A Biracial Feminist “Princess” and Her British Prince

Last year’s wedding of Ms. Meghan Markle and His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle was spectacular. Given that this ‘show’ was the most watched television event in the UK, with another 22 million viewers in the US , and drew hundreds of thousands to stand around for hours hoping to catch a glimpse of the couple in person, this wedding had global appeal. The recent announcement of the birth of the couple’s first child keeps the spotlight focused on them. The wedding was an enormous opportunity to (re)shape narratives about racial groups and gender and was filled with symbols of enormous significance—apart from the usual ones—it will be interesting to note how the birth and rearing of their child does the same.

Ms. Markle and her groom seem to be doing their part to address racism and sexism and to using their spotlight to highlight aspects of the black side of her roots in ways that help redefine blackness. Her writing three years ago indicates that the Royals have not yet managed to take away concerns that she addressed speaking of some of the negative responses to the addition of a dark-skinned African American actor to play her TV show father:

The reaction was unexpected, but speaks of the undercurrent of racism that is so prevalent, especially within America. On the heels of the racial unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore, the tensions that have long been percolating under the surface in the US have boiled over in the most deeply saddening way. And as a biracial woman, I watch in horror as both sides of a culture I define as my own become victims of spin in the media, perpetuating stereotypes and reminding us that the States has perhaps only placed bandages over the problems that have never healed at the root.

Markle who describes herself—and has been described by the press—as biracial, is the product of an African American mother and white American father. Typically, such a person is seen as black in the U.S. Racial self-identity, and societal identification may not always align—just ask Tiger Woods about the verbal smackdowns he faced for describing himself as Cablinasian when his society sees him as black. And although he chose to self-identify as African American after much soul-searching, there was no way that President Barack Obama was ever going to be viewed as anything other than a black man in America. Therefore, the fact that Markle is not described as a black woman is notable. I haven’t seen Markle’s self-description challenged in any major way —actually, it has been repeated with apparent acceptance. Does this suggest a loosening of the grip of the often imposed identity of non-White to multiracial people of any race of color plus white? Perhaps this change only occurs in polite conversation as Markle has been subject to relentless racism in online commentaries, forcing the royal family to issue Social Media Community Guidelines. To some onlookers she could probably pass for white; Markle acknowledges that she has attempted to trade on her racial ambiguity to audition for roles calling for a variety of races including black and Latina. Maybe it is her light-skinned, straightened hair appearance that allows for her biracial label to be used so consistently, but that is hugely significant when society has focused on binary racial definitions of black or white.

I scoffed at the notion that Ms. Markle would walk down the aisle unescorted when her father dropped out. Too far from tradition for a royal wedding, I said. Boy, was I wrong! Although it was not the original plan, I read it as a feminist score that Meghan Markle entered St. George’s Chapel unaccompanied. Even the groom walked the entire length of the church with another man— his brother, Prince William. But not Ms. Markle! The self-described feminist entered the chapel on her own (having ridden in a car with her mother), and walked quite capably down the Nave, before she was met by Prince Charles for the journey down the Quire to the altar and her Prince. Perhaps this aspect of the tale has foreshadowing in the fact that 11-year-old Meghan Markle bristled that an advertisement for Ivory dishwashing detergent stated that “women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.” The young activist wrote to first lady Hillary Clinton, attorney Gloria Allred, and news-reporter Linda Ellerbee about the ad which was changed to say “people all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.” Today, Markle’s official Royal webpage highlights her activism and feminism describing her as committed to “women’s empowerment” and includes a quote from her 2015 address on International Women’s Day for UN Women: “I am proud to be a woman and a feminist.”

For many, the wedding dress is the essence of a wedding. And in this case, there had been endless speculation about who the dress designer would be and the style Markle would favor. In the end, another feminist choice: the first female artist-designer of the fabled house of Givenchy–Most Reverend Michael Curry is the Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in the US. His 14-minute address was fairly typical African American preaching—it was the congregation that differed! He opened and closed his address with quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King and spoke of slavery to an audience teeming with British Royalty—whose colossal wealth benefited from the commodification of people.

The mother of the bride, Doria Ragland wore locs! Much has and will be written about Ragland’s clothing but having the mother of the bride in a traditional black hairstyle is another departure from what we see in ‘fairytales’. Another noticeable nod to natural hairstyles worn by black women was Serena Williams’ cornrows and twists, replete with fascinator for the ceremony. We almost never see young black male involvement in European classical music. Yet, this wedding featured three songs from my cousin (seriously!) Sheku Kanneh-Mason the 19-year-old winner of 2016’s BBC Young Musician competition. Kanneh-Mason was not only standing on the shoulders of his great-uncle Roland Prince’s musical legacy, but broadening the box into which young black men are placed.

Unlike many male Royals, Prince Harry wears a wedding ring and the feminist Markle did not promise to obey her husband! Add the predominantly black gospel heavy-weights Karen Gibson and The Kingdom Choir singing “Stand By Me”, and then Amen/This Little Light of Mine. Later in the program the Prayers were led by Archbishop Angaelos, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London and the Reverend Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin—a black Jamaican-born woman (with a low natural hairstyle!). Hudson-Wilkin has been a chaplain to the Queen since 2007 and serves as the speaker’s chaplain in the House of Commons.

The choices made … trickle into how viewers see the world, whether they’re aware of it or not. Some households may never have had a black person in their house as a guest, or someone biracial. Well, now there are a lot of us on your TV and in your home with you…I couldn’t be prouder of that.

This is an almost four-year-old quote from the newly minted Duchess of Sussex on the importance of racial diversity in casting TV roles, but most of it could apply to the wedding she clearly helped to shape and probably summarized her feelings about the event. Atypically, this Royal wedding was not an all-white British affair; it was also black, African American, and feminist in unmistakable ways. Weddings and the British Royal family are steeped in tradition—traditions that ignore white racism, and the humanity of blacks and women. This fairytale wedding has offered new paradigms and that is significant; let’s see whether the birth of Baby Sussex will offer new lenses with which to consider racial groups and gender.

Black Counter Frame and Basis for Reparations



In my The White Racial Frame book I not only discuss this age-old white racial frame, which accents both white virtue material and anti-others material, but also the important counter frames to this dominant white frame that people of color have developed. In the U.S. case African Americans have developed an especially strong counter frame over centuries, perhaps because they have had the longest period of time situated firmly within this systemically racist society.

This counter frame has for centuries been an impetus for many important black protests, and thus in large part for the few major changes that have been made in this country’s racist system over the centuries.

It also helps us to understand the reasons for reparations of many kinds that are necessary for what whites have done over twenty generations. I recently did a post on theconversation.com that explains why reparations are morally and demonstratively necessary. See here.

One feature of U.S. systemic racism involves a rather intentional collective forgetting by whites of key African Americans who articulated and often organized around a strong counter frame. Let me remind our readers of a few of these great Americans and their clear moral and empirical understanding of the basis for reparative changes.

One of the first to put counter frame down on paper was David Walker, a young African American abolitionist working in Boston. In 1829 he published a strong manifesto, entitled Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Demanding full equality, he wrote to his fellow African Americans with revolutionary arguments in an anti-oppression framing, so much so that slaveholding whites put a large cash bounty on his head. (He died young, probably as a result.) Walker analyzes slavery and racial segregation for free blacks quite bluntly. Most whites are “cruel oppressors and murderers” whose “oppression” will be overthrown. They are “an unjust, jealous, unmerciful, avaricious and blood-thirsty set of beings.” Whites seek for African Americans to be slaves to them

and their children forever to dig their mines and work their farms; and thus go on enriching them, from one generation to another with our blood and our tears!

He then quotes the words “all men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence and challenges whites:

Compare your own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers and yourselves on our fathers and on us–men who have never given your fathers or you the least provocation! . . . . I ask you candidly, was your sufferings under Great Britain one hundredth part as cruel and tyrannical as you have rendered ours under you?

A little later in the 19th century, an admirer of Walker, the African American abolitionist Henry Garnet, gave a radical speech, “An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America,” at a National Negro Convention. Garnet’s counter framing is very assertive and to the point, and it is also an address to those enslaved. He offers a structural analysis of “oppression,” arguing too that the white “oppressor’s power is fading.” African Americans like “all men cherish the love of liberty. . . . In every man’s mind the good seeds of liberty are planted.” He calls on those enslaved to take revolutionary action:

There is not much hope of redemption without the shedding of blood. If you must bleed, let it all come at once—rather die freemen, than live to be slaves.” He concludes with a strong call to rebellion: “Brethren, arise, arise! Strike for your lives and liberties.

One of the most brilliant of the 19th century analysts of systemic racism was the great abolitionist, Martin Delaney, who among other actions worked in revolutionary efforts to overthrow the slavery system. (In May 1858, he and John Brown gathered black and white abolitionists for a revolutionary meeting in Chatham, Canada. Four dozen black and white Americans wrote a new constitution to govern a growing band of armed revolutionaries they hoped would come from the enslaved US population.) Directing a book at all Americans, Delaney emphasizes the

United States, untrue to her trust and unfaithful to her professed principles of republican equality, has also pursued a policy of political degradation to a large portion of her native born countrymen. . . . there is no species of degradation to which we are not subject.

His counter framing is one of resistance and extends the old liberty-and-justice frame beyond white rhetoric:

We believe in the universal equality of man, and believe in that declaration of God’s word, in which it is positively said, that ‘God has made of one blood all the nations that dwell on the face of the earth.’

Delaney attacks whites’ stereotypes of African Americans with a detailed listing of important achievements of numerous free and enslaved African Americans and emphasizes how enslaved workers brought very important skills in farming to North America that European colonists did not have. African American workers were the “bone and sinews of the country” and the very “existence of the white man, South, depends entirely on the labor of the black man.” Delaney emphasizes that African Americans are indeed very old Americans:

Our common country is the United States. . . . and from here will we not be driven by any policy that may be schemed against us. We are Americans, having a birthright citizenship.

Let us bring these and other important 19th African Americans back into our contemporary history, as they were both thinkers and activists in the long tradition of people fighting for liberty, equality, and justice in the United States. Note too essential elements of the black counter frame in these and many other black thinkers and activists too often forgotten writings from the 19th century: a strong critique of racial oppression; an aggressive countering of white’s negative framing of African Americans; and a very strong moral accent on the centrality and importance of liberty, justice, and equality for all Americans. African Americans have been perhaps the most central Americans in keeping these liberty and justice ideals constantly alive and imbedded in resistance organizations over four long centuries of freedom struggles in the racist history of the United States.

Revisiting the NFL’s Racial Politics of Patriotism

This is jointly authored by Kristi Oshiro and Anthony Weems

Introduction

In a recent comment on Weems and Kusz’s Racism Review piece, From Bush to Trump: White Nationalism and the NFL, sociologist Earl Smith made a powerful statement reminding us of the real injustice that persists within the National Football League (NFL). Smith expressed,

The key non-figure for the coming Super Bowl that outlines the grave injustices of a white controlled NFL is the absence, the “black-balling,” the blocking of employment of Colin Kaepernick. Regardless of how many Super Bowl rings Brady has, or how many times he plays golf with Trump or how many beauty pageants Brady participates in, this does not erase the injustice.

In the thick of activist efforts that transpired in the 2016 NFL season and on the heels of “Choose-your-side Sunday” during the 2017 season, we published NFL Protests and Racial Politics of Patriotism. In this piece we sought to refocus the narrative; specifically, returning the attention to the message behind the symbolic displays of athlete activism (e.g., kneeling). In doing so, we shed light on the deeply embedded racial politics of patriotism at play as well as the role the mainstream media has played in shaping said discourse. As Smith’s timely comment suggests, the unrelenting efforts by NFL ownership groups to silence Kaepernick and other athletes peacefully protesting elicits a re-visitation of this piece in 2019. Moreover, further examination to understand how the racial politics of patriotism have changed over time and how athletes have been moving their activist efforts beyond the NFL since “Choose-your-side Sunday” is warranted.

#TakingAKnee

The movement, pioneered by Colin Kaepernick’s courageous efforts (e.g., kneeling during the national anthem to bring awareness to the systemic oppression and police brutality towards black people and other people of color) over the course of the 2016 NFL season ignited a resurgence of black athlete activism in the twenty first century distinct and different from any that had come before it – that is, what Harry Edwards has referred to as the fourth wave of black athlete activism. While the first three waves of athlete activism characterized by (1) a push for recognition and legitimacy during Jim Crow, (2) post-World War II desegregation and access, and (3) an uncompromising fight for social justice in the late-1960s and 1970s, the fourth wave of athlete activism outlined by Edwards is characterized by a struggle for power within a white-dominated society. Throughout this fourth wave of athlete activism, perhaps the most iconic gesture has been that of kneeling.

As the act of kneeling quickly took hold in the 2016 and 2017 seasons inspiring activist efforts across the sports world, so too did coverage by the mainstream media and academic communities as practitioners and scholars alike weighed in. While the “Kaepernick effect” has and continues to make a meaningful impact, the NFL quickly responded making it clear that this revived fourth wave of black athlete activism and players with activist intentions would not be welcomed, nor tolerated on the gridiron. Thus, we have gone from the league-wide display of athlete activism on “Choose-your-side Sunday” in 2017 to three individuals this past season. Yes, just three. At the conclusion of the 2018 season only Eric Reid, Kenny Stills, and Albert Wilson continue to kneel. Additionally, several noteworthy events have transpired since our last post including but not limited to the following:

NFL Players Coalition co-founded by Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins (October 2017); Reid and others withdraw from Players Coalition (November 2017); Reid blackballed by the NFL (December 2017); NFL drafted a new Anthem Policy (May 2018); Reid files collusion grievance against the NFL (May 2018); Nike runs Kaepernick “Just Do It” ad (September 2018); Reid reinstated to the league signing one year contract with the Carolina Panthers (September 2018); Reid criticizes Players Coalition and outs specific owners intentions (October 2018); multiple musicians decline to be a part of SBLIII citing the NFL’s blackballing of Kaepernick as a reason (October 2018); Reid “randomly” drug tested for the seventh time in eleven weeks (December 2018); #Kaeplanta and #WakandaAli mural on Atlanta building demolished on Super Bowl weekend (February 2019).

And throughout all of this, Kaepernick remains blackballed from the NFL and the collusion case against NFL remains ongoing, with the hearing set for later this year. In the span of basically a single season the mostly white male elite and their acolytes who constitute NFL ownership and who have control of the league managed to effectively and efficiently “neutralize” the “threat” that this movement posed to the NFL brand. Thus, as another NFL season comes to a close, it is apparent that not only do the Patriots reign once more – but the racial politics of patriotism also continue to be perpetuated in and through the strategic operation of the NFL. To better understand this operation, a focus on the role of the owners is necessary.

NFL Owners and the Silencing of Protests

Fans might be paying to see the players, but the league is the owners. They make the decisions. They set the policies. They make the money with the extra zeros. Then there are the general managers and head coaches, as of this writing overwhelmingly white.(Bennett & Zirin, 2018, p. 47)

Despite the pageantry of expressing “solidarity” with players on Choose-your-side Sunday, owners and ownership groups have been overwhelmingly against the athletes engaging in protests since Kaepernick and Reid first knelt in 2016 – most discernibly through the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick from the NFL. Recently, Reid provided further insight into the views of owners on player protests throughout this process:

Y’all remember that players-owners meeting in New York City? So we were brought in under the premise that the NFL wanted to use their resources to help the black community. We established within the first five minutes of that meeting that we weren’t there to negotiate an end to the protest. After about an hour and a half of talking, Bob McNair says, “I think the elephant in the room is this protesting.” Terry Pegula follows up with “Yeah, I’ve already lost two sponsors for my hockey team. We need to put a Band-Aid on this, and we need a black figure-head to do it.”… [Jeffrey] Lurie says, “We can do more for the black community than you could ever imagine with our resources.” Bob McNair then says, “Yeah, just make sure you tell your comrades to stop that protesting business.”

As suggested by Reid’s comments about the obsession of several owners over bringing an end to the protests, the hypocritical performance of predominantly white male owners on “Choose-your-side Sunday” has only been matched by their disdain for substantively dealing with any of the critical issues brought forth by Kaepernick and others. This type of performance is indicative of what Picca and Feagin refer to as “Two-Faced Racism.” Two-Faced Racism discusses the nuanced nature of whites’ frontstage and backstage racism: “Much of the overt expression of blatantly racist thought, emotions, interpretations, and inclinations has gone backstage – that is, into private settings where whites find themselves among other whites” Thus, the frontstage/backstage framework is employed to “examine the significantly divergent racial performances by white Americans in public (multiracial) and private (all-white) arenas” (p. x).

Exposed by Eric Reid, the approach taken by McNair, Pegula, Lurie, and other NFL owners in the backstage had little to do with their frontstage act of supporting players in the fight against systemic oppression. Rather, the opposite is true. Owners fervently sought to develop new policy designed specifically to control and/or rout player protests.

According to Weems and Atzmon, “In light of the NFL taking on a major role in white nationalist politics, its new [National Anthem] policy aims to censor the voices of those actively fighting against racist sport systems.” Though the policy drew enough criticism to delay its’ implementation, the persistent efforts and subsequent effects of owners’ attempts at censoring athletes has been nothing short of profound. Not only did the development of new policies and programs aim to rein in athletes fighting for social justice, but the dependency of sport media outlets (e.g., ESPN, Fox, CBS) upon the NFL as a political economy further veiled the voices of athletes using these mediums to speak out against injustice. This strategic silencing of athlete protests had a collateral effect of shaping and constraining public discourse surrounding the fourth wave of athlete activism. Therefore, it certainly behooves us as scholars and activists to take serious the notion that NFL ownership groups (and the NFL as an organizing body) play central roles in transforming the racial politics of patriotism. More broadly, the behaviors and actions of NFL owners actively reflect, shape, and maintain the political economy of the NFL — a primary sociocultural institution in the United States.

Resistance and Persistence Moving Forward

According to cultural theorist and postcolonial scholar, Stuart Hall,

Popular culture is one of the sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is also the stake to be won or lost in that struggle.

Sport as a cultural site continues to be a central space in the struggle for and against the politics of oppression. However, as NFL owners have cracked down on black athlete protests in an effort to silence political voices that don’t fit the brand-nexus of white-framed patriotic capitalism, athletes have sought to innovate the ways in which they engage with issues of systemic oppression and inequality. For example, while Kaepernick has sought to continue his fight through the legal system via a collusion case against the NFL, others have turned to various social, cultural, and educational outlets – ranging from Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp to Martellus Bennett’s Imagination Agency — to continue to fight for justice and equity in the United States. Thus, while the impact of kneeling before games today has been relatively silenced by NFL owners, many athletes continue to adapt their approaches to fighting for a just world.

In 2016 when Kaepernick first knelt in protest of systemic oppression and police brutality, kneeling was necessary as a pragmatic act. In 2017, kneeling was just as necessary as protests continued to grow despite constant criticism from many fans, team owners, and the president. In 2019, however, the social and political effects of physically kneeling before the game have declined in relevance due to the acts of silencing taken by team owners and corroborating media outlets. In response, many athletes have sought to innovatively engage in activism through alternative outlets. In other words, what we are beginning to see from many athletes is the evolution of political activism beyond the stage of the NFL. And while this evolution beyond the gridiron may appear as if team owners are “winning” their battle against players, it brings with it more direct social, political, and economic change as athletes and other activists become more involved both individually and as a collective. Said differently, the persisting resistance of athletes and activists in the face of systemic racism brings hope moving forward. As Derrick Bell (1991) stated in his discussion of racial realism,

Continued struggle can bring about unexpected benefits and gains that in themselves justify continued endeavor. The fight in itself has meaning and should give us hope for the future. (p. 378)

Kristi F. Oshiro is a Sport Management doctoral student at Texas A&M University. Her research interests include diversity and inclusion in sport with a focus on the intersection of race and gender.

Anthony J. Weems is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Division of Sport Management at Texas A&M University. His research interests revolve around the social structure of sport and sporting organizations and the roles sport plays in broader social and cultural contexts.

“Something Wrong with This Picture?” Lack of Diversity in Law Firms

“If you’re arguing that you’re better than most firms, it’s not a good argument. Because most firms have a very difficult time actually bringing real diversity and inclusion into those spaces.”

Tsedale Melaku quoted in New York Times

The recently published New York Times article discussing the very white and very male partnership class announced by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP in December 2018 has indeed put Paul, Weiss in the hot seat. So, what did I mean by my quote in this New York Times article? (See law firm photo here)

Several things came to mind as I read the article. I was, of course, very excited and waited with anticipation for what I believed would be a deep and thorough articulation of the disconnect between law firm diversity missions and the reality evidenced.

Timing
The timing of the article’s publication gave Paul, Weiss an opportunity to regroup, put plans into action, and explain the reasons why the partnership class was indeed all white, and practically all male. The firm was essentially able to engage in damage control, to save face at a time when diversity and inclusion efforts are touted as being intrinsically part of firm culture. Despite Paul, Weiss’ attempt to explain away their “outlier” new partner cohort, the justifications and the timing of those justifications seem to be an attempt to cloud the realities of systemic racial and gender imbalances that exist in elite law firms.

At Least We’re Better than the Rest
To simply say that Paul Weiss fares better than their peer firms is a weak argument that lacks any substantive reflections on the practices of the firm. At the end of the day being better than their peer institutions is a mere attempt to be perceived as the lesser evil. A mirage that has no tangible manifestation of a truly inclusive work environment that provides advancement opportunities for all. The idea that we celebrate firms for being slightly better than firms that are already doing terribly at affecting real substantive visible change at the top is not applaudable. What this does, in actuality, is it sets the bar very low and continues to maintain elite white male dominance.

Scorecards and Surveys
Paul, Weiss’ chairman, Brad Karp stated, “We’ve always been ranked at the very, very top of every survey.” To accept Paul, Weiss’ argument that their diversity track record garners accolades from varying surveys and scorecards implies that these measuring agencies take into account all critical information about diversity. Diversity scorecards often provide superficial representations of diversity that give law firms agency to ignore the underlying causes of low numbers of black and brown lawyers, particularly as it relates to retention and advancement.

Many scorecards and surveys incorporate statistics that include all lawyers of color and other marginalized identities in their assessment, including Hispanic/Latinx, Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native, Multiracial, Persons with Disabilities, Openly LGBT, and Veteran. While this is useful in showcasing the numerical representation of marginalized groups in firms, it also increases the potential ranking of law firms that have low numbers of black and brown lawyers. If we were to examine black and Latinx partners specifically, we would find that they are severely underrepresented. We need to start challenging these surveys and scorecards to explicitly call out the dearth of black and brown partners, which will demand law firms to consider the visible racial and gender disparity evidenced in terms of retention and promotion. Surveys and scorecards should call attention to the need for improving diversity by highlighting the lack thereof, not celebrating the little that exists.

Everyone Is Diverse
Diversity can literally include everything, from race, gender, sexuality, class, political leanings, religious affiliation, ability, and more. Let’s actually be clear about what we are talking about and what is missing when we talk about diversity – racial and gender diversity. The fact that Paul, Weiss is a pioneer of diversity is not the argument. What stirs debate is the reality that having been the first firm to hire a black lawyer, male and female, the first to promote a woman to the partnership, a firm committed to fighting for justice and equality, why has it stalled in terms of their own progress? If they are so progressive, why is it difficult for black and brown lawyers to reach parity within their own ranks?

There’s More Work to Be Done
In the firm’s nearly 150-year history, Paul, Weiss elected its first black female partner in 2016. While an important milestone for the firm, having one black female partner is not a valid argument to demonstrate progress as compared to their peer firms. It is a way to control the narrative and to save face, when in reality there is still so much work to be done. I understand that progress is progress regardless of timing, but this certainly should not preclude the fact that there are systemic racial and gendered issues in law firms that prevent women and people of color from becoming partners. So while recruitment efforts over the years have improved to attract talent to the firms, the reality is that very few are actually able to rise to the rank of partner. The underlying reasons for that are multifaceted of which I discuss and explain in depth in my forthcoming book, You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism.

Value, not Tolerance
One of the central weaknesses at the heart of elite institutions’ diversity efforts, which tend to focus more on hiring than retention, regardless of gender, is the notion that people of color are linked to low performance and affirmative action advantages. The insidious nature of white racial framing allow whites, and often people of color as well, to operate out of a frame that includes racist stereotypes, narratives, imageries, ideologies and emotions privileging whites over people of color. Consequently, this often leads some partners and senior associates to view women and people of color as unqualified, reinforcing the white racial frame and perpetuating racial and gender inequality. This is what shapes individual and institutional discriminatory practices that help to maintain elite white male dominance.

For example, white narratives of affirmative action, which suggest people of color are not qualified to be there in the first place, work to create discriminatory practices that exclude from access to the resources that support advancement. Resources in the form of substantive training, mentorship, social and professional networks, and most importantly, sponsorship are critical. Women and lawyers of color, like any professional, want to feel that their presence is valued, not tolerated. These lawyers do not want to feel like they are a part of a strategic marketing tool employed to signal diversity as core and intrinsic to the firm. Or that they are evidence of the firm succumbing to social pressure.

The Onus is on Us
Another, rather interesting, observation is that the article sourced a lot of information from current black partners in the firm. For example, Theodore V. Wells Jr., a nationally recognized prominent black partner at Paul, Weiss, said “I fear that African-American partners in big law are becoming an endangered species.” What is he supposed to say, as one of seven black partners out of 159 in the entire firm? Wells, along with other black partners including Patrick Campbell, David W. Brown, and Amran Hussein, are forced to publicly acknowledge Paul, Weiss’ deficiencies, while simultaneously working to soften the public relations nightmare and signaling diversity. All of these demands add invisible labor to what these partners are already burdened with, precisely because there are so few of them. This is one of the many nuanced experiences discussed by the black women lawyers interviewed in my forthcoming book. A disproportionate amount of responsibility often falls on women and racially subordinated partners due to the shortage of women and partners of color.

In Their Own Words
In conversing with several associates about their reaction to the article, this is what one former BigLaw associate stated:

It is mind blowing how the onus is put on disenfranchised (highly educated) professionals to spontaneously become whistleblowers. Without any of the whistleblower or collective bargaining protections.

Another poignantly stated,

Obviously, the vast majority of women and people of color will not come forward out of fear of retribution, or imposter syndrome, or racial Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This allows firms to continue thinking that this is not a serious problem worth addressing given that few lawyers were put on a public platform to admit grievances that could very well be detrimental to their employment and opportunity.

Reproducing and Maintaining the Status Quo
What is clear is that Paul, Weiss, whether they would like to admit it or not, engages in reproducing and maintaining the status quo. That is why in 2019 the majority of partners and associates are white, and male. This ensures that the pipeline is saturated with people that not only look like the top, but also learn to adopt the firm’s culture and to do business as usual. To invest time and resources into people of color is a way to share the wealth and foster true competition among all races. The coveted law firm partnership is in fact a means to create the foundation for generational wealth. And that as it stands, appears to be reserved for whites, and mainly males. If you look very carefully at who made partner – they are mostly laterals, mostly did not do the work of lawyering in Paul, Weiss for the 10-14 years prior to walking into a partnership position. The one woman promoted worked up through the ranks from associate, to senior associate, counsel and then partner, a journey that took a little over thirteen years. So it is still all the women and people of color who are doing the actual work — but the white men are taking home the money.

Comprehending and acknowledging how elite white men create, control, and reproduce a racialized system run by white male actors is imperative to understanding the experiences of women and people of color, regardless of industry. Finally, and to be absolutely clear, Paul, Weiss has made a grand effort to win accolades for diversity. So, if they feel “singled out” for falling down on their promise – they should be disproportionately lambasted. As one of the many former BigLaw associates who aspired to be partner but was met with disinterest, lack of opportunity for development, mentor-less, sponsor-less, and exclusionary practices clearly states: “The emperor has no clothes – and still no one is willing to tell him.”

Tsedale M. Melaku, Ph.D. is a sociologist at The Graduate Center, CUNY and author of the forthcoming book, You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism to be released in April 2019. I am at @TsedaleMelaku

“Stop Speaking Chinese!: This is America”

Members of the Biostatistics Department at Duke University had complained in the past about Chinese graduate students speaking in their language instead of English in the Biostatistics area. Recently the Director of Graduate Studies in the department, Assistant Professor Megan Neely, received a new complaint from two faculty members about Chinese graduate students speaking their language “very loudly” in the student lounge and other student areas. According to a New York Times article, the faculty members’ objections went beyond the volume of the conversations:

They were disappointed that these students were not taking the opportunity to improve their English and were being so impolite as to have a conversation that not everyone on the floor could understand.

So upset were they that they looked for identifying information about the “offenders” to exclude them from future projects:The faculty members wanted to identify the students and write down their names, in case the students sought to work with them in the future.

Given her administrative position, Professor Neely felt obligated to contact the Chinese graduate students to make them aware of the faculty members’ displeasure and warn them about possible consequences they could face if they persisted in speaking Chinese in the buildings that house the Department of Biostatistics. She sent them an email that included the following request on behalf of other Duke faculty members:

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep these unintended consequences in mind when you choose to speak in Chinese in the building . . . . I have no idea how hard it has been and still is for you to come to the US and have to learn in a non-native language. As such, I have the upmost respect for what you are doing. That being said, I encourage you to commit to using English 100% of the time when you are in . . . professional [settings].

Chinese is one of just a few racialized languages in the United States, and complaints about speakers supposedly being rude and missing opportunities to learn English just for sticking to their own language are often pretexts to silence them. Silencing aims at the suppression of racialized languages (often via the now famous command “Speak English, You are in America”) and the preservation of English as the dominant language. Elsewhere Joe Feagin and I have discussed silencing as part of the linguistic oppression of Spanish in the US (See “Language Oppression and Resistance: The Case of Middle Class Latinos in the United States,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 31(2008):390-410).

The Duke professor’s memo created a great deal of controversy. Ken Lee, chief executive of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, complained that

Forcing Students to repress their heritage language further perpetuates a wrongful fear toward Asian and Asian-American students.

A Chinese foreign ministry representative stated in a briefing that

If a Chinese university required that American students not use English to communicate, I think this would not be normal.

Mary E. Klotman, the Dean of the School of Medicine, where Biostatistics is housed, apologized to the Chinese students in a letter and said that she had asked the university’s Office for Institutional Equity to do a “thorough review of the program” in order to “improve the learning environment for students from all background.” Then she added:

I understand that many of you felt hurt and angered by this [Professor Neely’s] message . . . To be clear: There is absolutely no restriction or limitation on the language you use to converse and communicate with each other. Your career opportunities and recommendations will not in any way be influenced by the language you use outside the classroom.

Professor Neely asked to step down from her position. I feel bad for her: She is an untenured Assistant Professor caught up in a major controversy not mainly of her making. Although she may not suffer adverse consequences, she is likely to be upset. I would be. It is inevitable to wonder where the two complaining faculty members stand at the conclusion of the language denigration controversy. Their request to silence the students of color runs counter to Dean Klotman’s categorical position of no linguistic restrictions outside the classroom. Their stated intention to exclude graduate students from future research projects for speaking their own home language openly seems vindictive and unprofessional. Will the Duke Medical School investigate them?

José A. Cobas, Ph.D. is emeritus professor of sociology, Arizona State University.

Governor Northam, no Surprise, but Disappointment and Opportunity

In my home state of Virginia, there are more people than ever before talking about race, debating whether Governor Northam should resign due to racist photos on his medical school yearbook page. It seems like even more people are concerned about whether Northam is racist than were ever concerned about white supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville less than two short years ago—-the kind of racist violence that actually killed people. And certainly way more people care about the Northam question than were ever concerned about the bill that was killed in the Virginia House to remove the confederate monuments in Charlottesville, or the one-man protest that Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax led by stepping out while the rest of the body honored Robert E. Lee.

Much of the public debate around Northam does not dispute that the photos on this page—one of a person in blackface, and another in KKK garb—are racist and offensive. Strangely, that seems to be the point of common agreement for many from all political angles. The most frequent points of disagreement seem to be whether something racist in his past should be held against him now. Questions raised include whether Northam should be forgiven, and whether the picture reflects who he is today. Practically everyone in his Democratic party, in the state (both U.S. senators and many key representatives, as well as past governors) have urged him to resign, and even politicians of national stature—Democratic as well as Republican—have called for his resignation. And the photo keeps flapping around like it’s normal, almost as if we have become desensitized to the pain and terror that these images signify to African Americans—stay in your place or face the consequences. White people of any and all political backgrounds are being asked to give their two cents—as if they are the new arbiters and experts of what this photo means. Journalists that are flocking to get the person-on-the-street opinion appear to be not unlike the foolish person who approaches someone who has never given birth to ask them what it feels like. How is it that we whites would have any idea what a continued governorship by the man in this photo would mean to the over 1.5 million African Americans living in the state, day in and day out? Quite simply, we don’t, so we should not get to decide.

But we can learn to develop empathy. We can get closer to the understanding that we were trained not to have. Even Pamela Northam, the governor’s wife, not exactly the poster child for being a white ally or an antiracist, knew enough to advise her husband that attempting to perform a moonwalk during a press conference intended to apologize for his past behavior, would not be “appropriate” at that moment he appeared to consider it. Imagine what actual work on true empathy with people of color might look like for white people. Even after 30 years dialoging and living in community, dialog, and family with African Americans, I did not even think of developing my own opinion on Northam or stating it out loud until I had engaged in some frank discussions with some African American friends whose opinions I respect and admire—-and whose opinions would likely be diverse, not uniform. And I am still learning.

But what I have learned from listening is Northam is not the first, nor will be the last, of whites they thought they could trust, but turned out to be a disappointment. As a white teenager dating an African American young man, I heard multiple testimonies right from local families about how their son thought they had a white girlfriend they could trust, but once the breakup happened and things went sour and she wanted revenge, it was all too simple for her and her family to bring the entire wrath of the racist court system down against them, simply by “crying statutory rape.” It worked every time here in good ol’ VA. And this was decades after the 1967 Loving v. Virginia ruling that made interracial marriage legal. It was only after I went on to study race in graduate school and as a scholar of race relations, that I learned about Emmett Till, and so many others where the testimony of whites, particularly white women, was all the excuse a community needed to round up people of color and do whatever violence they wished to them, without fear of repercussion, or concern for justice or getting the facts. In what Katheryn Russell-Brown has called “racial hoaxes,” dozens of whites over the years have committed a crime and tried to blame someone African American for it, and tragically the justice system locks right in on the profile—in the case of Charles Stuart, they even found an African American person to coerce into confessing to a crime he did not even commit. Whites can be shady like that. People of color are not surprised. It is not a matter of Republican or Democrat. When it comes to a white father protecting a white daughter, or a white family hoarding school district resources for their own family, there is no limit to the ends whites will go, regardless of party line, to enact their privilege in service of their own. Both Dr. King and Malcolm X were unequivocal on this point: the white moderate/white liberal was who they feared and distrusted more than the over white racists. So, yes, people like Northam with a “surprise” racist photo lurking in the background are really not all that much of a surprise to many folks of color. You always have to watch your back.

Too often, individual whites who get caught saying something racist end up giving what Michael Eric Dyson calls a “dress up, fess up” press conference that falls woefully short of actual remorse, and Northam’s was no exception to that pattern. As Dyson argues, a true apology is not a self-centered attempt at clearing one’s name—it is focused on those harmed, in a way that pledges making amends, in an ongoing meaningful way to those one has harmed. What so many whites fail to realize is that our country was founded on racism, and continues to thrive on that foundation, so it is practically inevitable that almost all of us will have either inadvertently or purposely been witness to racism without interrupting it, and/or will enact racism ourselves. It is no big revelation that we all have racism in our pasts, and likely in our present. It is what we do with that information, how we pledge to live our lives going forward, to undo what we (and those who went before us) have caused going forward, that is the true measure of our characters. This requires empathy, and an ongoing commitment that lasts well beyond when the flashing lights are over, when the news cycle has moved onto the next hot take. And most importantly, it is the kind of work that would take many others along with us in the fight for justice, as opposed to merely seeking to clear our own names.

As Bonilla-Silva so brilliantly states, by focusing on these individual stories of “bad apples” we miss the much more important bigger picture of the “rotten apple tree.” We are all bound up together on this tree and implicated within it. I believe Governor Northam resigning and everyone going on as usual will not do much to change things here in Virginia. Virginia is leading the way in problems of institutional racism in this country, as one of 12 US states where over half the prison population is black (yet less than 20 percent of the state’s population), and many of those become disenfranchised after finishing their time. We have a deep history of educational segregation, and continuing racial and economic divides between our school districts have actually worsened tremendously in the past decade.

Should Northam continue to ignore the multitude of voices urging him to resign, being coy and defiant about whether or not he even remembers being in the photo (but does remember using blackface on another occasion), he is not going to earn back the public trust. Most people who care about racism and truly understand it know that this is not about figuring out what’s “in his heart”—which is where the predictable conversation often goes when debating any racist politician, Trump or otherwise– but rather what kind of policies he is willing to support and go to bat for. Clearly, Northam was not standing at his Lieutenant Governor’s side when Lt Gov Justin Fairfax sat out the Robert E. Lee tribute, alone, hoping for a new America 400 years later. Being on the right side of racial justice when it matters, over and over again, even when your party does not agree with you, is one way to rebuild it, and it will take time, not a brief press conference. Not even time that the news cycle has time for. Time will tell if Northam is ready to get out of his own way, and lead Virginians by example, in humbling himself to understand what antiracist commitment really means.

Eileen O’Brien is a Professor of Sociology at Saint Leo U. and the author of several books on white racism issues, including Whites Confront Racism.

From Bush to Trump: White Nationalism and the NFL

Anthony Weems and Kyle Kusz are joint authors of this post.

Introduction

The stage is set for the Super Bowl LIII. On February 3rd, 2019, the New England Patriots will take on the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Luckily for the NFL, the game has just enough controversy to make it one of the most watched Super Bowls in league history. Officiating decisions in the conference championships raise questions about whether or not each team deserved to advance to the Super Bowl. Nevertheless, all is set for a seemingly riveting match between the two franchises. However, given the current polarized social and political climate and the way in which President Donald J. Trump has consistently used sports–its rhetoric, cultural values and logics, and the NFL specifically–to advance his white supremacist brand of nationalism, this particular Super Bowl represents more than meets the eye.

In this blog post, we discuss the role the NFL has played in the development of white nationalist politics over the last two decades. Specifically, we recount how the first Super Bowl meeting after 9/11 and between the Rams/Patriots in 2002 was politicized through a white-centered populist patriotism that was part of a broader ‘soft’ white cultural nationalism that emerged in Bush’s America, how they grew through the Obama presidency (i.e., Birtherism and Tea Party movement), and how they play out through the NFL in the Trump presidency. Trump strategically politicizes the NFL as a means of casting himself as a strongman, populist politician aligned with whites anxious and resentful of the changing norms of American culture and society wrought by globalization, feminism, and multiculturalism. Even further, Trump’s invocations of the NFL serve as a conduit through which he has communicated his white nationalist project. And although these socio-cultural dynamics often go unnoticed by many casual fans, political pundits, and even some academics alike, once unveiled they reveal how sport is far more than simply a game.

Revisiting SBXXXVI and George W. Bush’s America

In the 2001-2002 NFL season, the New England Patriots made a “magical” run to Super Bowl XXXVI to face the St. Louis Rams. The media’s framing of the Patriots’ saga was largely fueled by the institutional response to the horrific events of September 11, 2001 (9/11) just five months earlier. At that time, professional sport leagues, especially the NFL, were increasingly politicized, performing multiple cultural functions: returning a sense of “normalcy” in a post-9/11 America, uniting Americans and providing a sense of healing, offering massive displays of patriotism and militaristic might. Whether it was the designation of Super Bowl XXXVI as a National Security Special Event (the first sport event to be designated as such), the militarization of local police units, or the dozens of nationalistic events held before, during, and after the game, this first meeting between the Patriots/Rams offered a uniquely white, masculine, and nationalistic stage for the framing of an emergent post-9/11 American national identity. Through the overtly white-masculinized and nationalistic event of Super Bowl XXXVI, political leaders manufactured a large-scale cultural event that consolidated and normalized what it meant to be an American as a narrowly defined idea of white-masculinist militarism. The NFL itself is quite proud of their display in Super Bowl XXXVI as suggested by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who recently reflected on the passing of George H. W. Bush:

We witnessed his integrity, humility and grace on a number of occasions, including at Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans where he participated in the coin toss ceremony and helped Americans begin to heal from the tragedy of September 11.

The post-9/11 brand of “superpatriotism” and the mythologizing of football as a cultural panacea became a defining feature of nationalist politics in the US under George W. Bush. In the years following Super Bowl XXXVI, white nationalism would continue mainstream as the NFL took on a more prominent role in the politics of “patriotism.”

White nationalism in a post-9/11 US

As Ducat (2004) and Faludi (2007) document, some conservative culture warriors who long complained about political correctness, feminism, and multiculturalism seized on the tragic events of 9/11 and blamed them for making the country vulnerable to attack. Promulgated through Fox News and conservative talk-radio among other cultural sites, together these laments formed a “white cultural nationalism” that attempted to reproduce whiteness as American cultural norm in the name of patriotism and love of country. Most often, this white cultural nationalism was not expressed in virtiolic terms, but through an affirmative centering and valorization of everymen like New York City police, firefighters, and first responders who came to the rescue of those who suffered as a result of the 9/11, and the armed forces more broadly via the War on Terror. Valorization of these American everymen became a way of praising a strong, tough, performance of white manliness that, according to social conservatives, was being squeezed out of American culture by feminism and political correctness. As Andrew Sullivan put it, “One of the most welcome cultural shifts after September 11 may well be the re-emergence of traditional masculinity as something no-one need apologize for” (cited from King, 2009, 13).

Unsurprisingly, US sports’ media became a prominent conduit and purveyor of the racialized, populist, masculinist tropes and logics of this ‘soft’ white nationalism. These ideas crystallized in the media spectacle made of former NFL player, Pat Tillman’s choice to forgo his lucrative career to serve in the War on Terror and then on the occasion of his untimely death in Afghanistan (under dubious circumstances). Social conservatives in particular lionized Tillman as an ideal white male hard-bodied patriot-citizen. At the 2004 NFL Draft, then commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, honored Tillman by describing him as personifying “the best values of America and the National Football League” (cited from Kusz, 2015), while NFL fans attending the draft acknowledged Tillman by temporarily putting aside their team loyalties and collectively chanting: “USA! USA! USA!” Professional football’s key role for the enunciation of white cultural nationalism in the post-9/11 era was essential for the development of Trump’s white nationalist project to ‘Make America Great Again.’

Trump, white nationalism, and the NFL

This white cultural nationalism became more pointed and virulent in reaction to the Obama presidency (i.e. Birtherism and Tea Party movement). These impulses, of course, were stoked and ennobled by Trump, first, as the most vocal proponent of Birtherism questioning Obama’s Americanness and his right to be president and later through Trump’s explicitly racist and xenophobic anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric, his repeated re-tweets of white supremacist propaganda, his racialized immigration policies and proposals, his equivocation on the hate and violence enacted in Charlottesville, Virginia by alt-right and older white supremacists in the summer of 2017, and finally his open embrace of the ‘nationalist’ label in 2018.

But even before Charlottesville, during the 2016 campaign, Trump regularly communicated the values and norms of his white nationalism through his associations with white sportsmen (Kusz, 2016). He drew on the language of sports, lionizing these men (and others like them) as ‘real athletes’ and ‘winners’ at his rallies, to outline his white nationalist aims (Oates & Kusz, in press). And not only would Trump name-drop white sports figures at rallies, but he would actively look to attack the protests of NFL players protesting police brutality and systemic oppression. Through his use of white sportsmen and black athletic protesters like Kaepernick and others as political props, Trump made clear how his nationalist project to ‘make America great again’ opens up space for unapologetic, omnipotent performances of white masculinity as it seeks to contain, silence, and dehumanize all people of color, religious minorities, and immigrants who refuse to accept and defer to the prerogative of white Christian men to decide and lead American cultural and institutional life (Kusz, 2016).

Super Bowl LIII, Trump, and Tom Brady

A key figure in this year’s Super Bowl, like so many recently, will be New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady. As fans ready themselves for Super Bowl LIII, they should not forget that the prophet of pliability is on record for calling President Trump a ‘good friend.’ Their friendship began when Trump invited the newly minted Super Bowl champion to be a judge at a beauty pageant following Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. From there, they bonded on golf courses; very likely, through being one of the boys, trading in ‘locker room talk’ and fantasies of (white) male omnipotence. Recall also that it was Brady who unapologetically displayed a MAGA hat in his locker and who refused to denounce Trump’s xenophobic anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric when pressed by reporters.

Brady is idolized as a great leader not just because of his on-the-field accomplishments (of which he has many), but also because, he embodies the ideal of white male omnipotence at the heart of Trump’s white nationalism. Yet, he concurrently represents a way of being a white American that pretends one can remain neutral about Trump’s white nationalism and broader issues of racial (in)justice. It is precisely this willful ignorance of contemporary American racial realities as much as his five Super Bowl rings that enables Brady to be imagined as an ideal leader in the conservative white imagination. This lionization of Brady as a great leader evinces how white racial ignorance is enabled and white racial innocence protected through the narratives that produce and nourish NFL fandom. It’s why alt-right leader and avowed white nationalist, Richard Spencer, labeled Brady “an Aryan avatar” and claimed the Patriots’ historic comeback in SB LI as a victory “for Trump, the #AltRight, and White America” through a series of joyous Super Bowl Sunday tweets just months after Trump took office (Chabba, 2017).

Thus, as we approach the rematch between the Rams and the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, the fallout from Trump’s government shutdown, further militarization of domestic spaces, and other constituents of the realizing dystopia, it’s important to emphasize the essential nature of white nationalist politics in and through the NFL. Super Bowl LIII is more than just an isolated sporting event that celebrates masculinity, racial politics, and capitalism. Football, post 9/11 superpatriotism, the mainstreaming of white nationalism over the last few decades, and Trump’s brand of white nationalism today are not anomalous events happening in silos. They are a more calculated and systemic push toward the continued nationalization of white masculine militarism, the political expression stemming from the contradiction of white masculine impotence. Therefore, we must continue to disentangle the sporting politic so that we may better understand the cultural tools through which white nationalism is cultivated as well as understanding and naming the white elites who seek to use these tools to further their own political program. Because only then can we be in a position to counter the corrosive culture of white nationalism.

Author Bios:

Anthony Weems is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Division of Sport Management at Texas A&M University. His research interests revolve around the social structure of sport and sporting organizations and the roles sport plays in broader social and cultural contexts.

Kyle Kusz is an Associate Professor at the University of Rhode Island and the author of Revolt of The White Athlete (Peter Lang, 2007). His research critically examines how discourses involving sport function as political terrains where struggles take place over what ideas race, gender, class, and nation will form public common sense at various times in history.

Swedish Racism: Engineering a False Image of Democratic Solidarity

When I, Masoud Kamali, arrived to Sweden as a political refugee from Iran in 1987, I had heard a lot about Sweden. While serving time as a political prisoner in Iran, one of my first images of Sweden came from an article that I had read in Iran’s major newspaper, Keyhan, when I was in jail in Iran in late 1970s. It was about Sweden’s charismatic Prime Minister Olof Palme. The article contained a picture of Palme walking his bicycle on the grounds of Stockholm’s famous Citadel and gathering money for the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua. As a leftist believing in a socialist revolution at that time, my prison-mates and I were very impressed by a country in which the Prime Minister dared openly support a leftist/Marxist movement.

At the time that Olof Palme was assassinated in 1986, I had been arrested and jailed in Turkey for trying to leave the country illegally, since I did not have a valid passport and visa. I remember that I could not control my tears since he had become a symbol of democracy and solidarity for me. Though Palme was remarkable for many reasons, his anti-Vietnam war campaign and strong opposition to Apartheid in South Africa were among his impressive political stances.

A few years later in 1989, I began studying Sociology at the University of Linköping in Sweden. Initially and for the first time, I felt that I had another identity instead of just being a “refugee.” Given my student status, I envisioned that my peers with Swedish backgrounds and I would be treated as equals. However, I would quickly learn that (GWF) Hegel was wrong; the abstract could not be understandable if it turns into concrete human action. On the contrary, in many cases quite the opposite is true. Abstract declarations of “Human Rights” and “equality of human beings” propagated by the Swedish government become meaningless when actualized as concrete action. I was not welcome to my Swedish classmate’s “after work” gatherings and to other “student activities.” I realized very soon that even questions such as “Do you like Sweden?” or “Are you happy to be in Sweden?,” were not neutral inquiries and should not be answered in accordance with your actual feelings and genuine sentiments. Such questions are master narrative scripts to be answered subserviently with responses like “Absolutely” (as in “Yes, sir boss!”) in order to “fit in” not as part of a Swedish group but rather in the token role of an “immigrant” who is a symbol of Swedish generosity and solidarity.

In other words, in a (Emile) Durkheimian manner, “if you will be integrated, you should accept your place in society.” Comments such as “You are coming from another culture” and “our cultures are so different” should be accepted without any objection, clarification, or nuance. In lectures on theories of “modernity,” when my professor pointed to me as an example of “those coming from non-modern or traditional societies,” I was not supposed to say anything about centuries of modernization and modern revolutions in Iran. By the way, this is a topic that I eventually explored in my book Revolutionary Iran published by Routledge. I felt that I had to be quiet and even show approval for being “considered a fact” that proved “Western modernization theory.” Against this arrogant and fake ‘fact’ constructed in European (post)colonial academic circles, I published another book on the subject, titled Multiple Modernities, Civil Society, and Islam (Liverpool University Press 2006). I hoped to contribute to opening the narrow imperialist and colonial eyes of West-centric academics.

“To Think Freely is Great, but to Think Rightly is Greater”

I realized very soon that there is a “double morality” or “double standard” in Sweden: a private domain and a public domain. However, for any individual to “fit in” society the public domain is much more important. This means that what you think is not important and should not be expressed publicly, or you will be held accountable or even harmed by failing to “think rightly.” This quote—“To think freely is great, but to think rightly is greater,”—by eighteenth century jurist Thomas Thorild is prominently engraved in gold at the entrance of the Grand Auditorium of Uppsala University’s Main Administration Building. Though intended in theory as a quote that promotes social justice, in practice it discourages people from thinking and speaking candidly and honestly because if you do not “think rightly” you will be labelled and sanctioned as being “deviant.”

I have experienced the negative sanctions of “thinking freely” and, worse than that, of communicating my free and honest thoughts publicly in Swedish journalistic and other media outlets. Thinking freely is not a problem as long as you keep your thoughts to yourself or only express them in a very private circle; but “thinking freely” and publicly is strictly taboo. I realized very soon that I had to adjust my thoughts to the tyranny of thinking rightly, which in some cases forced me to “lie.” I tried to convince myself that such “lies” were necessary in order to make parts of my free-thinking public. One of my earliest experiences of “thinking rightly” in Sweden went back to early 1990s. While completing my Master’s degree in Sociology at Uppsala University in 1993, I lived in a dormitory and shared a kitchen with 12 other students. During a dinner in the kitchen as the Swedish Parliamentary Elections were approaching, I asked one of my Swedish friends for which party he was going to vote. He tried to reformulate my inquiry, change the subject and avoid answering my question. When I asked my other dorm mates, they did the same. I felt ignorant and tried to understand why in a democratic society like Sweden, people do not openly discuss their democratic political positions and beliefs. I received several different, but unconvincing, answers. Several years later as I began academic research and writing about white racism and integration in Sweden, many Swedish colleagues and acquaintances would often say to me, “You say what you think” or “You are not afraid of saying what you think.” This repetitive observation was a bit confusing at the beginning. Why were Swedes stating the obvious? I thought that in a democracy you should not be afraid of saying what you think.

When I finished my doctoral education and received my PhD in Sociology from Uppsala University (the “Harvard” of Sweden), I started participating in the public debate on white racism in Swedish media. Experience had taught me that instead of speaking about “racism” in Sweden, you should speak about “integration.” Therefore, I tried to find a compromise by focusing upon “ethnic discrimination” when both conducting research and talking about the experiences of People of Color in Sweden. In other words, I tried to adjust myself to Swedish public norms, by following the custom of “do not say what you think” but adjust yourself to what you are expected to say. Since I was a frequent analyst in Swedish media and often making comments about migration and integration, politicians started contacting me and inviting me in their “inner circles.” As I became a social analyst of importance with expertise on issues of diversity and inclusion, politicians and political parties sought me for their own political agendas. My early political contacts with three Swedish Integration Ministers and other important politicians convinced me that in Sweden racism was “a non-issue” that one should never mention or discuss.

Early Scientific Racism: Swedish Origins

Reading the history of white racism in Sweden made me more concerned about the contemporary denial of racism. Sweden is a country in which one of the earliest institutes of “scientific racism,” namely “The State Institute for Racial Biology” was established in 1922 in Uppsala. The establishment of the institute was a legacy result of the Swedish botanist Carl von Linnaeus’ “Theory of Races” that was elaborated in his book, Systema Naturae, published in 1735. Linnaeus divided human beings into a race-hierarchy based on the color of their skin and their hair. Whites were, of course, the best race and were attributed with the best moral properties in contrast to “blacks,” “yellows,” and “reds,” who were placed under whites’ supremacy. The Institute survived even World War II and changed its name to the “Medical Biological Research Center” in 1958.

This Swedish racist history has also influenced the question of migration. The famous Swedish social democratic inquiry into the “Crisis in the Population Question” was co-authored by Gunnar Myrdal, along with his wife Alva Myrdal, because of concerns about the shortage of the working population in Sweden during the early 1930s. This book suggested that lack the same “qualities” as Swedes. This is the same Gunnar Myrdal who was a famous sociologist that was very critical of racial segregation in the United States and who criticized the disconnect between US ideals about equality and the inhumane treatment of Black Americans in his famous book, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. In contrast to what he suggested for the U.S., Myrdal claimed that Sweden should introduce policies for Swedes to give birth to more (white) “Swedish children” instead of allowing immigration. Notwithstanding such racist attitudes, the policy was not successful and after World War II the country was forced to actively invite migrant workers to Sweden. However, the migrants were considered “guest workers” who were supposed to return home when Sweden did not need them anymore.

Several years later and after a public debate on the question of “the failed Swedish integration policies,” I was appointed by the Swedish government as the head of a governmental inquiry called The Governmental Inquiry into Power, integration and Structural Discrimination in early 2004. Though an honorable, important, and well-intended appointment, as the saying goes, “Good intentions pave the road to Hell!” One Swedish professor who I assumed was my friend warned me:

You have not a clue who you are going to fight against, there are hidden powers in this country; nothing is going to be the same for you as it was before the investigation; you will not even be able to get a job in this country, they are everywhere and very influential.

Since I saw my fight against Swedish racism as an inseparable part of my struggle for social justice, and as a former human and civil rights revolutionary who participated in the Iranian Revolution of 1979, I convinced myself that heading a governmental investigation regarding racialized power inequities was the right thing to do. I thought that people have lost their lives in struggles for humanity and many are losing their hopes and dignity because of the existence of racism in the world in general and in Sweden in particular. Though only one individual on a global battle field, I was determined to do whatever I could to change the racist institutions and structures in Sweden. I have to admit though that I underestimated the huge resistance to the investigation and the role of powerful institutions, entities, and persons in opposing me and my investigation.

Once I accepted the position of Chief Investigator for a research-based governmental inquiry into racism and discrimination in Sweden, my future life and professional career were forced down that road paved to Hell. I was misrepresented as a trouble maker who “calls gentle Swedes” racists and characterizes the solidarity based Swedish society as a racially biased society. A few days after my appointment as the Chief Investigator, more than 70 Swedish professors and academics led by a leading professor at Gothenburg University wrote a petition to the government and attacked the Minister of Integration for “devaluating the Swedish investigation system” with the appointment of me (Masoud Kamali) as a major governmental investigator. They wrote that “the Swedish governmental investigation system has, prior to Kamali’s appointment, had an excellent scientific quality, which now is at risk of destruction.” In order to defend my scientific and human dignity against such racist attacks, I participated in a debate with the leading professor on Swedish Radio where I said the following:

I received my entire academic training in Sweden and in Swedish universities and if there is any problem with my academic training and my academic merits, the same critics should logically be directed towards the leading professor and other Swedish professors who signed the petition.

The professors did not even take a moment to check where I received my academic education and training. Assuming that my higher education was entirely from Iran and not from Sweden, they accused me of not being as “good an academician” as they (Swedish whites) were.

In an interview when I mentioned the role of “The State Institute of Racial Biology” and the racist theories of Linneaus for perpetuating racist ideology in Sweden as well as their consequences for institutional discrimination against people with immigrant and/or minority backgrounds, I received a huge number of threatening letters and phone calls telling me to leave the country if I did not like it. I was familiar with such racist attacks whenever I was in the Swedish news media spotlight, but the extent of the attacks after the investigation far exceeded the attacks before I led the investigation.

The attacks, however, did not come only from openly racist groups, but also from academicians, politicians and even the Social Democratic Party, which had appointed me as the investigator. I was supposed to “be kind” to the governing party, the Social Democrats. It was a period of huge pressure on me from different political parties and groups who sought to influence the investigation. Empirical findings from the first report of the investigation that was titled “Beyond Us and Them” emphasized the need to change the focus of the problems of integration from “the others” to problematical Swedish institutional arrangements and structures. This was what Gunnar Myrdal had suggested for the United States, but not for Sweden. The new Integration Minister, Jens Orback, publicly declared that “I am not sharing Masoud Kamali’s analysis of the problem of integration.” This was followed by many journalists’ and other politicians’ attack on me for “being anti-Swede” and “an immigrant who did not understand the Swedish solidary history.” Though the findings from the governmental investigation were scientific publications written by 130 Swedish experts and international experts in the area, many Swedes, who for many decades presented themselves and their country as champions of democracy and solidarity, did not like my candid reports.

As my leadership of The Governmental Inquiry into Power, Integration, and Structural Discrimination came to an end in 2006, a long campaign of destructive individual and institutional racism against me began. Instead of accepting scientific findings that empirically challenged the essentialist claim of white Swedes and Sweden as the champions of solidarity in the world, powerful people, entities, and institutions scapegoated me as a prime enemy against their imagined Swedish utopia.

Twenty years after the assassination of Olof Palme, it became crystal clear to me that members of the democracy that I once believed in would invest far more energy and resources into denying harsh inequities than becoming the democracy that Palme stood and died for.

(Part one of a three-part essay).

Dr. Masoud Kamali
Uppsala January 2019

A Day for Education on White Racism

Each year in mid-January, many Americans celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday in service, in protest, or in worship. Marking King’s birthday represents a hard-won political, cultural and moral victory in the U.S.

Yet, it is one that many of those in power voted against establishing the King holiday, including senators Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, John McCain, Richard Shelby, and Johnny Isakson. The New York Times has published a definitive record of the overt, documented racism of the current occupant of the highest elected office. And, it’s no coincidence that the some of the same GOP leaders who opposed establishing the holiday for MLK are among those who defend the president.

It is unavoidably clear that white Americans are not doing their share of educating themselves about racism, a point that Dr. King made more than fifty years ago.

 

 

If you’re one of those who wants to educate themselves more, but doesn’t know where to begin, check out Raoul Peck’s award-winning documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” which features some never-before published writing by James Baldwin who had quite a lot to say about race and racism in the U.S.
 

 

Remembering the Radical Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



April 4, 1968, about 6:01pm. We should always remember that time. It has now been 50+ years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He was moving conceptually and in his actions in a more radical direction combining antiracist, broader anticlass, and antiwar efforts—which efforts likely had much to do with his assassination.King (Photo: Wiki-images)

I remember the day vividly, like it was yesterday, and can still remember the time of day when one of my students at the University of California called me to tell of the terrible event, and I can still remember well my and his extraordinarily distressed emotions as we talked about the shooting. (We did not know Dr. King had died at that time.) He was one of the few African American students then at that university and as one would expect was devastated by the event, as I was too.

The events leading up to Dr. King’s assassination need to be taught everywhere. In late March 1968 Dr. King and other civil rights leaders participated in and supported the local Memphis sanitary works employees, black and white, who were striking for better wages and working condition. (They were also building up coalitions across the various groups of Black civil rights and Black power movements, including a few years earlier between Dr. King and Malcolm X and their supporters.)

Conditions in Memphis, as elsewhere, were very oppressive for workers, in both racial and class terms, as this summary makes clear:

In one incident, black street repairmen received pay for two hours when they were sent home because of bad weather, but white employees were paid for the full day.

King gave his last (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”) speech at a rally for the workers at the Mason Temple in Memphis.
This is the famous section near the end of his prophetic speech, where he reflects on death threats he had often received:

We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.

Let us remember him well, and especially his prophetic antiracist, anti-capitalistic, and antiwar messages, on this King holiday, 2019.