Blog Archives

Using Racism to Excuse Sexism

You’ve probably seen this anti-street harassment video:

It’s part of Hollaback’s ongoing work to empower women by boosting empathy, understanding and change.

But the video has been called racist for over representing men of color.

Here’s what Dr. Brittany Cooper, a Rutgers University professor of women, gender and Africana studies, had to say about that: Read the rest of this entry

Whitewashing White Privilege

SegregationBy Sarah Shaver

I grew up in a white-only world. As a child I didn’t realize that segregation had this purpose: It’s easier to deny people justice when you don’t know them.

As a kid growing up in Ohio in the 1960s I lived in a white neighborhood and most of my friends were white. So were my teachers, my doctor, my dentist and anyone else of seeming importance. That world seemed natural and normal to me.

When an Asian family moved into our neighborhood someone painted “COMMIE” on their trash cans. They only lasted a month. When a black family moved to the very edge of our neighborhood my family moved out. I was told that blacks would ruin the place. Later I went back and was surprised that the whole neighborhood had become black. And clean and well-kept and beautiful.  Read the rest of this entry

On Burqas and Being Subordinate

1By Zaineb Alkhaleef

Last Halloween I saw a white teenage boy dressed as an Arab man. His friend wore a burqa — and a rope around (his/her?) neck, which the “Arab man” held as a leash. He kept pulling “her” around and shouting orders. I was shocked and wondered what their motive could be.

It got me thinking about women and rights.

I am a devout Muslim woman who wears hijab, a scarf to cover my hair.

Why do I do this? Because I am inferior and subordinate? Because it is my job to control men’s sexuality?

No.

I grew up hearing that men are sexual predators who are incapable of looking at a woman who isn’t covered from head to toe without wanting to rape them, or “mentally rape” them.

But that’s not why I cover my hair.

In fact, while some say women must dress modestly to keep uncontrollable men from sinning, I don’t buy it.

Read the rest of this entry

Trayvon Martin’s Right to ‘Stand His Ground’

trayvon-hoodie300x2851We’re told over and over that if Zimmerman was afraid of Martin, according to Florida law, he had the right to put a bullet in the chamber of his concealed handgun, get out of his car after being told not to by the 911 dispatcher and follow and confront Martin and shoot him to death.

That’s from CNN opinion writer, Miller Francis. He continues:

At the same time, we are told that Martin, who had far greater reason to fear Zimmerman, practically and for reasons of American history, did not have the right to confront his stalker, stand his ground and defend himself, including by using his fists. We are told that this was entirely unjustified and by doing so, Martin justified his own execution.

Talk about victim-blaming!

The contradiction-in-rights likely arises because we tend to see through the eyes of the powerful and not through the eyes of the powerless. After all, the powerless have little control over media or the political or religious pulpits. With that in mind, I’m reposting the following as the Martin v. Zimmerman jury deliberates:

The Crimes of Hoodies, Short Skirts and Fannie Mae

More guns, fewer hoodies” and we’d all be safer, Gail Collins advised in a New York Times piece after Trayvon Martin was gunned down for “eating skittles while black” – and while wearing said hoodie – in a gated community. A clear threat that had to be stopped.

That’s right. Guns don’t kill people, hoodies do: Trayvon Martin’s “hoodie killed him as surely as George Zimmerman did,” claimed Geraldo Rivera (who later apologized).

Sounds familiar. When women are raped short skirts become the culprit.

Yet few rape victims are wearing short skirts. And even nicely dressed black men can create fear. Journalist Brent Staples noticed that people got out of his way when he nonchalantly walked about. Amazed at his ability to alter public space, he tried humming Mozart to project his innocence. Seemed to help.

But why aren’t pricey cars, fancy suits and expensive watches blamed when rich, white men get robbed? What thief could resist?

Why? Because making more powerless members of society the culprit is meant to distract from the sins of the powerful. It’s women’s fault if men rape them, and it’s black men’s fault if lighter men kill them.

In another example, some blamed liberals for foolishly using Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to help Blacks and Hispanics “buy homes they couldn’t afford,” leading to the banking crises that nearly drove the U.S. economy off a cliff.

What really happened is that rich bankers gave rich campaign contributions to government officials, who in gratitude disposed of pesky regulations. That helped bankers get mega-rich by devising complex financial packages that no one could comprehend.

Used to be that when someone bought a home bankers made sure they’d get paid back. But under deregulation it didn’t matter because the loan was sold to someone else. And that investor sold the loan again. And financial packages were created and sold, composed of fractions of many people’s mortgage loans. They were rated AAA since they were 1) diversified – and hence “safe” investments and 2) the housing market never goes down. (Yeah, right!)

Fannie and Freddie entered the process late, thinking they’d better join in or lose out.

When the housing market dropped and people couldn’t afford their homes, or sell them for a profit, the banks began collapsing. Lucky for them, the taxpayers bailed them out (or the whole economy likely would have collapsed).

Did deregulation get blamed for the fiasco? By some. But plenty of the “powers that be” — and especially “hate radio” — blamed Blacks and Latinos.

Because blaming more powerless members of society distracts from the sins of the powerful.

The crime does not lie with the man who pulls the trigger, nor with the man who rapes, and certainly not with the fat cat who pays to rig the game. No, the crime lies with those who wear hoodies, short skirts and who bank while black or brown.

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Racism: Genetic or Learned?

end-racismEvolutionary psychology says racism is in our genes — a genetic adaptation that helps groups survive by favoring themselves over others. Skin color cues us in to who’s “in” and who’s “out.” (Yet the most prosperous areas of the world are those that cooperate and trade with each other?)

When I explain the theory, my students are appalled. (Though they readily accept evolutionary psych when it comes to explaining supposed sex differences.)

I once wrote a comment questioning evolutionary psychology on Slate and got the following response:

And what about all of those studies on doctors that found they treat patients differently because of race? What about those studies that show that we show preference to people wearing the same color of shirts as us?

Then shouldn’t children prefer parents who have their same hair/eye color? Not in my case. My mom has brown eyes and very light skin like me and my dad has green eyes and darker skin. Yet as a child I preferred him because mom was the disciplinarian.

And doctors could treat patients differently because they learn prejudice and not because they are genetically programmed to discriminate.

You also have to wonder why so many brown-haired, brown-eyed people have a preference for blonde, blue-eyed looks if our genes cause us to prefer our own type. But then, we’re all bombarded with messages that teach us that blue eyes and blond hair are best, at least on women.

Relatedly, about half of the Black people who take Harvard’s test of unconscious prejudice show a preference for Whites. If evolutionary psychology is right, shouldn’t they have a preference for Blacks? But again, Black Americans (just like the rest of us) are barraged with unfortunate messages that White is prettier, smarter, and less criminal.

Meanwhile, some people show “no preference” for either race when they take Harvard’s “implicit” test of unconscious bias.

Or consider the most recent presidential elections. The younger a person was, the more likely she or he cast a ballot for Barack Obama. Was there a mass genetic mutation that caused younger voters to be less racist? Or has society changed enough through the years that young people have simply learned less racism?

Evolutionary psychology says racism is in our genes. Looks more like it’s learned.

You inherited you grandmother’s eyes. Did you inherit her racism, as well?

February is Black History Month

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The Crimes of Hoodies, Short Skirts and Fannie Mae

More guns, fewer hoodies” and we’d all be safer, Gail Collins advised in a New York Times piece after Trayvon Martin was gunned down for “eating skittles while black” – and while wearing said hoodie – in a gated community. A clear threat that had to be stopped.

That’s right. Guns don’t kill people, hoodies do: Trayvon Martin’s “hoodie killed him as surely as George Zimmerman did,” claimed Geraldo Rivera (who later apologized).

Sounds familiar. When women are raped short skirts become the culprit.

Yet few rape victims are wearing short skirts. And even nicely dressed black men can create fear. Journalist Brent Staples noticed that people got out of his way when he nonchalantly walked about. Amazed at his ability to alter public space, he tried humming Mozart to project his innocence. Seemed to help.

But why aren’t pricey cars, fancy suits and expensive watches blamed when rich, white men get robbed? What thief could resist?

Why? Because making more powerless members of society the culprit is meant to distract from the sins of the powerful. It’s women’s fault if men rape them, and it’s black men’s fault if lighter men kill them.

In another example, some blamed liberals for foolishly using Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to help Blacks and Hispanics “buy homes they couldn’t afford,” leading to the banking crises that nearly drove the U.S. economy off a cliff.

What really happened is that rich bankers gave rich campaign contributions to government officials, who in gratitude disposed of pesky regulations. That helped bankers get mega-rich by devising complex financial packages that no one could comprehend.

Used to be that when someone bought a home bankers made sure they’d get paid back. But under deregulation it didn’t matter because the loan was sold to someone else. And that investor sold the loan again. And financial packages were created and sold, composed of fractions of many people’s mortgage loans. They were rated AAA since they were 1) diversified – and hence, “safe” investments and 2) the housing market never goes down. (Yeah, right!)

Fannie and Freddie entered the process late, thinking they’d better join in or lose out.

When the housing market dropped and people couldn’t afford their homes, or sell them for a profit, the banks began collapsing. Lucky for them, the taxpayers bailed them out (or the whole economy likely would have collapsed).

Did deregulation get blamed for the fiasco? By some. But plenty of the “powers that be” — and especially “hate radio” — blamed Blacks and Latinos.

Because blaming more powerless members of society distracts from the sins of the powerful.

The crime does not lie with the man who pulls the trigger, nor with the man who rapes, and certainly not with the fat cat who pays to rig the game. No, the crime lies with those who wear hoodies, short skirts and who bank while black or brown.

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Rape Epidemic in South Africa. Why?

More than one in three South African men admits committing rape, one in seven has joined a gang rape, and more than three quarters admit committing violence against women.

More than half of South African women have experienced violence at the hands of men, and one-quarter will be raped by age sixteen.

Why? Two thirds of rapists felt sexually entitled. Some wanted to punish women who had angered or rejected them. Others wanted to turn lesbians straight. And some were just bored.

These “reasons” may only get at surface issues. What else is going on?

Rachel Jewkes, a lead researcher on the study of violence in South Africa, feels that racism lies behind the abuse.

Rape holds a sexual component, but it is essentially about power. When a large population is oppressed, say through racism – even as manhood is defined as “dominant and powerful” – men may use rape as a weapon to gain a sense of personal empowerment. Rapists are often trying to bridge a gap between their impotent selves and the dominant men they seek to be. Imagine the control they feel when they restrain, take over, and invade another person’s body. Imagine how high and mighty they feel in creating humiliation.

Gay bashing is another weapon whereby some men try to create a sense of male superiority. If women act like men (sexually/stereotypically) how can men keep their sense of dominance? Hence, the need for “corrective rape” in South Africa that seeks to turn lesbians straight.

In one attack Millicent Gaika was beaten and raped for five hours as her assailant screamed, “I know you are a lesbian. You are not a man, you think you are, but I am going to show you, you are a woman. I am going to make you pregnant.” Since the women are often murdered “correction” sounds less likely than gay-bashing as motive.

Others were simply bored. So the eroticized violence of patriarchy comes in handy: Oh, let’s have some fun!

This is helped when women are seen as sex objects, and not people who have their own lives, goals, thoughts and emotions. When women become nothing but objects for sexual pleasure, it’s no wonder that one third of the rapists said they did not feel guilty.

So here we have powerless men beaten down by racism who are trying to feel powerful, who live in a world where violence against women is eroticized, and where women are seen as mere objects. A recipe for epidemic rape.

Originally posted on January 14, 2011 by

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How Does Racism Hurt Racists? The Case of Emmett Till

How does racism hurt racists? In many ways, actually. Here’s one:

The case of Emmett Till.

In 1955 this 14-year-old African-American left Chicago to visit his cousin in Mississippi.

One day his cousin dared him to flirt with a white woman. Accepting, he whistled at a woman who was working at a grocery counter, and called her “baby.”

Later that night the woman’s husband and his half-brother hunted Emmett down, kidnapped him, and the torture began. They cut off one of his ears, gouged out an eye, and put a bullet through his head before throwing him into a river.

The men were arrested. At the trial witnesses placed them at the site where Emmett was tortured, and the two men admitted the kidnapping.

But they faced a jury of white men in a Mississippi courtroom. After deliberating for less than an hour, they acquitted the case. One juror told a reporter, “If we hadn’t stopped to drink a pop, it wouldn’t have took that long.”

We easily see how racism hurt the young minority in this case. But how did it also hurt the white people who were involved?

When one person can torture another, with no conscience or concern, and when others dismiss the behavior, we see that racism dehumanizes its target, but it also dehumanizes the racist.

February is Black History Month

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“Why I Left the KKK”: One Man’s Revelation

In The Republic, Socrates asked whether we should be good and just, and why.

A listener suggested that if we are trusted we’ll do better in our business and personal relationships.

But what if no one knows you are a good person?

“The gods will know, and reward us,” observed another.

But what if the gods don’t know that you’re good? Socrates pressed.

Later, I read Emerson on the same topic. His Minister had lectured that while the wicked are often successful, and while the righteous can be miserable, at least compensation would be made in the next life.

Emerson felt that the fallacy lay in conceding that the base estimate of the market constitutes success, and assuming that justice is not done now.

What really makes us happy? Doing ill to others? Stepping on others so we can get ahead?

What Emerson and Socrates were getting at was made more real to me when I heard a man talk about why he had left the KKK.

He and his wife had become so filled with hatred in that organization that misery had overtaken their lives. They left because acting hatefully, hurting others, had ended up mostly hurting themselves.

As it turns out, when we work to harm others we harm ourselves.

If Gays Can’t Rule on Gays, Can Whites Rule on Whites?

Anti-gay rights activists want to overturn a ruling to allow same-sex marriage in California. In their most recent attempt, they maintained that because San Francisco Chief Judge Vaughn Walker is gay, and could personally benefit, he acted with bias when he rendered his decision. This week Judge James Ware rejected the claim, calling it warrantless.

No one calls “bias” when whites or men make rulings that benefit them. Affirmative action cases, for instance. White Justices have been known to rule in ways that would benefit their own white children and grandchildren.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts seems to vote consistently
in ways that benefit Republicans, and therefore himself, as a member of that
party. As court watcher, Jeffrey Toobin, observes, “In every major case
since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with
the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive
branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual
plaintiff… Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the
contemporary Republican Party.” Yet no one says that Roberts should recuse
himself from said cases.

Worries of bias seem only to rise when members of the LGBT community, women and people of color hold positions of judicial power. Many wondered whether Sonia Sotomayor could judge without favoritism as a Latina.

Meanwhile, in their search for justice gays, women and ethnic minorities have usually been at the mercy of white, straight, males. In the past it’s been argued that minority judges can’t be objective on affirmative action. Why would a white judge be fairer? It has been claimed that women can’t be objective on abortion rights. Why would a male judge be fairer? And now accusations that gays cannot rule objectively on gay marriage. Why is
the privileged perspective constantly deemed more fair-minded?

Why? Because most of our information has come to us over the years through straight, white men’s eyes, whether via the media or over the political, corporate, or religious pulpit. We are so inundated that after a lifetime, their view comes to seem like the “normal” and unbiased way of seeing.

But really, if gays can’t rule on issues affecting gays, should whites be allowed to rule on matters that impact whites?

June is LGBT Month

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