Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Social Science to What End? Study Demonstrates that Servers Discriminate Against Black People Because "They Do Not Tip"

"Many people believe that race is no longer a significant issue in the ," says Sarah Rusche, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the study. "But the fact that a third of servers admit to varying their quality of  based on customers' race, often giving African-Americans inferior service, shows that race continues to be an issue in our society."
Long held stereotypes tend to persist because they are based on some truth. Sometimes, these truths are the stuff of mere conjecture and are amplified by social elites because they do political work in the service of Power. At other times, stereotypes are based on a set of historical circumstances and allusions that come to stand in, however inaccurately, across time, for all members of said group. Stereotypes are uncomfortable because they violate rules of contemporary multicultural anti-racist discourse, and are the low hanging fruit that most folks are taught to avoid.

But, this is not always an intellectually rigorous basis for a heuristic: a fear of stereotypes often disguises more than it reveals. 

The popular usage of the word "stereotype" can be traced back to Walter Lippman and his suggestion that people come up with decision rules and stand-ins which form a type of cognitive map (however skewed, inaccurate, or caricaturized) for navigating a world of mediated realities. Of course, stereotypes are capable of doing pernicious social work as they are linked to inequalities and hierarchies of status, in-group over identification, and legitimate oppressive and violent behavior towards the Other. With those dynamics having been acknowledged, I offer a provocative suggestion: stereotypes can also be handy shortcuts that are neutral to the extent that they describe some social reality. 

For example, there are reasons related to class and urbanization which explain the stereotype that black folks gravitate to basketball (just as Jews and other European immigrants did during the late 19th and early 20th centuries). Some groups had good reason to have liquid money and assets given how they were forced, one country after another, into diasporac living. There are many examples of ethnic and racial groups which are associated with particular trades and industries precisely because of closed social networks, discrimination in the labor market, and the peculiarities of immigration law and global flows.

[I have long been very fascinated by shared stereotypes across divides of power and race in America. For example, historically white people have suggested that blacks are smelly, dirty, libidinous, violent, and lack impulse control. Funny thing--at least to many white folks who I have shared this with--I know many people of color who feel exactly the same about white people. Riddle you that one.]

But we can never forget that stereotypes and "efficient" decisions, which in sum constitute "rational racism" and negrophobia, can lead to innocent people of color being shot dead by police and others as it was the "reasonable" thing to do.

In post-racial America, one of the most enduring stereotypes about black humanity (along with the more malicious and hateful panoply of the black rapist, black criminal, welfare queen, thug, and hyper-libidinous freakishly endowed baby daddy hyper masculine thug) is that we do not tip well. 

The suggestion that black people are uniquely preordained to be poor tippers is a great site for some applied social science, a puzzle that Sarah Rusche recently took up in the article  "Quantitative Evidence of the Continuing Significance of Race: Tableside Racism in Full-Service Restaurants" which appeared in the May 2012 issue of The Journal of Black Studies. Here, Rusche found that servers systematically and preemptively discriminated against black patrons because it was expected that the latter were inadequate and poor tippers:
Researchers wanted to determine the extent to which customers' race affects the way they are treated at , so the researchers surveyed 200 servers at 18 full-service chain restaurants in central North Carolina. The majority of the servers surveyed – approximately 86 percent – were white. 
Survey results showed that 38.5 percent of servers reported that customers' race informed their level of service at least some of the time, often resulting in providing inferior service to African-American customers. Findings show that many servers perceive African-American customers to be impolite and/or poor tippers, suggesting that black patrons, in particular, are likely targets of servers' self-professed discriminatory actions.
The survey also found that 52.8 percent of servers reported seeing other servers discriminate against African-American customers by giving them poor service at least some of the time. Findings also show that restaurant servers share anti-black perceptions through racist workplace discourse, indicating a considerable amount of talk about the race of their patrons. Only 10.5 percent reported never engaging in or observing racialized discourse. 
Anecdotes are often just small data sets which hint at a bigger reality--I have heard that blacks are less desirable patrons from whites, Asian, Hispanics, and yes, African-Americans, who work in the hospitality and food industries. As I puzzle this out, I have come to the conclusion that different communities possess diverse standards for what constitutes "good service," and the idea that a tip is obligatory (I count myself as a member of the "a tip is earned" camp). 

In addition, given the depths of income and wealth inequality in the United States, I am open to the possibility that many diners do not have the extra money necessary to give an appropriate tip; alternatively, they may not have received proper and correct home training on such matters.

Ultimately, tipping for service is an example of a coordination game, a cousin to the famed Prisoner's Dilemma. Many servers are offering poor service precisely because they anticipate that black folks (and others) will not tip them. This sets up a dynamic where the substandard service is therefore rewarded by a poor tip. Tit for tat, the cycle continues for iteration after iteration of the game. 

Servers who make this calculus have also fallen into a trap, one of the pathologies of rational choice theory, where they are reasoning with incomplete information. In the aggregate, this type of logic can lead to sub-optimal outcomes where black folks like me who pride themselves on rewarding good service, are now more likely to not give any tip at all (and to complain to management) if I feel that I have been poorly treated.

Rusche's findings are interesting. She is to be commended on her publication. Her work corroborates the lived reality of racial micro aggressions in American society against people of color. Poor service, provided preemptively (however "rationally" in the Downsian, Mancur Olson, Bayesian sense of the word) is part of a larger matrix of behavior that includes discriminatory practices in health care, lending, hiring, policing, incarceration, punishment in schools, as well as other matters both large and small. Given the macro-level context of white supremacy and the long struggle against Jim and Jane Crow in the Consumers' Republic, crappy service by minimum wage workers towards black people is not at all a surprise. 

Yet, I still find myself asking "so what?" 

Moreover, as a practical matter, what are the broader implications and takeaways of said research? And what does it mean that The Journal of Black Studies (as opposed to a journal of applied economics or behavioral sciences for example) would feature such an article? Is this all that Black Studies has left in the tank in the not so post racial Age of Obama?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

George Yancy and Ontological Matters of Blackness: Just What Does It Mean to be "Black?"

I saw The Avengers yesterday afternoon. The movie is a big, bloated, overflowing, sandwich full of prime cuts of meat. You admire it, force it down, and then wonder if you could ever eat that gut buster again. As always, you should sit through the credits for the two easter eggs--the first is straight Marvel goodness (the Avengers are going to have their collective hands more than full in the sequel); the second is flavorful and tasty fun.

While I was engaging in geek carnality, a fun and potentially useful conversation about the existential and ontological nature of "blackness" was jumping off in our comments section here.

Some of the provocative observations about what constitutes blackness include the following:
D. said:  
What defines us is not our color, or our race, but our history. A history that is unique to the Diaspora of the USA. That our history is conflated with our race is only a consequence of America's brutal history, but we cannot confuse the two; we aren't the same as Haitians or Afro-Brazilians. 
I reject "Blackness" in that the sole purpose of Blackness is to be oppressed. Let's not mince words; if we continue to define ourselves as an oppressed people I'm afraid we've already lost. Marching will not save us, legislature will not save us, wallowing in our noble victimhood will not save us, but economic and martial power will...
It's metaphorical and based on this quote: 
"White" depends for its stability on its negation, "Black." Neither exists without the other, and both come into being at the moment of imperial conquest. -- Frantz Fanon 
It cuts both ways; what is Black without White? We weren't Black or Negro before, we were Igbo, Fula, etc. Names that existed wholly within themselves, not as an opposite of another. I'd rather have an identity with or without them. 
Nomad said: 
'because you can't have black without white'. 
Yep that certainly explains why "the sole purpose of Blackness is to be oppressed". Doesn't that phrase sound a bit strange to you? Oops, what am I saying. You already prefaced your hypothesis with the declaration 'I reject "Blackness"'. It just indicates the degree to which inverse racism influences black people today (assuming you are black). Tis a sad legacy of the Civil Rights movement indeed. 
Sabrinee said: 
Being ghetto is not blackness. Being ignorant is not blackness. Walking around unaware of where you fit into the scheme of things is not blackness. Living life as if you don't care about things that may or may not affect you is not blackness. 
That I reject these things does not mean I reject blackness nor does it make me a cheerleader. It just means that I am not willing to accept everything that is ascribed to blacks as blackness.

George Yancy, philosophy professor at Duquesne University, makes a great intervention in these questions of race, identity, the body, and identity in his book Black Bodies, White Gazes. We know that Whiteness is invisibility, privilege, property, and a type of universal norm in modern, Western society. 
Moreover, whiteness has been described by historians, social scientists, and cultural theorists as a state of absence typified by a lack of "race." Reflexively, blackness (or racial Otherness more generally) is reified and essentialized as primarily and inseparably about race as a literal thing (bodies and peoples), but also as a set of ideas, assumptions, behaviors, culture(s), and values.
In all, what is blackness? What is it not? And who gets to decide? 
And how can you not love Dr. Yancy's allusion to the frameworks known as standpoint epistemology, and the epistemology of ignorance, as they pertain to Whiteness, White cognition, and White humanity?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Happy Belated Star Wars Day: Siskel and Ebert Defend Star Wars on Nightline Circa 1983

Melodious offal? Avatar? yes. Star Wars? Never and no.

The naysayers have always been with us, have they not? John Simon is largely forgotten. Siskel and Ebert remain immortal: The Force is strong with them.

Simon is evocative of those professional grumps and complainers who pride themselves on going against the grain for principle's sake. AO Scott of the NY Times is one of those proud outliers with his scathing review of The Avengers. Looking back a few years, David Denby of The New Yorker hated Batman: the Dark Knight. Perhaps, those of us who enjoy such films are "childish adults" lacking "adult mentalities?" If so, this ghetto nerd wears that label with pride.

Technological progress and change have long been a source of anxiety for both cultural critics and many in the mass public. When the first person drew a picture on a cave wall those many thousands of years ago, one of his tribe probably complained that it was not an "accurate" representation of reality. The first film makers were likely mocked as their moving pictures were just a "fad." True, Star Wars found popularity because of its technical sophistication and breakthrough technology. But, the Star Wars universe resonates with so many people because the movies--yes, even the much maligned prequels--are classic stories which speak to universal character archetypes and feelings common to the human condition and collective subconscious.

Just as Star Wars is an "old" story about the hero's journey, in a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand years, somewhere, if we are lucky to have survived as a species, a young child will be watching some version of The Trilogies as he sits mystified by a tale of magical swords, princes and princesses, rogues, magic, and kindly teachers. Star Wars also teaches profound and important life lessons about human nature that transcend any one generation.

Yes, with the exception of Empire (and to a lesser degree, A New Hope), none of the Star Wars movies are "great" films. However, when viewed as a whole, the Star Wars trilogies are great examples of film and myth-making.

Star Wars Day is a chance to reminisce. Shared memory and experiences are among the primary reasons that Star Wars remains a cultural phenomenon. For geeks and ghetto nerds of a certain age it is a cultural reference point that transcends all other differences.

As I have shared here before, one of my fondest childhood memories was standing in line with my mother for 12 or so hours in a rainstorm as we waited to see Return of the Jedi. I do remember seeing Empire in the movies, I also remember staying up late and watching Star Wars on HBO. But that long day in the rain, my mother's patience, and the fun I had with all of the other kids whose parents were also equally kind (and suffering), is a wonderfully perfect moment of childhood innocence. 

Any Star Wars tales to share? PG, G, X-Rated, or R?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

White Criminals of the Week: Arm Yourselves! White Terrorists Attempt to Blow Up Cleveland Bridge! White Barbarians Hide in Bunkers, Others Booby-trap Public Parks!

We are rapidly approaching the Rubicon. Is your powder dry? Are your guns loaded?

White criminals have run amok! Women and children should be kept inside of their homes as white people are on the prowl--killing, murdering, creating mayhem and chaos, and disrupting normal society at every opportunity!

While I was preparing our latest White Criminal of the Week column matters took a turn for the worst. We Are Respectable Negroes was going to inform you about white sex deviants and other assorted petty freaks, when a deluge of events came to pass.

On Tuesday, five White domestic terrorists were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the knick of time as said brigands were going to kill hundreds, if not thousands of loyal Americans, by destroying a Cleveland-area bridge. The Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring white terrorists for some time--last year they issued a warning about lone wolf Tea Party killers who they suspected of  having a predilection to commit violence deeds against the American people. Given that the Tea Party brigands have a penchant for guns, and that the white nationalist militia movement has reached out to the Right-wing insurgents in the Republican Party, these anxieties were reasonable and warranted. 

Never forget that there exists a nexus of white terrorism in America running back to the KKK (America's largest domestic terrorist organization, one that killed at least 10,000 black people), and into the near present via Timothy McVeigh, and other assorted white killers inspired by Fox News, Right-wing talk radio, and Glenn Beck. Consequently, all good Americans must be on the lookout. White people--white men in particular--are especially prone to treasonous, seditious behavior. Monitor and watch them at all costs. 

While white domestic terrorists were planning a major attack, white people were also actively murdering and killing on a smaller scale. My skin crawls, my hair stands on end, I am afraid as I recite the following news item!    

Peter Keller, was found dead, his body recovered after retreating there because he killed his wife, child...and yes, even his pets! 

 In his cowardice, Keller went into hiding, hunkering down in a hole in the ground--a bunker of wickedness, a redoubt of foul villainy. 

Apparently, part of the same twisted collective consciousness, two white teens, corrupted by a decadent culture and befouled upbringing, decided to lay horrid traps and foul weapons in one of Utah's great public parks. Many innocent people would have been maimed or killed by these instruments of evil! Given that white people to camp and hike, the two cruel white teenagers would have been hurting other white people! What has gone so wrong with white society that they are killing and preying on each other!

True, Europeans do have a long history of barbarism and rapine violence. They brought these habits across the Atlantic with them as they killed, exploited, and murdered the red man, the black man, the yellow man, and the brown man. 

Are they even capable of unlearning such bad habits in the 21st century? 

Is culture destiny? 

White crime is out of control. In the interest of the public good, and in Christian brother and sisterhood, one must ask, as we always do, what can be done with the white people? Can they be saved?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Racism is not an Opinion: Elite NYPD Police Told to Shoot Blacks in the Head "Like Animals"; Research Reveals that Unconscious White Racial Bias Hurts Black and Latino Life Chances

Blackness comes with no expectations of safety, care, or security. 

Mediated realities. The pictures inside of people's heads. Life worlds. Bonding social capital. Lifestyle enclaves. The Big Sort. Red State and Blue State America. The color line. Residential housing segregation. Dense and exclusive social networks. The purpling of America.

Social scientists have developed an extensive vocabulary in order to discuss how people live in their own bubbles, and are exposed to a very narrow slice of the broader world. In matters of politics, and the Common Good, this means that what should be clear, commonly understood, and shared priors are often anything but--instead, they are made contingent, circumstantial, and open to debate and evaluation.

These gaps in experience can result in humorous, albeit very revealing, gaffs: Mitt Romney's joke about a 10,000 bet or his suggestion that young people can easily borrow 20,000 dollars from their parents and start a business. Romney had no malignant intent here--he simply does not have any friends who are poor, working class, or even barely middle class. His life world, despite his vast wealth, is limited, by choice, to those like him.

In discussions of race and racial inequality a similar dynamic also holds. While American popular culture is dependent on a type of insincere and false multiculturalism and diversity (black and brown bodies are present, but the lives behind them are often flattened and caricaturized; the white gaze still operates in the popular imagination), day to day life and society remain extremely segregated. For some, this is a result of "Whitopian" dreaming and deliberate action where the good life is defined precisely by one's ability to avoid people of color.

For others, segregation and racially homogeneous friendship and social networks are either 1) just a matter of life because race and class are intimately related to each other in America or 2) the result of a type of rational ignorance where many white folks are happy and secure knowing that they can live a quite normal and productive life (one that is guilt free) in which they will not have to encounter people of color as their bosses, neighbors, teachers, confidantes, or friends--unless they so choose.

Consequently, there are profound divergences in first principles. By implication, it is difficult to find consensus on any number of public policy issues or matters of public concern (see the huge divides in public opinion by race regarding the Trayvon Martin killing).

For example, according to public opinion surveys a significant majority of whites believe that America is a meritocracy, racism is a thing of the past, black people have an equal chance at success in the United States if "they just work hard," black children and white children have the same life chances in America, and the goals of the civil rights movement have been attained.

In addition, 80 or so percent of white respondents say that they have a close friend who is a person of color. If one does even some cursory math, this would suggest that blacks for example have at least 3 close white friends in their social network. Perhaps most absurdly, a significant percentage of respondents in a recent survey believe that racism "against" white people is a bigger problem than discrimination against racial minorities.

Given all of the overwhelming and readily available evidence to the contrary for how race over-determines life chances (and the advantages of Whiteness), this data suggests that a majority (more than 50 percent) of the white American public is in the midst of a type of mass delusion, denial, and psychosis.

In all, because shared experience(s) is/are bisected by the color line, what remains is a veil of ignorance. Thus, the existence of racism, and deep veins of white supremacy in America, are reduced to an "opinion" as opposed to one of the most documented and well-researched facts in contemporary social science. Racism is real. It is not something that people of color imagine and make up for their own narrow and personal "gain."

We are not crazy when we say that racism is killing us. We are not delusional or insane when we say that race still matters. Three recent news items help to remind us that reality is biased in the favor of our standing hypothesis that racism is real, even in post-racial Age of Obama America.

An elite unit of the New York Police Department is being investigated for operating under a standing order where its officers were instructed to shoot black people in the head like "animals"--for dead men tell no tales.

More benign, but no less problematic in its implications, the Russel Sage foundation has released a compendium of research on the relationship between race and class in America. Some of their findings include:
  • Stereotypes are pervasively used in cross-class encounters. Brain imaging scans show that rich people are often seen as competent but cold and untrustworthy, according to studies from psychologist Susan Fiske. By contrast, poor people are viewed as lacking both warmth and competence, and are often blamed for their poverty. In one study, Princeton students reported their reactions to a peer who was described alternately as rich or poor, and lazy or hardworking. Respondents gave strongly negative reactions to both the lazy and hardworking poor peer; by contrast, the work ethic of the affluent peer did not polarize ratings.   
  • Your social class may influence how you are racially identified. Individuals are less likely to be identified as white and more likely to be identified as black if they have ever experienced markers of low socioeconomic status such as incarceration or unemployment, according to psychologists Diana T. Sanchez and Julia A. Garcia.
Recently, the W.K. Kellog Foundation's Healing for Democracy conference brought together some of the leading scholars and researchers on social inequality and public policy. Apparently, the collective subconscious of American society remains sick with the disease of racism:
Hinojosa said it is “irrefutable” what is happening in America today. “We are clearly becoming a more multicultural, multiracial, mixed country. That is the future.” But she noted that the changing demographics are causing tension and fear among the majority. “There’s an element of unconsciousness there,” she said, “but there’s also an element of consciousness which is saying – at this moment I’m in the world of being a non-Hispanic Anglo…I don’t want to become a minority.” 
One panelist, Dr. David Williams, professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, cited studies documenting that when Latinos and African Americans were treated by physicians for a broken bone in their leg, they received pain medication significantly less often than white patients with the same injury 
“How on earth do we make sense of this?” Dr. Williams asked. “How is it possible that for the best trained medical workforce in the world to produce… care that appears to be so discriminatory? The answer: unconscious discrimination. Research shows that when one holds a negative stereotype about a group and meets someone from that group, without their conscious awareness, it is an unconscious process and it is automatic. They will treat that person differently and honestly not know that they did it...” 
Dr. Gail Christopher, vice president for program strategy at the Kellogg Foundation, explained that centuries of a racial hierarchy in America has left its mark on our society, especially pertaining to how people of color are perceived by whites. “Our society assigns value to groups of people,” she said. “It is a process that is embedded in the consciousness of Americans and impacted by centuries of bias.” 
During the discussion today, panelists shared insights demonstrating how people make unconscious decisions. Dr. Phillip Goff, assistant psychology professor at UCLA, showed examples of how law enforcement officials can be motivated by unconscious bias not only to race, but also to what they perceive as threats to their masculinity.
The people that are supposed to protect us are in fact killing us. The caregivers who should do no harm and take care of us when we are sick are instead leaving us to suffer. These facts ought not to be surprising.

Nevertheless, they are no less damning.

Ultimately, I don't blame white folks for practicing rational ignorance about the grotesque realities of white supremacy in post-civil rights America. If by birthright and color, I could choose to ignore such matters I would too. Such a choice is unethical. However, I would be saved much mental energy. God and fate have not allowed me such a privilege and luxury. I would not want it any other way.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fun With Pictures: George Zimmerman Plus Jesus Christ Equals "Zimmerchrist"

Something fun for Sunday. One of WARN's readers, the always reliable and sharp Weird Beard, was kind enough to forward this to me. 

I present to thee the greatness and piety of Zimmerchrist--a saint and a martyr, he suffered for the sins of conservatives everywhere.

Grifter, vigilante, killer, martyr, and he with 200,000 dollars in his legal defense fund while pleading poverty to get low bail, has now been immortalized in a digital painting.

Share widely. Trust me, conservative defenders of Zimmerman will not get the pointed satire; many will be moved to tears by Zimmerchrist; who knows, maybe a few of them will speak in tongues at the sight of such a holy object.

Given our conversation about George Zimmerman as Right-wing American Jesus, Weird Beard's keen image was divinely timed in its offering. Zimmerchrist may actually replace my previously favorite depiction of JC soul brother number one as a gun-toting, cowboyesque redneck.

What now for the war on Christians? And who is waging it?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

George Zimmerman: Right-Wing American Jesus, Martyr, and Mascot for Post-Racial America

We are running out of metaphors with which to describe the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Is this saga a Rorschach test, one where the polarizations of race, class, and political orientation (quite literally) color how we interpret the events of that tragic evening? Or is the killing of Trayvon Martin better described as a projection of sorts—where the realities of the color line and a society that systematically devalues the lives of black and brown people are amplified on a national stage?

At this point in our national ordeal, tragedy has succumbed to absurdity. In all, these matters have devolved into a three ring traveling circus worthy of PT Barnum and the flim flam artists of the early 20th century.

Zimmerman has offered a bizarre “apology” for killing an unarmed teenager that makes his death sound more like an act of God and random accident, than the result of one person’s desire to irresponsibly play vigilante toy cop. Thugs have assaulted innocent people as “retribution” and “revenge” for Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman’s defenders on the Right have magically discovered a deep love for the health and safety of black folks, as well as a profound concern about “black on black” crime. The reverse racists, racism deniers, and conservative adherents to the trinity cult of “gun rights,” white racial resentment, and black criminality have reimagined Zimmerman as a martyr, victim, and mascot.

This week, Reuters news service opened a new exhibit in this perverse roadshow. Chris Francescani’s profile of Zimmerman has all of the elements of a great spectacle, one that draws upon old anxieties and tropes about race in American life, while also adding some new twists. According to Reuters, George Zimmerman is apparently “part-black” through his great grandfather from Peru. Moreover, Francescani has innovated upon the classic “best black friend defense” for those who are accused of acting with racial animus, by profiling how Zimmerman’s grandmother was a babysitter for two African-American children.

In this tale, there is also an unnamed black informant who legitimates Zimmerman’s racial profiling of Trayvon Martin. She paints a portrait of a neighborhood under siege by black hooligans and thieves. Thus, in this narrative, George Zimmerman was a “reasonable” person who acted in good faith, as he meted out his version of justice on a person he decided was “suspicious” by virtue of his identity as a teenager who happened to be black, male, and walking down the street.

Apparently, in “post-racial” America, blood quantum, melanin, DNA, and familial associations are now immunizers for any charge or assertion that racism could have played a role in George Zimmerman’s decision to hunt down and kill Trayvon Martin.

Historically, race has been made, reproduced, and created in bizarre and absurd episodes such as the above. In the landmark Thind and Ozawa cases during the first decades of the twentieth century, Asian and Sikh Americans were denied citizenship in the United States by an arbitrary standard in which the Supreme Court famously decided that being “white” was determined by the common sense norms held by the average white man. Scientists studied skulls, bones, brain size, and posture in order to rank racial and ethnic groups in a hierarchy where “whites” were naturally and always on top. In the year 1915, during the height of Jim and Jane Crow and the KKK’s reign of terror, Leo Frank, a Jew, was convicted of murder and subsequently lynched for killing a white girl (an accusation he denied) in a show trial that hinged on the testimony of Jim Conley, a black man.

At present, America is at a demographic crossroad. With the “browning” of America and the growth of Latinos and Hispanics as America’s largest “minority” group, popular assumptions about identity and race are being challenged and renegotiated. For example, Latinos and Hispanics are an ethnic and cultural group; but they can be of any race. Many in the public are apparently unable to comprehend this fact.

George Zimmerman is an object lesson in these dynamics. The efforts to defend Zimmerman through appeals to his “racial identity” are one more part of a long and bizarre national play. In some contexts he is a Hispanic and honorary white person, who, like white conservatives, is a “victim” of black people in mass, and bogeyman activists and “race hustlers” such as Al Sharpton. Here, Zimmerman is framed as some type of model minority and “good” Hispanic who, like white people in the Age of Obama, is oppressed, a victim of reverse racism and racial hysteria.

Ironically, the very same conservatives who embrace and amplify Zimmerman’s Hispanic identity for the purposes of smearing Trayvon Martin, share a political worldview that is explicitly xenophobic and hostile to non-whites. This reality has been repeatedly demonstrated by Right-wing populist rhetoric such as “real America,” and “take our country back,” its adherents’ support of such conspiratorial fictions as birtherism, and their embrace of racial profiling, deportation of “illegal” aliens, as well as the elimination of Ethnic and Chicano studies programs in Texas and Arizona.

For the conservatives who have embraced George Zimmerman as a martyr and victim, his racial status is circumstantial, contingent, and wholly dependent on the political whims and needs of a given moment. Ultimately, if George Zimmerman was accused of hunting down and killing either a white teenage boy (or God forbid, a young white woman!) in exactly the same circumstances, his “Hispanic” identity would be turned into a liability and a sin, his honorary whiteness quickly and inexorably revoked.

As the public discourse surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin has revealed, many Americans still have a facile, flat, and thin understanding of how racism is more than mean words and deeds. It is complex, structural, and operative in many, if not most, areas of American life and culture.

However we choose to navigate the circus and spectacle that the Trayvon Martin saga has become, several facts remain true. By carrying a gun, George Zimmerman, self-styled vigilante and pretend cop, violated the rules of the block watch group he so obsessively fawned over, and in which he apparently had a near pathological investment in. George Zimmerman ignored police directives as he stalked and harassed an innocent person. George Zimmerman decided that Trayvon Martin was “suspicious” and guilty by association because he committed the “crime” of being black, male, and wearing a hooded sweatshirt on a rainy evening. And George Zimmerman made a series of choices that resulted in the unnecessary killing of a seventeen year old boy.

Unlike George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin will never be afforded a detailed accounting of his life such as the one offered by Reuters. He is dead, killed in the street by George Zimmerman. Trayvon Martin’s life was stolen, not free to have the ups and downs, successes and failures that Zimmerman experienced in his 28 years (and in the decades likely to come). Trayvon Martin’s family is left asking what could have been. The answer was denied them by one man’s series of poor choices, and his obsession with “these assholes” that “always get away.”

Regardless of the color or race which George Zimmerman may identify with, one thing remains certain: he is a vigilante killer.

The Church of James Brown Has Returned: Offer Up Your Sins, Fears, and Worries About All Things Black That You Should Love, But Actually Disdain!

I sat on the bus. Tired, I waited, trying to read as my conveyance pulled away from Michigan Avenue, bringing me home to Hyde Park, blocks away from Obama's home. Weary with sleep, I heard a drum beat in my ear. It continued. Incessant. Unapologetic. Moving. Exciting.

All of us looked to our left. He was there. Riding in a white Cadillac. Both his driver and bodyguards were dressed in white; their hair was permed; the suits clean and pressed. 

The specter had traded his horses and chariot for a car, he smiled, keeping pace, the Permed One looked at me and asked a simple question: "Why so long Brother Chauncey? You have been the keeper of my flame and an acolyte in my church! Why have you not held a revival? Two years? Why brother! Have you become so self-important as to have forgotten from which you came?" 

Shocked, I looked down. Embarrassed. The burning bush of We Are Respectable Negroes had appeared once more. Guttural, in speech that only a few can understand, he asked, "as you approach 1 million visitors in these next few months, why have you forsaken me?" Do you believe that you are greater than our church and my calling? I will humble you!"

Yes, it has been two long years. Several of you have asked for his return. In our trying and most challenging times he answers. I must obey. The Church of James Brown is upon us; the Permed One has commanded me to bring him forth once more. I will confess my sins of Blackness without shame.

In our sacred words:

"Oh most amazing James Brown, greatest of all negroes, I offer you my lies and secret shames. All these years I have yearned to share those things which I have pretended to like and adore in the name of being authentically Black. I cast my words into the wind so that you can take our secrets and make these shames unintelligible as you sing them for all time in your unique and spirited language."

As one of the elders of the Church of James Brown I shall offer myself as an example of humility and vulnerability as I send my words into the wind:

I, Chauncey DeVega, am tired of writing about Trayvon Martin. I will continue to do so as much remains to be said on such a tragic and woeful incident;

I, Chauncey DeVega, would vote for Barack Obama again, despite his accomplishments or record. Conservatives, white people, and their allies consistently support white candidates who have failed for no other reason than because of  said candidates' appeals to white racial resentment and racism. I am no more noble than they are. I am not high minded or pure. I am a believer in realpolitik.

I, Chauncey DeVega, observe that we are our own best friends, we are our own worst enemies, we are our best advocates, we often do not listen enough to each other.

I, Chauncey DeVega, refuse to watch "black" sitcoms, movies, or other popular culture made for "us."

I, Chauncey DeVega, a black pragmatist and black nationalist, am also worried that conservatives may be right about the soft bigotry of low expectations. This troubles me.

Come my friends and unburden yourselves! The Church of James Brown is in session until Sunday. Pray tell, share the darkest secrets of negritude, those feelings, impulses, and thoughts that you want to purify yourself of. The mirror works both ways, there are many secrets that white folks and others hold as well regarding these matters of race and identity, Brother James hears them as well. He is a loving man. 

I do not know how many will come to the alter and reveal themselves. I offer the Church of James Brown to all of you regardless of your fears or worries. He loves and welcomes you all. Simply bow down and touch the robe. By doing so, your life will be transformed.

My children, brothers, sisters, and friends, come forth. Brother James will bring you under his cloak.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Beyond the White Gaze? The Women of Mr. Ghetto's Walmart Video have Agency and Speak For Themselves

I always try to allow folks their own agency and voice.

Question: is this style of "black" dancing proof of Herskovits's theories about the Africanisms at work in Black American culture?

Who gets to decide what is black popular culture? Must we always embrace the good and discard the bad? Or is the "black" in black popular culture something multivalenced, complex, at times enriching and artful, and in other moments, debased and grotesque?

One of the perils of the digital age is that black popular culture (and that of other communities) can be widely circulated, subverting the policing of borders and boundaries. Conversations that were once confined to barbershops and hair salons in the black counter-public are now a click away, available on Youtube, for any person with an Internet connection.The Black Superpublic is real--the gatekeepers are unable to contain access and argue for an "authentic" black voice.

The young women who are "getting their hustle" on by dancing in Mr. Ghetto's Walmart video have no shame in their game. I wonder if these "queens" understand that while their performance may be some type of "expressive culture" offered up by people who happen to be "black," (I would suggest) it is not in fact Black Popular Culture.

These are old arguments about the politics of black representation that go at least back to the Harlem Renaissance, the New Negro, and Zora Neale Hurston. The great cultural theorist Stuart Hall masterfully outlined these complexities of the black in the black popular culture when he famously observed that:
However deformed, incorporated, and unauthentic are the forms in which black people and black communities and traditions appear and are represented in popular culture, we continue to see, in the figures and the repertoires on which popular culture draws, the experiences that stand behind them. In its expressivity, its musicality, its orality, in its rich, deep, and varied attention to speech, in its inflections toward the vernacular and the local, in its rich production of counternarratives, and above all, in its metaphorical use of the musical vocabulary, black popular culture has enabled the surfacing, inside the mixed and contradictory modes even of some mainstream popular culture, of elements of a discourse that is different -- other forms of life, other traditions of representation...

It is this mark of difference inside forms of popular culture -- which are by definition contradictory and which therefore appear as impure, threatened by incorporation or exclusion -- that is carried by the signifier "black" in the term "black popular culture." It has come to signify the black community, where these traditions were kept, and whose struggles survive in the persistence of the black experience (the historical experience of black people in the diaspora), of the black aesthetic (the distinctive cultural repertoires out of which popular representations were made), and of the black counternarratives we have struggled to voice.
Here, black popular culture returns to the ground I defined earlier. "Good" black popular culture can pass the test of authenticity -- the reference to black experience and to black expressivity. These serve as the guarantees in the determination of which black popular culture is right on, which is ours, and which is not.
Black people ought not to always operate under the assumption and threat of the White Gaze. But, where is the critical intervention and reflection which suggests that Mr. Ghetto's world of culture and style may not be the best way to represent the black community? Or are matters of representation purely secondary to pleasure?

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena as a Tale of Gay Obsessive Love

Something for my smart mark ghetto nerd wrestling fans.

I am very excited for this weekend's pay-per-view where John Cena and Brock Lesnar will finally get it on here in Chicago. The WWE has done a great job these last few months of finally, after all of these years, creating a "must watch" feeling on Monday nights. We will never return to the heyday of the Monday Night Wars. But, Raw's 3 hour special earlier this week was one of the best shows in recent memory--I have gotten into the habit of fast forwarding through the show--and was more than worth watching from beginning to end.

If I had the book Brock Lesnar would lose to John Cena this Sunday. After utterly beating the living life out of Cena, Lesnar would get distracted for a moment and get taken advantage of by Cena for a quick pin, and what was a decision aided by a sympathetic referee. The follow-up would then be that Brock actually had pity for poor old John. This angle could also play nicely off of Steve Austin's genius loss to Mikey Whipwreck back in ECW, where the former just got more over, and developed the "Stone Cold" character more fully, after such an improbable turn of events.

The build up to Cena-Lesnar also has another compelling dimension to it, one that many pro wrestling fans are likely loathe to admit. In much the same way that Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan was an open love letter of gay obsession and slash fantasy in which Kirk and Khan can be imagined as star crossed lovers, there is something mighty obsessive and homoerotic about Lesnar's "desire" to "destroy" John Cena. Professional wrestling (as most male dominated sports) has always been homo-social: the angle between Brock and Cena is bordering on the transparently homoerotic and is a tale of same sex loving, destructive lust.

Popular culture is compelling precisely because of how audiences can reimagine and reinterpret texts for their own purposes, and on their own terms. To point, watch Lesnar's first promo and then compare it to the legendary "Booty Warrior" Fleece Johnson of Lock Up fame. You tell me, is there not something mighty similar between Lesnar and Fleece Johnson's energy here?

Doubling down, Lesnar's most recent interview is colored by wonderful, gay obsessive love. This is actually a complement to Brock Lesnar as he is channeling emotions that are utterly exaggerated and melodramatic...but nonetheless real. Brock is playing the leather daddy power top in this segment.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

White Criminal(s) of the Week: White Man Pays Women to Have Sex with Children and Animals; White Children Savagely Beat Bus Driver and Elderly Aide

The white family is in crisis from the cradle to the grave. This week, we are highlighting two related incidents of white crime. As our motto suggests, if you see something, you should say something! White crime only flourishes when good people do nothing.

In Michigan City, Indiana two elementary school aged white children savagely beat and throttled the elderly bus monitor and driver who were given the sacred responsibility of safely transporting them to school. As is common with white crimes, the media has conspired to play down this incident, and is not showing the public pictures of these young criminals in training. 

These behaviors are learned at home; it is likely the parents were aware of their childrens' criminal nature and did nothing to intervene or correct it. The bus beat down is not new. White boys and teens habitually commit horrible violence in schools. They have a long track record of school shootings and mass murder including the infamous Columbine incident. White violence is infectious and has even corrupted good "model minorities" such as Korean-Americans (see the Virginia Tech shooter who killed 32 people and wounded scores more). 

Instead of demanding that white teen homicidal maniacs are imprisoned, the white community engages in "soul searching" as they try to "make sense" of how their little angels could commit such heinous deeds. This is evidence of a pathologically violent culture that has spawned serial killers, mass murderers, and domestic terrorists. 

Charles Edward Reese is our second white criminal of the week. He is a pervert of the first order. Because the family and home are the first spaces in which children are socialized, the criminal behavior of white young people should not be a surprise. White children are learning these anti-social values from their mothers and fathers. 

With the failure of white communities, and their moral decline as documented by Charles Murray in his new book Coming Apart, the behavior of white men such as Reese is increasingly common. At present, white people are the majority of child rapists and child murderers. They are also more likely to be pedophiles. Their dominance of these categories of wanton and predatory crime can only be expected to grow in the future.

Tragically, Charles Edward Reese is the tip of a pathological white sex culture that imperils all Americans. Be careful. Do not trust your children around white people--especially white men--as they are capable of anything.

The full story follows:

COVINGTON, La. (CBS Houston) – Federal authorities say a man is behind bars after he paid women to have sex with their children and animals.

Charles Edward Reese, the former chief financial officer of Champagne Beverage, is facing charges for the unlawful production of child pornography after paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to women who, in exchange, would provide Reese with sexual videos involving them with their own children.

According to the Slidell Sentry, Reese conned at least two women into sending him child pornography videos of an explicit and incestuous nature.

The money – amounting to over $750,000 – was reportedly sent to one Vidar, Texas, woman in exchange for videos that featured her children, ages 2 and 6, and her 9-year-old sister engaging in sex acts with her.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations became involved when the site hosting the video, Photobucket.com, became aware of the September 2011 video upload and alerted authorities. Similar videos from the same user were also found.

Reese would also send notes with his payments, some of them demanding the woman’s participation.

“If you don’t get online tomorrow morning with both of them and do what I want you to this will be the last time you ever hear from me no matter what your needs are,” a note sent with one $525 payment allegedly stated, according to the Sentry. “You have screwed me enough for a lifetime of misery.”

The woman is now deceased.

The FBI also found out that Reese sent a reported $2,500 to the woman’s adult sister, in an attempt to keep her quiet after she sent him messages about his actions, and another $7,900 to an unrelated second Texas mother.

The Beaumont Enterprise reports that the sister videotaped herself conducting “sexually explicit activities with animals.”

The second woman, who is currently incarcerated on child endangerment charges, told the FBI that she took sexual cell phone pictures of her daughter, who is less than 7 years old, and sent them to Reese.

In both cases, the women referred to Reese as “Chuck.”

Reese was reportedly booked at the St. Tammany Parish Jail, where he remained as of earlier this week. His employment at Champagne Beverage was also terminated as of early last month.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Featured Reader Comment: "To Take Ownership of My Whiteness is to Accept That Any Violence Done Unto Me is in Some Sense Deserved by My Complicity..."

The question of extremism seems an important one in evaluating the white racial frame. It is easy for me to feel swaths of heroism emanating from this white abolitionist, but I imagine being alive at the time, I would do little but hold a candle in my heart for such causes.

I think the thing that I do more often (as pretty much a cop-out for genuine political engagement) to take ownership of my whiteness is to accept that any violence done unto me is in some sense deserved by my complicity and engagement which enhance and encourage inequality in many ways. How do both white and black alike come to terms with these things? Changing the system from inside the system while benefiting from the system seems to be an insane perspective to take....

Do you have any perspective on all this kind of white guilt?

I take all readers' comments here on WARN seriously. If folks take the time to post a comment or email me, I always proceed with good faith. If someone is a "troll" I entertain their questions because although they may be in autopilot conversation derailing talking points mode, these people are still speaking for some part of our collective consciousness. Yes, I may dismiss their views as ideologically driven foolishness; however, trolls and the talking point commentariat are in fact channeling the deeply held beliefs of no small part of the American public. As such, they demand analysis--if not necessarily--full engagement.

By comparison, there are comments like those offered by Adam GH in response to my first post on the late Joel Olson. Adam's honesty about white guilt was very moving. It was also quite provocative and unsettling. Adam's sharing also deserves more conversation and processing. Thus, my bumping it up for discussion.

The expression of white guilt, especially from those who are legitimately invested in anti-racism and a struggle for shared humanity across the color line, is a common sentiment. I am troubled by white guilt for a variety of reasons. Empathy, even in its must honest and extreme forms, can lead to a moment of self-reflection and praxis. But, can it become crippling? Moreover, how does the language of "guilt"--which implies shame, responsibility, ownership, or culpability--problematically center the White subject in a critical conversation about race and racial ideologies? Ultimately, does "white guilt" do the the work of white privilege and sustain (an ironic type of) white supremacy?

Understanding one's relationship to the historical and contemporary structures, as well as individual level processes which create, sustain, and reproduce social inequalities along lines of gender, class, race, and sexuality, is key if we are to radically transform American society in the interests of the Common Good. For example, taking ownership over those moments when we choose to (or not) confront white supremacy is different from feeling guilty over how we may be situated as individuals relative to the lived realities of privilege and inequality.

Turning the gaze inward for a moment: I do not feel guilty for being a heterosexual man. I do however acknowledge how I benefit from sexist and homophobic social norms and arrangements of power. Should I feel guilt? Of course not. I have a choice regarding how I choose to intervene against heteronormativity and sexism. I am culpable to the degree that I act with cowardice and/or behave unethically in such moments where I actively (or through tacit consent) benefit from such disparate arrangements of social and political power.

To my eyes, white guilt is combustible and frightening. At its core is anger and rage, often internalized, waiting for a moment to spew forth. There is an odd parallelism here: white supremacists and their more polite conservative kin use appeals to white guilt in order to mobilize their race hatred and racial resentment for political ends; strident anti-racists, some of whom also happen to be liberal (white) racists, use white guilt as a type of self-flagellation. Through their self-abuse, white guilt becomes a way of recentering Whiteness (with its insecurities and guilt) as the default beginning of conversations about white racism.

In all, I would suggest that in our dialogue(s) about white guilt that we foreground the following premises:

1. White guilt is real for those who possess it. These are legitimate and real emotions that cannot be dismissed or disregarded if people of color want to have substantial and critical conversations about race and the reproduction of racial ideologies with our white brothers and sisters;
2.  White guilt is often a deflection deployed by whiteness, and those who possess/are invested in white privilege as a means to evade substantive conversations about white supremacy;
3. White guilt is a type of actualized white privilege;
4. White guilt should be processed and discussed; white guilt and managing the emotional hurt of white people should not be a central part of anti-racist discourse and practice;
5. White racism hurts white people; white guilt also hurts white people.

Du Bois talked about a "twoness" or sense of double consciousness in black folks that comes from living in a society which does not value your humanity. Although oriented differently, white guilt is a schism of the internal white self that comes from realizing that society over-values you, gives privileges, opportunities, and resources for no other reason than the arbitrary distinction that a given person happens to be categorized as "white" in this historical moment.

Here is a provocative thought: white guilt actually resembles a type of mass, borderline personality disorder which needs to be therapeutized.

There is much to mull over here. I want to thank Adam GH for having the honest courage to start this conversation with his open and vulnerable question.

Where do we go from here?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

When "Political" Rap Goes Wrong: Please Stop! Mr. Ghetto's "Tribute" Video to Trayvon Martin Does More Harm Than Good

Capitalism is deftly adept at commodifying culture. It is a creative beast, a hungry octopus grabbing up anything from which it can make a profit. As such, the buzzards and carrion eaters are swirling around the public corpse that is the Trayvon Martin saga. I understand that brothers and sisters got to get their hustle on. Tragically, I do not think that the lumpen black proletariat embodied by "Mr. Ghetto" seem to understand that foolishness such as linking this video to Trayvon Martin's case--in an effort to get his song some attention--actually emboldens the supporters of George Zimmerman.

Some real talk for a moment. Frankly, who wouldn't shoot dead (metaphorically of course) the hooga mugga ign't wannabe thugs such as Mr. Ghetto and his kin (not the real folks, but rather the very idea and habitus they represent)...or at the very least get as far away from them as possible, praying that they do not get a Section 8 voucher and move in next door?

And yes, I know many black and brown strivers who would cosign that question.

Political art is so very difficult a craft and vocation. This is especially true in regards to commercial Southern New Age Race Minstrel "hip hop." Form and content work together to communicate meaning. Mr. Ghetto's "art" is an object lesson in why I prefer my MC's to talk about money, cash, hoes, and other assorted fantasies of the ghettocentric imagination. Folks should write about what they know: it is the first rule of being a successful author/singer/artist.

Unfortunately, Mr. Ghetto's talents as an MC are handicapped in this regard as well. It would seem that his creative gifts are rather limited:

Unless an MC is especially qualified, the spin control for the Trayvon Martin case should be left up to those more accomplished, articulate, and critically minded. Mr. Ghetto and his fans just need to stop. His "political art" and caricaturized blackness is better suited for Stormfront or Fox News than as an act of support and awareness-raising for the struggles facing black and underclass communities in America.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

George Zimmerman's Non-Apology to Trayvon Martin's Family: I Am Sorry For Your Loss and That Your Son Ran Into a Bullet Which I Fired

George Zimmerman was quite the contrite killer during his bond hearing. In an act of great self-sacrifice and generosity he took the stand and offered up the following apology to the family of the murdered Trayvon Martin:
Zimmerman, 28, appeared in court in a dark suit and gray tie, and, in a surprising move, took the stand. There, in a voice verging on meek, he apologized to the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old he admits he shot—but only, he says, in self-defense. 
“I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son,” he said to the parents, who attended the hearing in the central Florida city of Sanford, where the shooting took place. “I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am, and I did not know if he was armed or not.”
As a student of language and semiotics, I would suggest that the latter part of Zimmerman's statement is particularly rich with meaning. Context is key to the analysis of language. Language also constructs meaning through unstated assumptions shared by speaker and audience; oftentimes a speaker--here being Zimmerman--can run into a crisis of communication when the listener does not share his unstated priors and worldview. 

Zimmerman is part of a collective consciousness that views all black people as adults regardless of their age. Because African Americans, especially men, have no right to self-defense in their person against White authority (it is rarely mentioned that Trayvon Martin had every right to "stand his ground") all bets are off. Zimmerman is working through this logic as he basically suggests that if Martin were younger, then the presumption of being armed and dangerous may not have applied. 

However, because common sense dictates that all black men are armed, at all times, and have the magical ability to transform harmless objects into guns or knives, Zimmerman was acting under a reasonable person's standard of behavior. Anyone approaching a black man would naturally assume that the latter was especially and uniquely capable of deadly force. Thus, Zimmerman's appeal to shared community norms is a basic one: anyone in his position would have reasonably and naturally assumed that a black teenager wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the rain and carrying a bag of candy is an imminent and deadly threat. 

Zimmerman's statement of "apology" to Trayvon Martin's family is one of the most honest and pronounced distillations of the White Gaze and its debased view of black humanity which we as a country have witnessed in many years. If one ever wondered about the existential dilemma faced by black masculinity in American society, or was searching for an object lesson in how black folks are "niggerized," look no farther than George Zimmerman's "apology" for committing murder.

Zimmerman can assault plain clothes cops, batter his fiancée, ignore police directives, stalk innocent people, carry a weapon in violation of his vaunted "black watch" rules, and shoot unarmed people without doubt or worry. Moreover, it takes a national uproar to even have him properly investigated and eventually arrested on suspicion of having committed murder. Let a black man do the same and see what happens. It does not take a leap of faith, or radical act of imagination, to understand how divergent the outcome would be.

Ultimately, Zimmerman is a murderous clown. As such, and in keeping with the national tragedy and three ring circus that is the color line in America, Zimmerman will find martyrdom as he is a stand-in for every white conservative ever accused of racism or racial bias. During the days and weeks to come, the script will be flipped as he becomes the object of a cause celebre. In this grotesque play, George Zimmerman is the good man done wrong by the system. Trayvon Martin is simply collateral damage.

Those blacks end up dead, in jail, or lying in the morgue for days unclaimed anyway. So what is the measure of a black man's life, one that is doomed to failure, against the shining star and bright future of "good" men like George Zimmerman?