Monday, May 31, 2010

forget the black origins of "memorial day"

Today is "Memorial Day," the day on which (some) people in the United States remember and honor their war dead. What few white Americans realize is a bit of whitewashed history -- the first such celebration was initiated and carried out by black people.

Thousands of freed slaves gathered to honor fallen soldiers for the first time at the end of the U.S. Civil War, in 1865. Several American towns have since claimed to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, but they each trace their claims back to a later date, 1866.

Historian David Blight tells the story:

After a long siege, a prolonged bombardment for months from all around the harbor, and numerous fires, the beautiful port city of Charleston, South Carolina, where the war had begun in April, 1861, lay in ruin by the spring of 1865. The city was largely abandoned by white residents by late February. Among the first troops to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the Twenty First U. S. Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the formal surrender of the city.

Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters' horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, "Martyrs of the Race Course."

Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable [
sic] parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders' race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy's horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freedpeople. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing "a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before."

At 9 am on May 1, the procession stepped off led by three thousand black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing "John Brown's Body." The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathered in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens' choir sang "We'll Rally around the Flag," the "Star-Spangled Banner," and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture. . . .

Following the solemn dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: they enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches, and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantry participating was the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite. The war was over, and Decoration Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been all about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders' republic, and not about state rights, defense of home, nor merely soldiers' valor and sacrifice.

According to a reminiscence written long after the fact, "several slight disturbances" occurred during the ceremonies on this first Decoration Day, as well as "much harsh talk about the event locally afterward." But a measure of how white Charlestonians suppressed from memory this founding in favor of their own creation of the practice later came fifty-one years afterward, when the president of the Ladies Memorial Association of Charleston received an inquiry about the May 1, 1865 parade. A United Daughters of the Confederacy official from New Orleans wanted to know if it was true that blacks had engaged in such a burial rite. Mrs. S. C. Beckwith responded tersely: "I regret that I was unable to gather any official information in answer to this." In the struggle over memory and meaning in any society, some stories just get lost while others attain mainstream dominance. . . .

Over time several American towns, north and south, claimed to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. But all of them commemorate cemetery decoration events from 1866. Pride of place as the first large scale ritual of Decoration Day, therefore, goes to African Americans in Charleston. By their labor, their words, their songs, and their solemn parade of flowers and marching feet on their former owners' race course, they created for themselves, and for us, the Independence Day of the Second American Revolution. . . .

The rest of David Blight's article appears here.

Blight also describes "Decoration Day" in greater detail in his book Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, as well as the name-change to Memorial Day, and the contested and changing meanings of this national remembrance. You can listen to "John Brown's Body," the song sung by thousands of freed slaves on that day, here (that page also explains why it sounds so much like another well-known American tune).

David W. Blight teaches American History at Yale University, where he is the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. He's also the author of the award-winning book A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

flip the script to make an anti-racist point

Something to watch on a Friday -- an anti-racism activist name Josh put this video on YouTube last week. I'm thinking you're likely to like it.

Best lines? "The Europeans. Jeez! What a brutal group of people."

h/t: The Analyzer @ ONTD: Politics

associate black men with drug dealers

About 35 seconds into this clip, Bill O'Reilly -- Fox News' racisme provocateur -- tells a black man, Marc Lamont Hill -- who happens to be a Columbia University professor -- that he "looks like a cocaine dealer." They're discussing President Obama's decision to send troops to the Mexico-U.S. border. (Watch also for Dr. Hill's comeback.)

   Bill O’Reilly: “Let's say you’re a cocaine dealer -- and you kind of look like one a little bit.”

   Marc Lamont Hill: “As do you . . . you know, you actually look like a cocaine user

This example of ignorant white aggression reminds me of another, bitterly iconic scenario, Professor Cornel West's struggle to catch a taxi (as described in his book Race Matters):

I dropped my wife off for an appointment on 60th Street between Lexington and Park Avenues. I left my car -- a rather elegant one -- and stood on the corner of 60th Street and Park Avenue to catch a taxi. I felt quite relaxed since I had an hour until my next engagement. At 5:00 P.M. I had to meet a photographer who would take the picture for the cover of this book on the roof of an apartment building in Harlem on 115th Street and 1st Avenue. I waited and waited and waited. After the ninth taxi refused me, my blood began to boil. The tenth taxi refused me and stopped for a kind, well-dressed smiling female citizen of European descent. As she stepped into the cab, she said, "This is really ridiculous, is it not?"

Ugly racial memories of the past flashed through my mind. Years ago, while driving from New York to teach at Williams College, I was stopped on fake charges of trafficking cocaine. When I told the police officer I was a professor of religion, he replied "Yeh, and I'm the Flying Nun. Let's go, nigger!" I was stopped three times in my first ten days in Princeton for driving too slowly on a residential street with a speed limit of twenty-five miles per hour. (And my son, Clifton, already has similar memories at the tender age of fifteen.) Needless to say, these memories are dwarfed by those like Rodney King's beating or the abuse of black targets of the FBI's COINTEL-PRO efforts in the 1960s and 1970s. Yet the memories cut like a merciless knife at my soul as I waited on that godforsaken corner.

Since the day West is describing here is the day that he was photographed for the cover of his book, you can see what he was wearing -- a formal, thoroughly professional looking suit, complete with tie, and vest. I can't tell if Marc Lamont Hill was also wearing a vest, but the rest of the "professional" uniform is there. And yet, looking as educated, professional, well-heeled, well-monied and so on often doesn't matter, does it? For Bill O'Reilly, as for many white people, the image of a drug dealer as a black man persists in the "darker" recesses of our minds.

So that's a fairly obvious common white tendency exemplified by that clip, and I hope that electronic cards and letters of complaint are pouring into Fox Studios as I write this post.* However, another, less obvious white tendency (less obvious to white people like me, that is) also seems to emerge here. As Zuky notes,

Bill O’Loofah started worrying that this sharp dude (Marc Lamont Hill) might be on the verge of taking him down intellectually, so he threw in some gratuitous gut-rot racism as a degrading distraction. White folks do this all the time.

Yes, gratuitous derailing gut-rot racism. It works every time. Or, almost every time.

And half the time, or more, we don't even know we're doing it.

* You can complain by writing to askfox AT fox DOT com

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

find ways to counter the racism of their co-workers

This is a guest post by a white swpd reader named Sarah.*

I'm a graphic designer at a company that makes Christmas cards. More specifically, I’m head of the design department. One of our most popular products is a catalog of holiday photo cards, which are available in hundreds of retail stores nationwide.

Over the years, we have produced three catalogs with about twenty-five cards in each catalog. Almost every card includes a photo of a family or some children, which I purchase from stock photography websites. Out of all those cards in our catalogue, maybe two have ever used photos of black families. Before I was hired, there were none.

When I set out a month ago to begin designing a new catalog, I realized I had been remiss not to push for more POC in our books. I set a goal to include as many POC as I could get away with, knowing that at some point I would meet some resistance. However, I had no idea this resistance would begin after including a whopping two photos of black people.

After the second photo was added, several people made comments like, "what's with all the black people?"

"You mean, all two?" I would say.

After adding the third photo, the owners of the company started to refuse photos featuring black people, but they did so by citing minor imperfections, which I believe would have gone unnoticed if the families had been white. When I would show them the designs that incorporated black families, there would be this long silence where I could almost hear the gears turning in their heads, trying to find some reason to reject the photo without acknowledging it was because the people in it weren't white. They would say things like, "there's just something about this photo I don't care for."

Keep in mind, we don't even use model types, we have always used photos that depict "real" looking people, at the owners' behest. But now all of a sudden, none of the black people seemed to be attractive enough. It became really important that we find "better looking" people. So, we went back and forth three or four times. They would keep rejecting photos, and I would just select another black family photo.

"You’re so funny," one of my bosses said as I handed her another photo of a black family.

"What's funny?"

"Nothing, nothing."

Finally they realized that if they were going to stop me, they would have to state out loud that they didn't want any more photos of black families. (One of them got really close to doing just that, talking about how we know what our clientele looks like, and then she thought better of it and started backtracking.)

At different points during the project, some of my coworkers would try to find ways to get me to remove the black people from the album, and I would politely refuse. For example, one girl said, "In this one the top of the man's head is cropped off, so you should pick a different photo."

I pointed to about thirteen other cards with white people where the top of the head was cropped off and wondered aloud why no one had said anything about replacing any of those photos. "How strange," I said in mock confusion.

And then, the kicker. One of my (more blunt) coworkers came up to my desk, noticed that I had designed yet another card featuring two adorable black children, and then she said, "I'm sick of all these black people. Black people don't buy our cards."

I calmly told her that even if that were true, it wouldn't be a good enough reason not to include them in our line. After she left I started to feel woozy, like I was literally going to throw up at my desk. I was really surprised and disgusted by what was happening. Like I had looked under my living room rug and found a huge colony of maggots or something.

So, at the end of the project, I have one photo of an Asian-American family, three photos of Latino families/children, and three of black families/children, out of roughly twenty-five photos. That's way less than I was shooting for, partially because we ended up making a smaller book than I had originally planned on, but I am confident that I will succeed in adding more POC to successive catalogs.

* By the way, the title of this post is by me, macon d -- I say that because I wouldn't want anyone to think that Sarah's patting herself on the back or something for fighting racism in her workplace.

Monday, May 24, 2010

expect black people to behave better in public than white people do

This is a guest post for swpd by Sheri, who blogs eponymously as Filthy Grandeur here. She writes of herself, "I'm a writer still trying to figure out what I'm doing, so I'm trying to do a lot of different things. I'm a daydreamer who hates being social. I'm afraid I fit the stereotype of angry, loner writer who enjoys sitting in the dark writing about things that piss me off. Yes, I enjoy drinking, but no I do not smoke."

It was less than 30 minutes after my boyfriend's graduation.  We were all sitting in his parents' van on the way to a celebratory dinner, when one of my boyfriend's sisters said, "Those black people sure were loud."  My teeth clenched, because I knew, rather than use this moment as a learning experience, their dad would agree, thus perpetuating a stereotype for their familial racism.  Sure enough, their dad answered, "I think they were the loudest ones in there!"

Let's back up to the actual graduation ceremony.  The seats are packed.  Several groups had to split up in order for everyone to be seated.  Friends and family are all excited to see their respective loved ones graduate with medical degrees.  The class size is two-hundred.  Three of those are black med students.  In the audience, there are three distinct groups of black friends and families.  

The names begin to be called.  There are cheers for each student as they make their walk across the stage to claim their medical degrees.  Soon, it becomes a contest between each group of friends and family who can make the most noise to celebrate their loved one's achievement.  A group of white guys in the back begin a chant for their friend as he accepts his medical degree.  The chant is loud, and goes on longer than their guy is on stage, and the announcer must wait for them to settle before speaking the next name.  Two white women in front of us bark when their loved one goes across the stage, one taking so long that the audience laughs when she finally finishes.  

One of the black students is called.  As he walks across the stage you can hear his family cheering.  One man even shouts "Yeah! That's my brother!"

More loud cheers from white families, each one trying to outdo the last.  Another black student crosses the stage.  Her family stands and cheers for her.  They are a larger group than a lot of the white families, and they cheer loudly for their loved one, but no more loudly or enthusiastically than the white families.  No more than is deserving of such an accomplishment.

I regret not saying anything, not speaking up for my friends and family, for my future sister-in-law.  For a point of reference, I'll direct you to this post, which is a precursor to my absence from the internet (and incidentally the worst depression I've had in years), since my boyfriend's parents' hatred of me has escalated their attempts to get him to break up with me.  These are people who are deeply racist.  Example: his dad's "ace in the hole" to try and convince my boyfriend that I'm not date-able, or marriageable for that matter, is that I've dated black men -- which is just rife with racist assumptions about black men, hypersexuality, and this supposed ultra-purity of white women, which is apparently destroyed by black men.  I bring all this up to illustrate that the comments made in the van are not isolated incidents, that it's not just me looking too much into it. 

The fact that the black families' responses to a happy occasion required comment is quite racist.  White celebratory responses are cause for amusement and laughter.  But black families, god, they're just so loud, you know?  If anything, the black families had more to celebrate that day given the obvious racial disparity among the graduates (oh wait, that just means that black students don't work as hard, right?).  

It's a common white tendency to comment on the behavior of black people in public.  Some of you may remember a post I wrote a while back, where a coworker of mine demanded to know why black people can't behave in public.  Even if someone is being obnoxious, it should never be attributed to their skin color.  And in this case too, apparently the behavior of black people is always under scrutiny by racist white people, even when the situation calls for loud celebration.  

Sunday, May 23, 2010

commit crimes with relative ease

From PostSecret. (What do you suppose the drain represents? The name of the image file is "vortex.jpg.")

Friday, May 21, 2010

claim that the "free market" could take care of racial problems

So what is Rand Paul -- an ordinary white racist? Or a more sinister sort of closet racist?

In response to an onslaught of what he terms "liberal media attacks" after a recent interview with Rachel Maddow -- in which he argued against federal restrictions on business owners' "rights" to refuse service to whomever they like -- Libertarian whiz kid Rand Paul is now claiming that he actually supports the Civil Rights Act.

On his official candidacy site, Paul states,

“I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person. I have clearly stated in prior interviews that I abhor racial discrimination and would have worked to end segregation. Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws."

Like his initial claims in the Maddow interview -- basically, that he's against racial discrimination, but also for allowing businesses to refuse service to whomever they like -- Paul's official response to the firestorm that he's provoked is nothing short of bizarre. It's a blatantly self-contradictory stance being expressed by a (suddenly) national figure (which, come to think of it, isn't all that unusual).

How can Paul logically be for the Civil Rights Act, which forbids businesses from discriminating on the basis of race, and also for the "right" of businesses to do whatever they want, including discriminating on the basis of race? And how can he be for an act of law, but actually for the "intent" of that law? Basically, he can't. And yet, like so many other adherents to Libertarianism, he simply ignores the fundamental contradictions that arise when simplistic theories get tested in the real world.

I think it's great, and pretty entertaining really, that this example of Libertarian ideology -- which Rand Paul and his father Ron Paul both hold so dear -- has been exposed as illogical so early in his candidacy. Rand Paul's bumbling attempts to address his self-contradictory stance, all while completely failing to address it, just might bring about the kind of sunlight that could disinfect a lot of the rising and similarly bankrupt Tea-Party ideology (its adherents fervently support Rand's candidacy).

Such attention might also help to expose an apparently new common white tendency -- explaining away racist actions by saying they're not a problem, because the free market will take care of them.

Rand Paul made this particular argument when he said the following, in explanation of his position on business rights and civil rights: "I think it’s a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant."

Got that? Paul's implication is that businesses that refuse their services in a racist manner will suffer or even fail, presumably because in our "postracial" society, most people will spend their money at businesses that don't practice racial discrimination, because most (white) people aren't racists anymore. The free market is sacrosanct and magical, you see; if the dastardly liberals who supposedly control everything would just let market practices be "free," all problems would be solved. Including racism!

This is the same excuse given, for instance, by that racist justice of the peace in Louisiana. Remember Keith Bardwell, the one who refused to grant marriage licenses to interracial couples? He said that his refusal wasn't racist (of course), because he only meant to protect the children produced by such unions. Then, after the couple obtained a license elsewhere, Bardwell said this:

I'm sorry, you know, that I offended the couple, but I did help them and tell them who to go to and get married. And they went and got married, and they should be happily married, and I don't see what the problem is now.

Got that, all you racism chasers? Bardwell is basically saying, without saying it outright, that even if his actions were racist, that's not a problem, because the couple was free to get their marriage license elsewhere. The market took care of it! And Bardwell himself was supposedly just expressing his all-American, God-given personal right to serve, and not serve, whomever he liked.

I don't know if these two examples justly represent a "common white tendency" (can you think of others?). However, they do help to explain why such an overwhelming percentage of Libertarians are white, and also why a lot of them -- although they'd never admit it in public -- are flatout racists. As Niky Ring writes (in a post entitled "Libertarianism: the ideology of American racists"), "Why are people shocked when a libertarian flips over and there's a Klansman on the other side?"

That's not to say that all Libertarians keep pointy-hooded robes in their closets. But it is to say that it's not difficult to see why the ideology itself attracts so many adamant racists. Now that we have another ardent Libertarian on the national stage, one who's aligned with the similarly, thinly veiled racists of the Tea Party (you know, those crowds of white people clamoring to take "their" country back), here's hoping that the "liberal media" will keep up the "attack" on Rand's self-contradictory stance on the Civil Rights Act. Maybe they'll also be able to figure out just what kind of racist he is too.

[h/t: swpd reader Jon]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

rewrite u.s. "history" so that white people look better than ever

This is a guest post by Chauncey DeVega, who blogs at We Are Respectable Negroes, where this post also appears.

What Would U.S. History Look Like 
If It Were Written By Texas and Arizona?

History is one part truth. History is also one part fable. It is a site of political contestation and struggle. As the state of Arizona (with its rules banning “Ethnic Studies”) and the state of Texas (reimaging its U.S. history curriculum to conform with the Tea Party and Christian Nationalist perspective) have both embraced a more “conservative” view of history, it only seems fair and reasonable to take their efforts at face value. Theirs is not an assault on academic freedom. No, it is an effort to diversify and make more inclusive and “American” the curriculum taught to our children.

Many, on both sides of the political divide, have treated these new guidelines with much derision and complaint. I suggest that the best way to understand the teaching of history as imagined by this brave new world is to work through the reality it offers. To that end, I present U.S. history as outlined in the politically correct guidelines offered by Arizona and Texas. Sometimes the old is indeed the new . . . welcome my friends to Tea Party U.S.A.

The Essential Dates and Events of U.S. History 
as Approved by the States of Arizona and Texas

1607– Jamestown founded. Capitalism, which can trace its roots to the Bible, is now firmly rooted in the New World.

1660-1800Triangular Atlantic trade continues to bring wealth and prosperity to America while giving opportunities to new immigrants.

1776–War for Independence against the tyrannical, evil British empire. Colonists suffer oppression that is unprecedented in human history. Minutemen singlehandedly defeat the evil British Empire in 1783.

1788–The United States Constitution is signed as a document to stand for all time, inspired by God, and never to be changed.

–America continues to expand westward into empty territories. American settlers make the land bloom with the help of friendly Indian tribes.

1823–America guarantees the freedom of all countries and people in the Western Hemisphere with the adoption of the Monroe Doctrine.

1848–Mexico, in an act of friendship following their humiliation at the Alamo by the great Republic of Texas, gives their territories to the United States.

1860s-1900s–The Gilded Age of prosperity. American capitalism provides opportunities for all people to grow wealthy, secure, and happy. Liberals and Progressives begin working against American freedom and capitalism by forming unions, demanding unfair compensation from their employers, limiting the rights of children to work in factories, and imposing restrictive regulations for the “safety” of employees. Many brave men die fighting Communist-influenced unions as they riot in America’s cities.

1861-1865–Civil War fought because of an overreaching, tyrannical federal government and its desire to limit the freedoms of all Americans. 620,000 people die including many brave and noble black Americans who fought on the side of the Confederacy. Northerners and Southerners eventually find common ground through Redemption and move forward as brothers and sisters in the USA.

1865-1870s–Democratic terrorists called the Ku Klux Klan begin a reign of terror in the South until brave Republicans defeat them.

–Using the Antiquities Act, Theodore Roosevelt establishes the National Park System. In one bold stroke Roosevelt establishes Socialist policies that steal land from the American people.

1913–More Socialism and class warfare ushered into the U.S. with the federal income tax system.

1917–America enters and wins World War 1 singlehandedly because the French are cowards.

1929–Great Depression begins. Tens of millions unemployed because of FDR’s failed economic policies. His New Deal introduces the nanny state, prolongs America’s economic collapse, and weakens the economy until Ronald Reagan renews America.

1941–Patriotic Japanese Americans volunteer to place themselves in gated communities so that America will be safe from Imperial Japan.

1941-1945–America enters and wins World War 2 singlehandedly because the French are cowards. Out of necessity, the United States drops atomic bombs on Japan.

1945-1965–A high point in U.S. history, as freedom and prosperity reign over all Americans.

1950–Senator Joseph McCarthy fearlessly highlights how America is infiltrated by communists from Russia and China. Big Hollywood and the liberal establishment are brought to their knees by his brave efforts.

1954–Brown v. Board of Education removes the parental right to send children to the schools of their choice and with the company they desire. A dangerous and unconstitutional era of activist Supreme Court decisions begins.

1955-1968–George Wallace and Martin Luther King Jr. lead a Civil Rights Movement to ensure that all Americans are judged by “the content of their character and not the color of their skin.”

1964-Barry Goldwater ignites a revolution in Conservative thought and values that resonates to the 21st century.

1968–The cinematic classic The Green Berets starring John Wayne, America’s greatest actor, debuts.

1971–America largely withdraws from Vietnam on the cusp of victory because it was weakened by The Gays, The Women’s Movement, and “The Counter-culture.” The French are cowards whose failure forced the U.S. to intervene in Indochina.

1973–Roe vs. Wade, the worst legal decision in the history of the Supreme Court, is decided.

1974-Phyllis Schlafly, pioneer for the rights of women, takes a stand against evil Leftist feminists who want to ban motherhood, force mothers to work at jobs outside the home, join the military, become lesbians, and receive advanced educations which they do not need.

1974–Nixon forced to resign by liberal conspiracy.

1980–Ronald Reagan, America’s greatest president, restores American providence by ushering in a new era of economic prosperity, cutting the federal budget, and correcting the unfair federal tax code in order that the hard work of the richest Americans is justly rewarded.

1989–The Berlin Wall falls. Ronald Reagan wins the Cold War singlehandedly.

1992-2000–Democrat president Bill Clinton in office. His reckless personal behavior and irresponsible foreign policy choices weaken America internationally. The U.S. economy is almost destroyed by his tax policies. His wife Hillary Clinton furthers the march towards Socialism by advocating for free public health care and to destroy the insurance companies that drive us economic growth.

2000–George Bush elected in a landslide.

2001–Terrorists attack America on September 11th. Because of Bill Clinton’s policies, a weakened border, a lax immigration policy, rampant multiculturalism, and the Democrats’ weakening of the military, America is left open to attack.

2003–Dr. King’s vision is finally made real. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court strikes down the reverse discrimination policies of the University of Michigan. Freedom rings across the land.

2003–The country of Iraq, a rogue state, part of the Axis of Evil, and led by the dictator Saddam Hussein -- a co-conspirator in the 9-11 attacks -- is liberated by President George Bush.

2008-Arizona war hero John McCain introduces Sarah Palin to the world.

2008–Barack Obama is elected. America is in a Constitutional crisis as Obama is unable to prove that he is a U.S. citizen.

2008-the present. Brave Americans begin joining Tea Parties and 9-12 freedom groupsMillions of their members march on Washington DC.. Freedom fighter, James David Manning, places Obama on trial in absentia for treason and sedition.

2008Sarah Palin, mother, governor, author, actress, comedienne and role-model, begins here meteoric rise to political stardom. She ushers in an era of robust, common sense approaches to political problems tempered by real American values.

2010–Barack Obama remains President although his rule is illegitimate. Brave patriots such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh continue to lead the people’s resistance against his tyrannical rule.

2010-Patriotic legislatures in Texas and Arizona lead the battle against racial quotas and ethnocentrism as they draft legislation to defend all of America from an unending and unfettered stream of foreign invaders.

pay little attention to terrorism directed against minorities

Did you hear about the mosque bombing in Florida last week?

If not, then why not?

Actually, I think I can answer that second question. Chances are that you didn't hear about this act of domestic terrorism because major newspapers and networks haven't covered it.

A bomb in Times Square failed to explode recently, and just about everyone in the U.S. heard about it. A bomb in a mosque succeeded in exploding last week, and next to no one in the U.S. has heard about it.

Why the difference? Why the double standard?

My presumption that next to no Americans have heard about the Florida mosque bombing isn't quite accurate. Many, many Muslims in the U.S. have heard about it. And many of them are expressing dismay that so few others have heard about it.

At MuslimMatters, Hesham A. Hassaballa writes,

On the evening of May 10, there was a small explosion and fire outside a Jacksonville, FL mosque. According to a fire department investigation and officials of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida, worshipers heard a loud noise outside the mosque, and there was a small fire that was extinguished. The damage was described as “very minimal” by a Jacksonville Fire and Rescue spokesperson. Thank God, no one was injured in the attack.

According to the Council on American Islamic Relations, mosque officials reported that an unknown white man in his 40s entered the mosque on April 4 and shouted “Stop this blaspheming.” He was chased away by worshipers, but he reportedly said, “I will be back.” Now, it has been determined that the explosion was due to a pipe bomb, and it is being investigated as a possible act of domestic terrorism. “It was a dangerous device, and had anybody been around it they could have been seriously injured or killed,” says Special Agent James Casey.

Yet, you would not be faulted for not knowing that it even occurred. Most of the news coverage has been local in Florida. There has not been nearly the same amount of coverage at the failed bombing in Times Square.

Now, of course, the size of this pipe bomb is nothing compared to the size of the truck bomb allegedly placed by Faisal Shahzad. The mosque bombing was perpetrated by one individual, and it increasingly looks like the Taliban in Pakistan were behind the attempted bombing in Times Square. Obviously, an attack on Times Square in the middle of a tourist/theater district is much more of a story than an attack on a mosque in Florida.

But just as the Times Square bomb could have really done harm, the pipe bomb could have also done a lot of harm. FBI officials noted that the blast radius could have been 100 feet. In addition, The FBI Special Agent in Florida, James Casey, had added: “We want to sort of emphasize the seriousness of the thing and not let people believe that this was just a match and a little bit of gasoline that was spread around.” The attempted attack on Times Square was rightly called an act of terrorism. But, as this news report says: “The FBI is looking at this case as a possible hate crime, and now they’re analyzing it as a possible act of domestic terrorism.”

A pipe bomb that explodes outside a mosque causing a fire a possible act of domestic terrorism? What if a pipe bomb exploded in Times Square? Or outside a church? Would this be called terrorism? Of course it would. . . and it should. So should this attack on the Jacksonville, FL mosque.

At, J. Samia Mair entitled her article on this double standard with my post's opening question (which I borrowed from her title): "Did you hear about the mosque bombing in Florida last week?"

Mair notes that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has announced a $5,000 reward for information regarding this act of terrorism, and she also notes that CAIR has

“questioned the silence of public officials and national media about a bomb attack.” CAIR reported that “media coverage has for the most part been restricted to Florida and that there have been no public condemnations of the bombing at the national level.”

Like Mair, and like most of us, I haven't seen or read any national news regarding this terrorist bombing of a mosque. I suspect this silence is a symptom of the white-framed corporate media's rigidly limited narrative for "terrorism," which conceptualizes it as a "Muslim" thing, as well as an "Arabic" thing.

The racist result of this limited framing is that acts of terrorism inflicted on non-white spaces and people don't receive the attention they deserve. And in turn, one result of that lack of attention is that the perpetrators -- like the one in this Florida bombing -- often elude identification and arrest, sometimes for far longer than the people who perpetrate, or even plan to perpetrate, more stereotypical forms of terrorism.

I'll leave the last words on this xenophobic and racist double standard to J. Samia Mair:

I don’t recall seeing anything [about the Florida mosque bombing] on the national news. Surely, if the FBI considers this incident possibly "domestic terrorism" it should garner some attention. I can’t help but to wonder that if a church or synagogue had been bombed -- no matter how small the explosion -- there would have been some sort of national coverage.

[My thanks for info on the Florida bombing to swpd reader Katie]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

let their biases shape their perceptions of non-white people

In the following video, a teacher named Brad Wray (who's apparently a really cool teacher) sings a song that he wrote on the various types of cognitive bias; he wrote it to help his students study for a Psychology exam.

Which of the following biases do you think are most applicable to common white perceptions of, and interactions with, non-white people? (Maybe . . . all of them?)

Also, why not open this up a bit beyond stuff white people do -- what was the best teacher you ever had like? What did he or she do that really got through to you?

[Lyrics below]

I'm biased because I knew it all along...
hindsight bias... I knew it all along.

I'm biased because I put you in a category

in which you may or may not belong...
representativeness bias... don't stereotype this song

I'm biased because of a small detail

that throws off the big picture of the thing
anchoring bias...
see the forest for the trees

I'm biased toward the first example

that comes to mind
availability bias... to the first thing that comes to mind

Oh oh bias

don't let bias into your mind

Bias don't try this
it'll influence your thinking and memories,

don't mess with these
but you're guilty of distorted thinking

Cognitive bias
your mind becomes blinded
decisions and problems

you've been forced to solve them wrongly

I'm biased because I'll only listen

to what I agree with
confirmation bias... your narrowminded if you are this

I'm biased because I take credit

for success but no blame for failure
self-serving bias... my success and your failure

I'm biased when I remember things the way

I would've expected them to be
expectancy bias... false memories are shaped by these

I'm biased becase I think my opinion now

was my opinion then
self-consistency bias ...
but you felt different way back when

Oh oh bias don't let bias into your mind...

Bias don't try this,
it'll influence you thinking and memories,
don't mess with these
but you're guilty of distorted thinking.

Cognitive bias your mind becomes blinded;
decisions and problems
you've been forced to solve them wrongly!

h/t: lisa @ Sociological Images

Saturday, May 15, 2010

expect black female models to look like "white girls dipped in chocolate"

This guest post (which also appears here) is by Renee, who blogs at Womanist Musings.

The following documentary looks at the struggles of Renée Thompson, a beautiful Black model attempting to gain a spot in New York Fashion Week. Despite the fact that she is clearly beautiful, the racism in the fashion industry has been insurmountable.

Justin Perry, Renée’s agent makes it clear why he believes Renée has a chance to succeed when he says:

The girls that are really just being featured in everything, they really have unique features for African Americans. You know the very skinny nose the very elegant face. They really look like White girls that were painted Black. That’s beauty you know to the industry's perspective, to agent's perspective. When they see that, when they see a girl that can look different by skin pigment and still have great features like that, it is sellable.

What the agents and designers seem to dance around throughout this short documentary is that they are actively practicing racism.

Jeanne Beker the host of “Fashion Television” had this to say:

There still seems to be this crazy kind of racism, I hate to call it that. A kind of consciousness in the fashion world, that sometimes you do see, you know, a Black girl on the runway, it’s almost out of a tokenism. Everyone’s pointing fingers. Some people might say that it’s the agents that are to blame, they’re not scouting these girls, they’re not encouraging them, they’re not signing them. Maybe it’s the designers right off the bat; designers should insist that "this is my aesthetic." Like for ad campaigns, hire girls that can just bring a little more diversity to the table.

While she may hate to call it racism, that is exactly what it is. When agents and designers are actively saying that they “need a Black model, but she has to be a White girl dipped in chocolate,” it speaks to a specific rejection of all things Black. African American features are not seen as attractive and Perry, Renee’s agent confirms this:

You know when you come in with big eyes, big nose, big whatever, big lips, things that are common traits in African-Americans, it doesn’t work. But for those lucky few girls that look like Renee, they have White girl features, and it’s kind of messed up, but that is just the way that the industry is.

It is only like this because Whiteness is in control of the fashion industry and there is a refusal to admit that they are using their power to promote a White aesthetic. While they may claim not to be racist themselves, their actions serve to further White supremacy. It it any wonder that at a young age Black children learn to overvalue Whiteness?

The Black woman has long been seen as the ultimate un-woman and despite the supposed advances, race and gender continue to leave Black women at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Fashion is but one manifestation of the ways in which we continue to be “othered”. Black women are called angry when they rightfully lash out against blatant racism, because we are expected to accept our second-class status without complaint. That it is exhausting to constantly wage a battle to be recognized as human and therefore valuable, is not considered. We are constantly told that our tone is why Whiteness does not listen; however, Black women are well aware that White supremacy is dedicated to maintaining the race and gender divisions, because it serves to cement power.

Renée Thompson knows very well what she is up against:

It does get very discouraging. It gets to a point where you feel like you are constantly justifying your worth and what you can contribute to the business. You can only take so much beating up everyday and constant rejection, or that fear every time you walk through that casting door that you are going to be reminded that once again you’re a Black girl. Quitting to me seems like you’re giving in to that racist facade or that you’re giving into saying that, that’s okay that you think that. It’s not okay. It’s not okay that you think that I am different or lesser than. It’s not, so I’m going to stay right here and be a sore in your eye until you recognize what I am good for.

In the U.S there is a backlash because of a fear of a loss of White privilege, and yet in every avenue Black women have not approached anything resembling equality. We earn less, we die earlier and we raise our children largely in poverty. In the media we are portrayed as licentious whores, crack addicts, desperate, or angry, and yet we struggle on in the face of a determined effort to ensure that we remain voiceless and invisible.

It is not surprising when we learn at the end of the film that Renée has failed in her effort to get a job for Fashion Week. Dallas J. Logan, a fashion photographer points out, “Nobody wants to invest money in a Black model to do Gucci, Prada and Valentino, because they’re Black and Black doesn’t sell. Point blank, money is green and White people have the money and they are going to buy from White people”.

Until the day in which equality becomes more than some pseudo liberal buzz word, and an actual concept that society embraces, Black women will continue to struggle. There is nothing post racial about the world in which we live. Whiteness may have changed the language of oppression, so as to appear covert, but it still exists to ensure that Blackness is understood to be inferior. Due to a combination of sexism and racism, Black women continue bear the brunt of the brutality of White supremacy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

blame their crimes on phantom people of color

This is a guest post by  Melissa McEwan, who blogs at Shakesville, where this post originally appeared.

Bonnie Sweeten, Ashley Todd, Jennifer Wilbanks, Susan Smith, and Charles Stuart are a few of the more well-known names in a long history of "racial hoaxes," in which a white person hurts themselves or someone else (usually a family member) and blames an imaginary person of color (most frequently a black man) for their crime, hoping that institutional racism, its narratives and stereotypes, their own privilege, and the prejudices of other whites will allow them to successfully deflect suspicion onto a nonspecific person of color. In the worst-case scenarios, real people matching conjured police sketches are detained -- and innocent people have been punished because of these elaborate, racist lies.

It's bad enough when it's just some random asshole pulling this shit. It's even worse when it's a cop.

Thank Maude he was stupid enough to get caught. I hope the department will immediately launch a comprehensive review of his cases -- complainants should be contacted to see if they were helped as they should have been; suspects should be interviewed to see if they were mistreated; especially black complainants and suspects -- because any white cop who's fucked up enough to shoot himself and blame it on a black man should strongly be suspected of having scapegoated or in other ways inappropriately targeted and/or unfairly treated people of color on the job.


Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent (in voiceover): It was 4 in the morning when Philadelphia when the radio call came in: cop shot. A white police sergeant said he'd been shot by a black man. Officers responded in force—an all-out search of the African-American neighborhood in Philadelphia's 19th Precinct, where Sergeant Robert Ralston said it all went down.

Kaye (on camera): The sergeant told the story this way: He'd come across two black men along the railroad tracks on the morning of April 5. One ran away, he said; the other pointed a silver revolver at his head. He knocked it away, he said, but it fired anyway, and the bullet grazed his left shoulder. He also said he fired one shot, but wasn't sure if he'd struck the suspect.

Kaye (in voiceover): Police gave thanks their man had survived. Tragedy averted, they said. The white cop described the shooter this way: Dark skin, braided hair, and a tattoo next to his eye. But police never found the black shooter or anyone matching that description. And now, more than a month later, we know why. The real story? The two black men the cop said he encountered never existed. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey says Sergeant Ralston made the whole thing up.

Charles Ramsey, Philadelphia Police Commissioner: It was clear to us soon after it took place that this simply was just not true. Just the evidence just didn't support the story he was giving.

Kaye (in voiceover): But wait: what about the sergeant's shoulder wound? The commissioner says Sergeant Ralston actually shot himself, which may be why, he said, he got off one shot at the suspect—an explanation as to why his gun had been fired.

Ramsey: A test was run on his shirt. The powder on the shirt matched the same kind of ammunition we use in the department.

Kaye (in voiceover): That's right—the gunpowder on the sergeant's shirt was the same kind his own weapon used. And there's more. The angle at which the bullet struck him didn't square with his story either, says the commissioner. We tried to ask Sergeant Ralston to explain, but, outside his home, he dodged our cameras and ducked inside.

Unidentified male (offscreen, as Ralston walks by into his house): Can you tell us why you did that, sir?

Kaye (in voiceover): Neighbors called the sergeant's actions a sad statement.

Brawly Joseph, neighbor: I can't believe he would really do something like that. That's really uncalled for. He—ever since I've been living here, he's really been, like, antisocial around this area.

Kaye (on camera): What's still unclear is why Sergeant Ralston, a 21-year veteran of the force, would make up such a wild tale. Only after hours of interrogation, police said, did he finally admit he shot himself on purpose. The police commissioner says he may have done it for a job transfer or maybe for attention, but that the sergeant didn't give a reason.

Kaye (in voiceover) The police commissioner calls this a, quote, "terrible and embarrassing chapter in the department's history."

Ramsey: The fact that he stated that two African-Americans were involved in this, again, just, I think, inflames tensions in our community—something that we certainly do not need.

Kaye (in voiceover): Sergeant Ralston has been suspended with pay. The commissioner says he will be fired. He was given immunity in exchange for his confession, so he doesn't face criminal charges. But he'll have to pay for the massive manhunt to find his phantom suspects. Cops are still adding up the cost. The days of calling Sergeant Robert Ralston a hero and crediting his quick actions for saving his own life, long gone. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

displace non-white peoples and put their cultures on display in zoos

This is a guest post written for swpd by Shannon Joyce Prince.

Ota Benga, a Congolese pygmy who was featured
in a 1906 human zoo exhibit at
New York City's Bronx Zoo.

The Houston Zoo has proudly announced a new project, The African Forest, which is set to open in December, 2010 if we don’t put a halt to it. According to the Zoo’s website, The African Forest is not just about exhibiting "magnificent wildlife and beautiful habitats. It's about people, and the wonderful, rich cultures that we all can share." Actually, The African Forest is about exhibiting and teaching inaccurate Western conceptions of African indigenous cultures in a place designed to exhibit and teach about animals. The African Forest is also about making and keeping African indigenous peoples conservation refugees.

Fairs, exhibitions, and zoos that showcase, market, or teach about non-white peoples as though they were animals are called “human zoos.” Human zoos allowed and still allow targeted non-whites to be redefined as animals in Western, European, or First World spaces, in order to justify past, current, or planned white  mistreatment of non-white peoples in the non-white peoples’ homelands.

According to the Houston Zoo’s website, The African Forest includes an “African Marketplace Plaza,” selling gifts from “from all over the world” and offering dining with a “view of giraffes"; a “Pygmy Village and Campground,” showcasing “African art, history, and folklore,” where visitors can stay overnight; “Pygmy Huts,” where visitors will be educated about pygmies and “African culture,” hear stories, and be able to stay overnight; a “Storytelling Fire Pit”; an “Outpost” where visitors, while getting refreshments, will view posters “promoting ecotourism, conservation messages, and African wildlife refuges”; a “Communications Hut and Conservation Kiosk,” where “visitors will use a replicated shortwave radio and listen in on simulated conversations taking place throughout Africa”; a “Rustic Outdoor Shower,” representing the fact that the fictional “Pygmy Village” “recently got running water,” where children can “cool off”; a section of the “Pygmy Village” where children can handle “African musical instruments and artifacts”; and “Tree House Specimen Cabinets.” which showcase “objects, artifacts, and artwork.”[i]

Stuff White People Do: Misconstrue Africa

Africa is not a monolith. Africa is a continent of fifty-three nations and even more cultures. So while one may speak of a Ugandan forest, a Yoruba marketplace, or Xhosa culture, Africa is such a diverse continent that the idea of, for example, an “African marketplace” is meaningless.

The Houston Zoo’s website specifies that “The African Forest” is really the “central African forest,” but just as Africa is not a monolith, so central Africa is also not a monolith. Central Africa contains Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda. Therefore, it’s problematic that in a website video, the Zoo refers to “the culture of central Africa” as though there were only one.

The ironic part of representing all Africa in the context of the central African forest is that certain aspects of both Africa in general and central Africa in particular are conspicuously absent from this “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. For example, why are the large cities, skyscrapers, boutiques, and movie theaters of Africa missing, while The African Forest shows off the village that just got running water? I am emphatically against the idea that there is anything less modern about a “Pygmy hut” than a glass and steel tower, but the Zoo is only showing aspects of Africa that fit Western stereotypes of “primitivism.”[ii]

Stuff White People Do: Frame Africa Ignorantly and Inaccurately

1) The Zoo proclaims on its website, “The African Forest will transform the way Houstonians view the world by providing visitors with a glimpse into the remote forests of central Africa and the distinctive people that call it home. By understanding and appreciating the challenges these people face, we will be better equipped to work with them to preserve our fragile world and to make it a better place for future generations.”[iii]
2) A spokesperson for the Zoo stated in the Houston Chronicle, “This delves into habitat; conflict between man and the wild.”[iv]
3) The Zoo also says in its description of The African Forest that the project contains an “Outpost” where visitors, while getting refreshments, will view posters “promoting ecotourism, conservation messages, and African wildlife refuges.”
4) Finally, the Zoo’s blog states, “To that end, the Houston Zoo’s conservation efforts will focus on developing wildlife, habitat, and human community support programs … If the ability for native people to coexist with their habitat is taken away from them without offering a sustainable solution, then wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are bound to fail…”

Let’s start with the Zoo’s first quote, which basically exhorts visitors to take up the White Man’s Burden. Africans have millennia of knowledge on how to care for their environments, but we’re the ones in the position to tell them what to do. Apparently, the only reason to learn about African cultures is to control them.

The next problem with that quote is that it's gallingly hypocritical. Is it primarily Africans or Westerners who own polluting industries, mining industries, the corporations that use the resources that are mined, and the corporations that create toxins -- all of which threaten the well-being of animals and people alike?

The hypocrisy of the Zoo’s quote is tied to the fact that when Western entities decide they want to “help” the environment or animals, too frequently they do not change their own behavior, but rather declare they are helping by dominating Africans’ and/or indigenous peoples’ lives and behavior. In “Reflections on Distance and Katrina,” Jim Igoe of Dartmouth College[v] says, “Exxon Mobil is also sponsoring part of conservation interventions initiated by the African Wildlife Foundation,” which means that “local people targeted by this intervention are being encouraged by the African Wildlife Foundation and the Tanzanian government to enter into agreements and sign things that they don’t fully understand.” This “transforms these landscapes from peopled landscapes to those dominated by wildlife, which has made them attractive to private investors at the expense of locals. It also provides Exxon Mobil, and many other corporations that sponsor conservation interventions, with tax breaks and a valuable green public image enhancement.”

Inaccurately framing the culture or cultures being exhibited in a human zoo is tradition. The Houston Zoo's upcoming African Forest dares to teach the zoo's patrons that indigenous Africans are in conflict with wildlife, but falsely claiming that indigenous Africans harm animals is a well known tactic to violate their human rights and drive them from their traditional lands -- often in cahoots with organizations such as the World Bank, NGOs, and corporations.

Survival International notes that “the Aka, like all of the 'Pygmy' peoples in Central Africa, are under threat…huge areas of good forest have been turned into parks or wildlife reserves that are guarded by armed thugs who beat up the Pygmies and drive them out of their ancestral hunting grounds. And yet the Pygmies are the real guardians of the forest. As their proverb explains: 'We Aka love the forest as we love our own bodies' ” (italics mine.)[vi] To learn more about pygmy and other African and indigenous peoples’ views on conservation see this endnote.[vii]

Now refer to the third quote. Let’s examine ecotourism first. According to Lee Pera and Deborah McLaren,[viii] tourism “has been promoted as a panacea for ‘sustainable’ development. However, tourism's supposed benefits … have not ‘trickled down’ or benefited Indigenous Peoples. The destructiveness of the tourism industry … has brought great harm to many Indigenous Peoples and communities around the world…”

They also say, “It is no coincidence that those who have lost their lands … are forced into service-sector employment in the tourism industry and are increasingly dependent on the whims of the global market and the corporations which run it” (italics mine.)

McLaren adds, "Global tourism threatens indigenous knowledge and intellectual property rights, our technologies, religions, sacred sites, social structures and relationships, wildlife, ecosystems, economies and basic rights to informed understanding; reducing indigenous peoples to simply another consumer product that is quickly becoming exhaustible" (italics mine.)

Georgianne Nienaber writing for central African (Rwandan) newspaper The New Times states, “The story of tourism in Africa causes one to weep… a tragedy in which western businesses sent most of the money back home to the colonialist developers… Foreign workers held the most lucrative management positions, reducing the local ‘service providers’ to little more than slave labour…”[ix]

A paper published by the Forest Peoples Programme in conjunction with the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda -- the Batwa pygmy people’s own organization -- quotes a Mutwa pygmy as saying, “Don’t mix us with other people, leave us separate and help us.”[x]

Now let’s examine the last two things the “Outpost” in The African Forest promotes: “conservation messages and African wildlife refuges.” Conservation in Africa and the creation of wildlife refuges on the continent are notorious for the frequent creation of “wildlife refugees.” This means that African governments, Western businesses, and NGOs violate the human rights of Africans, decide they have no right to their traditional lands, and literally make them refugees alongside, for example, refugees of war. In other words, in Africa it’s common for conservationists to create refuges to conserve wildlife by simply kicking Africans out.

As I noted earlier, the African Wildlife Foundation partnered with Exxon Mobil to displace Tanzanians. An employee representing Exxon Mobil Corporation is on the Houston Zoo's Board of Directors.

Exxon is known for the Valdez Oil Spill, the Brooklyn Oil Spill, and the Greenpoint Oil Spill, and despite its eagerness to support the Houston Zoo and create a wildlife refuge in Tanzania, the company is currently harming endangered gray whales. As if its crimes against nature weren’t enough, the company is currently being accused of sharing responsibility for " Indonesian Military Killings, Torture and other Severe Abuse in Aceh, Indonesia” such as rape and murder, according to the International Labor Rights Forum.

An employee representing Shell Downstream, Inc. is another of the Zoo’s board members. Royal Dutch Shell is a multinational petroleum company notorious for committing crimes against humanity, abusing African indigenous people, torturing people, and poisoning the environment. This is the company that is widely believed yet never has admitted to helping facilitate the execution of legendary environmental and indigenous rights leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other indigenous Ogoni Nigerians who protested the theft of Ogoni land for oil extraction. The company was condemned by the Nigerian High Court and activists as recently as 2005 and 2008 for “violating the constitutional ‘rights to life and dignity.’ ” Shell, in addition to its other crimes against human rights, creates conservation refugees.[xi]

And lest I forget, one of the Zoo’s donors is Chevron.[xii] As you might expect, Chevron also makes indigenous people conservation refugees.[xiii] Furthermore, Chevron is currently being sued for 27 billion dollars by an indigenous Amazonian community whose rainforest was polluted by the corporation’s oil-drilling.[xiv]

The conservation refugee problem is so bad that, according to Mark Dowie, hundreds of thousands of people have been made refugees due to conservation and conservation refuges. Beyond the fact that making people refugees in the name of conservation is evil -- it doesn’t even help conservation. As Mark Dowie says in Paradigm Wars, “90 percent of biodiversity lies outside of protected areas. If we want to preserve biodiversity in the far reaches of the globe, places that are in many cases still occupied by indigenous people living in ways that are ecologically sustainable, history is showing us that the most counterproductive thing we can do is evict them.”[xv]

Refer back to the Zoo’s fourth group of quotes. The Zoo freely states that indigenous people’s right to coexist with their habitat is being “taken” from them. And, as can be expected, they promise to throw a few scraps to indigenous peoples as a consolation prize for violating their human rights. But what do “sustainable solutions” for indigenous people really mean? As Jim Igoe says, after being made refugees in the name of conservation by one of the Zoo’s donors, Exxon Mobil, Tanzanians were then told “their only way out of poverty is to become junior partners in conservation-oriented business ventures on grossly unfavorable terms.” This treatment is the rule, not the exception, when it comes to treatment of conservation refugees, according to Mark Dowie.

So let’s sum things up: The Houston Zoo, which is funded by corporations notorious for destroying the environment, harming wildlife, violating human rights, and creating conservation/wildlife parks by making Africans and other indigenous peoples conservation refugees, is creating a human zoo called The African Forest that supports and promotes the creation/continuation of conservation parks and the attendant perpetuation of the conservation refugee crisis.

Please consider opposing The African Forest, human zoos, and the creation/perpetuation of the conservation refugee crisis in one or more of the following ways:

1. Tell the Houston Zoo you are against The African Forest human zoo and the creation of conservation refugees as well as the continuation of the conservation refugee crisis by contacting the Houston Zoo here: Tell the Houston Zoo that you will boycott zoos that host human zoos and/or make/keep Africans conservation refugees. Be sure to send a copy of your message to so that we have a record of your letter in case the Zoo doesn’t respond and to prevent the Zoo from deciding to claim that no one is protesting.

2. Send your name and, if you want, affiliation to if you want to be put on a petition stating, “We, the undersigned, do not support The African Forest human zoo, the creation of conservation refugees, or the continuation of the conservation refugee crisis.”

3. Raise awareness about The African Forest through your website, blog, email list, livejournal, etc. and encourage others to write the Zoo and sign the petition.

Please be aware that, naturally, the letter you send or your signature on the petition may be made public.

The original version of this paper is thirty nine pages as long and has much more information. If you would like the full version of this paper email

Thank you so much for your help!



[ii] Some might argue that features of urban life wouldn’t be appropriate to include as urban dwellers do not live in harmony with nature. That argument ignores the fact that The African Forest teaches the lie that rural indigenous Africans in fact don’t live in harmony with nature either.



[v] At the time his paper was written, he was affiliated with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.


[vii],,, and other resources on


[ix], Nienaber cites (Pera and McLaren, Globalization, Tourism and Indigenous Peoples: What You Should Know About the World's Largest Industry,






[xv] Again, in the interest of keeping this long essay from being any longer than necessary, I encourage those wanting more information on conservation refugees to read Mark Dowie’s work in Orion Magazine, and his book Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native Peoples.

Monday, May 10, 2010

think that gains for non-white people come at the expense of white people

I'm trying to come up with some handy replies to the white people I sometimes encounter who feel that whites have been getting an increasingly raw deal. These are the people who, when you get right down to it with them about the subject of "race," express worries that further advances for people of color (especially for black people) will come at the expense of white people like themselves. They see relative racial (white) advantage and (non-white) disadvantage as a zero-sum game, and as a game that whites have been losing for decades, in large part because non-whites have (supposedly) been gaining.

In a post at Working-Class Perspectives about the racial composition of the Tea-Party activists ("Tea-partying while White"), Jack Metzgar says the following on this topic.

What would you say to people like this relative of his, "Helen"?

At a recent extended family gathering a relative of mine asked me, “So what do you think of your President now?” I indicated my firm support, briefly explaining why I thought health care reform was really important and good, and then asked for her opinion. “I don’t know enough [about policies] to say, but he just scares me.” I asked why, expecting something about the deficit or “big government,” but she said, “I don’t know why. He just scares me.” I tried to probe for specific reasons, but she reported that she wasn’t sure and didn’t “want to talk politics.”

I teach my students in undergraduate critical-thinking courses that it is not legitimate to attribute negative motives to people unless you can credibly explain how these motives are related to what the person actually says. This is a particularly important principle, I say, if you disagree with someone – and even more important if you strongly disagree. By that standard, it would be wrong to charge Helen with “racial prejudice,” let alone “racism,” but in the absence of specific reasons to be scared of Barack Obama, it’s also hard to imagine that her fear does not have something to do with his being a black man.

Helen (not her real name) is a white senior-citizen widow living almost entirely on Social Security in a modest one-story house that she owns outright. She never attended college and worked as a clerical worker after she helped raise her three children as a stay-at-home mom. Her husband, who also had no college, was a front-line supervisor in a steel mill now long gone. Later in another fleeting conversation she expressed interest in and sympathy for the Tea Party.

I’ve known Helen most of my life, and I have never heard her use explicitly racist language or express anything but a kind of paternalistic sympathy for the plight of African Americans, with whom she has had almost no experience. There are many nonracial reasons why she would not and did not vote for President Obama. She is a life-long Republican, a small-town Protestant, and in her early ‘70s, somebody who is rooted in a more traditional set of gender roles and family arrangements that Democrats seem dismissive of. But she also lives in an atmosphere that is common among the white working class as I’ve experienced it -- an atmosphere infused with a free-floating anxiety that any gains for black people will come at some loss to white folks like her.

This atmosphere is not specific to working-class whites, but my guess is the anxiety is more intense for the working class than among more securely affluent whites. It is this anxious atmosphere of a racial zero-sum game that I suspect informs many of the “supporters” and “sympathizers” of the Tea Party movement,
not the boldly explicit racism of the 10% who have told pollsters [PDF] that “racial prejudice against Barack Obama” is one reason for their support of the movement. . . .

[the rest of Metzgar's post is here]

Metzgar's post is useful for delineating the kinds of racism that exist among the various sorts of white people who comprise almost the entirety of the Tea Party "movement." And again, he raises for me a more specific question, about how to answer the common claims and fears expressed by white people like his relative, "Helen."

For one thing, the implications of the little that Helen had to say about race counter what she probably professes to believe. People like her probably believe that racism is a bad thing that should be denounced whenever and wherever possible. But then, if gains for people of color are costing white people, Helen and white people like her are against such gains. And so, if racism accounts for non-white losses that are made up for by such gains, then Helen and white people like her are ultimately in favor of racism when they worry about or fear such gains.

Privilege only works when someone else doesn't have it, and white privilege is no different.

But then, does it really follow that whatever gains people of color make must come at the expense of white people?

Of course, it's certainly not the case that people of color are now generally doing better than white people. White people do still benefit from racism, in both material and psychological ways, so when various forms of racism decline, such white benefits also decline. When loan officers, for instance, extend more loans at equitable rates to the people of color from whom they'd formerly been inclined to withhold loans and equitable rates, getting such loans and rates is more difficult for white people than it was for them before. And when hiring practices become more racially equitable, de facto "white networks" don't work as well as they did before, making it more difficult for white people to get jobs than it was for them before.

But then, just because white people have had it easier than people of color in such ways, and in so many other ways, doesn't mean that advantages that "just happen to be white" are right, or ethical, or just. So when white advantages recede and non-white chances move closer to even, the white people who complain about that mostly do so, I think, because they're not seeing and understanding white privilege. They're also not seeing the racism that resulted in that privilege, and still results in it; they seem to believe that the racial playing field is already level. If that's true, then when non-whites gain and whites seem to lose as a result, those whites who complain about that don't do so because they realize that their racial group is losing ill-gotten gains. They instead complain because they think they're being cheated.

I think I'm just scratching the surface here of the many causes of this common white tendency -- the resentful and fearful belief that gains for non-white people come at the expense of white people. It's complicated, in part because while some gains for people of color actually do come at the expense of white people, others do not. And again, many (all?) of the gains that white people lose when non-white people gain have been illegitimate gains in the first place.

So what would you say to white people -- who do see their generation generally faring worse than previous ones in economic terms -- when they admit to such ultimately racist suspicions or convictions, that improving the lot of non-white people will (and has) unfairly cost white people like themselves? Where would you even start?

Finally, do you know of any good writings or other sources on this matter?

Friday, May 7, 2010

embody the fairest of them all

Here's a shot of Friday goodness, an infauxmercial sent in by James Yamanoha (who's half of the HabuNami Media collective). James also said that this short had its world premiere last night at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival; I hear the audience fell into helpless heaps of horrified laughter.


Politicians, police officers, and right-wing pundits all agree: White On™ is the best solution to the race problem since Jim Crow! Never sit through another one of those boring “racial sensitivity trainings” ever again! Give them the gift of White On™ and watch your fears boil away!

[Trigger warning for some violent imagery]

White On™ Infomercial from HabuNami Media.

Here's HabuNami Media's blog, Okinawa Notes, and here's more on the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

insist on racially categorizing mixed-race people

This is a guest post for swpd by Brenda, who writes of herself, "I'm a half black, half white young woman trying to discover what it means to be both and neither. After 19 years, I still haven't figured it out."

I’m black. My skin is what I have self-described as "caramel," my eyes are green, and my hair is curly (although these past few years I‘ve been straightening my curls, adding to people's puzzlement). Yet I have been asked countless times by white people, “What are you?”

When asked to a white person, this question is met with confusion. But for me, it’s an inquiry about my race. No one had to tell me, even as a child, that “What are you?” meant “What race are you?” I just knew. My answer used to be, “I’m mixed,” which would raise other questions about what I was mixed with and how much of it. “Mixed” was never a good enough answer.

So, during a racial epiphany in my teens I realized: I’m black. I never thought of it as a choice, to choose to be either white or black, despite being mixed with both. I knew that “mixed” wasn’t working for me, and I just felt black. I thought that once I started fully considering myself black, and telling people who asked that I was black, this whole “What are you?” problem would be solved forever. However, that simply raised another, more offensive question:


And the occasional, “You don’t LOOK black…”

Perhaps it's because I don’t have that stereotypical “black girl attitude.” Maybe it’s because I don’t wear Jordans and say the N-word. Or maybe it’s because I have light skin. Whether it be a combination of every reason or just one, the message is clear: I’m not allowed to be black without a white person's permission.

This message is further exemplified in an episode of the tv comedy “Scrubs,” in the beginning conversation of what would be an entire episode about the subject:

Dr. Cox: That laughing had better not be aimed in my direction, bro.

Turk: "Bro?" Dude, bros don't even use "bro." You're not as hip as you think you are.

Dr. Cox: And you are?

Turk: I'm black. God knew my people would go through some struggles, so He gave us a lifetime supply of cool to compensate. Just like He knew white people would be rhythmically challenged, so He gave y'all this dance.

(Turk does a cheesy dance.)

Dr. Cox: You're black? Because last I checked, you had a nerdy, white best friend, you enjoy Neil Diamond and you damn sure act like a black guy, and these, my friend, are all characteristics of white guys. Please understand, I'm a big supporter of the NAACP, and if you don't know that stands for, it is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. And quite frankly, I always thought they should change the "Colored People" to "African Americans" but then, of course, it wouldn't be the NAACP. It would be the N-Quad-A, or NAAAA, and I know this probably sounds like a digression, but it actually leads me back to my original point. Do I think you're black? NAAAAAAHH!

So maybe it’s not a matter of skin color that Turk (Donald Faison), a black man, has his blackness refuted by Dr. Cox, a white man. Maybe it's instead because he acts “white.” At any rate, while the show is fictional, the real life comparisons are not. I feel under constant pressure to prove myself to white people, to prove that I’m black. I study slavery, racial and social issues, problems in countries in Africa, all the things that (I assume) white people look for when determining if someone without typical black characteristics can receive their “Black” stamp of approval.

Unfortunately, this white racist way of thinking carries over into the black community, and I find myself not being taken seriously when I tell other black people how I feel. I’ve been laughed at and I've received the same confused expressions that I get from white people. This may be because of the reasons I've already listed, but also for another: calling myself black and being treated as a black person are very different things. Very few times have I been blatantly discriminated against because of my perceived skin color, and I’m sure I’ve gotten away with things for the exact same reason. It’s possible some black people don’t see light-skinned people as having the same struggles and social disadvantages that they themselves have. I know my skin color is envied in this country, where dark skin often isn’t considered beautiful. And because of this light skin and the treatment from whites and some blacks alike, I feel robbed of the true “black” experience. I have the feeling I could be white with no problem from most white people; it’s the being black part I have to prove to their satisfaction.

Still, all this effort seems futile. In grade school, my brothers and I, who all have the same white mother and black father, were marked as different races in the school's information system. My brothers were labeled black, but I was labeled white. While it’s true both my brothers have darker skin than me and appear to white eyes as African American, the three of us were glanced at through these same white eyes and labeled differently. It happened in an instant, with one click of a mouse; it happened without a thought. Only my mother's outrage changed what the school considered me. With their permission, after my mother stated her case, I was allowed to be black.

I’m wondering if this problem is uniquely my own. I like to believe that it’s not. I know without a doubt that never has a white person accepted that I’m black when I tell them. I know that it always requires explaining, and that it’s always slightly awkward thereafter, as every time I’m asked and misunderstood, it’s another wedge between me and any white person I try to befriend. I know it’s still a personal struggle to understand what being black means to me, and how my blackness, or lack thereof, affects the white people I discuss it with. Every quizzical expression and stiffness of the words, “Oh… I get it,” while they lie through their teeth, is encouragement, or perhaps forced motivation, to keep proving myself to them, and to myself.

With this article, I hope to find insight into the question that has plagued me since childhood.

“What are you?”
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