Degrees of Freedom: Prejudice and Bigotry as Temporal Levels of Social Distance

If the Nobel Committee issued prizes for social science research, Robert Park, Ernest Burgess and Emory Bogardus would have been top candidates for contributions to the empirical study of prejudice and bigotry. The social distance scale, conceptualized initially by Park and Burgess, and later quantitatively measured by Bogardus, is an elegant method for calibrating how members of groups are willing to interact with members of other groups. The cumulative scale describes progressive degrees of social contact or social distance. Many sociologists of course know about this scale and it is one of the instruments in our tool box; but the recent brouhaha over Juan Williams’s statements about ‘people in Muslim garb’ brought to my mind the ubiquity of prejudice and stereotype.

Is it easier for Americans to stereotype one another? Is stereotype or profiling (born of a certain prejudging) a part of the grand American narrative? How different are we in this characteristic from other countries? It is not right, using this short-hand to characterize people we don’t know; it is convenient to do so in the anonymity of public spaces. September 11 has only given some of us more reason to do so. This happens on a daily basis and it signals that we are still very much socially distant from one another. Muslim Americans and Arab Americans are only now finding this out because they have become targets of this public mood for prejudging. This is the subtext of assimilation; if one cannot get past profiling, prejudging and stereotyping, one begins to do the same thing – a cycle that only feeds into how distant we are from one another.

Below is the social distance scale – I ask all who read this piece to honestly measure their temporal levels of social distance. Pick any group, any group at all and insert them into the scale and measure your level of prejudice and bigotry as an American (or not) towards this group. Pick more than one group – indeed, pick all the identifiable racial/ethnic groups in America. And, be true to yourself! For each question, give a yes or no response. My contention is that the degrees of freedom yielded by the dichotomous values you score will not vary by much from one group to the next (pardon my corruption of the term!).

Would you be willing to admit or accept (insert group)
• To close kinship by marriage?
• To my club as personal friend?
• To live on the same street as my neighbor?
• To be a co-worker in the same occupation?
• To citizenship in my country?
• As only visitors in my country? Or
• Would you be willing to exclude (insert group) from my country?

Social distance is both metaphoric and geographic – we do not live physically close to one another and our prejudices keep us psycho-socially separate.

White Attacks on Anti-Racist Academic in Arizona

InsideHigherEducation describes the hostile comments and threats a Latina faculty member got for giving a short 10-minute faculty speech at the graduation convocation recently at the University of Arizona’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

The deterioration of this society’s ability to have a sensible discussion of issues, such as on immigration, has been aggressively accelerated in recent years by the right-wing propaganda machines of prominent radio talk show hosts and Fox news, where information is often less important than a far-right agenda. We are on a downhill slide in this post-post-racial America.

Professor Sandra Soto, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona, turned down higher ranked universities to go where there are large Latino populations and numbers of students. She did not realize that criticizing the new authoritarian racial profiling law in Arizona and critiquing the banning of ethnic (Mexican American) studies programs in Arizona schools would get her many verbal threats, including death threats:

She was booed, jeered and heckled, with a few shouting personal comments …. Soto held her ground, and while pausing at times, finished her talk — with many applauding. Soto related her critiques of these state actions to graduation by talking about how their education should prepare them to be “better public citizens.” Since the talk, Soto said she has received a barrage of e-mail messages, many of them hateful and some of them potentially threatening. Many such messages have also been posted on YouTube and on local Web sites that covered the speech. (See links here)

She describes her feelings thus:

“My work is in Chicana cultural studies, so it’s my obligation, if I am going to be up on a stage, I feel it is my absolute responsibility to address these issues.” She said that no one who knows her could have doubted that she would speak out, and that she was prepared for some booing, but was surprised by “how vitriolic” the e-mail messages have been since the talk. She said that she will turn over to authorities those that might be threatening, such as an e-mail suggesting that the sender “hopes you don’t look both ways” while crossing the street. . . . several viewers suggested that Soto “return to El Salvador.” (She’s actually from Texas, where her family has lived since Texas was Mexico, she said, and she’s not sure why she’s been identified as being from El Salvador.)

Marisol LeBron, a Latino Ph.D. student in American studies at New York University, put it this way in a blog commentary:

Queer Chicana Professor (and all-around awesome academic) Sandra K. Soto got booed at the University of Arizona’s Social and Behavioral Sciences commencement. Professor Soto was attempting to discuss the ways that the anti-immigrant measures known as SB1070 would marginalize Latinos/as. Before she could get a sentence out the crowd jeered her. Twitter drama ensued. Most people said it was inappropriate for Professor Soto to use the event as a “political soap box” further highlighting the success of the conservative right in advancing the idea that Universities and institutions of higher education should be depoliticized places where one goes to learn objective truths. … what happened to Professor Soto is just another example of what so often occurs to queers, women, and people of color (or people who inhabit all of those identities) within the academy, they get shouted down and told that they’re advancing a narrow agenda or only telling half the story. … I applaud the stand that Soto and other educators in Arizona are taking despite the attempts to silence them.

Historical “Revisionism” of Texas Board of Education: Retrenchment toward White Supremacy

The recent highly publicized approval of a social studies curriculum by the Texas Board of Education (TBOE) highlights not only the extremism being increasingly spread by decision-makers in the state, but how those ideologically driven decisions will soon infect the education of students across the country. Simultaneously, it reveals much about the white supremacist framing of educational standards and how white people’s attempts to reframe and romanticize history in their honor continue to serve this ongoing “racial project.”

Last Friday the TBOE, divided along party lines, approved a curriculum that puts a religiously, politically and ideologically conservative mark on history and other textbooks to be used in the state. While the problematics of the Republican’s 100+ amendments were far ranging, from a racial perspective the TBOE actions are part and parcel of the continued retrenchment in education (as in other major institutions) toward the values of white supremacy. These members assumed the traditional white privilege of defining history toward their interests, with a stunted regard for truth or justice. Indeed, standards originally drafted by professional standards writing committees composed of professors, teachers and curriculum experts, were sliced and diced by board members, who ideologically reframed multiple matters with a simple majority vote.

That these non-experts/non-historians/non-scholars simply changed curriculum standards to better align them with their own racist, sexist and religiously monolithic worldviews is alarming enough. Indeed, even Don McLeroy, leader of the board’s conservative Christine faction and a dentist by trade, himself asserted in an interview with ABC Nightline that the power of the board “boggles his mind.” Equally concerning is that the influence of these unabashedly agenda-driven board members extends nationally, as publishers craft their books to meet Texas standards because the state forms one of the largest consumer blocs.

Specific examples of the racial problematics of the TBOE’s historical revisionism abound. While professional history experts attempted to appropriately adjust characterizations of nineteenth and twentieth century U.S. State actions from “American expansionism” to the more historically accurate “American imperialism,” the TBOE swiftly reverted the curricular standards back to the seemingly neutral, even benevolent “expansionist” terminology. This framing effectively nullifies the racism of events such as the genocidal removal and slaughter of Native Americans, land dispossession of Mexicans in the American Southwest, and the imperialist actions driving much aggressive foreign policy in places such as Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Indeed, such actions were fundamentally driven by the economic interests of white elites, and legitimized by the racist ideologies of Manifest Destinyand white superiority and civilization.

On the topic of the continued discrimination faced by people of color, conservative members of the TBOE were boldly invalidating. In his live blog of the three-day meetings, Steven Schafersman of The Texas Observer documented that board member Barbara Cargill baldly insisted “that the country has been very good to minorities” and “things are much better for them.” In a move suggesting her actions were more malevolent than ignorant, Cargill led a successful effort to remove a standard that asks students to “explain how institutional racism is evident in American society.” Revealing just the kind of white-framed worldview from which board members were operating, amendments such as this ensure that future generations of white children will continue to internalize this white racial framein an uninterrupted, uncritical, unchallenged manner.

Conservative members were successful in many other such racially troubling efforts, as they blocked the passage of numerous amendments that would have corrected the gross underrepresentation of Americans of color in history books by more accurately reflecting their individual and collective contributions to the nation. They similarly succeeded in such endeavors as removing the Central American freedom-fighter Oscar Romerofrom a list of individuals who led resistance against political oppression, and “hip hop” as an example of a significant cultural movement (inserting country music instead). In perhaps the most blatantly racist amendment, Conservative members succeeded in the attempt to subvert impressions of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement by ensuring that students would study the “violent philosophy” of the Black Panthers alongside the nonviolent approach of Dr. King. Members clearly seek to characterize the more “militant” factions of the movement as dangerous enemies of American justice, and to contextualize white backlash to the civil rights agenda as reasonable. To be sure, this characterization is a flagrant misrepresentation of the Black Panther Party, which rightly and courageously condemned the racism and violence of American society and organized around the self-defense and self-determination of oppressed black communities. This brazen move is wholly indicative of the TBOE’s efforts to undergird the values of white supremacy on which this nation was founded and has operated ever since.

In a point that must be a primary feature of any racial analysis of the board’s action, Schafersman insightfully observed that “[the TBOE] claim[s] they are responding to the ‘revisionism’ of the ‘liberals,’ but in fact they are reacting to the long-overdue presentation of accurate and reliable history for the first time in Texas public schools.” Because the U.S. is ordered around white supremacy (the concentration of all forms of – power, economic, political – in the hands of whites) and white privilege (the unearned privileges that white people gain as a result of this structural organization of power), efforts to alter that order generate much intense backlash from whites. More simply stated, when the world is crafted toward your benefit, the move toward justice feels like victimization. The Board’s efforts clearly demonstrate that when the “normality” of white power is threatened, white elites will react to restore what appears to them a natural order of national and global white dominance.

While the efforts of the professional standards writers to correct social studies standards toward a more inclusive, critically honest curriculum fall far short of the major overhaul of education needed, the TBOE’s actions destroyed what little progress might have been made. Conservative members efforts to “bring balance” must be read as retrenchment toward white supremacy.

Still Racial Pawns: Blacks in Academia

I woke up that bright California morning my fingers were stretched in the lap of stiff and hardened sheets within the meager continental breakfast offering hotel. I had no idea that the night would end with me in this same room with clinched fists and a mind filled with questions layered in questions that were neatly folded between a strong measureable dose of pure fury. As I sit at the desk in my room writing this piece, it has dawned on me that the previous unexpected phone calls from the chair of the search committee were clues of what was to come. It struck me oddly as to why she called twice after offering me a chance to visit the campus as to rather I truly wanted to come to the campus. In her words, “Are you sure you want to come? You know you are not going to make a lot of money as an assistant professor in comparisons to your current job?” Was she kidding? I was a Ph.D. working on teacher contract in a public school system in the Midwest. I was not a CEO of a fortune 500 company; I knew exactly what I was getting into. Have you ever seen an old Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs is fooled and made to look stupid and as he looks toward the viewers his face is replaced by a Jackass? Well that was me at that moment.

That morning I pressed my favorite blue suit and my second favorite “fancy pants” silk tie. I cleaned my Black stylish but conservative dress shoes. I sprayed on the only bottle of cologne I had at home that had less than three or five sprays that would allow me present a solid argument to the security at the airport when he/she would tell me the bottle was larger than the 3oz. allowed within carry-on luggage. Finally I looked into the bathroom mirror before exiting and said out loud, “If this is the place for you, this is your job. Go get it.” I walked out of my room, grabbed a banana at the continental breakfast area, and met the chair of the search committee outside where it was a beautiful 73 degree bright day. Beyond the standard conversation and basic tour of the campus, I saw nothing out of the norm. The campus was primarily Latino and White. When I did see a Black face, I got an interesting response. See, when Black people are in large numbers in many places, I have an amateurishly calculated a 30 to 70% chance of them acknowledging me when eye contact is made. There, the look in the two sets of eyes that I saw on campus reminded me of someone being pleasantly surprised. In fact, a look that said, “Help Me!” was evident.

Putting my observations aside, I was later introduced to the faculty. I decided to answer a question that had been on my mind since the interview was set up. Why was I asked to not worry about presenting a formal presentation on my research or teaching interests? They basically told me that they wanted to try something different this time with this position. A red alert glared off in my mind. As I talked and referenced my research, interests, and teaching philosophy, I noticed the questions that came from the peanut galley were questions that gave the impression that my CV was foreign to them. Have they read it? Of course, right? Out of two applicants that were brought to the campus, surely they know who I am and have an idea of my passions for social justice, right? What? You had no idea I wrote a book you say. Yes, my research is focused on the marginalized population of males of color. No I do not live currently in California. I am from Illinois. As they questions pilled on as we all walked to lunch, I became confused. I have rarely been at a loss for words, but this interview ushered in a new experience when the faculty began to talk about the active Aryan Nation and KKK groups in the town. What the hell? Confusion mounted when I told them all at lunch that I was committed to social justice and putting social work on the front line as a profession that as a whole does not do enough to attack racism and social justice for all. Then I performed a great magic trick. After my confession, I split the table into two with words only. One half never talked to me while the other discussed politics in California. I simply made my soup and salad last as long as possible.

After a few more hours of talking to people in more expensive suits than mine that I will soon forget, I was asked to answer questions from a night graduate class before my last free meal. I attempted to be me and the class laughed at the appropriate times and shook their heads when I was being serious and motivational. I was a hit! But as I talked, I noticed the two faculty members in the rear with unimpressed pale faces. At that moment, I knew I was not getting this gig. But I did not know I was probably set up until an ex-hippie lecturer who I really connected with told me in private that if I was serious about this position, I had competition. In my research one molded mind, I felt I had no competition. But then he sympathetically divulged with me that the other person was from the area and a graduate of the department. Was I a pawn in their pursuit to hire one of their own? Was I the token Black male in a predominately White female profession? Hey, we were able to interview one of them; it just so happens he was not the right fit? As I got on the plane to leave the sun for the cold, the only thing that could come out of my mouth was “Hee haw….. Hee haw!!”

Lessons in Anti-Racism

When I was in graduate school, Tom Pettigrew used to remind us that many white Americans hold their racial prejudices and stereotypes at a rather superficial level, mainly as a way of conforming to whites and the white supremacist culture/society around them. (He suggested that a smaller proportion held these views very deeply, as a Freudian-type “crutch” that held their very troubled personalities together.) The clear lesson he was offering is that for many whites some significant change in racial views should not be difficult. The learning context matters.

Recently, one of my former graduate students, now a professor, sent me this comment about a new white student in her class:

I am beginning a new semester of my Race class. I decided to formally introduce your “white racial frame” concept the first week of the semester this time…My students journal free-form every other week or so, and here is the very first journal entry I read. I particularly love the last line of the first paragraph:

White Racial Frame: When first entering this course I never imagined that within the first class session my mindset would be changing about race and the role it has in the world today. The idea of the “white racial frame” is what immediately caught my attention. The idea that there is a term for a frame of mind I never knew existed struck me. I am the typical definition of a “white girl” and I know it. Blonde hair, blue eyes, sheltered lifestyle and never struggled a day in my life, I know I am a white girl. I just never considered that my frame of mind about the world is compromised because of it.

I always thought of my life as fair. I had the ideal mindset that the United States represents all that is fair; everyone has their own chance and makes their own choices from a totally level playing field. It is only now that I can see that things may be set up differently. My view was that my parents work hard for what we have and that anyone can do the same for their families. Maybe it is a naive frame of mind to believe the world to be fair, but it was nice that way. It is only in more recent years I can see the trends that lead me to believe that all is not fair and the world is a tough place. I believe that is partially due to my sheltered life that I grew up with and partially because of the “white racial frame” that I did not know I possessed.

Society prioritizes the white race and does not even realize it. I have done it and only now realize it. Everyday simple situations I find myself choosing someone who is white for a job, or maybe being more comfortable with a white person than anyone else. Even in my relationship preference I have only dated white men. Have had several opportunities to do otherwise, but simply never acted upon it. Before this class I never questioned that the president has always been a white male (until Obama obviously). I am realizing that the “white racial frame” expands into so many things in our lives. It can be as simple as daily life within my own home, and can expand all the way into politics in the world. I am excited to be in this course to help open my mind to more of these situations and to educate myself more on the role of race in society.

Things can change. Excellent teaching and teachers matter.

Racial Inequality and Faculty of Color at Elite Universities: An MIT Report

A new report from MIT’s Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity, according to this summary, examines

how race affects the recruitment, retention, professional opportunities and collegial experiences of Black, Hispanic and Native American professors at MIT [and] urges the Institute to strengthen its efforts to recruit and retain underrepresented minority (URM) faculty.

The report took two and half years on the part of nine faculty members. The methodology is this:

[A] quality-of-life survey administered to the entire faculty in January 2008, in-depth interviews of all URM faculty and a small comparison group of White and Asian faculty, and a salary analysis. To compare promotion and tenure rates and other hiring data by department and school, the committee also reviewed a cohort analysis of faculty who came to MIT between 1991 and 2009.

The report notes there have been gains in the URM faculty, but are very uneven across colleges and departments. MIT President Susan Hockfield is quoted as accepting the report and commenting that “A richly diverse America does not await us, it is upon us; it is our present and our future.” The main findings of the Initiative are these:

* MIT recruits heavily from its own departments and from a few peer institutions — such as Harvard and Stanford — which suggests that broadening the recruitment search could yield larger numbers of URM faculty.
* Compared to their White peers, a higher percentage of URM faculty leave before or after they are promoted to associate professor without tenure, suggesting that efforts to retain URM faculty may be especially critical in their first three to five years.
* Poor or negative faculty mentoring experiences are more frequent for URM than for non-URM faculty, partly because mentoring across the Institute lacks consistency.
* Overall, URM faculty report more dissatisfaction than their White counterparts. However, it is the URM non-tenured faculty, particularly black faculty, who are most likely to be “very satisfied” with their lives at MIT.
* There is “great awkwardness” in addressing race and racial differences openly at MIT, meaning that discussion of race-related issues is avoided.

Sadly, these are findings the researchers on this site could have easily predicted. The recruitment of faculty, the report notes, is very heavily and disproportionately from Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, and then from other elite schools–which will of course severely limit the diversity of a faculty hiring pool. This is the kind of incestuous racism that takes place at elite colleges and universities and has for many years. This is not meritocracy, but elite-ocracy at work.

The next two points really signal internal racism in operation, a failure of mentoring and support of many kinds. Some of this internal racism in universities is blatant and intentional, but much of it is subtle or a type of passive bystanding wherein white faculty members “do not want to get involved” or “do not know how to relate” to people of color. Such faculty have mostly never had an education in such things as stereotyping 101, racism 101, and antiracism 101. Like most of the population in the country.

On the faculty dissatisfaction side, they could have long ago learned a lot about what everyday college life is like for faculty of color from key books and research articles on the subject by leading scholars like Professor Christine Stanley (also a vice president now for diversity at the fortunate Texas A&M University), Professor Mark Chesler, and Professor Roxanna Harlow. Or this report I did for the American Council on Education (see discussion here). Apparently, reading social science on these matters is beyond MIT’s leaders? They did not need to spend so much time here reinventing the wheel. Science?

The main MIT report recommendations for change are these:

* Each academic unit should work with its academic dean and the associate provost of faculty equity to develop strategies for improving recruitment efforts of URM faculty. … Formal mentors should be assigned to junior faculty hires, and mentors and mentees should be informed about expectations. …MIT should broaden faculty searches to other carefully selected institutions. MIT should create forums where race and cross-cultural interactions are openly discussed, and the Institute should harness its most highly respected scholars, scientists and engineers to act as spokespeople on diversity issues.

Typical stuff and useful if there is commitment at the very top to carry this through, and well. But this is not enough. Change should begin, IMHO, with a very thorough study of MIT’s own deep structures of white racism, those long structured within the hoary institution, and with a real commitment to change those as well.

Senator Reid’s White Racial Framing: Obama as the “Exception to His Race”

Well, I had several interviews yesterday on the Senator Reid story with CNN television and radio, so I thought I would jell my thoughts a bit more here. As the Associated Press story put it, summarizing some of the gossipyGame Change book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, Reid said privately that Barack Obama

should seek – and could win – the White House because Obama was a “light skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

Reid is operating out of an older version of the white racist frame. The words “Negro dialect” suggest his age and background (senator from a pretty white state), but certainly does not excuse it. Reid seems to be accenting here the view that Obama is an “exception to his race,” an old racist notion in white America dating way back to slavery days. In this view Obama speaks well because he does not use the “Negro dialect,” and with his being light-skinned and other things, that makes him attractive to voters. He, of course, does not say, but means white voters since most black voters are unlikely to be put off by Reid’s supposedly “bad” qualities here.

The Reid comments, brief as they are, raise interesting questions that few in the media have raised. What, for example, does he mean by “Negro dialect”? He likely means a certain stereotyped way that many whites think, often erroneously, most black Americans speak. (The provocative “Field Negro” blog puts this point rather sharply here.) Of course, whites’ mocking of what they think is the “Negro dialect” is extensive in this country, and there are reportedly hundreds of websites that get into extensive mocking of what whites think and construct as “Negro dialect.” (No similar array for “white speech”?)

For example, on one site there is the mocking translation of a speech by Socrates: “How ya’ gots felt, O dudes o’ Athens, a hearin’ de speeches o’ mah accusers.” Such mocking of black speech is linked on many white-generated Internet sites to a broad range of racist stereotypes, jokes, and images. The site also listed events at a fictional “Ebonic Olympic Games”: the “torching of the Olympic City” and the “Gang Colors Parade.” Antiblack websites spread racist images globally. There is at least one antiblack site in Russian. (These examples are from the research of Margaret Ronkin and Helen Karn in Journal of Sociolinguistics).

Interestingly, commenting on Reid, Princeton Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell takes this language issue in a quite different direction:

Obama was not a viable contender until he learned to execute the cadences, rhythms, word choice and cultural references shared in many black communities. His stiff, wonkish approach in the 2000 congressional race led many African-Americans to be suspicious of his rootedness in black communities and his understanding of black community issues.

She thus contends that with some black voters (Reid seems to forget them in his comments) Obama had to accent certain cadences and other distinctive ways of speaking. This is a quite different language issue than what Reid had in mind.

Harris-Lacewell also questions whether lighter skin actually makes a difference with most white voters:

Some social science research finds that white voters demonstrate an unconscious preference for black faces with lighter skin and narrower facial features. It is likely that physical characteristics, like skin tone, may influence voters in this third group to view light-skin candidates as more “like them” and therefore “safer” to choose in an election. [However] These effects are negligible in determining election outcomes. Issue positions, partisan identification, assessment of electoral viability and previous elected office have far greater effects on vote choice.

I think she may be missing the main point here. Reid is considering skin color as just one characteristic along other features of Obama’s white-middle class orientation or “style,” not by itself. There is also the often unconsciously sensed danger-of-dark-skin motif in much white framing, as the cited research suggests. As Adia and I put it in our book on the Obama election and racism: Had Obama been a darker-skinned black man, he likely would have faced greater difficulty in escaping the “dangerous black man” characterizations that are part of the white racial frame. Some recent research is interesting on this point. For example, research on the impact of skin color and distinctive “black features” has shown that in court proceedings white judges tend to give harsher sentences to darker-skinned African Americans that lighter-skinned African Americans with similar records.

When Adia and I were researching our book we found several news stories that illustrate Reid was correct in some of his implications that numerous white voters would like Obama’s language, orientation, background, and/or style. Reportedly drawing on the canvassing approach of trying not to make voters mad, one white Obama campaign volunteer cited on a New York Times site made this comment to a potential voter: “One thing you have to remember is that Obama, he’s half white and he was raised by his white mother. So his views are more white than black really.” The volunteer thus assured the voter that Obama was acceptable because of his substantial white ancestry and white relatives’ socialization. Another white community volunteer reportedly spoke to fellow whites at a local church about how Senator Obama “doesn’t come from the African-American perspective – he’s not of that tradition. . . . He’s not a product of any ghetto.”

(Reid also has a track record on racial matters that makes one less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt in these matters. For example, he reportedly opposed some leading (and well-elected) black politicians in Illinois as unelectable replacements for President Obama.)

The white racial frame is so strong in white minds, even in relatively liberal white minds like Reid’s, that it is blurted out from time to time, and thus shows what many whites are really thinking–thinking they mostly try to hide in frontstage settings. We should take Reid’s commentary, and other such liberal-racist commentary, as a sign of what is really going on in the society. Reid’s commentary, and much more vulgar forms of it, were likely very commonplace across white America during the 2008 primaries and election. They still are. It is just that somehow this bit of the backstage got out without the cover of more socially “correct” language. One issue that has not come up much in the public controversy so far is the profound meaning of this backstage racist reality—the extensive blatant racism that goes on in the white backstage, something we have examined numerous times on this blog.

I should point out too that the book that generated the Reid controversy has even more dynamite quotes indicating the anti-Obama and hostile racialized views of Bill Clinton, such as those he made to and about Ted Kennedy endorsing Barack Obama. To Kennedy, Clinton reportedly said, “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.” And Clinton also said, “the only reason you are endorsing him is because he’s black. Let’s just be clear.”

Useful Sites for Students: The Covenant with Black America website

Since the 1980s black leaders have held several State of the Black Union overview conferences. In 2006 a document, “The Covenant with Black America,” was presented to eight thousand attendees at the seventh conference in Houston, a book-length statement of strong recommendations to policymakers that would improve the lives of African Americans. In addition to suggesting action options for African Americans with regard to issues such as renewal of voting rights legislation and boycotting discriminatory companies, these conferences have generated renewed interest in an array of political campaigns accenting issues of concern to black communities.

Subsequent black conferences have confirmed these goals, and the book version of the Covenant became a New York Times best-seller. A third book in the Covenant series is now out, and is described on the website thus:

Accountable is the the yardstick that will determine whether we, the people—both political leaders and citizens—have lived up to the aspirations enshrined in The Covenant and operationalized in THE COVENANT In Action. It offers a pragmatic model for holding our new president and political leaders accountable for what they have promised and must deliver. It also holds us accountable both as individuals and as a community for our actions or inactions in keeping our agenda on track. Because the stakes have never been higher, Accountable teaches American citizens how to be driven by “the cause and not the candidate,” and how to sustain the new political dialogue in which “our votes cannot be separated from our voices.”

The Covenant with Black America website has some very useful interactive maps (from dealing with important statistical data by state on Health, Education, Justice, Democracy, Environment, Digital Divide, and Rural America.

There is also a good link to race, poverty, and related news events.

This is a good site for students to access.

Amazing News: Continuing Racial Inequality in Higher Education

In this land of systemic racism and widespread discrimination in major institutional areas, a recent article in Inside Higher Educations asks, once again, “Does race matter?” Michelle Asha Coooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, and David A. Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, ask this question, and then use somewhat tame “disparities” language to describe continuing discrimination in higher education:

# There are racial disparities in fields of study and graduate education. Fewer racial/ethnic minority students graduate in fields like science and engineering; fewer receive post-baccalaureate training and attain master’s, doctorate, and professional degrees.

# There are racial disparities in perceptions of campus climate. Racial/ethnic minority students are less likely to express satisfaction with their overall undergraduate experience. They also are less likely to feel a sense of belonging, interact with faculty/staff, and hold leadership positions in clubs/organizations.

# There are racial disparities in hiring, tenure, and compensation policies. Post graduation, racial/ethnic minorities earn less, with the same credentials, as their White counterparts. Even within the ranks of our liberal-minded institutions, Blacks and Hispanics are grossly underrepresented in our faculties. And where people of color do find positions within our institutions, it is too often in adjunct faculty positions, bereft of the pay and benefits appreciated by regular faculty, and in our service departments, perpetuating the inequalities that we so often condemn in society in general.

Good points, albeit very tame language which dances around identifying the powerful whites in positions of authority who are responsible for much of this disparate reality. And they do not deal even briefly with the realities of racist campus climates (much more than “perceptions”) or with how racial discrimination works on campuses.

The comments after their IHE post are quite revealing of how far we have to go on these matters. Each generation of (especially white) Americans has to be retaught our racist history and contemporary racist reality. The white racial frame is quite effective, for most whites, in covering up and hiding the racist reality. As one of my grad students put it yesterday, people of color and antiracist whites must spend much time in each generation in trying to get the society to “recover” for themselves and the society the concealed racist realities of our history and racist institutions.

White-Framing and Whitewashing Children’s Books

The white racial frame seems to be operating everywhere in this society, including in the way children’s books are written, framed, and produced by the mostly white-run publishing industry. This dominant frame is amazingly well-conditioned, inbedded deeply in minds and brains, and often relatively unconscious. For example, Mitali Perkins has an interesting article in a recent School Library Journal examining stereotypes in children’s books.

She raises important questions for teachers (and thus libraries and others) about what to look for in assessing how a children’s book deals with racial matters, questions such as these:

How and why does the author define race? Is the cover art true to the story? Who are the change agents? How is beauty defined?

Consider her reasoning on a few of these issues. One question and answer set is about whether and how authors of children’s books take note of the racial realities of characters:

Ask . . . Why did the author choose to define race? If the only answer you come up with is “maybe he wanted to show how open-minded he is” or “she could have been trying to move the world toward a better day,” that’s not good enough. A better answer might be, “because the particular community where the action is set is diverse.” Or, “because the protagonist knew how to make kimchee from scratch.” The story and characters, not the author’s best political intentions, should determine whether or not he or she defines race.

I see her point about making racial identification part of a real story, but I think it is fine for authors to intentionally work a diversity of characters into a book with an eye to moving our racist “world toward a better day” — and indeed making it realistic for children living in our multiracial world. She next makes this very point in discussing how most children’s books leave out characters of color. Books

must express diversity lest we fall into the trap of the television show Friends, in which an all-white cast lived and worked in an apparently all-white New York City. Sadly, in the children’s book world we’re not too far from portraying that kind of nonexistent America. Statistics show that 17 percent of students enrolled in American schools are African American. During 2008, however, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center . . . found that among the 3,000 or so titles they received, only six percent had significant African or African-American content. While 20 percent of the country’s students are Latino, only about two percent of all books reviewed by CCBC had significant Latino content.

Once again, we see how the deep white framing of mostly white publishers keeps the children’s book world pretty white. The impact on all children of such white framing is quite significant, as numerous studies show. Another issue she raises is in regard to book covers for children’s books. Numerous books are published with covers that downplay the main characters’ racial group if that group is not white:

Consider the advance readers’ copy of Ursula Le Guin’s Powers . . . released with a white model on the cover despite the protagonist’s Himalayan ancestry.

The final cover was belatedly changed to be more realistic. In these cases, and there are a great many, the envisioned sales audience is white, and in the publishers’ view the latter should not have to encounter faces of people of color on covers. On this point, Felicia Pride at writes about a recent incident where the initial cover put on books had a white girl on it:

(Cover Photo Source: The Root) liar

Looks like book publishing isn’t all that post-racial, but we already knew that. A controversy has been brewing regarding the book cover for “Liar,” a young adult novel by Justine Larbalestier that’s set to publish at the end of September by Bloomsbury Children’s Books. The cover (see right) features a young white girl whose faced is partially covered by her long straight hair. The problem? The book’s main character is black.

The publisher eventually pulled the many first covers and put an African American, but still light-skinned skinned, girl on the new covers. In this case protests against the whitewashed cover had a significant impact. One sign of anti-racist action, and a first step in antiracist action, is the problematizing of what was once seen as just normal and natural framing.