Corporate #BlackLivesMatter Statements: Never Solidarity

“If we are going to talk about the total liberation of Black people, we first have to liberate ourselves from the material conditions of our oppression… [to] seize the wealth from all the giant corporations that exploit and control the lives of all working people, but particularly Black people.” (Dr. Angela Davis)

When Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Khan-Cullors started #BlackLivesMatter in 2013, the movement faced widespread, bipartisan backlash. Conservatives called it a terrorist organization that encouraged violence against police. Liberals scolded activists for “yelling” instead of compromising. Corporations treated Black Lives Matter as a third rail—too charged to touch. Uprisings against police murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd have brought the movement back into the news. Yet something is different: Corporations are responding to protests by publishing statements of “solidarity” (see here for a list). This may feel like progress, and in some ways it is—thanks to decades upon decades of activist organizing, especially by Black queer and transgender women, Americans are being forced to acknowledge the racism of the U.S. criminal punishment system.   However, as critics have been quick to point out, these are still corporations. Rising public support for Black Lives Matter has made it less risky and more rewarding for brands to hop on the bandwagon, which is why we are now hearing “Gushers wouldn’t be Gushers without the Black community,” whatever that means. Quite transparently, many of these statements only exist because someone in the marketing department saw a branding opportunity. For example, Google posted, “We stand in support of racial equality, and all those search for it,” because—get it?!—Google is a search engine. L’Oréal, which in 2017 fired a Black transgender model for speaking out about racism, posted “speaking out is worth it,” a play on its own slogan “because you’re worth it.” The bidet company Tushy quipped, “We got your back(side).”

Obviously this is not solidarity. Still, some commentators insist there is a “right way” for corporations to be in solidarity with Black Lives Matter—by tinkering with their language, or making bigger donations, or incorporating Black executives into the C-suite. But the truth is that corporations can never be in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, because their existence depends on exploiting Black workers. There are no “good corporations” in a global system of racial capitalism. There are only oppressors. And these statements—even “the good ones”—are nothing but a meaningless performance meant to distract us from that reality.   Consider The North Face’s statement, which says “Stop Racism. Stop Brutality.” Just “racism” and “brutality,” forces with apparently no agents, victims, or beneficiaries. This was not an oversight. It was a choice. The North Face could have named specific problems (antiblack racism) or implicated specific offenders (the police). Instead, they weighed the costs and benefits and decided to walk the tightrope, throwing a nod to justice-seeking consumers while accommodating the widest possible spectrum of political views. No corporate board would judge it wise to declare support for “racism” or “brutality.” So does it signify much to say otherwise?

Or look at Disney’s statement, which recycles a potpourri of vague, euphemistic language meant to appear courageous while, again, saying nothing of substance. Disney “stands against” racism, but whose? Where does this racism live? Does it live at Disney? (Yes, yes, and yes) What practices, processes, and ideologies are encompassed in Disney’s definition of racism? What does “inclusion,” a beloved corporate buzzword, have to do with racist state violence? And all this is to say nothing of the biggest elephant in the room: Where, in this statement, are the police? In fact, practically none of these statements name the police. Even those that say “Black Lives Matter” have this problem. Paramount says “these racist and brutal attacks must end,” with no mention of who does the attacking. Netflix proclaims “to be silent is to be complicit,” though complicit in what, exactly, we do not know. CBS denounces “all acts of racism, discrimination, and senseless violence,” with no indication of where racism comes from, how it is maintained, or whom it privileges. These statements recognize Black people as victims of violence; however, they fail to identify any perpetrators or beneficiaries of this violence. Ambiguity offers deniability, a PR strategist’s best friend.

“Disney doesn’t mean me,” a white cop can plausibly think to himself. “They are talking about racists, and I am not a racist.” It requires no risk, no sacrifice, to claim an opposition to “racism” without context or a concrete call to action. And because it requires none of these, it is not solidarity. It is easy to “stand against” an abstracted boogeyman. It is harder to call out the true culprits.   Yet it is no wonder corporations refuse to criticize police even as they claim to value Black lives. Corporations rely on police to suppress resistance against a system that abets their growth at the expense of workers deemed expendable—immigrants, indigenous people, queer and trans people, women, and of course, Black people. “If you look at any factory, any plant,” said Dr. Angela Davis in 1972, “Who does the worst jobs? Who gets paid the smallest salaries? It’s Black people.” Million- and billion-dollar entities are natural opponents of Black Lives Matter because they are literally invested in racist policing.  

Throughout history, the purpose of police has always been to protect white property. Slavery defined Black people as the lawful property of wealthy white men. White civilians were empowered to arrest any Black person they saw and return them to their “rightful” place in servitude. Slave patrols, organized by groups of white men, were early precursors to modern police forces. In the mid-19th century, police departments were tasked with protecting white property from undesirable “outsiders,” defined as immigrants, people of color, and labor-rights activists. Today this is still the case. Arrests for nonviolent offenses like fare evasion and theft comprise nearly all of policework. This accounts for the fiction that cops exist to “protect and serve”—historically, this is the white middle-class experience of police.

Corporate Black Lives Matter statements are not only inadequate; they are smokescreens. Speaking the language of anti-racism allows brands to deflect scrutiny from the ideologies, structures, and practices that perpetuate antiblack racism within and outside their organizations. This is why, when brands do hint at solutions, they tend to target individuals, not structures. Examples of such solutions include the hiring of Black individuals in positions of power—what Dr. Cornel West calls putting “Black faces in high places”—and the changing of individual “hearts and minds” through interracial friendships and book clubs. Brands that defy hate and call for unity promote the falsehood that what we are dealing with is a matter of individuals or groups who don’t see eye to eye. In reality, antiblackness pervades American culture, systems, and institutions so comprehensively as to eclipse the “hatred” of any one individual or group. Individualizing language goes hand in hand with neoliberal reform, which works with—not against—the forces of capitalism.

Reform is not a demand of Black Lives Matter, whose stated goal is to defund the police. By diluting this demand with depoliticized rhetoric, brands attempt to signal allyship in Black struggle without jeopardizing their access to police protection or alienating their white and/or middle-class consumers. This is not allyship. This is silence disguised as taking a stand. This is another form of All Lives Matter. Yes, the discourse has shifted, although not as much as you might think. Police unions are still accusing Black Lives Matter of terrorism. Liberals are still scolding activists for employing a diversity of tactics, in the face of clear evidence that riots and property damage work. And even if they weren’t, changing the conversation is nowhere close to enough. Tweeting about “the brutal treatment of Black people in this country” won’t stop Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, from brutally mistreating Black workers in this country and around the world. Stating “everyone should feel safe in their neighborhood” won’t stop Sarah Friar, CEO of Nextdoor, from making Black people feel unsafe in their neighborhoods. Platitudes and tearful apologies won’t stop Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, from blackballing and silencing Black players who dare speak out against the conditions of their oppression. (To no one’s surprise, the San Francisco 49ers posted a black square without so much as a word about Colin Kaepernick.) Their so-called “solidarity” is nothing more than a performance meant to conceal their own antiblackness.

Corporate Black Lives Matter statements, much like the branded Pride statements that resurface each June, accomplish nothing for racial justice. They do nothing to disrupt a system that enables white men to hoard the world’s wealth under the free protection of armed guards funded by billions of taxpayer dollars. So long as they are allowed to exist, corporations will continue to co-opt the language of “justice for all” to benefit the few white men who sit at the top.   Instead, we need transformative institutional change. Transformative change means divesting from police and investing in social structures that benefit all people. It means facilitating Black people’s access to quality jobs, housing, and medical care. It means challenging an economic ideology that pays lip service to Black death while celebrating Black exploitation in the workplace.

Corporations are part of the problem. They are not engines of racial justice, but of racial oppression. They will not—they cannot—save us. Do not believe their lies.

Katie Kaufman Rogers is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on racism and sexism at work and in organizations.

Sports, Racism & COVID-19

Throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, sports have been at the center of much public and private discussion in the United States (U.S.) and around the world. For example, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was “at the forefront” of spreading awareness about the pandemic in the U.S., particularly when players began contracting and spreading the virus amongst themselves. In the early stages of the spread of the virus, the state of Florida declared World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) to be an “essential business” – allowing for the production of professional wrestling matches to continue taking place as much of the world adopted different stay-at-home practices. U.S. President Donald Trump even spoke with several sport commissioners, owners, and executives to discuss the pending “return” of sports and leading the “re-opening” of the U.S. economy. But why has sport occupied such a high-profile role during this time and how does it relate to the racialization of COVID-19? In this blog post, I explore these questions and other nuances of sport as a vehicle for racial politics in the U.S.

Why Sport?

            This institution of sport is cloaked by what sociologist Jay Coakley referred to as the Great Sport Myth (GSM). The GSM is comprised of three major beliefs that lead to a widely accepted and evangelical view of sport and sporting organizations: (1) sport is inherently pure and good; (2) the purity of sport is transmitted to those who play or consume it; and (3) sport inevitably leads to individual and community development. Due to widespread belief in the GSM, most people passively accept sport as a legitimate institution and often fail to consider the central role sport plays in political and economic processes. In other words, people buy sport – figuratively and literally.

            The reality of elite sport is that it is central to the politics of domination and has been for millennia. Because it is shrouded in the larger myths of purity, meritocracy, and equal opportunity – and other “American” tropes – elite white men in the U.S. have explicitly used sport as a cover for colonial projects (domestically and internationally) for several decades. For example, Rupert Murdoch, the owner of News Corp, has discussed how “sport, with a particular emphasis on football, has been his ‘battering ram’ to establish the competitive success of his media properties.” Still, even with the often-overt ownership of sporting colonialism, people buy sport. This is why most people passively accept its return – or at least await its return with curiosity. When will sports come back? In what capacity will they return? What will be the precautions taken when they do return? These are the questions many individuals with an interest in sport are currently asking. However, few are questioning the return of sport altogether. Few people are asking about the political ramifications of a sporting return amid COVID-19. Who is it that controls sport? Why is sport – beyond its mythical potency – being touted as an economic spearhead by Donald Trump? These are essential questions that must be explored.

Who Controls Elite Sport?

            My dissertation research highlighted various aspects of how elite sport is overwhelmingly controlled by a while male oligopoly. This research adopted a perspective that necessarily reached beyond the confines of sport to gain a deeper understanding of the role sport plays in contemporary society. NFL team owners, for example, represent a small network of large corporations that use the NFL as an advertising platform for legitimating otherwise illegitimate politics. From this perspective, any discussion of “the shield” (a reference to the league’s logo design) becomes less about the brand of the league and more about a protected assault on the world. The economic sectors represented by NFL ownership alone include politics, real estate, construction, gambling, technology, transportation, oil and gas, hospitality, and several other elite sport leagues/teams that all collapse in on one another in terms of connectivity. These owners collectively use the NFL to prop up their own capitalist interests while also using the league as a vehicle for political promotion – a set of politics which were substantially challenged in recent years by Kaepernick and many others who protested against police brutality and systemic oppression. Accordingly, elite white men like Trump are likely to continue pushing for sport to lead the way in “re-opening” the U.S. economy because of its dual function as a cultural opiate and its central location in the politics of white patriarchal domination. Still, there is another side to this coin which should be teased out to better understand the ramifications of this suicidal sporting mission – especially as it relates to the labor needed for sports to “return.”

Sporting Labor

            The workers that produce the labor necessary for the ongoing production of elite sport are overwhelmingly comprised of people of color. From athletes to facility workers to gameday parking staff, the sport industry relies on a labor force that is much more racially diverse than the general U.S. population. Outside of a small group of elite (and mostly male) professional athletes, the sport industry is notorious for relying on underpaid labor, long hours, seasonal jobs, and jobs without access to benefits (e.g., health insurance). Many of the workers which sport organizations rely on are the first to lose their jobs in the midst of a crisis, as was witnessed with the onset of COVID-19 – notable in this recent mass layoff was a wanton lack of support for these employees by multi-billion dollar sport organizations and their “owners.” And yet, many of these individuals are now being asked to risk their lives in a “return” process of sport where the very voices of those who sport depends upon have been silenced. Considering, for example, how Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by the virus, jumpstarting the sport industry puts these communities directly in the line of fire.

Whether ignorant of these implications or complicit in them, many white Americans remain eerily silent on the “restarting” of sport. But perhaps this white silence at the prospect of thousands of fellow Americans losing their lives is normal. It certainly isn’t the first time white Americans have tacitly (or violently) accepted the eugenics approach. In fact, research shows that erasure may even be an integral aspect of the dominant white racial frame.

Racial Framing & Black Death

            Research from scholar and philosopher Tommy Curry has emphasized the fixation on and colonization of Black male bodies in the U.S. (and European history more broadly). This has particularly been the case when it comes to the projection of violence and death; European institutions developed with an inherent reliance on the death of Black people, and Black boys and men in particular:

“…racism is not simply racial antipathy, but the power whites assert over the world, thereby making Black life inconsequential in its rush to acquire ownership over reality; a dynamic creating the orders of knowledge as an extension of the order of society necessary to maintain anti-Blackness and preserve white supremacy.”

This critical work by Curry applies to the U.S. sporting context, both in terms of its routine operation and in terms of its future agenda beyond COVID-19. In an upcoming book chapter co-authored with Scott Brooks and Stacey Flores, we explore the “disposability” of Black male bodies in American youth basketball. This violence against Black (male) bodies lays at the core of today’s sport industry, especially with “elite” leagues such as the NBA, NFL, and NCAA. Several major books have highlighted various aspects of this colonial practice, including William Rhoden’s Forty Million Dollar Slaves and Billy Hawkins’s The New Plantation.

However, this problem extends well beyond athletes and the dangers to which they are subjected as much of the sporting workforce is now being pressured to take on the risk of COVID-19 for the economic benefit of an elite faction of U.S. society. Now heightened, the white-framed inconsequentiality of Black life remains a foundational axiom for the resurgence of the sporting project. As political and economic leaders continue to push for the return of sport and sport events, I am reminded of what Tim Wise recently stated on the racial politics of “ending” COVID-19 lockdowns too soon:

“This is about a soft Civil War… This is about attempting to use mass death as a wedge issue and a culture war that this president wants to wage on behalf of whiteness.”

Conclusion

            In sport, there are significant differences between individual sports and even greater differences between different levels of sport (e.g., professional, collegiate, recreational, etc.). However, there are two critically important realities when it comes to “re-opening” the U.S. economy and sport leagues such as the NFL, NBA, WWE, and NCAA, among others. The first important reality is that elite white men rule undemocratically and use sport to buttress political stratifications founded on the triple helix of systemic racism, classism, and sexism. This is a material, ideological, and even spiritual project that is central to elite white male dominance in the U.S. The second reality of the sport industry is that the labor propping up elite sport leagues relies heavily on Americans of color and other white working class Americans. As such, the impact of sport’s return will be felt more deeply by Americans of color when it comes to the continued spread of the virus. The cultural quest to “Make Sport Great Again” is being weaponized by elites as the racial project of neoliberalism seeks to re-establish its footing. And the likely result of such action will be the death of several thousand Americans of color – a reality that many white Americans (across the political spectrum) appear to be okay with. Indeed, millions of Americans are ready to embrace some sort of return to sport. For some, this process will signal a return to normal. For many others, it just means more of Racist America.

Anthony J. Weems, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Western Carolina University. His research focus is on the political economy of sport with a particular emphasis on leadership, policy development, and (in)equity.

“Racist” Trump vs. San Juan’s Puerto Rican Mayor

In 1898 the United States provoked a war with Spain, called the Spanish-American War, in further pursuit of its expansionist policies. In the aftermath of the imperialistic war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico and other of its colonies to the United States. Since the beginning of its association with the United States, many US officials (beginning with military and presidential-appointed governors) have long expressed derisive, racist views about Puerto Ricans.

A version of this racialized discourse persists today, and President Donald Trump has been one of its exponents. This is evident in Trump’s controversy with San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Cruz Soto.

Since the summer of 2017 President Donald Trump and San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz Soto have clashed twice over the adequacy of the Federal Government’s response to the catastrophic damage inflicted by hurricane Maria that year. At that time the Mayor voiced the views of many Puerto Ricans when she stated that the situation in Puerto Rico was desperate (lack of power and shelter in many areas, hospitals that had to be evacuated, limited access to water, etc.) and the Federal Government was slow in its response. Trump took her comments personally, accusing Cruz Soto and unnamed Puerto Rican officials of “poor leadership” and criticizing Puerto Ricans for

not doing enough to help themselves [and] wanting everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. (Sounds familiar?)

She explained that she was simply asking for help, not saying “anything nasty” about Trump but as we will see shortly, her explanation did not seem to have had an effect on him.

The second encounter occurred this year, when tropical storm Dorian was perceived as a possible threat to Puerto Rico. Trump tweeted:

Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end? Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for “anywhere.”

Cruz Soto was indignant at Trump’s tweet because of its inaccurate facts and racist undertone:

We say to the president of the United States, will his lie ever end? Will that ever end? Will his racism and vindictive behavior towards the people of Puerto Rico ever end? . . . The president continues to spread lies because the truth really does not suit him. As you said, it is not $92 billion. It’s close to 42 Billion. It’s close between $12.6 and $14 billion that’s come to Puerto Rico, and still, things have not worked appropriately. Things continue to change. Different attitudes and different laws and restrictions are brought upon Puerto Rico that are different from any other jurisdiction.

She added these strong words:

3,000 Puerto Ricans [who perished when hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico] did not open their eyes this morning because this racist man did not have it within him to do his job.

As was the case in 2017, Trump reacted to the Mayor’s remarks vociferously:

The crazed and incompetent Mayor of San Juan has done such a poor job of bringing the island back to health.

Then he proceeded to insult Puerto Rico as well when he took a swipe at the Democrats’ attitude toward helping Puerto Rico. The funds they want to send to Puerto Rico, Trump opined, would take “dollars away from our Farmers and so many others.” In other words, Puerto Rico, which is not a foreign country but a US territory, has taken away money that rightfully belongs to American farmers and so many other Americans.

Trump took the opportunity presented by these events to insult Puerto Rico further:

Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt. Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten, and it is sent to Crooked Pols. No good.

As Cruz Soto stated, Puerto Rico has been a victim of Trump’s racism, which unfortunately has been evident in Washington’s dealings with Puerto Rico over the years. Trump, however, has been one of the most vocal in expressing these attitudes. His cutting criticism of San Juan’s Mayor, his labeling Puerto Rico (without evidence) one of the most corrupt places on earth, his lamenting that funds that would go to aid Puerto Rico take dollars away from Americans (Puerto Ricans are US citizens!), all add up to manifest instances of racism.

Among the comments Trump made is the assertion that he is “the best thing that’s ever happened to Puerto Rico.” How is that? After insulting Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican officials, after speaking of aid to Puerto Rico as if it were foreign aid? Trump has a knack for denigrating areas heavily populated by people of color in the periphery of as well as in the US proper (Baltimore, for example) when their leaders are at odds with him.

One can only conclude that Trump’s reaction does not augur well for Puerto Rico. Racist episodes are likely to occur again.

Skin Color Discrimination: The Latino Case

Results from a Pew Research Center survey show the persistence in the United States of an association between Latinos’ skin color and their experiences of white (and other) discrimination.

Sixty-four percent of dark-skinned Latinos reported they had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment from time to time whereas the corresponding figure for those with lighter skin was 50 percent. Dark skin was associated with stereotypes. Fifty-five percent of Latinos with dark skin said that people have reacted to them as though the Latinos were not smart, vis-à-vis 36 percent of those with light skins. Additionally, fifty-three percent of Latinos with dark skin stated that they had been victims of slurs or racist jokes, while the comparable figure for light-skinned ones was 34 percent.

The survey also asked Latinos what race people would assume they were if they walked past them on the street. Seventy-one percent said others saw them as Hispanic or Latino, 19 percent as white and approximately 5 percent as members of other races (the report does not mention the remaining 5 percent, although it is safe to assume that they were survey non-responders).

Among Latinos who reported being seen as People of Color, 62 percent stated that they had experienced discrimination while the corresponding figure for those saying they were perceived as white was 50 percent. Finally, Latino respondents said that when they are perceived as People of Color, individuals were more likely to view them with suspicion or treat them as not being smart. The question arises whether the effects of skin color and speaking Spanish might be cumulative. However, the Pew survey does not report such data.

It is important to emphasize that although dark-skinned Latinos were more likely to be victims of discrimination or arouse suspicion, both light- and dark-skinned Latinos reported substantial rates of negative experiences. Thus, while lighter-complected Latinos might manage to escape discrimination more frequently than darker ones, they are still Latinos and their skin color is not sufficient to save them completely from the consequences of white racism.

And note too the direction in which this racialized colorism always operates: Lighter/whiter is always better than darker/browner-blacker. White racial framing–prizing white/lightness in physical look–has affected how most people frame and think for centuries, in the US and abroad.

Trump’s Policies: Killing Immigrant Latino Children

As I plan a beautiful summer filled with fun with my family, my heart is heavy knowing that there are hundreds of immigrant children from Latin America who are locked up in modern day concentration camps–U.S. detention centers. These children are waking up on concrete floors, do not have access to toothbrushes, or soap, and most importantly, do not know when or if, they will ever see their families again. They are suffering both physical harm leading to deaths under our government’s watch and great psychological abuse that will create long-lasting trauma for them.

On June 21, 2019 the PBS News Hour reported on the horrible conditions in one of these detention centers in Clint, Texas where some of these immigrant Latino children from toddlers to teenagers were being held until yesterday when they were quickly relocated to another detention center. They lacked basic needs such as food, water, or proper sanitation. Willamette University law professor Warren Binford was interviewed by the News Hour after visiting the facility. She states:

Basically, what we saw are dirty children who are malnourished, who are being severely neglected. They are being kept in inhumane conditions. They are essentially being warehoused, as many as 300 children in a cell, with almost no adult supervision….We’re seeing a flu outbreak, and we’re also seeing a lice infestation. It is — we have children sleeping on the floor. It’s the worst conditions I have ever witnessed in several years of doing these inspections.

Under these horrific and inhumane conditions, it should come as no surprise that children are dying under our government’s care.

President Trump’s racialized immigration policy is killing immigrant Latino children. Six migrant children have died in U.S. custody between September 2018 to May 2019 for the first time in a decade. The recent origins of this situation began last April when more than 2600 undocumented children were separated from their parents at the U.S. border and locked up in detention centers that were not designed to house children under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. Child separations and detention is an example of the kind of tragic policy Bill Hong Hing argues brings shame to us as a nation and violates our constitutional rights. Hing states:

The age of hysteria over immigration in which we live leads to tragic policies that challenge us as a moral society. Policies that are unnecessarily harsh—that show a dehumanizing side of our character—are senseless. They bring shame to us as a civil society.” (2006: p. 7).

Rather than feeling shame for these appalling practices, US government lawyers have been justifying this abusive policy in the courts. Lawyers for Good Government, a nonprofit organization that formed after the election of Donald Trump, states:

The Trump administration argued in court this week that detained migrant children do not require basic hygiene products (like soap and toothbrushes) to be held in “safe and sanitary” conditions. Lawyers who recently interviewed detained children report that kids are living in “traumatic and dangerous” conditions – insufficient food and water, going weeks without bathing, kids as young as 7 years old being told to care for the babies and toddlers.

These conditions will cause more deaths in these modern-day concentration camps. This weekend alone four more children under age three at a detention center in Texas, were hospitalized with life threatening conditions.

While most of the children from the Clint, Texas facility have now been moved to another detention center since the story broke, the larger problem is the underlying policy that allows for children to continue to be locked up and separated from their families. Taking them to another detention center doesn’t solve this larger policy issue, or remove the suffering these policy create.

This Administration’s cruel policy is exactly the kind of policy the President likes. Why? Because it serves his ends and displays his bully power over the most powerless. President Trump targets the vulnerable in order to please his white base, and immigrant children from Latin America are among the most vulnerable. It is a politically calculated strategy designed to gain emotional support from an anti-immigrant, and often, racist base.

Many of the greatest problems facing the Latinos stem from the consequences of the racism we have experienced in this country because of the still dominant white racial frame. Caging and abusing innocent Latino toddlers and children could only happen after centuries of the dehumanization of Latinos, who are situated within a systematic racialization of people of color in the United States. As Feagin and Cobas argue, Latinos have been and continue to exist within a particular racial frame, as part of a white-imposed “hierarchy of racialized groups in this country” (2014: p. 48). Their analysis traces the subordination of Latinos through the white racial frame, which has resulted in discriminatory actions towards them by racist whites and in continued race-based exclusion at all levels of society. They state:

For more than a century and a half, Latino groups’ positioning on this society’s racial ladder has been a powerful determinant of their members’ racialized treatment, socioeconomic opportunities, and access to various types of social capital (2014: p. 15).

It is in this context that this appalling abuse of immigrant Latino children can take place without massive large scale civil unrest by Americans throughout the nation. While there have been and are some protests developing across the globe such as the upcoming one on July 12, 2019 by the Lights for Liberty, can we imagine the continued national uproar that would occur if these children were Swedish immigrants being locked up in cages, denied beds, adequate food, water, and sanitation resulting in some of them dying? If it were Swedish immigrant children being treated the way Latino immigrant children are then more people would be protesting in the streets. This abuse will go down in history among the worst atrocities committed by the U.S. government towards people of color along with the taking of Native American children from their families, the terror of Jim Crow, or the Japanese Internment.

Donald Trump’s framing of immigrants from Latin America immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists ” proved so successful to his election to the presidency in 2016, that we should be prepared for more of what political scientist Peter Andreas calls “performative art” as the 2020 election season intensifies. And the paint is going to continue to be the blood of immigrant children.

How can we continue to dehumanize children to the point where separating them from their families and holding them in these conditions becomes our public policy? Why aren’t the Democrats calling out how this Administration’s policies are killing children? Why aren’t we insisting Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform? Why is there not greater large scale civil unrest to this situation? Why aren’t we all calling out how President Trump’s policies are killing immigrant Latino children?

As we plan for our children’s summer of fun, we should all remember there are Latino immigrant children who are interned in modern day concentration camps–alone, scared, in metal cages, and without adequate nutrition, hygiene, or medical care. They are children, just like our children. Our government and our president are treating them WORSE than animals. There are animal cruelty laws that exist that prohibit people from leaving dogs unattended in inhumane conditions. These immigrant Latino children are receiving no such protections. The contrast between our healthy kids’ lives and the lives of these Latino immigrant children is truly heartbreaking.

Black Counter Frame and Basis for Reparations



In my The White Racial Frame book I not only discuss this age-old white racial frame, which accents both white virtue material and anti-others material, but also the important counter frames to this dominant white frame that people of color have developed. In the U.S. case African Americans have developed an especially strong counter frame over centuries, perhaps because they have had the longest period of time situated firmly within this systemically racist society.

This counter frame has for centuries been an impetus for many important black protests, and thus in large part for the few major changes that have been made in this country’s racist system over the centuries.

It also helps us to understand the reasons for reparations of many kinds that are necessary for what whites have done over twenty generations. I recently did a post on theconversation.com that explains why reparations are morally and demonstratively necessary. See here.

One feature of U.S. systemic racism involves a rather intentional collective forgetting by whites of key African Americans who articulated and often organized around a strong counter frame. Let me remind our readers of a few of these great Americans and their clear moral and empirical understanding of the basis for reparative changes.

One of the first to put counter frame down on paper was David Walker, a young African American abolitionist working in Boston. In 1829 he published a strong manifesto, entitled Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Demanding full equality, he wrote to his fellow African Americans with revolutionary arguments in an anti-oppression framing, so much so that slaveholding whites put a large cash bounty on his head. (He died young, probably as a result.) Walker analyzes slavery and racial segregation for free blacks quite bluntly. Most whites are “cruel oppressors and murderers” whose “oppression” will be overthrown. They are “an unjust, jealous, unmerciful, avaricious and blood-thirsty set of beings.” Whites seek for African Americans to be slaves to them

and their children forever to dig their mines and work their farms; and thus go on enriching them, from one generation to another with our blood and our tears!

He then quotes the words “all men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence and challenges whites:

Compare your own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers and yourselves on our fathers and on us–men who have never given your fathers or you the least provocation! . . . . I ask you candidly, was your sufferings under Great Britain one hundredth part as cruel and tyrannical as you have rendered ours under you?

A little later in the 19th century, an admirer of Walker, the African American abolitionist Henry Garnet, gave a radical speech, “An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America,” at a National Negro Convention. Garnet’s counter framing is very assertive and to the point, and it is also an address to those enslaved. He offers a structural analysis of “oppression,” arguing too that the white “oppressor’s power is fading.” African Americans like “all men cherish the love of liberty. . . . In every man’s mind the good seeds of liberty are planted.” He calls on those enslaved to take revolutionary action:

There is not much hope of redemption without the shedding of blood. If you must bleed, let it all come at once—rather die freemen, than live to be slaves.” He concludes with a strong call to rebellion: “Brethren, arise, arise! Strike for your lives and liberties.

One of the most brilliant of the 19th century analysts of systemic racism was the great abolitionist, Martin Delaney, who among other actions worked in revolutionary efforts to overthrow the slavery system. (In May 1858, he and John Brown gathered black and white abolitionists for a revolutionary meeting in Chatham, Canada. Four dozen black and white Americans wrote a new constitution to govern a growing band of armed revolutionaries they hoped would come from the enslaved US population.) Directing a book at all Americans, Delaney emphasizes the

United States, untrue to her trust and unfaithful to her professed principles of republican equality, has also pursued a policy of political degradation to a large portion of her native born countrymen. . . . there is no species of degradation to which we are not subject.

His counter framing is one of resistance and extends the old liberty-and-justice frame beyond white rhetoric:

We believe in the universal equality of man, and believe in that declaration of God’s word, in which it is positively said, that ‘God has made of one blood all the nations that dwell on the face of the earth.’

Delaney attacks whites’ stereotypes of African Americans with a detailed listing of important achievements of numerous free and enslaved African Americans and emphasizes how enslaved workers brought very important skills in farming to North America that European colonists did not have. African American workers were the “bone and sinews of the country” and the very “existence of the white man, South, depends entirely on the labor of the black man.” Delaney emphasizes that African Americans are indeed very old Americans:

Our common country is the United States. . . . and from here will we not be driven by any policy that may be schemed against us. We are Americans, having a birthright citizenship.

Let us bring these and other important 19th African Americans back into our contemporary history, as they were both thinkers and activists in the long tradition of people fighting for liberty, equality, and justice in the United States. Note too essential elements of the black counter frame in these and many other black thinkers and activists too often forgotten writings from the 19th century: a strong critique of racial oppression; an aggressive countering of white’s negative framing of African Americans; and a very strong moral accent on the centrality and importance of liberty, justice, and equality for all Americans. African Americans have been perhaps the most central Americans in keeping these liberty and justice ideals constantly alive and imbedded in resistance organizations over four long centuries of freedom struggles in the racist history of the United States.

“Something Wrong with This Picture?” Lack of Diversity in Law Firms

“If you’re arguing that you’re better than most firms, it’s not a good argument. Because most firms have a very difficult time actually bringing real diversity and inclusion into those spaces.”

Tsedale Melaku quoted in New York Times

The recently published New York Times article discussing the very white and very male partnership class announced by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP in December 2018 has indeed put Paul, Weiss in the hot seat. So, what did I mean by my quote in this New York Times article? (See law firm photo here)

Several things came to mind as I read the article. I was, of course, very excited and waited with anticipation for what I believed would be a deep and thorough articulation of the disconnect between law firm diversity missions and the reality evidenced.

Timing
The timing of the article’s publication gave Paul, Weiss an opportunity to regroup, put plans into action, and explain the reasons why the partnership class was indeed all white, and practically all male. The firm was essentially able to engage in damage control, to save face at a time when diversity and inclusion efforts are touted as being intrinsically part of firm culture. Despite Paul, Weiss’ attempt to explain away their “outlier” new partner cohort, the justifications and the timing of those justifications seem to be an attempt to cloud the realities of systemic racial and gender imbalances that exist in elite law firms.

At Least We’re Better than the Rest
To simply say that Paul Weiss fares better than their peer firms is a weak argument that lacks any substantive reflections on the practices of the firm. At the end of the day being better than their peer institutions is a mere attempt to be perceived as the lesser evil. A mirage that has no tangible manifestation of a truly inclusive work environment that provides advancement opportunities for all. The idea that we celebrate firms for being slightly better than firms that are already doing terribly at affecting real substantive visible change at the top is not applaudable. What this does, in actuality, is it sets the bar very low and continues to maintain elite white male dominance.

Scorecards and Surveys
Paul, Weiss’ chairman, Brad Karp stated, “We’ve always been ranked at the very, very top of every survey.” To accept Paul, Weiss’ argument that their diversity track record garners accolades from varying surveys and scorecards implies that these measuring agencies take into account all critical information about diversity. Diversity scorecards often provide superficial representations of diversity that give law firms agency to ignore the underlying causes of low numbers of black and brown lawyers, particularly as it relates to retention and advancement.

Many scorecards and surveys incorporate statistics that include all lawyers of color and other marginalized identities in their assessment, including Hispanic/Latinx, Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native, Multiracial, Persons with Disabilities, Openly LGBT, and Veteran. While this is useful in showcasing the numerical representation of marginalized groups in firms, it also increases the potential ranking of law firms that have low numbers of black and brown lawyers. If we were to examine black and Latinx partners specifically, we would find that they are severely underrepresented. We need to start challenging these surveys and scorecards to explicitly call out the dearth of black and brown partners, which will demand law firms to consider the visible racial and gender disparity evidenced in terms of retention and promotion. Surveys and scorecards should call attention to the need for improving diversity by highlighting the lack thereof, not celebrating the little that exists.

Everyone Is Diverse
Diversity can literally include everything, from race, gender, sexuality, class, political leanings, religious affiliation, ability, and more. Let’s actually be clear about what we are talking about and what is missing when we talk about diversity – racial and gender diversity. The fact that Paul, Weiss is a pioneer of diversity is not the argument. What stirs debate is the reality that having been the first firm to hire a black lawyer, male and female, the first to promote a woman to the partnership, a firm committed to fighting for justice and equality, why has it stalled in terms of their own progress? If they are so progressive, why is it difficult for black and brown lawyers to reach parity within their own ranks?

There’s More Work to Be Done
In the firm’s nearly 150-year history, Paul, Weiss elected its first black female partner in 2016. While an important milestone for the firm, having one black female partner is not a valid argument to demonstrate progress as compared to their peer firms. It is a way to control the narrative and to save face, when in reality there is still so much work to be done. I understand that progress is progress regardless of timing, but this certainly should not preclude the fact that there are systemic racial and gendered issues in law firms that prevent women and people of color from becoming partners. So while recruitment efforts over the years have improved to attract talent to the firms, the reality is that very few are actually able to rise to the rank of partner. The underlying reasons for that are multifaceted of which I discuss and explain in depth in my forthcoming book, You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism.

Value, not Tolerance
One of the central weaknesses at the heart of elite institutions’ diversity efforts, which tend to focus more on hiring than retention, regardless of gender, is the notion that people of color are linked to low performance and affirmative action advantages. The insidious nature of white racial framing allow whites, and often people of color as well, to operate out of a frame that includes racist stereotypes, narratives, imageries, ideologies and emotions privileging whites over people of color. Consequently, this often leads some partners and senior associates to view women and people of color as unqualified, reinforcing the white racial frame and perpetuating racial and gender inequality. This is what shapes individual and institutional discriminatory practices that help to maintain elite white male dominance.

For example, white narratives of affirmative action, which suggest people of color are not qualified to be there in the first place, work to create discriminatory practices that exclude from access to the resources that support advancement. Resources in the form of substantive training, mentorship, social and professional networks, and most importantly, sponsorship are critical. Women and lawyers of color, like any professional, want to feel that their presence is valued, not tolerated. These lawyers do not want to feel like they are a part of a strategic marketing tool employed to signal diversity as core and intrinsic to the firm. Or that they are evidence of the firm succumbing to social pressure.

The Onus is on Us
Another, rather interesting, observation is that the article sourced a lot of information from current black partners in the firm. For example, Theodore V. Wells Jr., a nationally recognized prominent black partner at Paul, Weiss, said “I fear that African-American partners in big law are becoming an endangered species.” What is he supposed to say, as one of seven black partners out of 159 in the entire firm? Wells, along with other black partners including Patrick Campbell, David W. Brown, and Amran Hussein, are forced to publicly acknowledge Paul, Weiss’ deficiencies, while simultaneously working to soften the public relations nightmare and signaling diversity. All of these demands add invisible labor to what these partners are already burdened with, precisely because there are so few of them. This is one of the many nuanced experiences discussed by the black women lawyers interviewed in my forthcoming book. A disproportionate amount of responsibility often falls on women and racially subordinated partners due to the shortage of women and partners of color.

In Their Own Words
In conversing with several associates about their reaction to the article, this is what one former BigLaw associate stated:

It is mind blowing how the onus is put on disenfranchised (highly educated) professionals to spontaneously become whistleblowers. Without any of the whistleblower or collective bargaining protections.

Another poignantly stated,

Obviously, the vast majority of women and people of color will not come forward out of fear of retribution, or imposter syndrome, or racial Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This allows firms to continue thinking that this is not a serious problem worth addressing given that few lawyers were put on a public platform to admit grievances that could very well be detrimental to their employment and opportunity.

Reproducing and Maintaining the Status Quo
What is clear is that Paul, Weiss, whether they would like to admit it or not, engages in reproducing and maintaining the status quo. That is why in 2019 the majority of partners and associates are white, and male. This ensures that the pipeline is saturated with people that not only look like the top, but also learn to adopt the firm’s culture and to do business as usual. To invest time and resources into people of color is a way to share the wealth and foster true competition among all races. The coveted law firm partnership is in fact a means to create the foundation for generational wealth. And that as it stands, appears to be reserved for whites, and mainly males. If you look very carefully at who made partner – they are mostly laterals, mostly did not do the work of lawyering in Paul, Weiss for the 10-14 years prior to walking into a partnership position. The one woman promoted worked up through the ranks from associate, to senior associate, counsel and then partner, a journey that took a little over thirteen years. So it is still all the women and people of color who are doing the actual work — but the white men are taking home the money.

Comprehending and acknowledging how elite white men create, control, and reproduce a racialized system run by white male actors is imperative to understanding the experiences of women and people of color, regardless of industry. Finally, and to be absolutely clear, Paul, Weiss has made a grand effort to win accolades for diversity. So, if they feel “singled out” for falling down on their promise – they should be disproportionately lambasted. As one of the many former BigLaw associates who aspired to be partner but was met with disinterest, lack of opportunity for development, mentor-less, sponsor-less, and exclusionary practices clearly states: “The emperor has no clothes – and still no one is willing to tell him.”

Tsedale M. Melaku, Ph.D. is a sociologist at The Graduate Center, CUNY and author of the forthcoming book, You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism to be released in April 2019. I am at @TsedaleMelaku

US Open: Much Gendered-Racist Framing

[This post is jointly authored by Kristi Oshiro & Anthony Weems]

The recent US Open women’s tennis singles championship has garnered significant attention from fans and non-fans alike. However, the attention hasn’t been on Serena Williams’ return to championship form just one year removed from giving birth or the triumph of 20-year-old Naomi Osaka over her tennis idol on one of the sport’s biggest stages. Instead, both Williams and Osaka have had to deal with the steady onslaught of racialized and gendered backlash from various media outlets. In a seemingly unconscious attack on Serena Williams and her frustration with the referee of the finals match, Mark Knight of the Herald Sun portrayed a caricatured version of Williams and Osaka that only a white male could have put together. Given the long history of anti-black, caricatured images produced by white men, the photo immediately drew criticism on social media. Following the Herald Sun’s publication, a battle over the framing and racial/gender implications of such a photo erupted.

Although many news outlets are claiming the photo was really about Williams’ “bad behavior,” this form of gendered racism has a long history rooted in white racial framing. Therefore, the purpose of our piece is to further explore the nuanced nature of gendered racism in the aftermath of the US Open. More specifically, we interrogate how the white-male framing of both Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka reproduces the white racist and male sexist frames. The framing and ongoing defense of Knight’s depiction not only dehumanizes Serena Williams and presents her as a hyper-visible subject in what is traditionally a white-oriented spectator sport, but it also invisibilizes Naomi Osaka presenting her as a whitened and docile figure passively looking on in background. To make matters worse, Knight and his colleagues at the Herald Sun have since vehemently defended his depiction and have explicitly positioned themselves as victims of political correctness. Thus, we problematize these narratives here and seek to further explore the implications for sport, media, racial framing, and the intersection of white racism and sexism on a global scale.

White Racial Framing

In his book, The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing, sociologist Joe Feagin outlined the extensive white racial frame that both informs and rationalizes systemic racism. In addition to the anti-other and pro-white subframes that are central to the overarching frame, Feagin noted that an “important dimension of the dominant racial frame is its gendered-racist character” (p. 105). On top of a long history of racist framing of both men and women of color by whites, Feagin pointed to the role of the white-run media in perpetuating the gendered-racist character of the dominant frame: “The mostly white [male] media executives generally decide what blatantly racist elements from the dominant frame can be openly used by commentators and entertainers on their programs” (p. 106). Feagin later added to this by discussing how the dominant gendered-racist framing had been resisted over time:

These gendered-racist framings of black women, some of which are also applied to other women of color, persist because they are fostered by white-dominated media and undergird recurring discrimination. In research on black women, researchers like [Angela] Davis, [Philomena] Essed, [Patricia Hill] Collins, Elizabeth Higginbotham, Yanick St. Jean, and Adia Harvey Wingfield have regularly emphasized the importance of liberating women of color from racial, gender, and gendered-racist stereotypes and discrimination. (p. 181)

Since the publishing of the original Knight photo, many prominent voices, such as the journalist Jemele Hill, have taken to Twitter and other media outlets in defense of both Williams and Osaka. One Twitter user even posted her own reframed drawing of Williams who was depicted as saying “It’s almost like it’s pretty easy to draw a black woman without being racist!” However, in the midst of the backlash to the gendered-racist framing of both women, Knight and the Herald Sun have adamantly defended their original publication. In a follow-up issue of the Herald Sun titled, ‘Welcome to PC World’, the news outlet – run by mostly white men – dismissed the backlash tweeting that the cartoon “had nothing to do with gender or race.” Falling in line, Knight’s white-male colleagues weakly emphasized that the cartoon was “about bad behavior, certainly not race.”

But as Lonnae O’Neal stated in her article for The Undefeated, racism is always part of the story. And this is certainly the case given the long history of white obsession with the “behavior” of women of color. Still, as the battle over media framing continues to take place in the public sphere, one aspect is being consistently overlooked: the actual white-run media conglomerates and their male-sexist framing of both Williams and Osaka. In the media’s weak attempts to refocus on Osaka’s victory, an attack on Williams’ behavior as “wrong” has taken over the headlines. Moreover, as Williams’ behavior has now become the central media narrative in the U.S., Knight’s racist cartoon takes on a symbolic role along with its blatantly racist framing. The drawing has become symbolic in the sense that mainstream media outlets in the U.S. and around the world have ultimately echoed the sentiments represented in the photo. These media outlets and their mostly white and male producers have effectively created a lose-lose situation for Williams and Osaka; a reality that has long plagued women of color in white racist societies.

Intersection of Race and Gender

As the mainstream media remains central to the perpetuation of this gendered-racist framing (Feagin, p. 105) intersectionality is a powerful analytic tool that can be used to better understand and deconstruct said power relations and interlocking systems of oppression imposed upon women of color. Moreover, it allows us to shed light on the similar, yet, distinct ways in which both, Williams and Osaka, were victimized by the framing of this emotion-laden caricature. Here we see a dichotomy of hyper-visibility and invisibility reflective of society at large. In regards to the former, one cannot ignore the “re”presentation of Williams front and center. In the words of O’Neal, the photo

…[depicted] Williams as an enraged behemoth. She is drawn with big lips as well as an outsize chest and arms that make her tutu and ponytail (i.e., indicators of femininity) part of his editorial judgement. She is jumping up and down on the wreckage of a tennis racket destroyed by her thunderous legs.

Interestingly, in stark contrast to a hyper-visible Williams, in the background is Osaka, portrayed as a much smaller, thinner, docile, observably white female with blonde hair taking direction from the official. The black-white conceptualization of race illustrated in this caricature gives way to a host of topics worthy of discussion. However, in this particular case we argue there is a bigger issue at hand and many are overlooking a prominent piece of this puzzle: Naomi Osaka is not even a white female. In fact, she has been explicit and proud in embracing her biracial identity as a woman of Japanese and Haitian descent.

While many have criticized the ignorance and racist/sexist undertones of Knight’s illustration primarily focusing on Williams, fewer have problematized the invisibility and misrepresentation of US Open tournament champion, Naomi Osaka – the first Japanese player ever to win a Grand Slam singles title. In direct juxtaposition to Williams, the attack on Osaka may not seem quite as severe, although in reality she is being subjected to many of the same white-male racist gendered frames herself. In being reduced to a white female in Knight’s caricature, a new identity was imposed upon her. As the Huffington Post’s Zeba Blay suggests “Osaka was robbed of something else: her agency, her identity, her story, and her blackness.” Furthermore, her soft spoken demeanor represented here as a submissive, innocent bystander plays directly into white anti-other framing and asian (American) stereotypes such as the model minority myth, the perpetual foreigner, and the exotization of Asian women imagined as hypersexual, submissive sex objects. In turn, despite Osaka being secure in her identity as a biracial female, we witness the media struggle with this notion and impose their own narratives as if her identity is theirs to name.

Nevertheless, following in a rich tradition of strong resilient women, particularly women of color in sport and beyond, both Williams and Osaka have stayed true to themselves and persisted but also resisted these intersecting forms of oppression. However, this is not to undermine the very real burden of the emotional and cognitive labor internalized when one falls victim to forces of systemic oppression. In an event that could have easily divided two competitors, amongst boos from the crowd Williams and Osaka literally came together in solidarity in an emotionally charged trophy ceremony following the match. Perhaps this would have been a more accurate illustration to capture the essence of what had transpired that night.

While this particular incident took place on U.S. soil, the omnipresent white racial frame and its ability to legitimate, produce, and reproduce multiple forms of systemic oppression transcends national boundaries. In this piece, we call attention to the predominantly white-run media conglomerates and their male-sexist framing as a primary outlet to mobilize such ideologies, although others may be equally applicable. The events that transpired at the US Open and subsequent press released in the Australian based newspaper, the Herald Sun, is just one of many incidents in a series of controversies that have been associated with the sport in recent months. For example, the ban against Williams’ Black Panther “Wakanda” inspired catsuit at the French Open – for no reason other than suggesting it was disrespectful to the game and space – shows that these microaggressions on the premise of race and gender are not isolated occurrences, but rather, an ongoing structural problem present on a global scale. In contemporary times, it is undeniable that sport and society are inherently intertwined as these social issues are reflective of the broader politics operating both in and through sport. Thus, it is imperative that we view the institution of sport as a legitimate platform to continue to deconstruct and better understand the implications for sport, media, framing, and the intersection of white racism and sexism worldwide. As social justice scholars it is important that we listen to, support, and stand alongside these athletes and strive to produce emancipatory research that challenge these unjust interlocking systems of oppression.

White Nationalism in the NFL

[Note: This post is coauthored by Anthony Weems and Thaddeus Atzmon

In a recent press release via their web page, the National Football League (NFL) issued a policy statement that was clearly designed to stop future players from participating in on-field anti-Racist protests that draw attention to the systemic and foundational racism of the U.S. This embedded white racism is evident in The Star Spangled Banner–particularly at the end of the third verse, which celebrates slavery in the U.S. In creating this new policy, the NFL has, in effect, chosen to actively engage in the promotion and sanctification of white nationalist displays while simultaneously banning any form of protest against them.

What do we mean by this? We mean that not allowing players who are on the field to show their protest for the US anthem, which celebrates the enslavement of people of color by whites and was composed by a major white slaveholder, is a means of protecting an openly white nationalist display that takes place before every NFL game. This coerced censorship is accomplished through the rules laid out in sections one, four, five and six of the NFL policy statement which require “personnel” on the field to “show respect for the flag and the Anthem” and outline possible ways to discipline those who do not. Coerced censorship is also accomplished by hiding players who choose to protest the anthem off the field where they can not be seen during the televised white nationalist display of the anthem. This is accomplished through sections two and three of the new NFL policy, which remove a previous requirement for all players to be on the field and state that players who choose not to stand for the anthem in protest “may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed.” Herein, we delve into the way that coercive patriotism is used in the NFL, how the dominant white racial frame and white nationalism are reproduced through NFL games, and how past white nationalists have also used coercive patriotic displays of white nationalism in US sport activities. We end by noting the ways that athletes are pushing back against this form of coercive nationalism through discussions about denying their labor to the NFL.

Coercive Patriotism

Interestingly enough, NFL players even being on-field for the national anthem is a relatively new phenomenon. For example, sports analyst Stephen A. Smith has noted the following on how and why NFL players came to be on the field for the playing of the anthem:

Until 2009, no NFL player stood for the national anthem because players actually stayed in the locker room as the anthem played. The players were moved to the field during the national anthem because it was seen as a marketing strategy to make the athletes look more patriotic. The United States Department of Defense paid the National Football League $5.4 million between 2011 and 2014, and the National Guard $6.7 million between 2013 and 2015 to stage onfield patriotic ceremonies as part of military-recruitment budget line items.

The NFL’s new policy that requires players to “stand and show respect” to the US flag and during the national anthem builds upon and goes well beyond this “marketing strategy” to a much more coercive form of patriotism. According to Tricia Jenkins (2013), coercive patriotism in the sport context is problematic for athletes and fans alike, as nationalist politics are packaged and sold “through the pageantry of sport, rather than through more thoughtful explorations of a conflict” (p. 247). In other words, coercive patriotism serves as a sort of nationalist sedative that further advances the politics of white nationalism through the emotion-laden arena of sport. Critical outcomes of this coercive form of patriotism by the NFL are both the reproduction and the dissemination of the white racial frame and its central role in mainstreaming white nationalism.

Reproducing the White Racial Frame

Sport provides a cultural skeleton for communicating the politics of nationalism to the American public. In the context of a globalized sport/media complex, protests led by predominantly African American players against policing and other racism have effectively challenged many Americans to take seriously the claims of liberty and justice for all. In reality, this challenging of espoused American ideals extends back well beyond Colin Kaepernick’s first protest in 2016. As the great scholar W.E.B. Du Bois opined nearly a century ago, African Americans’ challenging of the legitimacy of (white) “American values” since the foundation of this country has significantly pushed the nation in a more just direction. Today, the taking serious of these values remains a central element in many counter-frames developed by various communities of color resisting systemic racism.

However, in the aftermath of the NFL’s new policy the spectacle of coercive patriotism and the production of resistance-less nationalism serves not only to silence anti-Racist player-activists but also to reproduce the dominant white racial frame and stimulate a nationalist base. Through coercive tactics and mediated agenda-setting therein, the NFL is able to frame what is and is not “patriotic” for millions of NFL viewers across the nation. What this has accomplished so far is it has emboldened white nationalist groups and “patriotic” Americans in general to support nationalistic practices and to act in accordance with the nationalist elements of the white racial frame. Indeed, when the President of the US frames protesting athletes as being disrespectful “sons of bitches” while legitimizing neo-Nazis as “very fine people,” and the NFL adopts a policy that seeks to hide and/or punish players for protesting, a reflection on the gravity of this new policy is warranted.

For example,while there are clear differences between the German Nazi system of oppression during the second world war and systemic white racism in the U.S. today, we also see disturbing parallels in the ways elite white men protect white nationalist displays and promote dominant white racial framing through coercive patriotism in public sporting events within these two contexts. Take this newspaper article dated January 7th 1934, which details the Nazi punishment of German soccer players for refusing to give the Nazi salute during a game. In this instance, the Nazi white nationalist salute is help up as sacred and those who dare not respect and honor it were subject to serious punishment. Today, the white nationalist display of the US anthem is held up as sacred and the anti-Racist athletes who choose to openly protest the history of white racism it represents are subject to punishment or forced off-field by the elite white men who own NFL teams and set the league’s policy in an attempt to silence them.

White Nationalism and Resistance

According to one important history of white nationalism,

African Americans in particular had changed American life at every one of its critical junctures since the advent of New World slavery. Ideological thinkers on the white-ist side of politics remain completely blind to this aspect of the twenty-first century. And from this failure, vanguardist and Aryan killers will continue to pop up, at odds with the direction of American life. (Zeskind, p. 542).

Recent information that has come to light as a result of Kaepernick’s collusion legal case against the NFL owners points to the central political role of President Donald Trump in the development of the NFL’s new nationalistic policy. As if the President’s publicly white-nationalist comments in response to protesting athletes weren’t enough, NFL team owner Jerry Jones’ sworn disposition claimed that Trump told him the following:

This is a very winning, strong issue for me… Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.

In light of the NFL taking on a major role in white nationalist politics, its new policy aims to censor the voices of those actively fighting against racist sport systems. However, athletes and activists alike will not be quelled so easily, as many look to continue resisting systemic forms of oppression hidden behind the veil of white patriotism. Several NFL players have already discussed the possibility of sitting out this upcoming NFL season until both Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid are signed to NFL rosters. In addition, several players have told journalist Shaun King that they intend to stop paying their NFL Players Association dues following the Association’s failure to adequately represent the players and their interests. If anything, it seems as though the new coercive NFL policy has provided more justification for athletes protesting or withholding their labor altogether. At this critical juncture in time it is imperative that we, as social science scholars and social justice activists, seek to contextualize and understand the NFL’s sanctifying of white nationalist politics, the active resistances to the NFL’s new policy from players, and how we might be able to work with and support social justice athlete-activists moving forward.

Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry: Black Counter-Framing

Royal Wedding

[Part 2 of 2]
Afua Hirsch—quoted in Part 1—contends that Meghan “Markle used her wedding to introduce her new peers to blackness.” I think more was at work than simply presenting blackness to the British elite. Counter-framing was at the heart of the Royal Wedding. Indeed, Hirsch’s fantastic article gives example after example of counter-framing by Markle, though she does not name it as such.

As sociologist and social theorist Joe Feagin explains:

Counter-frames are grounded in counter-system thinking and have been very important for Black Americans in surviving and resisting oppression over many generations. In these anti-racism counter-frames whites are defined as highly problematical, and strategies on how to deal with whites and white institutions are expressed and foregrounded.

As observed by anti-racist leaders and media pundits in the immediate aftermath of the Royal Wedding, thanks to Markle, counter-framing was distinctly conspicuous during the ceremony. “A beautiful service and a beautiful couple. Making my beautiful mixed heritage family’s shoulders stand a little taller,” tweeted the British Labour Party politician, David Lammy. But equally important was Lammy’s caveat about giving too much importance to the ceremony’s counter-framing. He said to a British newspaper:

Clearly one wedding isn’t going to fundamentally alter the lives of Britain’s ethnic minorities, many of whom are still subject to different forms of discrimination. … These are paradoxical times, with a post-Brexit environment with rising hate crime, with the Windrush story [which exposed an immigration system developed by the British government elite that basically harassed tens of thousands of legal Caribbean residents] that brings us international shame. The multi-cultural future of Britain is contested. The ceremony was hopeful. It spoke both of our Commonwealth past, our history, but also of a future. But we shouldn’t read too much into it.

What symbols did Meghan Markle draw on in her counter-framing? What was her approach to the expression and foregrounding of whites and white institutions?

In the direct aftermath of the wedding, Lindsay Peoples—fashion editor for New York Magazine’s The Cut—put it memorably, referring to the wedding as incredibly unapologetic with its “black moments,” and adding that Markle “did not come to play—the melanin came all the way through.” Here is a summary of what Peoples dubbed the “Best Black Joy Moments”:

1. Doria Ragland: “Single black mother … showing up in her locs in a twist out and her nose ring.”
2. Bishop Michael Curry’s wedding address, with two references to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
3. Rose Hudson-Wilkin: The first black female chaplain to a British monarch.
4. The All-Black Choir: “I had already lost my cool at this point,” writes Peoples, “Every single person’s hair in this choir was laid. I got hair inspiration for days from these three minutes. And the song “Stand By Me” was the perfect choice, just enough soul to rock side-to-side to.”
5. Sheku Kanneh-Mason: At only 19, he is the first black cellist to win the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year award.
6. The wedding dress and flowers on Markle’s veil, which represented the 53 nations of the British Commonwealth. As Peoples put it, “The duchess literally had black nations on her back, using one of the biggest days for the royal family to subtly note to their history of colonization and showing the world that all British people of color should be represented.”
7. The Gospel songs: “As if the choir wasn’t enough,” writes Peoples, “on [Meghan’s and Harry’s] way out of the chapel [the gospel choir] sang “This Little Light of Mine” and “Amen,” gospel songs that are sung in practically every black church because of their significance in the Civil Rights Movement.”
We might add to this list, the presence of Oprah Winfrey, Serena Williams, Idris Elba, and other (albeit influential and affluent) people of color, such as actress Priyanka Chopra and Lebanese-British barrister Amal Clooney.

Another anti-establishment symbol on the wedding day came compliments of Queen Elizabeth II herself, who bestowed the titles Duke and Duchess of Sussex on Harry and Meghan. In so doing, the newest member of the Royal Family became the first legal Duchess of Sussex. That she is the first is not even what is most significant. Like Markle, the earlier Duke of Sussex, sixth son of King George III, defied white Anglo-Saxon royal tradition. He refused to obey the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 and married who he wanted (hence, there was no legal Duchess of Sussex before Markle). He advocated for the emancipation of Roman Catholics. He fought for the elimination of civil restrictions on Jews and dissenters. He supported parliamentary reform. And he was an anti-slavery advocate. It remains uncertain whether the Queen considered his anti-slavery advocacy when selecting the title for the newlyweds. Regardless, it is a fitting designation because not only has Markle long been an advocate for democratic causes; like the first Duke of Sussex, she is a counter-framer of white Anglo-Saxon tradition. We can only hope she will continue to buck (white) royal traditions and the centuries old and still dominant white racial frame in the process.

As we reflect on “Black Joy Moments,” we would be wise to remember the astuteness of Black Britons like David Lammy. Or Herman Ouseley, a former executive chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, who like Lammy noted that the ceremony will not, of course, rid Britain of racial and class oppression.

There is also Stafford Scott, a consultant on racial equality and community engagement, who did not watch the wedding. Even less enthusiastic about the significance of the wedding than Lammy and Ouseley, Scott remarked:

I heard there was a black choir and some people felt that was very symbolic. I just think it was that we have got some really good black choirs. … I have nothing negative to say about what took place yesterday, though online some people did. … I don’t think people should be getting carried away because of somebody’s personal choices. [Harry choosing a “mixed-race” bride was “personal choice” rather than statement, Scott said.] I do hope that it does, somehow, become something going forward. But, in terms of the black community’s standing in this country, the difficulties we face are structural. White and black people have been mixing for generations and it hasn’t, necessarily, led to any improvements, or deepening of understanding.

The history of white racism in Britain is extensive and deep-seated; an understanding of this fact is largely lost on most whites (and some others). Reni Eddo-Lodge, author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, examines systemic racism in Britain and her efforts to persuade white folks that racism is their problem too, and adds, for example, that Black British history—especially white slavery—is mostly framed as a North American issue. Yet over the course of 200 years, white British traders forced three million Africans onto ships and into slavery in the British colonies.

Systemic racism, as Feagin explains, is a highly developed, well-institutionalized, structurally embedded, historically deep, white-defined racial oppression that significantly shapes virtually every facet of society. It will take far more than a Royal Wedding or a biracial Duchess to change a systematically racist society like Britain. It will take, among other things, the following:

1. Eradicating exploitative and discriminatory practices that target Britons of color.
2. Eliminating the dominant British white racial hierarchy and its defence of white privilege and white power.
3. Eliminating the British white racial frame (WRF) that rationalizes and implements racial oppression, including racial prejudices, stereotypes, images, ideologies, emotions, interpretations, and narratives.
4. Ending racial inequalities long-ago established in Britain by social reproduction apparatuses.

Like in the U.S., dedication to ending white racism in Britain will require a focus on systemic racism as opposed to individual racism. Perhaps then, but certainly not because of a Royal Wedding, we will be able to genuinely rejoice in progress on race relations in Britain.