The Fourth of July: Different Meaning for Frederick Douglass

On this Independence day it is well to remember yet again a probing and candid speech, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” given by the formerly enslaved and probably greatest 19th century American, Frederick Douglass, at Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852, at the peak of North America slavery (indeed, about 230 years into that era). His insightful words are never more appropriate than today, when we as a country are in several ways moving backwards on the rhetorical promise of “all men are created equal.”

 

Frederick_Douglass_c1860s

In this era Black Americans were usually not allowed at 4th of July celebrations in the slaveholding South, apparently because many slaveholders feared that they might get an idea of freedom from such events (as if they did not already have such an idea!). Also, Black residents were often discouraged from attending such festivities in the North.

It is in this very dangerous and hostile national racial climate that the great Douglass–increasingly, a leading intellectual of his day and the first Black American to receive a roll-call vote for US President (later on, at the 1888 Republican national convention!)–was asked by leading citizens of Rochester to give an address at their Fourth of July celebrations. He gave them this stinging indictment of racial oppression:

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too-great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

But later adds:

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 sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, 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.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Take the American slave-trade, which we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) “the internal slave-trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words from the high places of the nation as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the Jaws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our doctors of divinity. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish them selves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon all those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass with out condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable.

Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and American religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh jobbers, armed with pistol, whip, and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-curdling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the centre of your soul The crack you heard was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow this drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me, citizens, where, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.

And then concludes with this:

Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from oppression in your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot, and kill.

The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:

God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er!
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,

And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign.
To man his plundered rights again
Restore.

Sadly, our system of racial oppression still persists, even as most white Americans are in denial about its deep and foundational reality. Yet, there remain many people like Frederick Douglass today who still fight to remove this “yoke of tyranny” from us all. May they flourish and prosper. We should remember those now and from the past who fought racism most on this day to celebrate freedom.
Some forty-two years later, in the last speech (“Lessons of the Hour”) he gave before his death—at an AME Church in DC, on January 9th, 1894—Douglass made these comments as he watched southern and border states hurtle toward bloody Jim Crow segregation, the new neo-slavery system:

We claim to be a Christian country and a highly civilized nation, yet, I fearlessly affirm that there is nothing in the history of savages to surpass the blood chilling horrors and fiendish excesses perpetrated against the colored people by the so-called enlightened and Christian people of the South. It is commonly thought that only the lowest and most disgusting birds and beasts, such as buzzards, vultures and hyenas, will gloat over and prey dead bodies, but the Southern mob in its rage feeds its vengeance by shooting, stabbing and burning when their victims are dead. I repeat, and my contention is, that this “Negro problem” formula lays the fault at the door of the Negro, and removes it from the door of the white man, shields the guilty, and blames the innocent. Makes the Negro responsible and not the nation….. Now the real problem is, and ought to be regarded by the American people, a great national problem. It involves the question, whether, after all, with our Declaration of Independence, with our glorious free constitution, whether with our sublime Christianity, there is enough of national virtue in this great nation to solve this problem, in accordance with wisdom and justice.

He concluded thus, his very last words ever spoken in public:

But could I be heard by this great nation, I would call to to mind the sublime and glorious truths with which, at its birth, it saluted a listening world. Its voice then, was as the tramp of an archangel, summoning hoary forms of oppression and time honored tyranny, to judgment. Crowned heads heard it and shrieked. Toiling millions heard it and clapped their hands for joy. It announced the advent of a nation, based upon human brotherhood and the self-evident truths of liberty and equality. Its mission was the redemption of the world from the bondage of ages. Apply these sublime and glorious truths to the situation now before you. Put away your race prejudice. Banish the idea that one class must rule over another. Recognize the fact that the rights of the humblest citizen are as worthy of protection as are those of the highest, and your problem will be solved; and, whatever may be in store for it in the future, whether prosperity, or adversity; whether it shall have foes without, or foes within, whether there shall be peace, or war; based upon the eternal principles of truth, justice and humanity, and with no class having any cause of compliant or grievance, your Republic will stand and flourish forever.

 

Are Asian Americans Disadvantaged by Affirmative Action?

Asian American communities are clearly split on whether affirmative action in college and university admissions disadvantages Asian American applicants. Add to this the fact that some institutions do not even consider Asian Americans as underrepresented minorities (URM’s) in their employment outreach efforts or student enrollment processes.

Complaints filed with the Department of Education suggest that being Asian American can be a disadvantage at some Ivy League institutions. Take, for example, Michael Wang who had a perfect ACT score and had taken 13 Advanced Placement Courses. Wang filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education after not being admitted to Yale, Stanford, and Princeton, alleging discrimination based on race. According to Princeton sociologists Thomas Epenshade and Alexandria Radford’s study of eight selective public and private universities, Asian American applicants at these institutions received a 140 point penalty compared with whites. In the view of commentator Hrishikesh Joshi, since affirmative action addresses historic injustice such as that faced by Asian Americans for generations, it is difficult to understand how this reverse differentiation argument can be applied to Asian Americans when compared to whites. The exclusionary educational treatment of Asian Americans today is reminiscent of the strategies by which elite universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton limited Jewish enrollment beginning in the 1920’s and continuing into the World War II period.

Opposition to affirmative action by Asian Americans includes the complaint filed by the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) with the Departments of Education and Justice in May 2016, noting the decrease or flat level in Asian American student representation at Dartmouth, Brown, and Yale over the past twenty years as a result of “holistic” admissions review processes that consider race as one factor among many. In addition, the Project on Fair Representation, a one-person organization run by Edward Blum, a wealthy conservative entrepreneur who initiated the Fisher v. University of Texas lawsuit among other legal challenges, has filed suit against Harvard University based on the alleged differential treatment of Asian Americans. The Harvard suit charges that Harvard has set admissions quotas for Asian American students and subjected them to higher standards than other students as well as to stereotype bias.

So why the sudden interest in Asian Americans as reflected in Blum’s efforts to recruit Asian American students to his cause?

As Alvin Evans and I point out in Affirmative Action at a Crossroads: Fisher and Forward, this move is designed to splinter the interests of ethnic and racial minority groups. In an article in the UCLA Law Review, Nancy Leong underscores the fact that conservatives who oppose affirmative action are misusing Asian Americans to portray the “wrongs” of affirmative action. They have not shown an interest in major issues that impact the well-being of Asian Americans such as fair housing, voting redistricting, and employment opportunities. By characterizing the harm of affirmative action as applying to both whites and Asian Americans, conservatives can mask their underlying opposition to programs that disrupt racial hierarchy through the alleged “harm” of affirmative action. As Leong explains,

affirmative action opponents wish to conscript Asian Americans into their opposition because doing so makes them look less racist.

By contrast, consider the fact that in employment processes for federal contractors under Executive Order 11246 and Chapter 60 of Title 41 of the Federal Code of Regulations, minority groups are considered in aggregate rather than separately. Since all minority groups face forms of oppression historically and up to the present day, this broader grouping of minorities acknowledges the need to address the common barriers faced by minority groups within institutions, agencies, and corporations that receive more than $50,000 in federal contracts and have 50 or more employees.

We know that Asian Americans face significant barriers in their upward mobility. As Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou underscore in their recent book, The Asian American Achievement Paradox, Asian Americans are extremely limited in their representation in leadership positions at the academic department and university administrative level, and make up less than 1 percent of corporate board members, and 2 percent of college presidents. To assert that Asian Americans as a “model minority” do not need assistance in overcoming social and institutional discrimination overlooks the structural, organizational, and behavioral barriers they face as members of an American minority group. In their insightful interview study, The Myth of the Model Minority, Rosalind Chou and Joe Feagin indicate that the subtle and even blatant forms of stereotyping and discrimination faced by Asian Americans is an untold story and represents “a very harmful invisibility (p. 3).” Because Asian Americans lack a constituency, have few public intellectuals, and have failed to organize effectively as a minority resistance group, forms of discriminatory treatment can be exercised without fear of retaliation.

The need for Asian Americans to work collectively with members of other minority groups for racial and social justice is best summed up by Frank Wu, Chancellor of the University of California’s Hastings College of Law:

Add to that the anger over college admissions, which has been portrayed by demagogues as inexorably pitting Asian Americans against African Americans (and Hispanics) — a framing that is as inaccurate as it is inflammatory to all involved — and there is a mess that foreshadows the worst of our changing demographics. It likely confirms the negative perceptions of white observers.

Homophobia, Religion, and Racism

On June 17th 2015, nine beautiful Black individuals who were having Bible study at a church in Charleston, NC lost their lives to a White, racist gunman who revealed in his manifesto that he thought Blacks were “stupid and violent.” The killing demonstrated how prevalent racism is in the U.S. today, especially in the way it echoed the 16th street Baptist Church killing of four innocent black girls at the hands of White Supremacist in 1963. It was particularly painful because the church for many Black people represents liberation and comfort, and has been and is still the location for community organizing against racial oppression. It was in the Black church that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave many of his most powerful sermons on love and justice and if you know the Black church like I do, it is where the pastor always yells “Our God is an on-time God. Now let the church say ‘Amen’ ” and the congregation would repeat the Amen.

But the church has not always been a space for love and hope for everyone, especially for sexual minorities and gender queer people. Almost a year after the Charleston shooting, forty-nine queer Latino and Afro-Latino individuals lost their lives to another deranged gunmen, but unlike the White supremacist’s suggestions of us being “stupid and violent,” many church goers have said instead that we “reaped what we sowed” and in essence deserved our deaths for rejoicing in our sinful lifestyles. In fact, many of us might recall the painful video from 2009 of the dangerous ministries of Patricia and Kelvin Mckinney as they tried to exorcise a “gay Demon” from a young Black 16 year old boy. Not long after the Orlando slaughter of the 49, a Latino Christian pastor wished more of the “sodomites would have died.” These stories remind me of the pain I had to endure, Sunday after Sunday, as my pastor said “Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner” and posited that it wasn’t homophobia he was pedaling but the “truth of God, and the church says Amen.” The positions of the church made it difficult for my Latino mother and Black father to accept me as I am for years. Hell, it made it difficult for me to accept myself for years.

The social sciences were not any better for me as a queer person of color. Sociologist Mark Regnerous, a tenured University of Texas (Austin) faculty member and deeply religious Christian man, used the auspices of “science” to conduct a well-funded yet inherently homophobic study about the dangers of same sex parenting. Despite the study being widely debunked by the scientific community, it has been cited and used in countries in Africa and in Russia as justifications for legislation that jails and murders sexual minorities. The Black sociologist George Yancey, no doubt a hero to many Black Christian academics, defended Regnerous’s work and continues to describe homosexuality as a sinful “choice,” despite the overwhelming amount of research that suggests sexual minorities have no more control over their orientations than heterosexuals. In fact he states that being Black or a woman is not a sin, but homosexuality is, therefore suggesting that sexism and racism are somehow more oppressive than homophobia. This thinking is common in the church and among numerous Black and Latino scholars. And this same religious thinking–that we somehow are choosing to engage in our “deviant lifestyles”–is what leads religious extremists like the Orlando killer to do exactly what he did.

A Gallup poll conducted in 2012 found that the LGBT identity is highest among younger, non-white, and low income individuals. Similarly, a great number of hate crimes and attacks are on LGBT peoples including many transgender women of color. We are fighting racism in our gay communities, and homophobia and transphobia in the straight community. We are fighting for our sexual worth among sexual minorities and for the right to use the restroom among heterosexuals. No matter how much time passes, we are constantly fighting.

And so today I am again getting ready to fight, and the source of my anger and pain is the many people who use the church to hide their thinly veiled homophobia and hate. And I will take this fight to the couple that tells me I have a “gay demon” while they have demons of hate and misunderstanding, to the so called Black intellectual who claims to love the sinner and hate the sin, as if the two can be separate to me, to the Latino pastor who falsely associated my love for another gay man with pedophilia, to the many race scholars who stay silent because they think they can fight racism without fighting sexism and homophobia but do not understand that they cannot. I am here to tell all of them that the blood of the victims is on their hands too, that they contribute to this hate in varying ways and that they have done more to kill us slowly than the shooter did when he snuffed out lives in mere seconds. I am mad as hell and I am ready to fight to live, because too many of my brothers and sisters have died. And while I’m on the topic of choice, now is the time for you to make a choice, to abandon your homophobic ways and join me in this fight or continue to be the bullets that filled the killer’s gun. NOW let the church say “Amen.”

Jesus G. Smith is an advanced Ph.D. student in sociology at Texas A&M University

White Supremacy and White Patriarchy in Today’s Poland

The fact that racism combines with sexism to deepen the oppression faced by Black women has been emphasized by many authors, including such seminal African American intellectuals as Angela Davis, bell hooks and Audre Lorde. One of the most important Black feminist texts, the 1977 statement of the Combahee River Collective, asserted the existence of

racial-sexual oppression which is neither solely racial nor solely sexual, e.g., the history of rape of Black women by white men as a weapon of political repression.

A decade later, the Black scholar Kimberle Crenshaw coined the now very popular term ”intersectionality” as a way of underscoring the importance of the double burden of oppression weighing on Black women which is more than the sum of racism and sexism they have to face. And in 2010 yet another Black scholar, Moya Bailey, introduced the term ”misogynoir” to ”describe the particular brand of hatred directed at black women in American visual & popular culture.”

Unsurprisingly, the analyses of the toxic combination of racism and sexism usually focus on the interlocking oppressions affecting Black women and other women of colour. White women are now often portrayed as participants and beneficiaries of the system of white supremacy alongside white men; the Nigerian scholar Emeka Aniagolu has even coined the term ”co-whites” to emphasize the complicity of white women in the system of racial oppression in the United States.

It is very frequently overlooked that white women can be affected by a kind of misogyny which is inextricably linked both to racism and to efforts to control and contain female sexuality. Poland is an example of a society where this kind of misogyny takes a very overt, virulent and obsessive form, which makes it easier to observe and analyze its manifestations. This phenomenon found a recent and very characteristic illustration in the Facebook comments left by Pawel Kukiz, a white Polish politician and rock musician who leads the party Kukiz’15 (36 MPs in the Polish parliament) and gained more than 20 percent of votes in the first round of the 2015 presidential election.

When the activist Joanna Grabarczyk from the organization HejtStop which fights against online hate speech reported some Facebook posts written by Mariusz Pudzianowski, a well-known MMA (martial arts) fighter and owner of a transport company, to a District Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw

(Pudzianowski had written, among others: I have no pity – this human trash!!! I should be there!! I’d gladly use a baseball bat, zero tolerance!!! Folks, what tolerance??? I no longer have tolerance for this human trash-and they dare to call themselves human beings!!!!!” — and he meant migrants who were trying to get on trucks in Calais in order to reach the British coast),

the outraged Pudzianowski described her in another Facebook post as a ”frustrated woman with low self-esteem who is causing harm to normal people.”

As to Kukiz, he sarcastically wrote on his Facebook wall: ”If I were her, I would also be dreaming about immigrants in the context of the New Year’s Eve.” When his post met with disapproval from, among others, the popular journalist Monika Olejnik and the TV presenter Tomasz Kammel, Kukiz mockingly stated:

I did not intend to offend Joanna Grabarczyk. I assumed that racial barriers did not exist for someone as open and tolerant as her.

It is clear that Kukiz exploited the powerful stereotypical image of the white woman rejected by white men and therefore seeking solace in real or fantasized encounters with non-white men: an image obviously based on the assumption that white men occupy the highest rank in the hierarchy of sexual attractiveness.

This idea, very often expressed in online comments, was reflected in an article published in 2010 in the newspaper Dziennik soon after a Nigerian street vendor, Maxwell Itoya, was shot dead by a police officer in Warsaw in still unexplained circumstances. The article, titled “The Nigerian Mafia. Ugly Wives and Drugs,” portrayed the Nigerian diaspora in Poland in an extremely negative light: as aggressive men who ”increasingly look like men in the video clips of the stars of gangsta rap,” sell drugs and are able to stay in Poland thanks to the fact that they are “expertly using marriage fraud.” The article quotes a Warsaw official who claims that Polish women who fall in love with Nigerians “are not attractive” and, moreover, ”not well-developed intellectually.” There is also a documented case of racist harassment where the harassers – a woman’s neighbors – claimed that she had decided to have a child with a Black man because she “did not have a Polish guy.”

Very importantly, in the case of Joanna Grabarczyk the stereotype of the unattractive white woman who turns to non-white men because of being rejected by white men has been used in order to cruelly ridicule a woman who is fighting against hate speech. Such attacks can be an effective form of silencing women who have opportunities to publicly denounce racism and speak in defence of non-European migrants and refugees. Women’s commitment to human rights, justice and equality can be thus portrayed as merely a hypocritical façade hiding their longings for love and sex. In this way, not only the idea that a woman can be sincerely committed to struggle against racism is cynically rejected, and the single (or supposedly single) female activist is depicted as a new incarnation of the despised figure of the old maid/spinster.

Not less importantly, the idea that some Polish women turn to non-white men out of desperation can be seen as an expression of the deep anxieties, fears and insecurities of Polish men faced with the multifarious consequences of late neoliberal capitalism – greatly increased job insecurity, the very limited social safety net in Poland, mass-scale economic emigration to Western Europe and a greatly facilitated access to holiday tourism in the countries of the global South – as well as with the increasing emancipation of women and easy access to various kinds of pornography (with its racialized codes of representation). In this context, the image of the unattractive and frustrated single white woman drawn to non-white men may be interpreted as one of the devices used by deeply insecure white men in order to cope with their own feelings of inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation and anger.

An analysis of the lyrics of two virulently racist Polish songs can provide insights into the psychological mechanisms leading to extreme racism and misogyny; it is necessary to emphasize here that the racism of white supremacists is merely an extreme form of mainstream white racism. Symptomatically, Polish women bear the brunt of the hatred expressed in both texts. In one of the songs of the neo-Nazi music band Nordica (formerly known as Agressiva 88), titled “The N…r’s White Whore,” a beautiful Polish girl gets involved in a relationship with a Black man; the lyrics assume that she is ”doing it only for money.” The song contains a direct threat of deadly violence against Polish women who are in relationships with Black men, as indicated by such lines as “You will hang, whore, such is your fate” and “When I get you, you will be among Blacks in heaven”). The lyrics make it clear that one of the most potent sources of the insecurities of many Polish men is the fact that their economic status decreases their attractiveness in the eyes of current or potential partners.

“I Don’t Have Enough Words,” one of the songs by the musician Kelthuz (his real name is Tomasz Czapla), directly alludes to the previous one: the refrain contains the words ”Die, you n…s’s white whore”, so there is a deliberate continuity between the two songs. In the first part of “I Don’t Have Enough Words” Kelthuz describes the hypocrisy of young Polish women who are seasonal economic migrants in the United States: “each one of them hangs a picture of her boyfriend over her bed/And calls him in the evening when possible,” but later “goes to a downtown disco to f..k n…s in the toilet” because every Polish woman allegedly ”gets crazy when she sees a black guy”.

In the second part “mature” Polish businesswomen “on the lookout for a man” indulge in sexual adventures with local men in Egypt. Finally, the song reveals “the truth” on female nature and on Polish women: “every woman is in two-thirds a whore” and ”there are three black cocks in every Polish woman.” The second image evokes the pornographic representations of “interracial” heterosexual encounters: representations which hyper-masculinize Black men and can reinforce both the sexual insecurities and the racist prejudice of many white men.

The song not only portrays female sexuality as uncontrollable and dangerous – the lyrics even claim that young Polish women are infected with HIV by Black men in America and later transmit the virus to the unsuspecting Polish boyfriends – but also suggests that the only way to contain female sexual desires is through physical violence and sexual degradation; that Polish women have to be literally terrorized into suppressing their attraction to Black men:

If you don’t beat your woman, her liver will rot,
So she’ll look for cock in African forests,
The hamster in her head is getting crazy,
Shut up, whore, and suck me slowly!

In these lines Polish patriarchal tradition, reflected in the proverb justifying domestic violence against women (”If you don’t beat your woman, her liver will rot”), fluidly intermingles with the very recent and Western-derived metaphor of the “rationalization hamster”: this metaphor, visualised in many Internet memes, is based on the idea that women find it easy to rationalize and justify their decisions and behaviour, no matter how unreasonable and unacceptable they can be.

As in the case of the first song, the unhidden contempt for women seems to derive from deep male insecurities and fears. The thought that Polish women can be attracted to dark-skinned and supposedly inferior men, and that they now have access to spaces of erotic freedom – whether as economic migrants in the West, or as tourists in the countries of the global South – is plainly terrifying to many Polish men. The latter’s anxieties are inseparably connected to the myth of the sexual superiority of Black men (a myth clearly believed even by some Polish artists and intellectuals, as proven by the words of the well-known artist Zbigniew Libera who has claimed in an interview that during a visit in Liège he

saw vividly that the civilization of the white man was nearing its end, and that he will be replaced by a black guy with an ‘enormous cock’, of whom the white man is afraid.)

The visceral connection between the sexual insecurities of many white men, sexual myths on Black men and racism was revealed with unequaled frankness, brilliance and poignancy in James Baldwin’s short story “Going to Meet the Man.” Baldwin’s masterpiece, just like Fanon’s seminal Black Skin, White Masks or Eldridge Cleaver’s highly controversial book Soul on Ice, indicate that issues related to sexuality, masculinity and femininity are not less important than, say, economic or political issues when it comes to an analysis of the genesis and mechanisms of racism. It is also necessary to emphasize that one of the ways in which global white supremacy is upheld is through the shaming and ridiculing of white women who openly disobey its rules. It is noteworthy that white patriarchy’s efforts to discourage white women – and especially middle- and upper-class women – from transgressing the “color line” in the sexual sense, or to force them to hide such transgressions or view them as merely insignificant adventures, have not yet attracted much attention of feminist/womanist scholars, activists and movements.

Joanna Tegnerowicz, a sociologist and historian of ideas, is an
Assistant Professor at the University of Wroclaw in Poland.

Hillary Clinton’s Nomination: A Victory for White Feminism

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States. This achievement is being heralded as a victory because she has broken the glass ceiling for all women. But her victory is really a win for white feminism.

Hillary on NYDaily News(The June 08, 2016 cover of the New York Daily News)

Clinton’s campaign is a boon to white feminists who want to see themselves represented in the highest office in the US and want to read into that a symbol of progress for all women, but what has gone mostly unacknowledged is that the group who benefits most from her candidacy is white women. It is white women who will benefit most from a Clinton presidency.

Indeed, if her inner circle of 2016 campaign advisors is any indication of who she will appoint once in office, it is mostly white men, a few white women, and one or two women of color that she will bring with her.

Some people on the left have critiqued her corporate-themed version of feminism, including just some of this run-down on Clinton’s résumé to date (which I mentioned when she announced):

  • Despite trumpeting her work on behalf of “mothers and children,” she and her husband worked to reduce federal assistance to women and children living in poverty. In her book,Living History, Clinton touts her role: “By the time Bill and I left the White House, welfare rolls had dropped 60 percent.”  This 60% drop was not due to a 60% decrease in poverty. Instead, it was a reduction in federal benefits to those living in poverty, many of them working poor, like those employed at Wal-Mart.
  • Clinton sat on the board of Wal-Mart between 1986 and 1992, where she says she learned a lot from Sam Walton, and she remained silent while the corporation fought the unionization of its workers.
  • In Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, she notes that it was Hillary Clinton who lobbied Congress to expand the drug war and mass incarceration in ways that we continue to live with today, and that have a significantly more harmful impact on black and brown people than white people. According to The Drug Policy Alliance, people of color are much more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, harshly sentenced and saddled with a lifelong criminal record due to being unfairly targeted for drug law violations. Even though white people and people of color use drugs at about the same rates, it is black and brown people’s bodies that continue to fuel the machine of mass incarceration.
  • As Secretary of State, Clinton left a legacy that included both a hawkish inclination to recommend the use of military force coupled with  “turning the state department into a machine for promoting U.S. business.”  This does not bode well for black and brown people in other parts of the world, since the US is not likely to attack Western Europe under a (second) Clinton presidency, but some region of the world with people who do not have light-colored skin tones.

As author Naomi Klein noted last night on Twitter, Hillary Clinton is a plutocrat and there’s little joy in her victory for those who are critical of the damaging elite interests she represents.

 


 

Now, before the “but-she’s-better-than-Trump” crowd comes through, let me explain something. This is the cover that the NY Daily News was going to run today, instead of the one above:

I'm with Racist cover NY Daily News

And, indeed, the presumptive nominee for the Republican party is an overt, vulgar racist who is appealing to disturblingly wide swaths of the American populace. But note how whiteness operates here: the overt racism of Trump is upstaged by the white feminism of Hillary, in NY Daily News covers and in headlines throughout the news cycle, and we’re all expected to cheer. In large measure, it’s Trump’s style that so many on the right are drawn to and so many on the left are put off by. When was the last time you heard “vulgar” as a term discussed by the mainstream press?)

Here in the US, we prefer our racism to be less vulgar, hidden in the passive voice of public policy, and administered politely by a white woman.

Hillary Clinton’s form of feminism is the latest iteration in a long history of similarly situated white women here in the US and within colonialism, as I’ve chronicled in the trouble with white feminism series. Her presidency may, in fact, be better for the US than a Trump presidency. It’s hard to argue otherwise. But make no mistake: Hillary Clinton’s presidency will not decenter whiteness any more than a Trump presidency would.

Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the democratic party candidate represents is a victory for white women and a particular kind of white feminism that universalizes white women’s experience. If that’s what you’re celebrating, then have the clarity to acknowledge that. If you’re voting for Hillary, then acknowledge that you’re voting for her hawkish war record, her Wal-Mart board membership, her dumping people off of welfare rolls, her fondness for incarceration as a solution to social problems she helped create, her war on drugs. Just don’t ask me to celebrate – or vote – with you. This is the worst of all possible worlds, and the choice between Trump’s vulgar, overt racism and Clinton’s polite, public policy racism is no choice at all.

U.S. Football: Grounded in White Masculine Framing

Theodore Roosevelt was the U.S. President from 1901-1909, a “manly man,” and an avid football advocate. As the “new American man” was beginning to take shape in the latter portion of the 19th century, the ideal was primarily being forged by

narratives that captured the experience and imagination of the Anglo-American settler, stories that were surely instrumental in nullifying guilt related to genocide and set the pattern of narrative for future US writers, poets, and historians.

As this ideology of “manifest destiny” became normalized, internalized, and institutionalized, there was a need for white masculinity to continue to redefine and re-invent itself. In doing so, figures like Roosevelt paved the way for a post-genocidal expansion ideal for white masculinity. Defining this new tough, rugged, militaristic form of what constitutes a “man” incited a social and cultural response in white America that still drives American society today: organized football. In this blog post I examine a trend uncovered in Google’s Ngram viewer and situate the sport of football as a social and cultural response to white masculinity as it was being defined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Defining (white) masculinity

As the settler-colonial conquest of Euro-Americans over the North American lands came to a close, most white-opposition (e.g., opposition by Native American nations, Mexicans, etc.) had been completely removed from the imperial vision of the U.S. White masculinity had predominantly been defined through the subjugation, colonization, and genocide of other peoples of color, such as the African/African-American slaves, the “Indian savages,” etc. However, as manifest destiny came to fruition in the North American lands, there was a need to redefine the “predatory ethic” inherent to white masculinity with a growing absence of those upon which whites could “prey.” From 1800-1890, Ngram shows a steady rise in the usage of the word “manliness” in popular texts of the time. These seminal writings of the time include works by Chapin in 1856, Hotchkin in 1864, and Hughes and Figgis in the 1880s. All of these defining texts are rooted in the Anglo-Protestant definition of a “man” (i.e., strong, brave, pious, intelligent, hard-worker, etc.). These Protestant definitions were always in relation the subjugated female who was to be docile, faithful, subservient, etc. As an example of the Anglo-Protestant root of white manliness, Figgis writes

Most young men know that the Latin word for “man” – at least, for a right manly man – is the word from which our English word virtue comes. Its derivative, as Dr. Trench has noticed, meant, on the lips of a Roman, physical strength and courage. It has sunk with the modern Italians, and with us when we speak of articles of “vertu,” to be applied to external art. And it has risen in the English word virtue, to the act and habit of duty. We may feel a modest national pride in this, and may gratefully conclude that in the thought of Englishmen virtue is the highest quality of a man; and so that manliness is most fully developed – the virtues, shall we say, of BRAVERY, HONESTY, ACTIVITY, and PIETY.(Capitalized for emphasis)

Here we see close ties in defining manhood between concepts like virtuosity, strength and courage, Englishness, and piety. So what we have then is a defining period for white masculinity, particularly in North America as white men demonstrated a delusional need for domination of others.

According to my search using the Ngram viewer, the textual use of the word “manliness” peaks around 1890. Interestingly, as the use of manliness approaches its peak throughout the 1880s, we begin to see the use (and increase in the use of) the word “football.” In 1894, the usage of both manliness and football converge, only to see football’s usage take off in the coming decades while the use of the word manliness declined to eventually maintain a steady low-usage rate throughout the 20th century. Next, the author discusses how this defining crisis in white masculinity led to the creation of the sport of American football.

Football as a cultural response

With a post-Native American and Mexican expropriation from North America, the U.S. needed a new outlet for white masculinity. This is where the sport of football comes in. The very first game of American football took place in 1869 between Princeton and Rutgers universities. These institutions primarily (if not only) served young, well-off, white males and the game of football itself was played only by white men at the beginning. During this time, the game closely resembled that of European football (i.e., soccer). As white masculinity was in the midst of a crisis in defining its hegemonic boundaries, the game of football continued to evolve in the 19th century reflecting a desire to demonstrate white masculine dominance. The sport began adopting certain aspects of rugby, the “roughest” and “toughest” sport known at the time (and certainly still one today).

As the need to “manify” the sport continued to influence the development of football, we began to see something that resembles football as we know it today take shape. Towards the close of the 19th century, football had never been more popular. The sport reflected physicality, war-like tactics, and a desire to dominate through physical and psychological force. However, as the gladiator-like sport increased in popularity, so too did the resultant deaths from football participation. The sport was too crude to last as an institution. In comes Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt, often referred to as the savior of football.

Teddy Roosevelt became the national mythos for white masculinity at the turn of the 20th century. Although not a football player himself, Roosevelt often extolled the virtues of the sport of football and its contribution to American manliness (e.g., toughness, bravery, fearlessness, etc.). Meeting with other white male representatives from universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, Roosevelt was able to step in and mandate certain rule and policy changes to the sport of football that would ensure the sport’s longevity in the midst of increasingly popular campaigns to ban the deathly sport. These changes would include the implementation of padding and leather helmets for players. Though still viewed as a crude form of football today, this change revolutionized the long-term viability of the sport. Roosevelt firmly believed that the sport of football was the key to developing “fine American men.” In a speech he once gave on how sport makes boys into men, Roosevelt stated

[An American man] cannot do good work if he is not strong and does not try with his whole heart and soul to count in any contest; and his strength will be a curse to himself and to everyone else if he does not have a thorough command over himself and over his own evil passions, and if he does not use his strength on the side of decency, justice and fair dealing… [I]t was a very bad thing when [the Greeks] kept up their athletic games while letting the stern qualities of soldiership and statemenship sink into disuse… In short, in life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard: don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard.

In consistently comparing the sport of football to a life and manhood, Roosevelt set a top-down standard defining white masculinity at the turn of the century. American football would not only survive the threat of banishment, it would thrive. The sport rapidly spread to universities throughout the U.S. until we eventually had youth leagues, interscholastic competition, and professional leagues.

Conclusion

Today, the sport of football is the embodiment of masculinity, militarism, capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. Though much has happened with regard to civil progress in the U.S. since the turn of the 20th century, football has always embodied these values. Today, the game has changed in that we now see a plantation-like system of black men engaging in physical labor for the production of white capital wealth. However, much like many other institutions, football was originally designed to work for the white male anyways. Examining a trend on Google’s Ngram viewer shows that a spike in the textual usage of “manliness” preceded an enormous spike in the usage of the word “football.” Indeed, this trend over the waning decades of the 19th century shows that white Christian masculinity was being hegemonically contested and defined in such a way that the formation of the game of football was the ideal social and cultural response to white masculinity. In defining both masculinity and football, we see how the two intersect with a white supremacist framing (particularly in a post-manifest destiny U.S.) in that all three constructs are rooted in white-defined notions of freedom, meritocracy, righteousness, colonialism, and imperialism.

Theodore Roosevelt, as the new standard for white American maleness, vehemently supported the sport of football as a catalyst to breed “good, strong American men.” In doing so, football indoctrinated values of manliness, hyper-competition, dominance, and imperialism into the public consciousness of the American people all while rooted in an Anglo-Protestant interpretation of “being a man.”

Today football continues to serve in this societal capacity, pushing settler-colonial narratives (e.g., Patriots, Cowboys, and 49ers) while also white-washing anti-other mascots such as the “R” team in Washington. All the while, football is still predominantly interpreted as a “fair” playing field in which men achieve greatness in a meritocratic system; that is, unless those men are black. In which case, black masculine success in a historically white masculine space is chalked up to be “natural athleticism” or “freakish talent.” Much contemporary inter-masculine subjugation (i.e., white-on-black subjugation) in football can be observed within the organizational hierarchies as black athletes continue to be excluded from powerful positions with decision-making authority. As a systemic issue, the “corporate-friendly militarism” of Roosevelt, plus his white supremacist and sexist ideologies, continues to form the heart and soul (or lack thereof) of contemporary American football.

Anthony Weems is a doctoral student in Sport Management studying under Dr. John N. Singer at Texas A&M University. His research focuses on issues of race, power, and politics in and through the sport organizational setting.

Marching Backward: Tenn. Politicians Vote to Cut UT Diversity Funding

The historic march of 600 civil rights activists on March 7, 1965 attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama toward Montgomery on “Bloody Sunday” marked the culmination of efforts to bring changes to voter registration procedures that prevented blacks from registering to vote. Representative John Lewis of Georgia, whose skull was fractured by a police nightstick as he led protesters across the bridge, has reminded us of an African proverb, “When you pray, move your feet.” On August 6, 1965, following two subsequent marches, the Federal Voting Rights Act was passed. Congressman Lewis recalls that what propelled him forward was “the spirit of history”:

We didn’t have a choice. I think we had been tracked down by what I call the spirit of history and we couldn’t turn back. We had to move forward. We had become like trees planted by the rivers of water. We were anchored. I thought we would die. …I thought it was the last protest for me, but somehow, some way you have to keep going.

It is now up to us now to move our feet or else the march backwards will erode more than half a century of progress on diversity and inclusion. The effort to cut funding for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UT Knoxville) by the state legislature is symptomatic of this regressive tide.

In April 2016, the House of Representatives and the Senate in Tennessee voted to remove the $436,000 state appropriation for the Diversity and Inclusion office at UT Knoxville for one year. An earlier version of the bill would have used $100,000 of the funds to place decals on law enforcement vehicles that read “In God We Trust.” The bill is now before Republican Governor Bill Haslam for final decision.

At the same time, 10 GOP representatives and state senators led by state representative Eddie Smith wrote to Tennessee’s Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor requesting a joint committee be formed to investigate the diversity offices at the state’s public universities and colleges. According to Smith, “the university needs to reflect the values of Tennessee.”

Specific objections were raised in late 2015 regarding the efforts of UT Knoxville’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion to educate the campus community about gender-neutral pronouns as well a memo that recommended avoiding religious symbols at holiday work parties. In a Fox news interview, Representative John J. Duncan, Sr., warned against the “political correctness” involved in these two actions and stated that the liberals in the United States are the most intolerant in the country. And Representative Micah Van Huss who drafted the original legislation stated that the “so-called Office of Diversity” was “not celebrating diversity, they are wiping it out. It is the office of Political Correctness.”

Calls for the resignation of Chancellor Jimmy Cheek by members of the legislature followed. The website posts were amended or deleted and oversight of the Diversity Office’s website was moved to the Communications Department. Some lawmakers called for Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall, UT’s inaugural Chief Diversity Officer, to resign as well. Petitions to support Cheek and Hall gathered more than 3,000 faculty, staff, and student signatures. A student coalition, UT Diversity Matters, was subsequently formed on the Knoxville campus and presented a list of demands to the administration including the need for inclusivity training for all incoming students, faculty, and staff.

In response to the legislature’s efforts to defund the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, hundreds of University of Tennessee students marched in protest on April 29, 2016, with some demonstrators lying down in a walkway and later forming a circle in front of a student residential building. As the protest continued, Confederate flags were hung outside two dorm windows. George Habeib, a 19-year old printmaking student described the hanging of the Confederate flags as “trying to instill fear in us” and added, “it further proves out point of why this [sort of protest] is needed.

The legislature’s efforts have been answered by students, faculty, and staff “moving their feet” in the forward-looking spirit of history that John Lewis spoke of. Yet the bill to defund the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is but one example of the deepening divisiveness over the issue of diversity in this nation and its educational institutions. The move forward toward the creation of more inclusive institutional environments will require the sustained commitment and courage that anchors “trees planted by the rivers of water.”

The Diversity Research-To-Practice Gap: Backlash to Fisher Case

A new paper titled “Bridging the Research to Practice Gap: Achieving Mission-Driven Diversity and Inclusion Goals” by Teresa Taylor, Jeffrey Milem, and Arthur Coleman, seeks to link research findings on diversity with policy implications for colleges and universities. While a valuable effort, the paper appears confusing in terms of the policy implications resulting from the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action in admissions in the Fisher v. University of Texas (2013) case. In 2013, a conservative US Supreme Court ruled on the claim of “reverse discrimination” by Abigail Fisher, a white undergraduate who had applied to UT and not been accepted. Edward Blum, a wealthy conservative entrepreneur, actively recruited Fisher through his one-person organization, the Project on Fair Representation, an organization that has also challenged the Voting Rights Act.

The new research paper does acknowledge the issues arising from Fisher in terms of the need for evidence-based justification for the use of race-sensitive factors in the admissions process. It identifies two issues deriving from the Fisher case as

(1) the relationship between the ‘necessity’ of race-conscious practices and the availability and effectiveness of race-neutral alternatives, and (2) the relationship between race-conscious practices and their impact on the achievement of diversity-based educational goal (p.3).

Yet while the paper identifies the dilemmas debated in Fisher, it does not clearly identify the narrow limits within which the Supreme Court has determined that race-conscious practices can be used. The paper states that

research has confirmed that the use of race and ethnicity in the admission process can be an important tool for institutions to use to achieve their diversity goals because it lays a foundation for interactional interactions and campus climate” (p. 19).

Despite the positive impact of diversity on campus climate and cross-racial interactions as demonstrated in research findings, the Fisher case casts a long shadow over the future use of explicitly race-sensitive means to attain student body diversity.

As highlighted in Alvin Evans’ and my recent book: Affirmative Action at a Crossroads: Fisher and Forward, three of the most critical developments resulting from Fisher with implications for college and university admissions policies are:

1) the Supreme Court has moved from consideration of the value of diversity itself to the means colleges and universities use to attain it; 2) the reviewing court, not the university, “must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce” the educational benefits of diversity (Fisher v. University of Texas); and 3) universities must first exhaust race-neutral measures before race-sensitive factors are considered. The necessity of race-conscious practices was not acknowledged by the Court and even if such practices might be considered, they require substantial proof that workable, race-neutral strategies have been exhausted. As a result, race-conscious strategies cannot be used easily and without substantial proof/justification.

One of the important factors in the UT Austin admissions policy that is not adequately clarified in the new research paper, is that 90 percent of the available seats at public institutions of higher education in Texas fall under the top ten percent plan (TTP). This plan that automatically admits high school students in the top ten percent of their class to public institutions of higher education in Texas was viewed by the Court and conservative think tanks as a “race-neutral plan.” Instead, the Court narrowly focused on the very modest 10 percent of the seats that are based on a holistic admissions review process which after 2004 allowed the consideration of race as a “special circumstance.” In 2013, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit for reconsideration of the use of race in the Personal Achievement Index employed for 10 percent of the entering class, and the Court of Appeals upheld UT Austin’s use of race. An appeal of the Fifth Circuit’s decision to the Supreme Court, once again sponsored by Blum, will result in a ruling likely to be issued in June.

Given this uncertainty, some caution needs to be applied to the findings of this new research paper confirming

that the use of race and ethnicity in the admission process can be an important tool for institutions to use to achieve their diversity goals because it lays a foundation for interracial interactions and campus climate (p. 19).

As noted in the paper, however, the institutional mission and the context for diversity are essential aspects of establishing the groundwork for diversity and inclusion policies. Viable means of achieving student body diversity also noted in the paper include recruitment and outreach to underrepresented groups, need-based financial aid, and scholarships based on first-generation or socio-economic status.

The future of race-conscious strategies in admissions processes hangs in the balance with lawsuits filed by the conservative Project on Fair Representation against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Given the death of Antonin Scalia and since Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself on the Fisher appeal, per Adam Liptak of the New York Times and others the ruling of the remaining seven justices on the Fisher case could be narrowly confined to the “idiosyncratic Texas plan” or broadly affect admissions policies nationwide.

One can only hope that greater leverage will be granted to colleges and universities in admissions policies that foster the attainment of more compositionally diverse campuses.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



April 4, 1968, about 6:01pm. We should always remember that time. It has now been 48 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He was moving conceptually and in his actions in a more radical direction combining antiracist, broader anticlass, and antiwar efforts—which efforts likely had much to do with his assassination.King (Photo: Wiki-images)

I remember the day vividly, like it was yesterday, and can still remember the time of day when one of my students at the University of California called me to tell of the terrible event, and I can still remember well my and his distressed emotions as we talked about the shooting. (We did not know Dr. King had died at that time.) He was one of the few African American students then at that university and as one would expect was devastated by the event, as I was too.

The events leading up to Dr. King’s assassination need to be taught everywhere. In late March 1968 Dr. King and other civil rights leaders participated in and supported the local Memphis sanitary works employees, black and white, who were striking for better wages and working condition. (They were also building up coalitions across the various groups of Black civil rights and Black power movements, including a few years earlier between Dr. King and Malcolm X and their supporters.)

Conditions in Memphis, as elsewhere, were very oppressive for workers, in both racial and class terms, as this wikipedia summary makes clear:

In one incident, black street repairmen received pay for two hours when they were sent home because of bad weather, but white employees were paid for the full day.

King gave his last (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”) speech at a rally for the workers at the Mason Temple in Memphis.
This is the famous section near the end of his prophetic speech, where he reflects on death threats he had often received:

We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.

Let us remember him well, and especially his prophetic antiracist, anti-capitalistic, and antiwar messages, on this spring day, 2016.

“Doing Diversity” in Higher Education: Practical Challenges

Recent student demonstrations protesting lingering and persistent racism on college campuses have called attention to the fact that diversity progress in higher education remains at incipient stages. Student voices have called for structural changes such as the hiring of more diverse faculty, inclusive leadership, the creation of chief diversity officer positions and greater diversity in the student body, as well as a more welcoming climate for minoritized students. In essence, the call for change requires systemic attention and integration of all the components of a campus ecosystem rather than through short-term, cosmetic adjustments to individual departments, courses, or programs.

Surprisingly in a review of diversity strategic action plans conducted for Are the Walls Really Down? (2007), the chief diversity officers that my co-author, Alvin Evans and I, contacted told us that the plans developed at their campuses and that were showcased prominently on their campuses websites had not really been actualized. Similarly, in interviews for Diverse Administrators in Peril (2012), chief diversity officers and affirmative action officers expressed frustration regarding their roles and real uncertainty about the degree to which their work was supported by their institutions.

Recent college graduates we interviewed for a forthcoming study, Rethinking Cultural Competence in Higher Education, reported the same gap between the institution’s stated diversity mission and the curricular and co-curricular experiences they had on campus. Most of their experiences related to diversity learning outcomes were accidental and the students had to seek such experiences out themselves. And adding to this composite picture of disconnection between espoused institutional goals and day-to-day realities, interviews with department chairs for The Department Chair as Transformative Diversity Leader (2015) reveal the fractionalization around diversity issues in the academic department, the isolation of the one or two faculty members who are perceived to be the perennial diversity advocates, and the difficulty faced by chairs in moving beyond the emphasis on disciplinary specialization to “border-crossing” dialogue or cross-cultural discussions. As a Black chair of Hispanic background in an elite predominantly white university reported,

Most White colleagues assume ‘diversity’ is for people of color and do not do much in recruitment (p. 79).

Bringing together the strands of research across these different domains of the university or college environment, certain common themes emerge that can yield practical steps on the pathway to successful diversity transformation. A precursor of such transformation is the willingness and desire to move forward collectively and collaboratively on the pathway to more inclusive institutions. This willingness cannot be taken for granted as diversity remains a contested topic on many college campuses and even discussion of “anti-racist” training programs can be considered controversial. Developing a common understanding of what diversity means to an academic institution and why it is important (i.e. the “business case” for diversity) is critical.

Our investigation of the integration of diversity and human resource programs across the private and public sectors and in higher education in the New Talent Acquisition Frontier (2014) reveals 10 prominent themes that characterize successful diversity transformation across all sectors.Among these themes are

1) an actionable leadership commitment to diversity;
2) a power structure that supports the attainment of strategic diversity objectives;
3) creation of a systematic, phase-based approach;
4) cultural change that builds trust-based relationships and eliminates fear-based working and learning environments.

Using the metaphor introduced by Ralph Kilmann to describe organizational change, diversity is not a quick fix. Instead, it will require long-term, sustained, and systemic attention to infrastructure, culture, systems, and processes across the multiple, intersecting domains of a campus environment.

Like the widening ripples that result when a stone is thrown into water, diversity transformation can remain elusive and disappear from intentional consideration or it can take hold through the progressive and practical action of institutional leadership, faculty, staff, administrators, and students.

Dr. Edna Chun serves as Chief Learning Officer for HigherEd Talent, a national diversity and HR consulting firm, and has over two decades of strategic diversity and HR experience as Chief Human Resources Officers in public higher education. Two of her co-authored books have garnered the prestigious Kathryn G. Hansen Publication award from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) and she is the recipient of a silver medal in the Axiom Best Business Books Award (2014) for another publication.