10.18.12 Links Roundup

The line was a curious one, given the reality of Obama’s deportation record, which has been marked by mass deportations to the tune of nearly 400,000 every year carried out at a clip unseen by any prior president. The Obama administration has defended its “smart” enforcement tactics by, as Obama did on Tuesday night, pointing out that it makes a point to deport those who have committed serious crimes and are a threat to their communities and national security. And yet, data collected over Obama’s tenure show that among the close to 400,000 people who are deported annually, far from being “gangbangers,” the vast majority have no criminal record whatsoever.

When people call Beirut a ‘cosmopolitan’ city, they’re referring to the easy co-mingling of Lebanese and Westerners. Foreigners from Asia and East Africa — the vast majority of whom are here as domestic workers — are outsiders here, widely considered to be lowly by birth. It’s been now three months since we moved here, and I’m still shocked by the way many Lebanese people treat their domestic servants.

About 200,000 domestic workers work in Lebanon (a country of four million people), and come predominantly from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and the Philippines. In a country divided unforgivingly down lines of status, a foreign maid is the status symbol par excellence.

On the weekends, restaurants around Lebanon are filled with families and friends enjoying each other’s company, their maids commonly sitting several tables away, staring into space. In Downtown’s central square, Place de l’Étoile, uniformed house slaves drag their feet after little princes, toddlers who have already been trained to ignore the hired help. They’re not just for the super-rich, either — you can get a full-time maid for as little as USD100 per month (USD250 is considered a generous wage).

It’s not unusual to see a family of four being attended to by two maids — one for each child. Why not? They’re as cheap as chips. They don’t even need their own room — in many houses maids are forced to sleep on the living-room floor, under the stairs, and in rooms built for storing brooms. Often these women have no kin or connections in Lebanon, so there are no consequences for people who treat them barbarously. It’s a miserable, lonely version of “Downton Abbey,” retooled for a post oil-boom Middle East, starring the world’s downtrodden-for-hire.

I am penning this missive because the vitriol coursing through my veins is inescapable. Rather than continuing to engage in unproductive Twitter rants, I am redirecting that caustic energy and utilizing this space instead.

Let me begin with this direct concern: If your injudicious mission is successful, there will be dire ramifications for blacks seeking acceptance in academia. Your decision to fight this battle to the Supreme Court can potentially annihilate affirmative action, a mandate that has required federally funded institutions to promote inclusive diversity.

If affirmative action is gutted and substituted with “neutral-based admissions,” institutions will have the option to deny students access to the educational American Dream based on their ethnic background. Abigail, if the Supreme Court issues a verdict in your favor, you will be responsible for pushing this nation backward, into an era when blacks were met with venom at the steps of Ole Miss.

This little journey began after she bought the wig as a part of her costume for a 70s-themed party. Apparently, some kind of inner enlightenment happened when she put on the wig because she decided to keep wearing it out in the world at random occasions (mostly at parties full of black people). I read the entire blog (in spite of how badly it hurt my face to do so) and I have no idea what the connection between her wig and this enlightenment is, and she never really says. It’s kind of like the GOP’s “we’re going to fix the problem by fixing the problem!” approach. She speaks so generally and vaguely about the purpose of it all that she just sounds crazy. It’s “a new way to view the world.” It’s “vital to the soul.” It’s a “genuine and profound and very real experience.” Also, vibes and inner peace and herbal tea and all that.

Before and Afro is a clueless, masturbatory foray into privilege so white I can barely look it in the face. In her entry “Let’s Get Real,” she insists that she “is aware,” that she knows that what she is doing can be seen as offensive. The fact that this whole bizzarro thing doesn’t end there is testament to how unaware she actually is. She insists that this isn’t about race, but then seems to try to justify what she’s doing in an entry full of pictures of random, anonymous black people. See? It can’t be offensive! Black people posed for her while she wore the afro, and even smiled! She rejects the idea that her wearing the afro isn’t a caricature or costume ( … even though she bought it as part of a freaking costume), but really, it can’t be anything but.

In a paper that will be published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Eva Telzer of UCLA and three other researchers report that they’ve performed these amygdala studies — which had previously been done on adults — on children. And they found something interesting: the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14.

What’s more: once it kicks in, it doesn’t kick in equally for everybody. The more racially diverse your peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely. The authors of the study write that ”these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.”

There’s a reason the previous sentence says “suggest” and not “prove.” As the authors note, it’s conceivable that “the increasing amygdala response to race [with age] may be driven by intrinsic factors of the child, such as puberty, rather than exposure to cultural messages.” For that matter, the correlation between peer group diversity and dampened amygdala response doesn’t mean the former causes the latter; it could work the other way around: maybe people with a mild response to racial difference wind up with more diverse peers.

  • nicepebbles

    An Open Letter To Abigail Fisher: I was taught in law school that in order to bring a case, one had to have standing. Standing basically means if you’re brining a civil lawsuit for a car accident, you had to have been in the car accident or able to sue on behalf of someone in the accident. When I first heard about this story, it seemed to me Miss Fisher has no standing because she wouldn’t have gotten into UT anyway because the 10% of TX high school graduating classes are automatically accepted in TX colleges and universities. I can’t wrap my head around how she was able to overcome the standing issue. Many a case has been dismissed – good cases, important cases – have been dismissed because the wrong person brought the lawsuit.

  • Elton

    Re: New Evidence That Racism Isn’t ‘Natural’

    A problem with these “brain reaction = racism” studies, besides the basic problems inherent to making inferences from fMRI studies, is they assume everyone grows up assimilated to a monolithic group with which they identify, and see non-members of their group as “the other.”

    I.E., all black people grow up in black-majority communities and see non-blacks as outsiders. Asians grow up in Asian communities and see non-Asians as outsiders. There’s a basic assumption by many in the media that racial groups are simply separate and distinct but equal in power, and view non-members of their group with suspicion. Reality is much more like this: majority groups dominate minority groups and the point of view of the majority group becomes mainstream, so that MINORITIES SEE THEMSELVES AS OUTSIDERS.

    If you are a minority, you know that seeing yourself and your group as “us” and everyone else as “them” rarely comes as naturally as it does to members of the dominant or mainstream group. Instead, as a minority, you tend to develop an ingrained perspective of YOURSELF as an outsider. That’s kinda the whole point of being a minority. You aren’t part of the majority.

    Asian-Americans, for instance, rarely grow up in Asian-dominated communities. They grow up in black- or white-dominated communities and are taught stereotypes of themselves from their black and white peers from the mainstream perspective. They aren’t taught that Asian eyes are normal and non-Asian eyes are abnormal. Rather, Asian-Americans are taught that Asian eyes are “slanty” in comparison to “normal” eyes.

    Trans-racial adoptees and people of mixed race also grow up without identifying themselves as part of the mainstream, but are taught by the mainstream that they are “the other.” There’s also conflict between second-generation American-born citizens and “fresh off the boat” immigrants, not to mention racial self-hatred.

    “The amygdala’s response to African-American faces had been observed not just in European-American adults but in African-American adults–who aren’t, in this case, the “other.” Apparently whatever cultural information was inculcating a particular response to blacks in whites was having a similar effect in blacks.”

    Essentially, this is supporting what I just said. If mainstream media takes the view that white people are “us,” assuming that the viewer is white and always taking a white point of view by default, then black people who grow up watching mainstream media ALSO learn that black people are “them” and “the other.” So it’s just as likely for black people to develop a view of THEMSELVES as outsiders as it is for white people to see blacks as “the other.”

    • Daniel Cunningham

      I think you need to re-read the article… I respect your personal experience re: this subject, but your response re: this article doesn’t seem to actually take into account what the article, or that the study the article is based on, claims.

      To sum up what it does say: “There is doesn’t appear to be anything in the brains of children that intrinsically biases determination of in-group vs. out-group according to what we commonly call race or skin color.”

      You’re making many claims about what we find (presumably in your own experience as an adult) personally and socially to be in-groups and out-groups, and particularly about who and how we determine those groups. I think I actually agree with several things you say, but your or my claims in those areas still don’t connect with what the article or authors are saying.

      • Elton

        No, there isn’t anything in the brains of children that intrinsically biases determination of in-group vs. out-group, until the media and society puts it in there. Then the brains of children of color quickly learn that books, movies, magazines, websites, and television are rarely made for or about them. They learn to turn a mental switch that reminds them that they ARE the out-group. For example, regarding any number of those articles that from time to time comments on the various racial issues surrounding President Obama: “I know this newspaper is talking to white people, not me. I know that it pedantically assumes that I don’t understand anything about racism and I see President Obama as an outsider, because all non-whites are outsiders and the mainstream readership of this newspaper is white.”

        How do you explain that fact that, according to the study, blacks saw blacks as “the other”? I think it confirms what we can already observe in the media: minorities of all kinds are portrayed as “the other” by the mainstream media. Therefore, as people raised in a society that values a hetero, white, Christian perspective over others, American gays see THEMSELVES as “the other,” American blacks see THEMSELVES as “the other,” American Muslims see THEMSELVES as “the other,” etc. Every time black people turn on the TV, they see black faces portrayed as thugs and criminals and side characters only there to serve the white protagonists. Of course their brains would respond accordingly. Racial coding rampant throughout Hollywood movies ensures that white people will see white characters as “people” and Asian characters as foreigners and “the other.” A movie with a white-majority cast is just a movie, but a movie with a black-majority cast is “a black movie.”

        I don’t have access to the original paper. But according to this article, I’m pretty sure the researchers don’t talk about or account for white privilege, white dominance, and white supremacy.

    • Anonymous

      I think your comments, in conjunction with the article, honestly confirm what I’ve been thinking for a long time. So many people desperately, desperately want racism to be something natural, that they can’t help, even though there is no sense to it; we haven’t defined race in the way we know it but for the last couple hundred years, nowhere near enough time to have “evolved” to be racist. The article puts it in a very simple way: we aren’t inherently racist, we’re inherently “groupist.” But, the article does only barely touch upon white privilege, and doesn’t go into why for modern Americans, “groupist” often turns into racist. No child is born thinking “black people are bad” or “Asian people have weird eyes,” they’re taught that by media and the adults they encounter and their own peers. And of course, no American lives in a society that isn’t dominated by a specific type of whiteness. Even if a black child grows up in a 100% black neighborhood and never sees a white person physically until they turn 14, they still see from the media and school that white people are good, in charge, and diverse human beings, while black people are tokens, and usually foolish or criminal, when they’re not Martin Luther King.