Interview with Mikki Kendall about White Women, Feminism and Race


Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia), journalist and editor of, has written a forward to a new edition of Vron Ware’s classic text Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism and History (due out from Verso Books this month). Of course, this piqued my interest because of my ongoing series on The Trouble with White Feminism.  Earlier today, I spoke with Kendall about how she came to write the forward, her famous hashtag, and her thoughts about white women, feminism and race.

Mikki Kendall

Mikki Kendall



JD: How did you get involved with this project? Did you know Vron Ware or her book before this?

MK: Actually, Verso sent an email a few months ago and asked if I would be interested in taking a look at the book, and thinking about writing a forward. It was one of those ‘we think it would be a good fit, but we don’t know, so we’d like you to take a look at it.’ I had seen the book, but it was years ago, in school, so I had kind of a vague memory of it, but I’ll be honest, I saw about 9 million books as an undergrad, so it was not one that stood out to me as being awful but I was like, I don’t really remember it that well. Like there are a couple that, they’re with you forever because they were terrible or they were super expensive, and this wasn’t one of those. [laughs] There’s a book I’m still pissed about from undergrad, it was $120 – we didn’t even use it!

So, they sent me a copy of the book, told me to let them know, basically, that they were interested in me doing the forward, but they wanted me to read the book and make up my own mind, which I thought was good because you never know what you’re going to get yourself into when you’re doing something like this.


I read it, and I think that [in the forward] I characterized it as being a ‘good primer’ because for me it wasn’t necessarily a lot of information I didn’t already have, but it was good to see it in book form where I could reference it, point people to it, and not have to repeat all of that, because if you’ve ever seen my mentions on Twitter, a lot of times the exact same conversations come up about these topics.


JD: Your hashtag #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen really took off. Can you say a little bit about why you thought it was important to start that?


MK: I was mad, actually. [laughs] I was mad both about what happened with Sydette and Hugo Schweitzer and that whole mess, and a bunch of other things were coming to mind because a bunch of other things were going on about the same time. I do a lot of stuff with this feminist science fiction conference, WisCon, and some of this stuff, I run into a lot of that there. I’m actually at the end of a journey with that. The first year I went to Madison, I left basically in tears because of a lot of microaggressions, it was very strange – almost like being in a zoo environment – and this year, I was the first black woman (possibly the first woman of color at all, no one’s really sure), to chair WisCon.

JD: Wow.

MK: It’s also 2015, and WisCon is 39 years old, so you know, you get where I’m going with that.

JD: Yeah, I do.

MK: So, at the time, there was stuff going on in science fiction and just in feminism in general, too, and I was just sort of fed up. I’m so sick of the words, “such-and-such is not a feminist issue,” I could just start screaming.  It comes up a lot and none of it’s true.

At the time that the hashtag took off, I actually didn’t expect that to happen. That was the first time that happened, the first time I’d had a tag go viral (it’s happened a couple of times since then). But at that time, I think I kind of tapped into a collective frustration, where people were having this conversation, and they were like ‘oh, this is exactly how I feel.’ I mean, I keep hearing these calls for solidarity or community or whatever from white feminists, and my community needs X, Y and Z and they are absent.

So, while it was certainly an expression of anger, if you go back and look at a lot of the Tweets, there were a lot of history lessons in that tag, you know, before the trolls showed up.

JD: You’ve talked before about the backlash and harassment that you, and particularly other African American women, get on Twitter. How this shifted, if at all, in any way following the discussions surrounding that hashtag?

MK: I learned a lot about autoblockers! [laughs] I use a Japanese Twitter client called Janetter, because I’m trying to convince Twitter to adopt some of Janetter’s features because it allows me to mute people permanently. I can also mute hashtags and terms and words with that client, so there’s a lot of things that I just don’t see anymore. My Twitter experience is completely curated.

JD: That’s great and so smart.

MK: It needed to happen. There’s a point, and it’s a running joke with me and some friends with larger follower accounts, around 5,000 you get some static, it’s not super pleasant, but it’s not that bad. Somewhere north of 10,000, there were just days when it was just pointless to look at my mentions. I mean, there was just no reason. There’d be two people in there actually talking to me, there were going to be 400 people sending me awful things. There was a guy for awhile – I think I’ve closed all the loopholes he was getting through – he would spend the hours from like 2am and 6am, like I would be asleep and he would just send these long screeds of hateful tweets, every night for hours. He wanted me to know it was the same person. He wanted me to know it was him. I wasn’t the only black woman he was doing it to. And it was peculiar because at 2am I’m asleep! Or, I’m at a party…but I’m not up on Twitter.

JD: That’s intense. So, back to the book, I wonder if you could talk about how you see this as an important contribution about race (or racism) and feminism?

MK: This is an awkward thing to say but, I think that for some white women they can’t hear it from women of color, that first step has to come from somewhere else. It seems like out of the blue, the white friend can say the same thing, repeats what a woman of color says, sometimes will even say, ‘listen, all they’re saying is…” is the one people can hear. Do I like that? No. Do I want to spend 47 hours having the same conversations? Also, no.

And, so, I really think that it’s on white women to talk to white women in feminism about race. Like, that first step, particularly that first step of getting someone to acknowledge that this is a factor that matters, that race has an impact on their life, and that they have a race and [acknowledging] the power of white women over other people of color, and also men of color exist. I mean, there are all these stages before the in-depth, ‘401’-level discussion can happen. I think there’s a lot of resistance to hearing that ‘401’-level discussion, like when you start talking about the school-to-prison pipeline as a problem in part because white women who work in those schools are sending black children into that pipeline. But you can’t have that conversation until you talk about how we got to a place where 80% of teachers are white and mostly women.

Also, we sort of have this framework in feminism that white women don’t have as much power as white men and that means they don’t have power, and that’s not true. There are two different things happening there. White women don’t have as much power as white men, but white women have more power than anyone else except white men.

JD: There are often critiques of white feminism – and whiteness scholarship more broadly – that such work ‘re-centers whiteness’. I know you’ve heard this. How would you respond to that regarding Ware’s book?

MK: I feel like, to some degree, whiteness — it doesn’t need to be centered in conversations with people of color — but I feel like in conversations about whiteness and race as a social construct, and as a mechanism of power, you kind of have to center the conversation with white people around that concept for awhile. Not that it shouldn’t move passed that point, it shouldn’t be centered forever, but I see a lot of white people who think that they don’t have a race, who don’t think that white privilege exists, all of these things. And, taking them back to here’s what whiteness has bought you, is important. I had a tweet where I said something like, “Dear White People, Even if your ancestors didn’t own slaves, they benefitted from slave economics, Jim Crow…” and I got so much outrage over this! I didn’t talk to everyone in my mentions – it’s just pointless – early on in the discussion, I pointed to specific mechanisms. Like everyone brings up welfare, so it’s important to remind people that originally people of color couldn’t get welfare and that the narrative around welfare changed once they were. But the original goal of welfare was for white women to be able to stay home with their children and not have to go out to work. That was the original goal. When it changed to include all women, that’s when we get to the ‘welfare queen’ stereotype and the rest of it. And, in that conversation, I sort of had to center whiteness so that people could understand that the social programs they’d come to identify – erroneously – with people of color leeching off the system, that’s not actually true.

You can’t have a discussion about affirmative action and not have a discussion about the fact that white women are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action.

So it’s not that I think whiteness should be centered forever, but for some people, they have to start from a place where they are being told that they are white — I’ve seen white people get mad about being told they’re white, I’ve never really worked that out [laughs], I’m not really sure what’s happening there — but that’s gotta be somebody’s labor, to do that work. So you have to talk about white people and what that’s meant, and the construct of white supremacy, not just in the sense of the KKK, but also in the sense of social programs and Hull House and all that.

JD: Great, thank you so much. Those are my questions. Is there anything else you want to say about the book, your forward to it, or anything in general?

MK: I just generally think that, as awkward as this is to say, white people are going to have to get to a place where, if they can’t listen to people of color, then they have to be willing to listen to each other, so that they can get to a place where they listen to people of color. We can’t advance this conversation within feminism if you don’t examine why you don’t listen to people of color.

JD: It does seem like a very difficult lesson for white people to learn, I’m not exactly sure why that is.

MK: It’s very peculiar. I mean some white people don’t struggle with it, but then some come from out of left field and they can only hear things from another white person. I had a friend do this experiment online. She said, I’m going to repeat everything you say, and see what people do. Her avatar was white and so people could hear her. She said, “you know, I’m just repeating what she said, I literally copied and pasted her tweets,” and she would show them my tweets,” but they could only hear her. So, that’s my basic thing.

JD: I never get that kind of blowback or harassment that you and other women of color get. I want to disrupt that dynamic when I see it, but I’m never sure how to do that, so if you see something that works let me know.

MK: Well, I think that’s why it’s important that books like this one exist. Just this weekend I was at a conference, and talked about ‘white women’s tears’ and someone talked about how misogynistic they find it. And, I was like, well you know, it’s funny to me that this is where we land, because white women’s tears get black people killed, so we have to shift the framework. It was an awkward conversation for a lot of people for so many reasons, but once we started to have the conversation about the impact, people got it.

JD: Thanks so much for your time, this has been great!

You can follow Mikki Kendall on Twitter at @Karnythia. You can order Vron Ware’s book, Beyond the Pale, through Verso Books, or find an independent bookstore near you.

You can check my Trouble with White Feminism series beginning here, and use the “Read next post in series” to navigate to the next one. My post on White Women and Affirmative Action is here.


Comey’s (and Capehart’s) Uncritical Analysis of Racism

On February 12, 2015, James B. Comey delivered a speech at Georgetown University that has garnered much media attention for delivering “hard truths” about racism in the United States.

Comey’s recent remarks, and those by Jonathon Capehart, Washington Post and MSNBC pundit about the Comey speech, reveal the weak, uninformed analyses of race and the evasion of the institutional, structural and systemic racism in the U.S.

FBI Director Comey (Image by Sophie Faaborg-Anderson)

What would appear to be a welcoming speech that partially recognizes law enforcement agencies’ biased approach to policing is, however, offset by disappointing “half truths,” misperceptions and rhetorical reversals that work to deflate focus on police hyper-aggression toward people of color and ignore the systemically racist structures of the US justice system.

While acknowledging that “there is a disconnect between police agencies and many citizens—predominately in communities of color” and that relations between police and people of color is “not pretty,” Comey then proceeds to regurgitate the problematic discourse about race in the US and the weak racial analysis that focuses exclusively on racial attitudes, as with much of social science (see Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva, 2008).

Extremely troubling is Comey’s understanding that racial problems in the US exist primarily because of racial biases of individuals, a view that completely ignores institutional structural and systemic racism.

Equally troubling is Comey’s insinuation that all Americans are “racist,” a term he inappropriately uses interchangeably with racially “biased.” Comey notes that he is “reminded of the song from the Broadway hit, Avenue Q: ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.’ Part of it goes like this: 

Look around and you will find
No one’s really color blind.
Maybe it’s a fact
We all should face
Everyone makes judgments
Based on race.

After establishing that all Americans are “racist”—that is, harbor racial biases —  Comey continues to reflect uncritically on US racial matters and elude discussion of the institutional racism that runs deep in law enforcement agencies.  He points out the “real and perceived biases, both within and outside law enforcement,” de-escalating accountability of the real biases of police by aligning it with much less consequential perceived police biases, and equating the highly consequential biases of law enforcement with everyday racial biases outside law enforcement.

Ferguson protestor, hands up

(Image by Scott Olson)

While, indeed, perceived biases exist outside (and about) law enforcement, these perceived biases often have substance and validity due to the much larger, more far-reaching realities of law enforcement biases that shape police practice. Biases of those “outside law enforcement” are much less significant in police-community relations, because citizens who interact with police do not have the power and “legitimate,” ubiquitous force (backed by clubs, guns, tasers/CEWs, and assorted military arsenal) possessed by those who enforce the law. Here we have Comey disingenuously comparing disparate forms of biases and unequalized power relations between US citizens and law enforcement, whose biases have much more weight and effect.

Comey also trips up and presents a confusing analysis when he attempts to compare the prejudice faced by early Irish immigrants with that faced by African Americans. Predictably, he presents a portrait of his white Irish grandfather as “hero” of law enforcement and exemplar of righteousness. After claiming that Irish faced discrimination by law enforcement (referencing the “paddy wagon”), he then, very confusingly, backs off this point, noting that “little compares to the experience of racial (discrimination) …of black Americans” and that “[m]any people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face.” While at one point Comey mentions problems inherent in policing “communities of color,” he never addresses the large-scale police bias against Latinos, the largest community of color in the US, a point raised by Juan Cartagena at Huffington Post.

There are a number of other serious missteps with Comey’s speech. After half acknowledging problems with law enforcement’s racial biases, Comey then reverses his position and raises concerns that the “difficult conversation about race and policing has become focused entirely on the nature and character of law enforcement officers.” At this point, Comey quickly retreats from focus on police misbehavior to the “dangerous” environment of those victimized by police. Instead of maintaining focus of the history of police misconduct and discrimination toward people of color, he then begins to argue that “we all carry biases around with us” and “racial bias isn’t epidemic in law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts.” Here he diverts attention away from law enforcement racial biases and underestimates racial biases existing in academia and arts. Do racial biases substantially exist or not? Should we focus on law enforcement biases or not? It is hard to discern Comey’s position with this back and forth, imprecise rhetoric. At one moment in his speech, we are all biased, and at the next moment, racial biases appear to be a superficial or ancillary issue; at first, police are deemed biased, and shortly thereafter, he feels there is over-focus on police biases.

This double-talk is followed up by glorification, no longer a critique, of police who “risk their lives” and “don’t sign up to…help white people or black people or Hispanic people or Asian people. They sign up because they want to help all people.” Well, if Comey’s initial points about police racial biases toward people of color are to be taken seriously, how do we all of a sudden move to a colorblind police force? This flip-flop appears to be one of the most disingenuous moments of his speech, because in the next couple paragraphs Comey returns to a discussion of police “cynicism” toward blacks, noting that “two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others the officer has locked up. Two white men on the other side of the street…do not.” In this scenario, it does not seem that police are being equally helpful to both groups, but instead favoring one over the other.

Of serious concern is the next set arguments made by Comey when addressing the “fourth hard truth.” Comey moves even farther away from his critique of law enforcement’s historical mistreatment of blacks and issues of racism in US society by arguing that the reason “so many black men (are) in jail” has nothing to do with “racism” of “cops, prosecutors, judges and juries,” but rather blacks’ pathological criminal behavior and dysfunctional community life. This is another disingenuous, mind-numbing move that completely ignores issues of racial profiling, hyper-policing in black neighborhoods and the long history of a rigged justice system that targets black Americans (from all white juries in the Deep South to the stop-and-frisk programs and excessive prosecution of blacks for petty offenses in the Northern US).

Comey goes on to present a “culture of poverty” argument about blacks’ poor interaction with police and trouble with the law, in essence, blaming the victims of police aggression toward the black community. Next, Comey disparages black neighborhoods, black families and black individuals whose “legacy of crime and prison,” he states, represent the main problem, fully ignoring how blacks have been subject to the whims and abuses of the US justice system for centuries up until the present day. In an effort to portray criminals as blacks and crime as a black problem, nowhere in his speech does Comey address white crime (crimes that adversely affect US society on much greater scale than crimes by people of color—see John Hagan’s Who Are the Criminals?), even claiming that police do not overlook the criminal behavior of whites. However, as Chauncey DeVega’s insightful analysis of the Comey speech notes:

Police and law enforcement do in fact “turn a blind eye” to white criminals. White criminals destroyed the American economy through fraud and other illegal acts have not been punished. White people have a higher rate of drug use in the United States than African Americans and other people of color. However, the country’s prisons are full of black and brown people.

The white racial frame has even robbed American public discourse of the language to discuss the fact that there are a myriad of crimes (mass shootings, treason, domestic terrorism, etc.) that are overwhelmingly committed by white people. We have the language of “black crime;” there is no equivalent speech for “white crime.”

Toward the end of his speech, Comey acknowledges his “affection for cops” and returns to uncritical praise of law enforcement, arguing rather ignorantly that when dialing 911, “cops…come quickly whether you are white or black.” This is patently false with regard to 911 responses to problems in black neighborhoods. As Flavor Flav perceptively notes, “I dialed 911 a long time ago, don’t you see how late they’re reactin’…911 is a joke.”

Having moved away from addressing the very real systemic problems of race and law enforcement, Comey ends his speech with a one-way concern for police who have been killed in the line of duty. He completely evades acknowledging the multitudes of people of color killed and physically abused by police on a daily basis—indeed, to focus on deaths of police officers at the hands of people of color pales in comparison to the vast number of black deaths by police. Ultimately, the speech is an empty, meaningless, vexing one that deserves none of the commendations it has received by numerous mainstream media sources.

Yet, echoing many other news media pundits, Jonathon Capehart of the Washington Post offers one of many stunted, uncritical analyses of the speech, presenting undue admiration of Comey’s analytically inept discussion of race and law enforcement.

Capehart on TV

(Image source)

Capehart claims Comey is “no coward on race” and believes the “searing and true speech” delivers a “critical assessment” of the problems inherent in the relationship between law enforcement and race, arguing that Comey’s speech “is as important as Obama’s and Holder’s speeches on race.”

Capehart incorrectly perceives Comey’s speech as a “challenge” to US citizens “to face our nation’s flawed racial past…” If Comey even came close to meeting such a challenge, one might be able sympathize with Capehart’s ill-considered plea. Yet, Comey never addresses the racial past in any meaningful way, never addresses the structural, institutional and systemic racism that defines that past and largely places blame on the victims of racial injustices of law enforcement. Clearly, Capehart seems not to have closely read or watched the speech or, like Comey, has little understanding of the ever-present systemically racist realities of the United States.

Race and Online Dating

Valentine’s Day for many people means (re-)subscribing to an online dating service. According to some estimates, more than 20 million people per month use online dating services.

Does race affect dating? The folks at OKCupid have interesting data about this, and the answer is: yes. They’ve been collecting data on their site (and others they’ve acquired) about racial patterns in dating from 2009-2014.

(CC image from Flickr user @atbondi)


OKCupid analyzed their internal data by race and found that: “although race shouldn’t matter … it does. A lot.” 

Have things changed in dating patterns at OKCupid since 2009? Their answer: “In some ways, no. OkCupid users are certainly no more open-minded than they used to be. If anything, racial bias has intensified a bit.”

The way OKCupid works, in case you’ve never dipped your toe in the waters of online dating, is that you set up an ad, or “Profile” describing yourself, your interests, what you’re looking for in a date.  Then, when people read your profile, they can send you a “Message” within the site, indicating their interest in you.

What the data show pretty clearly is that in figuring out who gets “messages”  and “replies” – or traffic from potential dates – race matters. The patterns for the straight crowd looks like this (from here):

  • White men get more responses. Whatever it is, white males just get more replies from almost every group. We were careful to preselect our data pool so that physical attractiveness (as measured by our site picture-rating utility) was roughly even across all the race/gender slices. For guys, we did likewise with height.
  • White women prefer white men to the exclusion of everyone else—and Asian and Hispanic women prefer them even more exclusively. These three types of women onlyrespond well to white men. More significantly, these groups’ reply rates to non-whites is terrible.
  • Black women write back the most. Black women are by far the most likely to respond to a first contact attempt. In many cases, their response rate is one and a half times the average, and, overall, black women reply about a quarter more often that other women.

The interesting contradiction is that OKCupid also asks people “Is interracial marriage a bad idea?” and, as with most liberals, the responses are overwhelmingly positive in the direction of “no, not a bad idea” (98% answering in the negative to the question). They also ask “Would you prefer to date someone of your own skin color/racial background?” Again, a huge majority (87%) say no. OKCupid chalks this up to a collective “schizophrenia” about race.

In same-sex dating “the prejudices are a bit less pronounced,” but the predominance of white men persists.  Here’s what the gay-lesbian dating looks like (from here):

  • White gays and lesbians respond by far the least to anyone.
  • Black gays and lesbians get fewer responses. This is consistent with the straight data, too.
  • Asian lesbians are replied to the most, and, among the well-represented groups, they have the most defined racial preferences: they respond very well to other Asians, Whites, Native Americans, and Middle Easterners, but very poorly to the other groups.

The folks analyzing this data at OKCupid rightfully note that they’re the only ones (among dating sites) releasing this data, and take pains to note that there’s likely nothing uniquely ‘biased’ about their users:

It’s surely not just OkCupid users that are like this. In fact, it’s any dating site (and indeed any collection of people) would likely exhibit messaging biases similar to what [is] written up [here]. According to our internal metrics, at least, OkCupid’s users are better-educated, younger, and far more progressive than the norm, so I can imagine that many sites would actually have worse race stats.

It’s an interesting point that highlights in many ways, how facile our thinking is when it comes to race and racism.

We’re stuck, it seems, in the collective myth that “racism” looks like Bull Connor, when in fact, racism can – and often does – appear to be “well educated, younger, and progressive.”  As Sharon P. Holland notes in her excellent book, The Erotic Life of Racism (Duke U Press, 2012), these quotidian, daily choices about who we choose to love shape not only individual, personal lives, but also the contours of collective society.


To be Effective, Apprenticeship Programs Must Address Systemic Racism

President Obama giving speech

Beginning with his January 2014 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama has repeatedly praised apprenticeships and vocational education when discussing the jobs crisis.  It is curious that the nation’s first black president is advocating for a policy that has been historically exclusive and harmful to African Americans.

In his autobiography, Malcolm X recounts telling his middle school English teacher of his aspirations to be a lawyer and the teacher advised him to instead become a carpenter. The astute Malcolm noted the stark contrast between the advice he received and theYoung Malcolm X overwhelmingly affirming advice he gave to less-promising white students. Malcolm X’s story is not an aberration, but rather reflects a general trend of structural and systemic discrimination that operates through vocational education programs, where African Americans were tracked into lower-paying jobs. It’s also true of apprenticeship programs.  The history of vocational education and apprenticeship programs is one that depends upon reifying and reinforcing class divisions along racial lines.  Intended to be ladders out of poverty, apprenticeship programs can, in reality, be problematic. Instead of offering equal opportunity to all who apply, apprenticeships are often awarded to relatives or friends who share the same racial background as the master technician. There is a lot of research that confirms this: white social networks often function to exclude African Americans from potential jobs.

Exclusive policies designed to maintain white male privilege remain a problem in American workplaces some fifty years after legislation barring racial discrimination in employment.  In many ways, typical apprenticeship programs are illustrations of Bonilla-Silva’s theory of colorblind racism.  While it a program may appear to be a colorblind program on the surface, it can also serve to reproduce the existing racial hierarchy by keeping white jobs white and excluding people-of-color from good jobs that pay a living wage. In fact, as this recent study finds the real problem is less overt discrimination and more a kind of hoarding. In other words, whites help other whites (exclusively) and thus hoard resources and opportunities while at the same time expressing colorblind ideology.  This is why apprenticeships must take systemic racism into account or risk reinforcing it.

If apprenticeship programs could be such a nefarious means of excluding women and minorities from high-skill jobs, why would President Obama pursue such policies?

TCOSTUE Cover Photo

There is substantial political pressure on the president to address the “jobs” situation in the U.S.  These proposed efforts by President Obama seek to address the problem of heightened unemployment rates in recent years, which has led some to speculate that a structural shift in the labor market has occurred.  Often the term “structural unemployment” is treated as synonymous with “skill mismatch”.  I co-authored a new book with Thomas Janoski and Christopher Oliver titled The Causes of Structural Unemployment: Four Factors That Keep People From the Jobs They Deserve.  Our book complicates this structural unemployment story by introducing three additional factors in the discussion of structural unemployment, but skill mismatch continues to be a factor.  The basic problem is not that the labor force is untrained, but that the labor force is trained in areas where there is not substantial economic need; on the other hand, the labor force lacks training in areas of great need.  So the skills possessed by laborers do not match the needs of the economy or the needs of employers.

We explore the responsibility of the employer, the employee, and the state in dealing with skill mismatch.  Solutions to the problem of skill mismatch often surround education reform.  We propose a change in the education system that is highly influenced by the German system, which generates skilled laborers at the age of 18 who are eligible for good jobs and are needed in their economy.  President Obama’s proposals, in some ways, fit with some of the educational reform recommendations we propose in our book.

The education reform we propose will allow students who may be less “college-oriented” at the age of 16 to pursue an alternate career path which involves hard skill training during the final two years of high school.  This training will position a young man or woman to be able to earn a good, living wage upon high school graduation.  While current high school graduates have no discernible skill set, these individuals will have specific marketable skills that meet the needs of the economy.

These policies, we argue, would promote job growth.  Additionally, the nature of manufacturing jobs is changing, and the training provided in the new educational system will empower workers with the skills needed to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.  This, in turn, would have a positive impact on the balance of trade, which has declined dramatically along with the shift from manufacturing to services in the U.S.  Service exports do provide a positive balance of trade, but they are not nearly enough to outweigh the cost of manufactured goods imports as shown in the graph below; the U.S. needs to do some manufacturing to bring that balance to a positive, which will ultimately reduce the national debt as well.

Balance of Trade

On an individual level, for those who may not be oriented toward college, they will graduate with much higher potential earnings than they currently have.  Additionally, these earnings could be used to help fund higher education endeavors in the future and minimize (to the extent possible) the amount of student loan debt required, should they decide to seek a new career path or additional training.  This type of retraining, some have argued, could be part of a “new career contract” in the future.  By providing a higher earnings potential for high school graduates and making higher education more financially feasible, our proposed education reform increases social mobility for many people of lower socioeconomic-statuses, and is intentionally designed in this way to be advantageous for economically disadvantaged African Americans, contrary to prior apprenticeship programs.

Apprenticeship programs could still be a valuable and useful tool, but President Obama must be mindful of the history, understand these past failures, and actively work to prevent similar outcomes.  A recent study has shown whites now believe anti-white bias to be a larger problem than anti-black bias. We also know that the majority of the American public has opposed the most popular race-based social policy (affirmative action).

This puts President Obama in a challenging political situation.  When viewing the outcomes of affirmative action, it is notable that diversity gains generally ceased during the 1980s, while Ronald Reagan’s administration dutifully weakened enforcement provisions of civil rights laws and lessened the funding for agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  For President Obama, these proposed apprenticeship programs are very promising, but in light of the history of these types of programs, significant oversight is necessary to prevent systemic racial bias.

~ This post was written by guest blogger David J. Luke, Department of Sociology, University of Kentucky.  An earlier version of this post originally appeared at the Work in Progress blog. 

Reading for National Dialogue on Race Day

The  National Dialogue on Race Day happening later today at Tufts University Center for the Study of Race and Democracy hosted by Prof. Peniel Joseph will focus on three broad themes and questions. In anticipation of the event, we’ve selected a few previous posts from the six years of blogging here that touch on these topics.

50 Years after the March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom: How Far Have we Progressed as a Nation in Achieving Dr. King’s Dream of Multicultural and Multiracial Democracy?

 Trayvon Martin, Mass Incarceration, and the public school to prison crisis

Race and Democracy in the 21st Century: What does racial integration, justice, and equality mean in contemporary America and how can we shape and impact this dialogue in our respective communities, nationally and globally?

Read up and join the conversation! You can participate lots of ways, by commenting here, by watching the livestream from Tufts (beginning at 7pm ET) or through Twitter at the hashtag #NDRD.

Letter to Mitt Romney about Racism in the Mormon Church: From a Black Mormon Man

With the fast approaching 2012 elections on the horizon, there is one question left unanswered. As a widely circulated Associated Press article asked, “Will Obama’s Blackness Prevail Over Romney’s Mormonism in 2012?,” it went on to point out the unique and historical pairing of President Barack Obama, an African American, and Mitt Romney, a Mormon, who represent two oppressed groups in American society on opposite ends of the political divide as the two run for the highest office in the land. The article, however, went one step further and posed a second, equally challenging supposition—how much progress has been made against race-based discrimination? With two weeks to go before the presidential election, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney have used much personal fodder to attack the other, which is astounding given our inclination in American politics to severely trash the other candidate’s more exploitable areas. In this case, one would have guessed that the Obama camp would have by now unleashed on Mitt’s Mormonism and its racist past just as Reverend O’Neal Dozier told the Palm Beach Post, “If Romney is the nominee, President Obama’s surrogates will bring out [the] racist views in the Mormon Church.”  In fact, to his credit, President Obama has steered clear of the topic all together, leaving it to others to examine. And yet, the American press has been hushed on the topic.

Interestingly, despite the constitution stating that there shall be no religious test to hold public office (United States Constitution, Article VI, paragraph 3), President Obama was subjected to months of religious attacks prior to the 2008 election; accusations that still go on presently. But the national media has neglected to discuss Mitt Romney’s Mormon ties coupled with LDS racial folklore. Although I respect the regard given to our First Amendment and the separation of church and state, it leaves me wondering—is this a form of white privilege manifesting through our national elections or are republicans simply cherry-picking topics, peculiarly when this issue was addressed in republican primaries and has since been quietly shelved? (I would argue that they are one in the same.) But the American people have a right to know the totality of the character of the American president.


The Church’s racial past and present is a prime target for political attacks. On the verge of potentially winning the election, negative attention around the contentious subject of American racism would likely bring unwanted scrutiny to Romney’s political ambitions, particularly when, if successful, he will become the first white man to unseat the nation’s first black president. In January 2012, African-American analyst, Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. wrote an online paper titled “Mitt Romney and the Curse of Blackness” in which he gave his own interpretations to the Book of Mormon. Pointing to the candidate’s LDS beliefs, he found it “deeply troubling” that the Book of Mormon “says…explicitly and in numerous passages [that] black people are cursed by God and our dark skin is the evidence of our accursedness” (pointing in particular to 2 Nephi 5:21; 1 Nephi 12:23; Jacob 3:8; and Alma 3:6). Hendricks is pointing out historical racial metaphors of white=good and black=evil, which symbolism is evidenced in the visceral hatred that many white Americans have at the presence of a black man in White House. Is this perhaps the reason why the history of Mormonism’s experience with Blacks has been convincingly ignored by mainstream American media? Hendricks further remarked, “What makes this all the more problematic …is that at no time has Mitt Romney ever publically indicated that he seriously questioned the divine inspiration of the Book of Mormon’s teachings about race, much less that he has repudiated them.”


Despite LDS claims as the “one true” church with a universalizing message, these are serious charges in which Romney has remained remarkably silent—not breaking free from his religious convictions, yet not offering any consolation with regards to the teachings of his faith that could provide a glimpse into his own racial beliefs, expressly his thoughts about black people. Virtually nothing has been said about his record on civil and social justice, including during his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts. Instead, what we often hear from the mouth of Mitt Romney on matters of race is a reference to what his father accomplished as the great social liberal that he appeared to be. Former Governor George Romney was something special—a white Mormon man with an outward public passion for social justice; something you don’t see everyday, particularly in the 1960’s. George Romney was a social liberal that fought for civil rights, often at odds with racist church leaders determined to alter his course . In 1967, as the elder Romney prepared for his own presidential bid, Jet Magazine picked up on a story where Romney stated, “he would leave the church if it ever tried to prevent him from working for the elimination of social injustices and racial discrimination.” Whether he would ever really have left the Church or not since, by all accounts, he was deeply devoted to the Church and its leadership, Romney took the time to seek the council of high-ranking church leaders on matters of race prior to his run for Governor of Michigan.


Mitt Romney’s efforts at instituting something similar to “Obamacare” in his state is, likewise, commendable; however, he cannot continue to avoid the difficult question that many Americans have a right to know, especially if Romney holds similar views as past Mormon leaders who believe Blacks are a cursed race. Mitt Romney and other Mormons today, just like his father did in the 60’s, continue to hear and receive negative messages about the character and disposition of people of African descent, despite the Church changing its official stance on race in 1978. Yet, I do not believe that Mitt Romney is a closet racist. I do believe, however, that he has deep-seated ideas in his head about black folk like most white Americans, particularly those who attend racially segregated churches like the Mormon Church. How could this not be? For most of our history—246 years of slavery followed by 90 years of Jim Crow, about 85 percent of our existence as a nation—we have struggled to truly come to grips with the meaning of freedom and equality, although we use these terms loosely and romantically. Racist images, ideas, notions and inclinations to discriminate (white racial frames) have spanned 20 generations of American life, and white Christianity has been a central fulcrum to justify unjust white enrichment remaining an anathema for black folks. In order to unlearn racism, one has to do serious work, taking a hard look at oneself and the benefits received from unjust enrichment. It has only been 34 years since church headquarters lifted the Mormon priesthood ban that barred black men from holding the priesthood and denied black women temple marriages, hardly enough time to unlearn an entire generation of white racist thinking and understanding about black people, especially given church headquarters has yet to offer up any rational explanation why such a ban existed in the first place. Instead, what is typically articulated from white Mormons and “bright” Mormons (socially-white people of color) for that matter when questions of race arise in the public domain is, “only the Lord knows why Blacks could not hold the priesthood.” Thus, we have an idea where the Church stands today. And further, we know where George Romney stood. But what we all want to know is, what is your position, Mitt?

~ This blog was originally posted here. You can follow Dr. Darron Smith on Twitter: @DrDarronSmith


Documentary “Brick by Brick” : Education Series

The documentary “Brick by Brick: A Civil Rights Story,” (2008), directed by Bill Kavanagh, highlights a struggle around race and education in Yonkers, New York. The film tells the story of federal US v. Yonkers, a less widely known story of integration than the storied Brown v. Board of Education case. The case challenged neighborhood and educational discrimination in important ways. This short clip (2:17) give you a sense of the film:

You can find more information about the film here.

Race, Racism & Social Networking Sites: What the Research Tells Us

I’ve been doing a series about what academic research on race and racism on the Internet.    The series continues today with a look at what researchers are finding about one the most talked about aspects of the popular Internet: Social Networking Sites.

(Creative Commons License Image source)

Social networking sites (SNS), such as Facebook and MySpace, are phenomenally popular and important to the field of Internet studies, (Boyd and Ellison, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship,” JCMC, 2007, Vol.13(1):210-230).    According to a recent report, the top SNS is currently Facebook, with over 65 million unique visitors per month.  Facebook has displaced the former leader in the field, MySpace, which still currently gets about 58 million unique visitors per month.  These are staggeringly high numbers of people participating in these sites.    But what does this phenomenon have to do with race and racism?

(Source: Complete Pulse, 02/09/09)

White Flight? Perhaps the most talked about finding about race and SNS has to do with the move of whites from MySpace to Facebook.  Researcher danah boyd’s  ethnographic research indicates that it may be “white flight” that led to Facebook’s success over MySpace.  There are also class politics at play here, which boyd has also noted in her research.    This complex interplay of race and class surrounding Facebook and MySpace is also something that Craig Watkins examines in his book, The Young and the Digital (Beacon Press, 2010).   From 2005 to 2009, Watkins explored the movement of young people, aged 15 to 24 from MySpace to Facebook (97).  Watkins found that the same racialized language used to differentiate between safe and unsafe people and communities was used to describe Facebook and MySpace. The participants in his study described MySpace as “uneducated, trashy, ghetto, crowded, and [filled with] predators,” while they described Facebook as “selective, clean, educated, and trustworthy” (80, 83).  Watkins (2010) suggests that the young people in his study associate MySpace with the uneducated and unemployed while Facebook’s uniformity conveys upward mobility and professionalism. Watkins observes that “the young people surveyed and spoke with are attracted to online communities that connect them to people who are like them in some notable way,” most notably race (97).

There’s been some additional research recently which suggests that “friend” selection on Facebook is not solely attributable to race, but that selection is complicated by other variables such as ethnicity, region, and membership in elite institutions (Wimmer and Lewis, 2010).

Race, Identity & Community.  The fact is that people go online to affirm their identity and to find community, often along racial lines.  In the chart of popular sites above, note #13 is   Scholar Dara Byrne notes that offline social networking traditions among young black professionals, such as First Fridays events, have in many ways shifted to include online engagement at (Bryne, (2007). “Public discourse, community concerns, and civic engagement: Exploring black social networking traditions on” JCMC, 13(1), article 16).

African Americans who are searching for genealogical roots, also use social networking sites to affirm identity and find community.  For example, research by Alondra Nelson and Jeong Won Hwang’s research explores the proliferation of YouTube videos by genetic genealogists (in Nakamura and Chow’s, Race After the Internet, forthcoming from Routledge) . African American genealogists in the Internet era are enabled by developments such as Google’s personal genomics company 23andMe, which sells consumers genetic inferences about their “health, disease and ancestry,” with a social networking component.  In the videos people make of themselves, they reveal and react to the results of their DNA testing in “roots revelations” and viewers respond to the videos.   Nelson and Hwang theorize that these roots revelations, and the call-and-response that follows in the YouTube comments, are premised on a type of racial sincerity in which identities are drawn not only from genetic ancestry results, but also from the networked interaction between broadcasters and their audiences.

Here again, like with, people are going online specifically to affirm racial identity and to seek community around that identity.   In many ways, SNS function in ways that newspapers used to function, creating “imagined communities” among those who engage with them (Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, 1991).   Following on Anderson’s concept of imagined communities, André Brock looks at online news sites as an important venue for creating racial meanings through a discussion of the series “The Wire” staged by a sociologist and blogger at the New York Times (Brock, “Life on the Wire: Deconstructing Race on the Internet,” Information, Communication and Society, 12 (3):344-363).

Grasmuck, Martin and Zhao (2009) take a different approach to race and SNS and explore the racial themes associated with injustice frequently included by the African American, Latino, and Indian students on their Facebook wall.  They theorize that these wall postings convey a sense of group belonging, color consciousness, and identification with groups historically stigmatized by dominant society. In contrast, the profiles of white students and Vietnamese students rarely signaled group identification or racial themes, reflecting ‘‘strategies of racelessness.’’

Racism & Social Networking Sites. Social networking sites are not only a place where people affirm identity and seek community.  These sites are also a venue where racism regularly appears.   Research by Brendesha Tynes, a professor of educational psychology and of African American studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Suzanne L. Markoe of the University of California, Los Angeles, is published in the March issue of Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, explores how young people negotiate racism in SNS.

The study, which examined the relationship between responses to racial theme party images on social networking sites and a color-blind racial ideology,  found that white students and those who rated highly in color-blind racial attitudes were more likely not to be offended by images from racially themed parties.  In other words, the more “color-blind” someone was, the less likely they would be to find parties at which attendees dressed and acted as caricatures of racial stereotypes (e.g., photos of students dressed in blackface make-up attending a “gangsta party” to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day) offensive.

They look at associations between responses to online expressions of racism and color blind racial attitudes.  Tynes and Markoe operationalize racism by using photos of racially themed parties (e.g., blackface or “ghetto” themes) and asking study participants to respond.  They showed 217 African American and white college students images and prompted them to respond as if they were writing on a friend’s “wall” on Facebook or MySpace. The researchers also measured self-reported racial color blindness.  Their findings indicate that those who scored lower in color blindness were more vocal in their opposition to the images and were more likely to say that they would “defriend” someone who engaged in the practice.   White participants and those who scored high in racial color blindness were more likely to be in the not bothered reaction group. Further, these students were more likely to condone and even encourage the racial theme party practice by laughing at the photos and affirming the party goers.  Although both studies use small samples, Grasmuck, Martin and Zhao’s work along with Tynes and Markoe’s research moves the field of race and Internet studies a step beyond which social networks people join and why to how race (and racism) shapes what they do once in those networks. (I wrote more about this important research back in April, 2010).

Future Research. There’s still a lot missing from our understanding of race, racism and SNS.   One area that I expect will yield a lot of interesting research has to do with race, racism and Twitter.  Current estimates that approximately 8% of all people in the U.S. are using Twitter, a combination microblogging and social networking site where users post 140-character updates.   Twitter also appears to be more popular with blacks than with whites, There are interesting racial ‘eruptions’ here, such as the #browntwitterbird hashtag and with user handles like @whitegirlproblems.   To date, there is nothing in the peer-reviewed literature about race, racism and Twitter and this will no doubt change soon.

For the next installment of this series, I’ll be back with a discussion about race and online dating.

Race, Digital Divides & Mobile Technology: What the Research Tells Us

In the early days of the Internet, there was a lot of talk about “access” to technology.  Alongside that was a lot of concern that only people who are white and rich had access to technology, while people who were poor and/or black or brown (and sometimes women) didn’t have access to technology.  This concern about who had technology and who didn’t got called “the digital divide” and lots of research got done on it.

World Connection
Creative Commons License photo credit: Digitalnative

Digital Divide(s)? In an initial study conducted by the Census Bureau under the direction of the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, African-Americans were found to have lower rates than whites in both computer equipment ownership and telephone service (“Falling Through the Net,” NTIA, 1995).  Even though the original report was subtitled, “A Survey of ‘Have Nots’ in Rural and Urban America,” the findings about race are what made headlines.  The finding about differences in computer ownership between whites and blacks was widely reported and quickly became known as ‘the digital divide.’  It also sparked an entire subfield of research within Internet studies relating to race.  The initial focus on computer ownership shifted in subsequent versions of the study to Internet access and the second report included “digital divide” in the title (“Falling Through the Net II: New Data on the Digital Divide,” NTIA, 1998).  These initial “divides” in ownership and access have largely vanished now (for example: Leggon, 2006, ““Gender, Race/Ethnicity and the Digital Divide,” in edited by Mary Frank Fox, Deborah G. Johnson, and Sue V. Rosser, (eds.) Women, Gender and Technology, University of Illinois Press, 2006).   Still some researchers subsequently identified “second level divides” that focused on the relationship between skills, “Internet literacy” and Internet usage (Hargittai, “Second-Level Digital Divide: Differences in People’s Online Skills,” First Monday 7(4), 2002).

The rhetoric of “digital divides” has also been heavily critiqued by some scholars as a “disabling rhetoric” that marginalizes people of color as technological innovators (e.g., Anna Everett, (2004) ‘On Cyberfeminism and Cyberwomanism:  High-Tech Mediations of Feminism’s Discontents’, Signs 30(1):1278-86; Michelle Wright, (2005) ‘Finding a Place in Cyberspace:  Black Women, Technology and Identity,’ Frontiers 26(1):48-59).

Selwyn (“Apart from technology: Understanding people’s non-use of information and communication technologies in everyday life,” Technology in Society, 25 (1), 99-116.) contends that digital divide formulations rely on the assumption that Internet access and usage is desirable for everyone, when in fact, people might not be using the Internet because they don’t see a social benefit in doing so.  Brock (2006) extends this argument to race and explains that slower Internet adoption rates among Blacks may have more to do with the lack of culturally relevant content online for Blacks rather than any lack of “Internet literacy.”

Then came Mobile Technology. Much has changed since the mid-1990s when ‘digital divide’ research began and computer ownership and Internet access meant sitting before a desktop machine with a wire plugged into a wall.  Today, being connected to the Internet often means having a “smart phone” (e.g., a phone that enables users to access the Internet).

Samsung Star 3G S5603
Creative Commons License photo credit: liewcf

Ten years ago, Howard Rheingold (2002) accurately predicted the ‘next social revolution’ in computing would be the advent of mobile technologies, and this development has had important implications for race, racism and Internet studies.

Mobile phones enabled with Internet access are approaching ubiquity and with that, bridging some of the divides noted in an earlier era.  According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (a rich resource of data), cell phone and wireless laptop Internet use have each grown more prevalent between 2009-2010.  African-Americans and English-speaking Latinos continue to be among the most active users of the mobile web, for example:

  • Mobile phone ownership is higher among African-Americans and Latinos (87%) than among whites (80%)
  • African-American and Latino mobile phone owners take advantage of a much greater range of their phones’ features compared with white mobile phone users
  • Among Latinos, 29% of mobile-phone users surf the Internet on their device, compared to 12% of mobile-phone-owning whites.

So what does all this research tell us about race and technology?   It’s still way too early to know how these patterns might shift again, but it seems clear that early predictions about “digital divides” between technological “haves” and “have nots” – especially along stark racial lines – were overstating what the evidence suggested.  It also seems very likely that many of those dire early reports about “minorities left behind” were engaging in the disabling rhetoric of racism’s low expectations.  As African Americans and Latinos lead the adoption of mobile technology here in the U.S. is among the more fascinating developments as it over turns those expectations.

Race and Racism Online: What the Research Tells Us

The Internet is changing us.  It’s changing how we acquire knowledge, how we communicate, how we connect with one another.   Today, some 15 years into the scholarship of the Internet, researchers are just beginning to look at how race and racism are (and are not) changing by and through the way we use the Internet.  Over the next week or so, I’m going to be writing a series of posts about what the research tells us about race and racism online.   I’ll also point out spots along the way that, in my view, are understudied and need someone to turn a critical eye toward.

(Creative Commons License photo credit: Xelcise )

RACE & STRUCTURE OF THE INTERNET. While we may not think of the Internet as having been invented, but in fact it was, at a particular place and time.   The combination of technologies that has come to be known as the popular Internet was developed in a number of specific geographic places, institutional contexts and historical moments.  For more about this history, see  Berners-Lee, T. and M. Fischetti  Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 2008).   This narrative is compelling, but to date, no one has offered a thorough examination of the ways that race was, and continues to be, implicated in the structure of the invention of the Internet.
INFRASTRUCTURE & DESIGN. Scholar Tyrone Taborn notes that the role of black and brown technology innovators has largely been obscured (Taborn, 2007). As Sinclair observes, “The history of race in America has been written as if technologies scarcely existed, and the history of technology as if it were utterly innocent of racial significance” (Sinclair, B. (ed.) (2004) Technology and the African-American Experience: Needs and Opportunities for Study. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, p.1).

Yet, race is implicated in the very structure of the “graphic user interface” (GUI).  For example, Anna Everett observes that she is perpetually taken aback by DOS-commands designating a “Master Disk” and “Slave Disk,” a programming language predicated upon a digitally configured “master/slave” relationship with all the racial meanings coded into the hierarchy of command lines (Everett, 2002, ‘The Revolution Will Be Digitized: Afrocentricity and the Digital Public Sphere’, Social Text 20(2):125-146., p.125).

Nakamura writes that the drop-down menus and clickable boxes that are all too often used to categorically define `race’ online are traced back to the fact that race is a key marketing category (Nakamura, 2002). Beyond the selection and targeted-marketing via race, elements of the interface are racialized.  The nearly ubiquitous white hand-pointer acts as a kind of avatar that in turn becomes ‘attached’ to depictions of white people in advertisements, graphical communication settings, and web greeting cards (White, M., The body and the screen: theories of Internet spectatorship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006). The images of racial or ethnic minorities and their relationship to IT infrastructure and design is either to the role of consumers or of operators of the technological wizardry created by whites.

Assumptions about the whiteness embedded in the infrastructure and design gets spoken when there are ruptures in that sameness, such as the introduction of an African-American-themed web browser, Blackbird which I wrote about here in 2008.   While Blackbird caused quite a stir among those who had operated on the assumption of a race-blind Internet,  the development of a racially-themed browser is not qualitatively different from, but rather an extension of, the racially targeted marketing facilitated by drop-down menus and clickable boxes.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back tomorrow to discuss some of what the research tells us about race and mobile technology.