Monday, April 22, 2013

Featured Reader Comment About the Boston Bombing, Chechens, and Racial Formation: "Whiteness" is a Measure of Community Norms and "Good Conduct"

I feature timely, insightful, and challenging readers comments from time to time here on WARN. I love the interaction and good sharing that takes place here. As such, "bumping up" an especially good and useful comment is of use to improving my thinking and learning, as well as sharing the range of smart thinking that the readers of WARN consistently bring to the table.

I am going to develop our conversation about race, Whiteness, media framing, and the Boston Marathon bombing a bit further this week. We have hit on something there which I think is always special when it occurs--oftentimes "academic" conversations and terminology can, and are, distant from events on the ground.

The discussion about the racial identity of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokar Tsarnaev is a moment straight out of the literature on critical race theory, racial formation, and comparative race studies. As such, it demands immediate comment.

My first obligation here on WARN is to truth-telling. When we can engage in that enterprise, and also learn something new, matters are always positive.

Commentator Larry Yates observed in response to my piece intervening against the mainstream media's consternation at how the Boston Bombing suspects can be both "white" and Muslim (what was an excellent example of race making in practice) how:
An 1857 South Carolina court decision on whether two men were white, quoted in Race Relations in Virginia and Miscegenation in the South 1776-1860, illustrates racial formation at work at the individual level:
"The condition of the individual is not to be determined solely by distinct and visible mixture of negro blood, but by reputation, by his reception into society, and his having commonly exercised the privileges of a white man. 
But his admission to these privileges, regulated by the public opinion of the community in which he lives, will very much depend on his character and conduct; and it may be well and proper, that a man of worth, honesty, industry, and respectability, should have the rank of a white man, while a vagabond of the same degree of blood should be confined to the inferior caste. It will be a stimulus to the good conduct of these persons, and security for their fidelity as citizens."
This is a great conversation starter for the week given how Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokar Tsarnaev are members of a "quasi-white" group in the United States, one that was just granted "full whiteness" five or so decades ago. Given the efforts by the mainstream media and the Right to "revoke" this status because they are Muslim, the logic of the above court would appear to still hold today.

Whiteness has value in the United States. Race is made by the law, circulated and enforced via common sense, day-to-day interactions, and reproduced by social norms and standards.

For example, the "one-drop rule" is just a folkism that explains how "black blood" flows from mother to child, and the rule of "hypo-descent," i.e. from the "lowest" racial group in a given society, determines one's racial group membership. A person can be 1/16th "black." However, they were still deemed a second class system and uniquely subject to the status of being a slave in America for at least three centuries.

Stated differently, the one-drop rule was just a way for white slave owners to impregnate and rape their human property, and then to not have to worry about questions of said progeny's freedom. A sick system is it not?

This is also a wonderful arrangement if one wants to ensure the creation of a permanent class of slaves, one that is self-reproducing and growing over time: Efficiency does not necessarily equal righteousness.

Likewise, European immigrants understood that the wages of Whiteness were valuable and worth compromising their own individual morals and values in order to attain. The price of freedom, and thus fully joining "white" society for European immigrants, was investing in White Supremacy and the power (as well as privileges for the in-group) of the color line.

The vast majority of white folks were active signatories to this contract; a few fought, and some died, resisting it; most, as people around the world do in every society, just wanted to be passive agents, getting along for the sake of it, choosing the path of least resistance. Free riders are a universal constant of the human condition.

Why rock the boat?

I have three or four examples of racial formation and race making that I am going to share this week. Please help me out if you would. If you have other lessons about how race is manufactured which are surprising, counter-intuitive, little known, or just particularly insightful, please do share them in the comments section.


nomadfiles said...

"Stated differently, the one-drop rule was just a way for white slave owners to impregnate and rape their human property, and then to not have to worry about questions of said progeny's freedom. A sick system is it not?"

That's why the classification of mulattoes, in the slavocracy was a critical issue. If they, like everybody else on earth, were bequeathed the social status of their fathers (freedom), their father would be deprived of the enrichment provided by their labor. Was they black and slave or was they white and free? Make no mistake, when they are talking of treating a darker skinned individual as white, they are talking about relative darkness, from a white man's perspective. Rarely did Respectabilty status extend beyond mulattoes. Respectable Negroes, during this period of American history, primarily meant mulattoes. Not so much today, though vestiges still survive.

nomadfiles said...

Oops. Out of time to edit. But in case I wasn't clear enough, the 1857 South Carolina court decision was not about dark skinned people. It was about negotiating the rights of niggas with light skin. The ones not quite light enough to pass undetected.

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Yastreblyansky said...

Also please note Chechens may be white in the US but in Russia they have long been regarded as every kind of lazy, violent other and in recent years it's getting worse.

chauncey devega said...

I will be commenting on that. Just looking for cites or video examples--do you have any? I have come up empty.

j.ottopohl said...

There is lots of literature on this. Start with Moshe Gammer's Lone Wolf and the Bear. The term used to describe Caucasians in Russia most often btw is "Black Asses."

Deb C. said...

@CD..."Whiteness has value in the United States. Race is made by the law, circulated and enforced via common sense, day-to-day interactions, and reproduced by social norms and standards.

I, 100%, agree with you about the "value of whiteness" and "race-making." And while Larry's point about "reputation" is also valid, as I continue my genealogical research on my hometown, I've come across more instances than I can count -- where the "value of whiteness," as well as the "race-making" are of primary concern. While digging last night as a matter of fact, I came across this petition, filed circa 1821, that's an excellent example of both:

"Isaac Frazier, "the owner of a boy named Richard between the age of eight and nine years," declares that said child "is so white as with difficulty to be known as a person of color." Frazier further states that he "never contemplated keeping him as slave, but on the other hand always intended his emancipation." Noting that "in which design he has been defeated by the late act of the honorable Legislature," the petitioner prays "your honble body to emancipate the said slave by a special act."

As evidenced in "The Negro Law of South Carolina" (not a joke --, the "value" and "race-making" is readily apparent. But on another note, and tied to the whole 1-Drop Rule thing, is something else we must neither overlook nor forget: "Capitalism & Slavery" -- as Eric Williams' book is so aptly named. The allocation of "taxes on property" and, as nomad noted, "their father would be deprived of the enrichment provided by their labor" were equally as important (another reason L.L. Cool Jay's "gold chain/iron chains" verse is stupid as hell. IMHO).

nomadfiles said...

no. those folks have half a drop.

nomadfiles said...

talk about irony! wow!

chauncey devega said...

Any other suggestions. Appreciated!

Ametia said...

I look forward to this week's series Chauncey.

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skilletblonde said...

In America whiteness is not simply defined as European. It's something that has grown aberrant. Americans have been fiercely chasing some mythical ideal of an Aryan race for a while. But it was capitalism that came to the rescue. A simple box of hair dye with a phrase did the job. Miss. Clairol's famous, "Blondes have more fun" was highly successful. Movies like "Gentlemen prefer Blondes" certainly assisted. One could say that these media campaigns were racist. But capitalism has never been shy about using racism.

There were articles written in fashion magazines that deified women with blonde hair. "Blonde is love" was the heading I saw on a magazine. "Is this your dream" was an ad I saw of the late Anna Nichole Smith-touting blonde hair dye. The bombardment of blonde hair imagery has created a billion dollar market. The obsession with blondness has never ceased. Never mind that these images that propagated this market were fake. After all, most Europeans do not have blonde hair. The statistics appear to be appropriately 1 out of 20 Europeans are actually blonde.

Something else happened to assist Americans in becoming the Aryan ideal. Plastic surgery! Around 1983, plastic surgeons received the permission to advertise. Now Americans could look like the plastic surgery enhanced Hollywood actors and actresses, they love. They could shed those un-Aryan like features. As of 2011, the plastic surgery industry has generated 10 billion dollars.

Let's face it. Americans are the most propagandized people on earth. The fantasy about American life as well as its history, has been largely shaped by Hollywood. If an actress is cast as an Italian, it will be an Americanized version of an Italian. Big noses are no longer tolerate. You will be encourage to get rid of it. Just ask John Oliver of the Daily Show. There is this aryanization of people when they become famous. This includes people of color. For example, Jennifer Lopez, went through the transformation. The nose job and the lightening of the hair was expected. Beyonce, also had a rhinoplasty and of course, there is the blonde hair.

This constant showering of false images have made us intolerant of the natural beauty of the human race. Like they are about most groups in the world, I daresay Americans are actually ignorant of the diversity of Europeans. When Americans viewed Tamerlan and Dzhokar, with their dark hair, not so small noses, and strange names, this was enough to deny they were Caucasian The only whiteness America doesn't questioned appears to be from Great Britain and Scandinavia.

America's pursuit of the epitome of whiteness is very Nazi like. Where else did this ideal of white man and womanhood come from? David Duke, in his pathetic attempt to become the mythical Aryan, had a nose job and blonde his hair. Marilyn Monroe, the harbinger of obsession with blondness was a brunette. Not only did she have a nose job, but her whole jaw was reshaped.

Jean Harlow another blonde ideal was bald and dead at the age of 26.

Buddy H said...

David Duke also had a chin implant, as I recall.

CaitieCat said...

The one-drop rule always seemed really bizarre to me - under it, I would be considered Black, as one of my great-great-grandmothers was !Kung.

Ridiculous, as my avatar suggests, because I'm fishbelly white, with blue eyes.

Somehow, I suspect a way would have been found, in that 1857 court, for me to be declared "white enough".

Excellent post, sir. Thank you.

Yastreblyansky said...

I'll see what I can do. Haven't been an academic for years though, and the Caucasus was never my field. (I used to be busy on race formation in Singapore-Malaysia.)

j.ottopohl said...

Look at the works of Eric Weitz he was the first scholar to suggest that race was an applicable category in the USSR. That was in 2002. A position still militantly rejected by most "scholars" of the USSR such as Francine Hirsch and Amir Weiner. I happen to agree with Weitz, but it is a very small number of people. Also look at the works of Alaina Lemon and Keskha Fikes. If you cruise my blog I have a lot on race in the USSR complete with sources. I published an article in 2012 in Human Rights Review on "Soviet Apartheid". It deals mostly with the racialization of Germans, but does have some stuff on Chechens.

nomadfiles said...

very interesting. link to your blog?

j.ottopohl said...

ali said...

I thought the One Drop Rule was officially introduced as law through Virginia's Racial

Integrity Act of 1924 by Walter Plecker (I spit on his name)? I realize that the One Drop, however, has been practiced looong before then. I'm speaking strictly in a legalese sense.

My schooling was long ago and there is too much that I've forgotten. I welcome corrections to my assertion.

That said, I find this topic fascinating in a sick, train-wreck way. We know if those two kids had been Barry & Bobby Jones - pale (insert your Judeo-Christian flavor here) boys - everyone would've said they snapped and we'd be revisiting the mental health issue again. Once the media could throw an "other" label on them, we were free to pursue Terrorists (!). After all, Good White Folk don't join terror cells or otherwise do horrific premeditated acts. White people lose their shit. Everyone else is Out to Get Us.

chauncey devega said...

working on it. thanks this week and next and thereafter randomly.

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