Archive for the ‘race’ Category

Sotomayor and Impartiality

July 13, 2009
Black man: 50% impartial.  Latina: 0% impartial.  White man (not pictured): 100% impartial.

Black man: 50% impartial. Latina: 0% impartial. White man (not pictured): 100% impartial.

Sonia Sotomayor begins her confirmation hearings today, and I’m particularly interested in the way that Republicans are framing their critique of her:

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the highest-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the fairness issue was “the core of the American system” and was central to Republicans’ qualms.

“Every judge must be committed every day to not let their personal politics, their ethnic background, their biases, sympathies influence the nature of their decision-making process,” Mr. Sessions said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

This is bogus, of course.  To begin with, judges are people and personal or political biases are part of the deal.  Putting on a robe isn’t some magical process that removes someones humanity.  And this is acknowledged by everyone already, which is why each side is very careful to pick a judge whose politics and biases match their own.

What’s more interesting is the notion that Sotomayor has a unique inability to be fair or impartial as a woman of color.  Much has been made of her judicial support for affirmative action, which is supposedly evidence of her inability to set aside her personal identity politics when ruling from the bench.  But there were no similar concerns expressed (that I can remember) when Buffalo’s own John Roberts was nominated as Chief Justice back in 2005, despite the fact that Roberts had a long history of opposing affirmative action programs and had worked in the Reagan White House.

This post isn’t to argue the merits of affirmative action.  That’s not the point.  The point is that when a woman of color supports affirmative action, many people assume that she’s being partial, while a white man can oppose affirmative action without any such assumptions.  Why?

Because whiteness and maleness are considered the norm.  Someone who defends the prerogatives of white men — like Roberts — is operating within the recognized boundaries of normalcy, while someone who challenges those prerogatives is seen as partisan.  Yet both are partisan stances, even though only one is recognized as such.  The ability to make “impartial” decisions that just so happen to uphold the privileges of race and gender is one of the hallmarks of the history of racism and sexism in America.

The Holocaust Museum and Right-Wing Violence

June 10, 2009
Fuck this asshole . . .

Fuck this asshole . . .

The idea of shooting up the Holocaust Museum is too disgusting for words, really, but some things must be said.  I think Pundit is exactly right when he writes:

It really does feel like 1993 all over again, with the radical fringe right wingers coming out of the woodwork to spark the RaHoWa and otherwise declare war on ZOG or whatever.

The United States will survive the lunatic violence from the fringe. But there will be more of this.

On the way home today, thinking about the Holocaust Museum shooting, I put CNN on the radio. I was curious as to what Fox News might have to say, so I tuned in to hear Glenn Beck and his guests yell about how the free enterprise system is dead because the feds bailed out GM and helped steer Chrysler towards Fiat. I especially liked the part about how the government has declared war against the people and our society.

I got into a debate on Pundit’s site a few month back on fringe violence on the left vs. the right.  My claim was that the left simply never engaged in the kinds of violence that we’ve seen from the right over the last few decades.  Sure, radical environmentalists might torch an SUV dealership now and then, and anarchists might engage in a little ritualistic window smashing once a year.  But that’s property — the right attacks people.  The right has a body count.

And as much as this will be seen as the act of one crazy man, it’s pretty clear that right-wing violence is all of a piece.  It’s one logical result of half the country basing its political life on stoking the resentments of white men.  If you take the most powerful group of people in world history and convince them that they are actually the victims of women, racial minorities or some other conservative bogeyman, you’re sowing some very dangerous seeds.  And every now and then, you’re gonna reap the whirlwind.

An Apology in Lew-Port

June 10, 2009

. . . well, sort of.

“First, I must offer a sincere and heartfelt apology,” Weller wrote in a letter to the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church.

“Regretfully, a private district matter had to become a public concern. These e-mails were private messages, which were never meant to intentionally offend anyone, and I regret that they cast a negative perception of me and the Lewiston-Porter Central School District.”

“I am no more racist than the man in the moon. These are jokes. I don’t censor whether they’re funny. They’re jokes. They’re not supposed to be taken seriously. It was like an editorial in a newspaper, as far as I am concerned,” Weller said.

“The majority of my e-mails are about religious, spiritual things and supporting the troops,” he added.

I love this guy.  On the one hand, this is in the form of a classic modern “apology” — I’m sorry that people found out about my behavior, and if they were offended by it, I’m sorry again.  In that sense, Weller’s apology is pretty sophisticated.

And yet, the content of the apology is full of the kind of loopy and half-witted justifications that permeated his original defense of the emails, and which suggest this is a guy well out of his depth.  Sure, we understand that these are jokes, but can’t jokes be racist?  And the jokes aren’t meant to be taken seriously, like an editorial in a newspaper?  If the Buffalo News published an editorial about how blacks are lazy and women belonged in the kitchen, they’d have a pretty tough time living that one down, right?  He saves the best for last, though, when he hides behind his god and the troops.  Now that’s funny!

Lew-Port, Louis CK, and Racist Jokes

June 7, 2009
Don Rickles he ain't . . .

Don Rickles he ain't . . .

What’s more hilarious than racism and sexism?  You may have seen the story about the president of the Lew-Port school board being taken to task for sending racist and sexist emails to his colleagues.

Board President Robert J. Weller regularly forwards what he considers to be humorous e-mail messages to a list of friends and fellow board members, current and former board members told The Buffalo News.

Weller, a Town of Porter resident, acknowledged sending the e-mails but said the messages do not mean he’s a racist. He also said he didn’t mean to offend anyone.

“They can accuse all they want to,” he said, “but I didn’t do anything other than what everybody else in the world does.”

The messages fall under his freedom of speech, he said, adding that he did not author them, but merely forwarded them.

“The president of the School Board is no more holy than a minister, and a minister probably sends a lot more stuff than I do,” Weller said. “These are just jokes. If somebody wanted to take offense, they had the opportunity to shut if off, just like a radio.”

I love his defense — every aspect of it is idiotic.  I think racism is funny, but I’m not a racist; the jokes are premised on offending people, but I didn’t mean to offend anyone; everyone else is doing it (except, I guess, all those who find it offensive); freedom of speech — which regulates the relationship between government and citizen, not public official and citizen — protects him from the consequences of his speech.  It’s a masterpiece of idiocy.

The most important part is the claim that “these are just jokes.”  Ok, but they’re jokes that trade in ideas that are directly connected to a long and ongoing history of oppression.  Women and blacks have been (and continue to be) harmed by these ideas.  And of course, it’s very easy for a white man to argue that it’s all in fun when there are no analogous jokes that can be told about him.  Louis CK has a great bit about the advantages of being white (and male), and one of them is that we can’t be insulted.  The clip below is great from start to finish, but the piece about white immunity from these sorts of jokes starts around 2 minutes in:

Defining Blackness

May 28, 2009
Recycled from the African-American History and Art class blog:
In class on Thursday we touched on the way that people often struggle to define what should be considered “black.” We heard a couple competing definitions of what constitutes black art — either it should draw on African traditions, or on Southern rural traditions — and discussed whether a black person making art in a traditionally white mode should be considered a “black artist.”

This constrained understanding of what constitutes black authenticity expresses itself in other areas, as well. One of the most obvious is in the tendency to view black history as a set of binaries — are you for Washington or Du Bois? Du Bois or Garvey? Malcolm or Martin? etc. It’s almost as if the black community is thought to be so monolithic that there isn’t room for people with opposing views to both be authentically black.

In my experience, the same thing isn’t true for whites. A white artist can work in a traditionally black mode without ever losing his whiteness and the privilege that comes with it — Eminem isn’t getting pulled over for “driving while black,” right?

In this situation, whites have freedom of action while blacks face the threat of losing their racial identity if they step outside the prescribed boundaries of blackness. Isn’t this oppressive? And isn’t it a bit scary that we so easily fall into this way of thinking?

Blackface and the Black Bloc

May 24, 2009
Recycled from a post on the blog for my African-American History and Art class last fall:
During class on Thursday when we were talking about the history of white folks “blacking up” before protesting or rioting, I started thinking about how this history relates to the modern black bloc. For those who may not know, a black bloc is a protest tactic often used by anarchists and involves “masking up” and wearing identical clothing to facilitate property destruction and lawlessness. It first came to public attention in this country at the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999.

I’ve been in a black bloc before, and there seem to be similarities between this tactic and the donning of blackface or other disguises in the past. The need to assume a different identity before taking part in transgressive behavior, the safety provided by blending into a monolithic body, the “masking” of the face, even the color choices.

One of the important critiques of the black bloc has been that it’s an almost entirely white tactic, and I think that’s a fair critique. Many of the participants lead fairly privileged lives, and are able to return to them afterward because of they have masked up. In the same sense that the colonists could take off their Indian garb after the Boston Tea Party, or 19th-century white rioters could take off their burnt cork, modern bloc-ers can remove their masks — their radical identities — and put them on the shelf until they are needed again.