More Illiteracy about Our Racial History has a nice summary of the flap over an Absolut Vodka ad (image from here), one made by a major European company. The ad:

shows a historical map of the Mexico before Texas’ Independence and the Mexico-US War of 1846-48 had occurred. The offending map showed when the American Southwest – Texas, California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and part of Wyoming – as we know it, belonged to Mexico. It was not until the signing of “Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo” that not only ended the war, but also defined our present-day borders. The ad was created by TBWA’s Mexican advertising firm Teran/TBWA. A year ago, Absolut vodka’s embarked in a new campaign strategy, breaking away from the old bottle series. The new Absolut World campaign invites the consumers to imagine their idea of a perfect world; a world that possibly wouldn’t take place but only “in an Absolut World.” The ad was solely geared toward the Mexican market.

This ad has stirred up a hornet’s nest on the anti-immigration sites and among nativist groups, as xicanopwr continues:

This all began when conservative columnist Michelle Malkin decided to use the ad to whip up anti-Mexican sentiment by dubbing the ad “Absolut Reconquista.” Soon after, the US media outlets noticed the ad. The outrage by the nativist over this ad has caused inspired an anti-immigrantion, FIRE Coalition, to start anti-Absolut website called The group also created a new web ad depicting an “Absolut World” as today’s borders with a giant fence between the US and Mexico. The nativist group is also asking people to boycott Absolut Vodka and is demanded that person who approved an ad be fired.

There is considerable anti-immigrant nativism here, as well as an ignorance about US history and how our imperialistic map got that way. The fact that most (especially white) Americans do not know, or prefer to forget, their brutal and imperialistic history in regard to Mexico makes it easier to rationalize these nativist attacks on an ad with an accurate map of what was once northern Mexico.

In April 1846 President James Polk, seeking to gain “all Mexico” (as he and other U.S. imperialists said), sent U.S. troops into an area (“Texas”) recently taken by force from Mexico, and then on into an area of the borderlands he knew Mexicans had long treated as sovereign territory. Polk intentionally provoked a border clash between U.S. and Mexican troops, an incident that enabled him to claim, falsely, that Mexico had started a war. Later historians have linked this trumped-up war to the imperialist and racist notion that the U.S. had a right to move into Mexican territory as part of its “manifest destiny” to rule over “lesser” peoples.

This imperialist notion rationalized the desire of many European American invaders for unjust enrichment in the form of land. Indeed, the border area where the first skirmish took place soon became the home for very large Anglo cattle ranches. In 1845 jingoistic journalist John O’Sullivan coined the “manifest destiny” phrase, when he wrote in the United States Magazine and Democratic Review that:

“Our manifest destiny is to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”

Together with many other European Americans, O’Sullivan argued that the U.S. government had a mandate to take the U.S. way of life to “backward” peoples such as Mexicans and Native Americans.

However, ironically, during and after the Mexican-American war some white southerners were concerned that too many of these mixed-race people might be brought into the United States. During congressional debates over annexing Mexican territory, prominent Senator John C. Calhoun argued that the U.S. had never:

“incorporated into the Union any but the Caucasian race. . . . Ours is a government of the white man. . . . in the whole history of man . . . there is no instance whatever of any civilized colored race, of any shade, being found equal to the establishment and maintenance of free government.”

In his view, as well as well as that of other whites, the “colored and mixed-breed” Mexicans were unacceptable in the “free” United States. Thus, the first Mexican residents of the United States did not immigrate, but were brought into the new nation by violent conquest during the Mexican-American War of the 1840s. With the end of the Mexican-American war came the incorporation of more than a hundred thousand Mexicans. They were forcibly absorbed into the expanding U.S. empire, which now encompassed a large portion of what was northern Mexico. White politicians and economic entrepreneurs sought to dominate the entire continent. In this they were very successful. Indeed, it is the European Americans who today are “aliens”–the descendants of invading “aliens” who took over northern Mexico by force. (For references on much of this history, see, among numerous places, here.)

Homeless Youth in NYC: Disproportionately Black, LGBT

The Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services has just released a new report most comprehensive study of youth homelessness in New York City in decades was released recently, providing what some say is the first realistic account of one of the city’s most vulnerable and misunderstood populations. This is a subject near to my heart since I do a lot of volunteer work (and, in true sociological fashion, a research project) with these folks. The reason I mention this report here is that it’s both fascinating from a sociological standpoint, and deeply disturbing from a racial justice perspective. From a sociological research perspective, it’s a huge methodological challenge to even count homeless youth because they aren’t easily identifiable (on purpose) and they don’t conform to the prevailing cultural image of what a homeless person looks like. Here’s a relevant excerpt pulled from City Limits:

“One of the things young people are very good at is fitting in. It’s much harder to identify youth homeless on the street,” said Hirsch. She recalled one young homeless person who used to get dressed up to sleep on the subway, so as not to let on that he was homeless.

And, from a racial justice perspective, it’s telling that homeless kids are from “marginalized populations,” again from City Limits:

“One of the report’s most striking findings, say youth service professionals, is the significant overrepresentation of certain marginalized populations among the ranks of homeless youth in the city—particularly those who identify themselves either as black, or as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), or those who have experience in the foster care and criminal justice systems. Almost half of respondents identified as black and close to a third identified as homosexual or bisexual. More than a quarter reported time spent in foster care, jail or prison. ….Additionally, half of the young people interviewed for the report did not have a high school diploma or GED.”

There are a number of things to note here. Perhaps the first and most obvious is the total, systemic failure here of multiple institutions (economic, religious, familial, political, educational, criminal justice). To continue stating the obvious, these institutional failures have the strongest impact on those in society who are the weakest and most vulnerable – young people. In addition, there are lots of ways overlapping systems of oppression are at work here, including racism and homophobia. Unfortunately, the way this report is written it makes it sound like “black” and “LGBT” are separate categories – as if these kids are either black or LGBT – and as I and Adia have written about here before – this kind of “either/or” thinking doesn’t help clarify but rather clouds our understanding of the way oppression works. For my experience working with homeless kids who identify as LGBT here in New York City, they are overwhelming Black and Latino. Often times what this means is that these are kids who are not only pushed to the margins of society because of race and poverty, but they’ve also quite literally been pushed out of their families’ homes and onto the streets because of gender/sexuality, that is, because they identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual or they are gender-non-conforming in one way or another.

In my view, religious institutions have a special burden to bear in perpetuating these overlapping and interlocking systems of oppression. It’s frequently the case that parents who have pushed their children out of the home and onto the streets refer to religious edicts or “God’s will” when doing so, citing highly-regarded religious leaders (even those formerly in the Hitler youth).  Government institutions add to this burden as they refuse to fund places that house homeless LGBT-identified youth, citing the “lack of gender segregated facilities” as a reason. In a facility that houses Black and Latino youth, pushed out of their homes, pushed out of the traditional shelter system (where they often encounter violence based on gender-identity and/or homophobia), and frequently pushed out of foster care for not conforming to gender norms, it’s hard to know what meaningful purpose is served by offering a ‘gender segregated’ facility. (And, indeed, it would be hard to know how to enforce such segregation for people who embody a more complex gender identity than a simply binary of “either/or,” male/female.) So, it’s organizations like MCCNY, part of the world’s largest queer-organization (yes, a religious organization) and one of the rare racially-integrated social institutions in the U.S., that take up the slack here by opening their basement to allow a few kids each night to get off the streets and sleep inside, have a hot shower, and a meal. (Pictured here: an illustration of the disparity between the number of homeless LGBT kids each night in NYC and the number of available beds, photo credit: Jessie Daniels).

The further irony is that the racism, class-based elitism and well-founded anti-religious sentiment among most affluent and white gays and lesbians, makes private fund-raising for homeless LGBT kids that’s housed in a church a decidedly uphill struggle. Thus, kids of color who identify as LGBT face multiple vulnerabilities that are rooted in interlocking systems of oppression. The combination of racism and homophobia pushes many of these kids into further vulnerability for health risks and violent attacks, as this article explains:

“A nationwide study of homophobia in schools found that the majority of GLBTQ youth of color had experienced victimization in school because of either race or sexual identity in the last year, while half reported being victimized because of both race and sexual identity. More than a third of GLBTQ youth of color had experienced physical violence because of their orientation.”

The fact is that racism, poverty and homophobia are damaging. And, these damaging consequences are all the more telling in the lives of homeless youth in New York City.

O’Reilly Lectures Blacks: Racial Illiteracy Again?

         On his “Talking Points Memo,” a few days ago, Bill O’Reilly decided he has the knowledge and experience to lecture African Americans as a group for generating “race baiters” and for “accusations of racism.” He begins with this commentary:

As we’ve been reporting, millions of Americans of all colors are fed up with race baiters and accusations of racism. This vile stuff has been going on far too long. And now with the Wright controversy, critical mass has been reached. Here is a partial list of people that Jesse Jackson’s organizations have labeled racist: President Bush, President Bush the elder, President Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Don Imus, Trent Lott, Gary Hart and Jeb Bush.

He continues in this vein listing folks he thinks are “race baiters” and then comes up with this naive generalization:

Secondly, African-Americans should realize that this stuff drives good people away from constructive dialogue that might advance racial harmony in America. The race baiters and the profiteers actually hurt minorities by inhibiting sincere discussion.

So, let me understand what he is saying. We have African Americans on the one hand, and then we have good people on the other. It appears that only whites can be good people here. And blacks are most of the “race baiters.”

It is interesting that nowhere in the commentary does he lecture the majority of whites–including some he mentions as being accused (fairly in some cases) of racist commentary or discriminatory actions—the whites with whom he clearly has had much more experience, for continuing to create and perpetuate a U.S. society with high levels of subtle, covert, and overt racism. The evidence that the white majority still think and act in racist terms—and are the real problem in “inhibiting sincere discussion” and in preventing “racial harmony”–is rather clear. The evidence of continuing white racial hostility and discrimination in housing, employment, policing, education, media, and politics is easy to find, but somehow uninformed media commentators like O’Reilly seem uninterested in finding it and, indeed, in ending the substantial racial hostility and discrimination — the “realities of racism”–that are still pervasive in this country.