? No? Maybe deal with the fact that South Carolina is one of only five states that does not have hate crimes legislation? No? Are we as a nation going to at least change some of the names of the streets that represent pro-slavery historical Charleston characters or remove monuments of the likes of that celebrate historical individuals such as Dr. J. Marion Sims who is essentially in the same league, and hopefully burning in the same hell, as Josef Mengele? No? Oh well.
It is important to recognize that this city and this state were both built and flourished due to the huge slave trade that flourished in Charleston. By 1860, there were roughly 4 million Black slaves in the U.S. Importantly, ten percent of those slaves resided in chains and racial oppression in South Carolina. With a past such as this, in combination with our country’s avoidance of confronting a brutal history that continues to have power over the minds and actions of a great many non-Blacks regarding Black Americans, the rise of white hate groups and hate crimes, and ramifications of the racialized tongue-and-cheek political satire of members of the GOP, the Dixie flag is the least of South Carolina’s current and future worries.
Like Wendy Moore, as a white antiracist scholar and mother of biracial (African American/white) children who has spent the majority of her life in intimate relations with people of color, I have been asked a lot lately to give my two cents on Rachel Dolezal. And also like Moore, I initially hesitated to speak, because it seemed so many excellent points had already been made, especially by Jessie’s insightful post: that Dolezal’s experience cannot be neatly equated to being transgender; that being black is not a costume one cannot take on and off at will without serious social and political ramifications (the majority of which the masqueraders seem to obfuscate, deny or not even consider); and that any well-intentioned antiracist efforts Dolezal may have attempted are surely cancelled out by her dishonest cooptation of resources that otherwise would have gone to people of color.
Yet we whites are often fond of playing the good white, bad white game: Bad Kramer from Seinfeld , bad Paula Deen—it would seem we may hold up the “bad white” examples to make our own selves feel better. I may put my foot in my mouth sometimes when it comes to race, but at least I don’t do it to such public and blatant proportions, so that must make me not racist—or so the confused logic goes. At least I’m not Dylann Storm Roof, who committed the brutal anti-black hate crime of shooting 9 people in a Charleston, SC church—although by confused white logic, we may not even be sure if we can put him in the good white or bad white column, since, after all, amidst all the racist propaganda he collected, he also “had black friends.”
Not unlike the white students in my Race classes who eventually reach their oversaturation point in exposure to white racism, stating exasperatedly, “why does everything have to be about race?” (um, because that’s the title of the course? Why does everything have to be about chemistry in your chemistry class?) it is clear that much of white America can only take so much of the media attention on police shootings of unarmed African Americans. It’s harder to play the good white, bad white game with such stories of institutional systemic racism, for several reasons. There’s often not a single/lone culprit. Moreover, as in the case of Baltimore, some of the officers weren’t even white—and boy, do whites get really confused then (because the concepts of internalized and institutional racism don’t typically come up in the good cop/bad cop discussions). And more to the point, we are often told that officers shot because they “felt threatened.” Now all bets are off for the good white, bad white game. The object of the game is to absolve whites of their guilty consciences by focusing on white racists who do “crazy” things that average whites convince themselves they would never do—and what white person hasn’t “felt threatened” by someone who is African American? Given what research tells us about the amount of antiblack attitudes held by a majority of white Americans, including assuming blacks are prone to crime, it’s doubtful that most whites are able to draw such a clear dividing line in their minds between themselves and a police officer who “felt threatened” by a black man.
So what better relief from this cognitive dissonance than to shift the mass media discussion away from such institutional racism and toward a white woman—Rachel Dolezal—who has nowhere near the power of the racial state that will soon likely acquit yet another (and many other) officers murdering unarmed African Americans for so-called “justified” reasons? In the game of good white, bad white, most whites can tell themselves, at least I haven’t lied about my race and pretended I was black. The Dolezal story thus presents a more palatable racism news feed for many whites who may be able to see themselves in the shoes of a “threatened” police officer but can’t ever imagine themselves masquerading as black.
It’s so much easier to put a demonizing face on a single white woman (Rachel Dolezal) who deceitfully stole an opportunity from potentially other equally or better qualified African Americans than it is to do a news story on the scores of whites who everyday take opportunities from equally or more qualified people of color through the “opportunity hoarding” that Nancy Ditomaso describes in her book about mostly all-white job referral networks. So Rachel Dolezal gets to be the scapegoat for confused whites, while the rest of us are deluded into thinking our white privilege and racism is normal and not worthy of public outrage, by comparison.
In Malcolm X’s autobiography, he argues it is no accident that the history books paint John Brown (a white man executed for his role in an 1859 slave rebellion) as a “nut case.” Malcolm X asserts it’s quite intentional that the white power structure doesn’t want the masses of whites to think it’s normal to challenge their own white privilege. Although I do not believe the heroic acts of Brown and the cowardice of Dolezal can at all be equated, I argue in my book Whites Confront Racism (2001), as others have before me, that the historical silence about white involvement in antiracist struggle can leave whites confused about where they fit in. Perhaps in Dolezal’s small town upbringing, and subsequent experience of racial politicization in the context of an HBCU campus, left her with a false dichotomy: be white and part of the problem, or be black and be part of the solution.
Newly declared antiracist whites can tend to distance themselves from their own communities and position themselves as “down with the black people” instead, as a way of assuaging their white guilt. Yet people of color will consistently tell white antiracists that the very thing they most need is for whites to go back into their own communities and talk to other white people about racism. We have a unique position from which to do this, in ways that people of color cannot, since whites so often see them as self-interested or “playing the race card” when they speak the truth about racism. In what I call privileged polemics, we are more likely to be believed by fellow whites when we say, yes, racism really happens. Sad, but true. So in choosing to cut herself off from her white family and ally herself in less-than-forthcoming ways with people of color, perhaps Dolezal was one of those confused white antiracists that did not realize there was a place for her in the movement just the way she is. Dolezal’s actions are certainly not congruent with those of principled antiracists. But fully all of the more respected antiracists will tell you that we white antiracists probably fumble around, fail, and put our foot in our mouths more than we succeed. We are constantly learning, and constantly making mistakes—sloughing off a lifetime of racist conditioning, one baby step at a time. So like Moore, although I cannot personally relate to the path Dolezal has chosen, I’ll let those without mistakes on their track record hurl their stones at her. I can only pray that she (and more importantly many more others) eventually become(s) less confused about what racism is, and why fighting widespread white privilege and mass incarceration (among many other forms of systemic racism) is so much more worth our time and attention than one white woman’s confusion.
Eileen O’Brien is a leading researcher on white anti-racists and Associate Professor of Sociology and Assistant Chair, Social Sciences at Saint Leo University (Virginia Campus)
The firestorm over Rachel Dolezal continues to hold people’s attention. As Jessie detailed in her post about Dolezal, the President of the Spokane, Washington NAACP, has presented herself in her adult life as African American (or at least as bi-racial, claiming to have an African American father). Last week her birth parents, both white, told the media that Rachel is, in fact, white – and they illustrated with pictures of her as a child with long blond hair, very fair skin, and blue eyes, a stark contrast to how she looks as an adult:
After some media became aware of her biological parents and the childhood photo, one reporter challenged her, asking about the man she had claimed was her father (an African American man) and asking her directly whether she was African American (at which point Dolezal walked away from the interview). Through a newly established Twitter account, Dolezal has said she will to make a longer statement on Monday.
As these incidents have become public and the issue has begun to receive a great deal of reaction and commentary, there has been much talk about race being socially constructed, about how culture affects our choices about appearance, intellectual pursuits, and ethnic identification. There has even been comparisons between Dolezal’s choices to present herself as African American and the gendered choices of transgendered individuals – this leading to considerations of whether Dolezal might be “transracial”. Most centrally the theme has seemed to be that this is a “complicated” issue concerning race, culture, and racial identity.
As a white woman who grew up in and lives in a black community and family, and as a scholar of race and racism, I received many requests to comment on the issue. At first I was dismissive, because I felt that this was a far less complex issue than many have suggested—but as the requests have continued, and the discussion about this case has proliferated, I felt it necessary to add my voice. Rachel Dolezal doesn’t represent, for me, the difficult question that many have suggested. Yes, race is socially constructed. And yes, we all take on elements of the culture in which we live and love. However, race and culture are constructed in connection with social structure, in this case a racial structure organized around white domination – a fact that is quite frequently missing from racial analyses and is sorely missing from the discussion of this woman. From my own experience I can say that being a white woman in an African American community and family, and having to negotiate my racial identity in a social structure characterized by white domination, is complex and challenging – it is challenging to have cultural elements to your life that don’t match the way people racialize you. It is challenging to have the expectations of others become a critique of your identity. It is, most importantly, challenging to know how to handle the fact that I continuously receive white privilege while those I love do not, to repeatedly see those I love experience racist oppression and even violence, and to try to negotiate that contradiction in my most intimate family relationships.
One of the most complex elements of my life is negotiating the dynamics of being critical of white supremacy, repulsed by the structural reality of white privilege, power, and authority, and at the same time being always unable to disassociate from a social structure that views me as white, and is ready to benefit me with the privileges of whiteness. But – because I abhor white domination and the racial oppression that characterizes our society, I realize that this is an essential negotiation that I must undertake, continuously and with reflexivity.
And this is NOT what Rachel Dolezal has done. No. Rachel has engaged in an act of masquerade. She has darkened her skin, she has permed and colored her hair. She has pretended that she did not grow up with all the privileges of whiteness. She has taken resources from the Black community in the form of a scholarship from Howard University, an Historically Black College/University. (And no, this is not the same as African American people passing as white so they can gain access to white resources – because our racial structure is based upon white supremacy and the denial of resources to people of color – one of the reasons universities like Howard exist). She has rejected the hard work of trying to negotiate a racial identity that sometimes makes her an outsider in the very community in which she wants to belong – and in doing that she has reified white power, she has made a mockery of the lived experiences of black women in the United States, and she has abrogated her responsibility as white woman who cares about equality. It does not matter if she works in civil rights, it does not matter what she has done for racial equity – her reification of white domination remains, and it belies all of her other efforts.
The story of the pool party in McKinney, Texas brings to light a number of things about the society we live in: namely, that it is a white racist society that has far more lingering problems than achievements in the realm of race relations. The incident exposes the failed logic of the attempts to roll back efforts to desegregate U.S. society. It also demonstrates how the involvement of ordinary white Americans assists in the maintenance of this racist social system. Finally, the incident teaches us the important role antiracist whites must play in dismantling the racist order.
After a white officer named Eric Casebolt assaults an unarmed teenage girl and draws his weapon on unarmed teenage boys, whites in a variety of outlets defend his actions, including his lawyer. Once again, black teens are viewed with contempt for having fun and are blamed when they are victims of white violence against them. Despite what a variety of outlets have insisted (including McKinney’s own mayor), Casebold is not merely a “bad apple.” People need to understand the role of police since slavery times has been to “protect” white neighborhoods and other social spaces from “invaders.” As shown in the classic study of racism experienced by middle-class blacks (Joe Feagin and Mel Sikes, Living with Racism), suburban conflict is less likely to involve poor blacks but rather middle-class blacks and whites (and the cops who represent them).
Indeed, essentially ALL whites are complicit in the defense of white supremacy and white spaces, not just the individual officer. That is how systemic racism works. To be sure, Casebold must be held accountable for his actions (which remains to be seen), but also the white residents who called the cops in the first place, equating black faces with criminality. While this incident is strikingly similar to the incident back in 2009 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, involving Dr. Henry Louis Gates, I have yet to see any comparison made in the mainstream media. These incidents are treated as isolated, perpetrated by isolated white individuals acting alone, presumably without the approval of anyone.
Some context is helpful in understanding what happened. As of the 2010 Census, McKinney was about 75 percent white and 10 percent black, with 18 percent Hispanic of any race. The white percentage has increased slightly since the 2000 Census, while the black percentage has decreased slightly. The Dallas suburb’s population has exploded since 1990, from around 21,000 to approximately 155,000 today. While cities in the south and west tend to be less segregated than “older,” more established cities in the Northeast or Midwest (for a list of cities ranked by dissimilarity index, see here), McKinney is highly segregated by race; while one side of town is only 50 percent white, the other is 90 percent white. As evidenced by various tweets, white residents have frequently utilized the language of war, speaking of “our” neighborhood being “invaded” by young “outsiders.”
Incidents like these are, at least in part, the product of efforts to dismantle racial desegregation programs and policies, and naive views like that of SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts of the “post-racial” society we live in. The costs of segregation are numerous, including blacks’ often lesser ability to swim vis-à-vis whites. Desegregation is necessary to challenge whites’ view of entitlement and public spaces as their own (and thus off limits to blacks); however, the will of white Americans to support such programs and policies has abated.
Where do we go from here? Will we see a return to the “white citizens’ councils” of the 1940s in communities like McKinney? Probably not, since they have now been replaced by “color-blind” homeowner’s associations and neighborhood watch programs, often run by local police departments. Still, what if they can no longer price “them” out of their development (i.e., use income disparities as a means to maintain racial barriers)?
Finally, a few white teens who were on the scene have stood with their black peers and spoken out against the actions of Casebold. While the response from some white youth in the community is inspiring, note that (white) young people some decades back (in the civil rights era) said the same thing about their parents’ generation. Apparently something happens to whites once they get a little older.
Color-blind ideology, which developed as part of the backlash to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement promoted the idea that skin color should not matter. In contemporary society, this often translates into the belief that racism no longer matters and that those who continually point racism out are trouble-makers “playing the race card.” In this context, even those organizations that repudiate racism are pressured to use racism-evasive strategies. Ironically, M. Hughey finds that white nationalist organizations are also using this post-racial rhetoric to their advantage by arguing that everyone, regardless of color, should have equal rights, including “whites.” For the white nationalist, organizing in a color-blind society means coming up with new ways to be taken seriously, since it is no longer appropriate to argue that people are inherently unequal. For progressive organizations, it means fighting an ambiguous form of racism that many refuse to see or discuss.
My study draws on three years of field work and interviews with twenty-five members of an interracial organization and coalition, analyzing the ways in which they address racism in private and public settings. I find that European American, Latino/a, and African American activists equally downplay the role of racism internally, and while they recognize the significance of racism externally, they do not make it a central part of their campaign. One African American woman summed it up this way,
There’s a way that you can bring that [racism] out without actually saying…Everything will speak for itself. It will eventually come to the forefront. (Personal Interview).
She felt that using the word racism against their opponents or addressing it explicitly in public settings would appear “unprofessional.” People of color who noticed racism within the organization also felt it better not to address it. A Latino organizer stated,
Anglos have a way of doing things, being so conniving…They are not in the fight, in the trenches. But if the publicity is there and the newspapers are there…they’ll show up…We do deal with that. We don’t talk about it, because if you talk about it and you say racism and all that, then you can jeopardize the whole movement (Personal Interview).
Activists justify these racism-evasive strategies by emphasizing action over talk. In their view, because they “walk the walk” they do not need to “talk the talk” on racism. Activists see themselves as “walking the walk” literally through marches and rallies and working within communities of color. As a European American organizer stated:
You know I think that the [the organization] does address that [racism]…we live in a city here that’s 60% African American and Latino…disproportionately members of those communities are poor…I think [the organization] makes the point without…using the labels (Personal Interview).
These findings have both theoretical and practical implications for studies of racial ideology and progressive movements. The term color-blind racism is problematic, because it combines a number of different components—racism, colorblind ideology, and racism evasiveness—which should be analyzed as separate but interrelated concepts. I suggest that colorblindness, as an ideology, promotes a certain racial worldview and political climate that leads to racism evasiveness. This racism evasiveness is what scholars are finding when their respondents argue that “the past is the past” or explain protests as “black unruliness.” These responses have typically been referred to as color-blind racism, color evasion, or power evasion. However, what is really being evaded is a specific form of racial power and racism.
While activists view racism evasiveness as necessary to solidarity, these strategies also limit their ability to challenge racism both within and outside of their organization. In fact, an African American man who left the organization stated:
They do too much over strategizing, over thinking [in the organization]. You know, it’s almost like, ‘We want to ruffle the feathers, but we only want to ruffle them to a certain point.’ No! Let’s ruffle the feathers until that chicken is bald, naked (Personal Interview).
For the most part, activists believe that there is a dichotomy between organizations, which talk about racism and those that act on it. Their pragmatic avoidance of talk is understandable, given the failure of many organizations to translate talk into action and the problems that may arise from calling out racist situations. However, the solution to the problems with talk is to throw it out entirely and instead focus on showing up to meetings, rallies, and marches. Avoiding discussions on racism internally may prevent the organization from dealing with complaints of racism when they arise. Also, if members are only communicating problems through a class analysis, how are they to justify their demands for greater representation of people of color on the job, in access to health care, and education, all racialized issues? Some antiracist training programs stress common language and analysis of structural racism for successful community organizing. Having that common language in the organization is important, because members noted different understandings of racism. Given these varied understandings, the organization could benefit from discussing how racism figures into their work. Progressive organizations must achieve a balance between talk and action, without relying on racism evasiveness.
~ Angie Beeman is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Department of Anthropology & Sociology, Baruch College-CUNY.
Anyone who has ever purchased or sold property knows it can be a time-consuming and stressful event. There are credit checks, endless forms to fill out, and fees and points to pay. However, imagine being subject to what looks like extortion (See Cal. Pen. Sec. 518-519). by using a threat to report immigration status just for trying to conduct the normal business of life that families engage in, like the sale of a home. This is exactly what happened to my parents – lifelong residents and citizens – when they recently sold their condominium in California. A buyer tried to use what he believed to be their vulnerability because of immigration status (or perhaps some other assumption about their status as criminals because they are Latino) to take advantage of them.
Just before the inspection took place, the white buyer sent my relative (who was assisting them in the transaction) an email demanding my parent’s social security numbers in an affidavit. The following is the buyer’s email:
Your parents needed to state their Social Security numbers and affidavit for the final disclosure. You must get that information TODAY, or it could be inferred that your father may be classified as an illegal immigrant or implicated in some other issue, and that will complicate everything. If…I do not receive this information today, I will cancel both inspections set for tomorrow 1PM. Time is of the essence now on the calendar. You know that I will back out of the purchase if proper papers are not in order on time.
This request by represents just one example of the many racist experiences Latinos face when engaging in perfectly normal events in this country such as buying or selling property. It is part of the consequence of what Joe Feagin calls the white racial frame, where many white Americans act on stereotypes, racist narratives, images, and emotions that lead to discriminatory action towards people of color, which are rationalized in a world view that justifies white racial superiority.
It is also an example of what law professor Bill Hong Hing terms a process of de-Americanization, which includes racially profiling groups out of the notion or conception of an American. It has resulted in defining Latinos as “not real Americans, not part of us.” Professor Hing argues that this process has the insidious ability to perpetuate itself in multiple generations. Indeed, my research on Latino lawyers and Feagin and Cobas’s research on middle class Latino professionals underscore Hing’s argument. What my parents experienced in their real estate transaction is sadly the kind of racism they have experienced their entire lives in America.
The current racialization of Latinos, including Latino immigrants, includes being defined out of the “American” community, and therefore, undeserving of aspects of the American Dream. This type of prejudice and de-Americanization is something Feagin argues we are all taught over the decades of our lives. Latinos are racialized to be laborers, not professionals; to be “illegal,” “criminal,” not deserving of the privilege of participating in the real estate market. Examples of this sort of reinforcement of the white racial frame, are a constant in American society, one encouraged and enhanced by the dehumanizing and “othering” of Latinos including citizens and long-time residents such as my parents. The white racial frame is also reinforced as a part of the larger political debate around immigration where all Latinos are seen as undocumented, undeserving, un-American. Until national political entities—particularly the GOP—realize that for policy purposes their anti-Latino rhetoric results in the racialization of all Latinos as “illegal” then they will never gain significant traction among the growing Latino constituency.
However, this type of discrimination and prejudice must be challenged at multiple levels—legally, socially, politically, culturally, so that acts such as what appear to be intimidation and prejudice on the part of the white buyer above no longer remain part of acceptable societal behavior in a nation that considers itself to be democratic and equitable. Some may believe that the comment: “or it could be inferred that your father may be classified as an illegal immigrant or implicated in some other issue” is a lack of civility. However, I believe it is another perfect example of the white racial frame at work.
Currently 17 percent of Americans identify as Latino and this figure will go up to 30 percent in the next two decades. If middle-class lifetime citizens and residents are treated this way without a significant moral outrage against this kind of racism what does it portend for the future of our ethno-racial society?
In the meantime, until this type of discrimination and prejudice is challenged widely we will not create the change we need in how whites see themselves, and how they see people of color. Making an ethno-racial democracy work will take many voices raised and even more minds changed to understand the demands of social equity in American society.
Inside me a little chuckle comes to life, while simultaneously my lips curl to form a devious smile when people discuss subjects and infuse the word “irony.” It simply is one of those words I despise when it is used incorrectly due to my hard-hitting 5th grade teacher who wheeled the English dictionary as a master swordsman. Rarely do I see true examples of irony within my life. But a few weeks ago one was pitched out of the mouth of Anderson Cooper. Due to its little national attention, many will not remember the fascinating story of Marissa Alexander, who is African American. Her story began two years before George Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the killing of Trayvon Martin. It was only two years before he desperately hinged his defense upon Florida’s heated Stand Your Ground statue to avoid prosecution that Alexander had claimed the same defense. But unlike Zimmerman, she ultimately and physically harmed no one.
On August 1, 2010, she claimed to law enforcement authorities that her then-husband attempted to strangle her after reading a text conversation between Marissa and her ex-husband. She says she attempted to flee his grasps and ran into another area of the house where she retrieved her handgun. When her husband threatened to kill her, she decided to fire a warning shot into the wall. In a deposition, her husband noted:
If my kids weren’t there, I knew I probably would have tried to take the gun from her,” Gray said. “If my kids wouldn’t have been there, I probably would have put my hand on her.
When the defense attorney inquired to what he meant by putting his hands upon her, Gray replied,
Probably hit her. I got five baby mammas and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one.
This previous law abiding mother of three refused a three-year plea deal and opted for a trial. Why not? She truly believed that she was lawfully right to do what she did. Her entire defense profoundly relied upon the Stand Your Ground statue. But unlike Zimmerman, she was found guilty in only 12 minutes. Subsequently she was sentenced to a 20-year term for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. She spent 1,030 days in jail before an appellate court ordered a new trial due to troubling issues with jury instructions. The Florida state prosecutor has been criticized for her over-zealous effort that overcharged Alexander. She and the state’s attorney office have been previously demonized by the National Organization for Women, Jesse Jackson, the advocacy group Color of Change. Regardless of the outcry, the prosecutor reported to the public that she would be re-prosecuting. This time, she aimed for three consecutive 20-year sentences. Luckily for Alexander, in January of 2015, a Circuit Judge failed to sentence her to the years requested by the state prosecutor. Instead Alexander will be considered a convicted felon where she will spend the next two years on house arrest. She will continue to wear a GPS monitor that will cost her approximately a total of $11,000 for the remaining of her two year sentence.
… the history of the United States is indeed brief. But during the brief span of three and on-half centuries of colonial and national history Americans developed traditions and prejudices which created the two worlds of race in modern America.”
Undeniably, the legal justice system is such a place where the two racial worlds are on display. For example, even though Blacks make up 12-13 percent of this country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2008) “1 in 3 Black men and 1 in 18 Black females occupy our U.S. prison system.”
Is this justice? No, it is simply as the dictionary explains. The situation described above is simply an “incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.” You know, irony.