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Tag: "racism"

Racial Thursdays

[ 36 ] March 24, 2015 |

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Look, the Army boys just need a little time to blow off some stress by indulging in open racism….

“The Liberal Benghazi”

[ 91 ] March 24, 2015 |

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Richard Cohen, America’s least favorite racist uncle, just can’t help himself, calling outrage over cops murdering black people in places like Ferguson, “the liberal Benghazi.” Fred Hiatt of course is fine with this.

The Home of the Brave

[ 109 ] March 20, 2015 |

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In order to honor Foreign Language Week, New York’s Pine Bush High School decided to read the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. You can guess how the good people of Pine Bush responded, if the photo above doesn’t give it away.

Debate Over

[ 68 ] March 19, 2015 |

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Above: A racist.

I guess the debate over whether Benjamin Netanyahu is a racist is over:

The prime minister also dismissed allegations that he was a racist following comments about Arab voter turnout during the election, saying simply: “I’m not.”

OK then! Netanyahu really is modeling himself after American conservatives, who reject the same (usually legitimate) charge against their own racism by simply denying it, which the media happily goes along with.

The White Supremacist Origin of Right to Work Laws

[ 14 ] March 14, 2015 |

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Vance Muse is the founding father of the right to work movement. Not surprisingly, he was also a virulent racist, saying, among other things about unions:

“From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”

Meanwhile, right to work gets rejected for this legislative session in West Virginia, but it probably won’t be much longer given the types of politicians West Virginians now vote into office. I feel terrible about the declining work freedoms in West Virginia, but at the same time, given how hard right and racist the state has gone, in a sense voters are going to get what they asked for, even if not in 2015.

Racism and Frat Culture

[ 124 ] March 13, 2015 |

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Many (most? all?) white fraternities are white supremacist institutions. It’s not just the frat at the University of Oklahoma. And that white supremacist history goes back to their foundation. Robert Cohen breaks this down at History News Network, specifically connecting it to fraternities during the Civil Rights Movement.

The only difference between the racist chants in 2015 and 1961 that I can discern is that the fraternities today seem more inclined to do their chanting in private. At Oklahoma this semester the chant came in what started out as a private fraternity setting (a bus apparently transporting fraternity members from some fraternity-related event). The privacy was, of course, violated by the leaking of the tape of the chant, but clearly the chant was not designed for public consumption. The Georgia chant, on the other hand, was made in public, at a segregationist rally at the campus historic archway entrance in January 1961 at the height of the university’s integration crisis. Some 150-200 Georgia students had just hung a black faced effigy of Hamilton Holmes, who along with Charlayne Hunter, had in January 1961 become the first African American student to attend the historically segregated University of Georgia. The white students first “serenaded the effigy with choruses of Dixie and then sang “There’ll never be a nigger in the ________ fraternity house,” whose various names they inserted. Clearly, UGA students in 1961, operating in a historically segregated university and a segregated college town (Athens, Georgia) did not feel the pressure their 21st century fraternity counterparts do – at racially integrated campuses – to keep their racist displays to themselves. But if the venue was different the racist sentiment and mode of expression were virtually identical.

I mentioned the whole OU incident on Twitter. Historian Kevin Kruse (whose book on housing and white flight in Atlanta is must reading for all of you) tweeted this back at me:

Who is this Devotie? That is Sigma Alpha Epilson founder Noble Leslie DeVotie. It should be noted that the frat’s homepage proudly states that of its 376 members that fought in the Civil War, 369 fought for the Confederacy. Again, the white supremacist institution goes back a long time. Anyway, DeVotie, pictured above. He actually was the first person to die in the Civil War. From his Wikipedia page:

He drowned on February 12, 1861, while on duty as chaplain of the Alabama troops. He was 23 at the time of his death. As he was about to board a steamer at Fort Morgan, Alabama, he made a misstep and fell into the water. Three days later his body was washed ashore. He was the first man to lose his life in the Civil War. Even though the Civil War did not begin until April 12, 1861, Alabama had seceded from the Union in January, hence the reason for his being the first casualty.

These are the principles and the kind of competent leader this prominent organization was founded upon.

This Weekend in Republican Minority Outreach

[ 25 ] March 9, 2015 |

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That no one in the House Republican leadership was going to go to the Selma commemoration until people called them out on it in the Washington Post and other publications says all too much about the racial politics of the conservative movement.

I wonder how Kevin McCarthy got tasked with being the representative here. Drew the short straw?

Rename the Edward Pettus Bridge

[ 65 ] March 9, 2015 |

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While I am usually in favor of keeping statues and other public monuments to horrible racists up and then interpreting them, naming major buildings or public works projects is a whole other thing. That’s certainly true of Selma’s Edward Pettus Bridge. I didn’t know who Pettus was before this weekend. Turns out that if you want something named after you in Alabama, being a powerful racist is a good way to do it.

“Everyone knows the bridge is famous for the march and Bloody Sunday, so the idea that the name of the place where all of this happened represents something so contrary to all of that really bothers us,” said Students Unite’s executive director, 25-year-old John Gainey.

The discrepancy is striking, but the life of the bridge’s namesake has never been a secret. The Washington Post reported that when the bridge was constructed 75 years ago, Pettus’ legacy was well known, and the span of the highway was named “for a man revered locally as a tenacious Southern leader.”

It’s also right there on the Federal Highway Administration’s website in its description of the structure, which was built in 1940 and carries traffic across the Alabama River: “It had been named after a Civil War General and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan who served in the United States Senate from 1897 until his death in 1907. He was the last Confederate General to serve in the Senate.”

Obviously, this should be renamed the John Lewis Bridge. That’s not going to be easy to accomplish for many reasons, including because it will become a conservative cause not to change it.

Selma and Environmental Justice

[ 2 ] March 8, 2015 |

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Fifty years after Selma, it’s worth remembering that the continued exploitation of poor blacks by whites also includes their environmental exploitation, as (largely) white-owned companies use their neighborhoods for toxic dumping grounds and to site the most hazardous and polluting factories.

The South has long been a region where fossil fuel industries have pretty much had their way with mostly poor, black, brown, and Native American communities, mainly due to lax regulations and poor environmental and civil rights law enforcement. Just this week in Alabama, the environmental group Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution (GASP) filed a civil rights complaint against the Jefferson County Department of Health for allowing Walter Coke, Inc. to continue emitting air pollutants over predominantly black communities (Grist wrote about this last April). A University of Alabama at Birmingham study found a correlation between low birth weight and household proximity to coke plants in Birmingham. It’s the second civil rights complaint GASP has filed on this matter in as many months.

“North Birmingham has historically served as a dumping ground for polluting facilities,” said long-time environmental justice scholar and activist Robert Bullard, who’s helping lead environmental justice activities in Selma. “The neighborhood was an environmental ‘sacrifice zone’ when I did my student teaching at a high school in the area way back in 1968.”

The latest concern, and one of the largest, for environmental justice activists in the South is a gigantic “clean coal” facility under construction in Kemper County, Miss. As Grist writer Sara Bernard recently reported, the operation is already taking an economic toll on the surrounding communities and provides no guarantees that it won’t add to pollution already saturating the state’s land, air, and water.

That plant is owned and operated by Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, which owns numerous dirty coal plants around the South, and has funded the work of recently discredited climate denier Wei-Hock Soon. Just so happens that Southern Co. is also a sponsor of the Selma 50th anniversary event this weekend. (Mississippi Power is not a sponsor, but two of Southern’s other subsidiaries, Georgia Power and Alabama Power, are sponsors.)

One would hope that sponsoring civil rights commemorations wouldn’t get these companies off the hook for hurting black people in the present. Of course, the executives of these companies almost certainly also support politicians who want to roll back black voting rights.

Lynching Mexicans

[ 20 ] February 20, 2015 |

When that great study detailing the numbers of African-Americans lynched in the South came out last week, I noted that its weaknesses included that lynching was not confined to the South and that lots of non-blacks were lynched. Those stories are often forgotten about, as is so much about American racial history that is not black-white. I was not the only person to notice this of course and historians William Carrigan and Clive Webb have a New York Times op-ed on the matter:

From 1848 to 1928, mobs murdered thousands of Mexicans, though surviving records allowed us to clearly document only about 547 cases. These lynchings occurred not only in the southwestern states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, but also in states far from the border, like Nebraska and Wyoming.

Some of these cases did appear in press accounts, when reporters depicted them as violent public spectacles, as they did with many lynchings of African-Americans in the South. For example, on July 5, 1851, a mob of 2,000 in Downieville, Calif., watched the extralegal hanging of a Mexican woman named Juana Loaiza, who had been accused of having murdered a white man named Frank Cannon.

Such episodes were not isolated to the turbulent gold rush period. More than a half-century later, on Nov. 3, 1910, a mob snatched a 20-year-old Mexican laborer, Antonio Rodríguez, from a jail in Rock Springs, Tex. The authorities had arrested him on charges that he had killed a rancher’s wife. Mob leaders bound him to a mesquite tree, doused him with kerosene and burned him alive. The El Paso Herald reported that thousands turned out to witness the event; we found no evidence that anyone was ever arrested.

While there were similarities between the lynchings of blacks and Mexicans, there were also clear differences. One was that local authorities and deputized citizens played particularly conspicuous roles in mob violence against Mexicans.

On Jan. 28, 1918, a band of Texas Rangers and ranchers arrived in the village of Porvenir in Presidio County, Tex. Mexican outlaws had recently attacked a nearby ranch, and the posse presumed that the locals were acting as spies and informants for Mexican raiders on the other side of the border. The group rounded up nearly two dozen men, searched their houses, and marched 15 of them to a rock bluff near the village and executed them. The Porvenir massacre, as it has become known, was the climactic event in what Mexican-Americans remember as the Hora de Sangre (Hour of Blood). It led, the following year, to an investigation by the Texas Legislature and reform of the Rangers.

Especially on the left, it’s really important to reiterate these points. There are good reasons why black-white relations still dominate our conversations about race as the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner remind us. But these same racist murders happen to Latinos as well. And while not in the big eastern cities that dominate the media cycle, Mexicans have been in this nation as long as African-Americans and have been subject to routine and systemic discrimination ever since the U.S. stole the northern half of Mexico to expand slaver in 1848. These stories have to be central to our racial history in order to fight for the rights of Latinos in the U.S. today.

Birth of a Nation

[ 86 ] February 18, 2015 |

100 years ago today, D.W. Griffith showed his racist epic film “Birth of a Nation” at a private White House screening for President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson called it “history written with lightning,” and said lightning strike sparked the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, which in its late teens and early twenties form became a gigantic nationwide organization of conservative white men marching and organizing against not only African-Americans but all sorts of perceived threats ranging from women with short hair and the theory of evolution to Jews and socialism. When it declined in the late 20s, it wasn’t because of federal oppression or a rejection of the KKK’s ideas. Rather, it was because of widespread corruption in the organization’s leadership, including the the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Klan’s trial for the brutal rape and murder of a teacher named Madge Oberholtzer on a train.

I was first exposed to Birth of a Nation as a college student. While I did watch it for a class my senior year, it was my sophomore year that I actually first saw it. I worked for the AV department in college and this was long enough ago that films in class were being shown reel to reel (the switch to VHS capability in classrooms was taking place while I was in college). One quarter I had the job of running the previews of the 100-level intro to film course for the professor. Saw a bunch of weird stuff–Un Chien Andalou, The Gold Rush, and Notorious are three I distinctly remember. But none shocked me like Birth of a Nation, as I had never heard of the thing. I never forgot the shock of what I was seeing.

And if you haven’t seen Birth of a Nation, it really is must viewing, both in spite of and because of its racism. As a film, it’s great. As social commentary, it’s repulsive.

Fun Facts About Ben Tillman

[ 22 ] February 17, 2015 |

I just finished reading Steven Kantrowitz’s book from 2000, Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy. Tillman, the South Carolina politician who became nationally famous for his public defense of lynching and secession and his use of violence and violent language in the Senate and during public speeches, was one of the most loathsome political figures of the Gilded Age, but also one of the most influential. A man from an elite plantation family, after the Civil War, he recast himself as a man of the people who could lead South Carolina whites back into the reinstatement of white supremacy, even though as Kantrowitz discusses, he never accepted poor whites as equals and really wanted to recreate the class and gender relations of the plantation world, as well as the racial relations.

Anyway, two pieces of trivia about Tillman. Which is less surprising?

1) Tillman’s older brother murdered a man in a fight over gambling in 1856. He was indicted for murder. His response was to flee and join William Walker’s invasion of Nicaragua to capture it, legalize slavery, and establish a relationship to the United States that would make bring it within the orbit of American slave owners.

2) Tillman’s personal attorney was Strom Thurmond’s father.

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