Sunday, May 31, 2009

think of africa in fantasized, monolithic terms

Voiceover: "There's something about exploring Africa . . . "

Yes, there is something about it.

Something "white," I'd say . . .

This is advertisement for an upcoming reality show on America's History Channel, "Expedition Africa." This eight-part televised "event" will follow a set of "modern-day explorers" as they attempt to recreate, as fully as they can, the conditions and path of Stanley as he sought Livingstone in the 1860s.

As in any advertisement, key words and phrases were carefully selected to jump out at the viewer from this one. These are the words that jumped out at me:

"Stanley's search for Livingstone is the Super Bowl of all expeditions."
modern-day explorers
wild Africa
dangerous animals
bleeding feet
"There's no turning back."
"There's a chance none of us will make it."

I think that these words were chosen, and then emphasized, because they resonate with a largely white audience's fantasized, fearful, and paternalistic view of "Africa."

Despite the fact that Stanley and Livingstone's "explorations" took place in what are now specific African countries, no mention is made here of them. The only place name used in the advertisement is "Africa."

What's worse than merely conceiving of all things "African" in monolithic terms is that this mythical concept of an extremely variegated continent has specific characteristics--and cartoonish ones, at best. Africa was of course thought of by Westerners in Stanley and Livingstone's day as "the Dark Continent," full of "dangerous animals," "bugs," "diseases," "infections," and the very high risk that any Westerner who "journeys" there "won't survive/make it."

Oh, and there were people in that monolithic concept too, though they never get mentioned in this ad. "Savage" ones, of course, but some tamer ones too. Those are the "Africans" who were willing to help Stanley find Livingstone. I wonder if this program will attempt to recreate that aspect of Stanley's journey, or indeed, anything having to do with the abusive, often murderous colonial relations between Europeans and "Africa."

What I find especially exasperating about this ad is that its makers clearly realize that most white Americans still more or less think of "Africa" this way. As a result, news presented by the corporate media of events in particular African countries quickly fades into this same imagined morass of chaos, disease, wilderness and danger.

And, as another result, Western corporations can continue the centuries-long Western plundering of African resources, largely out of the sight and consciousness of most Americans. And Americans can go on blithely failing to realize how much of their relative comfort is a direct result of that plundering.

Maybe it's unfair to judge a TV show by its ads. Nevertheless, by the looks of this one, I think it's a safe bet that this upcoming effort to provide a glimpse into "history" won't do much at all to educate viewers. Instead, it's going to reinforce some of their dark, ridiculous, and ultimately pernicious and murderous fantasies.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

hang back like boo radley during discussions of race

Boo Radley
He's a ninja
(played in the 1962 film by Robert Duvall,
in his first Hollywood role)

Boo Radley should get more recognition than he normally does as a white anti-racist hero. Comparing Boo to a ninja might be a stretch, but he did overcome his reluctance to join the battle against racism. He even saved two young lives in the process.

To the white readers of this site -- are you like Boo Radley?

To refresh your memory, Arthur "Boo" Radley is the ghostly character in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird who hangs back, shut up in his house, avoiding most of the story's racial drama. His neighbors -- young Scout and Jem Finch -- are afraid of him, even though he leaves them gifts and seems to be watching over them.

Scout and Jem spend most of the time watching and admiring instead their father, Atticus, as he wages a quixotic battle against the rabid dog of small-town Southern racism. He especially does so by defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman.

Lawyer Finch clearly proves Robinson's innocence in a spellbinding trial, but nevertheless loses the case, and Robinson is then shot and killed while trying to escape from jail.

Later, Scout and Jem are returning home one night from a Halloween event. Suddenly, they're attacked by the father of the woman who falsely cried rape, but Boo Radley emerges from the shadows to save the day! Or rather, the night.

Brought into the light of the Finch home, Boo turns out to be okay after all. And on top of that, a hero -- a successful combatant in the ongoing fight against the scourge of virulent racism.

Are you a lurker, like Boo?

Who are you?

This blog gets a anywhere from 800 to 2000 page-views per day now, and that must be a lot of both white and non-white people. Some white folks do comment here regularly, but I know a lot of other Boo Radleys are out there -- some of you comment sometimes, but a lot of you don't. Which is understandable, since most white people are reluctant to discuss matters of race.

Whether you're white or not, do you hang back on this blog, reluctant to dip your toes into the discussion?

Yesterday, Chris Diaz (aka, cdwriteme), made a plea here in a comment, calling for the white Boos to come out from the shadows:

HELLO, WHITE PEOPLE!!! Where are you? If you can't face up to issues of race online with a generally friendly audience how can you expect to be a force for good in real life?

If the things that effect us people of color affected you, silence would not be an option. Are you here to help us, yourselves, and our world, or aren't you?

Whether you're white or not, please do come out and say "how do," and a bit of anything else, in the comments section for this post.

Maybe, something about who you are? And what you get from this blog? What you'd like to get from it, or like to see on it?

It might even encourage you to comment again, and join the fight.

Be like Boo!

(sorry about the music;
clips of this movie aren't easy to find online)

raise their children in isolation from people of color

As a follow-up to yesterday's guest post by Chris Diaz, here's a brief article from a blog called momlogic (where readers are promised "Real Stories. Real Advice. Real Moms.").

What are nice, caring, protective white moms really doing to their kids when they limit their contact with non-white people?

"Mommy, Why is Her Face Brown?"

Mom•Logic's Jackie: How my 3 1/2 year old taught me race relations.

When my husband brought my two boys to visit me at work this week, my older boy shocked a room full of Moms when he asked me loud and clearly "Mommy, why is her face brown?" upon meeting one of my co-workers.

I was completely mortified. What was I doing wrong that he would he say something like that? Aren't we all supposed to be colorblind and not notice the differences in people? But as soon as I got over myself, I quickly realized that his asking about her skin was no different from him pointing out I have blue eyes, and not hazel like his or why I have "dots" (aka freckles) on my arms.

I asked my co-worker to field the question because I was interested in hearing how she'd like it answered. She explained to him that people come in all colors and her skin is just darker than his. He waited a beat--thought about what she said--and then asked if we could watch
Toy Story 2 for the ten thousandth time.

What I learned from my preschooler that day is that recognizing differences in each other is not harmful, racist, or prejudice--it's natural. It's when you judge or treat someone differently because of those differences that's hurtful. And that was the furthest thing from his sweet three-year-old mind.


This article strikes me as an instant classic in the Chronicles of White Oblivion.

I'm also reminded of Thandeka's penetrating insights into the psychology of white childrearing in her book Learning to Be White, especially this succinct observation:

"The first racial victim of the white community is its own child."

h/t: nepthys_12 @ Blackfolks; the original momlogic article, with comments, is here

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

go to amber-alert when a male person of color is near her toddler

This is a guest post by swpd reader Chris Diaz.

I'm a fairly large (5' 11", 230, broad chest and shoulders) Mexican-American male. I dress in a "bland" style (shorts, t-shirt) way. Not that it should matter, but I don't have any tattoos, piercings, etc.

I know mothers are ever-protective of their children (as they should be). However, it has been my experience that some white moms' protective measures go from prudent to paranoid when I, or another man of color, am near their toddlers in a public space.

I realize the myriad of doubts that may arise in response to this post. People may wonder, "Are you sure you're not the one being paranoid?" or "What are the circumstances?", and so on. Certainly, where one lives and the local culture play roles in how cross-racial interactions play out. The purpose of this post is to draw attention to a disturbing phenomenon unique to men of color in America.

I am not questioning the effectiveness of white mothers' protective behaviors toward perceived threats to their children. I am instead saying that, for some white mothers, their distorted perceptions mean that the skin color of a man is either 1) a threat in and of itself or 2) lowers the bar for what constitutes a threat. I am stating that, all else being equal, their internal "alert systems" have a much lower threshold when the man near their toddlers is a person of color. I am saying that their that their "alert" systems are set off by irrational fears arising from stereotyping and ignorance.

This is a phenomenon that I have been forced to notice over the years; it's impossible not to. I didn't go looking for it; it came looking for me. To ensure the validity of my perception, I have bothered to observe the phenomenon from a distance, involving other men of color. Roughly 1/2 of the time, the phenomenon replicated itself. I have also spoken with other men of color who have affirmed my perception.

So, what does this situation look like in real-life? I'll give two quick, fairly common examples from my own life.

My doctor works in a family clinic in a hospital. There is a long sidewalk that leads to the entrance. So, say I'm leaving an appointment heading down the sidewalk back to my car. If I take the time to observe, I can often see, in the distance, a white mother walking along, looking comfortable, with her toddler jumping around happily on the sidewalk in front of her. I can watch white men pass by, and mom usually doesn't take notice in any explicit way. Then, I can observe, say, an African-American man approach the mom and toddler on the sidewalk. I can't hear the words, but I can see the mom mouth something to the child, then the child comes back to the immediate space of the mother, and the mother may then grasp the child's hand. For me, personally, the mothers in question may, as soon as they notice me, say something like, "Katie, get over here," in a fairly anxious and stern voice. The child then comes close and mommy grabs her hand, and maybe mom then averts her eyes.

In a store or waiting room, toddlers naturally get bored and exercise their curiosity about the world. So, the situation might be something like what follows. Maybe I'm at, say, JC Penny. I'm walking up to a department, say, housewares. I see a little toddler running around, talking to strangers who, understandably, find the cuteness to be uplifting. Mom is shopping, keeping an eye out, but certainly not worried looking. White adult men in the vicinity smile at the toddler when she/he runs by or says something to them. It is just a low-key casual interaction; the overall feeling is tender-hearted, with cautious optimism from mom.

So, anyway, I can be looking at, say, toasters, and not paying attention at all. Then, here comes, say, the little male toddler in this case, running by saying "hi!" or some other funny thing that makes adults smile. A significant amount of the time, white mom will IMMEDIATELY be like, "Mikey, come over to mommy," and repeat herself quickly and repeatedly until Mikey obeys.

So, white folks, take from this what you will. Again, I realize that location, time of day, attire, etc. all play a part. But, again, I am not questioning the actual protective behaviors white mothers' employ when they sense a threat. I am saying that, for some of them, the color of a man's skin is part or all of the perception of threat, regardless of other considerations.

If there are any men of color who have an opinion to add, I'd like to hear what you have to say.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

think of race in america in terms of black and white

The big news today was Barack Obama's announcement of his selection of Sonia Sotomayor as a nominee for the Supreme Court. I'm not enthusiastic about picking people for any position solely because of their minority status, in terms of race, gender, sexuality, or any other categories. Fortunately (and no surprise to me), from the looks of Sonia Sotomayor's educational and professional background, she's eminently qualified to advance to the Supreme Court.

Less fortunately, the leading indicators of Sotomayor's professional background are less promising, at least for me. It appears that another Democratic president has nominated another moderate centrist, a judge who's unlikely to do as much as I'd like in terms of countering the far-right justices appointed by Republican presidents. (Why is it that Republicans consistently manage to appoint justices who are relatively extreme, compared to those appointed by Democrats?)

Nevertheless, appearances do matter, and I appreciate how Sotomayor's likely presence on the court will help to break up a glacier of sorts in the white American imagination--the conception of race in America in largely black-and-white terms, and the accompanying conception of Hispanic/Latino Americans, and others, as outsiders.

Latinos have always been a part of America, and many were here before the United States even existed (before, that is, the U.S. basically stole a huge chunk of Mexico in the Mexican-American War). Nevertheless, white Americans in general still think of Latin Americans, like the members of other groups, as somehow un-American.

It may be obvious to point out that America has more than two racial groups, and that huge numbers of Latin Americans have been American citizens for many generations. But then, many white Americans have yet to realize that Hispanic/Latino Americans have surpassed African Americans in demographic terms to become the largest minority.

When white Americans hear such terms as "race," racism," "race relations" and so on, they still usually think "black people," and then, sometimes, "white people." When they do think of people in Sotomayor's racial/ethnic group, exclusionary terms come to mind instead of racial ones -- "Mexican," "migrant worker," "illegal alien," and so on.

A similarly exclusionary effect is imposed on other groups as well. As many Asian Americans point out time and time again, people have been coming to America from Asia since at least the 1700s, and yet, white Americans still tend to think of them as "perpetual foreigners." For instance, when they ask an Asian American the common conversation-starter, "Where are you from?" what they actually mean is, "Where are you or your ancestors from?" Which really means, "When I look at you, I don't fully see you as an American."

As many Arab Americans have pointed out, the white American imagination is slow to think of them as Americans as well. When most whites in the U.S. do think of race beyond the black/white binary, they still think in terms of what historian David Hollinger long ago labeled the "ethno-racial pentagon": Asian American; white/Euro-American; black/African American; "Indian"/Native American; and Hispanic/Latin American. There's no place in this conception of race among American citizens for Arab Americans, a gap which has made it all that much easier to demonize them as irrational, America-hating terrorists.

"Indigenous people," as that term implies, were this continent's first people, but many white Americans don't immediately think of them either when they hear the words "race" or "race relations." When white people do think beyond black and white about indigenous people, they tend to think of them in romanticized, archaic terms, which are brought to mind primarily by media-generated images of shaman, buffalo-hunters, medicine men, Indian princesses and sports mascots.

Again, it may seem to go without saying that in addition to white and black people, these other people are Americans too. And to most white Americans, that statement actually would be obvious.

But there's also a way, a sort of subconscious way, in which that statement is not obvious to the collective white imagination. No matter how much white Americans like to think of themselves as free-floating, independently minded individuals, they are a part of, and deeply influenced by, that larger collective consciousness. And that collective consciousness still leads many of them to think of race in America in simplistic, dichotomous, and damaging terms.

As Nicole Shaffer points out, "The trouble with the Black/White binary paradigm of 'race relations' in the United States is that it works to obscure the racialization of other groups and the resulting experiences of discrimination." Seeing groups outside of this binary as somehow "un-American" makes it all that much easier to condone or commit racist abuse against them.

The occupation of highly visible positions of power by people like Sonia Sotomayor, people who are not black or white, may seem like a mere surface matter. In some ways, it is merely that, and again, I personally wish that Obama had chosen someone with apparent sympathies, understandings and judgments that lie further to the left than Sotomayor's apparently do.

But, in terms of moving the white American imagination beyond the black-and-white binary, so that white Americans become more accepting, sympathetic, and respectful towards all American citizens, the highly public consignment of power to people like Sonia Sotomayor could help to bring about a seismic shift in white conceptions about who does and does not count as "American." Surface appearances can be a superficial thing, but I also think they matter, and that they do so in profound, fundamental ways.

For another take on common white reactions to Obama's nominee, I recommend Chauncey DeVega's post at We Are Respectable Negroes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

send their children to all-white proms

[Since it's high school prom season, I thought I'd repost the piece below (which I first posted here), about the ongoing "tradition" of white proms. This is also an update of sorts--The New York Times published a report a few days ago on another example of this tradition of segregation, in Montgomery County, Georgia.

I'm wondering now, how common are these segregated proms, in the Southern U.S., or elsewhere?

In a
slideshow that accompanies the Times story, a white mother explains in a voiceover, "This community and this school system is fine like it is. This is the way that they have done it ever since the school system has been opened and they started having proms. So, it's worked for them thisaway. Why change something that has worked? It's not broken. The kids are fine with it."

Actually, as the
Times article points out, many of the kids, both black and white, are not fine with it.

In another voiceover, Kera Nobles, a black student at the school says, "My high school has been a great one, except for one night that I only share with people that's my same race, and that would be prom night. Yes, it is hurtful, because you just think about how, I go to school with you every day, I sit beside you in class, we take the exact same notes, we use the same kind of paper, the same kind of pencil. I mean, I sit beside you at graduation, but I can't go to prom with you one night?"]

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered racial integration of all schools, including all their events. In 1970, the one high school in Charleston, Mississippi finally allowed blacks to attend, but white parents refused to allow black students to attend the school Graduation Dance.* Thus began a tradition of separate, parent-organized White Proms and Black Proms, a tradition that lasted until, incredibly enough, 2008.

This story is told in a movie that I'm looking forward to, Prom Night in Mississippi. Directed by a Canadian, Paul Saltzman, it covers Morgan Freeman's successful effort to end this racist tradition, by offering to pay for an integrated prom. Or rather, his successful effort to almost end it. Although last year's integrated prom at Charleston High School was a success, a group of white parents still held a separate prom for some white students.

And what are white parents' justifications for allowing their children to attend school with black students, but not the prom?

Saltzman, the film's director, provides this answer: "When I was doing the research and asking people 'What was the problem in having the prom together?' what whites usually said is, 'You know, blacks are into drugs; they're into violence' and on and on and on."

Chasidy Buckley, a black student who attended the integrated prom, provided a similar answer: "A lot of the white parents were concerned about safety. They were afraid that fights were going to break out, but the prom went smoothly. It was great; nobody got hurt or anything."

A rich irony is that while the integrated prom went smoothly, a fight broke out at the whites-only prom.

While unfounded fears of violence fueled white parents' fears, it seems clear that there's another, more covert reason that some don't want their children dancing and partying with black kids--their heads are filled with stereotypical images of black hypersexuality.

Many parents fear drinking and fighting at such events, but they also fear heightened possibilities for sexual contact. And, as one white student notes in the clip from Prom Night in Mississippi below, that includes sexy dancing, especially "grinding."

White kids often grind when they're dancing too, but black and white kids grinding together? "Heavens no," many white parents think, "not my daughter!"

I remember talking once to a young white woman from another deep Southern state about her dating experiences in high school. She said she'd only dated white boys, "because like my mother always warned me, everyone knows that black boys are only after that one, single thing."

"Oh really? And what's that?" I asked, thinking that if it was the one thing I thought she meant, a lot of white boys are pretty much only after that one thing too.

"Sex," she said. "Especially with a white girl!"

"Oh come on," I said. "Do you realize what you're saying?"

"Right," she answered, "I know it sounds racist, but my mother was right. I proved it."

"You're kidding. How?"

"Well, there was this one time that a black boy sat next to me in the cafeteria. And guess what? He asked me out on a date!"

"Um, okay. So? Hasn't a white guy ever asked you out on a date?"

"Sure lots of times." She furrowed her brow in thought. "But it's different, you know? Because like, I'm white. So, it's easier for white guys to ask me out."

"You mean, it shouldn't have been that easy for that black guy to ask for a date?"

"Right. But he did ask, right away like that. So it was obvious, if he was going to ask so soon, even though it was harder to ask, then all he wanted was sex."

"Needless to say, you didn't give it to him. I mean, you didn't agree to a date."

"Of course not. I knew what he was after. My mom was right. I'll never date a black guy."

Now, this was about ten years ago. I hope that attitudes among today's younger white Americans have changed, and that their parents are also less delusional about supposedly predatory black sexuality, and the supposedly heightened threat from black kids of drug use and violence.

Fortunately, that such a generational change is happening appears to be one point of this intriguing new film, Prom Night in Mississippi. From what I can tell, it still lacks a distributor; if so, I hope it finds one, and soon.**

*According to CNN, "Federal courts forced schools in Charleston, Mississippi, to desegregate in 1970, but no judge ordered the high school proms to merge."

**The film will appear on HBO in July.

[h/t to Jessica Yee, who wrote at Racialicious about white oblivion in Canada, where she attended the opening of a photo exhibit based on this film]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

use clichés that trivialize mass oppression

It seems to me that those who object to what they call "political correctness" usually do so when someone points out that the careless use of a word or term is wrong.

For instance, I've been accused of being a member of "the PC police" for objecting to the casual use of the word "Nazi" to complain about somebody who's too strict or demanding. I've also been accused of being overly concerned with political correctness for objecting to a white friend's complaint that his boss is a "slavedriver."

The "Nazi" usage happened again yesterday. I was at a public lecture, and as usual, the speaker was introduced by another person. Before doing the introduction, this person warned those of us with cars to be very diligent about feeding the area's parking meters. This was necessary because, she said, the "parking people around here are total Nazis."

I found this comment jolting. She'd been setting a good tone for the event so far, by welcoming us all with a smile and a joke about the weather. But then she dropped what was for me a sort of bomb.

One hundred or so other people were in the audience, and she'd already moved into introducing the speaker by the time that word had fully registered with me. So it didn't even occur to me to raise my hand or stand up to ask, "Why, exactly, did you label the parking people 'Nazis'?"

But maybe I should have. I suppose most people would've found me rather weird, and annoying, and unnecessarily disruptive. But some might have agreed, and others might have gone on to reconsider their own use of that word, "Nazi," to describe people who aren't actually Nazis.

So just what is it that I think is wrong with this usage?

It's not just that these terms, when used for relatively trivial complaints, are stale, worn-out clichés.

It's also not just the literal inaccuracy of the term, and others like it. That is, it's not the mere fact that those issuing tickets for overdue parking meters were not really Nazis. Nor is the problem with my friend's use of the term "slavedriver" to describe his boss the fact that he's actually free to quit his job whenever he likes. It's not even the fact that his boss doesn't treat him with anywhere near the levels of disdain, cruelty, and entrapment that actual slavedrivers routinely deployed.

Instead, the problem is that when we use terms like "parking Nazis," or "feminazi," or "schedule Nazi," or "wedding Nazi" and so on, to describe ordinary people, we're trivializing the horrors of what the Nazis actually did, especially their calculated, systematic slaughter of millions of people.

In the same way, complaining that your boss is a "slavedriver" or that you "worked like a slave today" trivializes the horrific realities of slavery. In both cases, there's really no comparison.

This is a type of "white whine" that needs to be retired.

Can you think of other examples?

Do you say anything when you hear these types of minor complaints, which trivialize mass oppression?

I certainly hope you don't think instead that I'm just being a "PC Nazi."

argue for the selectively racist use of torture

Kudos to Jesse "The Body" Ventura for pointing out, among other bold truths, that those who currently try to justify torture (and/or "enhanced interrogation techniques") do so in a racially selective manner. And of course, it's always good to see Elizabeth "The Apologist" Hasselbeck get totally pwned.

Jesse Ventura is a former professional wrestler who served as the "Independent" governor of Minnesota, from 1999-2003. As Ventura says in the video clip, he himself has undergone waterboarding, while training to become a Navy SEAL.

For those who can't view and/or listen to the video, here's most of what he said about torture and race:

If we hadn't waterboarded to begin with, none of this would be a controversy, would it?

Torture is torture. If you're going to be a country that follows the rule of law, which we are, torture is illegal.

If waterboarding is okay, then why don’t we let our police do it to suspects so they can learn what they know? If waterboarding is okay why didn’t we waterboard McVeigh and Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers, to find out if there were more involved?

We only seem to waterboard Muslims. Have we waterboarded anyone else? Name me someone else we’ve waterboarded.

It’s a good thing I’m not president. I’m an Independent. Because I would prosecute the people that did it. I would prosecute the people who ordered it and they would all go to jail.

Look how outraged we were when waterboarding was done to our vets in Viet Nam. Where do you think we learned it from? We created the Hanoi Hilton right in Guantanamo, that’s our Hanoi Hilton. People have died there. People are tortured there. I’m ashamed of my country.

We should be above them. Torture is wrong. "Enhanced interrogation" is Dick Cheney changing a word. Dick Cheney comes up with a new word to cover his ass.

I’ve said it before you give me a waterboard, one hour, and Dick Cheney and I’ll have him confessing to the Sharon Tate murders. One hour.

h/t: Renee @ Womanist Musings

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

claim that barack obama's race doesn't matter

Here's one of the most extensive, bizarre white claims to racial colorblindness that I've ever heard. It's by Steven Anderson, pastor of the Faithful Word Baptist Church, in Tempe, Arizona. In case you can't watch it (or you can't take his oratorical style), I've included a transcript below the video.

Anderson has been receiving sympathy lately for his videotaped confrontation with some border patrol agents. As word of that incident spreads, attention to Anderson's deeply reactionary thinking and preaching should spread as well. Much of it is barely concealed hate speech.

His church's site says for potential members, "Don't expect anything contemporary or liberal. We are an old-fashioned, independent, fundamental, King James Bible only, separated Baptist church and not ashamed to say so."

Here's a link to the audio for another one of his sermons, on immigration. He begins by denouncing George W. Bush as a "spineless wimp" and a "flaming liberal," and then descends into "old-fashioned," unashamed racism and sexism. Anderson also has his own channel on YouTube, which includes a thirty-second clip of him kicking out some "hecklers" who object to his description of Barack Obama as the devil.

Young Pastor Anderson likes to position himself outside the bounds of "political correctness"--far to the right of it, actually. And yet, like nearly all white Americans, he basically claims below that he's anything but a "racist." And again, that he's colorblind.

Do you see other common white arguments in this sermon segment?

And I’m so sick and tired of people calling me a racist for being against Barack Obama. You know, I thought that we were past that in this country, you know what I mean? Let it go!

I love all people equally, red, yellow, black and white, they’re precious in His sight. I’ve won more black people to the Lord probably than I’ve won white people to the Lord, my friend. I love black people. I wanna see em saved, I wanna get em the Gospel. I have very close friends right now that are black, one of my best friends is black.

But you know what? I’m not gonna sit there and dwell on it, and cry about it. Let’s get over it. They’re perpetuating the hatred between the races by bringing it up all the time!

“Oh wow,” you know,”it’s the first black president!”

No he’s not, he’s white! He’s just as white as he is black, he’s half black, half white!

But yet it’s just, “He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black!”

Why not say he’s white?

I mean, if he’s half black and he’s half white, I’m gonna say he’s white. That’s the half I wanna choose. You know?

[Laughter; “Amen!”]

I’m gonna call him a white man. We got a white president coming in, my friend.

He’s white! Don’t tell me he’s black, he’s white! His mom is white! Her mom is white! Her dad is white! His parents are white! He’s a white man! Barack Obama is white, deal with it!

But if I got up and said he was black, nobody would disagree with me. And he’s half black, half white. Would somebody explain that to me?

Somebody explain to me how if you’re one-eighth black, you’re just black. You know what I mean? Even though you’re seven-eighths white. It’s true, though.

Did you know that on official documents in this country, if you are one-eighth black and seven-eighths white, you are black? It’s true!

I mean, if I were one-eighth black, I could put on official documents, if it says race, I could check “black.”

I mean, that’s racism! I mean, isn’t it—wait a minute, stop, stop for a second—isn’t it racism to say that a man who’s half black and half white is black?

Because—think about this now—that’s saying that black—like, you have to be purely white in order to be white.

Think about this, think about how racist this is. Right?

“In order to be white, you gotta be a hundred percent white, buddy. Don’t come to me and tell me you’re white unless you is a hundred percent white. And I’m gonna go into Salt Lake City with a bunch of Mormons, I gonna get into that genealogical library and prove how white I am.”

That’s what they do, that’s what those Mormons are doing in Salt Lake City. Why are they so into their family tree? They’re trying to prove how white they are. It’s the truth!

And so, according to our wicked society, if you’re half black and half white, you’re black.

Because “in order to qualify as a white man, you must be pure white. If you’re three-quarter white, you’re not white.”

What, have you been tainted with the black man’s blood?

So, I’m preaching, I wanna start a new movement in America, a movement to declare Barack Obama a white man. [laughter] Let’s accept him into the fold. You know what I mean?

I wanna shake hands with my white brother, Barack Obama, tonight.

Now, you see how stupid we are in this country? I’m supposedly a racist for being against Barack Obama. I think that anyone who’s for Barack Obama is a racist, because the only reason they’re for him is because he’s white. [laughter, “that’s right!”]

That’s the only reason anybody’s even supporting him, is because he’s white! Cuz if he was black, nobody would support him. If he was a hundred percent black, right? The only reason they like him is because he’s half white. And that’s the half they like.

See how dumb that is? This is how stupid people are, right?

“Oh, it’s all about his race!”

It has nothing to do with race! It has nothing to do with the color of his skin. And we’re supposed to get excited and rejoice because a black man became president.

He’s just as white as he is black. He’s half white and half black. And I’m supposed to jump up and down, “Yay, a black man!”

Wait, I thought race doesn’t matter! Didn’t the Bible say that He’s made all nations of the earth of one blood? I mean, isn’t the white man, and the black man, and the Native American man of the same bloodline line, according to God?

And why would I get excited? “Yes, a white man won! Yes, a black man won! Yes, a Chinese man won!”

No, woe unto us that a wicked man won, whatever the color of his skin.

It’s ridiculous.

Now let’s go back to the Bible . . .

h/t: swpd reader C D, via email

Saturday, May 16, 2009

fail to distinguish african immigration from slavery descent

This is a guest post by Doreen Yomoah. She is vagabond currently residing in Shanghai, and a founding mother of the Women’s Liberation Army, a motley crew of women scattered throughout the globe who are sick of injustice and planning to do something about it.

I am black.

I am not African-American.

I am Ghanaian.

These are three things that the white Americans I’ve known have trouble distinguishing from each other. I lived in America for a long time as a student, but only temporarily. I currently live in Shanghai. During my stay in America, I can’t count the number of times I was referred to as African-American, or sometimes African, but almost never my real nationality, even by people who knew it.

My problem isn’t necessarily with people thinking I was American; I do after all have an American accent (which I picked up at an international school in Tokyo, where I spent my childhood). While the assumption that I’m American didn’t necessarily bother me, my problem was that after finding out that I am Ghanaian-born, and a Ghanaian citizen, people would still refer to me as African-American, and constantly refer as well to “my” history (as in, the Atlantic slave trade and the black Americans who now populate America as a result).

One thing that irritated me to no end when I lived in America was the fact that all black people were referred to as “African American.” I believe that this idea of referring to blacks as African-American stems from the false idea that no black people know where their ancestry is from, as I have never heard a white American refer to him/herself or another white American as European-American. I have, however, heard them say things like “I’m French / German / Irish / Italian / Spanish / British,” even from people whose families haven’t seen those countries in generations. However, whether black people in America are the descendants of slaves; or those whose families immigrated from Africa, or the Caribbean, or Europe; or those who are in America temporarily for work or studying, all are grouped together under the inaccurate, blanket label of “African-American.”

Even my casual research (as in, Google) on the subject reveals a dearth of accurate available information about these differences among blacks in America. Perhaps the lack of statistics of this sort reflects the lack of interest on the part of the researchers. The only statistic that I’ve been able to find on non-slave descendant American blacks is the number of current immigrants, which is 1,035,253 (and growing). That means that any black descendant of anyone who immigrated after the late 19th century is not included in that statistic; they have instead been lumped into the category of African Americans, and thus are assumed to be descendants of slaves. I have American cousins, for instance, born to two Ghanaian parents in America, who aren’t included in that statistic. Their direct connection to a specific African country is overlooked, as is their distinct difference from most black Americans.

I heard this topic discussed a LOT during Barack Obama’s campaign. That is, whether or not Barack Obama is “black.” But the point of contention was not his biracial heritage. It was the African part of Obama’s heritage that cast doubt in the minds of journalists such as Stanley Crouch, who said in his op-ed “What Obama Isn’t: Black Like Me,” “when black Americans refer to Obama as ‘one of us,’ I do not know what they are talking about.” Similarly, columnist Debra Dickerson wrote, “black, in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves,” and therefore Obama was "'black' but not black."

Um. What? Since when did being descended from slaves become a prerequisite to being black? Most black people in the world are not descendants of West African slaves. However, I heard this time and time again following the election campaign of Obama from afar. Is this really how black should be defined in America?

The number of black immigrants has more than tripled in the past few decades, and that number will only continue to grow. It is time for the definition of “black” to be widened to mean more than just “West African slave descendant,” because aside from being untrue, it also serves to reinforce the idea that black people are a monolith. Not only do African-Americans and black Africans completely differ from one another in many ways; within Africa there are myriad ethnic groups found throughout its 53 countries. To us, being black means customs as diverse as speaking Zulu or Shona, wearing kente or aso oke, or celebrating Farmer Day or Unification Day.

There are major statistical differences between African immigrants and slave-descendant African Americans, as well the rest of the American population. Africans are the most educated immigrant population in the United States, with 49% holding college degrees—a larger percentage than Asian immigrants, American-born whites, and American born blacks. 86.4% hold high school degrees or more, while only 78.9% of the “model minority” Asian immigrants do. Children of African immigrants also go on to achieve higher levels of education as compared with the rest of the population.

While reaching higher levels of education than most other groups in America and having lower unemployment and poverty rates, immigrant blacks still face discrimination in the workplace. Their employment does not generally reflect their education and experiences, as they are often underpaid and underemployed.

While living and traveling elsewhere, I still hear white Americans refer to any black person that they see as African-American, despite the fact that black Africans here greatly outnumber our African-American counterparts. A white American friend once referred to me as “African-American”, despite knowing that I’m Ghanaian. For some reason she still thought that that was an appropriate label for me. Another American woman I know told her (British) boyfriend that black is incorrect, and the correct term is African-American, despite the fact that in the majority of his life experience, the black people he has met are not American. Nevertheless, because in her mind black people are all African-American, she falsely assumed that was an accurate label for all of us.

Something I have heard white Americans say over and over when it comes to this subject is that “it’s just something you never think about.” The way they say it, it’s as though they are expecting some agreement from me, like I should say “Yeah, I know, the logical default is to assume that all black people on earth are American!” I think that embodies the very assumption that I find damaging. They don’t even think about it. They just assume we are all American. Just today, I told one American friend of mine I had just gotten my hair done. “Are there a lot of African American hair salons in Shanghai?” she asked.

Oh geez. I’ve known her for over five years and she is well aware that I’m not American. I replied with “it’s not African American hair.” Puzzled, she asked me what I meant. I replied “I’m not American. The girl who did my hair was not American. The girls who did my hair before are not American. It’s not ‘African-American’ hair.” She replied by telling me she didn’t even think about that. I find this “I didn’t even think about it” attitude incredibly common among white Americans. Even someone who is aware of me not being American still defaults to referring to my hair as “African American hair,” and then refuses to think any further about it.

I was in the History Association at my American university, and we hosted events at which professors of history would have open discussions with us. At one such event, we had the famed Nigerian author Chinua Achebe’s daughter speak to us. One of my white classmates then asked her if she’d had the chance to research where her ancestors may have come from, to which she replied “I’m Nigerian…” Even with a last name like “Achebe”, a famous Nigerian author for a father, and a discussion about her experience in Africa, this classmate still assumed that as a black person, she clearly was born without the knowledge of her ancestry.

My problem with the common white assumption that all black people are descendants of slaves are that a) it’s simply not true and b) it helps to perpetuate this harmful, ignorant mentality that black people are a uniform group, a concept that is so rampant throughout America and the world at large.

Do I think that black America has a rich and complex history and culture? Yes, I do. I was able to witness it first-hand while living America, and it’s just as diverse and complex as anyone else’s history.

However, it’s not my history. My history is the history of a powerful trading empire, a people who were able to rebuild themselves after attacks from neighboring rivals, a people who came together to resist the colonial reign of the British empire, and the first African nation to reach independence in the 20th century. And that history is ignored by most white Americans, who refuse to see it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

prefer babyfaced black men

As a child I was taught, without anyone actually saying so, that because I'm white, I'm different in a lot of ways from people who are not white.

Actually, the basic lesson was more like this--they were different from us.

We were "normal." They were "different."

In the city where I lived this was a completely black-and-white thing, but to us, their blackness was always a lot more noteworthy than our whiteness.

My parents did not consider themselves "racists"; nevertheless, I was basically kept away from black people. Then at the age of ten, I was taken even further away, when my family moved to the suburbs. I now see that in addition to me being kept away from them, forces larger than my parents also worked to keep them away from us.

The members of the group that I was in rarely declared their whiteness, but the implication that we were a distinct group was pretty much always there. So was the implication that we were superior. And so were other implications about "them," aside from inferiority--that they were scary. Intimidating. Dangerous.

As an adult, I came to think that I'd outgrown any racist influences from my childhood. But now that I've been thinking for awhile about what I went through in my childhood as a sort of training into whiteness, I know that the racism, toward black people and other non-white people, is still inside of me.

This instilled racism emerges sometimes, in ways that feel like a lot like a reflex, or an instinct. Now that I know that I still have racist impulses, and that they're not something so natural as a reflex or an instinct, I try to become and remain aware of them. I hope that by doing so, I can unlearn such impulses.

I do not mean to say that I walk around with a constant, cringing fear of every black person I don’t know, nor that other white people do so. However, I do think that to some degree, most white people react to people of other races for reasons that they don’t realize, let alone understand.

I wonder what it is, for instance, that makes a black person that I meet, and then like, seem "likable" to me.

Since I was trained as a child to be wary of black people, and since that training was so ingrained in me at that impressionable stage that some of it still remains, then does something happen during my interactions with “likable” black people that overcomes that early training?

Do I "like" that person because I've overcome the training that told me, and still tells me, that that person is fundamentally different from me--as in, scary, or intimidating? Or even dangerous?

Or do I like that person because he or she seems especially non-threatening somehow? As if that person, instead of me, is the one who's somehow overcoming my deep-seated worries and fears, perhaps by seeming to be especially nice, or friendly, or "open"?

While both of these possibilities could well be at play, a recent university study, of common reactions to the faces of black men, suggests the latter—that something about the black person I decide is likable has worked to disarm me, by calming my largely unconscious fears.

One particular characteristic that this new research suggests I will respond to positively is a "babyface"--a black man with a face that resembles that of a baby.

If I’m reading the reported results correctly, because my whitened psyche wants reassurance that unfamiliar black men are not a threat, I prefer those who have a face that at some level reduces the level of threat to that of an infant.

This white preference for nonthreatening, “babyfaced” black men might seem absurd and ridiculous, but it's apparently so prevalent that it helps those who are endowed that way succeed professionally.

As the Associated Press reports,

Black Fortune 500 CEOs with a "babyface" appearance are more likely to lead companies with higher revenues and prestige than black CEOs who look more mature, an upcoming study says.

In contrast with research showing that white executives are hindered by babyface characteristics, a disarming appearance can help black CEOs by counteracting the stigma that black men are threatening, according to the study from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. . . .

A babyface is characterized by combinations of attributes, including a round face, full cheeks, larger forehead, small nose, large ears and full lips, the study says.

Isn’t this kind of bizarre? That non-black people prefer black men in positions of power who have faces that suggest a lack of power?

Regarding this study’s methodology and results, the AP story continues,

A group of 21 college students was shown photographs of 40 current and past CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Eleven of the students were white, 10 were Asian and 10 were female.

Of the 40 CEOs, 10 were black (only 10 blacks have ever led Fortune 500 companies). For every black CEO, a current or former white CEO from the same company was included. Another 10 CEOs were white women, and 10 white male CEOs were chosen at random.

Participants rated each photo on scale of 1-4 for "babyfaceness," leadership competence and personal warmth. . . .

The results showed that black CEOs who rated high on the babyface scale worked for companies that ranked higher in the Fortune 500 and had higher annual revenues than blacks with more mature faces. The reverse was true for whites — the more babyfaced CEOs tended to work for companies that ranked lower and had less annual revenue. . . .

The study was duplicated with 106 student participants, with similar results.

Livingston said the study indicates that "disarming" characteristics, which have been shown to hinder white executives, can help black leaders.

"Physical appearance, how you behave, having mixed-race parents — anything that conveys to whites 'I'm not the typical black man' can be helpful," Livingston said.

That leads to the idea that black executives face a double standard, he said.

"If you're a white male, you can exhibit anger, pound your fist, make ultimatums . . . African-Americans have to adopt a kinder, gentler style of leadership," Livingston said. "The same sorts of behaviors that are effective for white males can't be utilized effectively by black males."

Livingston said his conclusion is not that babyfaced black CEOs reached the pinnacle of success because of their looks: "I'm saying that African-American leaders have to adopt certain qualities or behaviors that make them appear less threatening . . . a babyface gives a certain perception that they're docile."

Right, “docile.” Which is just the quality that I, as an average white person, am probably looking for at some level when I meet a new black person. Male or female, I suspect.

The AP story also reports the reaction of Leslie Zebrowitz, a professor of psychology and social relations at Brandeis University “who was not involved with the study.” Dr. Zebrowitz called the findings “new and ‘compelling.’”

I too find the results compelling, but not exactly new. Surely this study demonstrates instead something very old—the common, ingrained need on the part of white people for reassurance that their deep-set fears of blackness can be set aside during encounters with black individuals.

I also suspect that these findings are anything but “new” for most black people. Indeed, as the AP story also reports,

The results rang true for Michael Hyter, the black president and CEO of the management consulting firm Novations Group Inc. and co-author of the book "The Power of Inclusion."

"For anyone who's honest in the corporate space, you know that (disarming mechanisms) are a key to being successful," he said. "Technical skills are not enough. They need to get to know you based on who you are and not make a judgment on how you look."

I think it’s just a damn shame that black people who want to succeed while working with non-black people have to develop such “disarming mechanisms.” It should be up to white people to disarm themselves, by discovering and identifying their own fears, and then by working to get over them.

This white preference for babyfaced black men is especially obnoxious, because it's almost literally infantilizing. And that’s truly, sadly ironic, because this infantilizing preference is actually a projection onto black individuals of some fearful, childish part of the collective white psyche.

h/t: all about race

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

refer to non-white men with belittling names

Yesterday, Daniel Cubias made an interesting observation at his blog The Hispanic Fanatic, about what may well be another example of the primary target of my own blog.

My primary target is what I've come to call "common white tendencies." The tendency that Cubias points out is that of using first names for non-white people in certain contexts, and full or last names for white people.

The context in question for Cubias is baseball, and in particular, the media's recent discussion of Manny Ramirez's fifty-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs:

What I found interesting is that when the news broke, it was “Manny” this and “Manny” that. It reinforced my observation that white sports stars tend to be referred to by their last names. Hispanic and black athletes, however, are often called by their first names. . . .

I first noted this about a decade ago when Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were in their epic homerun race. The references to “Sammy” were ubiquitous, while I don’t recall anyone calling the St. Louis slugger “Mark.”

Similarly, in debates of greatest pitchers of recent history, there’s a lot of talk about Clemens, Johnson, Maddux. . . and Pedro (as in Martinez). Even when the white athlete has an uncommon moniker (I’m looking at you, Chipper Jones), he usually gets the last-name treatment. That’s not always the case with, say, the very troubled Ramirez (as we see here).

Having had this pointed out to me, I can quickly think of other examples. LeBron. Tiger. Ichiro. But I too find it difficult to come up with white examples.

Cubias also asks, "If this is true (and the evidence is only anecdotal), is it a sign of disrespect or a display of affection? Does it mean anything at all?"

I suppose it could be both. But even if this naming practice springs from affection, I still find it belittling.

Like nicknames, first names are more commonly used for and among children; that's the main reason why using them for non-white adults, especially in contexts where they're not used for white adults, strikes me as belittling.

Now I'm trying to think of other circumstances where this happens, in order to decide whether this differential naming practice really is another "common white tendency."

I've recently noticed, for instance, that one of this blog's regular commenters, Thordaddy, uses belittling nicknames during his exchanges with certain other commenters. During such exchanges, here and elsewhere, when he uses the names of other commenters who appear white, he types out their actual names (he calls me, for instance, "Macon D," and he's typed out other apparently white names correctly as well, such as "Steffie").

However, in his exchanges with at least two other commenters, who self-identify as black men, Thordaddy has come up with belittling nicknames.

In his discussion here with a person who comments on my blog and others--Nquest--Thordaddy substitutes a name that as far as I can tell, he came up with on his own: "ye ye." And in his discussion here with a person who served as a guest poster yesterday, for the post below this one--Big Man--he uses another, more literally belittling name: "lil' man."

I don't normally see a reason to discuss particular commenters in my blog posts. However, in this case Thordaddy is worth identifying, because he may well be displaying a common white tendency.

If so, that tendency would be the one that Daniel Cubias posits in his post, that of using belittling names for non-white men and last (or actual) names for white men. And, I would add, for white women.

Cubias identifies what appears to be a racial differential in the usage of first and last names, but I think the resultant belittling of non-white people can happen with nicknames as well, and that it is happening in Thordaddy's case.

What do you think? Could such differential naming practices be a common white tendency--that is, the use of actual and/or last names for white folks, and the belittling use of first names or nicknames for non-white people?

If so, what's up with it?

And can you think of other examples?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

clamp down harder on non-white violence

This is a guest post by Big Man, who blogs at Raving Black Lunatic.

Game Done Changed

When I was a little kid, there was a simple rule that governed fights at school.

Always get the other guy to swing first.

Kid logic dictated that if you enticed the other guy to throw the first punch, you couldn't be held liable for what happened after that. This meant engaging in complicated rituals that involved walking around and around in a circle, shoulder to shoulder, daring the other kid to swing first. Sometimes, unruly bystanders might grab one participant's hand and make him hit the other guy just to get the fight started.

Unfortunately, most teachers and school administrators didn't agree with our rock solid kid logic. Invariably, they would punish both students and turn a deaf ear to our pleas about who started the brawl. Sometimes, not being the aggressor would win brownie points with parents, but there was no guarantee.

I thought about kid logic and adult logic when I read this piece which was linked to at the Angry Asian Man blog.

Seems that a Korean student in Canada was handling his business in some game called "speedball" when one of his pale classmates decided he didn't appreciate his prowess and called him an "effing Chinese." The Korean student let homeboy know that racial slurs aren't good business, and the white dude decided to haul off and punch him in the mouth.

And that's where the story gets interesting. See, the Korean student is actually a black belt in a martial arts discipline. However, instead of unleashing the full fury of his fists, he only gives the white cat one good shot to the nose with his weaker hand. And he breaks the cat's nose.

Now, school officials not only suspended both students, but the police actually arrested the Korean student and some folks are talking about kicking him out of school permanently. There was recently a community march to support what he did, and complain about bullying, but school officials are still taking a hard line stance.

What's really good?

I mean, this seems pretty clear cut to me. The kids got in a fight. One kid started the fight by being racist, and by being a bully. Unfortunately for him, he picked on a kid who actually knew how to defend himself, and who had no problems beating his butt. The End.

Part of me doesn't think the Korean kid should even get suspended. Sure, he was fighting, but when somebody is throwing around slurs and punches, I think fighting is warranted. I know officials want you to run and find a teacher, but that ain't realistic in my opinion. In real life, becoming a snitch will only make your problems worse, and taking the strictly non-violent approach is guaranteed to get you future beatings from bullies. Your best bet is to attempt to diffuse the situation, and then use the bare minimum of force if that doesn't work.

It sounds like that's exactly what the Korean teenager did in this instance, and yet he's the one being punished excessively. This is mindboggling, yet not truly surprising. After all, what this story really boils down to is what happens when minorities respond to racism outside of the "accepted" channels.

During the Civil Rights era, 60 minutes journalist Mike Wallace did a piece on the Nation of Islam called "The Hate that Hate produced." It was an inside look at the black nationalist, religious group that focused primarily on their views about white people being devils, and their paramilitary leanings. The piece catapulted Malcolm X into the national consciousness and forever framed the NOI.

I've often wondered why 60 minutes spent so much time on the response to hate, but nowhere near that much time on the actual hate itself? I mean, there was no show dedicated to the violence the KKK and other domestic terrorist organizations were inflicting on black people at the time. There was no in-depth study of how racism affected housing, education and quality of life. Nope, hatred only became news when black folks started arming themselves and clearly outlining the source of their misery. 2520s.

That seems pretty analogous to the situation with this Canadian teenager. The racism isn't the the school's concern, the violence because of racism wasn't their initial concern either. Instead, the big problem is the fact that this Asian kid had the audacity to strike back, and strike back so forcefully, that there can be no doubt of his ability to protect his interests.

I guess that's a game changer.

Monday, May 11, 2009

pity the imperilled white kids

In the following segment, Larry Wilmore of "The Daily Show" explores the implications of an impending demographic shift that some white folks find frightening--the day that white Americans become . . . a minority.

How are today's white children preparing themselves for their encroaching insignificance?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
White in America - The Children

[If you can't view the clip, this Canadian mirror might work for you.]

Sunday, May 10, 2009

dump their mothers into nursing homes

In the addictive HBO program "The Sopranos," Tony Soprano obviously identified strongly with his Italian heritage. However, one reason I liked the show was because it also depicted him and his family acting in common white ways. In many respects, the Sopranos clearly considered ethnicity more of an option than a necessity.

In the following scenes, for instance, Tony goes through a struggle that's more common for white Americans than for many non-white ones--he tries to convince his mother to move into a nursing home.

If you thought about you mother today, on "Mother's Day," did you also think about a nursing home?

Chances are that if you're a white American, you're more likely to have had such thoughts than the sons and daughters of other racial groups.

As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2000 (and I doubt things have changed much since then), the majority of nursing home residents are women, and the nursing home population is "almost entirely white."

An especially vivid childhood memory for me took place in my nuclear family's living room. Grandma, my father's mother, was perched on the edge of the couch, smoking a cigarette. She was visiting us for a few days, spending some time away from her own, much smaller house, which was about a hundred miles away.

She'd moved into that house by herself after Grandpa died. As she talked to my parents that day, I came to understand that she wasn't getting on all that well by herself anymore. She felt lonely, and she needed help around the house sometimes.

My father had five siblings, all of whom were married with children, and I also came to understand that she'd been paying similar visits to each of them. These visits weren't going well.

"Six goddamn kids," she said at one point. She stabbed her cigarette into an ashtray and said it again. "I have six goddamn kids! And not one of them will take me in. Not one of them."

I don't remember what my parents said. I do remember that my grandmother ended up in her own apartment back in her hometown, in a building that was somehow reserved for old people. Despite her fondness for Marlboro Reds, she lived into her 80s, when she apparently died in her sleep. I imagine that if she had lived much longer, a nursing home would've been her next and final residence.

Now that I'm an adult, I know that my grandmother's grown children had a variety of reasons for not taking her in, and that some of those reasons were more than valid. But I also suspect that her children, who were fully in step with the broader, twentieth-century idolatry of the all-American "nuclear family," were enacting an especially white American tendency in their refusal of her request.

I'm having trouble finding research that explains why white Americans are more likely than others to live separately from their older parents, and to put them in nursing homes. At this point, I can only speculate. If you have any more solid explanations, please chime in.

Perhaps the children of non-white mothers resort to nursing homes less often because they know that their mothers are likely to receive worse care in them than white mothers do. Various studies show, for instance, that black and Hispanic residents are hospitalized more often than white residents, with bed sores, dehydration, poor nutrition, and other results of inattentive care.

But I think cultural and economic factors are more likely explanations for why more older white people end up in nursing homes.

Throughout most of American history, white and non-white families alike commonly lived as "extended" families, with several generations under one roof.

When the economy exploded after World War II, more people--especially white people--could afford to live in households that contained fewer people. A breadwinning father and a housekeeping mother who did almost of the childrearing became the pursued ideal, especially in the expanding, influential media of television and advertising. Grandparents were increasingly excluded from that idealized family portrait.

In addition to increased economic opportunities that benefited white people more than others, a cultural factor that I think partially accounts for the white movement away from extended family life is hyper-individualism. The post-war era's movement into Cold War competition with the Soviet Union included a heightened emphasis on that which distinguished America from its supposed national opposite.

Since Russia was figured as a totalitarian communist collective that de-emphasized the individual, America declared itself, more strongly than ever, a bastion of individual rights and freedom. As a consequence, Randian exclamations of "the virtue of selfishness" and the evils of altruistic collectivism rang especially true for many middle-class white people, who were already more inclined by their increasingly unacknowledged whiteness to see themselves in individualistic terms.

I suspect that along with these trends, older white Americans felt less willing to "lose their independence" by moving in with their children. They also may have had more "respect" than the elderly of previous generations for the individualized, seemingly autonomous lives of their children. Today, many older white people still seem more inclined to think of living with their children as "imposing a burden on them."

So, since I try to remain aware on a daily basis of my white racial training, those were some of my Mother's Day thoughts. In the future, I hope to better understand this common white tendency, that of dumping parents into nursing homes.

Is that word too severe? "Dumping?" I hope so.

But, in many cases, I suspect not.

What were your Mother's Day thoughts? Did you think about a nursing home?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

think that racism is okay if you're being ironic about it

Jay Smooth warns of the dangers of hipster racism, as recently enacted by Asher Roth.

You know, that sort of racism that's supposedly okay because it's supposedly ironic.

I've posted before on ironic hipster racism, and I like what Jay Smooth adds to the conversation here.

I'm less in agreement, though, with one of his claims--what do you think of this observation that he makes about race in America?

We are in a new place right now. We're not in the promised land but we are a few steps further down that road than we've ever been before.

Friday, May 8, 2009

spice up blandly white entertainment with humorous characters of color

I've written before about how a lot of white entertainment (that which appeals to largely white audiences by centering on white characters) uses minor black characters. I wrote in that post about how those minor characters are often there solely to help the central characters, and the audience, get in touch with their emotional and/or spiritual sides.

But I haven't written yet about another way such characters add spice to blandly white entertainment--as comic relief. These characters tend to appear as humorous, racially distinct sidekicks.

Although Disney's Mulan is not technically a "white" movie in this sense (since the central character is Chinese), the character voiced by Eddie Murphy--a tiny dragon named Mushu--nevertheless fulfills this kind of comic, racially marked function. I remember wondering when I saw this movie back in the day, "Why the hell did they insert this markedly black American character into a movie about ancient China?"

Mulan was released in 1998, and we might hope that movies are better now--that entertainment made for kids offer less of this "whites at the center and darker folks pulled in from the margins when we need some laughs" kind of thing.

But alas--it looks like another dose of (white) "family entertainment" that's coming down the pike takes this thing to a whole new level of crass stupidity.

In Tommy and the Cool Mule, a whole bunch of white folks get their hijinks going, all with the help of a mule that's "cool" because it talks like a stereotypically "black" man.

Tommy and the Cool Mule looks so terrible that I have trouble believing it's real. But the Internet Movie Database says it is, and that it's set for release on May 26. The following trailer says that the mule's voice is provided by . . . Ice-T?!

What do you think--Is this movie another nasty case of Magical Negroism? And does this look like a movie that you'll soon be enjoying with some young ones?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

act surprised when young white guys turn out to be killers

This is a guest post by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, who blogs here. She describes herself as "a recovering journalist and a practicing author." The following (which originally appeared here) also appeared at Alternet.

Handsome and clean cut, or creepy freakin' loner?
If you're a news editor, the former;
if you're me and everyone I know, the latter.

The New York Times described alleged killer Philip Markoff as having led a "seemingly normal" life before he was arrested for killing a woman he'd met through Craigslist, and robbing at least two others.

The New York Daily News described Markoff as "clean cut" and "a high-achieving dentist's son". The Boston Globe also described the shaggy-haired Markoff as "clean cut" - as did countless other media outlets. called Markoff "all-American," while The Associated Press and dozens of others called him "handsome"; PR Insider said, simply, that "by all appearances, he had it all." Over and over again, coast to coast, American media outlets told us how goodlooking, smart, and "normal" Markoff was, or should have been.

As I read and watched the media coverage of the twenty-two-year-old alleged killer, I was stunned - though not surprised - by the fawning tone taken by the nation's reporters. After all, given the available information, Markoff could have been painted as a weird, antisocial woman-hater, irresponsible, deeply in debt, broke, and in the midst of eviction from his apartment. He could have been presented as a stone-faced, emotionless creep who scared classmates by forcing kisses on them, and had a long history of strange behavior. Hell, one look at the guy at a bar, and most women I know would have shuddered and walked the other way.

But Markoff wasn't served up to the public this way by the media. Rather, Markoff was served by the media on a silver platter, described as a great-looking, charming, rich guy (none of which were true) whose alleged crimes were ostensibly all the more shocking for one simple and disturbing reason: Markoff had stepped outside of our racist culture's perceived norm for his type. I'll say it again, in plain language: In the mythology of white male editors, guys like Markoff don't kill. They golf. With newspaper editors. Most of whom look like Markoff.

The hidden code in the news coverage of Markoff, as it was for "preppy killer" Robert Chambers and countless other white male killers, has been clear: tall young white guys, especially middle-class or wealthy ones in college, just don't do stuff like this. Except that they do.

History inconveniently proves the US media perception of privileged white men as nonviolent rulers of the earth to be counter to fact. The United States has produced more serial killers than any other nation on earth, and 85 percent of them have been white men, according to a study by Apsche. The average age that serial killers take their first victim is 28. Sixty-two percent target strangers exclusively, and 71 percent operate in a specific geographic area.

From this description, it appears that Markoff, rather than being the shocking exception to an imaginary rule where white guys are the good guys, was pretty much the classic manifestation of the real rule of creepy serial criminals of a certain type. Not to mention that this nation was created through the rape, murder, robbery and enslavement of dark-skinned people, by guys who looked like Markoff. (It is estimated that 100 million Native Americans were slaughtered by European "explorers," and 50 million Africans perished as the result of the American slave trade. None of this, however, seems to have any impact on the media's continued belief that educated white men are nonviolent.)

So, why the disconnect from reality among the media? That's easy. The media has long been in the business of selling perception over truth, especially when it comes to issues of race, socioeconomic class, and sex. If you wish to know the myths and prejudices of a time, read its newspapers. If you wish for the truths, read its poetry.

Sexism plays a part in the media coverage, too. That Markoff targeted women selling escort services only helped the media to see him as a good guy led astray by Jezebels. In her book "Virgin or Vamp: How the media cover sex crimes," Columbia Journalism professor Helen Benedict beautifully illustrates the distinctions placed upon victims and perpetrators of sex crimes, depending upon the reputation, dress, race, occupation and economic class of the female victim.

In cases such as the Markoff murder and robberies, the underlying message in media coverage tends to be that women were somehow asking for it. In presenting Markoff as "handsome," this mythology is underscored; after all, a handsome guy doesn't need an escort service. The women must have been asking for it.

Benedict places the blame for this sort of media coverage on the fact that most editors, reporters and copy editors in the national media are white men who find themselves relating, at a visceral level, to the alleged perpetrators. Thus, the media's description of Markoff as "normal". Whose normal? Normal to white male editors who live in white neighborhoods and have only white friends, one assumes.

If ever there was an argument for the need for increased diversity in America's newsrooms, it is the recent coverage of Markoff. Sadly, we are nowhere near such a goal. In fact, fewer minorities work in the news media now than ten years ago, according to a recent report in Columbia Journalism Review. In an increasingly non-white America, you do have to wonder if blatantly biased news coverage of alleged criminals like Markoff have anything to do with one after another newspaper filing for bankruptcy, or outright closing down.

For another discussion of the common white tendency to overlook that which is dangerous because it seems so normal, see Tim Wise's "School Shootings and White Denial," where he writes, "listen up my fellow white Americans: your children are no better, no nicer, no more moral, no more decent than anyone else. Dysfunction is all around you, whether you choose to recognize it or not."
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