Trump and White Nativism

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Thanks to the candidacy of Donald J. Trump, the 2016 presidential election has become a national referendum on racism. When Americans elected Barack Obama in 2008 many hoped that it signaled the long-promised denouement of white supremacy. But for many others, Obama’s presidency represented their worst nightmares realized. Now, as Mychal Denzel Smith observed recently about Trump: “He is the backlash.” Or, as comedian Larry Wilmore frames it, the Unblackening of the White House has begun.

But Trump’s appeal is not really new. In fact, it’s as old as the United States.

Beginning in 1790, the US made white skin a prerequisite for citizenship. This hateful pigment bias established white skin as the norm for US citizens. By making whiteness the norm, the founders categorized non-white skin as a type of deviance. This is not just history. In 2015, a federal judge reaffirmed as recently as 2015.

This means that, for people of color, even the simple act of appearing in public constitutes a form of anti-normative criminality. The fact that people of color are vastly overrepresented in US prisons in large part because they are more likely to be perceived by law enforcement as “incorrigible recidivists.”

How could a nation that touts itself as “the world’s greatest democracy” equate non-white skin with criminal deviance?

Emile Durkheim, a founder of sociology, argued that every society constructs its own definitions of deviance. Deviance functions as a type of social glue. It works by lionizing those who comply with social norms and stigmatizing those who don’t. The US’s European settler-colonialists incorporated an ethnocentric preference for white skin into the political substrate of American democracy and designated everyone else ‘deviant.’

These European settler-colonialists wanted to claim ownership of an entire continent that was already occupied. If Europeans were going to make a home for themselves in North America, they would either have to share the continent with its original inhabitants, or they would have to murder millions of indigenous people and steal their land.

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Although Native Americans may have been willing to co-exist, Europeans weren’t keen on the idea of sharing. They were keen on the idea of plunder. So, Europeans invented the ludicrous fiction of white nativism. White nativism is the notion that light-skinned Europeans are North America’s true natives. As the true natives, whites are deserving of all that plunder. Or, so the fiction goes.

White nativists have constructed a range of prejudices for different groups of people in the US. White nativists enacted genocide against Native Americans, instituted slavery, established Jim Crow, and devised mass incarceration for African Americans. White Nativists have also excluded Chinese immigrants from the US, interned Japanese Americans and have treated Latinos as if they were all illegal immigrants. More recently, white nativists have openly contemplated a national ban on Muslims. Through these mechanism the US has celebrated whiteness and denigrated those with relatively more skin pigment.

Donald Trump takes pleasure in fomenting racism for his own political gain. Given Trump’s nauseating popularity as a 2016 presidential candidate, it is also obvious that many Americans share Trump’s white nativist tendencies. Since entering the 2016 presidential race, each time Trump has uttered a despicably racist comment his popularity with the American public has increased.

Donald Trump wants to take America back to the days when privileged white racists got their jollies by terrorizing people of color. Sadly, a passionate cadre of fellow racists want to help Donald Trump set civil rights back a century. It doesn’t have to be like this.

If Americans really love democracy, then they — and by that I mean we — can and must dismantle white supremacist racism. And we need to start dismantling racism today.

In our book, A Formula for Eradicating Racism, Earl Smith and I argue that Americans can terminate the climate of sadism that inspires white supremacist racism by erasing the Three-Fifths Compromise from the US Constitution and replacing it with a universal declaration of human equality.

We could, as a nation, choose to do this. Other countries, including South Africa, have embraced human rights as part of their foundational tenets.

Or, we could elect Donald Trump. If America elects Trump, a candidate now endorsed by the likes of former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

Register. Vote. And tell your non-Trump-voting friends and family to do likewise.

~ Professor Tim McGettigan teaches sociology at Colorado State University-Pueblo and he writes books about social change. Most recently, he is the co-author, with Earl Smith, of A Formula for Eradicating Racism: Debunking White Supremacy. 

Race in the Academy: Three Lessons from UBC

“You must refrain from thinking controversial thoughts out loud…” the Chair of Board of Governors told University of British Columbia (UBC) President, Dr. Arvind Gupta in May, 2015. Shortly afterward, UBC announced that Dr. Gupta, UBC’s first non-white President, had stepped down after serving only thirteen months of a five-year term. The year 2015 also marked the 100-year anniversary of UBC and Centennial celebrations, along with Dr. Gupta’s sudden departure, prompted my reflections here.

(Dr. Arvind Gupta, Former President of University of British Columbia,
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The circumstances leading to Dr. Gupta’s mystifying and unprecedented exit from the UBC Presidency were not immediately disclosed and the university became embroiled in a public relations fiasco fueled by speculation. One UBC professor of Mathematics, Dr. Nassif Ghossoub, called for the resignation of the Chair of the Board of Governors over the “botched” announcement of the resignation.  At the Sauder School of Business, Dr. Jennifer Berdahl, an expert in gender and diversity, wrote on her blog that the ex-President lost “the masculinity contest among leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men” only to be chided by the Chair of the Board of Governors for this observation. Dr. Berdahl then publicly exposed what she experienced to be an attempt by the Chair to silence her and thus undermine her academic freedom.

Unlike 1915 when the university was founded, the dynamics of leadership were different as UBC entered its 100th year under a woman President, Dr. Piper. She had served in this position before (1997-2006) and was hastily reappointed for one year upon the untimely departure of Gupta. In a statement welcoming students, staff, instructors and faculty into the centennial year of the University of British Columbia, Piper said:

“We are as committed to our core mission of learning and research as were our founders in 1915, and this centennial year will give us the opportunity to show that the spirit of intellectual inquiry is alive and well at UBC as we reach new heights in innovation and discovery.”

(Dr. Martha Piper, Interim President, University of British Columbia,
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Of course, what is left unsaid in Dr. Piper’s remarks is that the university’s 1915 ‘core mission’ as conceived by its founders relied upon the dispossession of the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam and Coast Salish peoples. This ‘core mission’ placed the university at the centre of Eurocentric knowledge production and of fostering the emergent Canadian elite in the province, and indeed, the country. As such, the institution reflected, and was reflective of, the racial and imperial policies of a colonial-settler state and society. Moreover, the migration and settlement policies of the period sought to increase the presence and power of ‘preferred’ European ‘races’ while containing the permanent settlement of the ‘non-preferred’ races of Asia and Africa. In other words, UBC’s ‘core mission’ was of a piece with the practices that were to produce Canada as a ‘white man’s country.’

“It looks like a whitewash” was a comment I heard with regard to Dr. Gupta again and again in the community, as well as from a number of colleagues not particularly attuned to the politics of race or diversity. The high-handed replacement of UBC’s first President of colour with a white, albeit highly qualified and reputed, woman under secretive conditions raised many questions, not the least about the vexed politics of race, diversity, gender and equity at the university. These politics, of course, reach well beyond the level of optics in shaping intellectual and institutional life. The case of Dr. Gupta reveals that if the gender politics at UBC have shifted during its history, these now serve its racialized power structure. Indeed, UBC is becoming whiter at its Centennial even as this whiteness is contested in the world in which the university functions. Unfortunately, like 1915, white hegemony remains pretty resilient at UBC.

‘Race Culture’ Structures Life in the Canadian Academy

University campuses across North America have been in a state of heightened turmoil in the last decade. Debates and struggles sparked by the racial, gender, sexual and colonial/imperial politics that shape the academy are no less explosive now than they were at the height of the protest movements of the 1960s. Public attention in Canada has focused mainly on protests against anti-Black racism in the US, from Yale to Mizzou, but much less reported is the fact that protests against anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and other forms of racism are also being organized at Canadian universities. While protests against austerity measures and the ‘rape culture’ on campuses receives national (if intermittent) public attention – as with the rape chants and sexual assaults at UBC and the online posting of misogynist comments by a group of dentistry students at Dalhousie University  – the ‘race culture’ that structures life in the Canadian academy receives far less public or scholarly attention.

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The glaring absence of Indigenous scholars and scholars of colour in leadership at UBC has been documented by the administration itself, as has been its culture of institutional whiteness. A 2013 report, Inclusion: A Consultation on Organizational Change to Support UBC’s Commitment to Equity and Diversity, commissioned by then President Toope found a “lack of representation of racialized groups in senior positions and on committees, a lack of safe spaces for racialized groups, as well as the persistence of Eurocentric norms in the evaluation of scholarship and work performance.”  The report concluded bluntly, “UBC’s leadership and therefore its key decision-makers are white.”

UBC’s response to this report – which tied equity to diversity and linked both to race – was to ignore its findings on race, delink diversity from equity and link a generic approach to equity with ‘inclusion’.  In this, UBC provided a textbook example of what has been theorized in the scholarly literature as the ‘non-performativity’ of diversity and anti-racism policies. 

Sara Ahmed, in her empirical study of diversity work in universities, found that the writing of diversity statements, policies and reports is taken by administrations to be the ‘doing’ of the work of redressing inequalities of race. These policies and statements thus do not actually accomplish what they claim. They are ‘non-performative’ in that they do not translate into the action required to bring about the necessary change to make the institution diverse and anti-racist.

At UBC, the actionable information presented by the report was likewise not taken up to redress the lack of diversity and racial inequality in its leadership. Instead, this knowledge became calibrated to a race-blind approach that allowed for the enhancement of gender inclusion but deepened the racial inequality in the university’s institutional mechanisms.  Put differently, the institution acted on the report to make itself whiter.

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Such institutional investments in whiteness shape the context in which the Gupta affair has played out. The crisis ignited by his unseemly departure – GuptaGate, as it is  dubbed by some – deepened during the fall 2015 term with the administration’s (mis)handling of other cases related to gender, sex and race, some of which came to public attention. These included an investigation into the infringement of Dr. Jennifer Berdahl’s academic freedom, which led to the resignation of the Chair of the Board of Governors, but no apology from the university; and the institution’s (non)response to sexual assault cases on campus reported by women students, featured in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary.

The University Forced to Release Documents on ‘GuptaGate’

UBC finally broke its silence about the Gupta debacle with the release of the documents in late January (2016) in response to several Freedom of Information requests. The documents were highly redacted, but upon their release, online activists downloaded a treasure trove of uncensored attachments that were apparently released in error.  These attachments made for intriguing reading for they revealed just how fractious the relationship between Dr. Gupta and some members of the Board of Governors (the majority of whom are political appointees) had become. They also pointed to serious violations of  transparency, accountability and fair treatment at this publicly funded institution. Leaked statements from powerful members of the Board of Governors charged Dr. Gupta with exceeding his authority, acting in a manner unbefitting a university President, and generally being inept, divisive, confrontational and ineffectual.   

The quote with which I began (“… you must refrain from thinking controversial thoughts aloud….”) provides a sense of the tone adopted by the Chair of the Board in his communication with the President. In contrast, Dr. Gupta’s response revealed a collegial and measured response to the very many criticisms leveled at him both personally and professionally.  His emphasis was on the professional nature of their working relationships and on what he still clearly took to be their shared objectives.

Upon UBC’s release of these documents, Dr. Gupta spoke publicly about how his vision for transforming UBC into a 21st Century institution generated resistance from some sectors within the institution.  Without specifying the exact scope and nature of the change he envisioned, or the particulars of the conflicts with the Board of Governors, he described how he found out about secret meetings held by an ad hoc committee of the Board. In Dr. Gupta’s estimation, “This group had only one intention… They decided they didn’t want me.”   Eventually Dr. Gupta felt there remained no alternative but for him to resign if UBC was to be protected from further internal strife.

There have been suggestions that the conflicts between some members of the Board of Governors and Dr. Gupta may have included the former President’s attempt to restructure the top level of the administration with an emphasis on fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency, and a shift of resources to faculty and students to support teaching, research and experiential learning.  There is also speculation that Dr. Gupta’s ambitious attempts to resolve older “thorny and unfinished issues” – which included “a mishandled Athletics file, a controversial ‘Vantage College’, disagreements over copyrights, a faulty housing plan that never got off the ground, as well as various pre-approved big ticket capital expenditures” – were not well-received.  The ex-President’s experience has been described as a “nightmare”, it raised concerns about “bullying and harassment” for at least one of his close colleagues. Moreover, the role of political appointees in running the university has sparked further public debate about the involvement of the provincial government in UBC’s internal workings. The refusal of the UBC administration to respond to these substantive issues has kept the speculation and rumors alive and growing.

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Three Lessons about Race and Gender from the Crisis at UBC

What, then, are the lessons of this ‘teachable’ moment that is the crisis of legitimacy at UBC?  As a member of the UBC faculty who has worked for over a decade and a half to promote critical race feminist and anti-colonial studies and advocate for the leadership of faculty, sessionals and students of colour and of indigenous ancestry, I find this current imbroglio reveals a number of important insights into how the politics of race, gender and coloniality are currently being reconstituted at one of Canada’s leading academic institutions.

  • White Hegemony Takes Work. The crisis at CBC demonstrates just how much work it takes to assert white hegemony within the university. Instead of a remnant of a regrettable past that has been transcended, the production and maintenance of this hegemony requires active, dynamic and ongoing efforts at the highest administrative levels. The present crisis demonstrates how those in positions of leadership work to contain the direction of change in order to enhance their own status and access to power. Most significant from my perspective, the departure of the first President of colour, his replacement by a white President, the announcement and press statements by UBC, and the release of documents, all took place without the word ‘race’ entering the public debates and discussions in any meaningful manner.  If ‘race’ has been made invisible in this matter, so too has the ‘whiteness’ that is treated as the normative state of the institution.
  • Disenfranchisement and Appropriation are Crucial Strategies. Producing this institutional whiteness requires the ongoing, active and collective disenfranchisement of underrepresented racialized groups and the appropriation of their creativity, labour and expertise. The UBC example shows how, despite the accomplishments of Dr. Gupta, even in the very neo-liberal terms set by the university, he was denied procedural fairness and due process as stipulated in his contract. And, despite the supposed urgency for his departure, the UBC leadership continued to state their commitment to move ahead with the strategic plan that he had envisioned, presumably with the resources he helped bring to UBC. This suggests there was no significant flaw in his strategic vision or abilities, only with the man himself. The university’s policies, procedures, statements and reports that hold the promise of fair and equitable treatment are thus shown to be set aside on the basis of nothing more than the preferences, choices and interests of the (white) leadership. The Gupta debacle demonstrates how little the principles of fair and equal treatment, transparency and accountability actually impact on the making of such decisions.
  • White Women are the Main Beneficiaries of Equity Measures. The UBC crisis demonstrates how gender is put to work to advance institutional whiteness when the latter is destabilized. Of the four equity seeking constituencies, the greatest advances within the academy have been made in the area of gender equity, as Malinda Smith has found in her research. Significant, however, is that gender is read as white in the Canadian context, so that it is white women who have been the main beneficiaries of equity measures. Likewise at UBC, the treatment of gender continues to privilege white women, enabling them to corner the equity market by actively marginalizing women of colour faculty Situated at the forefront of ‘equity’ and ‘inclusion’ initiatives, gender (shorn of its intersections with other social relations, particularly race) now functions as a gatekeeper for the other equity seeking groups, Smith argues. Gender is thus a key site for the reconsolidation of a white hegemony that is deeply contested otherwise. In the present climate of local and global challenges to racial/imperial discourses of western superiority, promoting race-blind approaches to gender helps restabilize whiteness by containing and impeding the transformative potential of anti-colonial and anti-racist gender politics.

The UBC crisis is far from resolved.  Even as the Board of Governors rushes ahead to consolidate what many define publicly as a coup against Dr. Gupta with its search for a replacement President, the Faculty Association and the AMS Student Society have called for an external investigation into the Board’s governance practices. They have also demanded the suspension of the search for a new President until such an investigation is complete. These developments have been followed by the release of a public statement from the Deans throwing their support behind the Board of Governors and the Presidential search committee.  How and when the present standoff between the university’s leadership and its faculty and students will end remains to be seen.

The mess upending UBC’s centennial celebrations can be anticipated to keep feeding the tensions and upheavals in campus life, and the need for the administration to respond to the substantive matters raised by faculty, students and the general public becomes more pressing by the day. Even the most cursory of observations reveals that UBC’s leadership and its structures of authority reflect neither the demographic make-up nor the social and cultural environment in which the university operates, that it is not representative of the communities it claims to serve.

The making of UBC into a whiter institution will have major and far-reaching repercussions; this larger crisis affects not only the university’s governance, it sets back the cause of racial justice to which many of us are committed. That we have to speak out against the further entrenchment of white hegemony a century after UBC’s founding is a scandal.

~ Sunera Thobani is Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia. She is a co-founder of the cross-Canada network, Researchers and Academics of Colour for Equity (RACE), the former Director of the Centre for Race, Autobiography, Gender and Aging (RAGA) at UBC, and a former President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. Dr. Thobani is the author of Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2007), and coeditor of Asian Women: Interconnections (Canadian Scholars Press, 2005) and States of Race: A Critical Race Feminism for the 21st Century (Between the Lines, 2010). She is currently working on a book on Race and Coloniality in the Academy.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Public Intellectual

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I’m more than a little heartbroken at the news today about Melissa Harris-Perry’s departure from MSNBC. Her show is set to record on my DVR each weekend. Mostly on weekends, I’m running errands or sometimes at church or just somewhere else when her show airs but I always – always – watch it later (skipping the commercials, thank you DVR). Harris-Perry’s has become for me a kind of touchstone for Where We Are Now in the nation in terms of race, gender and a range of social justice issues. Melissa Harris-Perry is also a the North Star for what it means to  a scholar-activist-journalist in the digital era.

“Probably my biggest angst about being an academic is that question of whether or not it makes a difference beyond just your students in the classroom,” Harris-Perry said during a 2012 interview.

Melissa Harris-Perry is, in many ways, a 21st century scholar-activist. She is a respected scholar, a professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University, an activist, and until this weekend, her eponymous talk show on the MSNBC news network gave her a wide reach beyond the traditional classroom.

Calling Harris-Perry the “foremost public intellectual today,” Ta-Nehisi Coates described her show this way:

“[it] brings a broad audience into a classroom without using dead academic language and tortured abstractions”.

Her weekend morning show routinely featured two hours of scholars, activists, journalists, and documentary filmmakers from diverse range of backgrounds discussing the social issues of the day. To augment the conversation further, the show’s producers also curated a conversation on the Twitter hashtag #nerdland, evoking her – and her audience’s – identification as ‘nerds.’

Twenty years ago, leading academic thinker Ernest Boyer, in his famous remarks on the ‘scholarship of engagement’, conjured a show very much Harris-Perry’s when he sought to reimagine the weekend news show of that day, Washington Week in Reviewwhen he wrote:

I find it fascinating, for example, that the provocative Public Broadcasting Service program Washington Week in Review invites us to consider current events from the perspective of four or five distinguished journalists who, during the rest of the week, tend to talk only to themselves. I’ve wondered occasionally what Washington Week in Review would sound like if a historian, an astronomer, an economist, an artist, a theologian, and perhaps a physician, for example, were asked to comment (Boyer, 1996, p. 25).

What Boyer instinctively knew, and what Melissa Harris-Perry has demonstrated, is that there are productive, vibrant and interesting conversations to be had across traditional lines of journalism or academia and that at least some segment of the public is interested in listening to these. Harris-Perry extended this a step further by regularly inviting grassroots activists on to her show for conversation with journalists, scholars of all kinds, artists and filmmakers.

The fact that many of her guests were people of color, including many African American women, meant that Harris-Perry created a unique and much-needed space within the mostly white and male set of guests on mainstream and cable news shows. Each of her carefully curated and produced shows made liars out of those who only schedule white men (and some white women) as guests, experts and pundits because they “can’t find” people of color to book.

It may have been her critical stance on race and gender that MSNBC executives objected to. There are some reports suggesting that it was a proposed segment on the recent Beyoncé video that prompted MSNBC executives to cancel her show. Of course, Melissa Harris-Perry has not been with out her missteps on the race, such as the cringe-worthy interview with Rachel Dolezal.

Still, Melissa Harris-Perry’s critical and mostly spot-on takes about racism for four years at MSNBC have marked an important shift in the culture. For the four years her show was on the air, an African American woman and a public intellectual led a conversation that elevated the public sphere by bringing in new voices to the conversation that most cable news viewers rarely get to hear. Her show also did the kind of thing that Ernest Boyer imagined twenty years ago, by bringing together people from a range of backgrounds, scholars, activist, journalists and filmmakers.

The decision by MSNBC to effectively disappear Melissa Harris-Perry and her show is a loss for us all and diminishes the public sphere. It also serves as a reminder that being a public intellectual on a corporate-controlled platform is always a Faustian bargain.

 

Dating in the Time of #BlackLivesMatter

When I started my dissertation research a year ago, I had not considered what impact the widespread media coverage of #BlackLivesMatter as a movement and rallying cry might have on my respondents. With my research, I intended to explore the online dating experiences of women who identify as multiracial here in Texas; what I have found has been a complex mobilization of Black Lives Matter as a metric of racial progressiveness. In 2016, it has become clear that the increased media attention being paid to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is shaping a particular orientation toward, and conversation around, race and racism in the United States. As scholar Khury Petersen-Smith notes, the movement has “shattered what remained of the notion of a ‘post-racial’ America.” More specifically, my work has found that BLM has impacted individual-level relationships, creating a framework within which people are able to evaluate and “vet” their dating partners, especially amidst claims that society is more “progressive” and that the atrocities we have witnessed are “not about race.”

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As every good social scientist knows, words mean things. The language around, and produced by, movements like BLM – particularly in regards to discourses of race, racial inequality, state-sanctioned violence, and racism – has influenced the ways in which the multiracial women in my study discuss race, racism, and inequality in the context of their intimate relationships. Several women have described using their own stances on the issues BLM addresses as a means of selecting potential dating partners. This finding suggests that BLM and other widespread social justice movements are having significant impacts on how people are navigating racial politics on an interpersonal level. This is particularly pertinent during a time where U.S. media and popular culture is especially focused on issues of racism and state-sanctioned violence.

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Thus, Black Lives Matter provides multiracial women with a means of framing their commentary on racism, racial inequality, and violence. Often, these women describe trying to find a “middle ground” in which to exist politically, so as to not fall within the so-called “extremes.” This middle ground calls to mind the notion of mixed-race people being a “bridge” between communities. The “middle ground” also suggests that to be on the extremes is to identify too closely with blackness or to not be “beyond” race. Thus, many women expressed contradictions over the course of their interviews; for several women the tensions around race and racism are issues of “diversity” and something that these women perceive black people to be “ethnocentric” about. It is telling that the multiracial women who believe that the concerns of BLM are solely concerns for black people are women who are not of black descent. However, women of myriad mixed racial backgrounds – including those who are not part black – noted that the issues the movement highlights are concerns for us all.

 

Alternatively, the women concerned with the so-called “appropriate” behavior of those interacting with the police rather than the inequality inherent in police violence rely on counter-Black Lives Matter narratives. They suggest that if someone is “acting stupid,” then an officer can only assume they are “dangerous and on drugs.” As social scientists have demonstrated for decades, overwhelmingly, the people who are assumed to be dangerous and on drugs are people of color. Virtually every woman who indicated that those killed by police are somehow responsible also relied on some “liberal” talking points, suggesting that officers “not go for the kill shot right away” or that “we need better training.” However, these women also used anti-black logic, which suggests that those killed by police are the deserving aggressors. Virtually all the women I interviewed who opposed BLM utilized the “some bad apples” discourse to suggest that these instances of police brutality are isolated incidents. This logic enabled several women to suggest that the movement is being overly sensitive and that the wrongdoing is on “both sides.”

 

In terms of dating, women who consider potential dating partners’ views on issues of race and racism were invested in finding someone capable of making informed commentary. White masculinity in particular has a specific meaning in this political climate. Some multiracial women expect white men they date to have a certain racial literacy – the racial socialization and antiracist training that defends against and counters racism – and would not consider dating (white) men who are not at least marginally versed in anti-racist discourse and logics. This, however, is not necessarily a requirement for all potential partners, as several women indicated that they assume that men of color will just “get” that racism exists. So, white men are expected to provide proof that they “get it,” much of which is proven through how they engage with discourses around race and racism. Several women described pulling up videos of police assaults – such as the now infamous pool party in McKinney, TX – or referencing other news stories during dates in order to see how men would react.

 

While it may not be surprising that women are excluding partners that they do not view as compatible, it is notable that several women indicated that “what’s going on” in the U.S. did not seem to matter much until about two years ago, correlating with the rise in Black Lives Matter demonstrations and news coverage. Public discourses impact our everyday lives, particularly the highly racialized, classed, and sexualized process of dating. We should be concerned for not only how people are responding to BLM and other related social movements, but also how people are implementing racial rhetoric in their everyday lives. As the mixed-race women in my research illustrate, the dating practices of Americans have the unfortunate potential to continue to reproduce much of the polarizing and unequal racial politics, as well as inherently unequal social structures, that have made Black Lives Matter and its like necessary in the first place.

~ Shantel Buggs is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on dating patterns and race. 

 

 

Debunking White Supremacy

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The United States has always been a white supremacy that masquerades as a democracy. For white racists those are fighting words. How dare anyone cast aspersions on the motives of America’s founding fathers? For shame.

Describing the US as a white supremacy isn’t an ad hominem attack. It is simply a statement of fact. The only people in the room when the founders mapped out the contours of American democracy were greedy white guys. Is it any wonder that the only people who have enjoyed unrestricted access to American democracy throughout its history are greedy white guys?

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Women and people of color have always been on the outside looking in. The costs of being an outsider have been astronomical. America’s greedy white guys paved the way for continent-wide genocide and property theft — and every other person of color as persona non grata. Should anyone dispute America’s favoritism for white guys, I refer you to the Naturalization Act of 1790.

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Passed into law less than one year after the Constitution came into effect, the Naturalization Act of 1790 stipulated that only “free whites” could become citizens of the United States. This law had the perverse effect of installing greedy white guys as the USA’s one and only “true natives.” The Naturalization Act of 1790 also de-naturalized peoples of color which summarily transformed Native Americans and other well-established occupant of North America into undocumented aliens in their own homeland.
The notion that the US is a white supremacy is contentious, but it shouldn’t be. White supremacy is an indisputable fact of the US Constitution specifies that the US will value people of color at a mere fraction of the value of its white male citizens:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the US Constitution)

According to the Three-Fifths Compromise, the US views free white men as being equal in value to one whole human being. By contrast, the US views people of color as being worth somewhere between 0-⅗ the value of a whole human being. In sum, people of color are quantifiably inferior to their superior white counterparts. As long as such language remains an integral component of the US Constitution, the US will unequivocally remain a white supremacy. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the US Constitution is just a scrap of paper. If the US Constitution champions white supremacy, then it’s up to the champions of democracy to change the US Constitution. We can have democracy in the US, but first we have to debunk white supremacy. Science tells us that all humans are equal. White racists don’t like it, but the scientific truth is inescapable. All humans are equal. Not identical, but equal.

 

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White supremacy is a mean-spirited fiction that greedy white guys concocted to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. Democracy demands that we knock greedy white guys off of their pedestal. Although greedy white guys have often been unsparing with the violence that they inflict on “others,” I think it’s possible and preferable to knock greedy white guys off of their pedestal without violence.

Greedy white guys have warped American democracy into a white supremacy by dehumanizing women and people of color. So, if we’re going to knock greedy white guys down a peg, we need to remove their pedestal. Innocuous as it may seem, the Three-Fifths Compromise is the pedestal that greedy white guys have used to warp American democracy.

It won’t be easy, but I am convinced that if we can find some way to remove the Three-Fifths Compromise from the US Constitution we can we can bring an end to white supremacy in America. If we terminate white supremacy we can also, by extension, terminate the racism and other inequalities that emanate from white supremacy.

I think it’s worth a try. At the very least, it’s a way of knocking greedy white guys off of their pedestals.  That’s worth the price of admission all by itself.

 

~ Professor Tim McGettigan teaches sociology at Colorado State University-Pueblo and he writes books about social change. Most recently, he is the co-author, with Earl Smith, of A Formula for Eradicating Racism: Debunking White Supremacy. 

Next Step for Beyoncé

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Watching the Super Bowl Half Time Show, I was excited to see Beyoncé use her international platform to send a decisively pro-Black political message. As a sociologist, though, I took note of the typical over sexualization of black women and concur with others that sexy dancing is far from taking a revolutionary stance. Nevertheless, I was pleased to see Queen B adding public advocacy for black empowerment to her behind the scenes support. I was not pleased, however, at the blatant colorism embodied by the performance. Oversimplified for brevity, colorism is the racist higher valuation of lighter skin over darker skin and results in lighter skinned non-white people being privileged over their darker skinned brothers and sisters in everything from health to the criminal justice system (pdf). In spite of her donations and other shows of support in the black community, Beyoncé has and continues to uncritically capitalize on society’s biased preference for lighter skinned blacks. At the start of her career, for example, the other members of Destiny’s Child were encouraged to tan to facilitate Beyoncé standing out as the lightest. Her latest video, “Formation,” passes this on to the next generation by featuring her daughter, Blue Ivy, as the lightest in a group of little girls.

 

And when she performed with all-black female dancers at the Super Bowl, Beyoncé was, as usual, the lightest (and the only one with light hair) in the group. The fact that all of the Super Bowl dancers were darker than Beyoncé suggests they were selected not just for their dancing skills but for their appearance as well.

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To be fair, prominently featuring brown skinned, black-haired black women in one of the biggest events of the year is important to celebrate given the pervasiveness of colorism in the media. Nevertheless, when browner skinned black women are used as the backdrop against which the lighter skinned, long blondish-brown haired star can stand out and seemingly shine even brighter, then blackness is subordinated to whiteness despite any lyrical affirmations to the contrary.

Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance sent viewers two messages. It verbally asserted that black lives, culture and politics are valuable while simultaneously visually affirming white aesthetic supremacy. The performance literally conveyed that even in 2016 when black women “get in formation” it is lightest skinned first and then, as the old adage goes, “if you’re black, get back.” Obviously Beyoncé cannot change her skin tone, and since light hair looks very nice on her I am not suggesting she dispense with her chosen hair color either. I am suggesting however that the next step in her growth, maturation and development as a black celebrity/political figure should be to take a long hard look at why she feels the need to so often position herself (and now her daughter) as lighter than others. Beyoncé has already shown that she has embraced #blacklivesmatter.

I look forward to the songs and shows to come were she someday to embrace #blackisbeautiful, too.

 

~ Jennifer Patrice Sims, PhD, is an adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Her work examines racial perception, mixed race identity and the sociology of fictional societies, in particular Harry Potter.

An Update on the Rooney Rule: The NFL, Facebook, and Universities

It’s been a busy week for the Rooney rule—the rule adopted by the National Football League (NFL) to help increase diversity at the senior level by requiring at least one minority candidate be interviewed for each senior position. Last week we published Warren Waren’s call to higher education to institute such a rule in America’s colleges and universities in order to address the consistent racial disproportions among faculty.

That same week, Facebook announced it would include a similar rule in an effort to increase its diversity. And this week, the NFL itself updated the rule to include consideration of female candidates.

However, the biggest news in the Rooney rule comes from the University of Texas. Last Thursday, the new chancellor of University of Texas system announced a broad application of the Rooney rule to all administrative positions at the dean level and above.

In a presentation accompanying the formal announcement, Chancellor McCraven said,

This slide [referring to the racial gap between students and administrators] makes it very clear that we are not doing the job we ought to be doing in driving equal opportunity and fairness in our hiring and promotion processes. This is particularly disappointing because education is all about opportunity. Making sure our faculty and staff reflect the changing look of Texas is not just about fairness. It’s also about effectiveness. We need faculty, administrators and campus leaders who understand the people they’re serving, who come from the same kinds of places.

Which other college or university would be ready to implement such a program? Some other large public university? Perhaps one of the Ivy League? An elite research institution? One of our many small private colleges or universities? One of our community college systems? I hope my university (Texas A&M University) is next.

Institutional Racism: Comparing Oscar Nominations with Higher Education Faculty

Punxsutawney Phil must have seen his shadow last year at the Oscars and decided institutional racism was going to be around for another year. For the second year in a row no people of color were nominated for the top honors in America’s entertainment industry. In a country that is 37% people of color, we have no nominees. In an industry where 46% of moviegoers are people of color, we have no nominees. In an industry where we have recognized superstars giving top notch performances, we have no nominees. We hate to have expected it. But like Phil, we probably could have seen it coming.

The problem in this instance is not who is starring or who is watching. The problem is who is voting. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the voting body of the Oscars, is 94% white. This glaring example of institutional racism is the legacy of an antiquated system that is not yet ready for the 21st century. The voting body is not representative of the audience nor the performers. The decisions of that institution reproduce the biased racial composition of the leadership itself. What did we expect? That entrenched institutional racism would go away unchallenged?

As much as we love movies, and as much as they are a part of our culture and identity, there is another more important institution that is facing a similar problem of leadership: higher education. African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population and 15% of the enrolled student population at America’s colleges, but only 5.5% of all full-time faculty are black. Back in 2007, when the black faculty rate was 5.4%, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education predicted black faculty rates would reach parity with the percentage of blacks in the U.S. in about 140 years. Long time coming. Unfortunately, between 2009 and 2011, black faculty rates actually slipped back a little. So, that original prediction might be off by a generation or two.

An educated reader might guess that black faculty are not evenly distributed across America’s university system. Black faculty are concentrated within the small (and shrinking) portion of higher education called Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The Washington Post reported in November 2015,

Remarkably, 96 percent of black tenured faculty are at HBCUs (even though HBCUs comprise only 3 percent of the nation’s 3000 colleges and universities). If HBCUs disappeared, so would most of the nation’s black academics.

Yet most college students and most African American college students do not attend HBCUs, they attend what we’ll call traditionally white institutions (TWIs). And those institutions need black faculty now. Badly. As mentioned above, at the student level, integration has reached parity nationally. The percent of students of color is close to their percent in the general population. This is indeed a cause for celebration. But now we face a new challenge of integrating the faculty.

Why do we have this problem? Why have we had in increase in black students and not an increase in black faculty? Compare fifteen percent of students to 5.5% of faculty. Why are we expecting faculty to catch up in 140 years? Do we not have great scholars ready to step into the classroom? We had a 43% increase in the number of black PhDs between 2000 and 2010, but during that time black faculty appointments at TWIs increased only 1.3%. This is not a crisis of supply.

Like with the Oscars, the problem is not with who is starring (professors of color) or who is watching (students of color)—the problem is who is voting. Leadership at universities look a lot like leadership at the Oscars. Both institutions are 90% to 95% white. Both are largely invitation-only affairs (make no mistake, social networks matter for every faculty appointment). Both bask in the glory of their own conceit. Both are prone to recreating their own biases. Both are self-regulating and quite insulated from external challenges. Do we expect either of these institutions to change without a challenge?

That challenge is not lost on students of color at traditionally white institutions. In 2015, students held anti-racism protests at scores of universities and colleges across the country. At over 50 campuses, students issued formal demands of their school’s leadership. Coupled with increased intensity of activism off-campus, the student movements began to get traction for their demands. Multiple university presidents have resigned, chancellors and deans have been removed. This is a student movement with power. But what is the main thing these student protesters want?

The website fivethirtyeight.com quantified the demands of 51 campus protest movements (those demands can be found here). There were, of course, many demands—requiring diversity training, renaming mascots, expanding mental health resources—but the modal response was some version of “we need more professors of color.” However, the most common demand was to increase the diversity of professors at TWIs.

We still face a graduation gap—in 2012, African Americans were 14% of students but only 9% of graduates. Also, the number of black students at top-tier, research one universities has apparently dropped. And we have a Supreme Court Justice who is openly considering a two-tiered racial system of higher education. So we face multiple issues. But correcting the proportion of black faculty in higher education might help solve these other problems. More faculty of color could reasonably help with the graduation gap in a number of ways. More faculty of color might help open pathways for our students of color into elite universities. And more faculty of color would help blunt the tired theory that African Americans should only attend “slower-track” schools.

Ultimately, I feel that both the Oscars and the academy will have to look a lot more like the people they serve or they will be replaced by institutions that do. But that is a long view. How do we get there from here? What if higher education used the Rooney Rule? This is the rule adopted by the National Football League (NFL) in 2003 to ensure that at least one minority candidate be interviewed for every senior position. In 2002, before the rule went into effect, minority players made up 70% of the players in the NFL, but only 6% of the coaches. In 2015, minority coaches made up almost 19% of the total (six out of thirty-two) down from a full 25% in 2011.

At my own institution, a public university serving over 55,000 students in Texas, one department had the opportunity to hire six new positions last year. This is very rare, even at large institutions. For each position, the faculty in the department selected three candidates to come for a campus interview. Out of 18 candidates, how many were people of color? None. That was a missed opportunity, completely lost on faculty whose percent black resembles the police department in Ferguson, Missouri. If we had a policy that resembled the Rooney Rule, we would have had at least six people of color visit our campus in hopes of impressing the mostly white faculty who make the decision to hire.

Surely, there is delicious irony in asking higher education to learn from football. But the principle of ensuring interviews for candidates of color is so direct and efficient that Facebook just announced it would be adopting the Rooney Rule to increase its diversity. In light of the reasonable success of integration at the top level in the NFL, and the serious effort to integrate at Facebook, and the clear demands of students of color across the country, it is time for us to finally integrate the faculty in higher education. And the Oscars might look into it, too.

Dr. Warren Waren is an Instructional Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University. His research focuses on racial residential segregation, gender differences in higher education, labor discrimination against Latino day laborers, and labor issues affecting same-sex couples. See his research work here.

White Supremacy and Property Rights: Tamir Rice and the Oregon Standoff

 

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In a span of just four days, news headlines in the US illustrated different aspects of white supremacy.  In one headline, we learned that the police officers who shot and killed Tamir Rice, a twelve year old, black child, as he played with a toy gun in a park in Cleveland, would face no charges in the young boy’s death. In another series of headlines a short time later, we watched a lenient, even nonchalant governmental response to a group of white, armed, anti-government protesters as they stormed the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Taken together, both highlight the importance of white property rights as a cornerstone in how white supremacy operates.

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The juxtaposition of the events in Ohio and Oregon illustrate white supremacy in the United States. .

On one hand, the killing of a child playing in a public space, the lack of aid rendered as he lay dying, and the assumption that he was much older than his young twelve years was justified through deeply established tropes that criminalized Tamir Rice’s black skin and that made him always already a suspect, even as a child.

On the other hand, Ammon Bundy and members of his white, anti-government militia, calling themselves “concerned citizens” while actively threatening to raise their arms against the federal government, are entitled to supply demands, press conferences, and a “wait and see” response by officials.

But the significance of recent events in Oregon extends beyond this obvious example of the differential treatment of racial groups by the state. We argue the events at the Oregon wildlife refuge are representative of what Arlo Kempf describes as a “colonial moment,” one that bolsters white supremacy and violence against people of color, as well as the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous peoples in the U.S. settler state.

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The concept of settler colonialism emphasizes the ongoing occupation and privatization of Indigenous territories and the systems of race necessary to sustain the displacement and marginalization of Indigenous peoples. From this perspective, colonization is not an event of the past, but rather an enduring process that continuously unfolds across the landscape. Colonial moments normalize white domination and the racial status quo by obscuring histories of racial violence and exploitation and by reinforcing largely unquestioned assumptions about white settler property ownership and entitlement to stolen lands.

For some, the Bundys – both Ammon and his father Cliven – have become folk heroes for their efforts to reclaim federally owned and regulated land and for resisting the overbearing, ‘tyrannical’ federal government. However, as the chairperson of the Burns Paiute Tribe, Charlotte Rodrique, has explicitly stated, the Paiute peoples had been living on these lands for thousands of years prior to the arrival of white settlers. Deep ironies abound as the militia members demand that the federal government return the land to ranchers, loggers, and miners after claiming the federal government had usurped their rights.

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Though it’s quite easy to dismiss the Bundys, their followers, and other white militias in the American West as a “radical fringe” group with a poor understanding of U.S. history, we believe that to do so would be ill informed. Not only is the Oregon standoff part of a much broader political, economic, and social movement rooted in individual private property rights and undergirded by white supremacy, the event – and popular reactions to it – sustain particular understandings of whiteness and land ownership that render invisible the displacement and exploitation of people of color that enabled white settlement and the acquisition of federal lands in this area in the first place.

 

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Though Oregon is popularly known as one of the whitest states in the nation and parodied for its left leaning politics and liberal views, less widely known is how the state’s contemporary racial geography was forged through racist policies at a variety of scales (municipal, state, federal) that facilitated indigenous land appropriation, racial exclusion and marginalization, and labor exploitation. Through federal homestead policy and land acts that transferred lands appropriated from Indigenous peoples to individual white settlers, and aided by Indigenous dispossession and genocide, Whites assumed ownership of the area’s most productive land and built their local infrastructure and economy with Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican immigrant labor.

The Oregon Donation Land At (1850), for example, allowed free land only to whites. In Oregon, 10,513,945 acres (17 percent of total lands) were homesteaded following the 1862 Homesteading Act and its subsequent iterations. Racial exclusion laws passed in 1849 and 1854 prevented blacks from living in Oregon Territory. These exclusions were written into the state’s first constitution in 1859, which made Oregon the only free state in the Union with a black exclusion clause Furthermore, when Oregon statehood was declared, Chinese and Japanese immigrants were prevented from owning land or holding mining claims. Oregon’s 1901 anti-miscegenation statute nullified and criminalized marriage between whites and people of color, making the offense punishable by imprisonment.

As is clear, discourses about land rights in the American West continue to obscure and naturalize the ongoing displacements of Native Peoples and policies of racial subjugation and exclusion that produced the racial and class makeup and patterns of land ownership in contemporary Oregon. As a colonial moment, the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge shores up this racial framework. Bundy’s sense of history and his “right” to claim land on behalf of “the people” demonstrates the continued centrality of settler colonialism and white supremacy in the United States.

Thinking about the killing of Tamir Rice together with the Oregon standoff reveals the contours of white supremacy and the ways in which social condition of whiteness – what it means to be white in America – is so deeply entwined histories of violence, marginalization, and dispossession that have rendered some lives more valuable than others.

White men making claim to their “private property” rights are “patriots”, while black children playing in public spaces are reasonable threats to life and property.

 

~ This post was written by Anne Bonds and Joshua Inwood.  Bonds is and Assistant Professor of Geography and Urban Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her research focuses on gendered, raced, and classed inequality and the politics of economic development. Inwood is an Associate Professor of Geography and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee. His research focuses on race, racism and the continuing significance of white supremacy for understanding the US.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not — and the White Sanitization of Racial History

Today, on Martin Luther King Day, Ripley’s Believe It or Not comic strip published the sketch of a smiling Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King as newlyweds The caption of the sketch reads “Martin Luther King Junior and Coretta Scott King spent their wedding night in a funeral parlor instead of a hotel.” The sentence is consistent with the strip’s teaser approach. Nonetheless, the reader is left to wonder why the just-married couple opted for a funeral parlor rather than a hotel room. Were they too cheap to get a room? Did they have a fetish for the macabre? Did someone in their immediate families die that day?

Of course, the reason that the newlyweds spent the night at the funeral parlor on the night of their wedding day on June 18, 1953, was that the local hotels in Marion, Alabama, denied them a room. It was through the help of friends including his father, Martin King Sr. who presided over the wedding ceremony in the Scott family’s backyard in nearby Heiberger, that they were allowed to stay in the funeral parlor.

The Ripley entry represents yet another example of the way history is sanitized when it comes to race. For example, we routinely hear about plantation tours that never mention the words “slavery” and “slave” because it is “not part of the official tour.” On the day honoring Dr. King, the Ripley comic strip writer missed an excellent teachable-moment opportunity by failing to tell, as the legendary conservative commentator Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

Rogelio Sáenz is Dean of the College of Public Policy and Peter Flawn Professor of Demography at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is co-author of Latinos in the United States: Diversity and Change and co-editor of The International Handbook of the Demography of Race and Ethnicity.