Liberation Circle & Reading Summaries from D.A.T.T. Freedom School
Summer 2015 – Week 3
Race & white supremacist racism
The Storify for this topic’s Liberation Circle tweet chat can be found HERE.
Summary of “Fatal Invention” by Dorothy Roberts – Chapter 1: The Invention of Race & “Racial Formation in the United States” by Michael Omi & Howard Winant – Chapter 4: The Theory of Racial Formation & Chapter 5: Racial Politics & the Racial State
In this chapter, Dorothy Roberts quickly reviews the history of the invention of “race”. The title of the chapter alone challenges the popular notion that race has always existed along with the complete separation of racial groups till colonial contact. Robert’s historical analysis poignantly reveals that is not the case. Roberts points out the importance of race in settler colonial US,
“Americans are so used to filtering our impressions of people through a racial lens that we engage in this exercise automatically – as if we are merely putting a label on people to match their innate racial identities … So we force the melange of physical features and social clues into a code that tells us how to categorize each person – so as to know where each person fits in our society (Roberts, 2011:1)”.
This process of “racialization” is about making approximations about people’s cultures, behaviors, and etc.. But overall its a series of political processes. Omi & Winant call race a “way of making up people” and also a “process of othering” (2015:105).
According to Michael Omi & Howard Winant in “Racial Formation in the United States” race is “a concept that signifies & symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies” (2015:110). But we know from Roberts (2011) that race is not just a social construct; race is a political relationship. Thus, race is a political conflict carried out by reference to specific types of human bodies. Racism is not something particular to the United States & race is not the same everywhere in the world. Racial categories serve particular contextual purposes depending on the society they are used in, but generally follow the base logic of the supremacy of one type of human body over all others (ordering these human bodies in a hierarchical fashion).
Race is a typology based in zoological typologies and heavily influenced by the line of thought in “the great chain of being”, a concept derived by Plato and Aristotle.
White Supremacist Racism is a system of power based on the supremacy & dominance of “white” people. “white” is a political concept created by the European colonial ruling elite of the 17th & 18th centuries that is revealed in the attitudes, behaviors & institutional systems in which white people maintain supremacy over peoples of color. Human beings create & maintain the systems which, in turn, reinforce white supremacist racism.
It is important for us to remember to call racism what it is: white supremacy. What this does is it moves beyond individual or inter-personal racism and directs attention to the systemic & institutional forms of racism. The Martinez reading points out the importance of distinguishing between individual & institutional racism (echoing the Kwame Ture readings from week 2):
“A. The purpose of racism is much clearer when we call it “white supremacy.” Some people think of racism as just a matter of prejudice. “Supremacy” defines a power relationship.
C. The term racism often leads to dead-end debates about whether a particular remark or action by an individual white person was really racist or not. We will achieve a clearer understanding of racism if we analyze how a certain action relates to the system of White Supremacy.
D. The term White Supremacy gives white people a clear choice of supporting or opposing a system, rather than getting bogged down in claims to be anti-racist (or not) in their personal behavior.”
(“Unsettling Ourselves: Reflections and Resources for Deconstructing Colonial Mentality” compiled by Unsettling Minnesota – “What is White Supremacy” by Elizabeth Martinez p. 71)
Dorothy Roberts (2011) reveals the political and economic nature of race & white supremacy from its inception (Fatal Invention by Dorothy Roberts excerpt, Ch. 1 pp.2-3):
Roberts points out the importance of moving beyond race just being a social construction. Race is a political construction that was utilized for economic means. Race has always served a political function and has political roots in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and colonialism (settler and resource). A useful way to consider the political functions of race is to consider how flexible racial groups are in US history. For instance, “Hispanic” (which is an ethnic grouping of people who speak Spanish) was not a category of racialization in the US until the 1980s. Mexican was a racial category in the US in the 1930s (Roberts, 2011: 21).
The political origins of race lie in 15th & 16th century European Catholics’ desire to distinguish between Christians and Infidels (deemed fit for conquest & enslavement) (Roberts, 2011: 5-6). In 1455 Pope Nicholas V issued a papal decree to Portuguese giving them permission to “attack, subject, and reduce to perpetual slavery” all “enemies of Christ” along the west coast of Africa (Roberts, 2011: 5-6). The first justification of race & racism was religious, then scientific, but it was always the political justification for chattel slavery under capitalism.
Constructing race, racial groups, and white supremacy took time. “Slave” was not originally the equivalent of “Black”. African indentured servants in the new world originally had the same status as European indentured servants. By 1700, Africans were treated distinctively different (believed to be the consequence of Bacon’s Rebellion). There later was a major shift to wholly relying on enslaved Africans for labor along with legislative efforts to differentiate the status of Blacks and whites.
Biological determinism (justifying race as biological difference) was essential to justifying the enslavement of Africans. Racial typologies served as a legitimating rationale that patched up the moral contradictions of capitalism and allowed European colonialists to go on to make the maximum profit and not be challenged too often (Roberts, 2011:24).
An important observation is the simultaneity of the scientific revolution and the transatlantic slave trade and Eurowestern colonial expansion. While Europe experienced a scientific enlightenment they reigned genocide, thievery, & enslavement upon the rest of the world.
The development of bourgeois society has generated both a serious contradiction and a mode for coping with it. The contradiction is between the ideology of freedom and equality and the actual social dynamic that generates powerlessness and inequality. The mode of coping with that contradiction is a reductionist natural science that develops simple models of social or biological causation, providing fundamentally flawed explanations of social reality.
The contradiction appears in varied contexts: inequalities between social classes, races, the sexes, the appearance of social deviance. In each case a variant of reductionist, biological determinist theory has been constructed to deal with a specific issue. Once the mode of explanation is set – “there’s a gene for it” – the program of research and theory follows for the entire range of individual and social phenomena from autism to the “zero-sum society”. – “Not in Our Genes” by Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, & Leon Kamin (Chapter 4, pp. 80-81)
Hence, along with the rise of the bourgeois came the rise of the bureaucratic state & the ideologies to justify every social, political, economic, & scientific endeavor they would employ in order to make the maximum profit. In the end, saying race was biological helped solidify the political power relationships established in fueling capitalism.
The Slave Trade and Jim Crow/Colonialism:
- The slave trade in the US was about profit generation and cheap labor for rich white men. With the abolition of slavery Jim Crow became the means by which exclusion from economic, social, and political life was maintained.
- Africans on the continent and the diaspora suffered under the weight of imperialism and colonialism. The purpose of colonialism is the extraction of resources for use in the capitalist economy of the empire/metropole.
- Both systems represented the primitive accumulation of power, labor, and raw materials from oppressed people through force and political domination.
- With the conclusion of the Civil Rights Movement and related efforts to lessen the load of racial domination on Africans in America, white supremacy turned to more subtle forms of oppression to maintain white privilege in America. Colorblindness represents a way to allow racial forms of oppression to continue without it being as obvious as Slavery or Jim Crow. Institutional forms of oppression continue to destroy African people while whites are able to deny any personal involvement in that said oppression.
“It is in this acute distinction between the political status of whites & Blacks, this way of governing the power relationship between them, that we find the origins of race. Colonial landowners inherited slavery as an ancient practice, but they invented race as a modern system of power” (Roberts, 2011:12).
If you pay close attention to the history of the settler colonial state that is the U.S., you’ll notice that race was one of the key components to developing the concept of “American citizenship”. Race was part of the political question of who the federal government thought was qualified for citizenship. That means that citizenship is heavily influenced by and built off of conceptions of whiteness and the dehumanization of racial others (e.g. anti-Blackness, Orientalism, Indigenous erasure, etc..). Let’s look to the example of The Naturalization Act of 1790 and racial prerequisite cases:
“Another set of racial cases involved the litigation over the legal question, Who is white? The Naturalization Act of 1790, the nation’s first definition of American citizenship, restricted eligibility to free white immigrants. Until this racial requirement was abolished in 1952, being either a “white person” or (after the Civil War) a person of “African nativity, or African descent” was a prerequisite of becoming a citizen. Determining which groups of immigrants met the whiteness test for naturalization became a vital legal issues for almost a century. Between 1878 and 1952, state and federal judges issues decisions in 52 racial prerequisite cases, including 2 argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1920s. In these cases, judges ruled that Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Hawaiians, Afghanis, Native Americans, and anyone of mixed ancestry were not white. Arabs, Syrians, and Asian Indians were considered white by some judges and not by others. Armenians were more successful at claiming whiteness, despite their geographic origins east of the Bosporus Strait, which separates Europe from Asia.
Reviewing these cases, legal scholar Ian Haney Lopez discovered 2 chief rationales advanced by judges to justify their racial designations: common knowledge and scientific evidence. At times, courts relied on both widely held understandings of race and scientific expertise on the subject to determine which groups qualified as white. The very first case, decided by a California judge in 1878, arose when Ah Yup, “a native and citizen of the empire of China,” petitioned in writing to be admitted as a citizen of the United stated, raising the central question, “Is a person of the Mongolian race a ‘white person’ within the meaning of the [naturalization] statute?” Judge Sawyer dismissed the argument that the category “white person” was indefinite, noting that these words in this country, at least, have undoubtedly acquired a well settled meaning in common popular speech.” The phrase “white person,” the court stated, ordinarily referred to someone of the Caucasian race. The judge then turned for guidance to the racial typologies developed by European naturalists Johann Friedrich Blumenbach George Louis de Buffon, Carl Linnaeus, and Georges Cuvier, observing that all grouped Caucasians separately from Mongolians.” (Roberts, 2011:14-15)
“The racial question was ultimately a political question about which groups the federal government deemed qualified for citizenship.” (Roberts, 2011:16)
For further discussion watch this video of this Dorothy Roberts lecture: “Fatal Invention: The New Biopolitics of Race”
Also check out this public lecture by Troy Duster: “A Post-Genomic Surprise: the molecular reinscription of race in science, law and medicine”
– This summary was written by Shay Ture (@Pundit_Academic)
Summary of “Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan Africanism” by Kwame Ture/Stokely Carmichael – Chapter 3: Power & Racism
In Chapter Three of Stokley Speaks (1965), Kwame Ture provides the theoretical underpinning and instrumental bedrock for Black Power. Politically, shared governance is more than just a vacuous slogan towards utopia. But rather, it paints a picture of how reciprocals of white supremacy operate in divergent yet mutually beneficial ways. Ture refers to this phenomenon as “the octopus of exploitation” (p. 22), denoting that poverty and black America have always been used as programming of power (pp. 18-19). To that end, synchronization of the oppressed with the tenor, verbiage, and scope of the “white liberal audience” (p. 17) as seen with SNCC—according to Ture’s account— is intentionally devoid of “growing militancy” that was brewing with the Panthers’ chapters all over the US and abroad.
This quelled and simmering version of Black organization—sans the militancy— helped to “build the frustration” (p. 18) of luminaries like Ture particularly in the wake of non-violent deaths that harken most recently to Sandra Bland’s case in Texas. Ture explains that simple review of the historical Rolodex asking the oppressor “why don’t you stop beating us up?” will result in the same fate as positions of strength, militancy, and resistance. However, it is imperative that an organization that claims to “speak for the needs of the people” (p. 18) does not make concessions in its power and ask for permission to resist—much less ask, at all of the oppressor. Therein lies the nucleus of Black Power, Ture decrees—“beyond the slogan”.
It is not enough to be elected as a Black official within the technocracy of white establishment, Ture writes in Chapter Three. But rather, the political power must transcend mere representation and serve as an instrumental amplification—of the needs of the people. In this way, Black power for the masses from the diaspora, “could make or participate in making the decisions that govern their destinies” (p, 19). Ture explains that fear, shame, and retribution at the hands of the oligarchy prevent Black politicians from materializing the needs of Black citizenry. He provides stark yet sterling examples with a series of self-flagellated victories in the Alabama primary. Nonetheless, when the Black politicians had an opportunity to (on more than one occasion) raise the minimum wage and pass bills that mitigated the incessant red-lining (feudal control of mortgages in Black residential neighborhoods), they declined. This prompted Ture’s imagining of “reallocation” (p. 22)—not only in representation, but also in scope and vetting of interests. Ture was deeply suspicious of Black political figureheads that merely served as a bridge between the white establishment’s iteration of capitalism, and that of the Black people who were disproportionately impacted by many of the gerrymandering and wage battles their elected officials promised to address. The asymmetry between power and political representation led Ture’s referendum on “merely putting black faces into office” (p. 22).
This ahistorical and short-sighted subscription to Great Man Theory allowed him to delve into the full logistics of “self-determination”—an action arm of Black Power. Three precursors to political organization must exist—before Black Power can be vetted and consensus can be achieved, he delineates: a definition of needs, a realization of strengths, and a myriad of intersectional lines of expertise or political niches to combat the multi-faceted “octopus of exploitation” (p. 22)—from housing to school curriculum. These pillars take root as a divestment from white integration, Ture illustrates, and the integrationist “subterfuge” that functions only to “maintain white supremacy” (p. 23) as seen in Alabama during the 1960’s, and most recently with Black educators in privatized Charter Schools in New Orleans that fail to teach a meaningful account of Pan-African studies—despite the vast majority of Black students attending. Today, the neo-colonialism Kwame Nkrumah predicted has the so-called Third World literally paying for the lifestyle of billionaires. Globally, this chapter heralds parable of structural adjustment, where unelected institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, US controlled, make it a policy to force low GDP countries in Africa, Caribbean, and the Middle East to cut back spending on health, education, water, and to often privatize these very essentials—as a way to “repay” debts incurred post-colonialism.
As a preamble to his thesis on the Dialectics of Liberation, Kwame Ture vividly accounts for the tokens, symbols, and objects of white neo-colonialism nestled within Nkrumah’s prescient analysis of cultural tourism, and political opportunism. Ture explains that Power and the Polarizing of Races are twin anchors that must be addressed directly –before economic opportunity can be a vehicle towards liberation. Otherwise, reflexively, capitalistic endeavors will always render Black solutions to Black problems as inherently inferior. A Black Power paradigm built on mutualism provides that Black people are sole proprietors of their needs, strengths, and solutions. The reign of terror that bludgeons agency and cultivates political apoplexy is what provides the grounds for independence and divestment from white integrationist. Ture cites the coalitions that have been attempted between “poor blacks and poor whites” (p. 28)—noting that the sovereignty of Black mobilization was not notarized and legitimized until white capitalistic thinking—he aptly calls the “Pepsi generation” (p. 28)—explain how to proceed and respond to white neo-colonialism. In this way, white coalition became tantamount to reduction and dilution of power, co-opted by cultural tourists who did not have to live in the dual burden of poverty and racial quarantine. In contemporary society, shared ownership of political will and imagination is often evaded by capitalistic greed and the intoxicating fear of retribution from white oligarchy—giving rise to white establishment’s “buffer zone” (tokens, integrationists without equitable action, and apologists). For this same reason, many Black students admitted into predominantly white institutions (PWI’s) are scrutinized for intellectual firepower but white legacies (of settler colonialism) are considered par for the academic course.
– This summary was written by Arash Daneshzadeh (@A_Daneshzadeh)
Summary of “White by Law” by Ian Lopez – Chapter 1 “White Lines”
In Chapter One of White By Law, entitled White Lines (1996), Ian Haley Lopez portrays the asymmetrical benefits accrued and debts incurred by racial demarcations. These “lines”, Lopez cedes, exist in concentric circles of political, social, cultural radiuses –all converging upon a white epicenter.
Haley Lopez moves beyond the quixotic distillations of race— as merely an isolated, individual bias— but rather, a coerced system of public and private investments subsidized by capitalism and politically ratified into everyday normalcy. He adds that Whiteness is a category of interlaced power structures, not an opinion that one fervently debunks over time (p. 2). This formidable and political aegis of power, adapts “Whiteness” according to elusive contradictions. These ever-morphing parameters have historically oscillated in scope (e.g., ambiguity of Middle Eastern and North African immigrants) and arbitrary metrics (e.g., women lost naturalization privileges if they married a non-White partner). Each incarnation of Whiteness has been variegated according to political landscape, time, and location (i.e., municipal legislation vs. federal). Lopez uproots a throng of examples in which the constructs for Whiteness adapt (begrudgingly) to an influx of voluntary immigration, which saw a dramatic surge at the turn of the century (pp. 2-3). The exceptions of course, were indigenous and Black diasporic communities left on the fringe, while newfangled installations of regulations for “naturalization”—a proxy that allowed or denied political cachet similar to those [whose Whiteness was] not called into question. It’s important to note that even among North African and Middle Eastern or Asian populations there were irregularities and asymmetrical practices that could not land on one consistent definition of Whiteness—and by extension—authority.
During the 1920’s, “prerequisites of Whiteness” (p. 1) forced the United States Supreme Court to rule on the “imprecise and vacillating” (p. 1) constructs of Whiteness in order to settle petitions from immigrants of North Africa and South East Asia. Resulting from a litany of inconsistent rulings by the Supreme Court, starting from the advent of the “naturalization” quotient from the Census Bureau in 1907, racial (and thusly, social) demarcations of Whiteness established the “lines” of political power between non-Whites and the default White “race”. When some of the immigrants from Asia protested the phylogeny of Whiteness, citing Aryan lineage as a marker for naturalization, pundits and courts “disparaged science” (p. 5)—thus the loose biological determinism (phenotype of pale skin, light brown/blonde hair, blue/hazel eyes) was no longer a requirement as the already arbitrary assignment of Whiteness as a political brand of superiority, intelligence, beauty, urbane stature, became far more esoteric and evasive. In pp. 3-7, Lopez illustrates the contentious debate between “Common Knowledge” and scientific determinism of Whiteness that hit a boiling point when a Japanese petitioner fought to be recognized as Caucasian but the courts decided to rely on White ideology that “implied their true superiority exists as humanly fact, not relations of power” (p. 7)—the same relations intimated by Kwame Ture in his Dialectic of Liberation. Despite court definitions of naturalization, tethered to Whiteness, “ranged dramatically” (p. 6), the scientific manipulation set forth by Common Knowledge became a “touchstone of racial divisions” as the country expanded its global reach.
Social demarcations were set by “coercion and ideology” (p. 10) rather than conscious or unwitting agreement. The process of assigning meaning to Whiteness, therefore, was reinforced by political magistrates. Race was not a matter of phenotypes alone, but political cachet that afforded similar protection of White wealth, citizenship, and ideals of “sophistication” (p. 12)—which Lopez refers to as the “constructive tiers of humanity”. In other words, laws transformed material realities through proscribed declarations. This epistemological abstraction of colonial wealth, and imperial legislation, violated the equality promised through Constitutional decrees. Nonetheless, White racial lines became a trope to erase past transgressions and the legacy of contemporary oppression. According to Lopez, these “zoetic groupings” (p. 15) limited the ability for non-White populations to question the merits upon which wealth, infrastructure and “normalization” were created. Harkening to Toni Morrison (p. 21), Lopez underscores her stance that “White identity is inextricably tied to non-White identity” by consolidating privileges afforded naturalized citizens of the United States through an edifice of dehumanization and inferiority (p. 26).
In this Chapter, not only does Ian Lopez, provide a precise account of White political constructivism through court-bestowed recognition (of superior privilege), but also, a vast departure that the courts have ever once played a race-neutral position in advancing the neo-colonial mission of erasure and balkanized ownership of land, and other forms of material capital.
Today, most White Americans underestimate not only the level of their privileges but also the degree to which these privileges exist because they were passed down from a phylogeny of imperial and political annexation. Lopez, with filigreed and facile research, offers to unearth the roots of social transmission of privilege: from White constructivism to our current ethos of White Privilege.
– This summary was written by Arash Daneshzadeh (@A_Daneshzadeh)
Intro to Race, Racism, & Science Reading List:
Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century by Dorothy Roberts
Race, Racism, and Science: Social Impact and Interaction by John P. Jackson and Nadine M. Weidman
The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium
The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea by Robert Wald Sussman
Race: Are We So Different by Alan Goodman, Yolanda Moses, and Joseph Jones
Race: Debunking A Scientific Myth by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle
Not In Our Genes by Richard Lewontin, Richard Levins, & Leon Kamin