Friday, May 11, 2012

Unintended Consequences: Is Racism a "Mental Illness?" If So, are White Racists a Protected Class of Citizens?


Is racism an illness? Psychiatrists and psychologists are debating the issue. The forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders, due for publication in August 2012, will include a chapter on identifying and assessing pathological bias. This is the form of racism that could lead supremacists to violently and randomly maim or massacre those of another race. 
Meanwhile, a team of British psychologists recently announced they had stumbled upon a secondary use for Propranolol, a commonly prescribed medication for high blood pressure. They claim it could cure implicit bias, or the form of racism that can even occur in people “with a sincere belief in equality.” Scientists believe the discovery can be explained by the fact that implicit racism is fundamentally founded on fear, and the drug acts both on nerve circuits that govern automatic functions, such as heart rate, and the part of the brain involved in emotional responses. 
Thinking of any form of racism as an illness is very troubling. Historically, psychiatrists, psychologists, the medical establishment and lay people have all agreed that the roots of racism are cultural or societal — a set of beliefs and behaviors that are learned and, as a result, can be unlearned. If it were to ever be declared an illness that can be treated, racists would no longer be legally or ethically responsible for their actions. Just imagine it: a medical justification for discriminating against, or even killing, those of another race.
Whenever I can read about drapetomania in Time magazine, I am at peace for the day.

Maybe, they will be putting Propranolol in the water along with Flouride? 

Question: will the Tea Party and the Libertarians protest at this "infringement" on their freedoms, another sign that "big government" has run amok?

Ultimately, we must ask is racism a mental illness? Apparently, the APA is moving closer to including such a personality disorder in the newest edition of The Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders (DSM-V), the bible for psychologists and other mental health professionals.

Like President Obama has on gay marriage, my views have "evolved" on this issue. 

When I was in my glorious college days as a young black radical in training I would have lept up and down in joyous agreement with the proposition that racism is a mental illness. 

Over the years, I have come to be of two minds on the subject. This schism has developed because of my deepening appreciation for the complex, twisted nature of post racial, post civil rights, colorblind racism. It has also been nurtured because of my own cynicism about how power has historically worked through biopolitics, as well as the various scientific and social institutions that have (more often than not) done the work of white supremacy in the West--as opposed to being a weapon for a radical insurgency against it.

I am torn and puzzled. For example:

1. Racism is an idea born of the 17th century. It is relatively recent, always evolving, and changing. Not coincidentally, psychology as a discipline was also a product of roughly the same epoch. But, by fixing racism as a mental illness, are we enshrining in stone a set of recent, modern, and contemporary behaviors that are not universal or biological?

2. What do we do with ethnocentrism, prejudice, and good old fashioned bigotry? How do we categorize in-group and out-group anxiety, hostility, or animus? Are these mental illnesses too?

3. Matters of law and civil rights. If racism is diagnosed as a mental illness, are its "victims," and those "ill" with it, covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act? Can they be made exempt from lawsuits and civil actions for discriminatory acts against people of color? 

4. A wrench in the plans. Given the growing research on political personality types and brain structure, we have learned that those of lower intelligence tend to be more racist because of a fear of change, the unknown, and the Other. There is a great overlap here as conservatives also show a high level of overlap and correlation with the same cohort, and are thus more likely to exhibit similar "racist" behaviors. It is not that all "conservatives" are racist; however, racists tend to be overwhelmingly conservative. 

By implication, is one of the major political parties, and those who are its most ardent supporters, mentally ill? If true, this could warm the deepest parts of many liberals' and progressives' hearts as it validates what they instinctively know to be correct. But, is such a "diagnosis" limiting in the long run? What of the idea that white racists choose such an orientation and worldview? 

I shudder at the proposition that the Southern Strategy and the "real America," "take our country back" Tea Party types are mentally ill. They have agency. This cadre and faction have chosen to embrace white racism and bigotry as preferred electoral strategies. As such, White racial reactionary populists should be held accountable and not made into victims or pitied.

5. Social scientists and others have expended much energy on advancing the proposition that racism is prejudice plus power. In short, they have argued hard that in this society, at this moment, only those who are socially constructed and categorized as "White" can be "racist." If the DSM-V includes racism as a mental illness, are white folks--white racists in particular--being made into an even more protected class of citizens? 

To point: What do we do with Colin Ferguson, a black man, who killed six white people on the Long Island railroad during the 1990s? Would he have received protection as a person "mentally ill" with racism under these new rules? Or would Ferguson still have been given 200 years in prison for his crimes?


Fate is a trickster. Declaring racism as a mental illness was the stuff of howls, cheers, claps, and keynote addresses and plenaries back during the glory days of the the Afrocentric movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Apparently, in the year 2012,  the inherently (mal)adaptive and genius nature of white privilege and white supremacy is at work once again...now in the service of pathologizing and excuse-making for racism.  

In all, she is a thing both so ugly and simultaneously beautiful: racism remains one of the greatest technologies of the modern age. Her inventors must be smiling from beyond the grave.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who Owns History? Maybe We Do. Let's Start Fundraising to Liberate Some Slavery Artifacts from Ebay

I have received some supportive emails regarding my suggestion that we pool our modest resources in an effort to buy some of the "collectibles" from the Transatlantic Slave Trade and centuries-long slaveocracy here in the United States that are for sale on Ebay.

I am leaving the fundraising widget up for a month. Hopefully, if enough of us throw in one dollar, a quarter, fifty cents, or the like here and there, we can make a go at this on a small scale. 

Here are some thoughts to this point. 

1. A few of you suggested using Kickstarter. I will be talking to some colleagues who are activists, non-profit types, and also do grants development. If we get some interest here, it will be easier to see if we can get more parties involved. I think we have stumbled onto a cause that deserves a larger platform. We shall see how the practical side of our hopeful exercise works out.

2. I have created a fund-raising account that maxes out at 1,000 dollars. That was arbitrary. If we do not get enough money together to win an Ebay auction (I would like us to purchase the child slave manacles; there are also other items available such as slavery "tags" which are less expensive), I will donate the money to the ASPCA,  the World Wildlife Federation, or a local, Chicago based animal rescue group. 

3. I was contacted by one of the folks at the Jim Crow Museum. They made a suggestion regarding how to authenticate these objects. I will do my best to confirm that any slavery artifacts we purchase together are not reproductions or counterfeits. 

4. The account is hosted on Paypal. Once we get this up and running, I will post proof that the monies were used as promised. 

I have never requested monies here on We Are Respectable Negroes. Hopefully, we can take this great idea and develop it together towards a positive end. This is all of our history. But as I wrote earlier, there is something horribly amiss and distasteful about these sacred objects, stained with blood, memories, and the spiritual energy of the ancestors, being reduced to curiosities and kitsch. 

Please share a link to our fundraising project with friends, colleagues, and others who may be interested. If you share this on Facebook, Twitter, or your own blogs and websites (the widget can be shared by clicking on "copy") we can get the ball rolling asap.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Who Owns History? Slavery Artifacts for Sale on Ebay; Let's Buy Some and Make Sure They Have a Proper Home


Extremely Rare Mated Set of Two Small Child's Size Slave Hand-Forged Rattle Shackles & Made for the Slave Trade
c. 1800 19th Century, Set of Two, Small Child's Size Slave Shackles, Hand-forged Iron, With Internal "Rattles," Choice Very Fine. 
This impressive set of child size slave shackles are African made for the Slave Trade, although also found located in the United States from time to time. These are described as being, "crab-shaped rattler leg shackles," on page 20-21, in the book, "THE ART AND HISTORY OF BLACK MEMORABILIA" by Larry Vincent Buster. They measures 6" x 5.25" with an opening of 4.75" x 2.75" and 8" x 5.25" with an opening of 4.75" x 2.5". 
Based on the circumference of the openings these were of size to be used on children. The oddly-shaped hand-wrought devices contain lateral "pockets" that contain pieces of metal that rattle as the wearer moves about so that his or her location could easily be determined by the sound of the rattle being made. Each has a pair of small chain links attached at the top. One shackle was placed on each leg and a chain threaded through the attached rings, secured with a lock. A museum quality, important historical pair of Child's Size Slave Shackles, having a natural patina that would be excellent for display. (2 items).


One of my favorite episodes in the history of genre television was an installment of the much beloved Alien Nation series which ran for a few years in the early 1990s. Alien Nation, a not so subtle play on the phrase "alienation" focused on how a race of extraterrestrials struggled to assimilate into Earth society after their slave ship was stranded here. Upon arrival, the Newcomers became a metaphor through which to explore racism, ethnocentrism, and prejudice. Yes, it could be overwrought and hackneyed. Alien Nation was also wonderfully sharp and incisive.

To point, there was an episode of Alien Nation which was centered on how one of the Newcomers' high elders was disgusted by the ways that the artifacts of his people were sold to human collectors. Ultimately, the material culture of his civilization was reduced to a fetish object, one utterly disconnected from the legacy of blood, struggle, loss, and triumph which produced it. Their chains, shackles, restraints, religious icons, and other artifacts were reduced to kitsch. No historical weight or context was present beyond that which could accrue novelty, and points for uniqueness, for those who owned such intimately personal objects.

In all, popular culture is oftentimes a stand-in for sociopolitical struggles in the "real world" (as opposed to the pure imaginaries through which we pursue the politics of pleasure and fantasy). But, what to do when history becomes quite literally the playful, curious, and "interesting" objects of collectors and curators who may (or may not) have any personal connection to those things they covet?

We all "own" history. However, some of us are more connected to particular histories than others may be. Black Americans are part of a diaspora. Much of our shared historical and cultural experience is framed by a narrative of disruption caused by the Middle Passage, and the many moments of destruction it entailed, and necessitated. Ironically, blacks in the New World are also an example of generation and creation--where modernity and new civilizations were created by the movements of millions of people from one hemisphere to another.

Whole cultures and peoples were made by the Black Atlantic. Peoples were also destroyed. Peoples were (re)invented. As such, material objects and artifacts were both lost and found. While it should be no surprise, I am nonetheless moved that some of them would turn up for sale on Ebay.


A slave manacle collected in Marrakesh, Morocco, possibly 18th century.Weight about 4 lbs, larger ring about 5" x 3-3/8"inside diameter, smaller ring about 3" x 3".The keyed lock is functional. 
We are listing new selections of rare and hard to find ethnographica, please see our other eBay auctions. 
We have operated Coyote's Paw Gallery online for many years and have owned brick-and mortar galleries since 1984. We sell at The Traditional Flea in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on weekends- come see us if you're around. We are experienced packers and can ship worldwide- overseas customers, please contact us before bidding with any questions about costs or customs. 
We guarantee the descriptions of our items to be accurate.We work for the best possible ratings as eBay sellers, if there are any concerns about items purchased, we'll do as much as possible to make sure the transaction is mutually satisfactory- this does NOT include buyer's remorse!  
If anything is not 100%, contact us before leaving feedback. Thank you for viewing our auctions-
To my eyes, there is something horribly amiss when slave manacles, chains, and other objects of torture are reduced to "collectibles" on Ebay (and other sites), where they will become the property of  the highest bidder.

To me, the personal is, and will always remain, the political. Because this is a first principle, I have a proposition to offer. We Are Respectable Negroes is a small to modest site by Internet standards. That having been said, I think we can do something important in regards to owning a small part of history, and seeing that a few material objects find a proper home. 

Thus, I am thinking about creating a Paypal account or other means through which we can offer up some small monies towards the cause of buying one of these artifacts. If each visitor to WARN offered up a quarter, or perhaps even a dollar, this could be accomplished in a day or so. 

Can we buy back some history and donate it to a worthy museum or collection? I would like to believe that we can. I will leave it up to all of you. Do post a comment and indicate what I should do to this end.  I will follow through appropriately.

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?