The Politics of Respectability, System Justification and those sagging pants

July 31, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege

Excellent piece from Black Skeptics/Frederick Sparks:

It’s all well and good to say “finish school” but how about examining the factors that attribute to high dropout rates, including punitive corrective measures such as expulsion and detention that are applied disproportionately to African American students for the same offenses as white students. When we have a criminal justice system that through the war on drugs, imprisons young black man at rates that are several multiples of that of their white counterparts, despite the fact that blacks and whites both sell and use drugs at similar rates (Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow should be required reading for anyone even attempting a discussion of contemporary racial disparity), when we have continuing joblessness in inner city communities that started with the shift from living wage paying manufacturing jobs to an economy based on financial services, when we have persistent wealth disparities between whites and blacks largely traceable to disparities in home ownership which are explained by far more factors that gangsta rap and sagging pants…when we have all these causative factors that are far more prominent in magnitude and far more insidious…this compulsion to always turn the conversation back to black behavioral choices is particularly short sighted, reductionist and troubling when it comes from black commentators.

Even pointing to the popularity of gangster rap as evidence of pervasive black community celebration of violence and criminality is problematic. For one, as we know, the majority of the consumers are white. And has there not been a persistent celebration in popular culture, across racial lines, of criminals, rebels and counterculture figures? Does the love for the Sopranos and the Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde as works of art and fiction indicate a celebration and endorsement of the values of these characters? Are these images problematic? Sure they can be. And far from wholesale endorsement of these images among black people, there has been a long discussion and critique within the community about these images. I’m not convinced by the argument that these images therefore reflect cultural values or that they are the predominant contributor to the racist stereotyping and profiling of African American men. There’s too much historical precedent for the existence of that phenomenon without the need for a valid reason.

There’s also historical precedent for this type of critique by African Americans about African Americans. It’s the Booker T Washington-esque Politics of Respectability. Washington exhorted newly emancipated African Americans to prove themselves worthy of the franchise, worthy of being treated equal, by demonstrating thrift and industry, and eschewing indolence and wantonness ( Isn’t it amazing how even back then before gangsta rap and sagging pants the black masses somehow still managed to drag down the upwardly mobile blacks?) Then as now, the problem apparently was not continuing racial hostility and discrimination in a land that had been decimated economically by a war, but was instead traceable the behavioral choices and character flaws of black Americans.

I also believe the cognitive roots of this type of critique are explainable by System Justification Theory. People exhibit a tendency to defend the status quo, even if one belongs to a group disadvantaged by that the status. There is a psychological imperative to believe that one does exist within a just system. Implicit in these critiques of dysfunctional black behavior I see the embrace of the idea that America is at heart a true meritocracy, perhaps with a few racial distortions here and there. Yes there is some discrimination, but really the lived experiences of the masses are predominantly dictated by their behavior and choices. This is incredibly psychologically useful for the individual African American, who, while cognizant of racism, still needs to feel like the worse can’t happen to them because they are educated, professional, wear their pants at an appropriate level on their waist and in general made the right choices. When a person’s “in group” status is precarious I think there is even more of tendency to dump on the marginalized (as we saw with virulent white ethnic immigrant opposition to racial integration) and to reinforce in one’s own mind the ultimate justice of the system.

There need be no false dichotomy between the recognition of continuing structural inequalities and the recognition of the need to be personally responsible and avoid counter-productive choices. But this discussion needs to be based in a context of comprehensive understanding of the issues facing the communities discussed, not on convenient rhetorical touchstones.

Full piece here.

(h/t: Sikivu Hutchinson)

CI: Of The Verdict, Whiteness,and Abolition

July 17, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Of The Verdict, Whiteness,and Abolition
by nancy a heitzeg

“Let it be noted that on this day, Saturday 13 July 2013, it was still deemed legal in the US to chase and then shoot dead an unarmed young black man on his way home from the store because you didn’t like the look of him.” ~ Gary Younge, The Guardian

Emerging from the paralyzing space between rage and deep sorrow, we speak of Travyon Martin again:

“Seventeen years and 21 days. Forever. He was a son. He was a brother. He was a friend. And the last thing he did on this earth was try to get home. “

And We are not Trayvon Martin, but we will Never Forget.

Peace and more strength to his family and friends.

What else shall we say ?

 “Our country’s national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people…” ~ Lynch Law in America, Ida B. Wells

Oh, we could focus on the many specifics of the murder, the belated arrest and trial. The pathological tendencies of the self-appointed vigilante who should have just driven to the store. The complicity of the Sundown Town Sanford Police Department or the failure of the Angela Corey-lead prosecution to deliver on the case they never wanted anyway – too ill-prepared and passive, too little and too late.

Times Square

Times Square

Or Judge Nelson’s many pro-defense rulings, especially the barring of the term RACE as prefix to any mention of profiling, thereby officially stamping as color-blind a crime and a trial that was marked -start to finish – by the same. Much could be said of that gerrymandered jury too — all women, mostly white and devoid of blackness – who in the end ruled out of deep seated fear and abdicated all common sense. Perhaps too in favor of seeking book deals.

We could scrutinize Florida as well — the state whose lax Stand Your Ground and Conceal and Carry laws serve as de facto licenses to kill. At least for some.

But, in the end, those are the distracting details. What must be discussed is the larger verdict rendered by white supremacy.

So let it be noted also that on Saturday 13 July 2013 Trayvon Martin, at the end of a postmortem Spectacle Lynching, was declared guilty of his very own murder for the Crime of Being Black.


Native American student denied diploma after wearing tribal feather in her mortarboard

June 04, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Imperialism, Intersectionality, Poverty, White Privilege


From Salon:

Alabama high school graduate Chelsey Ramer was fined $1,ooo and denied her diploma and transcripts after wearing an eagle feather attached to her mortarboard as a symbol of her Native American heritage.

Ramer is a member of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians, and had previously attempted to appeal the school policy banning students from wearing “extraneous items” with the school’s headmaster, but her request was denied. “About two months ago, me and the other Indian seniors from the graduating class asked our headmaster if we could wear the feathers on our caps,” Ramer told Indian Country Today Media Network. “She told us ‘no’ and that if we did, she would pull us off the field.”

Ramer wore the feather anyway, saying it was important to her to represent her heritage. “Being honored with a feather for graduation is a wonderful experience. It’s a lot more than showing off your culture. It has ties into our spirituality as well,” Ramer’s former teacher Alex Alvarez told WMPI-TV.

Now, more than a week since the graduation ceremony took place, Escambia Academy High School is still withholding Ramer’s diploma. Ramer has appealed the fine and may seek legal counsel, but says she does not regret the decision to wear the feather in her cap: ”It was worth it. It means a lot to me,” she said.

When the Last American Indian Dies

May 15, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Economic Terrorism, Imperialism, Intersectionality, Poverty, White Privilege

From Indian Country Today:

Anthropology has from the beginning been influenced and dominated by European males. They set the criteria of hierarchically ordered level descriptions, giving themselves the power to dictate the boundaries of group membership by defining race in terms of biology. As a consequence, the last Indian dies not by blunt force, expulsion or disease, but by the social construction of race imposed upon us— terminating our existence by blood.

As the history of the world proves, false constructs give life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, a reason to define the power between individuals and groups of people, instead of intellectual understanding. During the Age of Enlightenment, European philosophers sought to reform society by using reason, faith and the science available during that time, drawing lines and boundaries to discriminate against people who appeared and acted different then themselves (left-over from theories of the earlier Catholic interpretation of Biblical continental positions and the knowledge that then existed of the peoples of their known world).

Their conclusions however, are still with us hundreds of years later.

Starting with the predominant colonial theory of race, The Great Chain of Being was the idea that human races could be lined up from most superior to most inferior. The Chain originates with God at the pinnacle, and progresses downward through angels, demons, stars, moon, kings (the summit of humanity’s social order), princes, nobles, men, animals, trees, other plants, precious stones, metals, minerals, and then an arrangement of non-white people, with blacks at the bottom. There is no mention of Indians in the Chain because New World explorers had not yet encountered them; but upon meeting, Europeans considered them proto-human and not descendant from the original Biblical pair (Adam and Eve).

Samuel George Morton, provided “scientific evidence” of Indian inferiority. In his 1839 study, Crania Americana, and concluded from collected statistical data that the brain size of Europeans was far greater than that of Native people and thus reflected a correspondingly greater intellectual capacity. Even anti-racist Franz Boaz, is now believed by many as having promoted Jewish interests. According to Herbert S. Lewis’ The Passion of Franz Boas, published in “American Anthropologist” journal Volume 103, Issue 2, pages 447–467, June 2001, “Boas did great service at the start of this progression. His hand-waving and smoke-blowing was, as usual for Jews, used to obscure the Who/Whom – who was served by whom and at whose expense – behind a pretense that everyone benefited.”

The article continues, “Anthropology, though a cryptically Eurocentric culture of critique, has pathologized and demonized and prevailed (at least in intellectual/academic circles) not only over “racist” Nordic champions such as Madison Grant, who was responsible for one of the most famous works of scientific racism (a.k.a. eugenics) and played an active role in crafting strict immigration and anti-miscegenation laws in the United States, but of “Whites in general.” Further, “ These men, along with others, shifted the understanding of race from real, to insignificant, to imaginary, to the self-contradictory anti-White/anti-“racism” of today. Race is a construct of the evil White race, who used (and still uses) it to exploit and oppress all the other, innocent ‘people of color.’”

How can white Americans be free?

April 30, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, White Privilege

From Salon:

It’s clear that we as Black and Brown Americans, are still recovering from the racist indoctrinations of the past 500 years. Though laughable it sounds, white Americans, too, have suffered from this crime. As our country began and brown races were systematically denied the right to be human and so internalized the role of the savage, white consciousness bullied its way into objectivity. The white mind became the unbiased mind that objectively observed all the rest. This is called The Default: The belief that the white experience is a neutral and objective experience and white consciousness is the standard consciousness unless otherwise specified. White culture, and American culture as a whole, suffers from the tragedy of whiteness as the default setting.

Being The Default keeps white Americans from being liberated because it denies them a specific identity by absorbing them into neutral blankness. This creates a lonely detachment from the rest of the world. Being

The Default is the largest privilege granted to white Americans, yet it is so deeply entrenched it is the most invisible (we cannot see the edges of the atmosphere, but it exists). Whites benefit from being The Default by having inherent legitimacy in a way that’s denied to people of color. Their experience of life is “normal.” Whites are free from the constant awareness (and subsequent constant paranoia) of existing in another person’s world. Because The Default has so successfully dominated our subconscious, because our egos have been shaped by it from the moment of birth, we perpetuate it in micro ways while fighting inequality with more obvious actions. The silent poison continues to poison. Whiteness as The Default keeps brown people in subjugation by convincing them that every part of their being, physical, spiritual and emotional, exists within a white narrative. When you are made to exist within something you are forced to be smaller than that which contains you. This is precisely the basis of racist thought. Brown existence, brown consciousness is smaller.

The Feds Are Suing A Euless Apartment Complex for Refusing To House ‘Curry People’

April 22, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Housing, Immigration, Intersectionality, White Privilege

From The Dallas Observer:

To spot the difference, you’ll have to go to building 18, where all but one unit is leased to renters of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent. Most of the other buildings have none.

The federal government thinks this is by design. According to a lawsuit filed by the feds on Thursday and first reported by the Morning News, complex manager Nancy Quandt systemically denied housing to “curry people,” as she called them.

Quandt, according to the lawsuit, instructed her leasing agents that they should funnel any person who had an Indian-sounding surname or accent or, basically, was brown and looked as if they might enjoy curry, into buildings 16 and 18. If those were full, they were to claim the entire complex was occupied, despite the fact that, throughout 2009 at least, there were no fewer than 20 units available.

It’s not just that Quandt didn’t want such people living in her complex. She didn’t want them living at all. She was once overheard musing to a tenant about how she hated Middle Easterners and wished she could put them on an airplane or island and “blow them up.”

Fair Housing Lawsuit against Stone Bridge apartments

For Middle-Class White Girls When Being Privileged Isn’t Enough

April 15, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Education, Intersectionality, Poverty, White Privilege

From Clutch:

Suzy did what any self-respecting privileged, young, white woman would do — she used her familial connections with the WSJ to pave the way for her brilliant op-ed, which otherwise may have languished in darkness, never to be seen by human eyes. This literary phenomenon, which places the blame squarely on the shoulders of those pesky black and brown people who don’t deserve to go to college because, well, they’re black and brown, has exposed the world’s best-kept secret: “If it ain’t white, it ain’t right.”

Read one of her most riveting passages below:

For starters, had I known two years ago what I know now, I would have gladly worn a headdress to school. Show me to any closet, and I would’ve happily come out of it. “Diversity!” I offer about as much diversity as a saltine *******. If it were up to me, I would’ve been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I salute you and your 1/32 Cherokee heritage.

It is past time that someone said this…again. Affirmative action advocates may whine about her cavalier dismissal of Muslim students who are discriminated against and harassed in institutions of learning across the nation, particularly if they are wearing traditional Muslim attire, but I applaud her laser-sharp focus on what really matters. Middle-class, white students are not being shown the respect they deserve and universities are black-balling them out of their God-given birthrights –an Ivy League education.

One would think that because President Obama has a white mother he would be more invested in the cause; but we all know how much of a militant he is — all black power, all the time. If not for tenacious, white students like Suzy, people might actually focus on the fact that black and Latino students in major cities are disproportionately receiving sub-par educations in comparison to their white counterparts. If we’re not careful, instead of Suzy being invited to the ‘Today’ show to discuss how hard it is out here for educated, middle-class white girls to get into Ivy League schools, what with the Muslims and minorities and all, black students might be invited on to discuss how they are closing 54 Chicago Public Schools in a city already riddled with gun violence.

And don’t we talk about the inner-city enough?

Weiss, in her budding wisdom, exposed the mantle of white privilege for what it should be: Proud, unapologetic and unconcerned with anyone not blessed to posses it. She offered herself up as the scape-goat to be ridiculed. Though she did receive job and internship offers for her take-down of reverse racial discrimination, that was never the point.

How Racism is Bad for Our Bodies

March 23, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Poverty, White Privilege

From the Atlantic:

A growing literature shows discrimination raises the risk of many emotional and physical problems. Discrimination has been shown to increase the risk of stress, depression, the common cold, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and mortality. Recently, two journals — The American Journal of Public Health and The Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race — dedicated entire issues to the subject. These collections push us to consider how discrimination becomes what social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger, one of the field’s leaders, terms “embodied inequality.”

A breakout moment in the study of discrimination and health came in 1988, when the CDC recorded a disturbing disparity in black-white infant mortality. In response, TheAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine published a special supplement, “Racial Differences in Preterm Delivery: Developing a New Paradigm.” What was this new paradigm? By this time, we already knew there were significant racial disparities in health. But these scholars offered a new explanation for them. What they argued is that we must focus on the everyday experience of these women — and think about how social stressors might be harming their health, even causing preterm delivery.

Merely the anticipation of racism, and not necessarily the act, is enough to trigger a stress response.
A new study by Kathryn Freeman Anderson in Sociological Inquiry adds evidence to the hypothesis that racism harms health. To study the connection, Anderson analyzed the massive 2004 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which includes data for other 30,000 people. Conceptually, she proposes a simple pathway with two clear steps. First, because of the prevalence of racial discrimination, being a racial minority leads to greater stress. Not surprisingly, Anderson found that 18.2 percent of black participants experienced emotional stress and 9.8 percent experienced physical stress. Comparatively, only 3.5 and 1.6 percent of whites experienced emotional and physical stress, respectively.

Second, this stress leads to poorer mental and physical health. But this is not only because stress breaks the body down. It is also because stress pushes people to cope in unhealthy ways. When we feel stressed, we may want a drink and, if we want a drink, we may also want a cigarette. But discrimination is not just any form of stress. It is a type of stress that disproportionately affects minorities.