Waking Up to the Racism of Cleveland Baseball

Growing up I was surrounded by Indigenous mascots from little league baseball to the pros. My confusion as a young white kid became an awakening to the reality of settler colonialism. When I moved to Cleveland, it became impossible for me to overlook the overt racism of the baseball team’s Indigenous mascot. The transition to a new name and logo cannot come soon enough.

 

(Image source)

Realizing something was wrong

When I was little I wondered why Cleveland’s baseball team was unique compared to others in the league. They weren’t the Cardinals, Giants, or Angels, but the “Indians.” I didn’t understand the significance then, I only noticed the pattern that one team was unlike the rest. Growing up outside Boston, I went downtown to Fenway Park each year to see a Red Sox game and would study the visiting team beforehand. For a handful of years, the Red Sox matched up with the Cleveland Indians in the playoffs. Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome were my favorite players for Cleveland, but when they came up to bat I was always confused by the logo on their uniforms featuring the red-faced man with a feather and an odd smile.

As a young white kid in a pretty insular community, my perception of Indigenous people was limited to mascots, museums and textbooks. From watching “Cowboys and Indians” films in elementary school to the Redskins and Indians teams on television, I internalized exotic images and mythical ideas of “ancient peoples” who had once roamed the US. Like any child I had a lot of questions, but my classes spent little time addressing them.

Then in college a close friend exposed me to a side of history omitted from my education and comfy childhood. He was from the Passamaquoddy Nation in northern Maine, and invited a couple of our friends to his home on the Passamaquoddy Reservation for an annual celebration with his family. Our friendship consisted of mostly humor that occasionally led to a more serious conversation, like the stark differences between our upbringings.

My friend spoke frequently about how resilient his community is in the face of struggle; his reservation, like many others, is in a state of economic and environmental devastation. From surviving genocide to ongoing federal disinvestment, he taught me history is no thing of the past for him. He also told me of the most pressing issues there, from high rates of youth suicide, to domestic violence and alcoholism. During a conversation one day about our jobs working with youth, he brought up the phenomenon of Indigenous mascotry. He didn’t go into depth, but told me that for the kids in his community, Indigenous mascots nationwide are one of the most harmful factors to their development. I didn’t press him to say more, but wanted to keep learning.

The following year back at college in Northeast Ohio, I took a Native Studies class, which featured a segment devoted to the history of Indigenous mascots across the country. We read scholarly articles of landmark lawsuits and social movements that focused on the many attempts to prevent these types of mascots from gaining ground in the US. Who knew that in 2001 the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called for an end to the use of Native American mascots? My professor, the sole Indigenous professor at the school, told me about the annual demonstration against the Cleveland Indians on opening day at Progressive Field that had been going on since the 60s. He expressed that the annual event was a snapshot symbolic of late Native history in the US: white people yelling at Indigenous people for defending their basic human rights and dignity.

Soon after I graduated I moved to Cleveland. Some of the people here love the baseball team. Others refuse to acknowledge them until the name is changed. Most of us who live in Cleveland are aware of the local divide. At most home games you can find both sides represented: from Indigenous-led protests outside the stadium, to thousands of fans heading inside wearing Chief Wahoo regalia, chanting “Go Tribe!” Many lifelong fans express a deep connection to the image of Chief Wahoo and the team name. Diehard Clevelanders talk about what it means to have supported the team since childhood. For many others, primarily Indigenous people, the Cleveland Indians organization has been a lifelong source of pain. As the trend goes, the people most harmed by a situation often have the least power to correct it– and had nothing to do with creating the situation to begin with.

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What will it take for those harmed to be heard, and at the center of change going forward?

The Indigenous-led grassroots activism across Northeast Ohio that began in the 1970s has now influenced top executives of Major League Baseball to discard the name and logo of the Cleveland baseball team. Last month the Cleveland Indians were in the news once again due to the continued dispute between team owner, Paul Dolan, and Major League Baseball officials concerning the removal of the “Chief Wahoo” mascot, in addition to the team name.

To learn more about the ongoing debate, I reached out to the Executive Director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, Philip Yenyo, who has organized for decades with Indigenous groups across the Midwest in efforts to abolish the team name and logo.

“We have never had a seat at the table in these discussions with the team owner. I have told Mr. [Paul] Dolan many times that this is no way to honor our people,” said Yenyo. “What the general public doesn’t realize is that we’ve been dehumanized down to a cartoon. A cartoon that perpetuates every negative stereotype of our people. I know children from our community who have been bullied because of it, who had to leave Cleveland schools.”

(Philip Yenyo, Executive Director of the American Indian Movement, Ohio, pictured left; unidentified Cleveland fan, right.  Image source)

Yenyo continued, “Our people are not extinct. Many Americans have been taught to think that we’re no longer here. Chief Wahoo and Native mascots across the country further the idea that we’re sub-human or an ancient people, and this hurts us. At demonstrations, fans with red-painted faces and fake feathers taped to their hats yell at us, ‘Go back to where you came from and get over it– stop living in the past!’”

What an irony– white folks telling Indigenous folks to go back to where they came from. I asked Mr. Yenyo what it would take for the name to change. He replied, “People have to be able to relate to the situation, or if nothing else put yourself in our shoes and hear our experience. If you remember your own ethnic history and the things that were done to your people, there are probably some similarities to our people, but for us it’s still going on. Many Irish people tell me they don’t like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish mascot, and I tell them, ‘When you have a demonstration over the Fighting Irish, I will stand by your side as a brother.’”

Of course, much of the disagreement over Cleveland’s team name boils down to identity and personal experience, between those impacted and those who are not. Like with most social issues, the less proximate we are to a problem, the less likely we are to relate to it, and in turn pay attention to it. I think it is impossible for most of us white Americans to imagine a reverse situation in which we had a genocide committed against us, were confined to reservations, then had our culture reduced to an exoticized symbol and exploited by a multi-billion-dollar business from which we don’t see a penny of. It is daunting to face our nation’s dark past, but too often history and context are absent from the Chief Wahoo discussion. An absence consistent across the board in misguided criticism of movements like Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, or NFL teams taking a knee.

The dominant narratives created by lifelong fans are that it’s ‘just a mascot’, that those protesting the name are too sensitive, or that Indigenous people don’t understand the name is actually honoring them. But when we listen to Indigenous voices across the country or outside Progressive Field, we learn otherwise—that the mascot is deeply harmful to them and their families. We also learn that everyone has a stake in this: non-Indigenous communities are also fed a myth by the perpetuation of these stereotypes, which plant seeds of racial bias in youth from a young age. A report by the American Psychological Association in 2001 states, “the continued use of American Indian mascots, symbols, images, and personalities undermines the educational experiences of members of all communities– especially those who have had little or no contact with Indigenous people.” To be clear, everyone will benefit once the name is changed. However, until we collectively realize this, we are presented with a choice: to maintain or relinquish our comfort in the face of people looking us in the eyes, asking us to listen and change. As the cliché goes, what side of history do we want to be on?

As Confederate statues continue to crumble in the wake of white terrorism in Charlottesville, it is evident how many symbols remain from the underbelly of US history that often go unchecked– many symbols that never should have been, like Chief Wahoo. Around 1,000 Native American-themed mascots still exist in schools around the US, with about 60 per year that decide to change their name. Furthermore, many professional teams have made smooth transitions to new names without losing their fan base. It is a pretty common occurrence. Many surveys have circulated inquiring about a new name, so it is time to pick one and keep it moving. In the meantime, it is difficult to find a greater irony in 2017 than driving down 90-East and seeing a stadium labeled “progressive” in all caps, with the name “Indians” just below, referring to an entire race of people.

Toward the end of my time with Mr. Yenyo, he told me he is a huge Browns fan, and would love to attend a baseball game as soon as the change comes. He recounted a brief story that summed up our conversation, when an elderly Polish man came up to him outside the stadium during a demonstration and asked what the fuss was. “He listened to me for a long time, and I saw a light bulb switch on in his head,” said Yenyo. “He began to tear up, then told me his story, and eventually took off his baseball cap. The Polish man said, ‘My grandfather bought me this hat a long time ago, but if I knew it hurt another person like that I never would’ve put it on.’”

 

~ Peter Saudek is a fair housing investigator in Cleveland, who writes and organizes around racial justice and mass incarceration.

NFL Protests and Racial Politics of Patriotism

This blog post is coauthored by Anthony Weems, Kristi Oshiro, and John Singer

(Image: The Seattle Times)

Friday night’s rally in Huntsville, Alabama sparked the beginning of what proved to be a hectic weekend for President Donald Trump. Only, the chaos was not related to the upcoming Senate health care vote or post-hurricane relief in Puerto Rico as some might expect but rather the president felt the need to address athlete activism, specifically targeting the National Football League (NFL). In a weak attempt to redefine black athletes’ protests of systemic racism, oppression, and police brutality as a disrespect to the US flag and the US military, Trump criticized NFL players who have openly protested by kneeling or sitting in peaceful protest during the national anthem. Moreover, Trump arrogantly and disrespectfully referred to these athletes as “sons of a bitches”, and suggested owners should exercise their power and have them fired. He would later take to Twitter and argue that the NFL should make their players stand during the national anthem. In the days that followed, NFL players, coaches, owners, and other personnel met to discuss how to strategically respond before taking the field for the highly-anticipated game day on Sunday.

As for the NFL, September 24th, 2017 will forever go down in history as “choose-your-side Sunday.” Coming on the heels of the Alabama rally, the comments made about NFL athletes protesting served as a catalyst for a protest unprecedented in the NFL (or any other league for that matter). Whether kneeling, sitting, locking arms, raising fists in solidarity, or remaining in the locker room altogether during the national anthem, as a collective unit the NFL made a statement that transcended national boundaries, as hundreds of athletes, coaches, owners, executives, and other staff across the league responded in unity to criticisms made by Trump. However, in all of the chaos springing from the weekend of September 22nd, 2017, it is important that we refocus our attention on what it means to #TakeAKnee.

Colin Kaepernick and Taking the Knee

When Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand during the national anthem in 2016, he was pretty much alone. Though many black athletes and athletes of color had been using their platforms to bring racial injustice to the forefront for years, Kaepernick’s silent and peaceful protest during the national anthem brought the politics of racism and police brutality into the homes of many Americans – particularly, white Americans:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick explained shortly after kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Working with Dr. Harry Edwards while still a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick engaged in peaceful protest that sparked what Dr. Edwards has referred to as the fourth wave of black athlete activism. Originally, this silent protest only involved a handful of other NFL players such as Kaepernick’s former teammates, Eric Reid and Eli Harold, or Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks. Kneeling as a form of silent protest, however, would continue to spread across sports.

Throughout various sports and across different levels of sport participation, black athletes (both male and female) began to take a knee to bring awareness to the unjustified treatment of Americans of color, particularly black Americans that were murdered while the police officers responsible often received paid administrative leave. Players in the WNBA have consistently been at the forefront of protests for racial justice in recent years. Bruce Maxwell has become the first Major League Baseball (MLB) player to kneel during the national anthem. Raianna Brown, a dancer/cheerleader at the Georgia Tech, recently knelt during the national anthem. High school athletes across sports have knelt during the national anthem. Even youth teams across sport have taken to the protest of taking a knee.

Creating what many are referring to as “the Kaepernick effect,” the gesture of kneeling in sports has become a movement in itself. And for those who have boldly taken the knee, the message has remained clear. Even as entire NFL franchises have come forward in support of player protests during the national anthem, the message has not changed. Take this statement from the players of the Seattle Seahawks before their game on Sunday for example:

The current protests by players in the NFL have been about and continue to be about “the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country.” In fact, contrary to many claims of these protests disrespecting the US flag or the military, the Seahawks players’ statement emphasizes honoring the country and the sacrifices that have been made in the name of equality and justice for all.

Following his firsthand experience with excessive force used by the Las Vegas Police Department on the night of the Mayweather/McGregor boxing match, Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett clearly stated that this kind of conduct by police is precisely why he kneels during the national anthem before every game. Note how Bennett says nothing in his statement about the US flag, the US military, or any other nationalistic form of politics in his statement. The protest has always been about how communities of color are policed and the devaluing of black and brown lives in the criminal (in)justice system. When Trump lashed out at NFL players who were protesting, he wasn’t defending the flag, military veterans, or patriotism – he was racially targeting US citizens who have bravely spoken up and out against a racist system.

Protesting Today

In recent years, athletes across sport leagues have consistently protested the systemic devaluing of black and brown lives by the judicial system. But following Trump’s comments about protesting (black) athletes needing to be fired and required to stand for the national anthem, NFL players responded. In a league-wide statement of unity amongst each other, NFL players sent a message. Across the league, players (and some coaches, staff, and administrators) either kneeled during the national anthem, locked arms with one another, raised their fist in solidarity, or refused to come out onto the field altogether during the anthem. And players such as Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas made it clear what message they were trying to send. In an interview on CNN, Thomas stated the following:

“[The protest] is about race,” he said adding that the players are fighting for “inequalities in our communities… It’s not about just us. It wasn’t about Kaepernick himself. It wasn’t about, you know, the athletes who chose to take a knee themselves,” Thomas said. “We’re speaking for everybody that’s come from the communities we’ve lived in and my family and friends still live in.”

This is in stark contrast to Trump claiming on Sunday that he

never said anything about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.

But race and racism is what taking a knee is all about. The policing of communities of color, the mistreatment of black and brown people by police, and the criminal lack of justice for these communities is what taking a knee is all about. Attempts to repackage the politics of white racism under the umbrella of “patriotism” serves to mask these issues while maintaining systemic racism.

The mainstream media have played a significant role in perpetuating this a-critical discourse that dilutes the very core of the message courageous individuals like Colin Kaepernick and others are trying to send. This has potentially created confusion amongst viewers that can be detrimental to the purpose of kneeling. In turn, current players like Eric Reid who was the first to kneel alongside Kaepernick are speaking out to reclaim their narratives and clarify the essence of their protest. In a recent New York Times opinion piece Reid shares his personal insight reflecting on the time dedicated to making the very informed and educated decision to stand up for his and others’ rights and to kneel during the national anthem in what he felt was the utmost respectable way.

What’s Patriotism Got to Do with It?

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick stated the following: “There’s a lot of racism disguised as patriotism in this country… but it needs to be addressed.” Over the course of the protests undertaken by predominantly black athletes and with the help from mainstream media outlets, many whites have sought to paint or label the protests as some sort of unpatriotic display that disrespects the US and its military. For whites, this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. White Americans have long used “patriotism” as a proxy for white nationalism dating back to the Founding Fathers’ invocation of the “common cause” of white patriotism. Contemporarily, white nationalist groups such as the Christian Patriots Defense League have risen to prominence under this same banner of the patriot cause.

But for Americans of color, and particularly black Americans, the patriotic ideals of liberty and justice for all have historically been taken seriously. For instance, as W. E. B. Du Bois discussed in The Gift of Black Folk, the ideological challenge to the white-defined ideals of freedom and justice through the political struggles for equality by black Americans has helped significantly to push the US towards being a more democratic nation for all. This is true throughout US history as well as in today’s context. The Seattle Seahawks players’ statement referred to above embodies this challenge to the notions of equality and justice for all while simultaneously honoring those that have fought for these freedoms.

The language of white racism today is often masked by claims to patriotism. But when US President Trump referred to neo-Nazis marching in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia as “very fine people” and black NFL athletes as unpatriotic “sons of a bitches,” NFL players were explicitly put in a position where they had to decide between standing for justice and supporting white supremacy. A US president – or anyone for that matter – that espouses this kind of rhetoric has no claim to patriotism; they are a white supremacist. The real patriots in this scenario are those that have (and continue to) courageously use their social platforms to bring critical issues to the forefront in the quest to make liberty, justice, and democracy a reality for all. Real patriots stand alongside one another and against systemic forms of oppression such as police brutality. Real patriots #TakeTheKnee.

 

 

Anthony J. Weems is a doctoral student in Sport Management at Texas A&M University working under Dr. John N. Singer. His research focuses on issues of race, power, and politics in and through the sport organizational setting.

Kristi F. Oshiro is a Sport Management Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University working with Advisor Dr. John N. Singer. Her research interests include diversity and inclusion in sport with a focus on the intersection of race and gender, culture, and the lived experiences of ethnic minority groups and marginalized populations from a critical perspective.

Dr. John N. Singer (Ph.D., The Ohio State University) is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at Texas A&M University. His research interests primarily focus on a) intersections between race, sport, and education, with a keen focus on complex and contextual realities Black males face as primary stakeholders in organized school sport; and b) diversity and social justice matters in sporting institutions and organizations, with an emphasis on the experiences and plight of historically underrepresented and marginalized groups.

 

White Supremacy and Black Athletes’ Protests

With the proliferation of mass media, people increasingly look toward political leaders to make public statements when a tragedy occurs. Tensions often flare, and we look to such leaders to bring our communities together in times of crisis. We know a single statement can’t heal centuries of division, and that leaders are humans and so will always be imperfect. But a leader sets a high standard to which all can aspire—our “better angels,” as several great U.S. presidents have referenced (citing Charles Dickens). By now, unfortunately, hopefully only the most naïve and sheltered among us are still waiting for or expecting the current president Donald Trump to ever do such a thing. Although clearly trusted advisers have attempted to steer him in that direction at times, it was not long before, left to his own devices, his unscripted comments at the next public venue effectively cancelled out any inspiring statement he had previously attempted. This all happening while police officers killing unarmed black civilians are exonerated in courts, while hurricanes are decimating U.S. states and territories, and while white supremacists are marching openly and killing citizens to make political statements.

Is it any wonder that private citizens all over the country—-comedians, actors, athletes, anyone with a public forum with a chance of being heard widely—-are stepping in to fill that vacuum our white president has irresponsibly left open? There is a long tradition in this country of those who would be silenced (and their allies) proverbially “grabbing the mic” to raise the public’s awareness about injustices happening in their midst. They do this because often raising public outcry is the first step toward creating change. If U.S. news camera footage of dogs and water hoses aimed at their own citizens had not been viewed around the world—-just after the U.S. had intervened on the global stage to stop a white supremacist named Hitler, and thereby revealed to be human-rights-hypocrites in front of allies and foes alike—-the US state would likely never have made such bold moves to finally create the civil rights legal reforms of the 1960s. As the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) beautifully recreates with statues of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising a Black Power fist at the 1968 Olympics black athletes and other public figures outside of politics have at crucial moments in our nation’s history been able to raise awareness and move our national conversations forward on racism issues in productive ways.

Critics dismiss certain athletes who speak out or take a stand as “attention-seeking” spectacles “distracting” from the game—athletes like Colin Kaepernick (NFL player who has been taking a knee during national anthem, along with many other allies, on his team and around the country, to protest continued injustice against African Americans) and Stephen Curry (NBA player who recently spoke about not wanting to visit the White House, prompting Trump to Tweet a “disinvite” in return). What has struck me since I worked on the White Men on Race book with Joe Feagin (based on over 100 interviews with elite white men) is that whites will often speak with decisive authority on people of color they know very little about. It took my 10-year-old son’s school project on Curry, reading biographies, for me to find out, for example, that when Curry beats on his chest after he scores on the basketball court, he’s actually pounding on his heart and then pointing up to the sky to represent his own personal relationship to Jesus. It is actually a humble, reverent gesture, rather than the arrogant strut it has been perceived as by some. As Joe Feagin and Kimberley Ducey point out, whites have routinely perceived identical behavior from whites and non-whites in strikingly different perspectives—-the “white as virtue” frame. As Ta-Nehisi Coates brilliantly reminds us, there would be no “race,” no “whites” to speak of without “blacks” to contrast them against, because race is a relational construct—-constructed solely to justify the colonization and exploitation of the latter. It did not take long for the public to take to social media to point out how President Trump seems to have this same kind of striking perception contrast between white supremacists (“very fine people”) and athletes kneeling during the national anthem (“sons of bitches”).

Many whites perceive the act of taking a knee during the national anthem as disrespectful. Yet when I see this photo, for example, of the Oakland A’s player Bruce Maxwell (the first in MLB) taking a knee during the national anthem I see anything but disrespect. I see Maxwell with his hat off, holding his hand over his heart, glancing longingly up to the flag. And what I hear through his body language is, “Great country that I call home, when will there truly be liberty and justice FOR ALL? When?!” I see embodied in his posture the words of Cornel West: “America. . .needs citizens who love it enough to re-imagine it and re-make it.” These words are etched into the walls of the Smithsonian’s NMAAHC—-and this location would certainly fit the criteria the Golden State Warriors are seeking during their upcoming DC visit:

In lieu of a visit to the White House, we have decided that we’ll constructively use our trip to the nation’s capital in February to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.

To voice their opposition to athletes kneeling during the National Anthem, many whites also cite their family members who have fought and even died in wars. Some even cite their Christian faith. They seem to forget that scores of African Americans are also veterans, are descendants of veterans, are currently serving in war zones or deployed, and have even lost their lives serving our country in the armed forces. And they certainly forget the centrality of Christianity in African Americans’ lives. The most beautiful patriotic statements I have seen lately come from veterans who disagree with kneeling during the anthem, but proudly state that this is precisely why they served and fought in our military—to defend all their fellow Americans (not just veterans) in their right to this very kind of freedom of speech and expression! I have seen several beautiful photos of football teams standing together during the National Anthem, right next to their teammates who are kneeling, with hands on their shoulders-—making a strong statement that they respect each other’s choices, whether to kneel or to stand, and that is what makes our country great, our diversity of thought, viewpoints, and experiences.

There are many ways to serve our country. There are many ways to make personal sacrifices and/or contributions in service of making our country better. Sometimes our racial segregation from each other keeps us from seeing the humanity of others, the sacrifices others have made. Although I personally have been celebrating Kaepernick’s public statement that Black Lives Matter, when my own 10-year old son came home with a plan to sit out the pledge of allegiance at his school, it gave me pause. After all, we’re talking about my baby. I see adults making choices, but when I Google what related actions have been taken by children under-18, I see that high school football players have received death threats for kneeling during the National Anthem and elementary school students have been assaulted by their own teachers for sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance. To his credit, it was actually my son’s own idea to call a meeting with the principal, because he expressed a strong desire to take action “without being rude.” He sat there in this big chair that he looked so tiny in, and spoke softly but clearly, “I don’t like the way police officers treat African Americans,” and I thought I could see water in his eyes, but he kept his composure. I am grateful that his principal and guidance counselor are both supporting him, and they will relay to his teacher that he has a right to sit down (according to the student handbook—and according to US law, actually, too). Although the adults around him have a primary concern for his safety, when a teacher suggested he be in a different room away from view (helping with the morning announcements in the technology room—which he loves to do!) he was actually disappointed that his action would potentially not matter. In his words, “but mom, I want to make a difference.” My awe at his bravery and sacrifice of his own personal safety in order to work toward making our country fairer for all stands beside my awe of my stepsister’s (and her husband’s) bravery and personal sacrifice while serving in the Army and being drafted to Iraq and Afghanistan (they are both veterans, as was my father—a Vietnam veteran in the Navy).

My concern is all the “colorblind” comments that divide our country up into “us” and “them”—-the patriotic white heroes who serve our country and stand for the National Anthem and never criticize the President become the “us” while the “ungrateful” people of color who take public actions to draw attention to the continuing injustices in the nation become the “disrespectful” outgroup, “them.” The tone of this (mostly white) public criticism of those who kneel during the National Anthem sounds to me like the critics think people of color should be grateful for, in Malcolm X’s words, the “crumbs from the table.” They should be happy to be playing a sport at all, to be having the right to kneel at all—-meanwhile elite white men (all NFL owners are elite white men, as are all NBA owners but Michael Jordan) are reaping exponential profits off their arduous labor. And selective memory is employed to erase just how hard their forefathers and foremothers fought just to get onto the same playing field at all, just to get the basic constitutional rights to even apply to them at all (to become more than the original Constitution’s “three-fifths of a person”!)

My son’s father is a Desert Storm veteran (Marine Corps), he is African American, and he supports his son’s right to sit out the pledge. He was born in 1966, just a couple days after Christmas in a snowstorm in Virginia, and because the hospital in town even at that late time still did not serve black people, they had to drive an hour in the snow to a bigger city (Richmond, VA) just so he could be born. So there were no family visits in the hospital, no big celebration. Just him and his mom on a quiet cold day. It was not until the year after he was born (1967, in Loving v. Virginia) that interracial marriage was even legally permitted by the US Supreme Court. And this is not a man who is in a rocking chair at a nursing home somewhere—this is a man who will be squeezing himself into a tiny desk chair to attend Back to School night at elementary school this week. When whites talk about the “sacrifices” that they and their families have made in this country, I wonder if they ever contemplate the tremendous sacrifices, and loss of life, loss of children way before their time, that African Americans face every day here– still waiting for “liberty and justice for all.” Parents send their children out into these streets never knowing if they will make it back home. And if they had to play the odds on whether a court would find a police officer guilty when s/he “accidentally” shoots their child because that officer says “I feared for my life,” unfortunately those odds would not be good. Why is it that so many of us whites cannot see another human being’s sacrifice and struggle as just as relevant as our own? That lack of seeing each other’s common humanity is the ultimate disrespect.

As long as there is a lack of moral leadership at the helm of our nation, and as long as there is great racial inequality, white Americans can expect to see people of color and their allies taking much protest action, as they always have. If US history is any indication, one day our grandchildren or great-grandchildren might be celebrating as heroes the very figures some whites vilify now. Elementary schools across the country now include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in their patriotic programs as a hero, but when he was living and breathing, he was jailed like a common criminal, chastised for not being respectful enough and not knowing “his place,” and regularly targeted by many white supremacists with death threats. So, as for me, I am going to be celebrating tomorrow’s heroes now, while I have the chance. I believe this is the ultimate in real US patriotism and respect for liberty and justice.

 

~ Eileen O’Brien is Associate Professor of Sociology and the author of several books, including Whites Confront Racism

Debating Racial “Microaggressions”

What constitutes a racial micro-aggression and when does it become a macro-aggression? Is the concept of micro-aggression misleading? Are they really macro-aggressions?

Following the Civil Rights era, second generation forms of discrimination replaced more overt, egregious acts of discrimination with subtle, repeated, cumulative exclusionary actions and behaviors. The term “racial micro-aggressions” was first introduced by Chester Pierce to describe the subtle insults experienced on a daily basis by black Americans. In his seminal work, Micro-aggressions in Everyday Life, psychologist Derald Wing Sue describes micro-aggressions as

brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership (p. xvi).

Sue introduces a taxonomy of racial micro-aggressions that include three categories: micro-assaults; micro-insults; and micro-invalidations. This taxonomy, while valuable in identifying the dynamics of everyday discrimination, does not yet provide clear distinctions by which to evaluate or differentiate the different types of aggressions.

Are micro-aggressions conscious or unconscious? Sue indicates that perpetrators of micro-aggressions are “usually unaware that they have engaged in an exchange that demeans the recipient….” (p. 5). Similarly, in his view, racial micro-aggressions occur “below the level of awareness of well-intentioned people” (p. 9). Yet when he differentiates the three types of micro-aggressions, he indicates that micro-assaults are “likely to be conscious and deliberate” and expressed as “explicit racial derogations” (pp. 28-29) whereas micro-invalidations and micro-insults are often unconscious.

The distinctions among the three types of racial micro-aggressions are also unclear. Sue gives examples of verbal micro-assaults as phrases like calling Chinese Americans “chinks” and gays as “fags.” He gives an example of a micro-invalidation as telling a Latino/a individual, “If you don’t like it here go back to your own country.” In another work, Microaggressions and Marginality, Sue provides an example of a micro-insult as when an African American student who has done outstanding work in his economics class is told by the professor, “You are a credit to your race.” He finds this to be a micro-insult rather than a micro-assault because it allows the perpetrator to adhere to his belief in racial inferiority, even if unconsciously and “denigrates in a guilt-free manner” (pp. 9-20). This example, however, seems to be at the very least a micro-assault.

Challenging Sue’s theoretical perspective, psychologist Scott Lilienfeld assails the micro-aggression concept as vague, subject to misinterpretation, and often referring to innocuous statements or what he terms inadvertent or unintentional cultural slights. He cautions against an overemphasis on micro-aggressions in diversity training, suggesting that such training can produce the opposite effect by increasing defensiveness by majority group members. Lililenfeld worries that the term “aggression” denotes negative intent and could cause pushback that would defeat the purposes of diversity training and cause the opposite effects. Further, from an empirical standpoint, Lilienfeld indicates that few studies have controlled for the experiences of the perceiving person, including that individual’s sensitivity, depressions, and other personality traits and attitudes. In addition, he notes that correlational evidence does not yet sufficiently support the causal link between micro-aggressions and negative mental health outcomes.

A new study brings greater clarity to these questions and probes the source and causes of micro-aggressions. The study focuses on whether or not slights or subtle derogatory messages delivered by majority group members to racial minority group members are symptomatic of more deep-seated racial animus and attitudes. Jonathan Kanter and colleagues surveyed a sample of 118 white, non-Hispanic students and 33 black students at a large public university and found a positive correlation between delivering micro-aggressive messages and the presence of racist attitudes. For example, when white students selected the item “a lot of minorities are too sensitive,” this selection was found to be the greatest predictor of negative feelings toward black students.

In seeking to understand this evolving body of evidence, Joe Feagin’s conceptualization of the underlying “white racial frame” offers a broad perspective and explanation for the manifestation of micro-aggressions. Feagin indicates that the white racial frame represents the composite of elements that come into play in everyday practice by those white individuals who seek to impose, emphasize, or retain racial identity. No one, in his view, uses the frame in exactly the same way. Each individual invokes a different internal hierarchy of selected racialized images, emotions, and ideas. Individuals can accept certain elements of that white racial frame while consciously or unconsciously rejecting others.

The “micro-” terminology itself seems inadequate in describing verbal and nonverbal acts of discrimination and hostility which often have long lasting and painful effects. In our survey study of diverse administrators in higher education, Alvin Evans and I found that the outcomes of acts of everyday discrimination can have lasting career impact. One of the most prominent examples is when Claudia, an African American administrator, was singled out by her white male supervisor while he was speaking during a staff meeting about African Americans in general. The supervisor uttered what Sue might term a micro-insult, “Oh, I don’t mean you. You’re different. You’re an Oreo.” He would often ask her, “How do black people feel about… “ (any number of subjects). Soon the supervisor would not take her phone calls or provide her with direction or feedback. He repeatedly tried to push her to the edge and force her to resign, sometimes calling her at 11:00 p.m. and giving her assignments due at 8:00 a.m. the next morning. Not long afterward, when Claudia would not comply with an unethical directive, he fired her and had security walk her off campus.

This example and others cited in our study suggest that research attention needs to focus on the material, social, career-related, and economic impact of micro-aggressions as well as the underlying causes of what Joe Feagin describes as the socially inherited white framework of numerous racialized images, emotions, stereotypes, and interpretations that give rise to day-to-day acts of exclusion.

The accumulation of micro-invalidations, micro-assaults, and micro-insults suggests patterns that require much further analysis as to whether they are conscious or unconscious–and whether their impacts on people of color are really “micro-” or almost always “macro-” We also need to study ways of coping and resistance that are effective in situations that involve power differentials between majority and minority group members in order to offer psychological support to those who experience everyday forms of exclusion.

Constitution Day and the “Freedom” to Express Hate

On Sept. 17th, universities across the nation will be celebrating Constitution Day, which commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787, 230 years ago. In How Democratic is the American Constitution Political Scientist Robert Dahl argues that we should demythologize the Constitution suggesting that we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss its shortcomings in order to find ways to improve it.

In the spirit of Robert Dahl, a discussion on the First Amendment centered on the events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer is in order. While driving home from Saskatchewan, Canada I was stunned to learn that hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members had marched to “take America back” clashing violently with counter-protesters as seen in this HBO Vice News video. These white supremacists marched through the streets armed with guns, torches, Klan shields, and the idea that they were, as one white nationalist stated in a Washington Post article, there to “stand up for the white race.”

The use of torches and Klan shields have a long, deeply disturbing, and well understood meaning in this country. In How Race is Made in America, Natalia Molina refers to images such as the ones employed by these white supremacists marchers as racial scripts. Racial scripts are racial messages used time and again throughout American history in ways that can be reused and understood for

new rounds of dehumanization and demonization in the next generation or even the next debate” or in this case, the next march (Molina 2014, p. 7).

The only thing missing from the marchers were the white robes and hoods.

Yet, the event was initially given the green light because of the sweeping protection of freedom of expression in the First Amendment. Few, if any other, countries allow for the exercise of hate speech by a minority such as the kind displayed in Charlottesville.

The racial scripts conjured up in this march were clear; but in this case, the First Amendment right to free speech went beyond the expression of ideas—repulsive as they were—and resulted in dozens of injuries, the death of two police officers from a helicopter crash, and the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant with a law firm in Virginia after being intentionally struck by a white nationalist with his vehicle.

The First Amendment idea of free speech is obviously a good one. Indeed, the argument for it is sound. Expression is protected, even when stupid, hateful, and meant to be disturbing. Otherwise, the powers in charge start choosing who can speak and who cannot.

However, one must ask if some speech, indeed hate speech of this violence-threatening kind, goes too far, particularly during a time of the rise of hate groups and hate crimes. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center both have been on the rise since 2000 and are directly linked to: (1) demographic predictions that whites will be a minority by 2040, (2) the election of Barack Obama, and (3) the election of Donald Trump in reaction to our first African American President. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups operating in the country in 2016 remained at near-historic highs, rising from 892 in 2015 to 917 last year, close to the all time high of 1,018 in 2011. In this context, clearly a conversation about the parameters of free speech is needed.

In light of the recent events in Charlottesville, one must ask the important question:

How can we combat growing white supremacy, within the context of our broad freedom of speech expression rights found in the First Amendment?

Each of us must think long and hard about this question, and in the spirit of Dahl, find ways to make the constitution more democratic for all. Because the kind of hate and violence that took place in Charlottesville should not be protected by the Constitution.

Counteracting Sexist Spanish, While Respecting the Language

It’s important to distinguish sexo (English “sex”) from género gramatical (English “gender”) in Spanish. Although both have the same two categories, masculino and femenino, sexo pertains to differences in human reproduction while género is a linguistic property that has no necessary connection with biological sex. Sexist Spanish has three forms:

a) The first occurs when the género masculino of a noun or adjective has a positive meaning but the género femenino of the same word has a negative meaning. When a man is a called a zorro (fox, género masculino) it means that he is “crafty and astute,” but when a woman called a zorra (fox, género femenino) it means that she is a prostitute.

b) The second form consists of the metaphorical use of adjectives based on male and female genitalia to signify, respectively, good and bad qualities. Cojonudo (from cojones, testicles) can be used in the sense of “stupendous, magnificent, brave,” while Coñazo (from coño, akin to “cunt“) may be employed to signify “annoying, tiresome, unbearable.”

c) The third and most discussed form is the use of the género masculino as unmarked or “generic” which can represent just one of the géneros (masculino) or both (masculino and femenino). For example, Los empleados deben venir (Employees must come) may refer to male employees (empleados) only or to both male and female employees (empleadas). Empleadas are not mentioned explicitly.

The Real Academia Española, traditionally the highest linguistic authority on Spanish, rejects the idea that the generic is sexist because it includes both genders, but its opponents rightly point out that languages are dynamic and reflect changes in society, which also must be factored into this discussion.

US scholars focus on this form of sexist Spanish, and to avoid it they use neologisms such as the slash (barra in Spanish) as in Latinos/as, Latino/a students, Latino/a Studies Center. There are, however, ways to avoid Sexist Spanish while staying within the bounds of respecting Standard Spanish and we as academics should follow them as much as possible. An excellent guide was issued by Spain’s Comisión de Mujeres y Ciencia (Commission of Women and Science). One of its important observations is that “The use of words . . . regardless of grammatical género, which designate human beings collectively or individually but don’t specify sexo (male or female) is not sexist.” [My translation.]

Examples are pueblo and persona, as in “pueblo Chicano” or “persona Latina.” The words puebla and persono don’t exist. We follow this guideline in the title of our book, Latino Peoples in the United States instead of Latinos in the United States. Finally, names such as Latino/a Studies Center are not necessary, because sexist language applies only to people, not things.

It is important to keep in mind that these methods are not perfect. Sometimes appropriate “collective” nouns don’t exist and individuals who insist on avoiding sexist Spanish may have to resort to other approaches, such as “doubling” (as in Latino and Latina immigrants) that are less than ideal. Doubling is considered “too wordy” by some.

Scholars who insist on the use of both genders for inanimate objects may follow this usage: Choose the form that agrees with the género of the noun in Spanish. For example, Latino Studies (from estudios, género masculino), Latina Library (from biblioteca, género femenino), Latino data (from datos, género masculino), Latina statistics (from estadísticas, género femenino). Too much of a hassle? Perhaps, but it certainly beats artificial neologisms pulled out of the air in the United States.

These neologisms are usually another example of US hegemony at work. I don’t expect that US scholars are going to drop practices that they have been following for years after they read my post. But I’d like to get the message out there and, who knows, maybe some people will start thinking seriously about it.

The Spanish language has been kicked around long enough in this country. White school authorities tried to suppress (including violently punishing) the use of Spanish among Spanish-speaking children at different points in US history. Then there is the white racialized “humor” of “Mock Spanish,” (No problemo, Hasty banana [for hasta mañana]) and the common white harassment of Spanish speakers in public. The Trump Administration early on hastened to remove the Spanish portion of the White House website.

I’d like to emphasize that I’m not a snob and my main concern is not so much with how scholars or students choose to refer to themselves as with how universities are following these rules in the names of curricula, departments, centers and libraries, and therefore giving them legitimacy. Universities are institutions of higher learning and should respect the linguistic integrity of academic Spanish.

Reflections on Racial-Gender Intersectionality Theory

Two approaches in sociology have developed for analyzing social injustice: gendered racism and intersectionality. Despite similarities between the two, some recent studies have neglected earlier contributions to this topic. This essay raises questions as to why this is happening.

In the late 1990s, I co-authored several articles and was first author on a book, Double Burden, on the topic of gendered racism. Data for the book came from two sources: a large national set of interviews with middle-class African Americans, and focus group interviews. Our model was Everyday Racism (1990), Philomena Essed’s pioneering comparative study of gendered racism, based on the experiences of Surinamese women in the Netherlands and African American women. According to Essed:

Black women are faced with oppression on the basis of their gender (sexism), their racial/ethnic origin (racism), and – in most cases – on the basis of their class as well (classism). These different forms of oppression converge in black women’s experience. . . . Being both women and black, they may meet with different forms of sexism than do white women.

It is often difficult to establish when a new idea appears. But Ange-Marie Hancock, author of a recent analysis of intersectionality, places around 1988 as the approximate date. Hancock gives credit to legal critical scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw for introducing the concept. Another scholar considered a founder is Bonnie Thornton Dill. So, Essed’s work on the combined effects of race and gender was published very early.

Moreover, her early and powerful definition of gendered racism strikingly resembles the definition of intersectionality in a recent book by sociologists Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge more than twenty years later:

Intersectionality is a way of understanding and analyzing the complexity of the world, in people, and in human experiences. The events and conditions of social and political life and the self can seldom be understood as shaped by one factor. They are generally shaped by many factors in diverse and mutually influencing ways.

As defined here, intersectionality seems widely applicable. But so is the theory of gendered racism. The image of crossroads is analogous to both concepts. As crossroads, intersectionality and gendered racism have similar complexities and consequences. The more sections meet, the greater need for caution and intervention. Here is gendered racism as defined in Double Burden in the 1990s:

In the everyday lives of black women there are distinctive combinations of racial and gender factors. They face not only the “double jeopardy” condition of having to deal with both racism and sexism but also the commonplace condition of unique combinations of the two. Because racial and gender characteristics are often blended, they may trigger individual and collective reactions by whites that are also fused. This real-world blending often makes it difficult to know the separate contributions of each element in particular situations that involve both racial and gender barriers to social mobility and personal achievement.

Several articles which preceded the publication of Double Burden also explored gendered racism, describing it as “discrimination faced by black women that stems from the intersection of race and gender.” Based upon interviews with African American women, the articles also explored the subtle nature of gendered racism, as well as its costs for life in the workplace, and for the African American family.

Intersections are clearly not limited to inequalities of gender and race. Class, age, marital status, education, politics, economics, homeownership, health status, foreign or immigrant status, ethnicity, citizenship, sexual and religious preferences – academic ranking and institutional status for scholars – in addition to many more factors, can intersect at multiple levels.

Intersectionality is presented as “new and improved,” qualities valued in the United States. It is also useful for macro-level analyses of such categories as transnationalism, diasporic citizenship, and institutions. Are these levels sufficient? Take, for example, the enduring conflicts on Quisqueya (Hispaniola) between the Ayiti (Haitians)and those in the Dominican Republic. The experiential reality (micro level) of Dominican-Haitians in the Dominican Republic is likely different for men and women (i.e., gendered). It is also a vestige of historical supremacy and related policies at the macro level. The study of gendered racism precedes the idea of intersectionality, and continues to be relevant to building a sociological frame. Thus, it is important to cast a net widely enough to acknowledge the contributions of earlier scholars.

I reviewed several articles for this commentary (Allen, 2002; Hughes and Howard-Hamilton, 2003; Shorter-Gooden, 2004; Rodriguez, 2006; Jones et al, 2007; Hall et al., 2012; Grollman 2014), as listed at the end of this commentary. Of particular interest to me are analyses responding critically to a lack of research on immigrant women. In the United States, immigrant women have experiences similar to those of African-American women, but additional characteristics such as language and skin color make analysis more difficult. When present in combination, these factors would enter any analysis that uses gendered racism as a theoretical framework.

Class, determined by skin color and language, adds even more intersections. Lighter skin offers privileges not accessible to dark women. Accented speech, signifying a lack of cultural assimilation, can block or delay social mobility. Yet, in other circumstances the same speech can serve as asset, differentiating black immigrant women from native born, and even improve their status. These subtler considerations enter the intersections that shape gendered racism or the intersectionality framework.

Earlier, I mentioned foreign origin status as important to the analysis of both intersectionality and gendered racism. Recent research shows:

racial identity attitudes moderate the relationship between racist stress events, racist stress appraisal, and mental health. . . . [M]ulticultural identity attitudes are somewhat protective against the impact of race-related stress on mental health (Jones, Cross, DeFour, 2007); [and] black Caribbean immigrants have a broader interpretation of race than native-born Blacks (Vickerman, 1999; Waters, 1994; 1999).

This is because,

[t]he historical context of race relations in the United States lends itself to a specific racial orientation for native-born Blacks, because being that in the United States is associated with the specific economic and occupational outcomes that are persistent. [However,r]esearch also suggests that Caribbean immigrants become more racialized the longer they reside in the United States (Vickerman, 1999: 211).

Thus, for immigrant women length of time in the United States is also an important intra-section that helps explain similarities as well as variations in the experience of gendered racism.

I browsed two recent book-length publications on intersectionality and for the most part found what seems to be competition among scholars for the ownership of “intersectionality.” The concept has gained so much in popularity, it is becoming part of the “social scientific buzz” of our time. Although gendered racism is closely related the theory of intersectionality, it does not have a prominent place in these writings. I was taken aback when looking in the bibliographies of Hancock and of Collins and Bilge’s Intersectionality for the name “Philomena Essed,” but could not find it.

The index of the first edition of Collins’ Black Feminist Thought(1990) does not list “intersectionality.” However, the concept appears numerous times in the second edition (2000). The reference section of this newer edition also lists Essed’s Everyday Racism (1991) on page 309, and Double Burden on page 322. However, these two publications do not appear in Collins and Bilge’s 2016 Intersectionality.

In my view it is not enough to write, as Collins and Bilge: “You may find that some of your favorite authors are barely mentioned and that authors whom you have never heard of are discussed at length.” It is incumbent on scholars to give credit to those who contributed to building ideas they later develop. This is even more important for sociologists aware of the consequences of “gendered-racial” exclusion, mirrored by institutions, including the academic. Scholars must lift up less well known scholars working outside research universities, rather than take an elitist attitude toward academic publications.

As a theoretical frame, intersectionality is powerful. But so is the earlier gendered racism. Actually, I too prefer “intersectionality.” It removes the accusatory tone of gendered racism, making it more acceptable as a research tool, and more engaging for discussions. But what is needed in future analyses is clarity. Are the authors speaking to other scholars, to the public, or to themselves? Intersectionality builds upon existing theoretical tools, adding new meaningful categories to the original intersections of race, gender and class.

In addition, this issue of academic elitism, so far, may not have received much attention. But there is a perception (often a demonstrable reality) that scholarship produced by academics working outside research universities is given less consideration by other scholars inside those institutions. It may be time for sociology and other social sciences to address the gap between its ideal of inclusivity and the reality of marginalization.

Yanick St Jean, Ph.D., teaches and researches sociology at Northwest Arkansas Community College

My article References:

Allen, Beverlyn Lundy. 2002. “Race and Gender Inequality in Homeownership.” Rural Sociology 67 (4): 603-621.
Allen, Walter R., Angela D. James and Ophella Dano (eds.). 1998. “Comparative Perspectives on Black Family Life.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies. XXIX: 2 (Summer). Sage.
Grollman, Anthony Eric. 2014. “Multiple Disadvantaged Statuses and Health.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 55(1): 3-19.
Hall, J. Camille, Joyce E. Everett and Johnnie Hamilton-Mason. 2012. “Black Women Talk About Workplace Stress and How They Cope.” Journal of Black Studies 43(2): 207-226.
Hughes, Robin L. and Mary F. Howard-Hamilton. 2003. “Insights.” New Directions for Student Services 95-104 (Winter).
Jones, Hollie L., William E. Cross Jr. and Darlene C. DeFour. 2007. “Race-Related Stress, Racial Identity Attitudes, and Mental Health Among Black Women.” Journal of Black Psychology 33 2: 208-231.
Lovejoy, Meg. 2001. “Disturbances in the Social Body.” Gender& Society 15 (2): 239-261.
Rodriguez, Dalia. 2006. “Un/masking Identity.” Qualitative Inquiry 12(6):1067-1090.
Shorter-Gooden, Kumea. 2004 “Multiple Resistance Strategies.” Journal of Black Psychology 30 (3): 406-425.
Thompson, Maxine S. and Verna M. Keith. 2001. “The Blacker the Berry.” Gender & Society 15 (3): 337-357.

Fanning the Flames of Intolerance and White Nationalism

During last night’s rally in Phoenix, Arizona, President Donald Trump further fanned the flames of intolerance and divisiveness—-flames that he has stoked and encouraged throughout his candidacy and presidency. Accompanied by individuals such as Ben Carson, the only black member of his Cabinet, and Alveda King, Martin Luther King’s niece, he appeared to try to offer an image of multi-racialism. It didn’t last long. Contradicting his own efforts at visual diversity, he deliberately mischaracterized his responses to white supremacist, Neo-Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia by omitting his repeated reference to “many sides” as responsible for the violence. Trump failed once again to even mention the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer, who was run down by a car in an act of domestic terrorism. Heyer believed in standing up for those who were not heard.

Calling those who would allow Confederate statues to be removed, “weak, weak people,” Trump asserted, “They’re trying to take away our culture, they’re trying to take away our history.” Perhaps most troubling of all was the response of what appeared to be an audience of mostly white supporters, who cheered vociferously in support of ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the implied commitment Trump made in the rally to pardon him. Arpaio was convicted of federal crimes and criminal contempt in defying a court order to end racial profiling tactics against Latinos.

The resurgence of white identity politics and white nationalism in America has brought to the surface what Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin term the “backstage” of two-faced racism. As demonstrated by their research sample drawn from the diaries and journals of over 600 white students from across the nation. On the frontstage white protagonists may present themselves as color blind in front of diverse audiences. But in backstage settings of all white audiences, individuals made blatantly racist comments, actions, and emotions. Such comments were “tolerated, if not encouraged—and sometimes even expected” (p. 91). Trump’s rants, provocative comments, and equivocation regarding white supremacy and the KKK, have energized his base, normalized racist speech, and made it socially acceptable to bring comments and actions from the white backstage to the more diverse frontstage.

Take, for example, the findings of a survey of 600 white, non-Hispanic American adults conducted in 2016 by Ashley Jardina, an assistant professor at Duke University. The participants rated on a scale of 0 to 100 to describe how warm they felt about the Ku Klux Klan and Trump. Surprisingly, 11 percent rated the Klan at 50 degrees are higher and nearly one quarter rated the Klan between 10 and 50. On the same survey, the researcher found that 40 percent described being white as extremely or very important to their identity and 54 percent indicated that whites have a lot to be proud of. In addition, white identifiers were more likely to believe that the increase of racial or ethnic groups is having a negative impact on American culture. They also tended to believe that America owes white people more opportunities than they currently have. These results are consonant with Trump’s lament about the loss of (white) “American culture” in the rally.

Feelings of fear and lack of safety among racial/ethnic minorities, immigrants, LGBT individuals, and members of Muslim and Jewish religious groups have increased under Trump’s administration. Incident after incident reinforces this feeling of alienation and a lack of safety among diverse individuals. A case in point is Trump’s sudden, unscripted twitter announcement that transgender individuals will not be allowed in the military.

Perhaps no more symbolic incident could represent the alienation of the Trump administration from cherished American values than Latino CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s recent interchange in a press conference with Trump’s white adviser Stephen Miller, in which Acosta quoted the Statue of Liberty’s inscription,

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Acosta was responding to the administration’s proposed skill-based immigration plan that would cut legal immigration in half and require that prospective green-card holders learn English before arriving in America. Acosta asked Miller,

Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them, you have to speak English? Can’t they speak English when they get here?

When Miller drew on a standard white nationalist argument about the origins of the poem on the Statue of Liberty, saying the verse had been added later, Acosta replied,

You’re saying that does not represent what the country has always thought of as generations coming into this country. Stephen, I’m sorry, that sounds like some national park revisionism. The Statue of Liberty has been a beacon of hope to the world for people to send their people to this country.

It is a time to be fearful for our democracy. It is a time to speak out for what we believe to be the values of this society. A friend recently reminded us of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s eloquent Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech:

It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed. [Wiesel continued]. . . how naive we were. . . the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. . . . Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.

Liberal White Supremacy: Charlottesville and a Conversation with Justice

This past weekend, I was riding bikes with my ten-year old daughter, Justice, when she asked me what a white supremacist is. She had heard from her friend’s mom, a self-identified liberal, that white supremacists are people who think “whites” are better than anyone else. This prompted a long discussion between us about different types of white supremacists. When most liberals use the term “white supremacist,” they usually have a stereotypical image in mind of an uneducated, “white” southerner, who is an outspoken racist. They use offensive words regularly and are just not very good at hiding their racism. These white supremacists are psychologically useful to many liberal “white” people who want to divorce themselves of guilt and prove that they are good, non-racist people. These liberals subscribe to what Joe Feagin and Hernan Vera call “sincere fictions of the white self.” The ultimate goal of such individuals is to show that they are generally good people. They can easily do so by separating themselves from overt racists like the ones in Charlottesville. If they openly show their disgust of racist symbols, such as the confederate flag and the statue of Robert E. Lee, they can secure their place as non-racists. While it is important to challenge overt racism and racist symbols, it is equally important to denounce other more insidious and covert forms of racism in which liberal minded folks engage.

Liberal white supremacy is not outspoken. It manifests quietly in the kinds of acts liberals are quick to condemn and those they let slide. I see white supremacy in many of my liberal friends, who condemn the statue of Robert E. Lee and the confederate flag, but would never call their child’s principal or teacher a racist for promoting uncritical school celebrations of Columbus Day or Thanksgiving. To do so would make them feel uncomfortable and might put their children in an unfavorable position with school authorities.

So, every year, I find myself alone in challenging the school curriculum. The kind of homework Justice brought home in Kindergarten, which she immediately began to protest, included an endearing puppet of Christopher Columbus and a poem about how brave he was and how we should strive to be like him. Five years later, I went to Justice’s sixth grade orientation only to find a history textbook that portrayed Columbus sympathetically, noting a quote from his ship logs, where he describes indigenous people as: “Well-built people of handsome structure…and show as much love as if they were giving their hearts.” The book leaves out the part where Columbus stated, “With fifty men, we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Not a peep from liberal parents. At most, they can muster an uncomfortable stare or a thoroughly disgusted “Tsk!” Still, few are willing to call the school officials, who condone this curriculum, racists. In our liberal town, there is a statue honoring Columbus with an inscription that reads:

CHRISTOPHER
COLUMBUS
DISCOVERER OF AMERICA
IN 1492
FORESIGHT-FAITH-COURAGE
DEDICATED TO THE VALLEY RESIDENTS
OF THE TOWNSHIP OF WEST ORANGE
NEW JERSEY OCTOBER 10, 1992

So, this was dedicated on the five-hundredth year anniversary of 1492. At the same time in Genoa, Italy 20,000 people took to the streets in protest of the quincentenary. Where’s the outrage among liberals in the Northern U.S. against this statue and others like it?

The same problem is present at school celebrations of Thanksgiving. One year, I witnessed kids playing and saying that they were Indians. My liberal “white” friend, who I know is someone that cares about social justice and vehemently denounces white supremacists in Charlottesville, corrected her daughter by telling her she should use the phrase, “Native Americans.” She kind of missed the point. A correction in words is not enough to challenge the racist ideology that encourages “white” children to see indigenous people as caricatures to play. This also connects to a school curriculum and media images that treat Native Americans as objects of the past.

Instead of protesting these issues and calling them what they are, racist, most liberals just go along with them. They don’t want to start trouble, when it is in their own backyards, so they remain silent and complicit in their everyday liberal white supremacy. However, in the case of Charlottesville, a place that seems far removed from liberal bubbles in the North, it is easy for these same parents, who refuse to speak up other days of the year, to condemn white supremacy. These liberals also have a special hatred for Donald Trump and a special love for Barack Obama. These political opposites serve the same psychological function for a lot of liberal “white” folks. Enthusiastically embracing Barack Obama allowed “white” liberals to prove they didn’t have a racist bone in their bodies in the same way that hating Donald Trump did.

Since the election of Donald Trump, it seems that identifying as a liberal has become, to some, a radical act. I want to caution my liberal comrades against this. Consider what Malcolm X had to say about “white” liberals and conservatives:

The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political “football game” that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives.

Politically the American Negro is nothing but a football and the white liberals control this mentally dead ball through tricks of tokenism: false promises of integration and civil rights. In this profitable game of deceiving and exploiting the political politician of the American Negro, those white liberals have the willing cooperation of the Negro civil rights leaders. These “leaders” sell out our people for just a few crumbs of token recognition and token gains. These “leaders” are satisfied with token victories and token progress because they themselves are nothing but token leaders.

The white conservatives aren’t friends of the Negro either, but they at least don’t try to hide it. They are like wolves; they show their teeth in a snarl that keeps the Negro always aware of where he stands with them. But the white liberals are foxes, who also show their teeth to the Negro but pretend that they are smiling. The white liberals are more dangerous than the conservatives; they lure the Negro, and as the Negro runs from the growling wolf, he flees into the open jaws of the “smiling” fox.

The job of the Negro civil rights leader is to make the Negro forget that the wolf and the fox both belong to the (same) family. Both are canines; and no matter which one of them the Negro places his trust in, he never ends up in the White House, but always in the dog house.

Both types of white supremacy do not challenge the dominant white racial frame. In fact, they support it. Liberal white supremacists are concerned with finding evil racists that allow them to look good. They do not challenge the racial or economic status quo unless it is safe to do so and then only if it does not upset their social and economic positions. They would deny that they are white supremacists, because they do not say racist things, but they are just as culpable in maintaining the larger system of white supremacy.

Angie Beeman is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Baruch College. She is currently writing a book manuscript entitled, “The Limits of Liberal Ideology: Silencing Racism and Privileging Class in Progressive Movements.”

White Supremacy & Antisemitism After Charlottesville

Although I’ve always known my grandmother, Sara Atzmon, was a survivor of the Holocaust, it took me over 18 years to work up the courage to ask her about her experiences as a Jew in Nazi occupied Europe. As a child, I was terrified of knowing what my grandmother had gone through. On the other hand, as a student of Jewish history, I knew that these stories must be told to prevent their future reoccurrence. When we would discuss her experiences, I would ask about “the war”—always being careful not to ask about a specific incident, but allowing her to share what she was ready and willing to. One of her most vivid and often reflected upon memories was her recounting of the day the Nazi occupation force came to her rural farm to seize her and her family. She was always careful to note that the family who disclosed their Jewish identity was the same local farming family who had come by to sing them Christmas carols for many years. She made sure I understood that when antisemitism becomes promoted by the powerful (Nazis in occupied Europe) that the antisemitism of everyday “good” white Christians will surface for all to see clearly.

On August 15, 2017, the lessons my grandmother taught me began ringing in my ears so loudly I could barely hear myself think. With the election of Donald Trump, open and overt white supremacist demonstrations have once again become common place in the United States. I can see my Jewish friends across the nation begin to uneasily question our place as Jews in white America as I scroll through my Facebook feed. They have good reason to, as well. Despite a recent Pew Research study showing that 90% of Jewish Americans self-identify as white, white supremacists have clearly separated Jews from their socially constructed white racial category. For example, at the recent white nationalist rally held in Charlottesville Virginia, Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke told the crowd

the American media, and the American political system, and the American Federal Reserve, is dominated by a tiny minority: the Jewish Zionist cause

while supremacist Richard Spencer taunted Charlottesville’s Jewish Mayor, Mike Singer, and asked the crowd how to pronounce his name. They answered by chanting “Jew, Jew, Jew.” Furthermore, a crowd of hundreds of white supremacists marched with lit torches, many of the participants proudly displayed swastikas and images of Hitler while they chanted “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” (and English translation of the old German Nazi “blut und boden”). This recent uptick in overt and public displays of white supremacy begs the following questions: 1) Why are Jews targeted by white supremacists? 2) Where is the resurgence in white supremacy and racialized antisemitism coming from? 3) What can we do, as self-identified white Jews, to combat white supremacy?

To answer the first question, I turn to the work of linguist and cognitive scientist, George Lakoff, and sociologist, Joe Feagin. For the sake of simplicity, frames are worldviews that people operate out of in everyday life, and the white racial frame is the racial worldview that the vast majority of white actors in the U.S. and Western societies operate out of.

Central to the white racial frame is the view, or subframe, that most whites are virtuous actors. In addition, anti-“other” views are incorporated into this larger racial worldview—-taking the form of anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-Latino, and others including anti-Jewish. In fact, almost immediately after terms like “race” and “black and white race” were developed by Europeans in the 17th century, elite white American men used these socially constructed categories to impose a non-white identity on Jews. For example, in 1654, Peter Stuyvesant, who governed the New Amsterdam colony described the first Jewish immigrants to the American colonies as “a deceitful race”—clearly separating them from the “virtuous” white Protestants whom were welcomed in New Amsterdam.

While racialized antisemitism has become less acceptable (yet still present and accepted in white backstage settings) after the 1940s fall of Nazi Germany—-leading most white Americans to impose an off-white identity on Jews-—white supremacists have held fast to this idea that Jews are non-white.

Now that we understand the links between white racial framing, white supremacy, and racialized antisemitism, we can move to a discussion of where this resurgence is coming from. Joe Feagin and Kimberley Ducey note the central role of elite white men in the production and reproduction of systemic white racism, systemic sexism, and systemic capitalism. This also holds true for racialized antisemitism—-a subframe in the larger white racial worldview that justifies and upholds systemic white racism. Today, elite white men, such as financier William H. Regnery II, continue to be at the center of the promotion of this white racial framing, much the way Peter Stuyvesant was in 1654—-complete with narratives of white virtuosity, and overt racialized antisemitism that work in tandem with various anti-“other” frames to reproduce systemic white racism. For example, Regnery has described his greatest political achievement as his discovery of white supremacist Richard Spencer! In addition, Spencer himself has noted that Regnery has played a “vitally important and indispensable” part in the formation of the so-called alt-right movement. Sadly, not much has changed in terms of the central actors who maintain and promote racism and racialized forms of antisemitism in the U.S. over the past four hundred years—they remain elite white men.

How can we combat white supremacy? My answer here is twofold.

1) As scholars of U.S. antisemitism, we must begin to focus on white, and particularly elite white, antisemitism—-a topic that is rarely discussed in studies of contemporary U.S. antisemitism in favor continued discussions of antisemitism in Muslim and black communities.
2) We must begin to work toward building coalitions with communities of color to combat white supremacy. This second goal will require self-reflection regarding the way we, self-identified white Jewish Americans, actively participate in, and passively support through our silence, white supremacy.

What do I mean by actively promoting white supremacy? I refer to the racist language and actions that some Jewish Americans engage in. For example, look to the AEPi chapter of the University of Chicago—a historically Jewish fraternity—and their leaked listserv emails in 2016. In these emails, that span from 2011 through 2015, these Jewish students sound much like white supremacists who do not target Jews. For example, these students planned to celebrate MLK Day at a fried chicken restaurant and regularly used the “N-word” as well as associated other slurs to refer to African Americans. They also regularly used labels like “terrorist” when talking about Muslim students. Yet, perhaps the most telling example of how their emails resemble old white supremacist rhetoric can be found in an email from July 2011. In this email, a member asks other members not to publicly use his newly given nickname because it has the N-word embedded in it. While he is careful to point out to them that he finds it “very, very, funny,” he also notes that it is “very, very, racist” and should be kept to private spaces (their backstage) unless “you need to satisfy your inner klansman.”

What do I mean by silence? I refer to the fact that there is often no outcry or action by leaders of the Jewish community when people of color are murdered by state officials, when Indigenous people’s lands and water are stolen by elite-white-male-owned corporations, and when the myriad of other everyday events occur which promote white supremacy and other aspects of systemic white racism in the United States. We must not be silent any longer and we must teach the next generation of white Jewish Americans to actively and openly engage anti-racist viewpoints and actions. Some groups, such as Jews for Economic and Racial Justice, have begun this work but need more active support from more Jewish Americans.

This is how we, as self-identified white Jews, begin to move toward dismantling white supremacy in America. This must happen now. By participating in, and being silent about, white supremacy, we are breathing life into it and spreading it. If we do not work against white supremacy, it is just a matter of time before our own white neighbors point us out as the local Jews.

Thaddeus Atzmon is a Ph.D. student in Sociology at Texas A&M University. His current research focuses on the co-reproduction of systemic white racism and antisemitism in the United States. He can be contacted at tadd1145@tamu.edu