One of the most distinct characteristics of white privilege is the privilege to be unique. When white people commit violent acts, they are treated as aberrations, slips described with adjectives that show they are unusual and in no way representative of the broader racial group to which they belong.
In fact, in much of the coverage of the Waco shootings, the race of the gang members isn’t even mentioned, although pictures of the aftermath show groups of white bikers being held by police. By comparison, the day after Freddie Gray died in the custody of police officers in Baltimore, not only did most coverage mention that Gray was black, but also included a quote from the deputy police commissioner noting Gray was arrested in “a high-crime area known to have high narcotic incidents,” implicitly smearing Gray and the entire community.
How did press reports quote the police in Waco? “We’ve been made aware in the past few months of rival biker gangs … being here and causing issues,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said. Causing issues? Cops were reportedly so worried about the bikers gathering in the Waco strip mall that they had 12 officers as well as officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety stationed outside the restaurant.
Now there’s word that the biker gangs have issued repeated threats against the police in the aftermath of the Waco “melee” as The New York Times headline called it. During the uprisings in Baltimore, I saw a flurry of tweets about black people disrespecting property and throwing rocks at police. Now that these biker gangs have issued actual death threats, why am I not now seeing tons of Twitter posts about white people disrespecting the lives of police?
– Waco Coverage Shows Double Standard on Race, by Sally Kohn; via CNN.com, May 19, 2015
I was on radio the other day, trying to explain to Shado Twala, well-known radio and television personality here in South Africa, how racism personally affects me. I had this great chance to finally tell a wider audience what it feels like to live in a city that denies you so much because you’re black. But I focused too much on how I’d been getting hostile looks from strangers, and being shoved and bumped into a couple of times while walking in my predominantly white neighbourhood.
I felt like I blew it.
Gone was the experience I had on my first date with the man who would later become my boyfriend. It was here in Cape Town, years ago, when another white man lunged at me and spat out some ugly racist words at me. I won’t say publicly what they are, not now anyway. Because he wasn’t aware of it at the time, I only told my man this had happened years later. It’s not something I want to remember, or talk about, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Possibly because there have been so many incidents of racism in the Cape in recent months. And it’s happened not only when the tourists flood in during the month we all lovingly call Dezemba. Even though, during my conversation with uMam’Shado, we were slightly glib about how the tourists from other provinces annually bring with them a spate of complaints about the ‘Mother City’ as it is known to some. My black South African friends have asked: “Mother to whom, this city? Who does it mother and who is the mother?”
So I felt that, during that conversation, gone were the experiences of friends trying to rent apartments, but being disappointed because of race-based selection or denial. Of friends leaving their jobs and packing up to go back to Joburg after a year or two. Gone were the stories of how even academia works to keep black people out. Gone were the myriad instances of microagression and hostility in a place that renders you both visible and invisible. You’re visible when you’ve clearly transgressed – how dare you walk around with a white man who clearly adores you? What are you doing with him? Or, as some women from a white-owned mainly white-staffed media house asked my friend about me – “How did she get a white guy?” Continue reading
MTV’s Look Different campaign is doing a full multiscreen take over for Martin Luther King Jr. Day,
According to a 2014 MTV study*, 73% of Millennials believe having more open constructive conversations about bias would help people become less prejudiced.
“Millennials believe strongly in fairness, but they can also find it difficult to talk openly about race – to be not simply ‘color blind’ but ‘color brave,’ said Stephen Friedman, President of MTV. “Our audience is looking for a way to bring the national conversation on race into their homes and this campaign will give them a forum to express true color bravery.”
#TheTalk will begin at 9:00 a.m. ET/PT on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day when MTV will kick off a 12-hour period in which all programming will air in black and white for the first time in the network’s history. Every commercial block will begin with personal reflections on race from luminaries including Kendrick Lamar, Common, Big Sean, Ava DuVernay, David Oyelowo, Penn Badgley, Jordin Sparks, Pete Wentz, Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. John Lewis, Sen. Cory Booker and more.
One of the ideas they referenced, “color brave,” is from Melody Hobson’s TED Talk:
Read MTV’s study on Millennials and Bias here.
Share your experiences with #TheTalk here.
(Easter Egg: I’m in the “activist” video on the site.)
“Color is not a human or a personal reality, it is a political reality.” – James Baldwin
This is not a book review, because Who We Be isn’t really a book. It’s more of a thoughtful examination of how the United States arrived at this point in racial history.
Long time friend of the blog Jeff Chang is the author of the American Book award winning Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation and editor of the anthology Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip Hop. To say we’ve been waiting for Who We Be is an understatement.
But in the introduction, Chang frames the core of the most recent case of racial backlash. Explaining the outsized reaction by some whites to President Obama, Chang notes:
In the 1830s white minstrels had put on blackface, creating space for the white working class to challenge the elite, while keeping Blacks locked into their racial place. Obama now appeared as a dual symbol of oppression. Because of his Blackness, he was even more of an outsider—and in that sense, even more American—than them. But he was also the president. His Blackness did not just confer moral and existential claims, it was backed by the power of the state.
And there went everything.
As much as we like to talk about the inevitability of America being majority-minority in 2042, the events playing out across the nation show that most places are outright hostile to the idea that people of color are equal Americans, with the same rights, privileges, representation, and agenda setting power bestowed to whites. Chang turns his critical eye to shifts in culture which becomes documentation of rise (and fall?) of multiculturalism. Continue reading
Guernica, the magazine of arts and culture, dedicated their latest special issue to the class divide. But, as most of us reading this blog know, race and class are not so easily separated. And in spite people online and in activist circles arguing that the social issue of our time is no longer race, only looking at one issue in a vacuum means that our proposed solutions to societal ills will always feel incomplete.
Two essays in the issue beautifully and painfully explain the paradigm Patricia Hill Collins outlined in Black Feminist Thought. Race, class, and gender are interlocking systems of oppression:
Viewing relations of domination for Black women for any given sociohistorical context as being structured via a system of interlocking race, class, and gender oppression expands the focus of analysis from merely describing the similarities and differences distinguishing these systems of oppression and focuses greater attention on how they interconnect. Assuming that each system needs the others in order to function creates a distinct theoretical stance that stimulates the rethinking of basic social science concepts.
The first piece is Margo Jefferson’s “Scenes from a Life in Negroland.” A sample:
We thought of ourselves as the Third Race, poised between the masses of Negroes and all classes of Caucasians. Like the Third Eye, the Third Race possessed a wisdom, intuition, and enlightened knowledge the other two races lacked. Its members had education, ambition, sophistication, and standardized verbal dexterity.
—If, as was said, too many of us ached, longed, strove to be be be be White White White White WHITE;
—If (as was said) many us boasted overmuch of the blood des blancs which for centuries had found blatant or surreptitious ways to flow, course, and trickle tepidly through our veins;
—If we placed too high a value on the looks, manners, and morals of the Anglo-Saxon…
…White people did too. They wanted to believe they were the best any civilization could produce. They wanted to be white just as much as we did. They worked just as hard at it. They failed just as often. But they could pass so no one objected.
In this entry from the Racialigious series, we examine the struggles of women of color in religious communities — and how they’re often ignored in discussions about faith.
By Guest Contributor Sikivu Hutchinson; excerpt from “Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels” (Feb. 2013); originally published at the Feminist Wire
The 24-hour prayer sessions are the true test of a warrior for Jesus. They require Herculean stamina, the patience of Job, and the rigor of elite marathon runners hitting the wall in a fiery sweat pit at high altitude, primed for God’s finish line. In many small storefront Pentecostal churches these “pray-a-thons” are women’s spaces; hubs of music, food, caregiving, and intense witnessing. My student Stacy Castro* is a bass player in her Pentecostal church’s band. She is also the pastor’s daughter and a regular participant in the pray-a-thons, a mainstay in some evangelical congregations. Much of her weekends are focused on church activities. And though she is an intelligent, gifted speaker, up until her participation in the Women’s Leadership Project she thought little about pursuing college and wanted to go to cosmetology school. Stacy’s aspirations are not atypical of students at Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles. In a community that is dominated by churches of every stripe; only a small minority go on to four-year colleges and universities.
Over the past decade, Pentecostal congregations have burgeoned in urban communities nationwide, as Pentecostalism has exploded amongst American Latinos disgruntled by rigid Catholic hierarchies, alienating racial politics, and sexual-abuse scandals. The gendered appeal of Pentecostalism is highlighted in a 2008 American Religious Identification Survey which concludes that, “Latino religious polarization may be influenced by a gender effect, as in the general U.S. population, with men moving toward no religion and women toward more conservative religious traditions and practices. Two traditions at opposite poles of the religious spectrum exhibit the largest gender imbalance: the None population is heavily male (61%) while the Pentecostal is heavily female (58%). (Italics added.)”[i]
Is this PSA timely or too soon?
The Coalition to Stop Gun violence released a PSA against Stand Your Ground – by recreating pieces of the Trayvon Martin shooting, using pieces from the 911 calls, and finally panning to shots of dead young dead teens from other states. (The video may be emotionally disturbing, but safe for work.) Exhorting viewers to “Stand Up Against Stand Your Ground,” the PSA notes there are 26 states that have the controversial law on the books.
The treatment for this PSA is puzzling. You don’t hear much from unnamed teen/Trayvon-doppleganger – while his cellphone is clear in the shot, it is Zimmerman’s side of the conversation that is playing. And while the images of the dead teens is chilling, the imagery only works if you don’t see these kids as potential criminals – and post Zimmerman trial, it is clear we cannot assume that the public perceives all teens as equal. The imagery in the commercial is powerful – but is it effective?
Perusing my usual monthly reading, I found myself amazed at how many stories were about the Netflix original show Orange is the New Black – and the similarities in language used to describe the plot. I had seen a few reviews here and there, and knew the show was about a privileged white woman who spent a year in a woman’s prison.
But what stood out was how often the word “mistake” came up. I saw the term so many times, it seemed like Piper Kerman ended up in prison due to bad breaks. Mistaken identity? Wrong place at the wrong time? Get dumped via post it note and almost get arrested smoking outside of a bar? (Hey, it happened to Carrie Bradshaw.)
In a Fast Company review – where the word “mistake” appears in the opening line, and is used twice more in the next two paragraphs – I finally found out why Kerman was locked up:
Kerman fell in with people whose lifestyles seemed exciting–as much because one of them ran money and smuggled narcotics for a West African drug lord as in spite of that fact. And when she agreed to help the woman who’d brought her in to that circle usher a suitcase full of undeclared cash from Chicago to Brussels, she made what she describes now as her “biggest mistake.”
So she was banging a drug smuggler and agreed to run some money for them – yeah, could have happened to any of us really. Just minding your own business, taking a suitcase of cash on an international trip…
Anyway, despite my skepticism, I tuned into watch the show. While I’ve been intrigued and interested by the developments in episodes the first five episodes, there’s been this strange undercurrent dulling my enjoyment of the show. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, until I read an excerpt of an interview with the showrunner, Jenji Kohan:
You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it’s a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially. The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it’s relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It’s useful.”
Fascinating – particularly since the most compelling stories to me are about the side characters. I’m not watching for Piper, though it’s been interesting to see her (and her family) coping with her new reality. I am watching to hopefully see how Sophia works out her relationships and medical needs, and to figure out why Daya and her mother have such an acrimonious relationship. But I suppose I’m not in the network’s idea of ideal demographic, and I just have to hope Piper’s development leaves a little space to revisit some of the supporting characters.
I’ll keep watching before I do a longer analysis, but readers, what are your thoughts?