Tag Archives: whiteness

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

White and Yellow: Overcoming Racism

By Guest Contributor Grace Ji-Sun Kim; originally published at The Feminist Wire

“It’s so nice and warm on the inside that you forget that there’s an outside. The worst of it is, the crab that mostly keeps you down is you…The realization had her mind on fire.”
—Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals

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Image courtesy of Frapestaartjie on Flickr.

I was heading home from speaking at the Presbyterian Church in Canada, Synod of British Columbia meeting when a short incident on the plane ended a rather wonderful and fruitful trip on a sore note.  It was a long flight home from Vancouver to Philadelphia.  My eleven-year-old daughter, Elisabeth, and I had to get up at 5AM to catch the early morning flight back home.  We left Vancouver around 7PM, transferring in Dallas to get to Philadelphia around 9PM. It would be another hour’s drive before we got home.

On the flight from Dallas to Philadelphia, I was seated in the second to the last row with Elisabeth.  There was an elderly white couple seated behind us in the last row of the plane. I have traveled enough times by plane to know the etiquette of deplaning. The first rows begin to move down the aisle, and everyone else waits their turn to follow them. It is important that this is a unique situation. There are no choices. There is only one way out for everyone, unlike lines at a supermarket or doors in a sanctuary.

One person violated this rule when the plane opened its doors in Philadelphia due to more than thoughtlessness or rudeness. Thoughtlessness is based on oversight; rudeness is asserting oneself in a situation just to feel a momentary state of power over another. This case was more hurtful in that it invoked the notion that this person was fundamentally better than us.

As we got up from our seats and stood in place to enter the aisle, the white woman behind me stood next to me in the aisle and was determined to gain the place in the line ahead of me. Elisabeth was standing by her seat in the row beside me, and the woman’s husband was standing behind us in the aisle.

We stood a long time, as it seemed to take longer than usual for the passengers ahead of us to file out of the passengers’ cabin.  When it became closer for our row to exit, the elderly woman beside me started walking ahead and somehow got three rows in front of us.  I am not sure how she managed that, but she did, leaving her husband behind us. So far, we have simple rudeness.

As she left the plane, she was about eighteen passengers ahead of me on the ramp.  So, when it was my turn to walk out, I asked her husband if he wanted to go ahead of us, and he politely said, “Please, go ahead.” So, my daughter and I stepped from the passenger cabin.

As we passed the elderly woman on the terminal ramp, she had an angry look on her face as my daughter and I emerged from the door ahead of her husband.  She was waiting for her husband in disgust.  Her displeasure was written on her face, and as we walked past her, she said aloud to her husband, “I can’t believe you allowed the Chinese to get ahead of you!”

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Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Sendhil Ramamurthy (Sort Of)

By Andrea Plaid

Adonis.

That is the only word that comes to my mind when I see Sendhil Ramamurthy.

Courtesy: accidentalsexiness.com

(And that’s only when my mind functions whenever I even glance at a mere photo of him. Usually my thoughts are, “ljgajsohglhoaygetonmybodythoyohljaglhgjlfal.” And just forget about it when I see him in motion…unless we’re talking about how the creative team behind Heroes completely degenerated his character, Mohinder Suresh. Then, my brain works enough to be pissed off about it.)

Of course, I can get into stats and facts about Ramamurthy, but that’s what the Tumblr is for. But I want to get back to this man’s beauty and, yes, casting him as Adonis. Bear with me…

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Quoted: Houria Bouteldja on “White Women and the Privilege of Solidarity”

In 2007, women from the Movement of the Indigenous of the Republic took part in the annual 8th of March demonstration in support of women’s struggles. At that time, the American campaign against Iran had begun. We decided to march behind a banner that’s message was “No feminism without anti-imperialism”. We were all wearing Palestinian kaffiyehs and handing out flyers in support of three resistant Iraqi women taken prisoner by the Americans. When we arrived, the organizers of the official procession started chanting slogans in support of Iranian women. We found these slogans extremely shocking given the ideological offensive against Iran at that time. Why the Iranians, the Algerians and not the Palestinians and the Iraqis? Why such selective choices? To thwart these slogans, we decided to express our solidarity not with Third World women but rather with Western women. And so we chanted:

Solidarity with Swedish women!

Solidarity with Italian women!

Solidarity with German women!

Solidarity with English women!

Solidarity with French women!

Solidarity with American women!

Which meant: why should you, white women, have the privilege of solidarity? You are also battered, raped, you are also subject to men’s violence, you are also underpaid, despised, your bodies are also instrumentalized…

I can tell you that they looked at us as if we were from outer space. What we were saying seemed surreal, inconceivable. It was like the 4th dimension.  It wasn’t so much the fact that we reminded them of their situation as Western women that shocked them. It was more the fact that African and Arabo-Muslim women had dared symbolically subvert a relationship of domination and had established themselves as patrons. In other words, with this skillful rhetorical turn, we showed them that they de facto had a superior status to our own. We found their looks of disbelief quite entertaining.

Another example: After a solidarity trip to Palestine, a friend was telling me how the French women had asked the Palestinian women if they used birth control. According to my friend, the Palestinian women couldn’t understand such a question given how important the demographic issue is in Palestine. They were coming from a completely different perspective. For many Palestinian women, having children is an act of resistance against the ethnic cleansing policies of the Israeli state.

There you have two examples that illustrate our situation as racialized women, that help understand what is at stake and envisage a way to fight colonialist and Eurocentric feminism.

— Houria Bouteldja, spokeswoman for the PIR (La Indigènes de la République) speaking at the 4th International Congress of Islamic Feminism, in Madrid, 22 October 2010

(Hat Tip to Huimin)

Brett Favre: The Chimercal Trickster of American Sports

by Guest Contributor invisman52, originally published at Max Protect

After Brett Favre threw an interception at the end of the NFC Championship Game–a fatal mistake that cost his team a chance to make the Super Bowl–I knew that if the Saints would go on to win the game in overtime, many in the media would bemoan the end of Favre’s incredible, improbable season.  (At age 40, he had the best statistical season of his career.)  Since the Saints did win the game in the extra period, I was immediately attuned to how those in the football punditry would react to the game.  To be fair to Favre, with the exception of that crucial late-game turnover, he played remarkably.  Yet, in a twisted sort of poetic football justice, and if Favre retires, his last pass as a Minnesota Viking will be an interception.  His last pass a New York Jet: an interception.  His last pass a Green Bay Packer: an interception.  For all of Favre’s success, he has also thrown more interceptions than anyone in the history of the league.

Many will attribute this fact to his longevity and durability, that Favre has played so many games.  This argument is often coupled with the notion that Favre is a “gun-slinger,” risking whatever it takes to help his team win.  But what underlines most of this line of defense is a love affair that many in the media have for Favre; and it is much more than a so-called “man crush.”  What is clear to me is that what courses through pundits’ constant approbation and excusing of Favre is a deep, racialized identification.  That is, many white pundits in the media are quick to absolve Favre of any kind of blame because of his particular brand of whiteness–a whiteness that I argue is consciously performed.
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What MTV’s Jersey Shore Means for White America

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

I admit that, despite its train wreck-like qualities (which Racialicious Special Correspondent Arturo so dutifully detailed in his post “Jersey Shore’: Believe the Hype“), I really enjoy watching MTV’s newest reality show Jersey Shore. In its attempt to portray the summer activities of a group of guidos and guidettes, the male and female versions of a subculture that sprang from groups of Italian-American youth only to spread like wildfire to a variety of other ethnicities, primarily in the northeastern region of the United States, MTV has created reality tv gold for people like me. In a voyeuristic way, I have always liked peering inside the television versions, albeit edited, of others’ lives. Jersey Shore is no different on the surface, really, though this show is a bit of an exception in another way. Unlike its glossy counterparts, The Real World, My Super Sweet Sixteen, and The Hills, Jersey Shore takes on an explicit case of ethnicity as its main focus. Sure, there are typical displays of salacious summer behavior: hot tub hook-ups, drunkenness, and a lot of semi-nudity. Where Jersey Shore differs, however, is in its cultural significance.

When I say “cultural significance,” I am not implying that archives of Jersey Shore episodes will make it into the annals of American life to be uncovered centuries from now. But what I mean here is that the show and those who participate in the guido/guidette subculture who also identify as Italian-American are making the choice to articulate their take on their ethnic identity through behaviors, styles of dress, and other aesthetic expressions despite Italian-Americans having been long-accepted as whites. In an odd way, this privilege of whiteness that was gained by the Jersey Shore cast’s ancestors by way of legal battles and hardcore assimilation in the past is exactly what gives them the privilege to then assert fabricated markers of their ethnicity in the present. Continue reading

Quoted: Resistance on Club Membership

I talk to white people about being “kicked out of the club.” It’s the moment that they realize that speaking up about race or racism distances them from other white people.  It’s when they find out that other white people won’t necessarily support them when they raise issues of racism.  I have tried to be empathic with them as they struggle with the perceived loss they suffer when doing what’s right means being ostracized.

I try to have compassion because the Now Me knows how the Then Me felt.  The Then Me often didn’t speak up.  The Then Me was somewhat passive aggressive.  The Then Me would quit a job rather than deal with repeated acts of racism, even when those acts weren’t directly aimed at me.

Then Me realized this was suicide.

Then Me knew that typically nobody would speak up if I didn’t.  And Then Me knew that I couldn’t live a lie.

So what are the risks and rewards of being anti-racist?  I feel funny writing “risks” (I was “taking a risk”),  just as I wrote “perceived loss” a few paragraphs ago.  I wrote that white people suffer a “perceived loss” when they are ostracized by other white people, because I would like to believe that it’s not a loss when you find out who other people truly are.  Or when you find out who you are yourself.

Then Me was a silent person.  Now Me has a voice.

So now I know., by Resistance

The Unbearable Whiteness of Cheerleading

by Guest Contributor Carly Kocurek, originally published at Sparklebliss

As is often the case when I find myself any place where cable is readily available. I stayed up entirely too late last night watching television, sucked into a movie I would have never deliberately viewed. Last night, the film in question was Bring It On: All or Nothing, the third installation in the Bring It On franchise. As is the case with most teen films, the plot here is fairly straightforward. In All or Nothing, preppy, perky, pink-clad Britney Allen (Hayden Panettiere) moves to a less than affluent neighborhood and high school when her father is faced with a paycut and office relocation. Forced to give up her position as the cheerleading captain at Pacific Vista, she finds herself an outcast in the meaner hallways of Crenshaw Heights. She tries out for the cheerleading squad and enters into a battle of the queen bees with Crenshaw cheerleading captain Camille (Solange Knowles).

Now, there is little exceptional here plot wise, but the racial politics of the film are interesting. In some instances, stereotypes play out without commentary, but at other points the characterizations slip easily into satire. The wealthier students at Pacific Vista are nearly uniformly white and blonde with one Asian-American cheerleader. The campus is filled with lovely seating areas and sushi carts. An hour away at Crenshaw, the student body is almost entirely African-American and Latino/Latina, and the cafeteria food looks markedly unappealing. However, when Britney finds the sole table of white students in the cafeteria and sits down, relieved, the white students, too, reject her, leaving the table immediately. In another scene, Britney’s Pacific Vista quarterback boyfriend hassles her new classmate and cheerleading squadmate Jesse (Gus Carr), who is delivering pizza to Britney’s house, saying, among other things, “Your job sucks.” These scenes and others make clear that the more salient cultural clash is one not of race, but of socioeconomic class. Continue reading