Archive for NYC
There is an excellent, devastating, and powerful documentary out now in some theaters and on InDemand on cable, called “The Central Park Five.” The film, by Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers who, in 1989, were arrested and charged with brutally attacking and raping a white female jogger in Central Park. News media swarmed the case, referring to the incident as a “wilding” and to the young men as a “wolfpack.” The five young men spent years in prison before the truth about what really happened became clear. Here is a short (2:27) trailer:
Go see it if you can get to a theater, or call it up on your cable TV. Even though this documentary was inexplicably not included in the short list for Academy Awards, I’m certain that this film will be important in college classrooms for many years to come.
It’s that time of year again. A few blocks from where I live, people are gearing up for the annual “Columbus Day Parade” which will disrupt traffic along 5th Avenue from 44th Street up to 72nd Street. I won’t be joining in the celebration.
Like most school children in the U.S., I was taught the lie that Christopher Columbus was “an explorer” who “discovered America.” It’s a lie that conveniently leaves out much of the truth about Columbus’ crimes against humanity. And, this lie continues to be used by advertisers to sell products. The spam from one retailer in my inbox this week featured the subject line, “Columbus Discovered America, and You Can Discover Savings at Barnes & Noble.” Uhm, thanks but no thanks B&N.
While the local news stations here relentlessly refer to the parade as a “celebration of Italian heritage,” I think it’s long past time we said “nevermind” to the myth of Columbus “discovering America.” By celebrating Columbus, we replay the legacy of colonialism. Yet, despite the genocide that followed in his wake, some see the embrace of Columbus as a national hero as a response to racism and discrimination experienced here in the U.S. Tommi Avicolli-Mecca writes:
I understand why Italian-Americans embraced Columbus. When we arrived in this country, we weren’t exactly greeted with open arms, any more than any other immigrants. There were NINA (No Italian Need Apply) notices in store windows, as well as lynchings in the South, where we were considered nonwhite.
And, like so many other holidays, this one is a bit misguided. In point of fact, Columbus is a man with a tenuous link to contemporary Italy. As you’ll recall from the grade school rhyme, Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” in 1492; contemporary Italy wasn’t a country until 1861.
Still, I don’t think that means we shouldn’t be celebrating Italian Americans’ heritage and contributions to the U.S. I just think we should be focusing on the radical tradition of some Italian Americans, such as Mario Savio, Vito Marcantonio, and Sacco and Vanzetti.
There is a strong, radical history among Italian Americans that has been largely forgotten. In their book, The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism (Praeger 2003), Philip Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer, help uncover some of this history. Their edited volume shows that in contrast to their present conservative image (cf. Carl Paladino’s recent anti-gay remarks), Italian Americans played a central role in the working-class struggle of the early twentieth century. Italian Americans were leaders in major strikes across the country—notably the Lawrence textile strikes of 1912 and 1919, the Paterson silk strike of 1913, the Mesabi Iron Range strikes of 1907 and 1916, and the New York City Harbor strikes of 1907 and 1919, as well as coal mining strikes. They also made important contributions to American labor unions, especially the revolutionary Industrial Workers of the World, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. At the same time, they built vibrant radical Italian immigrant communities that replicated the traditions, cultures, and politics of the old country. For example, Italian immigrants formed their own political and social clubs, mutual aid societies, alternative libraries and press, as well as their own orchestras and theaters, designed to promote and sustain a radical subculture. This radical subculture was oppositional to both the hegemonic culture sustained by prominenti (the powerful men of the Little Italies) and the individualistic culture of capitalist America. Yet, for the most part, this radical tradition has been set aside in favor of the hagiography of Columbus.
This holiday, I’m saying “nevermind” to Columbus and cheering the radical history of Italian Americans.
Ahmed Sharif, a New York City cab driver stabbed by a passenger, says he was definitely attacked because of his religion. Sharif was stabbed repeatedly while driving his taxi on the East Side Tuesday. The suspect, a white man named Michael Enright, attacked him after first asking whether he was Muslim. Many are saying that this attack is part of a growing anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S.
The apparent hate crime attack on Mr. Sharif and the alarming wave of hate crimes against Latinos that Joe wrote about yesterday are connected in a number of ways. One of the major links is the way that these acts of violence are part of a larger social context that includes rising tide of hate speech targeting Muslims and Latinos.
The research connecting hate speech to hate crimes is mixed. When it comes to individuals explaining their motivation for hate crimes, there’s actually relatively little research that investigates motivations for hate crimes. One study that does this finds a range of motivations: thrill, defensive, mission, and retaliatory motivation (J. McDevitt, J. Levin, and S. Bennett, “Hate Crime Offenders: An Expanded Typology,” Journal of Social Issues, 58 (2):303-318). In the case of Enright’s attack on Sharif, this appears to be a “mission” hate crime, in which Enright was on a “mission” to attack anyone who was Muslim. Other research, such as Alexander Tsesis’ book Destructive Messages (NYU Press, 2002), demonstrate how hate speech gives rise to dangerous social movements.
The question really is where did Enright, a film student who was working on a project to promote cross-cultural understanding, get the idea that he should attack someone who was Muslim? No one knows for sure. The fact is that after traveling to Afghanistan to work on a film project, Enright returned to New York where there is an ugly display of hate speech downtown about the so-called mosque controversy. Could this have played even a small role in Enright’s violent actions last Tuesday? It seems more than plausible.
The fact is that the U.S., and even the country’s most diverse city, New York, are becoming more treacherous for people of color. And yet, this violence gets repaid with loyalty. Despite the brutal attack on him, the cab driver Mr. Sharif told supporters outside City Hall that he still loves New York.
“This is a city of all colors, races, all religion, everyone. We live here, side by side, peacefully.”
First, let me begin with a personal note about the FDNY. I was in New York City when the terrorist attacks occurred on 9/11. I was grateful on that day that my loved ones came home that day from working in lower Manhattan, shaken but not physically harmed. I was so moved by the heroism, and devastating loss, to the FDNY (343 died) on that day — and so befuddled about what to do in the face of that overwhelming tragedy — that one of the things I did was what my people do when someone dies: I cooked and delivered food. Specifically, I cooked a huge batch of fried chicken and walked it over to the firehouse nearest my apartment. I say that to let readers know that I have a tremendous respect for the day-to-day heroism of firefighters and the work that they do. And, yet, in watching all those funerals for firefighters after 9/11 it was impossible not to notice how overwhelmingly white and male the FDNY remains. The racial composition of the fire department is no accident.
A judge in New York ruled that the FDNY had engaged in a deliberate “pattern, practice, and policy of intentional discrimination.” Back in July, 2009, Judge Garaufis ruled that the FDNY used a test in 1999 and 2002 that had a discriminatory effect on black applicants. In his ruling on Wednesday, January 13, 2010, the judge found that the city intentionally discriminated against blacks in using those tests and in ignoring calls over the years to change the testing procedure. The suit was brought by three people who took the test and by the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black city firefighters.
Legal experts said the decision was the first in recent memory in which a court had found that the city had intentionally discriminated against a large group of people in the workplace. There is also evidence that those at the highest levels in city government, including (former) Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scopetta and Mayor Bloomberg, were aware of this “pattern, practice and policy of discrimination” at the FDNY and did nothing to stop it, although the judge’s ruling stopped just short of holding them legally responsible. However, the judge did write that he found strong evidence to suggest that they were made aware numerous times that the Fire Department’s entrance exams were discriminatory, yet failed to take sufficient remedial action. Mayor Bloomberg testified at a deposition in August that he “did not recall” receiving a report more than six years ago warning him about sharp differences in the pass rates between white and minority candidates for firefighter jobs. Part of what is so remarkable about this decision is that it is one of the few court decisions in recent memory that finds there was racially discriminatory intent, rather than simply a disparate-impact.
The New York Times article quotes Paul Washington, 48, a firefighter in Brooklyn and a former Vulcan Society president, who said that the ruling validated “what we’ve been saying for the longest time, and which I’ve been saying since 1999 — that the Fire Department discriminates, intentionally, and they just continue to do it.” Washington says he believes that over the department’s 145-year history, there were probably “thousands of thousands of black men and women who should have had this job and didn’t get it.”
Washington’s comment in the NYTimes highlights gender discrimination, not addressed by this court decision. Make no mistake, the FDNY has also systematically and intentionally discriminated against women over its 145-year history. The story of Brenda Berkman illustrates how difficult it is even for women with white skin privilege who still face gender discrimination. Berkman is a white woman who sued the FDNY and eventually became a Captain in the Fire Department, There is an excellent documentary by Bann Roy about Berkman, called “Taking the Heat.” The film also touches on the struggle of black firefighters and includes some interviews with members of the Vulcan Society.
Federal Judge Garaufis struck a blow for racial equality with this decision, but the FDNY has a long way to go before it will be an equitable organization in practice. Until that time, the kind of excessive valorization of firefighters that goes on – perhaps especially in this city – will always be a bit tempered for me by the knowledge that this particular form of on-the-job heroism is only available to a few, white men.
A newly released matched study reveals racism in hiring patterns in New York City restaurants ( photo credit: ktylerconk ). Matched studies, like the one used in this research, are basically field experiments in which pairs of applicants who differ only by race (or sometimes gender) are sent to apply for housing, seek services or accommodations, or, in this case, apply for jobs.
In this study, economist Marc Bendick, Jr. sent pairs of applicants with similar résumés and matched for gender and appearance; the only difference in each pair was race.
Bendick found that white job applicants were more likely to receive followup interviews, be offered jobs, and given information about jobs, and their work histories were less likely to be investigated in detail than their black counterparts.
If you’re one of the many graduate students who read this blog and you’re contemplating what to do for a dissertation, consider a matched study. We need more of them and this type of research gets well-reviewed in the top sociology journals. Another recent matched study in sociology is the one that Devah Pager did for her 2003 AJS piece, “The Mark of a Criminal Record.” In this research, Pager matched pairs of individuals (again with similar résumés and matched on gender) applied for entry-level jobs—to formally test the degree to which a criminal record affects subsequent employment opportunities. The findings of her study reveal that a criminal record presents a major barrier to employment; and with regard to racism, Pager found that blacks are less than half as likely to receive consideration by employers, relative to their white counterparts. Perhaps most disturbing in Pager’s research is the finding that black nonoffenders, that is African Americans with no criminal record, were less likely to get a job than whites with prior felony convictions.
Matched studies, such as the just released Bendick’s study of hiring in restaurants and Pager’s classic study of entry-level hiring of those with (and without) the mark of a criminal record, are important social science research for investigating the persistence of racial discrimination in hiring practices.
Today’s New York Post, a tabloid paper owned by Rupert Murdoch, published an editorial cartoon that shows two cops talking, standing over a chimpanzee they’ve just shot (a reference to this recent story in nearby Connecticut). The caption reads, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” a clearly racist jab at President Obama, comparing him to the chimpanzee. You can see the image here (h/t to Emery Graham, Jane Adams, Andrea Siegel, Jerry Krause, Eric Margolis and all the good folks on the IVSA listserv).
The cartoon is created by Sean Delonas, who as Hamilton Nolan at Gawker notes, has a rich history of creating similarly vile, loathsome cartoons.
As I’ve pointed out here before, racist jokes and cartoons are nothing new, and indeed, racist cartoons and jokes were a consistent strategy used by detractors to Obama’s campaign. In fact, Obama’s presidency has created a whole new category of racist jokes and cartoons. A Google search of “racist Obama jokes” today yields 1,910,000 results; a similar search for “racist Obama cartoons,” yields 1, 050,000 results.
What’s really remarkable here is that this particular racist cartoon is not just getting published on some individual’s website dedicated to racist “humor,” but in fact, it is being published by a major (albeit, tabloid) newspaper in New York City. Rev. Al Sharpton gets is right when he says that the cartoon is “troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys.” (An aside about Rev. Al: Y’all can say what you will about Rev. Al, but living in New York City and seeing him at most of the same rallies I go to and hearing him on local news, he gets it right more often than he gets it wrong. In the national mainstream press, he’s regularly treated with derision, but I have a lot of respect for him.) In fact, I think he doesn’t go quite far enough here. What’s also troubling about this particular image is the not-so-subtle threat (again) to President Obama’s life and the similar way in which this cartoon legitimates the police-shootings of so many young, black and brown men on the streets of New York City and beyond. Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, anyone? It doesn’t matter though, they were just “monkeys” – as one of the commenters on this blog referred to Oscar Grant just a few weeks ago. For those of you who might be new to studying and understanding how dehumanization works, one of the first steps is comparing human beings to animals. This makes their mistreatment, torture, and murder easier to accept. It’s an especially effective tool when a major newspaper runs images that dehumanize whole categories of people.
And, perhaps not surprisingly, the Post is standing behind the cartoon. New York Post Editor-in-Chief Col Allan said:
“The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist.”
Right, so Rev. Al is an opportunist and therefore Allan doesn’t have to take anything he says seriously. Well, I have a feeling there are going to be a lot more people outraged about this one.
If you’re in the New York City area, and want to get involved in a protest about this, there’s one tomorrow, Thursday, 2/19 at noon, at the midtown offices of the New York Post, 1211 6th Ave., between 47th and 48th Streets. Rev. Al and I will be there.
Racism is alive and for sale in pastry-form in New York’s Greenwich Village. I’m working on a longer, more thoughtful post, but just had to quickly put this up because, well, the mind-boggles sometimes. Here’s the story (h/t: dumilewis via Twitter): a New York City baker, Ted Kefalinos, proprietor of Lafayette French Pastry, is selling a cookie he calls the “drunken negro cookie” (photo and details of the story from Gothamist). A customer told a local news outlet that Kefalinos, asked her:
“Would you like some drunken negro heads to go with your coffee? They’re in honor of our new president. He’s following in the same path of Abraham Lincoln; he will get his.”
A bit later, another customer reportedly came into Kefalinos’ shop, asked about the name of the cookies and said Kefalinos corrected her about the name of the cookies, saying they’re actually drunken “N-word” cookies. The second customer says that the baker then repeated the suggestion that, like Lincoln, President Obama “will get what’s coming to him.”
Despite several attempts by various reporters to let Kefalinos come up with a resonable explanation for his actions, he remains apparently clueless.
I have a few of thoughts about this, some of which I’ll explore in the longer post I’m working on, but briefly: 1) let’s retire those silly notions about racism residing exclusively below the Mason-Dixon line; 2) the mere presence of President Obama is, as a friend of my said the other day, “goes down hard” for some people; and, so, 3) let’s not kid ourselves that just because we’ve got a African American head of state that everyone’s ready to embrace racial harmony and sing kum-ba-ya.