We Should Stop Celebrating Columbus

It’s that time of year again.  In midtown Manhattan, people are gearing up for the annual “Columbus Day Parade” which will disrupt traffic along 5th Avenue from 44th Street up to 72nd Street.  I won’t be joining in the celebration.

Like most school children in the U.S., I was taught the lie that Christopher Columbus was “an explorer” who “discovered America.”  It’s a lie that conveniently leaves out much of the truth about Columbus’ crimes against humanity.  And, this lie continues to be used by advertisers to sell products.  The spam from one retailer in my inbox this week featured the subject line, “Columbus Discovered America, and You Can Discover Savings at Barnes & Noble.” Uhm, thanks but no thanks B&N.

While the local news stations here relentlessly refer to the parade as a “celebration of Italian heritage,” I think it’s long past time we reject the myth of Columbus “discovering America,” and instead, recognize the indigenous people who already lived in the U.S. when Columbus stumbled upon it.

Curley, member of the Crow nation

(Curley, member of the Crow nation: image source)

By celebrating Columbus, we replay the legacy of colonialism and genocide. Let’s be clear. Columbus was no hero and doesn’t deserve a celebration. The history of Columbus’ record of genocide is not in dispute. When he traveled to the Caribbean (he never stepped foot on the North American continent), there were something like 75 million indigenous people living here. Within a generation of his landing, perhaps only 5-10% of the entire American Indian population remained. When Columbus and the men who traveled with him under the Spanish flag returned to the area we now call the West Indies, they took the land and launched widespread massacres, including of children, a process they described as “pacification”. (For more on this history, see this, this and this.)

Yet, despite the genocide that followed in his wake, some see the embrace of Columbus as a national hero and the Columbus Day holiday as a response to racism and discrimination experienced by Italian immigrants here in the U.S.  Tommi Avicolli-Mecca writes:

I understand why Italian-Americans embraced Columbus. When we arrived in this country, we weren’t exactly greeted with open arms, any more than any other immigrants. There were NINA (No Italian Need Apply) notices in store windows, as well as lynchings in the South, where we were considered nonwhite.

And, like so many other holidays, this one is a bit misguided. In point of fact, Columbus is a man with a tenuous link to contemporary Italy.  As you’ll recall from the grade school rhyme, Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” in 1492; contemporary Italy wasn’t a country until 1861.

Still, I don’t think that means we shouldn’t be celebrating Italian Americans’ heritage and contributions to the U.S.  I just think we should be focusing on the radical tradition of some Italian Americans, such as Mario Savio, Vito Marcantonio, and Sacco and Vanzetti.

There is a strong, radical history among Italian Americans that has been largely forgotten.  In their book, The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism (Praeger 2003), Philip Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer, help uncover some of this history.  Their edited volume shows that in contrast to their present conservative image (cf. Carl Paladino’s anti-gay remarks), Italian Americans played a central role in the working-class struggle of the early twentieth century.  Italian Americans were leaders in major strikes across the country—notably the Lawrence textile strikes of 1912 and 1919, the Paterson silk strike of 1913, the Mesabi Iron Range strikes of 1907 and 1916, and the New York City Harbor strikes of 1907 and 1919, as well as coal mining strikes. They also made important contributions to American labor unions, especially the revolutionary Industrial Workers of the World, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. At the same time, they built vibrant radical Italian immigrant communities that replicated the traditions, cultures, and politics of the old country.  For example, Italian immigrants formed their own political and social clubs, mutual aid societies, alternative libraries and press, as well as their own orchestras and theaters, designed to promote and sustain a radical subculture.

This radical subculture of Italian Americans was oppositional to both the hegemonic culture sustained by prominenti (the powerful men of the Little Italys) and the dominant culture of capitalist America. Yet, for the most part, this radical tradition has been set aside in favor of the hagiography of Columbus and, frankly, the valorizing of settler colonialism.

In recent years, several cities have begun to reject the Columbus Day holiday, replacing it with Indigenous People’s Day.

Protest against Columbus Day in Seattle

(Protest in Seattle, 2014: image source)

Berkeley, California, was the first city to do so in 1992. Seattle and Minneapolis followed its lead in October 2014, generating the movement’s current momentum. Since then, seven more municipalities — including Lawrence, Kansas, Portland, Oregon, and Bexar County, Texas (where San Antonio is located)— have joined their ranks.

Whether to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, or the radical tradition of working class Italian Americans, it’s time to recognize that Columbus was no hero. We should stop celebrating him.

Spanish in the U.S.: A “Respectable” Language (Part I)

References to Spanish in the US tend to evoke memories of Latinos’ racist oppression. However, there was a time in the early days of this country when Spanish was regarded by important whites as a “respectable” language.

Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wrote about the importance of Spanish to the US. In a document he penned outlining his ideas about the education of youth in Pennsylvania, Franklin recommended that young men interested in business should consider the study of Spanish!.

Jefferson’s admiration for Spanish is evident in this passage: “With respect to modern languages . . . Spanish is most important to an American . . .” One scholars notes, “His interest in Spanish was instrumental in its incorporation into the curriculum of William and Mary in 1780″ (Madeline Wallis Nichols)

Franklin’s and Jefferson’s positive view was shared by other members of the elite then. For example, a Puritan divine, Cotton Mather, found in Spanish an important tool to spread the “Christian” message to Spanish-American Catholics. In 1699 Mather wrote a pamphlet in Spanish, La fe del Christiano, hoping to convert them “from Darkness to Light,” that is, from the Catholic faith to Protestantism.

There was an early demand for private instruction in Spanish. In 1747 the New York Gazette announced the establishment of an Academy where Augustus Vaughn taught several languages, including Spanish, “correctly and expeditiously.” In 1773 another New Yorker, Anthony Fiva, advertised instruction in Romance languages, including Spanish, “in their greatest purity.” (Seybolt).

Instruction in Spanish began at the college level in the 18th Century. It was offered at major colleges and universities such as Pennsylvania (1750), Dickinson (1814) , Yale (1826), Princeton (1830) and Amherst (1827). However, the great prestige of Spanish instruction at the university level did not reach its peak until 1816 with the establishment of the Smith Professorship of the French and Spanish Languages and Literature at Harvard (Spell).

As US expansionism grew, however, the esteemed status of Spanish turned into contempt as white settlers moved to Texas and the US seized Mexican territory after the conclusion of the US-Mexican war. Conquering whites made the squelching of Spanish a central component of their takeover. Their strategy was familiar in history: to break a people, you dispossess them of such an important part of their lives as language. Their justification was simple: the language of an inferior race was necessarily an inferior language. Thus began the racialization of Spanish in the US.

Puerto Ricans: Mythologizing Reality and US Hegemony

Puerto Ricans are lazy, filthy, thieves, parasites. They expect everything to be handed to them. They are dumb people who have no initiative or talent. They lack discipline and a sense of responsibility. They love to party. They hate their compatriots: [they say that] the island is sinking, losing its population and coming apart.(Translated from Spanish.)

Who in the world would utter such diatribes against Puerto Ricans: White supremacists? The Ku Klux Klan? Not really.

According to Benjamín Torres Gotay, a Puerto Rican journalist writing in San Juan’s Spanish language El Nuevo Día, it’s Puerto Rican themselves. Torres asserts that these beliefs represent a campaign carried out by people who are convinced that the solution to Puerto Rico’s problems is statehood. Because Puerto Ricans are by nature incapable of taking care of themselves, it is claimed, the US would step in and solve the problems of its 51st state.

Puerto Rico’s problems, Torres asserts, are rooted in a system that grew out of Puerto Rico’s dependence on the US. “Laziness” is due to the lack of decent jobs, “ignorance” grows out of a disastrous school system, and “lacking in initiative” is the result of a deeply embedded popular notion that Puerto Ricans need US help to take care of things.

We may add that the Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci pointed out that after long inculcation such myths penetrate the average individuals’ psyche and become an unquestioned “commonsense.” Gramsci denominated this state of affairs “hegemony.” All colonies suffer from this “hegemony.”

To Torres’ penetrating accounting of the root causes of Puerto Rico’s maladies we need to add racism. Anti-Latino racism is part and parcel of US culture. In the halls of Congress, no less, Latinos have been called inferior mixtures of Spanish, Indian and Black stock, or “mongrels.” The US is not sympathetic to people of “other” races (that is those who are not white) and consequently unlikely to hold a benevolent view of Puerto Rico.

The racist message has become a component of Puerto Rican commonsense. It teaches that as an “other race,” Puerto Ricans have no one to blame but themselves for their problems. This is an ironic twist: exploit a people and blame their race for the consequences of their exploitation.

Livestreaming Now: Whiteness & Health Roundtable Today at CUNY Graduate Center (Updated)

The archived video(s) of An Exploration of Whiteness and Health A Roundtable Discussion

is available beginning here (updated 12/16/12):

The examination of whiteness in the scholarly literature is well established (Fine et al., 1997; Frankenberg, 1993; Hughey, 2010; Twine and Gallagher, 2008). Whiteness, like other racial categories, is socially constructed and actively maintained through the social boundaries by, for example, defining who is white and is not white (Allen, 1994; Daniels, 1997; Roediger, 2007; Wray, 2006). The seeming invisibility of whiteness is one of its’ central mechanisms because it allows those within the category white to think of themselves as simply human, individual and without race, while Others are racialized (Dyer, 1998). We know that whiteness shapes housing (Low, 2009), education (Leonardo, 2009), politics (Feagin, 2012), law (Lopez, 2006), research methods (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva, 2008) and indeed, frames much of our misapprehension of society (Feagin, 2010; Lipsitz, 1998). Still, we understand little of how whiteness and health are connected. Being socially assigned as white is associated with large and statistically significant advantages in health status (Jones et al., 2008). Anderson’s ground breaking book The Cultivation of Whiteness (2006) offers an exhaustive examination of the way whiteness was deployed as a scientific and medical category in Australia though to the second world war. Yet, there is relatively little beyond this that explores the myriad connections between whiteness and health (Daniels and Schulz, 2006; Daniels, 2012; Katz Rothman, 2001). References listed here.

The Whiteness & Health Roundtable is an afternoon conversation with scholars and activists doing work on this area.

Follow the livetweeting on Twitter at @jgieseking (Jen Jack Gieseking) and @SOSnowy (Collette Sosnowy), and via the #DigitalGC. You can also view the compilation of those Tweets on Storify here.

The roundtable is sponsored by the Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) and the Critical Social & Environmental Psychology program at the Graduate Center CUNY. The event is hosted by Michelle Fine (Distinguished Professor, Social Psychology, Women’s Studies and Urban Education), Jessie Daniels (Professor, Urban Public Health and Sociology) and Rachel Liebert, (PhD Student, Critical Social/Personality Psychology).

US Workers Invented “May Day”

Happy May Day, the workers of the world day!

In the past (for example, 2010) we have had major marches on this day in support of undocumented workers, and today we have had numerous marches in support of the “Occupy” causes by an array of workers, students, and others, as well as many other marches in support of unions and workers’ rights and causes.

The Industrial Workers of the World’s website points out that the country that founded May Day (May 1) seems to have forgotten it:

Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers’ Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union.

Most Americans don’t realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as “American” as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860′s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880′s that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.

Unions and other worker organizations have brought much in the way of better lives for many Americans and others across the globe. And most of the world’s workers are workers of color–-often working ultimately for white-controlled western corporations. They still need much new organization to end various types of class and racial oppression that they face. Many of these workers of color turned out today to protest for better working conditions.

Coming decades will doubtless see important and organized worker challenges to the domination of the mostly white-run corporations (executives) that increasingly control larger workplaces in a great many countries, if only because their most workers (of color) do not share their high-profit interests and often western racialized interests. The US intellectual and critical thinker Noam Chomsky has an interesting recent commentary on the relationship of democratic reforms to more extensive democratic revolutions–which sometimes come from sustained workers movements.

Art,Transnational Whiteness and Racism

There’s a cake that’s creating quite a stir around the world and around the Internet. The controversial cake was prepared to mark the 75th anniversary of the National Organization of Swedish artists, attended by culture minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth. The cake was designed by artist, Makunde Linde, an Afro-Swede, known in Sweden for provocative work that aims to challenge racial stereotypes. Whether or not his art does, in fact, challenge racial stereotypes – or simply reproduce them – is the subject of some debate.

It’s the picture of the event – the cutting of the cake and the culture minister (pictured) feeding the cake to the artist (that’s him, in blackface, posing as the head) is really what created the big stir. At the centerpiece of this piece of performance art is the degradation and mutilation of (if symbolically) of a black woman’s body, for the entertainment and enjoyment of a group of white people.  And, this as readers here well know, has a long history in Western culture.

After people reacted to the picture and called it racist (which seems self-evident), the events followed a rather predictable course: 1) the Swedish culture minister apologized 2) the artist gave interviews and explained that his “intention” was not to create racism (and sexism) but rather to expose it, 3) lots of people came out defending the artist and 4) lots of other people, including the National Afro-Swedish Association called for the Culture Minister’s resignation.

Perhaps most predictably of all, a blogger at The New York Times framed the issue in the quintessentially American frame of “free speech.” At the same time, the piece completely ignores any connection to racism in the U.S. by comparing the racist-Swedish-cake incident to another European incident where there was debate about use of the n-word (and variations on the word) in French.  The New York Times’ account is a terrific example of the ‘white racial frame’ – of looking at something through a white interpretive lens that comes out of the perspective of white elites and resonates broadly with people beyond the elite stratum.

I think that the cake and the cake-cutting and the controversy surrounding it are about something slightly different that I haven’t seen elsewhere. he fact that it’s performance art, “that must be allowed to provoke,” is being treated as an end-point to the discussion about what’s so disturbing in this image.

But there’s more to this.

In my view, what’s happening here is that this picture exposes transnational whiteness and implicates these individual people in this interaction that’s imbued with racism.

Let me explain.

Les Back uses the term ‘translocal whiteness,’ to refer to the way neo-Nazis and others are organizing and connecting online, across national boundaries (Les Back, “The New Technologies of Racism,” in D.T. Goldberg and J. Solomos (eds.) A Companion to Racial and Ethnic Studies, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002): 365-377). This is an idea that I expanded on in the Cyber Racism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009) book. (Here, I’m using the term ‘transnational’ as a synonym for ‘translocal’ because I think it makes more sense intuitively.)Part of what’s happening in this photo is that we recognize whiteness as decidedly noticeable, and it’s recognizable across national boundaries.

Even though whiteness studies has been around almost 20 years now, most white people are still shocked when they’re noticed because of their race. The aim of most studies of whiteness  has been to make visible and to problematize whiteness which has largely remained invisible, unremarked and ‘normal’. Yet, whiteness studies remains incredibly insular and almost excessively focused on whites in the U.S. (on this point, see the work of Alastair Bonnett, particularly, “White studies revisited.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2008, 31(1), 185-196). The Swedish cake incident calls attention to the need for a more transnational framework for whiteness studies.

We’re also disturbed by in this image is the way that these individual people in the image are implicated in racism by delighting in the cake-cutting ritual. This is part of why people are calling on the culture minister to resign, because she participated fully – in looking like a racist. And, in fact, there’s no other way to be in that position. To not “be racist,” she would have had to disrupt the entire event (which many have pointed out would have been a good idea).

And, yet ‘whiteness’ is not just about white people – it’s about white practices.  Raka Shome explains this a little further when she writes:

” [w]hiteness…is not a phenomenon that is enacted only where white bodies exist. Whiteness is not just about bodies and skin color, but rather more about the discursive practices that, because of colonialism and neocolonialism, privilege and sustain the global dominance of white imperial subjects and Eurocentric worldviews (‘Whiteness and the politics of location’, in T. Nakayama and J. Martin (Eds), Whiteness: The Communication of Social Identity, 1999, pp. 107–128, Thousand Oaks: Sage).”

So, part of what we recognize and what disturbs us is whiteness and the colonialism, neocolonialism, privilege and global dominance of white imperial subjects and Eurocentric worldviews that are so perfectly summed up in the act of the white culture minister devouring the cake and then “feeding” it to her “subject.”

Further, whiteness is tied to the twin legacies of European colonial power and American delusions of “manifest destiny.” These legacies are rooted in racist acts of physical or verbal violence.  In the photograph, the white people in the crowd, smiling, laughing, cameras raised, taking pictures as the cake and symbolic woman are cut, evoke the lynch mob. This picture is the essence of colonialism and neocolonialism, and of a privileged Eurocentric view, and that is part of what is repulsive in this image. Such representations circulate very widely through social media, yet often with little or no critique or analysis, only reproducing (in every sense) the image and its unintended consequences.

For its part, a spokesperson for the museum where the cake appeared had this to say:

“Moderna Museet understands and respects that people find the pictures and video clips from World Art Day upsetting, especially when they are shown out of context. The intention of KRO and Makode Linde was to draw attention to and discuss today’s racism, not to reinforce it.”

I actually don’t object to the performance art aspect of this piece, I just don’t think it went far enough in exposing the racism it wanted to subvert. The racism that the pictures and video clips of the event were not “upsetting” because they were “shown out of context.”  It’s the context and the racism embedded in it that is disturbing. That the artist, the museum and the culture minister failed to understand that speaks to the complicated ways that art, transnational whiteness and racism are intertwined.


Canadian Institutions as Meritocracies, Canada has No History of Colonialism? And Other Myths

When Maclean’s magazine’s annual University Ranking was released in November 2010, reporters Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Köhler interviewed students, professors and administrators concerning campus racial balance and its implications. The resulting story was titled: “Too Asian?”

Among those interviewed were Alexandra and Rachel, graduates of Toronto’s Havergal College, an all-girls private school. When deciding which university to attend they

didn’t even bother considering the University of Toronto because, according to the students the “only people from our school who went [there] were Asian. All the white kids … go to Queen’s, Western and McGill.”

A worldwind followed. Comments posted on the Internet and in other media suggested that by publishing the article, Maclean’s viewed Canadian universities as “Too Asian,” and/or that the editorial staff and writers held negative views of Asian students.

The editorial staff at Maclean’s promptly spoke out in response: “Nothing could be further from the truth,” they said, explaining that the title, ‘Too Asian?’ was a direct quote from the name of a 2006 panel discussion at the meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling “where experts examined the growing tendency among U.S. university admission officers to view Asian applicants as a homogenous group.”

The editorial staff went on to explain that

the evidence suggests some of the most prestigious schools in the U.S. have abandoned merit as the basis for admission for more racially significant—and racist—criteria.

They go on to state that “the trend toward race-based admission policies in some American schools [is] deplorable.” They then claim that Canadian universities select students regardless of race or creed.

In fact, this stance was distinctly stated in the original article:

Canadian institutions operate as pure meritocracies when it comes to admissions, and admirably so,

Findlay and Köhler wrote.

This Canadian cannot help but be reminded of the prevalence of such myths, which feature both nonsequitur and grotesque denials of historical (and current) injustices. Despite claims of race-neutrality as a preferred ideal, Canada is actually a racialized society – “race” remains a key variable in influencing people’s identities, experiences, and outcomes.

In addition to Canadian institutions purportedly operating as pure meritocracies when it comes to admissions, it seems that we have no history of colonialism either (insert sarcastic tone here). “We also have no history of colonialism,” says Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In 2009 the Canadian Prime Minister made the above declaration. And let us remember that this is the same Prime Minister who in 2008 made an official government apology for the residential school system that aimed explicitly to obliterate Indigenous culture and identity.

Such outrageous claims are evidence of profound ignorance and pervasive racism-fuelled historical amnesia and denial, which continue to plague Canadian society.

Kyla E. Doll and Crystal S. Van Den Bussche are undergraduates at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada. Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.

Obama as “Tribal Anti Colonialist”: Racism Redux

Dinesh D’Souza is so enamored with his fantastical analysis of Barack Obama as a haunted puppet of his Kenyan father that the story enjoys two printings in Forbes magazine. The first on Sept. 9 entitled “How Obama Thinks”and a second story essentially the same, though a bit shorter on Sept. 18 entitled “Obama’s Problem with Business”. D’Souza’s major attack on Obama is that his ideas are based in “tribal anti-colonialism.”

D’Souza spends a great deal of copy discussing the concepts of anti-colonialism. By the way, his credentials as an expert on the subject are that he was born in Mumbai, India. He accurately defines anti-colonialism as “the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America.” For virtually any high school history student this stands as more of a fact than a doctrine. The actual heart of anti- colonialist doctrine is that this was an immoral and shameful endeavor. This stands in contrast to the doctrines of manifest destiny, free markets, doctrines of the superiority of western culture, and various exceptionalist doctrines in America, Britain, France and other western nations. It is virtually impossible to deny that the West got rich by looting other countries, so the denial is generally couched in grand theories such as Manifest Destiny wherein Western profiteers are portrayed as helping the poor savages of these primitive countries by providing industry, religion and culture.

In National Review Online , Newt Gingrich says D’Souza has made a “stunning insight” into Obama’s behavior — the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.” Gingrich, hawking his new movie and his revived political power goes even farther. ““I think Obama gets up every morning with a worldview that is fundamentally wrong about reality,” Gingrich says. “If you look at the continuous denial of reality, there has got to be a point where someone stands up and says that this is just factually insane.” I spent most of the 80s shaking my head in disbelief at Newt Gingrich and his ability as Speaker to categorically deny reality. But this reaches new head shaking heights. Newt ascribes profound meaning to a purely fantastical theory based on nothing more than Barack Obama sharing genetic material with his Kenyan father. Then, only a few sentences later, he accuses others of denying reality.

Let me be the someone who stands up and says this is just factually insane. But first let me point out that Gingrich and D’Souza have used the term “tribal” as a code word for inferior, primitive, undesirable. That is a grand tradition in America. White people, driven by glorious Manifest Destiny, committed colonial atrocities of genocide and theft of resources on a continental scale against “tribal anti-colonialists.” It is the great legacy of America. We then spread this successful business model around the world. The second interesting point to note here is that America, theoretically and rhetorically, stands against colonialism. America was the original anti-colonial hot-bed, fighting Britain for independence. We spent decades valiantly fighting the Soviet Union’s colonial transgressions in Eastern Europe. We are always on vigilant and well financed guard against the imperialist colonial motives and actions of Islamic nations. Aren’t we just a democratic nation only interested in spreading democracy and the good life to all nations against the encroachments of imperial powers? Well, truthfully, not. At least not unless it furthers the cause of our gathering riches and resources.

As a member of a tribe who still suffers from American colonialism, I can certainly set the minds of D’Souza and Gingrich at rest. Barack Obama does not exhibit tribal tendencies. If he did, we would definitely have a public option in our health care legislation. The standard prayer/wish in a tribal society is health, help and happiness for all. Health is the first listed. If Obama were a tribal thinker, we would not have off shore drilling, strip mining, clear cutting of forests, mining of uranium, nuclear production of energy, and a host of other policies and activities that destroy the earth and our fellow inhabitants of the earth. Because tribal thinking rests upon the basic premise that everything is related. The Earth is alive and must be respected and cared for carefully. Indigenous tribes represent around 6% of the world’s population and have not only a zero environmental footprint, they actually have a positive footprint.

White imperialistic thinkers like Newt Gingrich have no concept whatever of tribal thinking and have no desire to. His accusation against Barack Obama is part of a centuries old smear campaign to relegate anyone who disagrees with imperialist American policies to an undesirable category. A category synonymous with bestiality, violence, ignorance, and history. Most important is to relegate them to history. D’Souza spends a great deal of time discussing how outdated these tribal anti-colonialist ideas are, and Gingrich is clear that Obama is living in a long dead past out of touch with current affairs. Merely being tribal relegates one to history, with no voice in the modern world. The 300 million indigenous peoples from 5,000 tribal groups inhabiting 72 countries are familiar with these attempts to discredit their voices and relegate them to history. It is a centuries old tactic. Finally, like the Tea Party, he has hitched his current political star to, Newt has truly followed in the spirit of the founding fathers using racism and invented privilege to justify the unjust imperial actions of the wealthy and privileged at the expense of the whole. It’s not even a new “contract with America”; it is the same racist drivel that arrived with first white people to this land of tribal ant colonialists.

Cree folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie’s New Album

Over at dailykos.com blog Meteor Blades has a nice commentary on the new album of Cree Indian folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie, accompanied on a long tour by a 5-piece all-Aboriginal band.running-for-the-drum (Photo: Her Website)

One song in which includes these critical words on U.S. capitalism and racism:

Ol Columbus he was lookin good
When he got lost in our neighborhood
Garden of Eden right before his eyes
Now it’s all spyware Now it’s all income tax

Ol Brother Midas lookin hungry today
What he can’t buy he’ll get some other way
Send in the troopers if the Natives resist
Same old story, boys; that’s how ya do it , boys

Here is her interesting website.

Saving Face? Colorism, Colonialism, and Sammy Sosa

Recent pictures of baseball player Sammy Sosa show a really dramatic change in his appearance:


(Photo credit: Zalubowski/AP, Djansezian/Getty via NYDailyNews)

Sosa, a retired baseball player born in the Dominican Republic, has openly acknowledged using skin-lightening creams that account for this drastic difference in his appearance (he plans to market a skin-lightening cream). His decision to do so—and the effects of this use—highlight in a rather dramatic fashion one of the more insidious influences of white colonialism and racial hierarchies in the global arena.

Scholars have long documented that in the U.S., particularly among black Americans, a color hierarchy is one of the vestiges of institutionalized racial inequality and a slave system that rewarded white slave owners for raping black women slaves. Under the slave system, children followed the status of the mother. Thus, white slave owners could actually increase their profits by fathering children with slave women, a process which often came about through forcible rape. In some cases (but not all), the children of these unions were favored by white men.  On rare occasions, they even went so far as to free these children or treat them in a completely humane fashion. Ultimately, this established a system where lighter-skinned blacks sometimes received more favorable treatment than their darker-skinned counterparts. (It is important to put this in context, however. Favorable treatment within a slave system would still have been dehumanizing, cruel, and brutal.)

As the U.S. has remained a society profoundly shaped by racial inequality, the vestiges of colorism have remained largely intact. Interestingly, however, researchers often discuss this in the context of colorism’s impact on women. A small but significant number of research studies indicate pretty uniformly that lighter skinned black women are more educated and have higher prospects on the marriage market than their darker-skinned sisters. More generally, lighter skinned women are often considered more attractive than darker skinned women, a bias that has been noted as early as St. Clair Drake and Horace Roscoe Cayton’s 1945 study of black urban areas in Black Metropolis, and as recently as Margaret Hunter’s 2005 book Race, Gender, and the Politics of Skin Tone. In other words, lighter skinned black women receive measurable advantages that are unavailable to darker skinned women, due to the heightened emphasis on physical attractiveness for women and the ongoing nature of racism in society.

Sammy Sosa’s transformation highlights two important things. First, that this issue of colorism is not limited to women. His newly lightened face, green eyes, and straighter hair indicate pretty clearly that men are not exempt from the societal messages that lighter is better. Most of the research suggests that men are influenced by these messages vis-à-vis their preference for lighter skinned women, and in fact suggests that darker skinned men are sort of “in vogue,” because darker skin on men is viewed as a symbol of masculinity, virility, and sexiness (although this also connotes racialized, gendered stereotypes of black masculinity). Sosa’s new skin, hair, and eyes bring to light—no pun intended—that men are subjected to, and internalize, the messages of colorism in a myriad of ways, and that they should not be overlooked simply because they don’t trade in beauty currency in the same ways as women.

Secondly, Sosa’s case highlights the international influence of white supremacy (as Joe noted recently about China) and the history of colonization. Sosa is from the Dominican Republic, but is reproducing an ideal of whiteness that is probably present in virtually any country with a history of colonization where race became a central issue. In other words, these issues of colorism—where lighter skinned people of color receive more opportunities, social rewards, and resources than darker skinned people—are at least anecdotally present in Cuba, Mexico, Brazil (as Ed noted here recently), India, South Africa, and numerous other countries where there has been a history of racial conquest and colonialism. Throughout the world, this is one of the consequences of colonialism—centuries later, those who are lighter (even if it is as a result of a history of forcible rape and institutionalized oppression) benefit from living in a global society that mostly devalues darker skin.

In this context, I think Sammy Sosa’s new appearance takes on important sociological significance, as a reminder of how intersections of race and gender impact men of color, the ongoing impact of colonialism, and perhaps most importantly, the all encompassing influence of white racial framing. After all, it is within this broader context of whiteness as a signifier of virtue, goodness, and beauty, that the desire to lighten one’s skin takes on meaning and significance.  Sammy Sosa’s new “look” isn’t just a change in appearance, but one that draws attention to the broader social structure where light (and by extension, white) is right.