WHY WHITE Women TAN

 

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Ralph Lauren Advertisement Image

   

      In a previous blog I wrote about Whiteface,  which I defined as the process of removing innate or natural facial characteristics (skin color; nose, lip, and eye shape; hair color and texture) to change the appearance of a person who is not-white, to make that person look as if they have Western-European ancestry. 

     In the United States, the standards of beauty have alway been defined by white Western-European standards. This is not to say that the notion or a creation of a uniquely “American look”, i.e. from the U.S., does not exist.  Of course it does.  But, the foundation on which the “wholesome and healthy American beauty” sits, comes from white Europe.

     Standards of beauty in Western-European culture were defined by the groups with economic and political power. Thus, standards of beauty always stood in juxtaposition to those without power.  Those who decided the norms and standards of beauty were those who lived the life of luxury; a life that was contrasted against the life of the serf, the peasant, the laborer, and the worker.  

     In aristocratic and oligarchic European nations, royal and noble women wore clothes that separated them from their subjects: they donned dresses, sleeves, and footwear that were neither practical, nor utilitarian. Those who visited the courts of kings and queens were able to see what was being worn by the sovereign classes and then copied those styles. 

     Without print and the ability to mass produce images, beauty was defined not so much by the physical attributes of a person, but by their born privilege to wear such clothing. The materials used during those times were extremely luxurious and expensive: velvet, brocade, and silk. The cost of those materials were prohibitive, and at times, illegal for the lowly or servile to wear or even own. 

       During Imperialism, beauty standards were still set by by the aristocracy.  Beauty was still defined by the privilege to live a luxurious life.  However, global travel and the imperial acquisition of goods created a new class. Wealth and power were no longer solely in the hands of the titled class, but also those of the merchant class.  And, more importantly, it was during Imperialism and Colonialism that beauty standards began to be determined by physical characteristics. White skin was beheld

    In Europe and the United States, during the Enlightenment until the late 19th Century, the idealized body type for women was determined by her stature and girth.  A woman with a full-body was admired because it epitomized an “idle” life; the patrician female spent her day weaving, painting, or playing the pianoforte. Her rounded and shapely body attested to cupboards and galleys that were well stocked.  Her skin was lily white because she need not be working in the fields.  

      During Imperialism and Colonialism, white women began to travel outside of Europe for personal and political reasons: to engage in missionary work, to satisfy a curiosity about “exotic” lands”, or to write and explore. At the same time, the suffragette movement was growing. Women were demanding the right to vote, to own property, and to obtain individual wealth.  These women were entering the physical spaces dominated by men. By doing so, they were  seen as unwomanly and accused of being “masculine”.

     Respectable white womanhood was no longer determined by domestic or political space.  Geographical containment was no longer.   How then, could the suffragette desiring the right to work and vote or the adventurous white woman traveler retain her respectability?

     Suffragettes resolved this “insult” by presenting a fashionable, feminine image when appearing in public.  They wore  purple for loyalty and dignity, white for purity, and green for hope. London shops sold tri-color striped ribbon for hats, rosettes, badges and belts. English suffragette movement founder Emmeline Pankhurst took note. She worried that:

“Many suffragists spend more money on clothes than they can comfortably afford.” 

     The woman traveler and explorer retained her modesty and honor by working alongside respectable men.  And, more importantly, by her body being juxtaposed next to the “inferior, uncivilized, colonized” woman of color.

     In the 19th and 20th Century, numerous images of Black and Brown bare-breasted or totally nude woman were taken, constructed, and reproduced. The production of these images fathered the modern day studies of anthropology, criminology, and mental illness.  (What was the “mug-shot” if not the successor of the ethnographic study?) These images sexualized Black and Brown women and were used to entice European and American men to travel and live within the colonies.

     World fairs of that time contained “ethnological” expositions of African, East Indian, American Indian, and Latin American cultures and societies. These “human zoos” often emphasized the physical and cultural differences between Europeans of Western Civilization and non-European peoples: i.e., those who practiced a lifestyle deemed primitive.  The epitome of this exploitation is probably Sarah Baartman, a South African Khoikhoi woman who, due to the European objectification of her buttocks, was exhibited as a”freak show”attraction in 19th-century Europe under the name of the “Hottentot Venus”. 

     Against the ever-present backdrop of the “native” Black or Brown woman, who was continuously physically demeaned, immorally characterized, and sexually debased, white women were seen as beautiful, modest, and desirable.  

     As the modern woman’s life was no longer relegated to the parlor, a plump body was no longer fashionable.   Once she entered spaces dominated by men and it became acceptable to travel, work, and even exercise, her body then reflected that lifestyle.  A robust, strong, and healthy body became desirable, and thus the definition of beauty.

     Present day beauty standards are still  defined by those with political, economic, and cultural power.  They are people who live the life of luxury, whether they are New York City socialites, Washington political powerhouses, or Hollywood celebrities.  And, nothing exemplies luxury like leisure travel.  For white women today, that leisurely lifestyle is defined by the ability to vacation at the beach. However, the only proof needed: a beautiful sun-tan.

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Eluxe Magazine advertisement.

Tanning is associated with wealth, luxury, and leisure.  

     But, white women tan for another reason. On white skin, a tan creates the illusion of a slimmer body.  Tanned skin makes white skin stand out.  It gives white skin a fresh glow.  And, it shows body contours and muscle definition. 

      White women tanning are not rejecting a white racial identity. White women tanning are not trying to culturally appropriate Blackness or Brownness.  They are not trying to be seen as being Black or Brown. Instead, they are attempting to enhance their white cultural capital by being perceived as a member of  America’s ruling class: the  woman who has the time and money to relax, exercise and, spend time in the sun. 

What is Whiteface?

 

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      This is an image on a t-shirt I purchased at a Walmart store.  It is supposed to be a picture of Frida Kahlo.

     Born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón in 1907 to a German Father and a Mexican mother, Kahlo was a Mexican painter known for her surreal and biographical self-portraits, her intense and tumultuous marriage to Mexican artist Diego Rivera, her contribution to the creation of a Mexicanidad nationalism, and her active role in the Mexican Communist Party.  In 1954, on July 12th, ten days after she demonstrated in Mexico City against the U.S. invasion of Guatemala, Frida Kahlo died.

     Kahlo has attracted modern and popular interest to the extent that the term Fridamania has been coined to describe the phenomenon. She is considered one of the most instantly recognizable artists.  Her face is re-created with the same regularity as the images of Che Guevara and Mona Lisa.  Her life and art have inspired a variety of merchandise, and her distinctive look has been appropriated by the fashion world and Hollywood.

     What is most reprehensible about this t-shirt, is not the commercialization of her image.*  Rather it is the gross negligence that is done to her — making her look white, or as I call it: Whiteface.

Will the real Frida Kahlo please stand up?

Why couldn’t they use a real or accurate image?

     Whiteface (my def): the process of removing innate or natural facial characteristics: skin color; nose, lip, and eye shape; and/or hair color and texture, to change the appearance of a person who is not-white to make that person look as if they have Western European ancestry. The purpose of Whiteface is to make that person more desirable and palatable to a white viewer or market. The value of Whiteface is being perceived as being white.

      Whiteface is not is opposition to Blackface. Whiteface is dependent upon Blackface. 

     Blackface (def). is the displaying of a caricature of Blackness or of being Black using racial stereotypes that diminish, demean, and devalue their humanity for the enjoyment of white viewers.  

Historical Examples of Blackface:

 

      In 1926, the NAACP’s Crisis Magazine launched a symposium called “The Negro in Art: How Shall He Be Portrayed?”  As editor of the magazine, W.E.B. DuBois’ primary concern was the representation of Black Americans. DuBois had reason to be concerned.  Historical memory was being constructed, documented and preserved by images of enslavement and colonial conquest.

     These past constructions of racial identities continue to control modern constructions of racial identities.

Modern Day Examples of Blackface:

     Whiteface is dependent on Blackface because whiteness does not exist without Blackness.  White features and white bodies have been juxtaposed against Black features and Black bodies since the founding of this nation.  Whether in the name of science via anthropological studies or the displaying of Black bodies in cages at world fairs.  What has always been consistent is that because there is nothing biological about whiteness, it ends up being defined in contrast to Blackness.  Whiteness and Blackness are defined and thus perceived as contrasts, and more importantly, as difference.

     Relationships of difference are dichotomous, either/or categorizations, in which terms gain meaning only in relation to one and at the exclusion of one another. Difference is often defined in uneven, hierarchical, and oppositional terms with the first being being seen as superior to the second: white/Black; male/female; culture/nature; fact/fiction. Race theorist bell hooks argues that such thinking is the “central ideological component of all systems of domination in Western society.”

     Historically, Whiteface can be understood as “racial passing”.

     Racial passing occurs when a person classified as a member of one racial group is accepted or “passes” as a member of another racial group. The purpose of racial passing is to gain access to that group’s political, social, religious, or economic power.  During enslavement and Jim Crow, racial passing often occurred when a person of color presented themselves as white to escape the legal and social conventions of racial violence, segregation and discrimination.  

     Passing in the 21st controversial.  It is often seen as a rejection of one’s racial identity, culture, history, and/or family.  However, modern-day Whiteface is a different animal.

     Whiteface is not about rejecting a racial identity.  Whiteface is about erasing parts of a racial identity to be seen as more desirable, more attractive, and more accepting to a white viewer, audience, or market.  Some famous examples include: Michael Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Sammy Sosa, Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj.

     The desire to Whiteface is not just a phenomenon of Hollywood.  The desire to be seen as white or close to being white is a way of being marketable and being desirable. Colonial history is present day experience.  Dissociating, assimilating, etc., allow for Black and Brown people to enter into public and private spaces that are not welcoming. Social and economic mobility are dependent upon one’s appearance. What is considered professional dress, hair, and clothing are not impartial or natural.  Professional dress, hair, and clothing are defined by corporate, capitalist, and white-Western European standards.  

     “It’s all for African Americans to fit into the workplace. Today, an African American trying to get a job is faced with the dilemma of do I straighten my hair for the interview to get the job? Why is my natural hair not considered professional?”     

Wisconsin state Rep. LaKeshia Myers

    The desire to Whiteface created a market for products that erase one’s natural or biological physical characteristics.  Products and procedures which are still popular in the 21st Century include hair straighteners, skin-bleaching creams, and cosmetic dentistry to “repair” the natural gap between two front teeth.

     The danger of Whiteface is that it is the mirrored and yet, oppositional reflection of Blackface.  Blackface is Whiteface’s shadow.  Blackface created the myth that Black bodies/African-Americans are not intelligent or civilized, and thus undesirable and even dangerous.  It is a historical fiction that still carries weight. Whiteface sits on that history.  Whiteface relies on that history.  Whiteface duplicates that historically constructed message. 

     The power of Whiteface is real.  This is not just about an aesthetic. There are economic, political, social, and cultural benefits to looking white or close to white.  Would Obama Barack have won the presidency had he been a dark-skinned Black man sporting an Afro and wearing a dashiki?  That is not a statement that questions Obama’s Blackness.  It is a statement of what kind of Blackness white-American’s accept.

     Which leads me back to the alleged Frida Kahlo t-shirt. Kahlo was a Mexican, a Marxist, a revolutionary, and an artist.  To separate her image from her politics is what capitalist and corporate white-America does best: ignore history and reduce revolutionary images into products to sell. Ultimately, diminishing, and minimizing any revolution.

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     What is most offensive about this t-shirt is that instead of celebrating Frida Kahlo’s signature looks: her fierce hair part; her uni-eyebrow, and her square jaw; they eliminated those exact same features. They made her look white. Whiteface.

 

     * I will leave it to Kahlo’s biographers to determine if her Marxist ideology would leave her disgusted by the creation of the Frida Kahlo Corporation which owns the trademark rights to her name to make profits or; if her desire for artistic and critical acclaim would leave her amused by all the attention.

No Black Dads

 

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     My kid got this book, Dads are the Original Hipsters, for his dad for Father’s Day this past June.  The description from Amazon reads:  “This book celebrates dads as the original hipsters. Vintage photos of real dads back in the day—in their short shorts and tight tees playing arcade games—accompany snarky captions that at once tip a cap to Dad’s glory days and poke fun at modern hipsters!”

     It doesn’t take more than a cursory glance for the reader to realize that not one dad photographed in the book is Black or Brown.  My first thought was “Doesn’t the author have any Black friends?”

     The reality is much more complicated and complicit than a white guy not having any non-white friends.  This book speaks to the larger problem of Black and Brown representation in our cultural images; and more importantly Black and Brown representations of manhood and fatherhood that reflect the real lived experience of those men.  Men who love, who are caregivers, who are kind, who are warm, who are breadwinners, who laugh, who are silly, who are creative, and who are cool.  (Images of Barack Obama not withstanding.)

     I have written before about the lack of Black and Brown representation in political, cultural, and social images. And, how important it is to see oneself reflected in all spaces, locations, and sites.  But, this book speaks to another problem: the invisibility and hyper-visibility of whiteness.  

     The white male figure is the imagined and normalized image that is so reflected everywhere, that we do not even see a white man as being white.  He is just a man.  The dentist. The teacher. The doctor. The president. The CEO. And, now, the hipster.  (I will get to cultural appropriation later.) We only notice whiteness when it is juxtaposed against non-whiteness.  Or, when our expectations are not met; when we as white people assume that our dentists, teachers, doctors, politicians, CEO’s will be white and they are not.   White people expect white men to occupy  positions of authority, power, and wealth.  White people are not surprised if their janitors, garbageman,  hospital transporters, or dishwashers are Black or Brown.

The lack of an imagined or real representation of Blackness or Brownness creates a cultural climate where whiteness carries normalcy, but never stigma.

    The invisibly and hyper-visibility of a white man is the benefit which allows white men to be seen and not seen, all to their benefit.  We expect them to be role models.  We don’t expect them to be criminals.  And, if they are, their pathology is blamed on individual psychology and behavior, rather than on their race.

     Dads are the Original Hipsters may seem harmless.  But, I am reminded of an experience of a recent graduate student.  While taking a required course for a Master of Urban Planning degree, the student quoted the professor (and chair of the department) as saying that “Black children are perpetually impoverished because:

“There are no role models in urban Black communities”.

The professor went on to present the now debunked and disrespected Culture of Poverty Theory which blames black matriarchy, single-motherhood, the expansion of welfare programs and ghetto culture as the causes of poverty in Black families.*  Let’s repeat that: “There  are no role models in urban Black communities.”   I asked my student to respond.  He wrote:

      “My reaction to it was shock because I could not believe a white Ph.D. told such a blatant lie to a group of majority white and international students.  I immediately began to think about all the role models I had growing up.  My uncles, my father, my mother, my sister and many others who got up every day and worked their asses off in order to provide for their families.  I wasn’t sad or hurt by his comments, but angry because how dare he tell me, a Black student [and man] who grew up in an urban Black community, tell me, I did not have role models, as I sat and learned side-by-side with my white peers in the SAME classroom?”

He continued:

      “I hate the stigma attached to Black fathers. I know for me, as a soon to be Black father, I see other Black fathers my age who are AMAZING fathers.  We are abundant; we are not few and far between.  We are present, we care about our families, we take care of our children AND our significant others.  And, to be a bit snarky, the next time I hear about absent Black fathers, I will bring up abusive, alcoholic white fathers.  I wonder why there aren’t any columns about that.”

*This student’s experience was validated by several other students in the class.

     He is dead-on about the columns.  In a July 2020 “Letter to the Editor” in the Buffalo News, a reader wrote what he believed to be a cause of Black underachievement in education and economics; “One obvious factor that persists is 73% of Black children are born out of wedlock.” He continues to complain about the “many men” out there “with multiple children with different women” in his “community work” who are not held financially responsible.  This is ignorant and frightening; that a social worker is unaware of the effects of the history of enslavement and Jim Crow and how structural racism and purposeful underdevelopment in Black and Brown communities are the causes of poverty.  Or, that being married does not make a man a good father or a responsible father.

     These moments and experiences speak to the racist stereotypes and images that are reflected in the white world and in the white mind set.  This is why I find the book, Dads are the Original Hipsters, so unsettling.  It is a metaphor of sorts, of the assumed absenteeism of the good, Black or Brown dad…

 …all while co-opting the definition of coolness that was defined by Black culture.  The cover photo has a white dad carrying a boombox, or as the author calls it, “a portable music player.” Huh?   The boombox was a status piece in Black and Latinx communities in the mid-1980’s and it quickly became associated with hip-hop and break dancing.  The wide use of boomboxes in urban communities led it to being coined the “ghetto blaster”.

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A young LL Cool J for LL’s first promo shot.  

 

     There is no single concept of what is cool or hip, but the existence of those expressions comes from Black culture and white-counter culture.  Now, part of the mainstream, as this book attests, being cool and hip was a form of expression that was not constrained by western, white, elite, cultural and/or capitalist norms.  It was  a way of deciding for oneself what is one’s worth. 

     The author’s blindness to what were originally Black and Brown Black sites of coolness are numerous throughout the book.  “DJing”, “Barbecue”, “Hanging Out on Rooftops”, “Nonconformist”, “Not smiling”, “Working Shitty Jobs”, “Drinking Cheap Beer”, “Protesting”, “Big Headphones” and “Tube-Socks” to name a few.

     The lack of a political, historical, and social consciousness allows for the white-washing or making invisible the presence and value of Blackness and Brownness. Books likes these are not harmless. They re-write history.  They call for a celebration of a whiteness that is not real.  They are exclusionary.

     How did the writer, the editor, the publisher not see this?  Why is this okay?

     So, again, I ask?  Who is the writer? Who is the reader?  Why are they always assumed to be white? 

     Therefore, in the interest of offering a corrective and counter narrative, I offer this picture, given to me by my colleague and friend.  It is of activist, scholar, and writer: Dr. Henry-Louis Taylor with his first son.  Taken around 1965.   One cool dad.

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A Conversation about Reparations

     My previous post, “Being An Anti-Racist White”, was published in the Buffalo News editorial page.  Shortly after its publication, I received an e-mail from a reader asking me, very politely, to explain my position.  I responded. What follows are excerpts from our e-mail exchanges.  His words are in italics and in red.  My words are in blue.

     “I read your column in the Buffalo News, today.  I think you make some good points, and some things which I do not think are good. Rather than examine every single point, please allow me to ask about two of them.

     As a student of history, I was unaware that “the Irish, Italians, and Jews sued to be classified as white to gain “cachet.”  Can you document that? Who was sued? Was it a class action including all three ethnicities or separate suits? When did this happen?”

     Start with the Declaration of Independence which was racialized as rights were given to free white males — white men who were indentured were not allowed to vote, own property, participate in commerce, and many other activities within a community.  The declaration was written in the contextual realities of slaveholding and frontier settlement.

     The first census in 1790 recognized six categories within the population: 1) the head of each household; 2) free white males over sixteen; 3) free white males under sixteen; 4) free white females; 5) all other free persons by sex and color and; 6) slaves.  The only race mentioned was white.

     The word white and being white attained usage in the political discourse and bodies of law.  A standard political refrain and concern in the 18th Century became the question of whiteness.  Benjamin Franklin lamented, “The number of purely white people in the world is proportionally very small…I wish I could increase their numbers.”

     Free white men had political, economic, and cultural power. Throughout the 18th and 19th century, the question then became “Who is white?”  As Irish immigrated to this country they were denied citizenship rights and were persecuted and discriminated against.  English and German settlers and their descendants saw them as “barbarians” and their presence in the U.S. as “mongrelizing” the nation. They were considered inferior European Races, along with the Italians, Jews, and Greeks.

     These groups were not allowed opportunities to gain wealth or status; they were not allowed into educational institutions, they were not allowed to vote, they were not allowed to buy property. They were not allowed to run for political office. They were given the dangerous labor-intensive jobs of coal mining or building the railroads alongside the Chinese.

     There was not one class action law suit.  There are numerous court cases in the nation’s early history of individual Irish going to court to argue that they were, in fact, “white”.  The discussion and debate on whiteness then became a system of difference based on visual economy — skin color, facial angle, head size and shape, hair and eye color, and physique. 

    Over the decades, as different European groups came to the U.S, cases across the nation increased with individual and or groups suing to gain rights as citizens based on their “whiteness”.  The racial dialogue continued.  Italians were considered Black upon arrival.  In fact, there were instances of Italians being lynched in the south.  The numbers are small.  But, to this day, many people throughout the country, when polled, will identify Italian-Americans as Black.

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     “To gain “cachet,” what does that mean? I am puzzled. Any information you can provide would be appreciated.”

     So, by “cachet”, I mean political, social, cultural, religious, and economic power. To be identified as a white male was the only way to access citizenship rights.

      African-American men were given the right to vote in 1870. But, the reality was that they were disenfranchised from voting by means test, illegal fees, and outright violence and terrorism.

     To not be identified as “Black” allowed for cultural protection and an investment. It gave differing and various peoples from Europe an imagined and shared community.  The notion of ethnicity was constructed. And, eventually celebrated

     “Regarding “reparations,” I think that is absurd.  It would be one thing if the year was 1870, and former slaveholders paid their former slaves. No problem for me. Slavery ended 155 years ago.  Who gets reparations? Who pays reparations?”

     First, the argument for reparations is more complicated than paying back lost wages.  The argument for reparations is about the wealth that was built on slave labor.  The wealth of this nation.  The cotton industry. The agricultural industry. The railroads. The literal building of towns, villages, and cities.  This country would not exist today as we know it without slave labor.  We still all benefit from the infrastructures that were laid by their enslavement and labor.

https://www.businessinsider.com/american-landmarks-that-were-built-by-slaves-2019-9

 

     Second, it is important to understand how individual wealth is created. It does not come from “pulling up your boot straps”. Individual wealth comes from generational wealth: income and assets that are passed on from parents to children, generation after generation.  Wealthy individuals most often come from families who financially helped them in multiple ways.  We have all witnessed this: buying cars for their children, paying for their education, putting a down payment on a house, etc. etc. Generational wealth also comes from what is called “White Affirmative Action”: legacy status at elite universities, nepotism, and/or professional connections, i.e. “who you know”.

     Wealth from those early planters and landowners can be documented and linked to individual descendants today and to current white communities of  wealth. We can identify businesses, corporations, and families who were slaveholders. And, we can identify descendants of slaves. 

     After the Civil War, the federal government promised enslaved free peoples the land that was held by the confederacy.  (The 40 acres and a mule.). This did not happen. After Lincoln was murdered, Andrew Johnson became president.  Johnson  not only pardoned the traitors of the south, but he betrayed the freed slaves and denied them what was rightfully theirs. Confederate slaveholders and the planter class were allowed to keep their land, their homes and plantations, their animals, and all their personal belongings and goods. 

    Also, you have to remember the Civil War only freed enslaved Blacks in the Confederacy.  Slavery was still legal in the Union States of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland. 

    Black men were given the right to vote with the 15th amendment, however, they were usually physically beaten away from casting any ballot. Importantly, Reconstruction attempts to address the racial inequities were rarely implemented or enforced. Southern backlash forced the end to Reconstruction  and after ten years the federal government  withdrew federal troops from the south.  During that time and after, thousands of African-Americans starved and were ultimately forced to work on those same plantations where they were enslaved.  

     Sharecropping — allowing a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced — became slavery by another name.  Black farmers were charged outrageous land-tenant deals. Additional fees and interest for the costs of seed and tools were charged to those farmers. Cash that was offered for their crops was nominal, if at all. Often times any cash made by sale of a crop was used to pay back debts to the landowner. Black farmers were rarely able to buy their own land or get ahead. There was no protection under the law regarding the exploitation by the land owners.

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     Also, terrorist activities against African-Americans arose at that time.  The rise of the KKK, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow laws all occurred during the post-Reconstruction era.  Wealthy Black homes, businesses, schools, and even whole towns were destroyed, wiped out. Families were murdered.  Decades of wealth lost and destroyed.  Without the government even blinking an eye. 

     This annihilation of Black individual and community wealth contributes to the poverty that African-Americans experience today. They were the great-grandparents and grandparents of Black-Americans of my generation — baby boomers.  

    “My Grandparents came to North America in the early 20th century. They were never slaveholders. Should their descendants be forced to pay for crimes they were unconnected to?” 

     When our grandparents came to this country there were opportunities made available to them that were denied to Black Americans.  Work in the steel plants, the police and fire departments, and other manufacturing jobs.  Immigrants from that second wave benefited from the prejudices and discrimination that the first wave fought against.  “Assimilation” became possible for European whites, because they were seen and ultimately accepted as “white”.  If Blacks were employed in those spaces it was as low-level employees without the opportunity for advancement or increase in pay.

     After WWII, our grandparents and parents were able to take advantage of governmental policies and benefits that excluded Blacks. Black GI’s returning  from the war were not allowed to take advantage of any GI bills.  There were denied those benefits for a variety of reasons.  They were excluded from home ownership  because of clauses that were written in real estate and mortgage laws.  Refusing to buy, rent, or sell to African-Americans was legal.  If they were able to buy, they bought homes at inflated prices and with severe penalties for late or non-payment.

     If your grandfather stole a horse 100 years ago, should you be forced to pay somebody for the horse? What if your grandfather never stole a horse, should you be forced to pay for a horse stolen by somebody else, 100 years ago? Why would people alive today, who may be black or brown, universally get reparations? They were not slaves. Some may not even be descended from slaves (Barack Obama’s father was Kenyan and mother was white. Should he get anything? Or half a “share“? Or how about nothing?). 

     This argument is what is called a “false equivalency”.  We are not talking about a singular event.  We are talking about millions of lives being brutally tortured and made to labor in back-breaking and life-taking work.  Generations of lives.  The argument is not about individual racism.  It is about structural racism.  And, how wealth of one group is dependent on the poverty and labor of another group. 

     A modern day example is the construction of damns that have been built in the Dakotas on Indian reservations to provide electrical power for white suburban communities.  Native land that sustained native cultures for generations — farming, hunting, and fishing — was destroyed.  In its place, the government gave native communities and families cash to buy goods from grocery stores. The loss of their homes, their lands and their livelihoods, which were thriving, caused an increase in poverty,  an increase in physical health problems, and and increase in serious mental health issues.  Government sanctioned genocide.  

     That is just one small example.  My point is that one needs to look at the structures that are in place.  Social security was also racially coded. Southern employers worried that federal benefits would discourage black workers from taking low-paying jobs in their fields, factories, and kitchens. Thus neither agricultural laborers nor domestic servants—a pool of workers that included at least 60 percent of the nation’s black population—were covered by old-age insurance.”  Thousands upon thousands of Black women throughout the country, for the entire 20th century, worked in white homes — taking care of white children and white families.  For those women and other Black workers, there was no such thing as “retirement”.

     “How do you determine and confirm that, even if you had “payers.”   How about just treating everybody equally, promoting education, personal responsibility, living by the golden rule, among other positive attributes?

    While I do agree that you make some good points, the idea of reparations is not one of them.  The concept promotes entitlements for some and causes resentment in many others.

      Besides the concept being wrong (in my opinion), it is divisive. Why in the world would you be promoting divisiveness? I would think that you would be supporting the concept that as Americans, we are one people. It is the concept of a “melting pot” that used to be promoted, in the past, and should be, again. By the way, the concept of a “melting pot” is implicit in its contribution to equality.  We are all equal as members of society, which came from different backgrounds.”

     I agree that we all need to live by the Golden Rule.  But, we are not talking about individual relationships and engagements.  And, clearly, given this cultural moment  (and with the help of camera phones and the internet) we are witnessing just how ugly people can be.  

      Reparations need not be divisive.  Holocaust survivors and their descendants of those tortured and murdered in the death camps were and still are being paid reparations by Germany and other nations, including the U.S.  No one would deny them that benefit.  Reparations are being made in Canada to First Nation communities for the taking away of native lands and livelihoods and the horrific abuse that they suffered brought on upon by the Canadian government via the “Indian schools”.

     This is not about taking individual wealth out of every white person’s pocket and handing it over to Black people.  The government is accountable. The U.S. government broke Indian treaties. The U.S. government betrayed enslaved African-Americans.  The U.S. government denied its citizens protection under the law. And, the government continues to do so . Our government has been very quick to bail out the banking industry, the car industry, the airline industry and other large corporations when they are in financial crisis.  The COVID-19 pandemic has made visible how low wage workers and small businesses are being left behind.  How is it that large chain hotels are getting loan payments, waivers, and benefits using the small business loan grants?

     Reparations can be made in multiple ways: individual payments; free college and educational training to Black and brown people; the destruction of ghettos and the construction of good and fair housing; penalizing (with jail) slum land-lords who prey on low income communities of color;  building community centers and institutions that provide academic and cultural support; the provision of healthy food giving, buying, and growing opportunities in poor communities of color; and equal access to early childhood education and schools. 

     The United States has never, ever, formally apologized for the its history of enslavement, lynching, or Jim Crow. We have never had a truth and reconciliation moment or program like South Africa or Canada.  Why is that?

     I am of the generation that learned about the melting pot. (Today, elementary school children are taught that the U.S. is a salad bowl.)  These are sentiments that do not accurately reflect the inequities that have dogged this country since the Revolutionary War and the construction of the U.S. Constitution. 

      It is important to think about these issues through the lens of systems — law and policy — that have purposely excluded and exploited Black and brown people.  And, to think of these things in terms of community wealth and generational wealth.  It is equally important to recognize that capitalism is an uneven economic and political system.  Capitalism is a system of profit-making where wealth is dependent upon poverty. 

His final response: 

     Thank you for your additional response. I certainly appreciate the courtesy. 

     Hopefully, someday in the future, when I am no longer working, I will be able to explore the resources you sent, completely.
     However, I have to admit up front, I do not see how any reasoning being developed that has people who committed no crime paying a price to people who did not suffer from a crime.  If so, perhaps you can get the Egyptians to pay reparations to the Hebrews (Currently known as Jewish people) who were slaves in ancient Egypt.

     In any event, I admire and appreciate your efforts. Most academics would either ignore any challenge (by hiding under their beds) or accuse their challengers of being “racists, misogynists, haters, blah blah blah”.  You have not, so I give you credit.

     Thank you for your efforts.

My unkind and unsent response: 

 “Keep enjoying that cake, made from that oven, that you didn’t slave over.” 

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Endnote:

     I absolutely and positively  appreciate the kind and thoughtful way in which this reader engaged with me. I usually get a nasty response. It was wonderful to engage with someone in an adult and mature way.  Therefore, I would like to sincerely send out a big, fat, thank you to that white guy, even though my words went no where.

 

Being an anti-racist white

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      George Floyd’s murder by four white police officers, and the nonchalance in which it was enacted, has finally outraged white America.White America can no longer ignore or dismiss the reality of what it means to be Black or Brown in America. As a white person, who has spent the last twenty years as an anti-racist activist, I have learned that there are two America’s: one for white’s and; one for everyone else.

 

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Jean-Michel Basquiat, Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris / ARS, New York 2016

 

      Floyd’s torture and murder has called whites to action: petition, vote, advocate, march. These are great soundbites. But, we have to be careful.  We can easily slip into empty gestures that do not create any meaningful change. It is not enough to stand against racism. We have to become anti-racists. 

     An anti-racist acknowledges that America is not white. We do not come first.  We do not get top priority.  Black and Brown people are not our guests. Our religion is the not the nation’s religion. In fact, none is.  This ensures our rugged individualism and our democracy simultaneously.

     As anti-racists we need to teach our kids how white citizenship was created to produce and defend subjugation.  How the Irish, Italians, and Jews sued to be classified as white to gain cachet. We need colleges to offer classes and churches to create consciousness-raising groups that answer the question, “What is whiteness?” We are not an ethnic group or a piece of a multicultural pie. In fact, whiteness does not exist without Blackness.

     As anti-racists, we have to acknowledge that most of our politicians, professors, lawyers, doctors, and other cultural and political positions of power are held by whites. As anti-racists, we need to buy products and goods from corporations where workers are well paid and protected. Cheap goods come from cheap labor; and we know those laborers are usually Black and Brown. 

     As anti-racists, we have to respect Native American’s sovereignty and recognize that compensation should go beyond the monetary. Government and corporations do not get to decide where pipelines go. We have to stop deciding what is and is not racism; we have been told: “Redskin” is an insult.

     As anti-racists we have to stop pretending that plantations are ancestral homes and are actually historical sites of torture and violence. We have to implement a system of reparations for the history of enslavement. We have to support Black and Brown businesses.

     As anti-racists, we have to see Courtland Rendford, not as a fugitive to run down, but as a young man whose crime was vandalism, not insurrection. City Hall isn’t“the people’s house.”

     Can we do that White America? Can we be anti-racists? Can  we stay the course for longer than 8 minutes and 46 seconds?

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Gone With The Wind? Really?

     “Seeds Of Hope” are  one minute radio messages offered by an Episcopal priest that send sentimental soundbites of optimism and promise to listeners. This “Gone With The Wind” seed of hope was first aired on April 29th, 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  The pandemic, mind you, that is killing Black and Brown people in disproportionate numbers.

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https://calvaryepiscopal.net/about-us/seeds-of-hope

The Reverend reads:  (My thoughts in red):

     “In the film, “Gone With The Wind” we first meet Scarlet [Huh?] as the privileged daughter of a wealthy landowner. [You mean slaveholder?] Scarlet, doesn’t like to think about anything unpleasant, so she says, “I won’t think about that now, I’ll think about that tomorrow.” During the hardships of war [Unlike being enslaved?], she chooses not to waste time and energy worrying. Her pattern is to put difficult decisions off until tomorrow, with the hope that a new day will bring a new perspective and new insights. [You think so?] The movie ends with the hopeful line, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”  When we’re faced with a difficult situation, let’s take Scarlet’s advice. Don’t waste time and energy worrying. And, if we can, wait until tomorrow to gain a new perspective and new insights.  After all, tomorrow is another day.” 

     This is seriously offensive. This “seed” speaks to white America’s banality, ignorance, and out right indifference to our nations savage history of enslavement and Jim Crow, to the on-going racial violence that our Black and Brown brothers and sisters continually experience, to the social, political, economic and health inequities they confront, and most importantly to the on-going murders of Black and Brown people by police.  

     Gone With The Wind is not a sentimental movie.  It is a movie that minimizes the brutality of slavery and glorifies the “Old South”;  it gives credit and life to the Confederacy.  It continues to shape how people think and what they believe about our nation’s history. To say “It is just a movie” is to purposely downplay the lies it tells. Lies, that have became a narrative that continues to be celebrated and promoted.  The movie has rewritten history and created the myth of a “plantation life” that gets accepted and celebrated.

Gone With The Wind Musuem

     Can you imagine a movie where the setting is Auschwitz and the lead protagonist is an SS Commandant’s daughter? And, a scene is written where the daughter is helped into her ball gown by a Jewish death camp inmate who is wearing striped pajamas? Could that narrative really be flipped and made palatable? Why then, can slavery?

      I could write a book about what is wrong with GWTW.  I could challenge a Washington Post article arguing that the book and movie are still necessary and relevant; or that according to the “literature experts” of E-note study guides it has a deep moral lesson “of survival in times during which traditions, ways of life and thinking, even love and understanding are gone with the wind, such as in the South during the Civil War.” ( Slavery was a tradition whose loss is to be mourned? )  But, my point is this:

     “Why did this priest think that using this movie to send a message of hope was not only acceptable, but meaningful?  Could he not find another movie, book, or heck, even a bible passage, that would suffice?”  Why is this okay? Where is the disgust, outrage, or insult by listeners? “

     This “seed of hope” is one example of the daily affronts that our Black and Brown brothers and sisters experience. To white America, they may seem inconsequential or harmless.   But, these daily examples contribute to the “just get over it” mantra offered by white Americans to Black Americans.  The lack of a critical response to such moments and/or experiences contribute to the cultural climate of ignoring our nation’s past which is played out in our present: as if there is no legacy of slavery; as if racism ended with the Civil Right movement; as if multiculturalism lessons and diversity training challenge the benefits and advantages that being white brings. 

And the invisibilty continues…

     George Floyd was murdered by police on May 25, 2020.  White Americans are finally waking up to the callousness in which our Black and Brown brothers and sisters are treated in our nation.  On Saturday, May 30th, Georgetown University Professor, Minister, and Author Michael Eric Dyson wrote on his twitter page:

     “If you a preacher and you don’t preach tomorrow morning about what’s going on in these streets, you ain’t sh**.”

     On Sunday, May 31st, I watched a Catholic Mass on EWTN, Eternal World Television Network, the most notable Catholic television programming in the U.S.  During the homily, the moment of spiritual edification in the Catholic Mass, where scripture is to be made relevant to our current lives, not one word was spoken about the brutal murder of George Floyd, the mass rioting, or Trump’s failure and disregard. Not. One. Word.

As God is my witness, I will never think again.

 

 

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN…?

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Dear Another Voice,

     I once wrote, “To be Black or brown in the United States is to live in a world that is less inviting, less responsive, and with a certain kind of pain” I also wrote, “To be white is to be able to walk down the street like you own it.”

     My words were proven true at the 2020 Regional Future City Competition.  It is a competition where middle school students build a city 100 years into the future. Students are expected to implement urban planning and infrastructure ideas, civil engineering skills, geography, and climatology. The final component of the competition is to build a 3-D model city and present it to a panel of judges. The only Buffalo Public School to compete was Marva J. Daniels Futures Academy.  It was the only team that was all African-American. The other teams hailed from the suburbs and were (mostly) all white.  

    What does it mean when a group of young Black faces walk into a suburban school and say, “We don’t belong here”?  What does it mean when those same kids face judges who are all male and white? What does it mean when those Black kids see white kids build cities in The Congo, Morocco, and Zimbabwe?

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     The teams that won imagined their cities with skyscrapers made of steel, mono-rails in the sky, jelly-fish water purification systems, micro-chips in citizens, solar panels, and air wells.  One team’s city was visited by Prince Harry. Another made a point: “We kept some huts to maintain the culture.”

     The imagined cities created by these students were filled with scientific wonder and creativity; a future with infinite resources, green infrastructure, and limitless possibility.  Unfortunately, those same cities lacked any historical, political, or environmental reality.  They imagined a future devoid of any past. 

     I do not blame the kids.  I blame the teachers.  When the students suggested microchipping the inhabitants did the teachers not educate the kids about government surveillance or the policing of communities of color? When the students suggested that their African city get a visit from a British royal did they not stop to talk about colonialism?  When the students suggested building high rises in the desert did they not stop to educate their kids about desert climate and local knowledge. (Huts in African desert spaces are made mud, clay, and twigs for scientific and practical purposes.)

    The Future City Competition is a reflection of the difference between a Black and white lived reality.  It is why “Redskins” is a football team.  It is why Colin Kaepernick should just “shut up and play”.  It is why Flint, Michigan still does not have clean drinking water. Experiences don’t change. Pain for some. Comfort for others.

 

Black Lives Matter Poem

            The Sky is Blue.

                                          The grass is green.

                                                                          Black people suffer.

                                                                                                                    

     I wrote this poem in reaction to white people who believe that Black suffering is inevitable and normal. The acceptance and apathy regarding the daily pain of insult and injury experienced by our Black and Brown brothers and sisters, daily pain of insult and injury that is caused by white indifference, insensitivity, hostility and rage — all unjust — is mystifying and frightening.

     One need not look at the ugly speak of Mr. Trump: i.e. the invasion of rapists and murderers at the Mexican border; the very fine people that can be found in “Unite the White”.  Or at the numerous threatening behaviors against Black students on college campuses: getting arrested by police at the library; nooses and bananas being hung on dorm doors and building elevators.  Or more violently: the deaths of our Black and Brown brothers by cops who overreact; or white teen boys and men who hate.

      One just needs to read in the paper a story about a white doctor who complained about being treated “like a Black person” when he was arrested at an American Airlines ticket counter at the Orlando International Airport. The good doctor became enraged when he was told he was too late to check in.   When police arrived at the scene he began yelling insults to the officers.  He resisted arrest by falling to a ball on the ground.  Yes, he was pepper-sprayed, but he was given a heads up.   As officers struggled to put him in handcuffs he yelled, “Oh my God, I am being treated like a Black person.”

The indignity is about being “treated like a Black person”.  

Not how Black and Brown people are treated.

     In Western New York, white players from a hockey team called a seventeen-year-old opposing player who was Black a monkey while making monkey gestures and sounds.  They did so leaning over the boards near his team’s bench.  Not one white person, in that moment, yelled at those kids: not the officials; not their coaches; not their parents; not their teammates. It was recorded, but no other intervention was made.  A Buffalo News editor asked, “Why did these teenagers think it was all right to behave that way?” and, “Where did they learn that?”  Really, sir? You don’t know the answer to those questions?

     Perhaps that news editor should look outside his window at the town and county in which he lives.  Confederate flags can be found hanging from porches.  The Blues Live Matter flag can be found on the bumpers of cars, on t-shirts of gym goers, and even hanging from one Buffalo district police station.  

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Can you imagine the response and backlash if the Black Lives Matter movement created their own flag: an American flag with a thick black stripe?

     The Blue Lives Matter “movement” is a direct and hostile reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement.  The implied “too” is not even subtle.  That movement was law enforcement’s public response to the BLM movement.  Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem  — kneeling, in and of itself, is a sign of respect — to call attention to the number of Black lives that were lost to police brutality.  A call to action by all citizens was made. But, instead of listening, and accepting the data, and admitting, that “Yes, we have a national problem with police brutality”, the law enforcement community reacted. The thin-blue line embedded within the United States flag is an assertion of police power and authority.  Their assertion, that “we matter too” is defiant.  Because we all know police lives matter. 

 

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  Every child growing up in the United States learns that police officers are to be respected and valued.

 

 

 

     

     A police officer’s testimony in the court of law carries more weight than your average citizen’s.  How many of us have donated to the Police Benevolent Association without even questioning where our donation dollars go? We are just happy to get the PBA sticker to put on our windshield in hopes that it will discourage an officer from giving us a traffic ticket. Police troops are represented in our parades. Police officers are invited as honorees to our block parties.  And, now we can even go for a cup of “Coffee With A Cop”.

     It is important to question the creation and embracing of the Blue Lives Matter movement.  It’s very existance dismisses and silences Black suffering.  The importance of the Black Lives Matter movement; a movement to address the numerous social injustices that occur in our deeply, divided, racialized country — where the poles of difference have remained constant: white supremacy and Black subjugation that marks the social bottom — is made insignificant and irrelevant.  

      Even more telling and scary: 

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     The insertion of the thin blue line with in the Confederate flag speaks for itself.  It cannot be denied that the confederate flag is a treasonous flag; a symbol of Black enslavement and Jim Crow.  A symbol embraced by white supremacists and to threaten African-Americans.  The power of privilege allows whites to argue that the Confederate flag is nothing but a symbol of Southern pride; and to argue that symbols (and words, such as Redskins) can be a racial slur, but not always. In other words, to be white is to assert that ugly, insulting and racist slurs and symbols can be separated from their history, definition, or intention. 

The Sky is blue.  The grass is green.  Black people suffer.

“The Blackness Project”: Two Years Ago

      On February 9, 2018 the film was screened at The Burchfield-Penny Art Center.  Following the film was a interactive panel discussion on race.  The topic, “Why All the Talk About Race?” There were six panelists, however most prominent were Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, University of Buffalo Professor and Director of The Center for Urban Studies; Mr. Carl Paladino, billionaire businessman, founder and chairman of Ellicott Development Company, and Mr. Larry Quinn, real-estate developer by trade, past managing partner of the Buffalo Sabres, and at-large member of the Buffalo Board of Education.

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“The main purpose of the film is to spark dialogue and encourage people to talk about things they may be uncomfortable with. Hopefully it will be therapeutic.”

Korey Green

This is what the Buffalo News reported:

https://buffalonews.com/2018/02/09/paladino-has-his-say-on-race-at-forum-then-vows-to-listen/

This is what I reported: which was not published:

     The Buffalo News reported that “Carl Paladino said his piece during a forum on race Friday at the Burchfield-Penny Art Center…  but he choose to listen more.” I was there.  Let me be clear. That did not happen.

     The panel discussion was a follow-up to the screening of “The Blackness Project”, a film directed and co-produced by Korey Green.  Mr. Green made the film in response to the on-line film “The Whiteness Project” created by Whitney Dow.  Dow’s project offers a platform for white people to speak freely about race. Dow said he made the film because “we white people need to deal with our own shit.” Unfortunately, the attempt to engage white people falls dangerously flat as the participants and viewers are never asked to examine the stereotypes and inaccuracies they espouse.  Green’s film is a counter-narrative, and is better.  The participants in his film speak honestly and painfully about their experiences as Black-Americans.  More importantly, Green’s film is charged by interviews with academics, public intellectuals, and political actors.  Their voices bring not only an historical analysis to Black racial oppression, but wisdom, insight and at times, humor.

      The panel discussion titled “Why All The Talk About Race” was very telling and seemed to mirror the two films.  There wasn’t any conversation and there wasn’t any listening by either white panelist, Carl Paladino or Larry Quinn.  That they were invited was confusing. They are capitalists; not critical thinkers.  And, worse, not only has Paladino attacked Black civic leaders, he has made vile, racist, statements about President Barack Obama and Michele Obama. His defense; his comments “were not intended for the public.”  

     When asked what role racism plays in our society, both white panelists did what white people do when taking about race; they looked at their black and brown brothers and sisters in the eye and told them what is and what is not racism. Like the supporters of the Lancaster Redskins telling Seneca Nation representative Al Parker that the term “redskin” is an “honor”, even though Mr. Parker is telling them, “It is not.”

     Larry Quinn actually said, “black people need to get past the idea that there is a force in this country that wants to subjugate you.” Jeff Sessions’ use of the phrase “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement” was no accident.  The travel ban on Muslims, Trump’s push to build a border wall, FEMA’s abandonment of Puerto Rico, the murder of Black civilians by police, and the disproportionate numbers of Black men incarcerated for crimes white men are not — they all speak to intentional racist practices of law.  To blame and reduce American racist policy, as Quinn said, “to the Southern government up until maybe recently” shows willful ignorance.  

      Carl Paladino was particularly disrespectful during the panel discussion.  He centered the conversation on himself and his past role as a board member of the Buffalo Public Schools.  He spoke over the other panelists (especially when Dr. Henry Taylor was speaking) and when Mr. Jamil Crews spoke of the role that Donald Trump plays in promoting hate, Mr. Paladino rolled his eyes. Paladino questioned the need for Black History Month. He charged Black women educators with racism because “they do not support charter schools”.  He accused Black civic leaders of not caring for children.

     How is that “listening a little more instead of talking?” Had Mr. Paladino been listening he would have learned that Black History Month is not just a celebration of Black America’s achievements and stories, but rather a deliberate political strategy for blacks to be recognized as equal citizens. Without it, Black achievements would not be part of any historical narrative.  Had Mr. Paladino been listening he would have learned that Black Americans are wary of charter schools because of the history of excluding Black children from public schools, and currently, public schools of excellence.  Charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools, they have higher expulsion and suspension rates for Black students, and many are run by evangelical Christian churches which often teach unaccredited curriculum, curriculum which flouts science and historical fact. Had Mr. Paladino been listening to Dr. Taylor, he might have learned about the numerous Black community organizations that have for years and years worked toward Black economic, educational, and political parity. 

     Mr. Paladino and Mr. Quinn did not “participate” in the panel discussion on race. They did what white people do when asked to talk about race. They believe they have a right to speak, to be heard, and to be counted at all times. They believe they can hide behind their ethnicity, gender or poverty to dismiss the voices and experiences of non-whites. They disparage political correctness, deny history, and even distort reality. 

      Throughout the film, Dr. Taylor spoke of a general lack of remorse by most white Americans when it comes to the brutal treatment of African-Americans and other minorities in this country: past and present.  To that I would add a total lack of shame.

Less than a year ago, CBS This Morning did a story on the film “The Blackness Project” directed and co-produced by Korey Green.  The film encourages people to talk about “race-related issues that can be uncomfortable.”

http://theblacknessproject.org/2019/02/09/how-the-blackness-project-is-helping-people-talk-about-race/

 

Black History Month

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“White privilete is your history being part of the core curriculum and mine being taught  as an elective or only briefly discussed during Black History Month.”

 Eton Thomas (author, activist, professional athlete)

     Black History Month. We should not need it.   But we do. Is it a conundrum? Yes. “Black History” is not separate from American History. Yet, without a conscious and concrete effort to make visible all the myriad ways that Black History is American History, would those histories be told and be told honestly? What happens when Black History is told by white America? 

     White Americans like their past re-imagined, glorified, and made nostalgic. The cultural and historical references and images are made palatable. African-Americans, Native-Americans, Asian-Americans, Middle and East Indian-Americans, and all other non-white Americans are expected to agree and relate.

     A perfect example of a re-written and re-imagined history can be found in Lexington, Kentucky at the Waveland State Historic Site. Once an Antebellum Plantation, today a “Living History” museum. 

http://parks.ky.gov/parks/historicsites/waveland/

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This beautiful Greek Revival home was built in 1847 by Joseph Bryan, a grandnephew of Daniel Boone. Tours of Waveland focus on the Bryan family and life on a 19th-century Kentucky plantation. Waveland exemplifes plantation life in Kentucky in the 19th- century; from the acres of grain and hemp waving in the breeze (hence the Waveland name), to the raising and racing of blooded trotting horses.”

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Living history events include butter churning, doll making, military drills, and period games; even a Valentine’s Day Tea including finger sandwiches and scones served on fine china by costumed “interpreters”.  (Will there be costumed “slaves”?)

waveland-1The kitchen and slave quarters. “Without their labor, Waveland would not have been possible.”

http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/counties/fayette-county/article44364669.html

http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/counties/fayette-county/article44105457.html

     “I would use the the verb “enslaved” rather than the noun “slave” to implicate the inhumane actions of white people. “Enslaved” says more about what happened to Black people without unwittingly describing the sum total of who they were.”   

Deborah Gray White, Ph.D. (Distinguished Professor of History)

     What is privileged– made dominant and idealized–  in this white re-telling of Waveland is the architectural and artifactual elements of the plantation, the way of life of the Antebullum slaveholders, the beneficence of the slaveholders towards their slaves, and the legacy of the Bryan’s family enduring contribution to the City of Lexington.  

      What is ignored is the buying and selling of Black bodies; the brutality of slavery; the psychological costs of enslavement; child abuse and sexual abuse of enslaved children and women; the tearing apart of families;  the horrific demands of field labor; and the dependence on the caprices of the master.

    The only reason white men were masters and white women were mistresses is because Black men and Black women and Black children were enslaved. 

Payback’s a Bitch

Sally Is Privileged.*

 

     Sally has straight hair. Sally wanted curly hair just like mother’s.  Sally went to the store and bought a curling iron.

 

     “Oh, no!”, exclaimed Sally,  “This curling iron is for Black people”.  Sally looked closely at the box.  Yes, the model on the cover is Black.  Sally went to the store and returned the curling iron.

     She went to the hair care section to look for a curling iron for white people.  “Oh, no!”, exclaimed Sally. There did not seem to be a curling iron for white people.  All the models on all the boxes were Black.  

     Sally did not want to ask the salesperson for help.  She looked at all the boxes.  She read all the directions. She was confused.  Are these curling irons for white people or Black people?  The directions did not say.

 

     Sally did not know what to do.  She decided to buy the curling iron again. She would take the iron out of the box to see if it would work on her hair.     

      When Sally got home she opened the box. This is what Sally discovered:

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Just an ordinary curling iron.  Silly Sally!

Moral of the Story:

     Sally is a silly, stupid, spoiled, white girl who is used to seeing images that reflect her race on each and every product that she wants to purchase.  The “I” is always white. 

*This is based on a true story.

Honky & The Whiteness Project

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     This is the perfect book to turn to when one wants to unravel the day-to-day experiences of childhood and adolescence made easier by being white.  Even though Conley grew up in the 1970’s, the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that his life was protected and helped by being white — even being a poor white living in the projects — is still relevant today.
A few good lines from the book:
     
     “In the projects people seemed to come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, and I was not yet aware which ones were the important ones that divided up the world.”
   
      “I wonder what would have happened had my mother not been white? No one questioned her as she rushed around the hallways — but a frantic Black or Hispanic woman might have drawn greater scrutiny.”
 
     “Everyone involved, teachers and students, took it for granted that a Black teacher would never cross the racial line to strike a white student.”
   
     “Not thinking about the fact that the sanitation department should have given us the same pick-up service that Greenwich Village received, I suddenly got angrier at all my neighbors than I had ever been.  It was their fault this place was a mess, I decided.  And then, as if it were the next logical step, I concluded that it was their fault that they were poor.  I decided I would never be poor when I grew up.”
   
     “I grew addicted to purchasing.  I never realized how empowering it felt to spend money.”
   
     “This was the macho prize of being oppressed: the reputation for toughness.”
     
     If you need convincing that Conley’s experiences mirror the daily lives of white people today, listen to Connor from The Whiteness Project: The Intersection of I

“I would be in jail if I was not white.”

Connor

Connor, age 24

Selling Whiteness

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     What is up with the popular resurgence of images from the post World War II and the pre-rights era (civil, women, LGBTQ, American Indian, etc.)  in our country? The desire for this nostalgic throwback in “time”, with it’s almost total absense of people of color, and especially the absence of our violent racial history — a literal and figurative whitewashing — speaks to popular culture’s desire to perpetuate and sell Trump’s mantra of Making America Great Again. These images are everywhere.  And we know is who is buying them: white Americans.

     The creation, production, and reception of images is important. Images become a kind of memory.  They render, imitate, interpret, and preserve. They hold, unchanged.  Image making  functions as the tool for the construction of identities. But, what happens when those images are created by the dominant culture? And, what happens when those images are reproduced ad nauseam?

     They reinforce the “histories”, ideas, values, and perceptions of those who control cultural and political production. 

     Try an experiment.  Google “Retro Images” and see what pops up. White America. Open items on the menu bar: Christmas, Woman, Good Morning, Diner, Party, Baby, Easter, and even Groovy and Cool, and you will immediately find images of white people.  It is as if people of color never existed.   

     Also, what does our culture’s hunger for retro images, items, and products really mean?  There seems to be a white collective belief that “everything old is cool again”.  The 20th Century may have been a time of technical and medical innovations, but it was also a century of race-wars and race politics.  The luxury of being white is the belief that one can step outside of the history of race and racism.  The luxury of being white is to pretend to be “color-blind”: as if one does not notice the color of skin, just the content of character.  The hypervisibility of white culture in retro media and images creates and promotes more than just an aesthetic.  It creates and promotes a history that is absent of race, racism, and racial upheavel. It creates and promotes of culture of whiteness as normal, desirable, and American. And, most importantly, it creates and promotes the idea that  anything and everything that is white is superior. 

 The flood of Retro  games available speaks to a collective desire for the past. But, whose past?

     

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You read that right! 2019

 

     “When I was in elementary school, this white, owning-class family was presented to me — a southern, semi-rural, poor American Black — as an opportunity to learn to read and at the same time to understand what the typical American family experience was.  Of course, when I was in elementary school, I didn’t know that most white Americans were not living like that — and I think that most of my Black teachers believed in the Dick and Jane story too.”                                                                                  

Clarissa Sligh, Artist

     Retro images that are produced and re-produced do affect our culture. It doesn’t matter if they are tongue-in-cheek spoofs , a Little Treasure or a self-help book sold at Barnes & Noble, or a design concept from Architectural Digest

 

     They perpetuate a false history and narrative of American culture.  They create a cultural climate; they contribute to a culture of whiteness that becomes synonymous with family, love, home, style, wealth, desire, identity, and especially nation. 

     The celebration and glorification of all things white is what lies behind the Make America Great Again movement.  To paraphrase the brilliant historican, activist, and Harvard scholar, Dr. Henry Louis Gates;

“Eight years of a Black president drove a lot of people crazy!”

     Celebrating a white-washed past of a literal raceless America, and longing for a childhood world that did not exist, is much more appetizing to the general white public than joining a white nationalist group. The examination of this popular trend is uncritical and unsophisticated. Critical analysis is reduced to sentimental commentary;  with the worst being; “it is dated” and the best being; “they bring back delightful memories of childhood”. Again, I ask, delightful for whom? Again I write, the “I” is always white. 

 

(And to think I purchased my sticky notes folio at a World Market store in Phoenix.)

An Open Letter to that shop keeper in Arizona

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Dear DeTrading Post Shop Owner,

    You made my friend and I smile when you handed back change from our purchase. You said, “1967.  It was a good year”.  When I asked you why you thought that, you said, “Because everybody was hopeful then.  We believed that things were going to get better.  We treated each other with respect.”  It was sweet to hear. 
    

     I thought the small talk was over. I really didn’t want to engage.  I wanted to take my purchase (a lovely leather and bead bracelet) and get back out into that gorgeous sun, heat, and blue, blue, sky. But, you continued with your commentary.  I assumed you were going to complain about Trump’s tweeting, the border wall, or even the Mueller report.  It was clear from your accent that English was not your first language.  I assumed you were either Native-American or from South America. Arizona may be a Republican state but most non-whites who live there identify as democrat or liberal or Mexican. However, you threw us for a loop when you asked us if we knew who  “Adam’s first wife was?”.  I did know the answer. “Lilith”, I said.

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So pretty. And, only $30. I wonder how much the artisan made?

          Apparently you mistook my response for an invitation to share your ideas. Lilith, you told us, was evil. You warned us about the evil that exists in this country. And, here is where the conversation got really scary.  You complained that we have “Muslims in our government and the next thing you know we are going to have Sharia Law in our country.” I countered with the first thing that came into my vacation-addled brain.  “So, are you okay with the U.S. doing business with Saudi Arabia?”   I  cannot remember what you answered. You blamed, “Bill, Hitlery, and Obama” for bringing “Muslims into this country.” “Hitlary?” Yes. “Hitlary Clinton, who is just like Hitler”.

     I continued to listen to you politely. You extolled the virtues of Judaism and said it was the most progressive of all world religions. You made a joke about Jewish women being closer to God than Jewish men. You also said: that you loved Trump; that Trump is helping us to see who our real enemies are; this country is the best country in the world; and that you would die for this country.  You ended your monologue by saying “If people don’t like it here then they can go back to where they came from”.  I made no gesture of annoyance or discomfort. I just kept smiling. When you were finished, I thanked you for sharing your thoughts, shook your hand, and exited your shop.

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     Do you remember me shopkeeper? I was the woman wearing the Free Palestine t-shirt. Now that my vacation has ended, and I have had time to think about our “conversation”, I would like to ask you several questions.

  1. Why do you think my friend and I were interested in what you had to say?
  2. You don’t want Muslims in our country? How about in our golf clubs?
  3. Because Harvey Weinstein was Jewish, are all Jewish men rapists?
  4. How is Hillary Clinton like Adolph Hitler? 
  5. Why start with a question about the Old Testament? Why not the Egyptian Book of the Dead? 
  6. Did you know Lilith’s origins lie in ancient Babylonia and that she doesn’t appear in Jewish sources as Adam’s first wife until the Middle Ages?
  7. Have you studied the religious beliefs of Native Americans?  I think they can make that claim of being the most progressive.  
  8. Did you know the U.S. Constitution was shaped by the Iroquois Great Law of Peace?belt
  9. How did you get into the business of selling Native American jewelry and artifacts?
  10. If Native Americans don’t like living in the United States, where should they go?
  11. How can the U.S. be the best country in the world when according to The United Nations Human Development Index, the U.S. News & World Report, The Economist, The Social Progress Imperative, Numbeo and Wikipedia, the U.S. is not even ranked in the “Top Ten” when it comes to quality of life?
  12. What is with the “De” in the name of your shop? 
  13. How can you like Trump when he has broken most if not all of the Ten Commandments?

     Thank you for reading my questions.  I hope my letter helps you for the next time you talk with your customers about political issues.

Peace Out,

iiswhite

Fashion Is White

     This is my response to the dreadful Fashion Focus column by the Home and Style Editor, Susan Martin, of the The Buffalo News.  If you read it, you would think that the only “fashions”  worth reporting are those worn by mostly white, middle-class, shop or gallery owning, suburban-looking types. Most, who I assume, are her friends.

https://buffalonews.com/topic/fashion-friday/

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Fashion Focus brought to you by me…

Meet the professor who according to

Rate My Professor 

“Is cooler than the flip-side of a pillow”.

 

Henry Taylor in Office

Name:  Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., Ageless

Who He Is:  A Black-Marxist Intellectual, Scholar, Full-Professor, Writer, Activist

     Soldier, Warrior, and probably someone’s lover.  Or depending on your perspective, a really scary, and angry Black guy.  A Tennessee native with a penchant for raining on people’s parades, who came to Buffalo because the struggle is really happening here. He’s won multiple awards and is affiliated with numerous professional organizations.  You will not find him at The Buffalo Club.  Nor is he an “Uncrowned King”. 

     He can’t sing and he can’t dance.  But, he can act. He knows all the lines to The King and I.  He can whoop your ass ‘cause he knows karate.  He exercises regularly to maintain a level of fitness that keeps him ready to work at all hours of the night, and morning, and day, and evening.  Oh, and he drives a little sports car that he named, “El Diablo”.

He is a black cat: smooth, singular, and indifferent. 

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What He’s Wears:

     Whatever the fuck he wants! The important question is what he won’t wear: a Polo golf-shirt, a suit with a tie, Sperry boat-shoes, socks with sandals (unless it’s really cold in the office because the air-conditioning is on and no one else is around), a leather logo jacket, a sweater vest, or anything that is defined as being “professional” or that screams “white-guy”.   

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Signature Pieces:

1) Sunglasses:  A Black-Marxist Liberation Movement soldier has no problem looking white people in the eye.  But, sometimes, that soldier cannot afford to be identified.  

2) Wrist Cuff: In direct opposition to the cuff-link, Taylor can always be seen with an Afro-centric leather cuff, a Native-American silver cuff, or a beaded bracelet made by one of his beloved students from Future’s Academy. 

3) Necklace: An Inuit face-mask scrimshaw carving on a leather cord.

Fashion Statement: 

     Cool by all standard definitions. The fashion intellectual center of the left in Buffalo; and uncompromising in his resistance to the oppression of the established  fashion order. Upscale (i.e. expensive) athletic sports clothing: Black Hugo Boss sweat-pants coupled with a black Calvin-Klein (super soft t-shirt) and a black or brown military-style sneaker.

Last Purchase:  He won’t say.

In The Market For: 

     A pair of Fort Belvedere Napa-leather, hand-woven, driving gloves, with an adjustable snap-button and woven knuckle pattern, in British Racing Green and Off-White.

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Colin Kaepernick

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     In 2016 Colin Kaepernick took a kneel to protest police brutality. The NFL owners   reported that they felt “under assault”.  Trump told them to “get that son of a bitch off the field.” And, fans reacted as if the football field was a political-free zone and told Colin that he “should just focus on the game”.

      In 2017 Kaepernick remained an unsigned free agent. According to the Washington Post, signing Kaepernick “would be far more than a football decision.”  The Buffalo News reporter Bucky Gleason wrote that hiring Kap would bring “controversy over something that has nothing to do with football.”  And, Houstan Texans owner Robert McNair [now deceased] told fellow owners that the NFL “can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

     Last September Nike used Colin’s activism in their Just Do It ad which read “Believe in something. Even it it means sacrificing everything.” Once again, people reacted.  A Louisiana mayor wanted to ban Nike products from the city. The hashtag “boycottNike” erupted with images of people burning Nike products. And, some Christian colleges banned Nike products from their campuses.

Colin Kaepernick

       It is early 2019 and Kaepernick is no longer a professional athlete.  The NFL tried to ban players from any kind of protest, until they realized that such a ban was unconstitutional.  And, most recently, the Wisconsin GOP leaders removed Wisconsin-born Kaepernick from a resolution recognizing Black History Month and Kaepernick because they considered him too “controversial” to be included. 

     Let’s be honest. Kneeling is a gesture of respect. More importantly, it has only been white America who has reacted with such hostility to Kap’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement.  And, to other Black athlete’s who continued the conversation.  Remember Laura Ingraham telling LeBron James to “shut up and dribble”? It is white America who believes they have the right to tell Black and brown people when, where, and, how to protest.  It is white America who tells Black America who their heroes should be. 

     Nike does not speak for white America.  Nike is a global corporation.  Nike knows that many of their consumers are people of color.  Nike knows that “Taking the Knee” is the modern-day legacy of Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics. Nike knows that Black athletes have a long history of being social justice activists; and those beliefs have always cost them something, if not everything.  

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     The irony is that Nike’s ad truly represents American patriotism. Because to believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything, is the American way. Abraham Lincoln. Sitting Bull. Sacco and Vanzetti. Malcom X. So, white America, be honest with us about why you hate Colin Kaepernick.  Accept the the fact that like Muhammad Ali, Kap will go down on the right side of history.  

The Whiteness Project

 

images-1     (I am just going to start out by saying that this so-called documentary, project, interactive whatever, is: cringeworthy, telling, and painful to watch.  I have yet to  decide if it adds to the conversation on whiteness.)

     Filmmaker Whitney Dow, who has been recognized as “making smart films about race” with Marco Williams (or as Dow refers to him, “my Black producing partner”) decided to get serious about race.  Dow believes that, “If white people are going to participate in changing the racial dynamic, we need to deal with our own shit.”I agree.  In 2014 Dow premiered his documentary, The Whiteness Project, on PBS.  The project is a multi-media documentary described as an investigation into how Americans who are white identify with being white.   

MARCO WILLIAMS WHITNEY DOW

      Dow gets that white supremacy is one of the central organizing forces in American life and, that white is  “the most powerful racial identity in America”. He does not want white Americans to get away from identifying themselves as being white.  During an interview with CBS, Dow argued that  being white is a defining characteristic that actively “impacts every interaction of every moment in our day.” The goal of his project is to encourage debate about the role of whiteness in American society among white people; people who “have been very tentative about engaging.”   He offers the project as venue to help white people reflect on white identity and white privilege.

     The Whiteness Project website states:

     “By engendering debate about the role of whiteness in American society and encouraging white Americans to become fully vested participants in the ongoing debate about the role of race in American society, The Whiteness Project aims to inspire reflection and foster discussions that ultimately lead to improved communication around issues of race and identity.”

     White individuals are filmed within a white frame with  an intense focus on their face.  There are no other distractions: no background, no interviewer presence, no interviewer voice. The viewer immediately understands that the participants are asked a series of questions about being white in general.  The only conversation in the film is when the participants are talking to the camera.  The audience gets to know the questions only from the interviewee’s comments, such as; “Do I think it is beneficial for me to be white?”, “Do I think about race?”, or “Do I feel a common bond with white people?”  Between each screen interview a statistic is given.  The statistics are there to help the audience place the views in a societal context and, to hopefully provide some fodder for self-reflection.

73% of whites believe that Blacks should receive “no special favors” to overcome inequality.

More To Come…

Up Next: Two Reviews

The Whiteness Project

 

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     Described as “an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as white, or partially white, understand and experience their race.”

In one word: Scary

The Blackness Project

 

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     Described as “an inspiration from conversations about the “Whiteness Project” which is a similar documentary discussing race and the perceived loss of white privilege by white Americans. The main purpose of The Blackness Project film is to bridge the gap between white and black Americans with in depth interviews on race.”

In one word: Brilliant

Best Line Ever

“We are not going to

fuck our way to freedom.”

 

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     This is an oft-repeated statement by activist and scholar, Dr. Henry Louis Taylor.  Dr. Taylor does not reject sexual or marital relationships among Black, white, and brown skinned peoples.  What he rejects is the myth that these relationships by themselves will confront and defeat racism and racist practices — individual and institutional.  He points to the color of his own light-brown skin; what in another time and place would have been referred to as “high-yellow”.

     Dr. Taylor was quoted out-of-context when being interviewed by a FOX news reporter about the movie Green Book.  In that article he said, “We can get caught up in the controversy about whether or not the film is an account of the white’s man’s view, which it is, and whether the story would have been different had Shirley told it, which it would have.  But that doesn’t matter as much as the larger question,”What is the place of individual friendship within the process of social change?”  What was excluded from that article was his answer.

     “Individual friendships are important only if they inspire and incite the fight against structural forces that produce racism, prejudice, and discrimination.” (1/13/2019)

President Obama: An Afterthought

An afterthought:

     Obama’s farewell speech, which was directed at Trump supporters, i.e white people, was full of glory and exaltation.

     “For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom. It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande, pushed women to reach for the ballot, powered workers to organize. It’s why GI’s gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima: Iraq and Afghanistan – and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.”

     Where is the space for our Native American brothers and sisters?  Our nation exists because of the genocidal atrocities committed against Native Americans. The omission of this historical reality was especially glaring in light of the current events at Standing Rock. But, consistent with the re-writing of American history.

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FAN MAIL: The Good, the Bad, & the Funny!

The Good

     “Hey, I just read your [Confessions of a White Girl] essay – it’s fantastic! I absolutely feel you about the ability to “turn off” and just forget about the problems – the privilege of being able to do that has definitely shaped me as a person.  And, I agree that it’s a core aspect of what it means to be white – or male, or straight, or economically well off or any number of things.  So many of these issues are really just abstractions to me, and the ability to just say, “all right, I can’t think about this anymore or I’ll go crazy” is just such an easy thing [for me] to do. I would imagine that that same attitude is what King talks about in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail.  It’s why I don’t like qualifying my support for feminism or social justice or any other like causes.  My intellectual comfort isn’t really important in these discussions about real issues that people must face all the time.  I’m excited to read more of the book.”

The Bad  

     Who is this white person who took the time to find my address and mail me this postcard?

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SOMEBODY NEEDS TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL!

     According to the FBI, I am more likely to be a victim of a crime committed by a white, heterosexual, male — whom I know — than by a person of color.

 

The Funny

“I bet she’s a lot of fun at the dinner table.”

Buffalo is…white?

     We are drawn to the visual.  When we look at images we witness and experience many collisions: public and private, past and present, real and staged, Black and white, “I” and “Not I”.  Our relationship to the world is often mediated through images. Our response to images situates our relationship to the world.  Images can create a shock of discontinuity.  They make difference plain.  Images remind us if our versions of reality match.   Images carry a weight. 

     Images do not preserve meaning.  Meaning is determined by one’s response to the image. This response, this space, which can be either an abyss or an attachment, defines the moment where the simple act of looking confirms or denies one’s sense of being in the world.

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Mirror, Mirror by Carrie Mae Weems

 

     The May 2019 Buffalo News edition of their Buffalo Magazine issue titled, “The Food Issue” is a concrete example of the “I” is white.  From cover to back page all of the articles feature white individuals and their stories. The neighborhoods identified in the article are either white suburban neighborhoods [East Aurora, Elma] ,upscale and gentrified white neighborhoods [Hertel Avenue, Downtown], or up and coming working class neighborhoods [Allentown].

 

 

From back to front there is only one image — one image — of a person of color. And, that image is of a child in an ad for summer camps.

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Readers, especially those who are from out of town,  would never know that a Black or brown or any non-white person lives in Western New York. 

Buffalo Demographics

At the 2010 census, the racial composition of Buffalo was:

  • White: 50.4% (non-Hispanic: 45.8%)
  • Black or African American: 38.6% (up from 20.4% in 1970)
  • Asian: 3.2% (up from 0.2% in 1970)
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.8%
  • Other race: 3.9%
  • Two or more races: 3.1%
  • Hispanic or Latino of any race: 10.5% (up from 1.6% in 1970)

   

     Why is it acceptable for The Buffalo News to print a seventy-page magazine about eating, fine-dining, and picnicing in metropolitan Buffalo and only write about white Buffalo and show white Buffalo? 

Black Restaurant Week fluer
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Especially when the editor wrote in her “From the Editor” section in the magazine that her intro to the Buffalo restaurant scene was the “West Side Bazaar”.

 

    Images substantiate culture.  When images are produced  by those who politically control the cultural production, they become easily accepted and consumed.  It is a more than a misfortune if our eyes have grown accustomed to images that reflect only white America.  It is the simultaneous danger of the invisbility and the hyper-visibility of whiteness.  

The image is always white.  The “I” is always white.

 

Richard Bell

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      Richard Bell is — in his order — a political activist and artist from Australia.  He is a member of the Aboriginal Kamilaroi tribe and one of the founders of proppaNOW, a Brisbane-based art collective which works to “change ideas that people have about what Aboriginal art is and what it should be.”

“ABORIGINAL ART — It’s a white thing!”

     Bell creates counter images from commonly known pieces of art and embeds them with text to get the attention of the viewer and to make his point. 

Pardon Me

Bell forces the viewer to look at issues of racial history, cultural history, relationships of power, controlling images, colonialism, paternalism, and racism.  He describes his art-as-activism as “conversational, playful, tongue-in-cheek, moralistic, sermonistic, and informative”.  It is big, bold, and beautiful.  So is he.  I have met him. 

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White Reluctance

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     Try finding a card that shows an intimate moment between a white person and a person of color.  It is impossible.  Why is that?

 

     Sociologist Howard Winant writes (in academic speak) “The theme of race is situated where meaning meets social structure, where identity frames inequality.”  I would add that the situated-ness of these spaces are encounters between whites and non-whites.  These encounters — any and all — are historically loaded.  The relationship between white and non-white cannot be unmarked by history and oppression.

Whiteness is a space – a historical space and a relational space.

     Whiteness and blackness is about what happens in the in-between. It is a historical space because when I see, greet, or meet a non-white person, I feel the centuries of history bubbled up between us: slavery, Jim Crow, genocide, citizenship, favor, advantages, anger and rage, and ease and dis-ease. My visual reference is Charlie Brown talking about Pig Pen: “Don’t think of it as dust. Just think of it as the dirt and dust of far-off lands blowing over here and settling. It staggers the imagination!”

Can and white and black people be friends? Really good friends?

          The answer is, “Of course.” Just look at the growing number of “inter-racial” relationships and marriages. But, the reality is that we whites are statistically the least likely to marry outside of our race.  We are less likely to pursue friendships outside of our race than non-whites, as well. As comedian Chris Rock so humorously and honestly stated:

      “All my black friends have a bunch of white friends. And all my white friends have one black friend.”

     Why is that? Why are white people so (you fill in the blank)  about making friends with other non-whites? Even well-meaning, socially conscious, and politically active, whites?

     The question is not hard to answer: Because there are risks involved. Those risks are real and not real. Having an intimate friendship with a person of color forces white people to look at their own pre-concieved racist ideas.  Yes, racist ideas.  And, even more scary than admitting to ourselves that we might be racist, is saying or doing something that is racially offensive.

     Which would you rather do?   (A) Participate in a multi-cultural sensitivity training at work. (B) Go to dinner at the home of a Black, Hispanic, or Native American colleague that you just met?

      The following are questions that might go through your mind:

  • Is their neighborhood safe?
  • Will I be the only white person there?
  • What if I say something offensive?
  • What will their house be like?

     One could argue that you might ask three-out-of-four of those questions the first time you went to any new person’s house.  But would you? Really? 

    How at ease or comfortable are white people when they are around and outnumbered by non-whites? The risk involved is a risk of uncertainty. The prospect of dis-ease and dis-comfort. 

     There is an awareness and a scrutiny of the self that occurs when white people are placed in close proximity, in non-working environments, and/or in intimate situations, with people of color.  This self-gaze is uncomfortable.  It usually leads to self-censorship.  It leads to an in-authenticity.  It is hard work.  It seems easier to walk away. 

     Don’t! Stay in that space of discomfort.  Give yourself permission to be uncomfortable. Most importantly, give yourself permission to make mistakes.  Be honest with your friend and colleague if you feel you have said something that was wrong, hurtful, or stupid.  That is what relationships and intimacy are about, anyway.  Some will work; some will not.  That happens in all relationships.

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“Two Old Friends on Growing Up Black and White in Lincoln, Nebraska”. See Links for full web article.

 

The American Flag: Part II

The Confederate Flag, and The Daughters of the American Revolution 

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Only white Americans fly the Confederate flag. Why is that?

     When my child was writing his essay on the American flag for a class assignment it brought to mind the Confederate flag.  During the presidential campaign this past summer, and most recently since the Trump presidency, the Confederate flag has been flown with impunity.  I use the word “impunity” on purpose. White people fly the Confederate flag with impunity. White people fly the Confederate flag to make a statement.  A statement that directly contradicts and challenges everything that the American flag represents:

     “…almost everything we hold dear on earth. It represents our peace and security, our civil and political liberty, our freedom of religious worship, our family, our friends, our home. We see it in the great multitude of blessings, of rights and privileges that make up our country.”

Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States

Or as my apple-polishing kid wrote, “It shows fifty individual states ready for anything that comes at them, in the present or in the future.”

     The Confederate Flag in its many incarnations (The Stars and Bars, The Stainless Banner and The Blood-Stained Banner) was the flag used by the “Confederate States” during the Civil War.  The Southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861 for the sole purpose of preserving the institution of slavery.  Their individual declarations of secession cited threats to slavery in their own states and in the new territories.

     The Confederate Flag by historical definition is the symbol of the South; the Antebellum South.   It is also known by definition as the “Rebel Flag”. It was used by  various political parties in the south: in the 1940’s to oppose Truman’s anti-discrimination laws, in the 1950’s to preserve segregation, and in the 1960’s to oppose civil rights legislation.  

     The Confederate Flag is the divisive symbol of racism.  It is no coincidence that it is used by white supremacists groups across the United States.  

WhiteSupremacy

 

     Why would anyone fly the Confederate flag when it is so closely linked to racist ideologies?  Supporters who use the flag often state, “It’s not a racial thing”.  Or, “It’s an expression of Southern heritage and Southern Pride”.   And, as one Trump supporter tweeted:

     “They’re making me take it down because the media is going to spin it into something that it isn’t.”  

How else to spin it?

     How can you separate the South’s heritage from the South’s history of enslavement and Jim Crow?

     An obvious analogy is to ask “Can the swastika be separated from the Nazis?”  Of course not.  Can the Olympic Rings represent anything other than the Olympics? Hardly.

olympic rings 

This is the story of whiteness.  To be white and have white privilege is to stand up in a room full of people, look directly into the eyes of brown, black, or red skinned people and tell them what is and what is not racism.  White people can ignore history.  White people can ignore experts.  White people can ignore their neighbors.  The power of privilege allows supporters of the Confederate flag to argue that the flag can be a racial slur, but in this moment it is not. In other words, to be white is to assert that ugly, insulting, and racist symbols can be separated from their intention, history, or definition. 

 As for the Daughters of the American Revolution, those staunch champions of the American Flag, who sponsor middle-school essay competitions across the states, and who publish a leaflet outlining patriotic customs on the flying of our national flag, I asked them if the DAR has an official position on the Confederate Flag.  For, is not the flying of the Confederate Flag an act of disrespect towards the National Flag?

     In response to my query, Ms. Linda L. Hunt, National Chair of the Daughters of the American Revolution, answered…

     “This national chair represents the Flag of the United States and we follow the U.S. Flag Code.  We do not comment other flags, i.e. the Confederate Flag.”                  

12/05/2016

Why the hell not?

The American Flag: Part I

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    “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences  — perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail.”

Tweet by President Donald Trump 

     Last year when my child was in fifth grade the Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored a lesson and essay contest titled  What the Flag of the United States Means to Me. He also received a paper booklet named The Flag Code which states the directions for displaying and respecting the flag.  

     The essay was a required assignment. He wrote his essay without any help.  I had no idea what he would write as I had never had a conversation with my kid about the flag; nor do we have a flag flying in our home.  He received an A- grade; and on the paper his teacher wrote, “great insight” and “nicely written”.  I had to laugh.  Part of his essay reads:

     “The flag of the USA determines the power in this country.  It shows 50 individual, powerful determined states, ready to make a change.  It shows 50 categories of inspiring people, ready for anything that comes at them, in the present or in the future, no matter what the sacrifices are.  It shows how powerful a country could be.  How strong people could be if they work together until the end.  It shows that no matter your color,  race, or gender, you can come here.”

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He didn’t win the essay contest but he did get a participation award!

     This assignment has elements of propaganda and hypocrisy.  The education and promotion of our flag without any kind of contextual or historical lesson is simplistic, uncritical and insincere. It forwards the idea that flying the flag unto itself is an act: an act of patriotism, an act of obligation, or an act of freedom.   And, not doing so is an act of disregard, disobedience, and reproach.  The politics of flying the flag has been reduced to the “you are either with us or against” binary which is typical of western thinking. 

     Lots of flags were flown in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. One could easily argue that doing so was nothing more than a meaningless, empty, gesture.

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What is the Purpose of a National Flag?

     A national flag is the flag that symbolizes a country and its citizens.  It has its origins as a field sign in battle, or as a military standard representing a principality, suzerainty, or dynasty. Outside of warfare the flag became common in the age of sail, as a maritime flag indicating the provenance of the ship. It was during the modern era  (1500 B.C.E. to 1800 C.E.)  when nation-state boundaries were being drawn that flags were adopted in a civilian and cultural context. The American flag and colors comes from the ensign of the Continental Navy of the North American Colonies.

     Simply stated, the purpose of a national flag is to identify national identities.  It is a global sign. Kind of like the “Stop” sign or the “Olympic Rings”.  

     Our nation’s flag protection movement began in 1897 with the adoption of Flag Desecration Statutes. This movement began as reaction to perceived commercial and political misuse of the flag.        

 WAIT…WHAT?

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     By 1907 flag desecration laws were promulgated in every state. And in 1942 President Roosevelt approved the “Federal Flag Code” which was when the Pledge of Allegiance was adopted as well. The contentious debate as to whether or not flag defacement and irreverence is an expression of free speech began in earnest during the Vietnam War and ended in the 1990’s when the The Supreme Court ruled twice that destruction of the American flag is protected by the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. 

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The National Socialist Movement Flag

     Clearly for our current president, the act of defacing our national flag is unsettling. But only in some contexts and unless you are one of his supporters.  Then it is an act of patriotism. 

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The Little Golden Books Stay White

The “I” is Always White

     The fifth incarnation of the “Everything I Need to Know About…I Learned From A Little Golden Book” series by longtime Golden Books editor Diane Muldrow is  available.

     From Amazon: “Have you ever wished your family were a little more . . . perfect? The brand that most represents idyllic perfection actually confirms that there is no such thing. But it does show that joy and love can be found in the imperfect!”

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The books can be found in book stores, department stores, and gift shops.  Including the self-help section at B & N.

 

     My purpose here is to make visible what is invisible: the unspoken assumption that the world is white and everyone in it is white. That “I” and “We” are white.  The writer is white; the reader is assumed to be white; and the cultural and historical references and images are for white people.  More importantly, it is expected that African-Americans, Native-Americans, Asian-Americans, Middle and East Indian-Americans, and all other non-white Americans can and should relate.

     Like her previous “Everything I Need to Know…” books, Muldrow borrows illustrations from vintage books and adds her own words of wisdom and insight.  It begins with an image of the “perfect family” and our collective desire for one: 

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     There are sixty-nine images in total.  Twenty are of furry creatures.  Five are of non-whites.  There is one of a light brown-skinned sleeping baby — which is actually quite sweet — taken from the book Prayers for Children, 1974 . A Hispanic child and baby are taken from Baby Sister, 1986. A charming classroom picture from We Like Kindergarten, 1965, illustrated by Eloise Wilkens, once considered “the soul of Golden Books”, includes a smartly-dressed black boy.  The South Seas Island girl, Ukulele, from Ukulele and Her New Doll, is pictured eating with her family.  (She and her family are lighter-skinned than their 1951 counterparts.) And lastly, there is a colorful drawing of a brown father and child. The only non-Golden Book image; probably added for the sake of posterity. 

     I am sure Little Golden Books is not consciously trying to re-write history.  Nor would they argue that America belongs to white people.  But, if they believe that this book, with its images of a white-remembered and longed-for past does not make a statement, then they are sadly mistaken. 

      As I wrote earlier, the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s were difficult and painful times for many Americans, but mostly for non-white Americans: segregated armed forces, Jim Crow, Indian Schools, overt educational and housing discrimination, forced resettlement of non-white cultures, and many other prejudices. Not to mention their absence of representation in politics and other positions of power and authority. Times continue to be difficult for non-whites. Racism, prejudice, and discrimation still exist. 

Again, Memory Lane for Whom?

     “Everything I Need To Know I Learned From A Little Golden Book is so overwhelmingly white-centered it pains the eye and pierces the soul of the millions of us who cannot, will not, claim that level of unconsciousness.”

Alexis DeVeaux

     This book is for white-Americans only.  For it is their imagined past that is getting re-written, glorified, and made nostalgic.  That is  why white Americans gobble this book up. 

     Nothing in this book is true or compelling. It is exclusionary.  It is about who is inside and who is outside.  It contributes to the cultural climate and the belief that real Americans are white.  

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Why else was President Obama’s citizenhship questioned?

The Little Golden Book is White

The “I” is White

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     Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow is a New York Times best seller. The book offers life lessons reduced to simple maxims: “Is your life starting to feel like a circus? Don’t panic…today is a new day!” Illustrations from  Little Golden Books created between the years of 1942 to 1963 capture the spirit of the advice. The Pokey Little Puppy reminds us “to stop and smell the strawberries” and Tootle the Train demands that we “Frolic!” Favorite classic images instruct you to “Treat yourself” and “Kiss”.       

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     Admirers of the Little Golden Books – the cardboard books with the gold foil spine – claim that the books have been uplifting people since World War II and that they still have much to teach. Muldrow reminds her readers that “our country has faced hard times of late.” She proclaims, “The chickens have come home to roost, and their names are Debt, Depression, and Diabetes.”

“Who is this book really for?”

     There are seventy-eight illustrations in the book; thirty-eight have pictures of people. Of those thirty-eight, only two images include non-whites: Black folks are religious, right?

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Memory Lane for Whom?

     “Everything I Need To Know I Learned From A Little Golden Book is so overwhelmingly white-centered it pains the eye and pierces the soul of the millions of us who cannot, will not, claim that level of unconsciousness.”

Alexis DeVeaux

     The 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s were difficult and painful times for many Americans, but especially for African-Americans. Between those years over forty black men and women were lynched, Jim Crow law in the south was legal, and until 1964 blacks were denied the fundamental right to vote. The armed services were  desegregated in 1948 and schools were desegregated in 1954. But African-American soldiers and students still faced violence, bullying, or insult.

     Other non-white cultures and identities were vilified, ignored, or made invisible. Japanese-Americans went from citizens to enemies. Native American children were forcibly sent to “Indian Schools” while their families were relocated to urban areas. Latinos, with the exception of saucy actresses and Desi Arnaz, were largely ignored. And, Puerto Rico was a colony with limited self-government.

     A friend who is black, over fifty, and prefers to remain anonymous said, “As an individual, I do not see myself or my experiences in this book… I am not to the point of hating it, but it has nothing to say to me”.

     Reviews of the book read like glowing advertisements. The Huffington Post writes: “Offers simple advice that is also very wise.” Publishers Weekly declares: “An optimistic and cheering trip down memory lane”. And the School Library Journal states “A fun and entertaining walk down memory lane.”

     It scares me to know that this book was so well received by the white American public and was such a hit that the author was able to publish a series – a series that seems never ending.

Commentary, musings, and images; all in an effort to expose whiteness.

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