All posts for the month August, 2014

What’s in a name? A lot (double participation)

Published August 31, 2014 by djlwsu

Language is so important.  These two articles talk about naming and language, so please keep this in mind within our conversations, within your writing, and within our outside class contexts.  Part of expanding conversations and having the most conversations is being precise and reflective of language we use.  Please read the two articles below, reflect on them, and talk about why how we say things can be as important as what we say 


March 30, 2014 9:25 PM ET
Can race and ethnicity be represented by the colors found in a crayon box?

Can race and ethnicity be represented by the colors found in a crayon box?


Language is and always will be an essential element in the struggle for understanding among peoples. Changes in the words and phrases we use to describe each other reflect whatever progress we make on the path toward a world where everyone feels respected and included.

A Google Ngram search comparing the frequency of the use of “colored people,” “minorities” and “people of color” delivers interesting results. The use of the phrase “colored people” peaked in books published in 1970. For “minorities,” the top-ranked year was 1997. Since then, the term has steadily declined but continues to significantly outstrip the use of “people of color,” which reached its apex in 2003 (although it is important to note that 2008 is the latest year for which results are available).

Let’s consider the evolution of that ubiquitous phrase, “people of color.” It’s not new.

A little research into early sources turns up “An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves into any Port or Place Within the Jurisdiction of the United States” (signed in 1807), which applied to “any negro, mulatto, or person of colour” — indicating that the term was well-enough established to be used in the text of legislation.

People who fit this broad category could no longer legally be brought into the country for the purpose of involuntary servitude. But the precise definition of “person of color” has varied among the states and over time.

As the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper noted in November 1912:

“The statutes of Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas assert that ‘a person of color’ is one who is descended from a Negro to the third generation, inclusive, though one ancestor in each generation may have been white. According to the law of Alabama one is ‘a person of color’ who has had any Negro blood in his ancestry for five generations. … In Arkansas ‘persons of color’ include all who have a visible and distinct admixture of African blood. … Thus it would seem that a Negro in one state is not always a Negro in another.”

The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest reference for “person of color” is from the Frenchgens (or hommesde couleur, in the late 18th century. A 1797 survey of the population of what is now Haiti described three classes of people, including “The class which, by a strange abuse of language, is called people of colour, originates from an intermixture of the whites and the blacks.”

“Person” or “people” as a term for human beings, that’s pretty much uncontroversial. But color — which can be used as a noun, an adjective or a verb (transitive and intransitive) — is a word packed with history, prejudice and confusion when it’s used to describe someone’s complexion as an indication of race or ethnicity.

The adjective form — “colored” — we hardly need the OED to confirm, but it says the term is now:

“Usually considered offensive … Coloured was adopted in the United States by emancipated slaves as a term of racial pride after the end of the American Civil War. It was rapidly replaced from the late 1960s as a self-designation by black and later by African-American, although it is retained in the name of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In Britain it was the accepted term for black, Asian, or mixed-race people until the 1960s.”

In a 1988 New York Times column about the phrase, the late great language maven William Safire pointed out that Martin Luther King Jr. referred to “citizens of color” in his speech at the 1963 March on Washington. Safire also quoted an NAACP spokesman:

” ‘Times change and terms change. Racial designations go through phases; at one time Negro was accepted, at an earlier time colored and so on. This organization has been in existence for 80 years and the initials NAACP are part of the American vocabulary, firmly embedded in the national consciousness, and we feel it would not be to our benefit to change our name.’ “

Safire continued in that 1988 essay:

“Colored people (which in South Africa means ‘people of racially mixed ancestry’) has in the United States a connotation different from people of color. … Colored is often taken as a slur, even when not so intended, and so this term — first used with this meaning in 1611 by the historian John Speed as ‘coloured countenances’ — is better replaced by its synonym as noun and adjective, black. People of color, on the other hand, is a phrase encompassing all nonwhites. … When used by whites, people of color usually carries a friendly and respectful connotation, but should not be used as a synonym for black; it refers to all racial groups that are not white.”

When I was a kid, the “flesh” crayon in a box of Crayolas was pink, even though no one actually has pink skin (except maybe after a day on the beach without sunscreen, when I could go all the way to orange-red). The company renamed it “peach” in 1962, and now promotes a “Multicultural” box of crayons in eight “skin hues” — Apricot, Black, Burnt Sienna, Mahogany, Peach, Sepia, Tan, White.

The first thing I learned in color theory as an art student was that, when you’re talking about light, white means all colors and black is the absence of color, but if you’re referring to paint, then white is no color and black contains all colors.

Contemporary artist Carrie Mae Weems produced a series of photographic portraits of African-American children and called it Colored People. A New York Times review of an exhibit of her work described how she “tinted the prints with monochromatic dyes: yellow, blue, magenta. The results were beautiful … but the colors carried complex messages. They are reminders that the range of skin colors covered by ‘black’ is vast.”

“Person of color” is a useful term, because defining someone by a negative — nonwhite or other than white — seems silly. But some white folks object to the phrase, too, because, hey, we do have color.

One definition of white, from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, is “marked by slight pigmentation of the skin.” And the term seems to be replacing “minorities,” which makes sense, since minorities can be a demographic inaccuracy. In U.S. history, “person of color” has often been used to refer only to people of African heritage. Today, it usually covers all/any peoples of African, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, Asian or Pacific Island descent, and its intent is to be inclusive.

I think professor Salvador Vidal-Ortiz summed it up well in the Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Society:

“People of color explicitly suggests a social relationship among racial and ethnic minority groups. … [It is] is a term most often used outside of traditional academic circles, often infused by activist frameworks, but it is slowly replacing terms such as racial and ethnic minorities. … In the United States in particular, there is a trajectory to the term — from more derogatory terms such as negroes, to colored, to people of color. … People of color is, however it is viewed, a political term, but it is also a term that allows for a more complex set of identity for the individual — a relational one that is in constant flux.”



Opinion: Minorities? Try 'people of color'

New Census numbers show the marjority of children under 1 are of color.
May 18th, 2012

Opinion: Minorities? Try ‘people of color’

Editor’s Note: Rinku Sen is the President and Executive Director of the Applied Research Center (ARC) and the publisher of

By Rinku Sen, Special to CNN

(CNN) –With the news that, for the first time in U.S. history, the majority of American babies are not white, it should put to rest use of the term “minorities” as a reference to America’s black, Latino, Asian and Native American residents.

Nearly 30 years ago, I learned to think of myself as a person of color, and that shift changed my view of myself and my relationship to the people around me.

It is time for the entire nation, and our media in particular, to make the same move.

I am an Indian immigrant, and became a citizen in 1987.

My family came to the States in 1972 when I was five, just seven years after Congress passed the
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which removed bans on Asian immigration.

My father was a metallurgical engineer and we lived in predominantly white factory towns in New York and Pennsylvania.

All I ever wanted was to be fully American. But everything around me, from the population to the television, taught me that being American meant being white.

I lived in a household, similiar to others, where only white people were called Americans, and everyone else got a more specific title (black, Indian).

I grew up with the weird mix of pandering (“You’re such a genius like all your people! Let’s skip you to seventh grade!”) and exclusion (none of the white girls showed up to my 13th birthday party, and no, they didn’t call) that I would later learn characterized the “model-minority” experience of many Asian Americans.

Not yet aware that it was not only me who was treated this way, I had to develop alternative explanations to deny the racial reality in which I found myself, searching for “anything-but-race” reasons for my experiences.

At the beginning of my sophomore year at Brown University in 1984, the African American, Latino and Asian student groups ran a campaign for campus-wide policy changes – more professors, new curriculum, a new Third World Center.

There had been meetings and a rally, and I had skipped them all, just as I had skipped the school’s pre-orientation program for incoming students of color when I entered college.

One night I was with my friends Yuko, a Japanese national who had been raised in the U.S., and Valerie, a biracial black and white woman, who wanted me to attend a rally the next day.

I gave them the 1980s version of “I’m not feeling that.” And they gave me a serious talking-to. “You’re not a minority,” Yuko said. “you’re a person of color.”

I went to the rally.

It was the first time since immigrating that I felt I belonged in an American community.

That was the moment I realized that being an American wasn’t about looking like Marcia Brady. It was about making a commitment to the community you were in, and doing all you could do to make that the most inclusive, most compassionate, most effective community possible.

I have been building multiracial social justice organizations ever since.

Long before the press starting talking about changing demographics, community organizers needed to connect the communities that fell under the “minority” rubric.

Our specific groups were outnumbered by whites. But when we came together, the proportions shifted in a way that forced institutions to deal with us.

The term “people of color” has deep historical roots, not to be confused with the pejorative “colored people.”

“People of color” was first used in the French West Indies to indicate people of African descent who were not enslaved as “gens de couleur libre,” or “free people of color,” and scholars have found references to the term in English dating back to the early 1800’s.

American racial justice activists, influenced by Franz Fanon, picked up the term in the late 1970s and began to use it widely by the early 80s.

As an Indian immigrant, calling myself a person of color enabled me to identify with African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.

The new identity freed me from the model-minority slot that I had been given by the media, politicians and by Americans themselves.

To build a multiracial movement, I had to expand my identity in a way that tied me to African Americans’ struggle to access the promise of the American dream, rather than as the ringer that would suppress that struggle.

“People of color” is now commonly used far beyond political circles, as “minority” fades into the category of things that used to be true.

It is past time for the media and the general public to embrace the phrase.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rinku Sen.


75 Percent of White People Don’t Have Any Nonwhite Friends (Participation)

Published August 30, 2014 by djlwsu

75 Percent of White People Don’t Have Any Nonwhite Friends

A survey on values by the Public Religion Research Institute found that American’s social networks are seriously segregated.

(Photo: Getty Images)

August 29, 2014 

Britni Danielle is a regular contributor to TakePart. She’s written everything from pop culture to politics for several publications, including Clutch, Ebony, and Jet magazines.

A collective gasp of surprise went up this week after the Public Religion Research Institute released new survey data that found that 75 percent of white Americans have “entirely white social networks.” Yet our popular culture, the 800-percent rise in hate groups, the woefully homogenous workplaces at companies such as Google, an ever-widening wealth gap, and neighborhoods still segregated along racial lines should make it obvious that the postracial promised land heralded when President Obama was first elected does not exist.

Most white Americans would never admit to having segregated social circles or harboring racial biases against minorities. However, the Public Religion Research Institute’s survey methodology got around white folks’ reluctance to admit the lack of diversity in their social networks.

For the survey, the institute’s researchers asked respondents to “name up to seven people with whom they had ‘discussed important matters’ in the past six months.” After the respondents named those individuals, the researchers asked them to “provide five attributes about each of those individuals, including gender, race and ethnicity, religious affiliation, 2012 vote preference, and relationship to the respondent.”

Analysis of the responses found that “the percentage of Americans with social networks that are entirely comprised of people from the same racial or ethnic background” also varied depending on a respondent’s race or ethnicity. On top of the 75 percent of white Americans reporting “that the network of people with whom they discuss important matters is entirely white, with no minority presence,” the researchers also found that only 15 percent of white folks reported having a racially diverse social network. In comparison, 65 percent of black Americans reported having an all-black social network, and 23 percent said that their network is diverse.

In terms of the overall homogeneity of friends, the survey found that for “white Americans, 91 percent of people comprising their social networks are also white, while five percent are identified as some other race.” In comparison, “among black Americans, 83 percent of people in their social networks are composed of people who are also black, while eight percent are white and six percent are some other race.”

Though some would predict that white conservatives would be less likely to have a diverse group of friends given that their political views on social issues often alienate minority communities, PPRI’s survey found little difference between white Democrats and white Republicans. “There is little variation among white American subgroups in terms of the racial homogeneity of their social networks,” the institute reports. “White Republicans (81 percent) are no different from white Democrats (78 percent) in that they both have social networks that are entirely composed of whites.”

“The data does not surprise me at all,” says David J. Leonard, an associate professor of critical culture, gender, and race at Washington State University. “Implicit biases and stereotypes shape friendships, and if we look at media, if we look at popular culture, if we look at education, we see a persistence in the circulation of stereotypes that recycle prejudices. Those assumptions about difference shape friendships and invariably impact how white people interact with African Americans,” he says.

Socializing in homogenous networks and communities affects white people’s ability to be empathetic to the struggles their contemporaries of another color face. It also increases the likelihood that white Americans will view their minority counterparts through a stereotypical lens.

“If you see someone as a ‘stereotype’ or cannot see beyond the stereotype, it surely impairs your ability to be a friend, to see someone as a friend,” says Leonard. “Friendship is based in humanity, in human interaction, and racism denies the humanity of African Americans over and over again.”

That inability to see beyond a stereotype was evident after the recent shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A recent Pew poll found that 80 percent of African Americans thought the shooting in Ferguson raised important issues about race in America, while that number was just 37 percent for white Americans.

The contrast in thought was even more stark on Fox News Channel, where pundits debatedwhether Brown should even be referred to as an “unarmed teen” given his height and weight, despite that he was a teenager and was not armed when he was killed.

For African Americans, discussing Brown’s size as a weapon spoke to the long history of labeling all black men as potential predators. As Damon Young of the blog Very Smart Brothas put it, “It’s all about that belief an uncomfortably large segment of the population holds, that all Michael Browns—all black men and women, including those reading this right now—are potential Negro Supercriminals who need to be stopped.”

Though many white Americans would never admit to harboring racial biases against minorities, choosing instead to lean on having at least one nonwhite friend or cloaking themselves in so-called liberal views, PRRI’s study proves that for the majority of whites, this just isn’t true.

Segregated social interactions are one reason minorities have a difficult time reaching economic parity with whites.

“Whites help other whites, especially when unemployment is high,” Rutgers Business School vice dean Nancy DiTomaso wrote in The New York Times. “Although people from every background may try to help their own, whites are more likely to hold the sorts of jobs that are protected from market competition, that pay a living wage and that have the potential to teach skills and allow for job training and advancement.”

To begin bridging the gap that may lead to more cross-cultural friendships down the line, Leonard argues the route is simple: People have to talk to each other, and white folks have to own their privilege.

“Whites rarely have the opportunity to talk about race, to be held accountable for privilege, and to have important conversations,” he says. “Lacking the language to talk about race and to engage cross-racially will impact white people’s ability and willingness to develop these friendships.”

How Not to Derail the Dialogue on Race (Participation)

Published August 30, 2014 by djlwsu

How Not to Derail the Dialogue on Race

If we’re going to have this “national conversation” again, can we set some ground rules?

Posted: July 24 2013 12:57 AM

(The Root) — The question for this week’s column comes, loosely, from Slate’s William Saletan, who asked me to throw some ideas around with him as he composed a list of tips for “how to talk constructively about racism” in the wake of white-Hispanic George Zimmerman’s controversial acquittal in the shooting death of unarmed African-American teen Trayvon Martin.

I always sigh a little when I hear the calls for a “national conversation on race” that follow when inequality and injustice are brought to our attention in a big way.

— Jenée (@jdesmondharris) July 19, 2013

— Jenée (@jdesmondharris) July 19, 2013

Even President Barack Obama acknowledged in his remarks about Zimmerman’s acquittal that these conversations haven’t been “particularly productive.”I get it, though. The idea is that Americans might not totally understand what’s happening (in the Trayvon-Zimmerman case, it’s the insanely unfair, deeply rooted and, in fact, deadly bias that black men face and how it’s perpetuated), that we need the tools and information to do so and that providing those things will involve a lot of talking about it, both privately and publicly.

So, in response to Saletan’s request for tips, I rattled off a list of tips — mostly personal pet peeves and some general reminders. Most didn’t make the cut. In my view, his advice turned out to be more focused on keeping conversations about race calm and friendly (“put things in perspective,” “be gentle and forgiving,” “build trust,” “don’t polarize”) than on pushing for what I’d see as “constructive” talks. I worry that some of the tips — especially things like suggesting we “get past the difference” between the types of “bias” Zimmerman and Trayvon had toward each other — are at the expense of encouraging people to deal honestly with the history or contemporary nature of racial dynamics.

Saletan was upfront with his readers, admitting that the advice was “to and from a white perspective.” He sent them over to Race Manners for something from a black person.

So, if we’re going to have a “conversation on race,” I offer this nonexhaustive list of ground rules and reminders. It’s based on my hope that we can retire some of the predictable talking points and misleading themes that do nothing but derail the type of dialogue that’s been called for once again.

1. Talking about race isn’t racist. Don’t say that. Vilifying people who discuss race and point out racism — making them the bad guys — is one of the ways racism is maintained. So is acting as if “blacks suffer from racism” and “whites suffer from reverse racism” are equally valid points of view.

2. Yep, sometimes there are different standards for black and white stuff. You are going to get a different reaction for White History Month and Black History Month. A black person making a joke about race is different from a white person making a joke about race. To accept this requires letting go of the idea that this is really simple and thinking a little deeper about context and history. Please give up on the “But what if the races were reversed?” line of thinking. That type of analysis makes conversations simple, but it also makes them totally unhelpful.

3. African Americans are not monolithic. There is not one black experience or black point of view, and — surprise — black people are individuals who don’t agree on everything and shouldn’t have to answer for one another’s actions, any more than white people do. (So saying a black person can’t dislike the n-word because rappers use it doesn’t make sense. The person who stated an objection and the person who wrote the rap don’t actually share a brain.)

4. Remember that while “race” itself isn’t real, racism is, and our country’s long and well-documented history with racism has very real, lasting effects. Therefore, being “colorblind” is not helpful because it cripples our ability to deal with the tangible effects of racial inequality in just about every area of life.

5. Black people shouldn’t have to fit your definition of what’s respectable to deserve equality or justice. It’s silly and unfounded to blame inequality caused by institutionalized racism on, say, sagging pants or rap music. If you want to celebrate black people who are educated and high-achieving and defy persistent stereotypes, great, but that can’t be a requirement for fair treatment. We got into trouble with this type of thinking when evidence that Trayvon Martin was a normal teenager messed up so many people’s impression of him as a sympathetic victim.

6. Don’t defer to people like Bill Cosby about their theories about black people, any more than you would defer to a miscellaneous white celebrity about how white people are doing. If you need guidance, look for someone whose background offers evidence that he or she had the incentive to spend some time seeking information and thinking critically in a professional capacity about whatever it is the person is discussing.

7. Individual racism and systemic racism are two different things. We should care about all the structures that maintain racial inequality, not just individual actors. (This is why it’s not unreasonable to jump from George Zimmerman’s impression of Trayvon Martin to racial profiling by police.) That said, individual acts can provide strong reminders about larger attitudes and problems. Ahem, Paula Deen. Ahem.

8. Don’t give the word “racism” so much power that you can’t speak rationally after you hear it. Remember that the threshold for “racism” is a lot lower than being a member of the KKK and hating every black person you see. It means buying into and perpetuating things that support the idea of white supremacy. You can be a very nice person and still do that, even without meaning to. You can do it even if you have black friends. 

9. Resist the urge to believe and regurgitate myths about black people, even when they’re promoted by black people (African Americans are all more homophobic, black-on-black crime is uniquely bad, there are more black men in prison than in college, all black womenlove being fat, etc.). Take a minute to challenge the things you hear many say over and over. You’ll often find they don’t have a strong basis in reality.

10. Finally, stop thinking about and discussing racism as something that’s the problem of black and other nonwhite people. Remember that there’s an ever-growing movement of anti-racist white people concerned with dismantling white privilege. When you’re talking about racism, remember that it’s not just bad for those whom it oppresses; it’s bad for everyone because it creates an unjust society. When people want to fix racism, they do it not because they’re being charitable or nice, but because they’re being smart and decent.

Need race-related advice? Send your questions to

Previously in Race Manners:  “Black and White Kids: Different Trayvon Talks?

In Ferguson and the Entire Nation, Institutional Racism Extends Far Beyond Law Enforcement (Participation)

Published August 30, 2014 by djlwsu

In Ferguson and the Entire Nation, Institutional Racism Extends Far Beyond Law Enforcement

Your Take: From local police departments to the Supreme Court and a host of other public and private institutions in the U.S., we see systemically embedded discrimination.

Posted: Aug. 28 2014 3:03 AM

Protesters hold a rally on Aug. 18, 2014, in New York City in solidarity with the people in Ferguson, Mo., protesting the death of Michael Brown.  

The tragic events unfolding in Ferguson, Mo., following the police shooting death of a young African-American man have ignited a national conversation around deeply rooted racial tensions in America. On Monday at Michael Brown’s funeral, where thousands of family, friends, civil rights leaders and residents gathered, came calls for justice and dignity for all families. But while Brown’s death is an anguishing reminder of racial profiling and police distrust—particularly among men of color—it is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg demonstrating how many factors shape institutional racism and structural discrimination against communities of color.

Missouri’s legacy of institutional racism extends far beyond law enforcement: Housing discrimination, economic disparities and reproductive oppression have long suppressed communities of color. Put together, these factors undermine reproductive autonomy for women of color, particularly the right to have children and to parent those children with the proper supports.

Prior to the 2014 legislative session, Missouri had a failing grade from a national reproductive-health organization (pdf) because of its 24-hour waiting period, parental-consent laws and limited access to abortion services (pdf), which place unnecessary burdens on women in the state. Missouri prohibits the use of telemedicine for medical abortions, despite the fact that 73 percent of women in the state live in a county without abortion services. And HIV education is mandated, but education on basic condom usage is not. To add insult to injury, Missouri has decided not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Then there is the economic reality. With a population that is 67 percent black and 29 percent white, Ferguson has an unemployment rate that is currently 13 percent, which is more than double the rate in 2000. In the same amount of time, the wages of those employed fell by one-third and the number of those living in poverty doubled. In Ferguson, 20 percent of residents live below the poverty level, with the poorest residents being females of reproductive age and single heads of households. The rate of children living below the poverty level in Ferguson is 25 percent, which is higher than the national average of 22 percent and the Missouri state average of 20.3 percent. Nearly half of all homes in Ferguson are struggling, and communities of color have been foreclosed on at twice the rate of white homeowners in the area.

A city with a two-thirds African-American population has a police force with only three African-American officers and only one African-American City Council member, and crime statistics in Ferguson are as troubling as reproductive-health outcomes for the state. This year alone, African Americans were arrested eight times more than whites in Ferguson, making its arrest ratio higher than that of St. Louis County, which has an arrest ratio of 5-to-1, compared with the national average of 3-to-1.

St. Louis County has more than 36,000 women of color of reproductive age (pdf) in need of contraceptive services and supplies, with more than half of those women requiring publicly funded services. Although the teen-pregnancy rate for the state is lower than the national average, more than half of all pregnancies are unintended, with the majority of all births among females between the ages of 15 and 19 (pdf). The infant mortality rate in St. Louis County is double the national average. And 20 percent of all African-American births were preterm, while 14 percent of babies had low birth weight (pdf).

All women deserve quality health care that provides them the ability to control if and when they will have children, but women must also have the economic security and physical safety to parent those children. The environments in which women live, as well as the social supports available to them, influence the lives of the children they bear and their ability to parent effectively. When state forces deny expanded access to health care, police our streets with impunity, and exacerbate job and housing insecurity, they are in essence denying the women of Ferguson the right to reproductive freedom. When the state itself is the violent actor, it is denying everyone his or her human rights.

At the national level we see similar discrimination and injustice. On June 30 the Supreme Court decided that women working for privately held corporations, including Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, do not have the right to insurance coverage that would provide contraceptives without cost sharing because those majority-white corporate owners have unscientific religious objections to contraceptives that they think cause abortions. The women most affected? Hourly workers, minimum wage workers and many women of color.

From our local police departments to the Supreme Court and a host of other public and private institutions in this country, we see systemically embedded discrimination. Recent polling about attitudes regarding the situation in Ferguson also shows that whites and blacks view the problems and media coverage very differently. It’s time for us to have many more public conversations about how deeply embedded racism is in our culture and society. And it is long past time to start addressing and preventing laws and legal decisions that actually harm people of color. 

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

Donna Barry is director of, and Heidi Williamson a senior policy analyst at, the Center for American Progress’ Women’s Health and Rights Program.



Published August 29, 2014 by djlwsu

Dan Anderson/Getty

It took all of five seconds after the news of Ferguson, Missouri teen Mike Brown’s shooting broke for the media to begin the standard image makeover that transpires whenever a black man is killed by authorities.

NBC News came hot out of the gates with an image of Brown perfectly tailored for speculation about his potential gang affiliations, for example. Fox News, predictably, has had a field day writing Mike Brown-based fan fiction, circulating the specious and since-debunked claim that Officer Darren Wilson had suffered a fractured orbital bone after being assaulted by Brown. The Ferguson police played directly to the crowd themselves, releasing the images of Brown’s alleged convenience store robbery in an attempt to justify his being murdered.

Much like we saw with the Trayvon Martin fiasco, this is how the well is poisoned. The narrative shifts from the murder of an unarmed boy to the somewhat understandable use of force against an aggressive man to, by the time we’re done digging through his trash, the heroic dispatching of a thug who had it coming. This is why the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag on Twitter was so poignant and telling: Which of us, if we were in Brown’s shoes, particularly young black men, could not be made out as a violent criminal based on the images of ourselves available online?

Look no further than the hundreds of thousands of dollars being raised by so-called supporters of Wilson, many of whom have left the most vile comments imaginable, for evidence of how thoroughly this re-branding has worked. Hell, open any comments section on any website in existence, including this one, for reams of evidence for how absolutely convinced some people are that Brown was basically The Wire‘s Avon Barksdale incarnate.

More sober institutions of journalism like the New York Times, you might expect, are expected to stay away from this sort of biographical cherry-picking.

You would be wrong about that.

Not content to frame Brown simply as a troubled young man, a piece they published yesterday digs all the way back through Brown’s entire life, beginning with his early days as a criminal in goddamn diapers, in order to set the record straight. There are more dog whistles in this piece than a PetCo.

Author John Eligon, who is himself a young black man, tells us that Brown was, unlike any other teenager to have ever existed in the history of teenagers, “grappling with life’s mysteries.”

He’d recently taken a picture of the sky in which he saw the face of God. You know who else sees images in the clouds? Drug users. Did you know, incidentally, that Brown, unlike any other teenager, had occasionally used marijuana and drank alcohol? Was he doing both at the time he was shot? The piece doesn’t say, but reasonable people can probably invent all sorts of potential scenarios in which he was.

Brown, you see, “was no angel.” We know that not only because not a single one of us is an angel, and this is common sense, but also because Eligon literally writes those words. Need further evidence of this? Brown had—sit down for this one—“taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar.” He’d also gotten into “at least one scuffle with a neighbor.”

Whoa, whoa, hold on here—I thought we were talking about a kid who was shot in the street six times over some bullshit, but I guess he did have it coming after all.

To be sure, Eligon does follow this up with his own “to be sure” graf. Brown, he reports, sometimes smiled. But, just to keep things in perspective, we’re reminded that Brown was, after all, 6-foot-4, so who’s to say what a smile from a black man so large even looks like?

Brown, we go on to learn, was the child of teenage parents (if you know what I mean). Eligon reports, he was something of a handful as a child. “When his parents put up a security gate, he would try to climb it.”


“When they left out pens and pencils, he would use them to write on the wall.”


“He used to tap on the ground, so his parents got him a drum set; his father played the drums.”


What else? Brown played video games, including violent ones, wore headphones, and was a big fan of rap music. “He knew of Kendrick Lamar before he became famous.”

Not only was he a thug, he was a hipster thug!

All of which clearly explain why, in the ninth grade, Brown found himself in a position where he was accused of stealing in iPod. Did he actually steal the iPod? No, his mother had a receipt for it. But this is an important detail for the entire country to know about Brown’s life.

Much worse things were in store for Brown, however. One time, unlike any other teenager you’ve ever heard of—including myself—he used his parents’ ATM card to buy something he didn’t have permission to. On top of that, he sometimes posted frustrated emotional messages on Facebook. Later on in life, and this right here is the smoking gun that gets Brown dead to rights, the neighbor that he got in “at least one scuffle” with? He swung at Brown, who then pushed him back. And, well, that seems to be about it.

Why didn’t he just kill him with his giant black hands?

This paragraph is a true marvel of convolution:

Mr. Brown rarely got into physical confrontations, [his friend] said, because he was so big that nobody really wanted to test him. Mr. Brown tended to use his size to scare away potential trouble, Mr. Lewis said.

He never got in fights, but he totally could have if he wanted to. Again, he was a very large black man who liked video games, and rap music, and marijuana. Case closed.

Darren Wilson, on the other hand, as another profile in the Times points outwas a “well-mannered, relatively soft-spoken, even bland person who seemed, if anything, to seek out a low profile.”

“He was a gentle, quiet man,” one of his chief’s said.

“He was a distinguished officer.”

He liked to grill, and played sports. It doesn’t mention what type of music he liked. 

It’s not just the South and Fox News: Liberals have a white privilege problem too (Participation)

Published August 29, 2014 by djlwsu

It’s not just the South and Fox News: Liberals have a white privilege problem too

White privilege is a protection racket, the ultimate head start. The “liberal meritocracy” benefits from it too


It's not just the South and Fox News: Liberals have a white privilege problem tooClockwise, from top left: Joy Behar, Alec Baldwin, Stephen Colbert, Maureen Dowd, Jimmy Kimmel, Susan Sarandon, Ryan Seacrest, Bill Maher (Credit: Reuters/AP/Carlo Allegri/Mark Blinch/Alex Brandon/ABC News/Janet Van Ham/Jonathan Alcorn/Matt Sayles)

I spent 12 years of my life in St. Louis. I went to college there. Got married. Landed my first teaching job. Bought my first house. Between door-knocking for candidates and causes, driving around on ice cold nights in a homeless shelter van, and breaking bread in people’s homes and churches and synagogues, I came to know the metropolis well. I came to love and admire its many communities — including Ferguson: so tenacious, so full of hardworking families trying to stay afloat, trying to dismantle racial apartheid and make a better life for their children.

But each time I tried to write about Ferguson, I could only stare into the blank screen, dumbfounded. It wasn’t the killing of Michael Brown that left me speechless: tragically, the murder of black men by police is common. It wasn’t the riots that stumped me: Ferguson residents are rightfully fed up with being treated as second-class citizens. It wasn’t even the ludicrous spectacle of a hyper-militarized police response. I’ve been following that story for years.

No, what dumbfounded me was the outpouring of white anger and resentment. As police, pundits, politicians and their supporters sought control over the narrative of events in Ferguson, they drew from the deep well of moral panic and race hatred that in many ways define our contemporary political landscape. I am not talking about the moronic counter-protests by the Klan, or the impending race war hallucinated by capital-R Racists. I am talking about the insidious language of white privilege — the civil, polite, unconscious adoption by white people of racially normative viewpoints that give us comfort and help explain the world on our terms.

For those of us born with white skin, white privilege is the air we breathe; we don’t even have to think about it. It is like the fish that never notices the water in which it swims.  It is a glorious gift we have given to ourselves through the social order we have constructed, from top to bottom and bottom to top. It is the pillage of continents, the enslavement of people, the hatred of dark-skinned “others,” all somehow magically laundered by our commitments to democracy, self-reliance, individualism and the “post-racial, color-blind society.” It is our abject unwillingness to confront our history, to correct the deficits of our memory, to lean against the amnesia of a white story told.

Meanwhile, white privilege is a grand protection racket. It has always paid substantial dividends, both in the short term and over generations, by restricting access to a valuable commodity — white skin. The wage we extract from racial difference keeps us committed to its perpetuation, even if we don’t know (or refuse to believe) that we are so committed. White privilege is a legacy, an inheritance, an account on which we can draw over and over and over again for any advantage, however small. It is the accumulation of racially protected, white-defended land, property, education, goods, institutions, mobility, rights and freedom. It is the ultimate head start. Rarely do we even know that we are drawing on these protected accounts, so ubiquitous and profound is the fund. Wave after wave of immigrants has had to learn this lesson, adopting white privilege and anti-black racism to fit properly into their new country.

But take away the air, and we gasp — we don’t know how to breathe in any other medium. In a paroxysm of fear and pain, we hyperventilate, clutching for a lifeline. Put millions of white people into the same scenario, and you get a great moral panic. In earlier times, the moral panic over race flowed from the raiments of a slave-based republic: the Democratic Party, the Confederacy, the Klan, sundown towns, lynchings and chain gangs. Today this moral panic is exemplified by the Tea Party, the GOP, right-wing media, gun toters at Wal-Mart and “patriots” like Cliven Bundy. And chain gangs. Race itself might have no basis in science, no purchase in differentiating humans genetically, but it is nevertheless a powerful cultural force. Race is the house of many rooms, built by white people for “the world and all those who dwell therein” (Psalms 24:1).

White privilege requires constant vigilance at the borders of identity, constant policing of difference. The frantic call among right-wing pundits to “secure the borders” by erecting walls has its psychic corollary in the maintenance of white supremacy. How could we possibly have a black president? Who are these strange people crossing our borders? How could anyone profess any other belief besides Christianity? Why do my tax dollars go to support those people (meaning dark-skinned residents of inner cities, not corporations and lobbyists and the military)? Meanwhile, we cling to the myth of the post-racial society, where suddenly, somehow we will be judged solely on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin. In this way, “not seeing race” becomes the peculiar privilege of white people who, perhaps unbeknownst to them, see race everywhere always.

White liberals try to blame “the South” or the ignorance of white working-class people for the persistence of racism. But there is plenty of ignorance to go around among white folks in all walks of life. In the 1950s, race-liberal politicians in the urban North proposed separate swimming days as a way to stave off white citizens’ fears of race mixing in public pools. In the 1960s, white liberals frequently upheld Dr. King as a civil rights hero while denigrating Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party. Racism knows no class boundaries, and benefits all whites, if not equally. Indeed, it can be particularly virulent among white elites, who have long used race as a way to divide and weaken working-class people, from Carnegie’s deployment of black laborers as strikebreakers to Lee Atwater’s Willie Horton strategy to the Koch brothers’ latest campaigns.

Pinpointing the South as the source of the problem is equally chimerical. The majority of hyper-segregated cities in the U.S. are in Northern states, and redlining and “white flight” proved as extensive in the North as in Dixie. To be sure, the Old Confederacy lingers like an undigested morsel, a failed state within our national borders, and will do so until we pull down the statues of traitors like Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Canny white politicians in the 1960s counted on race as an electoral motivator to take over the Republican Party via the so-called Southern Strategy. But the power of anti-black racism is not and never has been relegated to one region of the country — after all, great race-baiters like Nixon, Goldwater and Reagan hailed from Western states, while the South produced its share of courageous politicians.

Today’s GOP is the party of angry white men, not of the South. And racism is not confined to the GOP, however expert the party has become at exploiting race as an electoral dynamo. Rather, racism has long comprised a core pillar of the republic — as close as anything to the beating heart of our body politic.

In many ways, white privilege is more insidious than white supremacy. Both depend at root on the white power structure, but draw from that well in different ways. Advocates of white supremacy make no bones about their views, and approach the world with a modicum of clarity as to where they stand. They constitute the corporate lobby for whiteness as a racial political and economic interest. White privilege, on the other hand, rests on an edifice of special stupidity — a passive condition that literally stupefies the subject, inuring him or her against critical insight. It enables white people to assume the mantle of “color blindness” so as to perform the perfect legerdemain: making claims that do not seem to be explicitly about race, but are in fact about little else.

Thus, white privilege need not be overtly racist, and in fact is most potent when expressed through coded language cleansed of racial terms. It comes out into the world in phrases that seem reasonable to us white folk, but that obscure the immense freight of racism they carry — phrases like: “I’m not racist, but”; “my ancestors didn’t own slaves so I am not responsible”; “I didn’t get any breaks, I worked for everything I have”; and “what are they complaining about, things are so much better now.” Instead of “black neighborhood,” we say “high crime,” “dangerous” or “investment risk.” Instead of young black male, we say “thug” and “gangster.” White privilege leads us to repeat nostrums like “hey, Africans had slaves too”; “Republicans aren’t racists because the Democrats were the party of slavery”; and “what about black-on-black crime.” Such phrases are so utterly denuded of historical context as to be meaningless, yet they are repeated ad nauseam by right-wing bloggers and pundits.

White privilege enables us to pontificate on, and justify, the murder by police of black men who wear hoodies, smoke pot, sell “loosies,” shoplift or resist arrest. It enables us to ignore (or not even be capable of seeing) the glaring contradictions and double-standards that pervade the criminal justice system, from arrest to prosecution to sentencing — and even to media reporting on crime. White cokeheads get a slap on the wrist and some community service, while black crack users do 20 years at Joliet. George Zimmerman was standing his ground when he killed a black minor, while Marissa Alexander’s three warning shots against her abuser got her 20 years. White shoplifters after Hurricane Katrina are “survivors,” while black shoplifters are “looters.” White men who resist arrest typically get tackled or tasered. Black men resist arrest at their ultimate peril. Such double standards wrap white privilege in the comforting cloak of civility and reason, or what passes as such in our current non-conversation on race.

Still, at the deepest level, white privilege is an excruciatingly laborious fiction to uphold. It is exhausting, a heavy psychic penalty, a debenture drawn off the scales of justice. It makes us neurotic, fearful, angry, depressed and mean. It requires us to fully absorb the phantasm of race and to map moral and economic worth across gradations of skin color. Of course, black people suffer orders of magnitude greater trauma, physical pain and mental torment under the sign of white power. Nevertheless, it is the sickness at the heart of our body politic, and it floods our personal and social relations with an anxious bile. We white folk don’t know the source of this angst because we can’t see it. Most black people have no difficulty seeing it; whiteness envelops our bodies in a haze, and privilege flows from our lips like bitter honey.

In the end, I am convinced that white privilege blinds white people to our real interests, separates us from our best allies, and denies us grander aspirations. It hollows out life and hinders love. Most important, it victimizes people of color and forecloses opportunities for a greater common good. The fire this time is small. Some day it might burn large and bright — a hundred Fergusons, or a thousand. There is only so much give in our social fabric. People need to be heard, one way or another. It is time to reckon our privileges and to listen, to unplug from the Matrix of white supremacy. Time to breathe a different air.

Race Matters (Online Writing)

Published August 29, 2014 by djlwsu

—As noted in the reading: “Your life story produces a racial filter. It might be a lens so thick that everything gets drawn into looking like it’s about race, or so thin that when someone says something is racial, you go, oh hell no, it’s not. As a white person, you have to own the development of your own racial lens. Because whether you’re aware of it or not, you have one.”

With this quote in mind, write a response to the following question: What is your racial filter?  How does race impact your life and how does this shape your literacy and understanding of racial issues

Last day to participate September 15, 2014