Research Brief: Sociology of Race and Ethnicity

The  American Sociological Association (ASA) has launched a new peer-reviewed journal, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. It is the official journal of a group of scholars within ASA, the Section of Racial and Ethnic Minorities(@ASA_SREM). The journal, co-edited by David L. Brunsma (Virginia Tech) and David G. Embrick (Loyola-Chicago), is scheduled to be published four times per year and the inaugural issue just came out in January of this year. At this time, all the articles in this issue are freely available online as open access (OA) without needing a university login to read them. This is a very good thing. (No word on whether the journal will continue to be open access but we hope so!) In the meantime, lots of new research for your stack of reading.

Research in the Dictionary

  • David  L. Brunsma, David G. Embrick, and Megan Nanney. “Toward a Sociology of Race and Ethnicity,” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity January 2015 1: 1-9. (OA)
  • Elijah Anderson.“’The White Space': Race, Space, Integration, and Inclusion?” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity January 2015 1:10-21. Abstract: Since the end of the Civil Rights Movement, large numbers of black people have made their way into settings previously occupied only by whites, though their reception has been mixed. Overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, restaurants, and other public spaces remain. Blacks perceive such settings as “the white space,” which they often consider to be informally “off limits” for people like them. Meanwhile, despite the growth of an enormous black middle class, many whites assume that the natural black space is that destitute and fearsome locality so commonly featured in the public media, including popular books, music and videos, and the TV news—the iconic ghetto. White people typically avoid black space, but black people are required to navigate the white space as a condition of their existence.(OA)

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Roots of “Redskins”: Savages, Saints, Saviors in the American Psyche

The root of “Redskins” is the ideological stereotype of the initial savage of Hispaniola, the fearsome enemy icon of the colonial conquests, the Hostile other of the Plains wars, and finally the caricature of the once feared but now mocked dangerous Other, compliant in being released in the gladiator’s arena and told what an “honor” it is that the dominant spectators have chosen this image over the animals and undead violent gangs from the past.

While we are indeed concerned with the team name and its mascotry function, what remains central to any analysis of its importance to the broader society, is that the root of genocide and conquest, is the real reason behind the masked popularity and indeed, a desperately deep need to revel in the inferior status of the indigenous, the Native, the Indian. In other words, it is an expression of the supremacist discourse of racism.

By mocking the image, the dominants feel released from any guilt or thought of how their society came to be, or what may have happened to those peoples who preceded them in the lands they now call their own. This is why it is only in America, the “land that never was yet” according to Langston Hughes, where the image of the defamed and destroyed original people becomes so central to their popular professional sports teams.

The other reason is simple – the “Noble Savage” as the antithesis of the Hostile or Uncivilized Savage, is still a savage, is still the unreconstructed Other that needs to be obliterated in the national psyche as having any legitimacy, buried in its final phase as the painted Redface, theatrical dancing and prancing to the cheers of an audience in its self-absorbed orgy of monocular and militaristic patriotism. The terrorist enemy of today is rooted in the savage of yesterday.

Full denial of the genocide of the indigenous, requires an all-encompassing narrative, which the Redskins terminology provides in naming, and icons such as the Wahoo illustrate in a comfortable and cartoonish dehumanization of the first peoples of the land. Thus in their twisted version of how the New World came to be, these sports fans are “honoring” the savage warrior of the past, celebrating their conquest, and defining terrorism only in the violent actions of the Other, never in the “homeland” itself. Indigenous activists, scholars and leaders therefore will not, must not be satisfied if there is a name change of the Washington team, encouraging as that might be. Because the background narrative, the root “savage” of the 17th and 18th centuries linked to the redskin of the 19th century, is all about who is civilized and who is primitive, and operates to deny genocide and distort the defense of Native Nations into a civilizational discourse.

California is a case in point. The mission-forming priest Junipero Serra was the spearhead of Spanish conquest in the region, forcefully “converting” Native peoples into subordinated people at missions, where their labor built the system and provided profits for expansion. Catholic hierarchies also took advantage of the Natives coerced into the missions, as a rationale for taking lands and creating new governance that did not recognize indigenous societies or social structures. Soldiers would garrison forts and out posts for “security” and to enforce the laws, religious and secular. In many cases there was also sexual predation, often of young children. Because of these severe conditions, with high death rates and low life expectancies, nearly all missions experienced uprisings against the injustices. After they were put down, there were executions. Within a few decades, accompanied by disease and changing habitats, the numbers of native people dropped more than half, then again by half, with a demographic collapse termed genocidal or cultural genocide.

Fast forward to 2014, when relatively small numbers of surviving California Indians are bolstered by much larger Native populations from elsewhere in the United States, and by sovereignty battles often leading to economic development because of Indian Gaming, with support for telling their own stories. Historians had dubbed Father Serra as the “founder of California” and represent him as bringing people to Catholicism and Christianity, underscoring ideas of uncivilized primitive people needing religious and social guidance. These were found in museum installations, such as the one at the Huntington in 2013, where he was praised as a “savior” to the Native people.

Thus it is Western man, the priest, the scholar from great universities, the unimpeachable source who tells us how to perceive Redskins names or terms. This is higher order supremacist thought, but it’s still supremacy racism, just veiled in academic language, that obscures its deep condescending tautology of savage versus civilized savior. This ideological dualism is displayed every day in the mainstream media, with college classes seeing who is a Savior, and in saying who is a Hero in wars and rumors of wars.

Note the new movie “American Sniper” where a disgruntled Texan cowboy who grew up hunting animals in “the wild” joins the military after seeing bombings of U.S. Embassies and an Al Queda attack on the Twin Towers, becoming a SEAL sniper deployed to Iraq where he looks to kill “bad guys” and “savages” in order to save lives of his fellow soldiers, and ultimately “Americans” back home. There is wild cheering at many movie theaters at the killing of the made-up mythical “Mustapha” sniper and end of the movie, where the sniper is seen as a great hero, misunderstood at home and unable to reconcile his killing overseas. There are two huge issues to be aware of in the book, the movie, and the public American psyche that has made this the most popular January box-office movie of all time, and up for many academy awards.

First, obviously, is its use of “savage” for an enemy of the United States, or for all Americans back home, which is applied to all people from the enemy icon nations and cultural groups. Savage has its origins in the Papal Bull used to justify Columbus’s second journey and invasion, leading to the greatest genocide of its time, the Holocaust of Hispaniola, and used to justify ongoing genocides of the Spanish and English colonial conquests, finally moving into the U.S.A. fighting “merciless Indian savages” in its Declaration of Independence, and similarly in every war and killings in the 19th century, morphing into use of Redskins to underscore racial construction. Both terms are used in the build-up to Wounded Knee in 1890.

Fast forward again through its use in every non-western conflict of the next two centuries, (See The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire Building by Drinnon), to the initial briefing by General Schwarzkopf to the first Iraqi invasion, that U.S. forces were going into “Indian Country” to take out and destroy “Hostiles” (Hostiles was put into official language in the 1876 prelude to U.S. re-invasion of Lakota lands under the rubric of “Indian Country” emerging from treaty technical terms of 1830’s genocidal Indian Removals). Thus the pejorative charged term Terrorist related to Hostiles that emerged from “savage” enemy icons, used to destroy people in their own lands fighting for their own nationalities, has a consistent place in the American arsenal of seeking out and killing the Other opposed to western civilization. If not for the geography and new fears of being charged with racism, they might as well have used Redskins.

Thus the dark-skinned Mustapha character, completely fictionalized, realizes the rough “honoring” and hating of the uncivilized, “savage” enemy in the name of civilization and the good guys. His name could just as easily be Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Tecumseh, Metacom (King Phillip), Po’pay or even Anacoana, leaders of indigenous resistance movements. Without discounting the heroic endeavors of Chris Kyle, we observe how his simplistic acceptance of the enemy icon as “savage” underscores centuries of very similar military conquests, and resonates with a supremacist American creed that “honors” its enemies in Crazy Horse Saloons, or in paratroopers yelling Geronimo as they jump, (replicated in Operation Geronimo to kill OBL terrorists they earlier feared were hiding among the “tribals”) and so on it goes.

The second use is found in the dark side of the American Sniper who has returned “home” to find his massive killings haunts him, and so he makes up incredible stories of brave stands against a homeland “enemy” of black carjackers whom he kills, or of sniper killing up to thirty civilians from the New Orleans superdome when they were supposedly looting or causing mayhem. If he lived in real “Indian Country” we could easily assume both the stories and the realities would be of killing the first savages, the Indian. The book and film, and all media stories resonate with Cowboys and Indians, Good Guys and Bad Guys, Savages and Soldiers – that simply underscore the ideologies of supremacy firmly rooted in Redskins.
Our Homeland Security, itself a misnomer for all natives, becomes the guiding principle of reducing and eliminating the savage, the uncivilized, the potential Hostile from the Friendly Indian, the assimilated and fully colonized repeater of hegemonic histories that never include the Holocaust of Native Nations, terrorism toward indigenous communities, which never bring up the horrific death rates of the Mission system followed by outright genocide in the state of California, that discount the massive killings of so many communities from Mystic Lake to Wounded Knee, that refuse to see the reconstituted Savage as Hostile Other in the wars of the twentieth century.

Rather, in benign neglect and intentional cultural destruction, the American psyche (especially white American psyche) becomes comfortable in brave discoverers, saintly priests, and with heroic soldier-saviors who protect a racialized US from the dangerous hostile Other, a terror to civilized society that will torture and kill and raze villages to the ground to protect its settlers from the savage, embodied in a dancing Red-faced racist Wahoo and a capital team named Redskins. It’s time to change from the caricature of the conquered Wahoo and Redskin racist naming to imagery of respect and words of honor, a true recognition of First Nations and Indigenous Peoples.

James V. Fenelon is of Lakota/Dakota Indigeneity, is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies, United States Navy veteran, and co-author of Indigenous Peoples and Globalization (Paradigm, 2009).

The Perceived Value of Intercultural Competence

A new survey titled “Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success” by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) reveals significant disparities between the perceptions of students and employers related to readiness for future careers and the importance of diversity and intercultural learning outcomes. The survey sample includes 613 students at private and public two and four year institutions and 400 CEO’s and executives from private or non-profit organizations.

One of the most surprising metrics is that less than two in five employers rated the following learning outcomes as very important:
Awareness of and experience with diverse cultures and communities within the U.S. 37%
Staying current on global developments and trends 25%
Awareness of and experience with cultures and societies outside of the United States 23%
Proficiency in a language other than English 23%

Despite the lack of emphasis by employers on these diversity and democratic learning outcomes, employers rated students as less prepared in these areas than the students did themselves:
Competency
Employer Rating//Student Rating

Awareness of and experience with diverse cultures and communities within the U.S. 25% //48%
Staying current on global developments and trends 16% //34%
Awareness of and experience with cultures and societies outside of the United States 15% //42%
Proficiency in a language other than English 16% //34%

Only 21 percent of employers strongly agreed that all college students should gain intercultural skills and an understanding of societies outside the U.S., while 57 percent agreed somewhat. By contrast, 87 percent of students felt that such skills were important. A similar gap was found between employer and student perceptions of the knowledge students should have of democratic institutions and preparation for citizenship in a democratic society.

The lack of emphasis on intercultural understanding by employers is striking, given the fact that in the U.S. alone there are more than 20,000 multinational companies, that exceed the number of companies in the Fortune 1,000 or the Fortune 5,000. And the average U.S. based multinational company generates roughly 45 percent of their revenue from countries outside the U.S. The boundary between local and global has become blurred, as most companies compete in a global marketplace.

The survey also reveals that students agree with employers on the value of cross-cutting skills of teamwork, communication, critical thinking, ethical decision-making and applying knowledge in real-world settings as learning outcomes. Ironically, however, in a global society and even within the United States all of these components demand a high level of cultural competency, a recognition of cultural pluralism, and the ability to communicate effectively with individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Perhaps the employers’ perspectives could be viewed as what Derald Wing Sue calls “ethnocentric monoculturalism,” a Eurocentric focus that fails to recognize the importance of connections and communication in a multicultural society and global economic environment. Instead, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter indicates, the reality is that companies need to thrive locally in a global economy by creating new world-class mindsets that embody globally relevant skills.

While employers in the AACU survey endorsed an applied learning emphasis in higher education, they also appeared not to acknowledge the importance of intercultural skills and competence as part of what is needed in an applied learning focus. If we are indeed living in what Fareed Zakaria calls “the rise of the rest” in a post-American world defined and directed by people from many locations our educational systems, in turn, must be finely tuned to the development of the applied cultural competency needed for college graduates to thrive in this new, global millennium. As he writes:

Generations from now, when historians write about these times, they might note that by the turn of the 21st century, the United States had succeeded in its great, historical mission—globalizing the world. We don’t want them to write that along the way, we forgot to globalize ourselves.

Why We Need to Reclaim MLK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On this national holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. many of us nationwide took to the streets in “reclaim MLK” protests.  Why a need to reclaim the legacy of Dr.King?  Part of it has to do with that speech.

MLK_photo

 

(Photo from Sean Elias)

You know the one. The “I got a dream speech,” as someone referred to it recently. The speech that everyone half-remembers and selectively quotes every January. Based on a collective quoting-out-of-context from that speech, King has been elevated to a patriotic mascot praising America’s relentless and inevitable progress on racism. In his book, The Speech, Gary Younge lays out the story behind the speech which was, in fact, a searing indictment of American racism.  Younge describes our misremembering this way:

“Half a century after the March on Washington and the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, the event has been neatly folded into America’s patriotic mythology. Relatively few people know or recall that the Kennedy administration tried to get organizers to call it off; that the FBI tried to dissuade people from coming; that racist senators tried to discredit the leaders; that twice as many Americans had an unfavorable view of the march as a favorable one. Instead, it is hailed not as a dramatic moment of mass, multiracial dissidence, but as a jamboree in Benetton Technicolor, exemplifying the nation’s unrelenting progress toward its founding ideals.”

People forget, too, that King was very nearly a social pariah among most white Americans. In 1966, twice as many Americans had an unfavorable opinion of him as a favorable one.

Much less frequently quoted on this holiday is MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which he writes that:

“the great stumbling block in [the] stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

Or, his 1967 speech at Riverside Church, in which he responds to the question “What about Vietnam?” by saying:

“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”

Today, we have certainly made symbolic progress as a nation, and even some material progress. We have a black president of the US, who can say and do a very little to address racism. And, Oprah Winfrey is so fabulously wealthy she has an amphitheater in her backyard in which she can host a gospel brunch, because that was Dr. King’s dream. Or, so she says.

At the same time, we live in a nation in which more black people have been killed by police than were lynched during Jim Crow. Despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act, 1 in 13 African Americans are blocked from voting due to systematic disenfranchisement. And, the carceral machinery churns up black lives at a prodigious rate. Sixty years after Brown vs. the Board of Education, our schools are more racially segregated than ever. The black-white wealth gap has, at the end of 2014, reached at 24-year high.

MLKs_Dream

(Photo by Marina Ortiz, East Harlem Preservation)

So, when people to the streets and to Twitter to #reclaimMLK, it was to remind us all of the radical tradition of a Dr. King who called out the stumbling block of white moderates who value order more than justice and the violence of our own government.

Redefining the Vocabulary of Microaggressions

A new report by Harvard University’s Voices of Diversity Project (VoD) draws on interviews with at least 50 African-American, Latina/o, Asian-American and Native American students at each of four universities regarding their on-campus undergraduate experiences related to their racial/ethnic background, sex, or both. The co-authors, Paula Caplan and Jordan Ford, report on the students’ experiences of racist and sexist mistreatment that took shape in “microaggressions” or subtle, cumulative, and repetitive acts of marginalization and stereotyping.

The concept of “micro-inequities” has received considerable research attention and refers to small incidents of everyday discrimination that have replaced the more overt acts of discrimination characteristic of the pre-Civil Rights era. Micro-inequities can be unspoken, repeated messages that may be invisible to others but send devaluing messages to the targets that hinder these individuals’ performance and impact self-esteem. The vocabulary of micro-inequities dates back to the 1970’s when Mary Rowe, Ombudsperson at MIT, noted the ephemeral, difficult-to-prove events that she saw as the “principal scaffolding for discrimination in the United States.” A more extensive taxonomy of these day-to-day behavioral indignities was developed by Gerald Wing Sue and others that includes microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations.

Yet at what point do “micro-aggressions” become “macro-aggressions”? Take the experiences of mistreatment cited by a Latina senior quoted in the VoD study: “I go nuts. I do….it hurts so much, so much, it’s indescribable the way it makes you feel” (p. 40). The Latina senior goes on to say, “My whole body becomes hot, and your eyes automatically become glassy, because you just feel so inferior….” Or the commentary of an African-American male student, “What can I do? I feel useless. I’m being hurt by this person. It’s messing with me emotionally.” The profound psychological damage caused by racism is not adequately captured in the term “micro-inequity” or “micro-aggression.” As Joe Feagin points out in Systemic Racism (2006), the pain of racism is part of lived experience and to begin to even calculate its costs “one would need to add…the other personal, family, and community costs over the centuries—the intense pain and suffering, the physical and psychological damage, the rage over injustice, and the huge loss of energy” that could have been used for other purposes (p. 20). Perhaps we need a new vocabulary to identify these high costs.

Similarly, consider the example that Alvin Evans and I cite in our new book, The Department Chair as Transformative Diversity Leader (2015) of an African American faculty member who became the first African American department chair at his religiously-affiliated university. When he was first hired as one of the few African American faculty at that institution, a religious studies professor whose office was next to his refused to speak with him for 10 years:

He didn’t talk to me for 10 years, not a word. . . . He didn’t believe I was qualified, he didn’t believe that I was a real intellectual, I was only hired so that the university could say that we had Black professors.

In fact, the religious studies professor would talk about the African American faculty member with his door wide open so he could hear. Later, when the African American faculty member became chair, the religious studies professor had to speak with him. The chair would regularly ask him a question about diversity. The religious studies professor would inevitably answer, “I think we’re already diverse.” Needless to say, the chair was not invited to the religious studies professor’s retirement dinner.

Or in another interview study in 2012, we similarly found examples of the pain caused by exclusionary practices and behaviors in the workplace. For example, Claudia, an African-American administrator, was singled out in a staff meeting by her white male supervisor who was speaking of African-Americans in general: “Oh, I don’t mean you. You’re different, you’re an Oreo.’ Claudia responded, “You know, I’m sorry I think that most people would recognize that as being a racial slur.” The supervisor replied, “Oh I don’t mean that. You are one of them that has common sense.” The repeated actions of the supervisor caused Claudia extreme physical and psychological anguish:

When I had that very discriminatory supervisor, I had extremely high blood pressure. I was on three medications. They were at the maximum dosage and my blood pressure was still uncontrollable. My doctor kept telling me I needed to quit my job because he was said I was going to die. He said I was going to just have a stroke or heart attack because my blood pressure was so high.

These examples across the spectrum of students, faculty, and administrators illustrate the long-term psychological and physical damage resulting from what are more than microaggressions (actually, macroaggressions).

To counteract such practices, the Harvard VoD Project identifies the proactive work undertaken by Missouri State University, one of the institutional participants, to address the “silent suffering” of targets of racism and sexism and ensure that the experiences of minoritized students, faculty of color, and women are heard.

As Mark Warren indicates in Fire in the Heart (2010), building community is a process that must move us from passivity to positive action by “breaking down that separateness and achieving something that is more than the sum of the parts” (p. 229). To do so, we must first face the difficult realities that the VoD identifies and then move toward a deepened collective understanding and common vocabulary that help us activate and operationalize practices that enhance inclusion on our campuses.

Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie: A Critical View

To be frank, the magazine Charlie Hebdo deserves criticism, not praise—despite the horrific events that have unfolded. While I am certainly not condoning the murder of its staff members, I do find them guilty of Islam-bashing and inconsiderately expressing religious intolerance, cultural ethnocentrism, and extremely poor human judgment, issues that should be important to antiracists and those who “review” racism. Additionally, being aware of the angst caused by their racist and tasteless cartoons, I find those associated with the magazines’ campaign against Islam to be instigators and un-thoughtful–not creatively satirical–people directly involved in promoting ethno-racial and religious tensions. See NPR’s 2012 story on the social problems caused by publishing the incendiary cartoons. Again, these individuals ought to be condemned as race baiters, not martyred.

The ridiculous display of support for ‘Charlie,’ particularly in the news media, is disconcerting and demonstrates that many people are equally as uninformed and culturally insensitive as those who promoted the anti-Islamist cartoons. Since the attack, most news outlets have ignored the racism and Islam-tarnishing of Charlie Hebdo and are in a rush to glorify the magazine and deify their racist cartoonists. Ignoring the potential of further inflaming ethno-racial tensions and promoting further anti-Muslim bigotry, a number of media giants, such as the Washington Post, have even decided to reprint the blasphemous cartoons of Muhammad in defiance of what they feel is a threat to free speech.

To state that what occurred is “an attack on free speech” is misguided and plainly ignorant. This is a destructive myth espoused by most Western media outlets in their discussion of this event. See, for example, John Avlon’s The Daily Beast article, “Why We Stand with Charlie Hebdo-And You Should Too,” which naively presents the free speech argument. What Charlie Hebdo’s anti-Islamist cartoons represent is hate images and speech, a defamation of a major world religion and culture, and an obvious attack on Muslims. To cloud this reality is intellectual dishonesty in the wake of reactionary politics.

Stoking the flames of racial hatred through dehumanizing others and their beliefs is nothing new; yet, today it is claimed that those who de-humanize certain groups are expressing their free speech or righteousness in their actions. One might ask why KKK pamphlets that demean black Americans, white nationalists’ periodicals that vilify Jews, and past campaigns of dehumanization by national groups, like the US’s racist cartoons of Japanese, are viewed as intolerable and unacceptable, yet the demonization of Muslims and Arabs is granted a pass.

Islam bashing, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab sentiments are on the rise in Europe, and particularly in France, in large part do to the de-humanizing tactics of people like those associated with Charlie Hebdo. The dehumanization and discriminatory practices of Charlie cartoons provide ammunition for the anti-Muslim intolerance endorsed by rising far right groups in Europe, like the British Freedom Party, National Front, English Defense League, Alternative for Germany, Freedom Party in Netherlands, and PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West), to name a few. Problematically, with the aid of people who incite discrimination against Muslims, like the cartoonists and editorial staff at Charlie Hebdo, Islamophobia is now moving from the fringes to the mainstream of European societies. (See Joshua Keating’s Slate article, “Xenophobia is Going Mainstream in Germany.”)

As Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari notes, “the shockwave of the far right National Front polling nearly one-fifth of French voters is still reverberating. Both the socialist candidate and the incumbent president are wooing the support of Marine le Pen” (see Dr. Bari’s Aljazeera article, “Islamophobia: Europe’s’ New Political Disease.”).Indeed, after the attack, as expected, the National Front is attracting more members and support.

Of course, racist and anti-Muslim dehumanizing cartoons are but a symptom of a larger problem that is not addressed, is misdiagnosed or is inverted: European colonialism and the European-sponsored terrorism or Euroterrorism used to support this centuries-old practice. The Iraq war, Afghanistan war, and other Western-sponsored military campaigns against Muslim countries are colonialist wars in which Western powers are attempting to steal natural resources from Muslim countries and rearrange their political structure so that Western business interests might more easily exploit these countries’ people and land. The deaths of innocent Muslims at the hands of Westerners in their colonialist pursuit of profit and power is pure unadulterated terrorism of the worst kind.

Western colonialism that exploded in the late nineteenth century and has been maintained up to this day relied upon and relies upon unimpeded Westerner violence or terrorism, as a number of analysts have documented. In African Perspectives of Colonialism (1987:26-27), A. Adu Boahen explains that Europe’s late nineteenth century technological advances led by the “maxim-gun” promoted Europeans’ “sudden and forceful occupation” of African lands and set in place the “imposition of the colonial system.” Edward Said’s analysis of colonialism, Europeans’ conquest of non-Western lands, in Orientalism (1979) demonstrates that violence and terrorism associated with European colonialism, particularly the British and French versions, are physical as well as cultural and psychological, in certain cases resembling the discriminatory practices and negative imagery of “the Other” discovered in the pages of Charlie Hebdo. In The Wretched of the Earth (1963:36), Franz Fanon observes that colonialism is “marked by violence” and is characterized by “the exploitation of the native by the settler…carried on by dint of a great array of bayonets and cannons.” Undoubtedly, modern day terrorism originated and persists in the practices of Western colonialism and this fact deserves deliberation in any attempt at understanding the various non-Western terrorist acts in reaction to European terrorism.

France’s colonialist exploitation and terrorism of Muslim African nations is one of the primary reasons for the growth of “radical” Islamist groups. Rather than simply dismissing these militarized Islamist groups as anti-Western, Westerners ought to be a little smarter and ask why wouldn’t Muslims attempt to protect their people, land and culture and, in turn, oppose those who terrorize them. Who are the real terrorists? If we consider the numbers of Muslims killed or brutalized at the hands of Westerners in relation to the number of Westerners killed or brutalized by Muslims, the answer is quite clear: terrorists of the West. Ironically, a Western terrorist, Anders Breivik, slaughtered large numbers of Westerners in his anti-Islamist hatred. His mass killing spree slayed far more Westerners on European soil than any attacks by “radicalized” Muslims. Significantly, Breivik’s terrorism was conflated with Islamist terrorism (see the Guardian).

As long as radicalized Westerners accept the killing of innocent Muslims in drone and missile attacks, discount the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, the CIA “black sites,” and other torture facilities, and fail to see how Western colonialism violently maintains operation across the globe, particularly in Muslim countries, the “battle against terrorism” will continue. Along with Europe, the United States has its own zealots and war hawks who promote terrorism directed at Muslim countries. On virtually any day, one can turn to major US news media outlets and witness a host of extremist US politicians, like Peter King, John McCain, Diane Feinstein, Alan West, Michele Bachmann and Chuck Schumer, calling for war or negative actions against one Muslim or Arab country or another. The rhetoric is careless and, at its roots, are the sparks of Western-styled terrorism.

To support US terrorism, French terrorism and other forms of Western terrorism is unconscionable. Similarly, supporting Charlie Hebdo’s discriminatory practices that naturalize and sanctify Euroterrorism against Muslims is abhorrent. Terrorism begets terrorism in a vicious cycle. Neither form can be justified, but the former is where we should direct our focus. For these reasons, Jen ne suis pas Charlie. For those who identify with Charlie, you might re-consider your senseless ties to the racism that Charlie breeds and the racial conflicts that will result from ignorant acceptance of that religious and ethno-racial intolerance and racist ridicule of Others.

A Salute to John Conyers

On January 6, 2015, distinguished guests and US politicians gathered to celebrate the unveiling of Representative (now Dean of the US House of Representatives) John Conyers’ portrait that will now hang rightfully on the walls of the Capitol Building. That this is the first portrait of an African American congressional representative to grace the walls of the House Judiciary committee meeting room in the Capitol is telling. Like all honors earned by African Americans, Conyers’ portrait symbolizes a long, obstacle-laden struggle for recognition of service to the nation and a deserved place in the memory of US politics.

As Vice President Biden remarked, future generations of US lawmakers will respectfully point to this portrait and note the vast achievements Conyers accomplished during his service to and uplift of the American people. Representative James Clyburn correctly observed that Conyers was the catalyst for establishing a new paradigm in American political thought and action. Reflecting on the political capital, leadership skills, mentoring successes, and role model qualities of Conyers, US Attorney General, Eric Holder, stated that he, Barack Obama and other African American government leaders stood on the shoulders of Conyers. Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi made clear that Conyers has battled for the rights of all the disenfranchised and oppressed in the US, championing the Violence Against Women Act (1994) and House Resolution 288, a bill to dissuade religious intolerance, particularly intolerance directing at the US Muslim population.

As the longest serving member in the House of Representatives, John Conyers has advanced a progressive and positively “disruptive” (the term used by Nancy Pelosi) political agenda for fifty years now. During this period, Conyers was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus, a group of representatives who have addressed the unique sets of issues affecting the African American community and served as a critical moral consciousness for US government policies and US politicians, including Barack Obama (possibly why Obama was a no show at the unveiling?). One of Conyers’ great achievements was introducing a bill to create a national holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Another profound political effort led by Conyers has been his call for a commission to study reparations for African Americans, to research how slavery has affected the lives of African Americans and the zeitgeist of US society up until this day.

Conyers has fought against the destructive culture and business of online gambling, cuts in Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare, discriminatory electoral practices, hate crimes, and racial profiling. He has introduced legislation and supported projects such as the Alcohol Warning Label Act, Help America Vote Act, Firearm Reduction Initiative, Workforce Investment Act, State Public Funds Protection Act, Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, and the Former Prisoners Project. In his distinct of Southeast Michigan, Conyers has generated a number of programs for economic development and social justice.

Assessing his long list of achievements, it is clear that Conyers fights for the marginalized, dispossessed, oppressed and exploited in US society. This ongoing battle distinguishes the work of Conyers from so many career politicians on the Hill. As just about every speaker at Conyers’ portrait unveiling acknowledged, John Conyers is a rare person of “integrity,” high principles and intellect, human qualities absent among many members of Congress. Indeed, few people work for improving the lives of others, not themselves, and even those who devote their energies toward advancing the human condition rarely possess the devotion and cogency of a person like John Conyers.

Conyers is an unsullied role model for those fighting for racial justice and human justice in general, and should be recognized as one of the true protagonists of US society. While many US citizens will never respect his achievements and a certain element will attempt to vilify his pro-justice actions (he was one of the key figures on Nixon’s “enemy list”), it is up to those who strive for justice and human community to follow, as best they can, in the footsteps of this Giant.

If Michael Brown were Harvard Bound, And White, And Wealthy

During the Fall of 2014, I taught an Introduction to Sociology course at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). We covered numerous concepts & theories, including Broken Windows Theory. This theory was developed by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling to illustrate how one broken window left unrepaired in a building is an invitation for more windows to be broken. If not repaired there can be a downward-spiral of vandalism that culminates into lawlessness. Basically, Broken Windows Theory explains how we rely upon social contexts and cues to assess and/or engage in behaviors considered deviant.

Harvard University is a campus largely absent of broken windows and other forms of esthetic disrepair. When teaching at UNL, I have used Harvard as an elite reference point and will now do so in this article. While working on my PhD at Harvard, I lived in an undergraduate Residence House (that’s Harvard speak for “dormitory”) and worked as a Resident Tutor (that’s Harvard speak for “resident assistant”). I had conversations with Harvard undergrads on numerous occasions including breakfast/lunch/dinner. I was always amazed by the privileged backgrounds of typical Harvard students. Though from a low-income background, I gained knowledge about the mannerisms, dress, and linguistic maneuvers of elitism while an undergrad at Georgetown University. I was, however, quick to correct persons at Harvard who assumed I shared their elite origins. Still, interactions with Harvard students from elite backgrounds moved me to empathize with the vulnerabilities of elite youths.

Among vulnerable students were wealthy sons emotionally neglected by their wealthy parents; sons desperate for emotional support. There were wealthy daughters deeply worried that they would fail parental expectations by wanting to play in a rock band instead of becoming doctors/lawyers/scientists/professors, and so on.

Two students that I came to know quite well shared stories of tribulation and triumph. One student, TJ, had hypothesized a fantastic science project despite inadequate support for his idea. After access to a Harvard science lab and a thoughtfully written report, TJ earned an “A”. Another student, GW, endured a confrontational encounter with a rude police officer; GW stood his ground and called for mutual respect. A third student, DJ, had shoplifted some goods before coming to Harvard. His parents used their clout to prevent DJ from serving jail/prison time. (Though vastly true, I have modified minor details of these stories to protect the students’ anonymity.)

At Harvard broken windows are constantly repaired. Transgressions are washed away or significantly minimized by a “Hahvarhd” affiliation. DJ and many elite students with histories of juvenile delinquency like him are now successful Harvard alums.

As I share stories about students I met while at Harvard, what images come to mind: Images of wealthy, White, students full of complex humanity; students who deserve to achieve their dreams; young women/men who are not easily reduced to individual mistakes or parental shortcomings? Actually, two examples above are NOT about Harvard students. What happens to the image of these students as I reveal that “TJ” was an African American teen and “GW” was an Afro-Latino-American teen; both were from low-income neighborhoods in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Are TJ and GW suddenly less deserving of the benefit of the doubt; do racial/ethnic and class details strip away their complex humanity? To learn more about TJ (aka “Malik”) and GW (aka “Robbie”), read my book Tough Fronts (2002). I came to know them while at Harvard not because they were Harvard students, but because they were middle and high school students from low-income neighborhoods in Cambridge who shared stories of mistreatment and oppression eclipsed by Harvard’s affluence. I interviewed them for my dissertation and for Tough Fronts. I arranged Malik’s access to the Harvard science lab. Doing so briefly bestowed Malik with enough Harvard clout to cause his middle-school teacher to suddenly see his potential to be an A-student in 8th-grade science. Of course, Malik’s Harvard clout was fleeting. As for Robbie, his respect for Cambridge police was not reciprocated. Malik and Robbie were (and still are) no less complexly human than the Harvard students with whom I lived; yet they were constantly treated as such by powerful social institutions like schools, police departments, and social service agencies.

What happens to your image of Harvard when I tell you that in addition to DJ there are Harvard students—and I’m talking about wealthy, White students—who shoplift and commit other crimes. This was the case well before I went to Harvard. It was the case while I attended Harvard during the 1990s. And continues well after I graduated with my PhD. For example, Harvard students who shoplift include the daughter of Rudy Giuliani.

Let’s return to DJ, who actually was one of the Harvard students from my Residence House and who was White and Male and Wealthy. Let’s update his story and try to strip DJ of his complex humanity by providing his shoplifting story with a different ending.

In August of 2014, before his freshman year at Harvard, DJ shoplifts some limited edition Gurkha Maharaja Cigars costing $2,000 per cigar, from M&M Cigar and Gift in Norwalk, Connecticut. DJ returns to his neighborhood of wealthy White professionals in Darien, Connecticut. As DJ exits his 2014 Porsche 911 Carrera, a police car pulls onto his street. DJ, known for being spoiled and obnoxious, has hubris enough to be confrontational with the police officer. At what point does this White police office fire a gun at this 18-year-old, Harvard bound, White male suspected of shoplifting? At what point does this police officer continue shooting at DJ who has now walked away from the confrontation? At what point does the officer continue to fire as DJ turns around with his hands up? At what point does the officer use deadly force and kill DJ? At what point is DJ’s body left on the street in his White professional, Darien, Connecticut neighborhood for four hours? At what point do the police prevent DJ’s parents from going to their son’s dead body? At what point is the police officer not held accountable once it is clear that he shot and killed an unarmed, college-bound, 18-year-old? At what point does the Assistant District Attorney tell the Grand Jury that the police officer had the right to shoot DJ because he had turned to flee? Few if any of these things would happen to a Wealthy, White teen like DJ, yet most if not all happened to Michael Brown, who was also a college-bound 18-year old male.

Experiences with Harvard students, especially wealthy, White male students, lead me to conclude that at no point would DJ share Michael’s fate. If DJ had been caught stealing the cigars, he would probably have been detained at the store while his parents were contacted. Or as was the case with Rudy Giuliani’s daughter, Caroline Giuliani, store managers may call the police yet decline to press charges! In elite places where broken windows are constantly repaired, people honor the complex humanity of young people, who commit or are suspected of committing criminal acts. Unlike unprivileged youths, privileged youths are not easily stripped of their complex humanity.

I can personally assure you that the absence of broken windows at Harvard does not mean an absence of deviant behavior. Despite well-manicured lawns and unbroken windows there are Harvard students who deal drugs as well as those who commit rape and other heinous acts. Studies on the youths of privilege reveal that they have higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other destructive behaviors than non-privileged youths. Furthermore, the presence of broken windows in urban communities of color does not mean an absence of complex humanity.

I have been to the place where Michael Brown was shot dead as if he were an aggressive monster instead of an unarmed teenager, like DJ; it is not a neighborhood full of broken windows. But even if it were, Michael and Black youths like him, whether males or females, deserve the same benefit of the doubt as privileged youths like DJ and Caroline Giuliani. And for places where windows are rarely repaired, the police should honor the humanity of youths as they would honor the humanity of spoiled and obnoxious rich kids. And at the very least, instead of destroying more windows with bullets from guns aimed to kill unarmed teens, police and other government officials should assist residents to restore shattered lives and broken windows. This is all the more necessary in Ferguson, Missouri where the police and government officials share a legacy of shattering the lives of African Americans.

L. Janelle Dance, Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Senior Researcher at Lund University in Sweden, with sociological input from Selma Hedlund, Sociology Master’s Student, Columbia University.

On Black Death and LGBTQ Politics

On Friday, December 12, I had the profound pleasure of attending the Kessler Award ceremony hosted by The Center for LGBTQ Studies: CLAGS at The Graduate Center, CUNY in honor of Professor Cathy J. Cohen (University of Chicago). Cohen has a large body of work at the intersection of race, class, gender and sexuality, but is perhaps best known for a 1997 GLQ article, referenced this talk, called, “Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics” (locked). The title of her talk was, “#Do Black Lives Matter? From Michael Brown to CeCe McDonald: On Black Death and LGBTQ Politics.” What follows is a brief summary of her remarks, and the video and transcript are linked below.

Cohen’s talk began with the screening of a video that included the murders of Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Kaijeme Powell, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice in one devastating 2-minute clip, she said to “re-center us and remind us what the movement is about.”

Cohen then turned to a discussion of the context surrounding the murder of Michael Brown, what she calls the ‘multicultural turn in neoliberalism.’ She uses the traditional definition of neoliberalism, as a “prioritizing of markets and a corresponding commitment to the dismantling or devolution of social welfare.” She argues that with the election of the first African American president in Barack Obama, neoliberalism has taken a “multicultural turn” that requires us to “complicate our understanding of state power and neoliberal agendas.” About this, and as part of her critique of Obama, she said:

Colorblind racial ideology, by both decrying racism and designating anti-racism as probably one of the country’s newly found core values, actually works to obscure the relationship between identity and privilege. Thus, through colorblind ideology one can claim to be in solidarity with black people while at the same time denigrating the condition of poor black people, faulting them for their behaviors or lack of a work ethic and not their race. Moreover, one could declare that ‘black lives matter’ while undermining any state-sponsored programs that would address the special needs of poor black people. One could say, in fact, that I’m heartbroken with the death of Trayvon Martin because if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon, and recognize that that means nothing in terms of justice for black people.

She began here, with neoliberalism and its multicultural turn because “it is a reminder of the sustained attack on the basic humanity of poor black people that provides the context in which we should understand the killing of young black people, in particular young black men, and the less visible assaults on black women and the murder of black trans people.”

The second section of her talk, called “Performing Solidarity: LGBT Complicity = Black Death,” was a thorough recap of the critique made by Urvashi Vaid, Lisa Duggan, Dean Spade and Michael Warner, of the way that mainstream (read: predominantly white) LGBT organizations have prioritized a neoliberal agenda with policies agendas that emphasize, marriage, access to the military and increased criminalization through hate crime legislation. Then, she argued that the kinds of letters issued by mainstream LGBT organizations in support of Michael Brown’s family

The third part of her talk, which she called “This is Not the Civil Rights Movement: The Queering of Black Liberation,” is where she addressed the possibility of transformational politics. She began this section by screening this short video:

This young brother, Tory Russell is from Hands Up United, one of the grassroots groups organizing people in Ferguson, Missouri. In response to a question from Gwen Ifill (PBS Newshour) about what he sees happening now, Russell says:

“I mean it’s younger, it’s fresher. I think we’re more connected than most people think. I don’t, this is not the civil rights movement, you can tell by how I got a hat on, I got my t-shirt, and how I rock my shoes. This is not the civil rights movement. This is an oppressed peoples’ movement. So when you see us, you gonna see some gay folk, you gonna see some queer folk, you gonna see some poor black folk, you gonna see some brown folk, you gonna see some white people and we all out here for the same reasons, we wanna be free.”

In many ways, Russell here articulates Cohen’s vision for transformational politics and what she refers to as substantive, rather than performative, solidarity.

Cohen, along with a growing chorus of voices, sees what is happening now as a movement, rather than simply a momentary response to aggressive policing.

Near the end of her talk, Cohen describes this movement, echoing Russell, as a “movement made up, as Tory Russell described, made up of some gays, some queer folk, some poor black people, some brown folks, some white folks, …all of them united in their position as oppressed people, aka politically queer, and all fighting for freedom, not marriage, not increased criminalization, not access to the military, but for freedom.”

You can view Cohen’s lecture online here (beginning about the 25:50 mark). A transcript of Cohen’s remarks is available here.

Juan Flores (1943-2014): A Remembrance of a Great Scholar

Deep in the labyrinth of the CUNY Graduate Center in 2004, a seminar on Afro-Latin@s in the United States was being offered via the city-wide consortium. I was nearly done with my doctoral course work in Public & Urban Policy at the New School and needed a couple of electives before the dreaded qualifying examination. One of the program’s advisors at the time, concerned that the seminar would be missing “policy relevance” I needed for my dissertation, had planted seeds of doubt. But it was the interdisciplinary instructor of the course (whose Ph.D was in German Literature), who upon listening to my potential dissertation topic during first day introductions, interrupted me mid-sentence with his signature smile and said: “You really need this course.”

On December 2, 2014, Juan Flores, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, passed away in Durham, North Carolina, a few weeks after he had contributed to an academic conference at Duke University. An award-winning and prolific scholar on Puerto Rican, Latin@ and Afro-Latin@ culture and identity, it is not an understatement to write that Juan’s contributions not only left an indelible mark across multiple disciplines, but also amongst his former students. When Juan interrupted my own train of thought in that moment in 2004, it was clear that he had deliberately attempted to interrupt my research. At the time, I had specifically been exploring the roots of the ethnic enclave in Miami and proposed to rehash a theory that popped up in the sociology and economics literature in the 1980s, one that suggested that such notoriously segregated bastions of exploitation could actually be beneficial for newcomers. If the “ethnic enclave” was argued to be so good for the 1960s Cuban exiles and subsequent generations, would the same hold true for black Cubans? While few black Cubans ended up in Miami overall, even after the more diverse Mariel boatlift (1980), for those that did, how did they fare as compared to their “white” counterparts and other Latin@s in the region? Did the “owners” and progenitors of the newly ballyhooed “ethnic economy,” once viewed by the Chicago school as a necessary “decompression chamber” before eventual socioeconomic integration for children of immigrants, extend the same privileges to their black co-ethnics? If not, how should the state respond?

When Juan Flores became my professor, he challenged the methodological contours of my scholarly inquiry, despite feeling fields away in the land of urban policy analysis. His Socratic intervention was desperately needed at a time when “numbers” dominated my method of inquiry, economic theories were my prevailing explanatory referent, and my application of interdisciplinary and transnational perspectives was minimal. But to get there, Juan taught me through expertise and exposure, I needed theoretical understandings of race and racialization in the Americas, particularly Cuba. I (read: we) needed to dig deeper into Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz’s view of Cubanidad, which Juan had us critique in the seminar, as an expression of “color-blind” nationalism that seemed to involve everyone but Afro-Cubans. We needed to understand how the “Latin@ propensity to uphold mestizaje (racial and cultural mixture),” as he and fellow collaborator and life partner Miriam Jiménez Román wrote in the Afro-Latin@ Reader, was indeed an “exceptionalist and wishful panacea,” deeply embedded in the contours of anti-blackness (Román and Flores, 2010: 3).

We needed to understand how the stigma of claiming a black identity contributed to the undercounting (hence statistical understanding and political mal-representation) of our Afro-Latin@ herman@s here and abroad, evidence of his deep understanding of the crucial role of the state on peoples’ everyday livelihoods. In essence, we needed broad, interdisciplinary understandings of not just the oppressive structures of the United States (which dominates the urban policy literature on U.S. Latin@s), but also the present racial inequalities deeply rooted in the colonial contours of Latin America, with specific attention to the racial baggage that accompanies migration and transnational processes.

Juan’s death is a tremendous intellectual loss. As a peer eloquently echoed in conversation over Juan’s contributions, he knew how to enlarge and expand the theoretical and content knowledge of his students and colleagues, interventions and “interruptions” so crucial and necessary for student activism and scholarship that informed Puerto Rican/Latin@ Studies during its formative years, and now the burgeoning Afro-Latin@ Studies field. To borrow from one of the many “tweets” reflecting on Juan’s impact on our lives: Rest in Power, hermano.

Alan A. Aja is Assistant Professor & Deputy Chair in the Department of Puerto Rican & Latin@ Studies at Brooklyn College (CUNY). His sole and collaborative research on inter-group disparities has been published in Latino/a Research Review, Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics & Culture, Social Research, Dissent, Ethnic Studies Review (forthcoming), the Huffington Post and the Washington Post. Aja recently completed a manuscript on the Afro-Cuban experience in South Florida.