Archive for white racial frame
One of our most undemocratic political institutions, the Supreme Court, just decided not to review an appellate court case allowing extreme racist terminology and epithets to be widely used by US sports teams. According to a Washington Post story, this unwise Court decided to operate out of the white racist frame without reflection. In the 1990s a coalition of petitioners sued to force the Washington “Redskins” football team to change its racist name. In 1999 a federal agency voided the trademark rights of the team because its logo was ruled to be racially derogatory and thus violated the law. However, in 2005 a U.S. appellate court reversed the agency’s decision, again allowing the racist trademark to be widely used ( photo credit: PilotGirl).
But Native Americans continued with court appeals. According to a wikipedia summary:
On May 15, 2009 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed an earlier ruling that the Native Americans had waited too long to challenge the trademark. The trademark was registered in 1967. Native Americans successfully got the court to reconsider based on the fact the one of the plaintiffs, Mateo Romero, was only one in 1967 and turned 18 in 1984. The court decision affirmed that even accepting the 1984 date, that the Native Americans had still waited too long for the 1992 challenge. In November, 2009, in Harjo v. Pro-Football, Inc., Case No. 09-326, the U.S. Supreme Court declined certiorari and refused hear the Native American group’s appeal.
According to one research analysis, the use of this highly racist epithet, “redskins,” and images of Indian mascots for logos and sports teams, literally 100s of times, emerged in the era when whites had killed off or imprisoned most Native Americans on reservations, but then started engaging in “playing Indian,” which became widespread to the present day:
Still today, children don “Indian” costumes at Halloween, “act like Indians” during “Cowboy and Indian” games, “become Indian Princesses” at the YMCA, and perform “Indian rituals” at summer camps. Adults belong to organizations that involve learning “Indian ways” and performing “Indian rituals”. . . . Non-Native Americans have created an imaginary version of Indianess that they sometimes enact, and they expect real Native Americans to either ignore, affirm, or validate such myths and practices. . . . Although non-Native Americans learn about a mythical “Native American culture,” or occasionally about real Native American cultural practices, they often ignore most of the realities of contemporary Native American lives.
Naming sports teams is part of this playing Indian. There is some debate over the earliest etymology of “redskins.” Yet, by the 1870s at the latest the word had developed into the extremely vicious meaning it has had ever since, much like the words “nigger,” “kike,” or “dago.” Try to imagine a major sports team using those terms for their teams, especially in the capital city of the “world’s most important democracy.” Another Post story recounts that:
An 1871 novel spoke of “redskinned devils.” The Rocky Mountain News in 1890 described a war on the whites by “every greasy redskin.” The Denver Daily News the same year reported a rebellion by “the most treacherous red skins.” [Yet] Daniel Snyder, who owns the Washington NFL franchise, has said the team name will never be changed because “what it means is tradition, what it means is competitiveness, what it means is honor.” He said, “It is not meant to be derogatory.”
Interestingly, in 1965 the team’s owner quit allowing Dixie to be played so as not to alienate black fans. But Native Americans have not been so fortunate with the owner. Fortunately, over the last two decades several colleges and universities have given up Indian logos, and numerous local governments, especially school boards, have also had to face the issue. Many public and private schools have changed team names and dropped offensive mascots. The Minnesota Board of Education and the Los Angeles and Dallas school districts have forced some local schools to give up stereotyped Indian mascots.
Many whites claim Indians support these racist mascots. One major survey found that only nine percent of Native American respondents found it offensive for the Washington team to be called “Redskins.” However, another survey of Indian leaders came out in a very different way:
“In a survey by Indian Country Today, 81 percent of respondents indicated use of American Indian names, symbols and mascots are predominantly offensive and deeply disparaging to Native Americans. Indian mascots, by today’s standards, would be offensive to any other race if portrayed in a similar manner,” wrote Fred Blue Fox, Sicangu Lakota. “Indian peoples are no different in regarding the depiction of eagle feathers, face paints and war objects such as tomahawks. These are all sacred to the people and therefore have no place in any sort of public display, let alone mascots.” Only 10 percent of respondents indicated use of American Indian mascots is a respectful gesture and predominantly honors Natives. Nine percent of respondents did not know if American Indian mascots either honored or offended Natives.
A long list of Native American organizations also endorsed getting rid of all Native American mascots. So, whom should whites listen to when making decisions about celebrating racist epithets? Their own racist framing or Native American leaders?
Whites who defend the racist or caricatured mascots also ignore its impact and research supporting it. The distorted and racist caricatures and other images of Native Americans have been shown to have a serious impact on both Native Americans and on whites, as this summary of research shows:
Studies 2 and 3 – American Indian high school and college students were primed with a prevalent social representation of their group (i.e., Pocahontas, Chief Wahoo, or Negative Stereotypes) and then completed self-esteem or collective self-efficacy measures. In both studies, American Indian students primed with these social representations showed depressed self-esteem and collective self-efficacy when compared to American Indian students in the control (no social representation) condition….. Study 5 – European American students were explicitly primed with social representations of American Indians (i.e., Pocahontas, Chief Wahoo or Negative Stereotypes). They reported heightened self-esteem when compared to European Americans in the no-prime control condition. This boost in self-esteem for European Americans suggests that the dominant social representations of minority groups have significant implications for the psychological functioning of both minority and majority group members.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights calls for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools. . . . the Commission believes that the use of Native American images and nicknames in school is insensitive and should be avoided. In addition, some Native American and civil rights advocates maintain that these mascots may violate anti-discrimination laws. These references, whether mascots and their performances, logos, or names, are disrespectful and offensive to American Indians and others who are offended by such stereotyping. They are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the long history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country.
At the Washington Post’s Foreign Service desk, Keith Richburg has written an important piece on antiblack and anti-African views and actions in China–which have a similarity to racist views and actions in the U.S. and other parts of the West. How much of this Chinese antiblack racism is indigenous, and how much has been imported from the U.S. and the rest of the West?
Richburg begins with the story of Lou Jing, a young mixed-race (Chinese/African American) woman who won a talent competition in a U.S.-imitating, television “idol” show called, stereotypically and ironically enough, “Go! Oriental Angel.” The response by some Chinese posting on the Internet was stereotyped and hostile:
Angry Internet posters called her a “black chimpanzee” and worse. One called for all blacks in China to be deported. . . . “It’s sad,” Lou said. . . . “If I had a face that was half-Chinese and half-white, I wouldn’t have gotten that criticism.”
Richburg notes many Africans have come to China as trade between China and African countries has grown dramatically. Many have gone to Westernized southern cities like Guangzhou and Shanghai (China’s largest city), engaged in businesses, and sometimes married Chinese partners (usually men marrying women):
In the process, they are making tiny pockets of urban China more racially diverse — and forcing the Chinese to deal with issues of racial discrimination. In the southern city of Guangzhou, where residents refer to one downtown neighborhood as Chocolate City, local newspapers have been filled in recent months with stories detailing discrimination and alleging police harassment against the African community.
The article quotes Africans who have seen beatings by the police, as well as protests by African communities against discrimination and police harassment. One Chinese influential talk show host, Hung Huang, blamed the racial hostility and discrimination on economic growth and added that
“The Chinese worshiped the West, and for Chinese people, ‘the West’ is white people.” . . . her generation was “taught world history in a way that black people were oppressed, they were slaves, and we haven’t seen any sign of success since.”
The article does not probe into how/why these views of the West, whites, and white culture as superior are taught to the Chinese, but instead accents a traditional prejudice for light skin that goes back deeply into the Chinese past:
Darker skin meant you worked the fields; lighter skin put you among the elite. The country is rapidly industrializing and urbanizing, but that historical prejudice remains. High-end skin-whitening products are a $100 million-a-year business in China, according to industry statistics.
Clearly, this is an important point. The ancient Chinese preference for lighter skin fits well with current antiblack stereotyping and other racist framing, much of which is likely borrowed from the Western media, Western officials in China (now for centuries, including earlier missionaries), and other influential Western inputs into Chinese thinking about Africans and African Americans. But a weakness in the U.S. media’s analysis of the Lou Jing incident, and similar racist events, is its failure to track the impact of the U.S. (and other Western) media on Chinese thinking and action. In the second edition of my Racist America book (due out in January), I summarize a couple of research studies of Chinese respondents thus:
A study [by Hsiao-Chuan Hsia] of fifteen rural Taiwanese [Chinese] found that the respondents sometimes realized that U.S. media engaged in racist stereotyping, yet most still held negative views of black Americans. They generally thought black Americans were self-destructive, dirty, lazy, unintelligent, criminal, violent, or ugly. Negative images were usually gleaned from U.S. television shows, movies, and music videos the respondents had seen in Taiwan. . . . . [and] a survey of 345 mainland Chinese high school students [reported by Alexis Tan, Lingling Zhang, Yungying Zhang, and Francis Dalisay] found that, the greater their use of U.S. print media, television, and movies, the more negative were their stereotypes of African Americans, such as stereotypes of black violence and hedonism.
Significantly, the Chinese wife of one African businessperson notes in the article that in Guangzhou the Cantonese term for black people translates into “black ghosts.” I wonder where they got that idea. That Chinese phrase sounds remarkably like the old white-racist term for black Americans, “spooks,” doesn’t it?
It will also be interesting to watch the reaction of the Chinese, especially below the level of officially controlled etiquette, to President Obama’s current visit there. Please add comments on this visit as you see evidence on this matter.
In order to move forward in the push for national health care reform, what we need is less pointing out racism and more flattering whites. At least, that’s what some are arguing.
The racial politics around President Obama and the health care debate continue to rage on without an end in sight. Political conservatives remain stalwart in their assertion that the vitriol directed at President Obama would be hurled at any president who advocated such reform, regardless of race; while many liberals continue to assert that the sharp rise (400% by at least one report) in death threats against President Obama have less to do with health care reform and much more to do with the color of his skin. There does seem to be a growing consensus – or perhaps, weary defeat - among white liberals that efforts to call out the racism among health-care-reform-naysayers is futile.
Here are a couple of examples of what I’m talking about. Lincoln Mitchell, writing at the Huffington Post, calls the whole thing “pointless” :
My point here is not that the attacks on Obama are not racist; it is pretty clear that some are racist. However, it is far less clear what supporters of the president gain from making this argument. It is extremely difficult to convince somebody that racism exists when they don’t want to see it. Moreover, nothing would change if this effort were successful. The right wing and much of the Republican Party have made it clear these last few months that they will stop at almost nothing to cripple the Obama presidency, which indicates that even if they were persuaded that they were racist, they probably wouldn’t stop.
In another instance, Hastings Wyman, in a piece at the Southern Political Report (via @BlackInformant), writes that President Obama declines to point out racism because he is politically savvy enough to know that “white voters like to be flattered, not accused.” Wyman goes on to say:
Whether it’s making a heart-felt address to the nation on race as he distanced himself from his long-time preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or backtracking on black Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gate’s dispute with a white Cambridge police officer, Obama has consistently taken the high road where charges of white racism are involved. Who knows what his opinion is about such issues in the deepest recesses of his soul, but his political skills are very much in tact. He knows that getting the left — including African-Americans — highly and publicly incensed about white racism is a losing strategy, at least in terms of current political battles.
What both Mitchell and Wyman seem to be saying here is that whites – who obviously hold the power in this society – are put off by being called out on their racism, so better not do that if you want to win their votes or persuade them to support health care reform. A better strategy is to soft-pedal the mention of racism, even flatter whites for their magnanimous support of an African-American president, and then we can get on with other business.
It’s important to point out that this sort of strategy from Mitchell and Wyman (and others) is rooted in the white racial frame that Joe has detailed in his recent book, and that Joe and Adia discuss in their new book, “Yes We Can? White Racial Framing and the 2008 Presidential Campaign.” When Mitchell talks about “Americans” he’s referring to “white Americans.” When Wyman refers to Obama has having “taken the high road where charges of white racism are involved,” he is subscribing to a white point-of-view. The high road, within this frame, means not calling out white racism when it exists, but instead deflecting, ignoring, minimizing. The key to all this is, as Wyman notes earlier in this piece, flattering whites. That need for flattery, that desire to always be right when it comes to matters of race and never be responsible for wrong-doing, that too is a kind of white racism – classic white liberal racism.
Jeremy Levine, writing at Social Science Lite, makes the sociological point that:
To discuss and analyze race is not to revert to an either/or, racist/not racist false dichotomy. Race matters as an everyday reality of inequality, yes, but it’s not as simple as the White Racist Meme suggests. Race matters because it’s always mattered. But racism matters in increasingly complex ways.
Indeed, racism matters in increasingly complex ways in the current era. But, I would argue, that it does not make whites any less culpable for perpetuating – and benefitting from – systems of racial inequality. And, if that makes some whites uncomfortable, well so be it.
Critics like Mitchell and Wyman seem to be making an old point: “sure, there’s racism, but what can you do about it?” As if racism were like gravity – a law of physics that cannot be altered by human behavior.
This is simply false.
Racism was created by human beings (relatively recently in human history), and it can be dismantled, done away with, abolished. But not if we keep ignoring it and flattering those who perpetuate it.
If you wish to gaze upon the depth and breadth of America’s racial divide–particularly the canyon-like gulf between white folks and black folks–you need look no further than the recent incident involving Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Cambridge police officer James Crowley, and now, President Obama who weighed in on the matter a few nights ago, when asked for his reaction to Gates’s arrest on charges (since dismissed) of disorderly conduct. In this case, as with so many other news stories that have touched on race–the O.J. Simpson trial and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as just two of the more obvious examples–whites and blacks, generally speaking, and with obvious exceptions on both sides, see the story and the racial component of the story in fundamentally different (often diametrically opposed) ways.
To hear most white folks tell it, Gates was to blame. Yes, he was only trying to enter his own home when a white woman saw him (as well as his driver), assumed they were burglars and then convinced another woman to call the cops on her behalf. And yes, he produced identification for the officer when asked, indicating that he was indeed the resident of the house to which the officer had come to investigate the initial call. But because he became belligerent to Sgt. Crowley, and because he unfairly called Crowley a racist, he is guilty of escalating the situation, and thus, is the bad guy in the scenario. Meanwhile Crowley, according to the dominant white narrative, spread by media far and wide, is a wonderful and thoughtful cop, who is hardly a racist–after all he teaches a diversity training class and once gave mouth-to-mouth-resuscitation to a dying black athlete–and who was inappropriately smeared: first by Gates who accused the officer of asking him for proof of residency only because he was black, and then by Obama, who said the police had acted “stupidly” in arresting the esteemed professor in his own home.
The U.S. press has always been fond of redemption tales, especially those involving whites seeking exoneration for earlier crimes against black communities ( photo credit: Image Editor). This recent news story from the Associated Press about an older, now apologetic segregationist and Klan supporter, Elwin Wilson, is no different. This extensive piece written by Helen O’Neill and posted on the Yahoo.com homepage adheres to all the confines and revealing silences of traditional white discourse on racism.
Wilson has apologized publicly and often to this history:
The former Ku Klux Klan supporter says he wants to atone for the cross burnings on Hollis Lake Road. He wants to apologize for hanging a black doll in a noose at the end of his drive, for flinging cantaloupes at black men walking down Main Street, for hurling a jack handle at the black kid jiggling the soda machine in his father’s service station, for brutally beating a 21-year-old seminary student at the bus station in 1961
Once wonders where the attempt at serious reparations is. Apologizing seems rather too weak, indeed.
For another thing, the journalist’s piece reeks of the prevailing white folk theory of racism. As outlined by Jane Hill, the conventional white folk theory of racism treats white racism as a mere pathology held by individuals, something which can be rooted out with education and socio-economic uplift. The author of the AP tale seeks to present Elwin Wilson, a “former Ku Kluxer,” as a redeemed white man who has been enlightened to the error of his old segregationist ways. His apologetic actions play into the white racial frame by pushing white racism, past or present, to the margins of society, rather than being seen as inherent in the dominant white perspective and perpetuated, allowed, or beheld as actions by many, if not all, whites.
According to Otto Santa Ana, the prevailing metaphor for U.S. racism is Racism as Disease. The AP journalist plays into this old white metaphor by describing Wilson as “a sad, sickly man haunted by time.” By characterizing him in this individualistic manner, the (assumed to be white) reader can dissociate him/herself from the aging Wilson, a former Ku-Kluxer suffering from the individual pathology of racism. This tactic of pegging Mr. Wilson as someone suffering from a “peculiar” disease only reinforces the dominant white view that U.S. racism is an individual-level problem, something to be confronted by individuals and not something foundational to the operating of U.S. society. The author reveals her naiveté when she fails to acknowledge the institutionalized, structural nature of racism or its very long, continuing, and unjust history. Wilson did not act alone or as an innovator.
Wilson himself fails to grasp this systemic racism, when he states that “his parents treated everyone equally.” This denying attitude about the segregation era resonates with the findings of Houts-Picca and Feagin, who show from college student diaries just how much whites seek to deny racism even as they do it, and how often they describe as “good” and “fun” or “nice” the white friends or relatives who do blatant racism. By defining recurring racism as a pathological trait beheld by otherwise “good” individuals, it becomes impossible to locate responsibility for white racism.
Also, the journalist unquestionably accepts an Us vs. Them dichotomy when discussing Wilson’s segregationist past and other racial matters with Wilson, who himself seems more concerned with gaining entrance to heaven (his words) than actually righting the wrongs of his past. Wilson refers to African Americans as “[those] people I had trouble with,” and his wife nonchalantly states “they’re going to be [in heaven] with you.” Later he even states, “By the time I went to college I had dropped all that jumping on them, [but] I still didn’t want to marry one or anything like that.” (By jumping, he means violence.) We can see just how unchanged Wilson’s othering attitudes are. Though he may be touted as a repenting celebrity by many whites and some others, especially those who have internalized the myth of the U.S. now entering a “postracial” era (see the article itself for quotes from some of his elated admirers), one can easily sense ambivalence and continuing white racial framing in the man’s contemporary words and actions.
The AP article is but another example of white writers stroking the egos of the white public, who see whites as rather easily “overcoming” the openly-racist rhetoric and action of the past. Instead of confronting the latent, deep, and commonplace remainders of white-on-black oppression today, this breezy article reinforces the prevailing disease metaphor for white racism and pushes understanding that systemic racism again to the margins of society.
Unusual numbers of photos of elite white men are in the news lately, since the financial crisis hit. Almost all perpetrators of our “second great depression,” as with the first, have been white men ( photo credit: Shannon Clark). White male business “geniuses,” often with top-college educations. It is odd that no one yet, to my knowledge, has featured the whiteness or white-maleness of these malefactors of great wealth as a central feature of the life-devastating economic “problem” we face globally. One can be sure that if these agents of destruction were women or men of color that the reality of their gender and racial characteristics would be a constant topic of conversation by pundits and politicians, especially in the media. (Remember that Hillary Clinton is still blamed for failures in health care reform quite a while back.)
Come to think of it, white men (they named themselves “white” in the 17th century) created the modern Western (now world) economic system. They created the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Or should we say, the Predatory Ethic and the Spirit of Exploitation. Arrogant greed seems to be a major motivation behind the labor/land expropriation and exploitation euphemized by historians as “overseas exploration” and “settlement.” Certainly, white men created, expanded, and maintained the often genocidal taking of millions of indigenous peoples’ lands in the Americas and the Holocaust-like Atlantic slave trade. Mostly white men created the oppressive realities of modern capitalism and North American slavery, and have made huge profits and wealth off of it, now passed along to their descendants.
In recent centuries, elite white men have caused much death and destruction, probably more than any other elite group on the planet. White men are certainly not the only major sources of “democide” and related despotism, but they do seem to lead the list. (Consider not only the many indigenous genocides and Atlantic slave trade, but the Holocaust, Soviet gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two world wars). While white men are not alone in such actions, the consequences of their actions have been more far-reaching, especially for the planet in general than have those of despotic not-white actors.
White men set up the Western legal systems reinforcing modern capitalism and North American genocide targeting millions of indigenous Americans and enslavement of millions of African Americans. They created the white racial frame to explain and rationalize these savage operations. The white frame is a dominant worldview that a great many white men, including elite political-economic leaders, still seem to be operating out of as they today exploit the world’s majority, the 80 percent of the planet that is not white.
And it was these self-named white men who reinvigorated a very strong white-patriarchal frame, with its “great chain of being” notions (God at top, then angels, then European men, then European women, then European children, then “other races,” then animals). In the North American case, they easily extended this to the system of racial oppression they had devised for Native Americans and African Americans.
These men, centuries ago and now, see themselves as heroic and virtuous, even as they have created great destruction and misery for many people. Ronald Takaki speaks of this view of white men as “virtuous republicans.” Note that in this centuries-old process most white men have had little sense of their own weakness and venality, but have almost always accented their virtues. Today, as in earlier centuries, most white men generally do not see their group’s lack of virtues, their major weaknesses, and their major errors. They certainly do not like to admit error. Indeed, white men now often blame the victims, as in the case of this white male commodity trader who recently blamed homeowners and moaned about “losers” with troubled mortgages, and not the banks now being bailed out with billions for playing the central role in creating the housing crisis.
So we are rapidly moving today to the second of their “great depressions” in this country’s history, yet the arrogant framing and actions of a few hundred, or perhaps thousand, of elite white men have yet to be problematized. Indeed, one cannot do so in the public media and discussions of this society. It simply is not possible to problematize the ruling group, as they have too much control to allow for significant problematization.
The white racial frame, which I have written about here before, is more than a framing of racial matters to legitimate oppressions. It is accents white virtues, especially white male virtues. It has a dramatic arrogance about what is virtue and what is not, about who is virtuous and who is not, and about where and when there is virtue. It assumes that an arrogant greed, a predatory spirit, an overarching patriarchism that means white men should be at the head of society, should be masters of the social universe.
Yet, it is the lack of virtue of a great many white men that has gotten the world’s economy into this second depression. It is their stupidity, their lack of “IQ,” their lack of foresight, their lack of political regulation and planning, and thus their lack of public-regardingness. A recent report on the “financial crisis and the systemic failure of academic economics” (by mostly European economists) makes quite clear the failure of the (substantially white male) economics profession to research and interpret the global financial crisis.
Why blame white men? Well, the men who gave us this global crisis are overwhelmingly white and “educated,” often from top universities, but not very good in regard to critical thinking or the ethics of the “commons.” Then, there is the white collar crime, or at least corruption, that many have apparently engaged in–so far rarely discussed. White collar crime and other corruption, economic and political, is pushed to margins of public discussion because this is the kind of behavior dominated by white men. Such actions are often seen as not criminal, as “normal,” in part because white men wrote the laws about what is “serious” crime. They decided what is to be punished, and how much. Millions have lost their homes, jobs, incomes, and pensions, yet we rarely see elite white men targeted, photographed, or treated as criminals who stole or otherwise savaged lives–unlike hundreds of people of color who get such treatment by the media weekly.
Why blame white men? A reason, again, is that white men control the mass media corporations, and thus control how white men and their corruption get portrayed in society. They are the ones who force portrayals of this second depression as an economic reality for which “we are all responsible,” a crisis “no particular group” created. Yet, there are real people, real white male actors, who did in fact create this horrific reality the world now faces.
In one of the most brilliant in the literature on racial matters, chapter one of the Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois foregrounded the ways in which black Americans had come to be defined as a “problem”:
Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word. And yet, being a problem is a strange experience. . . .
So let us now define white men as the problem when it comes to many matters of human rights and human survival, including the world’s current political-economic situation.
In a famous book, Michael Moore did target Bush administration actors as “stupid white men” some time back. We should extend this now to yet more actions of white men, who are indeed a much broader societal problem today.
Then, the next step is figuring out how to change all this, and create a real democracy in this country and elsewhere, where people do have control of their economic and political situations. What is your solution?
(Note: I am indebted to helpful comments from other bloggers in writing this post.)
The U.S. needs to think differently and more complexly than it does about race, unfortunately, we are steeped in a culture that is deeply resistant to thinking at all. This is a conclusion I’ve reached in my own research about cyber racism and this seemed to crystallize in the juxtaposition of a new report from the Center for Social Inclusion and an article at Slate by Christopher Hitchens (thanks to jayrosen_nyu and joegerstandt via Twitter).
The article by Hitchens (not usually a favorite) is a scathing piece about what he calls the “GOP ticket’s appalling contempt for knowledge and learning.” Hitchens is right to call out Palin for her speech in Pittsburgh last week in which she lamented the:
…wasteful expenditure on fruit-fly research, adding for good xenophobic and anti-elitist measure that some of this research took place “in Paris, France” and winding up with a folksy “I kid you not.”
Hitchens goes on to point out the that it’s “especially ridiculous and unfortunate” that Palin chose to make these remarks in Pittsburgh, “a great city that remade itself after the decline of coal and steel into a center of high-tech medical research.” Clearly, the McCain/Palin have set themselves in opposition to any sort of funded research as these are invariably the butt of the “earmark” joke that structures many of their speeches. I’ve been disturbed about the celebration of stupidity and anti-thinking that seems to scaffold the Palin nomination and Hitchens does a decent job of articulating this problem.
So, what does all this have to do with race, you may ask? As the last couple of posts here illustrate (one by Adia about the unprecedented support by whites for Obama, followed by one by me about a neo-nazi plot to assassinate Obama) racism in the post-Civil Rights, pro-Obama era is complicated.
In the face of this complexity, what we need is more critical thinking about race, not more race-and-color-blindness. And, a new 28-page report called, “Thinking Change,” (opens .pdf) funded by the Ford Foundation and prepared by the Center for Social Inclusion for the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, makes this point very powerfully. The whole report is worth reading and I may write more about it another time, but for now I want to highlight a few key findings. The authors of the report reviewed a wide swath of social science research about race and concluded:
• The concept of framing, or the ways ideas are shaped and presented to the public, is very powerful. Framing affects our response to data and research. Studies show that if the data and research do not fit the frame, people tend to reject the data and research, not the frame.
• Group identity shapes racial attitudes and behavior. Facts and self-interest are not as important as values and identity in influencing behavior.
• Context and environmental factors shape and shift our identity, attitudes and behaviors.
• How we construct the discussion around race can influence our behaviors and attitudes.
Throughout the report, the authors emphasize the importance of “framing,” that is the way that ideas around race are shaped and discussed in public, and largely their findings support what Joe and other writers here have been saying about the “white racial frame.” The authors note that the current dominant frames don’t support race-consciousness and that this, along with structural unfairness, blinds whites to the reality of social inequality:
“Many Whites are blind to structural unfairness precisely because of their structural advantages. Access to social, cultural and economic capital protect[s] whites from having to face…the market forces that they so readily see as the solution to the disadvantage of blacks and other nonwhites.”
In many ways, this is an example of the sort of epistemology detached from an acknowledged awareness of race is to what philosopher Charles W. Mills calls “an inverted epistemology, an epistemology of ignorance, … producing the ironic outcome that whites will in general be unable to understand the world that they themselves have made.” The report is less interested in epistemology and more focused on what is necessary for change. It’s the lack of critical thinking about race on the part of whites is a key element the authors identify that needs to change. They go on to conclude that “race-neutral strategies” are doomed to fail. So much for color-blindness.
The reality is that if we want to address racial inequality in the U.S., we need to think differently and more complexly about race. Of course, the additional struggle is to build a culture that values knowledge and thinking at all. Perhaps having an intelligent, African American president who not only reads books but has written a couple of books, will begin to counter both the dominant frame of anti-intellectualism and the frame of color-blindness.
In a recent column called “White Privilege and Barack Obama,” John Stossel, the co-anchor of ABC’s show 20/20, deploys the white racial frame – and hides behind the writing of African American neo-con Shelby Steele to disguise his own ignorance about racial matters in the U.S.
Stossel begins his piece by sharing his “assumption” about the significance of Obama’s success, then picking up on the widely circulated Tim Wise piece on Obama and white privilege, (which Adia Harvey wrote about here first), and then attacks Wise for his message. Here’s Stossel:
I assumed that the success of Barack Obama, as well as thousands of other black Americans and dark-skinned immigrants — many of whom thrive despite language problems — demonstrates that America today is largely a colorblind meritocracy. But a white campus lecturer, Tim Wise, gets tremendous applause from students by saying things like, “[W]hite supremacy and privilege continue to skew opportunities hundreds of years after they were set in place” and in America, “meritocracy is as close to a lie as you can come.” His message is in demand — he is invited to more than 80 speaking engagements a year.”
Stossel never refutes the charges that Wise and Harvey (and lots of others) make about white privilege and the way it operates in U.S. society and particularly in this campaign. Instead, he engages in a rhetorical strategy that’s best described as “nuh-uh, Shelby Steele says…” The line that immediately follows the paragraph quoted above starts like this:
But black writer Shelby Steele argues that whites do blacks no favors wringing their hands about white privilege.”
The rest of Stossel’s column consists mainly of lots of re-tread quotes from Steele’s book White Guilt. The bottom line: “nuh-uh, Shelby Steele says all that stuff is minor and he should know, ‘cuz he’s black.” So there. The only ground that Stossel ever concedes to racism is this bit:
Of course, there is still racism in America. At ABC News we’ve aired hidden-camera video showing sales clerks spying on black customers, cab drivers passing blacks to pick up whites and employers favoring white-sounding names.
Steele says those are minor problems.
Here, Stossel is referring to one 19-minute segment called “True Colors” that 20/20 did back in the early 1990s when Diane Sawyer was still on the show. It’s an excellent piece. I’ve used in classes and I include here on our list of recommended videos to use in teaching about racism. That’s one segment – in the twenty-plus years the show has been on. What Stossel fails to grasp here, and what Steele minimizes in his analysis, is that this discrimination is daily, ongoing, and life-threatening. In fact, in the very segment that Stossel references here African American economist and social commentator Julianne Malveaux points out how damaging and pervasive this sort of discrimination, when she says “it grinds exceedingly small.” Yet, this is not the African American Stossel chooses as his spokesperson to address racial inequality; instead, it’s Shelby Steele because his message is much more consistent with the white racial frame that Stossel deploys here. Once again, he quotes Steele to make his point:
“The fact is,” he adds, “we got a raw deal in America. We got a much better deal now. But we can’t access it unless we take … responsibility for getting there ourselves.”
He makes good points. White privilege does still exist, but Barack Obama’s success is more evidence that it’s not the whole story. There are plenty of people in America who want to vote for someone because he is black. Or female.
Next, Stossel trots out that tired old trope in discussions of racism: “political correctness.” And, he slips easily between race and gender here, deftly protecting white, male privilege as he goes:
It’s not politically correct to say that. Hillary Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro said she wouldn’t have been nominated for vice president in 1984 were she not a woman and that Obama would not have been doing so well were he not black. “Could I have said … his experience is what puts him there? No. Could I say because his stand on issues have distinguished him? No … If Obama were a white man, he would not be in this position. … He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”
For saying that, she was repeatedly called racist.
Yes, yes she did. (Including this excellent piece, again by Adia Harvey.)
In the closing line, Stossel makes the non-sensical claim that there is “black privilege” that is somehow the equivalent of white privilege. And, predictably, calls for a stop to “complaining” and for race-blindness:
There is black privilege — and white privilege. It’s time to stop complaining about past discrimination and to treat people as individuals, not as members of a certain race.”
Yesterday, I wrote about Kristof’s call to fellow journalists for more critical analysis of racism in the presidential campaign. And, as the election grows closer and the polling data continues to show that racism is costing Obama the votes of whites, such an analysis is sorely needed. Unfortunately, most journalists – like Stossel – are blind to the reality of racism and ill-equipped for such an analysis due to the white racial frame.
As the Olympics continue in Beijing, I wanted to follow up on Terence’s excellent post about Blacks being banned from certain venues around the games, to make note of a couple of examples of both racism and the sort of white-framing that characterizes the majority of mainstream writing about race. First, I’m not the first to remark on the rather astonishing racism displayed by Spain’s basketball team (pictured here, photo from ABC). The Spanish national basketball team posed for a photo in uniform pulling back the skin on their eyelids, with smiles on their faces. As C.N. at The Color Line explains:
As any Asian American will tell you, this “chink eye” gesture is deeply hurtful and offensive to us. Many of us have experienced the pain and humiliation associated with this racist gesture throughout our entire lives, whether it’s in the playground of our elementary school, or as we walk down the street even as adults. For Asian Americans, it is the visual equivalent of being called a “nigger.”
C.N. goes on to note that the “racial insensitvity” meme used by most writers in the mainstream media to explain the Spanish team’s actions is obfuscate the underlying white privilege in such a gesture:
Of course, many Whites will respond by basically saying that even if the Spanish basketball team meant it as a joke, Asians should just shrug it off, that it was harmless and that we Asians should just lighten up and not take things so seriously.
The problem with that argument is that it ignores the larger historical and cultural context. What we need to recognize is that there are fundamental institutional power differences inherent in situations in which Whites denigrate minorities.
Each time an incident like that happens, it reinforces the notion of White supremacy — that Whites can say and do whatever they want toward anybody at any time without facing any negative repercussions.
Indeed, this sort of racial obliviousness is part of the underlying problem that Joe has written about here (and elsewhere) so persuasively, and it’s a key element in the white racial frame. Take for example, this reporting on Olympic gold medalist and African American Cullen Jones, this time from the New York Daily News (tip of the hat to Mordy for sending this along). This is the lede on the story about Jones’ achievement:
This opening paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the article, which is entirely framed around this moronic stereotype. The article also notes that Jones’ started swimming after he nearly drowned as a child and the fact that his mother took him to his first swimming lessons, and as he progressed in skill-level, drove him to lessons at 5 a.m. in the morning. So, the article could have started out with the dramatic near-drowning story, or with highlighting the dedication and sacrifice of parents of Olympic athletes. Instead, the reporters in this instance chose to start within a white racial frame by reiterating the stereotype that “blacks can’t swim.” No matter how solid the reporting and writing is in the rest of the article, that’s the part that most readers are going to take away from the piece.
While the ideals of the Olympic games are “tolerance, equality, fair play and, most of all, peace,” the incidents described here and elsewhere suggest that the hosts, participants, and observers have fallen far short of these ideals.
The South China Morning Post reported that that the Chinese government had ordered Beijing bar owners to ban Blacks and Mongolians (“undesirables”) from entering during their establishments during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. The article stated: (photo credit:kk)
Bar owners near the Workers’ Stadium in central Beijing say they have been forced by Public Security Bureau officials to sign pledges agreeing not to let black people enter their premises… Security officials are targeting Sanlitun (district), which Olympic organizers expect to be a key destination for foreign tourists looking for a party during the Games. The pledges that Sanlitun bar owners had been instructed to sign agreed to stop a variety of activities in their establishments, including dancing and serving customers with black skin, they said.
When pondering this news, it is easy to recall the quote, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Non-Whites and some Blacks become engrossed with the historical White articulation that negatively stereotypes Black males as unintelligent, lazy, hypersexual, etc. Therefore, it is easy to see how Asians, Latinos, and other non-Blacks have embraced the fear of Black males. (See here).
The White social reproduction of racism utilizes stereotypes that creates fear of Black males affects other groups that are non-Black within the U.S. and abroad as well. Feagin argues that the images of Blacks, and stereotypes and fear created from these images are a central component to the operation of systemic racism:
What most Americans and those internationally who have never met a person of a darker hue know about racial and ethnic matters beyond their own experience is what they’re taught by those who control major avenues of socialization, such as the movies, music videos, television, radio, and print media that circulate racist images not only in the United States, but across the globe.
Thus, the attitudes and actions adopted by others across the globe in regards to the reproduction of racism are not independent, but contingent upon the White racial machine targeting people of color for the goal of ultimate White supremacy. Feagin quotes a survey in the 1990s that targeted Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese Americans who had been in the U.S. for one generation. The results indicated that this sampled group had adopted and accepted the fourteen generations of anti-Black attitudes that has existed within the U.S. Many groups such as these mentioned, Irish, and Italian U.S. citizens have positioned themselves to Whiteness and all social, economic, and psychological benefits it encompasses.
If anything, due to the crimes against Asians historically within the world, the bars near the Olympic gatherings should be first closed to Whites instead of a group of people for whom they have shared holding the links to their oppression.