Puerto Ricans: Mythologizing Reality and US Hegemony

Puerto Ricans are lazy, filthy, thieves, parasites. They expect everything to be handed to them. They are dumb people who have no initiative or talent. They lack discipline and a sense of responsibility. They love to party. They hate their compatriots: [they say that] the island is sinking, losing its population and coming apart.(Translated from Spanish.)

Who in the world would utter such diatribes against Puerto Ricans: White supremacists? The Ku Klux Klan? Not really.

According to Benjamín Torres Gotay, a Puerto Rican journalist writing in San Juan’s Spanish language El Nuevo Día, it’s Puerto Rican themselves. Torres asserts that these beliefs represent a campaign carried out by people who are convinced that the solution to Puerto Rico’s problems is statehood. Because Puerto Ricans are by nature incapable of taking care of themselves, it is claimed, the US would step in and solve the problems of its 51st state.

Puerto Rico’s problems, Torres asserts, are rooted in a system that grew out of Puerto Rico’s dependence on the US. “Laziness” is due to the lack of decent jobs, “ignorance” grows out of a disastrous school system, and “lacking in initiative” is the result of a deeply embedded popular notion that Puerto Ricans need US help to take care of things.

We may add that the Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci pointed out that after long inculcation such myths penetrate the average individuals’ psyche and become an unquestioned “commonsense.” Gramsci denominated this state of affairs “hegemony.” All colonies suffer from this “hegemony.”

To Torres’ penetrating accounting of the root causes of Puerto Rico’s maladies we need to add racism. Anti-Latino racism is part and parcel of US culture. In the halls of Congress, no less, Latinos have been called inferior mixtures of Spanish, Indian and Black stock, or “mongrels.” The US is not sympathetic to people of “other” races (that is those who are not white) and consequently unlikely to hold a benevolent view of Puerto Rico.

The racist message has become a component of Puerto Rican commonsense. It teaches that as an “other race,” Puerto Ricans have no one to blame but themselves for their problems. This is an ironic twist: exploit a people and blame their race for the consequences of their exploitation.

Research Brief: Latest from the Field of Race, Racism

Here is your weekly research brief with some of the latest research in the field of race and racism. As always, I note which pieces are freely available on the web, or “open access” with (OA), and those behind a paywall with (locked).

Research in the Dictionary

 

  • Back, Les. “Street Corner Society” Public Books. In this piece on Richard Howe’s New York in Plain Sight, a project that involved taking more than 8,000 photographs of every street corner in Manhattan. In interviewing him about the project, Howe reveals to Back: “In the course of the project I became very conscious … about how racist I still was.” (OA) 
  • Balfour, Lawrie. “Unthinking Racial Realism: A Future for Reparations?” DuBois Review 11, no. 1 (2014): 43-56. Considered costly, divisive, and backward-looking, reparations for slavery and Jim Crow appear to have no place in the politics of the “postracial epoch.” This essay proposes that the dismissal of reparations concedes too much. First, I contend that the conjunction of postracial discourse, on the one hand, and deepening racial inequalities, on the other, demands a counter-language, one that ties the analysis of the present to the historical conditions out of which it was produced. I explore reparations as a political language that (1) situates political claims within the historical framework of slavery, reconstruction, and segregation; (2) links past to present to future in its demand for concrete forms of redress; and (3) has played an important role in African American political life and in contemporary democracies in transition. Second, in contrast to much of the reparations scholarship, I focus on the demands of democracy rather than justice. Doing so both helps to evade some of the technical questions that have prevented full consideration of the political work of reparations and provides a vehicle for redefining both governmental and civic responsibility in the shadow of slavery and Jim Crow. (OA – whole issue is open through 9/19/14). 

 

  • Bowman, S.W. (Ed.), Color behind Bars: Racism in the U.S. Prison System (2014). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger. Low-income African Americans, Latin Americans, and American Indians bear the statistical brunt of policing, death penalty verdicts, and sentencing disparities in the United States. Why does this long-standing inequity exist in a country where schoolchildren are taught to expect “justice for all”? The original essays in this two-volume set not only examine the deep-rooted issues and lay out theories as to why racism remains a problem in our prison system, but they also provide potential solutions to the problem. The work gives a broad, multicultural overview of the history of overrepresentation of ethnic minorities in our prison system, examining white/black disparities as well as racism and issues of ethnic-based discrimination concerning other ethnic minorities. This up-to-date resource is ideally suited for undergraduate students who are enrolled in criminal justice or racial/ethnic studies classes and general readers interested in the U.S. criminal justice system. (locked)

 

  • Dilts, Andrew, “Punishment and Inclusion: Race, Membership, and the Limits of American Liberalism” (2014). Law. Paper 1. At the start of the twenty-first century, 1 percent of the U.S. population is behind bars. An additional 3 percent is on parole or probation. In all but two states, incarcerated felons cannot vote, and in three states felon disenfranchisement is for life. More than 5 million adult Americans cannot vote because of a felony-class criminal conviction, meaning that more than 2 percent of otherwise eligible voters are stripped of their political rights. Nationally, fully a third of the disenfranchised are African American, effectively disenfranchising 8 percent of all African Americans in the United States. In Alabama, Kentucky, and Florida, one in every five adult African Americans cannot vote.   Punishment and Inclusion gives a theoretical and historical account of this pernicious practice of felon disenfranchisement, drawing widely on early modern political philosophy, continental and postcolonial political thought, critical race theory, feminist philosophy, disability theory, critical legal studies, and archival research into state constitutional conventions. It demonstrates that the history of felon disenfranchisement, rooted in postslavery restrictions on suffrage and the contemporaneous emergence of the modern “American” penal system, reveals the deep connections between two political institutions often thought to be separate, showing the work of membership done by the criminal punishment system and the work of punishment done by the electoral franchise. Felon disenfranchisement is a symptom of the tension that persists in democratic politics between membership and punishment. This book shows how this tension is managed via the persistence of white supremacy in contemporary regimes of punishment and governance. (OA)

 

If you have research related to race and racism, let us know and we’ll include it in an upcoming ‘Research Brief.’

Norma Rae, Get out of the Way! Income Inequality in the 21st Century

Karl Marx is quoted as saying, “Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.” Well the sounds of chains rattling were indeed heard last week on September 4th across the nation within over one hundred cities across the U.S. Sponsored in part by the Service Employees International Union, partakers within the cities of San Diego, Chicago, Las Vegas, Little Rock, New York, and Detroit raged “against the machine,” marched, and created civil disobedience while performing sit-ins outside your favorite fast-food restaurants. If you were lucky enough last week to be in line at McDonalds or Burger King waiting for your “McFlurry,” or one of those new “Big King Chicken” sandwiches, you might have had the chance to feast your eyes upon hundreds of fast-food workers and their supports proclaiming in unisons that the current living wages of most fast-food workers, which is approximately 7.25 an hour, would no longer suffice. If you were in a McDonald’s in Los Angeles’ Southland area, you may have had trouble listening for your food order, because 100 workers conveyed inside and chanted, “Get up! Get down! Fast-food workers run this town!” You might have even seen some of them, like others protesters across the country screaming for a 15 dollar an hour increase as local police forcibly escorted many of them to “The Pokie.”

The case of income inequality is back upon the stage of interests. Within the U.S., between 1979 and 2012,

the median wage earner became 74.5 percent more productive but saw just a 5 percent increase in pay, and since 2000, compensation has declined or stagnated for the bottom 70 percent.

Unlike when I was a teen in the late 1980s while working and goofing off at Burger King with my high school friends, today’s employees are disproportionately adults with families. In fact, the largest share of those working within these positions is between 25 and 54 years of age. This makes the findings by the Economic Policy Institute even more haunting. They reported that out of those fast food workers, 16.7 percent live below the poverty line. This number is double the percentage of those that do not work within the industry. On the other hand, CEO’s of these companies, on average earned 26.7 million in 2012.

If you heard of the events described above last week while watching CNN or Fox, you did not hear them broach the topic of race and gender. Importantly, fifty-six percent of those workers who were 20 years or older adults between 2010-2012, as reported by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, were women. In terms of race, 56.2 percent and 17.5 percent were respectively White and Black. One must remember Blacks only account for 13.2 percent of the country, while Whites account for 77.7 percent. The Urban Institute found that for every dollar Blacks earned in 2010, Whites earned two dollars.

Not so long ago, we as a country Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. told us that we must challenge the issue of income inequality. He stated,

Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice.

In 1956 Rev. Martin Luther King publicly argued for a world in which “privilege and property [are] widely distributed, a world in which men will no longer take necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.” It seems nothing has changed.

Regardless, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was an outspoken advocate of unions and workers rights. This is marked within his action to march with the United Workers Association (UAW) in 1963 in Detroit. His position is evident within the speech to sanitation workers in Memphis the night before he was assassinated in 1968. Also, one cannot forget the Poor People’s Campaign that addressed issues of economic injustice and poor housing opportunities, for not only Blacks, but also “all” people. Overall, the campaign stressed to the federal government to take actions that illustrated a strong stance to aid the poor. Sadly, his energies even garnished criticism inside and outside the civil rights movement.

Today, his work is echoed within the current movement to gain rights for food and other service workers. But the question remains, will the gauntlet of King be picked up or are the events last week fleeting and follow the characteristic lazy stance U.S. citizens have taken regarding domestic social justice? I am hopeful, but as Gil Scott-Heron noted in a live performance in France, “Lately there has been on spring, no summer, and no fall, politically and philosophically, and psychologically. There has only been the season of ice.” It truly is “Winter in America.”

Crime in Puerto Rico: How Bad is It?

A recent article in Latino Fox News decries the “serious” crime situation in the island:

Puerto Rico . . . suffers from an astronomic violent crime rate; the U.S. territory registered 13 murders in the first five days of 2014 – four of them occurring during a single night.

Thirteen murders in five days constitute an verage 2.6 murders per day. However, this figure is not as ominous when compared with cities in the U.S. such as Detroit:

Six people have been killed and nine shot during a 24-hour period in [Detroit]. This round of violence began early Thursday morning and extended into Friday.

Six murdered persons in one night is double an average of 2.6 murders in one day. This Puerto Rican figure probably pertains to the San Juan area (Fox Latino doesn’t specify), an urban enclave with high poverty and substantial drug traffic, not unlike in Detroit, which foment violence.

What the Fox article fails to mention is that in Puerto Rico there have not been any incidents when a deranged (and usually white male) individual invaded a school and killed innocent children, as has periodically been the case in the mainland United States.

There is more to death by firearm than simple numbers: the wanton nature of the crime — and who the perpetrators are — must also be taken into consideration.

Research Brief: British Sociology on Race and Racism

We’re back to our regular schedule after a summer of fewer updates here. Today is Monday, and with the start of a new week, and a new semester, we continue our ‘Research Briefs’ with highlights from recent publications by some of our colleagues in the UK. As always, I’ll note which citations are Open Access (OA) or locked behind a paywall or otherwise not available on the open web (locked).

Research in the Dictionary

The journal Patterns of Prejudice selected twenty-four of their top articles from previous years (2011-2013); those are collected here. A few of those titles that may be particularly relevant for readers here include:

  • Charters, Erica. “Making bodies modern: race, medicine and the colonial soldier in the mid-eighteenth century.” Patterns of Prejudice 46, no. 3-4 (2012): 214-231. The expansion of British imperial warfare during the middle of the eighteenth century provided motivation and opportunity for observations on British and native forces. The nature of military medicine, with its use of regimental returns and empirical observations about mortality rates of large groups of anonymous individuals, encouraged generalizations about differences between native and European bodies. As foreign, colonial environments accentuated European deaths due to disease during war-time, and as early modern medicine advised the use of acclimatized, native labour, the physical experience of eighteenth-century colonial warfare encouraged the recruitment of native forces as menial labourers under the direction of professional British soldiers. Although not inherently racial, such practices buttressed emerging social and cultural prejudices. In contrast to the traditional focus on intellectual writings on race and science during the modern period of nineteenth-century imperialism, Charters’s article examines the experience of common men—rank-and-file soldiers—during the early modern period, demonstrating the relationship between developing empirical and scientific observations and burgeoning racial theories. (locked)
  • Pitcher, Ben. “Race and capitalism redux.” Patterns of Prejudice 46, no. 1 (2012): 1-15. Pitcher’s article deals with a revival of interest in the relationship between race and capitalism. The old reductionist arguments that once held that capitalism was ultimately to blame for racism have been subject to a peculiar inversion, and now capitalism is being conceived as having anti-racist outcomes. Engaging with arguments that suggest that anti-racism similarly serves as an agent of neoliberal capitalism, Pitcher suggests it is necessary to rethink the terms of the imputed relation between race and capital. He goes on to interrogate some of the pieties of contemporary race politics, and argues that common blind spots in left critique constitute an obstacle to understanding the articulation of capitalism and race. (locked)
  • Saggar, Shamit. “Bending without breaking the mould: race and political representation in the United Kingdom.” Patterns of Prejudice 47, no. 1 (2013): 69-93. Saggar draws together research evidence and practitioner insights to evaluate and interpret change in race and political representation in Britain. The starting point is to ask: how far have British democratic institutions been responsive to the emergence of an ethnically diverse society? There have been significant impacts of such diversity on attitudinal change, demographic and electoral composition and political participation. Saggar’s article proceeds in four parts. First, the issue of the political integration of ethnic minorities is discussed, including theoretical debates about political difference in outlook and in behaviour across and within ethnic groups, as well as the ways this may be connected to ethnic background. Second, key normative and empirical arguments are examined about why political change and ethnic pluralism matters, and to whom. The structure, institutions and processes that shape representative outcomes form the backdrop to the remainder of the article. The third section highlights aspects of the party and electoral landscape that disproportionately influence the electoral prospects for discrete minorities. Finally, attention is given to the rise of a ‘political class’ and discusses how these filters can skew the opportunities available to minorities. Saggar concludes with a discussion of long-term political integration, the emerging focus on executive appointments, and how, through political integration and social cohesion, minorities can affect the wider political system they have joined. (locked)

The British Sociological Association’s Race and Ethnicity Study Group (@BSArace) released a special issue that provides an overview of the field:

The editors of the journal Sociologythe flagship journal of the British Sociological Association’s (@britsoci), have put together what they’re calling an “E-Special,” which is a compilation of previously published articles on race and racism, including this classic:

  • Solomos, John and Les Back. “Conceptualising Racisms: Social Theory, Politics and Research.” Sociology 28 (1994): 143-161.  This paper explores the changing terms of debate about race and racism in contemporary social and political theory. It focuses attention on criticisms of what is often called the `race relations problematic’, and looks at some of the critical approaches that have emerged in the past decade. By looking at the questions addressed in the debates of the 1980s and the 1990s, it outlines some of the issues which researches have to address in developing new research agendas. It suggests that we need to rethink key theoretical concepts in order to analyse the complex forms of racism that have emerged in contemporary societies. (OA) 

The E-Special also includes ‘new’ classics, like this one:

  • Bhambra, Gurminder K. “Sociology and Postcolonialism: AnotherMissing’Revolution?.” Sociology 41, no. 5 (2007): 871-884. Sociology is usually represented as having emerged alongside European modernity. The latter is frequently understood as sociology’s special object with sociology itself a distinctively modern form of explanation. The period of sociology’s disciplinary formation was also the heyday of European colonialism, yet the colonial relationship did not figure in the development of sociological understandings. While the recent emergence of postcolonialism appears to have initiated a reconsideration of understandings of modernity, with the development of theories of multiple modernities, I suggest that this engagement is more an attempt at recuperating the transformative aspect of postcolonialism than engaging with its critiques. In setting out the challenge of postcolonialism to dominant sociological accounts, I also address `missing feminist/queer revolutions’, suggesting that by engaging with postcolonialism there is the potential to transform sociological understandings by opening up a dialogue beyond the simple pluralism of identity claims. (OA)

The introduction to the E-Special, which provides a nice overview, is here:

  • Meer, Nasar, and Anoop Nayak. “Race Ends Where? Race, Racism and Contemporary Sociology.” Sociology (2013): 0038038513501943. In this introductory article we critically discuss where the study of race in sociology has travelled, with the benefit of previously published articles in Sociology supported by correspondence from article authors. We make the argument for sociologies of race that go beyond surface level reconstructions, and which challenge sociologists to reflect on how their discipline is presently configured. What the suite of papers in this collection shows is both the resilience of race as a construct for organising social relations and the slippery fashion in which ideas of race have shifted, transmuted and pluralised. It is in a spirit of recognising continuity and change that we present this collection. Some of the papers already stand as landmark essays, while others exemplify key moments in the broader teleology of race studies. This includes articles that explore the ontological ground upon which ideas of race, citizenship and black identity have been fostered and the need to develop a global sociology that is critically reflexive of its western orientation. The theme of continuity and change can be seen in papers that showcase intersectional approaches to race, where gender, nationality, generation and class offer nuanced readings of everyday life, alongside the persistence of institutional forms of discrimination. As this work demonstrates, middle-class forms of whiteness often go ‘hiding in the light’ yet can be made visible if we consider how parental school choice, or selecting where to live are also recognised as racially informed decisions. The range and complexity of these debates not only reflect the vitality of race in the contemporary period but lead us to ask not so much if race ends here, but where? (OA) 

 

Do you have new research on race, ethnicity, or racism? Want it included in an upcoming Research Brief?  Use the contact form to let us know about your work.  Be sure to include an abstract and a link.

Signs of Racism: “Save Our Country Close Our Borders”

Recent Central American migration has generated numerous protests across the U.S. Yet this backlash differs because the primary targets of white anti-immigrant sentiment are Guatemalan, Salvadorian, and Honduran children. This humanitarian crisis and the subsequent relocation of undocumented families to various border patrol stations and detention centers has led to significant increases in anti-immigrant and anti-Latina/o rallies and demonstrations. The protest signs reveal a hodgepodge of political, economic, patriotic, and emotional reactions as evidenced in the following pictures below.

SaveOurBorders

(Image source)

Although the protestors vary in the messages they seek to convey, here I focus on four themes (1) health (2) taxes (3) illegal/legal status and (4) children. Moreover, the protest signs are often accompanied with crude attempts at humor as a way to further denigrate Latinas/os. An informal examination of the white protester’s signs and banners reveals a common connection, the racialization of Latinas/os and the reinforcement of white supremacy. All the pictures except for one were collected through various online news articles using the search terms “immigrant protest.”

BoycottMexico UR_Tax
Dumping NoAmnesty

(Image sources, clockwise from top left:
Times of San Diego, Syracuse.com, MagicValley Times-News, and Syracuse.com).

 

Health: Mainstream U.S. society has treated undocumented and documented Latina/o immigrants as foreign piranha eager to devour jobs and overrun communities. Over time immigrants have been wrongly portrayed as plights on the system draining public services, specifically the health care system.

Rising hospital costs, overcrowded emergency rooms, and increased diseases, have been some of the common historical and contemporary ailments undeservingly blamed on Latina/o immigrants. Yet, the overwhelmingly white protestors continue to attack Latinas/os by operating out of the white racial frame.

Within this worldview an anti-Latina/o health perspective emerges. For instance, the following white oppressive sign “Save our children from diseases” (image below) refers to the stereotype that Latina/o immigrant children are unhealthy, unclean, sickly, and dirty. The presence of immigrant children threatens the health status of white American children (read the future of whites), therefore, as the argument goes Central American immigrants need to be removed or eliminated in order to preserve the health status of white children.

FreePass

(Image source)

Another sign reads, “Stop Diseases Crossing Our Border” and the message is clear. Central American children are viewed as a danger to white health and therefore should be removed before they infect white children. This health hysteria harkens back to public health campaigns steeped in xenophobia (see, Shah Contagious Divides). The fact that it continues today, speaks to the continuing power of white xenophobia and white racism.

The final health related protest sign “Thousands of American veterans die waiting for medical care, free medical care for illegals” (see below) underscores a blatant attempt to utilize health as a weapon of fear. The white protestors falsely attribute the death of American veterans to the medical expenses and increased waiting periods generated by Latinas/os. Invoking veterans is an attempt to utilize patriotism as a mechanism to solicit outrage and thus support, yet none of these claims are substantiated with actual data.

MedicalCare

(Image source)

Taxes: Historically, immigrants have been falsely represented as disease carriers in order to justify exclusion and control. But, exclusion from what? Well according to protestors, from economic and social support. This uninformed and inherently racist perspective interlocks both health and taxes to delegitimize the prospect of citizenship “Our tax $ for u!!! Hell no, go home”. Despite the fact that undocumented immigrants pay more into the system than they receive. Another protestor perpetuates the myth that immigrants drain public services by reframing the issue around illegality and criminality “UR TAX $ 4 Illegals” (see image above).

The protestors’ misconceived argument regarding taxes and Latino/a immigrants goes something like this:  “As an American, I believe that the immigrant children should go back to their country immediately. I do not want to spend my money nor the government’s resources on immigrant children because they are illegal.” These misinformed views and statements fail to contextualize the complexity of the situation. These particular slogans do not capture the forces that have shaped present day Central America, particularly the role of the US in perpetuating war in such places as Guatemala and the subsequent legacies of poverty and violence; and thus migration.

Legal/Illegal: The law is used to mask the dehumanization of Latina/o immigrants while also failing to consider the dire circumstances which led to the children’s precarious situation. For example, “U.S. citiens don’t get free pass y should ileagels” (see image below) and “We Immigrated Legally! Please do the same”. Despite the spelling and grammar, these arguments do not consider the historically racist immigration policies the U.S. has placed on people of color. Immigration policies have worked to exclude and control non-whites rather than incorporate them into U.S. society. Furthermore, similar to “American” the synonym “We” stands for whites. We followed the law, we are good law-abiding citizens, whereas these children are criminals “illegals” this rhetoric creates a familiar “us versus them” scenario.

 

Legally

(Image source)

Children: The protestors also use comedy as a way to belittle and degrade the immigrant children, for example, “No vacancy try the white house” and “The White House Called: Obama & Michele are waiting for you there… They love children!”  “Return to sender” and “Agents: Secure Our Border Not Change Diapers”. However, underlining the sarcasm is another hateful and racist attempt to demean Central American children. The first two protest signs unrealistically suggest that the white house and by extension the Obamas can be an alternative housing option for the children. The white house acts as a symbolic site for failed immigration policy and the misplaced fear that the protestors’ own homes will be occupied by menacing foreigners, as expressed by this sign “Breaking into MY House Doesn’t Give you the Right to Stay NO Amnesty!”. The racist protestors blame Obama and the white house as the source of the perceived immigration problem. In addition, the protestor’s white privilege affords them the ability to feel mistreated, yet propose unrealistic solutions.

The protestors shamelessly deflect the problem by calling for the children to be sent to Washington, DC “Tired of the lies! Bus the kids to the White House!”. The white protestors rehash the hurtful images and experiences of desegregated school busing. Busing children of color has been a consistent theme in the struggle for racial equality and a reality all too familiar for Blacks and other People of Color. It is in this vein that the irrationality of the protestors comes to light; Obama can deal with the children first hand and then perhaps deportation efforts will be expedited. But it is hard to believe that the kids themselves are the central issue, especially when the protestors expel messages of impeachment and securing the border, as in this sign, this one and this one.

The concern over the moving of displaced immigrant children into their communities caused intense panic among many of the protestors, “What about our kids?! Keep our kids safe”.The call for self-preservation is based on an anti-immigrant ideology that demonizes Latinas/os. The white racial framing of Latina/o immigrants is particularly troubling in this case because the children are thrust into circumstances that are beyond their control.

BusKids

(Image source)

The white anti-immigration protestors rely on the stereotypical about disease carriers, arguments loosely based on legality, and the familiar, convoluted tax angle. The protestors use banners, signs, exclamation points, puns, innuendos, sarcasm, and humor to hammer their point and enhance their hate speech. White privilege, self-preservation, and fear, fuel anti-immigrant supporters in their effort to degrade children who have desperately fled from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The protest pictures are also shrouded in nationalistic fervor; almost every picture has a US flag or clothing, likening securing the border to patriotic duty. The systemic nature of white supremacy works to exclude and deport Latinas/os while simultaneously reproducing inequalities and sustaining racial oppression; as a result, whites are able to rationalize the sentiment “Save Our Country Close Our Borders.”

Meanwhile, the families of undocumented Central Americans wait in facilities that resemble prisons, while elected officials refuse to make any progress towards the dignity of innocent children.

ImmigrationAmerican

(Image source)

Perhaps the anti-immigration protestors can learn a different message.

Equality for None: Public School Education Finance

I challenge you all today to venture toward new discoveries as you ride, walk, cycle, or brazenly skateboard to a few public schools within your community. Beyond the overwhelmingly barren architecture most buildings display to the public, most would assume there is nothing visually odd about the settings. But the figurative blood that runs through the bodies differs. Some are on the verge of going into shock, while others possess platelet-rich plasma and function quite well.

Few of you would imagine that their lies a level of social and economic inequality that has garnished little outcry from the media, governmental entities, and public. Indeed, this pursuit of true social and economic justice has gained few attendants. The inequality that I speak of is disguised within complicated fiscal formulas and legislation few could comprehend without finding themselves in need of an anti-depressive. Through these means, existing public school education finance apportionment systems have allowed for the existence of legal systems of oppression that target racially marginalized populations. This is explicitly clear when observing the effects of public school apportionment systems on Black students.

During the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education Tokepa (1954), Chief Justice Earl Warren once argued that:

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education in our democratic society. It is required for the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today, it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

What his statement forgets to mention, notwithstanding the final decision of the courts, principles for educational rights are in fact limited. Many are actually unaware that the decision of Brown has never been interpreted as embracing protections regarding educational funding inequalities. This overlooked detail has historically had an adverse effect upon Black students since the 20th century. Currently, the effects have become direr.

But what else would one expect within a country that is founded on racial injustice and isolation. I am not alone, for the works of prominent legal and race scholars, such as Derrick Bell, Joe Feagin, and Albert Memmi mirror my argument. All mentioned would maintain that the overall stance of the Brown, “equality for all,” is impossible to achieve. Why? One must realize that all U.S. institutions are profoundly designed to only benefit the White majority. Consequently, they majority simultaneously deny opportunities and economic power to racially marginalized populations occupying “so-called” inferior positions upon the White fashioned racial hierarchy. “What did you say? What about all of the legislation that history has shown that was created by Whites for the benefit of Blacks?” People such as Derrick Bell would argue that a majority of White initiatives that seek to address racial justice are only brought forward if said action serves the economic and social interests of Whites. In regard to the argument, it is important to remember that in order to protect White interests, the barring of groups such as Blacks through the means of systemic oppression is compulsory. Within this country, oppression is preserved through U.S. constitutional protections and laws. This is indeed mirrored within the public school financial apportionment structures.

In order to understand this injustice, it is important to know that all U.S. states’ legislatures authorize and control public education. Under state funding formulas (which vary), states deliver predetermined funds to schools. Through state formulas and schemes, they determine the level of financial need regarding the maintenance of individual elementary and secondary schools. In addition to the menial contribution from the federal government, schools rely heavily on state and local revenues. All states have provided 17% and 50% to public schools since the 1930s. Therefore, the majority of funds are derived from local contributions. These local contributions are determined by local property taxes formulas. Further, the establishment of utilizing local property taxation by the state voters is as old as the common school movement.

This reliance upon property taxes has historically handicapped Black communities. But with the occurrence of white flight in the 1960s (due to school busing initiatives and the push for integration), Black students began to feel upon their proverbial little chins the snapping of a one-two punch combination. Racial isolation and the economic hardship of the poor within urban settings consequently lowered property value. As urban settings became less populated with Whites and middle class Blacks, community urban education settings began to house predominately Black and Brown students. These schools began to show a heavy reliance upon federal and state allocations in order to fill the missing property tax gap. Today, the country has shown a decline in spending dedicated to public education. This has also trickled down and affected special education students as well. Some states (Iowa and Kansas) have even gone as far to seek federal and state permission (waivers) to cut special education funding from their state budgets. These cuts drastically affect Black students disproportionately. Specifically, in comparisons to White students, Blacks are the overwhelming population in segregated special education classrooms.

Today within the 21st century, Whites strive to rid themselves of sharing school monies with people of color. This is illustrated by the actions of wealthy Whites in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. They currently seek to succeed from attending schools with their poor Black neighbors (four out of five live in poverty). They have stated that they seek to create a separate school district that will be funded by their own, unshared wealthy property taxes. This is also seen within states such as Texas, Alabama, and Georgia. Once again, this is nothing new for America. After the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, White upper class southerners abandoned their public schools and established private white schools. In the north, racially like-minded parents followed suit and did the same. This is an illustration of an old game upon a new playing field.

Specific examples of inequality can be collected though the National Center for Education Statistics. Through these means, one can find countless examples of blatant financial and racial inequality. For example, in Illinois, wealthier school districts on average receive as much as three times the revenue for per-pupil expenses than poor school districts. In 2013, school districts such as Rondout Elementary District 72 and East Aurora Unit District 131 have a property tax collection level of $30,381 and $2,816 per student respectively. Mostly White school districts such as Glencoe, Skokie, Glencoe and La Grange gain more local funds that that which is observed within the almost all Black districts of W. Harvey-Dixmoor, Park Forest, and CCSD 168. This trend is observed with Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Further, the Texas Civil Rights Project in 2012 reported that inequitable funding was actually endorsed by the Austin Independent School District (AISD). The report stated, “AISD allows and supports the private subsidization of higher-income (or “higher-equity”) schools, sometimes by as much as $1,000/student more than the amount of funds that support students in lower-income (or “lower-equity”) schools.”

If one believes in Derrick Bell’s argument, in order for change to occur, a proposed change to the manner schools are financed must be arranged in a way that illustrates a threat of some sort to White interests due to the increasing international complex and competing world economy. Maybe. Maybe we all should just stand up and challenge the machine and seek justice for all our children.

Racist, Immoral Dehumanization of Immigrant Children

There are two main challenges in addressing the border issue of increased numbers of undocumented children traveling alone from Central America to the US.
The first is that the dehumanization of Latinos in the US has been so tremendously successful that a basic call for decency and humanity is absent from the conversations surrounding this situation. For example, I recently highlighted the issue in an op-ed to a local newspaper and the comments reveal people hiding their racism behind arguments of “legal” and “illegal.”

An absence of decency and humanity can also be seen in the protesters who turned away buses of children or who are protesting detention centers across the country where children are housed because we’re a “nation of laws” or because the children “carry diseases,” “bring crime,” will grow up to “rape women.” This is all to familiar language that uses the same fear tactics, dehumanization, and racism once used towards African Americans during slavery and Jim Crow and towards the Chinese during the late 1800s—language used to justify atrocious acts of oppression of these groups then and language used to justify monstrous cruelty to these children today. One has to wonder if these protesters would have the same response to refugee children coming from Eastern Europe. Perhaps there would still be a backlash against thousands of Eastern European refugee children arriving alone to the US; however, I doubt it would rise to the shameless levels we’ve seen recently, or that it would use the kinds of language being used–language that has roots in removing people of color outside of our human and national family throughout American history. This underscores how effective the racialization of Latinos in the U.S. currently is.

The second hindrance with addressing this issue is the problem of politicians who either do not care or if they do care are acting first and foremost in their self-interests by being in lock step with xenophobic Americans’ preferences. This response by our nations leaders underscores Schneider and Ingram’s research revealing that politicians make laws that benefit certain groups and burden others. This explains why Congress refuses to act in a bipartisan fashion and pass laws addressing this situation. This explains why traumatized children are being put on planes and sent back as a deterrence to others. This is not just, rational, or wise public policy but this is what our political leaders are engaged in.

Instead, there must be another way. There must be collaboration and civility between the nations involved to come up with short-term and long-term policy solutions. For example, Héctor Perla Jr. recently provided examples of both short term and long term solutions in a recent article. Perla gives the example of granting the children refugee status rather than seeing them as undocumented immigrants in the short term, and in the long term he argues we must address economic policies in Central America that are creating the conditions pushing children and their parents to migrate.

Other short term ideas with the goal of preventing further harm to the children immediately by keeping more children from dying or being injured on the train include finding them earlier in the process of migration. This would require creating a coalition between the US and the countries from where the children depart to check the trains and help the kids at that point. Long term of course must address the roots of the problem. This requires taking into consideration why children are fleeing their countries and finding ways to address these issues as Perla suggests. This too, must be done in collaboration with leaders from Mexico and Central America. Of course, civility, compromise, and collaboration across national leaders seems impossible to accomplish when it doesn’t happen across political leaders in this country who follow the desires of many Americans who cannot see Latinos as human beings, not even the children.

Not Just Symbolic: The Harm of Indian Mascots

When seeing the dancing “Redskin” Wahoo fan below, many Americans think it’s okay as it’s “just fun,” or it is some kind of twisted way to “honor” Indians, or it’s “only a symbol” not meant to hurt anyone. However, there are real, pernicious effects coming from the public display and theatrical racism of these symbols and “race” costumes and all the antics that are an integral part of their use and history.

Protestor dressed as "Wahoo"

(Image Source)

 

When I was participating with the Black Hills Cultural Institute held in Spearfish, South Dakota, primarily for school districts on the Rosebud and other Lakota / Dakota “Indian reservations” with large numbers of Indian students, news came that the mainstream academic and media had finally acknowledged that the bodies of some of the Dakota men hung at Mankato by the United States military government, had indeed been immediately exhumed and given to those requesting the body parts, especially a prominent doctor in Minnesota (Dr. Mayo who later founded the famous clinic under his name).

Dakota survivors had long said they had done this, and much worse, but were always mocked and discounted. As a great grandson of Mayo apologized and returned the skeletal and other remains, (including skins made into lampshades and bones with tattooed numbers on them) the newspapers duly reported the genocidal stories as being true. One Dakota woman teacher of our group started crying, and then weeping, as we discussed this during a break in our workshops on “historical grief” and “generational trauma” for Indian descendants of these and many other infamous massacres. Finally consoled by her Dakota relatives, when asked what was the matter, she said “He was my great-grandfather, they are talking about my grandfather! My grandmother cried every night, and told us what they had done, and no one believed us and called us “liars” and worse, but we always knew our relatives were telling the truth.”

 

Postcard of Sioux  Hanging
The Hanging of the 38 on Dec. 26, 1862
(image source)

 

It is hard to imagine a more direct cause-and-effect of mass killings, or in this case of a mass execution, the largest government sanctioned hanging in our country’s history, than to see and hear from those who survived and yet were never allowed to tell their stories, much less be acknowledged how deep their grief may be. Symbols such as “Chief Wahoo” and team names and words such as “Redskins” racially categorize Native peoples as less than fully human, and harken back to terms such as “savages” (literally used in the Declaration of Independence) that depict “Indians” as uncivilized and war-like.

Actually, these terms have been used in genocidal attacks against both my bloodlines – the Dakota after the 1862 Mankato hangings as Minnesota offered “$200 for every Redskin sent to Purgatory” with proof from scalps or “dead bodies” for the bounty, and the Lakota as prelude to the killings of our families at Wounded Knee when newspapers stirred up racial hatred with headlines such as “Old Sitting Bull Stirring Up the Excited Redskins” and “Some Bad Redskins” with Big Foot in the winter of 1890.

 

Mass Burial at Wounded Knee

Picture of mass burial site at Wounded Knee
(image source)

In the denial of massacres and genocide and destructive conquest across the land, we must understand that these histories are not taught in the schools and universities of our nation, and they are not often  taught in the curriculum where Indian peoples attend. When I was giving my 1890 Ghost Dance on Standing Rock lectures as a Humanities Scholar at the High School in Fort Yates on the reservation, a few students came forward and would not leave, with one missing his bus ride to Bullhead because he wanted to talk after everyone left. It turns out his relatives had died at Wounded Knee, including headsman Big Foot, and this not only was never discussed in his classes, but was actually discouraged.

But with real relatives who experience the trauma of unresolved grief and unacknowledged wrongs, great psychological harm is transferred across generations.

It is amazing that a large portion of American society does not see this as racism, or even as hurtful, discounting both research and testimony of scholars and Native leaders and traditionals, and research, in how these images, names and antics cause psychological and cultural harm to Native children,

 

In their book Missing the Point: The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth, Erik Stegman and Victoria Phillips found that studies show such names contribute to a negative educational environment:

“Research shows that these team Indian-oriented names and mascots can establish an unwelcome and hostile learning environment for AI/AN students. It also reveals that the presence of AI/AN mascots directly results in lower self-esteem and mental health for AI/An adolescents and young adults. And just as importantly, studies show that these mascots undermine the educational experience of all students, particularly those with little or no contact with indigenous and AI/AN people. In other words, these stereotypical representations are too often understood as factual representations and thus “contribute to the development of cultural biases and prejudices.”

 

This kind of racism is repeated in the team fight songs for sports teams, for example in  “Hail to the Redskins,” the lyrics that fans sing are:

“Hail to the Redskins, Hail Victory, Braves on the Warpath, Fight for Old D.C.!… Scalp ‘um, swamp ‘um, we will take’um big score….”

These lyrics were written by Corrine Marshall, wife of R*dskins owner George Marshall.
American Indians have been experiencing a Renaissance of cultural revitalization. Part of this revitalization has been through work done with the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.  This project has found the most productive efforts are those that emphasize “nation-building” where Native peoples utilize the skills that focus on Sovereignty, Institutions, Culture and Leadership Matters. Each of these critically important areas is in direct contrast with the images and words that mascots and racial team names represent. Native children are usually taught that eagle feathers are given in respect to those who earn them, whether for civic leadership, defending the people in war, or as living with the values the elders teach – so it’s insulting and confusing when they see these plastic and turkey feathers in mock behavior of sports fans. American Indian students are taught they are the descendants of Nations and societies worthy of recognition, respect, and even reverence – so when fans go “whup-whup-whup!” as they yell “Go Tribe” or “Kill Redskins” with Tomahawk chops and little fake scalps over painted faces, their heritage is called into question. Indigenous youth are instructed in ceremonies and traditions that are culturally valuable and sacred – even as be-feathered racist antics suggest that Americans mock and denigrate their cultures.

There is abundant evidence to support the negative impact of these racist stereotypes on children in indigenous cultures, such as Stephanie A. Fryberg, lead author of a 2008 study, Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots. Most recently, Michael A. Friedman compiled a report on various studies in his The Harmful Psychological Effects of the Washington Football Mascot.

 

Redskins Fan (Image source)

 

American Indian students are involved in consciousness-raising over these issues and becoming more outspoken on the harmful effects that these represent to them as individuals and as tribal members. Recent studies are documenting these statements. The following are quotes from Indians that Stegman and Phillips spoke with on their views about names and mascots.

Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown, Miwok student and football player:

“One of our school’s biggest rivals is the Calaveras Redskins. … Worst of all, the most offensive stuff doesn’t even come from the Redskins. It comes from their rival schools, mine included. I have heard my own friends yelling around me, ‘Kill the Redskins!’ or ‘Send them on the Trail of Tears!'”

Joaquin Gallegos, Jicarilla Apache Nation and Santa Ana Pueblo:

“The issue impacts me because as long as the Washington football team and others retain pejoratives as names, mascots, and are allowed to do so, it says that it is ok to marginalize me, my family, and Indian country—that it is ok for Native peoples to remain on the periphery of American consciousness.”

Sarah Schilling, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians:

“I distinctly remember listening to a radio talk show one morning discussing changing the mascot of a local northern Michigan school because it poorly depicted Native American people. Non-Native people defending the mascot seemed to populate the airtime. They all spoke about school and community pride, or fond high school memories. A Native American mascot seemed to have nothing to do with actual Native American people to them. A white person’s school pride was put above a Native American person’s sense of identity. A white person’s fond memories were more important than a Native American youth attending a school they felt still wore the mascot of oppression.”

Cierra Fields, Cherokee, member of the NCAI’s Youth Cabinet:

When I see people wearing headdresses and face paint or doing the tomahawk chop, it makes me feel demeaned. The current society does not bother to learn that our ways, customs, dress, symbols and images are sacred. They claim it’s for honor but I don’t see the honor in non-Natives wearing face paint or headdresses as they are not warriors and who have earned the right. My heritage and culture is not a joke. My heritage and culture is not a fashion statement. For me, it ultimately boils down to respect.

 

Even more surprising is that defenders of these sports mascots, particularly the Washington Redskins, deny any negative effects and even claim that Native Americans broadly support their use, up to 90% according to one poll quoted ad nauseam by team owners and fans. This is where bad social science intersects with institutional racism, and where my work on similar issues some 20 years ago in Cleveland needs to be redressed for Washington. In my earlier research, we ran our own survey with American Indian respondents, and the results are more in line with what we know Native peoples are feeling and talking about, finding the “large majority of American Indians, when properly identified and polled, find the team name offensive, disrespectful and racist.”

 

 

Wahoo shirt

(image source)

 

That research found that American Indians were 67% in agreement, 12% were neutral and 20% disagreed with the statement: “The Redskins team name is a racial or racist word and symbol.” Whites were 33% in agreement, 26% neutral, and 41% disagreed the term was racial, generally the reverse of American Indian responses. The neutral category played a significant role for whites in allowing them to not be seen as “racist” – upon further analysis more than 60% of whites reject the term Redskins as racist, while more than 60% of Indians see the term Redskins as racist.

We released the results of this study in the spring of 2014, but got little attention from mainstream media outlets. The Washington Post interviewed me about methods, asking who did the collecting (“were they Indian?”) and so on, but have not, to date, reported on it. The dismissal and denial of Indian genocide and its lasting effects runs deep in most sectors of American society, especially those cities and universities still employing these racial mascots.

Some twenty years ago I took my first tenure line position at a Jesuit university just outside Cleveland, Ohio, where the most pernicious sports mascot icon exists, the “Chief Wahoo” of the Cleveland Indians baseball team.   Just as in Washington, they claimed it was to “honor” Native peoples or it had nothing to do with race or Indians, sometimes in the same sentence response to our survey on such attitudes. Again, how can reasonable people make such claims to any of these racial sports mascots, much less the two most egregious examples, the Washington “Redskins” and the Cleveland Indians’ “Chief Wahoo”?

Some forty and more years since this issue was first charged to the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians, we still have “be-feathered, dancing Chiefs” in straight-out racist antics, with clear connections to the worst practices of genocidal racism in our nation’s history. We still have white elites, such as George Will and Dan Snyder  supporting and defending these deeply racist images and names, citing popular support and bogus polls, and denying this is just the same-old racism of yesteryear. And we still have Native American children suffering from having been surrounded by these racist images and words, and Indigenous students in conflict with what they are taught in their schools and textbooks.

When will America wake up, and see that the perpetuation of these racist images and terms is an ongoing insult to Indigenous Peoples and Native Nation?

 

~ James Fenelon, Professor of Sociology & Director of Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies, California State University-San Bernardino

Danny Glover reads Frederick Douglass’ “The Meaning of July 4th”

This time of year, we commemorate the famous speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” written by Frederick Douglass and delivered in Rochester, NY on July 5, 1852.

In this famous speech, Douglass says:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

You can read the full text of Dougalss’ speech here.  Danny Glover read Douglass’ famous speech in 2005 at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles, California, captured in this short video(6:06):

Glover’s reading was part of Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s book Voices of a People’s History of the United StatesMore video clips can be found at the Voices of a People’s History website and in the film The People Speak.