The Power to Rename: The Mexican American Case

How many of us have had our names anglicized for the convenience of whites? José had his name changed to “Joe,” Maria had her name changed to “Mary,” Roberto was renamed “Robert,” and Elena was renamed “Ellen.”

Who are we? A simple question. Yet, it is not so rare that persons and groups of color experience a change in their identification at the will of whites. Throughout the history of the United States, white individuals and institutions have given themselves the right to rename others according to their predilection. The tendency to change the most intimate possession of another person—the name that their own parents gave them—or the identity of a racial or ethnic group reflects the white supremacy that continues to exist in our country and the dominance of whites over people of color.

This is what occurred in Texas recently. In mid-April, the State Board of Education voted in favor of changing the name of an elective course for high schools from “Mexican American Studies” to “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.”

David Bradley, a white man on the Texas State Board of Education, led the opposition to the name “Mexican American,” arguing that this is a divisive term. Never mind that Bradley is not a person of Mexican origin. Bradley, along with eight other white persons on the State Board of Education, renamed our community as “Americans of Mexican Descent,” the only manner in which they would support the elective course. A Latina member of the board also voted in favor of the name change, but later changed her vote. Marisa Pérez-Díaz, a member of the board who opposed the name change, aptly described the significance of the board’s decision for Mexican Americans: “a slap on the face.”

Ironically, the names of other ethnic studies courses–including African Americans, Indigenous Americans, and Asian Americans including Pacific Islanders–were accepted without change.

The fight, put simply, is against Mexican Americans. It is Mexican Americans, the locomotive of the state’s demography, which the Republican Party considers a threat and seeks to keep in their place.

Even though research findings clearly document the value of Mexican American Studies courses for Latino students, the last thing that Republicans want is critical thinkers who are civically engaged, exactly what is needed for conditions of Latinos and African Americans to improve in our state.

However, what the State Board of Education did is not new. The lack of respect toward our language, culture, names, and identity is part of the social practice of many segments of white Texans. How many of us have the painful memory of being scolded publically with the demand that we speak English? How many of us were punished in school for speaking Spanish? And what about the experience of many of us who have had our names changed for the convenience of whites? With me, personally, the white doctor who assisted my mother give birth to me, asserted “don’t name him Rogelio, but Roy, like Roy Rogers!” In my hometown of Mercedes, where I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, the three others boys named Rogelio also had their names changed to “Roy.” I personally had to exert force and fight to reclaim the name that my own parents had given me.

The message was clear: our language, culture, and names—-our identity—-did not have any value.

Unfortunately, the action of the Texas State Board of Education, composed largely of Republican white individuals, reminds us that we continue to be oppressed and demonstrates that we continue to lack respect concerning our being and identity.

The solution? We need to fight proudly and vigorously for our identity. We need to ensure that our children continue with their studies and that they question the system that continues to treat us as second-class citizens. And, if you are U.S. citizens, register to vote and vote.

Dr. Rogelio Sáenz is dean of the College of Public Policy and holds the Mark G. Yudof Endowed Chair at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is co-author of the book titled Latinos in the United States: Diversity and Change. A Spanish-version of this essay was published recently in ¡Ahora Sí!

NFL Protests and Racial Politics of Patriotism

This blog post is coauthored by Anthony Weems, Kristi Oshiro, and John Singer

(Image: The Seattle Times)

Friday night’s rally in Huntsville, Alabama sparked the beginning of what proved to be a hectic weekend for President Donald Trump. Only, the chaos was not related to the upcoming Senate health care vote or post-hurricane relief in Puerto Rico as some might expect but rather the president felt the need to address athlete activism, specifically targeting the National Football League (NFL). In a weak attempt to redefine black athletes’ protests of systemic racism, oppression, and police brutality as a disrespect to the US flag and the US military, Trump criticized NFL players who have openly protested by kneeling or sitting in peaceful protest during the national anthem. Moreover, Trump arrogantly and disrespectfully referred to these athletes as “sons of a bitches”, and suggested owners should exercise their power and have them fired. He would later take to Twitter and argue that the NFL should make their players stand during the national anthem. In the days that followed, NFL players, coaches, owners, and other personnel met to discuss how to strategically respond before taking the field for the highly-anticipated game day on Sunday.

As for the NFL, September 24th, 2017 will forever go down in history as “choose-your-side Sunday.” Coming on the heels of the Alabama rally, the comments made about NFL athletes protesting served as a catalyst for a protest unprecedented in the NFL (or any other league for that matter). Whether kneeling, sitting, locking arms, raising fists in solidarity, or remaining in the locker room altogether during the national anthem, as a collective unit the NFL made a statement that transcended national boundaries, as hundreds of athletes, coaches, owners, executives, and other staff across the league responded in unity to criticisms made by Trump. However, in all of the chaos springing from the weekend of September 22nd, 2017, it is important that we refocus our attention on what it means to #TakeAKnee.

Colin Kaepernick and Taking the Knee

When Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand during the national anthem in 2016, he was pretty much alone. Though many black athletes and athletes of color had been using their platforms to bring racial injustice to the forefront for years, Kaepernick’s silent and peaceful protest during the national anthem brought the politics of racism and police brutality into the homes of many Americans – particularly, white Americans:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick explained shortly after kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Working with Dr. Harry Edwards while still a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick engaged in peaceful protest that sparked what Dr. Edwards has referred to as the fourth wave of black athlete activism. Originally, this silent protest only involved a handful of other NFL players such as Kaepernick’s former teammates, Eric Reid and Eli Harold, or Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks. Kneeling as a form of silent protest, however, would continue to spread across sports.

Throughout various sports and across different levels of sport participation, black athletes (both male and female) began to take a knee to bring awareness to the unjustified treatment of Americans of color, particularly black Americans that were murdered while the police officers responsible often received paid administrative leave. Players in the WNBA have consistently been at the forefront of protests for racial justice in recent years. Bruce Maxwell has become the first Major League Baseball (MLB) player to kneel during the national anthem. Raianna Brown, a dancer/cheerleader at the Georgia Tech, recently knelt during the national anthem. High school athletes across sports have knelt during the national anthem. Even youth teams across sport have taken to the protest of taking a knee.

Creating what many are referring to as “the Kaepernick effect,” the gesture of kneeling in sports has become a movement in itself. And for those who have boldly taken the knee, the message has remained clear. Even as entire NFL franchises have come forward in support of player protests during the national anthem, the message has not changed. Take this statement from the players of the Seattle Seahawks before their game on Sunday for example:

The current protests by players in the NFL have been about and continue to be about “the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country.” In fact, contrary to many claims of these protests disrespecting the US flag or the military, the Seahawks players’ statement emphasizes honoring the country and the sacrifices that have been made in the name of equality and justice for all.

Following his firsthand experience with excessive force used by the Las Vegas Police Department on the night of the Mayweather/McGregor boxing match, Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett clearly stated that this kind of conduct by police is precisely why he kneels during the national anthem before every game. Note how Bennett says nothing in his statement about the US flag, the US military, or any other nationalistic form of politics in his statement. The protest has always been about how communities of color are policed and the devaluing of black and brown lives in the criminal (in)justice system. When Trump lashed out at NFL players who were protesting, he wasn’t defending the flag, military veterans, or patriotism – he was racially targeting US citizens who have bravely spoken up and out against a racist system.

Protesting Today

In recent years, athletes across sport leagues have consistently protested the systemic devaluing of black and brown lives by the judicial system. But following Trump’s comments about protesting (black) athletes needing to be fired and required to stand for the national anthem, NFL players responded. In a league-wide statement of unity amongst each other, NFL players sent a message. Across the league, players (and some coaches, staff, and administrators) either kneeled during the national anthem, locked arms with one another, raised their fist in solidarity, or refused to come out onto the field altogether during the anthem. And players such as Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas made it clear what message they were trying to send. In an interview on CNN, Thomas stated the following:

“[The protest] is about race,” he said adding that the players are fighting for “inequalities in our communities… It’s not about just us. It wasn’t about Kaepernick himself. It wasn’t about, you know, the athletes who chose to take a knee themselves,” Thomas said. “We’re speaking for everybody that’s come from the communities we’ve lived in and my family and friends still live in.”

This is in stark contrast to Trump claiming on Sunday that he

never said anything about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.

But race and racism is what taking a knee is all about. The policing of communities of color, the mistreatment of black and brown people by police, and the criminal lack of justice for these communities is what taking a knee is all about. Attempts to repackage the politics of white racism under the umbrella of “patriotism” serves to mask these issues while maintaining systemic racism.

The mainstream media have played a significant role in perpetuating this a-critical discourse that dilutes the very core of the message courageous individuals like Colin Kaepernick and others are trying to send. This has potentially created confusion amongst viewers that can be detrimental to the purpose of kneeling. In turn, current players like Eric Reid who was the first to kneel alongside Kaepernick are speaking out to reclaim their narratives and clarify the essence of their protest. In a recent New York Times opinion piece Reid shares his personal insight reflecting on the time dedicated to making the very informed and educated decision to stand up for his and others’ rights and to kneel during the national anthem in what he felt was the utmost respectable way.

What’s Patriotism Got to Do with It?

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick stated the following: “There’s a lot of racism disguised as patriotism in this country… but it needs to be addressed.” Over the course of the protests undertaken by predominantly black athletes and with the help from mainstream media outlets, many whites have sought to paint or label the protests as some sort of unpatriotic display that disrespects the US and its military. For whites, this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. White Americans have long used “patriotism” as a proxy for white nationalism dating back to the Founding Fathers’ invocation of the “common cause” of white patriotism. Contemporarily, white nationalist groups such as the Christian Patriots Defense League have risen to prominence under this same banner of the patriot cause.

But for Americans of color, and particularly black Americans, the patriotic ideals of liberty and justice for all have historically been taken seriously. For instance, as W. E. B. Du Bois discussed in The Gift of Black Folk, the ideological challenge to the white-defined ideals of freedom and justice through the political struggles for equality by black Americans has helped significantly to push the US towards being a more democratic nation for all. This is true throughout US history as well as in today’s context. The Seattle Seahawks players’ statement referred to above embodies this challenge to the notions of equality and justice for all while simultaneously honoring those that have fought for these freedoms.

The language of white racism today is often masked by claims to patriotism. But when US President Trump referred to neo-Nazis marching in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia as “very fine people” and black NFL athletes as unpatriotic “sons of a bitches,” NFL players were explicitly put in a position where they had to decide between standing for justice and supporting white supremacy. A US president – or anyone for that matter – that espouses this kind of rhetoric has no claim to patriotism; they are a white supremacist. The real patriots in this scenario are those that have (and continue to) courageously use their social platforms to bring critical issues to the forefront in the quest to make liberty, justice, and democracy a reality for all. Real patriots stand alongside one another and against systemic forms of oppression such as police brutality. Real patriots #TakeTheKnee.

 

 

Anthony J. Weems is a doctoral student in Sport Management at Texas A&M University working under Dr. John N. Singer. His research focuses on issues of race, power, and politics in and through the sport organizational setting.

Kristi F. Oshiro is a Sport Management Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University working with Advisor Dr. John N. Singer. Her research interests include diversity and inclusion in sport with a focus on the intersection of race and gender, culture, and the lived experiences of ethnic minority groups and marginalized populations from a critical perspective.

Dr. John N. Singer (Ph.D., The Ohio State University) is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at Texas A&M University. His research interests primarily focus on a) intersections between race, sport, and education, with a keen focus on complex and contextual realities Black males face as primary stakeholders in organized school sport; and b) diversity and social justice matters in sporting institutions and organizations, with an emphasis on the experiences and plight of historically underrepresented and marginalized groups.

 

Constitution Day and the “Freedom” to Express Hate

On Sept. 17th, universities across the nation will be celebrating Constitution Day, which commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787, 230 years ago. In How Democratic is the American Constitution Political Scientist Robert Dahl argues that we should demythologize the Constitution suggesting that we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss its shortcomings in order to find ways to improve it.

In the spirit of Robert Dahl, a discussion on the First Amendment centered on the events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer is in order. While driving home from Saskatchewan, Canada I was stunned to learn that hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members had marched to “take America back” clashing violently with counter-protesters as seen in this HBO Vice News video. These white supremacists marched through the streets armed with guns, torches, Klan shields, and the idea that they were, as one white nationalist stated in a Washington Post article, there to “stand up for the white race.”

The use of torches and Klan shields have a long, deeply disturbing, and well understood meaning in this country. In How Race is Made in America, Natalia Molina refers to images such as the ones employed by these white supremacists marchers as racial scripts. Racial scripts are racial messages used time and again throughout American history in ways that can be reused and understood for

new rounds of dehumanization and demonization in the next generation or even the next debate” or in this case, the next march (Molina 2014, p. 7).

The only thing missing from the marchers were the white robes and hoods.

Yet, the event was initially given the green light because of the sweeping protection of freedom of expression in the First Amendment. Few, if any other, countries allow for the exercise of hate speech by a minority such as the kind displayed in Charlottesville.

The racial scripts conjured up in this march were clear; but in this case, the First Amendment right to free speech went beyond the expression of ideas—repulsive as they were—and resulted in dozens of injuries, the death of two police officers from a helicopter crash, and the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant with a law firm in Virginia after being intentionally struck by a white nationalist with his vehicle.

The First Amendment idea of free speech is obviously a good one. Indeed, the argument for it is sound. Expression is protected, even when stupid, hateful, and meant to be disturbing. Otherwise, the powers in charge start choosing who can speak and who cannot.

However, one must ask if some speech, indeed hate speech of this violence-threatening kind, goes too far, particularly during a time of the rise of hate groups and hate crimes. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center both have been on the rise since 2000 and are directly linked to: (1) demographic predictions that whites will be a minority by 2040, (2) the election of Barack Obama, and (3) the election of Donald Trump in reaction to our first African American President. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups operating in the country in 2016 remained at near-historic highs, rising from 892 in 2015 to 917 last year, close to the all time high of 1,018 in 2011. In this context, clearly a conversation about the parameters of free speech is needed.

In light of the recent events in Charlottesville, one must ask the important question:

How can we combat growing white supremacy, within the context of our broad freedom of speech expression rights found in the First Amendment?

Each of us must think long and hard about this question, and in the spirit of Dahl, find ways to make the constitution more democratic for all. Because the kind of hate and violence that took place in Charlottesville should not be protected by the Constitution.

Trump Encourages Police to Go After Latinos

President Donald Trump spoke to a group of law enforcement officials in New York on Friday, July 28th, encouraging them to go after people of color. His message, in part, was telling them “Don’t be too nice,” to suspects taken into custody for questioning. Law enforcement officials in the background had smiles on their faces and cheered as he said:

They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into blood stained killing fields. They’re animals. We cannot tolerate…as a society, the spilling of innocent, young, wonderful, vibrant people….But I have a simple message today for every gang member and criminal alien that are threatening so violently our people. We will find you. We will arrest you. We will jail you. And we will deport you.

It is easy to imagine whom Trump is referring to as “animals” who should be deported here. (He has famously done something similar before in referencing later-found-innocent black teenagers in a New York City Central Park rape case.) As Natalia Molina shows in How Race is Made in America, these are old racial scripts Trump is calling upon. Racial scripts are racial messages used over and over again throughout history in ways that can be reused and understood for “new rounds of dehumanization and demonization in the next generation or even the next debate” (Molina p. 7).

The racialization of Latinos as heavily or disproportionately gang members, as criminal aliens, and as animals has been circulating in this country for a very long time now as has been documented by Feagin and Cobas in Latinos Facing Racism. So, it is easy to imagine who Trump plans to “find,” “arrest,” “jail,” and “deport” in his “simple message” to “every gang member and criminal alien.”

President Trump then went on to say:

And when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them being thrown in. Rough. I said, Please. Don’t. Be. Too. Nice. [Laughter] Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head….I said, you can take the hand away okay.” [Police Cheers and clapping].

This message by the president contributes to systemic racism in US society, defined by Feagin and Cobas as:

[T]he persisting racial hierarchy, the discriminatory practices, and the racist institutions integral to the long-term white domination of Americans of color. This group domination involves not only racialized institutions, the macro level of oppression, but also the micro-level reality of a great many whites repeatedly discriminating in blatant, subtle, and covert ways against people of color in everyday settings (p. 14).

Yet another generation of Latinos continues to be “othered” and to experience systemic racism in American society because the president is openly encouraging law enforcement officials to vilify them. Viewing Latinos with this racialized framing underscores Leo R. Chavez’s argument that Latinos have been socially constructed as a threat in the U.S., and Trump’s remarks to law enforcement are only the latest example from the bully pulpit. In a time of increasing presidential pronouncements and tweets as a way to make public policy, it is easy to see how Trump is dehumanizing brown and black males in his statement to police.

My heart aches for adolescent Latino, Native American, Black, and other youth of color who are coming of age in a country that continues to find ways to dehumanize them. I think of my cousins, my brothers, and my oldest son who is darker than my youngest son and I fear for them all. As Native American author Sherman Alexie states in his memoir:

I never directly feared for my life and career during a Republican presidency until Trump won office” (p. 228).

This normalizing of the calls for violence against people of color by the state in President Trump’s speech to the police should cause us all to fear for our lives, families, and friends. It should cause us to fear for our very country.

While Trump’s remarks drew condemnation from law enforcement leadership across the country, the cheering of the rank-and-file in the moment to his racist and repugnant comments remains deeply disturbing. Similarly, during the election his supporters also cheered and encouraged this type of racialized hate. For Latinos and other people of color who have lived with this kind of vilification for generations, it is likely we should expect more of this to come from the president and from those who have been emboldened by what Leslie H. Picca and Joe Feagin call frontstage racism. These are very scary times we are living in for people of color when hate is being openly promoted and supported by our government leaders from the most powerful man in the U.S. down to our street-level (police) bureaucrats.

Kids Being Kids—More than a White Privilege

Robin Bernstein, the author of the book Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood From Slavery to Civil Rights recently published an Op-Ed in the New York Times, “Let Black Kids Just Be Kids” that really tugged at my heartstrings. It opens with the example of George Zimmerman thinking Trayvon Martin was “a little bit younger” than him, meanwhile the boy was 17 while the man was nearly 30. Bernstein reviews numerous examples besides Trayvon Martin—and unfortunately there are too many to count—Emmett Till, Tamir Rice, the list goes on—where this faulty assumption of African American children being guilty of adult-like crimes, that they likely could not even fathom for themselves– has cost them their lives. Yet we must remember that these tragic cases are only the tip of the iceberg of what one of Joe Feagin’s interviewees has identified as the “daily murders” of racism and white privilege happening to children of color across our society, every minute the clock ticks.

Even when they are not shot to death mistakenly by police, people of color are routinely assumed to be untrustworthy and up to no good. Not just by police, but by everyday stakeholders making decisions that could affect the rest of their lives. Medical doctors, social workers, and teachers, just to name a few, make decisions on a daily basis that negatively impact people of color as compared to their white peers. These decisions are often made by people who see themselves as “colorblind” and unbiased. The Sadkers’ research, and other more recent studies looking at the intersection of gender and racial bias, are poignant in that, when teachers are presented with video/observation evidence of themselves doing these things, they can tend to even shock themselves. There is a boatload of denial surrounding the everyday racism and sexism that permeates our society.

When I read Bernstein’s piece, I immediately thought of my own son’s struggles in school. Both my son and my daughter have, unfortunately, come to expect now that when a group of kids in school are caught talking too loudly or doing something needing reprimanding, it is their names that will be called and singled out when a mostly white group is doing all that and more. They both are striking in appearance, taller and bigger than most of the kids their age, and also not white. My daughter’s coping strategy has been, when she is counted out, she works even harder to prove folks wrong, and very often does. Her grades are stellar (all A’s) and her confidence is too. But while my son is smart as a whip, with a memory like a steel trap—he’s still in elementary school with one teacher all day, so how his teacher perceives him—-I am learning—-will make or break how he ends up performing academically all year long. And this past year, his teacher perceived him as up to no good, not working up to his potential.

Determined not to be a hovercraft parent, or one of those annoying parents who believes their kid’s “stuff don’t ever stink,” I tried to hang back and not over-interfere—even as I watched his confidence tank and told myself the “tough love” approach would be good for him later. All year I heard story after story of him being reprimanded for things other kids were doing too. It touched me so much when a guidance counselor asked my son to go into the bathroom and intervene in a situation with some younger boys, and he came home saying proudly, “I know Mrs. XXX trusts me”—and he was beaming from ear to ear. Because this is the kind of “trust” he did not get from his classroom teacher—that benefit of the doubt, that confidence in him to be a good citizen and do the right thing. While none of the almost exclusively white middle class female staff of this school would ever see themselves as making any decisions that have anything to do with race, when I read Bernstein’s essay, and when I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, I am reminded of how much our (white) society writ large expects grown-up maturity out of our children of color, and reserves the space to “let kids be kids” almost exclusively for whites. This daily injustice is what spawns all the coping strategies of being “twice as good,” and the unfairness of mediocre, average whites making it to the top and beyond each and every day—because they were allowed to mess up, fail, and come back from it.

The students in my college classrooms are heavily military, so in discussing racism in the military, we recently came across this new study, showing that black service members face more disciplinary actions than their white counterparts, in every branch of service. This criminalization of nonwhite mistakes is a pattern that those studying the school-to-prison pipeline know well. As with criminal justice system racial disparities, we know that some of these African Americans may have indeed committed these crimes, and some may not have done anything at all. But in either case, the whites who make the same mistakes are not being punished with the same gusto. I am here to tell you my kids mess up sometimes, as do I. But my son’s mistakes cost him a whole year of not being on the honor roll when he should have been, a whole year of assaults to his confidence that did not have to go down that way. He is just a child that wants to goof off and be silly sometimes. And I wish he could be able to do that just as often, and with just as much gusto, as his white counterparts. I want to live in that kind of society.

We must remember that the local decision makers and stakeholders carrying out white privilege in everyday Americans’ lives usually are not the ones who created this notion of white “virtue” to begin with. The lower-middle class female entry-level teacher or social worker or police officer just feeding her family, carrying out someone else’s policies that she did not created, and hoping she doesn’t get fired due to budget cuts, is not ultimately to blame for the fate our children face. As Joe Feagin and Kimberley Ducey argue in their new book Elite Men Ruling:

From the distant past to the present, much of the effort to create and maintain this dominant white racial frame has come from powerful white men. This is not surprising, for they are central to the frame—especially its accent on virtue. . . [T]he word virtue is derived from the Latin vir, which means man or hero. Early on, in the development of the North American colonies, white men were supposed to exhibit the supposed manly virtues of courage, strength, and piety. Most white men, then as now, have implicitly or explicitly accented certain masculine virtues. They have often exuded an arrogance about what is human virtue and what is not, about who is virtuous and who is not, and about where and when there is virtue. Not surprisingly, the dominant white frame has been replete with anti-black and other anti-others subframes—that is, subframes targeting “those people” as generally unvirtuous.

To reshape our society, we cannot settle for pointing fingers at “implicit bias” in only the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. If it were only individual biases among certain (white) officers and teachers to blame, and our highest courts of law and lawmakers were truly practicing justice, then such biases would be fairly punished and ferreted out, unable to systematically take root in institutional practice at large. Media, cultural, political practices all work to reinforce the white-virtue subframe such that a time rarely comes for us to be challenged about it. It becomes the air we breathe, whether we are white, Latino, black, male, female, or anywhere in between.

Bernstein rightly points out that, in trying to dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools (Audre Lorde) by striving to prove that nonwhite kids are “just as innocent,” we reify this white racially framed dichotomy of (white) innocence/virtue versus (nonwhite) evil, which is a bit out of touch with reality. After all, whites’ mistakes are routinely overlooked, dismissed, forgiven, pardoned—-their conflicts with police are somehow “deescalated” without killing anyone. Whites, and white children, are hardly ever 100% “innocent”—our mostly white-controlled society just permits them to learn and grow and be full human beings more readily than it permits the rest.

I’m dreaming for the day when all those with the power to shape our kids’ future remember what it was like to be a kid—having fun, being loud, messing up, and getting back up again– and see that common humanity in all kids, not just those who “look like them.”

Dangers in Normalizing Racism: Trump Wildly Attacks Obama

Sometimes it seems that only late night comedians such as Seth Myers have nailed Donald J. Trump’s bigotry and normalization of racism. According to Myers,

We can’t become immune to it. We cannot allow it to become normalized.

Referring to Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about Muslim immigrants to the United States knowingly protecting terrorists, Myers noted, “To be clear, this is bigotry, plain and simple.”

The tepid reporting by most cable news and print commentators of Donald Trump’s latest inflammatory comments at a rally near Fort Lauderdale, Florida on August 10, 2016 declaring that President Barack Obama “honors Isis” and is the “founder of Isis” fails to identify the flagrantly racist nature of his most recent attack. In Trump’s words, President Obama “is the most valuable player” for Isis. Even a Trump supporter on a recent CNN broadcast, admitted that Trump’s emphasis on Obama’s middle name, Hussein, in the Fort Lauderdale rally, might have been designed to suggest that Obama is a foreign sympathizer.

After reiterating his claim of President Obama founding Isis several times on August 10 including during a news interview with conservative commentator, Hugh Hewitt, Trump backtracked the next day, declaring his remarks were simply “sarcasm” and adding “but not that sarcastic to be honest with you.”

Most subsequent news accounts of the rally have carefully avoided the mention of race and launched into extensive analyses of the ways in which Obama could or could not be deemed responsible for the rise of Isis. Even Hillary Clinton’s tweets in response to Trump’s commented were understated and did not mention the racist nature of these comments. As she wrote,

No, Barack Obama is not the founder of Isis. . . . Anyone willing to sink so low, so often should never be allowed to serve as our Commander-in Chief.

Ironically, relatively few commentators and mostly those from minority groups have zeroed in on the racist nature of Trump’s delegitimization of President Obama and the ways in which Trump has galvanized the anger of blue-collar and other white workers about their perceived loss of stature in an increasingly minority majority country. The New York Times Editorial Board on August 11 did identify Trump’s “racist rage” against the president as “appealing to the mob.”

Much earlier, during the Democratic primary race, Bernie Sanders keyed in on the “unprecedented level of obstructionism” against President Obama, naming the birther issue that Trump raised as specific evidence of what he termed “a racist effort.” As Sanders keenly observed,

No one has asked for my birth certificate. Maybe it’s the color of my skin, who knows?

The delegitimization of President Obama re-launched by Donald Trump draws on consistent themes that Trump has promoted for more than five years. Trump has repeatedly blasted President Obama as incompetent, a theme frequently leveled against minorities and women as underscored in recent sociological research. The implication that Obama is a secret Kenyan-born Muslim who sympathizes with terrorists labels the President as un-American, an outsider, and a foreigner. Add this to Trump’s call for a ban on immigration of Muslim immigrants and the deportation of 11 million illegal immigrants from the United States; his declaration of Mexican immigrants as in many cases drug dealers, criminals, and racists; his reluctance to disavow the Klu Klux Klan; his criticism of the mother of Army Captain Humayun Khan; and the claim that Judge Gonzalo Curiel was biased due to his Mexican heritage: it all adds up to a single, irrefutable refrain.

As Nicholas Kristoff concludes after analyzing four decades of a consistent pattern in Trump’s words and actions, “I don’t see what else to call it but racism.”

“Illiberal”: The White Backlash Word

It did not take more than a day or two for there to emerge a white backlash against the spate of protests by African-American students on predominantly “white” college campuses like the University of Missouri and Yale University; including a rant by an apparent liberal on National Public Radio against what he saw as their “illiberal” behavior.

My google search found the adjective illiberal defined as “opposed to liberal principles, restricting freedom of thought or behavior” and “uncultured or unrefined.” White” conservatives and their allies condemn such protests as being indicative of a victim’s mentality. “White” moderates and those who think like them dismiss them as coming from people who are overly sensitive. And now the latest buzzword that initially appears to come from “white” liberals and those who accept their ways of thinking about racial conflict as a means toward progressive social change is that such actions are “illiberal.” What they all have in common is that they are all essentially “white” racial backlash frame responses to the expression of the pain born of the oppression of African-Americans.

Such white backlash is consistent with the “All Lives Matter” slogan dismissal of the “Black Lives Matter” movement; a movement which is now a driving force behind the campus protests.

In my Conceptualizing Racism book I discuss such racially-charged language battles between what I call linguistic racial accommodation and linguistic racial confrontation as well as what I refer to as the IPA Syndrome of groups that benefit from oppression. The letters IPA refer to the ignorance of not knowing; the privilege of not needing to know, and the arrogance of not wanting to know.

We see all of that in the attempt of some “white”–assumed to be–liberals to now use the word “illiberal” to silence African-American outrage at oppression just as their more conservative cousins have used the term “political correctness;” which more and more “white” moderates and liberals have come to accept. This emotionally-charged and paternalistic finger wagging behind the charge of illiberalism evokes the racist image of “black” savages who have invaded the hallowed “white,” and above all “civilized,” halls of academia; devoid of any real appreciation of and respect for its core values like freedom of speech and academic freedom.

But alas appearances are often deceiving. As it turns out the main driving force behind the concept of liberalism is not liberals, but their occasional racial allies; the extreme right wing. The “illiberal” concept is being pushed by political extremists who abhor the very words liberals and liberalism but now seem to want to seduce those who see themselves as liberals into a liberal/right-wing coalition against militant African-American social protest. At this coalition’s center is the extreme right-wing intellectual Dinesh D’Sousa who in 1998 published a book titled Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus. You may recall D’Sousa for his The End of Racism book which in the mid-1990s provided a racist cultural argument to justify white supremacy which complemented the biological argument made a year earlier by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve that was published by the same publisher.

This means that self-identified liberals who might find themselves attracted to the concept of illiberalism should be aware of this part of the concept’s history and how it is being used by the right-wing who ordinarily detest the very word liberal to form an unholy racial alliance against the legitimate aspirations of African Americans and other racially oppressed peoples. But there is still more ignorance, privilege, and arrogance to the use of the word “illiberal” as an ideology to beat back African-American protest than even that.

The term illiberal arrogantly assumes that all progressive African Americans are–indeed all left-leaning African Americans can aspire to be politically–is liberals. It assumes that like “white” liberals we are conflict-aversive and ultimately committed to sustaining the status quo by simply making minor tweaks to the system for it to function more smoothly.

It also arrogantly disallows the possibility that there is an African-American Left politics that dares to venture beyond whiteness and an intellectually, ethically, and politically shallow, multi-cultural/diversity framed liberalism. Now here is the racial bottom line, if you will. For progressive African Americans the best response to being labelled “illiberal” is to reject the label and framing of liberalism altogether by beginning a new conversation with the simple question that shatters the presumptuousness of white racial arrogance by simply asking. “And what makes you believe I am a liberal?”

Noel A. Cazenave is Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. His forthcoming book, Conceptualizing Racism: Breaking the Chains of Racially Accommodative Language, is to be released this month. His current book project is tentatively titled, Killing African Americans: Police and Vigilante Violence as a Racial Control Mechanism and he plans to teach a course on the same topic at UConn next fall.