On Racism in America
[Editor’s Note: Offensive language follows]
Did you catch the latest white supremacist twitterganza following the MTV movie awards? If not, then check out Public Shaming’s Tweets of Privilege post here. I would say that this sort of thing is shocking, but truth be told, having spent this semester teaching a course on race, immigration and white privilege, and writing and thinking about issues of justice and privilege for a while now, I’m becoming less and less surprised by such incidents, and more and more convinced it speaks to something much deeper in the US psyche.
So what got all the white folks in such a tizzy? Jamie Foxx’s shirt, shown below.
And as you can see from the Public Shaming post, the hate is pretty amazing and ignorant, all at the same time. But lest we think that it is just some juvenile twitter posts–which after all, has become the lowest idiotic common denominator social media outlet of the moment–here are a few other example beyond the Twittersphere to remind us how pervasive the racism and ignorance remains today in the US.
This is one of a number of singularly offensive posts in the comments on The Blaze story about the awards and the movie Djanog Unchained. The title of the article? “Who Wore a T-Shirt Mixing Sandy Hook Victims and Trayvon Martin to the MTV Movie Awards and Said It Wasn’t ‘Political’?” Here’s the relevant snippet from the MTV coverage of the event where Foxx responds to questions about his shirt.
“Just a little blip just to keep our minds — not political or anything like that — just think about the children. My daughter’s here, 19 years old, so just protecting our kids that’s all,” Foxx said.
In fairness, it was a dumb move on Foxx’s part to say wearing that shirt was not political. Of course it was political, but he should have embraced the politics and been explicit about them, rather than skirting the central issues that his shirt raised–racism, violence and hatred. But that critique of Foxx aside, these comments have no place in civil discourse, especially given the nonsensical claim at the end that “they [Blacks] would soon over run the country like they are today.” Last time I checked, Africans were brought to the US against their will as slaves by the white. Last time I checked, the majority racial group in the US is white, not Black. And a quick glance at this Pew Center chart is more than enough evidence of that fact.
So unless being 12% or 13% of the US population suddenly constitutes “over run[ning] the country,” it’s hard to consider such comments about Blacks (or any racial group) as anything but blatantly racist. They reflect a deep seated white fear over the steady decline of their power and privilege that is a product of our changing and dynamic US society.
But we also need to put incidents like this into their wider context. It’s clear that this is part of a much larger and, sadly, growing virulent racist backlash against people of color that has been growing since Obama first announced he was running for office back in 2007. This is a trend which has been well documented by scholars working on race. For just a few examples, check out this, this, this and for the more academic-inclined folks, this fascinating 2012 MA thesis titled “Between the panels: How anti-Black racism has recycled myths of the Black body in comic books” by Douglas Clarke. Or for the more visually inclined, click here.
More disturbing example, like this incident from last summer at the Eastern Technical High School, where a drawing of Obama with nooses and the KKK was drawn on a school chalk board by students, point to an ongoing trend that is growing more vocal and visible, thanks in part to greater dispersion via the Internet. What is almost as depressing as the incident is the response from the school system in Maryland.
The picture, drawn during class at Eastern Technical High School, shows three nooses hanging from the rafters of a building, according to Baltimore County police spokesman Cathy Batton. Beside the ropes are a burning cross with three stick figures in pointed hats, suggesting the Ku Klux Klan. To the right is a grave marker with the name Barack Obama at the top; under the president’s name are two racial epithets.
“We have a group of teenagers who made bad decisions. It was coupled with a lack of supervision by a teacher. We are going to use it as a teaching opportunity next year,” said Eastern Tech Principal Tom Evans.
While it’s great that this will be used as a learning opportunity, why wait until next year, when some of the students potentially involved will have graduated and moved on, and many people will have long-since forgotten the incident? Incident like this require swift and sustained attention, not a wait until next year and address it response. At least the school had the sense to suspend the students involved, but the point stands. Education is always best done when things are fresh in people’s minds.
And to not end on a completely sour note, one example of folks trying to change these dynamics popped up recently in Georgia, in the heart of the white power South. Students at Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Georgia are planning their first-ever integrated prom. That’s right, let me say that again. Spring of 2013 in Georgia, USA, and a high school is trying to hold its FIRST EVER INTEGRATED PROM! For more on that story check out local NBC affiliate WMGT’s coverage of the story.
Until next time…always sleep with one eye open.