Sunday, September 25, 2011

An open letter to the UC Berkley College Republicans and their misuse of the concept of racism

An Open Letter to the UC Berkley College Republicans,

I just read an article in the on-line version of the San Francisco Chronicle that you will be holding an affirmative action bake sale on Tuesday, Oct. 27 as a way of mocking your fellow students' support of SB185--a bill that would allow the UC system to consider issues of race and ethnicity when considering admissions criteria.

On your Facebook page (listed as "Increase Diversity Bake Sale" you say that

"Our bake sale will be at the same time and location of a phone bank which will be making calls to urge Gov. Brown to sign the bill. The purpose of the event is to offer another view to this policy of considering race in university admissions. The pricing structure of the baked goods is meant to be satirical, while urging students to think more critically about the implications of this policy."

and then you go on to offer the following price list:

White/Caucasian: $2.00
Asian/Asian American: $1.50
Latino/Hispanic: $1.00
Black/African American: .75 cents
Native American: .25 cents

.25 cents off for all Women.

Additionally, on your Facebook Page, you claim that

"The Berkeley College Republicans firmly believe measuring any admit's merit based on race is intrinsically racist."

Racist. . . really???

Do you even KNOW what the concept of "racism" is actually rooted in? Do you actually KNOW the history of the United States--the full and real history of the United States--about what made America so great--what made us a super power? Free labor and cheap labor--which means exploited labor. And for the most part, it was a stratified labor system that targeted people based on (wait for it!) THEIR RACIAL DIFFERENCE FROM THE PEOPLE IN POWER (ie: white folks).

Chattel slaves from Africa were taken and exploited based on the belief of their racial difference (read inferiority). Understanding the history of this exploitation--the systematic belief in one group's inferiority to another. Understanding the workings of hegemony (read some Antonio Gramsci--you're college students and should know how to parse political theory) means that when you use a word like "racist" to describe people who are invested in a system of "racism" you should use this term ACCURATELY. You are, after all college students at one of the finest institutions in the nation. But your mis-use of the word "racist"--as if the word "racist" was synonymous with paying attention to racial difference--as if you actually believe (which you probably do, which is so sad since you are supposed to be among our nation's best and brightest) that there's this level playing field. That all races are equal. That there's no need to have a system in place that recognizes the historic oppression and systematic subordination of groups of people based on skin color/racial difference. That there's no need to try to rectify for this imbalance--to try to correct for centuries of WHITE PRIVILEGE and WHITE SUPREMACY that have kept non-white students from institutions of higher education.

If you want to use the word "racist" correctly, let me re-direct you to your own price listing.

Which is, in my opinion....racist.

The Blogger of Mixed Race America and all people who understand what words actually mean and who understand the basic concept of racism.

[UPDATE: 9/27/11: Since this blog is called "Mixed Race America" I should have originally mentioned that of the many problems and offenses that the price list of the bake sale raises, the exclusion or lack of recognition of multiracial people seems glaring. Also, this is a quote from the president of the UC Berkeley College Republican from CNN's website: "We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point," Lewis wrote in response to upheaval over the bake sale. "It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender." (BIG SIGH) Well I'll say this, the kid is getting his 15+ minutes of fame]

Monday, September 19, 2011

Putting my money where my mouth (or ethics) is

So there's this weird American idiom, "Putting my money where my mouth is"--and I'm not even sure how apropos it is for the post I'm going to write, but somehow that's what came to mind as a title when I thought about recounting a recent decision that Southern Man and I just made.

We have decided that it's time for the house to be painted--a daunting prospect because while it's not a large house that we have, it is an original mill house from 1949 with real wood siding--and since it's the South, it means that paint peels and you have to re-paint or at least touch-up your house every 5-7 years if you have real wood siding. Which is also an expensive prospect. I think we'd even think about doing the job ourselves, except we both have a healthy fear of heights and it is a two-story house we're talking about (and it would just look a little odd to only have the first floor painted).

Anyway, we have been interviewing painters this week and the first and lowest bid that we got is from a Painter I'll call "Joe" (not his real name). Now what you need to know is that I live in a very liberal town--it's not even the college town that Southern U. is in--it's the uber-liberal, crunchy-granola, recently gentrified formerly working class enclave that is located right next to the college town. It has the highest property taxes in the entire state because it's a small town with many residences but a tiny downtown business district and a population that likes slow to no growth. It's the kind of place that had Obama placards all over the place, where you can actually see the occassional same-sex couple holding hands (just saw two women strolling down my neighborhood the other day), and where the locavore movement reigns supreme.

So Joe comes and he's a chatty guy--mostly Southern Man is showing him around the house since I've holed up in my office to try to finish some fellowship applications. But I get called out so that I can get introduced to Joe and to see if I have any additional questions. I mention to Joe that the last time I had the house painted, I hadn't been that happy with the company I used because they were these contractors who farmed the work out to other people who weren't part of their company. And before I could explain further, Joe says:

"Oh, I use my own crew, and I never hire Hispanics"

Cue awkward pause.

Joe seemed oblivious at our discomfort and just kept talking away about what he and his crew would do to the house. And then, for some inexplicable reason, he showed us pictures of his cessna right before he left. He also, oddly enough, didn't try to shake hands with us. And he seemed, as Southern Man put it, odd and awkward, especially when I came out of the house.

The thing is, it's clear that Joe knows what he's talking about in terms of painting--and that he'd do a good job (we were referred to him by a very reputable source). But the minute he made that remark about "Hispanics" there was no way we could hire him. And truthfully, I wonder if we threw him off when I walked out of the house--that he may not have been expecting and inter-racial couple (although again, he's sort've an idiot if he didn't think that making a remark about "Hispanics" to an inter-racial couple in a liberal town wasn't going to go over well).

Anyway, the next guy is about $2000 above his price, but I think we have to do it--because at the end of the day, if I just talk the talk but don't walk the walk, what does that say about me as someone committed to issues of racial awareness/diversity/anti-racism?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Are Jewish people a race?

The question in this blog's title was one posed to me by one of my student's after class recently. Actually, the question was more sophisticated. I had been lecturing, in class, about terms like "race," "racism," "anti-racism," and "white privilege." And I had talked about the racial pentagram--the way that we (meaning most people in the U.S.) talk about race as if there were 5 predominant categories: black, white, Asian American, Latino/Hispanic, and American Indian/Native American. I said that of course I wasn't saying that this was a good thing or trying to reinforce that we should only acknowledge 5 and only 5 races--that in fact our understanding of racial groups and racial formation is an ongoing and flexible thing--and that we may be talking about a racial hexagram soon since increasingly Arab and Muslim Americans are being racialized into their own category in the U.S.

So my student, after class, asked what I thought about Jewish people being considered a separate race in the U.S. And I said that certainly not that long ago, Jewish people were, indeed, considered a separate race in the U.S. and certainly around the world. And that anti-semitism is still with us--there are people who continue to discriminate against Jewish people based simply, sadly, and solely on their Jewishness. But I also said that with respect to how we think about race currently in the U.S. it was complicated because similar to either mixed race individuals whose multiraciality may include whiteness or with Latino/Hispanics, Jewish people whose phenotype trends white have white skin privilege because their Jewishness, at least at first sight, is not going to be apparent. And I said that like with all types of identities, there are elements of intersectionally that informs times when we exercise more or less privilege and find ourselves in oppressed or minoritized positions versus in majority positions. As an Asian American woman, I am seemingly in a minoritized position by my race and gender, yet as a straight identified, able bodied person who holds a PhD and a position at a research university, I exercise privilege in very tangible ways.

So I thought about all of this when I watched the film Sarah's Key yesterday. It is a film that I hope everyone watches, because it tells an incredibly moving story. And more importantly, it reminds us of an underdiscussed moment in history--the round-up and deportation of over 13,000 Jewish immigrants and refugees (and their French-born children and grandchildren) on July 16 and 17, 1942 in Vichy France--what is commonly referred to as the Vel d'Hiv (a shortening of Velodrome d'Hiver--which was the winter stadium in which these 13,000 people languished for days before being transported to transit camps in the countryside before being finally shipped off to Auschwitz). Click here for an article about the filmmaker's motivations for making the film.

The film was incredibly moving and powerful -- and an important scene in the film (and don't worry, this isn't going to spoil anything in terms of a plot point in the story) is when one character expresses disgust at the way that the average French citizens did nothing to stop this atrocity. And another character asks her what she would have done had she been there--how would she have protested or tried to stop this from happening? Would she have the courage, during the German occupation of France, to risk her life or the lives of her family to help a group of people being persecuted by the state?

This is the question I ask myself when I insert myself back in WWII in California when posters announcing the roundup of Japanese Americans were plastered all over the state. Or in the mid-1950s on segregated busses in the South. Or in the era of apartheid in South Africa. I think we all want to believe that we'd be brave--we'd stand up and speak truth to power--that we would risk our lives for our beliefs. But I don't know.

And honestly, if we look at history, over and over again, people often don't. They look after themselves rather than others. There are, of course, extraordinary exceptions--and these exceptions are important. At any rate, I think that films like Sarah's Key and my student's question are important reminders about the fact that it was not that long ago that Jewish people were racialized into an oppressed category in the U.S. -- the Holocaust may feel like the past, but it was not that long ago that Hitler's final solution was enacted all over Europe and 6 million people were murdered because enough people didn't believe in their humanity. And that is the ultimate form of racism--believing that another race isn't even human.