Every thing is (not) about race!

I regularly receive comments from people criticizing me for “making everything about race” and “only talking about race” or “limiting my perspective by making and thinking and only seeing race every where.”

Such statements do not make sense for a variety of reasons. 

First, of course, is that race or how society racializes individuals and the emphasis society gives it is indeed every where. Race is every where because we can not see a person without immediately and unconsciously categorizing him/her in terms of mores associated with racialization. 

That “race” vis-à-vis skin color (or phenotype) is such an important factor is a social construction, of course. Noticing physical characteristics is perfectly natural. Acting on these is was not natural, per se. But is, per se, given how we’ve reprogramed ourselves over a long, long time. 

Saying race is not every where, then, is denying the obvious. Such logic could also say, humans see the sky as being purple during the day or that biology is not every where, for instance. 

From another perspective: race is every where because of history. History doesn’t go away over night or in a period of decades, centuries, or even longer. As Susan Sontag and others would say, we’re still dealing with essentially the same core questions as people did thousands of years ago. Look at the extreme power of texts associated with Christianity and Islam, for example! The United States was built on labor from enslaved Blacks, on the genocide of Indians, and on the exploration of people from Mexico and China, to name a few examples. Consequences of this, in terms of the law, historical memory, and DNA, remain–this is as close to fact as we can get, per se. 

White Privilege and every day racism provide other examples of how race is every where. Don’t blame the messenger! No need to cite example of the racism that occurs every single day. Examples of individual and systemic or institutional racism in the United States are widely available in newspapers and blogs across the nation and world. Analysis of movies, television shows, and books further reveals that non-Whites are shown in racist, discriminatory ways. Non-white people are also regularly left out of media. Non-whites are now the majority, numerically. Even if they were not a numerical majority, such peoples deserve fair, positive representations. We know that, given the power of media in our society, media portrayals have tremendous influence on a person.

Related to all of this: White Privilege adds to the fact that race is every where. (We must remember that White people have a race, too. This was not always recognized, as being “White” was taken as the default, ideal position.) White Privilege simply means that by virtual of being White a person benefits from racism, perpetuates racism, and has an easier time in society than if said person had a different skin color, given that racializaiton is largely determined by skin color. (Though, of course, geographic location, time, experiences of the peoples involved, and even clothing can alter how a person is racialized.)

Finally, at the same time as above, of course every thing is indeed NOT about race, alone. In part, intersectionality tells us this. Just as racism is every where, so too is sexism, classism, homophobia, love, hate, cisgenderism, etc., etc. No one regularly says, “homophobia is not every where” or “you just see homophobia in every thing – open your eyes!” Just as race is every where, homophobia is every where, for example. We need to carefully examine why such every-thing-is-not-about rhetoric almost exclusively exists in terms of attacking, countering, or hoping to cease having conversation about race, racism, and racialization. 

All such conversations related to identify, labels, and history are extremely difficult because they involve confronting histories, personal experiences, personal biases, contemporary cultures, and all related factors that are infinitely intangible and impossible to fully know.    

While we can easily deny or ignore that which we can’t directly see or understand–such is the power of racism TODAY or of White Privilege or Male Privilege TODAY–we shouldn’t. That we can’t always directly see and understand racism makes it all the more important to seek ways of understanding. I am always baffled when White people say racism does not exist when non-Whites just about en masse describe how very much and scary racism is in 2015. 

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Life-size replica showing the amount of space enslaved people had on the Middle Passage.

As I have written about already, my class of four (five counting me) in African American History was absolutely outstanding. I’ll write more about it soon, too.

I wanted to share part of Tim’s project, and lucky for you (!), he gave permission to do so. (Make sure to check out the blog he created for the class!) In the pictures below, you’ll see his replica of approximately how much space enslaved Blacks had on the Middle Passage. On ships using the “tight packing” method, each person had somewhere around 6′ by 16″ by 30″. Tim’s replica would be the amount of space for two or three people. 

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A picture replica is worth a thousand words. I’ve talked about and read about the amount of space many times but had not at all internalized how impossibly small the space actually was.

When asked “What was it like being inside that space?,” Tim said, “It is ridiculously tight. I’ll just be frank, It was extremely uncomfortable for the few minutes that I stayed in it. I can’t imagine being stuck in a space that size, not being able to move, for months on end. It was so tight for me that I had to be helped out.”

In a Facebook chat just now, we then talked about difficulties associated with such representations, regardless of their accuracy, because they perpetuate negative, not positive, elements of Black History. More on this later. 

A Century and Two Great Ages of Consensus: Politics and History Repeating

People are weird. And contradictory. And emotional. Etc. Etc. Politics make people even more passionate. Historical perspectives, however, are important because we see how little things change, from one perspective, and from another how today’s hopes and fears and everyday events are one small part of many much larger discourses and historical moments.

In particular, people say that political polarization and alienation in the twenty-first century and especially since Barack Obama’s election and reelection, is worse than it has ever been, that people both don’t care and are so divided nothing can happen without angering many. That the common person does not have legitimate representation is also a popular and important observation.

As many problems as there are with politics, one thing stays the same: politics stay pretty much the same. One cliché voices part of the problem: If voting made any difference, they would have outlawed it by now.


Beginning with the Great Depression and New Deal, political parties and ideologies in the United States completely reorganized. Political parties and ideologies pre-Great Depression Era and post-Civil Rights Act of 1965/Voting Rights Act of 1965 are completely different institutions. Given the collective experiences of people in the United States and in the world through World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, not to mention all of the thoughts of related events with important rippling effects, a political consensus emerged–certainly not the first in the nation’s history.

From the 1930s to 1968-1972, a Liberal Consensus dominated political life in the United States. (Not to be confused with the political ideology of Modern Liberalism in the United States or Classical Liberalism.) Politicians and political parties shared basic sets of ideas that can be summed up in three points: 1) the United States is a prosperous, middle class society, 2) communism is bad and winning the Cold War is essential for all lovers of freedom, 3) the government must and will use its political and economic power to ensure basic survival and civil rights for all citizens, especially minorities. (See Godfrey Hodgson, “The Ideology of the Liberal Consensus” in America in Our Time [1976].) 

Similar to today, the (White) silent majority and the (White) moral majority felt alienated and left out and thought society was full of more divisions than ever before, and that immorality reigned.

Today, we have what I would call a “Conservative Consensus.” This consensus began in the mid-1970s and, regardless of whether a person is Democratic or Republican or another party, it is almost 100% agreed upon, in practice, if not fully in rhetoric, and includes four components: 1) un/low-regulated and taxed big business represents the highest form of democracy and these people deserve to be rewarded, 2) to be a moral, well-rounded person, a person must be an active Christian, 3) education, if not carefully regulated and tested, will corrupt children, 4) the United States is exceptional and should defeat terrorism for the world.

Sadly, I am not being sarcastic! We live in a world where survival of the fittest philosophies rule the day. Where “I am right,” and “you are wrong,” is always right. While these core values are very different than those of a half-century ago, these are still shared by politicians with very few exceptions and most people, especially non-Whites, feel left out and alienated. More and more White people feel the same way, especially those whose intersectionality makes them a minority in some way or another.   

Ideally, of course, the rich should pay more taxes, and businesses would be regulated or just simply behave. People would recognize that a religion (or lack of) does not make one a moral person or not. Things are changing. Recent polls show this is changing. Education is best when critical thinking is emphasized, teachers are highly-qualified and compensated. The United States is clearly not exceptional–certainly not in positive ways as “exceptional” connotes.  

Why do such “great” ages of political consensus occur? Why do we have a Liberal Consensus and then a Conservative Consensus? Partly, societies are naturally largely homogenous – that’s what makes them a society. Partly too because regardless of hopes and fears elsewhere in society, the big money has almost identical, self-serving interests, and big money has controlled politics since the beginning of the United States. Politics in the Untied States was created by big money, for big money. Have you ever considered that Capitalism – not the feared communism or loved democracy – is our actual form of government. 

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Why it might not be such a good idea for Harriet Tubman to be on the twenty dollar bill.

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A powerful, grassroots group Women on 20s emerged earlier this year with the goal of petitioning the White House to order a redesign of the twenty dollar bill such that a woman, not Andrew Jackson, would be featured. “A woman’s place is on the money,” they said.

I voted in both rounds and proudly supported these efforts.

However, like the talented Jay Smooth, I have reservations, but for different reasons.

My concerns relate to historical memory. Ask anyone, probably as young as first grade, who Harriet Tubman is, and they have one answer: Harriet Tubman was the leader of the underground railroad. While Tubman absolutely did do many wonderful things, people intentionally and unintentionally use her narrative (and use her as a historical stand-in) to present a worldview in which enslavement was not nearly as bad as views that emerge when rigorously analyzing evidence. Indeed, the underground railroad is largely not true per se. This article does a pretty good job of looking at the myths of the underground railroad.

Narratives about underground railroad, in sum, suggest enslavement wasn’t as bad as it actually was because White people helped Black people and enslaved Blacks ran away forever, all the time. In turn, for those who did not runaway, the underground railroad mythology says they enjoyed or benefited from enslavement.

Given the widespread historical illiteracy (or under-literacy) in our culture, having Harriet Tubman on money would only further perpetuate misinformation about enslavement and further complicate the institution’s legacies. However, it would for sure change national discourses. 

Personally, I wish the extremely rebellious Rosa Parks would have won! 

A Careful Response to: “To be a criminal is also a choice” – Hidden Power of Words Series, #18

According to the dictionary, crime is “an action or omission that constitutes an offense that may be prosecuted by the state and is punishable by law” or more simply “illegal activities.”

“To be a criminal is also a choice” involves a variety of problems and limitations: 

It fully embodies essentialism and not constructionism to classify and analyze actions. 

Essentialism suggests that all things are absolute and that there is no subjectivity in the world – no room to question or analyze.

Examinations of history make abundantly clear the historical reality that “criminal” has no one, no universal definition. What is a “crime” in one place or time, is “normal” or “tolerated” or “celebrated” in another time or place. Enslavement, homosexuality, or being an outspoken women were all “crimes” not too long ago, to just name a few examples. Also, a “crime” is not necessarily a “moral” wrongdoing. “Crime” does not necessarily have “victims.” 

Additionally, the “to-be-a-criminal-is-also-a-choice” rhetoric ignores the role of genes. Notions of biological determinism are dangerous, of course, but we cannot ignore the role of nature and nurture. We also cannot ignore that some studies have shown some people are more prone to violence. Likewise, we cannot ignore that memories and trauma are transmitted, at least some, through DNA for generations. 

“Criminals” don’t necessarily have a choice due to circumstances, too. For example, Black Men for over a century have been almost prohibited from working in the so-called main stream economy. Society forces these people into an underground economy that is subjectively criminalized. Due to structures of the overall Criminal Justice System, those released from imprisonment almost have no choice but to return to prison.     

“To be a criminal is also a choice” ignores all evidence that says minorities are targeted for “crime” far more often. If we say “crime” is a “choice,” we also have to look at enforcement of said laws. Many, many “criminals” never get caught – especially White Men who are CEOs or who are politicians. What about the “choices” involved here – both of law enforcement and of those involved in “illegal”/“immoral” acts that most clearly do hurt all life.   

Criminals are also by no means fully “bad” even if they did something really “bad.” The negative connotation associated with “criminals” is too strong to allow objectiveish conversations. 

When we internalize history and biology and studies from psychology, anthropology, and sociology, we know all very little we have any choices, per se. Far more is predetermined than anyone wants to acknowledge. Far more is guided per se and created per se vis-à-vis interactions with others (i.e., texts.). Everything is created and re-cretaed through hermeneutical relationships. 

(White) United Statesians, given the pervasiveness of Horatio Alger like-myths, are very hesitant to consider and internalize that anything except a person’s hard work (or lack of hard work) ties to their everyday life. It continually baffles me that we have trouble acknowledging that hard work has little to do with anything tangible in terms of economic or social compensation. It also continues to frustrate me that we have so much trouble recognizing the role various demographic variables play in everyday life.  

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Whispers of the night

Whispers of the night,
Though its breeze
And stillness,
Long for a voice
Long for the impossible, really
Its requests simply ask
For a love of intellectualism
Amidst the sea of distractions
And confusion
And fear
And stubbornness
And refusal to see
Hear
And love
Yet,
Whispers of the night
Retain hope
Knowing all was once “impossible”
Utopian dreams can inspire some
Exercise the mind of some
Yet too those who think
Are forced to worry
And think for others
Whispers of the night
Demand much
Recognizing its insight is rare
And hard
Recognizing its brave army
Whispers of the night
Occur at night as not to burden all
Whispers of the night
Can’t get too loud
People fear whispers and night time and subjectivity
Whispers of the night
Have increased and decreased in volume
But remain audible and visible to a few,
Hopefully enough to save
While open to all, always
Whispers of the night
Resent, rather loathe
Humans desire to control
And cause perpetual silences forever
And forget their places in the circle of the universe
Our pale blue dot
So much to discover
Yet knowledge is feared
And hated
Whispers of the night
Long to keep discovering and sharing the
Whispers of the night
In hopes of golden choruses
Whispers of the night

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Photo taken by Andrew Joseph Pegoda, May 1, 2015, Lake Jackson, Texas

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