Monday, March 31, 2008

Dividing Lines

A lot of things going on at the moment on the theme of race. Things of importance. That I will tackle here, maybe, but I can't help thinking I need to think more first.

And here is a list of what's making me think (yes, most from NYT, but give me a break - tired, just got back from bachelorette party...):
  • A profile of Anthony L. Ricco, the black lawyer from Harlem defending the detectives in the Sean Bell case. The community pressure on him is enormous, and really gets to the heart not just of racial issues, but of the defence lawyer - the question is almost always "How could you?" How, against that animal, that pig, that rapist/monster/murderer? But given how often that divide falls to have a black defendant, the legal divide is at the heart of racial issues. And how a black lawyer really is forced to make political choices and stands in a way that a white defence attorney doesn't really have to. It's really interesting from whatever viewpoint you read it.
  • Why don't Americans like welfare? Well, the question developed here really is Why don't White Americans like welfare? According to some deeply depressing research, it's due to dislike of redistribution of wealth to other races. Which is why the US spends the least money on public spending while paying some of the highest tax burden in the world.
  • A blog I've started reading, Racialicious, has a great but deeply troubling post about reactions to racism. It's something I struggle with - how do you confront people that are saying things you don't agree with? I have a theory for action on it, which I'll talk about later (again, when fully formed). The author is suffering such a burden, it is abominable, and unfair that she feels the burden to answer for her race. Of particular interest is the fact that the burden comes reversed, in a weird way - instead of burden of representation as non-white, her problem (here, at least) is that she appears white and so hears bigoted, disgusting things that most non-whites don't normally have to hear, and then feels responsible for correcting those evils.
  • And this post on biracial identity is extremely interesting. Particularly having read Dreams of My Father, which is beautiful, and also features a really moving afterword about his mother and her influence on Barack and role in shaping his identity.


Adela said...

Your latest post cheered me up, this post brought me down with a slam. There's an interesting article by sociologist Herbert Gans you may consider reading, pretty easy read, called 'Race as Class.' Gans argues that the reason why African Americans continue to be mainly poor is because the American apparatus is constructed to keep them down. And he brings in examples of how even when African Americans manage climb the social ladder they are never "blanched" in the same way that, say, Indians have. I hate the terms of "blanching" and such but those are his, not mine. He also compares African Americans to other minorities which have managed to be integrated and accepted as "honorary whites": i.e. Italians, Irish, and more recently, Japanese, Chinese. Part of his argument is based on the idea that since "race" as it used in American racist ideology does not exist biologically (e.g. there is only ONE human race, not many races, this is biologically unsound), it can be argued that there is a deliberate promotion of the concept of race as a category that is defined by physical features. So, since African Americans will always be distinguished by their skin color, nose, hair, etc. they will never be able to join the white majority, no matter what. That is, until miscegination reaches a point where features are so mixed that we will not tell Indians apart from Mexicans from African Americans in the same way as we do now. however, Gans is not optimistic and he says that if physical features ever change in this way, then, American society will find a way of stigmatizing African Americans through other physical features. Quite depressing as well. I don't agree with everything he says, but a lot of it makes sense. One of my students used this essay to write an essay about hip-hop. He brought in a number of great examples from different hip-hop songs where the singer points out precisely this: that no matter where he lives, in a fancy building and even if he has tons of money, the white neighbor will always wonder whose that black guy in the elevator? Cheers.

pumpkin said...

It is depressing. The "tainting" that comes from mixing blood is clear in the old miscegenation statutes, which held that anyone was "colored" regardless of being, for example, a person with 7 white great-grandparents and 1 black great-grandparent. I fear that some whites will hold on even more dearly to their "purity" as we become more mixed, that it somehow becomes an even greater prize.

The particularly interesting thing about other migrants, I think, is that the waves of white immigrants from Europe - who would otherwise be the lowest of the low - came so soon after Reconstruction. Black Americans finally thought they'd get some parity, and then this other wave of whites came to displace them from second to third tier people. And the Asian immigrants at the time were the ones who got excluded - seriously, there's a Supreme Court case from 1893 called The Chinese Exclusion Cases, and there were tons of disgraceful legislation to exclude Asians from citizenship, presence in the country, business-owning and so forth.

I shall definitely read that article. I also plan to read an article I found about the socioeconomic effects of having a "black" name, which looks amazing.