Tag Archives: racial segregation

From Plessy v. Ferguson to #Ferguson, Missouri

Dispelling the myth of equality in the legal system

This is a re-post from the Uprooting Criminology blog.

Two weeks ago I attended a rally in Dallas, Texas to protest police brutality during the death of Michael Brown. There were many impassioned speeches and heart felt rallying cries. One of those chants “No Justice, No Peace; No Racist Police,” caused me to pause and reflect on the statement. I simply could not bring myself to repeat the phrase. Perhaps it was because addressing the individual racist police officer does not address the real issue.

Incidents such as Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO and Eric Garner in New York are symptomatic of the larger issue of institutional racism that permeates the legal system in the United States. The myth of equal treatment in the legal system has endured for centuries. Whether it is through the Supreme Court case Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896 until the shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson Missouri in 2014, rhetoric continues to proclaim fairness and equality in the legal system, when all of the evidence speaks to the contrary.

In 1896 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the doctrine of “separate but equal.” It effectively ensured legalized segregation. Under this doctrine, the government was allowed to require that services, facilities, public accommodations, housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation be separate provided that the quality of each group’s public facilities was equal. This ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education (1956).

The court ruled in this case that segregation was inherently unfair and that policies that separate race denote inferiority among those races. Problems of inequality persist in the criminal justice system today to an even greater extent than what was outlined by the doctrine of “Separate but Equal.” Through various ways minorities are treated separately and unequally. The dilemma arises because many fail to acknowledge this separate treatment and even worse the disproportionate effects on minority communities. So the first step is to finally acknowledge some of the factors that have led to the unequal treatment of minorities in the United States.

Institutional inequality is in part due to the make-up of the law makers. Law makers are disproportionately white (over 85%), male (over 80%), and are usually more than 20 years older than the average American. More important than demographic information however, is the way crime is constructed in the legal system. This construction of crime has had a direct effect on urban cities like Ferguson, MO; which has a populous dominated by people of color.

Crime is not labeled based on the degree of harm it causes but rather the illusion that street crime is the most dangerous form of crime. This emphasis causes a disproportionate focus on crime based on urban areas, particularly ones with minorities as the overwhelming demographic. If police are heavily focused on street crime and disproportionately located in urban areas, it is inevitable that there will be disparities in stop and arrest rates between whites and people of color. It is also certain that force will be more likely to be used against people of color than against whites.

This is verified by statistics that show blacks and Hispanics are far more likely to report run-ins or harassment by officers. They are 3-4 more likely to be arrested and have force (including lethal force) used against them (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2007). The shooting death of Mike Brown fits well into these statistics.

So beyond dispelling the myth of inequality in the legal system what else can be done to address the unequal treatment of minorities? Much research has been conducted to find empirical data to quantify to some extent the effects of institutional racism in our legal system. The Baldus Study and research from the Kirwan Institute on implicit bias to name a few. However, further research combined with legislative change offers a more effective solution. In any case, John Powell in a recent interview said it best, “We still have not come to full recognition of blacks and other people as full citizens, as full people. And one way we can demonstrate that is that when we see another human being, our brain is actually wired so that part of the brain lights up, just from recognition of another human being.” When our policy making finally reflects this sentiment we will have a more equitable legal system.

@PBS 's #WonderWomen: White Feminist Superheroines And Invisible Women Of Color

gina torres wonder woman

“This post has been cross-posted from my Blerd Theologian Tumblr

Tonight, I watched PBS’s Independent Lens’ episode entitled, Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines. To be honest, this documentary played out unfortunately like a piece of white feminist triumphalism, when it really did not have to. My favorite comic writer Gail Simone said at the conclusion of that Wonder Woman was a feminist symbol of hope and inclusion. The vision for the future promoted by this text, however, was one of racial exclusion and classist & ableist propaganda. Wonder Women was not a documentary geared towards ALL American women, but specific white American women with middle & upper class privilege.

Let’s go through the U.S. American history lesson we were given, shall we? Wonder Woman was the comic book version of Rosie the Riveter during World War II, and afterwards, her and Lois Lane were depicted as less ambitious. So basically, white women were told to take care of homes! Okay, but this WAS NOT THE EXPERIENCE OF ALL WOMEN! No, this documentary spoke to the white side of segregationist economics and white women’s experience, but when it comes to blacks, perhaps those women who were HAD NO CHOICE but to work (because choice is a luxury, based on class, don’t forget that), Wonder Women could not address this issue.

Moving on, let’s read about the Women superheroes who inspired the women’s rights movement in the 60s and 70s. Big surprise: All white, all without disability, and with class privilege. Yeah, a picture of Storm from Marvel’s X-Men was put up as a token. Yeah, they talked about Nubia as “Wonder Woman’s sistah counterpart” but that was false. Any google search will show you that Nubia was a villain, and has since the 70s, fallen off the face of the DC universe. What an inspiration!

Wonder Woman. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Xena the Warrior Princess. All able-bodied. All white women written by white men. At the conclusion of Wonder Women,the documentary shameless did a highlight reel of famous American women, and showcased WOC such as Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, Rosa Parks, and others. It’s funny that this played out sort of like Season 7 of white feminist legend Buffy, where the show all of a sudden becomes more culturally diverse, as if the first six seasons & it’s First World Western feminist vision didn’t happen!

In Buffy, a number of POC scholars have taken issue with portrayals of racial minorities in the BuffyVerse, and DC Comics (as much as I’m a New 52 fanboy), continues to have more problems than Marvel (but atleast DC doesnt have the Doctor Voodoo problem– you can look that up). Works of fantasy, myths are always social and political. Pop cultural exclusion leads to perpetual political exclusion, and that’s what we continue to see, esp when it comes to voting rights, access to public education, and the prison-industrial complex.

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The Southern Strategy: Haley Barbour as a Case Study


For as long as I can remember political events throughout the year, I have always been aware of what analysts refer to as The Southern Strategy.  That Southern Strategy, along with Gerry Mandering/Redistricting  and the Electoral College make up the Three-Headed  monster of U.S. American politics.  No one should be represented according to race or ethnicity, and everyone should be able to directly vote for the head of state.

As anyone who is familiar with presidential history and the Nixon administration will tell you, the Southern Strategy was an unorganized and unscripted attempt to solidify white Southern votes for the GOP.  Now, some would argue that it does not exist today; but to the contrary, it finds its way more so on the local and state-level, and when a national figure like Haley Barbour gets caught using it, the Southern Strategy gets exposed. It all started last week, in an innocent interview with the Weekly Standard.  Governor Barbour of Mississippi, reminiscing about the good old days of the citizens counsels, claimed that these counsels somehow stood up to the Ku Klux Klan.  But as anyone would tell you, these very counsels stood for racial segregation.  African Americans in Mississippi, their experience and history, looked down upon because of neo-confederate historical reconstruction.

Yet this form of racial politiks is a two-fold strategy; it just does not end there. In order to pacify the “colored” masses, Barbour decided to “make-up” for it by requiring Civil Rights history to be taught in all public schools, at all grade levels. Arizona, anyone?  In addition, after a long campaign for what became a “black issue,” two sisters were released from prison after allegedly committing a robbery.

And that’s how the Southern Strategy works; White male Southern politicians will say one thing, perhaps innocently promote the display of the Confederate flag, maybe say a positive thing about the segregation era, or even give a speech where a lynching happened, like Philadelphia, Mississippi, as Ronald Reagan did; but the other half,  these politicians will work to pacify those who would dare challenge the worst and divisive of racial politics, and then feign in confusion about why these communities, particularly Black American communities will not vote for their like. It’s obvious from the outset: the use of the Southern Strategy means that one does not want to hear these communities’ voices in the first place.

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