Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Police Scare The Hell Out Of Me

I'm a Black man with a Ph.D. Yet, I'm afraid of the police - white, Latino, black, Asian - because I understand even the most routine encounter with them could result in my death. I tense up every time I see them sitting on the side of the road, mentally preparing myself to be stopped, rehearsing in my mind what to say when pulled over. I check my speed, check my lights, and hope that a taillight isn't broken. After I pass them, I check my rear view mirror to see if I'm being followed. The times I've been stopped have been more than annoying; I was terrified that something might go wrong and feel like I dodged a bullet when I've been able to drive away.

Enough said!

Monday, December 8, 2014

White’s Racial Attitudes Matter!

I often hear Black people say, “I don’t care how White people feel about me as long as they can’t discriminate against me.” This attitude suggests that the way to combat racial discrimination is not to confront White people about their racism; rather, the solution is to pass and vigorously enforce anti-discrimination laws. I think these people are wrong. White's racial attitudes, not those held by people of color, play the dominant role in shaping public policy in American society.

During the 1960s, Congress passed and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law some of the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the history of the country: the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Voting Rights Act of 1965; and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Nearly 50 years later, with the support of many White Americans who believe that racial discrimination against people of color is a thing of the past and that White people are now the real victims of discrimination, many of these basic rights are under attack.

The older I get, the more things become clearer to me about America: racism is permanent, and the racial attitudes of White Americans matter.

Racism is not dead; it simply disguises itself in the race-neutral language of color-blindness.

Sociologist, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, argues that “Whites have developed powerful explanations – which have ultimately become justifications – for contemporary racial inequality that exculpates them from any responsibility for the status of people of color.” He calls this ideology “color-blind racism.” According to Bonilla-Silva, color-blindness is an important political and ideological tool used by Whites to explain racial inequality and maintain the racial status quo without sounding like a racist. “Shielded by color-blindness, Whites can express resentment toward minorities; criticize their morality, values, and work ethic; and even claim to be the victims of “reverse racism.”

According to Bonilla-Silva, color-blind racism has four key frames: minimization of racism; abstract liberalism; naturalization; and cultural racism. The minimization of racism frame is used to portray discrimination as a thing of the past. (“Blacks can move to any community they can afford” or “I don’t think this is about race; rather, I think it’s about class.”) Abstract liberalism is a frame that allows Whites to use ideas associated with political liberalism (e.g., meritocracy, equal opportunity), and economic liberalism (e.g., privatization, market choices) in an abstract manner to deal with race related issues. The naturalization frame allows Whites to explain away racial problems as being the product of the way things “naturally occur.” For example, “neighborhoods are segregated because it’s natural to gravitate toward people like you.” The frame of cultural racism utilizes culturally-based explanations, such as “Blacks and Latinos do not work as hard as Whites” to explain lingering racial inequality.

Bonilla-Silva’s work shows us that White’s racial attitudes play a significant role in shaping contemporary racial inequality. Social scientist need to pay much more attention to individual racial attitudes. I say this because, I believe there is a strong congruence between white’s racial attitudes and public policy in our country. Especially troubling to me is the view held by many Whites that Black pathology, not systemic racism, is at the root of racial and economic inequality in American society. The view that Black people are not normal, that they are a defective race of people, informs the average White person’s opposition to social welfare laws, influences their opposition to housing and school desegregation policies, shapes their support for public policies that have led to the over-policing of Black communities, the militarization of local police and produced the unprecedented levels of mass incarceration we see today, and affects their decision to vote for reactionary right-wing White politicians.

White’s racial attitudes matter!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

To Many Whites, Blacks Are Just Not “Normal.”

I don't want it [drugs] near schools! I don't want it sold to children! That's an infamia. In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people, the coloreds. They're animals anyway, so let them lose their souls
     - Don Zaluchi from the movie, The Godfather -

One of the things I really enjoy doing is going to a bookstore to grade my students work, and to read and write while drinking the nectar of the gods, coffee.

I guess because I have a friendly face and look like an easy guy to talk to, from time-to-time I end up having conversations with total strangers, which can be both a curse and a blessing. It’s a curse when I have a lot of work to do. It can be a blessing, because I often end up having some really interesting conversations over a cup of Joe.

At some point, I often get asked, “So, what do you do for a living?” Although that is a common question in a status conscious society like America where people’s worth tends to be measured by the kind of job they hold or by how much money they make, I imagine the curiosity radar is high for another reason. I am participating in something that many white people rarely ever do, which is talk about politics and a wide range of social and economic issues with a Black person, especially a college-educated Black man.

When I tell them that I teach at the University of Hartford, many people look shocked, thinking perhaps that I’m pulling their leg. Given the levels of residential segregation that exists in this society, the odds are that outside of the workplace, they don’t often interact with many Black people and the ones they interact with at work they barely know and rarely talk about much beyond what isn’t related to work. After more than 12 years in my current job, I can count on my one hand outside of a few people, the number of times I’ve socialized outside of work with any of my White colleagues. We chat for a moment in the hallways about the job and then retreat to our offices. I’ve been invited out to eat or drink with only a few people. Outside of the Dean of my college, the chair of my department, and a couple of colleagues I share an interest in jazz with, I’ve never been invited to anyone’s home, for example, for dinner. They really don’t know much about me, and I know a whole lot less about them – for the vast majority of the people that I have spent more than a decade working with, I don’t know where they are from, the names of their spouses, the names of their kids, their interests outside of work, or even where they live.

To be fair, most Americans do not interact with people outside of their own race. On the one hand, research shows that White people have fewer friends outside of their race than do Blacks. A recent study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that for the vast majority of Whites (91 percent) their closest friends and family members are White, with only 1 percent of them Black. It may come as no surprise then that when asked to name their closest friends and family members, 75 percent of Whites couldn’t name even one person who was not from their own racial group. On the other hand, although Black people have a slightly more diverse social network, for the average Black person, 83 percent of their closest friends are also Black, with only 8 percent of them White.

We are a country of strangers.

The few Black people that the average White person knows anything about (and often admire) tend to be celebrities and athletes they see on television or the musicians they hear on the radio and who music they listen to. For the average White person, their most basic understanding of Black people comes primarily from the media (such as, articles and television reports that feature Black criminals or Blacks living in public housing and dependent on welfare) or discussions they have with other Whites about Black people (such as, the worries they share about being a victim of a crime committed by a Black criminal or the high taxes they pay to support programs for undeserving welfare recipients that they believe are overwhelmingly Black).

Many people at the coffee shop want to know how I became so successful. After I finish talking about myself, I imagine it blows their mind that I am a Black man from Detroit who grew up in poverty, defied the odds by earning a Ph.D., and now is a professor at a historically White university in the Northeast.

Once they hear my story, I often hear the following statements: “You must have had parents who really cared about you and your education;” or “Your parents must really be proud of you.”

They then offer pronouncements about what is wrong with America today: “I think that the biggest problem today is a lack of respect;” “What’s missing today is character;” “People just don’t have good values anymore;” “When I was a kid in school, discipline was not a problem because the nonsense we see today was not tolerated;” or “If I acted up the way these kids do today, I would have received a beating at school and then when I got home, my father would have pulled off his belt and beat me again.”

The conversation tends to drift next toward the evils of welfare, and the failure to take responsibility for one’s actions: “The problem with people today is that nobody wants to work because everybody feels like they are entitled to something;” “I don’t think people care about where they live anymore;” or “There are too many single-parent homes and too many irresponsible fathers.”

Most Whites who say these things would never admit to the racial undertones of their declarations about what is wrong with America. The reality though is that these statements are rarely ever associated with White people unless they are guests on the Jerry Springer show.

For the average White person, Blacks lag behind them on nearly every indicator of social and economic well-being in American society because they are caught up in a tangle of pathologies, a culture of poverty. Racism and discrimination are a thing of the past; Black pathology is the root cause of poverty and inequality in America.

For many White Americans, “Black” is not simply a word to describe a race of people, it is a pejorative. By comparison, “White” is not simply a word to describe a race of people, it is a laudative. Whites work hard rather than look for handouts. Whites have good values. Whites respect each other. Whites value an education. White fathers are there for their children. White parents care about their children’s education. Whites take care of their communities.

To be a Black person in America is to be the antithesis of a White person. To many White Americans, Black people are just not “normal,” they operate in ways that are far outside of the norms that are expected of people living in a civilized society.

And, because they really don’t know Black people, far too many Whites routinely seize upon some of the worst racial stereotypes to describe Blacks, and in the process, end up questioning the very humanity of Black people.

When you question the very humanity of a people, it's not that hard to believe that the shooting an unarmed black teen or a 12 year-old with a toy gun is justifiable. They're animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.