I am Not Trayvon Martin

After Trayvon Martin was killed, in February of 2012, protestors gathered across the nation asking for justice for Trayvon Martin. The protestors rallied around the slogan “I am Trayvon Martin,” with people wearing hoodies and carrying bags of skittles. The rallying cry called attention to the fact that young black men are overly-surveilled and viewed with suspicion, considered criminal on sight, and thus frequently in the position of being the target of police or vigilante violence. The “I am Trayvon Martin” protests called attention to the terrifying reality that all of us with black sons could be in the position of Martin’s parents: awaiting a decision concerning the culpability of a man who shot and killed our babies because he assumed he was a criminal—but knowing that regardless of that decision, his life was over. In July of 2013, while the jury was deliberating, I saw a meme posted on facebook that flipped the frame of the “I am Trayvon Martin” slogan. It was a picture of a middle aged white man in a black hoodie, and the caption read:

I am not Trayvon Martin. When I was 14 I was caught in the middle of the night by a neighborhood watch setting fire to a stack of newspapers. Trayvon Martin was walking home with a bag of skittles. I was taken home to my parents. Trayvon was shot and killed.

The message resonated with me, because although there are many young black boys who I love, and often fear for, I am not Trayvon Martin: as a white woman, I have a lifetime of experiences that illustrate what a difference race makes.
Just to share one particularly relevant example, one night when I was 17 years old I was spending the night with a friend, another 17 year old white woman. She lived in a white middle to upper-middle class neighborhood. That night, after her parents went to bed, she and I snuck out of her house on a mission to creep through the neighborhood and find ourselves some fun, and probably some trouble. We were up to no good. At about two o’clock in the morning, after running the streets for hours, we were walking down a street which was lined with boutique shops and small businesses. One of the businesses on that street was a local investment company, The Johnson Company. My friend and I had a mutual friend—a boy who we were excited to impress—named Calvin Johnson, and in our mischievous mood we decided that we should steal the company’s sign so we could give it to Calvin–the was made of wood, it was about two feet long by four feet wide, and “The Johnson Company” was printed across it in huge red letters.

After prying the sign loose from the hooks that held it, we began the walk back to my friend’s house – with me carrying a two foot by four foot sign in my arms. As we were walking we were approached by a police car, which stopped beside us. At that moment, I knew for certain that we were going to jail. Of course we were. I was holding a huge sign that said “The Johnson Company,” and we were less than two blocks away from said company. My only hope was to attempt to concoct some story, some lie that explained my having the sign for a reason other than sheer criminal mischief, and my brain was working furiously as the officer driving rolled down his window. But I was surprised. Stopping me in my tracks, the officer simply asked “where are you young ladies headed?” My friend said “we’re on our way home right now.” I said nothing. I concentrated on keeping the surprise (and even indignation) off my face. The officer said, “where do you live?” She told him her address, which was approximately four blocks away, and, astounding me further, the police officer said, “well hurry and get home, and be careful, its late for you girls to be out.” Then he rolled up his window and drove away.

I was not Trayvon Martin that night. I was a young white woman, walking through a white upper-middle class neighborhood at 2 a.m., so even though I was holding a stolen sign, my presence was entirely unproblematic, except to the extent that I might be in danger. The officer assumed that we were not engaged in wrongdoing – even though we were, in fact engaged in wrongdoing. He had clearly seen the sign I was carrying, since it was more than half as tall as I was, but he also clearly assumed I had that sign for a legitimate reason. So on that night, a police officer showed us, two young white women, human kindness and empathy. He advised us to hurry home, letting us know that it was too late for us to be out, he was worried about our safety, not for the threat we may pose to others or the neighborhood.

On that night my life could have been changed forever. The sign we stole may have been worth enough money to make me eligible for a charge of felony theft. I may have gone to jail or prison instead of college; I may never have gotten the opportunity for an undergraduate education, much less graduate school. I certainly would have had trouble becoming a lawyer since the American Bar Association engages in strict background checks and resists admitting people with felony convictions to the bar. None of that happened because my whiteness never produced a moment of suspicion in that police officer; because I am not Trayvon Martin. I did not lose any aspect of my life as a result of my desire to go creeping that night; Trayvon Martin lost his entire life because he walked to the convenience store in a white gated neighborhood.

Throughout my youth I found that I was often viewed by that police officer as someone to take care of, to show concern for. By contrst, African Americans, especially African American men are viewed as potential criminals. African American men, of all ages, from young teens to elderly gentlemen, from every background, from high school students, to college professors to judges, experience the humiliation of being systematically surveilled and considered suspect—so much so that even a self-appointed vigilante neighborhood watch person, with no legitimate authority, feels entitled to follow a young black man who is merely walking home from the store. But more than that, it is this air of suspicion that leads people to the conclusion that it was reasonable for George Zimmerman to follow Trayvon Martin. The tacit, never fully considered or admitted, assumption that an African American young man in a hooded sweatshirt (as opposed to a white young woman holding a stolen sign) is a potential criminal. And through this nearly axiomatic presumption of black male criminality people can come to the outrageous conclusion that Zimmerman chasing after Martin and confronting him with a gun could lead to a scenario in which Trayvon Martin was viewed as an aggressor.

Several days ago a jury acquitted George Zimmerman (failed, even, to find him guilty of manslaughter, which would have only required recklessness in the shooting). The legal basis for the acquittal was the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to defend themselves with force from an attack without having to attempt to retreat or escape the situation. Evidently the jury decided that after Zimmerman chased Martin down, Martin’s defensive physical response meant that Zimmerman was justified in shooting and killing Trayvon Martin. Metrotrends analysts John Roman and Mithcell Downy have discovered that in the 29 states that have Stand Your Ground laws, shootings are more likely to be legally considered justified. More insidiously, Roman and Downy found that the shooting scenarios that have the highest likelihood of a ruling of justifiable homicide in Stand Your Ground states result when white civilians shoot black civilians. This racial disparity is not surprising to social scientists who study race, the pattern of racial disparity exists in every segment of the criminal justice system in the United States. Moreover, legal scholar Michael Tonry, in his 2011 book Punishing Race, notes that research indicates that when white people are made aware of the racial disparities that affect African Americans in the criminal justice system, their support for punitive criminal justice policies actually increases. (See pp. 91-97).

At this moment the Justice Department is in the process of considering charges against George Zimmerman for civil rights violations (civil rights violations!), and the Stand Your Ground law will not save Zimmerman from a civil suit. But whatever the outcome of that case, Trayvon Martin’s killing must become the motivation a critical systematic interrogation of the criminalization of African Americans in all its insidious forms. We must acknowledge that we are living in a police state in which the lives of young African Americans (especially boys and men) are threatened by extreme surveillance and suspicion, police and civilian harassment, mass incarceration, and even execution. The time has come to stop casually using the words democracy and freedom, and start interrogating what those words should substantively mean.

Dr. Wendy Leo Moore is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Texas A&M University. She is a sociologist and a lawyer and is the author of the award-winning book Reproducing Racism, White Space, Elite Law Schools, and Racial Inequality.

The Race of Birth: Systemic Racism Again?

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.

The last explains many online birth certificate discussions between confused mothers of mixed race babies:

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.

Note:
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.

The Secrets within the Ivy: The Continuation of White Supremacy

Upon recently reading the New York Times op-ed piece by Ross Douthat, The Secrets of Princeton, I am reminded of Dr. Joe Feagin’s words:

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.

Reclaiming Women’s Stories of the Segregated South

Before The Help was well known three of us, David W. Jackson III, Charletta Sudduth, and I, were gathering the real stories of women who worked for white families in the segregated South. Now our book, The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South is out from LSU Press.

Based on interviews with more than 50 people with intimate knowledge of what it was like to live in the Jim Crow South, the storytellers are black women of the Great Migration to Iowa from Mississippi and other southern states as well as southern white women who grew up in homes that employed domestics. In the interests of accuracy and completeness, the interviews were conducted by members of the same race as the narrators.


(Jane Talmadge Burdon and Elizabeth Griffin)

The first section of the book provides a historical and cultural context for what follows in the next two sections, discussing concepts such as paternalism and maternalism which made the “southern way of life” a distinct and especially insidious form of racism unique to its time and place.

The phenomenon of “maid/mistress” intimacy in a society built on norms of segregation was confusing to outside observers and rarely captured in southern films about the era. The bonding that sometimes ensued between white and black women was more puzzling still. Domestic workers were often placed in an emotional bind, loved on the one hand and rejected through custom on the other. To try to make sense of what one of the white interviewers called “the dark past” we authors drew on literary documents and sociological studies written at the time. To quote a passage from the book on the unique status of the black domestic workers:

“Aligning themselves with whites of the professional class, black women often earned the respect of members of the white community and formed alliances that could render them and their families a certain degree of protection. Black domestic workers moved freely between the white and black communities. Dressed in a maid’s uniform, they had a mobility denied to others of their race. Domestic workers often fell into the role of go-betweens, as interpreters of black life to white people and of white life to black people.” (p.33)

Part II of The Maid Narratives takes the reader into the first-hand storytelling by the African American women who are now a part of the Great Migration. Because of their long absence from the region of their upbringing, their memories are frozen in time, and the past becomes the present in their telling. Thus we hear from Elra Johnson at age 100 describe how she defied the old norms of segregation and walked right through the front door of a local building and faced off the Ku Klux Klan for her civil rights activities. “They didn’t want no Negroes to have no freedom, “ she explained. And we hear from Ruthie O’Neal who described a typical example of how the servants were instructed to abide by the norms of segregation: “She’s 12 years old,” the lady of the house would say, “call her Miss Nancy.”
The paradoxes of historic southern etiquette are striking and emerge in such statements as “I would not only clean the bathroom but I’d take a bath in the bathtub” as recalled by Hazel Rankins. Another example is offered by Vinella Byrd who said, “The man didn’t want me to wash my hands in the wash pan.” The bathroom was off limits as well. So she was forced to cook the family dinner without being able to wash up.

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Taken as a whole, the resilience of these women shines through their stories. In the words of Pearline Jones who worked for a period in the home of William Faulkner and other prominent people in Oxford, Mississippi, “The way I got through all this was I made poems; I wrote poetry out of them jobs. I am old now, but I have some poems at the house.”

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“Part III: The White Family Narratives” gives the perspective of those who grew up in homes that employed domestic workers and were largely raised by these women. Many are filled with regret that they never showed their gratitude to these women who were often like second mothers to them and sometimes even more. Now most of these women who cared for them are dead. One white narrator, now age 90, shares her poem entitled, “Were Our Sins So Scarlet?” In a poem that describes servants going under the house “while white folks flushed” she concludes that they were.

~ Guest blogger, Katherine van Wormer is Professor of Social Work at the University of Northern Iowa

Mocking Mexican Americans: Young White Women

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.

Transcript for Fisher v. University of Texas

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the Fisher v. University of Texas case that seeks to overturn the consideration of race in college admissions.  Joe had an excellent post about this case a few days ago, you can read it here.

 

(Abigail Fisher on the steps of the Supreme Court, from here.)

Once the court issues a ruling, we’ll be back with more analysis.  Until then, you can read the transcript for yourself, it’s available for download here (pdf). And, if you’d prefer to have someone else read it for you, and give you updates in a series of cogent 140-character updates, you can read through Jessica Luther’s Twitter timeline (@scATX) here.

 

Little Known Executive Order on Diversity & Inclusion: Obama’s Pragmatic Progressivism

Executive Order 13583 issued by President Obama in 2011 is perhaps one of the least-discussed and little known executive orders, despite its significant contribution to diversity and inclusion in the federal government. Lyndon Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 issued in 1965 was undoubtedly the watershed presidential Executive Order in the field of Affirmative Action for federal contractors. Now, nearly a half century later, President Obama’s Executive Order 13583 breaks new ground by setting the stage for progress in the field of diversity and inclusion in governmental agencies.

This forward-looking Executive Order directs executive departments and agencies of the federal government “to develop and implement a more comprehensive, integrated, and strategic focus on diversity and inclusion as a key component of their human resource strategies.” The alliance of HR strategies with diversity and inclusion is specifically designed to create “high-performing organizations for the 21st century” — workplaces that attract, develop, and retain diverse and talented employees.

The government-wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan issued following the Executive Order in 2011 articulates the business imperative for inclusion and has three specific goals:

1. Workforce Diversity. Recruit from a diverse, qualified group of potential applicants to secure a high-performing workforce drawn from all segments of American society.
2. Workplace Inclusion. Cultivate a culture that encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness to enable individuals to contribute to their full potential and further retention.
3. Sustainability. Develop structures and strategies to equip leaders with the ability to manage diversity, be accountable, measure results, refine approaches on the basis of such data, and institutionalize a culture of inclusion.

And the Executive Order called for federal agencies to develop a Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan within a 120-day time-frame that addresses recruiting, hiring, training, developing, promoting, and retaining a diverse workforce. Veronica Villalobos, the Office of Personnel Management’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, is responsible for designing and developing strategies to promote a diverse federal workforce. As a model for organizations seeking to implement more diverse workplace practices, the governmental plan articulates clear strategies, actions, and accountability structures that promote the attainment of inclusion.

Gabrielle Douglas: Accenting Black Women’s Talent, Agency, Femininity

Anna Holmes has an excellent post on the great achievement of Gabrielle Douglas, the first African American to win the women’s all-around gymnastics gold medal in the Olympics. (And to win the two particular gold medals she got in this one Olympics.) What an achievement for any 16-year-old, but especially for one who has faced the barriers she has faced.

Holmes demonstrates the extraordinarily naïveté and role in systemic gendered racism of key white commentators, in this case the famous Bob Costas. Costas interviewed Douglas and asserted this:

“You know, it’s a happy measure of how far we’ve come that it doesn’t seem all that remarkable, but still it’s noteworthy, Gabby Douglas is, as it happens, the first African-American to win the women’s all-around in gymnastics. The barriers have long since been down, but sometimes there can be an imaginary barrier, based on how one might see oneself.”

As you might expect, this type of white racial framing, in its colorblind Pollyanna-ism, was Holmes’s
main target:

In a political and cultural environment in which the patriotism—the very Americanness—of people of color (including the current president…) is often called into question, Costas’s scripted deep thought .. . was at worst dishonest . . .. What leveled barriers … was Mr. Costas referring to? Who, excepting the most Pollyanna-ish or cloistered … would believe the assertion that Gabby Douglas’ challenges were primarily psychic, a statement that can be contradicted by … the undeniable whiteness of being that is high-level American gymnastics?

Other writers echoed this same white racial framing, reverberating Costas’s colorblindism.

Holmes then picks up on the Costas point that our view of ourselves does makes a difference. But, she adds, structural situations often create that problem for people of color:

Douglas’ triumph seems extremely remarkable, both because of the commonality of her situation—the big dreams, the economic hardships, the one-parent household—and its unusualness: A minority in a historically “white” sport. . . . a 2007 diversity study commissioned by USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport in the U.S., said that just 6.61% of the participants in American gymnastics programs were black.

Numerous members of USA Gymnastics, the mostly white coaches and other leaders in the field, often had a negative reaction to this honest report. Many whites there and elsewhere have tended, as they often do, to blame everything but white agents and white decisionmakers for this systemic-racism condition.

Holmes concludes by accenting how powerful the Douglas achievement was, especially for girls and young women around the globe, most of whom are girls and women of color. It will be interesting to see how the mainstream media treat Douglas, and the general white (and other) public too, when this great gymnast and her fine team return to the United States. Holmes concludes with this fine sharp point:

The 16-year-old’s triumph—not to mention her poise, her maturity, her focus, her elegance—will help recalibrate what young females of color believe is within their reach, while also influencing Western ideas and concepts of black womanhood, strength, agency and femininity—which has been historically objectified, sexualized and, it should be noted, feared.

It is way past time for these negative images of black women in the common white racial frame to be attacked for the mythological and racist framing they have always been–and indeed attacked constantly in the mainstream media until they are eliminated in the heads of way too many white (and some other) Americans.

Mia Love and The Triad of Oppression–Part 2:



In the zany world of Utah politics where Republicans naturally remain right of center, but Democrats venture toward the middle, Mia Love’s recent rise to national prominence came about after defeating former state legislator Carl Wimmer for the right to run against the well-funded Democrat incumbent, Jim Matheson, thus positioning herself as the first Afro-Haitian American Mormon GOP House candidate. If she wins, Mia could make history as the first black female politician ever elected to the House of Representatives from the state of Utah, an amazing feat when considering the odds of her of actually winning in a predominately white, conservative, Mormon state.

If Mia Love is victorious in her bid for the House seat, it will do wonders for the image of the state of Utah, and especially the LDS Church whose recent spate of high profile race-based debacles captured national attention. There have been insensitive racial statements made from former church authorities in past time (see pdf here). However, BYU religion professor Randy Bott’s recent remarks of justifiable racism found within the LDS cannon triggered one the strongest public statements against racism to date uttered by LDS Church headquarters, but not before the church’s own racial beliefs were once again questioned.

Additionally, comedian David Ackerman’s interviews with predominately white students while dressed in “blackface” on the campus of BYU in February 2012 went viral on YouTube, as it highlighted the ignorance of race awareness in Utah (by both Ackerman and the students alike). Highly publicized in the national media, it proved embarrassing, yet again, for the flagship school of the LDS Church. Against this backdrop, emerged Mia Love.

How does a black female who is a conservative and a Latter-day Saint manage to negotiate so many foreboding white spaces and, yet, publicly appear oblivious to the racial tensions found within each space? This is a complicated question that, in all fairness, only Mia can truly answer for herself; however, research has been beneficial at elucidating the complexities of racial identity development as we observe groups. We begin by understanding what the eminent scholar W.E.B. Du Bois meant when he coined the phrase “double consciousness” over one hundred years ago to explain the sociological conditions and democratic contradictions of living with everyday racism(s) that black Americans endure. That black and white folk live in two existentially dissimilar worlds with opposing codes of power and rules of conduct, Du Bois argued those rules and codes preferentially benefited whites at the expense of African Americans. The respective codes of power form a fairly predictable and sanitized environment where the dominant ideology of whiteness is proffered and diversity of bodies and experiences is generally discouraged, particularly in predominately white-controlled organizations. Though the language of these organizations will profess diversity, their actions insinuate otherwise, chiefly when viewing the structure of these institutions.

In order for someone like Mia Love or myself, for that matter, to gain some rewards and advantages in white America, we along with scores of other typically middle-class and well-educated people of color have to be proficient in these preferred racial codes of power which are often hidden from plain sight, but have enormous consequences for social mobility. For example, religious persuasion is highly valued along with particular hairstyles, musical tastes, and clothing. Additionally, white sounding names (as compared to black sounding names), educational status, and English language proficiency are but a few codes of power found in U.S. society, particularly with respect to hiring. For African Americans, the need and ability to tread between two separate and opposing codes is identified as “code switching.” Though this is often unconscious, it affords black Americans the ability to traverse white norms and values in order to “succeed” in the illusion of the American Dream, while still maintaining a connection with and understanding of the black community and its struggles as they move up the social ladder and try to preserve their status as middle class. The constant shifting of context that African Americans must tolerate, however, carries the burden of disease. The consequences for their health and well-being take the form of higher cortisol levels, which produces higher rate of chronic ailments that lead to increased morbidity and mortality.

To many African Americans and other individuals interested in politics who are following Mia Love’s Utah candidacy, she is a paradox. As a black, female Mormon, her conservative ideals are deemed peculiar as she runs for office in the Republican Party while balancing a triad of oppressive social constructs that are leveled against her. Not only have Blacks historically and continually had to battle for their right to coexist as equals in U.S. society, but women have similarly pushed against a glass ceiling. Even today, women still struggle for equal pay, equal rights and equal protection under the law in the workplace as well as in the armed forces.

Mia represents one of the most racially discriminated groups in the country as a black female. The same can be said for her Mormon identity as the LDS faithful endured bitter hatred and state-sanctioned terrorism in Missouri and Illinois in the 1800s. Mormonism remains grossly misunderstood and often unfairly judged with respects to their religious views while mainline evangelical traditions continue to wield Christian privilege at the expense of ‘fringe” religions like Mormonism. (Many republican supporters outside of Utah politely ignore Mia’s membership in the LDS Church, lionizing her as a fresh face in the party while secretly lambasting her for belonging to a “religious cult.”) Yet, Love’s political convictions show a strong support for values that do not necessarily represent her interests as a member in any of these oppressed groups.

In fact, Mia along with other conservative Blacks such as Allen West, Michael Steele, Amy Holmes, Alan Keyes, and Herman Cain ascribe to a party that rejects any notion of group inequality within its basic tenets of individualism. What many conservatives fail to recognize is that individuals are connected to larger groups, and those groups display patterns and behaviors that assess their levels well being in relation to society. When a group lags as a whole in the American scheme of profitability, it is because they typically display conduct in variance to the all around code that the white, male norm subscribes to. For example, Blacks aren’t doing well with respects to education, economics, and health outcomes while women still lag behind in salary and positions of power. These actualities of Mia’s reality seem to be in concert with her values that are based in a white male Christian context.

But the biggest quandary with respect to Mia lies with her inability to grasp Du Bois’ double consciousness. Whether this is due to her Mormon faith and the apparent Stockholm syndrome of black Mormons (whose membership in the LDS church differs widely from those of The Black Church which helped to sustain the African American community through some of the most difficult and turbulent times in American history rather than perpetuate racist folklore to justify black marginality) or due to her racial consciousness, by lacking the ability or refusing to code switch with the black community, Mia and others like her are seemingly out of touch with the political realities of African Americans and what remains at stake for them. It would be a mistake to assume that all black people are cut from the same cloth and share the same political inclinations. The Pew institute estimates some 3 million self-identified Black Americans are registered republicans; however, there has yet to be a ground swell of support for the right-wing ideology amongst the vast majority of African American voters. Thus, for most African Americans, it appears absolutely preposterous that someone black, Mormon, and female could possibly support the GOP so strongly given its history of anti-black, anti-feminist, and anti-Mormon sentiment. But this isn’t so preposterous when we recognize that American politics is a broken system in the business of servicing big corporations wherein Americans are duped into voting their values even when they contradict their political interests and success as a social group. African Americans are the only racial group that votes in blocks and, I would argue, the only group to vote their interests. But Mia Love does not align herself with African American interests, which is why a figure like her is so fascinating.

As potentially the first Mormon, black female from the state of Utah in the House, she has captured national attention. And her recent ascendency onto the political scene could not have come at a more convenient time when there has been a surge of interest in Mormonism due to definitive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. With the race beliefs and ideology that Mormons have been subjected to defending, Mia Love, as a seemingly bright and well-spoken GOP candidate, will prove to be a counter-answer to those raised eyebrows.

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Racist Science: An Evolutionary Psychologist on Black Women

In a recent post in Psychology Today, Satoshi Kanazawa wrote an incendiary post titled “Why are African American Women Less Physically Attractive than Other Woman.”

In Kanazawa’s post he purports that black women are categorically and scientifically less attractive than men and women of other racial groups, including black men. His “findings” are based on Ad Health (a longitudinal study funded by the US to analyze “adolescent health outcomes”) interviewers’ “objective” ranking of the attractiveness (on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1=very unattractive and 5 =very attractive) of white, black, Asian, and Native American Ad health participants.

Kanazawa does not specify the race and background of the Ad Health interviewers.

Kanazawa takes as fact the rankings of the Add Health interviewers and based on their opinions he purports that indeed black women are the most unattractive group of individuals regardless of sex and race. Kanazawa concludes his argument stating:

The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently… In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive. The race differences in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races, while (net of intelligence) black men are more physically attractive than men of other races.

Kanazawa’s argument is of course baseless and there is no scientific evidence to support his notion that black women have more testosterone than other races of women. The perception of Kanazawa and the Ad Health interviewers is a direct reflection of the historical social construction of black women (and whites) by elite white men, such as Thomas Jefferson and Georges Cuvier. This is a society historically constructed by elite white men, whereby their notion of beauty is treated as the irrevocable truth. A socially created “truth,” that has not only been accepted by whites, but also by some people of color. As far back as the 15th and 16th centuries, European travelers and scientists have defined black women as innately inferior to white women in beauty, sexuality, and femininity. These early European travelers often defined black women as masculine and thus fit for the hard life of slavery.

My recent research examining 134 contemporary white men’s perspectives of black women reveals the deep seated racist and sexist frame that many white men operate from as it relates to black women. This is a frame that unfortunately has been adopted by some people of color. Overwhelmingly the white male respondents in the study, rooted in the historical social construction of black women, found black women only attractive if they met a white normative standard. Those black women considered physically unattractive were those with traits defined as “black,” such as, coarse” or “nappy” hair; “black” facial features, “big lips” and “wide noses”; dark skin; and “larger” and “disproportionate” body shapes (using the language of the participants).

For example, one respondent in his 20s stated the following about black women and the standard of beauty:

There are some black women who are attractive. And they aren’t full black. The only black women I find attractive are a mix of black and [E]uropean, black and [L]atino, or black and [A]sian. They end up with the tan complexion, and hair that doesn’t look frizzled or like a brillo pad.

Similarly, another respondent in his 50s stated the following about black women and attractiveness:

I think black women’s features are too extreme; they are too dark, and they usually are much too large for my tastes. The black women I have know[n] are very aggressive and have terrible attitudes…The only black women I have found even marginally attractive are smaller, lighter-skinned black women with nice rear ends. ala Beyonce.

Another respondent, an older working-class male, articulated one of the most racialized and gendered social constructions of black women, when he stated:

“I tend to read African features as somewhat masculine. The ‘blacker’ the person, the less femininity I tend to see.”

Whereas the other respondents alluded to black or too-black features as a negative “extreme” that indicates unattractiveness, this respondent articulated that perceived unattractiveness as a sign of masculinity. His assertion that black features on black women are masculine is rooted in the deeply racialized and gendered construction of the black female body, which includes the firm denial of femininity, beauty, and womanhood.

Hence, it is no surprise that people like Kanazawa hold such negative perceptions of black women’s beauty as irrevocable fact. Kanazawa and the Ad health interviewers have adopted a deep seated frame of reference where whiteness and white defined notions of beauty are so deeply entrenched that they are not recognized as the racist and sexist constructions that they are. For them and a large proportion of this global world it is simply the unquestioned norm.