Racism and Anti-Racism in Suburban New York

Yesterday, two white teenagers were arrested and charged with a hate-crime after assaulting a black man as they all waited in line to register for classes at Westchester Community College, just north and west of New York City.  The persistence of this sort of racism within educational institutions is consistent with the research evidence on this topic, such as Feagin and colleagues’ The Agony of Education (Routledge, 1996)  and this newly released research by Sarah Stitzlein, Breaking Bad Habits of Race and Gender (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).  That this sort of thing happened in suburban New York, once again underscores that the northeast is not immune from racism because the states in this region of the country happen to be above the Mason-Dixon line or because these white teenagers’ ancestors never owned slaves.  I wonder how the story of the young black man’s educational experience might read if he were to write it down for us?  The legacy of Brown v. Board of Education must sound like a hollow promise to him as he is getting called racial slurs and then pummeled as he tries to register for classes at a community college.

In another suburban community, this one to the east on Long Island, in Suffolk County, is seeing some anti-racism organizing on the part of some residents.   This is a welcome change of tone from Suffolk County, as this is the same county where Ecuadorian immigrant Marcello Lucero was killed by a group of (mostly) white teenagers recently.    (The fact that both these recent attacks were the actions of white male teenagers also speaks to the gendred, and specifically masculine nature of this violent form of white supremacy.)   The Town of Southhampton’s Anti-Bias Task Force met on the steps of Town Hall (photo by Kelly Carroll, Hamptons.com) to voice concern over the issue of hate-crimes against immigrants and against native-born racial/ethnic minorities.   Referring to the murder of Lucero, Lucius Ware, president of the Eastern Long Island NAACP said, “That was a lynching, which is injury by mob violence.  There are still hoods and gowns in some of the closets around here,” a reference to Long Island’s history of KKK activity.

It seems to me that suburban New York in these two events serves as a sort of microcosm for some of the choices we have facing us with regard to racism.   We may engage in overt racist attacks, we may be victims of such attacks, and we all have the option to stand together, across differences, against the legacy of racism.  At the moment, there is no large, anti-racist social movement in the U.S., but there are small groups of concerned people, like these folks in Suffolk County.  Perhaps if more of these small groups can sustain the collective interest in seeing an end to racism, then we could for the first time see a viable anti-racist movement in this country, and really begin to change systemic and entrenched racial inequality.


  1. Joe

    Good post, Jessie. There are of course the large national civil rights groups, like NAACP, that are committed to anti-racism, but you are right that we need more national groups targeting the individual and systemic racism that affects all Americans, esp. those of color.

  2. Jessie Author

    Thanks. Yes, I didn’t mean to diminish the work of organizations like NAACP which really was started as a multi-racial anti-racist organization. Still, I think you’d agree that it’s not the same as a national movement that regularly draws attention to and acts against racism.

  3. mordy

    Sadly, i think business will continue as usual. Though it is heartening that the Lucero murder has drawn much needed attention to the racist goings-on in one community, the political reaction still has the feel of doing just enough to divert the glare of the national spotlight. There have been enough racist attacks around NYC (Howard Beach alone seems to average a few a year) to spark plenty of grass roots or national efforts to combat racism. Yet it never seems to happen. Perhaps this is a tipping point.

  4. Jessie Author

    I don’t know Mordy, at other times I would have shared your assessment that ‘business will continue as usual’ but I think that we’re living in a moment where new things are possible. Did you see this piece by our sometimes-fellow-blogger Tim Wise? I don’t agree with all of his analysis, but I do agree that there’s something about the recent election that provides an opening for galvanizing the good will of people. I suppose time will tell if this was a turning point or just one of the missed opportunities in our long struggle against racism in this country.

  5. Joe

    The key, of course, is community mobilization and organization against racism, including violence. I do hope the new era Jessie cites can mean some new organization. But the odds are still not very good in this lethargic population, esp. now that we are in full economic meltdwon.
    Still, Eternal organization seems to be the real price of liberty.

  6. mordy

    I hadn’t seen that Tim Wise post. Thanks for the link. I understand that it easy to fall into the trap that he is writing about. Conversely it is just as easy to fall into the other trap. Speaking for myself anyway, i think it is quite obviously far too premature to know where on the spectrum the Obama presidency will leave us. I think the title of his piece is a tad over the top. It is flat out impossible for me to believe that his election is a victory against white supremacy. That is too quaint a soundbite. It clearly marks an important shift in our country though. And that must be recognized. As many have already pointed out, the racial demographics of our country is radically shifting and that as much as other elements had a hand in this outcome. I am very willing to be open-minded and hopeful about this victory. But stormfront.org didn’t crash because someone forgot to pay the electric bill. History may well prove that this was the tipping point. I hope it does. In the meantime i think we all have to keep up the good fight.

    As educators, you two could probably speak with a higher degree of accuracy to my next point. As has been pointed out in this blog and elsewhere, the immediate aftermath of this victory has not magically wiped out racism. And (teenage) children who inhabit this alleged “post-racial” and “color-blind” society are still committing brutal racist crimes. So it would seem to me that (primary) education is going to be a critical front in this battle. To that end, how are our nation’s high school and middle schools using this election to confront our history of racial and social injustice? If a ‘reason’ was needed, then i can think of none better than the historical election of a black president. Being without children myself, i have to relied on a very non-scientific method of asking nieces and nephews and children of friends. What i have heard from my narrow sample doesn’t encourage me.
    There is no denying the significance of this historic election. But i think it is going to require vigilance and a lot of push back to keep the ball rolling forward.

  7. Chris

    I am interested in your website. I am in New Zealand (down the bottom of the world). The city I live in has some racial problems, there is a steady flow of immigrants moving in. Just this weekend we had an Afghani Taxi Driver stabbed to death, incredibly sad, it is thought to be racially motivated and a 16 and 19 year old have been arrested for it. My question is this, we also have a website here for immigrants that do not like our country, i have no objection to this. Many are American and suggest NZ is far behind in race relations because of things I have just mentioned and this type of thing would only happen in the deep south in the States and that the rest of America is free from hardline racism. By reading threads and stories here it tells me that is certainly not the case? Answers?

  8. Seattle in Texas

    Hello Chris—(I wanted to address both your posts from my standpoint which is based on my formal and informal studies. obsverations, and experience–so I will just do it here).

    The U.S. is the nation of white supremacy and hate crimes, racism, and other types of discrimination and crimes against humanity are definitely not limited to the South. While I have not been any further into the “South” than I am now, I can tell you some of the most progressive antiracist folks I have ever met are from and in Texas, which is a state known for a very hostile, racist, and brutal history (all states have it, it is just Texas and the South I think are just most associated?). Several millions of people in Texas voted in this last presidential election and I believe approximately 45% voted in favor of Obama. I don’t know what the exact numbers are. Then look at Florida and North Carolina.

    But it is a myth that white supremacy and overt racism would only be limited to the South and perhaps the republican states more generally.

    With relation to the post above and while remaining on the topic of white supremacy in the U.S., this nation still engages in, and celebrates American Indian genocide through their Happy Thankskilling, I mean Happy Thanks”giving” Day. The Europeans gave the Indigenous folks a lot here—primarily death, destruction, and misery, and what they continue to “give” is driving them to the verge of physical and ethnic extinction (nuclear waste, polluted lands and resources, drug and alcohol addictions, radical changes in diets that have led to a diabetes epidemic among many communities, poverty, homelessness, continued sterilization, and on and on). Yeah they fight back in various ways and will continue to do so as long as they manage to stay in existence. Well, and if you look at the guy whose on the flag for the state I come from? George Washington—he envisioned a nation that would someday be free of all American Indian folks. Our tribal and Indian folks more so in the state I come from have to look at that face all the time, as do their children. Our currency, he is on our currency along with other guys that were in favor of the same thing and some even engaged in the killing of tribal folks. And you have no idea how much the folks in this nation love money, I mean absolutely love money. In fact, I think money is the “god” of this nation.

    I am not going to go into a verbal rounds of “who is the most oppressed” though it sounds as though the U.S. and Australia share a common history with relation to indigenous folks. This nation won’t apologize. But it’s a reflection of the very culture–most people from what I gather don’t apologize here and are not socialized to take blame and responsibility for their actions if they have done deliberate or accidental harm. And in my opinion, in general, there is a very dangerous level of believed and displayed sense of self entitlement with relation to beliefs, actions, and resources, etc.,among many Americans. It’s a very materialistic world up here composed of a society that embraces egoism and individualism. Up here, it’s about giving handouts and crumbs to those born into less fortunate circumstances with pretty much blocked oppotunities because of how this society is structured and continues to operate, so those who have more can feel better about themselves rather than sacrificing their priviliges so they can in all reality move towards equality and empowerment of the oppressed. They cannot and will not do that because then they would have to give and share, which would take from not only their monetary and other types wealth, but their higher social status. And god forbid, folks of the higher social classes in the U.S. are in any way equated with both American Indian communities and African American communities residing in the lower social classes.

    But I wanted to thank you for sharing a different viewpoint and further, sharing a comparison by using New Zealand as an example. I would be interested in learning more. Thank you and take care


    You are aware of what a “Christian” nation this is? It’s pretty amazing….

  9. Jessie Author

    Hi Chris, Seattle ~ thanks for your comments, and welcome Chris from NZ! I do hope you’ll stay around and comment here frequently. It’s always great to have these cross-cultural/country discussions made possible via the web.

    So, to answer your question about the “deep south” vs. the “rest of America” and racism, the evidence suggests that this mostly a false distinction and that racism exists throughout the U.S. That is not to suggest that there aren’t regional differences in the way racism is expressed U.S., there are. But, the notion that the “rest of America” outside the deep south is somehow free of racism is a myth. It’s one of many strategies that whites use to diminish the reality and widespread persistence of present-day racism.

  10. There has been an update regarding the first case cited in this post. At least one of those arrested for the assault on the black teen at Westchester Community College has apparently been interviewed by the local media and provided some extraordinarily peculiar justifications regarding his usage of the “n-word”, including that they were simply using it to and about themselves (all are white) and the black teen who was ulimately assaulted shouldn’t have felt disrespected, you see, because none was intended. Further, the black teen was very impolite when he confronted the white group.

    “”He could have talked to us polite,” Donaj said. “As we walked outside, he stopped, turned around and said, ‘Why are you talking like that?’ He took it racial.”

    Anyway, it can all be read here- http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081204/NEWS02/812040462

  11. With all the acts of racism in Suburban New York of late, it might seriously challenge Chris and others impression that this only happens ‘down south’. In yet another unbelievably ill-conceived ‘teaching lesson’, a young black student was traumatized in front of her class by involuntarily role-playing a bound slave in front of her class. This occured just a few miles away from the WCC.

  12. Mandy

    New York is a FAKE state….
    There are MANY racist “WHITE” people in New York. But they hide it.
    From what people say, New York is known as a VERY rude, and dirty state. With all the snotty people. And I believe that as well. I’ve been to New York once, and I will never go back.
    I felt sick after riding the subway, and the smell.

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