Archive for whites
The other day I was reading and came across this:
Prior to 1989, the race on a newborn’s birth certificate was determined by the race of the parents. An infant with one White parent was assigned the race of the non-White parent. If neither parent was White, the child was assigned the race of the father. Since 1989, the race of the mother has been indicated as the child’s race on the birth certificate.[Note 1 below]
Of course being the mother of a multiracial Asian child, my curiosity was massively peaked. I didn’t remember identifying my son’s race/ethnicity after he was born. Did nurses mark it for us? What did they put considering both my husband and I are multiracial Asian too? I rushed to find my son’s birth certificate. No race listed. End of story? Of course not.
A birth certificate is a vital record documenting the birth of a child. In the U.S., State laws require birth certificates to be completed for all births, and Federal law mandates national collection and publication of births and other vital statistics data.The data is managed by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What I pulled from my files was a Short Form Birth Certificate, an unofficial document containing very little information. The short form does not list race. It merely certifies that an actual official birth certificate exists somewhere else. A Long Form or Certified Birth Certificate is the official document; a duplicate of the hospital birth record that is prepared when a child is born. The long form certificate does list race.
The manner in which birth race is recorded has changed over time. The most recent 2003 revision included the important update of allowing multiple-race selection. As far as I can tell a “multiracial” option has not yet been added (as it was to the 2010 Census).
And here’s where it gets complicated.
First, although the NCHS has expanded its race/ethnicity codes extensively and allows multiple-box-checking, doing so has created a statistical dilemma. How does the system compile answers when some people check 1 box and others check 2, 3, or more? I poured over many online documents (including those posted on the NCHS website) and found myself drowning in confusion. I am certainly open to being corrected on this point if someone else can figure what in the world the NCHS is talking about – but it appears that complex algorithims are used to bridge multiple-race responses into one single response, a single race response. What??
Second, despite collecting race information on both parents, birth data is still reported, in most cases, by the race of the mother.
Third, states have been slow to adopt the newest certificate form. As of 2007, 26 jurisdictions had not yet implemented it.
Carmen: “When my daughter was born the hospital put black on all of her documents (immunizations etc). I am black and my hubby is white, I thought it was a little weird that they should ignore the fact that my child is bi-racial. The nurses told me, (a little condescendingly mind you) that ALL government doc default to the race of the birth mother. So I had a question for the white mothers with bi-racial children with black fathers, did they put white on your child’s documents? Or was this some backwards thing they do just to black mothers?” –Circle of Moms (2010)
Ultimately this all gets pretty sticky when we consider birth certificate data has played a long-standing role in public health planning, action and funding. Leaving me, as always, with more questions than answers. How does the inaccuracy of recording mixed race impact the lives and representation of multiracial people? And how do us parents experience this inaccuracy as we are asked again and again to identify our multiracial children?
See my blog here.
1. Tashiro, Cathy J. “Mixed but Not Matched: Multiracial People and the Organization of Health Knowledge”. The Sum of Our Parts. Ed. Teresa Williams-León and Cynthia L. Nakashima. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001. 173-182. Print.
White racism today remains “‘normal’” and deeply imbedded in most historically white institutions. Every such institution is still substantially whitewashed in its important norms, rules, and arrangements…it seems likely that a majority of whites cannot see just how whitewashed their historically white organizations and institutions really are.
The editorial piece discusses a recent submission from guest contributor of The Daily Princetonian and Princeton alumna, Susan Patton, who controversially declared that the women of Princeton should, “Find a husband on campus before you graduate.” She goes on to say:
I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians. My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless… As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.
Oh no, she didn’t!! Sorry, I was channeling a number of high school students I work with. But nonetheless, apparently from the slings and arrows she received for publishing her essay, Susan forgot the first two rules of the Ivy League:
1st RULE: You do not talk about the secrets of the Ivy League.
2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about the secrets of the Ivy League.
Douthat noted many of her ideological opponents deem her as a turncoat to feminism. Her betrayal of acknowledging a truth, which Douthat feels many who attend Ivy League institutions are conscious of, is Patton’s biggest crime. A truth that encompasses the ideas that these places of highly manicured lawns and pristine historically well-kept buildings are focused not only on the pursuit of academic excellence, but also the charge of preserving racial entitlement while safeguarding the advantages accrued over generations in order to be safely transmitted to the next.
Even though these institutions over the decades have visibly discussed racial diversity and applied a dash of the finest cosmetic makeup to cover their blemished pale skin, Ivy League schools continue to be, as Feagin states, “whitewashed.” The quest for meritocracy continues within the 21st century. The current mode of protecting white interests, access to power, and purifying the elite is constant in country that attempts to convince its people that they are living in a post racial society. Albert Memmi understood this mechanism of racial supremacy when he stated,
racists are people who are afraid…generally it is because one wishes to obtain or defend something of value…the necessity to defend an individual identity and a collective identity, against all who come from elsewhere and don’t belong, is in operation.
This is not a declaration that all who attend these settings are racist per se, but the institution itself and those that practice the dark arts of the white racial frame, are definitely protecting historically privileged White placement on a hierarchy while simultaneously dispensing unequal treatment for a marginalized people. Its systems do not freely and equally entitle Blacks and Latinos to the same resources, power, and empathy as predetermined for the privileged placement of Whites. This is definitely illustrated within their modest number of students and faculty of color.
But then again, what do I know. I was poor and attended a state school.
United States history has taught us it is not new or unusual that blacks are viewed as second class citizens compared to whites; our contemporary realities has informed us that women are not on equal footing as men; and our society has still not come to grips that one’s sexual orientation could be anything other than heterosexual, if that individual is to be positively accepted. What can make matters much worse is when someone possesses any combination of these nonnormative characteristics. For instance, a black female who is also lesbian would be located at the lower rungs of human acceptance in the US, even more illuminated when compared to a white heterosexual male. While there are an abundant number of discriminatory examples in which a combination of race, gender and sexual orientation can lead to detrimental consequences when that mixture is located at the opposite end of what is “normal”, none has been more predominant than the recent “discretionary discipline” handed down to the two coaches at the University of Texas (Austin).
For those who are not familiar with the recent events at UT, let me briefly explain. Although two coaches at UT both had consensual relationships with students at the university, the ramifications of the two incidents proved discriminatory. Bev Kearney, a black lesbian and head female track and field coach, was forced out of her 20-year-long career after admitting her previous relationship with a student-athlete. Major Applewhite, a white heterosexual male and assistant football coach, was only suspended after revealing he had a one-night-stand with a student athletic trainer. What makes matters even more puzzling is consensual relationships between staff and students, according to university policy, are not explicitly prohibited. It can be argued that other factors played a role in this decision such as football being a high-profile revenue-generating sport and track and field being a low-profile sport, and thus sacrifices can be made. However, the obvious double standard, especially when accounting for the success of Kearney (e.g., seven national championships, high student graduate rates, inspiring mentor, International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame inductee), makes this woman’s characteristics (i.e., black, female, lesbian) more of the cause than an inadvertent coincidence.
Being a black woman is already problematic enough in the US, with this group receiving far less access to society’s resources, underrepresented in every major institution, and having to work harder than any other group to make it (see Feagin, 2010), adding lesbian to the mix most definitely muddles things. Although there are few laws in contemporary society that institutionally limit the lives of the LGBT community, Pharr (1997) suggests a restrictively heterosexual and homophobic culture continues to bind these individuals. This is no different in the sport context. For instance, Krane and Barber (2005) found discriminatory hiring practices to exist towards female coaches perceived to be lesbian. Even when these women do make it through the interview process and eventually hired, Griffin (1998) argues the “lesbian stigma” continues to threaten their status and power and contributes to the maintenance of their out-group status. Researchers (e.g., Wright and Clark, 1999) contend that media discourse plays a principal role in perpetuating these inequalities, since they “construct a particular view of the world, of both individuals and social relations” (p. 228).
It is the numerous media outlets discussing the case of these coaches that perpetuate the differences between the two. For instance, in the various media accounts there is no mention of the type of relationship (homosexual or heterosexual) that Applewhite was involved in, but in almost every account Kearney is characterized as a black woman who had a lesbian relationship. Similarly, Applewhite and his family are continually discussed in a positive way through the media, which appears to suggest he has more to lose and we have to give him a chance; whereas outside of her accolades as a UT track and field coach, there is minimal reference of Kearny’s personal life. Just like there are two sets of rules applied in these similar cases, there are two different stories being disseminated to the public. Consequently, the powerful institutions of sport and the media continue to remind us what is most valued in the US: men over women, heterosexual over homosexual, and white over black.
UPDATE: I had several interesting conversations with folks about this blog piece. For the record, these were not contentious conversations, just casual talk with acquaintances. For instance, one person said they liked the post, but thought I should have focused more on Kearney’s race than her sexual orientation. Another said they didn’t believe sexual orientation played a big role in her being viewed negatively; it was primarily her being a woman and black. A third person didn’t think sexual orientation should have been an emphasis on a “racism” blog. I tried telling these folks that every media account highlighted Kearney’s sexual orientation while no mention of Applewhite’s, and thought it was an important inclusion to demonstrate how it may have compounded (on top of race and gender) her negative treatment. I suggested that maybe they should go look up the dozens of media accounts and tell me what they think afterwards… By the way, these were all black folks.
Bibliography and items to read:
*Griffin, P. (1998). Strong women, deep closets. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
*Krane, V., & Barber, H. (2005). Identity tensions in lesbian intercollegiate coaches. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76, 67-81.
*Pharr, S. (1997). Homophobia: A weapon of sexism. Berkeley, CA: Chardon Press.
*Wright, J., & Clark, G. (1999). Sport, the media and the construction of compulsory heterosexuality: A case study of Women’s Rugby Union. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 34(3), 227-243.
This is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing, on January 1, 1863, the famous Emancipation Proclamation. The mainstream media have over the last few days recognized this date and commented on it, usually too briefly.
In the New York Times, scholar Eric Foner has an interesting commentary on this proclamation. Foner summarizes succinctly what many scholars have long documented and discussed:
Contrary to legend, Lincoln did not free the nearly four million slaves with a stroke of his pen. It had no bearing on slaves in the four border states, since they were not in rebellion…. [and exempted] parts of the Confederacy occupied by the Union. All told, it left perhaps 750,000 slaves in bondage. But the remaining 3.1 million, it declared, “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The proclamation did not end slavery in the United States on the day it was issued.
Lincoln also made clear in the proclamation that military necessity justified the proclamation, which got more emphasis than the moral justification.
Foner also points out that during the Civil War’s first couple of years Lincoln persisted in his dislike of slavery, but his view was that the (white) country could not handle thousands of free African Americans, so he
devoted considerable energy to a plan for ending slavery inherited from prewar years. Emancipation would be undertaken by state governments, with national financing. It would be gradual, owners would receive monetary compensation and emancipated slaves would be encouraged to find a homeland outside the United States — this last idea known as “colonization.”
Lincoln was voted a few years, by historians, as the number one U.S. president of all time. Presumably this is because he presided over the country during the difficult Civil War, and much action he took, such as the Emancipation Proclamation and belatedly accepting Blacks as Union soldiers, during that era deservedly gets this high level of praise.
Yet, few of the current discussions of Lincoln-–in this hagiographic mood the country is in–seriously focus on Lincoln’s extensive racist framing of U.S. society and what that has meant, then as now. Most historians dealing with Lincoln now touch on his racism, but only a few like Lerone Bennett, Jr., in his much debated but pathbreaking Forced into Glory, get to the heart of the matter. Even left historians seem to lack the conceptual tools to make sense out of Lincoln’s deep racism. Their discussion usually focuses on just a few of Lincoln’s views and actions, with an argument he got less racist over time–and not centrally on the much bigger picture of racial oppression being the foundation of the nation, then as now, and on the white racial frame that was essential to rationalizing that foundation, then as now. And not centrally on how the war and Lincoln, and the war’s aftermath, were shaped by and shaped that systemic racism and its rationalizing frame. And what it meant that Lincoln stayed racist in his views to the end.
Lincoln was a willing servant of that foundational racism. Several years before he became president, in his famous debate with Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln demonstrated that he operated out of a strong version of the white racist frame. For example, he argued in that debate that the physical difference between the “races” was insuperable:
I am not nor ever have been in favor of the social and political equality of the white and black races: that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the free negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office or having them to marry with white people…. I as much as any other man am in favor of the superior position being assigned to the white man.
Soon to be called the “Great Emancipator” because of his Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln had made his white supremacist views clear, and his racist framing would later be cited by southern officials many times, including in their 1960s struggle to protect Jim Crow segregation against civil rights demonstrators. They are still quoted by whites, especially in supremacist groups, today. One reason is clear: They reflect in some ways a deeply held white racist framing of African Americans as inferior to whites that is still all too commonplace.
At the time of the Civil War, a majority of whites, like Lincoln, in most northern areas held to a white-nationalist view of this country. African Americans were routinely seen as aliens. Across the country, in all regions, the overwhelming majority of whites held an image of this relatively new nation as ideally a “white republic.” Lincoln and other whites unsympathetic to the spread of slavery also saw the nation as fundamentally white.
Early on as president, Lincoln was willing to support a constitutional amendment (the first 13th amendment, which is ignored in the recent Lincoln movie) making slavery permanent in the existing southern states if that would prevent a civil war. Some members of the Republican Party talked with representatives of the southern planters and proposed a thirteenth amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee slavery in the South. Lincoln was willing to accept this. However, the southern slaveholding oligarchy rejected this compromise proposal, apparently because they thought they could win a war.
December 18, 1865 is arguably the date of the real birth of a United States committed substantially, if still rhetorically and haltingly, to expanding human liberty. That was the day that the actual Thirteenth Amendment freeing all enslaved Americans was finally ratified. This legal action would not likely have taken place without the active resistance to oppression by African Americans, who thereby played a central role in bringing their own liberation. At base, it was not Abraham Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation that did the most to bring an end to slavery in these late years of the Civil War, but rather the active efforts of those who had been enslaved.
The African American soldiers and support troops in Civil War somehow get left out in most of the public discussions of US history, and in too many accounts of contributions as well. As a result of successful recruiting by the outspoken Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and other black (and some white) abolitionist leaders, during the last years of the Civil War several hundred thousand African Americans (men and women), many formerly enslaved, served as Union soldiers and support troops. Without them the war might have ended in a draw or worse. Lincoln was having trouble getting enough white men to right for the Union.
Like the black abolitionists, most of these Union soldiers and support troops undoubtedly held some version of a black liberty and justice counter-frame to the dominant white-racist frame in their minds. For example, the formerly enslaved John Washington, who ran away and became part of the Union Army’s support troops, described his new situation thus:
Before morning I had began to feel like I had truly escaped from the hands of the slaves master and with the help of God, I never would be a slave no more. I felt for the first time in my life that I could now claim every cent that I should work for as my own. I began now to feel that life had a new joy awaiting me. I might now go and come when I please This was the first night of freedom.
The next morning I was up early and took a look at the rebels country with a thankful heart to think I had made my escape with safety after such a long struggle; and had obtained that freedom which I desired so long. I now dreaded the gun, and handcuffs and pistols no more.
For formerly enslaved men and women, liberty and justice were much more than rhetorical abstractions. Their sacrifices on Civil War battlefields and behind the lines helped not only to free those enslaved, but also to put the United States on track to become a freer country.
Thus, this is also a day to remember and give thanks for the circa 500,000 African American soldiers and support troops, many formerly enslaved, volunteered for the Union Army at its low point. We should also remember the great “strike” of black labor against the treasonous Confederate slaveholders and other farmers–the thousands of black laborers who fled slavery to the North or sabotaged the slave plantation economy during the war.
Even President Lincoln belatedly admitted the Union forces would have had trouble winning indeed without the black volunteers for the Union cause. That is, in a very real sense, “the former slaves freed the slaves.”
Significantly for the country’s future, the antislavery white legislators who composed and fought for the Thirteenth Amendment in the U.S. Congress understood it to mandate an end not only to slavery but also to the “badges and incidents” of slavery. (“Badges” referred to indicators of racial rank, while “incidents” referred to heavy burdens accompanying enslavement.) Senator Lyman Trumbull, an Illinois Republican, introduced the Thirteenth Amendment in the U.S. Senate in 1864. Two years later, when he and his colleagues sought passage of a comprehensive 1866 Civil Rights Act to eradicate those “badges and incidents” of slavery, Trumbull aggressively defended the view that this Thirteenth Amendment gave Congress the authority to
destroy all these discriminations in civil rights against the black man, and if we cannot, our constitutional amendment amounts to nothing. It was for that purpose that the second clause of that amendment was adopted, which says that Congress shall have authority, by appropriate legislation, to carry into effect the article prohibiting slavery. (This was, interestingly, quoted in the important 1968 Supreme Court decision, Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., on racial discrimination in housing.)
That is, this white “Radical Republican” was thinking in systemic terms, and breaking to a significant degree with the white racist framing of Lincoln and others of his day.
Today, the final Thirteenth Amendment, as well as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, should still be read as exerting significant pressure for the eradication of the many vestiges of slavery that appear in the guise of contemporary racial discrimination that is still at the heart of our systemic racism. We have in 2013 not yet ended the still widespread “discrimination in civil rights” against African Americans and other Americans of color.
Today, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful, pro-gun lobbying organization, held a press conference in which the head of the organization, Wayne LaPierre, offered a stunningly tone-deaf set of proposals in the wake of last week’s events at a Newtown, CT in which 26 people died when an armed man opened fire in an elementary school.
LaPierre today proposed several actions as a response including: a national database of all people with diagnosed mental illness (38 states already have that) and an armed volunteer guard in every school. To say that the proposal is unrealistic, is to understate the reality. Early estimates are that the proposal to place ‘armed volunteer guards’ in all 99,000 schools in the US would cost an estimated $18 billion dollars. (No word on the estimated cost for the pernicious database.)
Mike Bloomberg, mayor of NYC and outspoken proponent of gun control, called LaPierre’s speech a “paranoid, dystopian vision” of our society. I don’t always agree with Bloomberg, but he’s right in this instance. LaPierre’s claim that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with gun,” is not only offensive in terms of gender, especially given the heroic women who died trying to save their young students in Newtown, it also belies the NRA’s racial assumptions.
Journalist and commentator David Sirota has an interesting piece about the reaction to some statements about the role of white men as the typical killers in the mass murders like the ones in Columbine, Aurora, and Newtown which he made in an MSNBC commentary and interview with Chris Hayes:
I said that because most of the mass shootings in America come at the hands of white men, there would likely be political opposition to initiatives that propose to use those facts to profile the demographic group to which these killers belong. I suggested that’s the case because as opposed to people of color or, say, Muslims, white men as a subgroup are in such a privileged position in our society that they are the one group that our political system avoids demographically profiling or analytically aggregating in any real way. Indeed, unlike other demographic, white guys as a group are never thought to be an acceptable topic for any kind of critical discussion whatsoever, even when there is ample reason to open up such a discussion.
Calling out white men, and most especially elite white men, as a/the social or political problem is something I have written and lectured on for many years now, but it is still very rare for anyone, commentator or researcher, to even go as far as Sirota does in this important Salon article.
Toward the end of the article even he starts backing off on some of the logical implications of calling out white men and insisting that he is not calling for racial profiling of white men as potential killers. He notes that the current tempered and nuanced conversation of these mass killings is only occurring because “white guys” are the (usually unremarked upon) demographic so dramatically involved:
But the point here is that those tempered and nuanced conversations are only able to happen because the demographic at the center of it all is white guys. That is the one group in America that gets to avoid being referred to in aggregate negative terms (and gets to avoid being unduly profiled by this nation’s security apparatus), which means we are defaulting to a much more dispassionate and sane conversation — one that treats the perpetrators as deranged individuals, rather than typical and thus stereotype-justifying representatives of an entire demographic.
In my White Men on Race (With E. O’Brien) and The White Racial Frame book (soon out in a second edition in February) I have argued that these discussions such as Sirota raises barely begin to raise the issue of the role and significance of white men, particularly elite white men, in creating and maintaining our system of racial oppression, and the supporting social, political, and economic institutions that operate to protect that systemic racism and its white male regulators.
Here is a very brief overview of some historical points I make in that white frame book about that political background and current political reality:
The “founding fathers” created a U.S. origins narrative that was (and still is) substantially mythological, a story in which a mostly anti-democratic, often slaveholding, group of elite white men were said to be heroes championing ideals of equality and democracy for a new United States. These elite leaders created an imagined community, that is, a heralded “democratic” society in which all Americans supposedly shared comradeship. However, contrary to this mythology, the U.S. Constitution did not create a democracy where most adult Americans had the right to participate substantially and freely in political institutions. Native Americans and African Americans, constituting at least a fifth of the population, were excluded. (So were all women) As Vincent Harding has put it, the U.S. constitutional convention was “more like a poorly attended dress rehearsal, with most of the rightful and necessary performers and creators barred from the stage.”
From the beginning, the democratic rhetoric was usually more about public relations and the interests of the white elite than about creating actual democratic institutions. The new U.S. society was highly inegalitarian, with extreme inequality across the color line. The new United States was mostly led by white men who were overt white supremacists. It was a society that had no sense of shared comradeship among its white, black, and Native American residents. In 1843 no less a figure than former president and then member of Congress, John Quincy Adams, asserted in a congressional speech that the United States had never been a democracy because it had long been effectively controlled by a few thousand slaveholders. In this founding era U.S. political institutions were often openly proslavery, and an overtly white supremacist framing and dominance were asserted by many white leaders through these institutions until the ending of Jim Crow segregation in the 1960s.
Things mostly did not get better over time, as (especially elite) white men stayed completely in control of major institutions:
During the slavery and Jim Crow eras, the Supreme Court was a clear manifestation of white dominance, for only elite white men served on it. Examining the justices’ decisions on racial matters during most of the legal segregation era, one finds that they regularly reflect the dominant white-racist framing and routinely ignore or dismiss the civil rights counter-frames of Americans of color. Between the 1870s and the 1930s, Supreme Court decisions regularly eroded the civil rights that African Americans had theoretically gained under the 14th and 15th amendments that were added to the U.S. Constitution in the Reconstruction era. In the influential 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, a nearly unanimous court (one dissenter) upheld a Louisiana law requiring white-black segregation in public accommodations.
Things changed only because of centuries of protest by Americans of color, and then only as allowed by elite white men once again:
To the present day, the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court decisions interpreting it—almost all made over centuries by elite white men—have greatly shaped the basic contours of the legal and political systems, as well as other societal institutions. Important changes in the system of oppression, such as the official ending of Jim Crow in the 1960s, have come only when many whites have believed those changes to be in their group interest—that is, when there is what Derrick Bell has called “interest convergence” between the interests of the racially oppressed and the interests of whites, especially some in the white male elite.
When will any of the mainstream media call out and discuss various (elite) white male “social problems,” including problems of mass violence like at Newtown, as often and openly as they now do for non-white-male groups?
The archived video(s) of An Exploration of Whiteness and Health A Roundtable Discussion
is available beginning here (updated 12/16/12):
The examination of whiteness in the scholarly literature is well established (Fine et al., 1997; Frankenberg, 1993; Hughey, 2010; Twine and Gallagher, 2008). Whiteness, like other racial categories, is socially constructed and actively maintained through the social boundaries by, for example, defining who is white and is not white (Allen, 1994; Daniels, 1997; Roediger, 2007; Wray, 2006). The seeming invisibility of whiteness is one of its’ central mechanisms because it allows those within the category white to think of themselves as simply human, individual and without race, while Others are racialized (Dyer, 1998). We know that whiteness shapes housing (Low, 2009), education (Leonardo, 2009), politics (Feagin, 2012), law (Lopez, 2006), research methods (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva, 2008) and indeed, frames much of our misapprehension of society (Feagin, 2010; Lipsitz, 1998). Still, we understand little of how whiteness and health are connected. Being socially assigned as white is associated with large and statistically significant advantages in health status (Jones et al., 2008). Anderson’s ground breaking book The Cultivation of Whiteness (2006) offers an exhaustive examination of the way whiteness was deployed as a scientific and medical category in Australia though to the second world war. Yet, there is relatively little beyond this that explores the myriad connections between whiteness and health (Daniels and Schulz, 2006; Daniels, 2012; Katz Rothman, 2001). References listed here.
The Whiteness & Health Roundtable is an afternoon conversation with scholars and activists doing work on this area.
The roundtable is sponsored by the Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) and the Critical Social & Environmental Psychology program at the Graduate Center CUNY. The event is hosted by Michelle Fine (Distinguished Professor, Social Psychology, Women’s Studies and Urban Education), Jessie Daniels (Professor, Urban Public Health and Sociology) and Rachel Liebert, (PhD Student, Critical Social/Personality Psychology).
In this week’s edition of Inside Higher Education, Scott Jaschik reports on a picture taken of a group of Penn State Chi Omega sorority sisters mocking Mexicans. It is offensive enough that the picture depicts the group dressed in spaghetti western attire, but even more despicable are the signs featured in the picture:
“Will mow lawn for weed and beer” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it.”
What does this say about the collective views this group has of Mexicans? We have expectations about where certain groups belong based on generations of ethnic and racial stereotypes and societal stratification that are illustrated in this example. These views not only shape our expectations about one another, but also impact the way we treat each another.
For example, Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez writes about the experience of being mistaken as a criminal defendant in a federal courthouse. He states:
Let me mention for example attorneys of color who are sometimes in criminal cases mistaken for the defendant by the participants. How do we respond to that? Sometimes we are overly formal, by making sure that we’re dressed particularly well and that our speech is particularly professional, just to let people know who we are because we’re not always given the benefit of the doubt. I remember when I was a federal prosecutor I was traveling with my wife to Texas and we went to the federal courthouse in Laredo, Texas. I was curious, I thought I’m part of the federal family, so I’m going to go in and see what a different federal courthouse looks like. When I went into the courthouse I started getting tailed by security; they followed me through the courthouse, and when I walked into a courtroom the clerk said, “Defendants sit to the left.” That was the first thing she said to me as I walked in. And I realized that out of my suit, I looked to them like a suspicious person or a defendant in that context.
(soon available here)
Being out of his suit is only part of the story. The other part is the fact that there are negative stereotypes about Mexicans and Mexican Americans that follow us wherever we go. Latino professionals universally encounter these challenges as I highlighted in my book on Latino lawyers. The notion that we should be mowing lawns, drinking a beer (presumably under a cactus), or working as maids/custodians has certainly impacted my life both personally and professionally. The impact of the views represented by the Chi Omega sorority picture penetrate into all aspects of Latinos’ lives and certainly bring to mind many memories of my own experiences.
Some of mine include being asked for a my social security card during a routine traffic stop for speeding (it took me years to stop carrying my social security card), or being asked for a “green card and an ID” before being allowed to go into a club or being asked rather aggressively by an older woman at a health club I used to belong in, to bring her some water while I was sitting down on a bench waiting for my daughter to finish tennis lessons. (The coach teaching the lessons recognized what was going on before I did and turned to the woman after she’d asked me for water for the third time and tells her he’ll get it for her when he was done giving his lesson). These examples pale in comparison to the examples I’ve experienced as a professor. I am not alone. It has been recently documented in a book on academic women of color, Presumed Incompetent that cover topics from campus climate to tenure and promotion as experienced by female faculty of color.
At the heart of all these examples is the way Latinos continue to be stereotyped by others as so grossly illustrated in the Penn State Chi Omega sorority example.
Law professor Paul Finkelman has an important commentary piece in the New York Times on two recent books on the “democratic” icon and famous founder Thomas Jefferson. Much of what most Americans believe about Jefferson’s everyday life in regard to racial matters is fictional or distorted in the direction of our “good” founders are “great liberty and equality advocates” in both thought and everyday practice.
A leading scholar of slavery and our “founding fathers,” Finkelman has much to say about this matter, especially in regard to the very interesting new book by Henry Wiencek that presents much data on Jefferson’s lifelong commitment to slavery and abuse of those he enslaved, including his sexual coercion of the young Black teenager Sally Hemings (see here). Finkelman argues that even Wiencek–who argues the younger and more egalitarian Jefferson becomes more of a hypocritical and money-oriented slaveholder as he ages — is too kind to Jefferson, especially in his early decades:
Jefferson was always deeply committed to slavery, and even more deeply hostile to the welfare of blacks, slave or free. His proslavery views . . . he tried to justify through pseudoscience. . . . when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, announcing the “self-evident” truth that all men are “created equal,” he owned some 175 slaves.
Finkelman adds that Jefferson was not the supposedly “good slaveholder,” the oxymoronic phrase often used for numerous slaveholding founders and other white slaveholders:
He sometimes punished slaves by selling them away from their families and friends, a retaliation that was incomprehensibly cruel even at the time. A proponent of humane criminal codes for whites, he advocated harsh, almost barbaric, punishments for slaves and free blacks.
And Wiencek’s book provides much more evidence of Jefferson’s brutality toward those he enslaved.
Thomas Jefferson is still a top democratic icon for a great many Americans, especially white Americans — with little critical recurring or public attention being given by whites to his everyday practice of extensive and often brutal slaveholding. Jefferson is also a founder (with intellectuals like Immanuel Kant) of early Western “race” framing that aggressively celebrates the white “race’s” superiority in most areas and puts down “inferior races” such as (enslaved) black Americans. You can see this most dramatically in his famous and only major book, Notes on the State of Virgina (see my analysis of Query 14 in that aggressively white-racist-framed chapter of his book here).
Well into the 21st century few Americans, especially few white Americans, know this bloody founding history, and remarkably few seem willing to learn it and examine its implications for our contemporary and still systemically racist society. Why is the historical truth on systemic racism so hard for most whites to accept and publicly discuss in this society?
Note: Paul Finkelman has a very good book, Slavery and the Founders, that I can recommend to you if you want to know more of the hard truths of our founding, slaveholding era and about the slavery-protecting US Constitution crafted by famous founders.
Political scientist Corey Robin has a very thorough review and analysis of issues in and around the new Spielberg movie, Lincoln. It focuses on the political machinations in regard to the thirteenth amendment, which officially ended slavery — which was a or the major foundation of the US economic and political system for well over half this country’s history. I have not yet seen the movie, but according to Robin and others, it is another “white savior” movie:
What is so odd about this film—and something I would not have anticipated from Masur’s op-ed—is that it really is trying to show that abolition is the democratic project of the 19th century. Democratic in its objective (making slaves free and ultimately equal) and democratic in its execution, involving a great many men beyond Lincoln himself, and a great many lowly men at that. But it is a white man’s democracy. In the film, in fact, Lincoln tells his colleagues: “The fate of human dignity is in our hands.” Our hands. Not theirs.
The inclusion of so many white players makes the exclusion of black players all the more inexplicable—and inexcusable. It’s just a weird throwback to the pre-Civil Rights era except that emancipation is now depicted as a good thing—just so long as it is white people who are doing the emancipating.
I sometimes ask my students and colleagues, “who freed the slaves?” Most people say the Emancipation proclamation or Lincoln.
Actually those “black players,” the 210,000 black Union soldiers and sailors and the 300,000 black Union support troops played the biggest role in many ways, yet get almost no attention in mainstream accounts of a typically white-centered Civil War. Not to mention the great “strike” of black labor against the treasonous Confederate slaveholders, the black laborers who fled slavery to the North or who sabotaged the plantation economy during the war.
Even Lincoln belatedly admitted the Union forces would have had trouble winning indeed without the black volunteers for the Union cause. That is, in a very real sense, “the former slaves freed the slaves.”
Please add your thoughts on this “blockbuster” movie, especially if you have seen it.