“Racism is a problem of communication” Part 2 living the consequences of this rhetoric

On January 20th I wrote a post under the title "Racism is a problem of communication" and other assorted white myths. In the post, I mentioned the German town of Hoyerswerda where, in 1991 a refugee center was set on fire by right wing racists who wanted to inflict as much harm as possible on the immigrants living at the center. In the post I mentioned that the town was opening a new center to receive, once again, immigrants. The local politicians framed the racism as “a problem of communication that made white people look bad”. Back then I wrote:

Two things worth noting here. On the one hand, “racism as bringing shame to the country”. Racism is not exposed because of its inherently violence towards People of Color or because of the long lasting consequences on the lives of PoC. Racism brings “shame” to white people. The affect of racism (as in, who is affected by it) is not on the victims but on how “badly” it reflects on the white dominant culture. On the other hand, “racism as a matter of feelings” and “racism as a result of bad communication”. Rather than expose racism as part of a centuries old history behind white supremacy, racism becomes a problem of “self expression”, reduced to a few problematic individuals that cannot “express themselves” properly.

Last week, a group of immigrants moved into the town. This happened:

The destitute east German town of Hoyerswerda waited 23 years for a second chance to prove they were a welcoming place, after a mob chased foreign refugees and migrants in 1991. When that chance arrived this week, it took them about 36 hours to blow it.

They got their chance Wednesday afternoon when 36 refugees, including 10 kids, from places including Syria, Pakistan and Morocco arrived at their brand new center. A Moroccan man was attacked Friday morning.

A primary difference, of course, between the attacks in 1991 and Friday was that this was an isolated attack.[…]

Friday’s attack took place while one of the newest residents of the city of 35,000 was standing on the ancient and very quaint city square. A resident riding by on a bicycle slapped him, then turned around and came back and hit him again, at least a couple times.

And again, the white tactics of deflection are deployed: an isolated incident, different from the previous one, etc etc. Rather than address the structure underlying these attacks and highlighting the brutal genealogy of racism that 23 years later is present like the previous time, we are offered apologia and minimization.

Racism continues being a consequence of white supremacy, no matter how the dominant culture wants us to believe it’s just “isolated incidents” or “a few bad apples”.

10 reasons why Joyce Carol Oates should be named the Patron of White Feminism

1. While Michelle Goldberg at The Nation needed more than 10 thousand words to write the ultimate guide to fear of Women of Color and “mean masses” on Twitter, Oates can achieve the same result in 140 characters or less

Shadows gathering at edge of property. Full moon, when ominous threatening twitterers come to life.

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates)

February 9, 2014

2. Godwin’s Law? What’s that? Wasn’t Godwin the Earl of Essex? Zoo guards, on the other hand, are as bad as the NAZIS. AS.BAD

Still can’t comprehend why the Danish zoo killed the beautiful young healthy giraffe. Yes, they had “reasons”—so did Nazi doctors.

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates)

February 11, 2014

3. Islam is bad and women need to be saved from it. Also, Muslim men are savages.

Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed & rape is epidemic—Egypt—natural to inquire: what’s the predominant religion?

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates)

July 5, 2013

If 99.3% of women reported being treated equitably, fairly, generously—it would be natural to ask: what’s the predominant religion?

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates)

July 5, 2013

4. It’d be worse if I was racist!

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Quote via

5. She has meaningful Olympics commentary 

So glad not to be in Sochi! & I am not even gay, or Russian.

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates)

February 8, 2014

6. Woody Allen is just a misunderstood genius… like Nabokov

Though Woody Allen has been much denounced, very likely many of his denouncers greatly admire Nabokov’s “Lolita.” No contradiction?

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates)

February 8, 2014

7. And those “piling on Woody Allen are just like a lynching mob”

Very likely studies have been done of the psychology of the lynch mob—probably not original to suggest that it is thrilling to “bond”…

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates)

February 9, 2014

Perhaps the object of the lynch mob isn’t important: it’s the passion of righteousness that bonds the mob. Intervene at your own peril.

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates)

February 9, 2014

(Oh if you think this is not what white feminists are saying about Allen, check this piece by Susan Moore at The Guardian. After reading Moore’s piece, head off to this gem from Oates about “the court of public opinion”)

8. In “Other cultures” young girls are also courted by older men (notice how the cultural relativism is only deployed in so far as it benefits white supremacy. When it’s about judging Islam, “all those men are savages”; when it’s about defending a child abuser “in other cultures it’s normal”).

Predilection of older—(could be elderly)—men for young girls is not uncommon in all cultures. See Kawabata, “House of Sleeping Beauties.”

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates)

February 8, 2014

9. Art, art matters above all ethical issues or even human decency

Woody Allen may have behaved unconscionably as a person/ step-father—but it isn’t clear what this has to do with his often brilliant films.

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates)

February 2, 2014

All things being equal, one would prefer to give an award to the “nicer” of two artists. But the quality of the art itself is what matters.

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates)

February 2, 2014

10. When in doubt, side with the victim… except when the perpetrator is a white man you respect. (any similarities with white feminists siding with a white man when he abuses “lesser” women is a mere coincidence)

When in doubt, side with the victim.

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates)

January 28, 2014

An American journalist has received a death threat after commenting in an article that one of the attractions at the Dutch Efteling amusement park had racist overtones.

DutchNews.nl - American journalist gets death threat for Efteling racism comment

From the article:

Gisela Williams’ review praises the Efteling as a European alternative to a Disney theme park with its fairytale attractions, special effects, lack of queues and affordable food.

However, towards the end of the article Williams refers to one ‘unpleasant part’: ‘the way dark-skinned people were depicted’.[…]

Commenters on the Elsevier website said Williams is ‘ripe for the psychiatrist’, should keep herself busy making such comments about the USA and should take up cooking instead.

The criticism has since reached Williams herself. ‘I received my first death threat today. Believe it or not it was regarding my recent WSJ article on a fairytale amusement park,’ Williams said on Saturday, using the microblogging service Twitter.

The throw-away reference to the fairground attraction is the latest international news article to mention racism in the Netherlands. At the end of last year, there was widespread attention for the racist overtones in the Zwarte Piet character during the Sinterklaas celebrations and for Dutch entertainer Gordon, who made fun of a Chinese talent show contest.

In The Netherlands, death threats for pointing out racism are a common tactic. Mainstream media like that owned by The Telegraaf Media Group regularly incite to violence towards people who resist racism. This is not merely a subgroup of fringe racists but a common rhetorical device to silence any kind of political intervention towards the ingrained racism within the dominant culture.

Of course I am horrified that yet again this is happening. However, this is just one instance making international news while the practice remains a daily reality for local media in the Dutch language. What makes it particularly interesting is that in the same breath these violent media will staunchly defend “freedom of speech”. Obviously, they refer to the freedom to continue being racist. The same standard need not apply for those who speak against it.

Those who die to keep the EU safe: more migrant deaths at the Spanish border

Content warning for images of violence against undocumented migrants

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Image above via The Local. Caption of the image at the site reads: “A Spanish Civil Guard officer helps out a sub-Saharan immigrant after entering Spanish territory”. File Photo: Desiree Martín/AFP

This week I’ve written about my opposition to the European Parliament’s recommendations for undocumented women migrants. As a feminist I am expected to support measures that supposedly improve the conditions of women. And yet, I see a photo like the above and I cannot avoid the deeply symbolic value: the agent of the State is a Spanish woman in charge of disciplining those who dare cross borders.

The photo above is part of a feature about the deaths of 13 migrants who tried to cross the border between Morocco and Spain in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the morning of Thursday, February 6th (as of this writing, yesterday morning). Ceuta and Melilla are two Spanish sites in African territory. Morocco has held a very long dispute over these territories in what they effectively consider an act of colonialism on their land. Because the European Union recognizes these territories as part of Spain, they are included in the violent tactics to prevent undocumented African migrants from crossing the border. A wired fence has been erected in place to prevent people from crossing through. Moroccan border police works in cooperation with Spanish authorities and Frontex (the EU border control police) to prevent these crossings. People travel very long distances sometimes in inhumane conditions to make it to this area.

This photo, also from 20minutos should how the fence between Spain and Morocco is set up. On one side, the armored border police, on the other, immigrants walking on the beach area.

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Yesterday 13 migrants (twelve men and at least one woman) died while trying to get through the fence. Their bodies were washed by the sea while they tried to swim around the barbed wire. 20minutos reports in Spanish (translation here and throughout mine) 

The provisional death toll of undocumented migrants from sub Saharan Africa has raised to 13 after a group of 250 people attempted to cross through the beach. Francisco Antonio González Pérez, the government’s delegate in Ceuta emphasized the “unprecedented violence” displayed by the immigrants to attempt entry and admitted to the use of anti riot materials such as rubber bullets and blank ammunition in order to scare the immigrants off.

On another report about the deaths, 20minutos explains how the tragedy occurred

According to Government Delegate forces, the immigrants assaulted the border [NOTE: the word used by Spanish media is “asalto”, not that I am purposefully translating to pick biased terms, this IS the way media is reporting the deaths] at 7AM when they arrived from the hills close to Ceuta and stormed racing towards the border path. Some immigrants, in an attempt to avoid the Moroccan border police took to the sea. During the avalanche at least four died from crushing and another four by drowning [Note: this was an earlier report when all bodies had not been yet recovered]

20minutos also has a video at the site with images that show what the border between Spain and Morocco looks like. I have written about the militarization of EU borders and how the expansion of Frontex operations go hand in hand with discourses that portray undocumented migrants as a menace and a threat to European security. These images drive my ideas home much better than words ever could. From the video, some images:

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From the feature at The Local about these deaths:

The tragedy took place after Moroccan security forces and Spain’s Civil Guard Police repelled the entry of up to 400 sub-Saharan immigrants, Spanish daily 20minutos reported.

The news comes just days after a video filmed by a Melilla-based NGO worker showcased how Spanish authorities were illegally handing back to Morocco dozens of sub-Saharan immigrants who had jumped the security fence into the Spanish North African enclave.

“Morocco doesn’t accept injured immigrants,” reads the video narration in reference to the controversial barbed wire put up several months ago in a bid to dissuade immigrants from crossing the border.

The law stipulates that immigrants who enter Spanish territory should be taken immediately to the closest police station where they are identified and have the right to a legal and medical assistance as well as an interpreter.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz admitted on Tuesday that there were “isolated cases” in which Spain’s Civil Guard breached legislation.

The footage also contradicts comments made by Spain’s delegate in Melilla, Abdelmalik el Barkani, who denied irregular expulsions ever took place.

Ceuta and Spain’s other north African enclave Melilla have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa.

They are seen as stepping stones to a better life in Europe for sub-Saharan migrants, who often risk their lives attempting to enter the tiny Spanish enclaves, either by sea or by storming the six metre (20 foot) barriers that separate them from Morocco.

The video mentioned above can be watched in its entirety here. However, since the captions are in Spanish, I have made a few screen captures and I’m providing English translations beneath each one so that those who watch the video know exactly what they are watching.

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Melilla, January 2014, there’s been a fence crossing (a “fence jump”) 2 km from this spot.

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This is the spot where immigrants are summarily expelled illegally (NOTE: an illegal expulsion is one where the undocumented person is not allowed to present their case in front of a court of law or immigration authorities)

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The border door that communicates with Morocco is open. A person lays on the ground for two hours, next to the door towards Morocco.

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SUVs arrive continuously, with their trunks full of people who have been detained in the city and are temporarily kept in the nearby ditch.

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Almost all of these people appeared to be injured. Some of them cannot move and are literally dragged around.

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Usually Moroccans do not accept injured people.

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During more than two hours the traffic of vehicles with their trunks full of immigrants was incessant, some of the immigrants were severely injured.

With the European elections coming close this May more racist rhetoric is used by populist politicians that are forging pan European alliances. We constantly hear how the EU needs to defend itself from this immigrant menace and how European wellbeing is under constant threat from the invasion of undocumented migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. We must protect ourselves at all costs! we often hear in European media. The deaths of thousands of migrants escaping the structural poverty and conflict brought upon them by a long history of colonial interventions and global neoliberal capitalism is obviously a fair price to pay so that Europeans can sleep soundly in the knowledge that they are protected.

Feminist critiques vs charges of criticism

Part of the discussions in the past week or so, especially in the aftermath of The Nation article have been centered on how Women of Color are never “happy” with anything and “attack” work done by white feminists unfairly. One thing I believe is important to further unpack these discussions is how often critique is confused or conflated with criticism. To wit:

Critique

a detailed analysis and assessment of something, esp. a literary, philosophical, or political theory.

Criticism

the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.

A lot of what WoC bloggers, writers, social media analysts and activists do is critique and not necessarily criticism. Events, news, projects, initiatives, etc are used as starting points to analyze and understand broader implications of said events or news. This is closely tied to the issues of epistemic justice I often write about: since we are not considered valid/ legitimate knowledge producers, our critiques are presented as criticism rather than as cultural analysis in their own right. Since criticism is seen as a destructive force (see charges of “trashing”), then what better way to delegitimize our critiques than by presenting them as “mean criticism”?

I attempt critiques. I might not always use academically approved language to do so or coat them in rhetoric of civility and politeness. But make no mistake, everything I speak about and write is intended as an indictment of the culture we live in and the history that positioned us where we are now.

Last Sunday the Göteborg International Film Festival and International Writers’ Stage Gothenburg co-hosted a conversation between Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Swedish film critic Jannike Åhlund (JÅ). It got weird quickly.

When Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie met Sweden » AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

This is a must read and a must watch (with content warnings and caution of erasing discourses, gaslighting and other assorted tactics of white deflection) for any person interested in European ideas around race, People of Color, colonialism and history (Sweden’s but also the other European Empires). Especially on how these erasure rests on a foundation of exceptionalism and being “better” than those white supremacist masses that do not have “nice things” such as welfare policies, “human rights”, peddled “equality”, etc. 

“Misogofeminists” and the white men who profit from silencing critiques

Yesterday social media was ablaze with a post making the rounds in feminist/ woman centered spaces. The post in question was about the neologism “misogofeminists”. No idea what that means? No problem, New Statesman Deputy Editor Helen Lewis explains it succinctly:

Brilliant coinage by @Glosswitch: misogofeminists. Women (and allies) whose primary form of feminist activism is trashing other women.

— Helen Lewis (@helenlewis)

January 28, 2014

The link in Lewis’ tweet directs to the personal blog of Glosswitch, another New Statesman contributor. You know, Lewis does her part to promote the house talent’s efforts. In the article, Glosswitch launches a tirade against “critics” and “bullies” who harass white women. She goes on to quote transphobe extraordinaire Catherine McKinnon in what is a template of white supremacist thinking. Glosswitch, never one to miss an opportunity to decree that intersectionality is bad, says: 

Of course, if you think about it for half a second, there is no point in even attempting to analyse intersections of gender, race and class if you’re not prepared to include an examination of your own misogyny

To be clear on who is truly oppressed, she quotes from this McKinnon article

Unlike other women, the white woman who is not poor or working class or lesbian or Jewish or disabled or old or young does not share her oppression with any man. That does not make her condition any more definitive of the meaning of “women” than the condition of any other woman is. But trivializing her oppression, because it is not even potentially racist or class-biased or heterosexist or anti-Semitic, does define the meaning of being “anti-woman” with a special clarity. How the white woman is imagined and constructed and treated becomes a particularly sensitive indicator of the degree to which women, as such, are despised.

Lewis, promoting this analysis is not merely “someone sharing a link among friends”, though. Not even 48 hours have passed since I Storified this genesis of “Flavia is a bully” because I initiated a conversation centered on experiences of Women of Color and hair.

Here we have a Deputy Editor of a mainstream publication equating critiques from Women of Color to bullying, harassment and now codifying all this behavior under a new umbrella term: misogofeminism. Or, to put it in layman terms, when uppity Women of Color and other marginalized minorities complain that mainstream publications contribute to their marginalization. However, this “stirring the pot” of feminism in social media spaces is not neutral. It is not merely “passing time” or “sharing information”. Lewis is a paid employee of New Statesman, working for her employer’s visibility on social media; she is not just “a woman with an opinion”. When she promotes posts like the above, she is also raising the online currency of her own bloggers (since Glosswitch is a contributor as well). And these tactics work. They have finally put New Statesman out of a consistent cycle of financial loss. As reported here in The Independent in April 2013, Ian Burrell: By embracing feminism, the New Statesman beat its old rival. From the article: 

Last Thursday, at Conway Hall in London, it hosted an event called “The Future of Feminism”, at which the magazine’s “crack squad of feminist bloggers” – many of them in their twenties – held forth before a sell-out audience.[…]

Lewis has been integral to growing website traffic to a record 1.4 million unique users last month.

Jason Cowley, the New Statesman’s editor, has observed these developments with some satisfaction.[…]

Today, the New Statesman website comfortably beats that of The Spectator, against which its success has long been measured.[…]

The editor says the magazine, with its compact staff of 15, will come into profit this year, which should please its benefactor, Mike Danson, who bought out former owner and Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson in 2009.

One could argue that Lewis is just doing her job. She is, after all, paid to work social media outrage and generate page clicks. However, I do take issue with the well being of Women of Color, trans women, queer folks, etc, becoming fodder of tabloid tactics for profit. Ms. Lewis job should not come at the expense of our silencing and further marginalization, especially, when said profits are to further fund a multimillionaire white man, Mike Danson, the owner of New Statesman.

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In 2009, Mr. Danson, whose net worth is valued at £310 Million, acquired New Statesman. 

Prior to Mike Danson’s acquisition of New Statesman, when the publication was not profitable, they published features such as this one, None deadlier than the Mail, a blistering indictment of Daily Mail tactics of coercion and silencing of oppressed groups. From the article (emphasis mine): 

A specialist writer with many years at the paper told me: “You become so inculcated with all of the doctrine that you know instantly what you are supposed to write. You forget the extent to which you are blinkered. It is hard to put your finger on it. You probably do get chemically changed by the experience.” One former news reporter said: “On 60-70 per cent of stories, you are not aware of it; but, on touchstone issues, you knew that the headline had been written before the story came in and your job was to make the facts fit.”

The Mail’s quest to reflect the moral and political values of its lower-middle-class readers frequently goes beyond mere reporting, taking on the shape of a punitive campaign against anybody who says or does anything that challenges those values.

Lady Brittan, wife of the former Conservative home secretary Leon Brittan, found herself a target when, in August 2002, as chair of the National Lottery’s Community Fund, she approved a grant for the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns. The Mail, high on its anti-immigration horse, denounced her as “queen of the loony lotto grants” and “a quango queen”; her husband as a “fat cat”; her colleagues on the Lottery board as “sanctimonious politically correct twits”, “unelected quangocrats” and “politically correct do-gooders”; their decision as “offensive beyond belief “, “a disgrace”, “bizarre”, “outrageous” and “scandalous”.

Four times in ten days, the paper encouraged its readers to “vent their justified anger” by writing to Lady Brittan; and each time, it published her address at the Community Fund’s office. She then received a torrent of what she described as “hate mail”.

I insist on this paragraph:

The Mail’s quest to reflect the moral and political values of its lower-middle-class readers frequently goes beyond mere reporting, taking on the shape of a punitive campaign against anybody who says or does anything that challenges those values.

Do these tactics sound familiar already? They should because at the time of this New Statesman article, Helen Lewis was a subeditor of The Daily Mail. There isn’t that much information available of her exact role in the tabloid but, this press release posted at Press Gazette (yet another media industry publication owned by Mike Danson) places her working at The Daily Mail at least as far as August 2007.  And this feature at The World Editors Forum interviews her in her role of Daily Mail subeditor in July 2008.  Back then, New Statesman named these tactics “punitive campaign against anybody who challenges those values”. Any similarities with charges of “misogofeminism”, “bullying” and/ or “harassment” are not a coincidence.

When Danson took over, this supposedly left leaning publication not only started using outrage tabloid tactics but also refused to recognise the National Union of Journalists, the trade union to which almost of all its journalists belonged. 

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In this return to profits at the expense of feminism there is another link worth considering: Jason Cowley, editor of New Statesman. While Lewis role is to generate outrage and attention on behalf of the publication, it is Cowley who is in charge.

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This is the same man who, in 2007, wrote a detailed article at The Guardian expressing his disappointment at “the dirty masses” (not a metaphor). In “This popcorn and burger society is making me sick”, Cowley wrote: 

There are always sullen teenagers hanging around, and when they are not sledging you, you are forced to wade through the trash they carelessly scatter: the cans, the bottles, the burger cartons.

It is little better inside, where you are assaulted by the hard sell of the concession stands, with their popcorn and oversized confectionary bars. Why must everything be so big, overlit and gaudy? Why must the intention always be to rip you off?

Our high streets bring little relief, with their drab uniformity. At night, especially at weekends, inane drunks invariably overrun our town centres.

And then this gem, right at the end of the article:

I have long felt that Margaret Thatcher was misunderstood when she spoke of the supremacy of the individual and the family over the abstraction of society. Thatcher was a stern Victorian moralist, formed by the virtues of Christian nonconformism and the financial probity she learned from her father. She believed in setting us free from government interference. She wanted us to take more responsibility for our destinies.

What she didn’t think hard enough about were the broader social consequences of her reforms, of how too much freedom may be not what we need at all.

She did not believe in the state; she believed in the family, believed that it would restrain our more atavistic and anti-social desires, and show us how properly to behave, in private and public. No doubt she is appalled by how coarse and hedonistic we have become. No, she must say, as she switches on the television or reads the paper, this isn’t right; this isn’t what I had in mind at all when I dreamed the bourgeois dream of the great, good place.

Ah there you have it. A Daily Mail tactician and a Thatcherite sitting in a tree, admonishing misogofeminists, fending off “dirty masses” and “bullies”. What could possibly go wrong?

Trudy at Gradient Lair and Blackamazon have written about the conflation of white women with white men to marginalize women of color. They have both traced the historical roots and patterns that this association has followed throughout centuries. It seems that now, we are to believe that a feminism that reproduces this exact same patterns of marginalization is in our best interest. Any protestations are met with further discipline and silencing. The “dirty masses” should not have a say in how they are represented, after all. We are just to nod silently while white millionaires and the white feminists who assist them make money from our oppression. Media cruelty at our expense is obviously a profitable enterprise.

Pulling my hair - a media strategy

I love how @redlightvoices was having a discussion about Penny Red’s piece, Penny barged in, and now Flavia is the bully. Give me a break.

— Imani ABL (@AngryBlackLady)

January 28, 2014

So, this happened last night. Since I write a lot about media analysis and how media represents (or not, as the case might be), our interests, I have storified this whole debacle. The reason I have storified this entire conversation is because it ties down to Sarah Kendzior’s piece from last week about media exclusion and how public discourses are created and promoted. Let me be clear here: I am not documenting this because OMG I WAS SO BADLY TREATED. Fuck that noise. I am interested in how those in charge of platforms and access to publishing in mainstream media build a narrative and how that narrative becomes accepted and the “truth”. Then, in turn, these narratives feed accepted notions of how women of color are “mean” to white feminists and how we “divide” the movement, etc. These myths are then used as excuses to leave people out and erase them as valid knowledge producers, as sources of information, etc.

So, this is a rather long Storify but if you are interested in media production, it might be worth a read.

A quaint domesticity for white girls vs. a life of service for girls of color

The quality of the photos is not excellent because there wasn’t good light at this particular isle in the toy store and because I was in a hurry. Here two sectors of the “girl toys” aisle.

Two little white girls, happy, in what I’d call “A quaint domesticity” retablo. Little ice-cream cones in pastel colors; a pink pie, mini hamburgers, a pink “sweeping set”. A cutified housewife aspiration. I’d say this looks like a kiddie “Pinterest board” of aspirational middle class.

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Then, the girl of color. Alone, no need for her to be in happy, shared friendship. No need to include cute versions of the items on display: a supermarket check out line, a cash register and not one but two versions of industrial type cleaning trolleys.

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Anti white racism taken very seriously in France

Remember when in 2011 I posted about a Black woman convicted of “anti white racism” in France?

It has only gotten worse ever since. This week “Man jailed for ‘anti-white racist’ attack in France”. However, this one is not quite like the other one. If a Black woman could be convicted of “anti white racism”, then the definition of racism had to be stretched even further (reverse racism is not enough of a claim for white supremacy, expansion is required until the word racism loses all meaning and victims are left with absolutely nothing). So… this from the article is a bonafide expansion, once and for all, of what racism actually means or entails:

A man was sentenced this week to four years behind bars for an “anti-white racist” attack on a Frenchman on the platform of a Paris train station. The convicted man was also white.[…]

The victim first laid eyes on his two attackers when they asked him for a cigarette while he was on the platform waiting for a train. When he refused to hand one over he began to be insulted with a second alleged attacker, who has not yet been caught, calling the victim “a dirty white” and “dirty Frenchman”.

He was then set upon by both men and attacked with broken bottles. The victim was left seriously injured.

To French prosecutors, the abuse was not just ordinary insults, the words were a clear sign the beating was racially motivated. The court agreed and followed prosecutors’ recommendations in imposing the four-year sentence, one year of which is suspended.

The article contains gems such as these:

'Anti-white racism is just like any other form of racism - it cannot be ignored'

And

"We are acting just like we would for any kind of racism case, whether it’s anti-Semitic or anti-black," Vice president of LICRA Philippe Schmidt told The Local in an April 2013 interview. "We cannot just pull a blanket over our eyes because this is a case of anti-white racism.

A bit of decontextualized, faux outrage commentary had to be added as well

The issue of anti-white racism is a sensitive subject in France. Up until recently it was a concept invoked mainly by members of France’s far-right organizations.

Because really, how could it possibly be that these ideas trickled down from the extreme right into the mainstream?! it couldn’t possibly be that mainstream media played a role amplifying them uncritically and, in turn, they were picked by “moderate” politicians and public figures to get themselves into the spotlight at the expense of minorities and excluded groups? No, these ideas just “came to be” into the public opinion and “inserted themselves” into mainstream discourses by spontaneous generation. The 2011 conviction of a Black woman couldn’t have possibly played a role in getting to the point we are at now, right? Ah, “reverse racism” is finally institutionalized and given the proper legal framework that white supremacy requires.  

aka14kgold

redlightpolitics asked:

And yet, folks kept saying that esp. on Twitter (and here on some of my reblogs even). Which you know, I am all for expanding what is considered ableist but how do we describe a culture if the behaviors displayed fit the definition of sociopathy?

aka14kgold answered:

I wrote a bit more in my reblog, but GEEZ. I’s people who refuse to understand what a psych disability is, as well. You cannot be socialized into depression, schizophrenia, etc.; society can encourage or repress SYMPTOMS, but it is not the CAUSE. Sociopathy is quite literally CAUSED by society—that’s why the fucking root word is the same! Personal brain chemistry can either enhance or repress the symptoms, but it is literally a social disease…

And I think here that people also mistake the use of the term ‘disease’. A disease is a condition that is passed around, caught, contracted. You cannot contract a psych condition. When individuals are referred to as sociopathic, it is based on a collection of discrete psychiatric issues that render the person unable to relate to the human society. When sociopathy is used to discuss societies, the focus is not on the individual, but on the society itself. 

Most importantly, both of these usages are common and longstanding. It’s not as if ‘sociopathy’ has recently been introduced as a term of social justice bloggers, for fuck’s sake. There’s even a song in a Broadway show from the 1950s about it! ‘Social disease’ and ‘psych disorder’ are discrete ideas, and always have been. To think otherwise is either to have no comprehension of what psych conditions are, and/or to be willfully obtuse. I’m betting it’s mostly the latter, but I’m also willing to be that there’s a fair bit of the former involved. 

Reblogged for added commentary on my previous post.

Whiteness as social disease and ableism

I want to preface this by saying that throughout this reflection, when I use “whiteness” I mean it as shorthand, inspired in bell hooks’ definition, for “white supremacist, heteronormative, cissupremacist, capitalist, Imperialist patriarchy” (see here Trudy’s compiled list of origins of definitions and here for bell hooks’ own usage of these ideas in one example of her own writing). I understand that “whiteness” usually means different things to different people but this is what I have in mind when I speak about it. Whiteness as “system of interlocked oppressions”.

Yesterday I shared Sarah Kendzior’s excellent post about media cruelty and exclusion. A number of people objected to the ableism in the piece, mostly, the conflation of sociopathy to racism/ misogyny/ transphobia, etc (you can see it in the reblogs of my post but I also saw the objections pop up on Twitter). Last week, a woman of color, in a private space, asked if people thought that referring to racism as sociopathy was ableist. The question was based, I presumed, in the definition of sociopathy as one in “which a person has a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others”. The responses (all of them), said yes. Equating racism to sociopathy was ableist. In all these instances described, the respondents pointing out the ableism were white.

I realized in these incidents that there seems to be a disconnect and lack of understanding of the framework to explain what we are experiencing as PoC. The ableism highlighted in these situations might be technically correct. These could be interpreted as ableist ways of describing social problems, unless the “observer” was implicated by virtue of being on the receiving end of these behaviors. I am not trying to gloss over the implication for mental health and for the stigmas associated with mental illness. Yet, I also realized that for many of us, myself included, whiteness can only be described as a social disease. We lack words to explain this in ways that do not further stigmatize people. I am aware that saying racism is sociopathic could be interpreted as ableist and yet, how do we describe a culture wide phenomenon that kills us? how do we describe a political system founded on our shared inhumanity? how do we describe an oppression that is rooted in lack of empathy and love towards us? Again, this is not to gloss over ableism but what words do we have to pick from? One of the consequences of epistemic injustice is that we do not have accepted frameworks to explain our lives. By “accepted”, I mean, frameworks that are society-wide accepted and recognized as valid throughout academia, mainstream media and public discourses including but not limited to policy and laws. So, in this denial of our knowledge and theories, we are left gasping for air. Here we stand looking for words that would encompass the gravity of what we experience.

Tim Wise, someone whose work is awful, has spoken about the pathology of privilege and this is where Tim Wise’s phony and shallow activism comes through. Privilege is not the pathology. Privilege is the symptom of whiteness as a social disease that kills us. The outcome of our systemic Othering and eventual deaths is the privilege. Wise, ever the apologist, falls into the white trap I’ve written about this past week claiming that racism is bad not because it kills PoC, racism is bad for white people because it causes them mental illnesses

That’s what white privilege does to white folks. But that’s not all. It also creates an intense anxiety, like a mental dysfunction, an emotional anxiety, and distress. If you are privileged after all, if you are the top dog, if you have all the advantage, you are constantly afraid of who’s gaining on you. You’re constantly afraid of who’s coming to take what you have. You’ve got to close the border. They’re coming to take our stuff.  We’ve got to worry about terrorists. They’re coming to take our stuff. We got to get them before they get us; preventative war. We’ve got to stop them. That’s what privilege will do for you because those who have it are constantly anxious. A study in June of 2004, in the journal of the American Medical Association, which received very little attention, found that in the United States the rates of anxiety disorder, depression, and substance abuse related mental disorders are twice the global average, five times the rate in Nigeria. How is it that the most powerful and privileged people on earth can have so much more anxiety than people who live in war torn areas, civil war, political corruption, amazing problems, often famine, all kinds of hardships, that for the most part, we don’t see at least in the same abundance, let’s say, in the United States? And yet, it is here that the greatest level of anxiety exists. I would suggest that the reason that happens is because it’s the privilege that generates the anxiety.

See? White folks suffer more than those Black folks in Nigeria or in war thorn, famine suffering countries! (really? how did he get away with the inherent white supremacy of this statement?! and worse, how did he become mandatory reading material in educational institutions across the Western world?! I know the answer, these are the rhetorical questions I ask myself in disbelief).

How do we, as PoC define a system where you are viewed and treated as the disease and as the reason for the disease (which is what Tim Wise implies, by proximity, in his statements above)? Because if white folks experience anxiety and mental health issues due to a desperation to preserve their privilege, aren’t we somewhat responsible for their perceived suffering as well? How do we steer clear of this language to explain “whiteness as a system that immunizes itself from our existence”? Yes, these are all disease related metaphors and yet, which other metaphors do we have to illustrate something that kills us? Moreover, how do those of us who bear the marks of this whiteness while simultaneously dealing with mental health issues and the associated stigmas find an appropriate framework that doesn’t stigmatize us in one of our intersecting oppressions?

In the Journal of Disability Studies Quarterly, Phil Smith writes about “Whiteness, Normal Theory, and Disability Studies”. From his paper:

Racism is defined bluntly and cogently as “an ideological ethnocentric diseased set of beliefs

“A diseased set of beliefs”. And then, further on, this:

It is very true that minorities are at greater risk for acquiring disability labels and losing ability capacities, often as a result of impoverishment (O’Connor 1993). Difficulty in obtaining services for African Americans may include issues including impoverishment, discrimination, and services that are not culturally competent.[…]

And race has been tied in basic ways to understandings and metaphors of developmental disability. For example, prior to the label of Down syndrome used by modernist medical science, the term Mongolism was the dominant term. The construction of people with disabilities as freaks is “steeped in racism, imperialism, and handicapism…”. Psychiatric survivors have also experienced a “potent fusion of insanity and blackness” as the result of racialized terror felt by Whites.

Race and disability have resided in the same social terrains throughout their history, especially so in educational territories. Eugenicist, modernist science has been instrumental in conflating the cultural topography of disability and race. For example, research has shown over and over that there is a relationship between eligibility for special education services and race […]

One of the most recent of these studies revealed that “…black public school students are three times as likely as whites to be identified as mentally retarded and in need of special-education services…” (Tato 2001, Paragraph 4). Another source notes that African-American students are mis-identified as being mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed at much higher rates than whites […]

I could go on quoting more race based ableist stigmas from this paper but I won’t. My point is made: ableist discourses rest on a foundation of racist Othering. This is not to say that white people are not oppressed by ableism. This is to say that whiteness (see my first paragraph for the working definition) will do away with their own if, by proximity, they can be linked to “us”. And if that is not the textbook definition of a culture that exhibits a “long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others”, then what other words are we left to use to define it?

“Racism is a problem of communication” and other assorted white myths

Two seemingly disparate news caught my attention today, namely:

Germany: Xenophobic Stain: Hoyerswerda Gets Second Chance with Refugee Hostel 

The Netherlands: Most of the Dutch are happy with their lives in general

The first item, from Germany is about a very violent racist attack that took place in 1991. From the article:

In September 1991, a mob of right-wing radicals armed with Molotov cocktails, tracer ammunition and stones attacked hostels for contract workers and asylum-seekers in the city of Hoyerswerda in the state of Saxony and terrorized residents for five full days. The young men who attacked the home, filled with frightened people from Mozambique, Vietnam and Romania, were brimming with hatred.

The attacks made international headlines not only because it raised the specter of xenophobia in the states that once belonged to East Germany, but also because local residents simply looked on as the violence escalated. Some even applauded the thugs. Police in Hoyerswerda were unable to get the situation under control and ultimately officials at the hostel removed the foreigners and took them elsewhere.

Hoyerswerda marked the beginning of a wave of violent outbreaks against foreigners that continued during the early 1990s, with shameful attacks in Rostock, where an asylum-seekers’ home was attacked, but also in the western German cities of Solingen and Mölln, where a total of eight people of Turkish origin were killed when arsonists attacked their homes.

But this is the part that caught my eye (emphasis mine):

Twenty-three years have passed since the attacks that brought shame on the entire country. Now, the city of Hoyerswerda has announced its plans to open a new hostel in a special education school that closed last year and is currently being renovated to provide accommodations for asylum-seekers.

And later on this:

'We Need To Be Good About Communicating'[…]

Preacher Michel also feels strongly there’s no chance of the events of 1991 recurring in the city. “There was considerable turmoil after the Berlin Wall fell — many people were unsettled, and even the police didn’t know exactly what they had authority over.” He believes there was a feeling at the time that people couldn’t truly express themselves — a situation that no longer exists today.

Two things worth noting here. On the one hand, “racism as bringing shame to the country”. Racism is not exposed because of its inherently violence towards People of Color or because of the long lasting consequences on the lives of PoC. Racism brings “shame” to white people. The affect of racism (as in, who is affected by it) is not on the victims but on how “badly” it reflects on the white dominant culture. On the other hand, “racism as a matter of feelings” and “racism as a result of bad communication”. Rather than expose racism as part of a centuries old history behind white supremacy, racism becomes a problem of “self expression”, reduced to a few problematic individuals that cannot “express themselves” properly.

This exact same white approach towards racism is deployed in The Netherlands as well. Here’s this item from two weeks ago:

D66 campaign leader Ingrid van Engelshoven said she did not believe any more international organisations in the field of peace and justice would locate to The Hague if the PVV is in charge.

In addition, established institutions may leave the city, she warned. ‘I can well imagine the PVV’s standpoints would conflict with international organisations’ ideals and they would consider leaving if made a good offer by another city.’

Racism affects white reputation. Racism is an “embarrassment”, it makes us look “bad”, it could make us lose money. Addressing racism, then, does not become an issue of justice towards its victims but of preventing whites from being embarrassed and enduring potential material consequences.

Which brings me to the second news item of today about Dutch happiness. From the article:

The Dutch are happiest with their homes and least happy about their finances but most are nevertheless satisifed with life, according to new research by the national statistics office CBS.

Here’s the thing: I’ve written about the high rates of depression among PoC in The Netherlands. “Happiness” as a sociocultural project is very important to Northern Europeans. In The Netherlands, not a month goes by without one of these “studies” that decree the Dutch to be “one of the happiest people on Earth”. Foundational myths are based on recurring ideas of “conviviality” and “coziness”. In these instances, happiness and conviviality are not just individual goals but a Nation building project. In The Netherlands, this “conviviality” is expressed by the concept of “Gezelligheid”. In Germany, it’s through Gemütlichkeit. In Denmark, a similar state is invoked with the word hygge. In all these instances, conviviality is an important part of social interactions. I contend that this white conviviality is at the root of the discourses around racism that I mentioned above. “Racism is bad because it kills our convivial/ cozy vibes”. Whiteness is exposed for its unwelcoming nature. The racism exposes a culture that is anything but convivial for PoC. Because of that exposure, racism becomes “bad for white people”.

At the end of the day, none of these ideas around shame and material loss for white people address the real problem: justice for People of Color and the correction of a historical wrong that continues unabated.

Today in white European Union dehumanization - Link Roundup

Each of these items would deserve its own post with its own analysis but quite frankly, I am a bit burned out today. I can only offer so many words before these issues take a toll. So, here’s a roundup of items regarding the ongoing dehumanization of migrants/ People of Color in Europe:

At The Guardian, Diane Taylor writes “The UK dehumanises immigrants – no wonder tragedies happen in detention”. From the article: 

Asylum seekers are widely perceived to be a large group of undeserving people who scrounge benefits and gobble up social housing and jobs that should be reserved for British citizens. The facts – that asylum seekers only make up about 5% of migrants, are banned from working, and often have zero government support or accommodation – are drowned out by scaremongering from rightwing tabloids and politicians.[…]

Hardwick manages to claw back some of the humanity we have lost by highlighting shocking individual cases, including the pregnant woman who was tipped out of a wheelchair

Also at The Guardian, Diane Taylor and Rowena Mason write “Home Office staff rewarded with gift vouchers for fighting off asylum cases” 

Home Office officials are being rewarded with shopping vouchers for helping to ensure failed asylum seekers lose their attempt to stay in the country, new documents reveal.

Official guidance obtained by the Guardian shows that immigration staff have been set a target of winning 70% of tribunal cases in which asylum seekers are appealing against government decisions that they should leave the UK.

These officers are also incentivised by Home Office reward schemes involving gift vouchers, cash bonuses and extra holidays, according to information received under freedom of information laws.

This is such a textbook example of the marriage of capitalism and racism. What better way to “incentivize” dehumanization and Othering than through the promotion of consumerism? For every failed asylum seeker, a shopping reward as a tool to enforce white supremacist capitalism.

At Enet English (Greek Independent Press), Investigation into alleged Greek coastguard abuse of migrants. From the article:

"The Hellenic Coastguard commandant has ordered the investigation of three distinct cases of alleged ill-treatment of third-country nationals by staff of the Hellenic Coastguard for the period between August and December 2013," Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis informed Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, on January 10.

In November, a German-based human rights organisation produced a report that said refugees attempting to enter Greece through the Aegean were being systematically, illegally and, in cases, brutally pushed back by the Greek authorities, in contravention of international law and with the complicity of the European authorities. Amnesty International has also raised its concerns about the same issue.

Ireland, 700% gap in reports of racism to gardai [Irish Police] and PSNI. From the article:

A MASSIVE 700pc gap between racist incidents reported to gardai and those reported to police in the North has prompted a call for an urgent review of reporting in the south.

The figures suggest that many victims in the south “are still choosing to suffer in silence rather than come forward,” according to the Immigrant Council of Ireland, which has reviewed statistics for the two jurisdictions.

At Open Democracy, Clare Sambrook writes “Man, 84, dies handcuffed in hospital: UK border control by the GEO Group”. From the article: 

At Gatwick Airport last year, on Wednesday 23 January, British immigration officials detained an elderly Canadian man. He was taken to hospital. Then he was locked up at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre. A doctor examined him, reporting to the authorities that he was “frail, 84 years old, has Alzheimer’s disease …demented”.

The doctor marked his papers: “UNFIT for detention or deportation. Requires social care.”

The British Home Office chose to ignore the medical advice and continued to detain him.

On 8 February he was taken to hospital in handcuffs, then returned to his cell. Two days later he was taken back to hospital and kept in handcuffs for five long hours. His condition worsened. The cuffs stayed on. His heart stopped. Medical staff tried and failed to resuscitate him. The handcuffs were removed. His name was Alois Dvorzac.

Bonus Australian newspaper feature: What do you think about Australian Customs not retrieving the bodies of the asylum seekers who were in the boat that capsized off Christmas Island?

image

Newspaper facsimile via Courteney Hocking H/T Sabine 

Italian Parliamentary dons blackface to “protest” benefits for Black immigrants

From Italy MP ‘blacks up’ for anti-migrant speech - Europe - Al Jazeera English (emphasis mine)

A right-wing Italian politician smeared his face with black greasepaint in parliament, advising Italians to “become a bit darker” if they wanted to take advantage of the country’s supposed hand-outs to black immigrants.[…]

"At the end of the day, maybe in this country in order to achieve anything we need to be a bit darker.

"I say we can all put make-up on and make ourselves a bit darker, and then we can all go around painted black and say we want the same help that non-EU citizens get.

The Northern League has accused Cecile Kyenge, the country’s Congo-born minister for integration, of using her post to “favour negritude”.

When I wrote about the racist constructions used in the European Union as a project of Empire, this is precisely the kind of ideology I was referring to. In this construction, to be Black, to be of color, to be Other is to never be fully acknowledged as belonging. This from the article:

Kyenge is Italy’s first black politician and has experienced multiple incidents of racism, not least from the Northern League.

Its leader Roberto Calderoli compared her to an orang-utan last year. He was later charged with defamation aggravated by racial discrimination.

Kyenge has also had bananas thrown at her during public appearances and the political party’s official newspaper has started printing her daily agenda, detailing her official appointments.

Here’s a hint of why these issues are nowhere close to be fixed:

In response, Nichi Vendola, the head of the left-wing SEL party, tweeted: “Can someone tell the racists that we’re in the Third Millennium and are a civilised country, despite them.

“The racists think they’re in Alabama or Mississippi of a half-century ago or in South Africa during apartheid.”

These places that Vendola points out as examples of horrific racism were made so through a history of European colonialism. The racism and violence that took place/ is taking place in those locations is a direct result of a European ideology that was imposed in them. To now point to them as “examples” of anything without any historical contextualization of how they came to be, where those ideas originated, etc, is to further push the myth of an enlightened Europe that somewhat bears no responsibility for how white supremacy came to be and how, to this day, the European Union is founded and expanded on these ideas.