Because 1.3 Billion People All Look the Same

by Latoya Peterson

Take a look at this cover:

What is the impression you get from the photo accompanying the headline?

Kabobfest asks
if the cover is racist.

Fatemeh, when she forwarded the Kabobfest link to me, said she thinks it is racist AND islamaphobic.

After checking out the source of the photo, the articles accompanying this issue of the American Interest don’t look too promising either:

What Do Muslims Think? amir taheri
Unprecedented intellectual ferment in the Muslim world is likely to have a happier ending than many Westerners suppose.

The Irrelevance of the Middle East philip e. auerswald
Neither our ‘energy insecurity’ nor the danger of terrorism is all it’s cracked up to be. The Middle East just isn’t that strategically important.

I’m throwing in my bid for racist, islamaphobic, and xenophobic – after all, they are playing up that fear of the scary ethnic “other” from a foreign land.


Please note: I tend to get tons of static for covering Muslim issues here, many of the issues stemming from the fact that “Muslim” is not a race. And yes, I am well aware that a group of adherents of the same religion are not necessarily of one set race. However, the treatment of Islam in the media (and the subsequent discrimination that manifests against Muslims) is racialized. So, we cover it. Also, the fact that Islam is associated with one set group of people (with one set look) is problematic in itself.

NY Daily News: Jeremiah Wright’s press tour orchestrated by Clinton supporter

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Note: I edited the headline to this post after reading the concerns expressed in the comments section below. Despite my inclusion of a question mark in the original headline, it probably did overly implicate the Clinton camp in this.

Sorry folks! I was a little too eager to jump on this story, given the  pattern of anti-Obama race-baiting tactics we’ve followed on this blog, and the devastating timing of Wright’s public remarks.

And to clarify, I don’t think Wright was a witless pawn devoid of agency. But do I think it’s entirely possible that people with political agendas are capitalizing on his desire to be in the spotlight.

Writing in the New York Daily News, Errol Louis points out that the woman who orchestrated Jeremiah Wright’s press conference at the National Press Club is a supporter of Hillary Clinton.

Could this whole thing have been, as the article’s headline suggests, “a press trick” to damage Obama?

Shortly before he rose to deliver his rambling, angry, sarcastic remarks at the National Press Club Monday, Wright sat next to, and chatted with, Barbara Reynolds.

A former editorial board member at USA Today, she runs something called Reynolds News Services and teaches ministry at the Howard University School of Divinity. (She is an ordained minister).

It also turns out that Reynolds – introduced Monday as a member of the National Press Club “who organized” the event – is an enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporter.

On a blog linked to her Web site- Reynolds said in a February post: “My vote for Hillary in the Maryland primary was my way of saying thank you” to Clinton and her husband for the successes of Bill Clinton’s presidency…

I don’t know if Reynolds’ eagerness to help Wright stage a disastrous news conference with the national media was a way of trying to help Clinton – my queries to Reynolds by phone and e-mail weren’t returned yesterday – but it’s safe to say she didn’t see any conflict between promoting Wright and supporting Clinton.

…Wright should have known – and his friend and ally Reynolds, a media professional, surely knew – that bickering with the press can only harm Wright and, by extension, Obama.

BBC Two’s White Season: Is White Working Class Britain Becoming Invisible?

by Latoya Peterson

The BBC Two has unveiled a series of programming devoted to exploring the realities of being white and working class in Britain. White Season, as the lineup is called, seeks to tell the story of the white working class through documentaries, short films, and drama.

The introductory video to the series sets a confrontational tone. A white man is shown looking at the camera, staring straight ahead as people of varying tones and ethnicities scribble on his face with a black marker. In addition to writing characters of Asian and Arabic origins, the phrase “Britain is changing” is scrawled across his chin. Eventually, the man’s skin is covered in black and he closes his eyes, a question appears on the bottom of the screen: Is white working class Britain becoming invisible?

See for yourself – it is quite a striking visual:

Richard Klein, BBC’s Head Of Independent Commissioning For Knowledge, explains his views in the Daily Mail:

The voice of the white working-class is barely allowed to intrude into British politics or culture.

In metropolitan circles, where sneering at any minority ethnic group would be regarded as an outrage, this white working-class opinion is all too often treated with suspicion or contempt.

The word chav, for instance, is now often accepted as a way of marking the behaviour of the working class, even though any similarly abusive description of ethnic minorities would lead to police inquiries.

What is particularly bizarre about this approach is that, until recently, the white working class were seen as an integral and respected part of our national life. Continue reading

On Sean Bell: fear is cause for slaughter only when victim is black

by guest contributor dnA, originally published at Too Sense

Kai Wright ain’t never lied:

Ida B. Wells, at the turn of the 20th century, called it a “threadbare lie.” She was talking about how lynch mobs masquerading as law enforcement justified their actions by claiming black men were raping white women. But Wells was on to a larger delusion, one that not only inspired sexual hysteria 100 years ago, but that continues to legitimize all manner of brutality against black men today. The simple and sadly lasting truth is this: We scare the shit out of America. And that fear excuses just about any reaction it spawns.

It’s what led a group of New York City cops to riddle Sean Bell’s black body with bullets in November 2006. And just as in Wells’ day, it’s what made the slaughter legal. Justice Arthur Cooperman ruled last Friday that Bell’s killing was understandable because the cops were scared. Driven by their own dark fantasies about the people they were policing, the officers’ frightened minds conjured guns into the hands of unarmed men and recast a bachelor party as a gang fight. Or, in Cooperman’s more restrained words, “The officers responded to perceived criminal conduct.” Those perceptions, no matter how hysterical, legalized their murder.

Police are imbued with extraordinary powers as law enforcement officials. That makes it more, not less important that they be held accountable when they make a tragic mistake.

You’ll recall that fear was not an adequate excuse for John H. White when he was tried for manslaughter in the death of Daniel Cicciaro after Cicciaro and a bunch of his boys showed up on his front steps screaming racial slurs and making threats.

My feeling was that White is a grown man whose actions resulted in the death of another, and so he needed to be held responsible. The fact that these cops were professionals trained in the use of deadly force means they are even more accountable than Mr. White for their actions, and yet while White is serving time they have been held responsible for nothing.

That is a terrible double standard, and it isn’t the race of the perpetrator that counts in this instance, it is the race of the victim. If Sean Bell had been white, someone would have been held responsible for his death, the way someone was held responsible for Daniel Cicciaro’s. Wright points out that:

Much has been made of the fact that two of the three detectives who shot Bell and his two pals were people of color. It’s significant that the one white cop, Oliver, fired 31 of the 50 shots, and that the black cop, Cooper, is the only one to have apologized to the Bell family. But the reflexive assumptions of threat that drive the death-by-cop racial disparity are systemic rather than individual. Black and Latino cops like Cooper and Isnora operate within a bureaucracy that not only condones but encourages them to see black men as combatants.

That’s why the arguments about how this has nothing to do with race don’t wash; if victims of racism could shrug off its without internalizing it, racism wouldn’t actually be a problem.

As a ColorLines magazine investigation documented last fall, blacks accounted for 66 percent of those killed by New York City police between 2000 and 2007 (New York is a perennial leader in police fatalities, averaging 12 a year over those years). And while the violent crime rate plunged to historically low levels in that time period, the number of people killed by police has not budged—indeed, the number of cop bullets fired has skyrocketed. And it’s happened with impunity. Out of 88 fatal shootings, including at least 12 in which victims were unarmed, in only one instance was an officer convicted of criminal wrongdoing.

The Bell verdict will only cement the NYPD’s indifference to wasting black life. They simply aren’t held accountable. All they have to do is say they’re “scared”, and the media sympathizes, because they’re scared of us too.

Body Language: How Nicknames Objectify Minority Women And Why I Don’t Care “How You Meant It”

by Guest Contributor Alex Alvarez, originally posted on Guanabee

Associate Editor Alex Alvarez takes a look at how nicknames among minorities work to keep a good gordita down and why you, shorty, shouldn’t take it anymore.

Words, in and of themselves, are without power. Their potency comes from the relationship between the speaker and the listener. As any woman who has walked by a construction site will tell you, “Hello beautiful” is different coming from a strange man whispering in your ear than from your mother. It’s through these relationships that words can becomes tools, bridges, weapons or any other sort of melodramatic metaphor you want to use. If relationships are defined by power —who has it, who doesn’t, who wants it and who is in the position to bestow it—language, then, is a means of both establishing power in relationships and also of demolishing and subverting it. A “thanks, beautiful” aimed right back at a strange man is surprisingly effective.

While writing my response a few weeks ago to an article in “San Francisco Weekly” that “roughly” and incorrectly translates the Spanish word “negro” to the English word “nigger,” I realized most of the Guanabee readership already understands the nuances that appear in, yes derogatory, but complicated Spanish-language labels. And the same could be said for other ethnic minorities, (or at least the pockets of them that are represented in popular culture and media), who use certain pet names and phrases wrought with prejudice, but excuse them with a flippant, “This is how we are. And, besides, we don’t mean any harm by it.”

But “this is how we are” is not an excuse. Why? Well. It’s not how I am. So it’s not how we are. Adaptation is possible. It just takes effort and exposure to different ways of thinking, even if I have to drill it into you during family holiday get-togethers. It is not enough for us to merely explain — and thus, on some level, excuse — the differences between Anglo and Latino, or Black and White, or any other minority versus majority as they relate to potentially hateful speech. Instead, let’s take a look at why these differences exist and what, exactly, they result in accomplishing, based on history and cultural context. What does a language say about the people who speak it? And vice-versa? Let’s find out! Hokay? Hokay.

But, um, first: A preface of sorts. It’s important I make it known that I don’t feel I’m qualified to write about slang and language as it pertains to anyone who is not Latino or Anglo. As I alluded to above, anything I would have to say about the experience of any other group would be merely observational and the result of a sort of clinical detachment. It’s not my experience. I can’t offer anything except, “Well, from what I observe… this seems to mean this. And isn’t that interesting?” But it is interesting. And it is important to discuss these observations. So, that said, do let’s continue:

Such A Colorful People, No?: Nicknames Based On Appearance

Many terms of endearment in Spanish are based on appearance. “Cute” little nicknames like morenita, negrita and güerita abound. The diminutive “ita,” as it’s used here, translates to “little,” therefore effectively rendering it’s object to be both small and, presumbably, a possession belonging to the speaker. Continue reading

links for 2008-04-30

On Facing Your Bias, Owning Your Prejudice, and Allies – Part 2

by Latoya Peterson

This post has been continued from part 1.

(Before I get into this next part, let me address something from part one. When I was writing about allies, I specifically was thinking about people who self-identified as women of color allies and who dropped the ball. But as commenter Kali pointed out, things are a bit more complex than that.)

Good allies are in short supply. So the question becomes how does one become a good ally? In pondering this question, I realized that there are some people who could benefit from this information but would never ever use the term ally. For example, I have friends who will not ever consider themselves allies to the GBLTQ2 community because of their religious upbringing. However, the people who are my friends also realize that persecuting people for who they are is not right and they will not condone it.

So how does one define an ally? A person who actively advocates for your position? A person who provides back up when you need it? Or quite simply, someone you consider a friend?

I will allow you all to ponder that one, to be revisited at a later date. However, it occurs to me that being an ally also overlaps with being conscious of the lives of others. And whether we deign to be allies or not, much is gained by learning more about the lives of others, and how to listen when someone is sharing their experience.

Synecdochic speaks on the nature of being a (feminist) ally:

Being an ally is not a destination. It’s a process. Everyone fucks it up sometimes. I have made some spectacular fuckups myself, and that’s with trying to be very, very careful and aware. There is no get-out-of-jail-free card; there is no Magical Incantation. If you catch yourself thinking that of course you’re not like those men, stop and take a good hard look at yourself, because statistically speaking, chances are good that you might be patting yourself on the back and forgetting that you have to walk the walk as well as talking the talk.

If you consider yourself an ally, and you wind up doing or saying something that gets a really strong negative reaction, and you see one of your friends saying something along the lines of “it’s okay, he’s one of the good guys, it’s not like that”, that should be a warning sign that it’s time to immediately apologize. A real apology, not an “I’m sorry if you were offended” — because that kind of language isn’t an apology at all. You clearly did offend someone, or else the dogpile wouldn’t have happened. “I’m sorry that I offended you, and I’d like to make sure I understand why, so it doesn’t happen again; what I’m getting is that it was such-and-such, and I’m sorry I did that, and if that wasn’t it, I’d like to listen to anything else you have to say…”

Did you catch that?

If you consider yourself an ally, and you wind up doing or saying something that gets a really strong negative reaction, and you see one of your friends saying something along the lines of “it’s okay, he’s one of the good guys, it’s not like that”, that should be a warning sign that it’s time to immediately apologize.

These things happen.

Even if you consider yourself an ally, there is a chance you will say or do something offensive. After all, life is long, and we have a lot of chances to screw things up. We also have a lot of chances to make things right. However, it seems that some people get very caught up in what they think is their identity so it blinds them to the mistakes they make. Continue reading

On Facing Your Bias, Owning Your Prejudice, and Allies – Part 1

by Latoya Peterson

The last few weeks have been stressful for me in another way entirely.

As a person who devotes quite a bit of time to fighting her own prejudices, this month gave me a whole lot to think about.

I think that people tend to overlook how hard it is to change your thinking and how hard it is to let go of ingrained ideas – not just about external forces, but about the self.

We tend to think that we see the world accurately. We tend to think that our views are right, and not question where we got them from. We tend to believe that if someone is attacking us, it’s because they are being a jerk – not because we are wrong. So when we run up against something that pushes back on us, takes us to task for something we have failed to do, part of the reaction is to protect the self.

And even while we are actively fighting bias that we acknowledge, the natural impulse of the self is to point out all the ways in which we are justified for holding that position.

And this is where I found myself as the feminist blogosphere was reeling from a few conflicts, Jezebel was killing me with their content, and some other off-line things had me wanting to barricade myself in a PoC only stronghold. Hatred was welling up in spite of my best attempts to quell those feelings. Quite a few times, I stepped back from the conflicts, only to find out they had gotten worse. I refrained from commenting on the first issue – only to watch a second, third, fourth, and fifth spring up.

I tempered my response to the Jezebel article, knowing that I could not engage the white writer of the piece fairly. So instead, I started discussions with the editor of the blog (who is a WoC) while asking two of the talented Muslimahs I know to see if they wanted to draft a response. And when we posted that response, we got a crock of shit back in return.

In short, I started feeling really fucking justified. Continue reading