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Racism, It’s Viral

metzlerBy Dr. Christopher Metzler

“To entertain her daughter, Michelle Obama loves to make monkey sounds.” That’s the photo caption of Michelle Obama speaking to her daughter Malia posted on Free Republic.

Disclaimer on Free Republic:  “Free Republic does not advocate or condone racism, violence, rebellion, secession, or an overthrow of the government. ” For those of you who have argued vociferously with me that we are living in a “post-racial America” rather than an America in which Jim Crow is on steroids, you apparently have not read the daily diet of racism that the readers and bloggers on this site consume and then regurgitate. The photo caption above was posted with a blog in which comments included: “Could you imagine what world leaders must be thinking seeing this kind of street trash and that we paid for this kind of street ghetto trash to go over there?” “They make me sick … The whole family … mammy, pappy, the free loadin’ mammy-in-law, the misguided chillin’, and especially ‘lil cuz … This is not the America I want representin’ my peeps.”

First, it is easy to dismiss these comments as isolated incidents posted on a right-wing rag. To do so, of course, would be to completely miss the point. Moreover, these comments show the continuing significance of race in a country that has become so enamored with the election of its first Black president. In fact, far too many of us are content only with the symbolism and dismiss the substance. I have heard many say that he can’t tackle race in his first term but that he will do it in his second. The result is that too many of us have accepted racism as a creature of the past and we use the election of President Obama as unequivocal proof of this.

The reality is that Bull Connor; the Grand Wizards and members of the KKK and the Aryan Nation have been replaced by the writers, editors and owners of Free Republic, who through the use of technology have more power to spread hate and racism than any of the three aforementioned entities combined.  Free Republic is the modern day racist engine that a majority of conservatives rely on to indoctrinate old and new generations of race peddlers and demagogues. Of course, the site owner is also a “sensitive” man.

According to site owner, Jim Thompson, “We should steer clear of Obama’s children. They can’t help it if their old man is an American-hating Marxist pig.” Second, far too many of us have responded to the election of President Obama simply as the removal of the most significant symbol of racism and manifestation of subordination without realizing that while significant, his election alone does not mean the entrenched racists’ mindset that continues in so much of America has simply vanished.

Racial thinking will not be cured by a single event no matter how powerful that event. Web sites like Free Republic provide a gathering place for Whites who are convinced that the election of a Black president means the end of White power and the introduction of Negro rule. For those of you who wish to quibble with me about whether President Obama is Black or multi-racial, I say that the readers of  Free Republic are not confused. Their arguments are not based in multiculturalism; they are based in naked racial stereotypes that have been and continue to be assigned to Blacks.

As one writer on Free Republic puts it “we can no longer afford to give people the benefit of the doubt simply because we do not know them personally. Our tolerance in this area has the effect of shredding the fabric of our society. It has nothing to do with being hateful, racist, or biased. It is merely a desire to maintain our society and culture.”

Third, since the president’s election, there has been an emerging cacophony of Blacks who insist that the president should stay “race neutral” because to do otherwise would relegate his presidency to the margins of history. These voices were loudest when the president boycotted the World Racism Conference, did not announce a Black person on the short list for the United States Supreme Court, chided attorney General Eric Holder for his comments that on the question of race America is a nation of cowards, said that judge Sonia Sotomayor misspoke with her wise Latina woman comment and punted in Destafano v Ricci.

It is as if the president cannot be race-conscious in his policies and govern effectively at the same time. To be sure, since his election racism has not taken a holiday and his attempts at race neutrality have been an abysmal failure. Fourth, while we have become so caught up in the symbolism of the president’s election, many of us have failed to even care that the United States Supreme Court in the Ricci case has turned back the clock, thus making it harder for racial minorities to prove racial discrimination in employment and making it harder for employers to defend employment decisions when they choose racial minorities over Whites.

I have heard very few people calling for Congress and the president to overturn that case by legislation. Yet, the very first bill that the president signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Act overturning a Supreme Court decision on equal pay. Do we wish to become so race neutral that we refuse to acknowledge the deep social context in which racial subordination is a reality in America, Black president or not?

Certainly Free Republic understands the racial context of President Obama’s election. “DIRTBAGS! All of them. Our [White House] is now a joke to the rest of the world. We have no respect and this is not going to turn out well, mark my words. We will be hit, and much worse than last time. We are now seen as weak and vulnerable. Ghetto and Chicago thugs have taken over.” Finally, regardless of whether we wish to admit it or not, the political winds that lifted the civil rights movement have shifted right.

As the posts that I have quoted from and so many others on Free Republic indicate, the election of President Obama has rewritten the racial narrative. According to the devotees, they will insist that the new narrative not trade the rights of Blacks for the safety of Whites nor would it be held hostage to the ghost of slavery.

A post to Free Republic sums up White racial thinking best: “96% of Blacks supported Zero in November. A group of 50 Blacks set upon Whites for being White in July. Decades of witnessing life. Those are a few reasons it’s back to the ’50s for this White devil, 1750s that is. As much as I can legally discriminate I will discriminate. To paraphrase Marty Balin: Everything they say we are, I’ll be. Wasn’t always this way. It is now.”

Ahh … the perils of a “post-racial America.”

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

The Flawed Logic of Anti-affirmative Action Bake Sales

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerThe Affirmative Action Bake Sale is used by conservative groups on college campuses to further polarize college campuses along racial lines using affirmative action as a hammer. Writing for Fox News, Wendy McElroy said, “Through Affirmative Action Bake Sales, conservative groups on campuses across America are satirically and peacefully spotlighting the injustice of AA programs that penalize or benefit students based solely on gender and race.” Seeking to dramatize the “ills” of affirmative action, the groups charge different prices for baked goods based entirely on race. For example, White and Asian males may be charged $1 for a muffin while Black and Hispanic males might be charged 25 cents.

Recently Bucknell University students held such a bake sale that was shut down by the university. Citing the First Amendment, Bucknell students claimed that their free speech rights were violated. Of course, they conveniently forgot that as students at a private university, the First Amendment simply does not apply. But, the issue goes beyond the technical question of the First Amendment and whether it applies to a private university. Instead, the issue is that students such as those at Bucknell, who put on the bake sale, continue to propagate the myth that only White and Asian males are qualified to be admitted to university study.

First, far too many admissions committees make decisions to admit or deny students based strictly on quantitative factors such as test scores and “standardized” tests. The reality is that in our capitalist society, the more money one has, the more money one can spend on commercial test preparation services. Let us not forget that while the income disparity between Blacks and Whites has changed some, they are not even. Thus, more Whites than Blacks are able to purchase commercial test preparation services, increasing their quantitatives and admissions to colleges and universities.

Second, the Bucknell students chose to ignore completely affirmative action for White men, which is a staple of the admissions process of many colleges and universities. Of course, given that the right wing has so racialized the term affirmative action, they dare not apply it to White men. Instead, it is admission by legacy. Legacy admissions means that colleges and universities reserve places in the class for the children of alumni who have given significant sums of money. The reality is that those admits tend to be overwhelmingly White and overwhelmingly male. In these cases, the only quantitatives that matter are the dollar value of the contribution. Often these legacy admits are outside the regular admissions process and admissions committees are blissfully unaware of them. So, why don’t the Affirmative Action Bake Sales offer a discount for legacy admits?

Third, affirmative action continues to be a divisive issue on college campuses in large part because of the elitism that affects too many universities. Students on far too many college campuses have accepted the notion that Black and Brown students who have been admitted to colleges and universities are academically inferior and could not have been admitted to the exclusive halls of academe but for naked racial preferences. Students sponsoring the Affirmative Action Bake Sale are operating from a superiority complex. The logic of that complex is that they (the predominantly White students) have been admitted strictly on merit and that the Black and Brown students were not. The Affirmative Action Bake Sale is the method by which they seek to further marginalize the Black and Brown students on their campuses. The Black and Brown students are then forced to prove that they belong by denying that affirmative action had anything to do with their admission. Of course, by virtue of the way the conversation is framed, legacy admits have nothing to prove as they are the silent elite.

Fourth, the students who have these bake sales engage in racial profiling. By choosing to offer the discount to Blacks and Hispanics, they are further advancing the stereotypes of Asians as the “model minority,” whose intellectual capabilities are on par with Whites. The assumption being that students are intelligent and thus worthy of admissions based on how close they are to a “white norm” of intelligence.

Fifth, I disagree with the Affirmative Action Bake Sale because I think that such events are ahistorical, race-baiting and political pandering of the most vitriolic kind. Moreover, students who will be our future leaders should be able to engage in serious debate without relying on divisive and trite tactics that are designed to belittle rather than engage those with whom they disagree. This is a valuable skill that they need when entering the real world. Name-calling and identity politics is in large part responsible for the racial divide that still permeates America. The students in this case are choosing to repeat these tactics. However, I do not agree that the students should be silenced in the free market place of ideas.

Finally, I am also deeply disturbed by the way the Bucknell administration chose to shut down the bake sale. Here, the school had the opportunity to mount a spirited defense of affirmative action if it assumes that affirmative action has merit. It squandered that opportunity. Wayne Bromfield, Bucknell’s general counsel wrote that students did not have the required prior permission to hand out the handbills at the cafeteria entrance.  According to Bromfield, permission is required to prevent cross-scheduling and allow management to prepare for “possible reactions” to the events, “including for the safety of those involved.”

In an academic environment, we should never send the message that academic freedom is only free when we agree with the content of the message.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

Shaping the Court: Race, Gender and Ideology

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzler2009 seems to be the year that the American electorate is turning left of center. Evidence of this include the election of President Obama, the election of a Democratic controlled Congress,  the Supreme Court of Iowa sanctioned same sex marriage, Vermont allows same sex marriage and several other states are soon to follow.  Is this left-of-center shift better for the country than the right-of-center shift? To be sure, the shift is attributed to the disappearance of the liberal wing of the Republican Party and the disappearance of the conservative wing of the Democratic Party. Is there a need to balance this shift? Noticeably absent from the left of center direction is the Supreme Court of the United States.  On the issue of race, Chief Justice John Roberts’ court seems poised to adopt the legal and amorphous fiction of a “color-blind” America. For example, on school desegregation the court limited the ability of school boards to implement voluntary school desegregation plans and raised significant legal and procedural hurdles for plaintiffs bringing discrimination law suits. On the court’s docket are three cases with racial implications Ricci (affirmative action), Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Mukasey (Voting Rights), and Padilla v. Kentucky (Immigration and the right to counsel).

Addressing the right-of-center approach to jurisprudence, the first bill signed by President Obama was the Lily Ledbetter Act, which sought to correct the doctrinal and ideological shift of the Roberts court on pay discrimination in particular. The new law amends Title VII, by providing, “unlawful employment practice occurs, with respect to discrimination in compensation in violation of this title, when a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted, when an individual becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, or when an individual is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or in part from such a decision or other practice.” The Ledbetter Act is a clear rebuke of the right-leaning ideological shift of the court. Of course, a president cannot govern by gaining the political muscle to overturn decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, he uses his appointments to the ostensibly independent judiciary to further his political agenda. Obama will not be the first president to do so. In fact, the right-of-center ideological shift is due to both President Bushes.

Despite the claim that presidents appoint Supreme Court justices based on qualifications and not on ideology, the ideological and political tilt of the Roberts court and courts before it reflects the ideology of the appointing president (with the exception of Justice Souter).  So fittingly, with Justice Souter resigning and President Obama set to name his replacement, what factors will the president consider?  As a candidate for president, Obama said, “I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind, and a record of excellence and integrity.” Last week he said, “I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book, it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives, whether they can make a living, and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes, and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with peoples hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.”  Thus, by his own admission the president seems poised to select someone who is left of center and thus solidify the ideological left-of-center and right-of-center divide that infects the judiciary.

To be sure, his appointment will not change the constitution of the court since Souter is left of center. This however, is not the question. The question is where a president promises “change that we can believe in,” does that change include not changing the ideological shift of the Supreme Court of the United States? If it does, were Americans voting for change in the politics of ideology or were Americans voting for change in party?  If Americans were voting for a change in party and not ideology, then the president would have a difficult time appointing a White man  or one who many in the left-of-center bloc would argue “thinks like a White man” to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Just like race was a factor in the Bush 41 decision to appoint Justice Clarence Thomas to the court, so too will race, gender, and age be a factor in Obama’s decision. A major consideration for the president is going to be appointing a young judge who can shape the ideological intestines of the court interminably.

The president has said he will select someone who understands the reality of everyday Americans. This unshrouds the president’s view of altering the landscape of the court by appointing justices now and in the course of his presidency who are unlike the current Supreme Court where all of the justices have come from the federal appellate courts. The model of course will not be aboriginal. The court that decided Brown v. Board (the decision declaring separate is unequal), Gideon v. Wainwright (the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution required that indigent non- capital criminal defendants be provided with counsel), Miranda v. Arizona (Miranda rights), and Loving v. Virginia (which allowed inter-racial marriage) was comprised of those who “combined empathy and understanding” in its judicial decisions. Of course, it is not the kind of “empathy and understanding” that the Roberts court has shown on the issue of race. It has chosen instead to employ the juridical framework of formal equality and the aspirational, controversial rhetorical of a “color-blind America.”  Let’s be clear. The nomination of a Supreme Court justice is among the single most political decision that a president will make. Thus, advocacy groups on all sides of the issue will pressure the president to alter the judicial landscape in their favor.

Responding to the vitriolic attack on Sen. Leahy by advocacy groups who supported current Chief Justice Roberts’ confirmation, then- Sen. Obama said, “These groups on the right and left should not resort to the sort of broad-brush dogmatic attacks that have hampered the process in the past and constrained each and every senator in this chamber from making sure that they are voting on the basis of their conscience.” But, elections matter and the question is how will the president’s conscience blend with the politics of race, age and gender as well as ideology?

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies and author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a “post-racial America.”

Michelle Obama: One Classy, Resilient, Intelligent First Lady

By Elwood Watson

elwoodwatsonFrom the moment her husband became a serious contender for the Democratic nomination, Michelle Obama has been a perennial figure in the media spotlight. With this level of exposure has also come a significant amount of controversy. Unlike previous first ladies such as Rosalyn Carter, the late former first lady, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, Pat Nixon and others, Mrs. Obama seems to evoke rabid passion among her supporters and detractors alike. There is no middle ground or indifference in their feelings toward her. Her proponents see her as intelligent, classy, elegant, no-nonsense, charismatic and socially conscious. Her opponents denounce her as being arrogant, aloof, unpatriotic, and racially bigoted and harboring a socialist agenda.

For her critics, the already high level of suspicion toward both Obamas reached a fever pitch in the 2008 presidential campaign when the then-future first lady stated first_lady_michelle_obama_official_portrait_2009-redthat for the first time in her adult life she was really proud of America. While many reasonable and rational people totally understood what she meant (even Laura Bush later in the same year in an interview stated that she did) and were well aware of the fact that there was not one hint of unpatriotic rhetoric in her comments, the political right led by Cindy McCain and company wasted no time in perversely exploiting a sincere statement, misconstruing it to imply that Mrs. Obama was an anti-American who harbored Black nationalist sentiments.

Sensing a possible campaign issue, the Republican right seized on Mrs. Obama making her the target of vicious assaults. She was accused of hating Whites and using the term “whitey” on tape. Terms such as “baby mama,” “angry Black woman,” “jezebel,” “Black Lady Macbeth,” “Ms. Grievance,” “bitch” (in many cases preceded by the word Black), “uppity” and other derogatory and disrespectful labels were ascribed to her. In fact, on some far right wing websites, the language used to describe both her and her husband was so inflammatory and intolerant that some website moderators decided to shut down for a few days to reissue stricter guidelines for bloggers. I could not even repeat such incendiary rhetoric here.

Not content enough to just take a quote grossly out of context, the anti-Michelle crowd posted copies of her Princeton undergraduate thesis on anti-Obama websites in an effort to demonstrate that she was obsessed with being Black, attacked her University of Chicago administrative job as a “diversity position,” spread false rumors that she only wanted Black and other non-whites at campaign rallies, that she was on tape yelling anti-American statements and other such nonsense. A couple of talk show hosts referred to Michelle Obama by invoking the term “lynching party.” YES INDEED! THINGS WERE GETTING UGLY! The McCain campaign fall rallies demonstrated the vile, seething anti-Obama paranoia and hatred that was evident. But that’s another story that has been effectively covered.

In regards to the tapes, the interesting thing is that none of them ever surfaced. This is probably due to the fact that no such tapes ever existed. The Republican architects of such sinister schemes were well aware of this; however, they knew that it was not necessary for them to produce any concrete evidence. For their jingoistic, wild-eyed, racist, sexist, xenophobic right-winged supporters, just the thought of such images was enough to whip them into an anti-Michelle Obama frenzy.

Some people argue that there have been other first ladies like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan who have undergone critical and hostile scrutiny. While true, neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mrs. Reagan were subjected to acerbic racial overtones. They were criticized for certain excesses, but never were the attacks, especially in the case of Nancy Reagan, so racially charged or personal. Race has undoubtedly been a factor in such treatment. However, like many strong, radiant and viable Black women before her, Mrs. Obama has managed to admirably shrug off such criticism and resentment and focus on the goals that are important to her, such as speaking to young girls in elementary and middle schools and meeting with military families.

More recently, the current first lady has charmed the world demonstrated with her impeccable fashion sense. She warmly embraced Queen Elizabeth (the queen reciprocated). She demonstrated that she is just as elegant as any European leader’s wife and endeared herself into the minds and hearts of millions of people all over the world. In fact, many people have compared her to a previous first lady, Jackie Kennedy.

Whether this deep admiration for her will last remains to be seen. Nonetheless, for the present moment, it seems that many individuals see her diverse, flexible, sincere personality as one that is refreshing to them. Recently, even her most strident, bigoted critics, a number of whom would rather have her cleaning their houses as opposed to living in the White House, have been unable to demonize her. One thing is probably for certain and that is Michelle Obama will remain true to herself and to her constituencies. She is indeed one classy, resilient, intelligent first lady.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

 

 

 

AAUW’s Recent Report, Where the Girls Are: The Facts about Gender Equity in Education Sparking a National Debate

By Dr. James Moore, III

In recent popular publications, such as Newsweek and New Republic, the gender equity discourse has changed focused. In these magazines, the authors suggest that girls are no longer educationally disadvantaged, due to their academic successes throughout the educational pipeline. These publications further suggest that boys are now the disadvantaged group, due to their declining academic performance. After reading these publications, one may leave thinking that decades of efforts to improve school outcomes for girls have come at the expense of boys.

Recently, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) unveiled a landmark report entitled, Where the Girls Are: The Facts about Gender Equity in Education Sparking a National Debate. It uses national data (i.e., NAEP scores, SAT scores, ACT scores, and high school grade point averages) to highlight girls’ educational outcomes in the last 35 years. In this report, its authors (Christianne Corbette, Catherine Hill and Andresse St. Rose) focus on the relationships between girls’ and boys’ academic progress. The authors use national data to examine educational trends for these two groups in elementary, secondary, and postsecondary settings.

After reading Where the Girls Are, it is clear that AAUW produced this report to shatter the notion that boys are disadvantaged educationally, because of girls. The report reveals that girls in general have made significant educational gains, as well as boys. There was not any significant differences between the two groups’ education progress, when you examined within group data. However, the report did reveal clear differences based on race/ethnicity and family income. For example, African American and Hispanic students – both girls and boys – scored significantly lower than their White and Asian American counterparts.

Based on these findings, both race and class have once again emerged as salient variables. Like many other studies, I was disappointed that the report did not develop this part of the document. To me, the authors missed an opportunity to expand the discourse beyond issues of girls. How might we expand this discourse to capture the authentic voices of people of color (boys and girls) and low-income populations? How can organizations, such as AAUW, help facilitate this dialogue among educators, researchers, and policy makers? If the report focused only on women and the different ethnic groups in America, what story would the same data tell? And, how would the narrators (or authors) tell the story?

In my opinion, racism and classism are alive and well in American society. I see them play out a lot in the lives of so many. This is clear, based on my research (see my website: http://www/education.osu.edu/jmoore).  I look forward to engaging you in civil dialogue on the aforementioned questions.

 Dr. James Moore, III is director of the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male at The Ohio State University.