Dominican mob violence against Haitians

Haitian communities have fallen victim of racist mob attacks in different localities of the Dominican Republic the last few years. Just this last April, in a small town named La Ortega, located in the Spaillat province a mob attacked households inhabited by Haitians, forcibly evicted household members, and destroyed and burned their personal belongings. The assault resulted in the violent expulsion of more than 300 Haitians from the area. In another incident, this past February, the police found the body of a young man named Claude Jean Henry hanging from a tree in a public Park in Santiago de los Caballeros. Claude Jean was beaten to death, and his hands and foot tied before being hanged in one of the park’s trees. Another hate crime victim was Coito Pierre who was lynched by a mob in November of 2013 in the province of Bahoruco. Spectacular violence accompanied the lynching of 76 years old Vitelio Charles and Olani Pie of 42 in Hatillo Palma, Montecristi in June 2005. Charles and Pie were hacked to death while other four were seriously injured. These violent events only represent a few of the most publicized cases. News of mob violence perpetrated against a Haitian in circumstance X or Y is not an uncommon subject in Dominican media anymore.

These episodes of violence share certain traits. One is the sense of justice that perpetrators seem to find in the acts of violence they carry out against Haitians. In fact, in almost all these cases the victimized Haitians were targeted because the persecuting individuals and/or mobs assumed the victims’ culpability in connection to a known crime committed against a Dominican, be it robbery, rape, homicide or other crime. The explicit justifications/ rationalizations given for committing these atrocious acts reflect the assumption by perpetrators that the targeted Haitians had committed a crime [against a Dominican] and that therefore, they needed to be publicly punished. Perpetrators seem to see mob justice as necessary in the light of perceived incompetency by local authorities. They see authorities as being unable and unwilling to administer justice against the assumedly guilty and protected Haitians. Another noticeable commonality is the context of poverty and marginalization that surrounds the victims and the perpetrators. In fact, all the reported cases involve individuals from poor backgrounds and poor geographical and social spaces. This characteristic is not to be overlooked or downplayed in this context. This is specially the case because it has been assumed among many observers and also documented in specific research that there are less antagonistic interactions between Haitians and Dominicans in lower class contexts. The question that follows is, whether the less antagonistic nature of these interactions and relationships are changing in specific spaces and contexts and how and why?

It is noteworthy that just like in the case of lynching in U.S. history, the violent acts follow the logic of arbitrariness, and in several occasions it has been found that the victims actually had little to do with the crimes they are suspected of committing. Dark skin Dominicans have also paid a price as some have been confused for a Haitian in the middle of the chaos and consequently treated with deadly violence. It is also worth mentioning one incident that occurred on the other side of the border at the end of 2014. On December 1st Dominican diplomats were forced to leave Haiti when rallying Haitian crowds attacked the Dominican consulate with thrown stones and glass bottles. According to reports, the crowds wanted to make a statement and sought justice for a six year old Haitian girl who was killed in an accident by a Dominican truck driver. The rallying mobs seem to have tried to administer justice in the light of the perceived imminent impunity awaiting the case of the killed Haitian child. Moreover, on Haitian soil, in organized rallies, Haitian citizens have urged foreign nationals not to travel to the Dominican Republic in an attempt to boycott the Dominican tourist industry. Organized protests by Haitian and Haitian-Dominican organizations and their allies have denounced lynching locally and transnationally, pointing the finger at the racist character of Dominican society. The Dominican media also have reported on instances of Dominican flag burning protests carried out by Haitian crowds. In contrast, different organizations have organized and carried out a number of events that emphasize cooperation and solidarity between the two nations.

The violence seems to have renewed tensions in the historically complex relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Several Dominican public figures and intellectuals have called for a sensible approach to the situation and for putting a stop to the hate speech promoted by ardent Dominican nationalists. Many fear that politicians on both sides of the border will exploit these tensions politically in the context of the municipal, legislative and presidential elections taking place in Haiti in late 2015 as well as the Dominican presidential elections scheduled for May 2016. One feared outcome among cautious Dominican observers is that the current climate of heightened intolerant and racist discourse directed at Haitian immigrants and their descendants may lead to unspeakable and widespread anti-Haitian violence of unpredictable consequences for the Dominican nation.

A careful look at the discourses being deployed by Dominican nationalists reveals an identifiable anti-Haitian discursive frame filled with hatred and intolerance. First and foremost, the nationalist discourse frames Haitian immigration as a perpetual social problem in need of immediate fixing while representing the Haitian presence in the country as an unacceptable and menacing fact. It denounces the perceived Haitian penetration of Dominican society or the so-called “haitianization,” representing Haitian citizens as entitled and ungrateful, and at the same time more taken care of than Dominicans in their own soil. The narrative also emphasizes the dangers of the project of unification of the island, which accordingly is a project historically sought out by Haitian authorities and strongly sponsored by the allegedly pro-Haitian US, Canada and the European Union. In addition, the narrative demonizes those who publicly criticize the nationalist discourse; the narrative represents critics as unpatriotic and traitors, and often suggest in humorous/sarcastic way that critics should move to Haiti and bring with them all Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. The nationalist narrative also denounces a perceived impartiality by local and Haitian critics and by international NGOs. Accordingly, these social agents accuse “patriotic” Dominicans of racism in their anti-Haitian migration and anti-Haitian naturalization stance while allegedly ignoring the hatred that Haitians feel towards Dominicans and the exploitation of Haitians by their own government and compatriots in their own country. This discourse, however, is said to be patriotic, not racist since it purportedly is being deployed 1) to defend Dominican territoriality, institutionalism, and sovereignty and 2) to defend the Dominican economy and the country’s future from Haiti, Haitians and the biased international community.

Joe Feagin’s concept of the dominant racial frame helps us think about the functioning of such a racist discourse. The concept of racial frame refers to dominant cognitive, cultural and epistemological framing that endow racialized systems of oppression with basic legitimizing meaning systems which then facilitate system’s consolidation and reproduction. According to Feagin, this commonplace racial frame consists of a combination of mechanisms and resources such as racial stereotypes, metaphors and interpretive concepts, emotions/feelings, images and proclivities to discriminatory actions. Putting everything together, the operating racial frames along with the established racial hierarchies and material domination associated with them constitute a system of racial oppression that Feagin (2006) and his colleagues call systemic racism. The anti-Haitian discourse is thus a constitutive aspect of the systemic racism around which different Dominican social fields operate. Bonilla Silva’s concept of racialized social system direct us to connect the anti-Haitian racial frame to the stabilization of the category “Haitian” and the significance of this category for the arrangement of political, social and economic stratification and the attached material interests that accompany them. Bonilla Silva’s insights also direct us to interpret the nationalist discourse as a form of socially acquired “racial grammar” or racial signpost that orient how Dominicans think and feel about Haiti and Haitians and about themselves. That racial framing of Haitians as inferior is extensive, as we see in Table 1.

Table 1. Anatomy of the Anti-Haitian Racial Frame (And Anti-Haitian Racial Grammar)

Note: Paralleling the dimensions suggested by Feagin, these include racial stereotypes of Haitians (cognitive aspect); Metaphors and interpretative concepts regarding Haitians and Haitian migration and settlement in the Dominican Republic (deeper cognitive aspect); Images of Haitians (the visual aspect); Emotions (feelings); and Inclinations to discriminate.

Haitians are stereotyoped as:
Savage
Smelly
Unclean
Uneducated
Untrustworthy
Dangerous
Ungrateful
Destructors
Invaders
Indigent
Powerful through the mastery of diabolic voodoo

Narratives, metaphors, interpretations of Haitians
Penetrating the Dominican nation
Steeling Dominican jobs
Taking up Dominican spaces
Using up the limited amount of economic resources that the Dominican Republic has
Striving for the unification of the island
Gaining undeserved rights and privileges
Feeling hatred towards Dominicans
Protected by local authorities
Enjoying the support and empathy of the international community

Images of Haitians
Haitian women giving birth at public hospitals, signifying population growth and exploitation of resources
Haitian women and their children selling products on the streets, signifying population explosion and backwardness
Haitians practicing voodoo
Haitians crossing the border
Haitian students sitting in university classrooms
The dark Haitian body (ies) , especially the bodies of pregnant and/or birthing Haitian woman
The sounds of Haitian Creole language
The colors and styles of Haitian clothing
The smell and texture of Haitian food

Emotions of framing of Haitians
Distrust
Fear
Hate
Superiority
Rejection
Disdain
Caution
Contention
Concern
Need to distance oneself from Haitians

Inclinations to Discriminate Against Haitians
Government offices
Public transportation
Housing
Education
Medical care
Criminal Justice system
Everyday interaction

A favorable climate for the nationalist discourse emerged when in September 2013 the Dominican Constitutional Court promulgated La Sentencia (168-13), which retroactively stripped away the citizenship of foreigners, most of whom are Haitian-Dominicans born in the Dominican Republic from Haitian immigrant parents. Under international and internal pressures, on May 23, 2014, the Court adopted the corrective naturalization law 169-14 (Ley de Régimen Especial y Naturalización 169-14) which among other things sets in motion El Plan de Regularización (Regularization Plan) that will allow undocumented immigrants to regularize (and clarify) their status. Applicants have until June 17th, 2015 to apply for legal residency. Those who are not able to do so will be sent back to Haiti. About 170,000 had applied for regularization as of February of 2015, just a few months before the deadline. Dozens of organizations representing Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans are urging for a deadline extension as many of the undocumented lack the personal documents required to be able to initiate the process. Some of these groups have criticized the Haitian Embassy for being too slow in assisting their Haitian citizens in this process. This weak response by the Haitian embassy complicates the process inasmuch as many potential applicants cannot provide the necessary evidence of their personal identity to even begin the application process. Within this context, defenders of La Sentencia have denounced a perceived foreign influence on Dominican affairs and have identified this influence as the real cause behind the promulgation of corrective naturalization law 169-14. For La Sentencia defenders, the law 169-14 is a foreign imposition and provides evidence of a lacerated Dominican sovereignty and of Haitian intrusion.

Why have the anti-Haitian mob attacks apparently become more common /visible the last few years? Why La Sentencia (168-13)? Are these events related and how? And how can anti-Haitian and anti-black ideology and practice be so systematically consequential in an Afro-Caribbean nation such as the Dominican Republic? The answers to these questions are complex and require a lot of contextualization as well as much more attention than the one that can be given in this short piece. Many of the issues raised so far are actually very familiar to those with knowledge of the Dominican and Haitian contexts. It is important to note, however, that the latter question puzzles many and often gets resolved with claims of exceptionalism, including the notion that Dominican racism is a sort of incomparable hyper-racism; an extreme form of racism accompanied by an ideology of national identity that’s based on delusional anti-blackness and even unhinged (quasi comical) Hispanophilia. As if the real issue was that Dominicans wore the whitest possible masks or represented the most sui generis example of wretched post-colonial peoples (Frantz Fanon references, intended). The works of scholars in the Dominican Republic, the United States and elsewhere have helped expand our understanding of this complex subject and have opened new avenues of inquiry and empirical research through nuanced theoretical and methodological approaches. This research has established the significance of history in understanding the past and present status of the relationship between the two counties and the origins of the systemic racism that Haitians and their descendants face in the Dominican Republic. This research has also established the significant role played by racist Dominican elites in specific historical, political and economic contexts, the legacy of Trujillo-era Hispanophile historiography, the ideological and cultural significance of the Haitian-Dominican border, the social and symbolic boundaries drawn around Haitians in all social fields, the past and present role of exploited Haitian labor in the Dominican economy, the role of race in the processes of nation building, and the legacies of key historical events, such as the Haitian occupation (1822-1844), the War of Restoration (1963-1865), the 1937 Massacre, and the first American Occupation (1916-1924). Most recent works force us to see the consolidation of antiblack and anti-Haitianism as a process with simultaneous connections to space, population movement, gender, social policy, and politics.

Furthermore, the promising and controversial features of globalization have manifested themselves in contemporary Dominican life and have likely added new complexities to these issues. Some of these features have included both periods of economic growth and decline, higher median income, higher purchasing power, and growing global identity and consciousness as well as growing urban poverty and inequality, transnational crime, dependence on tourism and weaken institutions. A report by UN-Habitat showed that only Colombia, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Bolivia exhibit higher rates of unequal income distribution in the region. Problems with the rule of law and accountability continued to create difficulties for the economy and national development. The Fund for Peace named the Dominican Republic in the list of countries under “Alert” in their 2012 Failed States Index report. The country has not fared well in these reports the last few years. The country looks even worse in the 2012 report on corruption by Transparency International. The country falls into the category of nations plagued by “rampant corruption” as judged by international organizations, business agents, and academics.68 The Dominican Republic got a score of 32 and was listed 118 among hundreds of countries. These reports have been discussed with concern on radio and television by public intellectuals and news commentators. Criminality has gone up and public safety has deteriorated the last years. The homicide rate was 13 in 100,000 in 1994–1995 (Cabral Ramírez and Brea De Cabral 2012; see Note 1) and reached 25 in 2005. It has remained in the low- to mid-twenties since 2008 (Artiles 2009; See Note 2). In 2005, Dominicans chose violent crime as the second most important national problem after unemployment. Forty-six percent of homicide victims are between eleven and thirty years of age. The youth are overrepresented among perpetrators as well. Dominicans’ fear of being the victim of a violent crime is among the highest in the Americans (Artiles 2009). Concerns over police brutality and violation of human rights have also increased within this context. In 2011 and 2012 pronouncements, Amnesty International denounced the use of torture, arbitrary imprisonment, disappearances, killing, and lack of investigation and due process on part of the police in their treatment of suspects. A study by the National Commission of Human Rights indicates that 4,060 Dominican citizens have died in shootouts with the police from 1997 through August 2012. About 1,300 of them died between 2008 and 2010. There is also public concern regarding the increased national presence of international drug trafficking networks which occurs in the context a weak judiciary and growing police and government corruption. According to LAPOP 2012, about 45 percent of Dominicans justify a government takeover by the military in order to confront crime delinquency. The number is 46 percent when corruption is the problem to be confronted. In sum, social vulnerabilities, crime, corruption, public insecurity have grown in the Dominican Republic. In this context, politicians and regular people blame Haitians for a wide range of problems facing the county, similar to the way that Mexicans get blamed for lower wages and other problems in the United States. The Dominican elites are anti-Haitian, including the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and the nationalist anti-Haitian discourse is increasingly visible in the media. Poor Haitians can be targeted for abuse (including lynching) with little or no sure repercussion for the perpetrators (which happens to poor Dominicans who are the victims of crime as well).

This piece argues that although the complex history of the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic should be known more attention needs to be given to the ongoing structures and dynamics that keep the negative historical legacies alive, and that intersect with contemporary discriminatory processes and events such as lynching. There are aspects of the theory of systemic racism that provide a fitting framework for understanding anti-Haitianism in the current Dominican context. This framework directs us to address not only the historical but also the institutional, interactional and ideological dimensions that are integral to the long-term domination of poor Haitians in the Dominican Republic. As suggested earlier, anti-Haitianism should be analyzed as a form of systemic racism, that is to say that it is about much more than anti-Haitian prejudice. Yes, it encompasses a existing set of prejudices, stereotypes, implicit biases, discourses, dispositions, and racialized emotions, but it also involves isolate, small group, direct and indirect, intentional or unintentional discriminatory practices, and political practices implemented by the Dominican state and government that help perpetuate the low status of Haitians and their descendants in all fields of Dominican society.

The creation of social and symbolic boundaries between Haitians and Dominicans has been an important mechanism for maintaining this systemic racism, especially because of the connected history of the two nations and peoples. Thus, it is important to understand not only the social construction of economic and cultural boundaries around Haitians in time and space, but also to understand the legacies of those boundaries, how they are maintained how they change, and how new and/or transformed configurations of boundaries may be emerging. One thing to pay attention is how the nationalist discourse draws boundaries around Haitian labor as to diminish its contributions and legitimacy. The presence of Haitian labor, now spread throughout the economy, is not part of the official story of the highly celebrated modernization and transnationalization of the country. The nationalist discourse represents Haitian labor as a problem even when the Haitian workforce is critical in construction and the growth of banana, rice, sugar cane and coffee. Data from 2010 show 13% of the Dominican workforce (or 352,974 workers) was Haitian or Dominican of Haitian descent.

The Denial of citizenship and making Haitian labor cheap and exploitable first in the sugar cane sector and now throughout the economy are important discriminatory mechanisms and need to continue to be addressed by social movements. The same could be said about the barriers that are being raised to limit the residence status of Haitian workers, the systematic negation of birth certificates and personal identification, restriction of entry to the school system, and denial of labor rights and civil liberties. This is important because unlike other racialized societies there are little to no attempts of incorporating or even assimilating poor Haitians into Dominican society. Instead, the racist system relies on the normative and overt logic of perpetual Haitian non-personhood.

Pressures should be also directed to denounce and challenge the Haitian state and Haitian elite as they also play a role in facilitating the exploitation of poor Haitians and their descendants in the eastern side. In fact, it almost seems as if the systematic exploitation and marginalization of poor Haitians and their descendants in the Dominican Republic could not exist without the oppression they first face in their own country. Poor and marginalized Haitians face a duality of oppressions that we hope they someday should overcome. The current nationalist climate exacerbates the vulnerabilities that permeate Haitian life in the Dominican Republic, and this piece echoes the concerns being expressed by many conscious voices in the Dominican Republic at this time. Let’s hope that the power of tolerance and solidarity and the sense of leadership responsibility can prevail in the midst of the serious challenges facing the two historically, geographically linked nations and peoples.

Notes:
1. Cabral Ramírez, Edylberto and Mayra Brea De Cabral. 20003. “Violencia en la
República Dominicana: Tendencias Recientes.” Perspect P sicol (3–4): 146–154.
2. Artiles, Leopoldo. 2009. Seguridad Ciudadana en la República Dominicana: Desafíos y Propuestas
de Política. Santo Domingo. Secretaría de Estado, Planificación y Desarrollo.

Ana S.Q. Liberato
Associate Professor
Department of Sociology
University of Kentucky

Pedro Albizu Campos: The Apostle of Puerto Rican Nationalism (1891-1965)

April 21 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Pedro Albizu Campos, the notable leader of the struggle to free Puerto Rico from US colonial rule. Albizu was born in the Puerto Rican city of Ponce in 1891. His father was a Spanish Basque merchant and his mother a domestic worker of mixed African and indigenous Taino background. Albuzu grew up in humble circumstances. His parents never married and Albizu’s father did not officially recognize him as his son (filed legal documents) until Albizu was at Harvard.

He was a brilliant student. Although he did not start his schooling until he was 12, he finished his elementary education and high school in seven and a half years. He received a scholarship from the University of Vermont to study engineering and his performance was so outstanding that a professor recommended him for admission to Harvard.

During his stay at Harvard, Albizu completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and Letters, the requirements of a Chemical Engineer, and a Law Degree. He learned Portuguese, French, Italian, and German as well as Latin and Greek.

Albizu was a victim of crass racism at “august” Harvard, where he was robbed of an academic honor. He had the highest grade-point average in his Law class and as a result it fell upon him to deliver the valedictory speech. He never got the chance. One of his professors delayed Albizu’s third-year final exams so that Albizu could not graduate on time. The professor wanted to avoid the “embarrassment” of a Puerto Rican law valedictorian. Sensitive to US racism, Albizu published in 1932 a letter accusing a US physician, Dr. Cornelius P. Rhoads, of killing Puerto Ricans as part of his research. Someone gave Albizu a letter that Dr. Rhoads wrote to a friend where he made savagely racist comments about Puerto Ricans and advocated their genocide. He also admits that he killed Puerto Rican patients and transplanted cancerous tumors into others:

They [Puerto Ricans] are beyond doubt the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and thievish race of men ever inhabiting this sphere. It makes you sick to inhabit the same island with them. They are even lower than Italians. What the island needs is not public health work but a tidal wave or something to totally exterminate the population. It might then be livable. I have done my best to further the process of extermination by killing off 8 and transplanting cancer into several more. [My emphasis]

In light of these experiences with US racism, it is not surprising that Albizu joined the movement that pursued Puerto Rico’s independence from the United States. In 1930 he became president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. His nationalist militancy resulted in three separate prison sentences and died in prison. Again: A brilliant man and a Harvard graduate who still came face-to-face with racism in the US.

US Racism in Spanish Loanwords: “Cojones” and “Macho” in White Racial Framing

Loanwords from French and German are common in English. For example, French is the donor language of “Je ne sais quoi” (“An intangible quality that makes something distinctive or attractive,”) a non-English expression one may use to describe the ineffable beauty of work of art. Another one is “Raison d’etre” (“The most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence”). The purpose for someone or something’s existence is an intricate subject pondered by some eminent philosophers.

German has provided Angst (“A feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general”) as well as Weltanschauung (“A concept fundamental to German philosophy and epistemology and refers to a wide world perception.”) These are deep concepts that approach aspects of human perception from two different vantage points.

Profound terms are abundant in Spanish, but a racist filter in the US excludes them from becoming loan words. Loan words from Spanish lack sophistication and refinement. Two of the most popular are cojones and macho. They are earthy, vulgar and glorify male chauvinism.

Cojones means “testicles” in Spanish and is used in idiomatic expressions (“¡Cojones!”) frequently to indicate strong emotions, such as disgust or anger. It also can be used to mean “Courage,” as in a man “having cojones.” It is only in this sense that it is used in the US.
The word cojones has made it to the white elite politician vocabulary. President Kennedy used it in a critique of recruits to the foreign service for not having the cojones to face dictators.

Although cojones is unabashedly chauvinistic, some women have been praised for “having” them. In a pointed attack Sarah Palin made during the 2010 Presidential campaign against President Obama’s handling of the “border situation,” she praised then Arizona Governor Jan Brewer for having “the cojones that our president does not have to look out for all Americans, not just Arizonans, in this desire of ours to secure our borders.”

Cojones has been a favorite term of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who has done much to introduce it into mainstream. After Cuban air force planes shot down two small civilian aircraft flown by members of a Cuban-American anti-Castro group over international waters, she protested, “This is not cojones. This is cowardice.” She was attacking the Cuban regime with a term that has particular “Latino meaning.” She could have simply used “cowardice” in her statement and let it go at that, but like other white politicians chose instead to interject a term that in her racist mind Latino men “really understand.”

It is ironic that Palin and Albright, both women, chose such a male-centered term as a tribute.

Macho is an adjective that technically means “The male member of the species” in Spanish, but it is virtually always employed in Spanish-speaking countries in the sense of “Man with traits traditionally considered masculine traits such as strength and virility.” Being Macho can be a compliment in the general public. It is a sobriquet that noted “fight” athletes have proudly embraced. For example, the late Puerto Rican boxer Héctor Camacho, fought under the name “Macho Camacho,” and the late US wrestler Randy Mario Poffo’s ring name was Macho Man.

Macho has become far more popular in US books than cojones, as is evident in an Ngram I just ran. A search I also conducted recently in Amazon Books resulted in 2,102 hits for macho as opposed to 129 for cojones. Its more frequent use may be due to the fact that macho encompasses more “male” traits than just courage.

Having cojones and being macho have been used with some admiration in this country by the general public that has overlooked or disregarded its glorification of raw maleness and implicit degradation of women, who are born without testicles, and suffer social excoriation if they are firm and courageous. It is important to note that the attractiveness of cojones and macho represent racist and male chauvinist choices that square with popular US stereotypes of Latinos being oversexed brutes. Don’t do us any favors by incorporating coarse Spanish words into English that reflect a racist, white-created “punto de vista” about Latinos.(See endnote)
________________________
Endnote: The racist filter in some Spanish loanwords is more subtle. “Quixotic” is an example. Its meaning in English is “Exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.” A “quijote” (small Q) in Spanish it is defined as a “Man who places his defense of just causes ahead of his own interests.” A fool (in English) versus a highly idealistic, principled individual (in Spanish): two definitions that reflect opposite “visiones de la realidad.”

“Walk the Walk but Don’t Talk the Talk”: Color-Blind Ideology in Interracial Movement Organization

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. 

Anti-Latino Racism: The Case of Housing

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.

Former Adviser Axelrod Warns White Racist Hostility to Obama Infects Politics

Ed Pilkington, chief reporter for the Guardian (US), reports:

In an interview with the Guardian before the release of his new autobiography, [David] Axelrod spoke in frank terms about what he perceives as the corrosive influence of race in the Obama era. The former White House senior adviser said that no other president in US history had had a member of Congress shout at him in the middle of a major address – as Joe Wilson of South Carolina did in 2009 with his notorious “You lie!” rebuke – or face persistent questions about his American citizenship, as Obama did from the so-called “birther” movement . … [Axelrod] warned that racial “fear” and hostility toward the first black US president has infected American politics and is partly to blame for Republican intransigence in confronting the president’s agenda. “The fact is, there are some people who are uncomfortable with the changing demographics of our country,” Axelrod said. “To those people, Obama is a living symbol of something they fear, they don’t like, and some of that has spilled into our politics.”

220px-David_Axelrod

In the book titled, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics (2015) Axelrod writes that

some folks simply refuse to accept the legitimacy of the first black president and are seriously discomforted by the growing diversity of our country. And some craven politicians and rightwing provocateurs have been more than willing to exploit that fear, confusion, and anger.

That is, an entrenched white anger exists on the subject of a black man – with a Muslim name – in the White House.

The white racial frame sheds much light on Axelrod’s discussion of race-involved “fear.” As Joe Feagin explains, the racial hierarchy, material oppression, and the rationalizing white racial frame are key dimensions of the systemic racism created at the top decision-making level by elite white men. Emotions play a vital part in sanctioning white privilege so that whites can discount or disregard the unpleasant truths of racism. Such perverse obliviousness rests firmly on the safeguarding of whites’ racial selves (The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Framing and Counter-Framing).

Beyond US politics, projections on the shifting demographics of race have led to clear expressions of white racial victimization, aggrieved entitlement, and aggressive white racial framing. White elite male controlled news outlets report on anticipated trends with memorable headlines like “Whites losing majority in U.S. in under-5 group,” “White kids will no longer make up a majority in just a few years,” and “Minorities now surpass whites in U.S. births, census shows.” Undoubtedly to perpetuate racist notions of the welfare state, the latter story mentions a seemingly troublesome aside: “[T]he numbers also serve as a guide to where taxpayer dollars could be going in the coming decades.” It fails to mention where taxpayer dollars will be coming from (workers of color, increasingly).

Studies also point to discomfort among whites with regard to the changing demographics of the US, as does the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to nullify strategic parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“Our country has changed,” explained John G. Roberts Jr. –- Chief Justice and elite white male appointed by George W. Bush in 2005. A well-known critic of the 1965 Act for nearly 30 years, and writing for the majority, Roberts explained, “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” Roberts held that “things have changed dramatically” in the South in the nearly 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed. This was in spite of the fact that almost all US civil rights leaders disagreed.

Conflicting Worlds of the Racialized US “Justice” System

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.

John Hope Franklin argues,

… 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.

Roots of “Redskins”: Savages, Saints, Saviors in the American Psyche

The root of “Redskins” is the ideological stereotype of the initial savage of Hispaniola, the fearsome enemy icon of the colonial conquests, the Hostile other of the Plains wars, and finally the caricature of the once feared but now mocked dangerous Other, compliant in being released in the gladiator’s arena and told what an “honor” it is that the dominant spectators have chosen this image over the animals and undead violent gangs from the past.

While we are indeed concerned with the team name and its mascotry function, what remains central to any analysis of its importance to the broader society, is that the root of genocide and conquest, is the real reason behind the masked popularity and indeed, a desperately deep need to revel in the inferior status of the indigenous, the Native, the Indian. In other words, it is an expression of the supremacist discourse of racism.

By mocking the image, the dominants feel released from any guilt or thought of how their society came to be, or what may have happened to those peoples who preceded them in the lands they now call their own. This is why it is only in America, the “land that never was yet” according to Langston Hughes, where the image of the defamed and destroyed original people becomes so central to their popular professional sports teams.

The other reason is simple – the “Noble Savage” as the antithesis of the Hostile or Uncivilized Savage, is still a savage, is still the unreconstructed Other that needs to be obliterated in the national psyche as having any legitimacy, buried in its final phase as the painted Redface, theatrical dancing and prancing to the cheers of an audience in its self-absorbed orgy of monocular and militaristic patriotism. The terrorist enemy of today is rooted in the savage of yesterday.

Full denial of the genocide of the indigenous, requires an all-encompassing narrative, which the Redskins terminology provides in naming, and icons such as the Wahoo illustrate in a comfortable and cartoonish dehumanization of the first peoples of the land. Thus in their twisted version of how the New World came to be, these sports fans are “honoring” the savage warrior of the past, celebrating their conquest, and defining terrorism only in the violent actions of the Other, never in the “homeland” itself. Indigenous activists, scholars and leaders therefore will not, must not be satisfied if there is a name change of the Washington team, encouraging as that might be. Because the background narrative, the root “savage” of the 17th and 18th centuries linked to the redskin of the 19th century, is all about who is civilized and who is primitive, and operates to deny genocide and distort the defense of Native Nations into a civilizational discourse.

California is a case in point. The mission-forming priest Junipero Serra was the spearhead of Spanish conquest in the region, forcefully “converting” Native peoples into subordinated people at missions, where their labor built the system and provided profits for expansion. Catholic hierarchies also took advantage of the Natives coerced into the missions, as a rationale for taking lands and creating new governance that did not recognize indigenous societies or social structures. Soldiers would garrison forts and out posts for “security” and to enforce the laws, religious and secular. In many cases there was also sexual predation, often of young children. Because of these severe conditions, with high death rates and low life expectancies, nearly all missions experienced uprisings against the injustices. After they were put down, there were executions. Within a few decades, accompanied by disease and changing habitats, the numbers of native people dropped more than half, then again by half, with a demographic collapse termed genocidal or cultural genocide.

Fast forward to 2014, when relatively small numbers of surviving California Indians are bolstered by much larger Native populations from elsewhere in the United States, and by sovereignty battles often leading to economic development because of Indian Gaming, with support for telling their own stories. Historians had dubbed Father Serra as the “founder of California” and represent him as bringing people to Catholicism and Christianity, underscoring ideas of uncivilized primitive people needing religious and social guidance. These were found in museum installations, such as the one at the Huntington in 2013, where he was praised as a “savior” to the Native people.

Thus it is Western man, the priest, the scholar from great universities, the unimpeachable source who tells us how to perceive Redskins names or terms. This is higher order supremacist thought, but it’s still supremacy racism, just veiled in academic language, that obscures its deep condescending tautology of savage versus civilized savior. This ideological dualism is displayed every day in the mainstream media, with college classes seeing who is a Savior, and in saying who is a Hero in wars and rumors of wars.

Note the new movie “American Sniper” where a disgruntled Texan cowboy who grew up hunting animals in “the wild” joins the military after seeing bombings of U.S. Embassies and an Al Queda attack on the Twin Towers, becoming a SEAL sniper deployed to Iraq where he looks to kill “bad guys” and “savages” in order to save lives of his fellow soldiers, and ultimately “Americans” back home. There is wild cheering at many movie theaters at the killing of the made-up mythical “Mustapha” sniper and end of the movie, where the sniper is seen as a great hero, misunderstood at home and unable to reconcile his killing overseas. There are two huge issues to be aware of in the book, the movie, and the public American psyche that has made this the most popular January box-office movie of all time, and up for many academy awards.

First, obviously, is its use of “savage” for an enemy of the United States, or for all Americans back home, which is applied to all people from the enemy icon nations and cultural groups. Savage has its origins in the Papal Bull used to justify Columbus’s second journey and invasion, leading to the greatest genocide of its time, the Holocaust of Hispaniola, and used to justify ongoing genocides of the Spanish and English colonial conquests, finally moving into the U.S.A. fighting “merciless Indian savages” in its Declaration of Independence, and similarly in every war and killings in the 19th century, morphing into use of Redskins to underscore racial construction. Both terms are used in the build-up to Wounded Knee in 1890.

Fast forward again through its use in every non-western conflict of the next two centuries, (See The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire Building by Drinnon), to the initial briefing by General Schwarzkopf to the first Iraqi invasion, that U.S. forces were going into “Indian Country” to take out and destroy “Hostiles” (Hostiles was put into official language in the 1876 prelude to U.S. re-invasion of Lakota lands under the rubric of “Indian Country” emerging from treaty technical terms of 1830’s genocidal Indian Removals). Thus the pejorative charged term Terrorist related to Hostiles that emerged from “savage” enemy icons, used to destroy people in their own lands fighting for their own nationalities, has a consistent place in the American arsenal of seeking out and killing the Other opposed to western civilization. If not for the geography and new fears of being charged with racism, they might as well have used Redskins.

Thus the dark-skinned Mustapha character, completely fictionalized, realizes the rough “honoring” and hating of the uncivilized, “savage” enemy in the name of civilization and the good guys. His name could just as easily be Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Tecumseh, Metacom (King Phillip), Po’pay or even Anacoana, leaders of indigenous resistance movements. Without discounting the heroic endeavors of Chris Kyle, we observe how his simplistic acceptance of the enemy icon as “savage” underscores centuries of very similar military conquests, and resonates with a supremacist American creed that “honors” its enemies in Crazy Horse Saloons, or in paratroopers yelling Geronimo as they jump, (replicated in Operation Geronimo to kill OBL terrorists they earlier feared were hiding among the “tribals”) and so on it goes.

The second use is found in the dark side of the American Sniper who has returned “home” to find his massive killings haunts him, and so he makes up incredible stories of brave stands against a homeland “enemy” of black carjackers whom he kills, or of sniper killing up to thirty civilians from the New Orleans superdome when they were supposedly looting or causing mayhem. If he lived in real “Indian Country” we could easily assume both the stories and the realities would be of killing the first savages, the Indian. The book and film, and all media stories resonate with Cowboys and Indians, Good Guys and Bad Guys, Savages and Soldiers – that simply underscore the ideologies of supremacy firmly rooted in Redskins.
Our Homeland Security, itself a misnomer for all natives, becomes the guiding principle of reducing and eliminating the savage, the uncivilized, the potential Hostile from the Friendly Indian, the assimilated and fully colonized repeater of hegemonic histories that never include the Holocaust of Native Nations, terrorism toward indigenous communities, which never bring up the horrific death rates of the Mission system followed by outright genocide in the state of California, that discount the massive killings of so many communities from Mystic Lake to Wounded Knee, that refuse to see the reconstituted Savage as Hostile Other in the wars of the twentieth century.

Rather, in benign neglect and intentional cultural destruction, the American psyche (especially white American psyche) becomes comfortable in brave discoverers, saintly priests, and with heroic soldier-saviors who protect a racialized US from the dangerous hostile Other, a terror to civilized society that will torture and kill and raze villages to the ground to protect its settlers from the savage, embodied in a dancing Red-faced racist Wahoo and a capital team named Redskins. It’s time to change from the caricature of the conquered Wahoo and Redskin racist naming to imagery of respect and words of honor, a true recognition of First Nations and Indigenous Peoples.

James V. Fenelon is of Lakota/Dakota Indigeneity, is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies, United States Navy veteran, and co-author of Indigenous Peoples and Globalization (Paradigm, 2009).

Redefining the Vocabulary of Microaggressions

A new report by Harvard University’s Voices of Diversity Project (VoD) draws on interviews with at least 50 African-American, Latina/o, Asian-American and Native American students at each of four universities regarding their on-campus undergraduate experiences related to their racial/ethnic background, sex, or both. The co-authors, Paula Caplan and Jordan Ford, report on the students’ experiences of racist and sexist mistreatment that took shape in “microaggressions” or subtle, cumulative, and repetitive acts of marginalization and stereotyping.

The concept of “micro-inequities” has received considerable research attention and refers to small incidents of everyday discrimination that have replaced the more overt acts of discrimination characteristic of the pre-Civil Rights era. Micro-inequities can be unspoken, repeated messages that may be invisible to others but send devaluing messages to the targets that hinder these individuals’ performance and impact self-esteem. The vocabulary of micro-inequities dates back to the 1970’s when Mary Rowe, Ombudsperson at MIT, noted the ephemeral, difficult-to-prove events that she saw as the “principal scaffolding for discrimination in the United States.” A more extensive taxonomy of these day-to-day behavioral indignities was developed by Gerald Wing Sue and others that includes microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations.

Yet at what point do “micro-aggressions” become “macro-aggressions”? Take the experiences of mistreatment cited by a Latina senior quoted in the VoD study: “I go nuts. I do….it hurts so much, so much, it’s indescribable the way it makes you feel” (p. 40). The Latina senior goes on to say, “My whole body becomes hot, and your eyes automatically become glassy, because you just feel so inferior….” Or the commentary of an African-American male student, “What can I do? I feel useless. I’m being hurt by this person. It’s messing with me emotionally.” The profound psychological damage caused by racism is not adequately captured in the term “micro-inequity” or “micro-aggression.” As Joe Feagin points out in Systemic Racism (2006), the pain of racism is part of lived experience and to begin to even calculate its costs “one would need to add…the other personal, family, and community costs over the centuries—the intense pain and suffering, the physical and psychological damage, the rage over injustice, and the huge loss of energy” that could have been used for other purposes (p. 20). Perhaps we need a new vocabulary to identify these high costs.

Similarly, consider the example that Alvin Evans and I cite in our new book, The Department Chair as Transformative Diversity Leader (2015) of an African American faculty member who became the first African American department chair at his religiously-affiliated university. When he was first hired as one of the few African American faculty at that institution, a religious studies professor whose office was next to his refused to speak with him for 10 years:

He didn’t talk to me for 10 years, not a word. . . . He didn’t believe I was qualified, he didn’t believe that I was a real intellectual, I was only hired so that the university could say that we had Black professors.

In fact, the religious studies professor would talk about the African American faculty member with his door wide open so he could hear. Later, when the African American faculty member became chair, the religious studies professor had to speak with him. The chair would regularly ask him a question about diversity. The religious studies professor would inevitably answer, “I think we’re already diverse.” Needless to say, the chair was not invited to the religious studies professor’s retirement dinner.

Or in another interview study in 2012, we similarly found examples of the pain caused by exclusionary practices and behaviors in the workplace. For example, Claudia, an African-American administrator, was singled out in a staff meeting by her white male supervisor who was speaking of African-Americans in general: “Oh, I don’t mean you. You’re different, you’re an Oreo.’ Claudia responded, “You know, I’m sorry I think that most people would recognize that as being a racial slur.” The supervisor replied, “Oh I don’t mean that. You are one of them that has common sense.” The repeated actions of the supervisor caused Claudia extreme physical and psychological anguish:

When I had that very discriminatory supervisor, I had extremely high blood pressure. I was on three medications. They were at the maximum dosage and my blood pressure was still uncontrollable. My doctor kept telling me I needed to quit my job because he was said I was going to die. He said I was going to just have a stroke or heart attack because my blood pressure was so high.

These examples across the spectrum of students, faculty, and administrators illustrate the long-term psychological and physical damage resulting from what are more than microaggressions (actually, macroaggressions).

To counteract such practices, the Harvard VoD Project identifies the proactive work undertaken by Missouri State University, one of the institutional participants, to address the “silent suffering” of targets of racism and sexism and ensure that the experiences of minoritized students, faculty of color, and women are heard.

As Mark Warren indicates in Fire in the Heart (2010), building community is a process that must move us from passivity to positive action by “breaking down that separateness and achieving something that is more than the sum of the parts” (p. 229). To do so, we must first face the difficult realities that the VoD identifies and then move toward a deepened collective understanding and common vocabulary that help us activate and operationalize practices that enhance inclusion on our campuses.

Ferguson, Missouri: “Our” Contribution to the Survival of the White Racist Frame

Ferguson, Missouri. What can I abundantly say? As the name guilelessly emerges from the mouth, a macabre power elicits resounding physical and emotional responses within individuals. These divisive responses have caused many keen, and the not so intellectually in tuned to disgorge upon our airways and our favorite politically one-sided cable network news television shows to speak simply in terms of faults, blames, and inculpabilities. In response to the somber situation at hand, I cannot think of what I can say that has not already been thrust upon the public regarding the police shooting death of 19 year-old Michael Brown.

But just when I thought it has all been incessantly said, someone has come along and presented a new controversial perspective. The “super producer,” singer, and rap artist, Pharrell Williams, has presented us with an interesting observation. If you do not know who he is, just think of him as the Black guy you have seen on television recently who has a proclivity for inane hats. Regardless, in regard to the Michael Brown shooting, in a recent interview with Ebony Magazine, he stated,

I don’t talk about race since it takes a very open mind to hear my view, because my view is the sky view. But I’m very troubled by what happened in Ferguson, Mo.

With his so-called “sky view” (it takes a millionaire to understand the term), he began to further discussion of the televised store surveillance video that depicts Michael Brown stealing and intimidating the store operator. Mr. Williams went on to say,

It looked very bully-ish; that in itself I had a problem with…. Not with the kid, but with whatever happened in his life for him to arrive at a place where that behavior is OK. Why aren’t we talking about that?

Entertaining. For a man who calls himself apart of the “New Black,” he may actually have a substantially important issue that calls for further discussion. This little nugget cannot be compared to his other recent failure of intellectual accession when he told Oprah Winfrey,

The New Black doesn’t blame other races for our issues…The New Black dreams and realizes that it’s not pigmentation: it’s a mentality and it’s either going to work for you or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side you’re going to be on.”

Can I digress for a moment; I really would like to ask him if Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, and others were simply blaming other races for their issues?

Nevertheless, his initial observation of what drove Michael Brown’s “bully-ish” behavior got the old noggin clicking. Then within a thought provoking moment, I began to recall an old rap song I use to play over and over again as a teenager. In my youth, it caused me to really question Black America. Within “Us,” written by Ice Cube, stated:

Could you tell me who released our animal instinct?
Got the white man sittin’ there tickled pink… That’s what ya doin’ with the money that ya raisin’ Exploitin’ us like the Caucasians did

I would like to ask, who among my people continues to exploit “us” and feed the animal of systemic oppression and its consequential actions? Unlike the past, current public rationalization is subtler than the past, but still equally damaging to Blacks. With careful critique, one can hear the current depressing messages of Black males in popular songs. Case in point, I bring you Mr. Pharrell Williams. He has made a living from producing others as well as himself on wax.. Such songs as “When the Last Time,” “Feds Watching” “Power,” “Light your Ass on Fire,” and “Mr. Me Too” just to name a few. All of which illustrate an all too familiar contemporary formula of opulence living, drug usage, violence, and misogynistic overtones. This is not to mention the videos that are plagued with issues of colorism and white aesthetic favoritism.

In American Paradox: Young Black Men, Renford Reese discussed research that involved surveying 756 Black males (13-19 years-of-age) in places such as Los Angeles and Atlanta. He determined that the “tough guy” persona distinguished in the music of Mr. Williams and other acts that glamorize violence, sexist behavior, and the glamorous life have negatively effected generations of Black men’s identity. Was Michael Brown’s identity affected by Mr. Pharrell and others? Can his bully-ish behavior be traced back to he and his musical keen?

We are currently living within an era resembling Blaxploitation filming trends. Within the 1970s, Whites movie production companies comprehended the financial benefit associated with the genre and mass-produced movies that propelled negative stereotypes and images. For the most part, the culturally empty music today that gains most of the public attention resembles this past era. The production of this music is filled with the same gratuitous violence, drug usage, luxurious champagne, and misogyny that are simply on display for the sake of exhibitionism. On the other hand, people such as the co-founder of Def Jam Records, Russell Simmons, defends these artists and their work by arguing that

The hip-hop community is a mirror, a reflection of the dirt we overlook—the violence, the misogyny, the sexism. They need to be discussed.

While he and his proponents refuse to look up from the massive “bling” on their wrists and red velvet underneath their feet, a fact looms over their inflated heads that point to their involvement in driving and maintaining the historical white racist oppressive frame.

You are right Pharrell. But you just forgot to include yourself and your musical keen who have contributed the current state of affairs. But I am understand. Especially when everything is so “Happy.”

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