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Time to Connect ALL the Dots

Today’s guest blog post is written by AAA member, Dr. Melanie Bush. She is Associate Professor and Department Co-Chair for the Department of Anthropology & Sociology at Adelphi University.

In December 1951, a petition was presented to the United Nations entitled “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People.” In 1964 Malcolm X argued for taking the U.S to the world court and UN for human rights violations.  In 2008, the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination issued their findings on the U.S. with 46 substantive recommendations.

When we look at the state of affairs in US society today, with an unarmed 17 year old African American male followed and shot, and the killer set free; when courts decide that there is no longer need for monitoring voter rights despite undisputable evidence of Black disenfranchisement; when mass incarceration is the “new Jim Crow”  (Michelle Alexander), and when politicians unabashedly defend a program that terrorizes young black and brown youth through a stop and frisk program that not only finds 9 of 10 of those stopped completely innocent, it targets between 4-7 times the number of young people of color than white youth despite equal drug use; where on every possible social indicator, communities of color come up on the short end: foreclosuresincome, wealthhealth statushealth insuranceeducation,  etc.  isn’t it time to recognize the systemic nature of the racist hierarchy and do something drastic?

What is the climate in which this is acceptable?  As Malcolm X said, this is not a violation of civil rights; it is a violation of human rights. It is not a Negro problem it is a human problem.

I would further this argument by saying it is a WHITE problem.

Why?

Let’s get real.  As just one example, the Pew Research Center  recently released data showing sad but unsurprising divergent perspectives about the verdict.  Of African Americans, 78% report that the trial raises important issues about race that need to be discussed; 28% of whites say so. Public opinion surveys consistently demonstrate that whites believe that racial inequality is a thing of the past. Indeed a Tufts University study in 2011 found that whites now believe they are the primary victims of racial discrimination.  It’s true that younger whites tend to be more aware of the realities, but still minimally so.

So what does this have to do with white folks?

First of all, most brown and black folks understand, and recognize these realities.  They have to –they live it.

As white folks, we have the luxury and the privilege to ignore, deny, pretend, soften, moderate, believe that we are nice people who never do bad things so these systemic patterns have nothing to do with us, and we can be horrified but do nothing.  We can reap the privileges of a system that continuously provides us with benefits of the doubt, second chances, and be allowed to believe it’s all solely because of our individual effort.

It’s time for a change. We have the privilege of education, of access to people, to networks, to publishing, to institutions. With humility we can make a difference and we must.

This fight need be one that stands against a system that tolerated and continues to tolerate the murders of Emmett Tills, Vincent Chins, Manual Luceros, Shaima Al Awadis and countless others.

It is time to connect this struggle with the treatment of black and brown people all over the globe.  It is time for ALL of us to speak and act against drone strikes, war, imprisonment, the economic assault of global sweatshops.

We must unite with grassroots organizations that are fighting for change and get involved. At the very least, let us support their work; recognize that our future is intimately interconnected with theirs.

My heart and my mind were mute from grief, sadness and bewilderment.  But it is past time for us to take responsibility in every way we possibly can. How can we tolerate a world that is so unsafe, where young Black men are preyed upon?  If we do allow that to occur, what does that do to our own humanity?

As Robin DG Kelley said, this verdict was rendered not because the system failed, it happened because it worked.   For 500 years, the entire system has been firmly dedicated to an ideology in which the protection of white property rights was always sacrosanct; with predators and threats almost always black, brown and red. The very purpose of police power was to discipline, monitor and contain populations. Kelley continues:  “If we do not come to terms with this history we will continue to believe that the system just needs to be tweaked or that the fault lies with a fanatical gun culture or a wacky right wing fringe.”

ANYONE can act on this racist ideology and stand for this racial hierarchy.  It is more likely those who personally benefit however, for some who don’t, identifying with the dominant group provides a sense of superiority.

And anyone can stand up against it.

We must confront the notion that it’s just two ways of viewing a situation as if they are equal.  One validates the murder, incarceration, stop and frisking, impoverishment, of young black and brown men and increasingly women based on presumed criminality, cultural and intellectual deficit, and the other stands for humanity and dignity.

Anthropology as a discipline is not exempt – See President Mullings, Trayvon Martin, Race and Anthropology. Every one of us can do something about the issues she raises in this statement.  In our sections, in our classrooms, in our memberships.  Most particularly white members of AAA can take on responsibility for making change happen.

Isn’t it time?

Notes:
For information about racial justice work being done by whites see e.g: Catalyst ProjectShowing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)White Privilege Conference.

See also: Black Youth Project, Project South, Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, Domestic Workers United, Dream Defenders, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, etc.

For commentaries: http://dubois.fas.harvard.edu/trayvon-martin-commentary,  YES Magazine, Ricardo Levins MoralesColorlines, Black Commentator.

Who Has the Right to Self-Defense and Life in So-Called “Post-Racial” Society?

Today’s guest blog post is written by AAA member, Dr. Faye V. Harrison. She is a Joint Professor in Anthropology and African American Studies at the University of Florida.

The outcome of the George Zimmerman trial is symptomatic of the extent to which an insidious post-racial ideology has influenced US society.  The court’s refusal to recognize the part that racial profiling played in Trayvon Martin’s death belies the reality of structural racism in a society in which anxieties over crime and security are inextricably entangled with racialized perceptions and projections of danger and disorder.

Besides having examined the media coverage and some of the scholarly literature on racial profiling, I am also familiar with the phenomenon on other grounds.  I am the mother of three sons who, on many occasions, have been deemed to be guilty while driving, walking, and shopping black.  Moreover, their father and uncles, despite being a generation older and established members of their community, have also had more of their share of being racially profiled.  In one instance, my husband and his older brother, both university professors, were stopped while driving in an area of town where police claimed to be on the lookout for two black male robbery suspects.  After the police stopped them, asked them to get out of the car and searched them and the car, it should have been clear that these two African-American men did not fit the description of the younger suspects.  Instead of letting the men resume their drive home, the police called in for reinforcements, escalating the situation.  The presumed danger the police encountered was nothing other than black men’s verbal indignation for being targeted and disrespected because of race.  Fortunately, the confrontation subsided without an arrest, injury, or death.  However, that incident, like so many others around the country, demonstrates the existential and structural vulnerability of not only working-class, working-poor, and unemployed black youths, who bear the brunt of this targeting, but also of a wider class and generational cross-section of African Americans and other racially-subjected people.

While meanings that encode danger and predatory criminality are frequently attributed to the bodies and intentions of black males, racial profiling also affects other populations, as illuminated in the online Native News Network in which Navajo/Yankton Sioux filmmaker Jacqueline Keeler recently posted a relevant commentary, “My Dad Was Almost Trayvon Martin” (July 17, 2013).  However, indigenous and other ethno-racial minority males are not the only targets.  For example, Black women are commonly profiled as drug mules and sex workers and, as a result, subjected to invasive strip searches, sexual harassment and even rape.  The devaluation of their lives also results in incarceration and loss of life, but with less media attention and public engagement than in the case of males.

A combination of personal testimonies, academic research, and investigative reports from civil rights and human rights organizations clearly demonstrate that racial profiling, whether emanating from policing or the practice of vigilante justice, is a severe problem in this country as well as in many other parts of the world.  The problem in the US has been documented and debated domestically and transnationally.  In 2008, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism investigated racism in the US. In his report, racial profiling was a major issue he addressed in the contexts of law enforcement, immigration, counterterrorism, and post-Katrina conditions.

The nearly all-white and all-female jury that found Zimmerman not guilt in the second-degree murder or manslaughter of 17-year old Martin accepted the defense attorneys’ claim that racial profiling was not operative in the case.  They accepted the argument that Zimmerman had justifiably criminally profiled Martin, whose hoodie supposedly made him suspicious in a neighborhood where black males had allegedly committed robberies.  Since the verdict was announced, people of diverse backgrounds have demonstrated against the acquittal, and they have demanded a federal investigation of civil rights violations and a repeal of stand-your-ground laws.  All around the country protesters are contesting the court’s post-racial interpretation of Martin’s demise.  That both the defense and the prosecution discounted race indicates the extent to which colorblindness has taken hold of a considerable portion of the populace.

Trayvon Martin’s death is the most visible in a larger pattern in which police and armed citizens have been acquitted—if arrested and arraigned at all—for killing blacks, particularly black youths, after invoking conventional self-defense claims or stand-your-ground law.  Although Florida’s stand-your- ground law had no official role in the trial, its existence and the popular support for it among gun owners contributed to the ideological climate in which the jurors operated.  In her CNN interview with Anderson Cooper, Juror 37 asserted that Zimmerman had the right to defend himself.  She referred to stand-your-ground law as a justification for her selective interpretation of the evidence.  In her view, Martin’s part in the scuffle that led to his death was not self-defense but the life-threatening violence through which he caused his own death.  Such blame-the-victim logic is pervasive in the criminal justice system and the school-to-prison pipeline that feeds into it.

Anthropologists can contribute useful insights into the complex dynamics germane to the lived experience of and the ideological-political struggles over racial profiling.  For instance, we can illuminate the shifting contexts in which some minorities and new immigrants are subjected to racialized and racially-gendered policing and litigation while others are conferred the prerogatives of whiteness with the right to armed self-defense.  We can also find the means to express practical solidarity with those who are standing up for change.

Reflections on the Killing of a Black Boy

Today’s guest blog post is by Dr. Steven Gregory, Professor of Anthropology and African-American Studies at Columbia University:

All black males are [potential] criminals.
Trayvon Martin is a black male.
Trayvon Martin is a criminal.

This flawed syllogism rests at the crux of the Zimmerman trial.  It was at the heart of the defense team’s case, the reasoning of at least one juror (B-37), and the public pronouncements of many Americans who believe that the acquittal of George Zimmerman was just.  It was this erroneous major premise that the prosecution failed to refute, largely as a consequence of Judge Debra S. Nelson’s incomprehensible ruling that  “racial profiling” could not be argued in court.

As a direct consequence, the killing of Trayvon Martin was ripped from its social and historical context and reduced to Zimmerman’s alleged fear.  The facts presented in evidence—forensic analyses, inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s various accounts, the fact that Zimmerman stalked Martin, and Rachel Jeantal’s ear witness account—all this paled in comparison to the transcendent truth of white fear.  White fear was taken to be self-evident, prima facie, and not requiring evidence to be found “reasonable.”

I know that Zimmerman’s mother is Peruvian.  But whiteness is a subject position and not a fact rooted in biology.   In another context Zimmerman could, himself, have been profiled as an “illegal Mexican,” as was Bronx-born Salsa superstar Mark Anthony at the All Star Game held recently in New York.  “How are you going to pick a got dam Mexican to sing God Bless America,” twittered one twisted baseball fan.  But when George Zimmerman got out of his car, tracked down and fatally shot Trayvon Martin he became white in the minds of American racists and in the minds of the indifferent.   And in that vicious and murderous act of transmutation the victim became victimizer, white racism became white fear, and a dead black boy was found guilty of his own murder.  As for Trayvon Martin and Rachel Jeantal, they, as Frantz Fanon put it, had no “ontological resistance” for the supporters of the acquittal.   They were whatever white anxiety, anger and racism could conjure forth.

Here, I suppose, I should ask the question, “What can anthropology do to address the death of Trayvon Martin?”  My immediate, heartfelt response to this question is that I am not sure that I care.  As a black man, I cannot afford to care.   As a black man, there are things that I must do that trump ruminating over a panel idea for this year’s AAA meetings.  Let me explain.  In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, many black people (including the President of the United States) are remembering, indeed, reliving occasions when they have been racially profiled and, not infrequently, confronted with deadly force.  I suppose that this phenomenon is akin to the forgetting that occurs in cases of people who have been sexually abused as children.  And how could it be otherwise?  Black people have lives to live, and they must live them as if they will not be gunned down or dragged to death behind a truck on a country road.  Black people have no choice but to live in a fragile, fictive bubble of normalcy.  And this is what so many white people do not understand.

When I was a sophomore in college my bubble burst.  It was neither the first time nor the last in my lifetime.  A friend and I had just left campus in my car.  We had picked up film equipment for a project that we planned to do latter in the week.  Just when we reached a busy intersection, two unmarked cars appeared out of nowhere and cut us off.  In what seemed like seconds a fleet of marked police cars arrived on the scene, sirens wailing.  A mob of barking police officers surrounded the car, guns drawn and pointed at us.  Amid hollers of “Get the fuck out the car or we’ll blow your fuckin’ heads off!” they gave us a contradictory command: they told us to put our hands out the window and get out the car.  I can remember the split second of terror and paralysis when I made eye contact with my friend and we realized that we could not do both simultaneously. With guns pressed to our heads, they dragged us out of the car, handcuffed us, and threw us face down on the hot asphalt.

They did not ask any questions.  They searched the car, ripping the seats out and tossing them to the ground.  Then they went through the trunk.  They opened the camera case and threw the Arriflex 16 mm. camera and lighting equipment to the ground.   After about forty minutes, a captain showed up and spoke out of earshot with the dozen or so cops who remained.  “A case of mistaken identity,” he said later to us, or something to that effect.  He then told us sternly to get our stuff together and clear the intersection.  There was no apology or expression of regret.

This is what I recall when I reflect on the Zimmerman verdict.  It does not inspire me to write a scholarly article or book.  It does not motivate me to tweak out some novel theoretical angle or buzz word for a conference.  And it does not inspire me to organize a “teach in” within the cloistered precincts of Columbia University, where I work.  But it does inspire me to take action in concert and solidarity with all those people in the streets, the community centers, and in the houses of worship of this country who could have been Trayvon Martin on that tragic night.  It inspires me to fight back.

There is no question that anthropology has done a great deal to change the way that some Americans think about race and racism.  And that work needs must continue.    But the racist does not act out of ignorance; he acts with willful ignorance.  Ignorance, mendacity and white rage are weapons for the like of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Don West, and all those who believe that black life has no value.  And this, in my opinion, is the battlefield upon which we must struggle for justice for all.  And that battlefield begins right in our backyards.

Tonight! Inaugural Plenary Session

Welcome to San Francisco, AAA members!

Tonight is the inaugural Plenary Session:

WHY WE CAN’T ALL JUST GET ALONG: RACE, LANGUAGE, AND MEANING IN THE 2012 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Panelists include Johnnetta Betsch Cole (National Museum of African Art), H. Samy Alim (Stanford University) and Rogers Smith (University of Pennsylvania)

The 2012 presidential election highlighted the deep political and philosophical divisions within the United States. As the nation faced severe economic difficulties and increasing forms of inequality, once marginal anti-government advocacy gained renewed prominence. In this political and economic climate, voters were faced with the most stark choices in a generation over the regulatory and redistributive powers and duties of the national government. Debates on social issues, including women’s access to reproductive services, immigration, and LBGT rights, displayed similarly profound divides over basic American values. These divisions will be discussed along with a critical assessment of the powerful role of Super-PACs, new media, and ever-present polling in both shaping the elections and distracting the public from substantive issues. Using anthropological and political theory, this inaugural AAA Plenary Panel will explore these cleavages and their impacts on voter sentiment and the outcome of the 2012 elections.

This session will begin at 6:00pm in rooms Continental 4-6 of the Hilton Union Square.

Racism in the Academy

The volume is a model for looking at the complexity of racism in the academy and in the profession.

–Distinguished Professor and Chair Thomas C. Patterson

Racism in the Academy

The AAA Commission on Race and Racism in Anthropology is pleased to announce publication of additional findings, Racism in the Academy: the new millennium.

The volume is freely available to all online. Its editors, commission members Audrey Smedley and Janis Faye Hutchinson, bring the anthropological lens to the academy, to more fully describe the lived experiences of racism (and sometimes sexism) in colleges and universities. We hope minorities–and majorities–will read the text and work towards the elimination of microaggressions, and strive for the transformation of the academy.

To quote Professor Patterson once more:

This is a valuable collection of finely written, thought-provoking articles that can be used in classes from the introductory to the graduate level.

Let’s talk about RACE!

Have you been to the RACE exhibit lately? For the past few months the RACE: Are We So Different? museum exhibits have been at the Science Museum of Virginia (Richmond), Center of Science and Industry (Columbus, OH), and the University of Northern Iowa Museums (Cedar Falls). If you are located in these areas, stop in a check it out. If not, visit the virtual exhibit now.

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