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Posts Tagged ‘stereotypes’

The Wall Street Journal had a story last week about a study that shows disparities between white and black perceptions of bias (emphasis mine):

White Americans saw an even steeper decline in anti-black bias: from 9.1, in the ’50s, to 3.6, in the ’00s. But more striking, according to the researchers, was the sharp increase in perceived anti-white bias: Among whites, it shot up from 1.8 to 4.7.

White Americans, in short, thought that anti-white bias was a greater societal problem by the ’00s than anti-black bias.

The researchers described the pattern—which did not vary markedly with regard to age or education levels—as evidence that white Americans see race relations as a zero-sum game, in which one group’s gains must be offset by another’s loss.

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Marilyn Davenport, a Tea Party activist and member of the Orange County, California, GOP central committee, is under fire for sending a racist email about President Obama to conservative colleagues. The email reads, “Now you know why no birth certificate,” followed by the image below depicting the President as a chimpanzee.

The email perpetuates the birther myth, which seems only to be gathering steam despite having been refuted several times. As Garrett Epps writes for The Atlantic, “The drip-drip-drip of “birther” propaganda is part of a general, persistent assault on the legitimacy of immigrants and non-whites in American culture. Lurking behind the rhetoric of ‘I want my country back’ is a simple refusal to recognize the citizenship, or even the humanity, of anyone but white males.” This dehumanization is reflected in the depiction of the President as an ape, an image echoing historical associations of black people with brutes that were used as “evidence” of white racial superiority:

[ht Sociological Images]

It’s hard to know exactly, but it seems to me that there’s been a resurgence of this kind of imagery since the ’08 general election campaign (a couple examples here and here).

The racist trope of black people as monkeys is universally familiar in American culture. There’s virtually no way someone repeating this trope would not be at least somewhat aware of its racist implications or history. On top of all that, this is not the first time Davenport has been implicated in racist behavior:

Michael J. Schroeder, an Orange County resident and former chairman of the California Republican Party, also said he was disgusted.

“This is a three strikes situation for Marilyn Davenport,” Schroeder said. “She was a passionate defender of former Newport Beach city councilman Dick Nichols who stated that he was voting against putting in more grass at Corona del Mar’s beach because, he said, there were already ‘too many Mexicans on the beach.’ She was also on the wrong side of the fence with the Los Alamitos mayor and his White House watermelon patch picture. Now, she has managed to top both of those incidents by comparing African Americans to monkeys. She has disgraced herself and needs to resign. If she doesn’t, the Republican Party must remove her.” (The OC Weekly)

So you might be as astounded as I was to read that Davenport is claiming there’s nothing racist about the email, and engaging in derailing “I am not a racist” bingo in response to news coverage of this incident:

Reached by telephone and asked if she thought the email was appropriate, Davenport said, “Oh, come on! Everybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist. It was a joke. I have friends who are black. Besides, I only sent it to a few people–mostly people I didn’t think would be upset by it.”
Wow. To share an email depicting a black man as a chimp and then take offense at the suggestion that one might be racist is…bold? Clueless? Disingenuous? I don’t know. Like Ta-Nehisi Coates says, it seems these days that despite increasingly vocal and widespread expressions of white racial resentment, there are no racists.

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The LA Times reported on a new Georgia law that parallels Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation from last year.

The heart of the article gets straight to the problem:

In a provision with rough similarities to the most contentious part of the Arizona law, the Georgia bill gives police the authority to check a suspect’s immigration status if the suspect is unable to produce a valid ID and if the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect has committed a “criminal offense.” If the person is verified as an illegal immigrant, police can detain that person or notify federal authorities.

Charles Kuck, a prominent Atlanta immigration attorney, said the way the bill is written, “criminal offenses” could be as minor as traffic violations.

Kuck, a Republican and outspoken critic of the legislation, said there was some question as to whether this provision gave police any more power than they already have. But the bigger problem, he said, was with “the message that it sends — this bill says, ‘Immigrants, do not come to Georgia…. You’re gonna have to show us your papers when you come.’ ”

He scoffed at another section prohibiting police from considering “race, color or national origin” when enforcing the bill.

“Let me ask you a question,” Kuck said. “Do you think any white people are going be taken in for an immigration background check if they forgot their wallet at home?”

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I’ve been really shocked by the virtually instantaneous racist responses to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan (e.g., Angry Asian Man’s depressing roundup of some of these). A number of people, including several public figures, have either made jokes about the disaster or suggested it’s some sort of karmic or divine retribution for Pearl Harbor. In addition to being horrifically callous, these responses inexplicably don’t seem to consider the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the firebombing of Tokyo (which killed more people than both nuclear attacks combined), or the continued American military presence in Japan to be sufficient “payback” for an attack now nearly seventy years past. Further, they reflect lingering stereotypes of Asians as a “yellow menace” and perpetual foreigners – so foreign that for some, even a disaster on this scale doesn’t warrant any real sympathy for the Japanese people.

Somewhat more subtle but also racist and wildly inappropriate are speculations about why there has supposedly been no looting in the wake of the tsunami. Not only does this claim appear to be false (follow up here), it also echoes racist tropes about the model minority, the passive or emotionally cold Asian, and Asians as completely identical and homogenous. Some assertions about the lack of looting are very blatantly motivated by racial prejudice, as evidenced by the many people using the cover of online anonymity to hold up the racial homogeneity of Japan and the absence of large numbers of black people as the reason for low crime in the aftermath of the earthquake. Beyond being prejudiced, this false claim harms people by erasing the realities of crime in Japan. More importantly, it erases the voices and experiences of Japanese survivors further victimized by people who use the chaos created by natural disasters as an opportunity to rob, defraud, or assault people with impunity – for example, it erases the experiences of numerous women who were raped or sexually assaulted in the weeks following the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

Also making the rounds is a video by a white UCLA student who complains about ‘hordes of Asians” at “our school,” mocks Asian and Asian American students for talking on cell phones in the library (complete with Charlie Chan-style “Asian” accent and fake “Chinese,” and claims that Asian students are ignorant of proper “American manners.” You know, because people of Asian descent can’t possibly be American like white people are, and UCLA rightfully belongs to white people. You can watch the video here, but you’re not missing out on much if you don’t.

I loved Beau Sia’s response to the video because, rather than personally attacking the student, he explores the anxieties, fears, and ignorance that inform her rant, turning it into a teaching moment instead of just a reactive one (credit Angry Asian Man for that last insight).

after watching “asians in the library,” and many subsequent postings in response, i wrote this. rather than attack alexandra wallace for her thoughts, i decided to write a persona piece in her voice, as a means to address some of the greater issues revealed in her rant. in the end, this poem isn’t really about her and what she said, but more the thoughts and beliefs people hold, without considering the entire history that may have led them to think and believe in the manner that they do. my hope is that we can all use this moment to recognize that we all need to improve our ability to understand and share this world with each other. this is just a small contribution to furthering that conversation. thank you for listening.

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The latest disturbing development in the conservative attack on the 14th amendment: last week Tennessee state legislator and Republican Curry Todd argued against birthright citizenship on the grounds that it would cause immigrants to “go out there like rats and multiply.”

Todd . . .  made the comments at a legislative committee meeting earlier this week after being told that federal law requires the state to extend prenatal care to women regardless of their citizenship status because all children born in the U.S. are citizens.

Rep. Todd is standing by his comments and refuses to apologize for them, but says he used the “wrong terminology” and should have said “anchor babies” instead – a term not quite as fully dehumanizing as “rats,” but dehumanizing nonetheless.  Try again, buddy.

Scary part #1: An elected state official feels perfectly comfortable spouting such hateful, nativist, racist rhetoric in public.  And he’s totally unrepentant.
Scary part #2: His comments represent the views of a large minority (at least, I hope it’s a minority!) of Americans.
Scary part #3: Like most xenophobic, anti-immigration Americans, Todd seems entirely ignorant that he’s reproducing dangerous tropes and stereotypes about immigrants that have a long, LONG history in this country:  The assumption that immigrants, and particularly non-white and/or non-Protestant Christian immigrants are hyperfecund (like animals) and threaten to overrun white Protestant America with their numerous offspring (again, like animals); the implication that immigrants are like vermin, or diseased; the insistence that immigrants pose an imminent threat to the metaphorical or actual health and safety of the country.

These are all very old ideas, and they’re ideas that have serious and potentially very dangerous consequences.  It’s a short step from paranoia about “multiplying” immigrant populations to manipulating or coercing sterilizations or the use of birth control (see, for example, the marketing of Norplant as a method of birth control in communities of color, and the higher rates of tubal ligation in black and Hispanic populations).  It’s a short step from nebulous fears about public health or national security to forced quarantines, unlawful detention, persecution, and even extermination (it’s not a coincidence that the metaphor of Jews as vermin or pests was commonplace for years before the Holocaust started).  Closer to home we can point to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWI and other numerous examples of how nativist rhetoric poses a concrete danger to immigrant populations:

Restrictionists have sought to link certain countries of origin (especially Asian and Latin American countries) to disease outbreaks and crime. They have claimed nonwhite immigrants are a menace to public health. Throughout the course of the bracero program (1942–1964), Mexican workers were periodically sprayed and washed for body lice and other vermin. There was widespread fear that Mexicans carried contagious diseases like tuberculosis. In April and May 1980 more than 125,000 Cubans were boat-lifted to the United States; the boat refugees included six hundred former asylum inmates and twelve hundred former prison inmates or people suspected of serious crimes in Cuba who had been released by Fidel Castro. These boat refugees came to be known as the Marielitos, and they were promptly typecast as a criminal and deviant population that threatened the United States with diseases and illicit behavior. A New York Times headline read, “Retarded People and Criminals” (Ojito). By 1987 thirty-eight hundred Mariel refugees were serving sentences for crimes committed in the United States, and another thirty-eight hundred were subject to indefinite detention after completing sentences or for suspicion of crimes. In January 2005 the U.S. Supreme ruled that this detention was unlawful and that the U.S. government could no longer detain Cuban refugees who had served their time or were simply deemed to have suspicious backgrounds. In another example of this type of racist construct, Haitian immigrants (boat refugees) were detained at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay naval base in the 1990s, presumably because they constituted an HIV/AIDS menace.
This is serious, scary stuff, and it’s a sign of how dangerous the current climate is for all immigrants and Americans assumed to be immigrants, especially (but not limited to) Hispanics and Muslims.

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Talk about appropriate timing: my friend Rweba created this fantastic send-up of the usual stereotypes about Africa and Africans.

The video is inspired by Binyavanga Wainana’s article “How to write about Africa,” which is well worth reading (backstory on the article here) and which also inspired the video below.  I’ll try to get transcripts of both up soon.

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I’m just going to warn y’all right now that this is a post about reality TV.  And also it might be a wee bit snarky. Just to be clear.

So I was watching the Season 2 premiere of The Fashion Show a few nights ago (why yes, I am a sucker for cheesy fashion reality shows).  I was all set to enjoy some pretty clothes, laugh at some truly hideous clothes, and be entertained by overblown egos and petty bickering.  Oh, and bask in the unmatched fabulosity of Iman, the co-host and more or less the star of the show.  And all of that happened, but not without considerable irritation and swearing at the TV on my and my husband’s part.

Iman, as you might know, is from Somalia, and is one of the few black models to make it big in the fashion industry.  The first challenge for the designers was to create a look for her, inspired by her career and life story. One of the designers, Mike, apparently decided that the only relevant fact about Iman’s life is that she’s “African” and decided to create a dress that would “honor her African heritage.”  Well.  Perhaps you see where this is going.

That was warning sign number one.  It’s not a hard and fast rule, but when Americans, and especially white Americans, start talking about the heritage and culture of the entire African continent as a monolith, odds are something deeply ignorant and possibly very offensive is about to come next.  This case was not the exception.  Mike went on to identify “safaris” and “wild animals” as part of Iman’s “heritage.”  Because when you think of Africans, obviously wild animals and white tourist attractions would be the first thing to come to mind.

It got worse.  He summarized Iman’s life story as  “leaving a tribal background and coming into the modern world.  Apparently, knowing someone is originally from “Africa” means that you can deduce their life story without having any shred of actual information about their history.  Funny thing is, Iman is the daughter of a diplomat.  She has a degree in political science – from, *gasp*, an African university (yes, we have those! amazing!).  She speaks five languages fluently.  But nevertheless, leaving “Africa” is what introduced her to the “modern world,” whatever that means.  And “African” automatically means being of “tribal background” (of course there’s the huge issue that the standard Western narrative of “tribal” Africa is fundamentally racist, paternalist, and colonialist to begin with).

Then he went on about how he was designing with “African tribal motifs,” but making them into a “more sophisticated dress.”  Because African = unsophisticated.  And because he magically knows something about what “African tribal motifs” look like.  Which part of Africa? Which tribes?  Doesn’t matter!  And the dress he designed, my goodness.  It wasn’t a bad looking dress, but the concept behind it was breathtakingly arrogant and offensive.  It was sleek and polished in the front – representing Western modernity and sophistication, you see – and the upper back was a halter made out of thick knotted rope – “representing the restrictions” of Iman’s native culture or some such rubbish.

It was kind of astounding to hear this dude who obviously doesn’t know the first darn thing about ANY part of Africa pontificate about how backwards and restrictive “African” society is.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I’ve heard countless similar comments like this since I first moved to the States at 8.  Many Americans are convinced they know something about “Africa” because they’ve seen huts and starving children and wild giraffes on TV (for the record, to the best of my recollection, I have never in my life seen a wild giraffe, or a wild anything that wasn’t a dog or cat.  The only giraffes I saw in Nigeria were at the zoo.).  They assume all Africans are from rural, tribal contexts (and assume quite a bit about what it means to come from such a background); they assume we all have little or no education or real “culture.”  Because education, art, and cities are all things that Africans can’t have, at least, not without Western assistance.  As Dodai put it over at Jezebel:

When using Iman as a muse for their collections, the contestants used words like “exotic,” “wild animal,” “jungle” and “tribal.” If only I were fucking kidding. Yes, she is from Somalia. But do you know what the city of . . . Mogadishu looks like? It looks like a city. The winning design was a leopard print dress, but Isaac Mizrahi made sure to point out that it won because it “celebrated her figure” and not because animal print is for black people, who are animals from Africa.
Not only are these ideas about Africa and Africans woefully uninformed by any real knowledge, they’re also incredibly arrogant, and as Chimamanda Adichie points out in the talk below, dangerous (transcript).

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