Archive | March, 2012

Coopt-upy Wall Street

30 Mar

One of my favorite pundits, Elon James White, recently wrote about How Occupy Wall Street Co-opted the Million Hoodie March, describing the behavior of OWS activists at the recent New York protest over the Trayvon Martin case.

In the post, White describes white OWS’ers taunting the police, which, besides just being insensitive of the always tense relationship between cops and African Americans, appeared to be a ploy to get attention. Many carried Occupy signs, chanted, “We are the 99%,” etc. Hence, White’s complaint that they attempted to co-opt the march.

The following weekend, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes addressed the conflict, saying that this kind of thing goes both ways, citing instances in which African Americans with Free Mumia signs protesting the incarceration of the African American political prisoner, often appear at anti-war demonstrations. I usually like Chris Hayes, but this statement made me squirm.

There are big differences between mostly white OWS protestors who are obviously being targeted for police repression showing up with 99% placards and chanting about economic inequality at a peaceful protest of a white on Black killing, and Free Mumia activists showing up with placards supporting their cause at a mostly white anti-war rally.

One difference, at least as I see it, is that when people of color show up to raise visibility for their causes at mostly white anti-war demonstrations, it’s an opportunity to escape the invisibility that is imposed on us by segregation and the indifference of the white majority, including the white media.

It’s a chance to build support among whites who, because of their concern over an unjust war, might be open to hearing about another kind of injustice. And, let’s face it, in a majority rule society in which white people not only hold the numerical advantage but control the media, you kinda have to get white permission for your cause to become visible.

Case in point: the Martin family tragedy is by no means isolated. Black men and boys die at the hands of people with guns with some regularity, and in those cases where the perpetrators are white, evidence of racially motivated bias is by no means rare. And yet, where are the protests? Meanwhile, a white child goes missing at a mall and it’s not just news, it’s a national crisis.

Not only are the problems affecting people of color happening mostly beyond the view of the white majority; the information necessary to understand these problems as injustice rarely get aired. Unless we can get white folks paying attention, like the white blogger who worked so diligently to bring the Trayvon Martin case to the public, our issues rarely become visible to the mainstream. So show up at a mostly white-led protest of something as big as a war to get some air time? Sure, how else can you get heard? And, BTW, we’re not there to distract media attention from the primary cause.

On the other hand, when white OWS’ers, who have been widely criticized for being isolated in their whiteness, use a march organized by Black people to raise visibility for themselves using distracting tactics, there is cause to complain. Given how polarizing OWS is (and BTW, polarizing is, strategically speaking, just what I think they ought to be), it doesn’t help the Martin family cause to have OWS’ers chanting, “We are the 99%.” In fact, it’s a detriment.

The Trayvon Martin protest isn’t about polarizing, it’s about coming together across race, politics and class to demonstrate broad-based public concern. Demonstrating broad, mainstream opposition to the Sanford police department’s handling of the shooting of Trayvon Martin is essential to achieving a just resolution.

But in the end, that’s not what made me squirm. What made me uncomfortable was that Chris Hayes’ false equivalency dismisses the racial dynamics underlying the conflict described by Mr. White. Too often white activists show up at the protests led by people of color (but not at the doors of our organizations offering to help behind the scenes) to say something, not about our causes, but about themselves. And what they want to say is some version of this: “Some of my best friends are Black.”

Four Tips On Talking About Racism

28 Mar

I’m often asked the question, “How do you talk about racism with white people who think we’re post-racial?” It’s a good question. I wish I had an easy answer. Short of that, here are a few tips to try:

First tip is, avoid moral superiority. It’s not only unflattering to you, it also doesn’t work. I know, I tried it all through my 20s. It felt f**king great, but it accomplished next to nothing. Racism is, for sure, a moral problem, but the solution will require something other than moralizing.

Second, find common ground. One way is to use the Felt, Found, Feel” strategy. It’s a twist on the Feel, Felt, Found sales method. Here’s how it goes: “When Obama was elected I felt like, at last, we’re past race! But then I found out that Obama got a smaller share of white votes than any successful presidential candidate in history, and heard about all these racist tea party protests. Now I feel like the racist reaction to Obama’s election is evidence that racism is still a problem.”

I learned that method from a friend of mine who could talk you into drinking cyanide even without the Kool-Aid.

Third, don’t just list off the horrors of racism. That kind of thing mostly gets white people feeling guilty and buying Dance Rock Dana Asian Barbies for their kids. It’s all well and good, but you’re making a call to action, and long, tragic lists are pretty paralyzing.

Finally, don’t be a smarty pants. One of the obstacles to dialogue is that folks think of racism as a litmus test of whether you’re good (as in educated and smart), or a red neck, a term that comes right after “white trash” in the list of things one should never say, not just because they’re mean, but because saying stuff like that is bad politics. Want an example of why? Just watch how Rick Santorum fans react when he calls Obama a snob for suggesting it’s a good thing to give everyone a chance at college.

Rather than use this as a chance to show how smart you are, stop talking about you and focus instead on the self-interest of your audience. After all, racism is definitely a 99% issue.  It affects all of us to the detriment of most of us.

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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