2015 Year in Review

As 2015 comes to a close, this is my take on the most important trends and events of the last year in the ongoing struggle against racism.

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Black Lives Matter

What started as a hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in 2014, created by three Black, queer-identified women Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, has grown into a full-fledged social movement in 2015. The movement not only shows no signs of going away, it’s become a political force to be reckoned with.  Here, Shantel Buggs and Noel Cazenave wrote about the problems with the white counter-narrative of “all lives matter,” and Lessie Branchhttp://www.racismreview.com/blog/2015/09/06/elisabeth-hasselbeck-fox-and-hate-grouplabels/ wrote about the call from conservative media to have Black Lives Mattered declared a “hate group.”

 Racism on College Campus

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In March of this year, members of a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma were captured on video singing a racist chant. The fraternity was eventually closed and two of the young men in the video were expelled from OU. Here, Edna Chun wrote about the lower salaries for faculty of color.

In the fall of this year, we witnessed the spread of the movement to college campuses. At the vanguard of this movement were the students at the University of Missouri, who galvanized their campus over the fall semester, ultimately leading to the ouster of the chancellor and a dean. Similar protests emerged at campuses across the U.S., including at Ithaca College, Smith College, Claremont McKenna College, and Yale University. At the University of Missouri, the tipping point of the protests seemed to be when the football team got involved and said they would refuse to play until the chancellor stepped down (he resigned a short time later).

Here, Darron Smith wrote about the long tradition of black athletes and social protest.  Eduardo Bonilla-Silva wrote a short piece about the “racial innocence game” that is used by whites to defend against charges of systemic racism on campuses.

Police Brutality & Murder

US police killings by race 2015

(image from The Counted, The Guardian)

Much of the social unrest in 2015 was driven by the systematic police brutality and murder of black people, particularly young, black men. The U.S. government does not collect data on murder by police, so it is left to journalists and activists and data scientists to do this important work, through projects like The Counted from The Guardian and Mapping Police Violence,

The situation of police violence in the U.S. is so egregiously in violation of international human rights standards, that in 2015 the United Nations made dozens of recommendations for eliminating racial discrimination and tackling excessive use of police force, including the creation of an independent commission to prosecute racially motivated crimes (which the U.S. declined to do).

Here, I wrote about why grand juries fail to indict officers, the fact that police-involved killings continue with no end in sight and police continue to get rewarded for killing citizens and what no one will say when a cop gets killed.

Terrorism, Islamophobia & White Supremacy

Terrorist attacks in Paris – in February and then again in November – led the headlines of global mainstream media outlets and fueled Islamophobia here in the U.S. The response to the attacks in February, in which many rallied around the slogan ‘Je Suis Charlie’ (for the magazine, Charlie Hebdo, that was targeted) drew a good deal of criticism. Here, Raul Perez and Sean Elias both offered critical takes on the whiteness of the Je Suis Charlie marches, as well as the racism of the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

Je Suis Charlie protest in France

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Muslims of all nationalities are racialized in the U.S. lens, as Saher Selod explained here. This form of racism had deadly consequences for three Muslim Americans in , Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were shot and killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

As the Syrian refugee crisis worsened, the racialization of Muslims did as well, as Dr. Terence Fitzgerald explained here.

Overall in the U.S. and beyond, there was a reluctance by government officials and reporters to call any acts of violence “terrorism” that involved white men (yes, they’ve all been men) doing the violence. I wrote about this reluctance to name white terrorism in the shooting at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Spring and the deep roots in white supremacy of such acts, back in November.

Mass Murder, African American Church Arsons

Perhaps the most shocking act of white terrorism in 2015 was the murder of nine people during a Bible study. The Charleston shooting victims – Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; and Myra Thompson, 59 – are a painful reminder that the violence of white supremacy costs lives.

Here, Sophie Bjork-James wrote about the shooter’s involvement on the Internet prior to the attack, Terence Fitzgerald asked important questions about the denial of truths in South Carolina, and I asked why is it always a white guy, and made the connection to other acts of white supremacist violence, like the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. President Obama looked for grace amidst the terrible carnage.

In the days following that attack, there were a string of arsons at African American churches.

Racism & Presidential Politics

As our first black president winds down his second term, Kimberley Ducey wrote about the persistent and pervasive racism that Obama faces. I wondered about racial justice after Obama. While his presidency has broken an important symbolic barrier, his policies have done little to address systemic racism in the U.S., and his use of drones for killing of those deemed terrorist threats is arguably one of the biggest drivers of global terrorism.

José Cobas has looked at how several of the candidates have responded to the issues and concerns of Latino/a voters, including Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. Trump seems to intent on creating his own cottage industry of anti-Latino racism, and anti-Latino racism has very real consequences for housing, as Maria Chavez explained.  Cobas has also written about the bumbling mainstream media attempts at reporting on Latino/a issues and a failed attempt by NBC to meet with Latino leaders.

Cara Canelmo wrote about the appeal of Ben Carson, and I critiqued Hillary Clinton as good for white feminism but bad for racial justice at the launch of her presidential campaign in April.

Complicated Role of Social Media

There’s much to say about the complicated role of social media and racism. Whether you want to argue that social media is driving liberation movements like black lives matter or that trolls and racist commenters, and white supremacists find a resurgent purpose online, you are both right and wrong. The reality is somewhere in the messy middle of these two.

In writing about social media and racism here, Kishonna Gray wrote about the systematically embedded discrimination that black gamers involved in Microsoft’s Xbox experience.

Shantel Buggs wrote about the importance of race in online dating – and the fact that any discussion of it is missing in on the most popular sociological titles of the year, Modern Romance.

In Germany, the government reached an agreement with Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove hate speech online within 24 hours. When I called for similar response to hate speech online here in the U.S., it still gets pretty widely regarded as outlandish.

Barring the possibility of government action, the usefulness of posting racist videos and emails online for public view and as a strategy for disrupting white-only backstage racism is a source of some hope. Of course, this hope is tempered by the fact that many whites refuse to be shamed by such public disclosures.



As always, there were milestones this year – remarkable people and events that were commemorated.

As Sean Elias wrote in this salute, the still living and quite remarkable Rep. John Conyers was honored for his activism in the civil rights movement and his distinguished career in the U.S. Congress.

In March, President Obama and thousands of others marked the 50th anniversary of the march at Selma in 1965.

And, April 21 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Pedro Albizu Campos, a leader of the struggle to free Puerto Rico from US colonial rule.

This year also marked the 50th anniversary of the Moynihan Report, a racist, poverty-shaming report, Susan Greenbaum called it.  Stephen Steinberg offered an in-depth analysis of the research behind the report and what got left out.

April also marked the 23rd anniversary of the LA Riots, which many linked to the uprising in Baltimore.


This year we were also gifted by some amazing art, writing, and creative projects in the struggle against racism.  Art, as Edna Chun points out, can be part of the healing process.


One of my favorite pieces of work this year was the reporting of Nikole Hannah-Jones on school segregation now.  In addition to the magazine reporting she also collaborated with This American Life for a podcast series on the same topic.  If you haven’t listened to it, stop what you’re doing and go listen to it now. It’s so good – and so terrible.


As per usual for me, I watched a ton of documentaries this year, and several of them are relevant for folks reading here and interested in racism. Stanley Nelson’s Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution, is excellent, if a bit skewed to favor the men in the party. It would make a wonderful teaching companion to Alondra Nelson’s terrific book, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination (University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

The Seven-Five, is ostensibly a documentary about police corruption in the NYPD, but my resistive read of the film is that it is all about a particular kind of white masculinity and the homoerotic bond between cops.

I also really appreciated, if not quite enjoyed, What Happened Miss Simone? as a kind of exploration of the madness that racism and sexism create when it crushes the spirit of a genius.


I read a lot this year, too, and several books have stayed with me:

Ta-Nahesi Coates seems to be everywhere this year and his Between the World and Me has received well-deserved praise. That said, I don’t think Coates is the next Baldwin (apologies to Professor Morrison), but that’s a subject for another time.  I was really affected by Claudia Rankine’s, Citizen: an American lyric, for the way it plays with form, it rests somewhere between prose and poetry.

For academic sociology books on racism, I found Paula Ioanide, The Emotional Politics of Racism: How Feelings Trump Facts in the Era of Colorblindnessto be a timely intervention into the current political landscape. The subtitle “how feelings trump facts” is not intended to be a play on the leading republican candidate, but it could very well be.



Standing with you in struggle.


Racism in 2012: Year End Review

As 2012 draws to a close, I pulled together some of the biggest news in racism for the year.

Election Politics – Of course, much of the year we were focused on the racism in election politics.

White Male Shooters  – In some of the saddest news of the year, 2012 was bracketed by white male shooters unleashing violence on innocent strangers.

  • In January, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on a crowd at an Arizona political rally, killing 6 and injuring 14.
  • In August, white supremacist Wade M. Page walked into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, where he shot and killed 7 people.
  • In December, Adam Lanza killed 26 people, including 20 children at an elementary school in Connecticut. With this most recent shooting, some in the mainstream press began to identify white men as a group that “should be profiled,” a point that Joe Feagin has been making for many years.



Racial Profiling – Racial profiling was in the news a great deal this year, and was implicated in at least one death.

  • The senseless killing of teenager Trayvon Martin seemed to be case of racial profiling taken to a violent extreme when volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman perceived the unarmed Martin as a “threat” and shot him.
  • Racial Profiling is not only an issue in the U.S., it is also characteristic of policing in France as well.
  • In the city where I live, racial profiling combines with racial disparities in marijuana arrests and results in over 400,000 Black and Latino young men needlessly caught up in the criminal justice system each year.

Law & Economy  – Institutions, such as the law and the economy, are fundamental to the perpetuation of racism.

Athletics – There were some new stars in athletics who faced racism. 

  • Gabrielle Douglas won a gold medal in gymnastics at the Olympics, yet faced a huge wave of criticism about her hairstyle, which many saw rooted in racism.
  • Jeremy Lin played in the NBA after a less-than-stellar college basketball career, and sparked “Linsanity” from enthusiastic fans; others made racist jokes at his expense.
  • There remain significant racial barriers to becoming a coach in the NFL, as Michael R notes here.

Passages – We lost some people who played a role in racial politics.


  • Rodney King, focus of a shocking video of police brutality, and when officers were acquitted in that beating, he famously tried to quell rioting by asking “Can’t we all just get along?” – died.  He was 47.
  • Russell Means, a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), and an Ogala Sioux Indian, died.  He was 72.


Personal Essays – We were delighted to post a couple of really moving personal essays from guest bloggers.


Hate & Violence – Overt racist hate and violence continued in 2012.

Technology – Despite claims that Internet technology would usher in a new era in which “there is no race,” racism continues to be built into our technologies.



Culture – Sometimes, when I consider the progress that’s been achieved around racism, I think some of the most important progress is achieved in culture, both popular culture and more rarefied high culture.


Viral Videos – The year 2012 was a good one for viral videos about racism.

  • Stuff White Girls Say took off and made a point about the racism of white women.
  • Similarly, Randy Newman skewered white people in his spoof of his old song “Short People.”
  • Somewhat unintentionally, the highly crafted marketing video “Kony 2012” ended up being about racism as well in its facile portrayal of ‘evil’ in Africa in need of ‘white saviors.’

Documentaries – I continue to believe that documentaries can be a crucial tool in the effort to bring about racial justice.


May 2013 bring more racial justice!




The Year in Racism: 2009 Year-End Review

‘Tis the season of year-end lists (including these two excellent lists about racism from The Grio and AlterNet).  We bring you our own year-end review of racism.

First, a quick overview of racism in 2009. There were several prevalent themes this year in stories about race and racism.   Chiefly, the most amazing and oft-reported story was the inauguration of the first African American to the office of the President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama.  This fact made news both signifier and reality, as did the racist backlash against him.  Another frequent theme in 2009 was the impact of racism on health, the reality of health disparities and racism in the health care debate.   Economics, economic meltdown and the overrepresentation of white (straight) men in the role of perpetrators of the financial collapse and the overrepresentation of brown and black folks among those receiving the impact of that disaster was a major story.   The persistent problem of pollice brutality and the disproportionate impact on black men continued to be a serious issue.  Mainstream media’s racist representation, especially the NYPost and CNN, garnered strong critique this year.   And, the possible consequences of hate speech became all too real when an avowed white supremacist, James Von Brunn, opened fire at the Washington, D.C. Holocaust museum.  The shooting, and several incidents on Facebook, also highlighted the rise in cyber racism; there was also a notable success in fighting white supremacy via the web.   The year 2009 also marked some milestones:  John Hope Franklin, Ronald Takaki, and Percy Sutton died, each one a hero in different ways.   In 2009, we saw the first all black female flight crew, first woman of color on the Supreme Court of the U.S. And, all in the category of “a step in the right direction”:  Lou Dobbs resigned from CNN, an immigrant student wrongly targeted for immigration was granted a reprieve, and a swimming pool club accused of racist exclusion of would-be swimmers in July, closed in November.

Here’s the month-by-month breakdown.

That’s my take on the year-end review of racism.

“Gran Torino,” White Masculinity & Racism

HarryThe recently released film “Gran Torino,” which Clint Eastwood stars in, directs and partially scores, is being hailed as a tour de force of filmmaking and a harbinger of a hopeful future by many critics.   The review of the film that appeared in The New York Times entitled, “Hope for a Racist, and Maybe a Country,” written by Manhola Dargis, is characteristic of the kind of praise the film is receiving (Creative Commons License photo credit: Daquella manera).  The film also reveals a good deal about white masculinity and racism.  [WARNING: *SPOILERS* follow]

The plot of “Gran Torino” revolves around Walt Kowalski (played by Eastwood), a Korean war veteran, a retired autoworker, and an extremely misanthropic and apparently deeply racist man.  The film opens just after the death of Kowalski’s wife.  His grandchildren are shallow and self-absorbed, and Kowalski has no interest in nor affection for them.   His two grown sons are anti-Eastwood figures of masculinity: weak, ineffectual men, dominated by their shrewish, materialistic wives.  He has no interest in bonding with his parish priest, another representation of weak, white masculinity.   Kowalski is a loner and he likes it that way as he sits on his front porch, growling at people and drinking can after can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.   Kowalski seems incapable of interacting with a non-white person without using the most offensive racial epithets, and his racism is played mostly for laughs throughout the first part of the film.   This snarling character represents a particular form of white masculinity that relies on overt racism as a constituitive feature. Continue reading…