1.30.2007

Racism: Past and Present




By Ron Daniels

Because we do such a terrible job in talking about racism here in the U.S., people often times misuse the term by abstracting it from history and therefore not realizing how it operates, whom it hurts, and whom it benefits. In his article Racism: Past and Present, Ron Daniels, a longtime political activist and Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional rights, gives a detailed history and analysis of past and contemporary racism. Because of the lengthiness of the piece I’ve included only the first seven paragraphs. If you’d like to read it in it’s entirety you can check it out here or at the link at the end of the post.


Overall, someone said, What would I call this topic? I think I would call it "Racism: A Key Deterrent to Genuine Political and Economic Democracy in American Society." What I'd like to do is to do my best to try to give you as in-depth a view as I can about the history of racism and how it has affected us and continues to affect us in American society. I really want to lay out some basic propositions, number one, some working definitions, give you some historical background, talk about current conditions, and then go on to conclude with some suggestions for actions.

In terms of propositions, I want to lay out the following: Number one, that theories of race and attitudes of racial superiority and inferiority, prejudice and bigotry evolved into an institutionalized system of discrimination, of exclusion, of deprivation and oppression based on color or race, an accidental quality, if you will, of color/race. In the black community very often we call this a system of white supremacy or white domination. Proposition two: Racism and cultural aggression were and are highly destructive of people of color in terms of the struggle to develop and sustain community and "peopleness." This is particularly true of native people in this country and African Americans, who have been the most extreme cases of the impact of racism and cultural aggression. Proposition three: Historically, racism constituted and constitutes a system of special privileges, benefits and psychological and symbolic and material rewards for white people. Indeed, one might characterize the system as a long-standing affirmative action program for white people. Proposition number four: Historically, racism has been used and is used as a mechanism and a strategy to divide and exploit people of color and poor and working people, particularly to divide between white working-class people and poor people and whites in general and people of color. Therefore, in this regard it retards the ability to organize along class lines. The final proposition is the thesis of this discussion: That the creation of a new society with genuine political and economic democracy is impossible without the eradication of institutional racism and the breakup of white supremacy.

In talking about racism we need to have some sense of definitions. I want to do some definitions at this point. In defining racism, racism is not just simply individual random acts. Racism we see as a systematic discrimination against or exclusion, oppression of a group of people based upon an accidental quality, as in skin color, hair texture, shape and size of lips and so forth. It's systematic. It's not something that is simply random acts. Racism is to be distinguished from chauvinism. Much of what we often call racism is really not racism at all. It may be cultural or ethnic chauvinism. And chauvinism is often attitudes of superiority based on culture or ethnicity. One group of people feel that their cultural is superior to another, or one ethnic group may feel that it is better than another group. Then there's prejudice. Prejudice is simply a feeling of superiority or bias towards a personal group. Generally we talk about prejudice in terms of the pre-judging of people.

But racism is much more than chauvinism or prejudice. I might stand here and say that I think culturally or ethnically I'm better. I may have certain prejudices. And certainly we all do. But racism is distinguished by the fact that it is systemic and it relates to the question of power and capacity. That is to say, racism is about having the power or capacity to translate prejudices and attitudes or feelings of superiority into practice, custom, policy or law. That is a fundamental difference between simply saying, I don't like white folks, or, I don't like black folks, and the ability to in fact impose that prejudice in a way that impinges upon and thwarts the ability of a group to develop. I could care less whether someone likes me or not. It becomes very alarming when in fact they have the power through various institutions and mechanisms to translate that dislike into policies and customs that in fact block me and impede my ability to fulfill myself as a human being, or in fact even to do violence to my person.

In that regard, some of the terms that have come into prominent usage, particularly on the right with the advent of Reaganism and Reaganomics and Bush and the right wing, such terms as "reverse discrimination," that may be possible, or "black racism," almost an oxymoron. Can black people be racist? Yes, but it implies being in circumstances and situations where there is the capacity to take anti-white attitudes and to translate them into systems that thwart and impede the ability of white people to develop. Quite frankly, that has not been the history here in the U.S. That does not mean that you don't have black people who are prejudiced, who are bigoted, who get up and say bigoted things. But that is not in my judgment to be confused with racism. In fact, in some ways, to do that is to belittle the travail of slavery, the long history of racism and racist violence that has afflicted African people in this country.

What I'd like to do is spend a minute on the history of racism. Some of us, for many years I believe that racism always existed, that this was something that was deeply embedded in the American character, something that we had little opportunity to do anything about. In reality, race theory and racism is a relatively recent development in world history. If one were to go back and read some of the ancients, Herodotus, the Greeks and others, what we find in the ancient world is cultural chauvinism. The Greeks felt that they had the best civilization going. The Romans felt likewise. And there was prejudice and chauvinism. People fought each other based on that. But it was not on the basis of skin color, by and large. In fact, we are hard pressed to find it on the basis of skin color. Indeed, among the Greeks there were leading African people. Among the Romans there were leading African persons, some of whom became Roman emperors. As Roman emperors they thought they were better than anybody else, including other black people who were non-Roman. So that the discrimination and the kind of conflicts between groups was not about race, not about color. It was more about culture. It was more about a sense of cultural superiority or chauvinism than it was on the basis of skin color. In fact, Herodotus and some of the others who wrote about it talked about the virtues of black people in the ancient world, about Ethiopia being a place in Africa that was highly civilized. So we have to look elsewhere for this whole thing of racism as a systematic theory than in the ancient world.

Where we find it in terms of race theory and racism is in association with the transatlantic slave trade. In some respects it was an outgrowth of the transatlantic slave trade. It emerged almost as a rationale and justification for the massive human carnage that has come to be called the "African holocaust," where by some estimates 100 million Africans may have lost their lives. So you had in this regard people like Gobineau, the French philosopher/theorist, beginning to come up with these notions that there are races and that races have different characteristics and that there's a continuum of racial superiority to racial inferiority. That the Indo-Aryan or Caucasian is the superior and there are some people who are yellow who are not quite as good as the white folks but still better than others, and then brown and black and whatever. That became the continuum of superiority to inferiority. One of the most important points to stress about that is that black is the defining color. It is black/white. And even though there are other levels of discrimination involved, the defining color in terms of inferiority is black. The defining color in terms of superiority is white. So in the black community they have this phrase that sort of captures it: If you're white you're all right. Yellow, mellow. Brown, stick around. Black, get back. So in that sense, when you look at the history of how this has played out--and it's still played out--black people are always at the bottom of the ladder in terms of racial discrimination. Black is seen as the most inferior. So if you have societies like in South Africa where there miscegenation, and you have the "coloreds," the coloreds will be seen as being a notch or two above the blacks because they are seen as being better because their skin color is lighter. Even inside the African community, those who are seen as high yellow, or "light, bright and damn near white," as we used to say in the black community, are given more privileges.

For the rest of the article click here...

1.26.2007

Psychological False Consciousness

I read this article a while ago in the Journal of Black Psychology and found it very interesting. Now a days “color blindness” is prevalent in today’s society and many right wing (and liberals) activists use the term “color blind” to attack people of color and such programs as affirmative action. They use classic liberal arguments and turn them on their head by using the same tactics liberals used during the Civil Rights movement. They’ll say things such as “We need to ignore race and just look at the human being,” “I’m for equal rights and equal opportunity, therefore I’m against affirmative action since it looks at race,” “I don’t look at color and neither should you,” etc. Frank H. Wu talks much on this in his book Yellow (as do many other anti-racist activists) and the fallacies of these arguments. These arguments are being used to justify present day racial inequalities since many of these people (mainly whites) use the argument that race “needs to be ignored.” Yet ignoring race is ignoring the reality of the situation in America today: that reality is that race is still prevalent in society and that racism still exists in America today, in fact, economically, not much has changed since the Civil Rights movement and there has even been an increase in inequalities between people of color and whites. By “ignoring race” many whites hope people will ignore the realities of the “race problem” (as W.E.B. Du Bois coined it) and the fact that the white race has essentially built itself up by the historic, and present day, exploitation of people of color. “Color blind” racial ideology is yet another attack on people of color in this country.

The article I read was Neville, Helen A., et. al. “Color-Blind Racial Ideology and Psychological False Consciousness Among African Americans.” Journal of Black Psychology 31, no. 1 (Feb. 2005): 27-45.

The article opens up by saying:
There is now mounting documentation of the link between racial identity attitudes and mental health, generally suggesting that greater internalization of a positive racial identity is related to increased psychological well-being and more effective coping skills among African Americans (e.g., Goodstein & Ponterotto, 1997; Phelps, Taylor, & Gerard, 2001; Vandiver, Cross, Worrell, & Fhagen-Smith, 2002). Conversely, limited awareness of and comfort with one’s racial identity is related to lower psychological well being and greater psychological distress (e.g., Carter, 1991; Neville & Lilly, 2000; Pyant & Yanico, 1991).
As for the purpose of the paper:
One of the central purposes of this investigation is introduce a broader conceptual framework to understand multiple dimensions of racial beliefs among African Americans. We plan to provide empirical support for the proposed framework and to discuss the implications of the new model. To accomplish our task, we first introduce the interdisciplinary terms racial ideology (i.e., racial framework) and racial color blindness (i.e., distortion and minimization of racism) and then discuss the relationship between these concepts to the more familiar theories
of racial identity attitudes and the less familiar concept of false consciousness (i.e., working against oneself and/or collective interest). We envision our work contributing to the broader racial attitude literature within the field of African American psychology.
Racial ideology is defined as a:
world view readily found in the population, including sets of ideas and values [about race] that cohere, that are used to publicly justify political stances [especially as they relate to racialized matters], and that shape and are shaped by society. . . . Cognitively, ideology serves as a filter of what one “sees” and responds to [interpersonally and] in the social world.

...
Color-blind racial beliefs have received growing interdisciplinary attention as an emerging racial ideology that can be adopted by individuals across racial and ethnic groups. There are a number of conceptualizations of racial color blindness. If you ask a number of random individuals, “What does it mean to be color blind when it comes to race?” a common response might go something like, “To be color blind means to not see race; to move beyond others’ color or race and focus on the ‘content of their character.’” This response is an ideal to strive for if we, in fact, lived in a society that was equal and just. However, the United States is a racially stratified society in which Black and other racial minorities are systematically discriminated against, making it impossible to move beyond race (Appiah & Gutmann, 1996). Attending to these social realities, scholars have interjected a structural component to the term. Social scientists argue that a color-blind racial framework is a contemporary set of beliefs that serves to minimize, ignore, and/or distort the existence of race and racism; at its core is the belief that racism is a thing of the past and that race and racism do not play an important role in current social and economic realities (e.g., Bonilla-Silva, 2001, 2003; Carr, 1997).
On whites and color blind ideology:
On the basis of findings suggesting that White individuals, on average, adopt greater levels of color-blind racial beliefs compared to racial and ethnic minorities (e.g., Bonilla-Silva, 2001, 2003; Carr, 1997) and on the extant social inequalities literature (e.g.,Bobo&Kluegel, 1997),Neville,Worthington, and Spanierman (2001) speculated that to adopt a color-blind racial perspective means different things for Whites and racial and ethnic minorities. For Whites, color blindness serves to legitimize racism, which ultimately may serve to protect their group interest by maintaining certain racial privileges. In essence, the dominant U.S. racial ideology that denies or minimizes the fact that racial and ethnic minorities are victims of (and resist) systemic racism creates a climate that fosters victim blame attributions about racial disparities (Bobo & Kluegel, 1997) (e.g., “Blacks and Latinos don’t work hard enough and that is why they are overrepresented among the poor”). This, in turn, can influence societal and individual-level complacency in which the racial status quo is not challenged (or in some cases vociferously supported) and consequently perpetuates a system of inequality benefiting Whites and disadvantaging people of color.
As for Blacks and people of color who take up a color blind ideology:
Instead of working to protect one’s group interest, Neville et al. (2001) speculated that embracing a color-blind racial perspective among racial and ethnic minorities may actually serve to work against one’s individual and group interest. African Americans who deny the existence of racism may engage in a variety of behaviors that would potentially harm them individually, as well as Black Americans collectively, such as being blindsided by a racial incident because the person chose not to recognize race, and on a more collective level, working to rid race-targeted legislation designed to benefit racial minorities. Similar to adopting a color-blind racial perspective among Whites, these individual actions among African Americans may help to perpetuate racial inequalities in their immediate environments and in their broader communities. To date, there is little empirical literature in the field of psychology that provides data to empirically support these assertions.
Getting into the details of false consciousness the authors state:
The concept of false consciousness is the closest interdisciplinary term that we were able to identify that provides a theoretical framework to link the racial ideology of color blindness to the concept of group interest. According to Jost and Banaji (1994), false consciousness consists of “holding false beliefs that are contrary to one’s personal or social interest . . . [and] contribute[s] to the maintenance of the disadvantaged position of the self or the group” (p. 3). In essence, false consciousness reflects an internalized, culturally sanctioned belief that encourages individuals in a stratified society to adopt the viewpoint of those in power. Acceptance of the dominant viewpoint, in turn, serves to keep minorities in a subjugated position by justifying their oppression and thus encouraging inertia.
The aspects of false consciousness are:
(a) “failure to perceive injustice and disadvantage,” or denial of the ways in which groups face inequalities based on their minority status; (b) “fatalism,” or the belief that even if inequalities exist, there is nothing that can be done to eradicate the disparities; (c) rationalization of the social order or group-based inequalities; (d) blaming of minorities for their own oppression
(i.e., “false attribution of blame”); (e) identification with those who are in power, or internalization of oppression; and (f) “resistance to change,” or accepting and/or fighting to maintain the status quo.
...
...we have decided to qualify our usage of the term by using the more descriptive term psychological false consciousness (PFC). We acknowledge that structural issues (e.g., political economy and institutional racism) have a direct influence on individual-level racial ideology, and we recognize that the development of individual PFC is shaped by larger societal racial ideologies. However, we opted to use this more descriptive term to mark our focus on individual-level processes.
In the study that the authors were:
particularly interested in examining whether colorblind racial ideology was related to the following dimensions of PFC: social dominance orientation (i.e., justification of social roles), victim blame beliefs about social inequities (i.e., attribution of blame), and lower racial identity (i.e., internalized oppression).

...A secondary purpose of the studywas to explore whether theoretically relevant racial ideology types among African Americans could be identified using a multivariate categorical procedure.

We hypothesized that we would uncover at least two racial ideology types, with at least one profile representing a pattern consistent with high PFC; that is, a profile reflecting greater denial of racism and justification of and identification with a racially stratified society. And one profilewould reflect a more critical awareness of race, racism, and the racial structures in the United States.
After going over their methods and measurements, as well as their findings, the authors concluded:
Findings supported our research hypotheses indicating that color-blind racial beliefs would be significantly and positively related to three additional indicators of PFC. Specifically, the CoBRAS was related to each of the three dimensions of PFC operationalized by Jost (1995) and assessed in the current investigation. It appears that to adopt greater levels of color-blind racial beliefs in this sample was related to increased (a) blame of African Americans
themselves for economic and social disparities; (b) belief in a social hierarchical system that is justified by the existence of inferior and superior social groups; and, (c) internalization of racist stereotypes of Blacks. These findings support the link between color-blind racial ideology and PFC or the degree to which one adopts a cognitive framework that works against his or her own individual or social group interest.

Findings also suggested that participants in the PFC racial ideology type preferred to associate with White American friends in comparison to Black American friends, more so than the REC type. It may be that the combination of relatively higher internalized oppression and victim blame attributions play a greater role in one’s friendship preferences; both of these variables are more individual psychological constructs, whereas color-blind racial beliefs and social dominance focus on understanding the outside world. It seems logical that people who endorse greater Black inferiority beliefs would be likely to develop fewer meaningful friendships with other Blacks compared to individuals who have a more critical color consciousness (i.e., REC racial ideology type). Racial ideology thus was reflected in friendship patterns, with those having less racial consciousness establishing closer interracial, compared to intraracial, friendships. There is nothing inherently problematic with having more interracial friendships; however, this friendship pattern may mark a psychological and behavioral distancing from racially similar people. Clearly, additional research is needed to more fully understand the
development and consequences of interracial and intraracial friendship preferences.
The authors than cite law professor Drric Bell's book Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth:
We live in a system that espouses merit, equality, and a level playing field, but exalts those with wealth, power, and celebrity, however gained. Tremendous disparities in income and opportunity are generally accepted. Those disadvantaged by the system who should challenge the status quo are culturally programmed to believe that those whowork hard, make it; and for those who don’t make it, well that’s just the breaks. (p. 8)
The authors conclude:
This quote succinctly captures the essence of the PFC racial ideology type identified in this study and the perspective embraced by Mungin early in his career. Therapists can help to counter such ideologies in therapy by assisting clients to recognize inequalities, clarify values, and realize their power to make meaning and to challenge inequalities in their lives; these actions are designed to enhance the quality of life for the individual client and ultimately for those in his or her surroundings.

1.23.2007

The Construction of Whiteness

I was browsing around the blogosphere last week when I found a very good blog called The Primary Contradiction which is about:
the examination of organized systemic power, especially as it operates in the United States. A special emphasis is placed on the intersectionality of dominant systems of power. My analysis is influenced by radical feminism, Marxism, post-colonial theory, and anti-imperialism.
In it I found a blog called “Whiteness, Plain and Simple” which was posted in commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. and in response to “Blog Against White Supremacy Day” which fell on Martin Luther King Day. In her blog Yolanda stated:
On the day that we celebrate the life of one of human history’s greatest freedom fighters, I would like to say that it is high time that we name and expose whiteness for what it is—an oppressor ideology that distorts and corrupts the worldview of human beings.After
commenting on the ideology of whiteness Yolnda perceptively exposes the very construction of whiteness, instead of being biological construct she shows how whiteness was constructed out of the power structures that were set up in American society and how whiteness was constructed out of privilege.
Before whiteness was invented, we were all human beings. Before whiteness was consecrated by law and custom, we were human beings. And before whiteness became an unnamed spectre that invaded our hearts and minds, we were human beings. And human beings we will remain, long after the ideology of whiteness is gone.
This got me thinking about how whiteness essentially took over ethnic European identity starting in the mid to late 19th century and how whiteness, constructed over many generations through the oppression and subjugation of people of color, was built upon privilege. I’m not going to go into huge detail here about the intricacies of whiteness and how whiteness came to be viewed as just White-Anglo-Saxton-Protestants to later encompass (especially after Reconstruction and World War II) all of the European ethnicities, that can be left to latter blogs which will detail more specific cases of this. Right now I just want to lay the groundwork and go over a brief overview of how whiteness, in today’s society, came to encompass all of European ancestry and how it gave former European immigrants, who had very little power (socially and economically) in the beginning, much of the power they now have in today’s society. This is especially important when one is answering questions as to why, for example, the Irish (who were once considered legally Black) were able to “make it” and why Blacks, who also came from poverty after Reconstruction, still are in poverty and haven’t (as a ethnic group) “made it.”

Essentially, from the founding of the first colony in the Americas in to the founding of the United States of America under the Constitution, Europeans have always been on top of the “food chain.” Whether it was through the destruction of Native Americans by the European settlers the creation of the transatlantic slave trade which helped build up massive amounts of capital for the ruling white class to further build upon, Europeans have always gained in society through the subjugation of people of color, whether they be Native Americans, Blacks, or Asian immigrants. Yet, in the beginning, the only European immigrants to experience much of this prosperity where European immigrants who were Anglo-Saxton and of the Protestant religion (Puritan, Anglican, Methodist, etc.). When the Irish first came to the United States in the mid-19th century, due to the Potato Famine, they were treated less than human and were even considered better labor t use than Black slaves because the Irish cost less than a Black slave. When the Italians started coming to America they too were also treated less than human, as where Eastern Europeans, and Jewish immigrants. Yet these waves of immigrants had one large advantage over the other immigrants from Asia, Latin American, and Blacks, they were of light complexion (i.e., they were white). While many in mainstream society were lamenting the “lose of culture” due to these Eastern European immigrants and the “attack on Christendom” through the Irish and Italian Catholic immigrants one thing that the politicians didn’t do was to exclude many of these immigrants from the county. Which is what they did to the Chinese immigrants through the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This was just a precursor of how white immigrants were to latter fully benefit from the whiteness. The WASP politicians saw many Eastern European and Catholic European immigrants as threats but they didn’t enact a total ban on immigration, as they did on immigrants of color. This is one important fact to note about the great immigration wave of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the American dream (immigrants flooding Ellis Island) was for Europeans only. Ellis Island was considered a gateway to freedom. But Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay, was the complete opposite, that island was for Chinese immigrants, and unlike Ellis Island, Angel Island was built like a prison where Chinese immigrants (many of them not even ten years of age) would be grilled and interrogated by white immigration officials to see the “truthfulness” of their immigration stories. They would also be held in prison like barracks for weeks (if not months) until the immigration officials decided whether to allow them into America or to ship them back to China.

Along with the differences in immigration policies there was a change in whiteness in America that wouldn’t be fully complete until after World War II. Many immigrants who had been considered non-white, even Black, were now being considered white in the eyes of many in society. In How the Irish Became White author Noel Ignatiev goes over the history of how “the Irish rose up in American society on the backs of Afro-Americans. By choosing to become members of the white overclass, the Irish abdicated their historical mission of liberating American workers of all races.”(1) Instead of siding with Blacks in their labor struggles many Irish decided to take on the mantle of whiteness in order to move up in the social ladder. Because of their light complexion the Irish were able to side themselves with the WASP ruling class in contrast to Blacks. Because of there whiteness the Irish were able to gain an edge in labor and in politics. By 1960 America would have its first Irish-Catholic president, a mere 80 years or so after the Irish began their transformation from the Irish ethnicity to the image of privileged whiteness. In contrast the situation of Blacks had barley changed from the Era of Reconstruction to the election of Kennedy. Unlike the Irish who could take up the mantle of whiteness, Blacks couldn’t.

The same was also happening to other white immigrants who benefitted from not having the American boarders close on them. Where during the era of World War I a white mob was exonerated by a judge for lynching a German immigrant because the judge considered the fervor against the German “war machine” enough to excuse the lynching since it aroused much passion with Americans; in World War II Americans of German ethnicity were considered 100% American due to their white skin while Japanese Americas were considered “potentially dangerous” because they were people of color. It was the Japanese who where interned, not the white Germans.

After World War II it was the G.I. Bill of 1944 and 1952 that latter give whites a greater advantage over people of color and its effects are still being felt in American society today. The bill gave returning G.I.’s money to go to college as well as financial loans to help buy houses in the newly created suburbs (this is what helped create “white flight”). While this was a good bill to help G.I.’s returning home from war it was a bill that only benefitted whites. People of color were excluded from the bill (or in some instances didn’t receive near the benefits that their white G.I. counterparts did) and therefore people of color were not able to receive the financial aid and government loans in order to get a better education and a better living situation. While during World War II platoons were considered diverse because they had white Latinos (or Landinos as some people call them), Italians, Irish, and Jews, after the war these ethnic groups would be fully melded into the category of whiteness and they would receive in full all the privileges that went with being white.

I’ve left much out of this blog that needs to be addressed, especially when talking about the privileges that whites have in this society and especially when talking about the creation of whiteness through privilege in American society. But what we can see is that European immigrants who were originally at the bottom of the social ladder were able to gain the upper hand over other people of color who were also at the bottom by rejecting their European identities and by accepting the white identity. By becoming white, whereas before whites were only considered WASPs, these immigrants and their decedents enjoyed all the benefits of a white supremacist society and whites today still enjoy these benefits, among them social, legal, and economic. With this we can see how the power structures of American society have always been geared towards the benefit of whites and were set up to benefit whites. This blog is only laying the groundwork for future blogs on the construction of whiteness and the privileges that whites have had, and continue to have, in American society. What comes to mind off the top of my head is white privilege in the legal system, in immigration, in mainstream media images, in the education system, etc. All of these privileges stem from whiteness and the construction of whiteness through the oppression of people of color and through the power structure of American society.

Notes
1. Janet Nolan, review of How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev, International Migration Review 31, no. 2 (Summer 1997): 486.

1.20.2007

Media Portrayal of First Peoples: "Civilized Whites" Meet "Untamed Savages"

On the TV the other day I was watching a Capital One ad, you know, those ads that always end with, "What's in your wallet?" Basically it was a "typical" white American family and the father says something like, "We're going to visit our relatives everyone."

Then his son says, "We're going to Ireland?" With a gleeful looking face.

The father, a little nervous, explains. "No, I'm meaning much more distant."

The next scene is in a genertic jungle scene (I thought Paupa New Guine when I saw it) and he greets his "relatives" with open arms. The natives greet him back by a croached native (in the usual native garb and paint) who shoots a posion tipped dart into his neck.

What's important to note is the contrasting of the civilized white family against the "primitive" natives. Also, the commercial plays up on nearly every racial stereotype of native "Amazon like junlge" peoples in just a few seconds.

This commercial got me thinking of other commercials, more specefically Budweiser commercials (the ultimate in white male stupidty). One of the ads I remember seeing was another stereotypical portraral of a native "jungle person." The ad series was called "Zagar and Steve." And, according to Rob Schmidt, the author of the blog Newspaper Rock the ad:
starr[ed] an "odd couple" of roommates, Zagar and Steve. Zagar is an Amazonian Indian who relies on deadly violence and is completely ignorant about modern life. He's essentially a Neanderthal--as savage and uncivilized as any Indian portrayed in the last 500 years.
In another post done on Conscious Media Maker the blog author states that the:
Steve and Zagar” ads for Bud Light featured a single, young white man named Steve with his roommate Zagar, a half-naked jungle savage of undetermined ethnic origin. Each spot found humor in juxtaposing the “civilized” Steve with the savage Zagar, and included just about every offensive indigenous stereotype you can imagine: cannibalism, eating domestic animals, spear-chucking, etc
Also, the author than goes on to point out how this isn't just a new phenomenon. Racism has played a role in Budweisers commercials from the very begining.
This is an old Budweiser ad from 1934, click on it for a larger view (hat tip to copyranter). The tagline reads “Good times coming, boss!”

The white man smirks at the camera, bending over slightly to supervise as his black manservant serves up some Bud and cold cuts for the guests.

And the "Zagar and Steve" commercial isn't only recent commercial that's smacked of racism by Budweiser. In a blog done on Counter Punch by David Zirin, Zirin goes on to describe a Budweiser ad about a whiney sports star:
"Leon" is Bud's big joke parody of the modern professional athlete. "Leon" won't do interviews unless his special dimple is on display. "Leon" is far more concerned about looking "pretty" than playing well. "Leon" is egomaniacal, lazy, and all about the bling-bling. "Leon" only speaks in the third person. Oh by the way, "Leon" is Black.
Zirin goes on to write:
"Leon" is supposed to be a harmless caricature, but of whom?...So who is "Leon"? "Leon" is corporate America's gob of spit in the face of modern Black athletes and anti-heroes. They are striking not only the players themselves, but also us--the fans-for embracing them. We shouldn't accept that. Let's load "Leon" on a bus with Stepin Fetchit, Mammy, Charlie Chan, and that damn Taco Bell Chihuahua--and push it off the pop culture cliff. Until "Leon" goes, Guinness will suit me just fine.
Images From:
Newspaper Rock
Conscious Media Maker

1.19.2007

The White Working Class and Its Latino Scapegoats

This will probably be my most personal “observation” blog for a while. About four days ago I got into a gigantic argument with my younger brother (he’s 19) and my father. This obviously isn’t a journal blog but the argument definitely illustrates white privilege, white supremacy, and contemporary racism being played out everyday in many peoples homes all over the United States.

I forget how it exactly started but the topic on hand was immigrants, to be more specific, undocumented workers (they used the term “illegals”). My family is Irish and Guatemalan but my immediate family mostly identifies with their Irish side and hence Irish issues are regularly brought up. Since the topic some how got onto immigrants I pointed out that back in the early 1910s Irish Protestants in Ulster (Northern Ireland) were very much split along class lines with Orange Order (an anti-Irish-Catholic society) being dominated by the landed class, as was Ulster Unionist Council (the governing body of the anti-Irish-Catholic Ulster Unionist Party). Because of this many lower class and proletariat Protestant-Irish broke away and formed orgs of their own (such as the Independent Orange Order, etc.). The upper classes were fearing their hold on a British Ireland was slipping so they created black propaganda to scare the lower class unionists. Basically they said that Catholics would take their jobs and create a Catholic Ireland with values totally different from their own and that the Catholics would persecute them. Rumors flew and many lower class unionists believed the hype (despite the fact that the Catholics in Ulster had no political power whatsoever). Because of this the unionists were able to unify in order to destroy the Home Rule bills going through British parliament during the 1910s. I also pointed out how the undocumented worker debate reminded me of the Irish first coming to America in the 1840s, 50s, and 60s and how they were blamed for much of the ills that Latino immigrants are being blamed for today. Well, apparently this was not the right thing to say and the shit hit the fan.

My brother yelled out. “That’s not at all the same! That’s completely different! They’re illegall immigrants! The Protestants were illegally brought over from England to take over the native Catholics! Irish immigrants weren’t illegal!”

I then explained, in a not so nice tone, that I was merely illustrating to make a point and that the fact that Protestants were sent in to Northern Ireland by the English has nothing to do with me drawing a line from anti-Catholic sentiment in Ulster and present day anti-Latino sentiment today in the U.S. I than stated that Irish immigrants were able to come to America because the immigration quotas weren’t yet put up. The first immigrants to every be restricted weren’t white Europeans but people of color, which was done in the Chinese Exclusion Act in the late 19th century. I also stated that while at first the Irish weren’t considered white and where in fact legally labeled Black, eventually the Irish became white (for more read How the Irish Became White) and the reason why the Irish were able to continue to immigrant to America is because they were white. This then, obviously, created a larger firestorm. But by this time I didn’t really care if the argument escalated.

What happened next was foggy but, from what I remember my brother said that I don’t know what I’m talking about and that the only reason why I support “illegals” is because I’m not a “blue-collar working man.” This despite the fact that I’ve done manual labor many of times, brick work, janitorial work, construction, etc. But that wasn’t the point. He than said I was a white-collar college educated “intellectual” and that if I was in a union or a union man I would know the reality and that I would be against “illegal immigrants.” This despite the fact that my brother goes to junior college, but that’s also besides the point. What was going on was that my brother was using classical right-wing arguments to basically drown me out. For some reason getting an education is bad. Yet these were just straw man arguments and I told him this (I also called him a complete moron and an idiot). Than my dad piped in and instead of trying to be the mediator he began to take my brothers side. He asked what it was that I found offensive in my brother’s argument.

I told him. “Ummm…Like every single racist thing he’s said!”

He than told me. “Hey, your brother is Guatemalan.”

“Yeah,” I yelled, “a quarter! And he doesn’t even identify with it! So who gives a shit. Even if he was full Guatemalan his argument still wouldn’t make any fucking sense and it would still be just as stupid! It’s a jackass argument!”

This set off something in my father and he than said. “The only jackass is you Jack! I guess your name is now ‘Jack the Jackass!’”

My dad than said that he was union and he was against illegal immigrants. This started a whole flurry of yelling and finger pointing. I said that if you were a true union man you would be allying yourselves with undocumented workers against the capitalist class and that just because some unions are against undocumented workers, it has no bearing on whether they are right or not.

My father skirted the argument and said. “Why do you think your brother has stupid arguments?”

“Because of what he said!” I told him. “He’s been brainwashed by all sorts of media influence, brainwashed by his football teammates and by his white construction foremen! Also, anyone who argues what he argues, such as gays are bad and undocumented workers are bad for America, is an idiot!”

I normally never resolve to using such language to paint an opponent in a negative light during an argument but I was pretty heated to say the least. Than my father said he didn’t necessarily like gays either, but that can be left for another post.

I than started arguing that this is exactly what the ruling elites want working class folks to think. They want the working classes to have a scapegoat so the unions and the working class keep their heat away from the capitalist class and the elites. Corporations would like nothing better than for unions to focus their attention on undocumented workers instead of on issues pertaining to pay, work hours, work safety, control of production, etc. And than said this is exactly what has been going on since the founding of this country. First the Irish were blamed for taking away jobs, than freed Blacks, than the Chinese, than the Italians, than the Pilipinos, and so on. There was always a scapegoat and the scapegoat always was a group of people from a different ethnic group. (See The Rise and Fall of the White Republic)

My father and brother were pissed and my father told me to spot “ranting and raving.” I than said that I was in no means ranting and raving and I told my father and brother to point out any inaccurate statement I made. I told them they wouldn’t be able to.

My father said. “You think you’re so much better than everyone else huh!”

I told him no and that what he said has nothing to do with my argument. Apparently while I was yelling further (to match their yelling) my finger somehow ended up near my brothers face and he slapped it away. I than slapped his hand saying. “What the hell was that for?!”

“Don’t fucking point that thing in my face you little faggot!” My brother yelled. It gets a little hazy here but what ended up happening was my brother grabbed my collar (I in no way threatened him physically) and proceeding to try and push me against the wall. Than he started through punches and landed about a half-a-dozen to my midsection as well as a few to my face. In the process he broke my rosary (which my girlfriend gave to me for my birthday).

That’s were it ended. There was nothing else to say, nothing more. Their white supremacist arguments didn’t work and as a result of that my brother proceeding to try and kick my ass since he somehow thought that that was what he needed to do.

Image From:
Center for the Study of Political Graphics

1.18.2007

Tricks and Token Integration

This is a video of Malcolm X at a round table discussion on a television show (around 1962 or 1963 I believe) in where he talks about many issues regarding race and the American power structure that are still relevant to today. His analysis of the situation was great and if one didn't know any better one might think he was talking about the racism of today, not the racism of the Jim Crow Era. This video is six minutes long.

White Male Supremacy: What It Is and What It Does

By Julian Real

This is a blog I found on the blop site Beautiful, Also, Are the Souls of My Black Sisters under the titled "An Open Letter to All White Men." It touches upon many important points, including white privilege and white supremacy.

An open letter to all white men.

I am a white man, which means I can be (and have been), at any time, in any place, a white male supremacist. This is not a revelation about my genetic code, or an indictment of my own soul. This is a statement about structural political reality.

Every time I side with a white person who is being racist, against a person of color who is challenging that racism, I become a white male supremacist. Every time I do not see how my actions, as a white man, silence, disrespect, invade, or threaten a woman of color, I am being a white male supremacist. Every time I project a racist-sexist meme onto a woman of color, and treat her as if she were my (our) projection, I am a white male supremacist.

White male Liberalism would have us believe that white men are only white male supremacists when we wear white hoods and burn crosses on the yards of African-Americans. White Conservatism would have us believe that the time of white supremacy has passed, and now the real threat to all humanity (which, as defined by white male supremacy is white men as a group, and its supporters and apologists) is people of color: including poor Black people, poor Mexican immigrants and other non-European U.S. Latina/os, angry or non-deferential Central and South Americans of color, angry or non-submissive Middle Eastern people, angry or non-obedient Asians.

White Conservatism has never acknowledged the existence of male supremacy. White Liberalism doesn’t either. On a good day it says there is something called “racism” and “sexism” but immediately adds that those suddenly asocial realities can “work both ways”. It claims a level playing field—an as yet fully illusory land of equality—whenever a white man speaks or acts in ways that are harmful and dangerous to women, especially to women of color. It claims to be brutally honest, bravely politically incorrect, necessarily truthful, and boldly noble as it does this. It is either ignorant or arrogant in these claims, except the part about being brutal.

There is no space, cyber or not, where white male supremacy isn’t lurking or acting in its own interests. There is no time in which white male supremacy is asleep. If there were, we should suffocate it with a pillow or inject into it something that will make it never wake up.

White male supremacy’s stories go like this: handsome white men can bring women back to life. It is in white male supremacist’s company that women are most content. Women of color exist for the use and abuse of any man or group of men; women of color have no other function.

Women of all ethnicities are for white men, in any way white men need—that is to say, interpersonally or institutionally coerce and force—women to be for them.

Because white male supremacy is institutionalized, it does not need to behave badly all the time on an interpersonal front. It just needs to maintain its institutional power and privileges. It shows off its deadly interpersonal self, it rears its ugly individualized head, when it is exposed as such, named as such, treated as such, by human people that white men seek to silence and destroy for allegedly being blasphemers, heretics, and madwomen.

Men of Northern, Western, and Southern European descent have, for centuries, claimed the power to name reality, to decide what it true and what is false, to construct the meaning of intelligence and the parameters of insanity, to make laws and gods which most serve white men and oppress everyone else, to distinguish what is respectable religion from what is delusional cult, to declare, with white male state authority, the qualities and standards of what it means to be human, which somehow, not accidentally, leaves out the humanity of those who are not white, wealthy, or male.

It claims to value peace when it is warring, to love when it is hating, and, especially if liberal, to value free speech while it swiftly silences those who speak directly about the atrocities white male supremacists commit either unconsciously or unconscionably.

A voice—any voice—may, if brazen enough, speak in such a manner that white male supremacy is (potentially) revealed to itself as an ideology-based merciless system of tyrannical power. Those who need it to live on unnamed must silence that voice ASAP.

Those unprivileged “others” who must know it and name it, viscerally or verbally, in order to have a chance to survive with any degree of dignity or esteem, will be defamed or destroyed for doing so, if they are seen as human at all, which is usually not the case in white male supremacist societies. This means white male supremacy usually ignores all voices that don’t speak in its domination-driven dialect, with a European-American accent.

When that voice is heard from a woman of color, her voice will be distorted in the ears of white male supremacists. They will not acknowledge this voice as a humanitarian voice. They will call it all manner of sexist-racist names, and treat it according to how enemies of white men’s supposedly sacred reality are to be treated. White male supremacy cannot acknowledge the full humanity of the woman who owns that voice, because she is being so corruptly and systematically denied human rights status by those with the unjust authority to give it.
Much of what we know as reality is a construction of white male supremacy. It has arranged this forcibly, over many centuries, across many lands, so that when it speaks, people listen as if someone important were talking. Never mind that the white male supremacist voice speaks most eloquently of death. White male supremacy is death to humanity and non-human life forms.

When it is radically and successfully challenged, humanity can rise again, including the humanity of those who are pale and male. Until that time, women of color will live lives of humanitarian rage or desperate despondency, or a combination thereof. Until that time, women of any color will be stigmatized and oppressed. Until that time, men of color and all “other” marginalized men will seek one of two things: to successfully become humane by forming a trustworthy and accountable allegiance with radical women of color, or to become a white male supremacist, unrelentingly if unsuccessfully.

White women and men of color sometimes support but do not control white male supremacy. Only white men control it. Not all white men need to keep it going for it to thrive, but if all white men spoke our truths—against the interests of white male supremacy—about what we have done to women of color, to white women, to men of color, and to ourselves in order to be white male supremacists, then at least and at last the white elephant in the room would be named by those with the privilege and power to name it. That would be a radically humanitarian occurrence, or, more accurately, would open the possibility for radical humanitarianism to wipe the Earth clean of white male supremacy.

Black Radical Feminism is a powerful source of information about white male supremacy. Two of its spokespeople are Jennifer McLune and Yolanda Carrington. Earlier voices of this movement include Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Audre Lorde, and June Jordan. Other contemporaries include Alice Walker (who has also used the term Womanist), bell hooks, Patricia J. Williams, and Patricia Hill Collins. But most radical Black women are unknown to us, whether they are living in Africa or are part of the Diaspora. Also unknown to white men are the voices of women living in Greater Asia, including India and the Middle East, as well as women from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Listen to all women of color, including the Aboriginal women of Australia and New Zealand. Listen to the women of Indigenous civilizations worldwide, who have had their land, people, and bodies colonized by white male supremacy.

Pop quiz: name two radical Black women not already named above. Now name two allegedly radical white/European/U.S. men.

White men know our history well (we wrote the books, after all, from our perspective). We banish anyone else’s history, calling it invalid, biased, or unscientific. We, white men, do not take the time to seek out the knowledge and truths that threaten to decenter and destabilize us, let alone take unjust power from our blood-stained fists.

Listen carefully to what any Radical Feminist has to say about reality. Listen especially attentively and with unusual humility to Black Radical Feminists. They know far more than any white man ever will (or will publicly admit to knowing), about how white male supremacy works.
And, please, in the very meantime, tell the truth about what we have done and are doing, to maintain white male supremacy. Do not leave it to women of color to do that work for us too. They have their own humanitarian work to do, and it is called surviving our understanding of reality, which has become the social world they must negotiate, or else.

Break the bonds of the white supremacist brotherhood.

Politically, and radically, betray every white man you know who values the well-being of his white brothers over his Black sisters. Understand: this betrayal is a tremendous act of love.

Stop apologizing for and excusing white men’s oppressive behavior. Nurture a conscience and a heart that sees all people as people. Actively support and be accountable to those we oppress who are working to sustain dignity and to institutionalize justice infused with empathy for humans raped, sold, enslaved, starved, and silenced.

In these acts of compassionate rebellion, we will be nurturing, with the rest of humanity, societies free of organized, systematic harm, as communities of color self-direct their liberation from white male supremacy.

1.17.2007

St. Martin, The Militant

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

I remember reading this article years ago when I was a junior in high school (around 2001-2002) and it popped into my head when I was viewing all of these specials during Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. What I saw is what Mumia Abu-Jamal writes about, King being commodified and his radical imaged being tarnished by those who would (or did) have opposed him more than 40 years ago. I got this article from Urban Dreams.

Mumia Abu-Jamal was a Black Panther, activist, and journalist before being convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. He still does activist work from his prison cell and many view him as a political prisoner, his case has received international attention.

“One night toward the end of January I settled into bed late, after a strenuous day. Coretta had already fallen asleep and just as I was about to doze off the telephone rang. An angry voice said, "Listen, nigger, we've taken all we want from you; before next week you'll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery." I hung up, but I couldn't sleep.”

Rev. Martin L. King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom (1958)

Three nights after this phone call, King's house was bombed. It is possible, in this age of consumer-driven commodification, for millions to know a name, to recognize an image, and still to know next to nothing about the recognized figure. It has been over 30 years since the assassination of Dr. King, and in the 3 decades thereafter, few Americans, black or white, have been so honored, so lionized, or so deeply projected into public consciousness, as a figure of peace. This would not be so objectionable were it not for the purposes of that projection.

Much of the projection seems purely commercial, a secular day-off for millions of workers, to allow them to stimulate the economy by buying stuff in the King Day Sale. Much of it also seems political, as Rev. King is raised as a kind of talisman, a symbol of peace meant to keep the natives calm in times of discontent.

But symbols are funny things. They are sometimes overrun by the rampaging complexities of reality. Living beings change, develop and grow. And Dr. King, in his later years (and under pressure from black radicals and militants on his left) became increasingly disenchanted with society, and of course, those who ruled the social order.

Black Christian theologian, Dr. James H. Cone, in his excellent Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare (Orbis, 1991), draws a compelling portrait of King's private and public selves, and his growing openness to radical ideas. Cone writes that Martin's wife, Coretta, who knew him best, saw him inching closer and closer to the views of Malcolm X. Indeed, Coretta S. King said as much, in her My Life with Martin Luther King, where she saw "firm agreement" between the two men on "certain aspects" of Malcolm's program. She sensed that "at some point the two would have come closer together and would have been a very strong force in the total struggle for liberation and self-determination of black people in our society."

This was not to be.

Waves of rebellions in black communities in 1967 shook King, and opened his eyes to what he called "a system of internal colonialism." In words that would seem to presage the fiery words of Dr. Huey P. Newton and the Black Panthers a season later, King observed: "The slum is little more than a domestic colony which leaves its inhabitants dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated at every turn" (Cone, p. 223).

With these attacks on the economic injustices in America came criticism of King by the media and their moneyed masters. To his eternal credit, King did not turn from his vision, and instead heightened his economic critique, saying, at the SCLC Convention of Aug. 1967:

We've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's market place. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. "Who owns this oil?"... "Who owns the iron ore?"... "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?" (Cone, 224).

This is the voice of a man who was being radicalized. Nor were his previous feelings of confidence and faith in white Americans unchanged. King called America a "confused," "sick," and "neurotic" nation, telling a group of blacks in Louisville that "the vast majority of white Americans are racist," whether consciously or unconsciously (Cone, p. 233).

In months thereafter, he would severely criticize the Vietnam War, and call the U.S. the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" (Cone, p. 237) at his "Beyond Vietnam" speech at Riverside Church in New York City. Relatively shortly thereafter, Dr. King was sent to his fathers and from this world.

As King Day once again passes, let us all remember that a man is more than a symbol. Let us remember his growing radicalization, for if we have an idea where he was going, we begin to see why the powers that be, (the rulers, the FBI, the police, etc.) didn't want him to arrive.

1.16.2007

Welfare Mothers

I just read an interesting abstract from the Asian American Policy Review about an article that focuses on welfare and Asian Americans; the article in full is Nakano, Dana Y. "Out of Time: Asian Americans, Time Limits, and Welfare Reform in California." Asian American Policy Review 15: 31-47. You can probably download it for free but I'm no 100% sure because I think the website is automatically signing me in on my school library's account. The abstract read:
Perhaps the most significant change in federal welfare reform policy in 1996 was the sixty-month lifetime limit. An identical change was also made at the state level in California in 1998. When the first cohort of welfare recipients reached its lifetime limit, or timed out, in California on 1 January 2003, a disproportionate number of timed-out individuals shared a common characteristic—they were Asian American. After disaggregating country-level data, one can see that the majority of Asian Americans who were timed out were of Southeast Asian descent. Analysis indicates that Asian Americans are disproportionately represented in the timed-out cohort because they face barriers that place them in the ‘hard-to-employ’ category of welfare recipients. For Asian Americans, these barriers include: mental and physical health issues, low educational attainment, limited work experience, and limited English proficiency. In addition to falling into the hard-to-employ category, Asian Americans are also impeded in their attempts to move off of welfare before reaching their lifetime limit by stringent and constrictive ‘work-first’ policies. It is the purpose of this article to analyze the factors leading to a disproportionate number of Asian Americans in California being pushed off of welfare because they reach their lifetime welfare time limit of sixty months, even though they are employed during their time on welfare.
This is interesting since when many people in America think of welfare they normally think of "unwed Black mothers," which is the prevailing stereotype in this country due to much racist rhetoric coming from all sorts of people in the media (newscasters, politicians, pundits, etc.). This also touches on another stereotype, the stereotype of the "model minority." (for more on the model minority myth see "'The Asians Have Landed!'") As that old right-wing Reganite TV show adage goes, "And now you know, and knowing is half the battle."

The Affects of White Supremacy on Student Organizers of Color

Last year the Pilipino organization that I had been heavily involved in established a rules committee to oversee and analyze the constitution making sure that everything was up-to-date and inline with our goals and beliefs. Under the current version of the constitution, part of the purpose states, "The organization shall support ...the continued opposition to white supremacy, sexism, and other forms of bigotry." In the past couple of meetings, the current committee had discussed replacing "White Supremacy" with "racism" believing that the mentioning the former was racist to white people. Here is the e-mail I sent to them regarding this issue:

Dear Committee,

I'd been meaning to bring this up sometime at one of the meetings but considering that not everyone can make them, I thought it'd be best to post my opinion here for all to read as I think that this particular subject warrants serious discussion.

I'd been told by some members of the committee that the reason for the replacement of White Supremacy with racism is because "we don't want to sound racist" and "we don't want to point fingers at any one particular group of people." While I completely understand where this point of view is coming from, I vehemently disagree with it for it is grounded upon false assumptions, which suggest that 1) the mere mentioning of White Supremacy = racism; 2) racism is merely an interpersonal issue between individuals and therefore black/brown/yellow/white racism are just all the same; and 3) attacking white supremacy = attacking white people .

First, replacing White Supremacy with simply racism because one believes that that's somehow "reverse racism," which is just such a white reactionary concept meant to safeguard white privilege (I'll get into that in a second), abstracts racism from history. For hundreds of years, since the advent of imperialism and colonialism brought upon the rest of the world by Europeans, being white has afforded one with countless benefits. As anti-racist author and activist Tim Wise states in his essay WHITE PRIVILEGE: Swimming in Racial Preference :

Affirmative action for whites was embodied in the abolition of European indentured servitude, which left black (and occasionally indigenous) slaves as the only unfree labor in the colonies that would become the U.S.


Affirmative action for whites was the essence of the 1790 Naturalization Act, which allowed virtually any European immigrant to become a full citizen, even while blacks, Asians and American Indians could not.


Affirmative action for whites was the guiding principle of segregation, Asian exclusion laws, and the theft of half of Mexico for the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny.


In recent history, affirmative action for whites motivated racially restrictive housing policies that helped 15 million white families procure homes with FHA loans from the 1930s to the '60s, while people of color were mostly excluded from the same programs.


In other words, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that white America is the biggest collective recipient of racial preference in the history of the cosmos. It has skewed our laws, shaped our public policy and helped create the glaring inequalities with which we still live.

For Pilipino/as specifically, can we turn on the T.V. or watch a movie and see people like us portrayed in a variety of roles – assuming that we're even portrayed at all?

Can we work or go to school somewhere that practices Affirmative Action without people thinking that we got in just because of our race?

In a "normal" history class do people typically learn in depth about Pilipino/Pilipino Americans who have made this country or world what it is?

What particular group of people doesn't have to worry about any of these things?

Second, the problem of racism is a problem of power. If racism was merely an interpersonal issue between individuals rather than one that is systematic and institutional then racism wouldn't be a problem. It is the misunderstanding here that allows for people to think that even having an organization for Pilipino/as is racist – Why do you people need an organization for yourselves. All you're doing is causing more separatism. We're all equal.

Lastly, it is a gross misconception that attacking White Supremacy or even talking about it = attacking white people. This is not the case at all as it is an attack on a system and an ideology that benefits a particular group of people while keeping others down. It would be just as ridiculous to associate radical Islam with all Islamic peoples. This is the ideology working at its best when people of color think that the mere mention of it is somehow racist against whites.

You cannot truly grasp racism and how it operates without examining White Supremacy. White Supremacy, being the dominant ideology, is exactly why [Name of Pilipino organization], along with many of the other student organizations, and Ethnic Studies exist.

As people of color - as Pilipino/as - we have to be militant in our struggle against this type of thinking that plagues our community. It is a disease that serves to confuse us and to make us turn our backs on each other and other people of color. It wasn't until a couple of semesters ago (and by accident no less), that I learned about all of this and no doubt it will take a lifetime to undue all of the brainwashing that we've all endured. We owe it to oursevlves and to our community to educate one another and have dialogue (which I believe is severely lacking) about this issue. So let's read up and get everyone talking.

Below, I've provided some links and resources for further reading about this topic.

Take care, everyone and enjoy the rest of our winter break.

-- Carlo

Websites:

WHITE PRIVILEGE SHAPES THE U.S.
by Robert Jenson

More thoughts on why system of white privilege is wrong
by Robert Jenson

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
by Peggy McIntosh

Honky Wanna Cracker? A Look at the Myth of Reverse Racism
by Tim Wise

WHITE PRIVILEGE: Swimming in Racial Preference
by Tim Wise

Race: The Power of an Illusion

Books:

Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States

Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White

1.13.2007

What Is Race?: A Look at the Writings of Harry Chang

By Bob Wing

Bob Wing works with racial justice groups in Los Angelos. He was part of the first wave of Asian American activists in the late 1960s. Wing was founding editor of the anti-war newspaper, War Times, and the racial justice magazine, ColorLines, and was one of the national leaders of United for Peace and Justice.

I first read this article in the
Monthly Review which was titled "Harry Chang: A Seminal Theorist of Racial Justice."

It is little known that a shy Korean immigrant named Harry Chang made vital contributions to the theory and practice of racial justice in the United States. In his most fruitful period, the 1970s, his work shaped the thinking and political work of numerous movement organizations, mostly led by people of color. Although he died prematurely in 1979, his work helped lay the foundations of two of the most progressive and influential theories of racism: the theory of racial formation and critical race theory.

To one degree or another, Harry may be credited with a number of ideas that were highly controversial in the 1970s but which in recent years have become much more accepted. His starting point was to highlight the centrality of the “one drop” rule that determines race in the United States (only). By analyzing this rule, he showed that racial categories are sociohistorical categories, not genetic or genealogical, and that they are qualitatively distinct from class, ethnicity, or nation/nationality categories. Harry coined the term racial formation to underscore the necessity of analyzing racism as a historical process that encompasses the origins of racism, how and why it has changed over time, and the process of eliminating it in a given historical context. He also argued for the centrality of law to racial formation and the inseparability and mutual determination of racial and class formation. Clarifying the distinctiveness of racism
also laid the basis for analyzing the intersection of race and nationality.

Unfortunately, Harry has received little or no public recognition for his important contributions. The analytic method he used to arrive at these conclusions reveals a virtuoso dialectician at work.

When we worked together in the 1970s, Harry often reminded me of Karl Marx’s despairing thought that the German Ideology (later labeled “the first truly Marxist work”) had been consigned to “the gnawing criticism of the mice” in his attic. Harry would muse how, in a similar
vein, perhaps one day, long after his death, someone might stumble across his manuscripts and say, “Wow, that obscure Korean guy really knew something.”

Bob Wing works with racial justice groups in Los Angeles. He was part of the first wave of Asian-American activists in the late 1960s. Bob was founding editor of the antiwar newspaper, War Times, and the racial justice magazine, ColorLines, and was one of the national leaders of United for Peace and Justice.

Born Chang Heh-Ik in 1937 to Protestant seminarian educators in South Korea, Harry immigrated to the United States to attend UCLA in 1955, the year of the great Montgomery Bus Boycott. Somehow over the next decade this fledgling foreign student, like many others in the United States during that fateful period, got radicalized. He was introduced to Marxist circles by fellow foreign students at UCLA, married the daughter of a prominent black Communist in 1964, and began to organize Marxist study circles with students from the third world as a graduate student in Seattle in the late 1960s.

Although he was trained as a mathematician, Harry became a brilliant Marxist educator and a truly original applied philosopher. His focus and forte was dialectics: he dedicated himself to learning, teaching, and most of all applying the Marxist analytical method. He disciplined his mind by constantly writing, not for publication, but to clarify and challenge his own understanding.

A true product of the 1960s, Harry became absolutely obsessed with the uniqueness and importance of race and racism in the United States. He dedicated much of his life’s energy to unraveling the political and historical mysteries of this most devastating U.S. institution. Unlike many other theorists, he planted himself among young political activists, mostly of color, and not within the walls of academe.

I first met Harry at a Venceremos Brigade meeting in Oakland at the very end of 1970 and he already had the bug. In that meeting he took on the project of writing a pamphlet on U.S. racism to be used in preparing people for the Cuba experience. I was a youthfully arrogant nineteen-year-old who felt he knew a lot about the subject without ever having studied it. So I volunteered to work with Harry, largely, I thought, to make sure this unknown Korean immigrant who had just moved to the Bay Area from Seattle didn’t screw it up.

At the time, Harry’s thinking about racism was mainly influenced by Oliver Cox’s magisterial Caste, Class and Race. My ignorance was such that I had never heard of this great black Marxist or his magnificent book, but Harry had thoroughly digested it. He rapidly penned “Notes on Racism,” which attempted to incorporate and to some degree advance upon Cox’s insights into the uniqueness of race as compared to other similar categories (caste and class) and what Cox saw as the integral historical connection of racism and capitalism.

Over the next eight years of intensive theoretical work on racism, Cox’s influences remained in Harry’s laser-like focus on those two questions.

At the same time, Harry’s new insights on these subjects were linked to his study of Karl Marx’s philosophy, especially his dialectical method of analysis, as most fully exhibited in Capital and the Grundrisse. He became convinced of the profundity of Lenin’s remark that Marx in general
and Capital in particular could not be deeply understood without a serious study of the German philosopher Hegel, especially Hegel’s Science of Logic.

From 1971 until his premature death in 1979 Harry avidly studied, wrote about, and led dozens of study groups on Capital, involving hundreds of young political activists. Thirty years later, his hundreds of pages of carefully prepared study notes on Capital are still astonishing for their
insights into Marx’s method. For me and many others, studying with Harry opened up new intellectual vistas and introduced a standard of theoretical and logical rigor that most of us had never imagined. He gave substantive meaning to “dialectical analysis,” a phrase that had so often been used to obfuscate and dazzle rather than for concrete analysis.

But Harry’s study of Marx was, above all, dedicated to enhancing his ability to unravel the intricacies of U.S. racism. At the time, most U.S. leftists either saw racism primarily as an ideology used by capitalists to justify “superexploiting” black workers (racism as intensified class exploitation) or as the ideology of national oppression (blacks as an oppressed nation in the Black Belt South or an internal colony). Harry believed these views were metaphoric rather than analytical, and, as he delved further into Capital and the Grundrisse, he became convinced that Marx’s method could also be applied to understanding racism:
More than half of Capital is devoted to the critique of bourgeois political economic categories [commodity, value, money, capital, etc.]. It is a key insight of historical materialism that historical development is reflected in the logical development [the development of concepts and categories] and, as Engels put it, the latter, as a result, represent the former “in complete maturity and classical form.” Hence the critique of capitalist categories plays a crucial role in the analysis of the capitalist mode of production. This is also the method that must be applied to the race question....A Marxist analysis of racism must begin with a critique of the racial categories
(black and white) themselves, and from there proceed to an examination of the socio-historical situation that endowed these forms of thought with deadly social validity. (“Racism and Racial Categories,” 1973)
Put another way, Harry’s first methodological insight was: “‘Racism’ should only be the subject not the object of study.” The object of study should be racial categories and the social practice that produced them. By this method, Harry sought to overcome what he saw as rampant subjectivity in race theorizing, especially the transposition of the race question into an internal colonial, national, or ethnic question.
If we ask a million people what racism is we would probably get a million different answers, since “racism” refers to individual opinions formed in the course of living in race relations. But if we ask a million people to identify each other as “black” or “white” the chances are the results would be practically uniform. The race of a person is not subject to individualsubjective interpretation, is not a matter of opinion. The racial distinction is a categorical necessity without which racism cannot fully function while the concept of racism is not. (Untitled manuscript, 1975)
It was, he decided, in the dialectical materialist critique of these racial categories that the particularity of the social relations of racism (compared to class, caste, nation, nationality, or ethnicity) could be accurately identified. If that task were not undertaken, he argued, “racial categories are posited as eternal metaphysical entities existing prior to race relations and valid beyond the realm of racism,” a notion he thought as wrongheaded as seeing capital as an eternal reality valid beyond the realm of capitalism. Such a view would lead, he thought, to the uncritical notion that the goal of antiracist struggle is racial (or “national”) equality rather than the elimination of oppression based on racial categories, just as reformist or utopian theories of capitalism called for equality between classes.

Harry’s experience as an immigrant, his study of Cuba, and his analysis of racial categories highlighted the peculiarity of the dialectic of U.S. racial categories: the so-called hypodescent rule by which anyone who appeared to have a single drop of “black blood” was considered black.
He commented on how U.S. racism often viciously divided immigrant siblings from Latin America and the Caribbean into black and white. Such anti-human racial categories, Harry recognized, are peculiar to the United States alone.

In fact, he argued, these categories themselves harbor a chauvinistic logic: “Inherent in the notion of ‘White’ is the requirement of genetic ‘purity’ while the notion of ‘Black’ harbors the assumption of genetic ‘contamination.’ One of the peculiarities of the racist psyche in the U.S. is that its sense of a ‘drop of African blood’ is unbelievably acute but it is practically blind to ‘a drop of European blood.’” “White” and “black” are not the least bit neutral; they contained the chauvinistic logic of pure versus contaminated, clean versus dirty, and pure breed versus mongrel. Racial categories, in other words, are not determined by natural science or genealogy,
and were certainly not an attempt at neutral physical description. “Racial categories are not biological categories, but social-relational categories that fetishize genetic diversity.” The logic of racial categories is itself racist.

Moreover, he noted, “the dialectic of the categories of Black and White is relative as opposed to absolute”—meaning that, like class categories (workers versus capitalists, landlords versus peasants, etc.), they are determined by and only in relation to each other. “White” and “Black” are not eternal, independent, or neutral categories: they are the necessary ideological representation of the mutually dependent, mutually exclusive poles created by the social relationship of racism. But unlike class categories, they hinge not on economic relationships but on a socially produced fetishization of physiognomy, a fetishization fashioned to maximize those who could be defined as permanently enslavable. (U.S. slavery was the only modern slave society that depended primarily on slave reproduction rather than the African slave trade for the bulk of its labor force.)

This is in sharp contrast to the dialectics of ethnic, religious, and national categories, which are absolute categories—meaning they indicate the historical practice of self-determined, inner-sourced relationships. Nations, for instance, are formed through the inner development of national life, and they enter into international relations. A colonized nation strives for independence (self-determination), not the destruction of the colonial power. Thus Harry’s analysis starkly distinguished the dialectics of race from class (economically determined), ethnicity, or nationality (socio-culturally determined irrespective of physical difference, hence the possibility of multiracial ethnic groups or nationalities).

Harry’s analysis of racial categories drew direct inspiration from Marx. Bourgeois social science sees “working class” and “capitalist class” as neutral descriptions of one’s economic activity or income level. Marx exploded that illusion by showing that in reality they are the opposite but interconnected poles of the social relationship of class exploitation whose negation necessitated the overthrow of capital and, ultimately, the abolition of class society. Similarly, while bourgeois social science accepts racial categories as natural, genealogical, ethnic, or descriptive, Harry saw racial groups as interconnected poles of white supremacy/black oppression whose negation necessitates not only a fight against inequality but also the end of a society polarized into racial groups.

Harry was fond of saying that racism was a form of commodity fetishism: the bourgeois habit of thought that confounds socioeconomic relationships as inherent in the natural state of things (e.g., products versus commodities, gold versus money, genetic or genealogical diversity
versus racial groups).

And just as money was not just a clever invention but a distinctive social relationship which had developed instead through historical phases of individual (occasional barter) to particular (regular but not yet dominant exchange relations) to general (where the practice of exchange and commodity production were so generalized as to require the development of money to facilitate it), so racism did not pop into the world fullfledged (or once generalized, did not stay the same), but was the product of what he called racial formation.

Given the context of working with the Venceremos Brigade and trying to understand Cuban race relations, Harry was quick to notice the stunning difference between racial categories in the United States and Cuba. In Cuba the categories are numerous, descriptive, and fluid rather than
bipolar, hardened, and chauvinistic as in the United States.

So where Cox and others had seen racism as essentially an international phenomenon, Harry’s connection to Cuba (and his study of South Africa) helped him clearly see that racial categories (and therefore racisms) are qualitatively different in different countries, and may change in different historical periods within a given country. Racial categories are not, in other words, universal or global categories like capital or money. By focusing on the development of racial categories, Harry insisted on the ability to “differentiate between racism proper (e.g., the U.S.) from quasi-racial or racism-like situations (as in most of Latin America) where racial discrimination exists but not as a fully independent and systematic social relation.”

He felt this distinction was as important as that between barter and money. It also enabled him to distinguish between different fully developed systems of racism: the racism based on bipolar racial categories in the United States versus the racism based on the tripolar racial categories
(black, colored, and white) of South Africa. And it was the basis of coming to grips with the transformation of nationality or ethnic categories (e.g., different specific European, African, Latino, or Asian ethnicities) into racial (black and white) or combined national-racial categories (Asian,Chicano, Latino).

Drawing from the Marxist concept of class formation, Harry dubbed the concrete development of racism as “racial formation,” a concept that encompassed its origins, development/transformations, and demise.

Finally, just as Marx had grasped that the formation of money was linked to commodity production, Harry realized that racial formation in the United States was linked to the peculiar historical conditions of the development of capitalism. He guided a collective study of the historical origins of racism in the colonial United States that established a relationship
between the development of racial categories with the development of the slavery-based plantation system. And he showed that racism was not a mere “add on” to U.S. capitalism, but a central condition without which U.S. capitalist development would have been qualitatively different. In other words, racism could powerfully shape capitalism, not just vice versa. Racism did not just add additional profits to capital, it actually determined the very shape and course of capitalist accumulation, social formation, and political structure in the United States. Herein, for example, lies a key to why the United States was different from, say, Brazil, (which had slavery but was underdeveloped) or Canada (which had no slavery but is a second rank capitalist power).

Harry’s analysis of the political economy of slavery displayed his theoretical creativity. Some Marxists deduced that slavery in the United States was capitalist simply because it existed in a capitalist world-system. Others asserted that it was precapitalist because the “internal contradiction” of slavery was not a wage relationship. In “The Slave Economy in U.S. Capitalism” (1974), Harry argued, “the character of the historical essence of slavery in the U.S. hinges on the analytic decision as to whether a slave mode of production has ‘capitalist features’ or a capitalist mode of production made use of slave-labor.”

Harry showed that the “planter” or “slaveholder” was not a single economic role, but in fact involved in a variety of economic relationships: landowner (or tenant), slave owner, slave user (or renter), slave buyer/seller, banker (or debtor), merchant, etc. Most important, “the distinction between slave-owning and slave-using corresponds to a case of
capitalistic dialectic of distribution and production.”
The actual historical circumstance of the origin of slavery in North America leads us to conclude that slave-labor arose as a substitute for wage-labor in a mode of production demanding wage-labor but faced with the shortage of wage-laborers. In its modus operandi, the category of
“price of slaves” was as well established as “price of land” in capitalism; hence Marx’s remark that “the price paid for a slave is nothing but the anticipated and capitalized surplus-value or profit to be rung out of slave” (Capital, vol. 3, [International Publishers] 807) is fully applicable
here....Thus, although slaves in the U.S. were not wage-earners, they were the labor counterpart of capital with this proviso: the planter expended wage in his capacity of agricultural capitalist and intercepted wage in his capacity of capitalist slaveowner. (“The Slave Economy in U.S. Capitalism,” 1974)
Over a tremendously productive period from 1973 to 1978, Harry penned a number of essays in which he set forth his theoretical and historical research. In that period, Harry wrote “Racism and Racial Categories,” “National Minorities and Racial Minorities,” “Racial Categories and Racial Formation,” “The Slave Economy in the U.S.,” “Critique of the Black Nation Thesis,” several manuscripts tentatively titled “Towards a Marxist Theory of Racism,” “Black Capitalism,” and several untitled manuscripts.

In his lifetime, he only published one of these essays, Critique of the Black Nation Thesis, in 1975. Although this pamphlet was claimed as a collective product of the group that had formed around Harry to do research and refine Harry’s analysis, it was primarily Harry’s work. Posthumously, two of his colleagues, Paul Liem and Eric Montague, stitched together parts of two of Harry’s essays and published it in 1985 in the Review of Radical Political Economics under the title “Toward a Marxist Theory of Racism.”

Around the same time, the numerous essays Harry had written became the basis of many study groups as well as an important part of the political strategies and practice of a number of different movement organizations: the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP), the Third World
Women’s Alliance, the Northern California Alliance, several chapters of if not the entire Venceremos Brigade, the National Committee to Overturn the Bakke Decision, and later the Line of March and the National Antiracist Organizing Committee.

Harry died a premature death from a brain tumor in 1979. So it was left to his political/intellectual successors to produce our own versions of his theory. Knowing Harry he would probably not have been very satisfied with what the rest of us have done with what he taught us. But like or not, after his death, his work was carried on through three main branches
(not to speak of hundreds of activists).

The first and perhaps least influential of these branches was produced by a group of Harry’s closest associates during the 1970s. Although some of us had an unfortunate rift with Harry, our theoretical views on racism were directly shaped by him. Some of this work is found in “Towards a Communist Analysis of White Supremacy and Black Oppression,” by Linda Burnham and Bob Wing; “Crossing Race and Nationality: The Racial Formation of Asian Americans,” by Bob Wing; “The Filipino Nationality in the U.S.,” by Bruce Occe├▒a; and “The Mexican/Chicano Question in the United States,” by Manuel Romero. As mentioned above,
Harry’s work also became a foundation of the political work of many movement organizations some of which continue in one form or another today.

A second branch of work was created by Neil Gotanda. Neil was also a part of the circle of people who worked closely with Harry in the 1970s. He went on to become a law professor and one of the founders of Critical Race Theory, one of the most influential and progressive trends in racism theory over the past decade or more. Neil was one of the editors of the seminal Critical Race Theory: Key Writings that Formed the Movement. He also wrote a number of powerful essays such as: “A Critique of ‘Our Constitution is Colorblind,’” “Comparative Racialization: Racial Profiling and the Case of Wen Ho Lee,” and “Critical Legal Studies, Critical Race Theory and Asian American Studies.”

Howard Winant created a third branch. While considerably less connected to Harry than the other two branches, Howie was a member of one of the political organizations strongly influenced by Harry and participated in some of Harry’s study groups in the 1970s. In 1986 Howie coauthored (with Michael Omi) Racial Formation in the United States, a book that transformed race theory, teaching, and scholarship throughout this country’s universities and colleges. Howie has published several other important books on racism, but it is Racial Formation that bears the strongest marks of Harry’s ideas.

None of these branches claim to be a direct elaboration of Harry’s work and in fact there are considerable differences among and between them. But each has at its foundations Harry’s insistence on distinguishing race from class, ethnicity, and nation; the view that racial categories
are historical categories, rather than natural or genealogical, and subject to change over time (i.e., the process of racial formation); and the focus on how to connect racism to capitalism.

Harry was an extremely shy person. Although supremely confident in his intellectual capacity, he assiduously avoided the limelight. It didn’t help that he always felt stalked by the South Korean CIA. Although his passions burned brightly within him and in his work, I doubt he had
many regrets about the limited recognition he received. Still it is long past time that Harry received some of the credit that is his due for a productive lifetime brilliantly dedicated to socioeconomic and racial justice.

Harry Chang, presente!

Image From:
Brigham Young University Hawaii