Racism Link Roundup

Time for another roundup of links about racism from around the web.  Here’s what we’ve been reading on the web:

Blogging Against Racism

  • Last week was “International Blog Against Racism Week,” wherein people that blog about things other than racism dedicate a blog post or two to racism.   We didn’t mention here because, well you know, that’s what we do here every day.   Shakespeare’s Sister has a good post up for this event, noting that they blog about racism frequently.
  • Angry Black Woman does an excellent job taking on the issue of intersectionality and the fact that it’s so rarely addressed.
  • And, Tempest Bedford provides an illustrative example from the world of Science Fiction (SF) genre writing, about the epic failure of not taking multiple perspectives into account.
  • If you haven’t followed the SF controversy, do a search for “Race Fail 2009” to see what it’s about, or check this summary from Prometheus 6.

Police Violence

  • Latino Grandfather, Pregnant Woman Tasered at Baptism – It’s hard to know what to say about this except that this is another shocking example of the kind of police violence targeting people of color that we’ve been talking about on this blog for some time now.
  • Bob Herbert, New York Times columnist, has a couple of recent columns in which he highlights the problem of police conduct toward POC, writing in one that “Anger Has Its Place.”


Global Issues


Racism Review: Site Renovation Coming

Just a quick heads up to let folks know that we’re planning a bit of a site renovation here at Racism Review. Same compelling content in a sleeker package. This will also mean that in order to comment, you’ll have to create a login here. I know, it’s a pain – but it will make everything run more smoothly here in the long run. The launch of the new site should happen sometime in August (exact date unclear), but it will be in plenty of time for the back-to-school rush.

Jim Crow Racism Reported in Philadelphia, Yet Again

In his pathbreaking book North of Slavery, Leon Litwack (quoted by Vann Woodward) showed that Jim Crow segregation was not invented in the South, but long before the end of slavery white northerners used it to subordinate “free” African Americans in the North:

In virtually every phase of existence Negroes found themselves systematically separated from whites. They were either excluded from railway cars, omnibuses, stagecoaches, and steamboats or assigned to special ‘Jim Crow’ sections: they sat, when permitted, in secluded and remote corners of theaters and lecture halls; they could not enter most hotels, restaurants, and resorts, except as servants; they prayed in ‘Negro pews’ in the white churches, and if partaking of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, they waited until the whites had been served bread and wine. Moreover, they were often educated in segregated schools, punished in segregated prisons, nursed in segregated hospitals, and buried in segregated cemeteries. (See also the book Dixie Rising)

segWhen white southerners developed Jim Crow for the newly freed enslaved population, they imitated northern segregation strategies, often enhancing it–infamous segregated restrooms, water fountains, lunch counters, and so forth.

We recently noted attempts at Jim-Crow-like segregation in a swimming pool case in Philadelphia, and now we have a lawsuit alleging informal Jim-Crowing of bathroom and water cooler segregation, and other racial discrimination, in a Philadelphia city government workplace. According to a CNN report

Black employees at a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, waste transfer plant were harassed, humiliated and discriminated against by their supervisor for decades, says an attorney representing two workers who filed a complaint against the city. Among the allegations in the complaint is that for decades . . . [the white] superintendent, limited one restroom to whites only, said the attorney, Howard K. Trubman. The restroom — which he called the “supervisors’ bathroom” — was supposedly for the sole use of upper-level officials with the city’s Streets Department….As far back as 1996, it became apparent to black employees that they were being slighted, said Trubman. They would watch white co-workers walk into the segregated bathroom, conveniently located one floor above Gill’s [the superintendent’s] office. “If you tried to use the bathroom, you might get suspended,” said Leslie Young, a former worker at the facility…. Young said he recalled that a lock was placed on the restroom door, with keys distributed only to white workers. The restroom black workers could use was down five flights of stairs and was “not in the greatest condition,” Trubman said. Some employees were forced to ask … permission before they could make the trip, he said.

Just like when I was growing up in the very segregated South, this is way too familiar a story, but now 50+ years later. And bathroom segregation was not the only thing on the Philadelphia “plantation,” the term the white in charge reportedly used (he says he was kidding) for the workplace:

The issue didn’t end with the bathroom at the facility, which is a transfer station where garbage trucks bring citywide waste to be distributed to various landfills. Black employees complained that they were stuck with the oldest garbage trucks. Whites, they say, were frequently upgraded to newer vehicles…. According to Young, in the sweltering summer of 2007, Gill would only allow whites access to a water cooler kept in his barricaded office. Black employees were forced to use a water fountain elsewhere in the building. “It made me feel like less of a man,” said Young.…When he told Gill about some resentment felt by some of the employees, he said, Gill launched into a diatribe, saying those unhappy at “the Northwest Plantation Station” could leave.

Significantly, the black protest and antiracist counter framing tradition, as reflected in a book the late great African American historian, John Hope Franklin, had a direct impact on these black workers and their protests according to a Philadelphia newspaper:

Recently, after the black workers found in the trash a book titled Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, by historians John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, they began to read it for solace and inspiration, Young said. “When this book turned up on our platform in the trash, …it just made us think that this is like slavery again,” Young said. “So we started keeping the book…as our little Bible in the drivers’ shack, where all the black drivers sit and we relax and eat lunch. And we just try to encourage each other to every now and then, when he does something racist to you or that really pisses you off, to read a couple pages of the book, to show you that this is not the first time this happened, we can get through this, but we got to do it together.”

They protested actively within the department and the city, but got no permanent redress. They took their complaint to the human rights commission (PHRC), but as is the case with many such commissions, nothing got done there either:

Shannon Powers, a PHRC spokeswoman, said that the PHRC deals with several thousand allegations of discrimination a year — 3,382 allegations of employment discrimination alone were initiated in the fiscal year that just ended. “We started the year with 4,393 cases pending from previous years,” she said. If the PHRC hasn’t resolved a complaint within a year, the complainant may take the case to the courts, Powers said.

We have some pretty good civil rights laws in the U.S. but most of them are weakly enforced or unenforced. For the most part whites can discriminate with impunity. Not unexpectedly, the Philadelphia solicitor’s office asserts:

We don’t comment on allegations. … Based on what we know, we have no reason to believe there is any merit, and that will come clear as the litigation proceeds.

The case is set for trial early next year.

Racist Profiling: Why Do Mainstream Media and Officials Ignore the Data?

One glaring aspect of the mainstream media’s treatment of the Gates incident is its general failure to discuss research data on racial profiling. Data-free opinions increasingly trump investigative reporting seeking empirical evidence. Racist profiling of African Americans and other Americans of color of color remains widespread. There is much empirical evidence.

One Gallup poll found that 83 percent of the black respondents thought that racial profiling was widespread, and in another recent poll some 20 percent of black respondents reported that they had faced such such racial profiling or other discrimination by police in the last 30 days.

A recent ACLU report has summarized racial-profiling research studies involving numerous police departments as showing

large differences in the rate of stops and searches for African Americans and Latinos, and often, Indians (Native Americans) and Asians, even though these groups are less likely to have contraband.

There have also been a number of recent court settlements. In 2008 the ACLU and other plaintiffs settled a class action lawsuit on racial profiling by Maryland State Police (MSP) officers in the Interstate 95 corridor. Studies over a long period showed motorists of color were disproportionately targeted and stopped and searched without good reason. An ACLU report notes that the settlement

agreement provides substantial damages to the individual plaintiffs, a requirement that the MSP retain an independent consultant to assess its progress towards eliminating the practice of racial profiling, and a joint statement by all parties involved in the lawsuit condemning racial profiling and highlighting the importance of taking preventative action against this practice in the future.

This profiling by police is not the only racial profiling that Americans of color face. Researchers Thomas Ainscough, Carol Motley, and Anne-Marie Harris, among others, have reported on audit and other studies that show discriminatory treatment of black and white customers in retail establishments, including poor service and various kinds of surveillance, searches, and neglect routines.

A recent Southern Poverty Law Center report Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South found too that in southern areas Latinos

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. . . . And they are frequently forced to prove themselves innocent of immigration violations, regardless of their legal status. (p. 4)

Numerous other studies (see here) show these patterns for many other walks of live, for African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Middle Eastern Americans. Many whites seem predisposed to see African Americans and other Americans of color as inherently deviant or criminal, a centuries-old idea in the white racial framing of this society. It is no wonder black men like Professor Gates often run into this problem. It probably happens millions of times a year in the United States.

One can think of a number of strategies against profiling. For several years, U.S. House member John Conyers and U.S. Senator Russ Feingold have introduced the End Racial Profiling Act, which prohibits racial profiling and requires law enforcement departments to collect stop-and-search data, to have effective complaint procedures, and to insure that those abused by police departments have a right to sue. This legislation has yet to be passed. (Guess why?) In May 2008 even the United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism called on the US Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act, as well as to set up an investigative commission to examine continuing racial discrimination.

Interestingly, there are modest educational steps that might help somewhat. Thus, in one psychological study Canadian researchers showed 264 photos of Chinese, black, and white male faces to 20 whites. After they had been trained these volunteers for hours on seeing subtle differences in these human faces, white volunteers were less likely to associate negative words and concepts with black faces than they were before the training. One researcher suggests that such training in seeing facial differences might reduce racial profiling by police and others. What do you think?