Research Brief: The Latest Research in the Field

Your Monday research brief is here.

 

Research in the Dictionary

  • Connor, Michan Andres. “Metropolitan Secession and the Space of Color-Blind Racism in Atlanta.” Journal of Urban Affairs (2014). (locked)
    • “The Reverend Joseph Lowery and the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus sponsored a 2011 voting rights suit, Lowery v. Deal, that demanded the disincorporation of several majority-white cities in Georgia’s Fulton and DeKalb Counties and preemption against attempts by affluent and majority-white north Fulton to secede from the rest of the county. Secession would have severe consequences for racial equity in the metropolitan area. Lowery’s 2011 dismissal by the District Court reflects ascendant color-blind racial ideology that defends white privilege in metropolitan space by attributing it to culturally and legally legitimate race-neutral processes. Historical analysis challenges this color-blind interpretation, identifying the nominally class-based interests of north Fulton residents with systemic racial discrimination and the politics of secession with historic patterns of spatial politics that have sought not only to exclude but also to manipulate political space to limit the ability of black voters and officials to make decisions affecting whites and their property.”
    • This research explored effects of sex, age, interethnic contact, and outgroup representation on subtle and blatant prejudice toward Africans in Italian adolescents attending ethnic heterogeneous/homogeneous Secondary Schools. Measures: Subtle and Blatant Prejudice Scale (Pettigrew & Meertens, 1995) referred to the Africans and Semantic Differentials (Falanga et al., 2010) to analyze representation of Self, the Italians, and the Africans. Results showed that girls and the youngest adolescents expressed lower levels on some components of subtle prejudice and on blatant prejudice than boys and the oldest ones. Adolescents with friends from other ethnic groups and those attending ethnically heterogeneous schools displayed positive attitudes toward the Africans. Representation of the Africans had an impact on levels of subtle and blatant prejudice.Selection and peer review under the responsibility of Prof. Dr. Servet Bayram.
  • Kleisath, E. Michelle. “The Costume of Shangri-La: Thoughts on White Privilege, Cultural Appropriation, and Anti-Asian Racism.”  Journal of Lesbian Studies, Vol.18, 2 (2014), 142-157. (locked)
    • “This piece poses cultural appropriation as an undertheorized aspect of white privilege in White Privilege Studies. By way of narrative exploration, it asserts that a paucity of scholarship on Orientalism and anti-Asian racism has created a gap in White Privilege Studies that curbs its radical transformative potential. It argues for the value of a structural and historically focused lens for understanding the issue of cultural appropriation, and extends questions of culture and race relations beyond the borders of the United States. It also explores the complex ways that interracial and transnational relationships can influence white racial identity, and illustrates the disruptive potential that queer interracial relationships can offer to dominant historical patterns of white behavior.”
    • “White privilege constructs whiteness as normative and central to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer (LGBQ) identities and is reproduced through social norms, media representations, and daily interactions. We aimed to enhance understanding of the processes by which white privilege was experienced among lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women of color in Toronto, Canada. We conducted two focus groups with LBQ women of color, one with participants who self-identified as masculine of center (n = 8) and the second with participants who identified as feminine of center (n = 8). Findings indicate that LBQ women of color experience intersectional stigma (e.g., homophobia, racism, sexism) on a daily basis. Participant narratives revealed that white privilege shaped the representations of women of color in a particular way that promoted their exclusion from white LBQ spaces and broader society. By representing queerness as white, LBQ women of color were rendered invisible in both queer and racialized communities. LBQ women of color were further marginalized by constructions of “real” women as passive, feminine and white, and conversely perceptions of women of color as aggressive, emotional, and hypersexualized. These representations inform spatialized practices and social interactions through constructing racialized communities as discriminatory and “backwards” while maintaining the invisibility of white privilege and racism in LBQ spaces.”
    • “This article investigates the extent to which the emerging trend of do-it-yourself anti-ageing skin-whitening products represents a re-articulation of Western colonial concerns with environmental pollution and racial degeneracy into concern with gendered vulnerability. This emerging market is a multibillion dollar industry anchored in the USA, but expanding globally. Do-it-yourself anti-ageing skin-whitening products purport to address the needs of those looking to fight the visible signs of ageing, often promising to remove hyper-pigmented age spots from women’s skin, and replace it with ageless skin, free from pigmentation. In order to contextualize the investigation of do-it-yourself anti-ageing skin-whitening practice and discourse, this article draws from the literature in colonial commodity culture, colonial tropical medicine, the contemporary anti-ageing discourse, and advertisements for anti-ageing skin-whitening products. First, it argues that the framing of the biomedicalization of ageing as a pigmentation problem caused by deteriorating environmental conditions and unhealthy lifestyle draws tacitly from European colonial concerns with the European body’s susceptibility to tropical diseases, pigmentation disorders, and racial degeneration. Second, the article argues that the rise of do-it-yourself anti-ageing skin-whitening commodities that promise to whiten, brighten, and purify the ageing skin of women and frames the visible signs of ageing in terms of pigmentation pathology.”
  • Park, Augustine SJ. “Constituting Omar Khadr: Cultural Racism, Childhood, and Citizenship.” International Political Sociology 8, no. 1 (2014): 43-62. (OA)
    • “Until 2012, Omar Khadr was both the only former child soldier and Western national left in Guantanamo Bay. Captured by US forces at the age of 15, this Canadian youth would spend more than 40% of his life in US custody during the War on Terror. This article advances two key arguments. First, as a child soldier, Khadr is simultaneously cast as an object of sympathy and suspicion. The construction of Khadr’s childhood is animated by a cultural racism, which casts Khadr as both a victim of an extremist family and the evil outcome of a “jihadi” upbringing. Second, this article examines competing culturally racialized claims about citizenship, prompted by the failure of the Canadian government to seek Khadr’s repatriation. While the central preoccupation of liberal citizenship discourse is the erosion of Canada’s identity as a Western, liberal democracy, “racial-nationalist” discourse raises the alarm on the threat posed by “citizens of convenience” who must be cast out of the polity through practices of “pure exclusion.”
  • Zinga, Dawn Michelle, and Megan Kathleen Gordon. “‘Racism under the radar’: Student perceptions of school experiences in a multicultural context.” Race Ethnicity and Education ahead-of-print (2014): 1-29. (locked)
    • “In this study focus groups were conducted to explore Aboriginal and Caucasian student perceptions of school experiences within a multicultural context. Five major themes emerged from students’ dialogues that pose several questions about what sort of racist atmosphere the members of this community are being exposed to on a daily basis. The findings of this study underscore an understanding of Aboriginal student resiliency within a school setting that employs successful school initiatives that aim to promote student success. Further inquiry into these findings is needed.”

Being Part of a Biracial Family, It’s Just the Reality

“Being part of a biracial family, it’s just the reality,” Christopher Colbert, the father of the six-year-old Grace Colbert star of a Cheerio’s commercial featuring a biracial family, told MSNBC last June shortly after the commercial aired. “We’re also part of the face of America.”

This short video clip (5:56) of the Colbert family’s courage in the face of racist reaction to the commercial featuring their daughter is today’s resistance to racism feature:

According to Census data, among opposite-sex married couples, one in 10 (5.4 million couples) are interracial, a 28% jump since 2000. In 2010, 18% of heterosexual unmarried couples were of different races (1.2 million couples) and 21% of same-sex couples (133,477 couples) were mixed.

The number of mixed-race babies has also climbed over the past decade. More than 7 percent of the 3.5 million children born in the year before the 2010 Census were of two or more races, up from barely 5 percent a decade earlier.

 

Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In

A year ago, few folks were talking about Sheryl Sandberg. Her thoughts on feminism were of little interest. More significantly, there was next-to-no public discussion of feminist thinking and practice. Rarely, if ever, was there any feminist book mentioned as a bestseller and certainly not included on the New York Times Best Seller list. Those of us who have devoted lifetimes to teaching and writing theory, explaining to the world the ins and outs of feminist thinking and practice, have experienced that the primary audience for our work is an academic sub-culture. In recent years, discussions of feminism have not evoked animated passion in audiences. We were far more likely to hear that we are living in a post-feminist society than to hear voices clamoring to learn more about feminism. This seems to have changed with Sandberg’s book Lean In, holding steady on the Times bestseller list for more than sixteen weeks.

No one was more surprised than long-time advocates of feminist thinking and practice to learn via mass media that a new high priestess of feminist movement was on the rise. Suddenly, as if by magic, mass media brought into public consciousness conversations about feminism, reframing the scope and politics through an amazing feat of advertising. At the center of this drama was a young, high-level corporate executive, Sheryl Sandberg, who was dubbed by Oprah Winfrey and other popular culture pundits as “the new voice of revolutionary feminism.” Forbes Magazine proclaimed Sandberg to be one of the most influential women in the world, if not the most. Time Magazine ranked her one of a hundred of the most powerful and influential world leaders. All over mass media, her book Lean In has been lauded as a necessary new feminist manifesto.

Yet Sandberg confesses to readers that she has not been a strong advocate of feminist movement; that like many women of her generation, she hesitated when it came to aligning herself with feminist concerns. She explains:

I headed into college believing that the feminists of the sixties and seventies had done the hard work of achieving equality for my generations.  And yet, if anyone had called me a feminist I would have quickly corrected that notion…. On one hand, I started a group to encourage more women to major in economics and government. On the other hand, I would have denied being in any way, shape, or form a feminist. None of my college friends thought of themselves as feminists either. It saddens me to admit that we did not see the backlash against women around us…. In our defense, my friends and I truly, if naively, believed that the world did not need feminists anymore.

Although Sandberg revised her perspective on feminism, she did not turn towards primary sources (the work of feminist theorists) to broaden her understanding. In her book, she offers a simplistic description of the feminist movement based on women gaining equal rights with men. This construction of simple categories (women and men) was long ago challenged by visionary feminist thinkers, particularly individual black women/women of color. These thinkers insisted that everyone acknowledge and understand the myriad ways race, class, sexuality, and many other aspects of identity and difference made explicit that there was never and is no simple homogenous gendered identity that we could call “women” struggling to be equal with men. In fact, the reality was and is that privileged white women often experience a greater sense of solidarity with men of their same class than with poor white women or women of color.

Sandberg’s definition of feminism begins and ends with the notion that it’s all about gender equality within the existing social system. From this perspective, the structures of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy need not be challenged. And she makes it seem that privileged white men will eagerly choose to extend the benefits of corporate capitalism to white women who have the courage to ‘lean in.’ It almost seems as if Sandberg sees women’s lack of perseverance as more the problem than systemic inequality. Sandberg effectively uses her race and class power and privilege to promote a narrow definition of feminism that obscures and undermines visionary feminist concerns.

Contrast her definition of feminism with the one I offered more than twenty years ago in Feminist Theory From Margin To Center and then again in Feminism Is For Everybody.  Offering a broader definition of feminism, one that does not conjure up a battle between the sexes (i.e. women against men), I state: “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” No matter their standpoint, anyone who advocates feminist politics needs to understand the work does not end with the fight for equality of opportunity within the existing patriarchal structure. We must understand that challenging and dismantling patriarchy is at the core of contemporary feminist struggle – this is essential and necessary if women and men are to be truly liberated from outmoded sexist thinking and actions.

Ironically, Sandberg’s work would not have captured the attention of progressives, particularly men, if she had not packaged the message of “lets go forward and work as equals within white male corporate elites” in the wrapping paper of feminism. In the “one hundred most influential people in the world” issue of Time Magazine, the forty-three-year old Facebook COO was dubbed by the doyen of women’s liberation movement Gloria Steinem in her short commentary with the heading “feminism’s new boss.” That same magazine carried a full page ad for the book Lean In: Women, Work, and The Will to Lead that carried the heading “Inspire the graduate in your Life” with a graduating picture of two white females and one white male. The ad included this quote from Sandberg’s commencement speech at Barnard College in 2011: “I hope that you have the ambition to lean in to your career and run the world. Because the world needs you to change it.” One can only speculate whether running the world is a call to support and perpetuate first world imperialism. This is precisely the type of feel good declaration Sandberg makes that in no way clarifies the embedded agenda she supports.

Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In

Certainly, her vision of individual women leaning in at the corporate table does not include any clear statements of which group of women she is speaking to and about, and the “lean in” woman is never given a racial identity. If Sandberg had acknowledged that she was primarily addressing privileged white women like herself (a small group working at the top of the corporate hierarchy), then she could not have portrayed herself as sharing a message, indeed a life lesson, for all women. Her basic insistence that gender equality should be important to all women and men is an insight that all folks involved in feminist movement agree is a central agenda. And yes, who can dispute the facts Sandberg offers as evidence; despite the many gains in female freedom, implicit gender bias remains the norm throughout our society. Patriarchy supports and affirms that bias. But Sandberg offers readers no understanding of what men must do to unlearn sexist thinking. At no point In Lean In does she let readers know what would motivate patriarchal white males in a corporate environment to change their belief system or the structures that support gender inequality.

Readers who only skim the surface of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In will find much they can agree with. Very few if any professional women will find themselves at odds with a fellow female who champions the cause gender equality, who shares with us all the good old mother wisdom that one of the most important choices any of us will make in life is who we will partner with. And she shares that the best partner is one who she tells readers will be a helpmeet – one who cares and shares. Sandberg’s insistence that men participate equally in parenting is no new clarion call. From its earliest inception, the feminist movement called attention to the need for males to participate in parenting; it let women and men know that heteronormative relationships where there was gender quality not only lasted but were happier than the sexist norm.

Sandberg encourages women to seek high-level corporate jobs and persevere until they reach the top. For many individual women, Sandberg telling them that they would not be betraying family if they dedicated themselves to work was affirming. It is positive in that it seemed to be a necessary response to popular anti-feminist backlash, which continually suggests that the feminist push to place more women in the workforce was and is a betrayal of marriage and family.

Unfortunately her voice is powerful, yet Sandberg is for the most part not voicing any new ideas. She is simply taking old ideas and giving them a new twist. When the book Lean In began its meteoric rise, which continues to bring fame and notoriety to Sandberg, many prominent feminists and/or progressive women denounced the work, vehemently castigating Sandberg. However, there was just one problematic issue at the core of the anti-Sandberg movement; very few folks attacking the work had actually read the book. Some of them had heard sound bites on television or had listened to her Ted Talk presentation. Still others had seen her interviewed. Many of these older female feminist advocates blatantly denounced the work and boldly announced their refusal to read the book.

Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In

As a feminist cultural critic, I found the eagerness with which Sandberg was viciously attacked disheartening. These critiques seem to emerge from misplaced rage not based solely on contempt for her ideas, but a rage bordering on envy. The powerful white male-dominated mass media was giving her and those ideas so much attention. There was no in-depth discussion of why this was the case. In the book Sandberg reminds readers that, “men still run the world.” However, she does not discuss white male supremacy. Or the extent to which globalization has changed the makeup of corporate elites. In Mark Mizruchi’s book The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite, he describes a corporate world that is made up of a “more diverse crowd,” one that is no longer white and male “blue chip dudes.” He highlights several examples: “The CEO of Coca-Cola is Muhtar Kent, who was born in the United States but raised in Turkey; PepsiCo is run by Indra Nooyi, an Indian woman who came to America in her twenties. Burger King’s CEO is Brazilian, Chryslers’s CEO is Italian, and Morgan Stanley’s CEO is Australian. Forget about influencing policy; many of today’s leading US CEO’s can’t even vote here.” Perhaps, even in the corporate world, imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is ready to accept as many white women as necessary to ensure white dominance. Race is certainly an invisible category in Sandberg’s corporate fantasy world.

Sandberg is most seductive when sharing personal anecdotes. It is these true-life stories that expose the convenient lies underlying most of her assertions that as more women are at the top, all women will benefit. She explains: “Conditions for all women will improve when there are more women in leadership roles giving strong and powerful voice to their needs and concerns.” This unsubstantiated truism is brought to us by a corporate executive who does not recognize the needs of pregnant women until it’s happening to her. Is this a case of narcissism as a potential foundation for female solidarity? No behavior in the real world of women relating to women proves this to be true. In truth, Sandberg offers no strategies for the building of feminist solidarity between women.

She makes light of her ambivalence towards feminism. Even though Sandberg can humorously poke fun at herself and her relationship to feminism, she tells readers that her book “is not a feminist manifesto.” Adding as though she is in a friendly conversation with herself, “okay, it is sort of a feminist manifesto.” This is just one of the “funny” folksy moments in the book, which represent her plain and ordinary approach – she is just one of the girls. Maybe doing the book and talking about it with co-writer Nell Scovell provides the basis for the conversational tone. Good humor aside, cute quips and all, it is when she is taking about feminism that many readers would have liked her to go deeper. How about just explaining what she means by “feminist manifesto,” since the word implies “a full public declaration of intentions, opinions or purposes.” Of course, historically the best feminist manifestos emerged from collective consciousness raising and discussion. They were not the voice of one individual. Instead of creating a space of female solidarity, Sandberg exists as the lone queen amid millions of admires. And no one in her group dares to question how she could be heralded as the “voice of revolutionary feminism.”

How feminist, how revolutionary can a powerful rich woman be when she playfully admits that she concedes all money management and bill paying to her husband? As Sandberg confesses, she would rather not think about money matters when she could be planning little Dora parties for her kids. This anecdote, like many others in the book, works to create the personal image of Sandberg. It is this “just plain folks” image that has been instrumental in her success, for it shows her as vulnerable.

This is not her only strategy. When giving filmed lectures, she wears clothes with sexy deep V-necks and stiletto heels and this image creates the aura of vulnerable femininity. It reminds one of the popular television advertisement from years ago wherein a sexy white woman comes home and dances around singing: “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man…cause I’m a w-o-m-a-n!” Sandberg’s constructed image is not your usual sexist misogynist media portrayal of a feminist. She is never depicted as a man-hating ball-busting feminist nag.

Instead, she comes across both in her book and when performing on stages as a lovable younger sister who just wants to play on the big brother’s team. It would be more in keeping with this image to call her brand of women’s liberation faux feminism. A billionaire, one of the richest women in the world, Sandberg deflects attention from this reality. To personify it might raise critical questions. It might even have created the conditions for other women to feel threatened by her success. She solves that little problem by never speaking of money inLean In; she uses the word once.

And if that reality does not bring to her persona enough I‘M EVERYWOMAN appeal, she tells her audiences: “I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner or who that partner is.” Even though most women, straight or gay, have not seen choosing a life partner as a  ‘career decision’, anyone who advocates feminist politics knows that the choice of a partner matters. However, Sandberg’s convenient use of the word partner masks the reality that she is really speaking about heteronormative partnerships, and even more specifically marriages between white women and white men. She shares: “Contrary to the popular notion that only unmarried women can make it to the top, the majority of the more successful female business leaders have partners.” Specifically, though not directly, she is talking about white male husbands. For after telling readers that the most successful women at the top are partnered, she highlights the fact that “of the twenty-eight women who have served as CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, twenty- six were married, one was divorced and only one was never married.” Again, no advocates of feminism would disagree with the notion that individual women should choose partners wisely. Good partners as defined by old style women’s liberation movement and reiterated by Sandberg (who makes it seem that this is a new insight) are those who embrace equality, who care and share. One of the few radical arguments in Lean In is that men should come to the table – “the kitchen table.” This is rarely one of the points Sandberg highlights in her media performances.

Of course, the vast majority of men in our society, irrespective of race, embrace patriarchal values; they do not embrace a vision or practice of gender equality either at work or in the domestic household. Anyone who acts as though women just need to make right choices is refusing to acknowledge the reality that men must also be making the right choice. Before females even reach the stage of life where choosing partners is important, we should all be developing financial literacy, preparing ourselves to manage our money well, so that we need not rely on finding a sharing partner who will manage our finances fairly. According to More Magazine, American women are expected to control 23 trillion dollars by the end of the decade, which is “nearly twice the current amount.” But what will this control mean if women lack financial literacy? Acquiring money and managing money are not the same actions.  Women need to confront the meaning and uses of money on all levels. This is knowledge Sandberg the Chief Operating Officer possesses even if she coyly pretends otherwise.

In her 2008 book The Comeback, Emma Gilbey Keller examines many of the issues Sandberg addresses. Significantly, and unlike Sandberg, she highlights the need for women to take action on behalf of their financial futures. One chapter in the book begins with the epigram: “A woman’s best production is a little money of her own.” Given the huge amounts of money Sandberg has acquired, ostensibly by paying close attention to her financial future, her silence on the subject of money inLean In undermines the call for genuine equality. Without the ability to be autonomous, in control of self and finances, women will not have the strength and confidence to “lean in.”

Mass media (along with Sandberg) is telling us that by sheer strength of will and staying power, any woman so inclined can work hard and climb the corporate ladder all the way to the top. Shrewdly, Sandberg acknowledges that not all women desire to rise to the top, asserting that she is not judging women who make different choices. However, the real truth is that she is making judgments about the nature of women and work – that is what the book is fundamentally about. Her failure to confront the issue of women acquiring wealth allows her to ignore concrete systemic obstacles most women face inside the workforce. And by not confronting the issue of women and wealth, she need not confront the issue of women and poverty. She need not address the ways extreme class differences make it difficult for there to be a common sisterhood based on shared struggle and solidarity.

The contemporary feminist movement has not concentrated meaningful attention on the issue of women and wealth. Rightly, however, the movement highlighted the need for gender equity in the workforce –equal pay for equal work. This economic focus exposed the reality that race was a serious factor over-determining women’s relationship to work and money. Much feminist thought by individual visionary women of color (especially black women thinkers) and white female allies called for a more accurate representation of female identity, one that would consider the reality of intersectionality. This theory encouraged women to see race and class as well as gender as crucial factors shaping female destiny. Promoting a broader insight, this work lay the groundwork for the formation of genuine female solidarity – a solidarity based on awareness of difference as well as the all-too-common gendered experiences women share. It has taken many years of hard work to create basic understandings of female identity; it will take many more years for solidarity between women to become reality.

It should surprise no one that women and men who advocate feminist politics were stunned to hear Sandberg promoting her trickle- down theory: the assumption that having more women at the top of corporate hierarchies would make the work world better for all women, including women on the bottom. Taken at face value, this seem a naive hope given that the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchal corporate world Sandberg wants women to lean into encourages competition over cooperation. Or as Kate Losse, author of Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network, which is an insider look at the real gender politics of Facebook, contends: “By arguing that women should express their feminism by remaining in the workplace at all costs, Sandberg encourages women to maintain a commitment to the work place without encouraging the workplace to maintain a commitment to them.” It is as though Sandberg believes a subculture of powerful elite women will emerge in the workplace, powerful enough to silence male dominators.

Yet Sandberg spins her seductive fantasy of female solidarity as though comradely support between women will magically occur in patriarchal work environments. Since patriarchy has no gender, women “leaning in” will not automatically think in terms of gender equality and solidarity. Like the issue of money, patriarchy is another subject that receives little attention in Sandberg’s book and in her many talks. This is ironic, since the vision of gender quality she espouses is most radically expressed when she is delineating what men need to do to work for change. It is precisely her avoidance of the difficult questions (like how will patriarchal thinking change) that empowers her optimism and the overall enthusiastic spirit she exudes. Her optimism is so affably intense, it encourages readers to bypass the difficulties involved in challenging and changing patriarchy so that a just moral and ethical foundation for gender equality would become the norm.

Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg delivers the keynote speach at Barnard College’s 119th Commencement ceremony, Tuesday, May 17, 2011, in New York. Photographer: Louis Lanzano/Bloomberg

Women, and our male allies in struggle, who have been on the frontlines of feminist thinking and practice, see clearly the fairytale evocation of harmonious solidarity is no easy task.  Given all the forces that separate women and pit us against one another, solidarity is not an inevitable outcome. Sandberg’s refusal to do anything but give slight mention to racialized class differences undercuts the notion that she has a program that speaks to and for all women. Her unwillingness to consider a vision that would include all women rather than white women from privileged classes is one of the flaws in the representation of herself as a voice for feminism. Certainly she is a powerful mentor figure for fiscally conservative white female elites. The corporate infusion of gender equality she evokes is a “whites only” proposition.

To women of color young and old, along with anti-racist white women, it is more than obvious that without a call to challenge and change racism as an integral part of class mobility she is really investing in top level success for highly educated women from privileged classes. The call for gender equality in the corporate American is undermined by the practice of exclusivity, and usurped by the heteronormative white supremacist bonding of marriage between white women and men. Founded on the principles of white supremacy and structured to maintain it, the rites of passage in the corporate world mirror this aspect of our nation. Let it be stated again and again that race, and more importantly white supremacy, is a taboo subject in the world according to Sandberg.

At times Sandberg reminds readers of the old stereotypes about used car salesmen. She pushes her product and she pushes it well. Her shpiel is so good, so full of stuff that is obviously true, that one is inclined to overlook all that goes unspoken, unexplained. For example, she titles a chapter “you can’t have it all,” warning women that this idea is one of the most dangerous concepts from the early feminist movement. But the real deal is that Sandberg has it all, and in a zillion little ways she flaunts it. Even though she epitomizes the ‘have it all kinda girl’ – white, rich, and married to a wonderful husband (like the television evangelist Joyce Meyer, Sandberg is constantly letting readers know how wonderful her husband is lest we forget) – she claims women can’t have it all. She even dedicated the book to her husband “for making everything possible” – what doesn’t she have? Sandberg confesses that she has a loving family and children, more helpers in daily life than one can count. Add this to the already abundant list, she is deemed by the larger conservative media to be one of “the most influential,” most powerful women in the world. If this is not another version of the old game show “queen for a day,” what is? Remember that the women on the show are puppets and white men behind the scenes are pulling the strings.

Even though many advocates of feminist politics are angered by Sandberg’s message, the truth is that alone, individually she was no threat to feminist movement. Had the conservative white male dominated world of mass media and advertising not chosen to hype her image, this influential woman would not be known to most folks. It is this patriarchal male dominated re-framing of feminism, which uses the body and personal success of Sheryl Sandberg, that is most disturbing and yes threatening to the future of visionary feminist movement. The model Sandberg represents is all about how women can participate and “run the world.” But of course the kind of world we would be running is never defined. It sounds at times like benevolent patriarchal imperialism. This is the reason it seemed essential for feminist thinkers to respond critically, not just to Sandberg and her work, but to the conservative white male patriarchy that is using her to let the world know what kind of woman partner is acceptable among elites, both in the home and in the workplace.

Feminism is just the screen masking this reframing. Angela McRobbie offers an insightful take on this process in her book, The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture, and Social Change, explaining: “Elements of feminism have been taken into account and have been absolutely incorporated into political and institutional life. Drawing on a vocabulary that includes words like ‘empowerment’ and ‘choice,’ these elements are then converted into a much more individualistic discourse and they are deployed in this new guise, particularly in media and popular culture, but also by agencies of the state, as a kind of substitute for feminism. These new and seemingly modern ideas about women and especially young women are then disseminated more aggressively so as to ensure that a new women’s movement will not re-emerge.” This is so obviously the strategy Sandberg and her supporters have deployed. McRobbie then contends that “feminism is instrumentalized. It is brought forth and claimed by Western governments, as a signal to the rest of the world that this is a key part of what freedom now means. Freedom is re-vitalized and brought up to date with this faux feminism.” Sandberg uses feminist rhetoric as a front to cover her commitment to western cultural imperialism, to white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Clearly, Sandberg, with her website and her foundation, has many female followers. Long before she was chosen by conservative mass media as the new face of faux feminism, she had her followers. This is why I chose to call my response “dig deep,” for it is only as we place her in the overall frame of female cultural icons that we can truly unpack and understand why she has been chosen and lifted up in the neoliberal marketplace. Importantly, whether feminist or not, we all need to remember that visionary feminist goal which is not of a women running the world as is, but a women doing our part to change the world so that freedom and justice, the opportunity to have optimal well-being, can be equally shared by everyone – female and male.

____________________________________________

~ bell hooks, noted cultural critic, commentator, and feminist, is Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies at Berea College. Born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, she has chosen the lower case pen name bell hooks, based on the names of her mother and grandmother, to emphasize the importance of the substance of her writing as opposed to who she is. She is the author of over thirty books, many of which have focused on issues of social class, race, and gender. In 2013,  she published the award-winning poetry collection. This post originally appeared on The Feminist Wire, read the original here.

There are fewer than 100 black professors in Britain – why?

It is a shocking statistic that there were just 85 black professors in UK universities in 2011-12. In stark terms, this means that there are more higher education institutions than there are black British, African and Caribbean professors actually teaching in them. The latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency put the number of UK academic staff from a known ethnic minority at 12.8%.

Black Professor

In contrast, black and minority ethnic students are well represented. In some institutions, such as City University, they make up nearly 50% of the student population. Yet even in these universities black academics are a rarity, particularly those in senior positions.

It is hard to think of an arena of UK public life where the people are so poorly represented and served on the basis of their race. Yet this scandalous state of affairs generates little by way of investigation, censure or legal scrutiny under the 2010 Equality Act.

The Metropolitan Police has come under intense scrutiny for a number of years for its lack of diversity. It was famously labelled as institutionally racist by the 1998 Macpherson report for its failure to be representative and adequately serve the black community under its jurisdiction. In statistical terms, UK universities are as unrepresentative as the Metropolitan police. Somehow, they have managed to escape intense scrutiny of their attitudes, practices and procedures relating to the black populations that they have a duty to educate and serve.

It is also evident that there is a staggering absence of black people in other leadership positions within the UK higher education system. This includes vice chancellors, registrars and other administrators who make the key strategic decisions concerning ethos, priorities and direction of their institutions.

No Black British studies

Another stark feature of UK academia is the absence of any degree courses that systematically explore the experiences of black people in Britain. In the US, African American Studies are part and parcel of the academic environment. Many academic institutions house departments and academic leaders dedicated to the discipline.

But in Britain there is not a single institution that has a degree programme in Black British studies. If one thinks about the plethora of degree programmes that are offered by UK institutions, it is remarkable that not one of them offers a programme of teaching and research into the experiences of communities that have been so important to the shaping of the United Kingdom.

However, black communities are often the objects of detailed academic scrutiny by UK academics. In sociology, psychology, politics, history, theology, and numerous other disciplines, black communities are analysed, assessed, examined, evaluated and commented upon.

This analysis of black life, conducted primarily by white academics, often portrays black communities as dehumanised. Black people are used to illustrate problems as diverse as educational underachievement, health inequality, and religious extremism.

In doing this, universities contribute to an unflattering, stereotypical and false image of black communities in Britain. The rich complexity and diversity of the black British experience gets buried under an avalanche of supposedly detailed and well-established research findings. Equally damaging is that the communities who are the objects of this research are so rarely empowered by these findings.

Black communities still experience exclusion, under-representation and marginalisation when it comes to the UK’s major institutions. While academics benefit from research income and a raised profile because of their knowledge of black communities, the communities themselves remain on the margins of academic life.

Call to action

In order to move black people into the mainstream of British academic life, fundamental cultural and procedural shifts are required. It needs to be acknowledged that the British higher education system has institutional inadequacies. Universities need to take pro-active measures to ensure that institutions genuinely reflect the diversity of the wider society, both in terms of personnel at all levels and in relation to curricula and research.

The introduction of Black British studies courses in British university campuses could be one positive step on the journey towards a more inclusive higher education system. But rigorous scrutiny, analysis and action is also needed to tackle the institutionalised discrimination that is a stain on the reputation of Britain’s liberal university culture.

The Conversation

~ This post was written by William Ackah, Birkbeck, University of London. William Ackah does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This post was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original here.

The Trouble with ‘Leaning In’ to (White) Corporate Feminism

I have to confess that the first time I ever heard of Sheryl Sandberg was when she was interviewed on 60 Minutes about her book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.  I had missed her, apparently, wildly popular TED Talk that introduced her to some 2 million viewers sharing essentially the same message of upbeat, non-confrontational, message about women’s equality.  Now, I can’t seem to get away from hearing about Sandberg, the powerful Chief Operating Officer for Facebook.

Sandberg Magazine Cover

Given that my 2nd grade report card from Mrs. Battle at Meadowbrook Elementary School noted that I was a “good student, but wants to run the class,” I was taken in a little by Sandberg’s desire that “every little girl who gets called bossy” should be viewed as having “leadership potential.”  But, as I’ve learned more I’ve come to realize that Sandberg’s notion of “leaning in” highlights the trouble with white women and white feminism that I’ve been detailing in this series.

Sandberg’s basic message is that women are limiting themselves and if we can just get out of our own way, and “lean in” – by which she means assert ourselves in male-dominated offices and board rooms, then the entire “power structure of the world” will be changed and this will “expand opportunities for all.”

Sandberg quote

(Image source)

For those of you following along with a bingo card of feminist theory, you can fill in all the squares marked “liberal feminism.” For Sandberg, the root cause of inequality rests at the individual level of the choices women make, and to a lesser extent, society’s beliefs about women (which they then internalize). Within Sandberg’s conceptualization, there’s nothing wrong with the way society is set up, women just need to shake off those bad messages about being “bossy,” sharpen their elbows and claim their space at the corporate table.  Liberal feminism is an individualistic version of feminism, the same kind of feminism articulated by Susan B. Anthony and by Betty Friedan.

The goal of liberal feminism is for women to attain the same levels of representation, compensation and power in the public sphere as men. In order for change to happen, liberal feminists rely primarily on women’s ability to achieve equality through their own individual actions and choices.  The praxis – the actual work involved – becomes the “motivational work” women must do on themselves to fit into the male-dominated corporate structure.

So, what’s the trouble with this and how does race matter here?

There’s no better source on this than the feminist cultural critic bell hooks who writes in Dig Deep, Beyond Lean In:

To women of color young and old, along with anti-racist white women, it is more than obvious that without a call to challenge and change racism as an integral part of class mobility she is really investing in top level success for highly educated women from privileged classes. The call for gender equality in corporate America is undermined by the practice of exclusivity, and usurped by the heteronormative white supremacist bonding of marriage between white women and men. Founded on the principles of white supremacy and structured to maintain it, the rites of passage in the corporate world mirror this aspect of our nation. Let it be stated again and again that race, and more importantly white supremacy, is a taboo subject in the world according to Sandberg.

This is precisely the problem with Sandberg and with liberal feminism more generally.  As long as “race” is a taboo subject for liberal feminists, then liberal feminism will continue to be consistent with white supremacy.  I found evidence of this in my research on white supremacists at Stormfront, the global portal for “white pride.” At Stormfront, there is a “Ladies Only” discussion board where you’ll find women who are openly, explicitly dedicated to the cause of white supremacy, and who are also espousing liberal feminist views. The “ladies” at Stormfront are in favor of the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to have an abortion (although they’re conflicted about terminating pregnancies that would result in the birth of a white child), and even in favor of some gay rights (as long as they’re still white supremacists). In my analysis of the “Ladies Only” discussion board I wrote in Cyber Racism that:

The women at Stormfront incorporate key elements of white liberal feminism into their rhetoric, thereby expanding white supremacist ideology and making the movement potentially more inclusive to those who hold a range of other political views along with a shared valued in white identity.  In this way, the women at Stormfront illustrate that white feminism is not incompatible with key features of white supremacy.  By resisting more male-dominated version of white supremacy and articulating that form of white supremacy that is more inclusive and egalitarian along lines of gender, and even allowing for the possibility of a version of “equal rights” within white supremacy for gays and lesbians, the women of Stormfront illustrate another way in which white supremacy is inherent in white identity.   This suggests something troubling about liberal feminism. To the extent that liberal feminism articulates a limited vision of gender equality without challenging racial inequality, then white feminism is not inconsistent with white supremacy. Without an explicit challenge to racism, white feminism is easily grafted onto white supremacy and useful for arguing for equality for white women, and possibly for white gays and lesbians, within a white supremacist context.”

Whenever I mention this appearance of liberal feminist views to a room full of feminist scholars, as I did recently, the usual reaction I get is “well, now that’s weird.” As if, it’s odd that liberal feminism and white supremacy could co-exist in this way. But, it’s not odd at all. This is not a case of politics makes strange bedfellows. It is, in fact, perfectly logical that liberal feminism and white supremacy should be intertwined in this way if white supremacy allows for some gender equality while liberal feminism still has no critique of race or racism.  It’s part of why my father, an avowed white supremacist in many ways (he moved our family 4 hours north to avoid a school desegregation order), could raise me with a fairly gender-egalitarian set of expectations.  His hold on white supremacist beliefs was not inconsistent with his mostly progressive ideas about raising a girlchild without limitations.

So, what is holding girls’ back? According to Sandberg, it’s being called “bossy” and internalizing that message. She has now launched a spin-off campaign, in partnership with the Girl Scouts, called “Ban Bossy”.

 

Bossy Holds Girls Back - Illustration

(Image source)

In the illustration above it cites one of the cornerstone facts that the campaign is based on, that is, “girls are twice as likely as boys to worry that leadership roles will make them ‘bossy’” – a factoid drawn from a small subsample of a 2008 report by the Girl Scout Research Institute, “Change It Up!”  The subsample of 360 children who said they weren’t interested in being leaders, and who were asked about the reasons for this disinterest. “I do not want to seem bossy” was mentioned by 29% of the girls but only 13% of the boys, so that does back up the fact in the illustration.  There’s more to the story, however.  In the larger survey pool, girls were just as likely as boys to say that they wanted to be leaders and to agree that “I think of myself as a leader.” They were also equally likely to describe themselves as “confident,” “talented,” and “strong.” Moreover, the girls in the survey were more likely than boys to report actual leadership experience. Thus, 31% of girls compared to 26% of boys said they had been the leader of a team for a school project; 13% of girls but 10% of boys had run for a class or school office. This is consistent with a vast amount of recent data showing that girls are outpacing boys on all sorts of academic and social measures.

Sandberg (and her organization) are also doing something very clever with the marketing campaign for “Ban Bossy” that disguises the way liberal feminism is consistent with white supremacy.

3 women of Ban Bossy campaign(Image source)

The promotional campaign features Sheryl Sandberg (center), flanked by Condoleeza Rice (left) and Anna Maria Chávez (right). Sandberg has also gained the support of Queen Bey herself, Beyonce, to back her campaign. This, I believe, is what we call window dressing. The fact that Sandberg has gotten some prominent women of color to sign on to her campaign doesn’t change the fact that liberal feminism is consistent with white supremacy. Today, (some) very powerful women of color are useful for this brand of liberal feminism. And, tomorrow, it’s just as likely, that they will be the target of it, as in Michelle Cottle’s hatchet piece, “Leaning Out: How Michelle Obama became a feminist nightmare.” 

Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign seems to be catching on in some quarters, but I’m also hearing lots of people (often women of color) say they are conflicted about this latest move. For her part, bell hooks suggests reclaiming bossy and proposes a counter move: #proudandbossy.  From my point of view, the conflict is about the fact that for so many of us the “bossy” label resonates with something of s sting, yet, many of us also know, at least at some level, that the solution being offered us here is inadequate, even suspect.

Simply put, in Sandberg’s corporate-themed, liberal feminism there is no apparatus – either theoretically or in praxis – for dealing with race or racism.

And that is the trouble with white women for this week. I’ll be back next Tuesday and take a look at white women in popular culture.

>>>> Read next post in series

St. Patrick’s Day: A History of Racism, A Celebration of Whiteness

Today in New York City and throughout the U.S., Irish-Americans will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and Irish heritage.  What few will acknowledge in this day of celebration is the way in which the Irish in American deployed whiteness in order to deflect the racism they encountered in the U.S.

Kerry Band from the Bronx

(Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: ktylerconk)

Like many immigrant groups in the United States, the Irish were characterized as racial Others when they first arrived in the first half of the 19th century. The Irish had suffered profound injustice in the U.K. at the hands of the British, widely seen as “white negroes.” The potato famine that created starvation conditions that cost the lives of millions of Irish and forced the out-migration of millions of surviving ones, was less a natural disaster and more a complex set of social conditions created by British landowners (much like Hurricane Katrina). Forced to flee from their native Ireland and the oppressive British landowners, many Irish came to the U.S.

Once in the U.S., the Irish were to negative stereotyping that was very similar to that of enslaved Africans and African Americans. The comic Irishman – happy, lazy, stupid, with a gift for music and dance – was a stock character in American theater. Drunkenness and criminality were major themes of Irish stereotypes, and the term “paddy wagon” has its etymological roots in the racist term “paddy,” a shortening of the name “Patrick,” which was used to refer to the Irish. However, this is also a gendered image and refers to Irish men, specifically. The masculine imagery of “paddy” hides the existence of Irish women, but did not protect Irish women from racism as they were often more exposed to such racism through domestic jobs. Women typically played a key role in maintaining Catholic adherence, which resonates closely with Irishness and difference. The “model minority” (if you will) stereotype of Irish-American women is of a “Bridget,” recognized for her hard work and contribution to Irish upward class mobility.

Simian, or ape-like caricature of the Irish immigrant was also a common one among the mainstream news publications of the day (much like the recent New York Post cartoon). For example, in 1867 American cartoonist Thomas Nast drew “The Day We Celebrate” a cartoon depicting the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day as violent, drunken apes. And, in 1899, Harper’s Weekly featrued a drawing of three men’s heads in profile: Irish, Anglo-Teutonic and Negro, in order to illustrate the similarity between the Irish and the Negro (and, the supposed superiority of the Anglo-Teutonic). In northern states, blacks and Irish immigrants were forced into overlapping – often integrated – slum neighborhoods. Although leaders of the Irish liberation struggle (in Ireland) saw slavery as an evil, their Irish-American cousins largely aligned with the slaveholders.

And, following the end of slavery, the Irish and African Americans were forced to compete for the same low-wage, low-status jobs. So, the “white negroes” of the U.K. came to the United States and, though not enslaved, faced a status almost as low as that of recently-freed blacks. While there were moments of solidarity between Irish and African Americans, this was short lived.

Over the course of the 19th and early 20th century, Irish Americans managed to a great extent to enter and become part of the dominant white culture. In an attempt to secure the prosperity and social position that their white skin had not guaranteed them in Europe, Irish immigrants lobbied for white racial status in America. Although Irish people’s pale skin color and European roots suggested evidence of their white racial pedigree, the discrimination that immigrants experienced on the job (although the extent of the “No Irish Need Apply” discrimination is disputed), the simian caricatures they saw of themselves in the newspapers, meant that “whiteness” was a status that would be achieved, not ascribed.

For some time now, Irish-Americans have been thoroughly regarded as “white.” Evidence of this assimilation into whiteness is presented by Mary C. Waters (Harvard) in a recent AJPH article, in which she writes that “the once-rigid lines that divided European-origin groups from one another have increasingly blurred.” Waters goes on to predict that the changes that European immigrants ahve experienced are “becoming more likely for groups we now define as ‘racial.’” While I certainly agree that the boundaries of whiteness are malleable – it is a racial category that expands and contracts based on historical, cultural and social conditions – I don’t know if it is malleable enough to include all the groups we now define as ‘racial’ Others.

As people rush to embrace even fictive Irish heritage and encourage strangers to “Kiss Me I’m Irish” today, take just a moment to reflect on the history of racism and the pursuit of whiteness wrapped up in this holiday.

From the archive (originally posted 03-17-2009)

Tiger Couple Gets It Wrong On Immigrant Success

[Shortened version of a review in The Boston Review (March 11, 2014)

Review of The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld

The tiger couple is chasing its own tail, which is to say, they are stuck in circular reasoning. In their new book, The Triple Package, Amy Chua, author of the best-selling Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and Jed Rubenfeld tackle the question of why certain groups are overrepresented in the pantheon of success. They postulate the reason for their success is that these groups are endowed with “the triple package”: a superiority complex, a sense of insecurity, and impulse control. The skeptic asks, “How do we know that?” To which they respond: “They’re successful, aren’t they?”

But Chua and Rubenfeld proffer no facts to show that their exemplars of ethnic success—Jewish Nobel Prize winners, Mormon business magnates, Cuban exiles, Indian and Chinese super-achievers—actually possess this triple package. Or that possessing these traits is what explains their disproportionate success. For that matter, they do not demonstrate that possessing the triple package is connected, through the mystical cord of history, to Jewish sages, Confucian precepts, or Mormon dogma. Perhaps, as critics of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism have contended, success came first and only later was wrapped in the cloth of religion. In other words, like elites throughout history, Chua and Rubenfeld’s exemplars enshroud their success in whatever system of cultural tropes was available, whether in the Talmud, Confucianism, Mormonism, or the idolatry of White Supremacy. The common thread that runs through these myths of success is that they provide indispensable legitimacy for social class hierarchy. . . .

Chua and Rubenfeld give us old wine in new bottles: they invoke the idea used the world over to justify entrenched systems of social stratification—that success comes to the culturally deserving. This was precisely the argument put forward by Thomas Sowell in his 1981 book Ethnic America. For Sowell, “Jews are the classic American success story—from rags to riches against all opposition.” For Chua and Rubenfeld,

the two million Eastern European Jews who immigrated to America in the early 1990s brought with them habits of heightened discipline, religious prohibition, and hard work that they not only practiced themselves but passed down to their children.

Furthermore, both books contrast Jewish success in overcoming persecution and poverty with a deeply ingrained “defeatism” among blacks who bear the scars of centuries of slavery and denigration. As Sowell writes:

Groups today plagued by absenteeism, tardiness, and a need for constant supervision at work or in school are typically descendants of people with the same habits a century or more ago. The cultural inheritance can be more important than biological inheritance, although the latter stirs more controversy.

There you have it: the problem is to be found, not in the genes, but rather in the cultural DNA, which is even “more important than biological inheritance.” Since 1981, however, anthropologists and sociologists have developed a large canon of work that dissects and discredits theories that reduce inequality to culture. This scholarship was reflected during their book tour when Chua and Rubenfeld were challenged with questions about the racist implications of their theory. Is their point that African Americans are culturally deficient? Are they using “culture” to blame the victim, and to deflect attention away from persistent racist barriers that limit opportunity? For that matter, what about the 99 percent of people in “successful groups” who do not reach the top 1 percent? Are they less Jewish, Asian, Cuban, Mormon than Jews, Asians, Cubans, and Mormons who have “made it”? Do they suffer from a paucity of the traits that make up the triple package? Chua and Rubenfeld invoke an idea that justifies entrenched systems of social stratification: that success comes to the culturally deserving.

If not culture, what does explain Jewish “success against all opposition?” As I argue in The Ethnic Myth (1981), Jewish success is chiefly the result of factors that go back to the condition of Jews in their countries of origin. The shtetls romanticized in Fiddler on the Roof were small towns, proximate to cities, where Jews carved out niches between rural and urban economies. Many were traders who purchased agricultural products, animal hides, and raw materials from peasants and sold them to factories in cities, eking out a small profit. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were large concentrations of Jews in cities, and they played a key role in the critical early phases of industrialization. A 1945 survey of “Jews in the Russian Economy,” assembled by a group of Russian-Jewish immigrants, reported the following:

By 1832 Jews owned 149 [textile] factories and plants out of the total 528 existing at the time in eight provinces. . . . From the 1870s until the First World War, the Jews played a major part in the development of the sugar industry. . . . Flour milling was quite widespread among Jews within the Pale of Settlement. . . . By the early years of the twentieth century Jews owned or leased 365 mills with an annual business of 20 million rubles. . . . The same can be said of tobacco production, which had long been concentrated in Jewish hands. . . . In the Russian leather industry Jews also played a substantial role. . . . In the woodworking industry, Jews were prominent chiefly in the sawmill business. . . . In the grain and timber trade, Jews . . . may be said to have brought Russia into the world market.

In short, Jews were on the forefront of commerce and industrialization in Eastern Europe, and Jewish immigrants to the United States arrived with previous industrial experience and a higher rate of literacy that gave them a decisive head start over other immigrants, most of whom came from peasant origins.

Jewish immigrants also had skills in a wide array of crafts. A study conducted by the U.S. Immigration Commission in 1911 found that Jews ranked first in thirty-six of forty-seven trades:

They constituted 80 percent of the hat and cap makers, 75 percent of the furriers, 68 percent of the tailors and bookbinders, 60 percent of the watchmakers and milliners, and 55 percent of the cigarmakers and tinsmiths. They totaled 30 to 50 percent of the immigrant classified as tanners, turners, undergarment makers, jewelers, painters, glaziers, dressmakers, photographers, saddlemakers, locksmiths, and metal workers in other than iron and steel. They ranked first among immigrant printers, bakers, carpenters, cigar-packer, blacksmiths, and building trades workmen.

These skills were in demand in the burgeoning economies of the cities where they settled. Many Jewish immigrants used their craft skills to establish small family businesses that allowed them to secure an occupational and economic foothold that served as a springboard of mobility for their children. Typically their sons went into the family business, and at the point that their grandchildren began streaming into college, there was a fortuitous expansion of American higher education, especially during the period after World War II. Jews were the right people in the right place and the right time, and this is why they were able to escape the poverty of the immigrant generation more rapidly than others.
None of this is to say that culture does not matter. The whole point is that culture does not exist in a vacuum, but rather is one factor within a large matrix of social and material factors.

As I write in The Ethnic Myth:

If Jews set high goals, it is because they had a realistic chance of achieving them. If they worked hard, it is because they could see the fruits of their labor. If they were willing to forgo the pleasures of the moment, it is because they could realistically plan for the future, for their children if not for themselves. In short there was much in the everyday experience of Jewish immigrants to activate and sustain their highest aspirations. Without this reinforcement, their values would have been scaled down accordingly, and more successful outsiders would today be speculating about how much further Jews might have gone if only they had aimed higher.

The fatal flaw of The Triple Package is that its authors treat their magic trifecta as disembodied values, putatively rooted in ancient cultures. But they provide no evidence that their exemplars are actually immersed in these cultural systems. Rather, there are more mundane reasons why they might exhibit the magic trifecta, connected with their social class and circumstances. Chua’s parents were not just struggling immigrants—they were educated professionals with the social and material resources that allowed them to sustain their aspirations for their children. Rubenfeld was raised in upper-middle class affluence, which put him on a fast track to success. Their circumstances positioned the tiger parents to raise two achieving daughters, one bound for the Harvard (their parents’ alma mater), the other for Yale (their parents’ workshop). In other words mobility is not an individual achievement so much as it is a family project that occurs incrementally across generations. . . .

The demystification of the Jewish success story has implications for rendering a more truthful account of the success stories at the center of Chua and Rubenfeld’s book. In each case, pre-migration factors and selective migration go a long way to explaining group success:

• Nigerian immigrants at Harvard Business School are no success story whatsoever. They come from Nigeria’s educated and affluent elite. If anything, this is a case of a transfer of human capital from one nation to another. Or, to put it bluntly, a brain drain. The same can be seen in Iranian and Lebanese immigrants.
• A socialist revolution made refugees of Cuba’s political oligarchs and economic elites and sent them in flight to Miami. Recovery was not easy, but neither were they the “huddled masses” of yore. From the Small Business Administration and other government agencies, Cuban refugees received credit and loans whose purpose was to showcase the superiority of American capitalism over Cuban socialism. In contrast the Cubans who arrived in the 1980 “Mariel Boatlift” came from the poorest segments of the Cuban population. Unlike in 1966, there were no articles in Fortune Magazine entitled “Those Amazing Cuban Émigrés.”
• The first wave of Asian immigrants after the 1965 Immigration Act consisted mostly of professionals who sought more lucrative employment in the United States. Later these immigrants were able to send for their poorer relatives under the family reunification provision in immigration law. Like Jews, many Asians found a niche in the enclave economy and used their success as entrepreneurs as a springboard of mobility for their children.
• Chua and Rubenfeld have a field day with the statistic that Asians comprise nearly three quarters of the students at Stuyvesant, New York City’s elite high school. They claim that many of these students come from parents who are restaurant or factory workers, but they have no evidence on the actual class background of students who make the cut for Stuyvesant. Their source is a single local news story about a school in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where children, at great expense to their working-class parents, are enrolled for years in a test-prep program called “Horizons.” Nor is there mention of the cottage industry of test-prep programs in Chinatown, which are now cashing in by attracting non-Asians as well.
• The droves of foreign students in the nation’s colleges and universities who overstay their visas are another source of immigrant achievers. These students come mostly from middle-class or affluent families who can afford to enroll their children in American universities. Again, a case of selective migration, not a success story.
• As for the Caribbean students who succeed, whether in college admissions or in business, they rarely come from affluent families, but they still have class advantages that place them a rung higher on the ladder than African Americans, and they encounter less racism as a result. On the other hand, the Jamaican seasonal farm workers who harvest apples in upstate New York are no success story.
• Why Mormons, regarded fifty years ago as a fringe group, have made recent strides in the business world is mysterious, but one thing is certain: Mormon religion did not change. On the contrary, as was true of immigrant Jews, the Mormons who were catapulted to success probably had to break away from the strictures and doctrines of pre-modern religions in order to achieve the success they sought in the material world. Sure, like Mitt Romney and like the protagonist in Abraham Cahan’s 1917 novel, The Rise of David Levinsky—they look back nostalgically on their youthful allegiances, but the discontinuities are far more important than the continuities.

When the tiger couple appeared on Fareed Zakaria’s weekly show on CNN, Zakaria observed that the nations that supposedly embody the magic trifecta have, until recently, been “basket cases.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Rubenfeld averred that in their home countries, they had only two of the three requisite traits—an ingrained sense of superiority and impulse control. Only when they arrived on American shores did they develop the sense of vulnerability that allowed the trifecta to have its magical result. These are the absurd lengths that Rubenfeld must go to in order to save his pet theory from its glaring overstatements and fatal omissions. . . .

In their whirlwind interviews, Chua and Rubenfeld were often asked whether their theory has a racist flipside, and their prompt riposte was that blacks, too, could achieve success if only they cultivated the magic trifecta. It is worth pointing out, though, that most of the groups that Chua and Rubenfeld tout as exemplars of success would not be on American soil but for the 1965 Immigration Act that was passed on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement. Not only that, but thanks to the black protest movement, immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America entered a nation with a far more favorable climate of tolerance than existed in times past. Finally, it is safe to assume that some of Chua and Rubenfeld’s exemplars reaped the advantage of affirmative action programs, which were developed in the cauldron of black protest and gutted by the Supreme Court.

There is bitter irony when the paragons in Chua and Rubenfeld’s narrative are used to make invidious comparisons to African Americans who, throughout American history, have been pushed further back from doors of opportunity by successive waves of immigrants. As Toni Morrison wrote years ago, their success comes “on the back of blacks,” whose struggles are similarly eclipsed in this facile and fallacious book.

The Paradox of Free Speech within the Context of White Supremacy

Kanye West was recently arrested for punching a man in his grill for calling his wife (Kim Kardishian) a nigger-lover. While it is up for debate as to the context in which the name-calling incident began, West settled out of court for roughly 250K of his hard earned cash.

Celebrities Kim Kardashian and Kanye West

(Image source) 

Although I fully understand that violence is not the answer, there is power in language. More specifically, there is power in the word “nigger” – used by white people and people of color for very different historical and bloody reasons. Yet, this powerful word gets used and protected in the U.S. by the first amendment to the constitution, which reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I will not be arguing to take away or strike down the first amendment. The first freedoms granted to the citizens of The United States are among the most beautiful and poignant expressions of individuality to date; however, there are exceptions to every rule. The government cannot abrogate your freedom of speech, unless you happen to be in a crowded movie theater (Schenck v. United States). Therefore, our freedom of speech has limitations.

Given the historical context of white supremacy from the Spanish Asiento to English culpability in the institution of African slavery in the American colonies, the modern use of the word “nigger” continues to carries with it collective memories of a violent and oppressive era.  It is because of this past that the use of this word by white people is unacceptable. No other word inflames the passion of black Americans more than the word “nigger” as it is a constant reminder of the debased status of blacks in the United States and justice that never fully materialized in our so-called post racial society.

Some white Americans, whether conscious or not, use the word “nigger” to provoke black Americans into confrontation. Marcus Smart, a sophomore basketball player at Oklahoma St. and a top 10 NBA prospect in the 2014 draft, dove into the crowd to save a ball during a game. As he stands and gathers his composure preparing to return to the court, a white man (who has been deemed the biggest Texas Tech basketball fan and was profiled by the team) yells a derogatory something at him.

Marcus Smart Confrontation with Fan

(Image source)

Marcus Smart turns around charges and shoved the fan. It is up for debate as to the specific words used—the fan swears he did not use the word “nigger”; Smart is adamant that “nigger” was used in his direction by the fan. Again, violence is not the answer and this is not a call for vigilante justice. I am, however, concerned with the ability for a person to wave a piece of meat in front of a lion and then claim the lion to be a savage beast when it attacks. For black people, the word “nigger” is the carrot on a stick; it is used in order to generate a reaction that will then have serious and real-world repercussions, not for the name caller, but for the one called names.

Smart was suspended for three games and forced to write a full apology to the fan; the same man that Texas Tech and the media framed as a lifelong and avid fan which may have in the past toed the line of obscene comments, but that has never crossed said line. Bullshit. They praise the one who used the language; they made the victim, yes, the victim of racist actions surrender without any humility; dehumanization.

The ability of some white people to shout a single word to enact such rage among such a large group, and then cry when said rage ensues, should be charged with a crime. I understand that personal judgment is subjective and does not hold weight in court, but the use of this word to tease black people into confrontation should not be legally sanctioned, by omission.

I don’t know the answer I am trying to get at; hell I don’t know the question. I do know that in this age of colorblindness even though overt racism is evermore present today than in the past, the school to prison pipeline at its strongest, and capitalism’s uncanny stranglehold on education has created a false sense of a post-racial America. This pseudo-post-racial-world that is being created in attitudes and minds of younger Americans but which is not actualizing and materializing in real life, has as much supporting theory as trickledown economics.

We are on a slippery slope that descends us back into pre-civil rights times. The ability to use language in this manner, as a carrot on a stick in which I will beat you once you reach for the carrot, is the same structure that was used to dehumanize the large swaths of people that have been systematically oppressed.

(W)e (T)he (P)eople, pertaining to whites only, can freely speak their minds without thought.

(W)e (T)he brown (P)eople must succumb to their freedom of speech embedded in White Supremacy.

~ R. Jamaal Downey is a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. You can find him on Twitter at @RJamaalDowney

White Women and Affirmative Action: Prime Beneficiaries and Opponents

When it comes to affirmative action, white women occupy a rather peculiar position. White women are the main beneficiaries of affirmative action policies, and also the most likely to sue over them (at least when it comes to education). Today continues the Trouble with White Women series, with a focus on white women and affirmative action.

As Sally Kohn cogently points out, women weren’t even included in the original legislation that attempt to level the playing field in education and employment that we now refer to as “affirmation action”.   (The same policies are known as “employment equity” in Canada and “positive action” in the UK.) The first affirmative action measure in America was an executive order signed by President Kennedy in 1961 requiring that federal contractors “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” In 1967, President Johnson amended this, and a subsequent measure included sex, recognizing that women also faced many discriminatory barriers and hurdles to equal opportunity. Meanwhile, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only included sex in the list of prohibited forms of discrimination because conservative opponents of the legislation hoped that including it would sway moderate members of Congress to withdraw their support for the bill.

My own narrative intersects with affirmative action at key points. I was born in 1961, the year President Kennedy started requiring federal contractors to “take affirmative action.” When I started applying to colleges in Texas in the late 1970s, my father – who claimed Indian heritage – urged me to “check the box” for Native American on my college applications and to pursue student loans based on this (for me) faux-identity. Years later, with PhD in hand, I began the often painful task of getting turned down for a tenure-track job, and being told by a white colleague on the search committee that they “had to give it to the Latina,” who, it was implied, was less qualified than I for the position (more about this in a moment).

So, where’s the evidence that we, as white women, are the main beneficiaries of affirmative action policies? Well, there’s lots of it – but it can be hard to find, as Jennifer Hochschild points out (Affirmative Action as Culture War. In: The Cultural Territories of Race: Black and White Boundaries. edited by Michèle Lamont. Chicago IL and New York: University of Chicago Press and Russell Sage Foundation; 1999. pp. 343-368).  According to the United States Labor Department, the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action are white women. The Department of Labor estimated that 6 million white women workers are in higher occupational classifications today than they would have been without affirmative action policies. This pays off in dividends in the labor force and to (mostly) white men and families. You can see how some of these benefits accrue to white women in the following infographic from the Center for American Progress (from 2012):

White, Black, Latina Women's Income Chart

 (Infographic source)

While people of color, individually and as groups, have been helped by affirmative action, but data and studies suggest that women — white women in particular — have benefited disproportionately from these policies. In many ways, affirmative action has moved white women into a structural position in which they share more in common with white men than they do with black or Latina women.

Another study shows that women made greater gains in employment at companies that do business with the federal government, which are therefore subject to federal affirmative-action requirements, than in other companies — with female employment rising 15.2% at federal contractors but only 2.2% elsewhere. And the women working for federal-contractor companies also held higher positions and were paid better. Again, this data often lumps “all women” together (without distinguishing by race), so it’s a bit of a fuzzy issue.

Even in the private sector, white women have moved in and up at numbers that far eclipse those of people of color. After IBM established its own affirmative-action program, the numbers of women in management positions more than tripled in less than 10 years. Data from subsequent years show that the number of executives of color at IBM also grew, but not nearly at the same rate.
Given these incredible gains by white women, it might seem logical that this demographic would be among the biggest supporters of affirmative action.  This is not the case. At least when it comes to education, it’s white women who have been at the forefront of lawsuits brought to challenge affirmative action.

When Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas at Austin, she claimed that the University had discriminated against her in the undergraduate admissions process.  As you probably know, this case went all the way to Supreme Court. What you may not know is that post-Bakke (1978), the people suing universities for discrimination in the academic admissions process have been white women: Abigail Fisher (Fisher v. University of Texas); Barbara Grutter (Grutter v. Bollinger); Jennifer Gratz (Gratz v. Bollinger);  and Cheryl Hopwood (Hopwood v. Texas).

Screenshot of Abigail Fisher on CNN

(Image source)

So, what’s up with white women? Why are white women playing the aggrieved party when we – as a protected class – have gained so much from these policies?

Let’s go back to the story I mentioned of the tenure-track job I did not get (one of many, for the record).  I happened to know the Latina woman who was also in competition for this job, and we were identically well-qualified for that job. There was virtually no difference between us as applicants for that position. We’d both taught at that institution as part-time or non-tenure-track faculty, students liked us both, we had the same number of publications at that point (somewhere between zero and one), and we both really, really wanted that job.

She got it, I didn’t, that’s how it goes.  On to the next thing.  (And, as life does with such disappointments, today I’m grateful to have not gotten that job, but I digress…)

The fact that the white person on the search committee made a point of telling me that they “had to give the job to her” is, in my view, a manifestation of color-blind racism.  Part of what he was saying to me was, “if things were fair, if there weren’t affirmative action, you would have had this job.” In a way, he was inviting me to say, later, in the re-telling of this story: “I didn’t get this job because of a Latina….”  This is precisely the form of color-blind racism that Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Amanda Lewis, and David G. Embrick point out in their work. ( ““I Did Not Get that Job Because of a Black Man…”: The Story Lines and Testimonies of Color-Blind Racism.” In Sociological Forum, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 555-581, 2004).

I choose to resist such a re-telling of that story because it is not true.  I resist such a re-telling because it supports other untruths about who is deserving, qualified, and should be in leadership positions.  But I know that such resistance is relative rare among white women. And, I think this is where some of the explanation begins for why it is white women who are suing to challenge affirmative action.

To risk stating the obvious here, I think that what’s happened with Abigail Fisher is that despite her incredibly privileged structural position within the U.S., she still feels aggrieved because her expectation, growing up as a white girl, that she was entitled to an education at the top university in her state even though she didn’t have the grades to qualify.

When confronted with the reality that she didn’t get in to her top school, the explanation that occurred to her is that some person of darker complexion and lesser qualifications had taken her place. Fisher, like so many white women of her generation, believe that their peers who are black and Latina have it “easy” when it comes to getting into college, as if they only had to send in their photograph with their application. Contrast Fisher’s perceived struggle with the #itooam Harvard campaign launched by social media savvy students there about the racial discrimination they face.

Harvard student holds sign

 

What Fisher was asserting in her lawsuit is a stake on the terrain of “racial innocence” because central to her claim, laden though it is with race, is that her denial at the doors to the University of Texas was based on an unfair reliance on race as a criterion for admission. This claim for “racial innocence” is at the heart of the backlash against affirmative action, as Jennifer Pierce has noted in her work (“Racing for innocence”: Whiteness, corporate culture, and the backlash against affirmative action.” Qualitative Sociology 26, no. 1 (2003): 53-70).

The claim on “racial innocence” seems a tenuous one at best for white women as both the prime beneficiaries of affirmative action, and some of its most ardent critics.

I’ll be back next Tuesday with another installment of the Trouble with White Women series, to discuss the recent admonishes to ‘lean in” to corporate feminism.

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