About Me, About Society, Books

Racism is a Matter of Whiteness

In recent years, I’ve thought about race and racial discrimination in our world. I’ve written about racism in the American criminal justice system and how it continues the legacy of slavery; how movies vilify characters of color; the indifference towards refugees of color and growing Islamophobia within Europe and the United States; and hostility of white society towards racial justices movements like the Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter. By reflecting on the consequences of racism, I have been able to turn the corner racism and see how my white identity is central to the problem and solution.

White people need to realize that racism is a White issue. We–white European people–live in a world of racial ignorance. I lived in a world of racial ignorance growing up.

As the political theorist, Barnor Hesse, explains, the idea of race is fundamentally about the creation of a division between Europeans and non-Europeans, both internally, beginning with the Spanish expulsion or forced conversion of Jews and Muslims, and externally within systems of colonial rule, and of course in the transatlantic slave trade across the Americas. Continue reading

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About Society, Documentary Films

Hollywood Caricatures

Hollywood films seem like the biggest advertisements for the United States of America. Action movies show muscled heroes saving cities like New York and Los Angeles from certain danger. Family dramas live in American suburbs, while romantic comedies maze through the downtown restaurants and bars. Westerns hearken back to frontier times and science fiction marvels at American space exploration.

In addition to the best aspects of Americana, films also showcase the worst prejudices within American society as explored in two documentaries: Reel Injun (2009) and Reel Bad Arabs (2006). Continue reading

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About Society, Documentary Films

Black Power and the Black Panthers

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Writing for Jacobin Magazine, Robert Greene II discusses the lasting relevance of the Black Panthers and their anti-racist, anti-capitalist vision:

The work of the Black Panthers remains important for several reasons. First, they remind us that the problem of police brutality has long been with us (Martin Luther King, Jr even mentioned it in his oft-cited, but often misinterpreted, “I Have A Dream” speech). Indeed, protests following the death of Denzil Dowell in North Richmond, a community near Oakland, in April 1967 played a major role in the growth of the BPP from a small cadre to a major political and social force.

Second, the BPP offers a good model of grassroots activism and ideology in practice. While the group was torn apart by conflicts between Newton and Cleaver by the 1970s, the Panthers continued to do important work on the ground in Oakland. Their “survival programs” appealed to African Americans living in poverty who were unable to depend on local government for any help. And crucially, they tied their free breakfast and education programs to a larger political project. An ingenious mix of the practical and the visionary, the BPP’s community work was the most revolutionary work they carried out.

The Black Panther Party also proved an important training ground for African-American women activists, such as Kathleen Cleaver and Elaine Brown. As with the Civil Rights Movement, women members did a great deal of the nuts-and-bolts work in the BPP.

Finally, the legacy of the Black Panther Party can be seen in the current Black Lives Matter movement. The Movement for Black Lives’ demands for economic justice, community power, and reparations recall the Black Panther Party’s ten-point platform. And, like the Black Power and Civil Rights movements, the Black Lives Matter movement has had to deal time and again with negative media coverage and a “go-slow” critique from many American liberals.

Today, fifty years after its founding, the Panthers should be remembered for more than their black berets and shotguns. Despite their flaws, they melded the immediate and the transformative into a potent political vision, advocating a multiracial alliance against racism, capitalism, and imperialism that delivered tangible gains to the most exploited. That vision is equally as stirring today.

Continue reading

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About Society

The Powerful Need to Invalidate Social Movements

tumblr_mu4239ywbb1r0cemdo1_500As a white man, I rank very high on the ladder of privilege. My skin color and my gender are just two aspects of my identity, which have been prioritized by Western society for centuries. I also benefit everyday from my sexual orientation (heterosexual), my nationality (Canadian), my level of education (two university degrees), my mother tongue (English), my lack of disability (whether physical or psychological) and my age (28). It took me some time to understand this but now I know that, in almost every aspect of my identity, I have immense privilege, which many do not. Unfortunately, many people don’t see it that way. Many people with a similar attributes to myself have not realized their privilege and fight against any evidence to that effect.

The two cases examined below show this backlash and are similar for a number of reasons. First, they are social movements fighting inequality in society – one on the basis of race, the other on gender. Second, they both utilize the Internet and social media as tools for communication and organizing, including Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Third, both have been met with criticism from privileged people outside their movements trying to invalidate their message. This point has far-reaching importance as invalidation by outsiders can be found across nearly all social movements and includes acts of denial, shame, ignorance and faux compassion. Fourth, they are largely centered in North America and Europe. Finally, each of the two cases below shows the difference in understanding between outsiders with a cursory understanding of the field they are questions and academics who rebut them. Continue reading

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About Society

The American Injustice System: Slave Labour and Prison Profits

As Huey Freeman quipped, “the prison-industrial complex is a system situated at the intersection of government and private interest. It uses prison as a solution to social, political and economic problems. It includes human rights violations, the death penalty, slave labour, policing, the courts, the media, political prisoners and the elimination of dissent.”

I want to explore two major economic elements within the U.S. prison system below. Firstly, slave labour within prisons and the connection to corporations, whose products are used by most Americans. Secondly, the privatization of prisons, detention centers and other services, which used to be managed by more accountable bodies. Both of these elements are closely tied to American treatment of minority groups, especially African Americans, and people in economic poverty. Both of these elements have also seen recent social action, by the government and the prisoners themselves. Continue reading

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