Category Archives: white

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White Privilege in Spanish

By Guest Contributor Ray Heath

After hearing that a grand jury decided not to indict Mike Brown’s killer, I took some time to meditate, cry, be angry, and shake my fist at the sky. I thought I was okay. But this morning when I got up and did my morning meditation, the tears came back again. They wouldn’t stop. On my way to work, my steps felt heavy, weary. I kept seeing my grandmother’s face, my father’s face, my brothers… I kept thinking about all the Black lives that have been stolen over the years. By the time I got to work, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay. Which brought on the next challenge of the day: how to explain to my white boss that I was going to need to take a personal day.

Let me explain. I live in Mexico. And while I read the news every morning to keep abreast of what is happening in my country, most people here are not so diligent. Many keep up on their local news and the national headlines, and occasionally the U.S. will make a decision that appears on that little ticker tape that runs at the bottom of the nightly news, but otherwise there’s not much talk of foreign affairs.

Add to that the fact that very few people have a context for the institutionalized racism that still perpetuates itself in the U.S. today, and you can begin to see the trouble a very emotional me faced in trying to explain why I was not going to be able to stay at work. You see this is the perfect environment to shed obligation. When in Mexico, be in Mexico. And I suppose some people will wonder why I even bother keeping up on the news, but my family still lives stateside. What happens in the news affects them, which means it affects me.
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Jordan Davis1

Voices: Jordan Davis’ Killer Won’t Do Time For His Death

Jordan Davis (1995-2012). Image via The Root.

Michael Dunn got away with murder.Oh, he’ll likely spend the rest of his life in prison on the three counts of attempted second-degree murder. Those are the charges of which a Jacksonville, Fla., jury took four days to find him guilty, for the 10 bullets he fired at 17-year-old Jordan Davis and his three friends that fateful November more than a year ago because they wouldn’t turn down the “thug music” that he despised.

Dunn’s conviction has given Jordan’s parents, Lucia McBath and Ron Davis, a bit of closure to know that their son’s killer won’t walk away free, that while he robbed Jordan of the chance to reach middle age, he also robbed himself of the chance to reach old age in a retirement village instead of a cell block.

But the jury couldn’t decide whether Dunn, 47, was justified in killing Jordan, who argued with him and cursed him when he asked them to turn down the music. Not only could they not decide whether Dunn’s slaying of the unarmed teenager amounted to first-degree murder, but they also couldn’t decide whether it amounted to second-degree murder or manslaughter.

Which leads me to ask: What if Jordan had been the only one in that Dodge Durango?
– Tonyaa Weathersbee, The Root

I walk around in this young Black male body and I understand that it causes fear. It causes a reaction. It causes police to look at me more carefully. It could kill me. This is the burden that I bear just by being born Black and living in America is the fact that I have been born into a racist system, a racist society that has placed on my Black male body a set of ideas that invoke fear in people. That’s what Jordan Davis was dealing with. That’s what Trayvon Martin was dealing with, and it killed them.

– Mychal Denzel Smith, as said on MSNBC, Feb. 16.

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Originally Amalia

Image Credit: Suuraa Qeerroo

Image Credit: Suuraa Qeerroo on Flickr

By Guest Contributor Amalia Clarice Mora; originally published at Feminist Wire

Life is easier, kinder, and more lenient when you are white, and this may be why George Zimmerman decided to downplay his mestizo origins and identify as white/white Hispanic during the Trayvon Martin trial.  Zimmerman is a partially white half-Hispanic, and as such he was already closer to whiteness and the privilege it grants than Martin ever could have been. But perhaps Zimmerman knew that just being a partially white mestizo wouldn’t win him an acquittal, and so he decided to identify with a category of “really” or “fully” white people who would sympathize more with a white man whose actions reflected his (and their) fears of black America.

When I was growing up in Los Angeles during the 1990s, “really” or “fully” white meant Northern-European looking. Aryan looking. Those with the combination of an olive complexion, a “big” or “bumpy” nose, and black hair were not “really” white.  These “not really white” people included individuals belonging to groups officially labeled “Caucasian” (i.e., Eastern European Jewish, Arab, Middle Eastern, Southern Italian, or Central Asian), as well as mixed raced people with a partially white background. They were the “sort-of white” people, because of their official racial status or their mixed race background, but “not white” in the way people treated and perceived them. The “sort-of whites” were put into an ambiguous “other” pile and were constantly asked (like many other non-white Americans): “Where are you from? I mean—originally?” “Sort-of whites” never felt really truly American, and those of Middle-Eastern, Arab, and Central Asian descent faced the most discrimination from peers, not only because of the way they looked, but also because their families were recent immigrants.

Discrimination against “dark-ish” immigrants in the U.S. is as old as the country itself. White Americans have always had a socioeconomic interest in proving that they are the “real” Americans with the right to establish and control institutions. The category of white, in regard to European immigrants, was relatively fluid until the mid-nineteenth century, when it became restricted to individuals of Anglo-Saxon origin. Europeans perceived to be of the darker “variety” (e.g., Polish, Jews, Italians) occupied a kind of “in-between” space when it came to racial identity and designation. The official status of “in-between” “sort of whites” of European, Arab, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian descent changed to “white” in the twentieth century, yet many people belonging to this category still don’t feel “really” white. The more purportedly “Arab” or “ethnic looking” they are, the more they feel and are treated as non-white.

I have experienced what it is like to be a “sort-of white” person because of my racial background,  my upbringing, and the way I look. My dad is Mexican-American of mostly Amerindian descent and my mom is of German, Scottish, and Cherokee descent.  Ethnically and culturally speaking, in other words, I am partly white. Many Mexican-Americans I knew growing up were either poor or lower-middle class and experienced economic as well as cultural marginality. My family wanted my sister and me to feel American, not marginal. Ensuring this meant ensuring that we were imbued, at least partially, with what had become a Euro-centric English-speaking white culture. This culture has always been institutionalized as American. Other American traditions, other holidays, values, philosophies, and languages, have been systematically excluded, never allowed to become American. This is why black, Hispanic, and Asian cultures, despite having had a firm presence in America for generations, are still “hyphenated” cultures. Though I was surrounded by the Spanish language, Mexican food, music, and holidays growing up, I was also exposed to homogenized, anglicized, and middle-class American culture. And this may be why some of my Mexican-American/Chicano friends and acquaintances can’t always relate to me— to the part of me that has, in their eyes, “become white,” culturally speaking.

My physical appearance, however, has shaped the “sort-of whiteness” I experience most explicitly. Many people in the U.S. don’t think I look Hispanic, and usually assume I am of some other “dark,” “brown,” or “sort-of white” ethnicity.  As a result, white acquaintances often feel free to make invidious jokes or derogatory remarks about Mexican people in front of me. Some make these jokes and remarks knowing my ethnic and cultural background, but perhaps they assume that the access to whiteness I have because of my physical appearance will make me indifferent to their cruelty.

Though my appearance has often allowed me to avoid anti-Hispanic prejudice, it has exposed me to the kind of prejudice some “sort-of white” people face. Conflating nationality, race, and religion, many people in the U.S. lump Middle Eastern, Central Asian (and sometimes South Asian) nationals, Arabs, and Muslims together into one category of “darkish” or Muslim-ish” looking people. Many people in the U.S. assume I belong to this group, and have discriminated against me, accordingly.

When I was in my early teens, a few white acquaintances tried to insult me by calling me the “Armenian chick,” and made fun of the bump on my nose saying it was ugly and Persian or “Middle Eastern” looking. In college, I received an anonymous email, and attached to it was a picture of two naked women. Both women were lying down, legs spread, vaginas center stage. One woman was a blonde whose pubic and leg hair had been shaved. The other was an older dark-skinned Arab woman, unshaven. Under the Arab woman a caption read, “Here’s what they have,” and under the blonde woman, “Here’s what we have.” It hurt even more when some Hispanic and African Americans began discriminating against my sister and me post 9/11, perhaps eager to finally feel like they could become part of the American “us” versus the hyphenated “them.” In one incident, a man yelled at my sister while she was walking down the street, “Get out of my way, you Arab bitch.”

In no way am I implying that I have experienced what it is like to be Arab, Muslim, or Middle-Eastern in the United States. Moreover, I recognize the advantages I’ve had as a person perceived to be “sort-of white,” “part” white, or “brown-ish,” as opposed to the more explicit and cruel forms of hatred and institutionalized racism that those perceived to be “fully” non-white experience. My point here is to show how the mixed race, partially white, and/or “sort-of white” experience can reveal how problematic and exclusionary American understandings of whiteness are, and, therefore how real and severe the problem of race still is.

Even many individuals of Southern European and Eastern European Jewish descent still don’t feel fully American because of the way they look. Some of my friends and acquaintances that belong to this group have obtained plastic surgery or blonde streaks in an effort to “Aryanize” themselves. This means that even though they have, to a certain extent, become white culturally and in official rhetoric, they have not become white physically or psychologically. And if they still don’t feel American because they don’t feel fully white, then what does this mean for everyone else?

It means that whiteness has not become more inclusive. It means that whiteness welcomes and rewards those willing to hide, downplay, or remove traces of ethnic features, traditions, or origins (read: George Zimmerman). And it means that those who have no chance of being even semi-included in this exclusionary privileged club (read: African Americans), become even more marginalized and even more non-white than before. It means that the closer one is to being black, the harder, harsher, and more unjust life will be.

When they were growing up, my dad and step-mom both faced discrimination and feelings of inferiority because of their poverty and ethnicity. During a recent dinner table conversation, they told me that they have always hoped that I would never experience shame. Shame is debilitating yet persuasive in its ardor, like a jealous friend. Shame keeps us company in the hide-out it has forced us into. I didn’t want to upset my dad and step-mom, so during the discussion, I didn’t reveal to them that throughout most of my life I have experienced a great deal of shame in regards to the racism I have experienced. I have felt and still feel misunderstood by those who perceive me to be too “Middle-Eastern-ish,” “not Chicana enough,” or “not white enough.” I am often asked why my name, Amalia, isn’t spelled with an accent, the way it is spelled in Mexico. And I am often asked, “What kind of name is Amalia—I mean originally?”

Lately, I have been trying to use my personal experiences to help challenge understandings of American whiteness and race. Lately, I have been responding to this question by saying, “Amalia is an American name.” Its ambiguity is part of the Middle Eastern story I am assumed to have. Its lack of accent is part of my assimilation story, part of my white story. And its accent fills in the confused space that is my México.

They say shame starts to lose its poison when it is turned into a story. And so I try.

 

References

Behad, Ali. 2005. A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ignatiev, Noel. 1996. How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge.

Jacobson, Mathew Frye. 1999. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Roediger, David. 2005. Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs. New York: Basic Books.

Samhan, Helen Hatab. 1999. “Not Quite White: Race Classification and the Arab American Experience.” In Arabs in America: Building a New Future, edited by Michael W. Suleiman. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

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Amalia Mora photographAmalia Clarice Mora is a doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her doctoral research examines how tensions related to class, caste, and gender are negotiated within the context of music tourism in Goa, India. Her other research interests include interracial attraction and mixed race experiences in the U.S., and how sociocultural anxieties related to both manifest themselves in unofficial discourse and texts, such as rumor and internet comment sections.

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.

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Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.13: “In Care Of”

By Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid

Keeping it real, Don Draper style.

Keeping it real, Don Draper style.

**OK, y’all…SPOILERS**

As usual, Mad Men delivered a wreck of a season ender. Don Draper had to say goodbye to what and whom he knows–”had to” being the operative phrase. And quite a few other characters had to do the same, voluntarily and involuntarily.

Tami and I grab our summer drinks and chat about what the fuck just happened.

Andrea: I’m still recovering from that last episode, Tami! Though the song may have been anachronistic, I thought a perfect song for it would have been “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” or some other leaving ditty because there were a lot of leavings, some voluntary and some forced.

One leavetaking song I can think of is “She’s Come Undone” as it applies to Sally getting kicked out of boarding school, Megan leaving Don, and Peggy getting dumped (again) and wearing pants for the first time. In their own small ways, they’re foreshadowing feminism’s Second Wave as it trickled into white women’s lives. And, what I appreciate is that Weiner and Company doesn’t make their every action a feminist one, unlike Downton Abbey and the Crawley sisters.

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Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.12: “Quality Of Mercy”

Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid

Yes, Dawn, warm-and-fuzzier-than-thou Ted said “a Japanese.” Gurl…

One more episode before we say goodbye to this season of Don & The Gang. This season’s penultimate ep is full of fatherly angst, mostly coming from Don dealing with the fallout of Sally finding his in delicato with Sylvia, his mistress and neighbor, and with his protégé, Peggy, saying some nasty stuff about his treatment of her paramour and boss, Ted. Pete finds a younger version of Don in his midst; Megan’s still unaware of Don’s affair; Roger’s still blithely himself. And no sighting of Dawn this week–but you know we rectify that omission here at the R, as seen above.

Tami and I gather for our weekly ‘table, complete with side dishes of spoilers.

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Meanwhile On Tumblr: Taking The Piss Out Of White People Who Think They’re Not Racist

By Andrea Plaid

While Twitter is having a whole bunch of brilliant fun at the expense of Paula Deen and her racism (and rightfully so), Above Average Productions makes fun of those white folks who feel they should be congratulated for basic manners and human kindness toward people of color. (Though I’m not sure why the woman at the end of the vid is doing Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra…)

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Why Can’t Black Women Claim Sluttiness, Again?

By Guest Contributor Laura K. Warrell

Black woman orgasm

In the June issue of Glamour magazine, spunky rock chick Pink declares herself a “reformed slut,” describing her brush with whorishness as an “unsophisticated” attempt at taking back her sexual power from men.

“I’ve always had an issue with [the idea that]: ‘Okay, we’ve both decided to do this,’” she says.  “‘Why am I a slut and you’re the player?  You didn’t get anything from me that I didn’t get from you.”

This “anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better” attitude has been key to the burgeoning cultural narrative around slutdom, and it’s an attitude I’m mostly down with.  Still, I found myself bristling when I read Pink’s interview.  At first I thought my politics were offended: is Pink suggesting that sexual experimentation for women is a moral crime that ultimately requires “reform?”  But then I realized, as a black woman, what I was really feeling was resentment, even envy–what a luxury is has to be able to publicly declare her sexual independence without having to worry how the declaration might affect her credibility, career, or romantic prospects.

In recent years, scads of books and other commercial works of art have been tossed onto the pop-culture landscape by white women reminiscing about their “phases” of sexual promiscuity, often told from the comfort of their fulfilled, easy-peasy lives as wives and mothers.  In March, comedienne and NPR host Ophira Eisenberg published Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy about banging everything in Manhattan with a bulge before settling down with her handsome, comic book-writing husband.  In 2010, Jillian Lauren published Some Girls: My Life in a Harem about kicking it with the Sultan of Brunei before marrying a rock star and adopting a cute kid.  And since 2005’s My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands, Chelsea Handler and many of her sassy gal pals have built thriving careers around being drunk and easy.  Then of course, we have the fictionalized slut phase Hannah braves through on Girls in order to bring her creator, Lena Dunham, cultural relevance and Emmy awards.

So why aren’t these stories by or about Black women?

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