Protest Fox’s Racism in NYC Today

I’m traveling all day today (from Berkeley back to NYC), so won’t be able to attend this, but if you’re in the NYC-area and want to do something about the racism in the media, specifically Fox News, here’s your chance. Today, hip hop star Nas will join members of ColorOfChange.org and MoveOn.org to deliver 620,127 petition signatures demanding that FOX end its pattern of racist attacks against Black Americans including presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. The group will make the delivery at 2:00pm on Wednesday, July 23rd at FOX in Manhattan. More about this event here.

White Women Who Don’t Get Racism

News anchor Katie Couric has made news of her own recently with her analysis of the male-dominated news business (image from here). Couric didn’t stop there, though. She went on to suggest that there is sexism in the news business and beyond in the larger society, but that “sexism is worse than racism.” Here’s the full quote from Couric, via Politico:

“Unfortunately I have found out that many viewers are afraid of change. The glory days of TV news are over, and the media landscape has been dramatically changed. News is available now for everyone, everywhere, all the time, and everybody fights for the last pieces of the shrinking pie. The corporate pressure and the ratings terror are intensifying all the time, and the situation is not simple. I find myself in the last bastion of male dominance, and realizing what Hillary Clinton might have realized not long ago: that sexism in the American society is more common than racism, and certainly more acceptable or forgivable. In any case, I think my post and Hillary’s race are important steps in the right direction.”

With this assessment, Couric joins a long and growing list of white-women-who-don’t-get-it, when it comes to racism, such as Geraldine Ferraro. As Adia Harvey wrote here back in March, “Making the case that sexism is worse than racism or even that it is the primary source of women’s oppression ignores the experiences of minority and working-class women (who simultaneously contend with racism and capitalist exploitation) and ultimately alienates these women from feminism and feminist causes.” Couric, like Ferraro, is no doubt speaking from her own experience in which she certainly encounters sexism but doesn’t encounter racism. Why would she? Given her skin-and-class privilege, it’s almost certainly the case that the only kind of inequality Couric faces in gender inequality. And, she’s right to call it out for what it is. But this doesn’t mean that Couric is right about racism, or about sexism’s significance relative to racism.

Instead, Couric’s comments simply reveal that she’s clueless about the pervasiveness of racism in this society because she’s never encountered it herself.

She’s not alone. Another white woman in the news recently who has revealed her lack of recognition about racism is Elisabeth Hasselbeck, a celebrity co-host on the television show “The View.” In an exchange with Whoopi Goldberg last week about the use of the “N-word” and the fact that racism is pervasive in our society, Goldberg asserted that she and Hasselbeck live in “different societies” at which point Hasselbeck broke down in tears. This isn’t the first time that Whoopi and Elisabeth have gotten into in about racism on the show. Back in March of this year, when Hasselbeck said she was “offended” by the fact that Barack Obama referred to his grandmother a “typical white woman” who would be fearful if she saw a group of African-Americans on the street. Elisabeth explained that she is a “typical white woman” herself and would never be afraid of a group of black kids on the street. Whoopi, however, didn’t buy it, and called her on it. At the end of the exchange, Hasselbeck pleaded with Whoopi for a “rule book on racism,” basically admitting that she didn’t get racism.

I think it’s understandable, really, that the privileged white women like Couric, Ferraro and Hasselbeck don’t get racism given how little analysis of it there is in our society.

Homeschooling & Racism

In a recent article, “Homeschooling and Racism” in Journal of Black Studies (November 2007): 1-19, Tal Levy offers a compelling analysis of homeschooling legislation throughout the U.S. (fulltext here, behind a pay wall). Levy, a political science professor at Marygrove College in Detroit, tests 13 hypotheses about the variation in which states passed homeschool legislation and tests each one using event history analysis using logistic regression. His study is intriguing because he found that the higher the segregation index (his measure for how racially integrated public schools are), the greater the likelihood that the state would adopt homeschooling legislation. Levy writes:

“The fact that the majority of homeschooling families are White may be because of the increased racial integration of public schools.” (Levy, 2007:10).

He goes on to note that:

“Data about public school integration (since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision) show that the level of school integration in most regions of the country reached its highest level in the 1980s. It is also the same decade that 29 of the 28 homeschooling laws were passed.” (Levy, 2007:10).

This is significant because, as Levy also points out, homeschooling has expanded by about 500% between 1990 and the year 2000, and it is predicting to continuing growing between 7% and 15% annually for the foreseeable future. While Homeschooling advocates, such as this one, tend to dismiss the effect that the desegregation of public schools played in the passage of new homeschool laws, my own lived experience suggests that Levy is on to something here with his research.

In the early 1970s, my family lived in Corpus Christi, Texas and I attended public schools there. When the Corpus Christi school district began a plan that would have resulted in the racial integration of the school system, my father was incensed. There was a lot of talk about “pulling me out of school” if that plan went into effect. As it turned out, I didn’t get homeschooled (a truly radical idea at the time); instead, my father moved the entire family away from Corpus and to Spring, an all-white suburb of Houston.

What strikes me about both Levy’s research and my own experience is the lengths to which white people will go to resist racial integration of education.  And, there is no shortage of options  – from all-white suburbs that effectively fund all-white school districts to the contemporary homeschooling  movement – for white people who which to resist such political efforts at integration.

Black Voters Still Taken for Granted

As the first serious black candidate for the presidency, the entire nation scrutinizes Obama’s every move. No one knew how he would approach his candidacy; many whites feared that he would approach running as “The Stereotypical Black Candidate,” while many blacks, including Jesse Jackson, hoped he would be a candidate to seriously take on black issues. He is clearly not running on this ticket, in fact his recent comments strongly point to this fact. The Economist’s recent article entitled Of race and the race,” had this to say about Obama’s unique stance:

Mr. Obama, though, is in a lucky position regarding black voters. Their early skepticism has given way to massive support. He is in the enviable position of being able to lob the occasional criticism at black pathologies to win white votes. Sensing this, and thus his own declining ability to wield grievance to win concessions, Mr. Jackson had some reason to be annoyed.

Obama is downplaying his blackness while simultaneously using his advantage as a black man to criticize using the white racial frame, thus gain votes from white Americans, particularly conservatives. Unfortunately, this Democratic attitude of knowing inherently that the black vote is guaranteed to be blue allows candidates to toss aside black issues. The same article from The Economist goes on to suggest this reason for Obama’s apathetic attitude towards black voters:

Blacks, for their part, tend to be inconveniently located either in deep-south states that Mr Obama cannot win, or in places that he is already likely to take. In any case, a few critical comments are unlikely to stop their backing him. Mr Jackson should not be surprised to see Mr Obama courting swing groups that he needs.

All the energy that Obama would put towards black voters if their vote for him was not inherent has been going toward the largest minority in the United States: Latinos. The Economist article says this:

If black communal influence has waned, it seems that of Latinos is rising. Both candidates wooed them this week with speeches to LULAC (a Latino equivalent to the NAACP). Over the weekend both will speak to a more strident group, La Raza. Latinos are now America’s largest minority. George Bush courted them, with pidgin Spanish, a promised focus on Latin America, and reforms that would offer many illegal immigrants a path to become legal. He won more of their votes than the typical Republican. But immigration reform failed, Mr Bush neglected Latin America and the Republicans’ anti-immigration stance, which sometimes carries a whiff of racism, are all driving Latinos to Mr. Obama.

The consequence of Obama’s push to gain white and Latino votes is his taking the black vote for granted.  It is hard to say whether this is intentional or not, but either way it is interesting that in vying for one voting demographic, another is necessarily slighted. Not surprising when one looks at the historical data of unmet campaign promises geared towards gaining black votes. The Economist’s article gives this example:

Republicans promised freed slaves “40 acres and a mule” after the civil war, but they failed to deliver, so blacks decided to “ride this donkey”–the Democratic symbol–“as far as it would take us”. With the introduction of civil-rights legislation in the 1960s black voters swung behind the Democrats in earnest. But some complain that Democrats now take their votes without delivering, or even that white Democrats take advantage of the all-but-guaranteed black support.

Since blacks were granted the right to vote, their vote has been taken for granted.

~ Amanda & Hannah

Amanda and Hannah are advanced undergraduate students at Texas A&M University doing a major research project on the numerous racial aspects of the current U.S. presidential campaign–with a special focus on the unique reality and impacts of having the first Black candidate for a major political party in the campaign. They will be guest blogging with us on their research findings over the next few months. ~ Joe

Resisting Evils of Racism: Zygmunt Bauman’s Holocaust Reflections

I have been reading the excellent book by Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, and he makes very good points relevant to change action today. A common barrier to social change in all societies is the reluctance of most people, including those who know change is ethical and necessary, to take action. Writing insightfully about (photo: cicilief) lessons he takes from the Holocaust, Bauman has sagely noted that “Evil can do its dirty work, hoping that most people most of the time will refrain from doing rash, reckless things – and resisting evil is rash and reckless. Evil needs neither enthusiastic followers nor an applauding audience – the instinct of self-preservation will do, encouraged by the comforting thought that it is not my turn, thank God: by lying low, I can still escape.” One of the serious obstacles to racial change in the U.S. case is the many good people who know the white racial frame and its racial hierarchy need to be changed but who remain at a distance as bystanders and do not object to even the (photo: gil sousa) most brutal aspects of maintaining of systemic racism.

Still, Bauman underscores the point that even such great evils need not have happened if some people will just act. While most people in Nazi Germany did put their self-preservation above their their high moral duty, this was, and is, not inevitable: “Evil is not all powerful. It can be resisted. The testimony of the few who did resist shatters the authority of the logic of self-preservation. It shows it for what it is in the end – a choice. One wonders how many people must defy that logic for evil to be incapacitated. Is there a magic threshold of defiance beyond which the technology of evil grinds to a halt?”

How many, indeed? What do you think?

I think we need to encourage many more Americans to defy the logic of self-preservation and thus to disrupt racist performances that reinforce the white racist frame. We need to teach whites and others how to call out backstage racist ideas and performances, which habitually generate discrimination in frontstage settings. Even modest interventions are a good start.

Whites especially, and others, can counter racist performances by using humor (“Did you learn that joke from the Klan?”), feigning ignorance (“Can you please explain that racial comment?”), and constantly reframing situations of racial hostility and discrimination by accenting ideas of justice, fair play, and personal responsibility.

What are your experiences with such antiracist interventions with friends, relatives, strangers?

New Book Announcement – Input Desired

Hello all, just wanted to announce my newest book project, for which I would love to have any input that racismreview readers would like to share. City Lights has agreed to publish a long-form essay (probably about 125 pages or so), in Spring 2009, entitled “Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and Whiteness in the Age of Obama.” As you can see from the title, it will address the impact of the Obama candidacy on our national understanding (or misunderstanding) of racism and whiteness as related phenomena. It will likely be the first treatment of the subject post-election to be released, and so I am trying to hard to make sure I cover all the bases. As such, please feel free to send me things you think are important to consider, angles to explore, points that you feel MUST be made in such a book. Of course, much of the material on racismreview will be referenced, but other input is greatly appreciated. I am well into the writing of it by now, and have a very quick deadline (September 1), but any input you all might have is appreciated. You can reach me at timjwise@mac.com. Thanks.

Tim Wise

Tasteless Satire at the New Yorker

On the cover July 21st issue of the New Yorker magazine, the Obamas are the subject of extreme racial and religious stereotyping. Their patriotism, religion, foreign policy and character are all called into question through a controversial, some say tasteless, satirical cartoon.  Andrew Malcom, blogging at the LA Times, writes this description of the cover:

The cover of this week’s New Yorker magazine depicts Obama in one-piece Muslim garb and headdress fist-bumping his booted, Afro-wearing wife Michelle in camo clothes with an AK-47 and ammo-belt slung over her shoulder beneath a portrait of Osama bin-Laden while the American flag burns in the fireplace — in the presidential Oval Office.

The cover image plays into the “dangerous black man” and the “angry black woman” racialized and gendered stereotypes.   It also further fuels racist perceptions of the Obama campaign.  This cartoon adds one more racial reference, one more false identification of his religious background and another fabricated depiction of Michelle Obama.

Together, these combine into a powerful image of what many white Americans are already thinking about the first African American candidate for presidency. The problem with this image is its openness to individual interpretation that relies overwhelmingly on the white racial frame.  Regardless of the artist’s (and the magazine’s) satirical intentions, there will be voters who interpret the image as an accurate depiction of Obama will use it to bolster racially-based stereotypes already in place.  For others who realize that Obama is not what the cover suggests will get the joke, understand the punch line and perhaps, disregard it as tasteless (like both campaigns have done).  In many ways, this is related to the issue that Jessie posted about yesterday, about racism, satire and the questionable humor of the “technigga” incident.

The question becomes, when faced with tasteless and racist humor, how do you respond?   What do you think?

~ Amanda & Hannah

Amanda and Hannah are advanced undergraduate students at Texas A&M University doing a major research project on the numerous racial aspects of the current U.S. presidential campaign–with a special focus on the unique reality and impacts of having the first Black candidate for a major political party in the campaign. They will be guest blogging with us on their research findings over the next few months. ~ Joe

“Technigga”:Cyber Racism

Julian Bond, current head of the NAACP, was recently quoted as saying that an Obama win will not end racial injustice. And, indeed, I think that’s increasingly clear given what even “allies” are publishing these days (more on the New Yorker debacle tomorrow). If there’s one place that we should clearly see evidence of a “race-blind” society, it’s the world of the Internet – advocates of such a view contend – because online “there is no race,” as that MCI commercial conjured it. However, the reality is that the Internet is giving way to a new kind of racism that I’ve discussed here before, that I call cyber racism. It’s a blend of centuries-old racist stereotypes with new forms of media and technology.

Here’s one of the most recent examples of cyber racism, and a really cogent analysis to go with it. First, a little about the backstory. A videoblogger and fellow New Yorker by the name of Loren Feldman owns a company called 1938 Media which, according to the description on their site, the firm “produces video for the web and mobile devices.” About a year ago, Feldman produced a series of videos for the web that caused the Silicon Valley Wag to call him the “Don Imus of Silicon Valley,” and lots of others to call him a racist. Still others (including himself) call him an artist. The controversy stems from the overtly racist language that Feldman uses in his video series. It starts with a video titled “Where are the Black Tech Bloggers?” and in this video, after explaining his question (“I mean black guys love technology. Car stereos, cell phones…”), there is a white man dressed as a caricature of a do-rag-wearing, pot-smoking black gangster hosting a site called “TechNigga.” Following the release of this video, people were (understandably) upset and then Feldman goes on to enact a sort of disingenuous drama in which he supposedly apologizes, goes to rehab and gets out (recounted in great detail here). None of that actually happened, it was all an elaborate fabrication, and, as Feldman explains in his “Official Statement” about the incident on his website, he is a comic and “the tone of my work is similar to South Park, Ali G, SNL and many other artists…” Feldman goes on in the statement to explain his actions saying:

The web is about freedom. Freedom of ideas, freedom of code, freedom to make a choice, freedom of not being afraid to tell a joke, freedom to fail. Freedom to look at the reflection that we cast as a group.

You might think that sometimes I’m too mean or not funny. Ok. Am I so different than you?

TechNigga was part of a weeklong project that reflected on numerous issues in our culture. Across the series I make fun of jews, psychologists, scientologists, celebrity rehab, nerds, nazis, tech culture, 70s movies and, yes, black people.

Interesting take on “freedom” by Feldman here, but not anything cyber libertarians haven’t already said. Nothing much happened about this until Verizon pulled a deal with Feldman (to develop mobile video) after people protested the company’s association with him. Ok, that’s all by way of backstory. Now, for the cogent analysis on all this, from a blogger and entrepreneur named Hank Williams. Williams, another New Yorker, has quite a different perspective on “freedom” than does Feldman. In this excellent post by Williams, he situates his analysis in his own lived experience, which he describes thus:

I was born in Harlem, in the midst of the civil rights movement. My father was an active participant in that movement. His best friend was Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, to whom he served as counselor. So as a child I was present as amazing things were happening. I observed as great people planned and fought so that I would have opportunities that they did not. Not that I fully understood what was going on, but it was happening all around me, and I could not miss its import. They fought the evil ideas, and the evil people. And they won. And in so doing they helped to change the country.

Admittedly and thankfully, this country is far, far better today. And the reason my father was able to start as a mail sorter and end up a judge, and the reason that I can write this blog and do the work I do, is because of the many great people, white and black, who protested, boycotted, and resisted. Peaceful resistance and dissent, is not only a right, but a responsibility for those of us who value decency and democracy.

To suggest that the right thing to do is to be silent in the face of racist words, or that protesting or boycotting is wrong, wipes away the part of American history that has made my life possible — peaceful protest.

And to suggest that we should just ignore racist bile like Tech Nigga is wrong. Words matter.

This is just the kind of thing that Pat Collins talks about when she discusses linking “epistemology” and judgments about knowledge claims. Here, Feldman and Williams have two, very different views of what “freedom” means and the value of words. For Feldman (who is white decidedly not concerned with social justice), the “web is a place for freedom.” He uses that “freedom” to make fun of people, an activity he sees as harmless. For Williams (who is black and steeped in the civil rights struggle), he sees the performance of Feldman’s “Tech Nigga” as wrong, and, he also calls out the people who do nothing, remain silent, in the face of racism. These are not only “differences of opinion,” they are rooted in different epistemologies, different ways of knowing. For Feldman, he’s calling on the rules-of-the-Internet-as-he-knows them, e.g., “the web is about freedom.” And, you can’t really blame him. After all, that’s what the dominant, mainstream culture, says again and again about the Internet. It’s also what pundits and libertarians like John Perry Barlow say over and over.

Williams has a different epistemology. His is rooted in an experience of discrimination and inequality, and struggle and triumph over that. And, his analysis reflects this. Here’s Williams at the end of that post, describing what racism is like in 2008:

In 2008, racism is appeasing the evildoers. It is making jokes that no one finds funny, or ones that a few misguided people do. It is categorizing large swaths of people with words and language that hurt them, even if you have no idea why. It is questioning the morals of people when they stand up to defend themselves against language that seeks to further diminish an already weak social standing. And, yes, racism is doing nothing when you could be doing something. I know racism when I see it, and I hope you do too. What are you going to do about it?

Well said, Mr. Williams. Indeed, what are you going to do about it?

AMA Apologizes, Yet Racism in Medicine Continues

In the last few days, there has been a telling confluence of events related to racism in medicine. In the story that’s getting the most coverage from major news outlets and a few blogs, the American Medical Association (AMA) has issued an apology for more than a century of discriminatory policies toward black physicians, including those that effectively restricted membership in the AMA to whites only. The way the AMA did this in the 1890s was to restrict access so that the only physicians eligible for membership were those doctors who already belonged to a state or local medical society. The state and local medical societies were almost all racially restrictive, meaning only open to white membership. The AMA never took any action to challenge the racist practices of the state and local societies. So, the AMA could say they had a “race blind” policy, when in fact, they were complicit in the same racist exclusionary practices that ended in the same result: African-Americans were not allowed to become members in the AMA.

That’s the way they did it. The reason? Decrease competition for patients, and the revenue that patients represent. If you have any doubts about this, read Paul Starr’s compelling The Social Transformation of American Medicine (1982). And, an excellent companion to that book is Harriet Washington’s recent Medical Apartheid (2007).

And, the result? Quite simply, the racial discrimination by the AMA is part of:

“a litany of discriminatory practices that have had a devastating effect on the health of African-Americans,”

according to Dr. Nelson L. Adams, president of the National Medical Association (NMA). The NMA is an African-American physician group founded in 1895 when black physicians were excluded from the AMA. In his written statement, Dr. Adams goes on to commend the AMA for their “courageous step” and encourages us all to “seize this opportunity to move forward to correct these injustices.” It’s a noble move on Dr. Adams’ part, unfortunately, these injustices are do not exist exclusively in the distant past.

UPDATED (5:20pmEST): For example, in New Jersey just two days ago, three EMS workers were fired by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey over a racist incident. The university’s president said that the three were terminated after cell phone camera images surfaced of paramedic trainees at University Hospital in Newark garbed in white sheets resembling Ku Klux Klan robes (photo from here).  On a local news report in the area, they interviewed a person on the street and got their reaction to this, and it reminded me of some of the accounts in Living with Racism (Feagin and Sykes, 1993).  The man, who was black (and yes that’s relevant to this story), said something along the lines of: “If this is what they got caught doing, you know that there’s other stuff going on that they didn’t get caught doing!” This is the kind of everyday racism that black people live with in this country (and elsewhere).  The harm here is not only in this incident, it’s also in the wondering about “what else” is happening in the back stage of white people’s behavior.   And, for their part, white people engage in this sort of behavior and then call black people “paranoid.”     What’s interesting too, here, is the language.  How is this ‘hazing” – a ritual following which someone is inducted into a group, club or state of being?  I don’t think that applies here.  The lead-in to the local news report I heard also referred to this incident as “horrifying for the memories it evokes of another time.”  It seems to me that such an analysis misses the harm of such acts in the present.    Of course, this kind of ongoing racism has serious health consequences for in the present tense; and, indeed, the white EMS workers in this incident are working and making emergency calls in a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood.  So much for our putatively “post-racial” society.

Obama Using White Racial Frame to Further Campaign?

Tensions increased this week as Bill O’Reilly and Fox News publicized Jesse Jackson’s comments about Obama, “talking down to black people.” Some may argue that this criticism along with Jackson’s other comments will hurt Obama’s popularity and harm his campaign for the presidency. However, in his recent article entitled “Jackson’s ‘Crude’ Remarks May Give Boost to Obama,” John Salant argues just the opposite. As the title implies, Salant believes this divide with Jackson will help Obama in November. In the article, Salant quotes public policy professor Mark Rozell of George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia concerning Obama’s speech to members of a large black church in Chicago on Father’s day in which he condemned black fathers:

Obama’s effort to present himself as an advocate of responsible personal behavior, a position that Republican candidates like to secure as uniquely their own.

This embodies the common stereotype long entrenched in the white racial frame and replicated for hundreds of years in this country that portrays whites as having “family values” and depicts blacks in a very negative and immoral light. In addition to illustrating Obama as being strong on responsible personal behavior and family values, this incident distances Jackson, a longtime black leader in politics, from Obama. Jackson has been portrayed for decades as a “dangerous black man,” another common feature of the white racial frame (see Systemic Racism and Two-Faced Racism ). In distancing himself from Jackson, Obama lessens the chance of also being portrayed using this common archetype. Salant goes on in the article to quote social science professor Steffen Schmidt from Iowa State University, who comments:

Cynics are asking if Jackson made this comment on purpose to help Obama.

This incident and the reactions of the media and general public suggest that when Obama’s behavior and comments come from the white racial frame, his popularity increases. Does this mean that in order to win the white vote, Obama will have to distance himself from black voters? It does, according to David Schultz of Hamline University who is also quoted in the article, saying:

Obama should give Jackson and O’Reilly an award for helping his campaign.

The theme of pitting white voters against black voters is a common one in American politics. And, during this election it puts Obama in a difficult position. It also reveals the extent to which white-on-black racism still occurrs. The outcome in November will reveal, among many other things, whether Obama’s embodiment of the highly treasured ideals of the white racial frame did in fact benefit his campaign.

~ Hannah is an advanced undergraduate student at Texas A&M University doing a major research project on the numerous racial aspects of the current U.S. presidential campaign–with a special focus on the unique reality and impacts of having the first Black candidate for a major political party in the campaign. She will be guest blogging with us on some of her research findings over the next few months. ~ Joe