Race and the U.S. Census: Hey NPR, Your Hipster Hate Hides Diversity

NPR recently ran a story called “New York’s Hipsters Too Cool For The Census.” This story has made the media-rounds with outlet after outlet (yes, even Stephan Colbert ) unable to resist grabbing the low-hanging fruit that is hipster-hate by arguing that hipsters in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn are too “cool” and busy Twittering to mail back their census forms.

(Creative Commons Image Source)

What is clear is that the very sizable non-hipster and non-affluent populations in Williamsburg are largely invisible to NPR and the others. We know that both non-whites and the poor are historically undercounted in the census (something the Bureau, to its credit, has been trying to solve). However, most in the media refer to Williamsburg simply as a hipster enclave and overlook the other populations in that diverse neighborhood.

You hear it all the time – that “Williamsburg is full of hipsters” (here, I’m trying to avoid the trap of defining this group that so often rejects definition). Yes, Williamsburg does have many “hipsters”, but the other populations seem to be mysteriously missing from discussions about the neighborhood. There exists sizable Hasidic, Hispanic (primarily Puerto Rican and Dominican), African American and non-affluent White populations as well.

Amazingly, NPR did mention that the true lower response rates come from the heavily Hasidic areas. Other bloggers have also pointed this out. However, faced with this obvious evidence for the low response rates, the title of NPR’s report, as well as most of its content and final conclusion (that the census needs to be “cool” for hipsters to respond), focuses on the largely affluent, white hipster.

Instead of using this as an opportunity to discuss the structural reasons why disadvantaged populations are undercounted in the census, NPR instead fuels (1) the invisibility of non-hipsters (primarily the Hasids, Hispanics, African Americans) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and (2) the knee-jerk reaction against self-presentations outside the norm that has taken the form of hipster-hate. Hipsters develop a self-presentation that is different than the norm, which causes confusion and, expectedly, leads to hate –hence the ridiculous knee-jerk conclusion that Williamsburg has low response rates because hipsters must be too cool or technologically connected to participate in the census.

~ Nathan Jurgenson, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology, University of Maryland

April 15th: White Nationalists Marching

BlackAgendaReport executive editor, Glen Ford, has a hard-hitting take on the rather overt, substantially white nationalist movement that is reflected in much of the Tea Party movement:

The campaign to bring White nationalism, the founding ideology of the United States, fully out of the closet, kicks into a higher gear on the Right’s anti-holiday, April 15. Newt Gingrich and the various tribes of White Rightists unveil their “Contract From America,” a scaled-down version of the manifesto the Republicans rallied around to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1994. … It is written largely in code, the language of obfuscation that American racists speak in an attempt to hide their white supremacist beliefs….

He notes too some of the mythology around the movement:

Corporate media almost universally describe the Tea Partyers as “anti-government” – which is nonsense. They oppose the government providing assistance – economic, legal, educational, real or imagined – to those that are “undeserving,” which in their world consists mostly of folks that can be defined by race, language or religion …. Naturally, the average Tea Partyer – when sober – will deny having “a racist bone” in his body, but any group whose unifying characteristic is daily engorgement on Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck is, by definition, racist.


What the Tea Partyers really oppose is a social contract among all the resident peoples of the United States. In this, they are indeed the direct political progeny of the Founding Fathers and the great mass of white settlers, who found the very concept of full U.S. citizenship for Africans and Native Americans monstrously repugnant, a devaluation of their superior white selves.

And today,

The white nationalists want their white nation back. But they can’t have it. And, since there can be no bargaining on that issue, there is no reason whatsoever for Blacks and browns and people of good will to engage or humor the Tea Party’s white nationalists. There is nothing to concede to them, and nothing they can offer us to which we are not already entitled. … Just as they reject a national social contract with non-whites, they reject any compact with other peoples of the world, particularly the non-white ones.

Civil Rights Leader Benjamin Hooks Has Died

NPR has this important story today on one of the premier leaders of U.S. civil rights struggles, Benjamin L. Hooks (1925-2010):

Benjamin L. Hooks, a champion of minorities and the poor who as executive director of the NAACP increased the group’s stature. . . . “I don’t know anybody who lived a more triumphant life,” former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young told NPR. … Hooks became [NAACP] executive director in 1977, taking over a group that was $1 million in debt and had shrunk to 200,000 members. … He pledged to increase enrollment and raise money for the organization. . . . “If anyone thinks that we are going to stop agitating, they had better think again,” he said. “If anyone thinks that we are going to stop litigating, they had better close the courts. If anyone thinks that we are not going to demonstrate and protest, they had better roll up the sidewalks.”

Hooks view of the current scene resonates well with the need for much more civil rights organization:

“Now, the fight is not over water fountains, it’s not over riding the bus, it’s over who’s going to drive that bus,” he said. “Now, once we start digging into these economic issues, resistance may grow.”

He was a path breaker in his own life:

In 1965 he was appointed to a newly created seat on the Tennessee Criminal Court, making him the first black judge since Reconstruction in a state trial court anywhere in the South. … nominated Hooks to the Federal Communications Commission in 1972. He was its first black commissioner, serving for five years before resigning to lead the NAACP. … Hooks also created an initiative that expanded employment opportunities for blacks in Major League Baseball and launched a program where corporations participated in economic development projects in black communities.

The NAACP has continued to be a source of white supremacist attacks since the 1960s:

In 1989, a string of gasoline bomb attacks in the South killed a federal judge in Alabama and a black civil rights lawyer in Savannah, Ga. Another bomb was intercepted at an NAACP office in Jacksonville, Fla., and an Atlanta television station received a letter threatening more attacks on judges, attorneys and NAACP leaders. “We believe that this latest incident is an effort to intimidate our association, to strike fear in our hearts,” Hooks said at the time. “It will not succeed. We intend to go about our business.”

Race, Redemption, and Respectability: White Racism in Athletics

(This is co-authored with David J. Leonard.)

The ongoing media fascination with Tiger Woods and his personal transgressions should remind us of what a prominent place race, redemption, and respectability play in sport today. Like Michael Jordan, Woods’ immense talent tied to his well-known story of dedication and drive have allowed media commentators, commercial culture, and fans alike to see the golfer as having transcended race, to become emblematic of the ideals of a supposedly post-racial order. In wake of martial infedility, his cultural capital and real capital have allowed him to chart an increasingly familiar course of redemption for the rich and famous: apology, treatment, and a rededication to faith and/or family. Few African American athletes today can become a new person so easily. Redemption is reserved for whites and those who are imagined as Picca and Feagin have argued as “honorary whites.” In fact, we would suggest that commodification and criminalization of blackness, that the class and gendered signifiers associated with dominant “white racial frame,” particularly in the context of sport, has made them unredeemable.

Case in point. Just this week, a more common pattern unfolds, one that colors the possibilities for redemption in a purportedly colorblind era. On Sunday, in the wake of a public spat with a woman at a bar and amid a pending suspension for violating the league substance abuse policy, the Pittsburgh Steelers traded Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets. Media accounts suggest that this was in large measure because of “his rap sheet,” because team owners were tired of Holmes’ bad behavior, which had include illegal drug use and a previous suspension. Fans and analysts, moreover, referred to the MVP of the 2008 Super Bowl as “a problem child” with “a sense of entitlement” and “a bad boy” “infected by low morals” and made regular connections between Holmes and new teammates best known for their transgressions—Braylon Edwards who had previous run-ins with the law and Antonio Cromartie, who was lampooned for having seven children with five different women and needed a large signing bonus to pay off overdue child support. An article in today’s New York Daily News goes so far as to described the team as “[Coah Rex] Ryan’s halfway house for misbehaving millionaires.”In an article on National Football Post, Andrew Brandt questioned the logic behind the Jets’ acquisitions, noting “management feels this coach can take a potentially combustible mix of players and mold them into a productive group” He and others seem to wonder whether or not the father figure can redeem and reform their abject and pathologically dysfunctional black bodies.

Whereas as other athletes and public figures, from Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger to Jesse James and countless politicians, have given the opportunity to seek public forgiveness, Holmes received no opportunity to apologize or make amends for his violation of league policies and bad public behavior. In fact, the elite athlete was summarily traded for a lowly fifth round pick in the upcoming draft–exiled, cast off, pilloried, damned.

In contrast, his former teammate, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took to a podium in a Steelers’ locker room Monday evening and made a brief statement, stating in part,

“I’m truly sorry for the disappointment and negative attention I brought to my family, my teammates, coaches, the Rooneys and the NFL. I understand that the opportunities I have been blessed with are a privilege, and much is expected of me as the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers…I have much work to do to earn this trust. And I’m committed to improving and showing everyone my true values.”

Roethlisberger offered an apology, the second in nine months, following accusations of sexual assault. In the most recent case, he stood accused of attacking a 20 year-old woman in the bathroom a bar after plying her with drinks. Although the star quarterback received his share of criticism from the public and the owner of the Steelers reportedly was “furious,” he was not quickly traded for a pattern of bad behavior and violation of the player code of conduct. Moreover, in contrast with a number of African American players who have had punitive actions taken before the rendering of legal decisions, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who William Rhoden described as “the law and order commissioner”who in the past has “wasted no time throwing down the gantlet and issuing verbal and financial penalties” opted to take no immediate action. He preferred to wait on local authorities before acting.

On Monday afternoon, District Attorney Fred Bright concluded he could not bring charges against Roethlisberger due to a lack evidence compounded by the victim’s desire to avoid a media saturated trial. During his press conference, Bright admonished Roethlisberger and condemned his behavior, maturity, and failure to be an adequate role model. He also advised him to “grow up.” These sentiments echoed comments from fans and pundits, who wonder when he would learn from his behavior, mature, and realize his potential. In others, the fallen hero can, and perhaps even must, redeem himself. And this appears to be what Steleers owner Art Rooney hopes to achieve:

During the past few weeks I have met with Ben on a number of occasions, not only to discuss this incident, but also to discuss his commitment to making sure something like this never happens again. The Pittsburgh Steelers take the conduct of players and staff very seriously. Ben will now have to work hard to earn back the respect and trust of Steelers fans, and to live up to the leadership responsibilities we all expect of him.

Responsibility and respectability interwoven in these comments provide a pathway to redemption for the star quarterback.

While one may quibble about the relative value of Holmes and Roethlisberger to the franchise, the difference in their treatment is telling: the former is traded, rapidly punished for violations, and marked as a deviant; the latter is retained and counseled, awaits possible punishment from the league and/or his team, and rendered a broken work in progress. These differences emerge from the application of a white racial frame, particularly the narratives it makes possible. Whereas Holmes fits neatly within pre-existing accounts of blackness—disobedient, transgressive, criminal, unredeemable, childlike—that must always already must be policed but can never been redeemed; whereas Roethlisberger takes on the role of the tragic hero, wounded by immaturity, hubris and wrong actions, who has the potential to be redeemed and otherwise grow-up. Furthermore, where Roethlisberger enjoyed and can earn back respect from his teammates, his boss, his fans, and perhaps even his critics, Holmes became doomed to exile and damned to condemnation. Failing to stay within confines of the politics of respectability and become a racially transcendent commodity, Holmes was sent packing. Writing about black masculinity and the politics of respectability in wake of the election of Barack Obama, Mark Anthony Neal argues that cultural inclusion and the calls for proper behavior and respectable “performances will ultimately falter under the weight of their pretensions. Like a suit that no longer fits, their performances are coming apart at the seams” (http://newblackman.blogspot.com/2010/04/coming-apart-at-seams-black-masculinity.html). For Holmes, his blackness and the associated signifiers within the dominant white racial frame precluded him from navigating the paths toward respectability. Yet for Roethlisberger, the journey toward acceptance, the efforts to perform an acceptable identity were just coming together, albeit with the powerful threads of whiteness.

Barack and Curtis: Masculinity, Race and Respect

This short video (about 10 minutes) by filmmaker Byron Hurt does a nice job of addressing themes of race and masculinity by contrasting media images of President Obama with those of rapper “50 Cent,” aka Curtis (h/t to @feministfatale via Twitter for this).

This could be an excellent teaching tool for starting a discussion. Byron Hurt also has a feature-length documentary called “Beyond Beats & Rhymes” about hip-hop culture, race and masculinity. It’s a very thoughtful film that I highly recommend.

Is White the New Black?

Kelefa Sanneh has an interesting article in the New Yorker titled “Beyond the Pale: Is white the new black?” He first notes some of the famous racist commentaries like that of Glenn Beck, who said this about President Obama:

“This President, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture. I don’t know what it is.” … Beck sat for an interview with Katie Couric, and she asked him a deceptively simple question . . . posed by a Twitter user named adrianinflorida: “what did u mean white culture?” Whatever adventurous thoughts this query inspired, Beck did not seem eager to share them. “Um, I, I don’t know,” he said. Finally, [he said] “What is the white culture? I don’t know how to answer that that’s not a trap, you know what I mean?”

After discussing this extremist commentary, Sanneh then discusses the odd blog/website, “Stuff White People Like,” which was set up by the white Canadian, Christian Lander. Sanneh makes the insightful point that

… Lander isn’t really talking about white people, or, at any rate, not most of them. In fact, he sometimes defines “white people” in opposition to “the wrong kind of white people,” because his true target is a small subset of white people, a white cultural élite. Most white people don’t “hate” Republicans—they have voted Republican in every Presidential election since 1968.

Then he discusses the interesting and informative new book by Rich Benjamin “Searching for Whitopia, which we have discussed here before. Benjamin highlights the movement of whites into certain types of residential enclaves, an important study whose deeper implications Sanneh does not puruse. After pointing out how few black voters went for Republicans in 2008 (but omitting a discussion of how few other voters of color also did not vote Republican, a revealing omission? See Yes We Canour full book length discussion of this here), he then ends on a somewhat puzzling, punch-pulling note:

But what of it? Why is it that, from Christian Lander to Jon Stewart, a diagnosis of whiteness is often delivered, and received, as a kind of accusation? The answer is that the diagnosis is often accompanied by an implicit or explicit charge of racism. It’s become customary to suppose that a measure of discrimination is built into whiteness itself, a racial category that has often functioned as a purely negative designation: to be white in America is to be not nonwhite….

After noting that labor historian David Roediger

published an incendiary volume, “Towards the Abolition of Whiteness.” … “It is not merely that whiteness is oppressive and false; it is that whiteness is nothing but oppressive and false,” he wrote. In his view, fighting racism wasn’t enough; white people who wanted to oppose oppression would have to do battle with whiteness itself. Nearly two decades later, amid a rancorous debate over our first black President, the idea of abolishing whiteness seems no less tantalizing—and no less remote.

Actually, Roediger’s book is accurate and well-documented, and only “incendiary” to whites and others who do not like to hear the truth about US society. Sanneh waffles throughout this piece, and it is confusing. He does not dig deeply enough into the foundational reality underlying these matters, or else does not understand that self-defined “whites” invented most of the racial and racist terminology that we have used in North America, and often across the globe. Whites invented “whites” and “blacks” as racialized terms and as key parts of the white racial frame, just as they did most aspects of that racial framing of society, and its other language (including almost all major racist epithets.) In his phrases like measure of “discrimination is built into whiteness itself, a racial category that has often functioned as a purely negative designation,” he fails to see that the historical data demonstrate quite clearly that whites invented the whiteness reality as past of a centuries-old white racial frame that rationalized whites’ extensive racial oppression, so of course racial discrimination and other racial oppression is built into whiteness itself. In addition, the last part of this phrase seems to miss the point that for whites, whiteness is almost always a positive thing (his few examples to the contrary notwithstanding) and has “often functioned” in negative way only for those who have been oppressed by white domination and racial oppression.

And the last line, about abolishing whiteness, also seems to miss the critical point. The only way to abolish whiteness is to abolish the system of racial oppression, with its still-dominant racial hierarchy, and thus the dominant white racial frame. There is much more here than abolishing the term whiteness or some notion of whiteness. This is about a system and foundation of racial oppression, not just about terms and dialogue–or some notion that whites are now fully problematized, and thus that “white is the new black.” What a strange notion!

Too Many Blacks Want to Be Informed, Says White Republican

A white Republican caller from a southern state called into C-Span recently complaining, of all things, about too many blacks calling in to C-Span asking questions about the news:

Well, this is rather interesting. He does not like blacks calling in so much (as independents and Republicans) on the Republican line, and claims that 80 percent of these inquisitive callers are black. And not really Republican-oriented.

Well, how does he know that they are 80 percent black? And, since he really believes they dominate the questioners, why doesn’t he praise their great interest in questioning and learning about US politics and related matters. Is that part of a certain traditional southern “white culture’s” white framing of black folks?

Bring Me My Machine Gun! South Africa and the Consequences of Apartheid

This past week Eugene Terreblanche, an Afrikaner white supremacist, was murdered by two black farm workers in South Africa. It has become painfully clear that the Rainbow Nation has very far to go to become such. And my prediction is that the growing pains will track a slow and low gradient. Writing for the BBC, Peter Burdin, sounds a distressful note:

(South Africa) is officially the most unequal society on earth…South Africa is also among the most violent societies outside war zones with 18,000 murders a year…Race permeates all aspects of life here.

For about 46 years – from 1948 to 1994 (when Nelson Mandela was elected in the first multi-racial democratic elections) – the Nationalist Party and white South Africans managed to forge an uneasy, volatile but successful system of racial separation and oppression. They managed to create what the Confederate States in the United States of America could not achieve. Apartheid was indeed a strange thing; within the country, there were white provinces where passbooks were required of all non-whites and there were ‘independent’ Bantustans which were the domain of blacks. It was a wicked system that denied rights to the majority black population. We know the familiar story by now; the story of how Madiba nurtured the emergent so-called post apartheid rainbow nation. De Klerk, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Madiba, realized that apartheid was not sustainable; besides, international sanctions against South Africa had undermined the government’s viability.

While other African countries are convulsed by ethnic divisions, South Africa is caught in the throes of racism – something we know a lot about in the United States of America. We must understand the Afrikaner mind-set; since their Dutch forebears settled in South Africa, they’ve been fighting two conflicts: one against British imperialism (The Boer Wars) and another against the indigenous inhabitants. The Boer War in 1899 was brutal and notorious for the concentration camps set up by the British that killed several thousands of Afrikaner women and children (Brian Bunting, 1969 The Rise of The South African Reich). But independence was not the only thing the Afrikaners desired; they wanted to retain their perceived superiority over the indigenous inhabitants. Brian Bunting writes (p14):

The Boer republics constituted an anachronism to the 20th century. Their code of conduct (was) incompatible with the liberal philosophy of modern capitalism. In the (republic of) Transvaal constitution it was written that there could be no equality between Black and White in Church or State.

The British imperialists were complicit in not extending any kind of rights to non-whites after the second Boer War and they accommodated the color-bar with its pass-book restrictions ensuring that racial integration would not happen. This is what the Afrikaners wanted.

So in 2010, racial accommodation is still a societal problem in South Africa. Public opinion data from the Afrobarometer surveys in 1999 depict these racial tensions in South Africa. When asked how they identified themselves, more South Africans chose race. Race polarizes in South Africa much in the same way that ethnicity polarizes in other African societies.

Some Afrikaners think that Eugene Terreblanche’s murder was provoked by the African National Congress (ANC) youth leader, Julius Malema, who sang the anti-apartheid song “Shoot the Boer.” The ANC has reportedly ordered its members not to sing the song at rallies any longer because it stokes racial tensions. There is another song “Bring me my machine Gun” often heard at youth ANC youth rallies, which refers to the struggle to topple the apartheid regime; this was the song used by Jacob Zuma during his campaign for the Presidency. Unwilling to be dominated by the British during the emergent years of their republic, the Afrikaners are now troubled by the domination of the Africans (credit eric). Their fears are not unfounded; there are reports that approximately 3,000 Afrikaner farmers have been murdered since this new dispensation in South Africa. These cold cases make the Afrikaners anxious and unsure about their place in the Rainbow Nation.

When the accused black men were arraigned at the court in the town of Ventersdorp, there were reports of Eugene Terreblanche’s paramilitary group waving placards with Afrikaner nationalist symbols. The reporter notes:

Time has stood still here…there is a silent message that this is no place for blacks.

The South Will Rise Again?: Virginia and the Declaration of Confederate History Month

As the empire strikes back within the Great Age of Obama in order to strengthen the Republican, tea party, and overall conservative base, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, with a push from the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, has declared that the month of April will be Confederate History Month in Virginia. McDonnell not only desires to increase tourism in the state, but also to show citizens of Virginia the importance

to reflect upon [their] Commonwealth’s shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers, and citizens during the period of the Civil War…

The declaration has angered many due to the oversight of slavery. On Wednesday, April 7, 2010, McDonnell announced his mistake calling it a “major omission.” Since the controversy has caught nation’s attention, the governor has revised his proclamation for the celebration by noting that

It is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from his painful part of our history….

A little too late governor, don’t you think? Well maybe the governor and groups such as the Sons of the Confederate Veterans see the history of slavery as inconsequential.

I have to ask myself; slavery…inconsequential? A system supported by the White racial frame, unlike anywhere in the world gave roots to theories that African men and women were noted to have oversized sexual organs, indolence, and deceptiveness, and a low level of intelligence.

A system that allowed Influential historical figures, and heroes that are celebrated today, such as Thomas Jefferson, Immanuel Kant, Carl von Linne (Carolus Linnaeus), George Mason, and Louis Agassiz utilized the field of science to suggest a hierarchy of humanity where Blacks were placed at the bottom of the ladder while Whites stood atop.

Slavery, a system that gave allowances for the horrific scientific and medical treatment and experimentation done on Blacks from the slave era to today in the area of the prison industrial complex, contraception for females, and etc.

Inconsequential? A system that gave birth to one of the first acts of terrorism within our country that targeted Blacks through the institutionalized method of lynching. All of which was used to maintain white supremacy.

Slavery…a system that gave way to cutting Blacks out of equal financial endeavors that were allotted to Whites.

Slavery…a system whose effects today have handcuffed and placed Blacks on the revolving and tilted playing field of educational opportunities designed by the dominant White majority which consciously and subconsciously reproduces subjugation and control.

Inconsequential? Slavery…a system that continues to this day which pulls back the ancestral scabs upon my soul when I am confronted with the overt and covert eyes of racism and hate. This is not to mention the effects upon Whites and other non-Blacks that are forced to ingest the elixir of the White racial frame that supported the foundation of slavery.

Ask your self…Inconsequential?