Racializing the Flu and Immigrants

“Media Matters for America” put up a youtube mashup of right-wing commentators’ racializing the swine flu (possible) epidemic (h/t Rosalind).

Once again, the right wing (Notice how white these excerpts are too) seems obsessed with creating racialized “others” for US folks to fear. This time it is Mexican immigrants, even though the mass media reports also indicate that it was white visitors to Mexico who apparently brought the flu across the border.

Viewing this video gives one a sense of what it must have been like to listen to the hostile and fear-mongering ravings against the Jews by Adolf Hitler’s “brownshirt” (paramilitary) and other demagogues in Nazi Germany in the 1920s-1930s. Is that what these commentators intend?


Jay Severin, the fiery right wing talk show host on Boston’s WTKK-FM radio station, was suspended yesterday after calling Mexican immigrants “criminaliens,” “primitives,” “leeches,” and exporters of “women with mustaches and VD,” among other incendiary comments. Heidi Raphael, a spokeswoman for the station, said Severin had been suspended indefinitely from his afternoon drive-time show. She declined to say which of his comments – made since an outbreak of swine flu was linked to Mexico in recent days – sparked the suspension. . . . Severin’s comments sparked deep concern among Mexicans and other Latinos living in the Boston area, prompting what Tobia described as a flood of complaints to station management in recent days.

Religious Racism: A Milestone Overlooked

During the November 2008 celebrations over Senator Obama’s election, another important event regarding the country’s racist past was generally overlooked. In that month the president and great-grandson of the founder of arch-conservative
Bob Jones University Bob Jones University
Creative Commons License photo credit: japedi
apologized for its long hyper-racist tradition:

For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. . . . For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.

An odd apology, given that institutional racism never exists without personal discriminatory acts stemming from the old white racial frame. He apparently limits personal “racism” to just certain outrageous actions like cross-burnings, I suppose. Racist actions somehow do not include all the racial segregation barriers long implemented on campus by campus officials.

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education continues with an interesting of this very segregated university. Its founder, Bob Jones, was a very fundamentalist and segregationist Christian evangelist. After several college moves and recurring financial troubles, it finally located in Greenville, S.C. (Interestingly, Billy Graham attended the college—at its earlier Tennessee location–in the 1930s but found it too conservative even for his tastes in reactionary religion.) Jones was extraordinarily hostile to Catholics and viewed the pope as the anti-Christ, as well as Blacks as naturally segregated and unfit for his college:

Jones Sr. was of the view that twentieth-century blacks should be grateful to whites for bringing their ancestors to this country as slaves. If this had not happened, Jones wrote in 1960, “they might still be over there in the jungles of Africa, unconverted.” Integrationists, according to Jones, were wrongfully trying to eradicate natural boundaries that God himself had established.

The son, Bob Jones Jr., was at least as extreme a segregationist and gave honorary degrees to leading segregationists like George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, and Lester Maddox. The next Bob Jones, the third, became president in 1971. The college, with lots of federal pressure, finally admitted unmarried black students, but strictly barred interracial dating. This led in 1976 to the IRS (belatedly) revoking its tax-exempt status and demanding back taxes. The resulting court case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which also (belatedly) voted 8 to 1 for the IRS decision. (Only former segregation supporter Chief Justice Rehnquist voted against.) Still the college continued it racist religious rant:

In 1998 Jonathan Pait, a public relations spokesman for the university, explained the school’s prohibition against interracial dating: “God has separated people for his own purposes. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different from one another and intends those differences to remain. Bob Jones University is opposed to intermarriage of the races because it breaks down the barriers God has established.”

Just two years later, the college backed off on this position on interracial dating, but it took eight more years for the president of the university to make the rather tepid apology noted above. I wonder if President Obama’s election played a role in that apology

Remedying Racism: The Supreme Court and Affirmative Action

Coming in June 2009 is a Supreme Court decision that is likely to rule, once again, against affirmative action. The case involves white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut. The city had a conventional (the NY Times says, poorly contstructed) promotion exam on which in 2003 white test takers did better than black or Latino test takers. The city invalidated test results as discriminatory against candidates of color. White firefighters sued, arguing they were discriminated against. The issue of “reverse discrimination” and “reverse racism,” clever white reframing terms, was again raised, with these oxymoronic phrases being widely circulated.

Summer Vacation 07 part 1 176
Creative Commons License photo credit: Tim Pearce, Los Gatos

In an April 21, 2009 editorial the New York Times called on the Supreme Court to follow the decision of the Second Circuit appeals court in its decision that the city did not discriminate. As the Times noted,

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, and the trial court before it, ruled that the city had acted properly. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to ensure that employment practices are not racially discriminatory. Because New Haven had a reasonable belief that the test discriminated against minority applicants, it had a legitimate basis for discarding the results.

The Times asks why New Haven did not have a better constructed test, and also notes that

If the Fire Department had promoted based on the test, two Hispanics and no blacks would have been eligible for the seven open captain positions. No Hispanics or blacks would have been eligible for the eight lieutenant positions. Faced with a test that had such a strong adverse impact on minority applicants, New Haven decided to throw out the results and leave the supervisory positions open. In their lawsuit, the white firefighters insist that there was nothing wrong with the exam.

The savvy columnist and scholar Earl Ofari Hutchinson has a good article at New America Media on the likely decision against affirmative action:

It’s hardly the first time the Supreme Court has ruled on race related employment and education cases. In each instance the rulings have done much to fuel the notion that a majority of Americans oppose affirmative action.

He also makes clear data that counter a common white myth and show that few whites ever get seriously hurt even by aggressive affirmative action plans:

The other pillar of the Supreme Court’s anti-affirmative argument – and it cropped up again in the New Haven case – is that qualified white males are getting kicked to the curb and are losing ground to unqualified blacks, minorities and women. . . . According to census figures, if every unemployed black worker in the country were to displace a white worker, only a tiny fraction of whites would be affected. Furthermore, affirmative action pertains only to job-qualified applicants, so the actual percentage of affected whites would be minuscule. In New Haven, the number of firefighters allegedly affected was 20. The main sources of job loss among white workers have to do with factory relocations and labor contracting outside the United States, computerization and automation, and corporate downsizing.

I have mulled over these thorny issues in several places before, and let me summarize some general thoughts about racial discrimination and its affirmative action remedies.

First we need to consider where most racial discrimination has occurred in this society. Discrimination, as conceptualized by most scholars of racial-ethnic relations, emphasizes the dominant group–subordinate group context. Racial discrimination usually refers to actions of members of dominant groups—for example, white Americans—taken to harm members of subordinate groups, such as black, Latino, Asian, or Native Americans. Historically and today, systemic white discrimination is not just a matter of occasional white bigotry but involves the dominant white group’s power to enforce its racist prejudices and framing in discriminatory practices across many institutions. On occasion, individual members of subordinated racial groups can be motivated by their prejudices to take action to harm those in the dominant white group. Yet, with modest exceptions, members of racially subordinate groups usually do not have the power or institutional position to express their stereotypes and prejudices they hold about whites in the form of continuing and thus substantial everyday discrimination.

Think about the historical and contemporary US patterns of racial discrimination directed by large numbers of whites against just one major group, black Americans. That mistreatment has meant, and still means, widespread blatant and subtle discrimination by whites against blacks in most organizations in all major institutions in U.S. society—in housing, employment, business, education, health services, and the legal system. Over four centuries, many millions of whites have participated directly in discrimination against many millions of African Americans. Judging from opinion polls and research studies, a majority of whites currently still hold numerous negative stereotypes of African Americans and millions of these will discriminate under some circumstances. And most whites observe anti-black discrimination around them without actively working to stop it. This widespread and systemic discrimination has brought extraordinarily heavy social and economic losses (the latter estimated to be trillions of dollars over nearly 400 years) for African Americans in many institutional sectors of society.

What would the reverse of this centuries-old anti-black discrimination and other oppression look like? The reverse of the institutionalized discrimination by whites against blacks would mean reversing the power and resource inequalities for several hundred years. In the past and today, most organizations in major institutional areas such as housing, education, and employment would be run at the top and middle-levels by a disproportionate number of powerful black managers and officials. These powerful black officials would have aimed much racial discrimination at whites, including many years of slavery and legal segregation. Millions of whites would have suffered—and still suffer—trillions in economic losses such as lower wages, as well as high rates of unemployment and political disenfranchisement, widespread housing segregation, inferior school facilities, and violent lynchings. That societal condition would be something one could reasonably call a condition that significantly “reversed the discrimination” against African Americans.

What is usually termed reverse discrimination is something much different from this fictional anti-white scenario. The usual reference is to affirmative action programs that, for a limited time or in certain places, have used racial screening criteria to overcome a small part of past and present discrimination that targets racially oppressed people. Whatever modest costs a few years of affirmative action have meant for whites (usually white men, for white women have been major beneficiaries of affirmative action), those costs do not add up to anything close to the total cost that inverting the historical and contemporary patterns of discrimination against people of color would involve. Affirmative action plans, as currently set up—and there are now far fewer effective plans than most critics suggest—do not make concrete and devastating a widespread anti-white prejudice or framing on the part of people of color. As implemented, affirmative action plans have mostly involved modest remedial efforts (typically designed by white men!) to bring token-to-modest numbers of people of color and white women into certain areas of our economic, social, and political institutions where they have historically been excluded.

If remedies for racial oppression, such as serious affirmative action, are real and successful, they will of course mean some costs to be paid by those who have benefited most from centuries of racial and gender discrimination. Yet, today, a white man who suffers as an individual from remedial programs such as usually modest affirmative action in employment or education suffers in but one area of life (and often only once) and because he is an exception to his privileged racial group. A person of color who suffers from racial discrimination usually suffers in all areas of her or his life and primarily because the whole group has been and still is subordinated, not because he or she is an exception.

In spite of continuing high levels of discrimination targeting Americans of color, over recent decades, most remedy programs have been weakened or phased out as a more conservative white perspective has regained full control in most major public and private institutions. Today, this retrenchment from racial desegregation of U.S. society is quite substantial, and it resembles the white reactionary backtracking in the 19th century that took place after the Reconstruction era. After Reconstruction the white elite replaced slavery with the near-slavery of legal segregation, much to the longterm detriment of the entire society. Are we in a new post-Reconstruction period, in spite of a electing a black president?

Anti-Latino Racism: SPLC Report on Discrimination

Immigrant Rights March
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kevin Coles (NYC Immigrants’ rights march)

Do white discrimination and the white racist frame still target Latinos, both immigrants and the US-born? You bet they do, according to a large-scale research project by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South. Researchers recently interviewed 500 low-income Latinos, especially immigrants, in Nashville, Charlotte, New Orleans, rural Georgia and several towns in Alabama.

The poignant report begins with personal stories:

In Tennessee, a young mother is arrested and jailed when she asks to be paid for her work in a cheese factory. In Alabama, a migrant bean picker sees his life savings confiscated by police during a traffic stop. In Georgia, a rapist goes unpunished because his 13-year old victim is undocumented.

The southwest has traditionally been the home for most Latinos, but the Latino population in southern states is now the fastest growing, with many seeking low-wage jobs in manufacturing and construction. Since the 1990s the states of Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee have been privileged to add 1.6 million Latinos, mostly workers and their families. As with other Americans of color, these hardworking Latinos often face intense and

widespread hostility, discrimination and exploitation. They are routinely cheated out of their earnings and denied basic health and safety protections. They are regularly subjected to racial profiling and harassment by law enforcement. They are victimized by criminals who know they are reluctant to report attacks. And they are frequently forced to prove themselves innocent of immigration violations, regardless of their legal status. This treatment – which many Latinos liken to the oppressive climate of racial subordination that blacks endured during the Jim Crow era – is encouraged by politicians and media figures who scapegoat immigrants and spread false propaganda.

So much for a post-racial America. We might note that the principal discriminators are not named as white in any sentence in the 64-page report. Indeed, the world “whites” never appears in the report, and the only place “white” appears is in a few references to “white supremacist” groups. Even in critical research reports like this there seems to be an etiquette of not offending white dsciminators explicitly, but leaving the elite and ordinary white actors as “implicit” in the commentaries, unless they are part of supremacist groups. We see this in this next comment from the executive summary:

And as a result of relentless vilification in the media, Latinos are targeted for harassment by racist extremist groups, some of which are directly descended from the old guardians of white supremacy.

The report does recognize the problem is larger than these supremacist groups. Using general or vague language, local government “agencies” (again not named as white) are called out for discriminatory legislation being passed against immigrants, especially the undocumented:

A number of Southern communities, for example, have enacted ordinances designed to limit services to undocumented immigrants and make their lives as difficult as possible, with the ultimate goal of driving them away. In addition, many law enforcement agencies in the South, armed with so-called 287(g) agreements with the federal government, are enforcing immigration law in a way that has led to accusations of systematic racial profiling and has made Latino crime victims and witnesses more reluctant to cooperate with police. Such policies have the effect of creating a subclass of people who exist in a shadow economy, beyond the protection of the law.

Those who face discrimination have already endured many dangers and barriers in order to build up the South, to do the hard and dirty labor of

building skyscrapers in Charlotte, harvesting onions in Georgia, slaughtering poultry in Alabama and rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina. Many of these new arrivals left their homes in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and other Latin American countries to escape poverty, which some experts believe has been worsened by U.S. trade policies. Many crossed the border illegally, risking their lives and freedom for opportunity in the United States, while others were originally “imported” by employers under the guest worker system. Many others are legal residents or U.S. citizens, caught in the crossfire of America’s war on “illegals.”

Given this metaphorical “war” on them, it is not surprising that the interviewers found many Latinos living in great fear of the police and other government agents, as well as fear of cheating employers and criminals seeking to take advantage of them. In addition, as José Cobas and I have also found (see articles here, for example), it is not just the undocumented Latinos who face discrimination, mostly at the hands of whites. A great many Latinos face that discrimination:

Even legal residents and U.S. citizens of Latino descent say that racial profiling, bigotry and myriad other forms of discrimination and injustice are staples of their daily lives. “The assumption is that every Latino possibly is undocumented,” says one immigrant advocate in North Carolina. “So [discrimination] has spread over into the legal population.”

The racism is systemic, once again. And the relevant white discriminators need to be called out and named as principal actors in this sorry societal-oppression reality.

Czech University Cancels Lectures by David Duke

One of the things I was surprised to learn in research for my upcoming book, is that young people (ages 15-19) surfing the Internet for information about civil rights who stumble upon a reference to David Duke have no idea who he is, and therefore don’t immediately discredit him.   I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me given that most of the national headlines David Duke as former Ku Klux Klan wizard and then as david_duke_and_udo_voigt_2002a suit-and-tie-racist and Louisiana politician happened long before most 15-19 year olds were paying attention to news.  And, in the past few years, Duke has spent much of his time in Europe where he his brand of white supremacy has been well-received (pictured here with German far-right leader, Udo Voigt). Duke even received an honorary doctorate and often refers to himself as “Dr. Duke.”

So, it was encouraging news when I read recently that Duke was banned from delivering lectures at Charles University in Prague and Brno, Czech Republic, university authorities said.  (I guess I also felt a special glee because a couple of years ago I’d been to Brno, Czech Republic to give a talk about my work.   I’m not saying these two events are related, just a happy coincidence, but I digress.)  The article refers to Duke as a “former white supremacist,” and nothing could be further from the truth.  While he has discarded the hoods and robes of the Klan, he is a regularly featured celebrity on an Internet radio show hosted by Stormfront, the largest and longest-running white supremacist website.

Part of what’s so pernicious about Duke’s particular brand of white supremacy, racism and antisemitism is the way that he has been able to both appropriate and influence more respected hatemongers, such as academic Kevin McDonald.   Kevin McDonald’s ties to extremists such as David Duke have been well-documented by the ADL and I wrote a long post about him awhile ago.

And, Duke was among the first white supremacists to see the potential of the Internet for spreading his views of white supremacy.  Back in the mid-1990s he wrote,  “I believe that the Internet will begin a chain reaction of racial enlightenment that will shake the world by the speed of its intellectual conquest.”   The reality that David Duke and other white supremacists were early adopters of the Internet, runs counter to prevailing notions about white supremacists as bumpkins and about the Internet as an inherently democratic space.

Finally, in the category of the extremely strange bedfellows created by Holocaust denialism, in 2007 David Duke attended a conference called “Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision,” sponsored by the Iranian government.  While denounced by the governments of the United States, Britain (among others), in attendance were 67 participants from 30 countries including Frederick Töben of Australia, Robert Faurisson of France, and a group of Orthodox Jews who despise Zionism.  Of course, Iranian President Ahmadinejad was a key figure in organizing and speaking at the conference.  Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis a “myth.”

Perhaps now that the Czech Republic has cancelled lectures by Duke, the support he once enjoyed overseas is beginning to turn to distaste.

U.N. Anti-Racism Conference

eleanorroosevelthumanrightsThe U.N. anti-racism conference in Geneva adopted a consensus resolution yesterday that demands action against racism and xenophobia.  The resolution is not without controversy, however, and this rather lengthy post is meant to serve as a review of some of the key issues surrounding the controversy that developed it.  First, a little history.

U.N. Declares Freedom from Racism a Fundamental Human Right

The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which was passed in 1948 largely due to the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt (pictured here holding a copy of the declaration, image in the public domain from Wikimedia), includes in it language that reads:

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (Article 2).

That commitment to human rights in general, and racial equality in particular led to a series of conferences sponsored by the U.N. on racism, the third of which was the first U.N. World Conference Against Racism in 2001 in Durban, South Africa.   This conference is widely referred to by the shorthand “Durban,” or the “Durban Racism Conference.”  That first conference was intensely controversial for the kind of extreme antisemitism it attracted, as the Christian Science Monitor recounts in a recent article:

Some pro-­Palestinian supporters passed out fliers containing a photograph of Hitler captioned, “What if I had won? There would be no Israel and no Palestinian bloodshed.” Thousands of NGO delegates approved a document that branded Israel guilty of genocide, apartheid, and other war crimes.Then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson found the forum recommendations so toxic she refused to “forward” them on to the governments.

Yet, as the CSM goes on to point out, often forgotten is the fact that the gathered diplomats stripped out the most incendiary anti-Israel language even though it did make reference to “the plight of the Palestinian people,” a reference which many objected to as anti-Israel if not a veiled antisemitic attack.

Antisemitism & Racism: Disaster from Disaster

Given this context of overt and extreme antisemitism at the first Durban conference, the second conference had a lot of disadvantages at the start.  The second conference, known as the Durban Review Conference (April 20-24, 2009), is still in process and yet many have already declared it a “disaster,” such as 

“There has only ever been one United Nations conference on racism before and it ended in disaster. The second begins in it.”

Part of what prompts Ms. Philp to call the Durban Review “a disaster from disaster” is the extensive boycott by many of the invited nations, led by the U.S.:

“The boycott, begun by the United States and Israel, has snowballed so far across the Western world that any official international consensus on dealing with racism and xenophobia now looks near pointless. “

It’s true that the U.S. has led the way in undermining the Durban Review conference, and to the extent that this has been about taking a stand against antisemitism this is a very good thing.

In fact, the U.S. deciding to boycott the Durban Review was responding to the 2001 Durban resolution.  Here’s the CSM article again on this issue:

“In a statement released Saturday, the US State Department cited the 2001 Durban text in explaining its withdrawal from this conference. That document “singles out one particular conflict and prejudges key issues that can only be resolved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians,” it said. And since the draft document for this meeting is based on the previous meeting’s, the US could not participate.”

And, as if there needed to be any more confirmation of the overt antisemitic intentions of some of the key players involved at the Durban Review, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech that was more a hate-filled screed than a stand against racism.  Clearly, what Ahmadinejad and other hate-mongers have done is seize upon this opportunity to fight racism in order to advance their antisemitic, (not to mention homophobic – but that’s another post -) and hate-filled agenda.   You can begin to see why some would call this conference a “disaster,” but I’m not quite ready to write it off.   

Protesting & Monitoring the Geneva Conference


Fortunately, Ahmadinejad’s intolerance did not go without protest and a number of world leaders, as well as NGOs and unaffiliated citizens, walked out of his speech (image of unidentified protesters in Geneva courtesy of DurbanReview).

In addition to the protests, some people have been closely monitoring the Geneva Conference.  For example, Andre Oboler launched on a news service April 2nd 2009 about the conference called DurbanReview (http://www.durbanreview.org/).   Durban Review is a volunteer project supported by a number of NGOs with people on the ground in Geneva and Oboler coordinating information and news gathering several time zones away in Australia.

One of the useful bits at DurbanReview is the piece on the sponsoring nations, aka “string pullers,” and Gregg Rickman’s piece on what’s problematic about this roster.

Hope for a Stand Against Racism and Antisemitism?

As Matt notes,  the conference started on Hitler’s birthday – certainly a bit of inauspicious scheduling on someone’s part – and yet he writes that despite that he’s heartened by the protests to antisemitism:

If people and nations are unwilling to accept antisemitism, there might be a chance to keep it from spreading. Perhaps the antisemites of the world will be radicalized, but if enough nations are willing, we can deal with that.

I agree, I do think there’s hope in that.  And,  I think that the example of being at the conference, and thus, being able to walk out on Ahmadinejad’s speech is more powerful than not attending the conference altogether. As Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, points out:

Nations that attended this conference in good faith proved that it’s possible to reaffirm the global commitment to fight racism, despite efforts to derail the process. The adoption of this document by consensus only a day after Ahmadinejad’s divisive speech is a clear message against intolerance.

To me, part of the real disaster here is that the extremists like Ahmadinejad have given the West, and particularly the U.S., a very good excuse to stay away from the conference and to continue the pattern of not participating in the global fight to combat racism.   Perhaps foolishly, I remain ever hopeful that this can change and the U.S. can, eventually, step up and do the right thing when it comes to fighting racism not just here but around the world.  And, the Geneva Conference still provides such an opportunity.

Following the passing of the resolution, de Rivero called for the governments that boycotted the UN racism conference to now endorse the conference declaration and thereby demonstrate their commitment to fight racism.   If the U.S. wants to stand against antisemitism and racism, it will heed this call and endorse the conference declaration.

Updated: You can download the Durban Review Conference Outcome Document here (.PDF).

Pulitzer Prize Awarded for History of Slavery

image_miniProfessor Annette Gordon-Reed (History, Rutgers University, Photo by Jerry Bauer from here) has been awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in history for her book, The Hemingses of Monticello: AnAmerican Family (W. W. Norton, 2008).   In its citation, the board praised The Hemingses of Monticello as “a painstaking exploration of a sprawling multi-generation slave family that casts provocative new light on the relationship between Sally Hemings and her master, Thomas Jefferson.” As you may or may not recall, Sally Hemings was the half-sister of Thomas Jefferson’s wife and the mother of 7 of Thomas Jefferson’s children.

The history Pulitzer is awarded for a “distinguished and appropriately documented book on the history of the United States”  (h/t BlackInformant via Twitter).

This is noteworthy here because Gordon-Reed’s work touches on many of the themes that we’ve discussed here on this blog.  Some of those themes include slavery, interracial rape, the centrality of race in the founding of the U.S., and the way that this history is woven into the fabric of the nation.  It’s auspicious that the Pulitzer committee recognized this work.    And, not least of all, it’s significant that this book is written by an African American woman reclaiming the often forgotten history of other African American women, such as Sally Hemings.

Capitalism Crucifying Americans of Color

The Black Commentator has a good piece on the Bush Depression that has already hit hard many Americans of color. This is the black and Latino situation, which has many elite white male capitalists as the ultimate creators of it:

Unemployment now stands at 13.3 percent among African American – 15.4 percent for black men. There were 124,000 fewer black people at work in March than in February. Hispanic workers’ unemployment was 11.4 percent last month, up from 7.0 percent a year ago. The rate for white job seekers stood at 7.9 percent in March, up from 4.5 percent a year ago.

These are gross underestimates of unemployment since the government under top capitalists’ pressure leaves out people who have given up looking for work, or who want full time work but can only find part time work. Capitalism’s catastrophic failures can also be seen in many other areas:

Unemployment is not the only area where capitalism’s current crisis is battering African American individuals and families. Taken as a whole black people are getting poorer as a result of developments over which they have no control. The mortgage crisis has hit especially hard with housing foreclosures reducing economic assets that people had worked hard to acquire and was key to their plans for the future. African American median family income has actually declined over the past decade.

Creative Commons License photo credit: japetonida

United for a Fair Economy has a good report by Amaad Rivera, Jeannette Huezo, Christina Kasica, and Dedrick Muhammad on how dire this situation is, with related data on the “silent depression”:

Many American Blacks today are already experiencing a silent economic depression that, in terms of unemployment, equals or exceeds the Great Depression of 1929. Almost 12% of Blacks are unemployed; this is expected to increase to nearly 20% by 2010. Among young Black males aged 16-19, the unemployment rate is 32.8%, while their white counterparts are at 18.3%. Overall, 24% of Blacks and 21% of Latinos are in poverty, versus 8% of whites. In the corporate world, we are seeing the highest executive pay and the biggest bailouts in history. CEO pay is 344 times that of the average worker.* The riches of the few mask the deepening recession in the working class and the depression in communities of color. Extreme economic inequality (which the U.S. experienced in the 1920s and is again experiencing now) is often a key indicator of recession and/or depression.

The Black Commentator article also notes the international impact:

The situation facing African Americans and other people of color in the U.S. has a global corollary. The policies carried out by the major industrialized countries amid the expanded process of globalization have for decades increased the inequities both between and within many countries.

Some Truths about Immigration, and Are Anti-Immigrant Groups Racist?

The Pew Research Center’s Senior Demographer Jeffrey Passel ( a former student of mine) and their senior writer D’Vera Cohn have put out a report contradicting some of the stereotyped white framing of Latino immigrants. Titled “A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States,” the report can be found here.

They point out that in spite of anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from people obsessed with a vigorous, often racialized, framing of not-white immigrants (they almost never focus on white immigrants, documented of undocumented – why is that?) the numbers of these have actually not increased over the last few years, a decline actually predating the current Bush Depression:

A 2008 report by the Center . . . concluded that the undocumented immigrant population grew rapidly from 1990 to 2006 but has since stabilized. In this new analysis, the Center estimates that the rapid growth of unauthorized immigrant workers also has halted; it finds that there were 8.3 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. labor force in March 2008.

It would be significant if the anti-immigrant groups would actually recognize and openly accent this fact. One would think they would be delighted at the decline. Do they need to keep accenting increases and large numbers to get funding and members? The Pew Report also has interesting data on the relatively small percentages of the U.S. population that are involved when it comes to undocumented immigrants:

Based on March 2008 data collected by the Census Bureau, the Center estimates that unauthorized immigrants are 4% of the nation’s population and account for 5.4% of its workforce. Their children, both those who are unauthorized immigrants themselves and those who are U.S. citizens, make up 6.8% of the students enrolled in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools.

That is, they work a lot, with a larger percentage of the workforce than of the general population. And their children go to schools. Neither picture fits the negative racial framing of them as lazy goverment aid recipients or freeloaders. And both percentages are rather small – far -smaller than the anti-immigrant folks often suggest. Indeed, these percentages are smaller than for the peak periods of earlier white immigration around 1900. Many of us who are white have undocumented ancestors because of the very lenient — or indeed mostly no — immigration laws for European immigrants from the 1790s to the 1920s.

Over the past decade, misinformation about and hostility toward immigrants have too seldom been countered by educators and officials willing to speak on the truth. Government data indicate that immigration from Asia and Latin America since the 1960s is not fueling a uniquely large population expansion. The 1980s saw a population increase of only 10 percent, the second-lowest rate of increase for any decade in U.S. immigration history. The 1990s saw a somewhat faster increase (13 percent), also smaller than increases for most decades over the past century and a half. For example, in the decades from the 1850s to the 1920s, the percentage increases in population ranged from a low of 15 percent over the 1910s to a high of 36 percent over the 1850s.

New York - Ellis Island
Creative Commons License photo credit: David Paul Ohmer
Between 1901 and 1910, some 8.8 million immigrants entered the United States, mostly from Europe. This was the largest number of immigrants to the United States for any decade prior to the 1990s. Immigration and Naturalization Service data for 1991–2000 show that total legal immigration was the largest yet, nearly 10 million. Yet, during that early-twentieth-century decade, the U.S. population was much smaller than today—92 million, as compared with 281 million in 2000. The ratio of documented immigrants to the U.S.-born population is much lower today than the immigrant/population ratio was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today, even adding in estimates for undocumented immigrants who stay permanently, the United States has not only a smaller percentage of foreign-born than in earlier decades but a smaller percentage of foreign-born than some European countries. Given its long history of successful absorption of immigrants and the size of its native-born population and geographical area, the United States is unlikely to ever be overwhelmed by the current rate of immigration. (See chapter 13 in this book.)

The Pew report notes too that about a quarter of today’s undocumented immigrants are not Latino, yet these immigrants seldom get noted well in the loud anti-immigrant debates. Indeed, even among the Latino undocumented immigrants, some 41 percent are not from Mexico:

Significant regional sources of unauthorized immigrants include Asia (11%), Central America (11%), South America (7%), the Caribbean (4%) and the Middle East (less than 2%).

The Pew Report also has other data that contradict certain other stereotypes of the immigrants:

Unauthorized immigrants living in the United States are more geographically dispersed than in the past and are more likely than either U.S. born residents or legal immigrants to live in a household with a spouse and children. In addition, a growing share of the children of unauthorized immigrant parents–73%–were born in this country and are U.S. citizens.

That is, they often live in areas other than the border states, and are more likely to form the families that yet other conservative groups like to accent in regard to issues other than immigration. Where are these “pro-family” groups when it comes to these family-oriented Latino immigrants who work hard and press their children to get good educations?

Open Thread: Tea Bag Racism?


By now, you’ve probably heard about the “tea bag” protests on April 15 (tax day for folks in the U.S. – image from HuffPo).  “Tea” here is an acronym that stands for “taxed enough already,” and is meant to be a play on the revolutionary war era Boston Tea Party.   The term “tea bagging” also has another meaning – not related to drinking tea – which has prompted no end of bad punning and adolescent humor.

The protests are, depending on who you ask, either a grassroots movement of angry citizens upset about high taxes, or an astroturf – or fake grassroots campaign organized by the GOP and pumped by FOX News, or this is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up,” as Janeane Garofalo said the other night.

So, time for a Friday Open Thread.  What do you think?   Is it a movement of angry citizens upset about high taxes?  Is it astroturf, or fake grass roots?  Or, is it racism straight up?   Why?

Take the poll (to the left of this post).  Or, if you prefer the short answer/essay version, drop a comment.   Be sure to answer the “why” portion.