White Domination & the South (and now?)

From Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950, by Yale historian Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore:

“The nation we knew as Dixie survived into the 1950s because it zealously policed its borders. Within those borders, racial oppression reigned supreme, controlling not only public space but public conversation and private conscience and narrowing the political imagination of even its most defiant subjects. Those who openly protested white domination had to leave, one way or another. Once they left, they could no longer be Southerners. Those who did not grow up within the South would always be outsiders, for they could never be Southerners either. I rose and stood for “Dixie” until I was twenty years old, when I finally made the connection between my mythical country and racial oppression.”

2009 Emmys are White

Television is the most prominent cultural vestige of white supremacy in the US.  Take a look:

This is a picture of Shohreh Aghdashloo. She won an Emmy Award tonight for “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie” for her work in House of Saddam.  Besides being a talented actress, she’ll go down in the history books as one of only three people of color to win a 2009 Emmy Award.

Actually, people of color are so poorly regarded in the television industry it’ll probably be sometime before she’s even in their proverbial “history books.” I mean, the other nonwhite winners included writer/producer Matthew Hubbard, one of the 12 winners for 30 Rock (“Outstanding Comedy Series”); and an African American male who was part of the team of 14 who won for The Amazing Race (“Outstanding Reality-Competition Program”)—whose name I don’t even know!

Not counting dancers, members of the band, and the stage crew, there were only even three other people of color on stage tonight: Tracy Morgan, Chandra Wilson, and LL Cool J!

There was an assortment of nonwhite actors who were nominated for awards tonight and didn’t win (Morgan and Wilson among them).  But this doesn’t mitigate the problem, just like a few more folks of color winning awards would not have.  The more fundamental problem is the way the experiences of communities of color aren’t a priority on or in television, whether its network or cable.  There aren’t a lot of roles, because there aren’t a lot of writers, because there aren’t a lot of producers and executives, and so on.

Throughout television’s history, the “white American” experience has been normalized as “our” collective experience. The single great exception to this has been the integration of Jewish voices and experiences, rooted to their presence in the pre-television-entertainment industry.  Even that is minor compared to the vast majority of television programming.

The situation on TV isn’t likely to change very soon, and TV will remain the worse for it.  As their ratings decline, putting into question whether the medium is even going to exist in the same form a decade from now, one way they might improve is by trying to represent a fuller slice of what life is like for people in this country.

At least they can put up some more nonwhite faces.  It would be a start!

Chicano History Month #1

It’s that time of year again, “Hispanic (Latino) Heritage Month.”  What better way to celebrate than to learn a little something?

So here it goes: for the next month, I’ll be going out of my way to post some historical primary sources relating to the Chicano experience in the United States.

Of course, it deserves mentioning that the historical experience of Chicanos (Mexican Americans) and “ethnic Mexicans” (which includes both immigrants and US-born people of Mexican descent) should not be seen as the exact equivalent of the historical experience of all “Hispanics” or all “Latinos.”  They represent about 70% of the Latin American-descent population of the United States, one that also includes a large number of people with ties to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and, increasingly, Central American nations like El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.  Each “group” not only has a unique historical experience in the US, but they also have a diverse past internal to their own ethnicity.

But there are commonalities, too.  And maybe this can be a way for us to explore some of those.  So here we go…

Source 1: New York Daily News, October 13, 1845.

This excerpt from an editorial printed in the New York Daily News opines on the recent annexation of Texas by the US, an act agreed to by the “citizens” of the “Republic of Texas” just that month.  Texas, which had been part of the Mexican Republic, was seized by a group of US Americans and, in 1836 controlled by them after they defeated the Mexican army.   For the better part of the next decade, most of them sought annexation by the US, with the full support of expansionist allies in the Congress and White House.  With the election of the expansionist Polk in 1844, their efforts finally came to fruition.  Outgoing President Tyler helped assure the passage of a resolution annexing Texas in the spring of 1845.

The author’s perspective here is reflective of the kinds of interpretations common among elites of his day, in particular those who were in favor of expansion.  Notice how the “acquisition” of Texas is contrasted with European imperialism.  Also notice how the writer views the land into which the US is moving, and by his mind, to which it intends to move.  The idea that their spread was destined to be is a powerful feature of expansionist thought, as is the contention that it is conquest for the betterment of mankind.

It is looked upon as aggression, and all the bad and odious features which the habits of thought of Europeans associate with aggressive deeds, are attributed to it. . . But what has Belgium, Silesia, Poland or Bengal in common with Texas? It is surely not necessary to insist that acquisitions of territory in America, even if accomplished by force of arms, are not to be viewed in the same light as the invasions and conquests of the States of the old world. . . our way lies, not over trampled nations, but through desert wastes, to be brought by our industry and energy within the domain of art and civilization. We are contiguous to a vast portion of the globe, untrodden save by the savage and the beast, and we are conscious of our power to render it tributary to man. This is a position which must give existence to a public law, the axioms of which a Pufendorf [Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694), German political philosopher] or Vattel [Emer de Vattel (1714-1767, Swiss political philosopher and diplomat] had no occasion to discuss. . .

It has been laid down and acted upon, that the solitudes of America are the property of the immigrant children of Europe and their offspring. Not only has this been said and reiterated, but it is actually, although perhaps, not heretofore dwelt upon with sufficient distinctness, the basis of public law in America. Public sentiment with us repudiates possession without use, and this sentiment is gradually acquiring the force of established public law. It has sent our adventurous pioneers to the plains of Texas, will carry them to the Rio del Norte, and even that boundary, purely nominal and conventional as it is, will not stay them on their march to the Pacific, the limit which nature has provided. In like manner it will come to pass that the confederate democracies of the Anglo American race will give this great continent as an inheritance to man. . . We take from no man; the reverse rather—we give to man.

Race-blind Republicans on the Attack

You knew this was coming.  I mean, you knew, right?

From today’s Los Angeles Times comes this article discussing the ways Conservatives are continuing to attack the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the courts.

Conservative legal foundations and the Republican governor of Georgia, challenging key parts of the Voting Rights Act, filed briefs in the Supreme Court this month pointing to racial progress and a high black turnout in the fall election. They said Obama’s victory heralded the emergence of a colorblind society in which special legal safeguards for minorities are no longer required.

This is the latest phase of a continuing war Conservatives have been waging since, let me see…yes, since 1965! Sadly, it has been achieving success in small ways in recent years.  (As I have warned before, these small ways are exactly how these groups plan legal strategies, so, yes, you should be worried.)

The new and tragic element in today’s story is that they are now using the election of Barack Obama as proof that we have reached a colorblind society which no longer needs things like the Voting Rights Act. Ward Connerly–everybody’s favorite opportunist who uses his black face to give “moral authenticity” to organized attempts to undo the gains of the Civil Rights Era–said “If we can’t get rid of these laws now with Obama, I don’t know what yardstick we’re going to use.”

Hmmmm.  How about we use the yard stick that says race is no longer a factor in creating social, political, and economic inequality?  Yeah, that sounds good!

Mr. Connerly doesn’t read a lot, so maybe he doesn’t know, but the casual and everyday violence of racial segregation and discrimination remain very much alive.  Most Americans continue to live in racially-homogenous communities.1 Most of this nation’s children sit in classes almost entirely made up of children of their own race, learning in spaces even more segregated than they were a generation ago.2

Studies show a continuing gap in household income for Black and Latino families—with Blacks earning only 62% and Latinos only 72% of the average white family.  Household net worth is a better measure of the wealth disparity in our society, but that data is no better.  The median white household is more than 8 times as wealthy as the average Latino household and more than 17 times as wealthy as the average African American one.3 Black and brown poverty continue to outpace white poverty, in both cases by a factor of more than two to one.4

Of the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the United States, about 40% are Black and 20% are Latino, though both groups only represent about 15% of the general population.5 When contrasted with their rates of college enrollment, an African American or Latino young person is 3 times as likely to end up in prison as they are in college.

But these kinds of harsh realities really don’t matter to Conservatives. For some, they are indicators of laziness and criminality within communities of color, not of the persistence of white supremacy. For others, they just ignore this reality altogether.

Shannon Goessling, the director of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, one of the well-funded armies in this war, made the conservative case succinctly when she said: “The question now is, at what point do we as a society wipe the slate clean and accept that we are equals with equal rights, equal treatment and equal expectations, and special treatment shouldn’t be provided to anyone?” Interesting how they label laws designed to assure the condition of equal rights as “special treatment.”

Here’s a joke for you: What do these folks call it when “special treatment” is no longer law and the discriminatory practices which seem to have all the inertia in this political system find solace without opposition or recognition?  Answer? They call that “success!”


1 John Iceland and Daniel H. Weinberg, with Erika Steinmetz, “Racial and Ethnic Residential Segregation in the United States: 1980-2000,” Census 2000 Special Reports, U.S. Census Bureau (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2002).
2 Gary Orfield, Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge (Los Angeles, CA: The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA, 2009).
3 Alfred O. Gottschalck, “Net Worth and the Assets of Households: 2002,” Current Population Reports, U.S. Census Bureau (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2008), 13. These figures exclude wealth derived from home equity.
4 Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Jessica C. Smith, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007,” Current Population Reports, U.S. Census Bureau (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2008), 6 and 13.
5 U.S. Census Bureau, “Census Bureau Releases New Data on Residents of Adult Correctional Facilities, Nursing Homes and Other Group Quarters,” press release, September 27, 1007. Available from . Accessed on October 12, 2007.

White extremists are awfully sneaky

The Orlando Sentinel (Florida) reports a police officer in Fruitland Park resigned last month after information connecting him to the Ku Klux Klan became public, leading to an internal investigation.  James Elkins, who had been doing some after-work recruiting work for the KKK, also serves as the local “district Kleagle” of his National Aryan Knights chapter.  Investigators released the below picture of Elkins, dressed in green hood and robe.

Not too far away, in Jacksonville (North Carolina), the Daily News reports a man named Kody Brittingham is in jail awaiting trial on armed robbery and breaking and entering charges stemming from his arrest last December.  His arrest upset his employer–the United States Marines–who searched the young man’s barracks and found a journal which “contained plans on how to kill the president, as well as white supremacist material.”  The Secret Serivce is now, apparently, investigating him as a “credible threat.”

The issue of violence-promoting, white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement has a long tradition to it.  The same groups have also initiated efforts to enter the military as well.  A few years back, the Southern Poverty Law Center frightened more than a few government officials in their intelligence report “A Few Bad Men.”  Despite the military’s “zero tolerance” policy for these racial organizations, the same hate groups encourage military participation in order to get free training for their members.  (By the way, the Rumsfeld Defense Department dismissed the report back in 2006.)

These stories both entered my inbox via the SPLC’s blog, Hate Watch.  It is a thorough and sad source, but one I rarely fail to miss.

The U.S. White Supremacist Present

I am often confronted with people’s disbelief at the continued entrenched and embedded character of white supremacy in this nation’s present. Here is a palpable example of it in its everyday form.

240,000 dollars awarded to man forced to cover Arab T-shirt

NEW YORK (AFP) – An airline passenger forced to cover his T-shirt because it displayed Arabic script has been awarded 240,000 dollars in compensation, campaigners said Monday.

Raed Jarrar received the pay out on Friday from two US Transportation Security Authority officials and from JetBlue Airways following the August 2006 incident at New York’s JFK Airport, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced.

“The outcome of this case is a victory for free speech and a blow to the discriminatory practice of racial profiling,” said Aden Fine, a lawyer with ACLU.

Jarrar, a US resident, was apprehended as he waited to board a JetBlue flight from New York to Oakland, California, and told to remove his shirt, which had written on it in Arabic: “We will not be silent.”

He was told other passengers felt uncomfortable because an Arabic-inscribed T-shirt in an airport was like “wearing a T-shirt at a bank stating, I am a robber,'” the ACLU said.

Jarrar eventually agreed to cover his shirt with another provided by JetBlue. He was allowed aboard but his seat was changed from the front to the back of the aircraft.

Last week, nine Muslims, including three children, were ordered off a domestic US flight after passengers heard what they believed were suspicious remarks about security.

Although the passengers, eight of them US citizens, were cleared by the FBI, they were reportedly still barred from the AirTran flight.

Security has been at a high level in US airports since the September 11, 2001 hijacked airliner attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

However, rights groups and representatives of the Muslim community say the security measures have led to frequent discrimination and harassment.


The result of the court case is a sign of hope that there are remedies for people who have to suffer the effects of a white supremacist culture, but the ability of a group of people to be able to violate a person’s (and far more than one person’s) ability to travel based on nothing other than a fear of racial/cultural difference is the embodiment of white supremacy. Which standard is given the “right” to socially police others? Which is seen as the potential threat? How incomprehensible would it be for a group of people of color to get an airline official or an FAA employee to keep a person off a flight for looking suspiciously white?

Is this racism? Yes. This is the kind of racism that runs deep in our culture. Are the people on those flights who complain about Arab-looking passengers racists? Yes. They are reflection of this culture and its values and practices. Are they evil? Well, no. They probably don’t intentionally do anything bad or purposefully racist at all. They merely have to reflect “common sense” standards as taught to them in this culture. But, in these cases, the maintenance and support of the status quo becomes the maintenance of a racist present.

Is Obama Black, White, or Biracial?

One of the consequences of Barack Obama’s election is “talk about race” in the United States.  From local diners, to bus stops, to classrooms, to offices, to the family dinner tables, Americans are starting to talk about race with a frequency perhaps unheard of since the climax of the Civil Rights Movement.

No matter what he does as president, Obama’s very high-profile position is beginning to force a reckoning with small elements of America’s racial past.  [I am being very deliberate in the language I am using here.  I do NOT believe that the election of Barack Obama is, in itself, racial healing, or proof of this nation “getting past” it’s history of racial oppression.  It can be, but I am less than optimistic that it will be.  That said, his election is–almost unavoidably–framing a process that can lead to something better.]  Obama just being Obama makes it difficult for “everyday Americans”  to ignore race, which is not only something we have become expert at doing but also (contrary to the skewed interpretation of MLK’s “colorblind society”) stands as one of the biggest problems we continue to face as a nation.

This segment from NPR is a wonderful demonstration of this process.  The topic of discussion is Obama’s choice to call himself an “African American” instead of a “biracial” person.  Reflective of the ways his mere presence picks at some of the long-held racial assumptions of our national culture, these kinds of discussions can be huge steps forward toward better understanding ourselves, each other, and our common social bonds.

This particular issue interrogates ideas which are so deeply engrained into our collective ways of knowing.  Namely, it helps to expose the inconsistencies between our traditional notions of race (as a fixed and biological “fact”) with the historical evidence of it (as a set of socially constructed meanings we encounter).  On more personal level, it also helps to frame an inquiry into the politics of naming–the choices people of color make for themselves in representing their experiences and identities as well as the ones “others” choose for us.

The end result of discussions like this one are not preordained.  We are actually far more likely to retreat into the dysfunctional belief systems of the past, preserving the current incarnation of global white supremacy because, like all dysfunctions, it is comfortable and familiar.  But, if we learn how to work at it, we could also be moving, collectively, to a brighter day with respct to race and equality.  We’ll see.