AMERICAN CRUCIBLE: The Tack of Clarence Munford



(Note: I asked Professor Clarence Munford – in my view the leading contemporary scholar of African civilizations, the African diaspora, and the globalization of racism over the last half millenium — to summarize a few of his recent arguments about the Western worldview, capitalism, and racial oppression. He has a book just out that develops these important and provocative ideas. See here.)

American Crucible examines the indissoluble bond in the history of the Western Hemissphere between racism and capitalism. The author presents Civilizational Historicism as a conceptual lens. The theory is a black secular world view applying the study of history and the social sciences as tools to achieve black liberation and equal empowerment and parity among humankind. American Crucible’s epistemology, philosophy and political economy are rooted in the black Diaspora experience.

Historical knowledge is never non-partisan. Intended to illuminate the present and influence the future, Munford’s narrative of the past is designed to reveal the power statuses of those who write history and those who benefit from it. American Crucible challenges white supremacy in its global guise, and provides theoretical underpinning for a neo-abolitionist coalition of antiracist whites and progressive peoples of color.

As the jumping-off point American Crucible surveys the original black civilization as constituted in the first six dynasties of Khafre & Khufu
Creative Commons License (photo credit: hackerfriendly)   pharaonic Egypt. Diluted, the seeds of this civilization were sown westward and southward in the African continent, eventually weathering the storm of the Middle Passage to impart cultural urges and philosophical concepts still current in the Americas. European slaving began its West African career in 1441. This volume traces the more than five hundred years of contentious engagement between black resistance and the white supremacist dominance of Western civilization. For political economy clarification, the institution of slavery during Western antiquity is contrasted theoretically and functionally with the black chattel enslavement of Africans that gave birth to the Western Hemisphere’s uniquely racist capitalist mode of production. From the mid-fifteenth century to the late nineteenth century African civilization was shattered. Through the holocaust of enslavement, along with its later twin, colonization in the African continent, the system of white supremacy adopted terrorism as its bottom-line arm of control.

American Crucible provides a detailed account of the phenomenon of antiblack racism in Western civilization. The historical artifact “race” – a social invention – has been used as a sledgehammer by white supremacists to justify their criminal behavior for centuries. Antiblack racism and “race” are genetic features in Western Hemispheric societies. The history of the United States is unintelligible apart from black chattel enslavement, peonage, segregation and institutional racism. The book’s final chapters weigh imperial globalization’s (IMF, World Bank, transnational and multinational corporations, etc.) shattering neocolonialist effects on today’s increasingly retribalized Africa.

(What do you think? Please add comments.)

Systemic Racism in Banking: The Wells Fargo Case

There is a piece in the New York Times today is reporting on their investigation into the explicitly racist practices of Wells Fargo in their subprime mortgage business (Creative Commons License photo credit: TheTruthAbout… , h/t Schiffon Wong). According to the NYTimes,  Wells Fargo created a unit in the mid-Atlantic region to push expensive refinancing loans on black customers, particularly those living in Baltimore, southeast Washington and Prince George’s County, Md.

wells fargoAccording to a former employee of the banking giant quoted in the article, the company viewed the black community as fertile ground for subprime mortgages, as working-class blacks were hungry to be a part of the nation’s home-owning mania. Loan officers, she said, pushed customers who could have qualified for prime loans into subprime mortgages. Another loan officer stated in an affidavit filed last week that employees had referred to blacks as “mud people” and to subprime lending as “ghetto loans.”  The employee, a Ms. Jacobson, who is white and said she was once the bank’s top-producing subprime loan officer nationally, goes on to reveal:

“We just went right after them. Wells Fargo mortgage had an emerging-markets unit that specifically targeted black churches, because it figured church leaders had a lot of influence and could convince congregants to take out subprime loans.”

The NYTimes backs this anecdotal evidence with their own more systematic investigation:

The New York Times, in a recent analysis of mortgage lending in New York City, found that black households making more than $68,000 a year were nearly five times as likely to hold high-interest subprime mortgages as whites of similar or even lower incomes. (The disparity was greater for Wells Fargo borrowers, as 2 percent of whites in that income group hold subprime loans and 16.1 percent of blacks.)

To understand the Wells Fargo case, it’s important to understand the broader context of this banking institutions’ policies as part of a larger pattern.

Sociologists Doug Massey and Nancy Denton in their ASA-award-winning book, American Apartheid, document the systematic pattern of housing discrimination in the U.S., as well as the dire consequences of such enforced segregation.   Part of Massey and Denton’s argument is that segregation in housing leads to “social dislocations” (William J. Wilson’s term) in other areas like high school drop-out rates, increased rates of drug use, delinquency and crime, in other words, “the making of an underclass” (the subtitle of their book).

Massey and Denton’s work was path-breaking for the way that it clearly and painstakingly documents the “construction of the ghetto,” but their findings were not exactly new.  The Kerner Commission Report from 1968 famously concluded:

“What white Americans have never fully understood— but what the Negro can never forget— is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

The report from today’s NYTimes and the evidence of explicitly racist practices of Wells Fargo do not mean that everyone that worked there agreed with these policies or harbored explicitly racist views.   Indeed, as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva as recounted in his Racism Without Racists, the continued operation of white supremacist system does not require the presence of extreme racists in that system.  In fact, I’m sure that many of the people that worked at Wells Fargo would never consider themselves racists but rather well-meaning and liberal in their views on race.

So, then it becomes necessary to understand Wells Fargo’s banking discrimination — and the housing segregation such discrimination creates — within an even broader context.  For that, it’s important to understand the white racial frame that sustains systemic racism, as Joe has described here and in his important book by the same name.  Note the loan officer mentioned in the NYTimes piece that referred to blacks as “mud people” and to the subprime lending as “ghetto loans.” These statements reflect thinking within the white racial frame and the result is the maintenance of systemic racial segregation in housing and further economic devastation of black families that might otherwise be homeowners.

That’s the real tragedy of this story, to my thinking.  Families that worked hard, tried to buy a home and provide a better life for their kids, are now facing foreclosure – and maybe worse – because of the systematic racism in Wells Fargo’s banking practices.    The question really becomes then if we, as a nation, are so “tragically bound to that starless midnight of racism,” as Dr. King said, that we can never move beyond it.    It’s time, I think, to begin holding institutions accountable for racist practices like these.

Stealing the Language of Empathy and Anti-Racism

Justice with a swaggerOne striking thing of late is how the words “racist” and “ racism” often appear in the media without reference to the white racism underlying this society. The language of anti-racist analysis and action is now taken to serve conservative political ends (Creative Commons License photo credit: quinn.anya).

In a recent column, Leonard Pitts, a leading media commentator, argues the naming of Judge Sotomayor “racist” by conservatives like Gingrich, Tancredo, and Limbaugh is about much more than political mudslinging:

This is part and parcel of a campaign by conservatives to arrogate unto themselves and/or neutralize the language of social grievance. . . . They made “liberal” such a vulgarity you’d never know liberals fought to ban child labor, end Jim Crow or win women the right to vote. Having no record of their own of responding compassionately to social grievance . . . conservatives have chosen instead to co-opt the language of that grievance.

A very good point. They are not only co-opting and weakening the language of social grievance, but also intentionally taking the focus off the central reality of whites’ continuing racial oppression.

Over at the Dailykos blog, George Lakoff, influential linguistics professor, accents related points about conservatives appropriating the language and idea of “empathy”:

The conservatives are reframing empathy to make it attackable. Their “empathy” is idiosyncratic, personal feeling for an individual, presumably the defendant in a legal case. With “empathy” reframed in this way, Charles Krauthammer can say, echoing Karl Rove, “Justice is not about empathy.”

Lakoff ties the conservative attack on empathy as personal feelings to the attack by Gingrich and others on Sotomayor as “racist”:

[In their view} because of her personal feelings for her own kind — Latinos and women — she will discriminate against white men. It is to support that view that the New Haven firemen case keeps being brought up. The real target here goes beyond Sotomayor. In the last election, conservative populists moved toward Obama. Conservative populists are working people, mostly white men, who have conservative views of the family, of masculinity, and of the military, and who have bought into the idea of the “liberal elite” as looking down on them. Right now, they are hurting economically, losing their jobs and their homes. Empathy is something they need. The racist card is an attempt to revive their fears of affirmative action, fears of their jobs — and their pride — being taken by minorities and women. The racist attack has a political purpose, holding onto conservative populists.

He also makes a very important point that by constantly repeating the comments on her as “racist,” liberal Democrats and other liberals are reinforcing this theme in the public mind. That should be replaced with a reframing that positions Gingrich and company as extraordinarily racist and anti-democratic, using that type of language. In addition, Lakoff suggests liberals, both Democrats and others, must speak about real empathy that links to social justice:

They need to point out that empathy leads one to notice real social and systemic causes of our troubles and to notice when and how judicial decisions and legislation can harm the most vulnerable of our countrymen. And finally that empathy is the reason that we have the principles of freedom and fairness — which are necessary components of justice.

Pitts and Lakoff are on target in tying these white-racist attacks on empathy and the language of anti-racism to a much larger reactionary political agenda. The attacks are not only on real multiracial democracy, but on organizational and individual efforts to break down systemic racism–that is, to probe deeply the systemic realities of racial oppression and to increase organizational efforts to overturn that system.

Recurring racial discrimination targeting Americans of color requires a breakdown of normal human empathy among whites. Racial oppression not only severely distorts human relationships but desensitizes the minds of racial oppressors. Oppression requires in oppressors a lack of recognition of the full humanity of the exploited others. The psychiatric term “alexithymia” describes individuals unable to understand the emotions of, and empathize with, other people. Hernan Vera and I have suggested going way beyond this individualistic concept to a concept of “social alexithymia.” Essential to being an oppressor in a racist society is a significantly reduced ability, or an inability, to understand or relate to the emotions, such as recurring pain, of those targeted by racial oppression. And this involves many white individuals acting collectively both today and historically.

Since the days of slavery and Jim Crow, most whites have revealed a rather high level of social alexithymia, the sustained inability to relate to suffering of those oppressed. For centuries, systemic racism has both required and constantly bred a lack of empathy and recognition of the full humanity of Americans of color. Today, most whites still do not “see,” or do not wish to see, the impact of institutionalized racism or to recognize its determinative role in everyday life. A substantial majority persist in denying that white racism is systemic, commonplace, and devastating for its targets.

Today the challenge for those seeking to expand antiracist strategies includes the creation of widespread conditions where a great many whites will have to confront the catastrophic reality of the pain that the white-imposed system of racial oppression has caused Americans of color, especially including those with whom they come into daily contact.

It is this aggressive move in the direction of increasing real collective empathy and new invigorated organizations to expand that collective empathy that white conservatives and reactionaries seem most worried about.

Anti-Latina Racism Morphs to Become Anti-Asian

In a bizarre twist, TPM points out that the latest NationalReview cover meant to satirize the “wise Latina” Sotomayor visually portrays her as Asian (h/t @lehmannchris via Twitter).   The mind boggles.  I’ll admit I’m short on analysis on this one; feel free to drop a comment and offer your own interpretation.  nationalreviewcover

(UPDATE from Joe):

This is not a new problem with the National Review. They seem to have some sort of Asian fetish. In a 1997 issue of that conservative magazine, a large pictorial cartoon concerning fundraising investigations of Democratic Party leaders appeared on its cover. This showed caricatures of then President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton as slant-eyed (like Sotomayor!), buck-toothed Chinese in Mao suits and Chinese hats–images suggesting very old white-stereotyped images of Asian/ Asian American characteristics. Since the 19th century, white cartoonists, political leaders, and media commentators have portrayed Chinese and other Asian Americans in such visually stereotyped terms, often to express a fear of the “Yellow Peril.” When confronted, the National Review’s white editor admitted these were Asian caricatures but refused to apologize. Such reactions, and the fact that there was little public protest of the cover outside Asian American communities, suggest that such racial stereotypes remain central to the white racial framing of Asians/Asian Americans. And now, apparently, of Latinos. Perhaps this cover is to signal “peril” to whites from Latinos?

NB: Thanks to Jon Smajda web guy for Contexts.org, who – once again – valiantly assisted with WP sidebar problem.

Racists calling “Racist”

sotomayorBarbinMD at dailykos has a useful summary of some of the right-wing white male commentators calling Sonia Sotomayor “racist,” even with their own extensive records of racist commentaries and actions (Image Source: Wikipedia). Barbin MD reproduces this nice little discussion centered on congress critter, Tom Tancredo, and a young white male associate:

TANCREDO: If you belong to an organization, called La Raza in this case, which is from my point of view anyway, just nothing more than a Latino, it’s a counterpart, it’s a Latino KKK without the hoods …
SCHUSTER: A Latino KKK — would you like to take this opportunity to apologize?
TANCREDO: (Laughs) No.
SANCHEZ: It turns out that Tom Tancredo has some explaining to do on this very front, because the Executive Director of his political action committee, his political action committee, has admitted to a blatantly racist act. It’s now revealed that in 2007, this man, Marcus Epstein, according to a Secret Service witness, came out of a bar in Washington, called a woman the “n” word, and then slapped her in the head. Slapped her in the head. He fled the scene, but he was eventually arrested. Epstein, who is due back in court next month, is blaming his behavior on too much alcohol. But according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, it’s more than that. They have described Epstein as a man with a network of racist connections. Back to Tancredo now — who said on this show, people who associate with racist organizations are racists. Congressman, why is Mr. Epstein still in charge of your political organization? And what sir, does that say about you? We got in touch with Tancredo. He declined to answer our questions yesterday, repeatedly.

Various folks like Tom Tancredo, Newt Gingrich, and Rush Limbaugh first called not only the La Raza civil rights group, but also Judge Sonia Sotomayor a racist, but then later started backing off on this and sounding confused.Rush Limbaugh is one good example, as here in this meandering gibberish:

… it’s racism, reverse racism, whatever, but it’s still racism. And she would bring a form of racism, bigotry to the court. But as I said yesterday, folks, I may look past that. I’ve got a whole stack on Sotomayor today. You know she would be the sixth Catholic on the Supreme Court and there are a lot of people worried about that. That does not bother me at all. I know a lot of Catholics, I love Catholics. But Sotomayor, she’s a Catholic, and she doesn’t have a clear record on abortion and I’m, overturning Roe versus Wade, well, that could be huge. I don’t know that it’ll ever happen, but if, you know, the opportunity to get somebody like her — she’s a Catholic, she’s a devout Catholic. She’s a Hispanic Catholic, Puerto Rican, they tend to be devout. She hasn’t got a record on this. Normally liberals do have a record, I mean when they’re pro-choice, man they’re, they, they, they champion it. They shout from mountaintops, they trumpet it. She hasn’t so I, I can see a possibility of supporting this nomination. If I can be convinced that she does have a sensibility toward life.

Given his own record of racist comments, this is very strange indeed.

Living in this country, when it comes to issues of race and racism is often like being Alice in Wonderland. The white-controlled mainstream media commentators get to define any word, like “racist” or “racism,” just about any way they want to. Why then do we have social scientists working so hard on trying to gather data on racism and defining it more precisely?

Racism, Anti-Abortion Terrorists and The Murder of Dr. Tiller

embraces
The recent murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion terrorist raises some complicated questions about racism and the ways that it is interwoven with issues of gender and sexuality (Creative Commons License photo credit: Steve Rhodes).

Dr. Tiller’s assassination happened on the sixth anniversary of Eric Rudolph’s capture, As one of the leading investigative journalists on the far-right, Sara Robinson, writing at Orcinus notes, and “the date was chosen with a message in mind.” In case you’re not familiar with Rudolph, he was arrested in 2003 for a series of bombings in what envisioned as a guerrilla campaign against globalization (by bombing the Olympic park),  abortion (bombing an abortion clinic) and “the homosexual agenda,” (bombing a lesbian and gay bar), all seen as threats to the male-dominance and white supremacy of the “Army of God” group to which Rudolph belonged.

Like Rudolph, the suspect arrested in Tiller’s murder, Scott Roeder, has ties to a right-wing extremist group, the Sovereign Movement.  I would not be surprised to learn that Roeder had a “shopping list” of targets similar to Rudolph’s.

Yet, it’s far too simplistic to locate racism on only one side of the “pro-choice” vs. “anti-abortion” debate.   As Joe pointed out in a post last year, Planned Parenthood has recently been hoisted on the pitard of its own racism.    This “sting” operation was the work of the anti-abortion movement’s latest spokesperson, Lila Rose, a 20-year-old UCLA undergraduate.

While pro-choice advocates are quick to dismiss such tactics as another salvo in the ongoing war between the extremely polarized sides of the abortion debate, the white-dominated reproductive rights movement in the U.S. should not be let off the hook so easily.    Anti-abortion advocates such as Rose are correct when they point out the racist history of early abortion and reproductive advocates like Margaret Sanger who was, in fact, motivated at least in part by eugenics and a desire to see the “right kind of women” (read: white, middle-class) having children while discouraging the “wrong kind of women” (read: immigrant, poor, non-white) from reproducing.   Anti-abortion advocates are also correct when they call out organizations such as Planned Parenthood for their two-faced racism.   However, to do that without also recognizing the deep ties to white supremacy in the anti-abortion movement, is to put it mildly, disingenuous and suspect.   It seems clear that the effort to call out the racism of Planned Parenthood by the likes of Lila Rose is less about a concern for the reproductive rights of women of color and with it racial justice, and more about advancing the cause of denying women the right to safe, legal abortions through a movement with deep ties to white supremacy.

For extremists like Rudolph and Roeder, threats to white supremacy are intricately linked in their view to threats to male privilege and heterosexuality.  And, the battle in the U.S. over women’s ability to control their own reproductive lives, has, as journalist Michelle Goldberg points out, consequences around the globe:

Before the rise of the religious right, the United States had a long and controversial history of bringing contraception and safe abortion services to the developing world, and encouraging changes in cultural norms and desired family size. This was generally driven less by concern about women’s rights than by terror of overpopulation, which was incredibly intense in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, women’s rights activists have mostly taken over the structures created by the population controllers, and they’re also doing work that helps women around the world challenge prevailing power arrangements. Partly as a result, conservative and fundamentalist forces accuse feminists of being American imperialists. In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista government cloaked its draconian abortion ban in anti-colonialist rhetoric – even though his policy mirrored that of the hated United States! At the same time, both American conservatives and representatives of the Vatican revel in posing as the staunch defenders of traditional cultures under assault by decadent cosmopolitan elites. They really enjoy turning traditional leftist critiques against liberals.

Here, once again, the religious right is engaging in an old strategy of “turning traditional leftist critiques against liberals.”  This time the issue is racism.     While the ties within the anti-abortion movement to white supremacy are strong and well-documented, those in the movement will try to turn the tables and charge racism against those in the pro-choice movement.    However,  the standard liberal response of “colorblindness” and a lack of a critical race lens forestalls any ability to counter these charges except in the most facile and ineffectual way.      And, the almost all-white, mostly straight and overwhelmingly female composition of the rallies in support of Dr. Tiller speak to the failure to build a transracial and inclusive reproductive rights movement in the U.S.

The assassination of Dr. Tiller by someone with alleged ties to a group that advocates white supremacy, male dominance and heterosexuality as divinely inspired, should remind us all of the importance of working toward a just future across these differences.

Racism and Right-Wing Lunacy

For a group that regularly decries what they view as “minority” whining, and the politics of victimization, white conservatives are demonstrating a penchant for the unhinged histrionics of victimhood, virtually unparalleled in modern times. Facing a nation led by a black man, with a black wife and black children, sullying the hallowed halls of a house they long considered white in more than just name, the far-right finds itself in the midst of a prolonged and currently exploding aneurysm, which would be humorous to observe were it not so toxic in its consequences for the nation.

Going off the Rails on a Crazy Train: Right-Wing Lunacy in the Age of Obama

Now, with the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, these same gasbags see yet further confirmation of the takeover of America by hostile colored forces. It is making them insane, literally, as with Bill O’Reilly, who recently stated with a straight (if somewhat contorted and scowling) face, that Sotomayor’s nomination is just more evidence that the left “sees white men as the problem,” in America.

Reactionary cranks across the radio dial have been trying to outdo one another in the annals of batshit lunacy, and so Continue reading…