The Strengths of Being Multiracial

In a recent NYTimes piece, “What Biracial People Know,” Moises Velasquez-Manoff assembles a variety of compelling studies demonstrating that people of mixed heritage—-or even people who have similarly cultivated a “limber-mindset,” perhaps by living an extended period of time in another culture—have sharper mental acuity, and stronger problem-solving abilities, than those with a monocultural background. Even as young as 3 months old, these infants begin having greater facial recognition abilities than their counterparts. When presented with word-association and other creative problem-solving tasks, those reminded of their multiracial heritage performed better than those who were not similarly primed.

The research Velasquez-Manoff reviews echoes other studies done around monolingual vs. bilingual education that reveal that fluent bilingual students tend to perform better in school than either Spanish-only OR English-only students—challenging the advisability of the “straight-line assimilation” admonishments of old. But Velasquez-Manoff goes even further by looking at not just at individual-level outcomes, but societal outcomes—such as “economic prosperity, greater scientific prowess and a fairer judicial process”—to argue that an entire community benefits when groups forge intimate connections beyond just their own tribe.

This piece comes across as much a celebration of diversity as a stark warning—warning to those who would like to turn the clock back to a time when many took solace in the comfort of the uniformly familiar. With facts like these—“multiracials make up an estimated 7 percent of Americans, according to the Pew Research Center, and they’re predicted to grow by 20 percent in 2050”—Velasquez-Manoff makes it evident there is no turning back this tide. In the shift from an Obama to Trump administration, he argues, the step back from multiracial to relatively monoracial is evident. And this “closing in” of ranks, as if fearful of an impending multiracial nation, emanates from a grave misperception that “out-groups gain at in-groups’ expense”—the great zero-sum game fallacy. In presenting this collection of studies, Velasquez-Manoff makes an excellent case for those who fear a society where whites are not the majority. He demonstrates that everyone in a society stands to benefit when its members are better able to perceive a situation and solve a problem from multiple vantage points—skills that are clearly heightened in multiculturally fluent individuals. He writes, “cities and countries that are more diverse are more prosperous than homogenous ones, and that often means higher wages for native born citizens.”

Velasquez-Manoff seems to implore—even if diversity scares you and you want nothing to do with it, just on the basis of this evidence that you’d be part of a stronger, richer, smarter society, wouldn’t you want to come on board for the ride?

Yet if it were that simple, of course it would have been done by now. I have two biracial children myself, and several older biracial stepchildren. Recently I asked one of my stepsons, now nearing college graduation, when did he first realize there was this thing called race separating us? Of course he spent nearly every day of his life going back and forth between families of different skin colors, but that never passed the radar. After all, when a rainbow of shades and tones is your daily reality, it’s hard to tell where this dividing line is that everyone’s talking about. I’ll never forget having to explain to my daughter about legal segregation—she was assigned the part of Dr. King in a kindergarten play, and all she was told was he gave a speech and had a dream, so I had a lot of filling in of details to do! I could see her rolling all of her different family members through her head, trying to figure out which ones back then would have been considered black, and the funny thing is she got 99% of them “wrong” by society’s standards—I mean, after all, who do you know who looks “black?”

It’s instructive to see the nonsense logic of “race” through a kid’s eyes. But my stepson told me it was not until he started to notice the differences in the churches he would attend with each part of the family—all the while seeming to be talking about the same God—but doing so very differently. Such a clear indicator that race has so little to do with skin color and so much to do with the way we humans have persisted in organizing ourselves. What once existed by law now continues de facto, because the scars are very deep, because we fear venturing out of comfort zones, because we continue to be excluded subtly rather than overtly—there are so many reasons. (See Gene Zubovich’s thoughtful essay for more on church segregation specifically.)

Our churches and our families are some of our most intimate spaces. We go there to take refuge from the onslaught of pain that the world “out there” throws us. Many of us turn to a spiritual community, or an intimate relationship, to feel safe, to be able to let down our guard, to finally no longer have to worry what everyone else thinks, or what someone might do to hurt us. Velasquez-Manoff cites a study of college roommates (by Sarah Gaither at Duke), matched across racial lines, and in this intimate space, yes -— it was not easy, at first. But after initial discomfort subsides or is worked through, the gains for both parties to the relationship are undeniable.

Velasquez-Manoff writes: “Diversity is hard. But that’s exactly why it’s so good for us,” and quoting Katherine Phillips of Columbia Business School, likens it to the pain of muscles in a workout—the hurt is indicative of something growing stronger.

Indeed, research I’ve done with Kathleen Korgen shows that even in close cross-racial friendships, friends tend to avoid the topic of race altogether, or else joke about it without taking racism seriously as a difference between them. Is it any wonder that research shows us many more young people are having cross-racial dating relationships now, but far fewer of those dating relationships actually move onto an interracial marriage —- hence sociologist Zhenchao Qian reminding us this is the “last taboo.”

It is one thing for two people to connect one-on-one, but quite another for them to forge a marriage which bonds their entire social/familial circles —- that will take some hard word, creating conflicts, some of which might never get fully worked out. Those who are already facing the daily pain of racism may not see themselves as able to voluntarily sign themselves up for yet another battle with this monster called race—-after all, so much of it they did not sign up for and is out of their control. And on the flip side, someone like President Donald Trump with a fragile ego and in unfamiliar territory may seek to surround himself with sameness in effort to assuage his own fears—-as might many of his supporters also.

As Joe Feagin and Kimberley Ducey argue in their forthcoming book Elite White Men Ruling, Trump operates from a white-virtuous-arrogance frame. Elite white men often have little to no intimate contact with nonwhites yet boldly attempt to speak with authority about them nonetheless. Diversity can be scary to the monoracials on both “sides,” albeit for quite different reasons.

Yet Velasquez-Manoff’s brilliantly crafted piece demonstrates with a mountain of evidence that facing those fears and struggles will produce a result that is so worth it! And he further shows us that even without interracial marriage or offspring of our own, we can take the plunge to “diversify” our own experiences to similar positive results. But no pain, no gain. So time to get to work to make this a stronger brighter world for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and beyond. Because after all, there is no turning back this tide of multiracials coming up to show us the way!

Dr. Eileen O’Brien is Associate Professor of Sociology and Associate Chair of Social Sciences at Saint Leo University, Virginia campus. In addition to teaching and writing books on race relations and racism, she leads community workshops on race, including the upcoming “Loving Across Differences.”

Black Lives Matter!: Dreaming for America to Practice What Jefferson Preached

PART I
I had a dream, no not the dream of Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. I am the legacy of their dream. I dreamed that it was the late 1700s and I was talking to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Jay.

In this dream, I was the voice of conscience materialized as a wealthy, property owning White man, because in the days of Thomas Jefferson the elites did not listen to poor, non-property owning White men or to wealthy White women. At that time the voices and realities of Native Americans and Enslaved Africans told inconvenient truths that the founding fathers of the U.S. conveniently and blatantly ignored.

Thomas Jefferson exalted: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”

I interrupted: “But Thomas you acquired over 600 slaves during your lifetime!”

James Madison and John Jay joined in—-you know, James Madison the slaveholding 4th president and John Jay, the slaveholding first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court—-well Madison spoke as John Jay nodded in agreement: “It was I who fashioned the preamble to the constitution, ‘We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare…’”

Once again, I interrupted! Remember, in this dream I was cloaked in the privileged identity of a wealthy, property owning White man. I reminisced: “But James, you also believe that the primary goal of government is ‘to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.’ And by ‘minority’ you mean the 1% instead of People of Color like the original inhabitants of the Americas or Enslaved Blacks; poor Europeans are not part of that 1%.” I then turned to John Jay and asked: “And how did you put it John?: ‘The people who own the country ought to govern it.’

This conversation with Jefferson, Madison, and Jay continued.

PART II
Then in my dream, time shifted from the late 1700s to the mid-to-late 1800s. Suddenly I am sitting among a group of prominent liberals, progressives, and radicals. Folk like William Lloyd Garrison the renowned abolitionist and social justice advocate, and John Dewey, famous for his views about Education and Democracy. The vast majority of the people in the room are still wealthy White men. But this time, they have been joined by prominent White women like sociologist Jane Addams, known as the mother of social work. Black men like Frederick Douglas, a freed slave, abolitionist, orator, Statesman and defender of rights for Blacks, and Black Women like Sojourner Truth, a freed slave, abolitionist, and advocate for women’s rights as well as Anna Julia Cooper who was born to an enslaved mother but became an author, educator, and distinguished scholar. There were two other faces that stood out: Southern Cheyenne Peace negotiator Black Kettle sat along side Sojourner Truth. And Christal Quintasket was also present; she sat beside Anna Julia Cooper. Quintasket, an Okanogan Native woman also known by the pen name Mourning Dove, was the first Native American woman to publish a novel. Though progressives and liberals, the vast majority in this part of my dream were still wealthy White men but Newton Knight was also present. Newton Knight was the White Mississippi farmer who opposed Confederacy. Yes! I said “White” & “Mississippi” & “farmer” who opposed the Confederacy.

The wealthy, progressive White men, argued from the principled space of how things should be. John Dewey asserted: “Like Horace Mann, I believe public Schools to be Great Equalizers!”

Frederick Douglas countered: “But Blacks, and many Whites, still don’t have the right to an education!”

Jane Addams exclaimed: “And women don’t have the right to vote!”

As Sojourner Truth nodded in support, Anna Cooper explained: “Black women neither have the right to vote nor the right to an education! We support our Black brothers yet point out that we deal with the oppressions of racism and sexism!”

Newton Knight, William Garrison, and Jane Addams chimed in: “Speak sisters!

Knight added: And poor Whites have far more in common with Black men and women than with Wealthy whites!”

Black Kettle, speaking directly to the White progressives in the room, asserted: “You speak of equality as you covet lands that are ours. You are dazzled by ideals, while in the mid-to-late1800s, Native nations do not have the right to vote in their own country!”

Christal Quintasket augmented Black Kettle’s reprimand: “White men have too often been infatuated with turning Native Americans in to symbols and ideals instead treating us as equals who are real. Native nations will not have citizenship and the right to vote in their own country until 1924!

Forgetting that I was cloaked in the privilege of Whiteness & Maleness & Wealth, I emphasized: “And White liberals and progressives like you!, ahem [clears throat], I mean like us! must venture down from the loft of ideals and actively listen to and reverently collaborate with those whose causes we claim to support!”

Among the Whites in the room only Addams, Garrison, and Knight saw thru my cloak of White-privileged-maleness as they smiled, nodded, and winked directly at me in support of my statement.

PART III
Now, I am no longer dreaming. I have arrived to this panel discussion as a working-class origins Black woman, with the status of professor. When I say “Black Lives Matter!” I am saying that Thomas Jefferson never practiced what he preached. Like too many open-minded Whites today, I am saying that many White liberals and progressives from mid-1800s to mid-1900s were more infatuated with ideals than realities. I am suggesting that if Part II of my dream had been reality, most White liberals and progressives would have treated me with racist, sexist, and elitist disregard. I am saying that the achievements of the Women’s Movement in the early 1900s as well as the accomplishments of Black, Chicano, Asian, Native American, Poor Peoples’ social and civil rights movements from the 1960s and 70s are ongoing, uphill struggles.

In agreement with Jesse Jackson, I am saying: “The system has a class bias as well as a race bias…. [I]n the first five months [of 2015], 95 percent of police killings occurred in neighborhoods with median family incomes under $100,000. There were no killings in neighborhoods with median family incomes of $200,000 or above.” I am saying that according to UN Trends and Statistics, women, and especially women of color, are the most vulnerable group worldwide, I am saying that the highest rates of police killings are for Native, Black, and Latino Americans.

In highlighting the intersections of race and class, I am reminding you that if Dylan Roof—the mass murderer and white supremacist who killed nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina—had been Steve Bannon, if he had been White and wealthy, his lawyers would have likely used some kind of “Affluenza” defense, like the one used to exonerate Ethan Couch after he killed four people while driving DUI. Or despite his heinous crime, Roof might have received a relatively light sentence, as was the case with Brock Turner, the White and wealthy rapist who was found guilty of three felonies yet only sentenced to six months. On the other hand, although Roof lacked class privilege, he still experienced race privilege as police bought him a hamburger because he seemed hungry and placed Roof in a bullet-proof-vest just in case someone tried to attack him. Though the light sentences of Couch and Turner were extremely inadequate, I am saying that, “We, All The People!” should be treated with the same complex human dignity afforded those who are White AND Wealthy. I agree with sociologist Z.W. Rochefort who argues:

The question is not how privilege can be eliminated but how it can be democratized.

So when I say “BLACK LIVES MATTER!”, I ask you not to insult the struggles of Black Americans and other marginalized groups with the shallow universalism of “ALL Lives Matter!”. But I invite you to join in solidarity and bolster the common struggles of “We the People” who have been left out of the American Dream. When I call “BLACK LIVES MATTER!”, I invite you to transcend oppositional posturing, and join in solidarity by responding: “Black Lives Matter!”, “Native and Latino Lives Matter!”, “Poor White Lives Matter!”, “Poor Women’s and Children’s Lives Matter!” I especially ask White liberals and progressives to move beyond ideals and take a close and complex look at historical and empirical realities. As perceptively observed by Remi Salisbury:

To engage meaningfully in the kind of feminist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist work needed to bring about change is a task infinitely more difficult [than criticizing Donald Trump]. This kind of engagement would reveal Trump to be more symptom than cause. It would encourage us to look at the wider factors that would give rise to such a demagogic figure. To abhor one man may be comforting, but, unless it is supplemented by a critique of structural white supremacy, it will always miss the mark.

So, when I say “Black Lives Matter!” if you still feel the need to counter with “ALL Lives Matter!” then I answer you by going back to my dream. I indicated that the conversation with Jefferson, Madison, and Jay continued. Well, at least in Part I of my dream, Thomas Jefferson turned to James Madison and John Jay and said

Gentlemen, if there is a hell, if there are levels of purgatory, then we are headed to the sections designated for overconfident braggarts and self-righteous hypocrites!

In closing, I end my speech by revising German anti-Nazi Martin Niemöller’s famous poem:

First the Trump Administration came for the First Nations of America, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Native American from the First Nations.
Then they came for the Women, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Woman. (Or I was a woman who thought my abusive president could change).
Then they came for the African Americans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an African American.
Then they came for the Mexicans, other Latinos, and Asians, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Mexican in particular, Latino in general, or Asian.
Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Muslim.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for those with disabilities, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not disabled.
Then they came for persons who were LGBTQ, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not Queer.
Then they came for the Immigrants and Refugees, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a recent Immigrant or Refugee.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

L. Janelle Dance is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This presentation was one of five short speeches given for the panel discussion “We The People: A Roundtable on Black Lives and American Politics,” held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on February 9, 2017. (Given time limitations, the speech given at the panel discussion was a seven-minute-excerpt of this longer version.)

Du Bois and White Americanism

Throughout his life, Du Bois writes, and educates, studies, liberates, and resists the systemic racism in America until his indictment as a communist in 1951 and subsequent deportation (his white co-conspirators were allowed to remain in the U.S.) So he continues the fight abroad until his death in Ghana 1963 in the midst of the U.S. civil rights movement.  In The Souls of Black Folk,  he writes:

“The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.“ – W.E.B. Du Bois

 

Life as one man, with a double consciousness, American and African, is no small task. Given the right set of consequences and an incredible support group, perhaps it is doable. Having access to housing, healthy food, good educators, healthcare, job, mental health professionals, community, equal pay, and time. If you are wealthy, male, and white that is all a given (even after successive failures.) A person of color has to look for opportunities and open the doors to sneak in squeaky clean. Those POC’s are your Talented Tenth. The other ninety percent of blacks scrounge while what culture is left, if it isn’t based in religion or food, is easily appropriated and it’s origins lost and then regurgitated in a mediated manner. Look at the Arts, Architecture, Technology, Science, Math, Entertainment of the past 30 years alone. Lip service holidays, monuments, and street names mean nothing. The capitalist, white way of life has been Africanized, Asianized, Latinized, oversized and continues to attempt to crush alternative culture, community, history and humanity into dust.

Just ask the people still at Standing Rock or better yet ask any person of color, and be willing to listen without judgement. Perhaps that questioning could lead to a conversation. Also question yourself. I do on the daily.

The hard won battles of the civil rights movement led to the desegregation of schools and public places, voting rights, and laws prohibiting discrimination in education, workplace, and the housing market. Every day from then until now the fight for these rights laid out by law must be fought for over and over again. Today we have over 2 million people of color incarcerated and yes we have President Barack Obama, and celebrities like Oprah, Beyonce, Kanye… We’ve got black people at the top of capitalism’s high spires and still millions more people of color and people at the bottom wallowing, scrambling, screaming, and working their fingers to the bone, for what? So that the current President of the United States can help make America great again, by casting out refugees and immigrants, defunding public education, the arts, destroying the environment and putting what little money is leftover from the people’s federal tax dollars into buffering the military, privatizing prisons, and spreading corporate globalisation?

What does America have to teach the world? Perhaps innovation, cohabitation, acceptance, resilience, bravery, and full transparency if we can get there without imploding first. As for the concept of double consciousness, if Du Bois were alive I would be bold enough to ask is there a 3rd, 4th, or 5th consciousness. Are these splits in consciousness being acknowledged and exploited? I ask this because as the categories of identity increase it sometimes feels like having to work through several layers of veils to see that the one white way isn’t the only way.

 

~This is a part of a series following a W.E.B Du Bois reading group in Philadelphia, moderated by Dr. Anthony Monteiro. Following each meeting of the group, we’ll post a reflection by one of the members. If you’re in the Philadelphia area and would like to join the group for the next session,  go to the Facebook group  and join us for the next meeting.   

This reflection on the Du Bois reading group was written by Anita Holland.  Anita Holland is a multiracial artist and human being residing in what is currently Philadelphia,  PA. Today’s platitude of choice: “Let me answer your question with a question.” You can follow her on Twitter at: @AMSunshin3.

Introduction to Souls: W.E.B Du Bois Reading Group

 

(Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk)

As a Jewish child growing up in Israel, I was obsessed with the holocaust. Many nights I couldn’t sleep, afraid of nightmares. I vividly remember the repeating thought in my head: if I was born just a few decades ago, I would have been considered a problem. A problem so threatening that it must be killed or at least controlled.  As I grew up, I learned of Apartheid South Africa, of the conditions of those living in occupied Palestine, and about the ongoing segregation and oppression of people of color in the United States. I realized that although I could have potentially been a problem, many people are living their entire live as a problem. Of course as a kid lying awake at night in Tel Aviv I didn’t know to articulate the issue in these exact words. It was only when I finished the first paragraph of W.E.B. Du Bois’ Souls of Black Folk when the words “who does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word” made my fears connect to others’ struggles. It is this kind of connections that make political education, like this reading group about Du Bois so important to resistance today.

A few of us are gathering in Philadelphia to read Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk with Dr. Anthony Montiero. I think It is especially important that we read the revolutionary words of Du Bois to be able to criticize, and resist, and find our place in this moment in the movement. In all that, it is also important to remember that our fight is worth it, because “America has too much to teach the world” and perhaps, at this time, what we America needs to teach is resistance by example.

 

 

(Du Bois Reading Group in action)

 

There are few pieces of writing so packed with ideas and concepts as are the first few pages of The Souls of Black Folk , W.E.B Du Bois’ communist manifesto, published in 1903.

The first phrase of Souls is revolutionary, “between me and the other world.” To this day the default in any racial binary is white. The non-white is the other, the minority, the different. However, Du Bois turns the paradigm on its head. Du Bois’ world, the black world, is the true world and whites live in another world.  Whites live in a world where Du Bois is a problem. He learns by the way whites look at him that he is a problem. He sees their racial gaze, but Du Bois finds time for irony, “being a problem is a strange experience.” From the concept of the problem, Du Bois moves to the concept that Dr. Anthony Monteiro calls “the most profound concept of race in the world,” the concept of the Veil.  There is a veil between Du Bois and the other world. Du Bois sees the world through the Veil, which like the veil of a bride on their wedding day, means that he sees through the Veil better than the person on the outside looking in at him. This is a strong statement for policymakers, social scientists, ethnographers, and any observer of Du Bois saying, “I see you. I see you better than you think I see you. I also see my fellow folk behind the Veil. It is me, not you, who should study my social condition, and perhaps yours.” After the Veil, Du Bois gets to the concept of Double Consciousness. He sees racism, he sees race, he sees blackness for its beauty, however, he also sees and hears the stereotypes. This “two-ness” makes Du Bois measure himself by the stereotypes of the white world. In another revolutionary statement, Du Bois wishes to be “both a Negro and an American.” Both a Black man and a Human, as Monteiro complements. All of this is happening before Du Bois reaches page three.

In an autobiography published in 1940, Du Bois calls the writing of Souls “a cry in the middle of the night.” Indeed, the 35-year-old scholar had reasons to be frustrated.

Du Bois was the first African American to receive a PhD from Harvard. To achieve this feat he needed to complete not one but two  bachelor’s degrees and almost two doctorates degrees just to be counted among those worthy of a Harvard graduate education. Du Bois by 1903 would already have two publications: his doctoral thesis in history from Harvard which was published in 1896 and The Philadelphia Negro, the first empirical sociology study in the United States, published in 1899. Because of discrimination, Du Bois couldn’t teach in the institutions that he was affiliated with, such as Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, although he was more qualified than many of the faculty.  He went to teach at Wilberforce, an historically black college (for more on Du Bois’ career, see Alton Morris’ A Scholar Denied). 

The period of time when Du Bois was beginning his teaching career overlapped with a period of time some have called a “nadir of American race relations.”  The emancipation of enslaved people in 1863 and the end of the civil war in 1865 kindled hope and movement towards reconstruction. After only three years these hard fought bureaus and committees were disbanded and replaced with the 13th amendment, Jim Crow laws, and the ruling in the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson, establishing black Americans as legally inferior to blacks. This may seem bleak; yet, at the beginning of that ‘cry into the night’ for Du Bois who (at this time) maintains hope that “America has too much to teach the world.”

 

 

~This is a part of a six-post series following a W.E.B Du Bois reading group in Philadelphia, moderated by Dr. Anthony Monteiro. Following each meeting of the group, we’ll post a reflection by one of the members. If you’re in the Philadelphia area and would like to join the group for the next session,  go to the Facebook group  and join us for the next meeting.  

This reflection was written by Abraham Gutman.  Abraham is originally from Tel Aviv and currently living in Philadelphia. He holds an MA in economics from Hunter College. He is an aspiring sociologist interested in race, policing, housing, and all types of football. You can contact him on Twitter @abgutman.

Protesting Trump’s Discriminatory Actions: Resurgence of College Student Activism

We can all take heart from the temporary restraining order of Judge James L. Robart of the Western District of Washington that stops federal officials from enforcing a travel ban on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. This ban was enacted as an Executive Order by President Donald Trump on January 27, 2017, setting off a widening constitutional and political crisis as well as global demonstrations. Responding to Judge Robert’s temporary restraining order, Washington State Attorney Bob Ferguson declared: “Not even the president can violate our Constitution….”

Trump’s actions have reverberated around the world in a daily assault of injustices that threaten the very fiber of our democracy and the intellectual freedom that is the backbone of higher education. The speed and crescendo of this assault is unparalleled, designed intentionally to create chaos, and pursued relentlessly despite mass demonstrations and active resistance. And in the face of this assault, David Brooks, a conservative New York Times columnist, warns of the Faustian bargain that Republicans face in trying to get things done and acquiescing to Trump’s reckless maneuvers. As he writes:

The Republican Fausts are in an untenable position. The deal they’ve struck with the devil comes at too high a price. It really will cost them their soul.

What does all this mean for higher education? To confront the divisive Trump effect on college campuses, Yolanda Moses offers a number of solutions for how college professors, students, and administrators can sustain the values of diversity and inclusion:

1) equip students with historical context so that they can understand how our nation could be so politically divided; 2) support undocumented students; 3) protect protesters on both sides; 4) prevent sexual assault; and 4) reinforce global learning.

In implementing these recommendations, diversity and inclusion must take a front seat. Consider how W.E.B. DuBois described the purpose of higher education more than a century ago:

The function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.

DuBois sees the special responsibility of higher education not simply as custodians of knowledge, but as the instrument or channel that connects the creation of knowledge with social change.

There are recent heroic exemplars for how this activist connection between higher education and society has been made. Recall, for example, how Jonathan Butler at the University of Missouri at Columbia (UM), a graduate student, risked his life on a hunger strike to protest inequality and a lack of responsiveness by system administration led by Tim Wolfe, an ex-software executive, in the wake of the killing of an unarmed black person, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white police officer.

Butler, an African American master’s degree student began a hunger strike on November 2, 2015 and signed a “Do not resuscitate” order. In a letter to the University of Missouri’s Board of Curators, Butler wrote:

I will not consume any food or nutritional sustenance at the expense of my health until either Tim Wolfe is removed from office or my internal organs fail and my life is lost.

Jonathan Butler’s action was one of the flash points along with the threat of a boycott by the UM football team that led to Wolfe’s resignation along with the resignation of UM’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, that occurred the same day. The pressures exerted by student activism have led to significant transformation at both the system and university levels. Leadership changes include the hiring of the first Asian American system president, Mun Choi, the former provost at the University of Connecticut, and creation of a system chief diversity officer position now held by Kevin McDonald. Ongoing initiatives include the pioneering work of the Faculty Council on Race Relations.

The recent peaceful student protest on the UC Berkeley campus against the scheduled speech of Milo Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart News editor, was unfortunately undermined by violence by a few masked protesters who set fires and smashed windows. Reacting immediately and precipitously, Donald Trump then sent out a tweet threatening the withdrawal of federal funds from the university. Yet according to Ari Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, since the university itself had tried to meet its obligations, “the loss of federal funds…would be deeply inappropriate and most likely unlawful.”

Looking forward, peaceful, nonviolent protests and student activism are powerful countervailing forces in support of inclusion that connect real life and the knowledge of life that Du Bois saw as the critical function of higher education. In a forceful response to the travel ban, a coalition of 598 college and university presidents has signed a letter sent through the American Council on Education expressed their concerns to Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly. In the words of the letter,

America is the greatest magnet for talented people around the world and it must remain so.

The actions of courageous educators and students alike will help us sustain the values of inclusion, liberty and justice on college campuses in these troubled times.

Women Lead the Resistance to Trump

(Inauguration Protest Posters by Shepard Fairey, from here)

When my daughter and I joined the Women’s March on Washington, DC, we joined with other women who are leading the resistance to the Trump regime. Reported to be the largest ever one-day march in the US, we were joined by an estimated two million people at sister marches around the world.

Being at the Women’s March on Washington

Being at the Women’s March was a chance to be part of history and to be inspired. Many people at the march were fired up about the fact that Trump is morally unfit for office. Holding signs like: “This pussy grabs back” and chants like our favorite: “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!” the women at the march proclaimed their resistance.

Actor Ashley Judd’s impassioned delivery of a poem written by fellow Tennesseean Nina Donovan (19 years old) at the pre-march rally aimed to take back the “nasty woman” insult, insisting vaginas “ain’t for grabbin’” and instead are for birthing the next generation of multicultural, multifaceted diverse human beings. The poem spoke of female empowerment, attacked transphobia, conversion therapy (aimed at LGBTQIA folks), and the abysmal 63 and 54 cents that Black and Hispanic women make compared to a “white man’s privileged daughter.” Right away it was evident to me on the ground that this march was going to be a progressive coalition and the beginning of a much broader resistance than just the outcome of the election,

While marching, I was struck again and again by the juxtaposition of what a sign said and who was carrying it.  A “Trust Women” sign for reproductive freedom, carried by a man; a “Black Lives Matter” sign, carried by a white woman; “Respect Women of Color” NOW sign, carried by a white man; “The Future is Brown and Female,” also carried by a man; and “Channeling my Inner Shirley Chisholm,” carried by a white woman. Chisholm ran for the Democratic party nomination for US President in 1972, and although she did not win it, she adopted the slogan “unbought and unbossed”—was a democratic role model that men and women of all backgrounds, races, religions, and sexual orientations.

(The author and her daughter at The Women’s March)

When the crowd was finally permitted to march forward, I caught glimpse of a vast sea of signs and banners that was inspiring for both me and gave me hope for my daughter’s future.

Intersectionality in Action

For me, The Women’s March was also an opportunity to see intersectionality in action. Several of the visionary organizers of the March for Women –including Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour  – spoke eloquently about harnessing the passion of the people who were there.  Rather than focus on calling out the 53% of white women who voted for Trump, or the white women who hadn’t marched before, the organizers chose to “call people in” to the movement.

They called in the people who got on a bus, maybe for the first time and who had maybe never been politically active before, and asked them to stay awake now, to keep paying attention, and to keep speaking up about the issues that others have been fighting for for decades now, like police brutality and Islamophobia.

Linda Sarsour, in particular, who identifies as “unapologetically Muslim American, Palestinian American, and from Brooklyn, New York” passionately spoke that she was glad that people became recently incensed by Trump’s call for a “Muslim registry”—and to these new allies, she affirmed, “I welcome you”—but also made clear, “the very things you have been outraged by, this has been our reality for the past 15 years.

Tamika Mallory reminded the crowd that this was not a concert or a party, and like Sarsour, welcomed new allies in this progressive movement by addressing those who “for the first time felt the pain that my people have felt since they were brought here with chains shackled on our legs, welcome to my world… This country has been hostile to its people for some time. For some of you, it is new. For some of us, it is not so new.”

(Linda Sarsour, speaking at The Women’s March, from here)

While some in the mainstream media tended to focus more on the speeches of white celebrities such as Gloria Steinem, Michael Moore, Ashley Judd, Madonna, and Scarlett Johansson, the reality on the ground at the march was that women of color played a prominent role. And, they always used their platform to highlight intersectionality.  Actor Janelle Monae led the crowd in chants of “Say Her Name,” a call created by Kimberlé Crenshaw to remind us of the black women killed at the hands of police, like Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Miriam Carey, Shelly Frey, Korryn Gaines, Natasha McKenna, Yvette Smith and so many others. Several of the mothers of black men (and boys) killed at the hands of police, such as Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin, spoke to shout their babies’ names aloud as well.

(Janelle Monae, speaking at The Women’s March, from here)

One of the most powerful moments for me at the march happened when the crowd began to chant in unison: “Sophie Cruz.”  Most people there had probably never heard before of Sophie Cruz, but once this brave and powerful 6-year old girl gave an empowering speech, first in English, and then repeated in Spanish, urging the crowd to work to “keep families together,” urging children to “not be afraid,” they would likely never forget her.  Echoing another young heroine, Cruz told the crowd she still believed that most people have “hearts full of love” so “let’s keep together and fight for the rights!”

Standing for five hours of speeches in a packed crowd where one could barely move was uncomfortable at times, but well worth it for moments of inspiration like this one. Reflecting on these moments of inspiration gives me strength as the news from the Trump regimes unfolds with more terrible developments each day.

Women Continue to Lead the Resistance

(Activists in Portland, Oregon, protest President Trump’s ban. Clinton Steeds/Reuters, from here)

As the first few days of Trump’s presidency unfold with an onslaught of destructive Executive Orders, including the so-called “Muslim Ban,” it it women who have been on the front lines of the protests against these atrocities. Michael Moore suggested that the Women’s March never ended.

Clearly, it’s working. One Republican congressman complained that since the march, women have been “in my grill,” asking about when his next town hall meeting would be, and “not to give positive input.”  On the Democratic side, two women have been at the forefront of putting pressure on Sen. Schumer, staging protests outside his home that have helped him “find his spine” to stand up to the Trump regime. Rebecca Traister has a run down here of all the women opposing the regime, which has set off a flurry of speculation that opposition from women is Trump’s Nightmare.

Sen. Kamala Harris’s speech at the march connected “women’s issues,” to human rights issues, to the economy, to immigration. Native Americans formed a human chain as they drummed and marched, chanting what the crowds marching near them could not help but join in as it became contagious—“women are sacred” and “water is life.” These are not just Native values, these are human values—or should be.

(Photo credit: Eileen O’Brien. Shepard Fairey poster)

Making these connections between disparate issues has never been more urgent.  it’s important to deepen our understanding of “women’s issues,” particularly as whites become a demographic minority in the US. Census Data is quite clear that by 2020, a majority of the children in this country will be nonwhite, ushering in a majority multicultural future for the nation. As Joe’s insightful post notes,Trump’s cabinet is clearly assembled to preserve elite white male advantage. If women are to resist this power structure, then we will need to fully embrace the intersectionality  I saw on full display at the Women’s March.

(Rep. Maxine Waters, speaking at The Women’s March, from here)

As crowds chanted “this is what democracy looks like” and “this is what America looks like,” Rep. Maxine Waters said that Trump’s words, actions, and nominees tells us that “you don’t respect us as women” and they are “dog whistles to white supremacists.” With white supremacists like Bannon and Miller actively involved in drafting Executive Orders for Trump’s signature, this not hyperbole.

As Alicia Garza observed, the march is a part of a larger effort at movement building:

“We can build a movement in the millions, across difference. We will need to build a movement across divides of class, race, gender, age, documentation, religion and disability. Building a movement requires reaching out beyond the people who agree with you.”

When I attended The Women’s March, I’m grateful I got to be a part of this.

 

~ Eileen O’Brien is Associate Professor of Sociology and Assistant Chair of the Department of Social Sciences at St.Leo University. She is the author of several books, including Whites Confront Racism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).

The March for Women: Kingian Perspectives

As I make plans and preparations to attend the March for Women in Washington DC this Saturday with my teenage daughter—with controversy already swirling around it—I find guiding wisdom studying the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King reminds us that doing what is morally right is often not easy, comfortable or convenient. Well, my daughter does not much like crowds, and we will be getting up at 5am and being on our feet all day, but we’ve done just as much for something more frivolous such as a family vacation. No, the discomfort I believe King spoke of is much less superficial, and much more permanent. Not the discomfort to our bodies, but hurt and pain on our hearts and souls. The kind of reproach and rebuke that might come from someone whose opinions of us we care about, maybe even those we love. Or those with whom we might have marched shoulder to shoulder, whose causes with whom we may have been aligned, under better circumstances.

King is known for being a leader—one of many leaders in the civil rights movement—and I have been awed and inspired by this new generation of leaders who are engaging with the March. Several brave women appear to be living by some of the more difficult Kingian teachings, illuminating the difficulties and complexities of the “long arc” of justice that King described. Not knowing what they did not know, initial organizers first termed the event the “Million Woman March,” but rightly backpedaled and withdrew this title once it was pointed out to them that African American women in Philadelphia marched under this name in 1997. Heated Facebook discussions ensued between women about the long history of race and class tension within the feminist movement in the US, amidst reorganization and broadening of the March’s focus and policy platform to incorporate better not only women of color, but all marginalized and oppressed human beings.

It is difficult to put in words the courage one must summon to accept correction and rebuke and remain engaged in solidarity with others. It is much easier to withdraw and take comfort in those who you perceive will not challenge you. When someone is already feeling wounded, they may understandably take the simpler road for a time until they can build up the strength to engage once more. For example, I have written elsewhere (in my Whites Confront Racism and in Doane & Bonilla-Silva’s White Out about the courage and humility needed to stay on a lifelong path of white antiracism. It is not a path for the faint of heart. You will be called out more than you know. Those who feel like they are doing something special by just showing up will be in for a rude awakening. The courage it takes to say, yes, I made a mistake—not in private by yourself, but with others watching—taking responsibility and walking forward to redress one’s wrongs, is not for everyone. But King’s words can serve as a blueprint and moral compass for such a crossroads:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends [and] Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.

Some who originally wanted to March have now withdrawn, saying they no longer felt “welcomed.” King rightly points out that being deserted and by potential allies is the “greatest betrayal”—much more so than those who we did not expect to support us anyway.

I am inspired by Lena Gardner, a Black Lives Matter group’s co-founder in Minneapolis, who when interviewed by NPR about the March and asked whether she was hopeful or skeptical about it, answered “both-and.” Gardner stated:

We’ve been out in the streets marching for years. And a lot of white people haven’t been there with us. And now, suddenly, they feel like it’s really important that they come out. So are you marching because you’re upset because you didn’t get your way, or are you marching because you recognize that your life and your liberation is connected to mine now? And I think there’s a long way to go between those gaps. But in my work in the past two years, I’ve seen it happen. So I have hope that it’ll happen for some people. I know it’s not going to happen for everyone. But all I can do, again, is meet people halfway and say welcome to this work. It’s really hard. It’s really difficult, and there are no certain answers.

Gardner appears to be taking the first step to which King refers in this quote: “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” It would be much easier for Gardner to retreat to a safe haven, to retreat to where she knows she feels more accepted, more whole. Instead, she models what Dr. King describes in this quote about courage:

Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles.
Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances.
Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it.
Cowardice asks the question, is it safe?
Expediency ask the question, is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, is it popular?
But, conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.
[I thank Rev. Travis Harris for bringing the above quote and the one about silence to my attention in his recent sermon on 1/15/17. See http://www.wmbrgblacklivesmatter.org]

The organizers of the March, from the current state of their website, explicitly cite Kingian principles of nonviolence as their guiding vision. They rightly characterize nonviolence as “courageous” (don’t mistake kindness for weakness!), and note that “defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.” Their vision mirrors that of Dr. King, when he says:

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.

King’s wisdom resonates today as clear and as urgent and as relevant as it ever was. The road is not easy, but you dust yourself off, get up again, and do the work, because we all sink or swim together. Ultimately, cutting part of the human family off is not going to get any of us where we want to go.

When the world around you seems to be calling for business as usual–amidst cruelty, lies, and disregard for your human dignity–what is the morally upright course of action? King tells us it is to keep showing up, keep speaking up, and never keep silent, because “the day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die.” The Women’s March aims to “join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore.” It is surely a day that will make Dr. King proud, for it will be the result of struggles both internal and external, emerging victoriously knowing that it is precisely our differences that is our strength.

Messy Truths about White Trump Voters

Van Jones, I would like to personally recognize you for your undertaking with concern to your exploration within the minds and souls of white Trump voters within your recent televised CNN series entitled, “The Messy Truth.” I get the intellectual journey you are on and appreciate your determination. I truly do. Unfortunately, in regard to the often glossed over purview of recent advanced racialized assessments related to the past electoral democratic debauchery, like many brash hired gun commentators on both the left and right who are propagated by the media to perform political illusion for the ill-informed passive thinkers—you are simply wrong. Your attempted psychological stretch to “make nice” and create an alternative narrative for Trump supporters ignores a hard reality that renowned influential intellectuals such Derrick Bell, Joe Feagin, and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva have discussed, researched, and proven time and time again—the dynamics of race are almost always present. The intellectual and scholarly fortitude of these men compels me to keenly point to those you wish to defend as guilty of participating in collaborative racism. Decisions to vote based on issues such as the economy, on the surface seem to have validity. But when looking not only closer with a critical eyes, but also to the results of the 2016 election, Mr. Jones and others have overlooked the dark shading of racism. In a Rolling Stone interview he argues that:

…progressives think that that all 60 million people who voted for him have signed on to an Alt-Right, white nationalist agenda…a lot of people held their nose and voted for Donald Trump – despite his bigotry, not because of it.

Thusly, he and his media kinspersons consequently advocate for the construction of “bridges” between progressives and Trump devotees.

I contend: Before building any bridges, the ground must first be examined for sinkholes before the golden keepsake shovel is pulled out for pictures. Before we as a nation move forward, we must first be brutally honest and face the ideological perspective, that even though many Trump supporters do not have a smoldering, smelling KKK hood placed in the backseat of their truck after the latest cross burning, their electoral actions, as argued by previously mentioned scholars, are more likely than not internally effected by a dark white-racist ideology that dates back to the first Dutch-flagged slave ship in 1619 Virginia. Their ability to essentially turn a blind eye to the documented psychological effects of media-covered incidents filled with hateful rhetoric–and at times physical violence toward historically marginalized people such as Muslims, Latinos, and Blacks–proves it so.

I am sure many of you are saying to yourselves, how does this apply to evidence provided by an NBC exit poll that explains “29 percent” of Latinos respectively voted for Trump? The answer is simple. It does not apply. Looking beyond the hyperbole and political spin, political scientists have vehemently argued and provided much evidence which proves the quoted Latino turnout for Trump was were wildly exaggerated. This entry is focused on arguments pertaining to phrases such as “sincere ignorance,” “self-hate,” and “conscientious stupidity” within a much longer argument.

But I digress. In terms of whites in America, many are under the false assumption that you are either racist or not. A little secret—-Racism is not binary. Any race scholar worth his/her salt knows that racism moves across an internal sliding scale. Some are blatant proud bigots who spew out epithets with no remorse, adopted an ideology inferiority toward those on the darker side, and practice national terrorism. Others are your uncles who have Black and Brown co-workers they like (he calls, “the good ones”), but also believe in the slogan “White Lives Matters.” In the end, when confronted with policies and groups that threaten their racial interests, all those whites along the middle to extreme fringe lines of the spectrum safeguard it with white-generated colorblind rhetoric and actions that speak to acts of racial criticism and/or ignore the plight and pains of those Americans of color that they see as potentially threatening their interests. But whites in general have come to the aid of people of color, right? Derrick Bell’s forwarded theory, “convergence interests,” argues that in general whites will support issues pertaining to racial justice for marginalized people of color only when that support “converges” with their interests. This has been proven from Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) to the current bipartisan push to change certain drug laws.

In the end, as Texas A&M Distinguished Professor Feagin argues, we live in a country that is infused with our forefathers-generated system of racism (systemic racial oppression) that was created to maintain modern capitalism and white access to power. In order to maintain power over non-Whites, a white rationale was created to drive and rationalize oppressive acts such as slavery. This rationale is wrapped in conscious and unconscious repeated organized and racialized stereotypes and racialized emotions that consequently foster discriminatory acts or racial justice “in-actions.”

The in-action to empathize with the fear and anger of those on the receiving end of the racial hate rhetoric of Trump and his supporters are examples of Feagin’s white racial frame. The absence of care toward the recipients of physical and psychological warfare created by the Hitler-saluting KKK and other white nationalists members make Trump voters guilty of consciously or unconsciously acting in accord to a transgenerational set of white-racist ideas whose ultimate goal is to maintain the historic U.S. racial hierarchy, while ignoring the pains of those historically seen as un-American, as alien.

If we are truly trying to come to an understanding regarding this racialized country or the racial ramifications related to the previous election, we as a country must be honest—Race Matters. Sorry, by ignoring it Mr. Jones, you have become not a facilitator, but another barrier to our country attaining true democracy for all.

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Insiders and Outsiders in Racialized Higher Education

Having a voice rather than simply a seat at the table is a prerequisite for the participation of minoritized faculty, administrators, staff and students in the mainstream of university and college life. Whereas in the past visibility and invisibility of marginalized groups has been the predominant metaphor for inclusive/exclusionary practices, the phenomenon of voice and silencing more accurately represents the actual dynamic of power relations on college campuses. As Shulamit Reinharz of Brandeis University points out, if institutional practices support only the physical presence of marginalized groups without hearing their voices, little change will have taken place.

In a persuasive article, Fred Bonner argues that the academy gives greater weight to the scholarship of white faculty who write about diversity issues than to minority faculty who are not only writing about issues of inequity, but living them. In his words,

The etic outsider perspective should not be allowed to constantly overshadow the authentic claims of the emic insider’s view.

As a graduate student at an Ivy League institution, I was surprised to find that the leading faculty in Asian Studies were all white scholars, while the native Asian speakers held untenured lecturer positions. While the language instructors typically did not hold doctorate degrees, I often found it baffling at the time that the leading lights in the field did not include the first-person perspectives of Asians or Asian Americans. This polarization bespoke a troubling reality in higher education, i.e. the devaluing of the insider’s perspective.

In this two-tiered system, even the pursuit of diversity-related research by minoritized faculty has been viewed as of less scholarly value, particularly in the tenure process. In the Department Chair as Transformative Diversity Leader, Alvin Evans and I share the perspective of a white chair of kinesiology who sees it as part of her role to have a discussion with the promotion and tenure committee regarding the value of diversity research:

There is just more of an appreciation for what they would call scientific research as opposed to social science research, first of all . . . as much as I have tried to have conversations about that. . . . And then just the valuing of the diversity research agenda, clearly it is not as valued. I think it comes down to method as much as anything, but that is a vicious circle. Because the way you study diversity is different than measuring your blood pressure. The certainty for scientists sometimes in basic science is a false certainty, but they don’t perceive it at all in diversity-related research; there is not a valuing of it. So in the tenure process, I think the chair has to have a conversation about it.

How then can institutions of higher education begin to address the dichotomy between the insider/outsider perspectives? Through case studies and interviews with CDO’s and institutional diversity leaders for a forthcoming book, Leading a Diversity Cultural Shift: Comprehensive Organizational Learning Strategies in Higher Education, Alvin Evans and I explore the ways in which organizational learning can serve as a lever for diversity transformation and the creation of more inclusive campus environments.

Our survey of diversity officers conducted for this study highlights one of the inherent contradictions in the insider/outsider perspective– i.e., the expectation that the Chief Diversity Officer, who is typically a member of a marginalized group, should be the sole leader or spokesperson for diversity cultural change on college campuses. The Chief Diversity Officer role is the only top leadership role in which the majority of all incumbents are diverse, with whites comprising only 12.3 percent of CDO’s in doctoral universities. This singular representation suggests a form of symbolism or even token status. As David Owen observes, reliance on minoritized individuals to carry the load on diversity issues has negative connotations, such as 1) only these individuals are responsible for or interested in diversity work, or 2) that these positions are the only executive positions that ethnic/racial minorities are competent to hold. As he explains:

It is manifestly unjust to place the burden of dismantling structures of race and gender privilege that are the consequence of hundreds of years of systemic oppression in the United States on men and women of color and White women.

Such broad expectations for the CDO role conflict with the fact that many CDO’s serve in “at will” status without employment protection. Leading a change agenda without such protection is inherently a risky proposition. As an Afro-Latino CDO in our survey sample indicates:

This role in itself is a risk. I think that anybody that takes on this role must go into role with the understanding that they are at risk all the time. … the reality is that this work challenges power.

Our current study reveals reveal several key themes that are integral to substantive diversity progress at both private and public institutions of higher education. Courageous presidential leadership is a sine qua non of diversity change. Such leadership communicates a sense of urgency about diversity and inclusion, emanates to executive leadership and the deans, and is bolstered by concrete action that provides the resources necessary for diversity change. Take the urgency given to diversity and commitment to resource prioritization exemplified by President Robert Nelsen of Sacramento State University. As he told us:

. . . in our budget this year we set three priorities: priority number one was to make certain that we had enough classes for our students; priority two was diversity; priority three was safety. When you move diversity to the forefront of allocations, it means that with your budget decisions you are making a moral decision about diversity and its importance. That takes some explaining and teaching so that people understand why it is important.

Another important theme emerging from the case studies is that tenured faculty serve as a powerful and sometimes singular voice of opposition in response to regressive external political pressures. Although student activists on many campuses have raised issues of diversity and inclusion, the power to sustain such efforts may indeed rely on the tenured faculty. Their collective voice has been strengthened when expressed in faculty senate resolutions or through the creation of sub-committees or councils to examine often uncomfortable diversity issues.

In his blog post of December 8, 2016, Joe Feagin warns that our country is now facing a social, political and political-economic downward anti-egalitarian spiral. In the face of this treacherous downward political spiral, as Feagin points out, we need to frame the questions and problems of social inequality. This concrete framing demands that we address both the insider/outsider dynamic at play in university power relations as well as how the value of diversity and inclusion is communicated and disseminated across the multi-dimensional contours of a campus ecosystem.

Systemic Racism in Mexico

“Mexico is a racist country,” Federico Navarrete proclaims at the beginning of his recently published Spanish-language book, México Racista: Una Denuncia (Racist Mexico: A Denunciation).

Navarrete, a prominent historian at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, known as UNAM, cites some of Mexico’s most cherished ideals as the source of the nation’s racism. Navarrete’s provocative book has generated much discussion in Mexico.

For more than a century, Mexico has prided itself on being a mestizo nation, one where the mixing of Spanish men and indigenous women during the Spanish Conquest produced a blended offspring. This is the story that all Mexican children learn in school.

Navarrete argues that this declaration is not accurate — it is a fable that has been recited for generations.

Navarrete argues that the myth was created as Mexico sought to whiten its population away from its indigenous countenance. There was great pressure on indigenous people to shed their language, culture, dress and lifestyles — to become mestizo. Many, of course, did not do so. Mexicans of African descent were also omitted from the mestizo club as Mexico, like many other Latin American countries, denies its African roots.

Navarrete identifies the numerous venues — family and home, adages, jokes, commercials and the mass media — where racism is propagated on a daily basis. For example, there is a preference for lighter skin within the bosom of the family, and indigenous and dark-skinned people are often the butt of jokes. He argues that when people are accused of being racist, they tend to deny or minimize their racism. People frequently downplay their racist statements or thoughts because they occur in private or are done in jest — no one is hurt.

Particularly noteworthy, according to Navarrete, is that Mexicans claim they cannot be racist because everyone in the country belongs to the same mestizo race. People criticized for their racism also tend to draw attention away from themselves by accusing others of being racist because they are the ones calling attention to race.

Navarrete argues forcefully that racism in Mexico is not merely idle talk. Rather, it is pernicious and noxious. The result of racist talk, actions and behavior among Mexicans is the social exclusion and devaluation of indigenous people and persons of African origin who are seen as not really part of Mexican society — they are the “other,” people who do not count.

Navarrete advances the concept of “necropolitics of inequality,” reflecting great disparity in the probability of death with impunity:

The ease and impunity in which so many Mexicans are murdered, disappeared, tortured and kidnapped signify that the right to life and other fundamental human rights are not distributed in an equal manner among Mexican citizens.

Put simply, the lives of some people are more valuable than those of others. Navarrete lists sectors of Mexican society that are most vulnerable to such death and violence:

marginalized youth, women, persons with nontraditional sexual identities, journalists, peasants whose territories contain valuable natural resources.

A recent study of the 35 countries forming the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, found that Mexico had the second highest level of inequality in 2014. Racism and inequality intersect to marginalize the lives of many Mexicans.

Navarrete asserts that some of the most heinous murders over the last couple of decades in Mexico show the minimization of the lives of Mexicans who live on the margins of society. He draws attention to the impunity and the Mexican government’s lack of concern for the disappearance and murder of the 43 student teachers in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, in September 2014; the killings of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez in the 1990s and 2000s; the mass murder of 200 Central and South American migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, in 2010 and 2011; and the mass murder of 22 individuals assumed to be narcotraffickers at the hands of Mexican soldiers in Tlatlaya on June 30, 2014. Navarrete asserts that the indigenous roots, the darker skin and the low socioeconomic standing of these victims made their lives invisible and expendable. He avers that there would be an uproar in the government and mass media, and among the elite if the victims were “beautiful” people from privileged classes.

In the case of the 22 people killed by soldiers in Tlatlaya, Navarrete points out that the Spanish newspaper El País aptly described how much the Mexican government valued the lives of the victims in its headline “Only 12 Words for Each Dead Person,” referring to the government’s terse 273-word announcement of the incident.

This book is a valuable addition to the growing body of scholarship calling attention to racism in Mexico. The book aims to provoke dialogue in the country to make the invisible visible, and to ultimately better the social, economic and political position of the marginalized.

We can also draw on Navarrete’s book to understand the similarities of racism in Mexico and the United States. They are numerous. In both countries we see the link between the value of one’s life, and the color of one’s skin and one’s socioeconomic standing. In Mexico, people of indigenous and African origins are the poorest, least educated, most marginalized and most invisible in the country; in the U.S., Native Americans, African-Americans and Latinos hold this unfortunate distinction. Over the last several years in the U.S., there has been a surge in the killing with impunity of unarmed African-Americans by police officers. Activists have needed to remind us that “Black lives matter.”

In addition, the racial inequalities found in both countries are long-standing, going back for centuries. In both countries the mainstream vehemently denies the existence of racism. Mexico denies it along the lines of its own brand of colorblindness — “We are all mestizos,” therefore we cannot be racists. The U.S. disavows the existence of racism through its own form of colorblindness — “We do not see color differences in people” — and proclamation of reaching postracial status, where race is no longer important in the lives of people; after all, “we have elected a black president.”

In the end, it is this denial of the role that race plays in long-standing racial inequality that helps perpetuate racial inequality. Society is inculcated with the fables of race and racism that Mexico and the United States exalt. The “normal” and “what we all see” set the stage for people to wear blinders concerning racial matters and racism — namely, that race has nothing to do with one’s societal position. Naysayers who insist that racism exists are discounted as the real racists, with the dialogue coming to a halt. It is important to recognize that racism is not just about individuals but a system — in our institutions, laws, customs and attitudes — that perpetuates racial inequality.

In the U.S. legal system, even with statistical evidence, racial disparities — associated, say, with voting rights, redistricting and the death penalty — are substantiated only when there is a visible smoking gun bearing actual intent to commit racial discrimination. Such conditions regenerate racial inequality.
________________________
Rogelio Sáenz is Dean of the College of Public Policy and the Mark G. Yudof Endowed Professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is the co-author of the book Latinos in the United States: Diversity and Change.
This essay was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News (November 19, 2016).