Archive for Race relations

Watch this video on the Catholic Church in Detroit. The comment and question are:  the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit is closing more Detroit churches.  Is it racism?  Check out the video here and consider how you would answer the question.


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How the First Black President’s Approach to Race Is Transforming What It Means to Be White

By Melissa Harris-Lacewell, The Nation
Posted on May 18, 2010, Printed on May 19, 2010
EDITOR”S NOTE:  This article is reprinted with permission from The Nation.

President Obama created a bit of a stir in early April when he completed his Census form. In response to the question about racial identity the president indicated he was “Black, African American or Negro.” Despite having been born of a white mother and raised in part by white grandparents, Obama chose to identify himself solely as black even though the Census allows people to check multiple answers for racial identity.

This choice disappointed some who have fought to ensure that multiracial people have the right to indicate their complex racial heritage. It confused some who were surprised by his choice not to officially recognize his white heritage. It led to an odd flurry of obvious political stories confirming that Obama was, indeed, the first African-American president.

When Obama marked his Census form, he offered another lesson in what has been an intensive if unintentional seminar on the social construction of race. In just a few years, decades of multiple racial formations have been projected onto him at hyperspeed; it’s a bit like watching those nature films that show the growth of an apple tree from a seed in just thirty seconds. When Hillary Clinton held a significant lead among black voters, media outlets regularly questioned if Obama was “black enough” to earn African-American electoral support. When the Rev. Jeremiah Wright dominated the news cycle, the question shifted to whether Obama was “too black” to garner white votes. By the final months of the campaign, Obama’s opponents charged that he was a noncitizen, a Muslim and a terrorist. In less than two years a single body had been subjected to definitions ranging from insufficiently black, to far too black, to somehow foreign and frightening.

But Obama did more than disrupt standard definitions of blackness; he created a definitional crisis for whiteness. Imagine for a moment that a young American falls into a Rip Van Winkle sleep in 1960. He awakens suddenly in 2008 and learns that we are in the midst of a historic presidential election between a white and a black candidate. He learns that one candidate is a Democrat, a Harvard Law School graduate, a lecturer at the conservative University of Chicago Law School. He also discovers that this candidate is married to his first wife, and they have two children who attend an exclusive private school. His running mate is an Irish Catholic. The other candidate is a Republican. He was an average student who made his mark in the military. This candidate has been married twice, and his running mate is a woman whose teenage daughter is pregnant out of wedlock.

Now ask our recently awakened American to guess which candidate is white and which is black. Remember, his understanding of race and politics was frozen in 1960, when a significant number of blacks still identified themselves as Republican, an Ivy League education was a marker of whiteness and military service a common career path for young black men. Remember that he would expect marriage stability among whites and sexual immorality to mark black life. It’s entirely possible that our Rip would guess that Obama was the white candidate and McCain the black one.

By displaying all these tropes of traditional whiteness, Obama’s candidacy disrupted the very idea of whiteness. Suddenly whiteness was no longer about educational achievement, family stability or the command of spoken English. One might argue that the folksy interventions of Sarah Palin were a desperate attempt to reclaim and redefine whiteness as a gun-toting ordinariness that eschews traditional and elite markers of achievement.

Obama’s whiteness in this sense is frightening and strange for those invested in believing that racial categories are stable, meaningful and essential. Those who yearn for a postracial America hoped Obama had transcended blackness, but the real threat he poses to the American racial order is that he disrupts whiteness, because whiteness has been the identity that defines citizenship, access to privilege and the power to define national history.

In 1998 Toni Morrison wrote that Bill Clinton was the first “black president” because he “displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.” Ten years later the man who truly became America’s first black president displayed few of these tropes. Instead he was a scholarly, worldly, health food-eating man from Hawaii. In this sense, Obama was the white candidate in 2008, and a substantial portion of white voters preferred Obama’s version of whiteness to that of McCain and Palin.

Which brings us back to Obama’s Census choice. Despite his legitimate claims on whiteness, he chose to call himself black. As historian Nell Painter documents in her new book The History of White People, white identity was a heavily policed and protected border for most of American history. A person born to an African parent and a white parent could be legally enslaved in America until 1865. From 1877 until 1965 that person would have been subject to segregation in public accommodations, schools, housing and employment. In 1896 the Supreme Court established the doctrine of separate but equal in the case of Homer Plessy, a New Orleans Creole of color whose ancestry was only a small fraction African. President Obama’s Census self-identification was a moment of solidarity with these black people and a recognition that the legal and historical realities of race are definitive, that he would have been subject to all the same legal restrictions had he been born at another time. So in April, Obama did as he has done repeatedly in his adult life: he embraced blackness, with all its disprivilege, tumultuous history and disquieting symbolism. He did not deny his white parentage, but he acknowledged that in America, for those who also have African heritage, having a white parent has never meant becoming white.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, is completing her latest book, Sister Citizen: A Text for Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Isn’t Enough.

© 2010 The Nation All rights reserved.
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A lifetime appointment to stop hate

By Ed Chasteen

NOTE: Ed Chasteen is a former professor at William Jewell College and founder of the Human Family Reunion, which will be held in two parts on May 1 and 2. For more information, go to

Community Studies it was called. Homer Wadsworth, Paul Bowman and Warren Peterson were its principals, though I would not know this until later. My eventual association with this place and these people was set in motion one winter afternoon in 1964 when Professor Robert Habenstein walked into my graduate student office at the University of Missouri in Columbia. “I’m here to offer you the biggest fellowship we have,” Hobby said. “We will need to go to Kansas City to work it out.”

Other than my high school senior trip to Houston, Kansas City was the biggest city I had ever been to. Hobby and I met Warren Peterson at the President Hotel where the Midwest Sociological Society was holding its annual convention. Hobby and Warren had been grad school friends at the University of Chicago, another fact I would later learn, and which, no doubt, played a part in my getting the fellowship. It was Community Studies giving the fellowship and the University of Missouri recommending the recipient.

So in the fall of 1964, my wife and I and our three small children moved to Kansas City. The fellowship would pay me enough to live on for a year while I did research on some issue of concern to Kansas City. I had read about the Public Accommodations vote in April of 1964 to decide if Negroes would be permitted to eat in department store lunch rooms, try on clothes before buying, attend movie theaters or make use of any other public convenience.

I had gone to high school in Huntsville, Texas, graduating in 1954, just days after the Supreme Court declared segregation in the public schools unconstitutional. I was 14 that Sunday morning a few years earlier when my pastor at the First Baptist Church preached another of his elegant and eloquent sermons about loving all people. Listening to him I just knew that come Monday morning in Huntsville everybody would love everybody.

That notion lasted less than a minute. As I walked out the church door two deacons stood talking. One said, “If them niggers try to come in this church, I’ll beat ‘em back with a baseball bat.” “Me, too,” said the other.

When I enrolled across town in our local college in the fall of 1954, I signed up for a class in the Sociology Department called Race Relations, hoping that maybe that class could help me understand how those deacons could say those things.

Ten years later when I came to Kansas City to get my doctorate in Sociology, I was still trying to understand. So I had no choice. I had to know who voted which way on Public Accommodations. And why.

Alvin Brooks, Lucile Bluford, Wallace Hartsfield were the first people I met. Roe Barttle, Chester Stovall and Ruth Kerford soon after. I got to know the Tavern Owner’s Association and the John Birch Society and the big five downtown department stores: Emery Byrd Thayer, Klines, Peck’s, Macy’s and the Jones Store. I learned the part all had played.

When my year was up and I had my doctorate, I was supposed to return to the Oklahoma college from which I had taken leave to get my degree. But I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I could go anywhere and teach from books. But my year of getting to know the people and problems of Kansas City would be wasted. When a job came open at William Jewell College—teaching Race Relations no less—I grabbed it, thinking I would stay a while but eventually return to Texas where our families all lived.

I discovered, though, that what was true at the end of my first year in Kansas City became more so as time went by. Five years into my teaching at Jewell I was offered a job at the Texas college Bobbie and I had always said would be the perfect place to live. We went to look. We both said no. We had found a home in Missouri, in a town fittingly named Liberty.

Forty-four years have now come and gone. All this time I have thought of myself as a family doctor. Not of the body. Of the spirit. Of the relations we have with each other. Greater Kansas City is my patient, though I have expanded the boundaries and call it Greater Liberty, for reasons I will explain. I left William Jewell some years back to devote full time to a project my Race Relations class started in 1988. We called it HateBusters. We’re now a 501 C-3 non-profit. We help people hurt by hate. We never say no when asked to help. We charge no fees.

Kansas City—Greater Liberty—has been good to me. I’ve tried to return the favor. I’m not through yet. Mine is a lifetime appointment.

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On Michael Steele

By Michael Humphrey

Much was made of Michael Steele’s African-American heritage when he was elected the new chairman of the Republican National Committee last month – and for good reason. The fact that the President of the United States and the head of the opposition party are both men who would not have had full citizenship in the very recent past is cause to celebrate. It is not a sign of color-blindness, as some have suggested, but it is a sign our vision of justice is improving.

Less was made of Steele’s Catholicism, though this may shape his leadership at least as much as his race. I had the chance to interview him about his faith and politics at the Republican National Convention last fall. I came away from the meeting feeling like he was a tenacious and intelligent defender of both.

I did not come away feeling that Steele would drastically change the content of the party’s character, no matter what level of leadership he attained. (It was clear he would be moving up.) Steele is adamantly opposed to Roe v. Wade, he favors tax cuts for businesses and capital gains, he believes in the right to bear arms, he says invading Iraq was right, even without weapons of mass destruction and coined the phrase, “drill baby drill” just hours after I interviewed him. Party line stuff.

The question that Republicans want Steele to answer, however, is not how he identifies with the Republican base but how he can get young and non-white voters to view his party in a new light. According to exit polls, President Obama’s 68 percent youth vote won him the election. Obama also won a large majority of Hispanic votes. Both were won over by the president’s depiction of a country that valued justice over just desserts.

Party chairmen, unfortunately, are judged much like football coaches — by their winning percentage. The winners are visionaries; the losers are shoved out of the limelight.

Steele should overlook that reality these next four years. He should instead focus on giving his country choices that do not re-create the same old divisions: military aggression vs. peace brokering, bootstrap self-reliance vs. compassionate collectivism, vengeance vs. rehabilitation, business vs. the environment.

Steele has the mind, the opportunity and the Catholic training to change this argument in a fundamental way. I know enough Republicans, many of whom were as proud as Democrats to see Obama take the oath of office, who want to eschew the stereotype that their party is one of myopic self-interest.

The common ground is simple enough to figure out among people of good will. We want a peace that lasts, we want to see poverty radically reduced, a country where all of us do meaningful work, we want to see crime reduced and we want to live in an environment that is mutually sustainable.

Some people may not agree, but I believe there are multiple viewpoints on how to reach those idealistic ends. I do not believe the Democratic Party has all the answers, nor should it take the peace and justice vote for granted every two years. But this past week’s debate over the economy was good proof that Republicans must learn how to look beyond the “it’s my money” mentality to make meaningful suggestions for creating a more just society.

Steele’s Catholic-influenced ideology might be the right tool to adjust his party’s outlook. He is, for instance, opposed to capital punishment, in favor of some form of affirmative action, has stated that foreign policy should not be “shoot first and ask questions later,” all while he talks powerfully about his own story reflecting the American dream.

There are certain issues where the fight will remain raging for now and some of his causes will also come from current Church teaching – gay marriage and abortion are two easy examples.
But there are many justice issues – poverty, climate change, immigration, restorative justice, terrorism and war – which Steele should dig deep into his lessons about social justice and lead his party towards a broader worldview.

It will be a good sign that if, in 2010, new Republican candidates are perplexing the media by addressing social justice issues head-on as a way to win popular support. The Obama-Steele rivalry could conceivably make this happen. If this doesn’t happen, Steele will have failed no matter his win-loss record. And this country will continue to seek out its own ideals with one eye blurry and the other eye blind.

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An open letter to President Elect Obama

NOTE: To sign and send this letter, go here.

“The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth,
but from the enduring power of our ideals…;”
“This victory… is only the chance for us to make the change.”
-President Elect Barack Obama

President Elect Barack Obama:

As our nation approaches the celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we write you with great hope. We know you are a man of compassion, wisdom and vision.

At this time of your inauguration as our President, your words echo the words and vision of Dr. King which ring true for the challenges facing our nation today. His vision of hope, justice and peace were not superficial adjustments to the status quo. He called for “a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin… the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.” (A Time to Break Silence, King, 1967)

His words about the expenditure of our nation’s tax dollars on war instead of investing in people are a scathing indictment of the way things were/are, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

President Elect Obama, we urge you to heed the call of Dr. King and reject the pressures of war profiteers who erode our economy, community and nation’s soul. We support your agenda for an inclusive just society and for the change so desperately needed: set as your top priority the needs of our citizens- provide education, healthcare, and job opportunities; invest in our nation’s infrastructure and renewable clean energy needs; and heal our nation’s relationships in the world – reject U.S. reliance on military might, instead help heal the sick, support self-reliance, be an unwavering proponent of the rule of law and diplomacy, and increase economic well-being and human security for all.

President Elect Obama, we ask you to embrace Dr. King’s call to “transform the dynamics of the world power struggle…, which no one can win, to a creative contest to harness man’s genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all the nations of the world.” (Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, King, 1968)

Thank you for your pledge to make the world our children inherit better than the one today.

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MoCRI: Not a civil rights amendment

By Megan Hope

Charles Ferruzza thought he was doing the right thing.

As the local food critic rushed into Cosentino’s Market in Brookside, he was stopped by one of several petitioners. “I don’t remember exactly what he said,” said Ferruzza, “But he alluded that the petition was about fighting discrimination—instead of encouraging it.”

Only later did Ferruzza learn what he’d signed his name to: a ballot initiative that would end affirmative action and other programs in Missouri designed to address race- and gender-based barriers to equal opportunity in public education, public employment, and public contracting. This means programs that try to boost the participation of minority- and women-owned businesses in public contracts, minority scholarships to Missouri junior colleges and universities, and even publicly funded mentoring programs aimed at women scientists or Latina girls could all be outlawed by an amendment to the state constitution. The amendment is deceptively called the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative (MoCRI).

MoCRI petitioners are trying to gather close to 140,000 signatures by May 4 so the initiative can appear on November ballots. The canvassers, many from other states, are paid $3 to $4 per name collected. Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, and Oklahoma are all targeted this year as affirmative action battlegrounds by Ward Connerly, a wealthy California businessman. Connerly and the American Civil Rights Institute he spawned have already succeeded in banning affirmative action programs in his home state, Washington, and Michigan.

Recruiting the Minutemen

As the deadline for MoCRI signatures nears, Connerly is planning for a surge of canvassers to be deployed to the Show-Me state. In an e-mail last week to the conservative National Review Online, he called for “25 individuals who are committed to equal treatment under the law to travel to Missouri. All expenses will be paid and there is the potential to earn big bucks to collect signatures.”

The call to clipboards is being forwarded widely among alleged white supremacist and anti-immigrant groups, including Californians for Population Stabilization, the Betsy Ross Patriots, and the Minutemen. In an e-mail to Minutemen members, Stuart H. Hulbert, a longtime Connerly ally, wrote, “The tie-in with immigration issues is very strong. About 3/4 of all immigrants and probably more like 90% percent of illegal immigrants are immediately eligible the minute they cross the border or get off the plane, on the basis of their ‘race,’ for preferential treatment by all sorts of federally mandated programs.” Much of the content of Hulbert’s email was circulated by Jeff Schwick, head of the San Diego Minutemen, along with a claim that Connerly had personally contacted Schwick to recruit his “standup guys and gals” for detail in Missouri.

Although Connerly denies contacting or even knowing Schwick, civil right activists say harnessing anti-immigrant fervor only makes sense. “[Connerly’s supporters have] targeted states where there’s a white majority electorate and a vocal, if small, extreme anti-immigrant right wing,” said Shanta Driver, who runs By Any Means Necessary, a coalition that defends affirmative action. For anyone who believes that undocumented immigrants are walking off planes and into government-contracted jobs, the notion that affirmative action is unjust isn’t much of a leap.

California: Post-affirmative action laboratory

Connerly and the supporters he readily claims—including Rupert Murdoch, Joseph Coors, the Heritage Foundation, Kansas City businessman John Uhlmann, MoCRI Executive Director Timothy Asher, and others—envision November 4 as a “Super Tuesday for Equal Rights,” when multiple states can simultaneously vote to prohibit “discrimination” and “preferential treatment.”

But it isn’t just their lofty ideals of “justice” that motivate these right-wing conservatives and big-business buddies. Connerly, an African American and former University of California regent, has spent most of his career (and made his millions) consulting and lobbying for the building and construction industry, a network of business and interest groups that have long opposed affirmative action programs.

Since California Proposition 209 banned affirmative action programs in the state beginning in 1997, statistics show women- and minority-owned businesses have suffered. Their share of Department of Transportation contracts dropped from 27.7 percent in 1994 to 8.2 percent in 2002. Connerly doesn’t deny the effects, but celebrates what it means for the firms he works with, who no longer have to comply with affirmative action requirements. “It improves their bottom line not to have to go through this stuff,” he told Ms. Magazine earlier this year.

Other changes in California are evident, too. Although publicly funded gender-targeted health screenings (like breast cancer detection) and women-only domestic violence shelters in California have survived, not all programs have fared as well. When UMKC sophomore Sayra Gordillo attended a student conference in California earlier this year, Latinos told her that minority enrollment in state universities had dropped. “The people I talked to in California told me, ‘You have to fight [the MoCRI] as much as you can,’” she said.

Missouri fights back

Indeed, “Missouri has pushed back like no other state,” said Donnie Morehouse, Associate Director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. “We’ve worked together like we’ve never worked together before,” he said, pointing to the diversity of labor groups, business people, faith bodies, community organizations, students, and others on both sides of the state who have united to stop the MoCRI. The WeCAN (Working to Empower Community Action Now) coalition has been organizing volunteers across the state to go to petitioning sites and educate would-be signers by distributing “Think Before You Ink” leaflets and talking to them.

WeCAN is also tracking complaints by people like Ferruzza who say they were deceived or misinformed by canvassers. Missouri state law prohibits the use of deceptive tactics in petition circulation; Morehouse is hopeful that the number of deluded signers will at least attract the attention of Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. In Michigan, where Connerly’s initiative passed in November 2006, hundreds testified that they had been misled or lied to by petitioners. A coalition of groups in Colorado supporting civil rights is considering filing a legal challenge about deceptive canvassers, and, petitioners in Oklahoma have been accused of being untruthful or vague.

The MoCRI and Connerly’s other campaigns take advantage not only on the good intentions of people who support genuine civil rights, said Morehouse, but also on widespread misconceptions. Many people think affirmative action policies involve quotas or set-asides, he says, but that isn’t true. “It’s about reminding ourselves that there are people out there we may not be thinking about.” Morehouse likened affirmative action to using a Rolodex, but having a systematic way to move names from underrepresented categories of the population to the front—people that an employer or admissions officer might not otherwise think of contacting.

Gordillo recalled a white female classmate who believed she had been discriminated against for being white. Gordillo was sympathetic, but explained that affirmative action policies have actually benefited white women more than any other group of people. “I told her, we can make reforms to affirmative action—there are things we can do to fix it, but we can’t fix it if it’s eliminated.”

Capitalizing on ignorance

At a WeCAN hearing about affirmative action held in Kansas City in February, Terry Jones, professor of public policy and political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, testified that the damage done by decades of slavery, segregation, denial of education, and glass ceilings in Missouri has not yet been reversed.

“To pretend that in 2008 all whites and people of color have equal opportunity is to deny history…Mr. Connerly’s proposal banning affirmative action was bad public policy for California, Washington, and Michigan—the three states which have adopted it. It is much, much worse for Missouri. Unlike the other three states, which never legalized slavery and stayed on the more polite side of Jim Crow practices, Missouri’s past–its constitutions and laws–are littered with racism.”

“We’ve left ourselves vulnerable to efforts like MoCRI because of our ignorance about affirmative action and immigration,” said Morehouse.

Missouri House Bill 1463, as an example of misinformation about immigration, would require all state colleges and universities to certify that they do not enroll any “illegal aliens.” As a legislative update by the Missouri Association for Social Welfare explained, “The argument that an ‘illegal alien’ would be taking up a spot that could have gone to a ‘real Missourian’ is bogus, because most of our state colleges do not have enrollment limits, so accepting one student absolutely does not mean excluding some other student.”

The legitimate economic frustrations of Missourians and other Americans will never be alleviated by pretending, as Connerly’s American Civil Rights Institute does, that “Race has no place in American life or law.” The reality is that women and people of color still face unwarranted obstacles.

People like Sayra Gordillo know those obstacles. “It’s been hard enough already,” she said. “But if the MoCRI succeeds, it’s going to get harder.”

Volunteers throughout Missouri are needed to stop the MoCRI. To help, contact Lara at the Jobs with Justice-St. Louis office at 314-644-0466 , Aaron at 314-497-854, or Amy at 314-265-3927. You may also contact Megan Hope at 913-244-4762.

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