Category Archives: racism

libertarianism, state action, and private discrimination

Some great commentary coming out in the wake of Rand Paul’s floundering attempts to dodge explaining his philosophy. For instance, this from No More Mister Nice Blog:

Here’s the thing: segregation at lunch counters didn’t exist because individual privately owned businesses were determining for themselves that they would not serve black people. They relied on the local government to enforce this discrimination. Otherwise it would have been possible for non whites to sue white businesses for physical assault. Just because something isn’t statutory doesn’t mean that it isn’t taking place with government aid. A truly libertarian stance on the Civil Rights Act that wasn’t covertly conservative/racist would be to argue that the government must withdraw all legal aid, police help, and rights to sue for damages from discriminatory businesses *and then* leave the business free to discriminate. … The line between public and private property is guaranteed by government action and its something we all pay for and no private business has the right to take our money and then refuse service to us.

Rand Paul, weasel extraordinaire

Oh man, Rand Paul was on Rachel Maddow weaseling around a straight-up answer on his views of whether the federal government can prohibit discrimination in public accommodations.

A, I thought this guy was supposed to be glib and personable? This was one of the least smooth, least adept weaseling’s I’ve ever seen. Maybe that’s all just due to Rachel Maddow, who is a far more kick-ass journalist than most in terms of straight-up asking for a yes/no answer (and still not getting it).

B, wow, is he just stupid, or completely disingenuous, about the differing rationales that might justify (a) a ban on guns in establishments serving alcohol versus (b) a ban on racial discrimination?

C, again, is he just stupid? Or did he not realize that by picking on the ADA that he was also picking on the rationale underlying all civil rights laws? and that his ass would be busted on this issue? not because it’s “hypothetical” but because it’s real, live, and current — as even he must concede, since he’s picking on the ADA!

D, He’s seriously confused about law and regulation. Nobody has ever explained to this guy one of the fundamental rationales underlying the permissibility of banning some forms of private behavior — that state action would in fact otherwise be involved in enforcing those private behaviors. If someone is trespassing on your private property, you can call the police and get them to bust heads for you. That’s state action. You can sue the trespassers and get the courts involved. That’s also state action. So allowing “private businesses” to ban Black people or gay people necessarily involves state action, since the definition of a “civil right” involves the possibility of invoking the law to enforce the right. He’d like to hand that right not to individuals of color (or queer folks, or disabled folks) but instead to racist, homophobic, short-sighted business-people. Nice.

Along with other areas of law, Paul must also be unfamiliar with the long tradition, far predating the Civil Rights Act, enforcing different rules on hospitality and traveler businesses and such public accommodations. (eta: that’s common carriage, folks, although the wikipedia article is woefully inadequate on the history.)

E, Entirely unsurprisingly, he is also seriously confused about what “institutional racism” is, apparently thinking it is just state action.

F, I like how Paul pulls out the “It’s interesting…” line just before he weasels. I myself have a tendency to pronounce that things are “interesting” but not, I think, when I’m weaseling; more when I think there’s some contradiction or something a little surprising that piques my interest.

Anyway, I’ll be interested to see if Rand Paul & his libertarian policies really get him up to the U.S. Senate. How backwards-ass are my old neighbors in Kentucky? I guess we’ll find out come November.

wtf with gary kamiya at salon.com

Just venting.

While innocently reading the news this morning I was confronted with utter stupidity. Gary Kamiya, who isn’t normally a total idiot, wrote this article in salon.com about how Obama is improving race relations by not talking about them. Hmm, I thought, and went to check it out. With an open mind.

Pretty early I realized that this article was fairly stupid, but, completist that I am, I read it to the bitter end.

Here’s the article in a nutshell, in this particularly infuriating and ignorant and just utterly self-centered paragraph:

By not talking about race, by just being who he is, Obama may be helping Americans move away from racial self-consciousness, at least on an interpersonal level, and toward a meritocratic ethos in which their abilities matter more than the color of their skin. Obama’s America feels more like a sports team than a diversity training session. No one cares if a linebacker is black or white: He just has to be able to play. It’s the same with Obama and his team. Most of the time, who even remembers that Obama is black

geez. black people, i’m guessing? and other people who are proud of this symbolic victory over racism? and racists, of course.

bad ideas like bad pennies keep turning up

A Louisiana state Representative is considering a plan to pay poor women to have their tubes tied, to stave off additional reproduction by undesirables.

One wonders just how bad history classes have to be in Louisiana for John LaBruzzo to have actually failed to learn about the many, many times governments have tried programs like this based on bizarre ideas about biology and economics — and let’s please not forget the unbelievably asinine and heinous beliefs about race and class and gender that underlie such proposals. (My partner points out that actually this history wasn’t in any of our primary school history classes — she learned about Puerto Rico, Native Americans, laws of dozens of American states, and on, and on, from independent reading. “And you too, Laura — you didn’t learn that shit in Alabama.”)

Honestly it just makes me tired. What the fuck is wrong with people? Why do people not have any more self-knowledge and/or humility than to at least understand how pig-ignorant they are, before attempting to set social policy?

seen on broadsheet

Mildred Jeter Loving, RIP

This just in from AP: Mildred Jeter Loving, of Loving v. Virginia, passed away on Friday 5/2.

A longer obit from the NYT. “Mildred’s mother was part Rappahannock Indian, and her father was part Cherokee. She preferred to think of herself as Indian rather than black.” I can’t tell if that was throughout her life, or just at the time of Loving?

“Mrs. Loving stopped giving interviews, but last year issued a statement on the 40th anniversary of the announcement of the Supreme Court ruling, urging that gay men and lesbians be allowed to marry.” (NYT). A longer statement is available at balkinization.

ferraro and why the media sucks

So Geraldine Ferraro revealed her cluelessness about race issues with her “I’m being attacked for being white” comment. She also revealed, as my partner astutely pointed out, that she must have almost no people of color in her close circle who could help her out by explaining exactly what was wrong about the comment about Barack Obama succeeding because he is black.

But somehow lost in all of this fulmination about race is any fulmination at all about gender, which is pretty much the story of this 2008 campaign. For all the “women voters are doing X” and “Hillary played the sexism card” and so on, we have heard very little media analysis about whether there actually is sexism in the electorate, punditocracy, handling, or media coverage of the race. Ferraro’s comment is a perfect example: Her comment had multiple parts, including the clueless and offensive part about Barack Obama’s race, that was rightly jumped on by people who pointed out that it was clueless and offensive. Her follow-up implying some sort of “reverse racism” demonstrated thoroughly that she doesn’t understand the systematic and systemic effects of racism, and how it is not simply about “noticing skin color”.

But Ferraro also commented about sexism in the campaign when she noted that Barack Obama would not have been so successful had he been a black woman — or for that matter a white woman or a woman of any race — and that observation has gone completely unremarked upon. Which is really unfortunate, because this part of her comment was much more astute. Can we imagine for a minute that a woman who was a junior senator, with good lefty credentials and remarkable oratory, could have done this well? Having seen the outright way people talk about Hillary’s voice and whether a woman could run the country — presumably a question of experience and temperament — would a woman with only four years on the national scene even be treated seriously? even by her own party? I honestly doubt it, and I wish that — instead of simply relishing the catfight aspect of politicians and their staff sniping at each other and then being outraged and then ritually firing their outspoken staffmembers — instead of all that, I wish the media would actually, occasionally, examine the issues that they bring up.

Wouldn’t we all be a lot better if, instead of reporting that Ferraro said this, and Obama’s campaign expressed that, and then the Clinton campaign responded, and blah blah blah ad nauseum — if the media said, “is it true that Obama would not have done so well if he weren’t black?” and then analyzed it and did some talking about race in this country and how it is hardly a benefit no matter how much some white people blather on about so-called reverse racism, and looked at the studies about unconscious beliefs that people form about other people based on knowledge or presumptions about race. And while we’re at it we could look at the classism that infects discussions of Obama’s family, too.

And the media could also then analyze the comment about whether Obama would do as well if he were a woman, and look at sexism and how that affects things, and you know there are actually quite a lot of studies that show that editors are less likely to accept a paper if they think it’s by a woman, and reference writers are more likely to talk about the person’s family credentials if it’s a woman, and professional musician auditions are less likely to hire a woman unless the audition is done “blind”, and oh yeah people routinely allow themselves to be filmed on national television saying things like they just don’t believe a woman can really run the country, and what kind of effect does that have on people when another study has shown that simply hearing some unknown person in another room describe people as “like animals” makes one much more likely to administer higher-level shocks to people.

Couldn’t we have some interesting conversations if we looked at the issues and the substance?

Isn’t this just another lament about the horse-race aspect of the campaign? Yes, it is.
update: See, this is why I love Katha Pollitt. Pollitt wrote:

that the “sulfurous emanations” about Mrs. Clinton made her want to write a check to her campaign, knock on doors, vote for her twice — even though she’d probably choose another candidate on policy grounds. “The hysterical insults flung at Hillary Clinton are just a franker, crazier version of the everyday insults — shrill, strident, angry, ranting, unattractive — that are flung at any vaguely liberal mildly feminist woman who shows a bit of spirit and independence,” she wrote, “who puts herself out in the public realm, who doesn’t fumble and look up coyly from underneath her hair and give her declarative sentences the cadence of a question.”

That’s pretty much exactly how I feel. And although Hillary isn’t interesting enough for me to read a whole book about her, I might try to get this essay by Pollitt.

To make things even better, this quote was actually from an article in the NYT that is actually on this exact topic: Postfeminism and Other Fairy Tales by Kate Zernike. It’s just a start but it’s good to see it, and maybe a little NYT coverage (albeit in Week in Review) will start at least a little self-reflection in other media.

the unimaginative world of whorecraft(TM)

A few days ago, the Village Voice wrote an article about a series of World of Warcraft-inspired porn; their article was duly picked up by BoingBoing.

Strangely, BoingBoing missed the IP angle — that “Whorelore”‘s original name was “Whorecraft” but they ran into an “IP” issue, presumably trademark. You can still see “Whorecraft” on some of the pictures at the Village Voice article. (see caption and photo)

In theory, the article makes it sound promising: Attempts to act, an ongoing storyline, warrior women, etc. But sadly, the photo gallery demonstrates that the porn is about as “inspired” and “imaginative” as Star Trek’s aliens: Heterotastic, male-centered, dominant-paradigm-of-female-beauty, and very white. Ho hum.

breadcrumb trail: Village Voice 3/2BoingBoing 3/3 [cross-posted at feminist SF the blog]

Southern “mistrust”

Okay, still on hiatus, but this NYT Magazine article on Democratic presidential contenders Clinton & Obama annoyed me:

In other words, if you condescend to Southerners or simply don’t show up, then it’s all but impossible to erase the legacy of mistrust left over from the era of desegregation.

“Legacy of mistrust left over from the era of desegregation”? Please. I am so fucking sorry for the white southerners who feel so “betrayed” by whoever forced desegregation down “their” throats.

Earlier in the article the author, Matt Bai, described the South as a “less-welcoming political culture” for Obama and Clinton.First of all, let me just say that what we’re pussyfooting around here is racism and sexism. Can we just say the words?

Also, what fucking mistrust? White racist southerners may be pissed that segregation ended and that civil rights were enforced, but there was no “trust” that was “betrayed” — that implies some kind of innocence betrayed by a wrongdoer. Instead of innocence, we’re talking about ending the equivalent of apartheid in the US — state-mandated political, economic, and civic racial segregation, backed up by lynchings and mob violence.

Second, allow me to just fucking point out that “The South” includes people other than racist, sexist white people. The majority may be racist, sexist, white people, but it’s grotesque to write an article about racism and sexism in the South, never even straightforwardly label the phenomena, and worse yet, fail to acknowledge that there are people of color in the South. Not just Black people, but Brown people too. And while I fled, I’m pretty sure that there are at least one or two feminist atheist antiracist queers who are white down there.

Can we talk about the “mistrust” now, please?

Okay. My special anti-racism-in-the-media rant over. Happy MLK Day. Back to hiatus.

on insanely stupid, homophobic, racist, white Republican legislators

Bloggers & media have been all over the latest in a long, long series (at least as long as i have been reading the news, which is 20+ years now*) of sexcapades by Republicans and religious right leaders: Florida state legislator Bob Allen (R), who solicited an undercover cop for a blowjob in Titusville, FL, and is consequently being charged with soliciting prostitution. The cop was black, and Allen said that there were black men loitering about the park so he offered the blowjob + cash to avoid becoming “a statistic.”

Where to begin.

1 – It’s a relief that it’s charged with soliciting prostitution; not too many years ago he could have been charged with violating Florida’s sodomy law. (Not that I’m happy he was charged, at all. Once it was clear it was a gay thang, the officer seems to have been only too happy to bust the guy for solicitation. Bob Allen is pathetic, but is this what we need to spend public funds doing? The cop was plain clothes investigating a burglary. I’d rather have had him finish that job than bust Allen for a BJ.)

2 – Some people seem surprised that when Republicans ostensibly straight men solicit sex from other men they often (usually?) offer to give rather than to receive. It’s pretty obvious: See, receiving they can get at home, with their eyes closed. Giving, for Republicans ostensibly straight men, is best done in parks, bathrooms, park bathrooms, etc.

3 – It’s a shame that there is still so much homophobia that Republicans gay men resort to paying strangers when there are lots and lots of men having gay sex for free. In Florida. Even (or especially) in Cape Canaveral.

4 – What’s worse: That racism is apparently so acceptable for this “straight” white Republican man that he thinks it’s an excuse (albeit a really, really implausible one) for being gay, or that he thinks being gay is worse than racism? What a sad and tangled mess that man’s mind is. (John Scalzi has the best comment:

The only real bit of news out of all of this is that Allen would rather be seen as a terrified racist than as someone willing to solicit strangers in a public restroom to get some man-on-man action. Well, here’s the thing, Mr. Allen: Clearly, you can be both.

5 – Gotta love the last line of the Orlando Sentinel story:

When Allen was being placed in a marked patrol car, he asked whether “it would help” if he was a state legislator, according to a police report. The officer replied, “No.”

6 – Allen’s political positions: Cosponsor of an anti-public lewdness bill that would have prohibited park sex. CFNews 13. He got a 92% rating from the Christian Coalition prior to his 2006 election.OS 7/12 He supported amending Florida’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage, and opposed a bill to curb harassment of gay students.365gay


* There must be a blog somewhere dedicated to charting the sexcapades of moralizers. If there’s not, I would love to start it, but it would be apparently a full-time job, so some independently wealthy person needs to start it. Or pay me to start it. Seriously.

newborn citizens denied healthcare

In a time of many horrors, my eye was caught by this outrage [NYT 11/3]:

Under a new federal policy, children born in the United States to illegal immigrants with low incomes will no longer be automatically entitled to health insurance through Medicaid, Bush administration officials said Thursday.

“Children born in the United States” — i.e., US citizens.*

Now, when a woman gives birth on Medicaid, her child is only eligible for care once the parents get the birth certificate & file a Medicaid application. Of course illegal immigrants may be leery of filing paperwork, and even if they do, it can take a long time to process — weeks or months. So infants in their first few months of life may not receive preventive care and care for chronic conditions.

Thanks, Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA). What a good idea, you ass-hat.

S. Kimberly Belshé, California’s secretary of the Health & Human Services Agency, said: “By virtue of being born in the United States, a child is a U.S. citizen. What more proof does the federal government need?” Georgia citizens should try to recruit her to replace Rep. Asshat.

* To be completely fair, I think infants — all people — should get medical care regardless of citizenship. But surely even the hardest anti-immigrant folks have to quail at the thought of newborn US citizens being denied healthcare they need and have a right to simply because of bureaucratic delays.

the death penalty & tookie williams

A human being who was doing valuable work, and helping to make the world better, was killed in San Quentin, California, just after midnight, Tuesday December 13. [See SaveTookie.org for details of Mr. Williams' anti-gang and anti-violence work.] “I could find no justification for granting clemency.” [Schwarzenegger Statement following Clemency Decision, 2005/12/12.] Tookie Williams was killed because he continued to protest his innocence. “Seven percent of those whose sentences were overturned between 1973 and 1995 have been found innocent.” ["Capital Punishment in the United States", Wikipedia (12/13).] Tookie Williams was killed because Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has earned millions depicting various bloody and violent assaults, questioned the “efficacy of Williams’ [anti-violence] message”: “[T]he continued pervasiveness of gang violence leads one to question the efficacy of Williams’ message.” [Schwarzenegger Statement of Decision on Request for Clemency by Stanley Williams, p. 4.] Most importantly, perhaps, Tookie Williams was killed because it is politically expedient for politicians to be “tough on crime”. “Even if you assume he made the decision without political motivations, the political impact or ramifications certainly worked in his favor.” [Dan Schnur, Republican strategist, quoted in the Washington Post.]

Throughout Africa, Asia, and the United States, people face death at the hands of their own government. [Capital Punishment, Wikipedia (12/13).] Since 1976, the United States alone has put to death over a thousand people. The application of the death penalty is significantly affected by race and geography. Roughly 780 people (78% of the executions) have been killed in southern states comprising approximately a third of the United States popoulation (Texas, Virginia, Missouri, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee). More than one-third of those executed in the United States since 1976 have been African-American. Most (perhaps 80%) of death penalty cases involve a white victim. As of July, 2005, over 3400 people are currently on death row in the United States. ["Capital Punishment in the United States", Wikipedia (12/13).]

One such person is Cory Maye, a black man sentenced to death in Mississippi, for killing a white cop who entered his home after midnight while Maye and his toddler were sleeping. You can read more about Cory Maye’s case at the Agitator. And you can read more about the three thousand other death penalty cases in the US at these sites:

Amnesty International USA: Abolish the Death Penalty.
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Death Penalty Moratorium Project (American Bar Association)
ACLU: on the Death Penalty
Death Penalty Information Center

on not freaking out about bias in public interest tech/ip

NYPL hosted a panel a few weeks ago on the Google Print issue. I noticed that there were no women on the panel. This was shortly after I’d seen a flyer for a conference Yale was hosting on Search, which also had very very few numbers of female speakers or commentators. I’d been trying to craft a cogent & reasoned critique of sexism in the industry and practices that lead to gender disparate conference panels in a field where, if anything, a majority of leading scholars are women. In the meantime, Ann Bartow wrote on the matter, and I linked to her in lieu of posting separately, and then I got focused on other things.

But today (12/6), trying to wrap up a similarly long-hanging draft post about Google commentary, I came across a two-post discussion in comments on Larry Lessig’s blog entry about the NYPL debate. First, Ann Bartow briefly noted the absence of women on the NYPL panel:

With little effort I can think of 50 or more women who could have been part of this debate without diminishing the quality of the discourse in the least; in fact quite the contrary. The majority of librarians, and library patrons, in this country are female, as are the majority of book purchasers. Yet not a single woman gets a voice in this debate.

To which unfortunately “David” cluelessly responded:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but women read as men do, as far as I know. By this I mean that the process is structurally equivalent, they look at the page, decode the glyphs or higher-order primitives (such as words) and convert this information into symbolic representations of the writing. Same can be said for search. Is there some peculiarity in women’s reading that would make it imperative to have them represented? Do they do something differently that needs addressing by itself? Because if they do not, as I would hold, it is a disservice to claim they should be represented. Women are first and foremost people, and just as 53-year-olds need not be represented in a debate, because their is no functional difference that requires it, neither do, in most debates, women.

So, whether there are women in the debate or not is entirely irrelevant, and subtracts no legitimacy whatsoever. It could be argued that women could participate just as the men who did, and this is true. Maybe there was a bias against women in the choice of debaters. Whether that was the case or not, though, doesn’t make it imperative to purposefully choose women as debaters on this and most other topics.

David wanted to be corrected if he was wrong, so here goes. He got one thing right: “Maybe there was a bias against women in the choice of debaters.” But alas he completely obfuscated this point with his off-point and non-responsive paragraph about whether men and women have special ways of reading. Or perhaps he simply confused himself. So let me shed a little light:

Professor Bartow said nothing about men’s special ways of reading. She did not “claim” that women “should be represented” because of something they bring to the debate. Rather, she made one simple point: The panel was not gender-representative of any relevant population: IP/law experts, book people, librarians, etc., who are qualified to speak on Google Print issues.

She was concerned about special ways of selecting speakers. That’s a problem of sexism, not cognitive processing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but both men and women spell sexism S-E-X-I-S-M.

David’s response reflects a broader problem in responses to critical engagements with sexism, racism, and other biases, which is, when racism or sexism is called out, to engage in one or more knee-jerk denials: “There’s no sexism here!” or, classically, “I’m not racist!” or “I’m not sexist!” as if it were a personal insult. One can observe three kinds of major knee-jerk responses: One, to become so politically correct that one becomes a caricature of one’s own politics. Two, to deny the critiques, and censor the critics by calling them politically correct. Three, to do the crazy white panic (“I’m not a racist! You don’t think I’m racist, do you? But I’m so not racist!”), so beautifully dissected by Alas, a Blog.

Hey, I’m not immune from any of these responses. It’s pretty natural to do this kind of thing when you’re dealing with a conflict between how you think you ought to be, and how you are being perceived. But that makes these responses all the more important to understand.

And understanding these kinds of natural responses helps us understand what David did, and didn’t do, and could have done more helpfully instead, in his response to Ann Bartow’s simple pointing out of a gender disparity.

When a critic points out a possible problem, the ideal response would be for people to hear and evaluate the critic’s comments, and respond appropriately (and not disproportionately or personally; go back and read Alas, a blog again.)

The first step: Is the criticism accurate on the facts? In the case of the NYPL panel, manifestly, yes: the panel was disproportionately — all — male.

The second step: Is the criticism accurate in its analysis? Well, here is a problem, because Professor Bartow just pointed out the facts, leaving the analysis mostly to the reader. Not entirely; she did try to subtly deflect content-oriented rejoinders by pointing out that the inclusion of women could have been quality-neutral, and that tended to lead the reader to the analysis that this wasn’t a content issue. But for the most part, she made a neutral observation about gender representation and left the rest of the rather obvious analysis to the reader.

Apparently, though, any suggestion of sexism can trigger knee-jerk responses: “There’s no sexism here! No sexism! Gender is irrelevant to books! Linguistic processing of higher-order mammals blah blah blah!”

David failed to analyze Professor Bartow’s critique of implied sexism in a rational way. Instead he hand-waved and obscured the criticism with a non-response. (<annoyed Sarcasm> While missing the point entirely, he did manage to sound very brainy by couching his non-response in big words and impressive phrases like “structurally equivalent” or “higher-order primitives.” It reminds me of the literary debate between William Faulkner & Ernest Hemingway: Faulkner on Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” Hemingway on Faulkner: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” Lots of fancy words don’t necessarily mean you’re on point. </annoyed Sarcasm>)

Rather than analyzing Ann Bartow’s implied critique of sexism, David instead shifted the debate. He didn’t deny the observation, and he didn’t even really deny the implied critique — he actually admitted it: “Maybe there was a bias against women in the choice of debaters.” But the locus of his response is something completely different — the value of diversity — and he then steers away from the point of original observation even further by questioning whether women and men are cognitively different. Bajillions of gallons of ink are being spilled on that question, by the way, so it’s hardly an open-and-shut question, but the point is that David chose to deny & distract rather than to engage the question. And my sense, from watching oh-so-many stupid arguments about sexism & racism, is that David’s response thus falls into exactly the same category as so many other pointless responses to criticism these days. The pattern goes like this: A: “That’s racist!” B: <radiating outraged indignation !> “How dare you call me racist?”

So let me just state what I would have liked to have seen David or other commentators on the Lessig blog, or other readers of the Lessig blog do: Read Ann Bartow’s observation. Note to themselves, Huh. By golly, she’s right: there were no women on the NYPL panel, and there certainly could have been. That’s suggestive of sexism. When I do this kind of work I’m going to make sure that I don’t fall prey even to unconscious sexism or other bias. And I’m going to help other people avoid it too.

Don’t freak out. Don’t go all sarcastic or blah blah blah about the Western canon or higher order verbs or mammals or whatever weird issue you have. Everybody falls prey to internalized, subconscious sexism, racism, and other biases sometimes. Just try to be more self-aware about it and don’t freak out when someone calls your attention to it. It’s not an attack on you or on your livelihood or on western civilization. (Well, maybe western civilization ….) Unconscious bias is remedied, in part, by having your consciousness raised and beoming more aware of unconscious bias.

And I had a much longer response detailing why this kind of response is so silly, so irrational, so pointless, and so not helpful, but instead, I’m going to just point, once again, to my new favorite post of the year: How Not To Be Insane When Accused Of Racism (A Guide For White People) at Alas, a Blog.

Oh, and by the way. Thanks, Ann, for doing this work. It’s appreciated.

anti-racist Einstein

A new book by Fred Jerome & Rodger Taylor, Einstein on Race and Racism, fleshes out the historical record on Dr. Einstein’s anti-racist work. The most amazing thing is that, apart from a few quotes, the work that Einstein did on race has been largely forgotten by the public, and obliterated from popular historical accounts of his life.

The avalanche of Einstein images – genius, brilliant, absent-minded, kindly, bumbling and more – has all but buried Einstein’s political dimension, and totally covered up his civil-rights activities which have remained virtually unknown to his tens of millions of fans and followers.

… Einstein and Paul Robeson, two of the 20th Century’s most famous and popular figures, were not only friends but co-chaired the American Crusade to End Lynching and shared a dozen other anti-racist activities ….

Yet, despite Einstein’s clear intention to make his politics public – especially his anti-lynching and other antiracist activities – the history-molders have seemed embarrassed to do so. Or nervous. “I had to think about my Board,” a museum curator (who doesn’t want his name used even today) said, explaining why he had omitted some of the scientist’s political statements from the major exhibition celebrating Einstein’s one hundredth birthday in 1979.

Racism in America depends for its survival in large part on the smothering of anti-racist voices, especially when those voices come from popular and widely respected individuals – like Albert Einstein. This book, then. aspires to be part of a grand un-smothering.

It’s on my library reading list now. [Link from Marian's Blog 10/31 via Dru Blood]

Juarez: missing-non-white-women meme, at work?

This article is the first time I have seen NYT coverage of the missing women in the maquiladoras towns along the border — a rash of killings and disappearances that has affected literally hundreds of women, many of whom worked in US-owned factories.

Searching the NYT archives since 1996 (“missing women maquiladoras”, “missing women Juarez”) I found a couple of others; one from Dec. 2002; one from Aug. 2002 focusing on a filmmaker doing a documentary about the issue; and one from Aug. 2003; another from Oct. 2004. I won’t do the word count; it’s embarrassing, since many of these articles appear in the short-shrift foreign desk section. But by comparison a search for “Natalee Holloway”, missing in Mexico, turned up 17 articles since June. With this relative level of media coverage, I’m certainly glad to see this year’s story about the Juarez disappearances actually make the front webpage of the NYT. [Well, for a couple of hours it did, anyway, as one of three articles in the NATIONAL subsection.] Maybe the missing-non-white-women meme is starting to spread? Or maybe there’s some natural spillover effect from the missing-white-women coverage? every twenty articles about a missing white woman the NYT can run one about a non-white-woman human interest story?

Amnesty International, in 2003, noted that the disappearances and murders involved at least 700 women in 10 years.

According to official figures 70 women remain missing in Ciudad Juárez, and more recently in the city of Chihuahua. Information from other sources puts this figure at 400 women missing since 1993. Their families fear the worst, given the alarming number of missing women who have subsequently been found murdered days, or even years, later.

Amnesty International’s investigation found that in the last ten years approximately 370 women have been murdered, of which at least 137 were sexually assaulted prior to their death. A further 75 bodies have still not been identified — it is thought some may be those of women who have been reported missing but grossly inadequate forensic investigations have made this impossible to confirm.

Many of the women were abducted, held captive for several days and subjected to humiliation, torture and the most horrific sexual violence before dying, most as a result of asphyxiation caused by strangulation or from being beaten. Their bodies have then been found hidden among rubble or abandoned in desert areas near the city.

An unknown number of other women, not included in these numbers, have escaped their captors.

Taking the top figure of 400 missing women, but subtracting the 75 unidentified bodies from the missing women to arrive at a conservative (non-official) estimate, you find that one woman has gone missing every 5.25 days. Juarez, for comparison, is 1.2 million people — that’s pretty comparable to San Diego, and just a little bit smaller than Philly. Imagine a rash of disappearances: one every five to six days. Friday, another woman missing; Thursday, another woman missing; Monday, another woman missing; Saturday, another woman missing … tick, tick, tick, another woman, and another woman, and another woman … Every couple of weeks they turn up a body. They identify most but not all of the bodies. Now imagine this goes on for twelve years.

I’ve been following this story off and on for five or six years. It’s impossible to maintain a proportionate sense of horror with so many individual lives. I decided to focus on women who share my name. Over the years, five women named Laura have been murdered or have disappeared.

  • Laura Ana Inere (b. approximately 1968; 27 years old when murdered; body found Dec. 1995). She was shot to death. Her body was found on Christmas day, 1995, in the municipal cemetery. Because a firearm was involved, investigators suspect police involvement in Laura Inere’s murder.
  • Laura Georgina Vargas (b. approximately 1961; 40 years old when murdered; body found Jan. 3, 2001)
  • Laura Alondra Márquez (b. approximately 1985; 16 years old when murdered; body found May 1, 2001)
  • Laura Berenice Ramos Monárrez. Laura was a high school student when she disappeared in Sept. 2001. Her body was found Nov. 6-7, 2001. Two Juárez bus drivers confessed to Laura’s murder, and the murder of ten other women, but claimed they were tortured to elicit a confession. El Diario, 11/12-21/2001, also reports that the victims’ families are unconvinced about the confessions, and they and human rights groups cite irregularities in police investigation techniques.
  • Laura Lourdes Cordero García. No information other than her name on lists of disappeared and murdered women.

More info about the murders and disappearances in Juàrez and nearby Chihuahua communities:

  • Women of Juarez. (English) The site includes a list of some of the victims’ names, or occasionally a cursory description of remains found, painstakingly gathered by Esther Chavez Cano from news sources through 2002.
  • Mujeres de Juarez (Español) The list of names includes 286 women reported missing from 1993 through 2004.
  • Amnesty Int’l’s page on Juarez’ missing women. (English) Amnesty wants people to contact their own Congressional representatives to urge them to cosponsor a US Congressional Resolution offered by Representative Hilda Solis and Senator Jeff Bingaman on the murders.
  • Safe Juarez takes donations. (English) They began by providing self-defense training & establishing safehouses for women. They are now doing family interventions. While I have no knowledge of this group other than what’s on their website, a couple of quick google searches looking for criticism of them didn’t turn up anything negative in the first many pages.
  • AcciOn (Español) Another list of women’s names.
  • crimelibrary.com. (English) Listing of media coverage (notably, most from nearby Texas towns)
  • Mother Jones, To Work and Die in Juarez (2002) (English)
  • El Paso Times, Death Stalks the border, 2002. (English)
  • Gender[f] offers an online memorial rollcall of 400 missing women’s names. (English)

related posts: missing non-white women meme

missing-non-white-women meme

this post on the buggydoo blog (“one good thing”) does two important things: (1) it makes a sensible comment on the snarky ‘media coverage of missing white women’ blog-o-phenomena, and (2) it draws attention to a missing woman, Latoyia Figueroa, who has not gotten as much media attention, clearly on account of race.

I am uncomfortable with the bloggers who have been sneering about “missing white women” lately, mostly because it doesn’t have the effect I think they’re going for. It’s very trendy with liberal bloggers to make comments like “Oh, ho hum, look at the media go crazy over another missing white woman.” or “CNN isn’t covering the war in Iraq because, hold the presses, there’s another missing white woman!” I understand the intent behind this is to point out the racism behind the manufactured press hysteria, but what actually happens is this: black, asian, and hispanic women still get ignored, and white women are held in contempt and blamed for media coverage over which they have no control. That’s it.

For more info on Latoyia Figueroa (and positive responses to lack of attention to missing non-white-women), see black feminism and the one good thing post.

related posts: Juárez: missing non-white women meme, at work?

artistic innovation & racism

The NYT ran two articles today on copies of art, both listed on the front page in the respective sections: One listed in the “arts” section and titled “Imitations That Transcend Flattery” by Roberta Smith, and the other breathlessly titled Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art! by Keith Bradsher, and listed in the business section. [By 245 this afternoon when I got back to this draft, I noted that the front page title of "Original Chinese Copies" had been changed, and "Imitations That Transcend" had been taken off the front page; both are listed in the arts page and "Original Chinese Copies" is still in the business section.]

I’m sure this is an NYT editorial accident, left hand, right hand, lack of knowledge, etc., but reading the two articles together gave me a queasy feeling, like when you’re watching a movie and suddenly realize you need 3D glasses. The color information is shifted just slightly, creating two different accounts of the world. Once I put on my special 3D Glasses of Power*, everything righted itself: in fact, I got a whole different picture, and a lot of new information poppped out.

OK, the metaphor can’t go on forever. For one thing, these are not exactly the same two articles. The two articles are on different issues and consequently take different tones: “Original Chinese Copies!” is a standard business section article about the cheap oil painting (aka ‘mass art’ or ‘hotel art’) industry: China has gotten into the industry & the American industry is (or may be) suffering from the competition. “Imitations That Transcend”, on the other hand, is a standard artist/exhibition article: it focuses on one artist, Richard Pettibone, who does “appropriation art”, and discusses him and his current show, which consists of miniatures of famous paintings.

But perspectives are indeed shifted across these two articles, and noticing that, you notice a few other things. First, obviously, race: “Original Chinese Copies!” feeds into a racist stereotype of Asian people that was much in evidence during the 70s & 80s, when many US newspapers ran stories about the Japan-US trade deficit and Japanese businesspeople (well, let’s be honest: businessmen) buying up American landmarks, property, etc. At the same time there was a lot of fairly blatant racism in US media, e.g., pundits talking about how the Japanese imitated US innovations but didn’t come up with their own ideas. The idea was that the Japanese are just so good & efficient at copying that they beat ‘us’, despite our brilliance, and as a result of our good nature & the post-WW2 reconstruction. I’m sure the racism in that media coverage has been analyzed half to death elsewhere. And I don’t want to have to point it out, but the same themes popped up in this article: the Chinese are doing mass production, they’re very good at copying, etc. And they’re a threat: “China is creating a fast-growing army of trained artists”. (An army of artists. … Hmm. Sounds pretty good, to me, and probably a hell of a lot cheaper, not to mention safer, than an army of, err, armed soldiers.)

Questions of originality, authenticity, quality, the definition and value of art, aesthetics, ethnically identifiable schools of art, etc., are elided through smirky punctuation with an unpleasant racial undertone: The author politely refrains from discussing the ‘quality’ of the Chinese copies, while making his opinion known through the scare quotes around ‘quality’. This is a perfect entree to a point about one person’s art being another person’s garbage liner, and might have been useful in an article about mass art oil paintings. Instead the ‘quality’ line gets dropped into a section to further contrast between Chinese art (industrial-style, copied) and American art (original). No mention here of the ‘quality’ of the American hotel-art industry’s output. And check out the headline: Someone, the author or the editor, entitled the article “Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art!”. ‘Real’? ‘Western Art’? Where to begin. I don’t mind a business article not getting into the fine points of what makes art Art, but don’t furtively raise the issues in a racist context through the use of snide punctuation.

And then there’s the discussion of copyright, which plays into a new wine, old bottles theme in the business press: “Oh these Asian countries are so bad! They don’t respect our copyrights!”

Exporters of Chinese paintings say that even though the paintings often imitate well-known works of art, the copies are inherently different because they are handmade, and so do not violate copyrights.

Robert Panzer, the executive director of the Visual Artists and Galleries Association, a trade group based in New York, disagreed. He said that the vast majority of paintings produced before the 20th century were in the public domain and could be freely copied and sold. But it is not legal to sell a painting that appears to a reasonable person like a copy of a more recent, copyrighted work, he said.

The old bottles for this new w(h)ine? Still the same old racism-tinged stories from the 70s & 80s: Asian countries are bad! bad! and they’re hurting our business interests. What’s so sad about this particular whine is that it’s just sort of tossed in the mix to further taint the Chinese mass-art industry with Badness; the copyright material is almost completely gratuitous to the article. Nowhere in the article, for instance, does it describe any instances of a Western painting, still under copyright, that was actually duplicated. Nor are the copyright concerns ever discussed in the context of the US mass-art industry: if the US mass-art industry used to be such hot shit, then how did they deal with copyright issues attaching to not-very-original hotel art? China might like to know! But no — the copyright issue isn’t seriously discussed; it’s just tossed in, perhaps by order of editor, to lengthen a too-short piece.

So when writing a business story about mass art, why not just throw in some gratuitous discussion of the Bad Bad Chinese Communist Copiers? Everyone else does. Coverage of international copyright markets and issues is subtly infused with a significant racial dynamic. It’s not like I came up with this half-baked idea on my own — I came up with it after years of reading the same stories over and over and over again. Eventually, after reading yet one more article about how a developing nation is thumbing its nose at US copyright imperialism (ahem), I cottoned to the fact that I had read a lot more articles about Asian copyright infringement than any other kind.

I bet anyone else following these issues in the US has too. Consider how often we hear about the thriving Asian & South/Central American markets for illegally copied works (usually videos and recorded music). Those brown people sure are bad, disrespecting our copyrights and hurting our native copyright industries! Contrast the badness of people of color with the similarly thriving market in Russia & Poland, nations peopled with people of pallor. The only significant media coverage these markets got in recent memory was when the entertainment industry decided to drop its prices in Russia to compete with the ‘black’ market. ** Or what about Norway? It just doesn’t get any whiter than Norway, which not only has ‘black’ markets in copyrighted goods, but whose court system declared that Jon Lech Johansen, teen auteur of DeCSS, was A-okay. Finland is a veritable outlaw nation! Surely the press ‘tars’ the Finnish with the brush of piracy? Not.

The MPAA, god bless its tiny little nonracist copyright maximalist heart, wants to target all ‘pirate’ nations, including “Brazil, Malaysia, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, and Thailand.” (2003/Feb/16) The MPAA was particularly concerned with Russia and South Africa. But a LexisNexis Academic search for “(copyright w/5 (piracy or pirate)) AND (china or asia or korea)” in the business & finance section of the news returned 831 hits; whereas the same search, replacing the countries with (russia or soviet or poland or finland or norway) produced 66 articles; adding in africa (russia or soviet or poland or finland or norway or africa) doubled the results to bring us to 130. (4 of the first 25 articles of this set headline only Asian countries!) Alas, I couldn’t really do a full-Asian search, which would have also included India, Pakistan, etc.; the Academic LexisNexis subscription I am using rejected search sets with over a thousand results. Media coverage of international copyright infringement and international markets in copyright infringed works seems to focus disproportionately on Asian nations.

It’s a convenient story for the American business press, after all. The Asian copyright violation story fits the larger narrative of an Asian threat to US industries, and simultaneously reinforces the image of unoriginal but but frighteningly efficient Asian copyists.

… So, okay, another bad article in a series of largely bad business articles about the entertainment industry and copyright infringement over the years. But the NYT ran this particular bad article simultaneously with another article, profiling an artist who truly is outright copying art, and not just public domain or arguably barely original works, but works that are famous, recognizable, and still under copyright restrictions. (Okay, possibly still barely original.)

From the copyright critical perspective, “Imitations That Transcend” was certainly better than “Original Chinese Copies”. “Imitations That Transcend” profiled Richard Pettibone, an artist who is grappling with questions of originality and the definition of art. By contrast, “Original Chinese Copies” alludes to copyright infringement as a means of villification of a competitive industry.

Of course, “Imitations That Transcend” is not without its problems. It mentions numerous male artists but neglects to mention virtually any female artists. Not surprising, perhaps: as the Guerilla Girls have long documented, even in the 21st century sexism flourishes within the art world. And as so much of the NYT’s writing, article describes the artistic ambitions of the art without actually engaging the ambition or analyzing them. I found that particularly ironic in an Arts article about an artist who deconstructs Art.

But it was the juxtaposition of “Imitations That Transcend” with “Original Chinese Copies” that really caught my eye, as a real-time demonstration of everything that was wrong with these articles, and, for that matter, a real-time demonstration also of Richard Pettibone’s alleged concerns with the definition of art and ideas, too. It’s too perfect. In the Arts section, we get a self-important article describing Real Art, but completely neglecting to actually connect the issues within the Art to any real world concerns or indeed any actual engagement with the issues the subject Artist purports to raise. And in the Business section, we get cheap villification of people of color (mere copiests in an ‘army’ warring against Fine American Art and artists’ colonies), softened by some gentle condescension of the Chinese artists’ individual human ambitions. Top it all off by the polite use of punctuation to allude to commentary without actually giving any: the ‘quality’ of the art is scare quoted, in lieu of actual discussion. And the ultimate irony, ‘Real Western Art!’ is given pride of place in the headline.

Hey, who needs artists to create irony, when you have the NYT editors.


* 3D Glasses of Power! Get them today! Feminism! Antiracism! Copyright Criticism! Knowledge is power, and with the 3D Glasses of Power!, you will have all the knowledge you can handle!

** Arrggh! [Tearing my hair out in frustration.] ‘Black’ market, indeed.