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.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What We Should Have Learned From The 1960s That Could Have Prevented Ferguson

On July 28, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson, established an 11-member commission chaired by Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. of Illinois. The commission’s job was to investigate the causes of urban rebellions that had been occurring in American cities every year since the summer of 1964 and to make recommendations to the Johnson Administration about what to do about them.

The President asked the group to answer three deceptively easy questions about the ghetto revolts: "What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?"

During the first nine months of 1967 alone, a total of 164 uprisings occurred. The most serious in terms of violence and damage occurred in eight cities; 82 percent of the deaths and more than half the injuries occurred in just two cities, Newark and Detroit (Detroit was still happening when Johnson established the commission).

After more than seven months of investigations, the panel’s final report, the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, or Kerner Report, was released on February 29, 1968.

According to the report, “The summer of 1967… brought racial disorders to American cities, and with them shock, fear and bewilderment to the nation.”

The commissioners investigated 24 disorders in 23 cities; each followed a similar pattern:

“The final incident before the outbreak of disorder, and the initial violence itself, generally took place in the evening or at night at a place in which it was normal for many people to be on the streets.

Violence usually occurred almost immediately following the occurrence of the final precipitating incident, and then escalated rapidly. With but few exceptions, violence subsided during the day, and flared rapidly again at night. The night-day cycles continued through the early period of the major disorders.

Disorder generally began with rock and bottle throwing and window breaking. Once store windows were broken, looting usually followed.

Disorder did not erupt as a result of a single “triggering” or “precipitating” incident. Instead, it was generated out of an increasingly disturbed social atmosphere, in which typically a series of tension-heightening incidents over a period of weeks or months became linked in the minds of many in the Negro community with a reservoir of underlying grievances. At some point in the mounting tension, a further incident – in itself often routine or trivial – became the breaking point and the tension spilled over into violence.

‘Prior’ incidents, which increased tensions and ultimately led to violence, were police actions in almost half the cases; police actions were ‘final’ incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.”

The Kerner Commission identified 12 deeply held grievances that helped to explain the revolts that occurred in each city, including: police practices (especially, police brutality), unemployment and underemployment; inadequate housing; inadequate education; ineffectiveness and underrepresentation in the political structure (the proportion of black representation in local government was substantially smaller than the black proportion of the population); and, discriminatory administration of justice.

If this sounds a lot like Ferguson, Missouri, to you, it should.

Rather than condemn the rebellions, fix the underlying reason for the uprisings and they will stop occurring.


For all you folks who condemn the revolt in Ferguson, keep in mind that white Americans have a long history of killing their neighbors, looting, and burning stuff, yet, white rioters get heroic names like “Patriots,” and their outbursts are often justified as revolutions, rebellions, uprisings, and revolts.

Take for example, the New York City Draft Riots. For three days in July of 1863, working-class, primarily ethnic Irish men burned and looted Manhattan in New York City while lynching black people along the way, over the decision by Congress to institute a draft for the Civil War. In addition to the fact that black men were excluded from the draft, the rioters resented the fact that wealthier men able to pay a $300 commutation fee could hire a substitute and dodge service in the military.

By the time the military reached the city one day after the rioting started, the mobs had already burned to the ground numerous government buildings, two Protestant churches, the homes of various blacks, abolitionists or sympathizers, and the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. An estimated 119 blacks were killed, precipitating a mass exodus of blacks from Manhattan to Brooklyn shortly after.

Many historians interpret the outburst as originating from legitimate discontent over the fundamental unfairness of the draft.

As another example, during the summer and fall of 1919, race riots broke out between blacks and whites in a number of cities in both the North and South. Known as The Red Summer, a series of massacres and lynchings initiated by whites had occurred throughout the country. The most violent clash between blacks and whites happened in Chicago. By the time the fighting had ended, 23 blacks and 15 whites were dead, 537 had been injured, and 1,000 black families had been burned out of their homes.

Black’s resistance to the orgy of violence unleashed against them that year by the white mobs shocked the nation and was condemned by most of the mainstream media. The so-called liberal New York Times scolded the black community for their new found militancy: "There had been no trouble with the Negro before the war when most admitted the superiority of the white race."

Historically speaking, white riots are praised, while black ghetto uprising are universally condemned. The reason for this is, as the Kerner Commission report pointed out nearly 50 years ago is because: "The press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men's eyes and white perspective."

Not much has changed. The media continues to see the world "with white men's eyes and white perspective."