Category Archives: everyday racism

Twerking at Afropunk?

by Guest Contributor Edna Nelson

afropunk-2013-festival-update-lead

On the first night of the Afropunk 2013 festival, there was an onstage twerk contest.

It was not on the program and happened right before Saul Williams was supposed to go on stage. It was an impromptu event that was designed to buy time and presumably build excitement. Big Freedia was playing the next day, so it is impossible for one to say that twerking was something that didn’t belong at Afropunk. Twerking, like any other dance can be a way for a person to claim power in her own body, enjoy her physical possibilities, challenge herself, expand her range of movement and feed her mind with physical knowledge. But in that moment? In that way?

Since twerking has gone viral, commentaries on the trend have focused on the roots of the dance and what it possibly means for various groups to preform it. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough discussion about twerking in a performative context – i.e. what kinds of spaces twerking might be preformed within and for what reason. It feels like the discussion has been more about validating or condemning twerking in a vacuum rather than giving it space to exist within the realm of dance.

Dance movement depends on a dancer or choreographers intention, and awareness combined with the effect of the movement itself. A seemingly “vulgar” posture can convey profound messages. Unfortunately black women’s bodies, and dance expression have been viewed through a white supremacist lens of projected profanity, which is something some supporters of the twerk movement may be seeking to actively oppose. How do we strive to define spaces in which we can use dance and physical expression, including twerking, in a way that promotes a world in which women are free? What does it mean when this effort is confronted with a patriarchy that is vying for the same spaces? Continue reading

White Times: 5 Keys To American Racism (Plus 3 Reasons For Hope) [Essay]

by Guest Contributor Hari Stephen Kumar, originally published at Kinetic Now

Trayvon Martin Protest Photo, by Flickr User WorldCan’tWait

Shortly after George Zimmerman was acquitted, a friend said that “these are dark times in America.” To which I said, “No, these are white times in America, as always.”

In the month since the Zimmerman acquittal, the mainstream conversation about the case has morphed into a personal verdict on Trayvon’s behavior and a cultural indictment on black people more broadly. When even the President of the United States, a black man, begins his heartfelt statement on the issue by saying that he wants to address “the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling,” you already know that in the public imagination the case of Florida v. Zimmerman has become instead a Trial of Trayvon.

And when the President ends his speech by asking the American people to ask ourselves, echoing Martin Luther King, Jr., “Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?” you cannot help but reflect on all the ways that it was indeed Trayvon’s character that was judged and assassinated in both the legal courtroom and in the court of public opinion.

For many, this is one of the strangest things about the case: why did the trial’s focus shift to Trayvon instead of Zimmerman? After the verdict, why has the so-called “national conversation on race” become so fixated on “problems” with “black culture”? Why did the acquittal give license to commentators from across the racial and political spectrum to speak so bluntly in blaming black people for Trayvon’s death? How do we make sense of the ugly racial rhetoric coming from white commentators like Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and NRA board member Ted Nugent who are so quick to condemn the character of “the black community”? Why do their talking points get repeated across online comments and in personal conversations?

And why do so many such conversations begin with “I’m not racist but …”?

I mean, there’s even a satirical app called iNotRacist which allows anxious white people to demonstrate their level of non-racism by surrounding themselves with tokens of minority cultures:

In all seriousness, though, how do people across the racial spectrum get to ask genuine questions about race with each other? What about people who recognize that there is indeed something deeply odd about race relations in America but are not sure how to begin asking about it without getting accused of being racists?

In summary, here are five keys that explain how mainstream conversations and perceptions about race in America contribute to a broader history of racial injustice:

  • Key #1: Practice racism without being racist
    American racism is more of a color-blind cultural racism than a personal racism. This kind of racism allows people to believe cultural stereotypes about minority communities in general, without feeling like they are being personally racist against minority individuals.
  • Key #2: Continue a long American tradition of condemning blackness (while confirming whiteness)
    American cultural stereotypes linking blackness to criminality go back a long ways, to discriminatory social policies and Jim Crow laws instituted after the Civil War that condemned black people as a group based on biased crime statistics. Meanwhile, similar patterns of crime by white immigrant groups were instead humanized and individualized.
  • Key #3: Use new Jim Crow methods to legally profile black/brown men with “reasonable suspicion” 
    Our current legal system enforces a new kind of Jim Crow policing and segregation in urban black/brown communities, while largely ignoring suburban white communities, through the court sanctioned use of de facto racial profiling and discriminatory sentencing in the War on Drugs. This results in a disproportionate suspicion of black/brown men.
  • Key #4: Rely on whiteness to deny ‘neighborliness’ to black/brown neighbors
    White privilege shapes the ways people interpret and suspect the actions of their non-white neighbors. This happens even if the person suspecting the neighbor is non-white, because whiteness is a system of beliefs that we are all immersed in, so you don’t have to be white in order to uphold the normalcy of whiteness.
  • Key #5: Stand your (white) ground by supporting gun laws based on white supremacist talking points
    Laws like Stand Your Ground (which, by the way, was absolutely part of the Zimmerman defense) reflect fears and paranoias that once were the domain of white supremacist groups but are now a part of mainstream NRA talking points that openly encourage violent white vigilantism as a “reasonable” response to suspicious behavior in “your” neighborhood.

These keys interconnect to explain how so many Americans believe and act upon a deeply entrenched set of cultural prejudices that make black/brown bodies automatically suspicious in everyday encounters, suspicious enough to justify an aggressive and even violent pre-emptive response. The next few pages explore each key in more depth, but there are also significant reasons for hope. Continue reading

Roundup: Reactions to Stop and Frisk Ruling

Stop-And-Frisk-650x430

 

Yesterday, federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that the stop-and-frisk policies of the New York City Police Department violate the constitutional rights of the city’s residents. (Read the full opinion.) While New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration have cited stop-and-frisk as a key factor in decreasing NYC’s murder and major crime rates, data tells a different story and the tactic has long been criticized for its focus on black and Latino residents. What follows is a roundup of reactions to the ruling. Share more in comments.

The New York Times compiled a video of reactions to the judge’s ruling, featuring residents of Brownsville, Brooklyn. Says one young man, identified as Darnell Rose:

“It’s definitely a good thing. Definitely. Because I don’t have to walk and look over my shoulder and worry about, you know, undercovers running up on me, jacking me up, harassing me…I could be coming from the store, minding my own business or getting off of work and they just look at me and feel like, ‘Yeah, let’s get this guy right here.’ Like, hey buddy, what’s the problem? It’s uncalled for.”

I. Bennett Capers, wrote in a Times editorial:

MY husband and I are about the same age and build, wear the same clothes and share the same gender, but I am far more likely to be stopped by the police. This isn’t because I have a criminal record or engage in furtive movements. Nor is my husband a choirboy. Statistically speaking, it’s because I’m black and he’s white. [...] even if these practices were constitutional, they’re still a bad idea. Of course, one wouldn’t know that listening to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other true believers, who insist that aggressive stop-and-frisks have reduced violent crime. But they’re wrong.

The most obvious reason is the brute numbers. For every 100 individuals stopped and frisked, only about 6 are arrested, often for minor offenses like marijuana possession. The success rate for finding a gun borders on the nonexistent: 1 in every 1,000 stops. In fact, purely random stops have produced better results. [...]

And there is a more important argument that isn’t captured by the numbers. Aggressive stop-and-frisks sow community distrust of the police and actually inhibit crime control, creating a generation of disaffected minority youths who believe that cops are racists. Read more…

In an insightful conversation on Branch, participants debated the merits of the ruling, with Al Jazeera producer Osman Norr offering:

“I think, taken together with Holder’s comments on mandatory minimums, the DoJ is starting to carve out a distinct position.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates recommends readers revisit the This American Life piece, “Is that a Tape Recorder in your Pocket or are you Just Unhappy to See Me,” about Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, who secretly recorded his supervisors telling officers to manipulate crime statistics and make illegal arrests:

 

 

Ira Glass: Adrian Schoolcraft says he isn’t exactly sure when, but at some point he had decided that it was important to document the orders that he was given that he thought were out of line. He recorded roll calls where officers were constantly being told to do more stop-and-frisks, even though it’s illegal to stop a random person on the street and frisk them without reasonable suspicion. In December 2008, a sergeant tells officers to stop-and-frisk quote, “anybody walking around, no matter what the explanation is.” He recorded Stephen Mauriello, the commander the 81st precinct– and the person Adrian Schoolcraft says really brought the hammer down for higher numbers– ordering the officers to arrest everyone they see. This happens in a couple of recordings, like this one from Halloween 2008.

Stephen Mauriello: Any roving bands– you hear me– roving bands more than two or three people–

Ira Glass: He’s saying “any roving bands of more than two or three people”– he’s talking about just people going around on Halloween night–

Stephen Mauriello: I want them stopped–

Ira Glass: I want them stopped–

Stephen Mauriello: –cuffed–

Ira Glass: –cuffed–

Stephen Mauriello: –throw them in here, run some warrants.

Ira Glass: –throw them in here, run some warrants.

Stephen Mauriello: You’re on a foot post? [BLEEP] it. Take the first guy you’ve got and lock them all up. Boom.

Ira Glass: You’re on a foot post? F it. Take the first guy you’ve got, lock them all up. Boom.

Stephen Mauriello: We’re going to go back out and process them later on, I’ve got no problems–

Ira Glass: –go back out and then we’ll come back in and process them later on.”

Adrian Schoolcraft: Yes. Yeah, what he’s saying is, arrest people simply for the purpose of clearing the streets.

 

The blog Civilly Minded wondered whether law enforcement should have their own version of the physicians Hippocratic Oath:

The physician’s oath — ‘First Do No Harm’ — is well known.1 It is also well conceived. A human being is a complex organism.  A physical intervention can have unintended consequences.  In the worst cases, the results of the intervention can be irreparable and even deadly.

The Hippocratic Oath is said to encourage rigor, honesty, and integrity among physicians, and helps ensure the minimization and justification of any adverse effects their work may have on people. Perhaps the police should swear to a Hippocratic Oath of their own. Read more…

 

Image Credit: The Guardian

Quoted: President Obama: ‘Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago’

Partial transcript:

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.
- Full transcript available via The White House

Why Are White People So Touchy About Being Called Racist?

By Guest Contributor Scot Nakagawa; originally published at ChangeLab

Image via sciencedaily.com

Image via sciencedaily.com

I’ve often pondered the question, why are white people so touchy about being called out for racism?

I know some of you will say that racism is much more than the hurtful prejudice of a marginal few. Agreed. Racism is also inherited structural and political inequity by race resulting in persistent poverty, health disparities, and deficits of opportunity in communities of color. And as with all kinds of oppression, racism is ultimately kept in place by violence and the threat of violence (think in terms of lynchings, cross-burnings, KKK raids, etc. throughout our history). Simple prejudice seems pretty minor by comparison.

However, the powerful effect of white people’s touchiness on this subject should not to be underestimated. In fact, I think it goes hand in hand with the threat of violence in perpetuating racism.

For instance, racial inequality nowadays relies more heavily on the intimidation and violence of the war on drugs and immigration enforcement than on the terrorism of vigilante groups. But, racist immigration and drug enforcement policies are founded on the widespread popularity of racial stereotypes that falsely criminalize black men as the source of the illegal drug problem in the U.S., and immigrants of color as drains on our economy. In other words, ordinary prejudice is as much a part of the oppressive equation for communities of color as violence and intimidation, and the fact that these ordinary forms of prejudice are expressed through major public institutions is possible because we deny that these stereotypes are grounded in prejudice at all.

We need to marginalize ordinary racist stereotypes and behavior, and this starts with calling racism out, even when those guilty of it get touchy because they are unable to recognize their acts as racist.

But, why so touchy?

At the risk of sparking a sh*t storm, here are a couple of proposals.

Continue reading

Cheering for the Chicago Blackhawks: A Tradition of Racial Play

By Guest Contributor Charles Fruehling Springwood

Members of the Chicago Blackhawk celebrate winning the Stanley Cup in a June 28 parade. Image by tanveer.i.ali via Flickr creative commons.

As a white youth growing up playing ice hockey in the 1960s, in a Chicago suburb, I fell in love with the Chicago Blackhawks. I watched Hawks games on T.V., and during the intermissions between the periods, I retired to the kitchen (and its smooth, slick tile floor) to shoot my plastic puck at the cabinets. For the kitchen shootouts, I channeled my all-time favorite, the always-helmeted Stan Mikita, or on occasion, Bobby Hull. Born just after the team’s 1961 Stanley Cup championship, I anticipated – without too much patience – the next championship, and suffered through the team’s two failed Stanley Cup appearances in the early seventies.

But between those years and the team’s next championships in 2010 and now 2013, my Native American friends encouraged me to reflect more deeply on the way symbols like the team’s own “Chief Black Hawk” distorted their identities, particularly in the imaginations of white Americans. Ultimately, in graduate school at the University of Illinois-Champaign, I critiqued my school’s infamous mascot, Chief Illiniwek, and my friend Richard King and I went on to edit Team Spirits: The Native American Mascot Controversy, a 2001 collection of essays giving voice to how Native Americans feel about many of these manifestations of the power of non-Indian, mostly white institutions and people to (re)represent, (re)name, and (re)contextualize Native peoples for white purposes.

In his foreword for the book, renowned scholar Vine Deloria Jr. of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation wrote:

With diehard refusal to change the names and logos of sports teams we always hear the justification that the name is being used to ‘honor’ us. This tortured reasoning makes its proponents look absurd. Obviously if garish costumes, demeaning cheers, and crude logos are the essence of honor, then the various sports halls of fame need to perform drastic surgery on the busts and plaques of their honorees. The excuse, being lame, must conceal something more profound, which cannot or will not be articulated by those people ‘honoring’ us.

Continue reading

It’s Bigger than Paula Deen

By Guest Contributor Dr. David J. Leonard, cross-posted from Dr. David J. Leonard

The fallout from Paula Deen’s deposition and the lawsuit itself is a reminder of the ways that race and gender operate within the restaurant industry.  It’s bigger than Paula Deen.  Yet, as you read media reports, as you listen to various commentaries, you would think this is a story about an older white woman wedded to America’s racist past.  Yes, this is a story about Paula Deen, and her crumbing empire.  But that is the beginning, not the end. This is bigger than one individual, her reported prejudices, or the lawsuit at hand.  This is about a restaurant industry mired by discrimination and systemic inequalities.

Racism pervades the entire industry, as evident in the daily treatment faced by workers, the segregation within the industry, differential wage scale, and its hiring practices.  According to Jennifer Lee, “Racial Bias Seen in Hiring of Waiters:”

Expensive restaurants in New York discriminate based on race when hiring waiters, a new study has concluded. The study was based on experiments in which pairs of applicants with similar résumés were sent to ask about jobs. The pairs were matched for gender and appearance, said Marc Bendick Jr., the economist who conducted the study. The only difference was race, he said.

White job applicants were more likely to receive followup interviews at the restaurants, be offered jobs, and given information about jobs, and their work histories were less likely to be investigated in detail, he said Tuesday. He spoke at a news conference releasing the report in a Manhattan restaurant.

There really should not be a lot of difference in how the two of them are treated,” Mr. Bendick said. He was hired by advocacy groups for restaurant workers as part of a larger report called “The Great Service Divide: Occupational Segregation and Equality in the New York City Restaurant Industry.” He has made a career of studying discrimination, ranging from racism in the advertising industry to sexism in firefighting.

Mr. Bendick said that in industries, such experiments typically found discrimination 20 to 25 percent of the time. In New York restaurants, it was found 31 percent of the time.

A recent report from the ROC (Restaurant Opportunities Center) found that Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Capital Grille, among others) was responsible for creating a racially hostile environment.

Continue reading