Book Event Quarterly

We’re beginning a new quarterly feature here, “Book Event Quarterly.”  The idea is that once each quarter (about every three months), we’ll spend some time in a post to highlight new, important and promising books that deal with the topics of race and racism.   The emphasis in this series will be on scholarly books that are based on empirical evidence.   Of course, there are often books written by journalists (Jonathan Kozol’s work comes to mind) that may get included as well.   For now, here are a few titles to consider for your summer reading list (in more or less random order):

  • Black Feminist Politics from Kennedy to Clinton, by Duchess Harris,(PhD, Associate Professor of American Studies at Macalester College). New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 208 pages. Harris offers an analysis of Black women’s involvement in American political life, focusing on what they did to gain political power between 1961 and 2001, and why, in many cases, they did not succeed. Harris demonstrates that Black women have tried to gain centrality through their participation in Presidential Commissions, Black feminist organizations, theatrical productions, film adaptations of literature, beauty pageants, electoral politics, and Presidential appointments. Harris contends that ‘success’ in this area means that the feminist-identified Black women in the Congressional Black Caucus who voted against Clarence Thomas’s appointment would have spoken on behalf of Anita Hill; Senator Carol Moseley Braun would have won re-election; Lani Gunier would have had a hearing; Dr. Joycelyn Elders would have maintained her post; and Congresswoman Barbara Lee wouldn’t have stood alone in her opposition to the Iraq war resolution.  Her book was just released yesterday, and Prof. Harris has a post about it at her blog, SisterScholar.
  • Between Barack and a Hard Place: White Denial and Racism in the Age of Obama, by Tim Wise (antiracist writer and educator).  San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2009.  120 pages.  According to Wise, for many white people, Obama’s rise signifies the end of racism as a pervasive social force; they point to Obama not only as a validation of the American ideology that anyone can make it if they work hard, but also as an example of how institutional barriers against people of color have all but vanished. But is this true? And does a reinforced white belief in color-blind meritocracy potentially make it harder to address ongoing institutional racism? After all, in housing, employment, the justice system, and education, the evidence is clear: white privilege and discrimination against people of color are still operative and actively thwarting opportunities, despite the success of individuals like Obama.
  • The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial-Framing and Counter-Framing by Joe R. Feagin. New York: Routledge, 2009. 264 pages.  Here, Feagin explores the ‘white racial frame, now four centuries-old, which encompasses not only the stereotyping, bigotry, and racist ideology accented in other theories of “race,” but also the visual images, array of emotions, sounds of language, interlinking interpretations, and inclinations to discriminate that are still central to the frame’s everyday operation and remain deeply imbedded in American minds and institutions.
  • Doing Business with Beauty: Black Women, Hair Salons, and the Racial Enclave Economy ‎by Adia Harvey Wingfield, 2008.  Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 155 pages.      Using in-depth interviews with hair salon owners, Doing Business with Beauty explores several facets of the business of owning a hair salon, including the process of becoming an owner, the dynamics of the owner-employee relationship, and the factors that steer black women to work in the hair industry. Harvey Wingfield examines the black female business owner’s struggle for autonomy and success in entrepreneurship.
  • Fade to Black and White: Interracial Images in Popular Culture by Erica Chito Childs, 2009.   232 pages.  Childs considers the context of social messages, conveyed by the media, that inform how we think about love across the color line. Examining a range of media–from movies to music to the web–this book offers an informative and provocative account of how the perception of interracial sexuality as deviant has been transformed in the course of the 20th century and how race relations are understood today.
  • Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race, by George Yancy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlfield, 2008. 265 pages.  Explores Black embodiment within white hegemony and the context of a racist, anti-Black world. Yancy demonstrates that the Black body is a historically lived text on which whites have inscribed their projections which speak equally forcefully to whites’ own self-conceptualizations.
  • Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet, by Lisa Nakamura.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. 248 pages.  I’ve made mention of my new book, Cyber Racism here before, so I won’t belabor the point.  I did want to mention Lisa Nakamura’s book as sort of the “other side” of the race and Internet question for those who might be interested in the ways that people of color are using web technologies.  In this book, Nakamura uses case studies of popular yet rarely examined uses of the Internet such as pregnancy Web sites, instant messaging, and online petitions and quizzes to look at the emergence of race-, ethnic-, and gender-identified visual cultures.  This leading scholar of race and the Internet is at her best when discussing the experiences of Asian Americans.  This is a must-read for anyone interested in both ‘race’ and new media.

Happy reading! 🙂

Racism in Cambridge: Harvard Prof. Gates Arrested (UPDATED)

Arriving home after a recent trip to China and struggling to get into his own home in Cambridge because of a jammed door, esteemed scholar of African American Studies and Harvard Professor, Henry Louis (“Skip”) Gates, Jr., was arrested by police.   According to one report (h/t @BlackInformant for a couple of these links), this incident began when someone alerted police:

A witness, 40-year-old Lucia Whalen of Malden, had alerted the cops that a man was “wedging his shoulder into the front door” at Gates’ house “as to pry the door open,” police reported.

None of the reports I’ve read online describe Ms. Whalen’s race,  or why someone from Malden was doing calling the cops about a man entering his own home in Cambridge, but apparently it was her call that began this series of events.  Here’s what happened next, according to several reports, this one from HuffingtonPost:

By the time police arrived, Gates was already inside. Police say he refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a report of a break-in.

“Why, because I’m a black man in America?” Gates said, according to a police report written by Sgt. James Crowley. The Cambridge police refused to comment on the arrest Monday.

Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him,” the officer wrote.

Gates said he turned over his driver’s license and Harvard ID – both with his photos – and repeatedly asked for the name and badge number of the officer, who refused. He said he then followed the officer as he left his house onto his front porch, where he was handcuffed in front of other officers, Gates said in a statement released by his attorney, fellow Harvard scholar Charles Ogletree, on a Web site Gates oversees, TheRoot.com.

As this story has begun to get out on the web in the last 12-24 hours, it seems to be touching off a tsunami of outrage at the persistence of racial inequality in the U.S., even for one of the most well-known and accomplished scholars.  If this could happen to Skip Gates, at his home in Cambridge, Mass., it does not speak well for the state of racial progress in the country as a whole.   As Rev. Al Sharpton said,  “If this can happen at Harvard, what does it say about the rest of the country?”

But, make no mistake, this outrage is not universally shared.   Almost as soon as this story broke, the undertow of white backlash to the reality of racism began to counter the outrage.  For example, Bruce Maiman, writing at The Examiner, contends that the Cambridge police were just doing their job, responding to a call about a break-in to a home, and that Prof. Gates escalated the situation.  Here’s Maiman:

So I ask you: Who’s the person who caused this encounter? Professor Gates is now being represented by another distinguished law professor from Harvard, Charles Ogletree, and they’re going to claim that this cop was racist and mishandled this situation because the fact that a black male was involved.
I don’t see any racism, do you? Tell me where? No names were called. Nobody was hassled or pushed around. Legitimate requests were made and cooperation was not forthcoming from a man, Henry Louis Gates, who know better than most people on this planet what happens when you escalate a confrontation with the police. But he does it anyway.
Is there racial profiling in America? Sure there is. But if you justify the behavior of Henry Louis Gates because other black men have been hassled by other police officers unfairly and thus you assume every black man has a right to a chip on his shoulder every time he meets a cop, you are asking for trouble.

This doesn’t appear to be racism. It sounds to me like a colossal case of extraordinarily bad judgment on the part of a distinguished African American historian who happens to teach at Harvard, and who certainly should’ve known better.

Here, Maiman’s interpretation of these events is completely steeped in the white racial frame.   He says, “I don’t see any racism” and, of course, he can’t from the WRF.   He only sees a black man “with a chip on his shoulder,” not the racist behavior of the cop.   Maiman further diminishes Gates by referring to him as someone “who happens to teach at Harvard” and questions his judgment because he “certainly should’ve known better.”   Known better than to what, try and enter his own home? Maiman is simply wrong on the facts here, and wrong on his interpretation of the events.   Maiman is like other whites, as philosopher Charles W. Mills writes, “unable to see the world he has created,” unable to see how his not-seeing-racism contributes to the problem of racial inequality.

The research on the racial inequality in policing, arrest, and incarceration in the U.S. is starkly clear (as we’ve recounted on this blog hundreds of times):  those who are black or brown, particularly men, are much more likely to be stopped, frisked, harrassed, arrested and convicted than whites.    And, this inequality in criminal ‘justice’ is part of a larger pattern of racial inequality that operates systematically throughout U.S. institutions.  The irony, for those that have followed Gates’ scholarship closely, is that he has tended to downplay the significance of institutional racism in the contemporary U.S.   Reports are that Gates’ is “shaken” by this experience, as anyone would be.  This is a horrifying, and yet all too common, experience for black men in this country.   Perhaps Gates’ next volume will be called “Harvard Professor, Still a Suspect.”

More good sociological analysis on this case (and others) from City College Prof. Dumi Lewis, here.

Update 12:07pmET: Charges Against Prof. Gates Dropped, according to one report.  Do click the link to check out 1) the photo of Gates on his own front porch in hand-cuffs and 2) the racist comments that follow.

Rachel Maddow: Correcting the Record on Pat’s Racist Rant

Rachel Maddow took a few minutes at the end of last night’s show to correct the record on Pat Buchanan’s racist rant about ‘white men built this nation.’ In case you missed it, here’s what she said (6:58):

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I think she did a pretty good job on this. She gets bonus points from me for the line about affirmative action being necessary “so that we as a country don’t end up sealing in place forever a white supremacist society, created by and defined by segregation and Jim Crow.” What do you think about her rebuttal?

The White Racial Frame: A Reprise

Since several folks have asked lately about the systemic racism and white racial frame concepts, let me repeat a revised version of what I have posted a year or more ago. The North American system of racial oppression grew out of extensive European and European American exploitation of indigenous peoples and African Americans. It has long encompassed these dimensions: (1) a white racial framing of society with its racist ideology and other key elements; (2) whites’ discriminatory actions and an enduring racial hierarchy grounded in material exploitation; and (3) pervasively racist institutions maintained by discriminatory whites over centuries. White-generated oppression is far more than individual bigotry, for it has from the beginning been a material, social, and ideological reality. For four centuries North American racism has been systemic–that is, it has been manifested in all major societal institutions.

In the books Systemic Racism and The White Racial Frame I develop the concept of a white racial frame holistically and comprehensively. Since its development in the 17th century, this racial frame has been a “master frame,” a dominant framing that provides a generic meaning system for the 51uxaL5kE2L._SL160_AA115_racialized society that became the United States. The white racial frame provides the vantage point from which European American oppressors have long viewed North American society. In this racial framing, whites have combined racial stereotypes (the verbal-cognitive aspect), metaphors and interpretive concepts (the deeper cognitive aspect), images (the strong visual aspect), emotions (feelings), and narratives (historical myths like “manifest destiny of whites to spread across the country”), and routine inclinations to discriminatory action. This frame buttresses, and grows out of the material reality of racial oppression. The complex of racial hierarchy, material oppression, and the rationalizing white racial frame constitute what I term systemic racism. This white racial frame includes much more than the usual somewhat weak concepts most scholars and popular analysts use in the study of US racial matters, such as stereotyping, prejudice, and bigoted discrimination.

The white racial frame has long been propagated and held by most white Americans–and even, in part, accepted by many people of color. For most whites, the racial frame is deeply held, with many stored “bits,” including stereotyped knowledge, racial images and understandings, racial emotions, and racial interpretations. Not all whites use the dominant frame to the same extent, and in everyday practice there are multiple variations. By constantly using selected bits of the dominant racial frame to interpret society, by integrating new items into it, and by applying its stereotypes, images, and interpretations in many discriminatory actions, whites imbed their racialized frame deeply in their minds.

Take this key example from the early development of the dominant white racial frame. Among the self-named “whites,” who also named “black” and “Indian” Americans, were US founders Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. They had conceptions of black Americans as very inferior to white Americans, who were seen as greatly superior in civilization. In Jefferson’s only major book, Notes on the State of Virginia, the white framing of African Americans is fiercely racist: enslaved black Americans smell funny, are natural slaves, are less intelligent, are uglier in skin color, are lazy, are oversexed, not as sophisticated in serious music, cannot learn advanced knowledge, and can never be well-integrated into white America.

This dominant racial frame was, and still is, designed by whites to rationalize an extensive system of racial oppression, with its central racial hierarchy, one with whites on top. The old racial hierarchy is rooted in coercive exploitation and resource inequality and is rationalized by the deeply held white racial frame. First centered on African Americans, and to some extent Native Americans, the white racial framing placed later groups of color–such as Chinese Americans after the 1850s and Mexican Americans after the 1840s–well down the already dominant racial hierarchy. Whites were central from the beginning to creating the North American system of racial oppression and its dominant racist frame, including all key words (“white,” “black,” and almost all racist epithets) and interpretations in that frame. Today, as in the past, the white racial frame is not just in the United States, but is fundamentally constitutive of it.

In our book, Two Faced Racism Leslie Picca and I give many examples of the contemporary white racial frame in daily operation. We collected journals from 626 white students at 28 colleges and universities in various regions. They were asked to record (for, on average, about 6-9 weeks) observations of everyday events in their lives that revealed racial issues, images, and understandings. In these relatively brief diaries these white students gave us got more than 7,500 accounts of blatantly or obviously racist commentary and actions by white friends, acquaintances, relatives, and strangers, much of it in backstage areas. In addition, about 300 students of color at these same colleges gave us another 4000 accounts of clearly racist events that happened to them and their friends or relatives.

Their everyday accounts offer many insights into how the white racial frame works today. Here, for example, is one of thousands of extended racial events from the diaries, this one about an evening party of six white students at a midwestern college. Trevor, a white student, reports on a typical evening gathering:

When any two of us are together, no racial comments or jokes are ever made. However, with the full group membership present, anti-Semitic jokes abound, as do racial slurs and vastly derogatory statements. . . . Various jokes concerning stereotypes . . . were also swapped around the gaming table, everything from “How many Hebes fit in a VW beetle?” to “Why did the Jews wander the desert for forty years?” In each case, the punch lines were offensive, even though I’m not Jewish. The answers were “One million (in the ashtray) and four (in the seats)” and “because someone dropped a quarter,” respectively. These jokes degraded into a rendition of the song “Yellow,” which was re-done to represent the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. It contained lines about the shadows of the people being flash burned into the walls (“and it was all yellow” as the chorus goes in the song).

There is nothing subtle about these racist performances. Trevor continues with yet more performances:

A member of the group also decided that he has the perfect idea for a Hallmark card. On the cover it would have a few kittens in a basket with ribbons and lace. On the inside it would simply say “You’re a nigger.” I found that incredibly offensive. Supposedly, when questioned about it, the idea of the card was to make it as offensive as humanly possible in order to make the maximal juxtaposition between warm- and ice- hearted. After a brief conversation about the cards which dealt with just how wrong they were, a small kitten was drawn on a piece of paper and handed to me with a simple, three-word message on the back. . . . Of course, no group is particularly safe from the group’s scathing wit, and the people of Mexico were next to bear the brunt of the jokes. A comment was made about Mexicans driving low-riding cars so they can drive and pick lettuce at the same time. Comments were made about the influx of illegal aliens from Mexico and how fast they produce offspring.

All white male participants here are well educated. Notice the many aspects of the white racial frame, with its subframes negatively targeting an array of groups of color, as well as Jewish Americans (apparently seen as not quite “white”). Notice the great “fun” these educated whites are having as part of this recurring social gathering. Note too the different roles played by whites in this one racialized evening. There are the protagonists performing assertively for an all-white audience. Some appear also as cheerleading assistants, with the recording student apparently acting as a passive bystander or perhaps a mild dissenter. No one, however, openly remonstrates with the active protagonists. Four types of white actions in one room.

The contemporary white racial frame as revealed in such everyday performances has great implications for most nooks and crannies of society.

Another key idea I suggest in the WRF book is that of resistance and counter-framing. Counter-frames are grounded in counter-system thinking and have been important for groups of color to survive and resist oppression over many generations. Certain leaders and thinkers in racially oppressed groups, such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Frantz Fanon, have developed articulated counter-frames, but so do ordinary people, the “organic intellectuals” in these oppressed groups. In these resistance/anti-racism counter-frames whites are defined as problematical, and ideas and strategies on how to deal with whites and white institutions are developed. Among other things, a developed counter-frame includes understandings of how discrimination and racial hostility work, examples of dealing with discriminatory whites from family and friends, and teachings about safety and various passive and active strategies of resistance to a variety of white discriminators.

Pat Buchanan’s Historical Amnesia: Collective Forgetting Essential to Racism?

soldiers(Photo: Wikipedia)
One of the many uninformed comments that Pat Buchanan has recently made is thus:

White men were 100% of the people that wrote the Constitution, 100% of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100% of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, probably close to 100% of the people who died at Normandy. This has been a country built basically by white folks.

Over at Dailykos, Ttujoe has a rebuttal, with nice photos and data on the errors in such wild assertions. He points out the extensive role of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Japanese Americans (and white women) in various American wars. Many more folks than white men were critical to all these efforts, including the first two (the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence). Even in the first two cases, those 55 or so white men in each case (who were 100 percent of the delegates in the these rather un-democractic settings) would not have been there but for the substantial wealth generated by enslaved African Americans who worked for many of them, even accompanied them to such gatherings as servants, not to mention the many white women who labored for and with them as well:

Well, let’s take Vicksburg first, Pat, you’re just wrong. You must have forgotten about the Battle of Milliken’s Bend. That was the battle where African-American soldiers defeated Confederates who were trying to cut a union supply line. Now, Pat, obviously this was a battle during the Civil War. But what does this have to do with Vicksburg? Well, that supply line the Confederates were trying to cut just happened to be Grant’s supply line who were laying siege to Vicksburg. (By the way, I’m not surprised that you didn’t learn about this- after all, the National Park Service didn’t even have an exhibit or monument about these troops until 2007).

The African American soldiers and support troops in Civil War somehow get left out in most of the public discussions of US history, and in too many accounts of contributions as well. As a result of successful recruiting by Martin Delaney, Frederick Douglass, and other black (and some white) leaders, during the last years of the Civil War several hundred thousand African Americans (men and women), many formerly enslaved, served as Union soldiers and support troops–and thus did more to free enslaved Americans than did President Abraham Lincoln’s famous 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Without them the war might have ended in a draw or worse. Lincoln was having trouble getting enough white men to right for the Union.

Like the black abolitionists, most of these Union soldiers and support troops undoubtedly held some version of a black liberty and justice counter-frame to the dominant white-racist frame in their minds. For example, the formerly enslaved John Washington, who ran away and became part of the Union Army’s support troops, described his new situation thus:

Before morning I had began to feel like I had truly escaped from the hands of the slaves master and with the help of God, I never would be a slave no more. I felt for the first time in my life that I could now claim every cent that I should work for as my own. I began now to feel that life had a new joy awaiting me. I might now go and come when I please This was the first night of freedom.

Another formerly enslaved member of Union support troops put it this way:

The next morning I was up early and took a look at the rebels country with a thankful heart to think I had made my escape with safety after such a long struggle; and had obtained that freedom which I desired so long. I now dreaded the gun, and handcuffs and pistols no more.

For formerly enslaved men and women, liberty and justice were much more than rhetorical abstractions. Their sacrifices on Civil War battlefields and behind the lines helped not only to free those enslaved, but also to put the United States on track to become a freer country. This is what Buchanan leaves out. It was men and women of color, and white women, who periodically, even centrally, helped keep the liberty and justice ideas out front at times when many white men were trying to maintain traditional forms of oppression.

Commercial Images: Visual Racism from the Past and Present

Over at Slate, David Segal has posted a useful slide show of blatantly racist commercial images, mostly from the past, for African, Asian, Latino, and Native Americans. Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, and the racist Native American images used by baseball teams today are there.03_AuntJ

If you have not seen these, or your students or friends have not seen them, do check them out. This slide show should be of substantial use to you for teaching purposes.

Pat Buchanan Does it Again: Defending White Male Privilege

In this video from MSNBC (on the long side, 16:08, but worth it), Pat Buchanan ardently defends white male privilege (h/t @kellieparker). And, Rachel Maddow offers a substantial challenge to him:

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I’ve written about Pat Buchanan here before, both here (online) and in my first book, White Lies (Routledge: 1997). In that book, part of what I did was lay out the ways that extremist white supremacist discourse in movement publications was similar to mainstream political discourse about race, and I mentioned then-presidential-candidate Pat Buchanan as one of those examples. I also investigated the ways that gender and race intersected in both extremist and mainstream discourse. In the video clip above, Buchanan goes on about the “white men who built this nation” and I have to say that what came immediately to mind for me was an image from a white supremacist publication (such as Tom Metzger’s “White Aryan Resistance,” or “WAR”) that I included in that book (on pages 34-35). Here’s a bit of the passage:

“The image is of a white man, with airplances and bridges in the background, and the accompanying text reads, ‘White Men Built This Nation, White Men Are This Nation!” (emphasis in the original). the images conveys several messages. It signals a link between race, ‘whiteness’ and masculinity, specifically ‘white men,’ such that white men are the central, indeed the only actors visible. …[The illustration] presumably refers to those materially involved in ‘building’ an infrastructure, those who literally ‘built’ the bridges, airplanes, and skyscrapers featured in the background. Meanwhile the image simultaneously obliterates the labor of racial and ethnic minorities, both men and women, whose labor did, in fact, build this country.”

Once again, there is little if any distinction between the argument that Pat Buchanan is making on MSNBC and the one that extremist white supremacist publications are making. Both are interested in defending white male privilege while ignoring the talents, hard work, and accomplishments of people of color whose labor has made this country wealth, yet who are, much too often, excluded from reaping the benefits of that labor.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor: Issues of Empathy, Gender, and Gendered Racism



As we watch the hearings in the US Senate on Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination, we can reflect on some images generated about her in most parts of the conservative sector and in the mass media that often plays lapdog for conservatives’ views. One conservative view accents her previous talks and speeches (but not, interestingly, her decisions in this regard) that indicate her important experiential understandings as a woman of color (“wise Latina”) and attacks her for thinking and operating necessarily out of her own racialized and gendered experience, as if that is possible for white men to do.

Indeed, when Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) questioned now Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito about these matters in his hearing a few years back, Coburn and other conservatives did not challenge this candid answer that Alito gave indicating that he operated very much out of his own experience (H/T Glenn Greenwald and Dailykos video ) in his own thinking about cases as a judge:

Because when a case comes before me involving, let’s say, someone who is an immigrant — and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases — I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn’t that long ago when they were in that positionAnd so it’s my job to apply the law. It’s not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result. But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, “You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.”

Isn’t Alito here speaking about having some human empathy for immigrants because of his own family’s immigrant experience? Yet, Coburn and other numerous conservatives (and some others) lately have tied some of what Sotomayor has said about her similar experiences to President Obama’s stated concern for judges to have empathy across important lines in society—apparently a bad thing to have, especially for many white conservatives, including many Republicans in Congress. Indeed, Sotomayor has been forced the last day or two to disagree with President Obama’s earlier statement on empathy in judging, and to assert what Alito does in this comment–that she does not make or bend the law to her personal views (etc.).

Is this conservative attack on the concept of empathy as it is raised by people of color like Obama and Sotomayor because they are afraid that real empathy across color lines is indeed corrosive of the oppressive structure of society, from which they greatly benefit? Hernan Vera and I have argued that individual racism and systemic racism generally require a lack of real inter-human empathy, what we call “social alexithymia”? Doesn’t US racism, past and present, require a breakdown of real empathy in the dominant racial group? Is real empathy corrosive of racist framing and much racist action?

Dailykos has an interesting June 2009 poll on how the public sees this judge/empathy issue. People we asked, "Do you think empathy is an important characteristic for a Supreme Court Justice to possess or not?" This was the breakdown for key demographic groups:

.........Yes   No
18-29 63   17
30-44 47   34
45-59 55   26
60+ ...46   35

All age groups have a majority or plurality that said yes, but those under 30 are more oriented this way than older groups.

White ..41   39
Black ..81    4
Latino .79    4
Other ..79    5

Whites barely have a plurality for judges having empathy, but you can see that folks of color, who experience the harsh end of everyday racism, are far more likely to see human empathy as important, even though it is not defined in this survey. Majorities there seem to be coming from the same place as Judge Sotomayor in her comments. It would be interesting to do in-depth interviews to see what people understand the word “empathy” to mean. The survey also had an interesting gender breakdown:

Men ......48   34
Women .56   24

Both men and women  were more yes than no, but the women were more strongly in the yes column. A majority of the whole sample comes down on the side of empathy for judges, white male Senators notwithstanding!

Let us explore some more aspects of this gender and leadership issue in another major survey of 2,250 adults done last year by the Pew Center. It is revealing in regard to various gendered matters that clearly relate to societal debates on Judge Sotomayor, and on other women recently nominated or appointed to key positions. The survey asked about the leadership traits and assets of men and women. The public, interestingly, seems more enlightened than some US senators.

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: Wikipedia)

On most leadership traits women did better than men. Half of the survey respondents viewed

women are more honest than men, while just one-in-five say men are more honest (the rest say they don’t know or volunteer the opinion that there’s no difference between the sexes on this trait). And honesty, according to respondents, is the most important to leadership of any of the traits measured in the survey.

Then there is the old saw that men are more intelligent, which was not accepted by the sample:

Here again, women outperform men: 38% of respondents say women are smarter than men, while just 14% say men are smarter, and the remainder say there’s no difference between the sexes.

On the qualities of hard work and ambition, there was a tie, with equal percentages citing women and men on each as better. Men did best on only one of the traits, decisiveness

with 44% of respondents saying that men are more decisive and 33% saying women are.

Most strikingly, perhaps, women had huge

leads over men on the last three traits on the public’s rankings of the eight items measured: being compassionate (80% say women; 5% say men); being outgoing (47% say women; 28% say men) and being creative (62% say women; 11% say men).

Significantly, the African American women were the most pro-female (womanist) in their views:

Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) black women (compared with 51% of white women and 50% of all adults) say women are more honest than men. About two-thirds (65%) of black women (compared with 37% of white women and 38% of all adults) say women are smarter than men. And about half (49%) of black women (compared with 33% of white women and 28% of all adults) say women are more hardworking than men.

I could not find a breakdown for Latinas or other women of color in the sample, but one might expect them to be closer to black women than white women? Most of the respondents also thought women made as good leaders as men, about 69 percent said so. If so, then, why are there so few women leaders in many sectors of society? The survey respondents agreed that it was substantially because of gender discrimination and the old boy’s club, with smaller percentages accenting women’s family responsibilities and lack of experience. However, Even with high marks for these virtues, women (the 51 percent population majority in the US) do not do well at the top of the society, as these statistics indicate:

2 percent the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies

17 percent of U.S. House members

16 percent of U.S. senators and governors

24 percent of state legislators

11 percent of the U.S. Supreme Court justices

And the statistics are even worse for women (and men of color), especially for Latinos/as like Sotomayor. It is odd that no one in the hearings has analyzed well the point that out of 110 Supreme Ct. justices so far in our history, 106 have been white men, virtually all elite white men. And this is supposed to be some sort of democracy? It is more like a male-ocracy?

It is significant that there seems to be some recognition of the gender discrimination faced by women in the survey too:

A majority of adults (57%) say the nation needs to continue to make changes to give women equal rights with men. A similar majority (54%) says discrimination against women is either a serious or somewhat serious problem in society

Now, the greatest political difficulty is getting some real societal change in the gendered, and gendered racist, structure of this society.

Dr. Regina Benjamin: HIgh Achievement



President Obama has just nominated Dr. Regina Benjamin to the post of Surgeon General, the AP reported yesterday. Obama said that Dr. Benjamin “has seen in a very personal way what is broken about our health care system” and that she will bring important insight as his administration tries to revamp that system.

Dr. Benjamin truly has seen her fair share of personal and family tragedy, as her brother died at age 34 of HIV-AIDS, her mother of lung cancer, and her father of complications resulting from diabetes. With her entire family victimized by these diseases, her life is a testament to the health problems facing this country and the racial injustices plaguing the Black community. She has faced lots of other tragedy, as her medical clinic was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and again by a fire just after it was rebuilt. She then rebuilt this very important New Orleans clinic yet again.

Benjamin(Photo: Wikipedia) Not surprisingly, the right-wing press is again mocking President Obama’s well-qualified nominee. A Fox News headline reads, “Obama Taps ‘Genius’ Doctor, Katrina Victim for Surgeon General,” an obtuse reference to a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation award she received for her dedicated and selfless service following Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Benjamin is receiving some gendered-racist attacks like Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has gotten the last few days, with some right-wing (like Senator Jeff Sessions, famous for his “joking” comments about the nice folks at the KKK) attacks on her “wise Latina” comments.

Contrary to the opinions of many on the right, Dr. Benjamin is more than qualified for the position. Her amazing list of academic, medical, and civic service qualifications are listed thus in wikipedia:

Dr. Benjamin attended Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans and was a member of the second class of the Morehouse School of Medicine. She received her M.D. degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. . . Benjamin is former associate dean for rural health at the University of South Alabama’s College of Medicine in Mobile, where she administers the Alabama AHEC program and previously directed its Telemedicine Program. She serves as the current president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama. In 1995 she was elected to the American Medical Association’s board of trustees, making her the first physician under age 40 and the first African-American woman to be elected. Benjamin is a diplomate of the American Board of Family Practice and a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

That should be enough to be Surgeon General, right. But then the list of her achievements continues:

She was a Kellogg National Fellow and also a Rockefeller Next Generation Leader. She has served on a variety of boards and committees, including the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Catholic Health East, Medical Association of the State of Alabama, Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, Alabama State Committee of Public Health, Mobile County Medical Society, Alabama Rural Health Association, Leadership Alabama, Mobile Area Red Cross, Mercy Medical, Mobile Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Mobile, and Deep South Girl Scout Council. She was appointed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act Committee and to the Council of Graduate Medical Education. . . .In Alabama, she formerly served as vice president of the Governor’s Commission on Aging, and also formerly as a member of the Governor’s Health Care Reform Task Force and the Governor’s Task Force on Children’s Health. . . . Dr. Benjamin was named by Time Magazine as one of the “Nation’s 50 Future Leaders Age 40 and Under.” She . . . was chosen “Person of the Week” by ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, “Woman of the Year” by CBS This Morning, and “Woman of the Year” by People Magazine.

Wow! Can any of her critics come close to matching this remarkable list of achievements? Talk about having to be the proverbial “water walker” to get nominated for high office. In discussing this nomination with Adia, we agree with her view that it is often the case that people of color, and certainly women of color, are told to work hard and play by the societal rules. But when they, like Dr. Benjamin and Judge Sotomayor, do that extremely well and then seek out or get nominated for nontraditional jobs not open to them until recently in U.S. history, or when they literally shatter the conventional glass ceilings, certain white racist folks, talk show hosts, and politicians start articulating racist stereotypes and narratives and engage in name-calling, like the calling of Dr. Benjamin as “fat” and racist commentaries, including racist epithets, on various news and right-wing websites. Instead, why isn’t the right celebrating them for doing exactly what they were told, working very hard and achieving great things? One would think these women would be celebrated in all corners of conservative America? Is the reason they are not because that work-hard rhetoric is really a ruse and cover often used to rationalize a racist system that has little or no attention of changing its basic structure for those who more than meet the calls of this work rhetoric?

While being overweight is a health concern that Dr. Benjamin and others in the health field are likely very aware of, why is it that none of these right-wing folks talk about how fat Justice Antonin Scalia is, or Karl Rove, or the huge Rush Limbaugh in regard to their “qualifications”? Indeed, we have not seen anyone suggest that these white men’s overweightness interferes with their ability to do their jobs. Yet, for women of color like Benjamin, this immediate accent on their being overweight is a common gendered/racial stereotype that seems to be linked to the old black “mammy” image, which is part of the 400 year old white racial frame.