Can Social Media End Racism?

One of the preoccupations of this blog is thinking and writing about anti-racism and effective strategies for dismantling systems of racial inequality (image from here).    So, I was especially interested to learn about a panel just the other day at SXSWi in Austin, called ‘Can Social Media End Racism?’

The panelists were: Kety Esquivel, New Media Mgr, National Council of La Raza and CrossLeft; Jay Smooth, Ill Doctrine; Phil Yu,  Angry Asian Man; Latoya Peterson

I couldn’t attend but thanks to the interwebs, and some fast typing, there’s a partial transcript of the session up at Liz Henry’s blog, Composite.    The lively panel discussion to transcript translation can sometimes leave you wondering what happened, but this one is very good and gives a sense of what went on.   Parts of the transcript made me reflect a bit on our corner of the blogosphere.  Here are a few of the relevant bits:

Latoya: This discussion is intermediate level, not Racism101 We don’t want to talk about whether racism exists. not interested in that. It’s about our experiences with social media.

So, Latoya starts out saying that this is not a “Racism101” discussion, that is, debating whether racism exists or not.    More emphasis on experiences with social media.  Fair enough.

Then, the Kety offers that the project bloggers working against racism are engaged in involves these elements: 1) spreading knowledge 2) creating refuge 3) mobilizing to action.  And, one of the interesting examples of mobilizing using the web is NCLR’s Stop the Hate campaign.

Several times, the discussion returns to the theme of racist (even violently racist) comments at these various online spaces.     And then, danah boyd asks what I think is one of the key questions, which is (paraphrased): given the history of racism online, [and given that] racism has different roots in different countries… how you get people talking, [when] they don’t know the history?

Indeed, how do you get people talking?     I see that as a struggle that gets played out here, at this blog, all the time.  I know that (possibly) conservative commentors who come by here, such as Robby – who asked recently about my reaction to Heather McDonald’s writing – see me (and others here) as engaging in “the same ol’ agit prop BS couched in impenetrable race jargon,” when what I thought I was doing was making a earnest effort to respond to what I thought was a sincere query.    And, the level of name-calling here, even by people who are supposedly supporters of anti-racism, sometimes makes me sigh.    And, that’s just among the people that bother to drop a comment.  Blogs notoriously suffer from “participation inequality” in which 90% of readers remain “lurkers” and never post a comment.   This blog is no different in that regard. So, how do you get people talking seems to me to be the central question.

I wonder about the space between #1 and #2 and #3 in Kety’s list (above) and about what we’re doing, those of us who blog against racism.   Is it possible to “spread knowledge” and “create refuge” at the same time?  And, can you do both those things while you’re “mobilizing for action”?   I don’t know, but it seems to me that a lot of what we do — here at least —  is not so much “spread” knowledge as engage in a politically-contested struggle over knowledge about race and racism.    And, if we’re “creating refuge” are we just talking to ourselves and people who agree with us?

To my mind,  talking about the basics of racism (e.g., “Racism 101”) and the empirical research that demonstrably shows that racism persists, both individually and institutionally, is necessary, if not sufficient, first step.

The Corrido of Joe Arpaio

During a weekend retreat for immigrant-rights activists in New York state, participant ( Neposter on a columbia jschool prof's doorw York Times, March 16, 2009) Saúl Linares wrote a corrido (folk ballad) about Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes the city of Phoenix, an inveterate nemesis of Hispanics who “happen” to have the “illegal immigrant look” (Creative Commons License photo credit: irina slutsky ).

The spoken corrido’s introduction (in English translation) sets the stage:

I will sing a corrido to all those present
that I wrote for Joe Arpaio from Arizona,
a shameless, disgraceful immigrant hater
who has earned the repudiation of the people.

The English translation of his corrido lyrics reads as follows:

Arpaio puts the immigrants in jail
because he says that they are crooks
but they are only looking for a decent job …
And without any apparent sense or reason
he paraded them in chains down the street.

All of the preceding facts cited in the corrido are true. A modest man, Mr. Saúl Linares threw his poignant corrido away after his performance. Fortunately, he was persuaded to save this important record of contemporary immigrants’ plight.

Realizations and Confessions of a White Man

“White Men as the Problem” (3/8/2009) will make many whites uneasy because of the truth that lies behind the statement that white males have created many of the social problems in the world today. I would like to comment on several points related to the article.

First, Joe’s article demonstrates the powerful links between race and class, clearly focusing on the fact that elite white males have created the class and racial social systems that produced most of the greed-driven misery over the last several hundred years and led to the present economic meltdown. White wealth, power and prestige have been built upon the exploitation, oppression, and dehumanization of people of color. White men created the capitalist economic system in the United States, benefit most from the system, and continue to produce new generations of whites to maintain the system. Whereas those that possess little economic power in the system, suffer greatest in the system, and whose life chances are severely challenged by the system, tend to be people of color.

One of the great sociologists of the 20th century, WEB Du Bois, proclaimed that “white wealth and culture” relies upon “Negro poverty and exploitation” (see The Oxford WEB Du Bois Reader, 1996[1962]). In his book Color and Democracy, W.E.B. Du Bois notes that “the continued oligarchical control of civilization by the white race”— and injustices of white-run societal systems “proceed as if the majority of men can be regarded mainly as sources of profit for Europe and North America” (Preface, 1945[1990]). Today’s social thinkers (e.g., Joe Feagin, George Fredrickson, Paul Lauren, and Chancellor Williams, among others) echo Du Bois’s observations made nearly a half century ago.

Ironically, and not surprisingly, when the economy is in crisis, whites disassociate themselves from capitalism; but when economic times are good, whites cannot wait to boast about their savvy entrepreneurial skills, smarts, power and wealth. With the recent collapse of the US and global economies, the “Donald Trump types” that white American society worshipped during the years of prosperity are now viewed questionably and even seen as villains. The same CEOs that Congress used to court and cuddle are now targets of Congressional committee investigations. Even the free-market, non-government interventionist ‘pro-capitalist’ platform of President Bush was not sacred as the capitalist economy spiraled downward. He quickly changed his support of the basis tenets of capitalist philosophy, non-government intervention, at the end of his administration (ironically, a last-ditch effort to benefit white capitalist elites).
A popular white myth claims that whites have single-handedly earned their wealth and worked harder than other people (of color). This is nonsense. For years, as a white man, I was convinced that my “success” (capital accumulation, property ownership, fine cars, lavish lifestyle, even dates with women) was the result of my skills alone, without realizing the advantages of my white male privilege and position in an unjust, un-equalized social system that benefits whites (particularly white men) and targets people of color. One might ask, how many talented people of color have been overlooked—economically, socially, and intellectually—in favor of mediocre whites? This white-run capitalist-racist-patriarchal system, advancing many whites and oppressing many people of color, has been fixed in American society from the start, as most people of color have known for years and as Joe’s socio-theoretical and historical understanding of the white racial frame clearly indicates.

Despite my best intentions to default my position as an advantaged white man, I cannot begin to escape my white privilege (luxuries of prep school and higher education) and greater access to power and resources (connections with wealthy whites and spoils of capitalist exploitation of people of color and poor whites) that exist in the white-dominated capitalist social world. While morally, psychologically, and socially uncomfortable on a number of levels, I hope that other white men can begin to question their position in the social world. It is necessary that white men recognize the mechanisms—the white racial frame, the colonization of people of color—that support their positions of white privilege and power, and that they take steps to compensate and return power and privilege back to people of color who have been robbed and mistreated for centuries.

One last note, while I agree that white men are primarily the problem, the ‘white family,’ white women and white children, also benefit from capitalist, racist exploitation. For example, white women hire women of color to perform the labor-intensive choirs in the homes of white families (cleaning the house and child rearing); rarely is this relation reversed. White children, boys and girls, are trained to learn the necessary “skills” to maintain the white frame that will benefit them at the expense of people of color and poor whites. According to James Wright, a “2007 study conducted by researcher Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution showed that a typical black family had only 58 percent of the income and assets of a typical white family. Blacks lag behind whites in two wealth-producing instruments, homeownership and owning a business.”

Until serious social transformation occurs along race, class and gender lines, whites, in general, not just white men, should be viewed as ‘the problem.’ To begin to help solve this problem, all whites must quite denying their unjust, ill-gotten privileges and rigged access to power and resources and attempt a redemptive path of recourse.

Social Class, Race, and Intimate Partner Violence

Chris BrownChris Brown’s February 8th assault of his girlfriend, Rihanna, has put the problem of intimate partner violence in the media spotlight (Chris Brown Creative Commons License photo credit: O.M.Gee!). From Oprah Winfrey to Larry King to numerous entertainment and news websites, talk show hosts, commentators, bloggers and others have examined the incident from multiple angles, spinning off questions about abusive relationships more generally. One of the most frequently raised issues is the social class of the couple. As a writer for CNN recently noted:

Both singers are young, apple-cheeked, immensely talented and squeaky clean – the last couple you’d imagine as domestic violence headliners. Perhaps the only good that will come from the Rihanna/Brown publicity is destruction of our culture’s misconception that abusers and their victims can only be universally poor, uneducated and powerless.

Certainly this is an important lesson to be learned and one that domestic violence advocates have been emphasizing for more than 30 years: Intimate partner violence affects individuals in all social classes and racial/ethnic groups; no one is protected by virtue of their class or race privilege. Rihanna_2That said, one of the most consistent findings from research is a strong inverse relationship between social class and intimate partner violence: As social class goes up, rates of intimate partner violence go down. Analyses of large, national surveys, for example, show that women living in households with the lowest annual incomes were five times more likely to have experienced intimate partner violence than women in households in the highest income category, and three times more likely than women in the middle income category (Rihanna Creative Commons License photo credit: Trangdepp).

Poor women, of course, are not a homogeneous group.  For instance, some poor women are homeless or living in temporary shelters, while others are housed. Some are employed, even if only in low-paying jobs without benefits, while others are unemployed or receive public assistance. Although poor women overall are at greater risk of intimate partner violence victimization, studies show that the poorest of the poor have the highest rates. Consider, for example, that nationally representative surveys of the general U.S. population estimate that about 25% of women are victimized by an intimate partner at some time during their lives. That is an unacceptably high number, but appears slight when comparing it to studies of women on welfare, which report a range of 28% to 63% lifetime victimization rates; the majority of estimates from these studies are 40% to 60% (Richard Tolman, “Guest Editor’s Introduction,” Violence Against Women, 5[1999]:355-369).

Research also indicates that poor women have higher lifetime rates of all forms of violent victimization. In a Massachusetts study, for instance, researchers found that among their sample of 216 housed, low-income, single mothers and 220 homeless single mothers in which the average age was 27, only 16% had not been physically or sexually abused in their relatively short lifetimes. Nearly 33% reported severe physical violence by a current or former boyfriend, 60% reported physical violence perpetrated by a male partner during adulthood, 63% reported severe physical violence by a parent or caregiver during childhood, and over 40% reported that they had been sexually molested during childhood. As the authors of this research point out, the majority of the women in this study had experienced only brief periods of safety during their lives (Angela Browne, Amy Salomon, & Shari S. Bassuk, “The Impact of Recent Partner Violence on Poor Women’s Capacity to Maintain Work,” Violence Against Women, 5[1999]:393-426).

One issue that has not been mentioned in the Rihanna/Brown case is the fact that the couple is black. Since the early 1980s, large national surveys have shown that black women are at greater risk of being violently victimized by their intimate partners than white women are. Some researchers have argued that the higher rate of intimate violence among black couples is the result of culturally specific factors that include beliefs about marriage and fidelity along with negative stereotypes of black women. But in studies that have examined both race and social class, differences in rates of intimate partner violence between black and white couples are significantly reduced or disappear completely when social class is controlled. The higher rate of intimate partner violence victimization – and, indeed, all types of violent victimization – among black women, then, is another outcome of racism: the result of the disproportionate number of black people who live in poverty. In her recent research on gendered violence in the lives of urban black girls, the vast majority of which is perpetrated by peers and acquaintances, criminologist Jody Miller informs readers:

This book should not be read as an indictment of young Black men and their treatment of their female peers. . . . [W]e, as a society, have created the circumstances that lead to cultural adaptations to situational contexts that shape urban African American young women’s risks. The indictment is of all of us. (Getting Played, New York: New York University Press, 2008, p. xvii)

Thus, while the attention given to intimate partner violence because of the Rihanna/Brown case is important and welcome, the emphasis being placed on the couple’s social status and how intimate partner violence happens even among wealthy couples should not allow us to overlook the fact that the greatest burden of this violence falls on poor women. And, as a direct result of racism, women of color are disproportionately poor and have the fewest resources available to them to cope with this problem.

Countering Racist and Other Stereotyping

Anti-racism protest

We like to accent here resources for dealing with various forms of racism, sexism, and heterosexism (Creative Commons License photo credit: uwdigitalcollections). Leslie Aguilar has put together an important website and book that suggests various strategies for dealing with stereotyped and prejudiced commentaries and performances that you may encounter in your daily rounds.

The suggestions include responding to racist and other stereotyped comments from acquaintances or others with a simple reaction like, “ouch, that hurts” or “ouch, that stereotype hurts.” I have suggested similar modest counters such as, “what does that mean?” or “what did you mean by that?” Or “can you explain that joke to me?”

Such counters are important for several reasons, including the act of calling out the racist, sexist, or homophobic remark for what it is–that is noting the stereotyped image, notion, or emotion in such a remark and not letting it pass by unremarked upon. By calling it out, you often keep more such remarks from coming. Calling it out also may allow a further discussion about why that remark or joke hurt, and who was hurt. We need to build such actions into regular Stereotyping 101 and Racism 101 courses at all levels of U.S. schooling.

Try out his video preview here.

White Flight & Structural Racism

There’s an interview with author Rich Benjamin over at In These Times by David Sirota about Benjamin’s new book, Searching for Whitopia: How the Whiter Half Lives (Hyperion, June).  The premise of the book is that Benjamin, a black man, visits the fastest-growing and whitest areas (e.g., “whitopias”) in the U.S. to explore how white America is “geographically separating itself from the rest of the country,” an awkward, passive voice construction of the problem.

Benjamin says that, as a black man, he finds the whitopias to be superficially welcoming and free of what he calls “interpersonal racism,” but that “structural racism” racism persists.

I have some personal knowledge of white flight and how that contributes to structural racism that, in part, illustrates Benjamin’s point (image from here).

When I was in first grade, my family moved from Houston (where I was born) to Corpus Christi, about four hours south and west along the Gulf Coast.   About the time we moved to Corpus, José Cisneros filed suit against the Corpus Christi Independent School District arguing racial discrimination against his children, and all Mexican-American children in the CCISD.

Cisneros, an auto mechanic and active union member, was appalled by the condition of the public schools compared to the parochial schools where he’d previously sent his children.  Cisneros approached the principal at the public school about repairing the crumbling toilet fixtures and broken windows at the school his children attended.  The principal refused. Cisneros, galvanized by his experience as a union member, turned the principal’s refusal into a cause.  He joined forces with a handful of other parents and filed a lawsuit asserting that the disrepair he witnessed was indicative of a pattern of widespread discrimination against Mexican-American children.  Cisneros won and Cisneros v. Corpus Christi ISD (1970) became the first case to extend the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision (1954) to Mexican Americans.

For the next five years, from 1970 to 1975 while I was in grades 3 through 8 in Corpus Christi public schools, CCISD administrators tried everything they could to get in the way of the court’s decision.  We lived next door to Dr. Dana Williams, the man who was the Superintendent of the CCISD.  Although my father was not politically active or, what today we would call civicly engaged, he did check in regularly with Dr. Williams about the status of the implementation of the desegregation case.  After calmly talking with our next door neighbor in moderate terms about school desegregation, my father would come back across the driveway and, behind closed doors reenact these conversations with my mother, only in the retelling, they would include much less moderate, and more overtly racist, language.

At the beginning of the 1975-1976 school year, and my 8th grade year, the Corpus Christi ISD began to implement the first stage of desegregation, with full implementation planned for the following year.

This was just the motivation my father needed to begin rethinking my education.   Faced with the possibility of having to comply with court-ordered desegregation, he began to see the wisdom of sending me to a boarding school outside the reach of the Corpus Christi ISD.   Then, after strong objections from my mother about sending me away and some preliminary investigation into the actual cost of boarding school, he began to seriously consider a private tutor.  Long before “home schooling” was commonplace, this is essentially what he had in mind.  However, neither of my parents felt inclined or equipped to home school me, and when no other suitable private tutor emerged, my father landed on what he thought was the ideal solution: white flight.

In a rather dramatic version of this phenomenon, my father decided that we would leave the relative diversity of Corpus Christi and return to the bleak whiteness of a suburban, strip-mall, no-zoning, oil and gas exurb of Houston.  My father had several goals in mind with this one move: he could expand his business by being closer to the oil and gas movers-and-shakers in Houston, he would stay true to his commitment to pull me from a school under court-ordered desegregation, and I could go to a school that was more challenging than the CCISD schools.

Thus, in the fall of 1976, one year after school desegregation began in earnest in Corpus Christi, we moved to the all-white suburb of Ponderosa Forest, and I started school at the all-white Spring High School.

My personal narrative of my father’s decision to engage in white flight in the mid-1970s is part of the larger picture of “whitopias” that Benjamin refers to in his book.  The kind of decision that my father made about relocating our family to an apartheid-like, privileged suburb of Houston is one that, some thirty years later, continues to play itself out across the U.S., in the north, east, south and west.  As Benjamin notes in the interview with Sirota:

Interpersonal racism is declining. I met such lovely people across whitopia. In our tolerant, relentlessly friendly society, people rarely degrade others because of skin color. The majority of Americans accept politicians, co-workers and friendships from different races.

But structural racism—or, the policies and behaviors of institutions that perpetuate racial segregation and inequality—is not on the decline. America’s schools and neighborhoods are as racially segregated today as they were in 1970. That’s a big problem. And during my research, I discovered that my native New York City has the same demonstrable level of black-white segregation that it did in 1910. Nothing has changed on that front in a century.

While I agree that public expressions of overt racism are declining, I think that Benjamin is naïve to minimize the individual racism of whites (e.g., Picca and Feagin, Two-Faced Racism, 2007).  He is right to emphasize the ongoing impact of structural racism.  The fact is that court-ordered school desegregation was intended to dismantle structural and institutional racism in education, yet white people – like my father – continue to resist such dismantling of the American system of apartheid by voting with their moving vans,  relocating to all-white suburbs and sending their children to all-white schools.

Talk of “Revolution” and Texas

Chuck Norris ApprovedWhat do they put in Chuck Norris’s water? He and his ilk seem to be talking about a “second revolution” (Creative Commons License photo credit: killpack99).  At least they cite Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote on this. And Norris says he wants to be president of Texas.

“I may run for president of Texas,” Norris wrote Monday in a column posted at WorldNetDaily. “That need may be a reality sooner than we think. If not me, someone someday may again be running for president of the Lone Star state, if the state of the union continues to turn into the enemy of the state.” The actor claimed “thousands of cell groups will be united around the country in solidarity over the concerns for our nation” and said that if states decide to secede from the union, that Texas would lead the way.

He says he made this comment in just, but later he adds:

When I appeared on Glenn Beck’s radio show, he told me that someone had asked him, “Do you really believe that there is going to be trouble in the future?” And he answered, “If this country starts to spiral out of control . . . before America allows a country to become a totalitarian country (which it would have under I think the Republicans as well in this situation; they were taking us to the same place, just slower), Americans won’t stand for it. There will be parts of the country that will rise up.” Then Glenn asked me and his listening audience, “And where’s that going to come from?” He answered his own question, “Texas, it’s going to come from Texas. Do you agree with that Chuck?” I replied, “Oh yeah!” Definitely.

He might want to check out a little demographic data. He and his cells seem to think Texas is still mostly white and conservative. Do these mostly white guys really do any thinking about societal evidence and social reality? Texas is not what its media image seems to be. A majority of Texans now, and that is a lot of folks, are Black, Latino, Asian, Native American. I would hazard the guess they would not like Norris as their “president,” just a guess?

To Kill or Not to Kill. That is, If the Price is Too High?

The Chicago Tribune, along with other national and local news outlets, has recently published numerous articles surrounding the possible end of the death penalty.

I would like to thank state governments around the country to have the testicular fortitude to address such an imperative concern. Is it possible that they directed their attention to the issue because as of August 26, 2008, some 130 death row inmates have been exonerated in 26 states? It had to be, right?

No, the call for social justice had to come from the fact that “82% of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e., those who murdered whites were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.” Moreover, this is evident with the number of executions that have occurred since 1976. Wrong again?

Ok, it had to be because the disproportionate rate of Black males to non-Black males on death row caused the ethical and moral bones within their bodies to ache.

In reality, the real cause for the debate over the death penalty surfacing again is not because of moral, ethical, religious, or even statistical evidence that has proven time and time again that the death penalty does not curb the rate of serious malicious crimes from occurring.

Money! Money is the motive for the dialogue. The lack of the almighty dollar within the hands of states during the current U.S. economic crisis, coupled with the millions states utilize to contest years of legal appeals, has made the nation second guess the efficiency of killing another human being.

Amnesty International states that, “a 2003 legislative audit in Kansas found that the estimated cost of a death penalty case was 70% more than the cost of a comparable non-death penalty case.” Moreover, the New York Times wrote a story in which “a judge in a small, poor Ohio county told prosecutors there this month that they could not seek the death penalty in the murder of a college student because the county’s share of the defense costs would be too great.”

I guess it is true as Henry Louis Mencken states, “Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice.”

Structural Racism: What do FDR and Barack Obama have in common?

What do President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Barack Obama have in common?  Unfortunately, a lot.

lender foreclosure

A recent report by the Kirwan Institute on Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University projects that the relief purposed to come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARR Act) will not benefit all groups to the same degree (Creative Commons License photo credit: TheTruthAbout…) . Because of the racial stratification of occupations and employment opportunities, the jobs created in the stimulus package are designed for industries where blacks, in particular, are underrepresented (e.g., the construction industry).
In parallel fashion, the economic benefits of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal disproportionately benefited white middle class America.  FDR’s New Deal funded the seeds of post-World War II suburbanization and with it, white flight, through the National Housing Act of 1934 implemented by the Federal Housing Administration. These government handouts are in part responsible for the crystallization of a large black-white gap in wealth we still see today.

Fortunately, unlike the 30s, we currently have laws that criminalize racial discrimination in hiring and wage allotment. However, sociological studies show that the racial wage gap is largest in the private sector, particularly in occupations where earnings are decided by the capital of one’s client-base. In a society where both interracial friendships and interracial employment contracts are rare, it is not difficult to see where inequalities in earnings can be built into a privatized client-driven pay scale. Many of the new jobs the ARR Act seeks to create will be rooted in the private sector (e.g., infrastructure investments and the energy sector), not the public sector where racial wage gaps are more equitable.

What we essentially have is an example of institutional discrimination, also known as “structural racism”—that is, a range of policies and practices of an institution that lead to the systematic disadvantage of members of certain racial groups (disparate impact). Not coincidentally, the mechanisms of structural racism operate among us invisibly and create an inert force once activated.

We are only now seeing one of the many unintended consequences of the government subsidization of white wealth – twenty-first century black foreclosure.

Analysts have noted that since 2004 black homeownership gains have been reversed and that even before this time rates of foreclosure were on a steady rise in areas with large minority populations. While the media likes to place the onus on blacks – citing poor investment practices and bad credit, they forget that, unlike their white counterparts, black homeowners financed much of their American Dream through their own means. They also did not catch on to urban flight until the 80s and 90s, once housing prices in urban areas were prohibitively expensive and the rise in housing values (and therefore, escrow capital) had already begun to stagnate.  Furthermore, predatory lending practices, redlining, and urban decline have largely eroded the capital out of their most valuable asset.

Thus, in times where the median black family income is dropping for the first time since World War II, there is little to bail people of color out of the depression they have entered into with the current economic crisis. According to United for a Fair Economy, black unemployment rates have been indicative of an economic recession for the past five years.

Could the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 be the 1930s New Deal all over again? In “Silent Depression: The State of the Dream 2009,” United for a Fair Economy draws more parallels between these two periods than one would like. Lax lending standards, a housing and construction boom, and later foreclosure were all features of the 20s and 30s, much as they are features of our current economic situation.

How do we stop this cycle of structural racism?

If the ARR Act goes into effect without oversight into how and to whom jobs and other monetary benefits are distributed, it seems unlikely that we will be able to do so. One place we already see the process of structural racism in the making is in the response of certain governors to accepting funds earmarked for their state due to their political ideology. Six governors – all Republican and some 2012 presidential candidate hopefuls – have displayed hesitancy in accepting funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the governor of Alabama has already refused stimulus funds for unemployment funds.

While everyone has a right to their politically ideology regarding government intervention into state affairs, the impact of statesmen refusing stimulus funds most likely will only aggravate the current racial gap in unemployment and contribute to the further decline in median family income within black household. These statesmen’s rationalization of government policies is part of the larger white racial frame undergirding American systemic racism simply because of the centrality of race to American racial and non-racial politics. In all of the states where governors are dancing the political two-step, black unemployment is at least twice that of whites. By withholding stimulus funds that will benefit all constituents of a state and stymie the short- and long-term effects of the current recession – both which were derivatives of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, these governors actively participate in maintaining structural racism and racialized experiences.

The time to be assertive, deliberate, and informed about how racism works is now. has already begun an online petition calling out the social and humanistic irresponsibility of these governors. Time is repeating itself: This time there are no excuses.

White Men as The Problem

Bank of AmericaUnusual numbers of photos of elite white men are in the news lately, since the financial crisis hit. Almost all perpetrators of our “second great depression,” as with the first, have been white men (Creative Commons License photo credit: Shannon Clark). White male business “geniuses,” often with top-college educations. It is odd that no one yet, to my knowledge, has featured the whiteness or white-maleness of these malefactors of great wealth as a central feature of the life-devastating economic “problem” we face globally. One can be sure that if these agents of destruction were women or men of color that the reality of their gender and racial characteristics would be a constant topic of conversation by pundits and politicians, especially in the media. (Remember that Hillary Clinton is still blamed for failures in health care reform quite a while back.)

Come to think of it, white men (they named themselves “white” in the 17th century) created the modern Western (now world) economic system. They created the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Or should we say, the Predatory Ethic and the Spirit of Exploitation. Arrogant greed seems to be a major motivation behind the labor/land expropriation and exploitation euphemized by historians as “overseas exploration” and “settlement.” Certainly, white men created, expanded, and maintained the often genocidal taking of millions of indigenous peoples’ lands in the Americas and the Holocaust-like Atlantic slave trade. Mostly white men created the oppressive realities of modern capitalism and North American slavery, and have made huge profits and wealth off of it, now passed along to their descendants.

In recent centuries, elite white men have caused much death and destruction, probably more than any other elite group on the planet. White men are certainly not the only major sources of “democide” and related despotism, but they do seem to lead the list. (Consider not only the many indigenous genocides and Atlantic slave trade, but the Holocaust, Soviet gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two world wars). While white men are not alone in such actions, the consequences of their actions have been more far-reaching, especially for the planet in general than have those of despotic not-white actors.

White men set up the Western legal systems reinforcing modern capitalism and North American genocide targeting millions of indigenous Americans and enslavement of millions of African Americans. They created the white racial frame to explain and rationalize these savage operations. The white frame is a dominant worldview that a great many white men, including elite political-economic leaders, still seem to be operating out of as they today exploit the world’s majority, the 80 percent of the planet that is not white.

And it was these self-named white men who reinvigorated a very strong white-patriarchal frame, with its “great chain of being” notions (God at top, then angels, then European men, then European women, then European children, then “other races,” then animals). In the North American case, they easily extended this to the system of racial oppression they had devised for Native Americans and African Americans.

These men, centuries ago and now, see themselves as heroic and virtuous, even as they have created great destruction and misery for many people. Ronald Takaki speaks of this view of white men as “virtuous republicans.” Note that in this centuries-old process most white men have had little sense of their own weakness and venality, but have almost always accented their virtues. Today, as in earlier centuries, most white men generally do not see their group’s lack of virtues, their major weaknesses, and their major errors. They certainly do not like to admit error. Indeed, white men now often blame the victims, as in the case of this white male commodity trader who recently blamed homeowners and moaned about “losers” with troubled mortgages, and not the banks now being bailed out with billions for playing the central role in creating the housing crisis.

So we are rapidly moving today to the second of their “great depressions” in this country’s history, yet the arrogant framing and actions of a few hundred, or perhaps thousand, of elite white men have yet to be problematized. Indeed, one cannot do so in the public media and discussions of this society. It simply is not possible to problematize the ruling group, as they have too much control to allow for significant problematization.

The white racial frame, which I have written about here before, is more than a framing of racial matters to legitimate oppressions. It is accents white virtues, especially white male virtues. It has a dramatic arrogance about what is virtue and what is not, about who is virtuous and who is not, and about where and when there is virtue. It assumes that an arrogant greed, a predatory spirit, an overarching patriarchism that means white men should be at the head of society, should be masters of the social universe.

Yet, it is the lack of virtue of a great many white men that has gotten the world’s economy into this second depression. It is their stupidity, their lack of “IQ,” their lack of foresight, their lack of political regulation and planning, and thus their lack of public-regardingness. A recent report on the “financial crisis and the systemic failure of academic economics” (by mostly European economists) makes quite clear the failure of the (substantially white male) economics profession to research and interpret the global financial crisis.

Why blame white men? Well, the men who gave us this global crisis are overwhelmingly white and “educated,” often from top universities, but not very good in regard to critical thinking or the ethics of the “commons.” Then, there is the white collar crime, or at least corruption, that many have apparently engaged in–so far rarely discussed. White collar crime and other corruption, economic and political, is pushed to margins of public discussion because this is the kind of behavior dominated by white men. Such actions are often seen as not criminal, as “normal,” in part because white men wrote the laws about what is “serious” crime. They decided what is to be punished, and how much. Millions have lost their homes, jobs, incomes, and pensions, yet we rarely see elite white men targeted, photographed, or treated as criminals who stole or otherwise savaged lives–unlike hundreds of people of color who get such treatment by the media weekly.

Why blame white men? A reason, again, is that white men control the mass media corporations, and thus control how white men and their corruption get portrayed in society. They are the ones who force portrayals of this second depression as an economic reality for which “we are all responsible,” a crisis “no particular group” created. Yet, there are real people, real white male actors, who did in fact create this horrific reality the world now faces.

In one of the most brilliant in the literature on racial matters, chapter one of the Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois foregrounded the ways in which black Americans had come to be defined as a “problem”:

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word. And yet, being a problem is a strange experience. . . .

So let us now define white men as the problem when it comes to many matters of human rights and human survival, including the world’s current political-economic situation.

In a famous book, Michael Moore did target Bush administration actors as “stupid white men” some time back. We should extend this now to yet more actions of white men, who are indeed a much broader societal problem today.

Then, the next step is figuring out how to change all this, and create a real democracy in this country and elsewhere, where people do have control of their economic and political situations. What is your solution?

(Note: I am indebted to helpful comments from other bloggers in writing this post.)