Swedish Racism: False Images of Democracy (Part 2)

I wrote in my first essay how Sweden has tried to hide the structural and institutional racism behind its famous image of solidarity and equality. Although the Swedish welfare state has never been free from racism, indeed quite the contrary, there have been individuals in the leadership of Sweden’s Social Democratic Party, such as Olof Palme, who tried to combat racism both nationally and internationally. I wrote that twenty years after the assassination of Olof Palme, it became crystal clear to me that members of the democracy that I once believed in would invest far more energy and resources into denying harsh inequities than becoming the democracy that Palme stood and died for. Swedish political and academic institutions, which bear the responsibility for the reproduction of racism in the country, “shoot the messenger”, as Swedes say. In other words, instead of enacting policies and practices that combat racism, there has been a systematic response to discredit me and numerous others who took action against Swedish racism.

Political mobilization against and demonizing of Kamali

Just a few months before the parliamentary election of 2006, I was contacted by one of my friends from the Christian Democratic Party who informed me about a hidden political mobilization against me. The goal of this mobilization was to demonize me and invalidate the governmental investigation of racism that I was leading. An email was circulated among the four right-wing political parties called “the Alliance” concerning “how to confront Kamali’s investigation” before the election. After internal discussions, they agreed on a strategy that consisted of (1) demonizing and disqualifying me by questioning my academic merits, (2) mentioning my immigrant/Iranian/Muslim background in the editorials of unaccountable right-wing and conservative newspapers, and, (3) publishing a document designed to question the scientific grounds of my recommendations for changing institutional and structural racism as well as structural discrimination in Sweden. A right-wing think-tank named Timbro was one of the organizations that implemented this strategy. Timbro, which defines itself as a think-tank for the market economy, paid Henrik Borg, who was described as “A 25-years-old lawyer and Eastern European specialist from Uppsala.” Borg published a report called “Your questions provide you the desired answers: Masoud Kamali, Mona Sahlin and politicization of Swedish governmental investigations,” within a framework they called “Mission Sweden 2006.”

The ensuing debates in the editorials of right-wing and conservative journals sought to redirect the discourse and the public focus from institutional and structural racism as obstacles for group integration (a change and emphasis created by my investigation) to earlier deliberations, which presented immigrants and their cultures as the major problem of integration. Attacks upon the investigation coupled with ad-hominem attacks upon me occurred on a daily basis. Such attacks intensified the closer to the election of 2006 we came. The alliance of political parties appointed Nyamko Sabuni, who is a woman with immigrant, African, and Muslim origins, as the candidate for Minister of Integration. Sabuni claimed that the problem of immigrant integration had nothing to do with racism and discrimination, but with immigrants’ unwillingness to adapt themselves to Swedish values.

Using individuals with an immigrant background in general and with Muslim background in particular, is an established strategy for xenophobic and racist governments in order to protect themselves from being accused of racism and legitimize their anti-Muslim and xenophobic policies. I conducted several national and international research projects on this common strategy and published the results among other publications in my book Racial Discrimination: Institutional Patterns and Politics. Sabuni was not only backed by openly racist parties (e.g., Sweden Democrats) and groups, but also by xenophobic groups and individuals within mainstream political parties. Increasing racism in Sweden has recently encouraged her to make a comeback in Swedish whitewashed politics as a nominee for the leadership of the Liberal Party. Even more, Sabuni has criticized her party for not cooperating with a racist party in Sweden.

I was shocked by mainstream parties’ rapid move to the right and their successive adjustment to “the spirit of the time,” namely increasing racism, xenophobia and populism in a country with a long history of “adjustment” to powerful political trends during its modern history. The establishment of the “State institute for Racial Biology” in early twentieth century, close cooperation and relationship with Nazi Germany from 1939 to the mid-40s, and maintaining good relations with both great powers of the Cold War are just a few illustrations of historical “adjustments”.

Social Democratic Party and increasing racism

When the election of 2006 approached and my team of governmental investigators and I were about to present the investigation’s final report on racism, I felt the hardening of the political climate. I understood that the cold racist winds sent shivers through politicians, including leading Social Democrats. Politicians started talking to me about the importance and necessity of “real politics” and about the difficulties and “burden” of being a politician in “such a difficult political period.” One illustration of this was when the Minister of Integration, Jens Orback, in a TV interview criticized my investigation for not providing “evidence” for the existence of institutional and structural discrimination in the country. The day after the interview I met him and criticized him for “lying.” I did so because in previous discussions with me he had indicated that the investigation was very important and had given the government “necessary instruments for changing the discriminatory systems in Sweden.” He said: “This is real politics Masoud, we are depending on people’s votes and not on researchers’ truths.” I told him about my belief in and imagination about the “Palme legacy” in Social Democratic Party. He answered: “It was another time, my friend, you should realize that.” On my way home I thought if Palme was still alive, what would he say about such political lies during a time of increasing injustices and racism that harm hundreds of thousands of people in such a small country.

Even the Social Democratic Party’s leadership and ideologues understood the usefulness of individuals with immigrant backgrounds, who would legitimate the Party’s growing xenophobic and restrictive immigration policies. One such person used by politicians was Nalin Pekgul, a woman with Kurdish background, who frequently participated in the public debate and warned of the “growing Islamism” in marginalized areas. She and her fellow party members, who have had political power in Sweden for almost 80 years, ignored their own role in creating disenfranchised areas and marginalization for many people in the country. Again, the responsibility for the marginalization and segregation of people with immigrant backgrounds was blamed on marginalized persons themselves as well as their religion and culture. A few politicians with immigrant backgrounds contacted me and felt very uncomfortable with the increasing racism within the party.

Whitewashing the political power

Already during the early days of my appointment as the lead governmental investigator, the Minister of Integration, Mona Sahlin, told me that she had received many letters and emails accusing her of allowing Muslims to influence the politics of the country. They saw me as a representative of a world conspiracy of Muslims calling for the Islamization of Sweden. Despite the critical storm against me, the Minister of Integration, Mona Sahlin, gave her sincere support to me and the investigation. She also openly declared that as “one of the best qualified researchers in the country,” my criticism was correct regarding the government’s integration policy and the government’s ignorance of discrimination and racism. Sahlin also added that she had changed her understanding of the question of integration and believed that racism and discrimination hinders the integration of minorities.

Unfortunately, quickly after her declarations and open support of me and the investigation, Sahlin was replaced by a new Minister of Integration, Jens Orback, a politician with no experience and knowledge regarding integration and racism. I asked several people with insider knowledge about the reasons why Sahlin was replaced by Orback. The reason I heard was that the Prime Minister, Göran Persson, believed that the Social Democratic Party’s immigrant integration policy should not significantly differ from the right-wing Alliance parties, because the Social Democratic Party could lose the election. This was of course due to adaptation of “Third Way” politics developed in the United Kingdom (UK) in cooperation with social scientists such as Anthony Giddens and politicians such as the Prime Minister of the UK Tony Blair and the US president Bill Clinton. The Third Way sociologist, Anthony Giddens, provided a “scientific ground” for social democratic parties’ transformation to right in many western countries including Sweden. He claimed that “The Third Way can beat far right by modernizing, liberalizing and being tough on immigration.” Social Democrats lost the election of 2006 and a new right-wing government called the Alliance government seized state power. The new government appointed Nyamko Sabuni as the Minister of Integration. Given that she was one of Sweden’s most anti-immigrant and xenophobic political figures, Sabuni did not miss any opportunity to attack my investigation and put “the blame” of increasing racial segregation on immigrants. Sabuni claimed that she would solve the problem of integration during her term as minister. Mainstream dailies presented the new integration policy as the way of counteracting and correcting “the Social Democratic Kamali investigation, and Mona Sahlin’s understanding of integration.

Many right wing and conservative dailies supported Sabuni and claimed that the new government is going to solve the problem of integration in near future.

Symbolic violence, torture and whites’ interpretive prerogative

Denial of racism has deep roots in Sweden. A common tactic in denying the existence of racism in the country is to say “it has nothing to do with racism,” but with “non-nuanced” researchers, such as Kamali, who do not understand the “Swedish mentality,” Sweden’s “tradition of equality,” “solidary history,” and “values.” With this tactic and discourse, it is uninformed Swedes who are given interpretive prerogative over antiracist researchers, politicians, journalists and activists. I was subjected to the same demonization as some other antiracist politicians and journalist of color, such as Juan Fonseca and Alexandra Pascalidou. Fonseca as one of the first politicians of color in Sweden to publicly attack racism and discrimination against people of color in Sweden was stamped as “terrorist” in late 1990s. The demonization of Fonseca has led to his exclusion from Swedish parliament and the Social Democratic Party. He declared that “Racists in the party will stop me.” He left the Social Democrats and joined the Christian Democratic Party. However, after four years, he was forced to leave the new party and declared that there was no room for antiracist politics in that party. Many journals attacked him for being “anti-Swede” and “terrorist”.

The famous antiracist journalist of color, Alexandra Pascalidou, has also been under attack for many decades. She has been openly attacked and even threatened to death. She lost her leading position at the Swedish TV-program Mosaik because she introduced “too much antiracism” in the program. The cases of Fonseca, Pascalidou and me are just three examples of many people do not accept “their place in society” provided by white nationalists and the white power structure in Sweden. Such racist actions against people of color who are fighting against racism are done mainly by soft means of violence (“symbolic violence”) in order to eliminate any “threat” to the reproduction of the white structures of domination. This is discussed more in my book War, Violence and Social Justice.

In an interview with the daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, I said that “the hatred and physical and symbolic violence against me in Sweden, are worse than the torture I was subjected to as a political prisoner in Iran.” This evoked further hate and attacks against me and the former Minister of Integration in the Social Democratic government, Jan O. Karlsson, wrote an article in Sweden’s major tabloid, Expressen, titled “Stupid Kamali,” and said that “Masoud Kamali reduces, trivializes the suffering of all the people who have languished in the world’s torture chambers.”

Karlsson, who as the Minister of Integration showed his racist attitudes when he was forced to report about how he improved the integration of immigrants by saying that “We can’t walk around [governmental agencies] asking what have we done for the negroes today.” He presents himself here as the champion of those immigrants who have been subjected to torture. He did not even follow the politically correct Swedish tradition of being racist and later apologizing for his racist utterance about “negroes,” and said that “it was just a warning.”

I could provide names of many people who share my experiences and who will provide many examples of the symbolic (and in some cases physical) violence that they are subjected to on a daily basis as a member of minority groups. Did Karlsson ever ask those who he called “negroes” how they felt about their situation? Did Karlsson ever ask a child with an immigrant background who attends Swedish kindergartens and schools about their feelings of being othered and subjected to racist insults? Did Karlsson ever ask people with immigrant backgrounds about the daily symbolic violence they are subjected to in their workplaces, on buses, in their contacts with authoritie, and even when they are looking at Swedish TV? Did Karlsson ever ask women with headscarves about the public insults they are subjected to? Did Karlsson ever listen to young individuals who are depressed, silenced, and exhausted because of the everyday and systemic racism they are subjected to?

As Joe Feagin (2006) analyzes in detail, systemic racism creates much everyday racial oppression, most of which is fundamentally materialistic. It also regularly involves an aggressively hierarchical ordering of racial groups legitimated and rationalized by a dominant “white racial frame” affecting individuals, groups and societal institutions over a very long period during so-called “modern times” in Europe and North America.

Karlsson’s attack on me should be seen in light of the existence of a dominant “white racial frame,” which according to Feagin and O’Brien (2003) positions powerful white agents, especially elite white men, explicitly at the forefront of the discussion (and perpetuation) of racial oppression. Karlsson and certain other white men and women in Sweden’s public sphere knew that their attacks on me and others would fall in the fertile soil of white racial framing that functions as a shield, an often invisible white support system irrespective of the facts.

Karlsson and many other politicians and journalists who criticized me had no interest in asking me how I felt about my children and my family being subjected to death threats; or in asking me about my daily reflections regarding whether it was not better to stay and suffer execution in Iran because of my protest deeds there, which I was proud of–and not suffer because of my skin color and background, which influenced even my self-image as a human who wants to be treated equally. They had no interest in asking me about my daily anxieties about if it was not better for the future and the well-being of my children if I had stayed in Iran regardless of the outcome, instead of subjecting my children to life-long Swedish racism, which can destroy their sense of human dignity because of their skin color and immigrant background.

The Evidence for African American Reparations

Currently, major Democratic Party 2020 presidential candidates have committed to a public policy discussion of reparations for African Americans–and two have tentatively committed to some form of reparations.

In 2009 the U.S. Senate belatedly passed a resolution officially apologizing for racial oppression that targeted African Americans: “The Congress (A) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws; (B) apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws.” These mostly white senators next explicitly barred African Americans from seeking material reparations for the role the U.S. government played in this admittedly brutal racial oppression. A decade later this disclaimer seems increasingly untenable.

Consider the often-forgotten timeline of this very long history of whites’ anti-black oppression:

Black enslavement, circa 60 percent of US history (1619-1865)
Reconstruction Era (circa 1866-1877)
Jim Crow segregation, circa 22 percent of U.S. history (1877-1969)

Since 1619, when the first enslaved Africans were bought off a Dutch-flagged pirate ship in Jamestown, white-on-black oppression has been imbedded in our economic, political, educational, and other institutions. Few Americans ever consider how long slavery lasted–for about 246 of our 400 years and 60 percent of our history. That fact helps explain why slavery was foundational and aggressively protected in the 1787 Constitution. The U.S. is the only advanced industrialized country that still lives under a Constitution made by and substantially for white slaveholders. Next, add in nearly a century of Jim Crow segregation of African Americans, and you have accounted for most (about 82 percent) of this country’s history.

The new discussion by Democratic Party candidates of significant reparations for African Americans has emerged because of the reinvigorated political power of Black (and Brown) voters, now the Democratic Party base. While this Democratic discussion of the what and how of reparations is still fuzzy, the presence of several presidential candidates of color and a racially diverse political base likely insures it will be substantive. It remains to be seen if the inevitable push-back of many whites will force these candidates to back off of reparations ideas as the presidential campaign intensifies.

For five decades as a research sociologist, I have examined in detail this country’s systemic racism and issues of redress and reparations, yet this is the first time I have seen this level of public political interest in major compensation to African Americans for centuries of life-shortening discrimination and exploitation they and their ancestors have endured at white hands.

A major justification for such reparations lies in the harsh reality of the stolen labor and lives of millions enslaved from 1619 to 1865, of many more millions legally Jim-Crowed from the 1870s to the 1960s, and of those millions who face much racial discrimination today.

As I have detailed in a new 4th edition of Racist America, trillions of dollars in wealth were stolen from Black Americans during the centuries-long history of slavery and Jim Crow. This economic theft continues today, in direct white discrimination and in socially inherited unjust enrichments from whites’ earlier generations. Most whites have been able to pass some accumulated wealth over five to twenty generations, while most African Americans have had that opportunity for about two of those generations. For centuries, this theft of labor and lives was carried out by whites as individuals and by white-run government institutions backed by a white-biased legal system.

From the 17th century to the mid-19th century much white family and community enrichment came directly, or by means of economic multiplier effects, from slave plantations or the many related economic enterprises. Thomas Craemer calculated the hours worked by enslaved Black workers from 1776 (Declaration of Independence) to 1865 (official end to slavery) and estimated the uncompensated labor to be $5.9-14.2 trillion in current dollars. If one expands his enslavement period a century before 1776, the total figure would likely be even higher.

One common argument against making reparations for this stolen Black labor is that “slavery happened hundreds of years ago” and that those debts are owed by and to people now deceased. This argument ignores contemporary whites’ inheritance of massive unjust enrichments from their ancestors involved in the slavery system. It also ignores their unjust enrichment from the large-scale discrimination suffered by African Americans whose labor was stolen during the long Jim Crow era. Millions–many still alive today–endured major violence and economic discrimination under legal segregation. Many can name the still-extant whites and organizations who did this discrimination and its unjust impoverishing.

Drawing on research studies of this stolen wealth, I have estimated the total of the current worth of that stolen black labor in the 400-year era of slavery, Jim Crow, and contemporary discrimination to be in the $10-20 trillion range. This figure is necessarily high, about the size of the gross domestic product (GDP) generated in the U.S. in a recent year.

Much more than labor was lost. Housing equities are the main repositories of U.S. family wealth. Jonathan Kaplan and Andrew Valls have provided a strong case for reparations based on blatant housing discrimination keeping African Americans from building significant equities over the Jim Crow era. White-implemented government homeownership programs after World War II, such as the Veterans’ Administration programs, incorporated large-scale anti-black discrimination. These government programs enabled a great many white families to move into the middle class, and the resulting buildup of white housing equities became a major source of wealth passed along to white children and grandchildren. In contrast, Black families usually faced housing and job discrimination from whites and were unable to pass similar wealth to descendants. Currently, the wealth gap between White and Black Americans is substantially the result of such government-supported housing (and job) discrimination.

Today most whites are opposed to significant reparations for these damages suffered by African Americans, yet white politicians, judges, and ordinary citizens have accepted the principle of reparations for other past damages. For example, the U.S. government has successfully pressured postwar German governments to make major reparations to Nazi Holocaust victims. These many billions of dollars in reparations are currently supported in opinion polls by a majority of Americans, including a majority of whites. So, why not for African Americans for centuries of US racial oppression?

John Brown’s Birthday — Whites against Racism

Real white anti-racism has a forgotten history. It is not taught in our schools. David Reynolds, the author of an important biography of the white antislavery activist and abolitionist John Brown, did a NYT op-ed piece noting that 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of his hanging for organizing an insurrection against slavery. Today is now the 160th anniversary.

Reyonolds gives much historical background and calls for an official pardon for Brown. In October 1859,

With a small band of abolitionists, Brown had seized the federal arsenal there and freed slaves in the area. His plan was to flee with them to nearby mountains and provoke rebellions in the South. But he stalled too long in the arsenal and was captured.

Brown’s group of antislavery band of attackers included whites, including relatives and three Jewish immigrants, and a number of blacks. (Photo: Wikipedia) Radical 225px-John_brown_aboabolitionists constituted one of the first multiracial groups to struggle aggressively against systemic racism in US history.

A state court in Virginia convicted him of treason and insurrection, and the state hanged him on December 2, 1859. Reynolds argues we should revere Brown’s raid and this date as a key milestone in the history of anti-oppression movements. Brown was not the “wild and crazy” man of much historical and textbook writing:

Brown reasonably saw the Appalachians, which stretch deep into the South, as an ideal base for a guerrilla war. He had studied the Maroon rebels of the West Indies, black fugitives who had used mountain camps to battle colonial powers on their islands. His plan was to create panic by arousing fears of a slave rebellion, leading Southerners to view slavery as dangerous and impractical.

We forget today just how extensively revered John Brown was in his day:

Ralph Waldo Emerson compared him to Jesus, declaring that Brown would “make the gallows as glorious as the cross.” Henry David Thoreau placed Brown above the freedom fighters of the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass said that while he had lived for black people, John Brown had died for them. A later black reformer, W. E. B. Du Bois, called Brown the white American who had “come nearest to touching the real souls of black folk.” . . . . By the time of his hanging, John Brown was so respected in the North that bells tolled in many cities and towns in his honor.

And then there were the Union troops singing his praises for years in the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Brown’s comments to reporters at his trial and hanging suggest how sharp his antiracist commitment was. For example, Brown’s lucid comment on his sentence of death indicates his commitment to racial justice: “Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments,—I submit, so let it be done!”

Reynolds notes that Brown was not a perfect hero, but one with “blotches on his record,” yet none of the heroes of this era is without major blotches. Indeed,

Lincoln was the Great Emancipator, but he shared the era’s racial prejudices, and even after the war started thought that blacks should be shipped out of the country once they were freed. Andrew Jackson was the man of his age, but in addition to being a slaveholder, he has the extra infamy of his callous treatment of Native Americans, for which some hold him guilty of genocide.

Given his brave strike against slavery, Reynolds argues, he should be officially pardoned, first of course by the current governor of Virginia (Kaine). But

A presidential pardon, however, would be more meaningful. Posthumous pardons are by definition symbolic. They’re intended to remove stigma or correct injustice. While the president cannot grant pardons for state crimes, a strong argument can be made for a symbolic exception in Brown’s case. . . . Justice would be served, belatedly, if President Obama and Governor Kaine found a way to pardon a man whose heroic effort to free four million enslaved blacks helped start the war that ended slavery.

Brown did more than lead a raid against slavery. We should remember too that in May 1858, Brown and the great black abolitionist and intellectual Martin R. Delany had already gathered together a group of black and white abolitionists for a revolutionary anti-slavery meeting just outside the United States, in the safer area of Chatham, Canada. Nearly four dozen black and white Americans met and formulated a new Declaration of Independence and Constitution (the first truly freedom-oriented one in North America) to govern what they hoped would be a growing band of armed revolutionaries drawn from the enslaved population; these revolutionaries would fight aggressively as guerillas for an end to the U.S. slavery system and to create a new constitutional system where justice and freedom were truly central. (For more, see Racist America (3rd. ed.)

Today, one badly needed step in the antiracist cause is for all levels of U.S. education to offer courses that discuss the brave actions of antiracist activists like John Brown and Martin Delany, and those many other, now nameless heroes who marched with them. And how about a major monument in Washington, DC to celebrate them and all the other abolitionist heroes? We have major monuments there to elite white male slaveholders, why not to those men and women of all backgrounds who died in trying to overthrow (246 years of) US slavery? That slavery was more then half of this country’s history and its legacy still plays out in much of today’s local and national politics of white nationalism and white supremacy.

A Biracial Feminist “Princess” and Her British Prince

Last year’s wedding of Ms. Meghan Markle and His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle was spectacular. Given that this ‘show’ was the most watched television event in the UK, with another 22 million viewers in the US , and drew hundreds of thousands to stand around for hours hoping to catch a glimpse of the couple in person, this wedding had global appeal. The recent announcement of the birth of the couple’s first child keeps the spotlight focused on them. The wedding was an enormous opportunity to (re)shape narratives about racial groups and gender and was filled with symbols of enormous significance—apart from the usual ones—it will be interesting to note how the birth and rearing of their child does the same.

Ms. Markle and her groom seem to be doing their part to address racism and sexism and to using their spotlight to highlight aspects of the black side of her roots in ways that help redefine blackness. Her writing three years ago indicates that the Royals have not yet managed to take away concerns that she addressed speaking of some of the negative responses to the addition of a dark-skinned African American actor to play her TV show father:

The reaction was unexpected, but speaks of the undercurrent of racism that is so prevalent, especially within America. On the heels of the racial unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore, the tensions that have long been percolating under the surface in the US have boiled over in the most deeply saddening way. And as a biracial woman, I watch in horror as both sides of a culture I define as my own become victims of spin in the media, perpetuating stereotypes and reminding us that the States has perhaps only placed bandages over the problems that have never healed at the root.

Markle who describes herself—and has been described by the press—as biracial, is the product of an African American mother and white American father. Typically, such a person is seen as black in the U.S. Racial self-identity, and societal identification may not always align—just ask Tiger Woods about the verbal smackdowns he faced for describing himself as Cablinasian when his society sees him as black. And although he chose to self-identify as African American after much soul-searching, there was no way that President Barack Obama was ever going to be viewed as anything other than a black man in America. Therefore, the fact that Markle is not described as a black woman is notable. I haven’t seen Markle’s self-description challenged in any major way —actually, it has been repeated with apparent acceptance. Does this suggest a loosening of the grip of the often imposed identity of non-White to multiracial people of any race of color plus white? Perhaps this change only occurs in polite conversation as Markle has been subject to relentless racism in online commentaries, forcing the royal family to issue Social Media Community Guidelines. To some onlookers she could probably pass for white; Markle acknowledges that she has attempted to trade on her racial ambiguity to audition for roles calling for a variety of races including black and Latina. Maybe it is her light-skinned, straightened hair appearance that allows for her biracial label to be used so consistently, but that is hugely significant when society has focused on binary racial definitions of black or white.

I scoffed at the notion that Ms. Markle would walk down the aisle unescorted when her father dropped out. Too far from tradition for a royal wedding, I said. Boy, was I wrong! Although it was not the original plan, I read it as a feminist score that Meghan Markle entered St. George’s Chapel unaccompanied. Even the groom walked the entire length of the church with another man— his brother, Prince William. But not Ms. Markle! The self-described feminist entered the chapel on her own (having ridden in a car with her mother), and walked quite capably down the Nave, before she was met by Prince Charles for the journey down the Quire to the altar and her Prince. Perhaps this aspect of the tale has foreshadowing in the fact that 11-year-old Meghan Markle bristled that an advertisement for Ivory dishwashing detergent stated that “women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.” The young activist wrote to first lady Hillary Clinton, attorney Gloria Allred, and news-reporter Linda Ellerbee about the ad which was changed to say “people all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.” Today, Markle’s official Royal webpage highlights her activism and feminism describing her as committed to “women’s empowerment” and includes a quote from her 2015 address on International Women’s Day for UN Women: “I am proud to be a woman and a feminist.”

For many, the wedding dress is the essence of a wedding. And in this case, there had been endless speculation about who the dress designer would be and the style Markle would favor. In the end, another feminist choice: the first female artist-designer of the fabled house of Givenchy–Most Reverend Michael Curry is the Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in the US. His 14-minute address was fairly typical African American preaching—it was the congregation that differed! He opened and closed his address with quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King and spoke of slavery to an audience teeming with British Royalty—whose colossal wealth benefited from the commodification of people.

The mother of the bride, Doria Ragland wore locs! Much has and will be written about Ragland’s clothing but having the mother of the bride in a traditional black hairstyle is another departure from what we see in ‘fairytales’. Another noticeable nod to natural hairstyles worn by black women was Serena Williams’ cornrows and twists, replete with fascinator for the ceremony. We almost never see young black male involvement in European classical music. Yet, this wedding featured three songs from my cousin (seriously!) Sheku Kanneh-Mason the 19-year-old winner of 2016’s BBC Young Musician competition. Kanneh-Mason was not only standing on the shoulders of his great-uncle Roland Prince’s musical legacy, but broadening the box into which young black men are placed.

Unlike many male Royals, Prince Harry wears a wedding ring and the feminist Markle did not promise to obey her husband! Add the predominantly black gospel heavy-weights Karen Gibson and The Kingdom Choir singing “Stand By Me”, and then Amen/This Little Light of Mine. Later in the program the Prayers were led by Archbishop Angaelos, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London and the Reverend Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin—a black Jamaican-born woman (with a low natural hairstyle!). Hudson-Wilkin has been a chaplain to the Queen since 2007 and serves as the speaker’s chaplain in the House of Commons.

The choices made … trickle into how viewers see the world, whether they’re aware of it or not. Some households may never have had a black person in their house as a guest, or someone biracial. Well, now there are a lot of us on your TV and in your home with you…I couldn’t be prouder of that.

This is an almost four-year-old quote from the newly minted Duchess of Sussex on the importance of racial diversity in casting TV roles, but most of it could apply to the wedding she clearly helped to shape and probably summarized her feelings about the event. Atypically, this Royal wedding was not an all-white British affair; it was also black, African American, and feminist in unmistakable ways. Weddings and the British Royal family are steeped in tradition—traditions that ignore white racism, and the humanity of blacks and women. This fairytale wedding has offered new paradigms and that is significant; let’s see whether the birth of Baby Sussex will offer new lenses with which to consider racial groups and gender.

Black Counter Frame and Basis for Reparations



In my The White Racial Frame book I not only discuss this age-old white racial frame, which accents both white virtue material and anti-others material, but also the important counter frames to this dominant white frame that people of color have developed. In the U.S. case African Americans have developed an especially strong counter frame over centuries, perhaps because they have had the longest period of time situated firmly within this systemically racist society.

This counter frame has for centuries been an impetus for many important black protests, and thus in large part for the few major changes that have been made in this country’s racist system over the centuries.

It also helps us to understand the reasons for reparations of many kinds that are necessary for what whites have done over twenty generations. I recently did a post on theconversation.com that explains why reparations are morally and demonstratively necessary. See here.

One feature of U.S. systemic racism involves a rather intentional collective forgetting by whites of key African Americans who articulated and often organized around a strong counter frame. Let me remind our readers of a few of these great Americans and their clear moral and empirical understanding of the basis for reparative changes.

One of the first to put counter frame down on paper was David Walker, a young African American abolitionist working in Boston. In 1829 he published a strong manifesto, entitled Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Demanding full equality, he wrote to his fellow African Americans with revolutionary arguments in an anti-oppression framing, so much so that slaveholding whites put a large cash bounty on his head. (He died young, probably as a result.) Walker analyzes slavery and racial segregation for free blacks quite bluntly. Most whites are “cruel oppressors and murderers” whose “oppression” will be overthrown. They are “an unjust, jealous, unmerciful, avaricious and blood-thirsty set of beings.” Whites seek for African Americans to be slaves to them

and their children forever to dig their mines and work their farms; and thus go on enriching them, from one generation to another with our blood and our tears!

He then quotes the words “all men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence and challenges whites:

Compare your own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers and yourselves on our fathers and on us–men who have never given your fathers or you the least provocation! . . . . I ask you candidly, was your sufferings under Great Britain one hundredth part as cruel and tyrannical as you have rendered ours under you?

A little later in the 19th century, an admirer of Walker, the African American abolitionist Henry Garnet, gave a radical speech, “An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America,” at a National Negro Convention. Garnet’s counter framing is very assertive and to the point, and it is also an address to those enslaved. He offers a structural analysis of “oppression,” arguing too that the white “oppressor’s power is fading.” African Americans like “all men cherish the love of liberty. . . . In every man’s mind the good seeds of liberty are planted.” He calls on those enslaved to take revolutionary action:

There is not much hope of redemption without the shedding of blood. If you must bleed, let it all come at once—rather die freemen, than live to be slaves.” He concludes with a strong call to rebellion: “Brethren, arise, arise! Strike for your lives and liberties.

One of the most brilliant of the 19th century analysts of systemic racism was the great abolitionist, Martin Delaney, who among other actions worked in revolutionary efforts to overthrow the slavery system. (In May 1858, he and John Brown gathered black and white abolitionists for a revolutionary meeting in Chatham, Canada. Four dozen black and white Americans wrote a new constitution to govern a growing band of armed revolutionaries they hoped would come from the enslaved US population.) Directing a book at all Americans, Delaney emphasizes the

United States, untrue to her trust and unfaithful to her professed principles of republican equality, has also pursued a policy of political degradation to a large portion of her native born countrymen. . . . there is no species of degradation to which we are not subject.

His counter framing is one of resistance and extends the old liberty-and-justice frame beyond white rhetoric:

We believe in the universal equality of man, and believe in that declaration of God’s word, in which it is positively said, that ‘God has made of one blood all the nations that dwell on the face of the earth.’

Delaney attacks whites’ stereotypes of African Americans with a detailed listing of important achievements of numerous free and enslaved African Americans and emphasizes how enslaved workers brought very important skills in farming to North America that European colonists did not have. African American workers were the “bone and sinews of the country” and the very “existence of the white man, South, depends entirely on the labor of the black man.” Delaney emphasizes that African Americans are indeed very old Americans:

Our common country is the United States. . . . and from here will we not be driven by any policy that may be schemed against us. We are Americans, having a birthright citizenship.

Let us bring these and other important 19th African Americans back into our contemporary history, as they were both thinkers and activists in the long tradition of people fighting for liberty, equality, and justice in the United States. Note too essential elements of the black counter frame in these and many other black thinkers and activists too often forgotten writings from the 19th century: a strong critique of racial oppression; an aggressive countering of white’s negative framing of African Americans; and a very strong moral accent on the centrality and importance of liberty, justice, and equality for all Americans. African Americans have been perhaps the most central Americans in keeping these liberty and justice ideals constantly alive and imbedded in resistance organizations over four long centuries of freedom struggles in the racist history of the United States.

Revisiting the NFL’s Racial Politics of Patriotism

This is jointly authored by Kristi Oshiro and Anthony Weems

Introduction

In a recent comment on Weems and Kusz’s Racism Review piece, From Bush to Trump: White Nationalism and the NFL, sociologist Earl Smith made a powerful statement reminding us of the real injustice that persists within the National Football League (NFL). Smith expressed,

The key non-figure for the coming Super Bowl that outlines the grave injustices of a white controlled NFL is the absence, the “black-balling,” the blocking of employment of Colin Kaepernick. Regardless of how many Super Bowl rings Brady has, or how many times he plays golf with Trump or how many beauty pageants Brady participates in, this does not erase the injustice.

In the thick of activist efforts that transpired in the 2016 NFL season and on the heels of “Choose-your-side Sunday” during the 2017 season, we published NFL Protests and Racial Politics of Patriotism. In this piece we sought to refocus the narrative; specifically, returning the attention to the message behind the symbolic displays of athlete activism (e.g., kneeling). In doing so, we shed light on the deeply embedded racial politics of patriotism at play as well as the role the mainstream media has played in shaping said discourse. As Smith’s timely comment suggests, the unrelenting efforts by NFL ownership groups to silence Kaepernick and other athletes peacefully protesting elicits a re-visitation of this piece in 2019. Moreover, further examination to understand how the racial politics of patriotism have changed over time and how athletes have been moving their activist efforts beyond the NFL since “Choose-your-side Sunday” is warranted.

#TakingAKnee

The movement, pioneered by Colin Kaepernick’s courageous efforts (e.g., kneeling during the national anthem to bring awareness to the systemic oppression and police brutality towards black people and other people of color) over the course of the 2016 NFL season ignited a resurgence of black athlete activism in the twenty first century distinct and different from any that had come before it – that is, what Harry Edwards has referred to as the fourth wave of black athlete activism. While the first three waves of athlete activism characterized by (1) a push for recognition and legitimacy during Jim Crow, (2) post-World War II desegregation and access, and (3) an uncompromising fight for social justice in the late-1960s and 1970s, the fourth wave of athlete activism outlined by Edwards is characterized by a struggle for power within a white-dominated society. Throughout this fourth wave of athlete activism, perhaps the most iconic gesture has been that of kneeling.

As the act of kneeling quickly took hold in the 2016 and 2017 seasons inspiring activist efforts across the sports world, so too did coverage by the mainstream media and academic communities as practitioners and scholars alike weighed in. While the “Kaepernick effect” has and continues to make a meaningful impact, the NFL quickly responded making it clear that this revived fourth wave of black athlete activism and players with activist intentions would not be welcomed, nor tolerated on the gridiron. Thus, we have gone from the league-wide display of athlete activism on “Choose-your-side Sunday” in 2017 to three individuals this past season. Yes, just three. At the conclusion of the 2018 season only Eric Reid, Kenny Stills, and Albert Wilson continue to kneel. Additionally, several noteworthy events have transpired since our last post including but not limited to the following:

NFL Players Coalition co-founded by Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins (October 2017); Reid and others withdraw from Players Coalition (November 2017); Reid blackballed by the NFL (December 2017); NFL drafted a new Anthem Policy (May 2018); Reid files collusion grievance against the NFL (May 2018); Nike runs Kaepernick “Just Do It” ad (September 2018); Reid reinstated to the league signing one year contract with the Carolina Panthers (September 2018); Reid criticizes Players Coalition and outs specific owners intentions (October 2018); multiple musicians decline to be a part of SBLIII citing the NFL’s blackballing of Kaepernick as a reason (October 2018); Reid “randomly” drug tested for the seventh time in eleven weeks (December 2018); #Kaeplanta and #WakandaAli mural on Atlanta building demolished on Super Bowl weekend (February 2019).

And throughout all of this, Kaepernick remains blackballed from the NFL and the collusion case against NFL remains ongoing, with the hearing set for later this year. In the span of basically a single season the mostly white male elite and their acolytes who constitute NFL ownership and who have control of the league managed to effectively and efficiently “neutralize” the “threat” that this movement posed to the NFL brand. Thus, as another NFL season comes to a close, it is apparent that not only do the Patriots reign once more – but the racial politics of patriotism also continue to be perpetuated in and through the strategic operation of the NFL. To better understand this operation, a focus on the role of the owners is necessary.

NFL Owners and the Silencing of Protests

Fans might be paying to see the players, but the league is the owners. They make the decisions. They set the policies. They make the money with the extra zeros. Then there are the general managers and head coaches, as of this writing overwhelmingly white.(Bennett & Zirin, 2018, p. 47)

Despite the pageantry of expressing “solidarity” with players on Choose-your-side Sunday, owners and ownership groups have been overwhelmingly against the athletes engaging in protests since Kaepernick and Reid first knelt in 2016 – most discernibly through the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick from the NFL. Recently, Reid provided further insight into the views of owners on player protests throughout this process:

Y’all remember that players-owners meeting in New York City? So we were brought in under the premise that the NFL wanted to use their resources to help the black community. We established within the first five minutes of that meeting that we weren’t there to negotiate an end to the protest. After about an hour and a half of talking, Bob McNair says, “I think the elephant in the room is this protesting.” Terry Pegula follows up with “Yeah, I’ve already lost two sponsors for my hockey team. We need to put a Band-Aid on this, and we need a black figure-head to do it.”… [Jeffrey] Lurie says, “We can do more for the black community than you could ever imagine with our resources.” Bob McNair then says, “Yeah, just make sure you tell your comrades to stop that protesting business.”

As suggested by Reid’s comments about the obsession of several owners over bringing an end to the protests, the hypocritical performance of predominantly white male owners on “Choose-your-side Sunday” has only been matched by their disdain for substantively dealing with any of the critical issues brought forth by Kaepernick and others. This type of performance is indicative of what Picca and Feagin refer to as “Two-Faced Racism.” Two-Faced Racism discusses the nuanced nature of whites’ frontstage and backstage racism: “Much of the overt expression of blatantly racist thought, emotions, interpretations, and inclinations has gone backstage – that is, into private settings where whites find themselves among other whites” Thus, the frontstage/backstage framework is employed to “examine the significantly divergent racial performances by white Americans in public (multiracial) and private (all-white) arenas” (p. x).

Exposed by Eric Reid, the approach taken by McNair, Pegula, Lurie, and other NFL owners in the backstage had little to do with their frontstage act of supporting players in the fight against systemic oppression. Rather, the opposite is true. Owners fervently sought to develop new policy designed specifically to control and/or rout player protests.

According to Weems and Atzmon, “In light of the NFL taking on a major role in white nationalist politics, its new [National Anthem] policy aims to censor the voices of those actively fighting against racist sport systems.” Though the policy drew enough criticism to delay its’ implementation, the persistent efforts and subsequent effects of owners’ attempts at censoring athletes has been nothing short of profound. Not only did the development of new policies and programs aim to rein in athletes fighting for social justice, but the dependency of sport media outlets (e.g., ESPN, Fox, CBS) upon the NFL as a political economy further veiled the voices of athletes using these mediums to speak out against injustice. This strategic silencing of athlete protests had a collateral effect of shaping and constraining public discourse surrounding the fourth wave of athlete activism. Therefore, it certainly behooves us as scholars and activists to take serious the notion that NFL ownership groups (and the NFL as an organizing body) play central roles in transforming the racial politics of patriotism. More broadly, the behaviors and actions of NFL owners actively reflect, shape, and maintain the political economy of the NFL — a primary sociocultural institution in the United States.

Resistance and Persistence Moving Forward

According to cultural theorist and postcolonial scholar, Stuart Hall,

Popular culture is one of the sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is also the stake to be won or lost in that struggle.

Sport as a cultural site continues to be a central space in the struggle for and against the politics of oppression. However, as NFL owners have cracked down on black athlete protests in an effort to silence political voices that don’t fit the brand-nexus of white-framed patriotic capitalism, athletes have sought to innovate the ways in which they engage with issues of systemic oppression and inequality. For example, while Kaepernick has sought to continue his fight through the legal system via a collusion case against the NFL, others have turned to various social, cultural, and educational outlets – ranging from Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp to Martellus Bennett’s Imagination Agency — to continue to fight for justice and equity in the United States. Thus, while the impact of kneeling before games today has been relatively silenced by NFL owners, many athletes continue to adapt their approaches to fighting for a just world.

In 2016 when Kaepernick first knelt in protest of systemic oppression and police brutality, kneeling was necessary as a pragmatic act. In 2017, kneeling was just as necessary as protests continued to grow despite constant criticism from many fans, team owners, and the president. In 2019, however, the social and political effects of physically kneeling before the game have declined in relevance due to the acts of silencing taken by team owners and corroborating media outlets. In response, many athletes have sought to innovatively engage in activism through alternative outlets. In other words, what we are beginning to see from many athletes is the evolution of political activism beyond the stage of the NFL. And while this evolution beyond the gridiron may appear as if team owners are “winning” their battle against players, it brings with it more direct social, political, and economic change as athletes and other activists become more involved both individually and as a collective. Said differently, the persisting resistance of athletes and activists in the face of systemic racism brings hope moving forward. As Derrick Bell (1991) stated in his discussion of racial realism,

Continued struggle can bring about unexpected benefits and gains that in themselves justify continued endeavor. The fight in itself has meaning and should give us hope for the future. (p. 378)

Kristi F. Oshiro is a Sport Management doctoral student at Texas A&M University. Her research interests include diversity and inclusion in sport with a focus on the intersection of race and gender.

Anthony J. Weems is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Division of Sport Management at Texas A&M University. His research interests revolve around the social structure of sport and sporting organizations and the roles sport plays in broader social and cultural contexts.

“Something Wrong with This Picture?” Lack of Diversity in Law Firms

“If you’re arguing that you’re better than most firms, it’s not a good argument. Because most firms have a very difficult time actually bringing real diversity and inclusion into those spaces.”

Tsedale Melaku quoted in New York Times

The recently published New York Times article discussing the very white and very male partnership class announced by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP in December 2018 has indeed put Paul, Weiss in the hot seat. So, what did I mean by my quote in this New York Times article? (See law firm photo here)

Several things came to mind as I read the article. I was, of course, very excited and waited with anticipation for what I believed would be a deep and thorough articulation of the disconnect between law firm diversity missions and the reality evidenced.

Timing
The timing of the article’s publication gave Paul, Weiss an opportunity to regroup, put plans into action, and explain the reasons why the partnership class was indeed all white, and practically all male. The firm was essentially able to engage in damage control, to save face at a time when diversity and inclusion efforts are touted as being intrinsically part of firm culture. Despite Paul, Weiss’ attempt to explain away their “outlier” new partner cohort, the justifications and the timing of those justifications seem to be an attempt to cloud the realities of systemic racial and gender imbalances that exist in elite law firms.

At Least We’re Better than the Rest
To simply say that Paul Weiss fares better than their peer firms is a weak argument that lacks any substantive reflections on the practices of the firm. At the end of the day being better than their peer institutions is a mere attempt to be perceived as the lesser evil. A mirage that has no tangible manifestation of a truly inclusive work environment that provides advancement opportunities for all. The idea that we celebrate firms for being slightly better than firms that are already doing terribly at affecting real substantive visible change at the top is not applaudable. What this does, in actuality, is it sets the bar very low and continues to maintain elite white male dominance.

Scorecards and Surveys
Paul, Weiss’ chairman, Brad Karp stated, “We’ve always been ranked at the very, very top of every survey.” To accept Paul, Weiss’ argument that their diversity track record garners accolades from varying surveys and scorecards implies that these measuring agencies take into account all critical information about diversity. Diversity scorecards often provide superficial representations of diversity that give law firms agency to ignore the underlying causes of low numbers of black and brown lawyers, particularly as it relates to retention and advancement.

Many scorecards and surveys incorporate statistics that include all lawyers of color and other marginalized identities in their assessment, including Hispanic/Latinx, Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native, Multiracial, Persons with Disabilities, Openly LGBT, and Veteran. While this is useful in showcasing the numerical representation of marginalized groups in firms, it also increases the potential ranking of law firms that have low numbers of black and brown lawyers. If we were to examine black and Latinx partners specifically, we would find that they are severely underrepresented. We need to start challenging these surveys and scorecards to explicitly call out the dearth of black and brown partners, which will demand law firms to consider the visible racial and gender disparity evidenced in terms of retention and promotion. Surveys and scorecards should call attention to the need for improving diversity by highlighting the lack thereof, not celebrating the little that exists.

Everyone Is Diverse
Diversity can literally include everything, from race, gender, sexuality, class, political leanings, religious affiliation, ability, and more. Let’s actually be clear about what we are talking about and what is missing when we talk about diversity – racial and gender diversity. The fact that Paul, Weiss is a pioneer of diversity is not the argument. What stirs debate is the reality that having been the first firm to hire a black lawyer, male and female, the first to promote a woman to the partnership, a firm committed to fighting for justice and equality, why has it stalled in terms of their own progress? If they are so progressive, why is it difficult for black and brown lawyers to reach parity within their own ranks?

There’s More Work to Be Done
In the firm’s nearly 150-year history, Paul, Weiss elected its first black female partner in 2016. While an important milestone for the firm, having one black female partner is not a valid argument to demonstrate progress as compared to their peer firms. It is a way to control the narrative and to save face, when in reality there is still so much work to be done. I understand that progress is progress regardless of timing, but this certainly should not preclude the fact that there are systemic racial and gendered issues in law firms that prevent women and people of color from becoming partners. So while recruitment efforts over the years have improved to attract talent to the firms, the reality is that very few are actually able to rise to the rank of partner. The underlying reasons for that are multifaceted of which I discuss and explain in depth in my forthcoming book, You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism.

Value, not Tolerance
One of the central weaknesses at the heart of elite institutions’ diversity efforts, which tend to focus more on hiring than retention, regardless of gender, is the notion that people of color are linked to low performance and affirmative action advantages. The insidious nature of white racial framing allow whites, and often people of color as well, to operate out of a frame that includes racist stereotypes, narratives, imageries, ideologies and emotions privileging whites over people of color. Consequently, this often leads some partners and senior associates to view women and people of color as unqualified, reinforcing the white racial frame and perpetuating racial and gender inequality. This is what shapes individual and institutional discriminatory practices that help to maintain elite white male dominance.

For example, white narratives of affirmative action, which suggest people of color are not qualified to be there in the first place, work to create discriminatory practices that exclude from access to the resources that support advancement. Resources in the form of substantive training, mentorship, social and professional networks, and most importantly, sponsorship are critical. Women and lawyers of color, like any professional, want to feel that their presence is valued, not tolerated. These lawyers do not want to feel like they are a part of a strategic marketing tool employed to signal diversity as core and intrinsic to the firm. Or that they are evidence of the firm succumbing to social pressure.

The Onus is on Us
Another, rather interesting, observation is that the article sourced a lot of information from current black partners in the firm. For example, Theodore V. Wells Jr., a nationally recognized prominent black partner at Paul, Weiss, said “I fear that African-American partners in big law are becoming an endangered species.” What is he supposed to say, as one of seven black partners out of 159 in the entire firm? Wells, along with other black partners including Patrick Campbell, David W. Brown, and Amran Hussein, are forced to publicly acknowledge Paul, Weiss’ deficiencies, while simultaneously working to soften the public relations nightmare and signaling diversity. All of these demands add invisible labor to what these partners are already burdened with, precisely because there are so few of them. This is one of the many nuanced experiences discussed by the black women lawyers interviewed in my forthcoming book. A disproportionate amount of responsibility often falls on women and racially subordinated partners due to the shortage of women and partners of color.

In Their Own Words
In conversing with several associates about their reaction to the article, this is what one former BigLaw associate stated:

It is mind blowing how the onus is put on disenfranchised (highly educated) professionals to spontaneously become whistleblowers. Without any of the whistleblower or collective bargaining protections.

Another poignantly stated,

Obviously, the vast majority of women and people of color will not come forward out of fear of retribution, or imposter syndrome, or racial Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This allows firms to continue thinking that this is not a serious problem worth addressing given that few lawyers were put on a public platform to admit grievances that could very well be detrimental to their employment and opportunity.

Reproducing and Maintaining the Status Quo
What is clear is that Paul, Weiss, whether they would like to admit it or not, engages in reproducing and maintaining the status quo. That is why in 2019 the majority of partners and associates are white, and male. This ensures that the pipeline is saturated with people that not only look like the top, but also learn to adopt the firm’s culture and to do business as usual. To invest time and resources into people of color is a way to share the wealth and foster true competition among all races. The coveted law firm partnership is in fact a means to create the foundation for generational wealth. And that as it stands, appears to be reserved for whites, and mainly males. If you look very carefully at who made partner – they are mostly laterals, mostly did not do the work of lawyering in Paul, Weiss for the 10-14 years prior to walking into a partnership position. The one woman promoted worked up through the ranks from associate, to senior associate, counsel and then partner, a journey that took a little over thirteen years. So it is still all the women and people of color who are doing the actual work — but the white men are taking home the money.

Comprehending and acknowledging how elite white men create, control, and reproduce a racialized system run by white male actors is imperative to understanding the experiences of women and people of color, regardless of industry. Finally, and to be absolutely clear, Paul, Weiss has made a grand effort to win accolades for diversity. So, if they feel “singled out” for falling down on their promise – they should be disproportionately lambasted. As one of the many former BigLaw associates who aspired to be partner but was met with disinterest, lack of opportunity for development, mentor-less, sponsor-less, and exclusionary practices clearly states: “The emperor has no clothes – and still no one is willing to tell him.”

Tsedale M. Melaku, Ph.D. is a sociologist at The Graduate Center, CUNY and author of the forthcoming book, You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism to be released in April 2019. I am at @TsedaleMelaku

“Stop Speaking Chinese!: This is America”

Members of the Biostatistics Department at Duke University had complained in the past about Chinese graduate students speaking in their language instead of English in the Biostatistics area. Recently the Director of Graduate Studies in the department, Assistant Professor Megan Neely, received a new complaint from two faculty members about Chinese graduate students speaking their language “very loudly” in the student lounge and other student areas. According to a New York Times article, the faculty members’ objections went beyond the volume of the conversations:

They were disappointed that these students were not taking the opportunity to improve their English and were being so impolite as to have a conversation that not everyone on the floor could understand.

So upset were they that they looked for identifying information about the “offenders” to exclude them from future projects:The faculty members wanted to identify the students and write down their names, in case the students sought to work with them in the future.

Given her administrative position, Professor Neely felt obligated to contact the Chinese graduate students to make them aware of the faculty members’ displeasure and warn them about possible consequences they could face if they persisted in speaking Chinese in the buildings that house the Department of Biostatistics. She sent them an email that included the following request on behalf of other Duke faculty members:

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep these unintended consequences in mind when you choose to speak in Chinese in the building . . . . I have no idea how hard it has been and still is for you to come to the US and have to learn in a non-native language. As such, I have the upmost respect for what you are doing. That being said, I encourage you to commit to using English 100% of the time when you are in . . . professional [settings].

Chinese is one of just a few racialized languages in the United States, and complaints about speakers supposedly being rude and missing opportunities to learn English just for sticking to their own language are often pretexts to silence them. Silencing aims at the suppression of racialized languages (often via the now famous command “Speak English, You are in America”) and the preservation of English as the dominant language. Elsewhere Joe Feagin and I have discussed silencing as part of the linguistic oppression of Spanish in the US (See “Language Oppression and Resistance: The Case of Middle Class Latinos in the United States,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 31(2008):390-410).

The Duke professor’s memo created a great deal of controversy. Ken Lee, chief executive of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, complained that

Forcing Students to repress their heritage language further perpetuates a wrongful fear toward Asian and Asian-American students.

A Chinese foreign ministry representative stated in a briefing that

If a Chinese university required that American students not use English to communicate, I think this would not be normal.

Mary E. Klotman, the Dean of the School of Medicine, where Biostatistics is housed, apologized to the Chinese students in a letter and said that she had asked the university’s Office for Institutional Equity to do a “thorough review of the program” in order to “improve the learning environment for students from all background.” Then she added:

I understand that many of you felt hurt and angered by this [Professor Neely’s] message . . . To be clear: There is absolutely no restriction or limitation on the language you use to converse and communicate with each other. Your career opportunities and recommendations will not in any way be influenced by the language you use outside the classroom.

Professor Neely asked to step down from her position. I feel bad for her: She is an untenured Assistant Professor caught up in a major controversy not mainly of her making. Although she may not suffer adverse consequences, she is likely to be upset. I would be. It is inevitable to wonder where the two complaining faculty members stand at the conclusion of the language denigration controversy. Their request to silence the students of color runs counter to Dean Klotman’s categorical position of no linguistic restrictions outside the classroom. Their stated intention to exclude graduate students from future research projects for speaking their own home language openly seems vindictive and unprofessional. Will the Duke Medical School investigate them?

José A. Cobas, Ph.D. is emeritus professor of sociology, Arizona State University.

Governor Northam, no Surprise, but Disappointment and Opportunity

In my home state of Virginia, there are more people than ever before talking about race, debating whether Governor Northam should resign due to racist photos on his medical school yearbook page. It seems like even more people are concerned about whether Northam is racist than were ever concerned about white supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville less than two short years ago—-the kind of racist violence that actually killed people. And certainly way more people care about the Northam question than were ever concerned about the bill that was killed in the Virginia House to remove the confederate monuments in Charlottesville, or the one-man protest that Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax led by stepping out while the rest of the body honored Robert E. Lee.

Much of the public debate around Northam does not dispute that the photos on this page—one of a person in blackface, and another in KKK garb—are racist and offensive. Strangely, that seems to be the point of common agreement for many from all political angles. The most frequent points of disagreement seem to be whether something racist in his past should be held against him now. Questions raised include whether Northam should be forgiven, and whether the picture reflects who he is today. Practically everyone in his Democratic party, in the state (both U.S. senators and many key representatives, as well as past governors) have urged him to resign, and even politicians of national stature—Democratic as well as Republican—have called for his resignation. And the photo keeps flapping around like it’s normal, almost as if we have become desensitized to the pain and terror that these images signify to African Americans—stay in your place or face the consequences. White people of any and all political backgrounds are being asked to give their two cents—as if they are the new arbiters and experts of what this photo means. Journalists that are flocking to get the person-on-the-street opinion appear to be not unlike the foolish person who approaches someone who has never given birth to ask them what it feels like. How is it that we whites would have any idea what a continued governorship by the man in this photo would mean to the over 1.5 million African Americans living in the state, day in and day out? Quite simply, we don’t, so we should not get to decide.

But we can learn to develop empathy. We can get closer to the understanding that we were trained not to have. Even Pamela Northam, the governor’s wife, not exactly the poster child for being a white ally or an antiracist, knew enough to advise her husband that attempting to perform a moonwalk during a press conference intended to apologize for his past behavior, would not be “appropriate” at that moment he appeared to consider it. Imagine what actual work on true empathy with people of color might look like for white people. Even after 30 years dialoging and living in community, dialog, and family with African Americans, I did not even think of developing my own opinion on Northam or stating it out loud until I had engaged in some frank discussions with some African American friends whose opinions I respect and admire—-and whose opinions would likely be diverse, not uniform. And I am still learning.

But what I have learned from listening is Northam is not the first, nor will be the last, of whites they thought they could trust, but turned out to be a disappointment. As a white teenager dating an African American young man, I heard multiple testimonies right from local families about how their son thought they had a white girlfriend they could trust, but once the breakup happened and things went sour and she wanted revenge, it was all too simple for her and her family to bring the entire wrath of the racist court system down against them, simply by “crying statutory rape.” It worked every time here in good ol’ VA. And this was decades after the 1967 Loving v. Virginia ruling that made interracial marriage legal. It was only after I went on to study race in graduate school and as a scholar of race relations, that I learned about Emmett Till, and so many others where the testimony of whites, particularly white women, was all the excuse a community needed to round up people of color and do whatever violence they wished to them, without fear of repercussion, or concern for justice or getting the facts. In what Katheryn Russell-Brown has called “racial hoaxes,” dozens of whites over the years have committed a crime and tried to blame someone African American for it, and tragically the justice system locks right in on the profile—in the case of Charles Stuart, they even found an African American person to coerce into confessing to a crime he did not even commit. Whites can be shady like that. People of color are not surprised. It is not a matter of Republican or Democrat. When it comes to a white father protecting a white daughter, or a white family hoarding school district resources for their own family, there is no limit to the ends whites will go, regardless of party line, to enact their privilege in service of their own. Both Dr. King and Malcolm X were unequivocal on this point: the white moderate/white liberal was who they feared and distrusted more than the over white racists. So, yes, people like Northam with a “surprise” racist photo lurking in the background are really not all that much of a surprise to many folks of color. You always have to watch your back.

Too often, individual whites who get caught saying something racist end up giving what Michael Eric Dyson calls a “dress up, fess up” press conference that falls woefully short of actual remorse, and Northam’s was no exception to that pattern. As Dyson argues, a true apology is not a self-centered attempt at clearing one’s name—it is focused on those harmed, in a way that pledges making amends, in an ongoing meaningful way to those one has harmed. What so many whites fail to realize is that our country was founded on racism, and continues to thrive on that foundation, so it is practically inevitable that almost all of us will have either inadvertently or purposely been witness to racism without interrupting it, and/or will enact racism ourselves. It is no big revelation that we all have racism in our pasts, and likely in our present. It is what we do with that information, how we pledge to live our lives going forward, to undo what we (and those who went before us) have caused going forward, that is the true measure of our characters. This requires empathy, and an ongoing commitment that lasts well beyond when the flashing lights are over, when the news cycle has moved onto the next hot take. And most importantly, it is the kind of work that would take many others along with us in the fight for justice, as opposed to merely seeking to clear our own names.

As Bonilla-Silva so brilliantly states, by focusing on these individual stories of “bad apples” we miss the much more important bigger picture of the “rotten apple tree.” We are all bound up together on this tree and implicated within it. I believe Governor Northam resigning and everyone going on as usual will not do much to change things here in Virginia. Virginia is leading the way in problems of institutional racism in this country, as one of 12 US states where over half the prison population is black (yet less than 20 percent of the state’s population), and many of those become disenfranchised after finishing their time. We have a deep history of educational segregation, and continuing racial and economic divides between our school districts have actually worsened tremendously in the past decade.

Should Northam continue to ignore the multitude of voices urging him to resign, being coy and defiant about whether or not he even remembers being in the photo (but does remember using blackface on another occasion), he is not going to earn back the public trust. Most people who care about racism and truly understand it know that this is not about figuring out what’s “in his heart”—which is where the predictable conversation often goes when debating any racist politician, Trump or otherwise– but rather what kind of policies he is willing to support and go to bat for. Clearly, Northam was not standing at his Lieutenant Governor’s side when Lt Gov Justin Fairfax sat out the Robert E. Lee tribute, alone, hoping for a new America 400 years later. Being on the right side of racial justice when it matters, over and over again, even when your party does not agree with you, is one way to rebuild it, and it will take time, not a brief press conference. Not even time that the news cycle has time for. Time will tell if Northam is ready to get out of his own way, and lead Virginians by example, in humbling himself to understand what antiracist commitment really means.

Eileen O’Brien is a Professor of Sociology at Saint Leo U. and the author of several books on white racism issues, including Whites Confront Racism.

From Bush to Trump: White Nationalism and the NFL

Anthony Weems and Kyle Kusz are joint authors of this post.

Introduction

The stage is set for the Super Bowl LIII. On February 3rd, 2019, the New England Patriots will take on the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Luckily for the NFL, the game has just enough controversy to make it one of the most watched Super Bowls in league history. Officiating decisions in the conference championships raise questions about whether or not each team deserved to advance to the Super Bowl. Nevertheless, all is set for a seemingly riveting match between the two franchises. However, given the current polarized social and political climate and the way in which President Donald J. Trump has consistently used sports–its rhetoric, cultural values and logics, and the NFL specifically–to advance his white supremacist brand of nationalism, this particular Super Bowl represents more than meets the eye.

In this blog post, we discuss the role the NFL has played in the development of white nationalist politics over the last two decades. Specifically, we recount how the first Super Bowl meeting after 9/11 and between the Rams/Patriots in 2002 was politicized through a white-centered populist patriotism that was part of a broader ‘soft’ white cultural nationalism that emerged in Bush’s America, how they grew through the Obama presidency (i.e., Birtherism and Tea Party movement), and how they play out through the NFL in the Trump presidency. Trump strategically politicizes the NFL as a means of casting himself as a strongman, populist politician aligned with whites anxious and resentful of the changing norms of American culture and society wrought by globalization, feminism, and multiculturalism. Even further, Trump’s invocations of the NFL serve as a conduit through which he has communicated his white nationalist project. And although these socio-cultural dynamics often go unnoticed by many casual fans, political pundits, and even some academics alike, once unveiled they reveal how sport is far more than simply a game.

Revisiting SBXXXVI and George W. Bush’s America

In the 2001-2002 NFL season, the New England Patriots made a “magical” run to Super Bowl XXXVI to face the St. Louis Rams. The media’s framing of the Patriots’ saga was largely fueled by the institutional response to the horrific events of September 11, 2001 (9/11) just five months earlier. At that time, professional sport leagues, especially the NFL, were increasingly politicized, performing multiple cultural functions: returning a sense of “normalcy” in a post-9/11 America, uniting Americans and providing a sense of healing, offering massive displays of patriotism and militaristic might. Whether it was the designation of Super Bowl XXXVI as a National Security Special Event (the first sport event to be designated as such), the militarization of local police units, or the dozens of nationalistic events held before, during, and after the game, this first meeting between the Patriots/Rams offered a uniquely white, masculine, and nationalistic stage for the framing of an emergent post-9/11 American national identity. Through the overtly white-masculinized and nationalistic event of Super Bowl XXXVI, political leaders manufactured a large-scale cultural event that consolidated and normalized what it meant to be an American as a narrowly defined idea of white-masculinist militarism. The NFL itself is quite proud of their display in Super Bowl XXXVI as suggested by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who recently reflected on the passing of George H. W. Bush:

We witnessed his integrity, humility and grace on a number of occasions, including at Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans where he participated in the coin toss ceremony and helped Americans begin to heal from the tragedy of September 11.

The post-9/11 brand of “superpatriotism” and the mythologizing of football as a cultural panacea became a defining feature of nationalist politics in the US under George W. Bush. In the years following Super Bowl XXXVI, white nationalism would continue mainstream as the NFL took on a more prominent role in the politics of “patriotism.”

White nationalism in a post-9/11 US

As Ducat (2004) and Faludi (2007) document, some conservative culture warriors who long complained about political correctness, feminism, and multiculturalism seized on the tragic events of 9/11 and blamed them for making the country vulnerable to attack. Promulgated through Fox News and conservative talk-radio among other cultural sites, together these laments formed a “white cultural nationalism” that attempted to reproduce whiteness as American cultural norm in the name of patriotism and love of country. Most often, this white cultural nationalism was not expressed in virtiolic terms, but through an affirmative centering and valorization of everymen like New York City police, firefighters, and first responders who came to the rescue of those who suffered as a result of the 9/11, and the armed forces more broadly via the War on Terror. Valorization of these American everymen became a way of praising a strong, tough, performance of white manliness that, according to social conservatives, was being squeezed out of American culture by feminism and political correctness. As Andrew Sullivan put it, “One of the most welcome cultural shifts after September 11 may well be the re-emergence of traditional masculinity as something no-one need apologize for” (cited from King, 2009, 13).

Unsurprisingly, US sports’ media became a prominent conduit and purveyor of the racialized, populist, masculinist tropes and logics of this ‘soft’ white nationalism. These ideas crystallized in the media spectacle made of former NFL player, Pat Tillman’s choice to forgo his lucrative career to serve in the War on Terror and then on the occasion of his untimely death in Afghanistan (under dubious circumstances). Social conservatives in particular lionized Tillman as an ideal white male hard-bodied patriot-citizen. At the 2004 NFL Draft, then commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, honored Tillman by describing him as personifying “the best values of America and the National Football League” (cited from Kusz, 2015), while NFL fans attending the draft acknowledged Tillman by temporarily putting aside their team loyalties and collectively chanting: “USA! USA! USA!” Professional football’s key role for the enunciation of white cultural nationalism in the post-9/11 era was essential for the development of Trump’s white nationalist project to ‘Make America Great Again.’

Trump, white nationalism, and the NFL

This white cultural nationalism became more pointed and virulent in reaction to the Obama presidency (i.e. Birtherism and Tea Party movement). These impulses, of course, were stoked and ennobled by Trump, first, as the most vocal proponent of Birtherism questioning Obama’s Americanness and his right to be president and later through Trump’s explicitly racist and xenophobic anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric, his repeated re-tweets of white supremacist propaganda, his racialized immigration policies and proposals, his equivocation on the hate and violence enacted in Charlottesville, Virginia by alt-right and older white supremacists in the summer of 2017, and finally his open embrace of the ‘nationalist’ label in 2018.

But even before Charlottesville, during the 2016 campaign, Trump regularly communicated the values and norms of his white nationalism through his associations with white sportsmen (Kusz, 2016). He drew on the language of sports, lionizing these men (and others like them) as ‘real athletes’ and ‘winners’ at his rallies, to outline his white nationalist aims (Oates & Kusz, in press). And not only would Trump name-drop white sports figures at rallies, but he would actively look to attack the protests of NFL players protesting police brutality and systemic oppression. Through his use of white sportsmen and black athletic protesters like Kaepernick and others as political props, Trump made clear how his nationalist project to ‘make America great again’ opens up space for unapologetic, omnipotent performances of white masculinity as it seeks to contain, silence, and dehumanize all people of color, religious minorities, and immigrants who refuse to accept and defer to the prerogative of white Christian men to decide and lead American cultural and institutional life (Kusz, 2016).

Super Bowl LIII, Trump, and Tom Brady

A key figure in this year’s Super Bowl, like so many recently, will be New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady. As fans ready themselves for Super Bowl LIII, they should not forget that the prophet of pliability is on record for calling President Trump a ‘good friend.’ Their friendship began when Trump invited the newly minted Super Bowl champion to be a judge at a beauty pageant following Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. From there, they bonded on golf courses; very likely, through being one of the boys, trading in ‘locker room talk’ and fantasies of (white) male omnipotence. Recall also that it was Brady who unapologetically displayed a MAGA hat in his locker and who refused to denounce Trump’s xenophobic anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric when pressed by reporters.

Brady is idolized as a great leader not just because of his on-the-field accomplishments (of which he has many), but also because, he embodies the ideal of white male omnipotence at the heart of Trump’s white nationalism. Yet, he concurrently represents a way of being a white American that pretends one can remain neutral about Trump’s white nationalism and broader issues of racial (in)justice. It is precisely this willful ignorance of contemporary American racial realities as much as his five Super Bowl rings that enables Brady to be imagined as an ideal leader in the conservative white imagination. This lionization of Brady as a great leader evinces how white racial ignorance is enabled and white racial innocence protected through the narratives that produce and nourish NFL fandom. It’s why alt-right leader and avowed white nationalist, Richard Spencer, labeled Brady “an Aryan avatar” and claimed the Patriots’ historic comeback in SB LI as a victory “for Trump, the #AltRight, and White America” through a series of joyous Super Bowl Sunday tweets just months after Trump took office (Chabba, 2017).

Thus, as we approach the rematch between the Rams and the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, the fallout from Trump’s government shutdown, further militarization of domestic spaces, and other constituents of the realizing dystopia, it’s important to emphasize the essential nature of white nationalist politics in and through the NFL. Super Bowl LIII is more than just an isolated sporting event that celebrates masculinity, racial politics, and capitalism. Football, post 9/11 superpatriotism, the mainstreaming of white nationalism over the last few decades, and Trump’s brand of white nationalism today are not anomalous events happening in silos. They are a more calculated and systemic push toward the continued nationalization of white masculine militarism, the political expression stemming from the contradiction of white masculine impotence. Therefore, we must continue to disentangle the sporting politic so that we may better understand the cultural tools through which white nationalism is cultivated as well as understanding and naming the white elites who seek to use these tools to further their own political program. Because only then can we be in a position to counter the corrosive culture of white nationalism.

Author Bios:

Anthony Weems is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Division of Sport Management at Texas A&M University. His research interests revolve around the social structure of sport and sporting organizations and the roles sport plays in broader social and cultural contexts.

Kyle Kusz is an Associate Professor at the University of Rhode Island and the author of Revolt of The White Athlete (Peter Lang, 2007). His research critically examines how discourses involving sport function as political terrains where struggles take place over what ideas race, gender, class, and nation will form public common sense at various times in history.