Is the Decline of Black Males in Black Churches Affecting their Abilities to Develop a Counter Frame?

This Sunday, I received my tri-monthly call from my guilt ridden mother in regards to her hope that I miraculously surprise her by showing up at her Baptist church. Beyond the fact that I decided to follow my father’s side of the family and become Roman Catholic in college (even though I rarely go today, I will never tell her), she is conscious (or at least I hope she is) of the fact that I do not like her church. In the past I jokingly have demonstrated to her my frustration with the church through my montage of skits that are full of high jinks clapping, foot stomping, “Amens, and brow wiping.” But still, she continues to push and hope. After the call, I decided to spend the rest of my morning finishing The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing, by Joe Feagin. After reading the eloquently discussed topic of the abilities of people of color to combat the ever-present white racial construct through the utilization of constructing a counter frame to oppression, I began to reflect.

Greater File Chapel Baptist Church
Creative Commons License photo credit: Julia Manzerova

In particular, I reflected upon the book’s discussion of how the Black churches have been a source for enabling Blacks to construct a counter frame to the oppressive and racist barriers that are present within the U.S. My mind then became flooded with recollections of the past, and intricate codes for survival embedded within stories my wise grandmother told me as a child. She mentioned numerous times of how we, as Black people, relied upon Black churches for not only religious, but social salvation. I can remember every Sunday attempting new ways to avoid putting on my little suit and accompanying clip-on plaid bow-tie that my grandmother deemed cute. She was old-school. “If you do not go to church, you cannot be saved.” More importantly to me was the phrase, “If you do not go to church, your butt cannot play.” My grandmother grew up seeing the church as a place that provided a level of social support in a time where racism was as evident as the air that flowed through her lungs. It was a salvation for her when her brother was hung by the Klan in Mississippi. The church was a place to be replenished in faith. It was a place where an alternative message to the dominate White frame was proclaimed in a theatrical and moving fashion.

Today, there is a decline in the attendance in the Black church. Bishop Cecil Bishop, of an African Methodist Episcopal church noted that “[t]he church now is in the midst of a storm and the storm is worse than we thought it was…What you have is a growing number of people for whom the church doesn’t mean very much.” He goes on to state that younger generations, in particular Black males are declining in their numbers within the pews. In March of 2010, leadership from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church gathered together and acknowledged the decline of attendance. Specifically they discussed the decline of Black males and social concerns that affect them (i.e., unemployment, incarceration, and etc.).

Controversial scholar, Jawanza Kunjufu, has asserted that the decline of Black males is due to the fact that religion is viewed by many Black males as too passive, soft, and full of too many emotions. Leon Podles, author of The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity (1999)theorizes how Christianity in general has “lost this masculine sense of a struggle against the forces within oneself, having been watered down to passionate feelings and emotional ecstasies that men find difficult to identify with.” Even though the clergy in most churches are males, Podles asserts that they have adapted their message toward females.

So the question arises; does the “Black Church” still provide the abilities to help Blacks, in particular Black males to construct a counter frame? My opinion will probably not win any nice replies within this blog, but it would seem that through the anecdotal conversations with other Black males, the Black church has lost a degree of that ability to help Black males. On average, Black leaders in these churches have lost what was so uniquely discussed in W.E.B. Du Bois essay, “The Faith of the Fathers.”He states, the leader as preacher is “the most unique personality developed by the Negro on American soil,” a man who “found his function as the healer of the sick, the interpreter of the Unknown, the comforter of the sorrowing, the supernatural avenger of wrong, and the one who rudely but picturesquely expressed the longing, disappointment, and resentment of a stolen and oppressed people” This beautiful description was evident within the great migration period to the civil rights movement era with people such Rev. Marin Luther King Jr., James Lawson, Ralph Abernathy; Wyatt T. Walker, and Andrew Young. Black churches once played a pivotal role in the crusade for social justice. Today, some scholars have described the church as dead in relation to past actions for countering the oppression and racism that are covertly illustrated within the U.S. All I really know is that as Bob Dylan sang, “For the times they are a-changin’.”

A Look at Latina Teen Pregnancies: Intersections of Race, Gender, and Class

Silvia Henriquez has an interesting article on today’s Huffington Post entitled “Policies to Curb Latina Teen Pregnancies Have the Reverse Effect.” In the piece, Henriquez argues that the policy efforts designed to curb Latina teen pregnancies are too narrow and shortsighted—they focus on birth control and marriage rather than on big picture issues like immigration, poverty, and inequality. What’s most important about Henriquez’s article is that she skillfully highlights the ways intersecting factors of race, gender, and class overlap to shape these high rates of teen pregnancy.  Henriquez begins by offering some important context in which to situate the debate. She writes:

“Latina teens give birth at a rate more than twice that of white teens. Latinos have a much lower high school and college graduate rate compared to white teens.”

This background information gives insight into the environment facing pregnant Latina teens. Other sociological research has shown that when women give birth at young ages they are less likely to finish school, less likely to land well paying, stable jobs, and thus more likely to be poor. When the fathers are in comparable situations (like the lower high school and college graduation rates Henriquez describes), this only compounds young women’s likelihood of raising children in poverty. And given that institutional and employer-based racial discrimination still runs rampant, Latino/as are likely to face higher jobless and underemployment rates than whites, further exacerbating the chances of remaining poor. (Deirdre Royster’s book “Race and the Invisible Hand” is one such example of insidious racial discrimination in low skilled labor markets, though there are many others.) Henriquez continues on to say that:

“Myths — rather than realities — have too often guided the public discourse about Latinas and pregnancy. Latina teens don’t have sex more often than their white counterparts and most desire a college education. In addition, despite the demonization of immigrants in recent health care debates, most Latina teen moms are not immigrants.”

These are critical points that highlight the ways Latinas are cast in what Joe Feagin insightfully describes as the white racial frame. This frame (discussed elsewhere on this blog) encompasses stereotypes, sincere fictions, and ideologies about different racial groups. However, these stereotypes, images, and beliefs are shaped by gender as well as race. Thus, women of color often are cast as hypersexual, while men of color are likely to be depicted as criminals. As such, when Henriquez writes that Latina teens do not have sex more often than white teen girls, nor are they mostly immigrants, she counters white racial framing of Latinas as hypersexual, irresponsible, and a drain on national resources. (Similar imagery and framing was present in Ronald Reagan’s depictions of “welfare queens” in the 1980s.)  Henriquez then identifies some of the factors that influence Latina teens’ high birth rates:

“Compared to white teens, Latina teens have higher pregnancy rates because they use birth control much less often and reject abortion much more often. Religion and family influence are very important factors, but for sexually active Latina teens these are not the only or even most relevant obstacles to birth control usage. For many Latinas, the top barriers to birth control usage are much more mundane: transportation, lack of health insurance or cash for health services, confusing and intimidating immigration regulation for households with a combination of citizens and non-citizens, and lack of guidance about available services. When teen pregnancy prevention programs and messages ignore these obstacles, Latinas become distanced from sex education efforts.”

Here is an incredibly important point that highlights Henriquez’s central thesis that bigger issues than simple individual choice are at play for Latina teen moms. The issues she cites—transportation, lack of health insurance—are directly linked to social class. If you’re a teenager in the suburbs with your own car, it’s relatively easy to head off to your local Planned Parenthood for condoms. If you have health insurance, you can visit your doctor, tell him or her you’re planning on becoming sexually active, and get safe, confidential counseling and birth control. Switch out the car, the suburbs, and the health insurance for an impoverished neighborhood, no access to a doctor, and no money to find one, and the picture gets much bleaker.

Note also that these aren’t just class issues. For Latinas, intersections of race and gender are also factors. Henriquez astutely points out that immigration regulation can add layers of bureaucratic confusion that can make it difficult for these teen girls to access social services. This is a point that highlights that race makes a difference, and that not all racial groups are interchangeable—these issues of immigration regulation are less likely to impact poor black teens, for instance. But they are more likely to impact teen Latinas who, by virtue of their sex, face greater potential consequences of sexual activity than do Latinos. Gender, race, and class all come together to shape this issue. Henriquez continues:

“Sex education programs often tell teens that delaying parenthood until they finish high school and college will bring them some version of the American dream: a good job, economic security, family stability. The troubling reality is that for Latinas this promise comes true for only a limited few. Recent research confirms that Latina teen mothers have roughly the same socioeconomic circumstances at age 30 as those Latina teens who delay childbirth. The unfortunate reality is that access to college and the opportunities that emerge as a result is starkly different for Latina teens and white teens.”

This reiterates Henriquez’s point that broader issues than personal choice are at play here. If Latina teen mothers are in the same socioeconomic place by age 30 as those who’ve chosen to delay childbearing, then this points to major issues in our educational and economic spheres. Most studies show that more education translates into increased economic rewards. Do Latinas have the same access as women of other racial groups to access higher education and its attendant rewards? Perhaps more importantly, do women of all racial groups have the same access as white men, who despite being a numerical minority of the population remain overrepresented in the highest paid, most prestigious positions?

I agree with Henriquez that these are the structural conditions that should be the subject of focus, rather than simplistic, “one-size-fits-all” policies that fail to take into consideration the ways that intersections of race, gender, class, and other factors shape groups’ experiences differently. Latino/as are the fastest growing segment of our population, and by the middle of this century, whites will cease to be a numerical majority as the population of other racial groups continues to grow. Given our rapidly changing national demographics, we would be wise to establish policies that eliminate institutional disadvantage for all groups of color.

Anti-Latina Racism Morphs to Become Anti-Asian

In a bizarre twist, TPM points out that the latest NationalReview cover meant to satirize the “wise Latina” Sotomayor visually portrays her as Asian (h/t @lehmannchris via Twitter).   The mind boggles.  I’ll admit I’m short on analysis on this one; feel free to drop a comment and offer your own interpretation.  nationalreviewcover

(UPDATE from Joe):

This is not a new problem with the National Review. They seem to have some sort of Asian fetish. In a 1997 issue of that conservative magazine, a large pictorial cartoon concerning fundraising investigations of Democratic Party leaders appeared on its cover. This showed caricatures of then President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton as slant-eyed (like Sotomayor!), buck-toothed Chinese in Mao suits and Chinese hats–images suggesting very old white-stereotyped images of Asian/ Asian American characteristics. Since the 19th century, white cartoonists, political leaders, and media commentators have portrayed Chinese and other Asian Americans in such visually stereotyped terms, often to express a fear of the “Yellow Peril.” When confronted, the National Review’s white editor admitted these were Asian caricatures but refused to apologize. Such reactions, and the fact that there was little public protest of the cover outside Asian American communities, suggest that such racial stereotypes remain central to the white racial framing of Asians/Asian Americans. And now, apparently, of Latinos. Perhaps this cover is to signal “peril” to whites from Latinos?

NB: Thanks to Jon Smajda web guy for Contexts.org, who – once again – valiantly assisted with WP sidebar problem.

Racism, Empire and Torture, Pt.2

In this second installment about racism, empire and torture I continue my analysis of this cultural moment by using the lens Errol Morris’ documentary about torture, “Standard Operating Procedure,” (and the companion book), one of the most popular representations of torture.  I contend that we are neither post torture nor post empire nor post racial.

By way of moral contrast, let me begin with some altogether different narratives about Iraq. In March of 2008, hundreds of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan gathered in Maryland to give their eyewitness accounts of the occupations of both countries. The veterans modeled their testimony after the Winter soldier hearings organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971. As Amy Goodman reported on Democracy Now:

“the war veterans spoke of free-fire zones, the shootings and beatings of innocent civilians, racism at the highest levels of the military, and the torturing of prisoners.”

Most major news outlets did not cover the Winter Soldier event. Goodman broadcast the hearings in which soldiers tearfully described in detail (often illustrating with pictures of themselves) the acts of violence they perpetrated upon Iraqi and Afghani people. In one such account, Jon Michael Turner stripped his medals and ribbons from his chest and ended his testimony as follows:

“I just want to say that I am sorry for the hate and destruction I have inflicted on innocent people, and I’m sorry for the hate and destruction that others have inflicted on innocent people…I am sorry for the things I did. I am no longer the monster that I once was.”

Carl Rippberger, commenting on a slide of himself in Iraq, said:

“I am extremely shameful of it. I’m showing it in hopes that none of you people that have never been involved ever let this happen to you. Don’t ever let your government do this to you. Its me. I’m holding a dead body,  smiling. Everyone is our platoon took two bodies, put them on the back ramp, drove them through a village for show, and dumped them off at the edge the village.”

As these excerpts reveal, the Winter Soldiers acknowledge personal responsibility for their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as they believe that they were a part of a violence orchestrated from the top.

Their stories confirm that a pattern of terror begins with individual soldiers who are asked to, and who do, unspeakable things. Some find the courage to say no on the spot; most do not. But in the case of the Winter soldiers, all now believe that what they were asked to do, and what they did, was wrong. Their testimony is intended to rectify these wrongs by taking personal responsibility and by speaking out against practices of torture and terror, and against war and occupation. Along the same lines, a blog quoting former interrogators reports that some interrogators, when asked “If you had been ordered to waterboard someone or engage in other cruel/inhumane/degrading mistreatment (e.g. hypothermia, long time standing), what would you have done?” offer the following answer: “Refused the order.  That would probably have resulted in my getting fired or re-assigned but so be it.  In addition, I would have documented the incident and reported it to the Army’s (assuming that’s the environment I would have been working in) Criminal Investigation Division, or otherwise appropriate authorities.”  This response is not one that occurred to the majority of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib and it is not one that Morris or Gourevitch ever consider possible.

In “Standard Operating Procedure” Morris intersperses vivid reenactments of torture, the Abu Ghraib photographs, and interviews with the soldiers, the latter often shot close up so that their faces fill the entire screen. The viewer has a sense of being face-to-face with torture and literally present with both torturer and tortured.  The tortured, of course, do not speak; their bodies are meant only to contrast to the calm and reasonable voices of the soldiers who give us their accounts of what they did in Abu Ghraib prison. There remains a voyeuristic gaze throughout as we are invited to consume pyramids of naked prisoners. As Lasreg writes, today for the French, as the former colonial power in Algeria,  the:

“cumulative effect of this speaking and writing about the war [of Independence in Algeria] has resulted in a trivialization of the significance of torture as glossy pictures turn war into an orgiastic intellectual entertainment.”

Similarly, documentaries such as “Standard Operating Procedure” offer avid descriptions and images of torture. The documentary begins by informing us that American soldiers were so depressed and so low when they got to Abu Ghraib that they felt “already dead.”

In the book, Gourevitch and Morris ensure that we, their readers, understand that Abu Ghraib was an intolerable place that was constantly under mortar fire (although in 2003, no American soldier was killed from this). A combat unit, the 372nd regiment of reservists finds out that instead of going home they will be posted to guard duty at Abu Ghraib, something for which they are not trained.  Untrained, alienated, stressed, frustrated, and overcome by the climate, we are coached to understand that normal, wholesome American soldiers, each with their own dreams, soon fall apart in the hell that was Abu Ghraib.  The film and the book each begin with this equivalent to Marlow’s journey into the heart of Africa.

As I have shown elsewhere in the case of the violence of Western peacekeepers towards the populations they supposedly came to help, the savagery of the racial Other, and the savagery of the place of the racial Other become the reason why violence is authorized against them. As Hugh Ridley memorably put it recalling the themes of  colonial novels and the mind set of the masculine subjects who inhabit these fictional colonials worlds, “In Africa, who can be a saint.” The civilized man “loses” it in Africa on account of the dust and heat, as Canada concluded in its inquiry of the violence of Canadian peacekeepers towards Somalis.  In Africa, the soldier feels compelled to engage in violence anticipating the savagery of the racial Other. It is this narrative line, a combination of “Rumsfeld made me do it” and “in Iraq who could be a saint” that runs through the accounts of the Abu Ghraib soldiers, an account very much fostered by Morris and carefully installed  in the film and book. Continue reading…

Race, Gender & Rampage

IMG_6439Understanding the two rampage shootings in the news recently requires a grasp of the way race and gender are implicated in both cases (Creative Commons License photo credit: ankarino).

On April 3, In Binghamton, NY a Vietnamese immigrant,  Jiverly Linh Phat Wong — (or Voong) — blocked the back exit of a civic community center where immigrants attended English-language classes and shot 13 people to death before killing himself.  On April 4, Richard Poplawski shot and killed three Pittsburgh, PA police officers  – and injured two others – during a standoff that lasted nearly four hours.  Understanding race and gender is crucial here given that one of these is about anti-Asian discrimination, the other is about antisemitism and white supremacy, and both are about masculinity.

Rampage & Race: Reacting to Anti-Asian Discrimination

Understanding what happened in Binghamton requires understanding the way anti-Asian discrimination operates in the U.S.  Many people don’t even realize that there is such a thing as anti-Asian discrimination, so perhaps it’s best to start with a recent example, such as the truly asinine remarks of Rep. Betty Brown (R-Texas). On Tuesday (April 7), Brown said that Asian Americans should consider changing their name to make it “easier for Americans to deal with.” Brown has resisted efforts to apologize for her remarks.   This sort of comment might be offensive enough from an ordinary citizen, but coming from an elected official with legislative power to implement her racist ideas is alarming and indicative of the kind of discrimination that Asian Americans routinely face.  This sort of discrimination takes a toll.

In the opening chapter of The Myth of the Model Minority, authors Chou and Feagin highlight the many costs of anti-Asian racism on mental health:

Few researchers have probed Asian American mental health data in any depth. One mid-2000s study of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese immigrant youth examined acculturation to the core culture, but only briefly noted that some of these youth experienced substantial “cultural stress, such as being caught between two cultures, feeling alienated from both cultures, and having interpersonal conflicts with whites.”47 Another study examined only Korean male immigrants and found some negative impact on mental health from early years of adjustment and some mental “stagnation” a decade so after immigration. Yet the researchers offered little explanation for the findings. One recent study of U.S. teenagers found that among various racial groups Asian American youth had by far the highest incidence of teenage depression, yet the report on this research did not even assess the importance of this striking finding.48

In the modest statistical analysis that exists, Asian American statistics on suicide and alcoholism stand out. Elderly Chinese American women have a suicide rate ten times that of their elderly white counterparts. While Asian American students are only 17 percent of the Cornell University student body, they make up fully half of all completed suicides there.

Despite the high-profile cases of Asians and Asian-Americans involved in violent crimes, such as the Binghamton and Virginia Tech cases, the majority of Asian-Americans tend to hold in their rage over discrimination, part of what is responsible for the highest suicide rates of all racial groups in the U.S.

Andrew Lam, author of  Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, writes at New American Media, that:

Whenever a minority commits a heinous crime, it seems to beckon us in the media to search beyond an individual motive for a cultural one.

Yet, there is a certain level of hypocrisy in this, as Lam points out, because there is very little analysis of American culture when these crimes make news.

If the Asian shame-based culture is still prominent, keeping its citizens in line and well behaved, it is the gun culture in America that is most conspicuous. It is there on TV and video games and the Internet and the silver screen, and it is the most accessible language for the tongue-tied. For them the gun –- be it in video games or at the practicing range — speaks volumes.

So, for instance, when a white man commits one of these rampage killings, there’s very little analysis of the dominant white culture in most of the mainstream news reports about the event. The incident in Pittsburgh is a case in point.

Rampage & Race: Acting on Antisemitism & White Supremacy

Several press reports have noted that Richard Poplawski, the shooter in the Pittsburgh case, held virulently antisemitic views and frequented conspiracy-theory websites such as Alex Jones’ Infowars. CNN refers to him as a white supremacist who believes that Jews control American media, financial institutions and government and that federal authorities plan to confiscate guns owned lawfully by American citizens, based on ADL reports about Poplawki’s postings at Don Black’s Stormfront.

Mainstream press accounts like the one from CNN tend to represent Poplawski as a “nutcase,” without offering any sort of analysis of how his views might be shared by other whites.  David Weigel, of The Washington Independent, does make this connection between mainstream white culture and incidents like the Pittsburgh shooting.   He writes that after spending the weekend attending the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in Kentucky where all manner of Third Reich memorabilia was available for sale, that he is not surprised by Poplawski’s beliefs. Weigel also calls out conservative talk show host Glenn Beck for fanning the flames of conspiracy theorists with rants like this one.

Gender & Rampage: Enacting Violent Masculinity

Unfortunately, what almost no one in the mainstream press or the blogosphere has pointed out about the recent shootings is the connection to gender, and specifically, to a particulalry violent form of masculinity.   Harvard sociologist Katherine Newman and colleagues in their 2004 book, Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, observe the following about the relationship of rampage shooters in their study to violent masculinity:

“The shooters appear to be working from widely available cultural scripts that glorify violent masculinity.    …. The shooting solves two problems at once:  it provides them the ‘exit’ they are seeking and it overturns the social hiearchy, establishing once and for all that they are…’gutsy and daring,’ not ‘weak and slow-witted.’  The problem is they didn’t just fail at popularity — they failed at the very specific task of ‘manhood,’ or at least they felt that way.  The solutions to this failure are popularized in the media in violent song lyrics, movies, and video games.  But the overall script of violent masculinity is omnipresent.  ‘Men’ handle their own problems.   They don’t talk; they act.  They fight back.  And above all, ‘men’ must never let others push them around.” (Newman, et al., 2004: 269).

While the Binghamton and Pittsburgh incidents did not take place within the context of schools, as did the incidents that Newman and colleagues studied, there are some real similarities between them with regard to violent masculinity.   The stance that Wong adopted for his pose with the guns he later used for murder and suicide evokes the cool pose of violent masculinity that is glorified in any number of mainstream American movies, music and television.    Poplawski’s former girlfriend filed for a domestic abuse protection order against him because he dragged her by the hair across the floor and threatened to kill her.   Both Wong and Poplawski seem to have internalized, and eventually acted on, a violent version of masculinity in which they “handled” their problems in a way that reaffirmed their manhood – at least in their own minds.   And, given the ways that becoming a “real man” in U.S. society is tied to the economic success and the role of “breadwinner” for the family, the continued economic decline suggests even more of these kinds of violent rampages by men who are unable to earn a living.

* * *

Shooting rampages like the ones in Binghamton and Pittsburgh are becoming more common here in the U.S.   As Nickie Wild writing at Sociology Lens explains, this may be part of a “super anomie,” in which the gap between what one wants to achieve and what seems possible widens (or seems insurmountable) and then violence increases.  Others have pointed to the shooting incidents as indications that U.S. gun laws need re-thinking, and this is truly the case.   Yet, to really understand what’s behind these sorts of rampage shootings, we must have a more complex understanding of the ways race and gender are intricately woven into the fabric of these violent incidents.

On “Racial Amnesia,” Gender and Persistent U.S. Racism

Anita Hill has an op-ed piece in The Boston Globe in which she suggests that “racial amnesia may be the cure” for getting Obama elected (image source).  Her essay includes this paragraph:

Regardless of one’s political leaning, most would acknowledge that the country is aware of its racial and ethnic diversity, and that for most Americans the stark contrast between the “black experience” and the “white experience” no longer exists. Systemic, state-enforced discrimination has disappeared and the prominence of civil rights law enforcement is greatly diminished.

And then after acknowledging some lingering inequality, she closes with this:

Figuring out the significance of race will be a challenge, but relying on racial memories based on a divided reality is not a good option.

Hill locates racism in the past, as a phenomenon residing primarily in the “memories” of a divided reality.   No doubt this is a comforting notion to many.  Unfortunately, Hill’s call for willful amnesia contributes to the problem rather than helps alleviate it.   As I posted a couple of days ago, we live in a culture that discourages critical thinking, particularly around issues of race and racism, and this makes understanding the world more difficult rather than easier.

Racism does not exist exclusively in the realm of the past.  Just recently, a life-sized effigy of Obama was found hanging from a tree with a noose around its neck at the University of Kentucky, and this is just the latest in a series of overtly racist incidents, including a foiled assassination plot by neo-nazis. (Updated @10:44am to add: And now this racist email from a GOP party volunteer that even FoxNews is reporting.)   The persistence of this sort of overt racism alongside the trend toward support for Obama among many whites (including David Duke, as Joe noted) suggests that racism continues to be a complicated issue in the U.S.   Such a reality calls for engaging in more complex and nuanced thinking about race, not amnesia.    Hill is a smart woman and it’s disappointing to see her advocate such a naïve and facile position on race.    Charles Ogletree, law professor at Harvard, argues that “racial amnesia” and “racial fatigue” are the real problems.  We have forgotten how significant race is and we think we don’t have to talk about it anymore, Ogletree said at a recent gathering about racial disparties in the judicial system.  The school-to-prison pipeline is still about race and about gender.  At Rikers Island (where I’ve done some research), the population is 95% black and brown.  Blacks are 10 times more likely to be arrested than whites, and young men are 17 times more likely to be arrested than young women. In Connecticut, for example, the state has sent hundreds of adolescent girls (opens .pdf) — most of them black and brown –  to the state’s maximum security women’s prison (h/t Rick Green).

Given Hill’s background as a strong example, heroine even, for women who have endured sexual harassment in the work place, it’s doubly disappointing to read her recommendation advocating for racial amnesia rather than pointing it out as a problem.    It seems unlikely that she would recommend a similar strategy for dealing with gender.    Instead of “Speaking Truth to Power” (the name of her book about her testimony in the Clarence Thomas hearings) about racism, Hill adopts the white racial frame by embracing intentional forgetfulness.  If Hill’s goal was to support the Obama campaign (crossing over from her life long allegiance to the GOP), she might have drawn on the example of Shirley Chisholm (image source).

Talk about amnesia.  Chisholm, a representative in Congress from Queens, NY ran for U.S. President in 1972.   Her name has rarely, if ever, been mentioned in the current election cycle.  Chisholm talked openly about facing racism and sexism, and courageously spoke truth to power at a time when it was incredibly unpopular to do so.   Chisholm’s bid for high office made possible both presidential campaigns of Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama.     Do yourself a favor, watch “Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed,” this election season and rid yourself of a little amnesia.

Neoliberalism, White (Male) Privilege & the Current Financial Crisis

Make no mistake, all the available evidence suggests that the American political economy is headed for a major crash.  Some are even speculating that this is the end of American economic dominance in the world’s financial market.  But don’t be deceived by the blame-the-victim rationalizing that’s being floated now.   Let’s be clear about what policies and which people are behind the current financial crisis: neoliberal policies and the overwhelmingly majority of economically privileged white men (photo from same link) who created, implemented and benefited from those policies.

Neoliberalism refers to a set of policies that encourage “less government” and unfettered (and unregulated) capitalism.   The key elements of neoliberalism include: 1) the rule of the market, 2) reducing government expenditures on social services, 3) deregulation, 4) privatization, and 5) gutting the notion of “the public good.”    While this may strike some readers as sounding astonishingly similar to any recent Republican stump speech, neoliberalism has infected Democratic politics as well, and either Clinton’s policies (and way too many of Obama’s, for my tastes), fit neatly within the framework of neoliberalism.  Remember, “welfare reform” was a large part of what got Bill Clinton elected, and that’s a quintessential neoliberal policy.   Now, it seems self-evident to me what the connection is between neoliberalism and the current financial crisis, but allow me to connect a few of the dots here.   As those in the White House and Congress, including John McCain, touted the benefits of deregulation (link opens video of interview with McCain) of the financial markets and passed legislation “freeing” up those industries from any sort of government oversight, whole new markets developed and a few people got very, very rich.   Many of those who got very, very rich did so in financial services that are obtuse at best and an elaborate shell game at worse.   Others got very, very rich by targeting minority communities for subprime mortgages, the new version of “redlining.”  Now, those who conceived of, established and profited from these businesses have either cashed out or, if they’re still in the game, are looking to the U.S. tax-payers (some of the same people who’ve been fleeced by these schemes) for a $700 billion bailout, making the U.S. government the insurer-of-last-resort for these highly risky capitalist ventures.    The end result of neoliberal policies is that while a handful of people get very, very rich, these policies simultaneously exacerbate the suffering of just about everyone else and increase domestic and international instability.    So, what we’re seeing now is just the logical, perhaps inevitable, result of these policies.

Economically privileged white men have had a disproportionate level of involvement in the development, administration and profit from neoliberalism.  If you look at the roster of those in power on Wall Street and in the financial services sector more broadly in the U.S., what you will see is overwhelmingly white men who have gone to elite schools and, for the most part, come from upper-middle class and upper-class backgrounds.   Granted, there are token women (usually white) and people of color (some African American men), but these exceptions highlight the prevailing demographic fact about the industry.   While the “secret societies” of the wealthy occasionally make the news, the fact is, the power elite has been a feature of American life since before C. Wright Mills wrote about it in the 1950s, yet it rarely gets discussed in any meaningful way in the mainstream news. Instead, we get a lot of reporting about how the bailout failure was the result of partisanship – certainly part of the story, but doesn’t explain why conservative republicans and democrats rejected the plan.  Instead, what we need is more reporting, more information about how the state is working to protect the interests of the power elite.

Fortunately, critics on the left have pointed out the elite interests behind this crisis and the proposed bailout.   The reality is that bailout or not, the worsening economic landscape is not going to affect everyone in the U.S. – and the world – evenly.   Instead, people of color, women, and particularly women of color, are going to get laid off, not have health care, lose their homes and be forced into bankruptcy, while privileged white men may have to sell one of their vacation homes.  It’s time to shift this burden back onto the shoulders of the people who created it.