Friday, March 8, 2013

Does the issue of race make you feel uncomfortable?

A recent series of articles, in The Seattle Times, details the suspension and eventual re-instation of a controversial course on race and privilege at a small Seattle public school. The school district suspended the class at The Center School following a student complaint that the “way the class was taught created an intimidating environment” and made students feel uncomfortable. The school district responded to the complaint with an investigation that “corroborated the student’s concerns.”
A majority of the students in the class, however, were shocked and angered by the school district’s decision. They began holding lunch meetings to determine how to get their class back and created an online petition urging the district to reinstate it. They even organized attendance at a School Board meeting where they defended the course. This response, according to student Zak Meyer, was the result of the class’s emphasis on social activism, “…That was one of the things that [we were taught], about how to advocate in the community.” Meyer also stated that though the class could stir uncomfortable feelings, its frank discussions on race “forced a level of self examination [he] had never before explored.”
It “forced me to take an inner look at myself and examine how I lived compared to others and how I always thought race played a small role in my life,” he said.
District officials insisted in their belief that issues concerning race and social justice are very important and should be taught in their schools, arguing that the dispute was not about social justice but about protecting students, “We don’t want to put any child into a situation where he or she feels so intimidated by the manner in which these issues are taught that the course is no longer effective.”
Here, it is important to note that The Center School is an “alternative public high school with a focus…on community engagement,” and that the course is required only for seniors. What does it say about our country when a school district suspends a class, in a liberal high-school, because a senior student was made uncomfortable by its frank discussions on race? Ultimately, the class was re-instated, but that does not erase the fact that the school district found it okay to suspend it in the first place. Is the issue of race so taboo in American society that it cannot even be discussed in schools?
To me, the initial suspension of the course is horrifying; however, I am pleased by the response of the students to its suspension. Their organization in defense of the course speaks to the growing social conscience of American youth and, because it was a result of their experiences in the course, it also speaks to the necessity of incorporating classes on race and social justice into the curriculums of America’s schools.

Black God Vs.White God

Religion has always been a defining factor in American life, particularly in the life of Black people, affecting the Civil Rights Movement in extremely important ways. One interesting point made by James Baldwin in "Fire Next Time" is the difference between the "Black God" and the "White God" which expresses the different religious beliefs practiced by Black Americans in the United States. This is particularly interesting because one doesn't usually associate God, however Baldwin illustrates several complex ideas with this distinction.

One of these things he does is shows the divide between Black and Whites during the 1960's. Due to the complete segregation of American life, people live on separate sides of the color line which is not restricted to religion. This is the reason that Baldwin mentions that many people believe Blacks to be the cursed children to Ham which for much time had been a justification for slavery and the control of Black life.

Baldwin quickly dismisses this point as well as many religious notions however the story of Ham and his descendants being forced to be slaves is very interesting. This is of particular interest to me because in Black neighborhoods and churches there are many billboards and signs that depict a White Jesus being surrounded by Black followers. This is not uncommon, nor to my knowledge, seen with any grand contempt by community leaders.  Race is this context is being used as a ploy to promote White superiority and Black inferiority through a message that isn't very subtle.  A white man is depicted as being the savior of all Black people and in many instances this how people view and have always viewed Jesus.

I would really like to know what you all think about this?  Is it problematic that many Christians follow the "White God" the same God which has been used as a justification for slavery and Black repression?  The Nation of Islam takes great issue with this many times referring to people who follow an invented "White God" which causes them to hate everything about themselves because they cannot visually identify with everything that they aspire to be.  This adds to everything that we grow up seeing in the media which purports White superiority.

Do you think color affects the way that one worships or views the God that they are worshipping?  Should Jesus or God be depicted as a white man with blue eyes, especially in Black neighborhoods?

Organization vs. Mobilization

We have discussed all sorts of protestors and race relation activists in our class. I thought McKinney’s discussion on mobilization and how it relates with organization was one of the most thought-provoking. In 1957, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was held in Atlanta. One of this group’s main philosophies was non-violent direct action. Even though she is often not listed as one of the main founders of the organization, Ella Baker helped uproot and mobilize this group along with Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King.
According to the free online dictionary, organization is, “the act of organizing something”, or, “the structure or arrangement of related or connected items.” Essentially, it is the noun that describes a group or a single body that links items or beings together. On the other hand, mobilization is described as, “the act of assembling and putting into readiness for war or other emergency.” Baker, along with the other members of the S.C.L.C., realized that just by “organizing” and forming a group against civil rights, they weren’t going to be able to combat the issue. They knew they had to come together, and organize, ALONG WITH mobilizing to face the issue of civil rights head on.
Additionally, it amazes me that Ella Baker was such an influential force within the movement, but she is not known as one of the “head figures” for civil rights. Most likely, this is because she is a woman. If women were influential during the movement, they were always depicted as passive and quite shy and withdrawn; when in fact, they were often the power force of advocating civil rights. Moreover, Baker was an advocate for self-defense, NOT non-violence. She was definitely not a proponent of direct violence, but she believed that defending your honor through self-defense was better than non-violence. This directly contradicts the female stereotype during the movement of being passive and timid.
In the online dictionary, it states that civil rights are, “the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality.” The key word I would like address in this definition is citizens. I am dumbfounded that people who were trying to attain civil rights for the black community, also discriminated against women. We are ALL equal citizens; therefore, we all deserve the same respect and rights of our neighbor. Even though we made great strides for civil rights during this time period, I believe that our society still has a long way to go. 

Progress in the Black Community

The different definition of progress and what constitutes progress has always been a dividing factor among the Black community.  Today in class, we discussed the rape of a Black woman by the hand of 4 white males.  The fact that they a trial was held for them could be seen to some as progress or justice however, if the 4 men convicted had been Black they would have definitely been executed.  

On issues such as these, it's easy for some to say that although this is a double standard, that trial of Whites for injuring Blacks is definitely progress in comparison with earlier time periods when Whites could murder a Black person and send a postcard to their parents boasting with images attached. 

We mentioned Recy Taylor and we know that her rapists were only tried after a national campaign was launched which is definitely a contrast with the case in which we are discussing, however I do not consider the trial of those 4 men as justice.  For myself, justice/progress would be when things of these of this nature don't happen and definitely aren't considered less egregious based on the race of the criminals.  

I tend to agree with Malcolm X's quote about the "Knife in my Back"which you can listen to here if you like: .  He basically says that progress is not causing someone to hurt a bit less but healing the wound which one has caused.  If this is our definition of progress then it's easy to say that America has not made much progress over the years.  The pain which America has inflicted upon Blacks has not faded nor healed.  The pain has only been redirected so that the American public and White Americans have the privilege of not having to contend with these issues.  

While the measurement of progress is definitely subjective in a sense, can we truthfully say that we are progressing in terms of the law when Blacks are targeted by the police and the unfair laws and practices result in Blacks being warehoused as if they were goods of the government?

What do you all think?  What constitutes progress to you?  Is someone sticking a knife deep in your back and pulling it out some inches progress?  Should someone be happy because of situations like these.  I understand that situations such as these could be seen as starting points but for me the results never seem to be what we thought it would be.

Black Expectations
What we see in the media is not always a direct reflection of reality. In an article by Sam Fulwood III he points out how African Americans are misrepresented regularly and particularly in sports.
This reminded me a lot of Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time” when he is explaining to his nephew what the white world expects of him. While this is written 50 years later it still has some very interesting connections. We see in Fulwood’s article that there are only 1,200 black professional athletes even though African Americans make up 13 percent of our nations population. We are shown “an endless highlight reel of slam dunks and touchdown runs, and the pictures speak for themselves”. The media represents sports and its announcers as a near if not entirely black enterprise. What we don’t see is that there are 12 times as many black lawyers than athletes, 15 times more black doctors and 20 times as many black dentists. While yes you don’t see much coverage on the news of lawyers, doctors and dentists; this exposure to what entertainment enterprise that is mostly black skews our view on race.
In Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time” he tells his nephew to not believe what white America says about him, to not believe in his inferiority. But if you look at the media today most of the black success and leadership you see is in the sports world. This helps create a culture that thinks of the majority of professional athletes being black. Fulwood makes this case by referring to an article that half-jokingly had people guess how many black athletes there were in America. The lowest number guessed was “500,000” minimum. This gives us the assumption that 1 out of 26 African Americans in the United States is a professional athlete when the real number is more like 1 in 4000.
Even though some would say we live in a post racial, we simply don’t. We live in an America where racial stereotypes are still very much alive and well. While outright hatred and discrimination may no longer be socially acceptable we still tiptoe the line when it comes stereotypes, prejudices and subtle discrimination. What rang true for Baldwin about expectations still does today. Even though we try to correct it and disapprove of it, racial stereotyping still exists. We as Baldwin says  is “in effect, still trapped in a history they do not understand”. 

Mental Illness as a Civil Rights Issue?

In this day and age any group that faces adversity labels themselves as the hot new “civil rights” issue. In light of recent events, particularly Sandy Hook and the much debated gun control issue, mental illness has been getting a lot of national attention. There has been an outpour of articles on both sides of the issue debating about whether or not mental illness is something that should be funded by governments to aid in treatment and education for the public. The education portion of these programs would be particularly important as their is an incredibly harsh stigma associated with any type of mental illness in the United States. As someone who lives with a mental illness and is fully aware of the stigma associated with it, I can understand where the people advocating for increased funding for education are coming from.
Stigmas arise from the reinforcement of stereotypes-the same way they arose during the original Civil Rights Movement. In the same way that African Americans were stereotyped as lazy and uppity, those with mental illness are described as insane or unstable. But is it really effective to continuously label things as the “modern civil rights movement”? Doing so may create media attention for the issue at hand, but it also undermines and devalues the so-called “original” civil rights movement.
I came across an article on The Huffington Post entitled “Mental Illness as a Civil Rights Issue” that argues for why mental illness should be put up as the true, new, civil rights movement. It highlights the stigmas and how they believe it could best be addressed. I've mentioned in a few of my comments on other posts that often times the promotion of negative stereotypes is either a)done by the members of the stereotypes group themselves or b)so ingrained in our everyday lives that we have lost some of our ability to even notice if we are being feed stereotypes. The promotion of stereotypes used for our own groups advancement has become so commonplace that it seems as American an idea as capitalism. Is it really possible to change our thinking through simple education programs, or do we need to reshape the entire way Americans view each other and other groups? If we only educate the American public about why they shouldn't stigmatize or stereotype a group, they will always find a new group to victimize. The only way to really end civil rights issues is to change the way Americans think.

The article I read is below:

Racism and The Hunger Games

As any of my friends could tell you, I’m obsessed with The Hunger Games. It’s one of my favorite books of all time (right after To Kill A Mockingbird), and last year, when the movie came out, I was naturally excited. My favorite character in the book is Rue, a twelve-year-old girl forced into a fight to the death with much older competitors.  In the novel, author Suzanne Collins describes the character Rue as having “dark brown skin and eyes” (page 45). Collins herself as even stated that Rue is African-American in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
However, when the casting announcements were made, many fans became enraged that Rue was being portrayed by the African-American Amandla Stenberg. Here are some of the best (or worst) tweets:

"Why does rue have to be black, not gonna lie kind ruined the movie"

"I was pumped about the Hunger Games. Until I learned a black girl was playing Rue"

“EWW Rue is black?? Im not watching”

“Kk call me racist but when I found out Rue was black her death wasn’t as sad”

I was shocked and horrified that people were disappointed in the casting choices because the actors were black. Rue is often a fan-favorite due to her purity and innocence in a dystopian world, and her death is a turning point in the novel. Not only did the tweeters express their surprise that Rue was black, but @jashperparas went even further to state that “her death wasn’t as sad” simply because of her race.
The tweets continued with the character of Thresh, played in the film by Dayo Okeniyi. In The Hunger Games, Collins writes that the “boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue” (72), but that didn’t stop tweeters from saying things such as:

"Totally not expecting Thresh to be some big black guy"

In my opinion, the words “some big black guy” demeans the actor potraying Thresh by focusing only on his skin color rather than on his acting abilities. It seems strange that people had not imagined Rue and Tresh as being black, even though she is described that way in the novel. I think that people have an inclination towards imagining characters as being white, especially in fantasy or sci-fi novels. This is also expressed by Cinna, a character whose race is not mentioned in any of the three novels, who is portrayed by Lenny Kravitz. Tweets included:

"Why did the producer make all the good characters black"

" … I don't think he will be able to re-enact Cinna's calm temper and quiet personality … "

"Omg thought he was white crying omg wtf this movie will suck"

To me, all of these tweets are an indication of the level of racism that still exists today. Fans of a novel who had previously anticipated the movie were then disappointed that a character was not white. Of all of the tweets, the one that troubles me the most is the one stating that Rue’s death is somehow less sad because she is black. This is not just a problem that exists in one movie, or in the film industry, but in life. News stories are more likely to focus on black victims than white victims, and the death of a white child is usually presented as a bigger issue than the death of a black child.

Gay Will Never Be the New Black...?

In Todd Clayton’s article “Gay Will Never be the New Black,” two things grabbed my attention: first, the title, simply because it is so jarring, and second, the short synopsis included James Baldwin. After reading the article, I was saddened by the final statements, that, according to Clayton, "gay will never be the new black, and that the fight for racial equality is far from over." There are many conflicts to being gay in today's society. Often times, gays, particularly if white, are cheated because they are in a society in which they are supposedly protected, however their sexuality offsets them and subjects them to danger, according to Baldwin.
We live in the 21st century. I cannot get past the fact that while we can grasp the advances in technology and social media, we have a difficult time accepting people for who they are. This is the same fight we have been battling for centuries. Ignoring civil rights has come to ignoring basic human rights. People are treated like dirt simply because they are different. Clayton’s realization that being white and gay is completely different from being black and gay, merely due to the color of a person’s skin. The most difficult part to swallow of the entire piece was Baldwin’s statement that “they gay world is no more prepared to accept black people than anywhere else in society.” Shouldn’t they gay community, as somewhat of a minority, be accepting to another minority group?
The problem whites have with being gay is the issue that had they been straight, their lives would have been drastically different. Their lives would have been void of hatred and fear, and they would have been entitled to more privileges. Unfortunatley, these privileges are basic civil and human rights.
What is the root of this conflict? Does the conflict within minority groups fuel the actions of others outside those groups? If the fight against racism is intertwined with the fight against homophobia, as Baldwin suggests, shouldn’t these groups network with outsiders willing to help in order to overcome this discrimination?
                                         How Do We Remember the Movement?       
In the last week Shelby County Alabama has proposed to strike down section 5 of the Voter Rights Act of 1965. Section 5 “specifically targets nine historically discriminatory states that imposed a number of devices to prevent minorities from being eligible to vote”. This prevents states with a history of discrimination from passing voting laws without federal approval. But does striking down section 5 hurt our understanding of the civil rights movement? As we have discussed in class much of our country understands the civil rights movement as simply these landmark moments. By removing section 5 Moodley argues we are undermining “the symbolism of everything that led to that bill”. We are removing the history of voter discrimination and not learning from a national discussion we already had. We can’t remove part of the already limited understanding of the civil right movement that we have. This is such a key piece of legislation in the narrative of the civil rights movement that it cannot simply be thrown to the wayside for the sake of stricter voter ID laws.
                Certain states under section 5 however feel that it is discriminatory. Both South Carolina and Texas had Voter ID laws struck down by the feds in the last election. While both Texas and South Carolina have been unable to pass new voting laws, other states have been able to successfully do so. Is it really fair for us to pass laws requiring federal oversight on local laws? Yes. While it can be argued that section 5 is outdated, recent memory says otherwise. While race relations have come a long way since Selma; it’s difficult to say even with a black president, that much of our political system isn’t overwhelmingly white. Section 5 was made to help remedy this issue and bring African-Americans more into the American political system. Again such a law is not outdated, it is still used as it was in Texas and South Carolina to strike down laws deemed unlawful.
               How then do we both accept both our past of racial discrimination and accept equality among the states? While it’s not the supreme courts place to change the law, the law should be upheld as it is still necessary since it is still being used. We should put it on congress however to expand the law. While states would unlikely cede their power to pass laws without federal control it would create a more fair system. Civil rights outside of the south in the 60s were never perfect. Who’s to say the progress made in voting laws in the South today don’t make them similar to another states outdated ones? Race is not just a southern issue and if every state is passing not discriminatory laws then there should be no problem. Finally what does all of this say about how our nation remembrance the civil rights movement?