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Posts Tagged ‘Racism’

This is not really a post, as much as a collection of links. Usually I try to write some thoughts, but today I am deep in marking. Nevertheless, I wanted to provide some links to help counter the media silence around the Idle No More movement. On December 10, 2012, a number of Canada’s First Nations came together around the country to protest the legislative changes Harper is making to the Indian Act and the erosion of environmental protections (among other things). The Indian Act has always been a racist and terrible piece of legislation (for example, this legislation served as the template for South African apartheid), but these changes are making things worse, not better.

Link Round-Up

Idle No More’s Website and Blog, which includes their manifesto describing the reason behind the protests.

Anishinaabewiziwin “Everyday Cry: Feeling Through Ogitchidaakwe’s Hunger Strike” by Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy. December 27, 2012. This is a great piece. I think everyone should read it. It moved me to tears.

Zig Zag Warrior “Idle No More? Speak for Yourself…Warrior Publications December 12, 2012. A critical perspective on the protests.

âpihtawikosisân “The natives are restless. Wondering why?” âpihtawikosisân December 11, 2012.

Trevor Greyeyes “Keep up the Pressure with Idle No MoreThe First Perspective December 11, 2012.

Andrew Loewen “Idle No More & Settler-Colonial Canada” The Paltry Sapians December 11, 2012. (lots of pictures and videos of the Edmonton march at this link)

Nora Loreto “Idle No More: Non-Indigenous responsibility to actRabble.ca December 10, 2012.
IDLE NO MORE: CANADA’S FIRST PEOPLES ARE RISINGIndigenousRising December 10, 2012.

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In any given news cycle there is likely to be a story about someone who said something or told some joke that is described as “offending” some persons. Earlier this summer there was the “rape joke” told by Daniel Tosh. This week Pam Palmater wrote about a racist joke in an Royal Canadian Legion newsletter.

Usually after such occasions the person or organization issues an apology “for offendingthe group or individual in question (or in the case Palmater describes, fails to apologize at all since “only one” person was offended).

I'm Sorry

I’m Sorry

In fact, this response is so common that Wikipedia even has an entry on it titled “The Non-Apology.” The Wikipedia article focus mainly on the apology as lacking the requisite contrition or admission that something was wrong. I think that is right, but I also want to focus on something else: the “I’m sorry I offended you” line misses one important target group for the apology.

You see, I am not so worried about those who were “offended.” Sure, it sucks to have to live in a culture that is basically a mine field waiting to explode with “humour” that reinforces one’s lesser status. But at least those who were offended recognize what was wrong with the statement. I am also worried (perhaps more worried) about those who were not offended.  As Palmater writes:

 Racism against Indigenous peoples in Canada is so ingrained that some in society can’t even identify it when they see it. (Source)

Those in the group who were not offended are the ones who really concern me because they are so blind to racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, etc. that they were not even able to be offended by the alleged humour. So in addition to apologizing to those groups who were “offended” by the racist/sexist/etc. “joke” I think there should also be an apology to those who were not offended.

Perhaps something along the lines of:

I am sorry my hackneyed attempt at humour reinforced ideas of racial (gender, class, etc.) superiority among those who were not offended by the alleged “joke.” I am sorry that what I said perpetuated and reinforced your privileged blindness to the racism (sexism, classism, heterosexism, etc.) so prevalent in this society…

Because in addition to hurting those who are offended and reinforcing their lesser status in a given culture, such “jokes” also have the harmful effect of reinforcing arrogance and ignorance among those who failed to see what was wrong with the “offensive” “joke” in the first place.

 

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This is one of the sillier things I have read in a while. Canada has been designing new money that is supposed to deter counterfeiters, last longer, and be more environmentally friendly in its manufacture.

New Canadian $100 Bill

An image of the new Canadian $100 bill with a woman seated at a microscope

They have also been designing new graphics for the notes. The Bank of Canada held focus groups to see what people thought of the new designs. Some people in the focus groups complained that one of the images looked like an Asian woman. The Bank of Canada decided to withdraw the notes and redesign them so they looked more “neutral.”

The bank immediately ordered the image redrawn, imposing what a spokesman called a “neutral ethnicity” for the woman scientist who, now stripped of her “Asian” features, appears on the circulating note. Her light features appear to be Caucasian.

“The original image was not designed or intended to be a person of a particular ethnic origin,” bank spokesman Jeremy Harrison said in an interview, citing policy that eschews depictions of ethnic groups on banknotes. (Source: The Financial Post)

This is ridiculous. Caucasian features do not represent ethnically ‘neutral’ features. Furthermore, it is completely impossible to put an image of a person on a bank note  without depicting an ethnic group. There is no abstract non-ethnic person that could be represented. There are only people who belong to one ethnic group or another. Caucasian people, too, belong to an ethnic group: namely the ethnic group of Caucasian people.

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The Hunger Games and Racism

There has been a good deal of discussion of racist reactions by fans of the Hunger Games when they saw the film and for the first time realized that the characters they loved were Black all along. Here is an example:

K call me racist but when I found out Rue was Black her death wasn't as sad. I hate myself.

K call me racist but when I found out Rue was Black her death wasn't as sad. I hate myself.

I think this commentary is quite interesting and on point, but I want to point out something else that involves troubling race images in relation to the Hunger Games. In my email inbox the other week, I received a note from amazon, welcoming me to explore the world of the hunger games. Although the book has racially diverse characters, it seems that someone in marketing overlooked this fact. All but one of the characters featured in these materials appears to be Caucasian.

Here is a screen capture of the email I received from amazon:

It looks like all white people.

It looks like all white people.

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I just watched this news report on a terrible case in which Ikenna Njoku, a man from Auburn WA, tried to cash a cheque at Chase bank and ended up in jail (a full transcript is available here).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I thought the news report might offer an interesting example of shielding the white viewing public from a description of racism in order to help preserve their privilege and ignorance around how racism operates to create disadvantages.

At about minuet 1:45 of the video they interview the gentleman, Njoku, who had been accused of forging the Chase cheque. He explains that the teller was very suspicious of him and asked where he worked. Then, just as he is recounting how the teller asked him about where he lived, “It’s like she didn’t believe that…” the reporter cuts him off (at 1:57). I obviously did not see the uncut tape, so I don’t know what comes next. But it seems like he was about to talk about racist views that are suspicious of black people, and it is in the context of not believing that he would be able to afford a house in a particular area. It seemed like a really odd place to cut the interview, and I really wonder whether it was because he was about to identify one way in which racism operates.

(Full disclosure: part of the reason I wonder about this is the result of my own experiences with media interviews. I was once interviewed about cancer care and the experiences of cancer patients. The interviewer repeatedly cut me off whenever my discussion became even slightly “political.” It was a really odd experience to be interrupted precisely when I began to make a point.)

In a now classic feminism 101 paper, Peggy Mackintosh describes how privilege often blinds those who have privilege to the benefits they receive from oppressive systems by hiding the oppressive workings of that system.

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege.

One way this “teaching” occurs is by editing out any account of the experience of racism or sexism. The story then becomes about a general kind of unfairness that could happen to anyone rather than an injustice with racial or gendered implications.

It seems like Njoku was about to tell us how the woman suspected he did not live where he claimed because she did not think black people lived in that area (I am not the only one who interpreted it this way). And this kind of suspicion of black people is indeed one of the ways that racism operates. Black people are often suspected of being “criminals” even when they are not, and this suspicion can affect many aspects of their lives.

For example, Devah Pager (2003) conducted a study in which she created fake credentials for black and white matched-pairs of job applicants. The audit included some applicants who reported having a criminal record for non-violent drug possession and some who reported no record. She found that blacks with a criminal record were significantly less likely to get called back for the job than were whites (5% for blacks with a criminal record vs. 17% for whites with a criminal record) (Pager 2004, 958). Pager writes, the “ratio of callbacks for nonoffenders relative to ex-offenders for whites is 2:1, this same ratio for blacks is nearly 3:1. The effect of a criminal record is thus 40% larger for blacks than for whites” (Pager 2004, 959). This could be taken to show that black men with a criminal record seem less ‘forgivable’ to employers than do white applicants with a criminal record. Further, even black applicants with no criminal record were called back at a rate lower than white applicants with a criminal record (17% for whites with a criminal record vs. 14% for blacks with no criminal record) (Pager 2004, 958). Pager suggests that employers might be associating race with crime even when there is no evidence of a criminal record. For example, she reports that on three occasions, the black applicants were asked about their criminal involvement whereas none of the white applicants were asked about their criminal involvement (2004, 960).

In the news report from the embedded video, Njoku might have experienced discrimination based on his race, but if so that is edited out. This leaves the viewers ignorant of how racism operates and how white privilege shields them from these situations. There is no guarantee that Njoku would not have been thrown in jail if he were white, but there is evidence that tellers would be less suspicious of a white person doing just what he did. This can lead to racial over representation in prisons and so forth. But ignoring the racial dimensions makes it seem like anyone would be equally likely to face such a situation.

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Today I have been reading this report, Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the “Enhanced” Interrogation Program,  about medical experimentations that occurred during the “enhanced” interrogation of detainees during the Bush administration. Of course, there are rules, laws, and codes against doing research on persons without consent, as this New York Times Article points out:

The report is the first analysis of the C.I.A.’s interrogation program to argue that one of the unintended consequences of the Bush administration’s efforts to provide legal cover for officials involved in the program was to place medical professionals in legal and ethical jeopardy. There are both international and national limits on human research and experimentation, including those based on the post-World War II Nuremberg Code and the so-called American Common Rule, both of which ban human experimentation without informed consent.

But rules, codes, and laws about what you cannot do to persons seem ineffective when you do not see the human in front of you as human.

I want to say something more about the report, but for the moment I am at a loss for words.

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About ten years ago I was at a meeting and we were discussing what the policy on female genital cutting (FGC, female genital mutilation (FGM), or female circumcision) should be in the hospitals of the Canadian city where I was living at the time. The woman who was giving the presentation about the facts of FGC said at one point in the presentation that there was “no benefit” to FGC that could be weighted against its harms. Now, I do not support FGC in any way, but I was also quite bothered by this statement because it is one that renders the women who engage in FGC unintelligible and irrational, which makes discussing FGC with women impossible. I have been thinking about this issue again because I recently saw this video about the increasing requests for labiaplasty in Australia (The video is NSFW):

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