9/11 — and Anti-Muslim Attacks and Sentiment



Rinku Senator and Fekkak Mamdouh, longtime (59 years altogether) residents of the U.S. have a good piece I recommend over at Colorlines titled “Long time residents This 9/11, Let’s All Take Responsibility for Ending a Summer of Hate.”

It is sad that many Americans, including numerous leaders and media analysts, use this time to make intensive verbal and/or other attacks on Muslim Americans and Islam. We should remember the victims of this atrocious attack by overseas extremists in New York City without using it as an excuse for the (often white-generated) racial framing of Muslim and/or Middle Eastern Americans. We do not go crazy with racial framing, hostility, and profiling on April 19 in the 1990s, do we? That is when the white Christian Tim McVeigh and his white Christian group conducted the most damaging terrorist attack in recent decades before the 9/11 attack. Yet, fortunately, the contemporary hatemongers do not call for a ban on Christian church centers near the bombing site in Oklahoma City.

Rinku Senator and Fekkak Mamdouh make this point:

… this summer marks the worst anti-Muslim backlash we’ve ever seen here. As the nine years since 9/11 have passed, Americans have forgotten an essential fact: Extremists can use any religion to justify murder, and the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists sacrifices both American values and community safety. .. .Attacks on Muslim people have escalated. Opponents of the Cordoba House keep saying that 9/11 was the worst attack ever on American soil, therefore Ground Zero is “sacred” and nothing as profane as a mosque should be built there. …It presumes that it is impossible that Austrian Muslims, like Mamdouh himself, who worked at Windows on the World, could have been in the World Trade Center, could have lost friends, colleagues or relatives there….

Too many Americans think uncritically about these matters and require scapegoats to explain too many contemporary social issues. The sharp increase in anti-Muslim attacks is not just about the 9/11 attacks as the numerous attacks on mosques and Muslim Americans over decades, across the country, clearly show. Recent surveys are very disturbing:

A recent TIME/CNN poll found that 55 percent thought Muslims could not be patriots. …. Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey popularized the notion that Muslims don’t deserve the same religious freedom as everyone else….

The following analyses summarize some more detailed points I make in the ninth edition of this book (the references can be found there):

The array of discrimination against Muslim and Middle Eastern Americans in recent years is broad–racist jokes, cartoons, e-mails from fellow employees, not being hired or promoted because of Islamic religious observance, taunted with slurs. Many cases of employer discrimination involve workplace prohibitions against religious practices, such as not allowing Muslim men to wear beards or not permitting daily prayers.

The 9/11 attacks by a few Middle Eastern terrorists have stimulated many hate crimes by non-Middle-Eastern Americans, crimes principally about a hostile racial-religious framing. Yet no Middle Eastern American was implicated in the attacks. Seventeen of the nineteen men involved were from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, close allies of the U.S. government. In just nine weeks after September 11, there were at least 520 violent attacks in the U.S. on people thought to be of Middle Eastern ancestry.

The hastily passed 2001 USA Patriot Act and related acts gave the government broad authority to detain noncitizens with little due process. Muslim and Middle Eastern Americans have been targeted by federal agents and private personnel. In one case Muslim religious officials were taken off a plane just because they were praying. This surveillance problem has become so general that Arab Americans have a term for it—“FWA,” for “flying while Arab.” In addition, one CAIR report indicates there were 116 hate crime incidents targeting Middle Eastern Americans in 2008–more than a thousand since 2001. One national poll found since 2001 nearly three-quarters of Muslim respondents had experienced anti-Muslim harassment or physical attack, or knew someone who had.

Senator and Mamdouh also point out who should take action:

….a few have become nostalgic for George W. Bush—who spoke no less than 11 times in the fall of 2001 about Islam being a religion of peace and love and having nothing to do with Al Qaeda. Others have called for President Obama to speak up more often to protect Muslims. But the real problem is that everyday Americans keep silent about too much of this.

And over at Dailykos, Michael Moore argues that the mosque and Islamic Center should be built at “ground zero” if America is to be the America it claims to be!

Taking Hate Speech Seriously When Racism is a Joke

I’ve been pondering a contradiction about racism.  On the one hand, I’ve argued here and in my book that racist hate speech, including on the Internet, is something that we should take seriously.   On the other hand, Internet culture in general is one where humor is the prevailing norm and racist hate speech often gets treated as a joke.     One of the students at Johns Hopkins University earlier this week raised this point in the Q&A following a talk I gave there.  It’s also a nuanced point that Lisa Nakamura made in her talk about “Enlightened Racism” in online games at Harvard’s Berkman Center a few months ago.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: theloushe

Part of the reason I (and other critical race theorists) argue that it’s important to take racist hate speech seriously is that words harm people.  Everyone living in a democracy has a right to be equally protected from harm and to not be subjected to a particular kind of harm just because of their race, religion or other identity status.   In the U.S., that’s known as “equal protection” and it’s covered by the 14th Amendment, among other laws.   As a recent example of how racist hate speech harms people, there’s a story out of Roanoke, Virginia about a notorious white supremacist with the rather un-ironic name of William A. White.   White recently lost a lawsuit – and fined over half a million dollars  – for his racist hate speech.  The lawsuit was filed by five African American women who had the bad luck to be tenants in a Virginia Beach apartment complex where White was the landlord.  White wrote threatening letters to the women, saying they were “Section 8 N—s” and elsewhere referred to all blacks as “parasites.”

These words had an impact.   During testimony in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, the five black women described their reactions to getting the threatening letters from White: one said she began to suffer seizures; another developed an ulcer.  Yet another woman testified that she no longer lets her 10-year-old grandson outside to play or ride his bike alone. “I didn’t know what was around the corner waiting for us because of him,” she said.  All five of the women testified that they still live in fear of White based on the racist hate speech he sent in that letter.   Although White used a traditional form of letter for this round of racist hate speech, he’s used the Internet in other attacks.

The jury did the right thing when they found in favor of the women suing White (it was a civil case, so he was not found “guilty”). Part of what this jury did was take hate speech, and the harm it caused, seriously.  That kind of racist hate speech is not, as many Americans assume, protected as “free speech” under the first amendment.   In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled (Virginia v. Black, 2003) that a “burning-cross is not protected speech” because it’s not speech that’s intended to contribute to democracy, but is intended to terrorize people.

I know, I know – not very funny so far.   Where are the lulz in this story?

The second part of this contradiction I’m pondering is that the culture of the Internet is all about what’s funny.  Lisa Nakamura made the excellent point in her talk about the “racist griefing” that goes on in online games which often makes explicit use of racist epithets, which she explains this way: “The n-word is funny because it is so extreme that no one could really mean it. And humor is all about ‘not meaning it.’ If you take humor and the n-word, you get enlightened racism online and attention.” She calls this “enlightened racism.”  Nakamura goes on to argue that paradoxically, “the worse the racism and sexism are, the more extreme and cartoonish it is, the harder it is to take seriously, and the harder it is to call it out.”

She points out, quite astutely I think, that for those within gaming culture, calling out racism in this context signals you as someone “not of the gaming culture” and thus, as someone who is taking racism “too seriously” and doesn’t have a good sense of humor. Yet, this sort of humor is a “confusing discursive mode for young people,” she observes, because they are “unable to separate enlightened racism from regular racism.” And, indeed, I think this is a real problem here. As Nakamura notes, the image of the “humorless feminist” is now joined with the image of a “humorless” old(er) person who takes race too seriously.   I’m going to have to plead guilty to this.  Racism, in my view, is serious business, but that stance is antithetical to mainstream Internet culture.

There are some people, far more talented than I am, who can take racism – even racist hate speech – and make it funny.   No, really.   Let me introduce you to Elon James White (no relation to William A. White, that I know of), and his video blog series, “This Week in Blackness”(TWIB). His take on Dr. Laura’s racist rant a few weeks ago (Season 3, Episode #8) is one of the funniest things I’ve heard in awhile.  In addition to being funny, Elon’s routines are scathing, and much needed, critiques of white privilege and white culture.  I’m a fan of Elon’s (even downloaded the iPhone app of TWIB) and I think what he does is valuable and entertaining.

I think it’s the racism as entertainment meme where we need to be careful here.    Chauncey de Vega (of We are Respectable Negroes) has a thoughtful piece about Slavery as Entertainment, in which he highlights two role-playing games in which people can reenact some aspects of slavery (“I wonder if visitors can be whipped, branded, physically disfigured, manacled, or raped and defiled to complete the “historical” experience?”).  He notes that these types of “reenactments” can go oh so wrong because they trivialize the experience of what was until then an unimaginable historical tragedy.  If you look at historical accounts of lynchings, those were considered entertaining by whites at the time.  Whites often packed picnics and smiled when they had their photo taken at those vigilante lynching “parties.”

And, I see I’ve veered right back into the unfunny material.  I’m old school like that.

I’m not sure there’s a way out of this contradiction.   In some ways, this contradiction speaks to the “both/and” quality of racism that characterizes the current historical moment.  We have both the vitriolic racist hate speech, often spread via the Internet; and, we have a dominant culture in which humor is the prevailing norm, often making racism into entertainment.  Just because some of us are laughing doesn’t necessarily mean we’re making progress.

Transracial Adoption Documentary: “Off and Running”

There are an estimated 1.5 million adopted children in the United States, over 2% of all U.S. children. Of those adoptions, approximately 8% are transracial adoptions, although reliable and recent data on this is difficult to come by. A compelling documentary called “Off and Running,” (POV) aired recently on PBS.   Here’s a short (2:36) clip:

Transracial adoption is controversial. In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers issued a statement that took “a vehement stand against the placements of black children in white homes for any reason,” calling transracial adoption “unnatural,” “artificial,” “unnecessary,” and proof that African-Americans continued to be assigned to “chattel status.”    However, a couple of mid-1990s laws prohibit race from determining adoption placement. The Howard M. Metzenbaum Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994  (MEPA), prohibits an adoption agency that receives Federal assistance from delaying or denying the placement of a child on the basis of the race, color, or national origin of the adoptive or foster parent, or the child involved.  And a 1996 change to MEPA, the Interethnic Adoption Provisions (IEP), forbids agencies from denying or delaying placement of a child for adoption solely on the basis of race or national origin.

Research about how adopted children do later in life, often called outcome studies, pretty consistently show that adopted kids do ok.   There’s comparatively little research on transracial adoption, but what there is suggests that these kids do ok, too.  One review of a dozen studies consistently indicate that approximately 75% of transracially adopted preadolescent and younger children adjust well in their adoptive homes. (Silverman, A.R. (1993). Outcomes of transracial adoption. The Future of Children, 3(1), 104-118.). A 1996 study  found that transracial adoption was not detrimental for the adopted child in terms of adjustment, self-esteem, academic achievement, peer relationships, parental and adult relationships.(Sharma, A.R., McGue, M.K. and Benson, P.L. (1996). The emotional and behavioral adjustment of United States adopted adolescents: part 1. An overview. Children & Youth Services Review, 18, 83-100.)

Still, transracial adoption within a society that is anything but post-racial means that it can be complicated, as Avery’s story in the documentary highlights.   For an excellent sociological analysis of transracial adoption that deftly combines personal insight with critical observations, I highly recommend Barbara Katz Rothman’s Weaving a Family: Untangling Race and Adoption (Beacon Press, 2006). And, if you’re a parent coming to terms with issues around transracial adoption, I also recommend the blog Love Isn’t Enough.

Latino Population Growth and the Arizona Nativism



Texas A&M University social demographer and sociologist Rogelio Saenz has some revealing statistical data in his recent Population Reference Bureau piece titled “Latinos, Whites, and the Shifting Demography of Arizona”: He first notes the dramatic growth in the population of Arizona, bringing the state up to near seven million people today as now the 14th-largest U.S. state. Among these

Latinos accounted for two-fifths of the nearly 3.8 million people added to the state’s population between 1980 and 2008…. The share of Arizona’s growth due to Latinos has grown significantly across the last three decades while the growth due to whites has declined…. The percentage of Arizonans who are Latino increased from 16 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 2008. In contrast, the share of the state’s population that is white declined from 75 percent in 1980 to 58 percent in 2008.

He also provides this striking chart, which has major political-economic implications:

As he points out about this chart,

Whites account for over half of the state’s population ages 35 and older and make up at least 80 percent of those in elderly age categories. . . . In contrast, Latinos outnumber whites in the two youngest age groups (0 to 4 and 5 to 9). While the median age of the white population is 43, it is only 26 among Latinos.

This racial-age polarization has significant implications. A majority of active voters and political activists now are still white, while the population that will eventually be that majority of voters and activists is not white, indeed is very substantially Latino. Many Arizona whites have also been the ones so aggressively seeking SB1070-type legislation to reduce the (already significantly declining because of the Bush depression) number of Latinos in the state, with some of them supporting violence against these immigrants in the form of armed groups patrolling the border.

One of the sad ironies in all this is that most of the Mexican immigrants, especially the undocumented, in Arizona actually do much work for whites, to make their middle class lives (houses, restaurants, etc) more affordable and thus to buttress white middle-class affluence. One has to wonder who will do much of this hard and dirty work in Arizona if the immigrants are driven out.

Saenz also notes certain critical larger national and international “boxes” within which the Mexican immigration has taken place:

The families of many Latinos in the state have been there for generations. Furthermore, globalization, the expansion of economies across international borders, and the aging of the populations of developed countries all stimulate the movement of people into places such as Arizona.

Attacks and Expulsions: French Governments against the Roma, Again



The BBC has a news reports on organized French human rights protests against French government expulsions and other negative treatment of French Roma people (so-called “gypsies’):

Thousands of people have been attending rallies in Paris and 130 other French towns to protest at the government’s policy of deporting Roma people.

A majority of French respondents in polls support the government expulsions and other apparent “cleansing” of these mostly working class residents of France:

About 1,000 Roma (Gypsies) returned to Romania and Bulgaria from France last month, while official figures record that 11,000 Roma were expelled from France last year. The League of Human Rights, which called for the demonstrations, said it wanted to counteract government “xenophobia” and what it described as the systematic abuse of Roma in France.

French President Sarkozy has apparently expanded these high-profile campaigns for political reasons, even against opposition in his presidential cabinet:

Prime Minister Francois Fillon hinted that he disliked the crude links being made between foreigners and crime, while Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he considered resigning over the issue.

There have been violent encounters between the Roma and non-Roma police in some cities:

In mid-July, riots erupted in Grenoble after police shot an alleged armed robber during a shootout. The next day, dozens of French Roma attacked a police station in the small Loire Valley town of Saint Aignan, after police shot dead a French Roma man who had allegedly not stopped at a police checkpoint.

French politicians’ expulsion and other policing actions have seen dissent and criticism from international sources like the Vatican and the United Nations, even the European Commission.

The article largely ignores the large scale racialized discrimination that targets the Roma, something Jessie detailed here. I am not very familiar with these recent French events, or the background. Perhaps some of our viewers can add some savvy comments on the situation in France.

Black Muslim Voices Missing in Discussion of New York City Muslim Center



Blackvoicenews has an excellent take on the anti-Muslim furor that our mostly white “leaders” in the political and media spheres have created–and mostly out of their white racial framing of Middle Eastern Muslim Americans. It is significant that a group that was generally ignored outside of a few urban areas before 9/11 is now the new target or scapegoat for certain U.S. ills.

As one African American Muslim leader noted this is not only about religious intolerance, but also about (white) racism:

“We have to be able to decode what’s happening and realize that this is religious intolerance on one hand, and it’s [also] good ol’ red-blooded American racial and ethnic bias on the other hand,” said Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, sitting in his office at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc. in Harlem.

National polls indicate only a quarter of Americans support of the right of some Americans to construct a Muslim center near the 9/11 site–and presumably, by implication, the first amendment’s promise (extended by the 14th amendment) of (government) noninterference in the “free exercise” of religion in the U.S. There is much ignorance in the general population about the Middle East, Muslims, and the issues around the Muslim center in New York City, for example:

Many in the mainstream media have failed to acknowledge that the proposed building will not simply serve as a mosque but as a fully equipped community center with a swimming pool, culinary school, art studios and other features. Furthermore, another mosque, the Manhattan Mosque, stands only five blocks northeast from the site of Ground Zero; Muslims have been worshiping at this location since a year prior to the World Trade Center’s construction.

So, Muslims have been worshiping there, already, for four decades. I suppose they will have to move with this new wave of US anti-Muslim hysteria? There is yet another ignorance and slighting, as Abdur-Rashid points out, in the local and national discussion—the absence of Black Muslims:

“The first thing we need to do is decode some of the language,” said Abdur-Rashid. “The first language that has to be decoded is “Americans.” That really means “white Americans.” That’s who’s uptight about this. It’s opposition that’s occurring in different parts of the country in reaction to the construction of mosques. It’s not just Park 51 in Lower Manhattan. … It’s in different parts of the country.”

African Americans were for decades the largest Muslim group (think about Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar) in the United States, and they are now the second largest group. Why aren’t they brought in as experts and commentators in the mainstream media dealing with these Muslim issues? It seems just white racist thinking and framing that results in the white-controlled media not bringing themselves to have experienced African American Muslims discussing these current anti-Muslim issues, most especially in New York City, long the home of large Black Muslim groups. (For solid and readable research on Muslim Americans, see here and here.)

Russell Simmons, a hip-hop entrepreneur who chairs the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is quoted in the article:

“I’m disappointed in everyone, Harry Reid and the rest of the Democrats,” said Simmons. “I’m shocked at the media. There’s ignorance on all sides. Twenty-three percent of this world’s population is Muslim. They’re a peace-loving people. What we’re doing is creating more tension.”

As he points out, “The Muslims” did not attack the US, and this often vicious, highly politicized anti-Mosque “crusade” (indeed, it is like a “crusade”) will only alienate yet again much of the world’s population. Not to mention, it violates the letter or spirit of our own Bill of Rights traditions. Can we afford that as a nation?

I Feel Good: Elevation, Positive Thinking & The Persistence of Racism

Everyone, it seems, likes a story with a happy ending.  It may be a particularly American cultural phenomenon or part of human brain structure.  But the rather relentless focus on cheerful positive thinking is also getting in the way of confronting the persistence of racism in the U.S.

267/365 - keep smilin'

( photo credit: joshfassbind.com)

In the U.S., the prevailing narrative about race is that “racial dynamics have been transformed,” first by the Civil Rights Movement and most recently – and finally – by the election of President Barack Obama.   We see this meme repeated again and again by mainstream news media, in popular movies (e.g., “Blind Side” and the entire genre of “white savior” films), and in personal conversation.   There is something in this narrative that speaks to both a human desire for “elevation” and the American quest to be “positive.”

Roger Ebert, film and social critic, explains that he’s never moved to tears by sad moments in movies, just during “moments about goodness.”   Ebert describes the feeling this way:

“What I experience is the welling up of a few tears in my eyes, a certain tightness in my throat, and a feeling of uplift: Yes, there is a good person, doing a good thing. And when the movie is over, I don’t want to talk with anyone. After such movies I notice that many audience members remain in a kind of reverie. Those who break the spell by feeling compelled to say something don’t have an emotional clue.”

This is the feeling that the movie “Blind Side” was supposed to evoke.   Ebert doesn’t mention the Sandra Bullock movie, but touches on race when he goes on to compare that feeling to the way he – and lots of other people – felt in Grant Park the night President Obama was elected.

In an article at Slate.com by Emily Yoffe, “Obama in Your Heart,” she describes a study about “the emotions of uplift” conducted by Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at UC-Berkeley, who had studied physical responses in test subjects who are deeply moved — what psychologists call “elevation.” Yoffe writes:

Elevation has always existed but has just moved out of the realm of philosophy and religion and been recognized as a distinct emotional state and a subject for psychological study. Psychology has long focused on what goes wrong, but in the past decade there has been an explosion of interest in “positive psychology”–what makes us feel good and why. University of Virginia moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who coined the term elevation, writes, “Powerful moments of elevation sometimes seem to push a mental ‘reset button,’ wiping out feelings of cynicism and replacing them with feelings of hope, love, and optimism, and a sense of moral inspiration.”

Some of this research suggests that elevation is triggered by the stimulus of our vagus nerve.  As Yoffe writes again:

“In his forthcoming book Born To Be Good, Keltner writes that he believes when we experience transcendence, it stimulates our vagus nerve, causing ‘a feeling of spreading, liquid warmth in the chest and a lump in the throat’.”

This emerging field of “positive psychology” is proving very popular.  A course in the positive psychology at Harvard is consistently the most popular course on campus, with over 800 students enrolled in it.   Whether or not this is a result of something linked to human biology remains to be determined. Closely tied to the ideas of elevation and positive psychology, is the deeply American notion of “positive thinking.”

In her recent book, Bright-Sided:How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company, 2009) Barbara Ehrenreich writes that :”Americans are a ‘positive’ people. This is our reputation as well as our self-image. We smile a lot and are oft en baffled when people from other cultures do not return the favor.”   The central tenet of this reputation is that positive thinking will make us feel better (physically and emotionally) and this optimism will actually make happy outcomes more likely. In other words, if you expect things to get better, they will.

She goes note that there are some serious downsides to ‘positive thinking,’ including acting as an ideological cover for consumer capitalism and making it impossible to foresee the events of 9/11 (even though there was plenty of evidence of an impending attack).  I’m quoting the following at length because it’s good and she cites a number of sociologists:

While positive thinking has reinforced and found reinforcement in American national pride, it has also entered into a kind of symbiotic relationship with American capitalism. There is no natural, innate affinity between capitalism and positive thinking. In fact, one of the classics of sociology, Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, makes a still impressive case for capitalism’s roots in the grim and punitive outlook of Calvinist Protestantism, which required people to defer gratification and resist all pleasurable temptations in favor of hard work and the accumulation of wealth.

But if early capitalism was inhospitable to positive thinking, “late” capitalism, or consumer capitalism, is far more congenial, depending as it does on the individual’s hunger for more and the firm’s imperative of growth. The consumer culture encourages individuals to want more — cars, larger homes, television sets, cell phones, gadgets of all kinds — and positive thinking is ready at hand to tell them they deserve more and can have it if they really want it and are willing to make the effort to get it. Meanwhile, in a competitive business world, the companies that manufacture these goods and provide the paychecks that purchase them have no alternative but to grow. If you don’t steadily increase market share and profits, you risk being driven out of business or swallowed by a larger enterprise. Perpetual growth, whether of a particular company or an entire economy, is of course an absurdity, but positive thinking makes it seem possible, if not ordained.

In addition, positive thinking has made itself useful as an apology for the crueler aspects of the market economy. If optimism is the key to material success, and if you can achieve an optimistic outlook through the discipline of positive thinking, then there is no excuse for failure. The flip side of positivity is thus a harsh insistence on personal responsibility: if your business fails or your job is eliminated, it must because you didn’t try hard enough, didn’t believe firmly enough in the inevitability of your success. As the economy has brought more layoffs and financial turbulence to the middle class, the promoters of positive thinking have increasingly emphasized this negative judgment: to be disappointed, resentful, or downcast is to be a “victim” and a “whiner.”

In her remarkable book, Never Saw It Coming: Cultural Challenges to Envisioning the Worst, sociologist Karen Cerulo recounts a number of ways that the habit of positive thinking, or what she calls optimistic bias, undermined preparedness and invited disaster. She quotes Newsweek reporters Michael Hirsch and Michael Isikoff, for example, in their conclusion that “a whole summer of missed clues, taken together, seemed to presage the terrible September of 2001.”7 There had already been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993; there were ample warnings, in the summer of 2001, about a possible attack by airplane, and flight schools reported suspicious students like the one who wanted to learn how to “fl y a plane but didn’t care about landing and takeoff .” The fact that no one — the FBI, the INS, Bush, or Rice — heeded these disturbing cues was later attributed to a “failure of imagination.” But actually there was plenty of imagination at work — imagining an invulnerable nation and an ever-booming economy — there was simply no ability or inclination to imagine the worst.”

Ehrenreich’s focus in the rest of the book is about her encounters with this relentless drive toward ‘positive thinking’ after her diagnosis with breast cancer (her critique is a devastating one leveled at the “positive thinking” pink ribbon campaigns).

There’s also relevance in Ehrenreich’s critique of positive thinking for understanding the persistence of racism in the U.S. and our collective reluctance to address it.   Many people – mostly white people – think that the best way to solve racism is to ignore it.   Some black folks think that way, too (e.g. Morgan Freeman).    This view exists across party lines and political affiliations, both liberals and conservatives.    And, in a way, it’s a version of the “positive thinking” that Ehrenreich describes: if you expect things to get better, they will.  Now, just apply that to racism.    End of story.  To do otherwise is to be a “victim” and a “whiner.”

I think that’s a mistake.   Where we err is when we think that the best way to deal with racism is to look only at the bright-side, to study only how we’ve overcome, without a simultaneous critique of the persistence of racism and a thorough analysis of how we go about dismantling it.  Racism will not just “go away” because we wish it would.  And, it won’t go away if we keep producing and consuming images that “elevate” us about the subject.

I will feel elevated when there are enough jobs (even for black teens), and everyone is housed (and there are not predatory lending practices), and there are no differences in health outcomes based on race (including an end to diabetes among Native Americans and low birth weight babies among African American mothers), and there are fewer people locked up (and those who are reflect the racial demographics of the entire nation).  Now that would be a happy ending to the story of American racism.