Islamophobia – a call to allies to step up!

by Melissa Spatz and Alex Poeter[1]

Several months ago, we went out to dinner with an old friend, and had the opportunity to meet his sixteen year old daughter for the first time. A thoughtful and passionate young woman, she chatted away about her internship with a girls’ leadership program, her love of cooking, her future dreams, current affairs and religion.

She is a young woman of color and a devout Muslim, and the conversation turned to the current wave of Islamophobia in the United States.  We asked her what she thought about the 2010 Time magazine poll, in which 32% of the people who responded said that a Muslim should not be allowed to run for President, and 28% said that a Muslim should not be allowed to serve on the Supreme Court.[2]

Her response was stark.

“My friends and I have been talking about this, and we think that different groups get oppressed at different times in history.  During the Holocaust, it was the Jews.  Now it’s our turn to experience oppression.  This is what our lives are going to look like.

With the 10-year anniversary of September 11 approaching, we – as white, non-Muslim adults – feel a responsibility to contribute to a world in which this young woman can have better expectations of her role in society and what she is likely to experience throughout her lifetime.  The wave of anti-Muslim bigotry that we have all witnessed over the past 10 years has increased exponentially.  Now, at this milestone, we have written this article as a challenge to ourselves and to other white non-Muslim allies, to take action to create a more just world.

What we’re up against

For centuries throughout the world, fear mongering has been one of the most effective tools used by the privileged elite and politicians to maintain their power monopoly, which is always based on others being oppressed and persecuted.  In the early days of Nazi Germany, before the genocide began, Jews were already scapegoated as enemies of the state by the political establishment.  During World War II, Japanese Americans were similarly scapegoated as enemies of the state, and had their basic freedoms taken away as a result.

These dynamics continue to be present in the U.S. now.  Powerful individuals belonging to the privileged elite in this country have been investing enormous amounts of resources into maintaining the status quo, which is to maintain a system which grants privilege and power to some at the expense of others.

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Using the age-old tactic of scapegoating, and convincing the public that there is a common enemy, conservative media outlets have worked hard to present a picture of a United States under attack by its Muslim citizens and Muslim immigrants.  The intent of this rhetoric is to sow fear and panic, justifying oppressive policies.  In much the same way that conservatives in the 1980s effectively branded low income women of color “welfare mothers,” and created a well-accepted mythology in order to justify policy changes resulting in drastic social benefits cuts, conservative media outlets are promoting fear of immigrant and people of color Muslims.

Rush Limbaugh, for example, has called Islam “the first anti-American, anti-Western religion.”[3]  Fox News repeatedly runs stories framing Islam in these terms.  As Media Matters points out, if the channel reports on any negative story that happens to involve a Muslim, the word “Muslim” becomes highlighted, suggesting that the religion itself is to blame for the country’s woes.[4]

While Islam is painted with a broad brushstroke, it is Muslim people of color, in particular, who are most targeted by conservative media pundits.  In December 2009, for example, as one of a string of commentators on Fox News suggested that profiling of Muslim men was justified for national security, Ann Coulter appeared on Glenn Beck’s show. She called on President Obama to “start looking for passengers who look like the last three dozen terrorists to attack airplanes. He could engage in — whatever you want to call it — racial profiling, ethnic profiling, looking for young Muslim males, foreign-born Muslim males.”[5]

Politicians, such as Rep. Peter King (R – Long Island, N.Y.) or Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain have been adding their contribution to stoking Anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S.  While Cain said he wouldn’t feel comfortable appointing a Muslim either to his cabinet or to a federal bench and that communities have the right to ban mosques, King went so far to initiate congressional hearings with the goal of outing and prosecuting Muslims accused of extremism.  These hearings have been compared to the McCarthy hearings in the early 50s, which resulted in the imprisonment of many innocent people belonging to the targeted populations.

The mythology of Islam as a dangerous religion, and of Muslim people of color as intent on destroying the United States, has become so well-accepted in the media that racist attacks on Barack Obama during (and since) the last election often have taken the form of assertions that he is Muslim.  Those making this patently false claim did not need to explain why being Muslim would make him any less patriotic or fit to be President; the racist subtext already has been clearly set out by right-wing media pundits and politicians.

As reflected in the Time magazine poll that we discussed with our friend’s daughter, this consistent media uproar has had an impact on many non-Muslims’ understanding of Islam.  These results are supported as well by a Pew Research survey in August 2010 entitled Public Remains Conflicted Over Islam.  This survey found that only 30% of Americans have a favorable view of Islam – down from 41% in 2005.

In this way, conservative media and politicians have helped to create an atmosphere of distrust that sometimes turns violent.  This is the reality of what has unfolded across the United States over the past 10 years, but especially during more recent years.

A June 2011 report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Center for Race & Gender at the University of California – Berkeley, entitled Same Hate: New Target – Islamophobia and its Impact in the United States, examines Islamophobia for the period of 2009 – 2010.  It points to a steady “growth and acceptance of intolerant discourse” (p. 24) and a steep increase in particular since January 2009.

The report, which is well worth a read, includes concrete examples of Islamophobia, including in the private sector, public sector, media, workplace, schools, and more. Some of these cases – such as Pastor Terry Jones’ call for an international “Burn the Koran” day – received extensive media attention and are part of the public consciousness.  Others, including the often daily insults that Muslims may experience at work, at school, and in public, may be surprising to non-Muslim readers.

While it often is difficult for non-Muslims to comprehend the discrimination Muslims in this country are facing, it is important for us to educate ourselves about the ways this type of discrimination is manifested in our society, in the media, in politics, in the employment sector, and in our day-to-day lives.  We must challenge ourselves not to look the other way and not to distance ourselves emotionally from the discrimination and oppression of others, but to try putting ourselves in the shoes of those who are suffering and imagine how we would feel if loved ones of ours had to face such dehumanizing treatment.

Why we ALL need to act

A sixteen year old resigned to a life of oppression based on her religion should be a wake-up call to all of us.  It forced us to step back and ask ourselves, “What have we done, as non-Muslim, white adult allies, to make her path easier?  Have we had any impact on Islamophobia in our country?”  Is this what we want the US to look like?  Are we really willing to accept this type of discrimination and mistreatment as a reflection of our personal and our country’s values?

It is not enough to “feel” or “think” opposition to those in power spreading and stoking Islamophobia.  It is also not enough to not be anti-Muslim.  Every single one of us needs to do our part to actively support those who are oppressed and discriminated against.

As the conclusion in the Same Hate: New Target report shows, the majority of Americans are not Islamophobic.   It is a small minority in the country that is engaging in acts of hate against their Muslim neighbors.  However, as white non-Muslims, we don’t believe that this lets us off the hook.

Being a good person is about acknowledging oppression and taking responsibility, especially if one has privileges while others are being systematically oppressed.  As white non-Muslims, we have to acknowledge our privileges and the power that comes with being privileged.  We need to challenge ourselves to use our privilege and power for good and to help foster equity.

History is filled with examples of what happens when allies do – or don’t – step up.

We write this article from the position of our multiple identities, and for the two of us, this includes our identities as an American-born Jew and an East German-born non-Jew.  Our many discussions of the Holocaust, and our readings and study of the Holocaust, have led us to understand that the vast majority of German citizens did not take place in acts of hate against Jews.  It was a minority that was able to commit atrocities – but always with the silence of the majority.  When those with privilege in society do not speak up, a small group is able to commit acts of oppression at will.

Nazi Germany should always serve as a warning to us and as an example for what can happen if people who are privileged don’t speak out against the discrimination of targeted groups and minorities. Millions of innocent people died as a result, many of whom were tortured in the cruelest ways imaginable.

On the contrary, the Civil Rights Movement shows us how important it was for white allies to speak out against the discrimination of African Americans and to stand in solidarity with the oppressed when they kept being attacked by the enforcers of racist institutions and systems.

While contemplating our role and responsibilities as allies to people who are being discriminated against, it is also important to acknowledge our own ingrained prejudice and discriminatory behavior and thoughts.  We are being bombarded on a daily basis with messages that encourage us, the privileged, to act and think in racist and discriminatory ways, and to defend the institutions and systems, which benefit from racism and oppression.

We all, including the two of us, must be honest with ourselves when we see someone at an airport for example, who fits the Arab Muslim stereotype and who makes us feel unsafe and anxious.  It is important in those moments to not suppress these thoughts and behaviors because they remind us and associate us with the worst atrocities we know humans a capable of, but to allow them to rise to the surface so we can replace them with positive and just thoughts and behaviors.  This can be painful, but we must face our own demons in order to be able to grow and increase our level of consciousness, so we can serve as allies in the most effective ways possible.

Five concrete action steps YOU can take:

Here are some ideas on what you, and we, can do in this time leading up to September 11.

(1)           Share this article, but not just with the usual suspects.

Last year on the anniversary of September 11th, as we watched the rise of Islamophobia across the country, one thing we did was to repost articles that were critical of this hatred on our Facebook pages, or share them with our friends in the social justice community by email.  While this statement of solidarity feels important in the moment, we want to suggest that it is more useful to share articles such as this one with people who may not already agree with its contents.

This is not to say that those in the social justice community are free from oppressive behaviors; our point is that we limit our reach if we only speak to one another.  Think of your friends and acquaintances, co-workers, family members, and any others who may be influenced by the rhetoric on Fox News.  Can you identify 3 people to share this article with?  Or to discuss its contents, and your concerns about the treatment of Muslims in the United States?

When you reach out to others about this issue, you might want to remind them that in the end, this is not a Republican or Democratic issue.  It does not matter what one’s political or party affiliation is.  This is about being a responsible human being, and being committed to ensuring that everyone on this planet is treated equally and with dignity.  Let’s remember that we should treat others the way we want to be treated ourselves.

(2) Learn about Islam, so that you are able to help present a more accurate portrait.

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The Pew research study revealed that on the whole, non-Muslim Americans know very little about Islam, concluding:  “As in previous Pew Research surveys, most Americans say they know little about the Muslim religion. Currently, 55% say they do not know very much (30%) or know nothing at all (25%) about the Muslim religion and its practices; 35% say they know some about the religion while just 9% say they know a great deal.”

One step that you can take is to educate yourself about Islam, so that you feel prepared to counter the ridiculous stereotypes promoted by the rightwing media.

Here are 3 informative sites about Islam and Muslim perspectives:

1.     http://www.tariqramadan.com/-ARTICLES-.html (Professor Tariq Ramadan holds an MA in Philosophy and French literature and a PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva. In Cairo, Egypt he received one-on-one intensive training in classic Islamic scholarship from Al-Azhar University scholars.)

2.     http://www.suhaibwebb.com/?s=Islamophobia  (This site is dedicated to enhancing the spiritual and religious development of Muslims through sound, balanced & moderate Islamic teachings. It seeks to bridge orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge, bringing to light issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West.)

3.     www.balancedmuslims.com (This new website was created in order to promote a balanced and practical understanding of Islam.  The stated objective is to give readers a clear vision of what Islam has to offer.)

Learn, too, about examples of Muslim organizations that are working to create a more socially just world.  Here in Chicago, for example, the Arab American Action Network (AAAN – www.aaan.org) promotes youth leadership for social justice, including efforts to promote peace and end community violence; the Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN – www.imancentral.org) works for social justice, delivers a range of social services, and cultivates the arts in urban communities.  Another example is MAS (Muslim American Society) Youth Detroit (web.masyouthdetroit.org), which serves the Greater Detroit area and whose mission is “to move young people to strive for God-consciousness and social justice and convey Islam with utmost clarity”.  In the past five years MAS youth leaders facilitated over 200 activities (serving the hungry at soup kitchens to restoring damaged housing) serving more than 5000 individuals from 30 different communities.

(3)  Stand in alliance and solidarity with Muslim Americans when targeted as a group

Last year, in all of the controversy over building the Cordoba House in New York as an Islamic community center, several media outlets also touched upon the fact that mosques have become sites of protest and vandalism across the country.  What rarely appeared in the media, however, was the fact that groups of people across the country – and in particular, those affiliated with other religions – were stepping forward in support of the Muslim community.

In Temecula, California, for example, when a group of 20 – 30 protesters showed up to block the opening of a mosque last August, the religious community organized, bringing 70 people to the event to stand in support of the mosque.[6]  This February, when a mosque in New Haven, Connecticut was vandalized, religious leaders of many different faiths came together to rally against hatred.[7]

Similarly, as the King hearings were about to begin this spring, 500 protesters gathered in Times Square in New York to oppose the hearings publicly.  Holding signs with messages such as “Today I am Muslim too,” non-Muslims stood alongside representatives of the Muslim community to make a public statement against these racist hearings.[8]

This year in France, during protests against a law banning Muslim women from wearing burqa and hijab, non-Muslims wore headscarves in support of the Muslim women who choose to wear burqa and hijab at their own will.

These examples should serve as a call to action for the rest of us.  We read about Islamophobic acts every day.  The next time you read about such an act, consider reaching out to the Muslim community to offer support.  Find out if they would like you to help reach out to allies to attend rallies, make phone calls in support of a mosque, or take any other action that could help.  As allies, it is our responsibility to be proactive and to offer support, while respecting the leadership and guidance of those impacted by the issue.

(4) Create a different media dialogue   

Qu'osby Show on the Daily Show

On the Daily Show, Jon Stewart has used his platform on national TV to draw attention to the hypocrisy and idiocy of anti-Islam sentiment.  For example, he and John Oliver used humor to offer public support for the Cordoba Center last August.[9]  In Assif Mandvi’s February 2011, skits about a new Muslim family comedy, the Qu’osby Show, an Islamophobic focus group suggests there need to be more characters that fit negative stereotypes.[10] And a May 2011 piece on the opposition to a church that opened its doors to Muslims ridicules fundamentalist Christians who “love Muslims, as long as they don’t practice Islam”.[11]

But you don’t have to have a show on Comedy Central to help contribute to an alternative media message to counter the hate.

If you blog, consider writing a post about Islamophobia.  Even if your blog usually focuses on a different kind of issue – and especially if it usually has nothing to do with politics – you will be reaching an audience that may not have thought about these issues.  What thoughts can you offer to help people think about the issue differently?

Consider, also, writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in response to the news, and editorials, of the day.  Letters supporting freedom of religion, opposing acts of hate, and promoting fair and just policies are an important step in offering a view to counter the mainstream media messaging.

Another online outlet is http://www.myfellowamerican.us/, a new online film and social media project that provides space for Muslims and non-Muslim allies to share their thoughts about Islamophobia.

(5) Put your money where your mouth is.

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One way to support efforts against Islamophobia is to donate funds to support grassroots groups that are building a more just society.  We’ve listed a few groups in this article, and there are many more in addition that you could support.  In these challenging economic times, even a small donation to one of these organizations can go a long way.

Whatever you do, we encourage you to do something active to show your solidarity with Muslims who are experiencing discrimination and dehumanizing treatment every day due to Islamophobia and Racism.  Allies taking action is an important part on the path toward justice and equality for all.  We must always challenge ourselves to act on our values.


[1] Melissa Spatz and Alex Poeter are white anti-racist social justice organizers based in Chicago.  Melissa is a non-profit consultant and coordinator of the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women.  Alex is Director of Training & Organizing at the Chicago Freedom School.  We wrote this article as individuals and not as representatives of any particular organization.  We thank Ammerah Saidi, Khadigah Alasry, Faraj Yousouf, and Luqman El-Amin for their feedback on earlier drafts of this article.

[5] All from Media Matters http://mediamatters.org/research/201004220037 (accessed 7-22-11)

[6] “Supporting the Right of Temecula Muslims to Build a Mosque,” LA Quaker, August 15, 2010, http://laquaker.blogspot.com/2010/08/supporting-right-of-temecula-muslims-to.html; Laurie Goodstein, “Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition,” New York Times, August 8, 2010.  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/us/08mosque.html?pagewanted=1

[7] Melinda Tuhus, “Religious Community Rallies Around Targeted Muslims,” New Haven Independent, February 25, 2011.  http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/religious_community_rallies_around_targeted_muslims/

[8] Joseph Berger, “Hearings on Muslim Extremism Prompt Times Square Protest,” New York Times City Room blog, March 6, 2011, http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/06/hearings-on-muslim-extremism-prompt-times-square-protest/

On white privilege, scapegoating, and “flash mob terrorism”: by guest blogger Lewis Wallace

CARE will periodically feature guest bloggers who can share important perspectives on issues of racism and white supremacy.  Here’s the first post from guest blogger Lewis Wallace, sharing some powerful words about the public dialogue around Chicago’s “flash mobs.”

When I was a teenager, I staged flash mobs with my friends.  We also did graffiti, made lots of noise on public transportation, occasionally stole merchandise from retail stores, and traveled in groups—gangs, if you will.  In many instances, we even gathered together in large groups to disobey laws.

Most of us were white, and we lived in semi-suburban Ann Arbor, Michigan, a place with a thriving youth culture and plentiful opportunities for young people to explore, be creative, and even protest without, for example, getting arrested.  Those of us who were white in that town did countless illegal things, from graffiti to theft to hard drugs, without recourse.  We also did legal things, like gather together in large groups (yes, some young people were still allowed to do that in the 90s), with little to no interruption from police.

These days, I am a white person living on the North Side of Chicago, and suddenly the term “flash mob” is being used to describe supposedly pre-planned incidents of robbery and assault committed by groups of young people in Chicago’s downtown shopping district and near-North side beaches.  For the last couple of weeks, local and national media have been whipping up a veritable verbal frenzy with talk of an onslaught of violence in the form of “flash mob crime” they say is planned via social networking tools.  One very strange story tells of 70 youth storming a McDonald’s; another tells of 20 youth mugging a guy for his iPod; and yet another concerns three youth, one grown man, and an iPad.  A handful of incidents appear to have been large group robberies of downtown stores like North Face.

It’s unclear what actually connects these crimes to each other—three young men jumping someone for an iPod in June does not relate super-obviously to 70 youth closing a McDonald’s in February.  And, even if the events are connected or related and, as the police are asserting, planned via cell phone, little media coverage has inquired into why young people might be planning these attacks (though I have noticed at least one awesome blog by a black community activist attempting to answer that).  But apparently, these events—tinged either directly or indirectly with race, as it seems that in some reported “flash mob” incidents the accused perpetrators have been black and individuals targeted have been white—are a cause for alarm.  In fact, the media seems to suggest that it ought to make me nervous about inviting my parents to visit Chicago’s lovely downtown or spend time on North Side beaches, where a wave of something apparently occurred on Memorial Day in the 95-degree weather. Oh my!

The Wall Street Journal didn’t mince words in acknowledging, albeit uncritically, that “the attacks have received wide attention in Chicago because they have occurred around the city’s affluent north side.”  In other words, rich white people are being attacked and their i-thingies are being confiscated, thus constituting a crime crisis worthy of national news coverage.  A bit more reflectively, someone at the Huffington Post pointed out that on Wednesday, June 9, as the media continued to gape at the “anarchy” in downtown Chicago, there were four shootings in broad daylight on Chicago’s South Side.  The following weekend, seven people were killed on the South and West sides; citywide there were ten other shootings between Friday evening and mid-day Sunday.  On Monday June 13, Rahm Emmanuel and his new police chief proudly announced that 34 people, mostly youth, had been arrested in connection with the “flash mob” robberies and assaults, none of which seem to have involved guns.  Oh, and they’re putting more police on the streets, effective immediately.

What determines the shock value or fear factor attributed to a given form of crime by the media?  The formula seems to be pretty simple: race, and class. In affluent Ann Arbor, Michigan, my white friends and I rarely garnered an arrest and certainly never garnered a headline, not even a small-town headline, with our youthful shenanigans, even when we went head-to-head with police over issues like trespassing and destruction of property.  Compare that to the stories that young people of color from the Chicago Freedom School shared with the Chicago Tribune this past weekend, describing their experiences being feared and profiled by fellow Chicagoans and by police when they go downtown with groups of friends.

The “flash mob” frenzy is a part of a long-term trend towards racist scapegoating of youth of color as frightful criminals, a trend that has been in place since the post-Civil Rights backlash of the 1970s and that has continued under the guise of the so-called War on Drugs and “tough on crime” policies.  Every year, thousands of youth of color end up with permanent criminal records for doing the same (sometimes foolish) things I did with impunity as a young, white, upper-middle class person.  Another key difference in my case is that what I did with my friends were rarely crimes of poverty or necessity; for many of the youth who are targeted by the criminal legal system, poverty and necessity are at the root of the so-called crimes committed.  This blog post by Phillip Jackson also points out that black youth in Chicago have reasonable to cause to act out based simply on frustration and despair.  But whatever the reasons are for committing the crimes, youth tagged as criminals are in effect being scapegoated for already being scapegoats.

Racism pervades the confounding discourse about “flash mobs”, and it is not only big media outlets who are to blame.  One Chicago blogger called the young people involved “terrorists,” predictably uniting one of the trendiest racist code words of the last ten years with latest fear-mongering news craze.  Flash mob terrorists! Sounds even better than flash mob criminals, huh?  That same blogger criticize the media for not reporting the racial identities of the people involved.  Chicago’s big papers have refrained from doing so in their reports, pointing out that race does not seem to be a factor in these incidents.   Elsewhere in the media, though, there is suggestive talk of “racially motivated crime” (which hints, but does not say, that they believe this to be “hate violence” committed by blacks against whites, part of the more general “reverse racism” paranoia that seems to afflict white people today more severely than ever).  Even a Sun-Times columnist who reported on some “flash mob” events bemoaned readers’ only thinly veiled racism in their responses: “Trudging through the commentary about this — a truly depressing experience — it becomes clear that this episode is manna from heaven for a lot of people, who chafe under the idea of an integrated society, and are all too eager to scrap the whole thing based on a petty crime spree.”

As with a lot of current racial rhetoric, anti-crime (or anti-terror, or anti-tax, or anti-socialist) hysteria often only thinly veils the rampant racism boiling just below the surface.  Kids of color in Chicago, the targets of the most intense systemic violence this city has to offer, are unquestioningly portrayed as dangerous criminals while the youthful shenanigans of suburban white kids are simply understood as just that—youthful shenanigans.  Where those shenanigans turn violent, there seems to be a desire in the media to understand the motives of white youth; rather than wondering what’s motivating the (black) youth involved in the “flash mobs”, media and police have nothing but fear and persecution to offer teens.  By racist extension, uninvolved youth of color are implicated—and criminalized—when they are just gathering together in groups, as young people are wont to do.

Author-activist Michelle Alexander has proposed a new way of proactively challenging the scapegoating of young people of color that I’m interested in exploring: she says we are all criminals, and identifies herself as a criminal in her talks and columns.  She argues that identifying this way can ultimately reduce the stigma attached to people with criminal records in this country—that is, those who have been caught and prosecuted for crimes, who are disproportionately poor and people of color.  As I pointed out earlier in this blog, I’ve certainly committed illegal acts; Alexander argues that most of us have.  I still want to think more about that idea, but this week, I propose that we are all “flash mob terrorists.”  Without minimizing the suffering of any victims of any so-called flash mob crimes, I think we ought to be pointing out the absurdity, not to mention the racism and classism, of the hype about this invented trend.

Give it a try and see how it feels. Say “I am a flash mob terrorist” a few times fast. If you’re white, you probably won’t be threatened with a criminal record even if you take it to the streets: just ask the zombies and nudists who took Chicago by storm in the midst of the great flash mob crisis with no arrests and, as far as I can tell, little controversy.  Your guess as to the racial identities of the zombie paraders and nude bike riders; the media chose not to report that.

Racism at the Chicago Housing Authority

The Chicago Housing Authority has announced a new proposal for mandatory drug testing of all people over 18 who apply for a lease or to renew a lease in CHA housing.  Residents who test positive for drugs and refuse treatment will face eviction proceedings.  As the Chicago Tribune reported on June 3, if this plan goes into effect, Chicago will become the first city in the U.S. to require mandatory drug testing of all public housing residents.  You can read the full proposal, and supporting documents, on the CHA website.

Residents and public housing advocates have, rightly, expressed outrage over the proposal.  On June 2, hundreds of public housing residents gathered to express their concerns.  The Chicago Defender quotes spokesperson Shak Levy as saying:

“Just because the government has a stereotypical view or assumes a person more than likely will do drugs if they move inside public housing and possibly commit a crime does not pass constitutional mustard of not being suspect.”

Members of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) have also protested in front of CHA headquarters.  Here are some powerful words from their members:

 

They are absolutely right, and Chicagoans everywhere should be speaking out against this proposal.

And when we do, it’s important to be explicit that this discrimination relates not just to class, but also to race.  Because race and class are so intertwined, it is overwhelmingly people of color who live in Chicago public housing.  In fact, of the 20,887 people living in family housing, only 11.1 % (that is, 2,328 people) are white.  The vast majority of people in CHA housing are African Americans; in fact, African Americans make up 87.8% of all people in family housing at CHA (a total of 18,335 people).

So let’s not kid ourselves.  When the CHA stereotypes and targets residents of public housing, they are targeting low income African American families.  They are saying, in essence, that it is okay to violate the rights of low income African American families in ways that others in society would never be forced to experience.

The CHA will be accepting public comments through June 16.  Please share your outrage over this plan by emailing commentontheplan@thecha.org.  The subject heading should be “FY2011 Amended ACOP, Lease and Amendment to the FY2011 MTW Annual Plan”

Dove Visible Care & ingrained racism

A post from Gawker has been making the rounds the past couple of days.  Dove has put out a new ad for Visible Care bodywash,which they say will give you “visibly more beautiful skin.”  And what does Dove mean by “visibly more beautiful”?  Judging by the before & after image in the ad, and as several bloggers have pointed out, apparently it means turning women of color white.

Here – via Gawker – is Dove’s response to the criticism this ad has raised.

“…The ad is intended to illustrate the benefits of using Dove VisibleCare Body Wash, by making skin visibly more beautiful in just one week. All three women are intended to demonstrate the “after” product benefit. We do not condone any activity or imagery that intentionally insults any audience.”

Now the thing is, I think it’s really possible that Dove didn’t set out to create a blatantly racist ad (which this certainly is).  I don’t think the executives at Dove had an explicit conversation about sending a message that women of color need to make themselves look whiter in order to be beautiful.

But if this is true, it means that all of the advertising executives and other management at Dove — who MUST HAVE seen these image before it became public — thought it was good to go.  Isn’t it telling that nobody seems to have stopped and said, “OK, now, just hold on: I think we’ve unintentionally created racist messaging?”  In the beauty industry, which has long equated white skin and straight, blonde hair with standards of beauty, it is outrageous that nobody at Dove seems to have recognized the explicit racism within this advertisement.

This is, undoubtedly, reflective of the lack of people of color in positions of power within the advertising industry.  It also reflects the lack of people of color in positions of power within Unilever, the company that owns Dove.  As the Huffington Post rightly points out, this example points to the need for more people of color in such positions.  There are many organizations that are working to diversify those in charge of the onslaught of various media that we view every day, and those efforts should be supported.

I’d add, though, that we need to be careful to not let white people off the hook.  To me, the ad also points to the extreme level of ingrained racism among white people in positions of power, and the need to challenge them to understand both how the industry regularly portrays beauty, how their own perceptions of beauty feed into the images they produce, and the harm these images can cause.

Glenn Beck to target (white) youth

Be afraid, America, be very afraid.  Glenn Beck has some new plans: in leaving Fox News, he says he is planning to “target the youth.”  His goal is to spread his rhetoric to younger people, to shape the next generation’s views and politics.  You can see the video here:

http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/201105200029

Now, let’s not kid ourselves.  Beck has no intention of targeting all youth.  It is white youth he is looking to reach, and one of the ways that they will be “targeted” is in an attempt to inculcate racist and white supremacist values.  While ours is a new blog, Glenn Beck is so well known for racist statements on Fox News that we’ve already featured him in an earlier post.  Some of his other gems are featured on this site, where Alison Hines lists out his top ten racist statements.  For example – consider his view of the only 3 reasons that Mexican immigrants come to the U.S.: “One, they’re terrorists; two, they’re escaping the law; or three, they’re hungry. They can’t make a living in their own dirtbag country.”

For those of us who are white, it’s easy to point to all of his racist statements, and feel good about ourselves as the “good white people” who don’t subscribe to these views.  But for myself as a white person, and for white people reading this blog, I would suggest that we have a bigger responsibility to counter these efforts.  For all of his patently false statements, and outrageously racist views, the truth is that Beck has had an impact on the public dialogue as well as broad access to resources to continue to spread his views.  His efforts to reach out specifically to white youth should have us all concerned and springing to action.

White people who strive to be anti-racist have a responsibility to do more than pat ourselves on the back.  We need to provide fact-based information and analysis to white youth, explaining the history of this country and how it has led to existing forms of oppression.  We need to take the time to engage white youth – and for that matter, adults as well – in an ongoing dialogue around racism and white supremacy, in a respectful and honest way.  Whatever role we as white people can play — blogging, writing editorials, speaking with members of our own families and communities, holding house meetings and discussions, producing alternative media — it is important that we do something beyond shaking our heads in frustration.

Psychology Today thinks black women are unattractive

ETA: The outcry over the article in Psychology Today has apparently been strong enough that the magazine has removed it from its website.  However, no explanation has been offered, and the editors at Psychology Today need to strongly disavow such sexist and racist articles.  For more on this controversy, read on.

I wasn’t planning on blogging today, but it seems the media is working overtime to promote outrageously sexist and racist views.  Thanks to Tim Wise for posting on facebook about  this Psychology Today article, entitled (and I am, sadly, quite serious): “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” (note: as the article was pulled, this link takes you to the full article on another site, with a slightly edited title)

The “study” is based on interviews to determine how attractive the respondents are. This is, shockingly, called “objective.”  Here’s the author, describing the process.

“…the interviewer rates the physical attractiveness of the respondent objectively on the following five-point scale:  1 = very unattractive, 2 = unattractive, 3 = about average, 4 = attractive, 5 = very attractive.  The physical attractiveness of each Add Health respondent is measured three times by three different interviewers over seven years.”

Stopping to note that “women are more physically attractive than men”, the author suggests that black women are (and here’s that word again) objectively less attractive than women of other races. He attributes this finding to black women’s overall higher levels of testosterone.

Now let’s just take this apart for a moment.

The first question that springs to mind is why anyone would even think to conduct research around this question.  The very basis of the study speaks to a Eurocentric bias within the field of psychology, and a desire to rank different races, to prove that white people are better than people of color.  It speaks as well to sexism within the field, in the focus of resources on determining which women are the most attractive.  This approach reduces women of color, in particular, to physical bodies and objects of desire.

The second question is how the researchers could possibly have viewed their results as objective.  When you ask a group of people to rate the attractiveness of different people, their findings are inherently subjective.  They are based on social conditioning that is influenced by the myriad systems we operate in from the time we are born.  Certainly, the media shapes our view of beauty, of masculinity and femininity, and of race and ethnicity.  We are constantly inundated by advertising, movies, music videos, news coverage, and more, to teach us what is beautiful, how men and women should look, and what is valued in society.  Other institutions, like schools and religious institutions, support these views, and make them part of our consciousness.

The Psychology Today article feeds this bias by trying to place its respondents into neat gender boxes, with societally-defined standards of beauty, and then claiming that these standards are objective.  If this article shows anything at all, it shows the societally-produced bias that each interviewer has internalized.  And it shows how blind those who benefit from media bias can be to the existence of that bias.

Tim Wise has called on us to call Psychology Today to protest.  I’ll be calling.  The number is 212-260-7210.