Gloria Steinem, Where Are You Now?

3005744513_a264349f2bIf you’ve been following the increasingly racist, sexist, and thoroughly disgusting attacks on Sonia Sotomayor, then you’ve no doubt seen this headline: “G. Gordon Liddy on Sotomayor: ‘Let’s Hope the Key Conferences Aren’t When She’s Menstruating.’ ”

While striking, this revolting statement is not that far of a stretch from other classics of the last few days: Sotomayor as dumpy, schoolmarmish, and too “emotional.”

These statements are obviously grossly offensive and fairly reek of profoundly sexist ideals. I do not claim to be a Supreme Court expert, but I’ve been following nominations pretty closely since the Clarence Thomas debacle in the 1990s and have yet to hear any criticisms of any male justices’ appearance or emotional tenor. As far as I can tell, when it was time to consider his nomination to the Court, no one cared what Antonin Scalia looked like or bothered to describe him as dumpy, fat, or bloated. No one asked whether Clarence Thomas had the temperament for the Supreme Court, even though he looked mad enough to spit nails when he had to face accusations of sexual harassment, while Anita Hill remained calm and unflappable when Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter basically called her a liar.  The double standard here is a glaringly obvious, clear cut, basic example of sexism in American politics. How else to explain that looks and emotion suddenly became significant issues for Judge Sotomayor when they never mattered for any of her predecessors?

But I don’t need to point all this out, because fortunately we have a number of prominent feminist women who are quick to use their public platform to denounce obvious cases of sexism, and to condemn those who are instrumental in perpetuating these assaults against women…right? Why, just last year, noted feminist icon Gloria Steinem (image from here), wrote a widely discussed editorial in the New York Times defending then-Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton against charges of sexism, and lamenting that “the sex barrier was not taken as seriously as the racial one.”

During this same election cycle, Geraldine Ferraro made controversial statements arguing that Obama’s race was an advantage, and contended that “if he were a woman of any color he would not be in this position,” implying, like Steinem, that male privilege was so endemic that it could elevate a black man over any woman of any color.  Martha Burk got a lot of attention a few years back for demanding that the Masters golf tournament allow women to join its hallowed ranks, and was a clear, cogent voice in drawing attention to this institutionalized sexism in the athletic world.

Funny how I haven’t heard any statements from these women castigating G. Gordon Liddy, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, or Michael Steele for their repugnant, sexist, and racist remarks about Judge Sotomayor. Funny how they haven’t jumped out in front of this issue the same way they did when Hillary Clinton was the one on the receiving end of a barrage of sexist statements. Funny how the PUMAs (Party Unity My Ass) who were so outraged at the way the Democratic Party ostensibly treated Hillary Clinton now don’t seem to see this as a worthy cause of their efforts, and aren’t outraged by Democratic politicians’ unwillingness to call these abhorrent statements the blatant misogyny that they are.

What’s not funny are the implications this has for women of all races. When white feminists look the other way when Michelle Obama is callously referred to as “Obama’s Baby Mama,” when Sonia Sotomayor is savaged by right wing conservatives who engage in the basest types of sexism, or more broadly, when women of color across the country face higher rates of abuse, incarceration, and poverty than white women, it sends a clear message about their lack of respect for and interest in the ways sexism impacts women of other racial groups and class positions. It reinforces the idea that white women feminists are interested in maintaining their white privilege while undermining sexism, a process that keeps women of color oppressed but broadens the category of whites who have access to and are able to wield power over others. It perpetuates the (erroneous) message that feminism has nothing to offer women of color, even though they too suffer from the gender wage gap, sexual violence, and all the other manifestations of gender inequality.

I do not understand why white feminists like Steinem, Ferraro, Burk, and others still don’t seem to get this message that intersections of race and gender matter and that the feminist movement cannot succeed without the influence and involvement of ALL women.

This point has been made for years, by many progressive white women (playwright Eve Ensler, sociologist Margaret Andersen) and feminists of color (sociologist Patricia Hill Collins, activist Pauli Murray, writer Alice Walker). It would be really nice if the rampant sexism being directed towards Sonia Sotomayor finally served as an overdue wake-up call about the importance of both race and gender.

Racism, Sexism and The Significance of Sotomayor

AsSCOTUS 2 expected, Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court has drawn controversy, media attention, analysis and even some humorous send-ups of right-wing critics (Creative Commons License photo credit: Padraic).

Opponents have alternately claimed that Sotomayor is (a) not smart enough for the Court (despite degrees from Ivy League Universities and an apparent history of exemplary academic performance), (b) racist, and (c) perhaps most bizarrely, saddled with an unpronounceable name

While these conversations themselves warrant another post (and analysis of their racist and sexist assumptions, particularly the one that she’s not smart enough), what strikes me the most about Sotomayor’s nomination is what it suggests for the future of race relations in this country. Not in terms of the “role model” argument (the idea that young people need to see someone like them in positions of power to help them see that their options are plentiful and far-ranging), though I think there is some merit to that claim.

Sotomayor’s presence on the Court, in my opinion, reveals much about the way Obama intends to address racial inequalities in his role as president.

Of late, Obama has not said much about racial matters, particularly issues of racial inequality. Many of his statements about race that I’ve read date back to 2006 or 2007, well before he was a serious candidate for President. In several these statements, he acknowledges the existence and consequences of systemic racism:

“I don’t believe it is possible to transcend race in this country. . . Race is a factor in this society. The legacy of Jim Crow and slavery has not gone away. It is not an accident that African Americans experience high crime rates, are poor, and have less wealth. It is a direct result of our racial history.” (Essence magazine, October 2007)

However, on the campaign trail and while President, Obama mostly remained quiet about the ongoing existence of systemic racism and his plan to put policies into place that remedy it. In fact, he has gone on record talking about the need for class-based policies, using the metaphor that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Of course, President Obama walks a very difficult line, one none of his predecessors have had to balance. If he appears racially conscious, he runs a high risk of upsetting supporters who like to see him as color blind, offering easy ammunition to opponents looking for anything to use as a source of criticism, and maybe most significantly, seeing his support and ability to get things done erode in a wave of racially-tinged suspicion. If we assume that eradicating racial inequality matters to him, how then does Obama put policies into place without sacrificing political capital and losing control of his momentum?

Enter Judge Sotomayor, the first potential Supreme Court justice who will have personally experienced the multiple, overlapping oppressions of racism, sexism, and poverty. Who has observed that dealing with these intersecting factors would likely render her more capable of reaching a wise, sound decision on cases of discrimination than her white male peers who benefit from their race, gender, and class privilege. Who at the same time acknowledged that these intersecting factors do not preclude elite white men from reaching sound, fair decisions on cases of discrimination (e.g., Brown v. Board of Education), but sees the reality that living her life as a woman of color gives her a particular insight into oppression that might escape her white male colleagues.

What makes Sotomayor’s nomination especially relevant right now is that Chief Justice Roberts has issued some of his most telling decisions and statements on cases related to racial discrimination and civil rights .  Despite his clear intelligence and stellar academic credentials, Roberts is woefully uneducated when it comes to the realities of racial oppression in this nation. Operating from the color blind racist perspective, Roberts is apparently of the opinion that any focus on race—even with the intent of diversifying, correcting ongoing racial inequalities, or addressing systemic racial imbalances—is in and of itself racist. This willful refusal to recognize that racism is built into the very core of the political, economic, and social foundations of this nation, has always worked to disadvantage people of color, and will continue to do so if left unchecked, is an egregious blind spot on the part of our Chief Justice. So too is his inability to distinguish between taking race into consideration when trying to make a school system diverse (in compliance with Brown v. Board) and focusing on race in efforts to create and maintain segregated, unequal social systems.

Right now Sonia Sotomayor is being savaged by people who refuse to respect her intelligence and hard work, and instead seem to think that her status as a Latina signifies a person who is dumb and unqualified. It’s particularly ironic that she may sit on a Court that decides whether affirmative action policies are legal or even remain necessary. It seems to me that Sotomayor’s experience having her qualifications disregarded in a way that evokes common racial/gendered stereotypes would give her a perspective on the necessity of affirmative action that might elude Judges Roberts, Alito, and Scalia.

People often mistakenly assume affirmative action just elevates unqualified minority candidates, but when used wisely and correctly its purpose is to create opportunities for racial minorities who work hard, are eminently qualified, but still face discrimination because of potential employers’ biases (like the automatic, reflexive assumption that people of color are less intelligent). It seems to me that what Sotomayor is facing right now is a prime example of said biases, and this speaks directly to her statements for the value of a diverse bench. These are the types of experiences that can help Sotomayor see aspects of the law that Chief Justice Roberts, with his color blind worldview, will likely miss.

Obama is a smart enough politician to know that a candid focus on policies openly designed to eradicate racism will impair his ability to fulfill his other priorities and will pretty much guarantee him a one-term presidency. But he can select a Supreme Court nominee with stellar credentials, extensive legal experience, and the personal history to allow her to see what her colleagues are comfortable ignoring. She can’t make policy from the bench, but she can make sure the law works for everyone. In doing so, she can be Obama’s voice for racial and gender equality.

Racism’s Effects: The Urban League’s State of Black America 2009

The National Urban League’s 2009 State of Black America report is just out and shows, yet again, the longterm consequences of systemic racism as it impacts African Americans. The Urban League has developed what they term an Equality Index, a statistical measure of white-black inequalities in the economy, education, health, community engagement, and the “justice” system.

According to their press release, the 2009 summary index shows a little decline in the overall position of African Americans relative to whites, in their terms from 71.5 percent in the 2008 report to 71.1 percent in that 2009 report. The trend line over the five years between 2003 and 2007 shows greater inequality:

Even as both groups made progress in educational attainment, the progress was slower for blacks. During the same period while white children saw increases in “preprimary” enrollment of about 3 percent, black children saw a decline of about 1 percent, causing the education gap to grow, not shrink.

The executive summary of the report adds the inequality measures for subareas:

Economics remains the area with the greatest degree of inequality (from 57.6% in 2008 to 57.4% in 2009), followed by social justice (from 62.1% to 60.4%), health (from 73.3% to 74.4%), education (from 78.6% to 78.5%) and civic engagement (from 100.3% to 96.3%).

The State of Black America report ends with important suggestions for job/economic policy such as these:

1. Increase funding for proven and successful models of workforce training and job placement for under-skilled workers between the ages of 16 and 30 such as the Department of Labor’s “Responsible Reintegration of Youthful Offenders.”
2. Direct a percentage of all infrastructure monies to job training, job placement and job preparation for disadvantaged workers;
3. Target workforce investment dollars to the construction industry jobs that an infrastructure program will create and, where reigniting the construction industry is a goal, pre-apprenticeship programs must be funded in that sector;
4. Fund infrastructure development for public building construction and renovations of schools, community centers, libraries, recreation centers, parks, etc., that will rebuild and revitalize urban communities;
5. Re-establish a temporary Public Service Employment (PSE) program aimed at creating 150,000 – 200,000 jobs in urban areas to forestall a reduction in public services and an increase in job losses.

The report has not yet gotten much attention, but Leonard Pitts Jr., the black Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist and author of Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood, wrote a recent article arguing that these data will not be welcome to

Americans who convinced themselves in November the country had entered a “post-racial” era. Those Americans will be overwhelmingly white and will resist with mighty determination the report’s implicit argument: that we have not yet overcome, not yet reached the Promised Land, not yet come to a point where race is irrelevant, Barack Obama notwithstanding.

He then chides African Americans for not dealing with their own problems:

African-Americans do not, after all, need its policy suggestions to fix many of their most intractable problems. We do not need a government program to turn off the TV, realizing it’s hardly coincidental that people who watch more television per capita have poorer academic performance.

But then adds these savvy words:

Once you’ve turned off the television and encouraged black children toward academic excellence, you still must contend with the fact that their schools are too often crumbling, underfunded and staffed with inexperienced teachers. Once you’ve gotten black women and men to raise their children in the context of families, you still have to deal with the fact that those families need places to live, jobs to support them and doctors to keep them healthy….

Overall, Pitts accents some findings of psychological researcher, Richard Eibach, that

in judging racial progress, white people and black ones tend to use different yardsticks. Whites use the yardstick of how far we have come from the nation we used to be. Blacks use the yardstick of how far we have yet to go to be the nation we ought to be. . . . There is value in the yardstick white Americans use. . . . But there is value in the yardstick black Americans use, too, the measure the National Urban League provides in its annual studies. . . . We have not yet reached the Promised Land and we all have a moral responsibility toward that goal. But before we can fulfill that responsibility, we must learn to speak the same language where race is concerned, and to mean the same things when we do.

Even good critical analysts like Pitts seem to feel a great obligation to “balance” the views (yardstick) of most black Americans about their oppression and its redress—people who have been the targets of racial oppression at the hands of whites for four centuries and whose current unjust impoverishment is the cumulative result of that extensive oppression—with the typical blame-the-victim, moralistic views (yardstick) of many white Americans. Indeed, there seems to be an unwritten rule in the mainstream media, and in too much academic scholarship, that one should not name and critique whites for systemic and institutional racism too openly and honestly–and another unwritten rule that if one does critique white Americans for some racism, one must then “balance” that critique by clearly mentioning something negative about people of color or something else positive that whites have done in the racial arena. The frequent obsession with “Balance” here signals once again how whites really run this country and even control how we can publicly think and write about matters of systemic racism.

One can certainly counsel African Americans to do this or that to improve communities and conditions, but the greater moral responsibility obviously lies on those who created the 400-years of racial oppression, not those who have had to endure it now for four hundred years.

Social Class, Race, and Intimate Partner Violence

Chris BrownChris Brown’s February 8th assault of his girlfriend, Rihanna, has put the problem of intimate partner violence in the media spotlight (Chris Brown Creative Commons License photo credit: O.M.Gee!). From Oprah Winfrey to Larry King to numerous entertainment and news websites, talk show hosts, commentators, bloggers and others have examined the incident from multiple angles, spinning off questions about abusive relationships more generally. One of the most frequently raised issues is the social class of the couple. As a writer for CNN recently noted:

Both singers are young, apple-cheeked, immensely talented and squeaky clean – the last couple you’d imagine as domestic violence headliners. Perhaps the only good that will come from the Rihanna/Brown publicity is destruction of our culture’s misconception that abusers and their victims can only be universally poor, uneducated and powerless.

Certainly this is an important lesson to be learned and one that domestic violence advocates have been emphasizing for more than 30 years: Intimate partner violence affects individuals in all social classes and racial/ethnic groups; no one is protected by virtue of their class or race privilege. Rihanna_2That said, one of the most consistent findings from research is a strong inverse relationship between social class and intimate partner violence: As social class goes up, rates of intimate partner violence go down. Analyses of large, national surveys, for example, show that women living in households with the lowest annual incomes were five times more likely to have experienced intimate partner violence than women in households in the highest income category, and three times more likely than women in the middle income category (Rihanna Creative Commons License photo credit: Trangdepp).

Poor women, of course, are not a homogeneous group.  For instance, some poor women are homeless or living in temporary shelters, while others are housed. Some are employed, even if only in low-paying jobs without benefits, while others are unemployed or receive public assistance. Although poor women overall are at greater risk of intimate partner violence victimization, studies show that the poorest of the poor have the highest rates. Consider, for example, that nationally representative surveys of the general U.S. population estimate that about 25% of women are victimized by an intimate partner at some time during their lives. That is an unacceptably high number, but appears slight when comparing it to studies of women on welfare, which report a range of 28% to 63% lifetime victimization rates; the majority of estimates from these studies are 40% to 60% (Richard Tolman, “Guest Editor’s Introduction,” Violence Against Women, 5[1999]:355-369).

Research also indicates that poor women have higher lifetime rates of all forms of violent victimization. In a Massachusetts study, for instance, researchers found that among their sample of 216 housed, low-income, single mothers and 220 homeless single mothers in which the average age was 27, only 16% had not been physically or sexually abused in their relatively short lifetimes. Nearly 33% reported severe physical violence by a current or former boyfriend, 60% reported physical violence perpetrated by a male partner during adulthood, 63% reported severe physical violence by a parent or caregiver during childhood, and over 40% reported that they had been sexually molested during childhood. As the authors of this research point out, the majority of the women in this study had experienced only brief periods of safety during their lives (Angela Browne, Amy Salomon, & Shari S. Bassuk, “The Impact of Recent Partner Violence on Poor Women’s Capacity to Maintain Work,” Violence Against Women, 5[1999]:393-426).

One issue that has not been mentioned in the Rihanna/Brown case is the fact that the couple is black. Since the early 1980s, large national surveys have shown that black women are at greater risk of being violently victimized by their intimate partners than white women are. Some researchers have argued that the higher rate of intimate violence among black couples is the result of culturally specific factors that include beliefs about marriage and fidelity along with negative stereotypes of black women. But in studies that have examined both race and social class, differences in rates of intimate partner violence between black and white couples are significantly reduced or disappear completely when social class is controlled. The higher rate of intimate partner violence victimization – and, indeed, all types of violent victimization – among black women, then, is another outcome of racism: the result of the disproportionate number of black people who live in poverty. In her recent research on gendered violence in the lives of urban black girls, the vast majority of which is perpetrated by peers and acquaintances, criminologist Jody Miller informs readers:

This book should not be read as an indictment of young Black men and their treatment of their female peers. . . . [W]e, as a society, have created the circumstances that lead to cultural adaptations to situational contexts that shape urban African American young women’s risks. The indictment is of all of us. (Getting Played, New York: New York University Press, 2008, p. xvii)

Thus, while the attention given to intimate partner violence because of the Rihanna/Brown case is important and welcome, the emphasis being placed on the couple’s social status and how intimate partner violence happens even among wealthy couples should not allow us to overlook the fact that the greatest burden of this violence falls on poor women. And, as a direct result of racism, women of color are disproportionately poor and have the fewest resources available to them to cope with this problem.

“Addressing Racial Ills” at the DOJ

Last week, I wrote about the remarks of Attorney General Holder in which he suggested that the Department of Justice (DOJ) might actually lead the nation in addressing racial inequality, has been extremely upsetting to lots of folks, and in particular, to those on the far right (Civil Rights Memorial image from here).

For example, as Ali Frick at ThinkProgress noted recently (h/t: Paul Younghouse via Brainstorms), Holder’s statements were especially upsetting to Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.   Interviewing Juan Williams on February 19th, this exchange occurred about Holder’s remarks:

KELLY: He said they [the department] has a special responsibility in addressing racial ills. That — that strikes fear down the spines of many conservatives in this country, because they don’t want the Justice Department taking us back to the day when they get heavily involved in things like affirmative action, and things like voter registration rights. […]

WILLIAMS: What you will see I think is more aggressive enforcement in terms of existing civil rights laws. And that was the fear that the existing civil rights laws were not being enforced by the Bush justice department.

KELLY: Well a lot of people thought that the Bush Justice Department sort of got us back to the point where we were — we were being reasonable.

If Megyn Kelly and others like her on the right think that the Bush Justice Department “got us back to” a point that was “reasonable,” then it’s worth taking a look at exactly what the Bush regime meant to civil rights at the Justice Department.

The recent Inspector General report spells out in great detail the unabashed racism in the Bush DOJ Civil Rights Division.   Heavily implicated in this report is Randy Scholzman, the acting director of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.    Scholzman, as regular viewers of the cable news networks may recall, was called to testify before Congress about his hiring practices at the DOJ.   The report clearly reveals that Scholzman lied when he testified and that he illegally used political considerations to replace nearly 1-in-6 lawyers in the division with “good Americans,” and members of “the team,” ie: conservatives and ardent Bush supporters.

More to the point here, the report reveals how Schlozman’s racism shaped the hiring practices at the DOJ.   Scholzman tried to have one African American woman that he described as a “Democrat in hiding” removed because she “wrote in Ebonics,” “was an idiot,” and “was an affirmative action thing.” However, the racism at the Bush DOJ was not limited to Scholzman, nor to his attacks on this one African American woman (Scholzman has since left the DOJ and is private law practice in Kansas).

From 2005 to Jan. 14, 2009, the head of the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ was John Tanner and he used his position to systematically disenfranchise minority voters in order to assist the Republican party.  As one DOJ staffer told the Brad Blogger upon news of Tanner’s resignation in January:

“Since becoming Section Chief in 2005 and even before, Tanner demonstrated that he cared only about serving his Republican overlords’ desire to suppress minority voting to help the Republican Party win elections and not about the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. A great many long-time members of the Voting Section staff are overjoyed at the news of his departure,” the staffer tells us, adding that a celebration is in the works.”

As the Brad Blog reported in 2007, Tanner over-ruled the majority opinion of career staffers in his own department in order to approve a controversial polling place restriction in the state of Georgia that would have required a Photo ID in order to vote. The measure was later found unconstitutional and declared to be a modern day Jim Crow-era poll tax by two federal courts.   In commenting on this decision, Tanner is captured on video saying that it’s a “shame” that the elderly might be disenfranchised by such laws, “minorities don’t become elderly the way white people do. They die first.”

The particular expression of racism that finally forced Tanner to resign was not his efforts to systematically disenfranchise black and Latino voters, rather it was an email that surfaced about how he liked his coffee:   “Mary Frances Berry style – black and bitter.” For those of you born after 1970, Mary Frances Berry is a civil rights leader and now, a professor at UPenn.  It’s worth noting here, if only tangentally, that in the backstage documents that have come to light, both these white men have viciously attacked black women.  Why they didn’t attack black men in similar fashion remains unexplained.   Tanner apologized and resigned the following day.

With Scholzman and Tanner both gone from the DOJ, Holder’s presence is refreshing, which is to vastly understate the case.   And yet, the legacy of that these racist thugs leave behind is greater than merely a trail of personal insults and offensive emails (as heinous as that is).   Tanner and his underlings created real policies, and failed to enforce existing civil rights laws, in ways that had real consequences for democratic society.   During his confirmation hearing, Holder addressed some of the egregious racism that the Inspector General’s report revealed and said:

“What we have seen in that report I think is aberrant, but is also I think one of the major tasks the next attorney general is going to have to do. You have to reverse that …It is my intention to devote a huge amount of time to the Civil Rights Division and restoring [its] great traditions.”

What I think really “strikes fear” in conservatives (like Megyn Kelly) about this is that the old GOP political strategy of disenfranchising black and brown voters for political gain is being seriously challenged.   So, Holder has quite the challenge before him and one that raises some interesting questions about the institutionalization of racism and discrimination.   Surely, as we’ve noted here numerous times, racism is more than merely the sum of attitudes rooted in individual psychology.   And, yet, individuals do matter to the extent that they can and do get into high office and shape the way institutions operate.

The difficult task ahead is dismantling unequal systems and inequitable practices, replacing them with ones that promote justice, until justice rolls down like waters.

Black Beauty, French Racism, and Obama’s International Impact

W. Hassan Marsh has an interesting article on about Chloe Mortaud, the new Miss France, who self-defines as Black, something unusual in France for people of biracial heritage (her father is white French, her mother is African American). I think “beauty queens” and “beauty pageants” are sexist phenomena whose time should be long gone, but Marsh accents some interesting points about the global impact of Obama’s election and some changes in symbolism across the globe that are well worth thinking about (photo credit).

The French media have started calling Ms. Mortaud, interestingly, “Miss Obama,” which also suggests the global impact of the Obama election. Marsh makes the following contentions about “blackness is in vogue”:

Blackness is fast moving to the center of the world’s psyche. For proof, look no further than last month’s crowning of a binational and biracial Miss France 2009. Chloe Mortaud’s selection as the face of French beauty and elegance has so few precedents that the French media have named her, perhaps cheaply, “Miss Obama.”

The first sentence is a huge exaggeration. (More accurate would be that there is a negative view of blackness at the center of too much of the “world’s psyche.”) Indeed, not everybody in France is happy with a black face representing classical “French beauty” (traditionally pasty white?):

Around the Web, some French commentators have complained that Mortaud is not pretty.

But Marsh sees the debate on her race and her calling herself Black as healthy and an advance for France:

The very discussion of Mortaud’s worthiness represents an advance in the way the French deal with race. The enduring myth of a colorblind France has obscured the relative invisibility of non-white French people in France’s public life. The French government does not keep statistics on race. The official position is that there are no differences among the races—therefore, there is no reason to keep an account of it. That means disparities among racial groups cannot be quantified. However, a trip to an impoverished banlieue (suburb) of Paris or Marseille, where “race riots” in neighborhoods inhabited by large numbers of African and Arab immigrants have made world headlines, shows a qualitative difference.

It is interesting that he means an advance for WHITE France in thinking Mortaud worthy, a point he seems to miss here. Note too that the white oppressors and discriminators substantially responsible for the impoverished suburbs remain implicit here, and are not explicitly mentioned. It is interesting how the sensitivities of whites gets privileged even it what is otherwise a good critical analysis.

He then argues that Obama has helped to make Blacks in France feel a certain new unity, and shared experience:

Thanks in part to the Obama effect, French blacks who have traditionally been divided by designations like Caribbean, African or mixed ancestry, have started to make claims on transnational “blackness,” a feeling of a mutual experience if not shared origin.

Marsh does seem to be right about the great international impact of Obama’s election, an impact very much worth watching. In Brazil, the largest African-origin population outside of Africa, there has been much public and private celebration. One Brazilian official, Edson Santos, the black minister of racial equality, accented the impact on many youth there:

I think it is important for young black Brazilians to know how the civil rights movement progressed in the U.S. and how it produced not just Obama, but blacks at the highest levels of American businesses. It is important that they have contact with this reality.

A young Brazilian agreed with him about the significance and possible impact of this new U.S. reality: “Obama has arrived and taken us to the next level, We black Brazilians need him as much as the Americans do.” The main reason for this is that black Brazilians, who make up at least half the Brazilian population, suffer widespread racial discrimination; they make up only 3 percent of college graduates and only eight percent of the 28 top government ministers. And the black Brazilian civil rights movement has only recently come of age. A black organizer who works with Brazil’s poor agreed that Obama symbolized the hopes of all people of African descent:

Obama represents what every black person in the world has been hoping for: that the fight of the dream for racial equality in North America can spread to the entire world.”

More on Racism in US Policing: It Never Ends?

The Grant case that Jessie blogged on certainly has gotten a lot of discussion. Well, another suspected police malpractice case this week, with a white officer shooting a young black ballplayer, Robbie Tolan, in a general area of Houston where both the creators of this blog grew up, Bellaire, Texas, today a pretty white Houston suburb with few black residents. For years Bellaire and numerous other Houston suburban areas have been known as dangerous places for black men to encounter white police officers. (Houston was a center for slavery, segregation, and open resistance to desegregation. Has had Klan operating in local police departments in the past.) Indeed, Houston area police forces were, until fairly recently, famous for their openly brutal treatment of black and Latino residents they were supposed to protect.

The CNN report on the Tolan incident put it this way:

Tolan sits in a Houston, Texas, hospital bed with a bullet from a police officer’s gun lodged in his liver. The son of a famed baseball player was shot in his own driveway. But how this unarmed 23-year-old and his cousin ended up in the cross-hairs of an officer’s gun, suspected of stealing a car, is a question sparking allegations of racial profiling. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if these had been white kids this does not happen,” said David Berg, Tolan’s attorney. It was 2 a.m. on December 31 when Tolan and his cousin [Anthony Cooper]. . . were confronted in the driveway of their home by Bellaire, Texas, police officers. Police officials say the officers suspected the two young men were driving a stolen car. … As they walked up the driveway to their home, Anthony Cooper said an unidentified man emerged from the darkness with a flashlight and a gun pointed at them. “We did not know it was a police officer,” said Cooper. “He said, ‘Stop. Stop.’ And we were like, ‘Why? Who are you?'” The officers ordered both men to lie down on the ground. Tolan’s parents heard the commotion and came outside. … But Tolan’s SUV wasn’t stolen. Both men were unarmed and relatives say they were hardly a threat to the police officer.

This case is being investigated, and of course the white authorities are claiming it is not about racial profiling. That seems unlikely, as anyone familiar with Houston policing historically and recently would be suspicious.

The data on the general issue of police brutality cases in the U.S. are pretty clear. These are mostly white-on-black and white-on-Latino crimes, and seem to have been that way now for a century or more. For example, in one analysis of 130 police-brutality accounts in numerous major cities, criminologist, Professor Kim Lersch, found those targeted for this malpractice were almost always African Americans or Latinos. People in these two groups made up 97 percent of the victims of police brutality,

(source: powerbacks)

(source: powerbacks)

while the overwhelming majority (93 percent) of the offending officers were white. Such data, together with the absence of an outcry against these events from the white population, suggest that a great many whites in cities across the country tolerate excessive police violence against people of color. Such instances of brutality, as well as more common police harassment and profiling just short of overt violence, still seem to be part of the ongoing process not only of subordinating African Americans and Latinos generally, but also of sustaining the racial segregation of residential communities by pressuring black Americans to stay out of traditionally white areas.

Some more data of interest: EMJ Online has an interesting new study, “Excessive use of force by police: academic emergency physicians,” that suggests how high the level of police malpractice/brutality may be in this country. While the study does not directly deal with racial matters, there are some clear implications of their findings for the discussion of the Grant killing on this blog. Here is part of their summary of findings from a survey of a carefully done random sample of academic emergency physicians across the country:

Of 393 emergency physicians surveyed, 315 (80.2%) responded. Of the respondents, 99.8% (95% CI 98.2% to 100.0%) believed excessive use of force actually occurs and 97.8% (95% CI 95.5% to 99.1%) replied that they had managed patients with suspected excessive use of force. These incidents were not reported by 71.2% (95% CI 65.6% to 76.4%) of respondents, 96.5% (95% CI 93.8% to 98.2%) had no departmental policies and 93.7% (95% CI 90.4% to 96.1%) had not received training in the management of these cases.

Extremely high percentages here. Almost all physicians had dealt with patients who they suspected were victims of excessive police force. Even if this means just a few real brutality cases a year per emergency physician among the 2239 physicians at the 122 approved emergency residency training hospitals, that would be thousands of such incidents. And then factor in other hospitals, and you have a national calamity of police malpractice.

The article also provides other important data relevant for some of the Grant debate too:

There are currently approximately 800 000 full- time law enforcement officers in the USA. In 2002, nearly 45 million people in the USA had a face-to-face encounter with a law enforcement officer, the majority of which (59%) were initiated by the officer.

That is a lot of police officers, indeed more than there are people in the booming city of Austin, Texas. That is a huge number of contacts with police. The best estimate of the percentage of these encounters where “coercive force” is used is about 8 percent, with an unknown part of this being excessive force, malpractice force. The study introduction points out what coercive force means, as law enforcement officers are rare in that they have

legal authority to use coercive force when circumstances deem it necessary. The variety of escalating coercive force options available to police officers in any confrontational setting is commonly described as the ‘‘force continuum’’: from voice commands (normal voice to aggressive and assertive commands) to physical restraint (grabbing, pushing, shoving, holds) to less lethal use of force weapons (chemical sprays, batons, flashlights, beanbag guns, electrical stun guns, police dogs) and ultimately to lethal weapons (firearms).

The U.S. Attorney General is supposed to collect data on excessive use of force by police, but has not done so. The report adds, however, that

Injury and death from excessive use of force by police officers is classified as a human rights violation by the World Health Organization.

One central finding of this study too is that

Despite the classification of excessive force as a form of violence, medical researchers have produced scant data characterizing law enforcement-perpetrated abuse.

The percentages above indicate most suspect brutality incidents are not reported, and that few hospitals have departmental policies or training in the management of these cases. This is rather outrageous, considering that these emergency physicians are required by law to report suspected child, spousal, and elder abuse. Why do law enforcement officers get off so easily, yet have such opportunity to abuse people with excessive violence?

The possible racial implications can be seen in a finding on public hospitals:

This study found that EPs at public teaching hospitals were more likely to suspect cases of excessive use of force than those at university and community-based teaching EDs. . . . EPs at public teaching hospitals consistently see patients who are in custody or incarcerated and therefore evaluate more patients where coercive police-citizen contact is more likely to have occurred.

These are the hospitals that have large numbers of patients of color. It would be very revealing, I suspect, to have a racial breakdown on all these suspected cases.

Facebook Racism

Young people’s use of social networking sites, like Facebook, have quickly become an established feature of youth culture, according to a new report.  Facebook in particular, is proving incredibly popular; and, current estimates are that there are 120 million active users of the social networking site, as this bar graph illustrates (as of 2007, image from here). Yet there’s scant little attention paid to the emergence of new forms of racism that accompany these new forms of media.  Recently, there have been some notable examples of Facebook racism that I want to explore  (H/T Mordy for sending this my way).   As Joe’s been writing here, there’s been a real surge in overt racist actions in the wake of the election, and this incident, as reported by the Houston Chronicle, illustrates how the white racial frame can be used to completely distract from racism (from the top):

A template on asks, “What are you doing right now?” An ill-advised response led to Buck Burnette’s expulsion from the University of Texas football team.

What began as a private text-message exchange on Election Night between Burnette and a friend soon became available for anybody with a computer to see.

Burnette, a sophomore offensive lineman from Wimberley, was dismissed from the team Nov. 5 for posting a racially insensitive remark about President-elect Barack Obama on his Facebook page.

“I told (our players) to be careful with Facebook and MySpace,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “Those things are really dangerous.”

A survey taken during Monday’s Big 12 coaches conference call found most of the league’s coaches are concerned about how much information is available on popular social-networking Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

The major concern: Users can voluntarily provide personal information, and the more popular the athletes, the more contact “with hundreds of people they don’t know,” Iowa State coach Gene Chizik.

“It’s a challenge for coaches, because ultimately we’re responsible,” Chizik said.

In the status update section of his Facebook page, Burnette posted, “All the hunters gather up, we have a (slur) in the White House,” in reference to Obama’s becoming the first African-American elected to the presidency. Burnette said the comment was a text message he received from a friend and that he exercised bad judgment posting it on his page. He later apologized in a written note that was read by Brown during a team meeting.

Apologies for the long quote, but it’s relevant to my point.  The article begins with a discussion about how “dangerous” social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are, but let’s be clear – the danger here as it is being described by this football couch, and reported on without comment by the Chronicle, is to the football player.   The “danger” is that he will post something on his page that’s “Ill-advised” and he will be expelled from the team, which is what happened to Burnette.   This is a rather profound shift away from what’s actually going on here.    What has happened here is that a young, white college student at a top school has threatened the president-elect and referred to him by using a racist slur.   And yet the newspaper article is framed as though there is an inherent “danger” in Facebook.   It seems to me that the danger is in the way that Facebook (and other forms of new media) give rise to heretofore unseen versions of racism that combine new technology with old hatred.  This combination of old and new forms of racism expressed through Internet technology is what I refer to as “cyber racism” (I explore it more depth in my forthcoming book of the same name).

Interestingly, this is not the first time college football players in the U.S. have gotten in trouble for Facebook racism. In 2007, members of the USC football team created a Facebook group called “White Nation,” which featured a graphic with the caption, “arrest black babies before they become criminals.”  The description of the group reads like this:

“This group is not for the faint of heart,” read the group’s description. “All members are athletes of Caucasion (sic) descent. DISCLAIMER: In no way are the following memebers (sic) intolerant of others, we are just doing our duty of protecting the Arian (sic) brotherhood.”

According to the USC college paper, an unnamed source from the athletic department said that the group was “a joke and had no serious purpose.”   While the athletic department may find humor in such antics, the joke is lost on the rest of us.    This sort of Facebook racism is not the sole purview of college athletes.

In 2005, University of Virginia first year student Maryann Li was horrified when she stumbled across a Facebook group that some of her college classmates had created.  The group, called “Asian Fetish,” for those who think “Asian women are truly the most scrumptrillescent delicacy abroad,” and the description of the group’s purpose:  “to bang out Asians. Bang hard or go home. Yes, even the ugly bitches.” The racist and deeply misogynistic group description goes on: “I can’t help it if my dick likes the taste of Teriyaki sauce. Or soy. Or duck for that matter. And when I’m feeling a little risky, wasabi…” it proclaimed. The creator of the Facebook group, white U.Va. sophomore Patrick Gieseke defended his creation of the group, saying that he intended it as satire.   This article quotes Gieseke saying,

“I couldn’t see anyone reading that and being like, ‘Wow, someone really wants to do this to Asian girls.’ I thought it was pretty blatant that it was just a joke,” he said.

So once again, Facebook racism gets dismissed by whites as “just joking” and therefore not something harmful or worth addressing.  Not surprisingly, Asian American students at U.Va. were not amused by Gieseke’s “joke.”   Two students, Elizabeth Chen and Julie Chu, attempted to organize a “Speak Out” to invite students who have faced discrimination to share their stories with the community at U.Va’.s amphitheater but found little interest.   When it comes to race, Chu said, “the majority of white people at U.Va. don’t care.” The emergence of this sort of gendered racism on Facebook is characteristic of the racialized pornography in print-media that Pat Collins talks about in Black Feminist Thought.   The fact that this has now moved to the new media environment of Facebook means that these old versions of racism are being translated into the digital era and some of the centuries old racism remains as it is mashed-up against new forms of social interaction.     

For its part, Facebook has removed the most extreme and offensive racist groups for violation of their terms-of-service (TOS) agreement. This is the right stand for Facebook to take in my view, and it’s one that other sites should follow through on.  But, Facebook did not take this without significant pressure.

The European Parliament lodged the most significant complaint with the California-based Facebook. Martin Schulz, Socialist leader within the EP, said, “The existence of these groups is repulsive.” And, indeed it is. According to this report, the pressure on Facebook came mainly from European sources about Italian neo-Nazi groups.   Still, the “White Nation” group in the USC controversy is still hosted on Facebook (or, it’s a group by the same name with an identical description), and there are over 60 groups that come up if you search using the terms “Asian Fetish.”    So, while Facebook may be responding to pressure from Europeans to remove the most repulsive and extreme groups from the site, apparently there is little or no pressure from people in the U.S.   In my view, it’s time for some of those 120 million active users to step up and put some pressure on Facebook to enforce its terms-of-service agreement by not allowing such groups on the site.

Meanwhile, extremist white supremacist websites have proven so popular in the days since the election that the flood of traffic by white people has crashed the servers at one site.   More about that form of cyber racism in a subsequent post.

Jim Crow’s Legacy: Anti-Felony Voting Law

While going over the exit polling from Mississippi for the Election, something jumped out at me when observing the cross-tabs for race and gender: the fact that the gender gap in voter turnout for blacks was double that of whites. The gender gap regardless of race exists likely for several reasons, including women’s longer life expectancies. With the 2000 Election debacle in mind (along with Gov. Crist’s rather surprising push to reform the law), I looked here to see which states have the most stringent (i.e., repressive and racist; see here) anti-felon voting laws, and the bulk of them are ex-slave states.

Anti-felon voting laws are part of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation in this country because they disproportionately affect black men’s ability to vote. The following is a chart examining the gender gap for blacks and whites in selected states with the toughest voting laws regarding felons (note: each number listed represents the percentage of the total voter turnout for the state; women are listed first for each category):


AL— 33-32% 18-11%

AR— 45-37 7-6

GA— 32-33 19-11

KY— 44-41 7-4

LA— 36-30 19-10

MS— 33-29 21-13

MO— 44-38 7-5

NC— 37-35 14-9

SC— 37-34 14-11

TN— 42-42 9-3

VA— 38-32 10-10

So in Mississippi, for example, where “many” felons can never vote again in the state, black men made-up 13 percent of the total vote, eight points below that of black women. Although white women also made-up a higher percentage of the total vote than white men, the difference was only four percent. Meanwhile, the gender gaps in states like Louisiana and Tennessee were even higher. There are some disparities in the data, perhaps based on other factors (e.g., Obama’s time and money spent in the state, such as Virginia) or the variations in the anti-felon laws (e.g., the laws are less restrictive in the Carolinas than in Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama).

Still, the important analysis put forth by Charles Franklin (see here) may shed light on the issue of white fear and its relationship to the percentage of blacks in the population. It appears that the higher the proportion of the black population, the more severe the anti-felon voting laws are in that state. Imagine if the gender gap for blacks had not existed in this election…in a state like Mississippi (where Obama won the black vote 98-2), perhaps that increased black turnout could have made the difference in the outcome. What do you think?

Supposedly We Now Live in a “Post-Racial” Society?

I was looking for news clips to show to my Race and Ethnicity class today and I remembered that a friend of mine had told me about some of Karl Rove’s comments during Tuesday’s election results on Fox News. Listening to them today, he does have a few positives to share about what these results mean…that is before he compares the Obama family to the Cosby show by saying “Well look, we’ve had an African American first family for many years in different forms. You know, when the Cosby show was on, it wasn’t a black family, it was an American family.” While that alone is worthy of a blog post, what was also concerning to me was a comment Rove made before that. He was asked, as a “realistic political analyst,” to talk about the degree of color-blindness in our country:

I think particularly among younger people, they are color-blind. Uh, you know, older people, people who grew up and remember the 60s and remember the 50s and the 40s and the 70s, they to varying degrees remain observant of the color of, of the color break in America. But you go on a college campus or you go be around younger people, and they are “post-racial.” You know, and just, the idea of race very rarely enters into their thinking.

While I think many of us will agree that things have changed in some positive ways since the 60s and that this election has been historic in a number of ways, I’m not sure anyone is ready to say that first of all, we live in a society where race isn’t a factor anymore and second that young people don’t think about race anymore. Rove’s comments seem to imply that once older generations pass on, everything will be fine in terms of race, because young people just aren’t thinking about it. In my research talking with Latino undergraduate students, I found instead that for many of them, race continues to be a salient issue on their campuses.

A student at Southern University talked about how some major racial incident seemed to come up on his campus a few times a month when I spoke with him in the Fall of 2006.

This is my 7th semester here. In all my semesters, I’ve never seen like racial tensions like I have right now. (Oh really? What’s going now?)…Like students in the law school had like a ghetto party. They dressed up as stereotypically hip-hop clothing, and they wore like nameplates of stereotypically black and Latino last names. Um, there was a black face incident during Halloween where a couple of students took some pictures and they posted them online on It was a couple of members from a historically white fraternity… Even I mean yesterday the Young Conservatives had an Affirmative Action bake sale…like their own way of protesting the affirmative action policies in this country…I mean…usually like every semester like one or two big things happen, like at the most, but this semester its literally been like one or two big things every month. (“Southern University” Latino Male, 22)

His statement, as well as the comments of others on this campus indicate that race in the thinking of young, white students on college campuses. And it’s not only in their thinking, but it is evident in their racist actions on this campus. Incidents like this one demonstrate that racism is still alive and well on college campuses.

Another student at Southern University talks about an encounter she had with some white students before a football game. Again, we see that the whites racialized the situation in a way that would indicate that they are not free from prejudice:

I just have heard and I got the taste of a kid, of boys came in for the “Southern Tech”- “Southern University” game and uh, we were listening to Shakira, some friends of mine. There was another Hispanic girl in the front seat with me and then a Bosnian girl in the backseat…But we were having so much fun and we needed to sell our tickets and so these guys had their windows open. And we asked “Hey, do you guys want a ticket?… And they said “Oh, we don’t speak Spanish.” And at first I was I like, “What did he mean by that? I wasn’t, did I speak Spanish?” Because I don’t normally speak Spanish. And then I was like “Oh, oh…that still happens? Like, people still are like that?” And so it was just kind of, I was taken aback. And my friend started crying actually. But I was just like, I didn’t realize that still happened nowadays. ( “Southern University” Latina Female 23)

When this woman asked in English if the men in the car next to her needed tickets, they immediately racialized the interaction by informing her that they don’t speak Spanish. The Latina students were shocked and hurt by this reaction. Perhaps initially they thought things were more positive between the races, as Rove seems to think, and then were disappointed and discouraged to find out that, in fact, these incidents still happen.
These incidents were not isolated to just Southern University, so we can’t make the claim that somehow racism only exists in the South. In fact, on each of the campuses (one in the South, one in the Southwest, and one in the Midwest), students faced discrimination when they spoke Spanish on campus. They faced assumptions that the only reason they were attending their university was because of Affirmative Action policies and not because of their own academic talents. One student talked about an experience he had a football game at Southwest University.

I was at a football game last week. . .And somebody said, one of the fraternity guys that were yelling “Immigration bus is here. It’s waiting for you. Get on it.” Even though [At the other players?] Yes, at [the other] players. “Juarez is not here. This isn’t Juarez.” They were calling them all sorts of bad things. . .And they were just being, real, real bad about it. Even though the make-up of [this] football team is hardly any Hispanics. . .And so it was kind of surprising to me that, why would you say such things? (“Southwest University” Latino Male 26)

Notably, Southwest University is almost 35% Latino and still this was the response of white students in the crowd. They heckled the other team by implying that because they were coming from a predominately Latino school. And ironically, whites were racializing a football team that was mostly white!
Even light-skinned Latinos who reveal their racial background faced discrimination:

You see the tone of their voice, how they look at you, what you’re gonna say. After they know that I’m Mexican and stuff, some are like “Oh that’s so cool,”. . .They’re like ‘Wow, you look Italian’ and I’m like ‘I’m 100 percent [Mexican]’. . .So they’re like ‘Wow’, a little bit shocked. They would not talk to me after that. And you feel it, but it’s their problem if they’re not accepting. ( “Midwest University” Latino Male 18 )

This student went on to say that sometimes whites respond that they feel like he lied to them by not revealing this information when they first met him. Somehow, he was under some obligation to reveal his racial background and by not doing so, he was being deceitful. So contrary to what Rove claims, college students are concerned about race in a variety of ways that are both overt and quite subtle. By proclaiming such things, Rove is distorting the reality of the pain that students of color face on a daily basis because of discrimination and mistreatment based on race. As these examples, and many more like them that I could have shared, demonstrate is that racism is not absent from our universities and college campuses or in the mind of white students. Our society has made history this week, but this does not mean we’re living in a “post-racial” utopia.