Tag Archives: Racial profiling

Why Don’t We Racially Profile Whites?

10 Aug

A while back I wrote a post called White Identity Politics. In it, I wrote:

Whiteness has a political meaning as much as does Black or Asian or any other racial category. In order to define non-whites as inferior and deviant, whites needed to be defined as superior and normal. By claiming the category “normal,” whites imagined themselves outside the racial paradigm they had created. But, in fact, they were and are at the center of it.

I was trying to make the point that while whites seem to think of themselves as raceless, they in fact are the inventors of the whole system of race. They have a racial identity, and their historic (and contemporary) role in creating and perpetrating racism is as integral to that identity as surviving slavery and facing it’s continuing legacy of injustice is to the identities of African Americans.

In the name of white racial identity, whites have engaged in genocidal warfare against Native Americans. As the victor in this war, whites took land and natural resources not rightfully their own and corralled the surviving Native Nations onto reservations and forced them into inequitable treaty agreements, before attempting to make them disappear entirely through programs of forced assimilation. And ever since, it’s been part of white identity to celebrate white settler history and tout U.S. exceptionalism in spite of the fact that this nation is founded upon genocide.

Whites enslaved Africans – they invented race as we know it for this purpose. Even after a war was waged to end slavery, whites invented convicted leasing. Through this system, they unjustly imprisoned Blacks for the purpose of re-enslaving them. By doing so they not only created a pool of free labor, they terrorized the mass of the Black community of the South into remaining in poor jobs, often for their former masters and their descendents, for fear that they would be imprisoned since unemployment was a crime for Blacks in some jurisdictions. And where Blacks are concerned, much more followed, including Jim Crow and our current war on drugs (notice how I bring that up constantly? I think you should, too).

Whites vilified, persecuted, and alternately exploited and then excluded Asians and waged a war against Mexico and forced them into an inequitable sale of territory that includes all or part of seven U.S. states. And there was Jim Crow, lynchings, mass race riots targeting Black and Asian laborers, and more, and largely with impunity. I would go on, but I think you get the point.

The whole of the U.S. experiment in democracy is marred by incidents of racist brutality, violence, and warfare, and the legal diminution, dehumanization, and exclusion of people of color.  In fact, it is what most characterizes race relations in America.

If an attempt were made to racially profile whites, the picture we would come away with would be anything but pretty. So I’ve been wondering lately, why is it that in spite of the fact that very nearly every modern mass shooting is committed by white males there is still no white racial profile of the mass shooter. One would think that a population, defined by race by their own choosing, that has for so long condoned mass murder, especially in the name of their race, would be, therefore, suspect every time an act of terrorism and mass murder took place in America. But they aren’t.

There is also no federally commissioned Report on White Families that parallels the Moynihan Report. When we think of welfare, we don’t see white people even when welfare was created for white people. When we think of drug crimes, we see Black people in spite of the fact that whites drive the illegal drug trade in the U.S. And we don’t just see them, we arrest them, prosecute them, and imprison them en masse.

A Race Files reader sent me an article by Tim Wise about the 2001 Santee, CA mass school shooting resulting in injury to 13 white children and the deaths of two, asking the same question. In it, he says:

…once again, we hear the FBI insist there is no “profile” of a school shooter. Come again? White boy after white boy after white boy, with very few exceptions to that rule…, decides to use their classmates for target practice, and yet there is no profile? Imagine if all these killers had been black: would we still hesitate to put a racial face on the perpetrators? Doubtful.

In the wake of last Sunday’s mass shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (by no less than a self-professed white supremacist) I think the question needs to be asked again. Why is there no white profile? I’m not saying it’s just, nor that racial profiling is the solution, but as long as law enforcement is going to continue to racially profile people of color, I think we need to create an echo chamber around this issue and say it again and again, white is a race, it has a history and tradition, and mass murder is by no means outside of it, so why aren’t we talking about this?

Race Basics: Colonialism and Religious Bigotry

18 May

I don’t play in the oppression Olympics. Yet, I’ve argued that anti-Black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy. This statement has generated some controversy, with some saying I’ve overlooked Native people, and others saying there is a hierarchy of oppressions in which Blacks suffer most.

All this talk got me to thinking about the particular racism faced by Native people and how it fits into my analysis.

I recalled a time, some years back, when I got stuck in a soft spot on the shoulder of a road on my way to a speaking engagement. I tried to wave down help, but to no avail. For hours, no one stopped.

When I got to my destination, I told the story to my host who promptly said, “You’re in Indian country. They thought you were Native American.” What the…? Lots of white folks, he explained, are afraid of Native people in reservation-adjacent areas in Oregon.

A year later, I was in Idaho for a reception with an LGBT rights group. Near the end of the evening, two Native American men arrived. As they walked to the ticket table, one of the guests referred to them by using the “N” word preceded by the word “prairie.” Again, I was shocked.

When years later I worked in criminal justice reform out West, I learned a bit more about the racism faced by Native people. In Montana, urban Indians are profiled as vagrants and targeted for  harassment. Native drivers were regularly pulled over and assumed to be either drunk or driving without insurance. The latter is often true because the extraordinary poverty rate among Native people in Montana means many can’t afford insurance.

In 2000, Native Americans were more than 20% of all prisoners in Idaho and Wyoming in spite of being approximately 7% of the populations of those states.

Later, as a program officer of a social justice foundation, I visited Native groups all over the Northwest, both on reservation and off. Among them was the Wind River Alliance in Wyoming. From them, I learned that the Wind River had been reduced to a trickle on the reservation by white farmers whose water rights trumped Indian treaty rights.

To make the point, they aired a video of a local judge explaining his decision against the tribes’ water rights lawsuit. He said “we” already won that “war,” and water rights are one of the spoils.

This conquerer mentality regarding Native people is everywhere. It is expressed by those who say Native people are “vanishing.” It’s indicated by the current fight over re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act. That Act is opposed by the House Republican majority in part because of special provisions concerning violence against Native women.

It may also explain the soaring unemployment rates of Native Americans, topping 18% in the West.

I’ve toured the Crow Reservation on visits to the Center Pole Foundation in Montana. Many there live in dilapidated and poorly insulated trailers.

During the freezing winter, space heaters run constantly. Families sleep as close to the ceiling as possible in order to feel the heat. But the bills run so high that the electricity is eventually cut. Families wait until summer to earn enough money to settle back bills and avoid freezing next winter.

I also met members of the Chinook Nation. The University of Oregon describes the Chinook tribe of Washington as historical relics.  Some claim they are “extinct.” Yet these supposedly extinct people continue to fight for recognition of their tribal sovereignty.

The situation of Native Americans today is the legacy of genocide, relocation and forced assimilation. This legacy is as much a part of our history as Yankee Doodle Dandy, WWII, and and the invention of the car all rolled into one.

When Columbus first arrived in North America, the Library of Congress claims that 900,000 Native people lived here. Some demographers claim as many as 7 or 8 million. By the 1890s, only 250,000 remained. Whole nations were destroyed. Others were pushed onto reservations, and many more were simply terminated.

This history speaks to another dimension of racism: colonialism and religious prejudice.

While Africans were profiled as animals to justify race slavery, Native Americans were profiled as anti-Christians to justify wars over land and resources. Today’s debates over the dominance of Christianity in our politics echo this history. Religious bigotry continues to drive the expansion of American Empire in the form of the war on terror/Islam. And, that war is part of a larger culture “war” that is knocking down rights of LGBT people, women, and religious minorities.

I continue to believe that anti-Black racism drives white supremacy. I believe it because I know that the converse of Black in our culture is white. In order to justify slavery, white identity was created as the lever of white supremacy with anti-Black racism as the fulcrum.

But, anti-Indian racism is very real. It is an extension of a long history of colonialism, and its legacy is the mentality that drives the expansion of American Empire and Christian jihad.

I won’t play in the oppression Olympics, but I do believe that to fight racism we need a game plan. That game plan is incomplete if we overlook anti-Native racism.

Jeremy Lin, Double Standards, and the Racial Confusion Era

16 Mar

Every blog has a genesis story. This one is no exception. The catalyst for this blog was the media sensation created by Jeremy Lin. Specifically, it was the racism and racial confusion reflected in the many rants and critiques on racial double standards and insensitivity that got me typing. Case in point, this tip in an Asian American Journalists Association guide on avoiding racism in reporting on Jeremy Lin: DRIVING: This is part of the sport of basketball, but resist the temptation to refer to an “Asian who knows how to drive.” Honestly? Is this what we have to contribute to this discussion?

How the hell did we get to this place? It’s as though when it comes to race we’re trapped in a hall of fun house mirrors, only the images being reflected back at us aren’t so funny.

In the mainstream, critical commentary on this occasion reduced racism to insensitivity. Equally problematic, complaints of a double standard that presumably allows one to get away with racist stereotyping when the victims are Asian, but not if they’re African American, reflect a racial confusion, even racism, that is divisive and misleading.

When did we stop noticing the pretty much endless stream of limiting and denigrating stereotypes and racist profiling of African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos in the media? Is this what is meant by living in a colorblind society? Are we so completely surrounded by racist ideas and imagery that racism has become invisible to us?

As a starting point in my examination of just how confused we are, I recorded and studied 24 hours of  programming on MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN over the course of four days of “Linsanity.” The results of the MSNBC bloc of programming were pretty typical.

In 11 hours of MSNBC programming, the Lin story was everywhere. Lin-related news to one side, only two stories of specific relevance to Asians appeared: the Hoekstra anti-China ad fiasco, and news of an Asian American Super PAC forming. So okay, Asians are pretty absent in media.

However, the only Latinos or Latino-specific stories were about Fernando Valenzuela and Ricky Rubio, both pro athletes. Native Americans were never mentioned. African Americans were referenced either as individuals or in terms of issues several times, including mentions of Carmello Anthony, Martell Webster, and Ty Johnson (all athletes); Rhianna, Chris Brown, Jay Z, Beyonce, and Maya Angelou (all basically entertainers). There was mention of a black Super PAC forming and a story about a white Texas teacher’s suspension after using the “N” word (in order to try to teach the evils of racism). The Reverend Jeremiah Wright was mentioned and, in conjunction, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. And there was one incidental reference to a black elected official named Darren Williams. That’s it. And keep in mind, this was all supposed to be hard “news.”

Obviously, we are confused if a sports writer is fired for using the word “chink,” and a teacher is suspended for using the “N” word, but no heads are rolling over the absence of features of the 15.8% national unemployment rate for blacks, or the 11% unemployment rate for Latinos; nor that the 2011 per capita income of the Hmong Asian ethnic group was $10,949; that in 2011 blacks were six times more likely to go to prison and three times more likely to have sub-prime mortgages than whites; nor that in 2010, the median wealth of black women in the U.S. was $5. Apparently, your job is safe if you choose to describe the African American community as if it is composed mainly of athletes and entertainers and fail in 24 hours of news programming to make even one mention of Native Americans.

The census projects that by 2030, people of color will make up the majority of those under the age of 18, and non-whites in general will out-number whites by 2042. People of color are the fastest growing sector of the population and will soon be the dominant media market.  So, what gives with the lack of coverage? And to the extent we are being covered, W.T.F.?

Double standard? I say there are multiple standards of civility in the U.S. where race is concerned, but we are not talking about civility, people! Only one relevant double standard has remained stable in the realm of U.S. race politics since the very invention of the idea of race – that whites constitute the template for “American” and the rest of us are either a resource for whites to exploit, or a threat to them, or we just don’t matter.

So this is my opening salvo. I say it is ridiculous to say that we live in a post-racial society, or even that we are getting there. Things are definitely not getting better.

Welcome to Race Files.

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