Racism – Online Writing

Describe in detail the racial and ethnic make-up of either your hometown and/or your high school.  How is racism visible within these spaces?  How might it impact this community without being visible?

 

Last day to participate September 10, 2013

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Op-Ed: End Racial Profiling Now (Participation)

Op-Ed: End Racial Profiling Now

Yesterday, the Baltimore Sun published an op-ed by Margaret Huang of the Rights Working Group and Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP on racial profiling.

The op-ed is published in it’s entirety below:

December 7, 20009

The End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) will soon be reintroduced by Rep. John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan, and Sen. Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin. Numerous incidents throughout American history have taught us that racial profiling not only fails as a law enforcement tool but ultimately makes us all less safe. Passage of ERPA would be an important step toward ending racial profiling.

Over a century ago, Leon Czolgosz walked up to President William McKinley with a concealed weapon and shot him. The Secret Service agent assigned to search the president’s visitors was focused on a “dark complexioned man” in line behind Czolgosz. Ironically, the same man whose appearance made the agent suspicious – Jim Parker, an African-American former constable – saved President McKinley from a third bullet.

In 1995, after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh, the white male assailant, fled while law enforcement officers looked for “Arab terrorists” whom they thought responsible.

Racial profiling does not always target minorities. In 2002, during the sniper attacks that terrorized Washington-area residents for months, police conducted surveillance searching for a disaffected white man with an accomplice, driving a white van. During that time, the actual culprits – an African-American man and boy who fit many of the characteristics of a serial killer, except that they were black – came into contact with police at least 10 times without being apprehended. How many lives would have been saved had race not been a part of the profile?

As airport security agents focused on people of Middle Eastern descent following the Sept. 11 attacks, Nathaniel Heatwole, a white college student, was able to smuggle knives, box cutters, bleach and other items onto at least six planes from February to September 2003. He then sent numerous e-mails to the Transportation Security Administration notifying them of his actions. It took the TSA more than a month to find the hidden items.

Just as history has shown that using race as a proxy for criminality is bad policy, history also shows that focusing on behavior over race is smart policy. When law enforcement officers eliminate race as a factor and instead rely on behavior, they catch more people who break the law. In the late 1990s, as a response to discrimination lawsuits, the U.S. Customs Service eliminated the use of race in deciding which individuals to stop and search for illegal contraband and instead began focusing on suspect behavior. Studies showed that this shift to “color-blind profiling techniques” increased the rate of productive searches (those leading to the discovery of illegal contraband or activity) by more than 300 percent.

Other examples in our nation’s history demonstrate that we can be smart and safe in our efforts to find people who break the law, as opposed to focusing on people’s race, gender or national origin. In the 1970s, the Secret Service relied on a presidential assassin profile that excluded females. After Sara Jane Moore took a shot at President Gerald Ford, the gender limitation was removed from this profile, a move that potentially saved President George H.W. Bush in 1992 when a young woman was arrested for threatening to kill him after bringing a rifle to a rally at which he was scheduled to speak.

Some enlightened members of Congress analyzed the culmination of evidence proving the ineffectiveness of racial profiling and introduced a bill that would ban racial profiling by federal, state and local law enforcement. The ERPA was first introduced in 2001 and gained bipartisan support. Unfortunately, after Sept. 11, misplaced fear stemmed the momentum for ERPA, and the U.S. government embarked on an era of intense profiling, rounding up more than 1,200 Arab, South Asian and Muslim men and holding them without charges.

Such action did not make us safer. In fact, the mass roundup within the United States after Sept. 11 never apprehended anyone subsequently officially linked to the attacks. An inspector general’s report later revealed that many of the detainees had been blocked from contacting attorneys and that some of them had been beaten or otherwise physically abused by guards in federal prisons.

Unfortunately, the scope of racial profiling is expanding. As the responsibility for enforcing immigration laws and finding undocumented immigrants has been increasingly delegated to state and local police, evidence of increased racial profiling is emerging across the country.

President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder have stated that ending racial profiling is a “priority.” The more than 40 members of Congress planning to reintroduce the ERPA agree.

It’s time to face the truth: Racial profiling is a violation of our constitutional and human rights, and it distracts the attention of law enforcement from real suspects, which puts all of us at risk. The ERPA should be passed this year, ensuring greater safety for all of our communities.
Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and CEO of the Baltimore-based NAACP. His e-mail is communications@naacpnet.org. Margaret Huang is executive director of the Rights Working Group. Her e-mail is mhuang@rightsworkinggroup.org.

What We Mean When We Say ‘Race Is a Social Construct’ (Participation)

What We Mean When We Say ‘Race Is a Social Construct’

In a world where Kevin Garnett, Harold Ford, and Halle Berry all check “black” on the census, even the argument that racial labels refer to natural differences in physical traits doesn’t hold up.
May 15 2013, 12:55 PM ET
WalterWhiteNAACP.jpg
Walter White. Chairman of the NAACP. Black dude. (The Walter White Project)

Andrew Sullivan and Freddie Deboer have two pieces up worth checking out. I disagree with Andrew’s (though I detect some movement in his position.) Freddie’s piece is entitled “Precisely How Not to Argue About Race and IQ.” He writes:

The problem with people who argue for inherent racial inferiority is not that they lie about the results of IQ tests, but that they are credulous about those tests and others like them when they shouldn’t be; that they misunderstand the implications of what those tests would indicate even if they were credible; and that they fail to find the moral, analytic, and political response to questions of race and intelligence.

I think this is a good point, but I want to expand it. Most of the honest writing I’ve seen on “race and intelligence” focuses on critiquing the idea of “intelligence.” So there’s lot of good literature on whether it can be measured, its relevance in modern society, whether intelligence changes across generations, whether it changes with environment, and what we mean when we say IQ. As Freddie mentions here, I had a mathematician stop past to tell me I needed to stop studying French, and immediately start studying statistics — otherwise I can’t possibly understand this debate.

It’s a fair critique. My response is that he should stop studying math and start studying history.

I am not being flip or coy. If you tell me that you plan to study “race and intelligence” then it is only fair that I ask you, “What do you mean by race?” It’s true I don’t always do math so well, but I understand the need to define the terms of your study. If you’re a math guy, perhaps your instinct is to point out the problems in the interpretation of the data. My instinct is to point out that your entire experiment proceeds from a basic flaw — no coherent, fixed definition of race actually exists.

The history bears this out. In 1856, Ralph Waldo Emerson delineated the significance of race:

It is race, is it not, that puts the hundred millions of India under the dominion of a remote island in the north of Europe. Race avails much, if that be true, which is alleged, that all Celts are Catholics, and all Saxons are Protestants; that Celts love unity of power, and Saxons the representative principle. Race is a controlling influence in the Jew, who, for two millenniums, under every climate, has preserved the same character and employments. Race in the negro is of appalling importance. The French in Canada, cut off from all intercourse with the parent people, have held their national traits. I chanced to read Tacitus “on the Manners of the Germans,” not long since, in Missouri, and the heart of Illinois, and I found abundant points of resemblance between the Germans of the Hercynian forest, and our Hoosiers, Suckers, and Badgers of the American woods.

Indeed, Emerson in 1835, saw race as central to American greatness:

The inhabitants of the United States, especially of the Northern portion, are descended from the people of England and have inherited the trais of their national character…It is common with the Franks to break their faith and laugh at it The race of Franks is faithless.

Emerson was not alone, as historian James McPherson points out, Southerners not only thought of themselves as a race separate from blacks, but as a race apart from Northern whites:

The South’s leading writer on political economy, James B. D. De Bow, subscribed to this Norman-Cavalier thesis and helped to popularize it in De Bow’s Review. As the lower-South states seceded one after another during the winter of 1860-61, this influential journal carried several long articles justifying secession on the grounds of irreconcilable ethnic differences between Southern and Northern whites. “The Cavaliers, Jacobites, and Huguenots, who settled the South, naturally hate, contemn, and despise the Puritans who settled the North,” proclaimed one of these articles. “The former are a master-race; the latter a slave race, the descendants of Saxon serfs.” The South was now achieving its “independent destiny” by repudiating the failed experiment of civic nationalism that had foolishly tried in 1789 to “erect one nation out of two irreconcilable peoples.”

Similarly, in 1899 William Z. Ripley wrote The Races of Europe, which sought to delineate racial difference through head-type:

The shape of the human head by which we mean the general proportions of length, breadth, and height, irrespective of the ” bumps ” of the phrenologist is one of the best available tests of race known. Its value is, at the same time, but imperfectly appreciated beyond the inner circle of professional anthropology. Yet it is so simple a phenomenon, both in principle and in practical application, that it may readily be of use to the traveller and the not too superficial observer of men.

To be sure, widespread and constant peculiarities of head form are less noticeable in America, because of the extreme variability of our population, compounded as it is of all the races of Europe; they seem also to be less fundamental among the American aborigines. But in the Old World the observant traveller may with a little attention often detect the racial affinity of a people by this means.

Two years later, Edward A. Ross sought to apprehend “The Causes of Race Superiority.” He saw the differences between the Arab “race” and the Jewish “race” as a central illustration:

It is certain that races differ in their attitude toward past and future. M. Lapie has drawn a contrast between the Arab and the Jew. The Arab remembers; he is mindful of past favors and past injuries. He harbors his vengeance and cherishes his gratitude. He accepts everything on the authority of tradition, loves the ways of his ancestors, forms strong local attachments, and migrates little. The Jew, on the other hand, turns his face toward the future. He is thrifty and always ready for a good stroke of business, will, indeed, join with his worst enemy if it pays. He is calculating, enterprising, migrant and ambitious

You can see more of this here.

Our notion of what constitutes “white” and what constitutes “black” is a product of social context. It is utterly impossible to look at the delineation of a “Southern race” and not see the Civil War, the creation of an “Irish race” and not think of Cromwell’s ethnic cleansing, the creation of a “Jewish race” and not see anti-Semitism. There is no fixed sense of “whiteness” or “blackness,” not even today. It is quite common for whites to point out that Barack Obama isn’t really “black” but “half-white.” One wonders if they would say this if Barack Obama were a notorious drug-lord.

When the liberal says “race is a social construct,” he is not being a soft-headed dolt; he is speaking an historical truth. We do not go around testing the “Irish race” for intelligence or the “Southern race” for “hot-headedness.” These reasons are social. It is no more legitimate to ask “Is the black race dumber than then white race?” than it is to ask “Is the Jewish race thriftier than the Arab race?”

The strongest argument for “race” is that people who trace their ancestry back to Europe, and people who trace most of their ancestry back to sub-Saharan Africa, and people who trace most of their ancestry back to Asia, and people who trace their ancestry back to the early Americas, lived isolated from each other for long periods and have evolved different physical traits (curly hair, lighter skin, etc.)

But this theoretical definition (already fuzzy) wilts under human agency, in a real world where Kevin Garnett, Harold Ford, and Halle Berry all check “black” on the census. (Same deal for “Hispanic.”) The reasons for that take us right back to fact of race as a social construct. And an American-centered social construct. Are the Ainu of Japan a race? Should we delineate darker South Asians from lighter South Asians on the basis of race? Did the Japanese who invaded China consider the Chinese the same “race?”

Andrew writes that liberals should stop saying “truly stupid things like race has no biological element.” I agree. Race clearly has a biological element — because we have awarded it one. Race is no more dependent on skin color today than it was on “Frankishness” in Emerson’s day. Over history of race has taken geography, language, and vague impressions as its basis.

“Race,” writes the great historian Nell Irvin Painter, “is an idea, not a fact.” Indeed. Race does not need biology. Race only requires some good guys with big guns looking for a reason.

Opinion: Minorities? Try ‘people of color’ (Participation)

Opinion: Minorities? Try ‘people of color’

Editor’s Note: Rinku Sen is the President and Executive Director of the Applied Research Center (ARC) and the publisher of Colorlines.com

By Rinku Sen, Special to CNN

(CNN) –With the news that, for the first time in U.S. history, the majority of American babies are not white, it should put to rest use of the term “minorities” as a reference to America’s black, Latino, Asian and Native American residents.

Nearly 30 years ago, I learned to think of myself as a person of color, and that shift changed my view of myself and my relationship to the people around me.

It is time for the entire nation, and our media in particular, to make the same move.

I am an Indian immigrant, and became a citizen in 1987.

My family came to the States in 1972 when I was five, just seven years after Congress passed the
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which removed bans on Asian immigration.

My father was a metallurgical engineer and we lived in predominantly white factory towns in New York and Pennsylvania.

All I ever wanted was to be fully American. But everything around me, from the population to the television, taught me that being American meant being white.

I lived in a household, similiar to others, where only white people were called Americans, and everyone else got a more specific title (black, Indian).

I grew up with the weird mix of pandering (“You’re such a genius like all your people! Let’s skip you to seventh grade!”) and exclusion (none of the white girls showed up to my 13th birthday party, and no, they didn’t call) that I would later learn characterized the “model-minority” experience of many Asian Americans.

Not yet aware that it was not only me who was treated this way, I had to develop alternative explanations to deny the racial reality in which I found myself, searching for “anything-but-race” reasons for my experiences.

At the beginning of my sophomore year at Brown University in 1984, the African American, Latino and Asian student groups ran a campaign for campus-wide policy changes – more professors, new curriculum, a new Third World Center.

There had been meetings and a rally, and I had skipped them all, just as I had skipped the school’s pre-orientation program for incoming students of color when I entered college.

One night I was with my friends Yuko, a Japanese national who had been raised in the U.S., and Valerie, a biracial black and white woman, who wanted me to attend a rally the next day.

I gave them the 1980s version of “I’m not feeling that.” And they gave me a serious talking-to. “You’re not a minority,” Yuko said. “you’re a person of color.”

I went to the rally.

It was the first time since immigrating that I felt I belonged in an American community.

That was the moment I realized that being an American wasn’t about looking like Marcia Brady. It was about making a commitment to the community you were in, and doing all you could do to make that the most inclusive, most compassionate, most effective community possible.

I have been building multiracial social justice organizations ever since.

Long before the press starting talking about changing demographics, community organizers needed to connect the communities that fell under the “minority” rubric.

Our specific groups were outnumbered by whites. But when we came together, the proportions shifted in a way that forced institutions to deal with us.

The term “people of color” has deep historical roots, not to be confused with the pejorative “colored people.”

“People of color” was first used in the French West Indies to indicate people of African descent who were not enslaved as “gens de couleur libre,” or “free people of color,” and scholars have found references to the term in English dating back to the early 1800’s.

American racial justice activists, influenced by Franz Fanon, picked up the term in the late 1970s and began to use it widely by the early 80s.

As an Indian immigrant, calling myself a person of color enabled me to identify with African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.

The new identity freed me from the model-minority slot that I had been given by the media, politicians and by Americans themselves.

To build a multiracial movement, I had to expand my identity in a way that tied me to African Americans’ struggle to access the promise of the American dream, rather than as the ringer that would suppress that struggle.

“People of color” is now commonly used far beyond political circles, as “minority” fades into the category of things that used to be true.

It is past time for the media and the general public to embrace the phrase.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rinku Sen.

“That’s Racist Against White People!” A Discussion on Power and Privilege (Participation)

“That’s Racist Against White People!” A Discussion on Power and Privilege

August 20, 2013 | by Jamie Utt

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

 

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of White people screaming about racism.

I wish these were anti-racist ally White people who were speaking about the prison industrial complex or about systems of privilege and oppression, but no.

These are White folks who are claiming that the Obamacare tax on tanning beds is “racist” against White people. These are White folks who are claiming that affirmative action is racist against them. These are the White folks who honestly believe they suffer more racism than people of Color.

And every time I hear these folks cry racism, I can’t help but think:

And it’s not just people of racial privilege who are doing this!

Certain Christians claim they are being religiously oppressed because the rights of Lesbian and Gay people are now being recognized at federal and state levels. The entire Men’s Rights Movement is basically predicated on the idea that men are far more oppressed than women (or transgender people or genderqueer people or really anyone who isn’t a cisgender man).

Now aside from the mountains of evidence that makes someone look a little silly when they claim that those with seemingly endless identity privilege are widely oppressed in society, I am realizing more and more that we have a problem of language precision.

Too often, when people are talking about racism or sexism or heterosexism or any other form of oppression, they’re simply referring to when a person was made to feel bad for or about their identity.

There is absolutely no acknowledgement of wider systems of oppression and power.

And this is no accident.

There has been a concerted effort made by a small but loud group (like the Limbaughs, Zimmermans, or Robertsons) to coopt language and shift the discussion so that things stay just the way they are.

But whenever we say things like “Well, sometimes women can be just as sexist as men,” we are contributing to the problem.

Precision of Language

Yes. Any person of any identity can be an asshole to any person of any other identity. But that doesn’t make it oppression. It doesn’t even make it racism or sexism or heterosexim or any other -ism.

There is a profound danger in watering down our discussion of identity by removing any mention of societal power, oppression, and privilege.

Doing so ensures that the conversation remains about interpersonal slights rather than about the larger systems of oppression that are the true problem.

Now, this is not to say, that the real issue is the system, so I can say whatever I want, and it shouldn’t matter. Not at all.

Our interpersonal interactions are reflections of and support structures for the larger problems of systematic inequality and oppression.

Instead, we need to recognize that not all hurtful words or deeds are equal when certain ones are backed by a history and current system of domination, violence, oppression, repression, dehumanization, and degradation.

We need to be clear that when we are talking about oppression or a particular -ism, we are not simply talking about an interpersonal slight. We are talking about something much bigger.

“But Why Can’t I Say the N-Word?”

Take, for instance, the recent outrage from Fox News and others on the political Right over Charlie Rangel, a Black man, using the word “cracker” to describe Whites who violently resisted integration in the South.

There are cries of “double standard” that White folks can be called “cracker” by people of Color, yet Whites can’t call Black people the “n-word.”

Now, if no historical or current systems of oppression and marginalization existed as context, then sure, maybe those words would be the same thing. After all, on face value, they both seem to insult someone based on their race.

But, of course, there’s a little thing called context.

There’s that whole 600 year time period where Black people were sold as chattel by Europeans who reinforced their system through violence and repression and who recreated their same systems of domination through Jim Crow and the Prison Industrial Complex when slavery was made illegal.

And there’s that inconvenient fact that the “n-word” was created solely by White people as a pejorative for Black slaves.

And there’s that other inconvenient fact that the word “cracker” literally refers to White power and supremacy in its reference to the overseer who cracked the whip.

And there’s the context of the daily assault on Black bodies and livelihoods (and the bodies and livelihoods of all people of Color) at the hands of a White power structure that continually makes said usage of the “n-word” hurtful and relevant.

So when we consider the context of power, oppression, and privilege, the use of these two words in two different ways does not create a double standard. As Jay Smooth puts it, that’s a standard.

Shifting the Conversation

A young person with whom I am friends on Facebook recently posted the following as his status: Why is it that all of a sudden the worst thing in the world you can be is a white, straight, middle class, christian? [sic]”

And I engaged him. Because I’m hearing this sentiment more and more from folks of privilege: There is a tremendous fear (no matter how grounded in fiction it may be) that they are under attack.

It is a fear peddled by conservative media and in daily conversation. It is a fear that what was once promised to us as people of identity privilege (often at the expense of others) is no longer a guarantee.

It is a fear that speaks to the progress –humble in some areas and significant in others – that has been made (and continues to be made) in overturning (or at least reforming) systems that were built fundamentally for the benefit of a tiny few.

But it is also a fear that speaks to the kind of resistance we can expect as we move forward in these struggles.

As we went round and round, my initial tact was to prove to him just how wrong he was about his sentiment.

He expressed that White people are discriminated against in job and education applications because of affirmative action, and I showed him the data that he’s wrong.

He complained that Christians are under attack because of the Gay rights movement, and I explained how it changes nothing for them or their rights to allow others to have full legal recognition.

This only seemed to make him angrier and more frustrated.

So I took a different route.

None of this is to say that people with identity privilege do not struggle,” I said. “Plenty of us are struggling with real and tough things. Plenty of middle class White families are fighting in a system that is working against anyone who isn’t rich. It is just important to keep perspective about the relativity of privilege.”

This shifted the conversation considerably.

I don’t think I convinced him that he’s not under attack. But I do think this statement helped him see that, as he put it, “the problem is a broken and incompetent system.”

Call It Out, Call People In

So now, whenever I hear people make these types of statements, ones that ignore the reality of power structures and oppression, I try to use the “call it out, call them in” method.

The language that denies systemic oppression they are using must be called out as problematic and silencing to the experiences of those actually experiencing oppression.

But that doesn’t mean the person saying that language can’t be brought into a thoughtful conversation about the nature of oppression in the world around us.

In the case of the young man above, perhaps his family is struggling with the class inequality that is ever more present for middle class people of all races and he is projecting those concerns onto issues of race, religion, and sexual orientation.

Well, if I simply write him off as a bigoted jerk who doesn’t understand power structures, where do we go?

Instead, it is my responsibility as a person of privilege striving to be an ally to call him into discussion.

It is my responsibility to at least attempt to bring him to a place where his words are less hurtful, and – who knows? – perhaps doing so will help him along the path to being an ally himself.

Because while we fight tooth and nail to make powerful change to systems of oppression, we need to ensure that if people who benefit from these systems are not actively acting in solidarity, at least they aren’t in the way.

And this is primarily the work of other people of privilege.

It’s time for us to call our people in.

 

Jamie Utt is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. Jamie is a diversity and inclusion consultant and sexual violence prevention educator based in Minneapolis, MN. He lives with his loving partner and his funtastic dog. He blogs weekly at Change from Within. Learn more about his work at his website here and follow him on Twitter @utt_jamie. Read his articles here and book him for speaking engagements here.

Lets talk about Race

 

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