Anti-Obama Racism Gearing Up for November

Well, the Democratic primaries have brought more people out to vote than in recent memory, and now the anti-Clinton and anti-Obama attack machines are heating up dramatically. We are beginning to see just how the attack machines are going to focus in the future on Senator Obama (especially if he is the Democratic nominee), often with only thinly veiled appeals to old white racist framing of African Americans.

In a story on a key Republican event, the Republican National Committee’s “winter retreat,” we get some samples of the coming attacks from Rove-type operatives.  The report first indicates that blatant sexism targeting Senator Clinton was mixed with more subtle racism targeting Senator Obama:

“Plenty of lowbrow Hillary Rodham Clinton jokes were tossed around at the three-day event, but of highest concern was the notion of Obama seizing the Oval Office in a contest against presumptive GOP nominee John McCain.”

Apparently, sexist joking in public is still OK  in these circles, and we can only wonder what goes on in regard to blatantly racist joking among these folks off the public stage.   The report continues with numerous attack issues the Republican advisors suggest in working against Senator Obama.  The anti-Obama presentation accented bullet points about how his “undisciplined messaging carries great risk” and the new cliché that:

“His greatest weakness is inexperience. He is not ready to be commander-in-chief. He is not ready to be president.”

Certain codewords (“undisciplined,” for example) in these points will likely call up old anti-black stereotypes for many whites from the still-common white racial framing of black Americans, which is centuries-old now.  They seem designed for that purpose, especially given Obama’s substantial experience as a state senator, lawyer, and community activist (say, compared to some recent Republican presidents).

Fox News  has presented Republican leader Ralph Reed repeating President Bush’s false view that Obama “has said that he will embrace [Iranian president] Ahmadinejad.” Numerous other sources, such as arch-conservative Ann Coulter have mockingly attempted to tie Senator Obama to Middle Eastern “terrorists,” by accenting his middle name Hussein. In this crude stereotyping process Middle Eastern peoples are also racially and politically stereotyped.

Media matters  has also documented and countered various other charges against Senator Obama, such as that he is not oriented toward ordinary workers, that his followers are “cult” like, and is the most liberal Senator in the US Senate (on the latter point, he is not).

And then there are the viciously racist comments on various white supremacist Internet blogs such as that of the “vanguard news network” (I will not give the link to such vicious sites), where classic racist stereotyping and epithet-filled racist language and joking are used numerous times to characterize Senator Obama from an extreme version of the old white racial frame. A Google search with Obama and the N-word will doubtless bring up hundreds of thousands of such blatantly racist commentaries and websites, at this early stage already.

And we have nine months to go until November.   Be prepared.   If Senator Obama is the Democratic party nominee, the deep racist realities of this society will once again come out of the shadows into the light of day, much more than at any time in recent years.

Racism & Resistance Urban Style

A couple of interesting items in the New York Daily News today reflect what racism and resistance to racism look like urban-style. First up, there’s extensive coverage in a series about the racism in the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices on the subway.   For example:

Blacks and Hispanics make up 49% of subway riders, yet account for nearly 90% of the citizens stopped and questioned in the subways in the last two years.  Whites make up 35.5% of subway ridership, yet they account for a mere 7.9% of the subway riders stopped in the last two years, records show.

This happens across the city, but the racial disparity is particularly evident in Manhattan which is predominantly white.  In one of the related stories, the News staff writer Tina Moore reports on the experience of Victor Streety, a 42-year-old single father, who works with an early childhood literacy program and volunteers tutoring children in Harlem, who has no prior criminal history.  When Streety was stopped at the 125th subway station, he responded by asking: “Why?”  This is how Moore reports the story:

“A question was not what the black cop and his white partner wanted to hear. ‘He said, “If you’re going to give us a hard time, we can make this worse,” Streety recalled. ‘I said, “I’m sitting here waiting for my girlfriend and you want to see my ID? I want to know why.”   ‘I started to get a little upset,’  he said.  Streety says one cop swung him around to face a pillar, clasped his hands behind his back and asked if he had any weapons. “I said, ‘Weapons? Why would I have any weapons?’  Streety recalled.  The cop patted him down. Discovering no weapons, Streety says the cop then fished his driver’s license out of his back pocket.   For 20 minutes, the single father was captive just blocks from his home.  “I was embarrassed because it was my home station,” he said. “I didn’t want anyone to think I had been doing something against the law or anything like that. I don’t think anyone saw me, but who knows?”  Finally the cop handed the license back and apologized, saying he was just doing his job. Since that day nearly a year ago, Streety’s feelings about police have soured. ‘The police can do anything they want,’ he said. ‘It’s not like a black versus a white thing. It’s the police versus the public.’ “

The kind of indignity that Mr. Streety faced is the kind of harassment and humiliation that is a daily reality for Black and Latino/a citizens of New York.

In a second item from today’s Daily News, columnist Albor Ruiz writes about the important work that some NYC-residents are doing to combat this sort of racism.  Ruiz highlights the work of three New York women:   Ejim Dike, director of the Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center, Diana Salas of the Women of Color Policy Network and Aishia Glasford of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.  All three are traveling to Geneva to address the UN convention about racial discrimination and its consequences in New York.  They will be delivering a report called, “Race Realities in New York City.”   The report details the many racial disparities in the city, including and beyond the subway stop-and-frisks, to include education and employment, like the fact that almost 80% of the city’s higher-paying administrative and managerial job positions are held by whites.  And, African-Americans are more than five times as likely, and Latino borrowers almost four times as likely, as white borrowers to receive high-cost home purchase loans.  Black and Latino New Yorkers are less likely to graduate from high school or to have health insurance. At the same time, they are more likely to live in poverty, lack voting rights or get arrested.   Ruiz quotes Ms. Dike, saying:

“Our goal,” said Dike, “is to share with advocates from around the world what they and their governments can do to combat racial discrimination even at the most local level.”

When they return their plan is to aggressively monitor and fix policies that create and further racial disparities.  I suspect that the stop-and-frisk practices are going to be on their list to monitor and fix.

A Tale of Two Countries

It is rare that indigenous peoples have the opportunity to celebrate the actions of governments. On February 13, one of those rare historical moments took place in Australia. Newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd opened his first session of Parliament with an apology to the indigenous peoples of Australia:

To the stolen generations, I say the following: as Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the government of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the parliament of Australia, I am sorry. I offer you this apology without qualification. We apologise for the hurt, the pain and suffering that we, the parliament, have caused you by the laws that previous parliaments have enacted. We apologise for the indignity, the degradation and the humiliation these laws embodied. We offer this apology to the mothers, the fathers, the brothers, the sisters, the families and the communities whose lives were ripped apart by the actions of successive governments under successive parliaments.

You can listen to the exceptionally eloquent and impassioned speech, in its entirety here.  And, you can read a synopsis of the history and speech excerpts here.    The conditions for which the Prime Minister apologized are not Australian oddities, they are mirrored across the ocean in a land called the United States.

Two British colonies (actually Canada and New Zealand could be included in this tale as well but we will stick with a tale of two countries), inherited the racial frame and eradication policies of the British Empire. Two sets of “freedom” loving white populations threw off the yoke of British power from their own necks and created democratic governments, the United States in 1776 and Australia in 1901. Two sets of founding fathers continued policies that dispossessed indigenous peoples of their land and culture. Both formed policies to eradicate the indigenous peoples or assimilate them. These policies were designed to eradicate religious practices, languages, land claims, natural resources, and indigenous peoples themselves. As a final solution, the future was stolen as well. Children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to be raised in church missions. Rudd chronicles the Austalian genocidal legacy:

But should there still be doubts as to why we must now act, let the parliament reflect for a moment on the following facts: that, between 1910 and 1970, between 10 and 30 per cent of Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their mothers and fathers; that, as a result, up to 50,000 children were forcibly taken from their families; that this was the product of the deliberate, calculated policies of the state as reflected in the explicit powers given to them under statute…

The American numbers are significantly larger no matter which of the dozens of estimates one chooses to use. The following from Wikipedia :

An Indian boarding school refers to one of many schools that were established in the United States during the late 19th century to educate Native American youths according to Euro-American standards. These schools were primarily run by missionaries. It has been documented that they were traumatic to many of children who attended them, as they were forbidden to speak their native languages, taught Christianity instead of their native religions and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their Indian identity and adopt European-American culture. There are also documented cases of sexual, physical and mental abuses occurring at these schools.

Attendance in Indian boarding schools generally grew throughout the first half of the 20th century and doubled in the 1960s . Enrollment reached its highest point in the 1970s. In 1973, 60,000 American Indian children are estimated to have been enrolled in an Indian boarding school. From 1879 to the present day, hundreds of thousands of American Indians are estimated to have attended an Indian boarding school.
In 1973 alone, there were more indigenous children in boarding schools in the United States than in the entire time for which Prime Minister Rudd issues his apology in Australia. In discussing the Australian situation, Rudd notes that “the 1970’s is not exactly a point in remote antiquity.”

The apology does not offer reparation and indeed concedes that none could be adequate. It does not fix the problems of Australian unjust enrichment policies or indigenous unjust impoverishment realities. Rudd points out the “obscenity” of an indigenous infant mortality rate of 4 times the national average. Recall a recent post where we discuss a U.S. indigenous infant mortality rate of 3 times the national average and the promised veto by President Bush of funds to alleviate the problem. (See The Genocide that Never Ends). In Australia infanticide is obscene, in America it is unnoticed. Rudd’s apology though intensely symbolic is much more. He discusses the historical policy of denial and objectification of indigenous peoples:

…a view that, instead, we should look for any pretext to push this great wrong to one side, to leave it languishing with the historians, the academics and the cultural warriors, as if the stolen generations are little more than an interesting sociological phenomenon. But the stolen generations are not intellectual curiosities. They are human beings, human beings who have been damaged deeply by the decisions of parliaments and governments. But, as of today, the time for denial, the time for delay, has at last come to an end.

At least in Australia it has come to an end. Bravo, Minister Rudd, Bravo. In the United States, it has not even come to the radar screen. Some have suggested that a petition drive in the United States to ask for an apology to indigenous peoples in the wake of the Australian example might be a way to bring the subject to the table. What do you think?  Should the U.S. apologize to indigenous peoples here?  Drop a comment.

~ Shari Valentine
PhD Candidate, Sociology Department
Texas A&M University

When Antisemitic “Pseudo-Science” Gets Tenured and Promoted to Full

There’s quite a controversy brewing within academic circles about a tenured full professor of psychology at Cal State U. Long Beach, Kevin McDonald, that raises important questions about the creation of knowledge, the academic enterprise and race. McDonald, who is an evolutionary psychologist, contends that Jews are a separate race driven by genetics and evolution to band together, both for “group survival” and to undercut white, Western culture. Further, he asserts that the Third Reich’s Nazi movement developed specifically to counter “Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy.” He claims to be “agnostic” about whether or not the Holocaust happened, and yet, testified on behalf of infamous Holocaust-denier, David Irving. Not coincidentally, McDonald says that he testified in support of Irving because he was motivated by a desire to defend academic freedom, not deny the Holocaust. Although McDonald includes a disavowal on his website that he does not “condone white racial superiority, genocide, Nazism or Holocaust denial,” his actions – and his research – suggest otherwise, as Scott Jaschik demonstrates in his piece in Inside Higher Ed (Feb.14). Jaschik points out that a favorable story about McDonald’s work appears on Vanguard News Network, a white supremacist website. And, in Heidi Beirich’s thoroughly devastating piece on McDonald for SPLC’s Intelligence Report, she notes that his work is more popular than Mein Kampf with neo-Nazis and white supremacists. In fact, David Duke draws heavily on McDonald’s work for his own antisemitic and racist autobiography, My Awakening, and the condensed version, Jewish Supremacism. McDonald and AbernethyAnd, according to Beirich’s report, in 2004 white supremacists David Duke (former Klansman and Louisiana legislator), Don Black, Jamie Kelso (of Stormfront, the main online portal for white supremacy) and Kevin Alfred Strom (of the neo-Nazi National Vanguard) all attended a ceremony in which McDonald was honored by The Occidental Quarterly, a white supremacist journal. McDonald is pictured here receiving the award, alongside Virginia Abernethy, a self-described “white separatist.”

As you might expect, the controversy is widely being framed as an issue that tests the bounds of academic freedom. This is both an obvious, and a deeply problematic, way to frame this particular case. On the one hand, McDonald is an academic with tenure (and a promotion by his peers to full professorship) who has controversial and unpopular views and should, within the rules of the academy, be allowed to express those views.

On the other hand, framing McDonald’s vile “scholarship” as within the bounds of what is acceptable and even protected within the academy is deeply problematic given the context of his position within a public university with a commitment to human rights, diversity, and to offering an equal educational environment for all who enroll there. I’m generally quite critical of absolutist defenses of “free speech,” and am persuaded by critiques of the first amendment grounded in critical race theory.

Yet, I find this particular case vexing Continue reading…

“Do you consider yourself militant?”

So, it’s like this.  I often work at home and while I blog, or grade online student papers, or answer email, I also watch a documentary.   Love me some multi-media-multi-tasking.  This morning while I graded student assignments, I also watched “Malcolm X: Make It Plain” (1994) which just re-aired on PBS’ American Experience.   It’s excellent and I highly recommend it.

What Malcolm had to say then resonates today, and it is both powerful and poignant to see the footage of him. Perhaps most moving are the scenes that capture his sense of humor, and the filmmakers, Orlando Bagwell and Steve Fayer, deftly use this to frame the piece. They use a clip at both the beginning and the end of a white reporter aggressively asking, “Do you consider yourself ‘militant’?” To which Malcolm replies, with sly grin, “No, I consider myself Malcolm.”

Lots of resources at the PBS site, and as they say, check your local listings.

Not Yet Human: New Research on Implicit Racism

In a study conducted over six years at Stanford, UC-Berkeley and Penn State, and just recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that many whites do not regard African Americans as “fully human.” (Hat tip to LibraryBob for telling me about this article.) The findings reveal that whites subconsciously associate blacks with apes and are more likely to condone violence against black criminal suspects as a result of their broader inability to accept blacks as “fully human.” The researchers conducted a series of laboratory experiments in which participants, mostly white male undergraduates, were then shown black or white male faces on a screen for a fraction of a second before being asked to identify blurry ape drawings. According to the abstract:

“…the authors reveal how this association influences study participants’ basic cognitive processes and significantly alters their judgments in criminal justice contexts. Specifically, this Black-ape association alters visual perception and attention, and it increases endorsement of violence against Black suspects.The results showed that the subjects identified the drawings much faster after they were primed with black faces rather than with white faces.”

And, in what I can only call a genius research design, they combine the lab studies of implicit bias with archival content-analysis research of the language used in newspaper accounts from criminal cases:

“In an archival study of actual criminal cases, the authors show that news articles written about Blacks who are convicted of capital crimes are more likely to contain ape-relevant language than news articles written about White convicts. Moreover, those who are implicitly portrayed as more apelike in these articles are more likely to be executed by the state than those who are not.”

This is really groundbreaking research for the way it connects the sometimes apolitical and overly psychological implicit bias research to the broader social context of white racism. In an interview, the lead researcher, Jennifer Eberhardt of Stanford, says:

“This was actually some of the most depressing work I have done. This shook me up. You have suspicions when you do the work — intuitions — you have a hunch. But it was hard to prepare for how strong [the black-ape association] was — how we were able to pick it up every time. African Americans are still dehumanized; we’re still associated with apes in this country.”

The researchers also showed study participants words like “ape” or “cat” (as a control) and then a video clip of a television show like “COPS” in which police are beating a man of unknown racial identity. Then, the researchers showed the participants a photo of either a black or white man, described him as a “loving family man” yet with a criminal history. They then asked participants to rate how justified they thought the beating was. Those who believed the suspect was black were more likely to say the beating was justified when they were primed with words like “ape.” The conclusion researchers come to is that the “Black-ape” association has a significant impact on (white) people’s judgments of Blacks as criminal suspects and serves to endorse violence against Blacks.

Eberhardt goes on in the interview to set out the competing narratives about racism and bias in America:

“One is about the disappearance of bias — that it’s no longer with us. But the other is about the transformation of bias. It’s not the egregious bias anymore, but it’s modern bias, subtle bias. We want to argue, with this work, that there is one old race battle that we’re still fighting. That is the battle for blacks to be recognized as fully human.”

Well said, Prof. Eberhardt ~ and brava on some brilliant research.

Lessing’s Prediction of Racist Violence

British Nobel-Prize novelist, Doris Lessing, said that she thinks Senator Barack Obama might be assassinated if elected:

“He would probably not last long, a black man in the position as president. They would kill him.”

She did not indicate who she thought such assassins might be. The public and political reaction has mostly rejected her comments and their implications as “wild” and “fearmongering.”

Lessing probably said what many observers of the revolutionary change of a black man running for U.S. president secretly fear might happen.

Lessing has long been an outspoken feminist and opponent of antiblack racism. She became famous as a fierce critic of European colonialism in Africa, and was attacked for her feminism in her 1960s writings. She was banned as a “prohibited alien” for a long period from South Africa by its apartheid regime.

Her fear that Obama might be targeted is likely conditioned on her awareness of how much violence has targeted U.S. presidents and other U.S. officials in her lifetime.

Her statement seems to many extreme and, as some put it, “fearmongering,” but the U.S. has a four-centuries tradition of whites attacking black Americans. Life under legal segregation for millions of still living African Americans was one of constant white violence (unprosecuted white murderers and other perpetrators are still living too). At least 6,000 lynchings targeting African Americans took place from the 1880s to the present. A large proportion of hate crimes, many violent, each year now target African Americans.

Recall that the 1995 bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building was by antigovernment activists who were white supremacists. Months later other bomb plots were uncovered, one targeting federal buildings in Spokane and Austin. Today, numerous antigovernment militia and supremacist groups are made up of white men (and some women) very angry about current societal conditions. In 1998, a black man, James Byrd, Jr., was walking down a Jasper, Texas, road a few miles from where I am now writing. Three white men, with white-supremacist tattoos, beat him savagely and dragged him along a road dismembering him. One reportedly said to the others, “We’re starting The Turner Diaries early,” referring to violence by white supremacists in that racist novel still popular with supremacists. The Jasper lynching triggered copycat crimes in other cities. (See my book Racist America for details.)

In recent years members of white supremacy groups have reportedly stockpiled explosives and prepared bombing ventures.  In 2006, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center there were at least 844 active Klan, neo-Nazi, skinhead, and other white supremacist groups. An estimated two hundred thousand whites are active or passive supporters of such groups.  And, there are hundreds of U.S.-based Internet sites disseminating extreme, with tens of thousands of active members, often violent racist diatribes.

It is time to recognize that what Lessing said could really happen at the hands of white supremacists in the United States and to deal with this chilling possibility and its likely white supremacist perpetrators openly and critically in the media and other public discussions, as well as by public safety actions. In my view, we should also provide stepped-up, super-protections for the courageous Senator Obama and his family, especially if he is the Democratic nominee.

As a white researcher who gets death threats now and then just for doing research on racism in the United States, I can personally attest that Lessing’s fears are neither “wild” nor unrealistic.

Jim Wallis and Tavis Smiley Discuss White Racism

Did anyone catch the Tavis Smiley Show on Friday, February 8th? Interesting exchange with Jim Wallis, blogger and author (most recently) of the book The Great Awakening.   Smiley challenged Wallis on his optimistic view of the potential of change in the U.S., especially in the coming election cycle, and it prompted the following which I think gets to the heart of some of the debate around whether or not change is possible:

Tavis: With a woman or an African American as the candidate, I can almost guarantee you that we’re going to have to wrestle very shortly here with the dark side, the night side, the underside of America because anybody who thinks McCain might not do it, Huckabee as the nominee might not do it, but a lot of other people are going to get involved in reminding us that she is a woman if she’s the nominee, and he’s Black if he’s the nominee. We’re going to have to wrestle with America’s night side, with America’s dark side. Having said all that, Jim Wallis is trying to convince me that we’re on the precipice of a great awakening. It doesn’t sound like it, Jim.

Wallis: Well, you know, I say in the book that white racism is America’s original sin and we’ve yet to repent of that sin. It poisons the body politic. We got demons. You’re exactly right. We’ve got some deep demons on race and gender and politics appeals to our better angels or are worst ones. I think we could go either way here, but I think there’s a chance to go now in a different direction. A new generation is begging, pleading, for something new and we’ll see.

I think the time has come to test and see whether this country is ready for something different and something new, but it won’t really happen just from the top. It’s going to be a bottom up movement, but it’s got to wrestle with those demons. The demons are real and they’ve got to exorcised. They’ve got to exorcised. This nation in 2050, most Americans will trace their history to Africa, Asia or Latin America.

White Americans are not ready for their minority status. You know, they’re going to have to be held by the hand and pastored a bit to move into a new America, but I think it’s time to deal with that, to finally repent of our original sin and talk about, well, for me, this is a gospel issue. It’s why I got kicked out of my little white church over this, as you and I talked about, a long time ago. [emphasis added]

It’s refreshing to my ear to hear someone from the left take on the religious right on their own rhetorical turf as it were.  And, I agree with Wallis’ assessment of the endemic quality of white racism, and I think he’s correct when he says that “White Americans are not ready for their minority status.”  I’m not sure, however,  that there’s anyone around who can “pastor” whites – in a secular or a religious  sense – through that, but it’s a nice thought.

Chris Rock: Comedy as Resistance

The comedian and actor Chris Rock is 43 and grew up in New York City during the 1970s and 1980s. He did grow up not the Jim Crow South, or a rural area; he did grow up in what usually gets called the “post-Civil Rights Era.” And, yet, Rock says that while attending an all-white school he endured endless racial insults from his classmates and basically became a “hermit” as a result. For him, comedy offered a way out, and a way to resist the onslaught of racial insults. So, I wonder when I read that the “U.S. has moved beyond its racist past,” what day that happened and if there will bit about it in Rock’s next stand up routine?