Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"The Low Cost of Being Racist (sic)"

In an article entitled "The Low Cost of Being Racist", by Karnythia at the blog, "The Angry Black Woman: Race, Politics, Gender, Sexuality, Anger" blog points to a case in Taos, New Mexico as an example of "racism". A white man bought a hotel in this mostly Latino town and then told Latino workers that their names had to be anglicized, and could no longer be pronounced as would be appropriate in their native language, and as they had been called all their lives, at work and at home.

According to Yahoo News,

The tough-talking former Marine immediately laid down some new rules. Among them, he forbade the Hispanic workers at the run-down, Southwestern adobe-style hotel from speaking Spanish in his presence (he thought they'd be talking about him), and ordered some to Anglicize their names.

No more Martin (Mahr-TEEN). It was plain-old Martin. No more Marcos. Now it would be Mark.

Whitten's management style had worked for him as he's turned around other distressed hotels he bought in recent years across the country.

The 63-year-old Texan, however, wasn't prepared for what followed. Yahoo News.

Although I understand Karnythia's concern with "racism", there is a fundamental futility in calling people and their behavior "racist":

New Mexico's anti-discrimination law does not use the word "racist" and does not forbid being a "racist". Instead, the anti-discrimination statute forbids acts and practices based on race . . . color . . . national origin . . . ancestry . . .

28-1-7. Unlawful discriminatory practice.

It is an unlawful discriminatory practice for: A. an employer, unless based on a bona fide occupational qualification or other statutory prohibition, to refuse to hire, to discharge, to promote or demote or to discriminate in matters of compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment against any person otherwise qualified because of race, age, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, physical or mental handicap or serious medical condition, or, if the employer has fifty or more employees, spousal affiliation; provided, however, that 29 U.S.C. Section 631(c)(1) and (2) shall apply to discrimination based on age; or, if the employer has fifteen or more employees, to discriminate against an employee based upon the employee's sexual orientation or gender identity;

Since the employee's names are virtually inseparable from their "national origin" and "ancestry," to oblige Hispanics to anglicize and stop using their given names seems a like discrimination to me. And I believe I have read some caselaw to that effect although I don't remember the citations.

So, is Whitten "racist"? What difference does it make, if our laws do not provide for treatment or punishment for being racist? Like diagnosing someone with "bipolar disorder" and "schizophrenia", "racist" is a diagnosis that cannot be proved based on one act of illegal color-aroused discrimination. As with alcoholism, you need a case history, access to medical records, discussion with family . . . No one should be psychiatrically diagnosed, e.g. an "alcoholic" on the basis on one night of drinking.

Does that mean they should not be punished for their behavior? Absolutely not! If drivers drives drunk, then they can should be penalized not because they are alcoholics, a determination which is more in the realm of medicine that law, and which determination would require expert testimony and weeks of testimony. No, they should be punished not for what they are, but for what they did. The should be punished because they drove drunk, which is a determination that does not require expert testimony.

Laws typically prohibit what people do, not what they are. Even laws that declare someone to be a sex offender based the sex-offender characterization on on individual convictions, based on proven sex offenses. Statutes specify exactly what behavior leads to a determination that a convict is a sex offender.

Is anyone aware of a law under which three acts of discrimination qualify the offender as a "racist"? That doesn't exist, and I don't think it will anytime soon, if only because "racist" is a psyhchiatric determination rather than a legal one.

There is a fundamentally distinction between proving what someone is and what someone has done. A law professor once told me to be careful not to exaggerate my own "burden of proof." Don't say, for example, "The prosecution will prove that Mr. Rapist is the most hideous rapist in the state." Don't say that to the jury because even if the jury find that Mr. Rapist has commited one act of rape, that same jury might use the burden of proof that you suggested - "most hideous rapist" - and find that there is reasonable doubt on the question of "most hideous". That would be a shame since "most hideous" is not a criteria necessary for a rape conviction.

Back to Larry Whitten, the hotel owner. If we propose to prove that Whitten should be punished by the Government because he is a "racist," then we will fail because:

(a) Being a "racist" is not against the law, and

(b) Even if being a "racist" were against the law, you would need expert testimony from psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists and even linguists to prove that Whitten is a racist. Aren't discrimination cases hard enough already without assuming this immensely higher burden of proof?

When we assume that we have to prove that someone "is a racist" in order for anything to be done about their behavior, we effectively increase our own burden of proof from:
(a) proving what they have done, to

(b) proving what they are in their essence.
Many of us cannot describe ourselves cogently, much less convince an all-white judge or jury that one or three or five actions of discrimination. That's a determination that a legislature would have to make by legislating the number and kind of acts which, once proven, make a person a "racist."

Here's an analogy: to convict someone of shoplifting, do you have to prove that they have a long-established tendency to steal from stores, or is it enough to show that they stole from one store one time? Should we change the law to increase the burden of proof, requiring the state to prove that the defendant is a shoplifter. If so, how many instances of shoplifting must the prosecutor compile, and what additional psychiatric information would be required before the state can arrest someone for being a thief?

Must a prosecutor prove that the person who raped a woman is a rapist, or only that he raped someone on one occasion? Is it unfair to punish someone for "just one rape"? Shouldn't we wait unti the have committed a series of rapes, and until there is a consensus among the talk show hosts, before we put them in jail, having determined that all of their rapes together prove that they are a rapist? Is so, then every man can commit one or two rapes with impunity, because one or two rapes, without more, don't prove that he is a rapist.

What we're really talking about is whether someone has to be proved to be a serial rapist before they can be charged and convicted of one rape? And whether someone has to be a serial violator of anti-discrimation laws before the can be charged with discrimination. After arguing over the definition of "racist" for half a century, it should be obvious to us that it is much easier to prove what someone has done on a particular day, with witnesses present, than it is to prove what someone is.

The problem with calling people "racist" is that "racist" is a high bar to clear, and requires a strong burden of proof on the person making the accusation. It's fair to ask, how can you tell from this one circumstance that the person's manner of interacting with Latinos is consistently and chronically antagonistic based on the "race" of the victim?

The truth is, it really doesn't matter whether Larry Whitten is a "racist" or not. It seems likely to me that under New Mexico's anti-discrimination law, Whitten would be found to have engaged in unlawful discrimination in this instance, because he forbids people to use the names that inherently identify them with their color, national origin and ancestry. Just stating that rule, orally or in writing, is sufficient at least to file a claim under the anti-discrimination, because to fail to file a claim will mean acquisence to a long series of violations of the statute.

Here's an analogy: Your child takes ten dollars out of your pocketbook to buy candy. You say he is a thief and must be punished. He retorts, "I have stolen in this once instance, but that doesn't prove that I steal all the time, in the past and into the future. I am guilty of one act of theft, but that is not enough for me to deserve a spanking. You must prove that I am a thief.

According to Merriam Websters Online Dictionary:
Pronunciation: \ˈthēf\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural thieves \ˈthēvz\
Etymology: Middle English theef, from Old English thēof; akin to Old High German diob thief
Date: before 12th century

: one that steals especially stealthily or secretly; also : one who commits theft or larceny

So, your child argues that he has stolen once, but that does not prove that he is "one who steals" habitually. And so he isn't a thief and cannot be punished for one mere act of theft.

And so you say to your child, "You are right." I don't have enough information to determine that you have dedicated your life to an unyielding pattern of thievery. So I agree that it would be unfair to punish you for stealing $10.00 from me. I agree to wait until you have stolen so many times that you meet the definition of "one who steals" rather than the lower burden of proof of "one who has stolen."

Now, your child has you beaten. There is no one anywhere who can specify the number of times and quantity of money stolen necessary to prove, to everyone's satisfaction, that your child is a thief. That's why the law against theft focuses on what the defendant has done, rather than on what he is as a person.

Remember: we do not need to prove that someone is a rapist; we only need to prove that they comitted ONE act of rape. Likewise, we do not have to prove that Larry Whitten is a racist and doing so would have no legal effect even if it were possible. We only need to prove that he committed one or more unlawful acts of discrimination.

It is not illegal to be a "racist", even in Brazil where there is a law that specifically forbids acts of racism. The law forbids acts, not vaguel or completely undefined existential states. This is why we need to stop calling people "racists", setting a high evidentiary bar that we can never clear. We need to show how individual acts and patterns of acts constitute violations of anti-discrimination laws. If those laws do not forbid the acts that most offend us, then we need new laws. But, we'll never get a law that punishes people for what they are rather than for what they do.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Malia O., President Obama's Daughter, Frees Her African Hair

First posted at the Francis L. Holland Blog and the American Journal of Color Arousal. [Subsequently published at Now Public, just days before it was bought by Philip Anschutz, a Denver billionaire Republican campaign contributor. (My posting priveleges at Now Public were subsequently withdrawn just two days after I published an article there pointing out that the "people-powered" NowPublic.Com had just been purchased by a man notorious for his campaign contributions to Republican politicians like senator "wide stance" Larry Craig, and John D. Ashcroft, the fiercely anti-abortion attorney general under George W.Bush.]

malia,obama,hair,Rasta Locks

Must Blacks Try to Look Like Michael Jackson to be Accepted
by Whites and by Ourselves?

The Vancouver Sun is reporting that some color-aroused extremist whitosphere blogs are up in arms that Malia Obama, the president's daughter, has appeared in public without first chemically straightening her hair to make it look more like white people's hair.

The thread was accompanied by a photo of Michelle Obama speaking to Malia that featured the caption, "To entertain her daughter, Michelle Obama loves to make monkey sounds." Vancouver Sun

I think we all have been consciously or subconsciously watching the hair of the Obama daughters as well as Michelle Obama, to see what political statements they would make, and how they would be received. Malia Obama could have disavowed an obvious part of her particular genetic code and straightened her hair as Michael Jackson did. America has never complained when Blacks straighten our hair -- only when we don't so.

It's worth noting that one of Michael Jackson's heroes, also straightened his hair, beginning in an era when it was almost as "stylish" (obligatory in a color aroused society) for Black men as for Black women.

Instead, Malia did something that very few Black women have the audacity to do: she appeared in public with unstraightened hair. That's when all hell broke loose on the extremely color-aroused whitosphere blogs, where whites were apoplectic. 'Everyone knows that straight white hair is the only acceptable way for Black girls and women to wear their hair,' so why is Malia Obama throwing gasoline into the furnace of America's color-arousal illness by wearing her hair in a natural black style? Doesn't she know that curly hair is a color-associated physical characteristic of which she must try to rid herself? We can't help it if our skin is not white, but the LEAST we can do is to try to make our hair straight, right?

On June 25, when Michael Jackson died, there she was again: colorism, that sub-category of racism and prejudice based on skin color, staring us right in the face.

By the time Jackson died, he was perhaps whiter than any white man that you know. Those who looked at the constant stream of replayed televised interviews, at the pale skin, the thin lips painted red, the straight hair, saw in his face the psychological wound that has scarred so many in the black community. Washington Post, Sunday, July 12.

We all agree that Michael Jackson was progressively more freakish as he tried ever more determinedly to make himself look like a white person. And yet we show our (often unconsious) hypocrisy when we criticize Malio Obama for NOT making her hair look like that of a white person.

Judging from the reaction reported by the Vancouver Times, you would think this was the political equivalent of giving the Black Power salute during the medals ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games. (See photo above) And maybe it is.

We Blacks have Black people's hair and yet most of our women folk and some of our men are compelled by employers, family members and even members of our churches to do the Michael Jackson thing to our hair.

Perhaps what happened to Michael Jackson is akin to what happens with anorexia: a suggestion by mother, father or friends that we might be slightly overweight leads to a (short) lifetime of trying to rid the human body of all signs of weight.

The color-aroused illness is profound and is not found only among people whose skin is white. A Black man here in Brazil told me that when a Black woman goes for a job interview, the least she can do to make herself look presentable, acceptable and beautiful is to straighten her hair.

Even the name given to Rastafarian Locks (Dreadlocks) is said to have originated with British people who called Jamaican style hair was "dreadful".

In other words, Malia's hair triggers responses of revulsion from some Blacks as well as whites. If nothing else comes of the Obama presidency than the understanding among Blacks and whites that curly hair is just as acceptable and natural as straight hair, then we may even save the life of the next Michael/Michelle Jackson of the Malia generation - a generation apparently not equally willing to do to itself what Michael Jackson did.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Teresa Holland with beautiful wavy Locks.

My wife, who, (wears Rasta Locks), and I were wondering when the First Lady will be seen in public with a traditionally Black hairstyle, such as braids, Rasta Locks or an Afro. By looking at her children's hair, we know where her sympathies lie. And yet we also know that Michelle Obama may not want to make the equivalent of hairstyle Black power sallute at this partcular time.

Nonetheless, I am hoping to see the First Lady in Braids, perhaps after Obama wins reelection. Some people believe, and perhaps correctly, that merely leaving one's hair alone is a revolutionary statement if one has brown skin.

Meanwhile, "Free Your African Hair," as Malia has done, if you have the courage and the socio-political and cultural space to do so.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I'm Revolted: My Oldest Step-Daughter has Straightened Her Wavy Hair

The societal pressures they feel to straighten their hair is intense.

In music videos, television news casts, and at school, my two step-daughters perceive that virtually every Black woman they know chemically or mechanically straightens her hair. So, it ought not surprise me that my sixteen year-old step daughter, graduating from high school in three months, has taken advantage of her new decision-making authority not to choose a university or search for scholarships that suit her interests, but rather to pass an electric iron through her naturally long and wavy hair.

Like too many teenagers, she doesn't value what makes her unique, but wishes she could be "just like everybody else." My wife and I have expressed our opinions to her since before she was an adolescent - that the pressure for Black women to straighten their hair is part of a determined effort by whites - in the media and even in job interviews - to assert that their hair, like everything else about them, is inherently better than Blacks' natural superficial physical characteristics.

(I know that many Black women are born with naturally straight hair and I am not talking about them, so let's not distract ourselves with information irrelevant to this particular discussion.)

I'm talking about the tremendous pressure Black women feel to straighten their hair - at any cost - in order, effectively, to look more like white girls. (Some Black women, like my step-daughters, are born looking more like white girls because they have DNA from white people in their family genetic heritages.) However, long and wavy hair has not been enough for them. They want their hair to be perfectly straight.

This issue is not merely one of aesthetics. Here in Brazil, women use a process called "permanent progressive" wherein formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) is placed in the hair and then washed out. If two much formaldehyde is used or it is not washed out soon enough, Black women can literally die for straight hair. I reported such a case at the American Journal of Color Arousal (AMJCA) on August 14, 2009:

The television news report in this YouTube video says that 150 children per year die in Brazil while styling their hair, with 49% dying as the result of electrical shocks. “Parents should not allow their children to use these electrical mechanisms because of the risk of electrical shocks” says one professional interviewed on the news.

One of Brasil's top media outlets reported:

Women never stop efforts to become more beautiful. For centuries, they have been squeezing into corsets to keep their waists thin. In China and Japan, women bandaged their feet to make them smaller. Now the madness has gone beyond hair removal. Many women are putting their health (and their lives) in danger to keep the hair smooth and voluminous.

The death of a 33 year-old housewife in Missouri, this week raised the controversy over the new hair straightening techniques. Maria Ení da Silva died after undergoing a escova progressiva (permanent straigtening). According to her family, she applied a mixture of cream and formaldehyde at a hairdressing salon on Saturday, March 17, and was directed not to wash her hair for three days. During this period, she complained of headaches, shortness of breath and itching. On Tuesday, March 20, she fell ill, was taken to two hospitals and died. Globo.Com

This story is particularly maddening for my wife and me. Last year, disobeying my wife’s firm and repeated decision, our youngest daughter went to a local store and bought an electrical hair straightener, because virtually all of the girls at her school electrically or chemically straighten their hair. The social pressure she feels to straighten hair is intense. When girls straighten their hair, their peers, boys, parents and community suddenly begin to say, “You look beautiful. You look so pretty with your hair straight.”

Since my wife and I are unable to convince our daughters that their hair is beautiful in its natural Black state, I have warned them not to straighten their hair in the bathroom, where the electric iron can fall on the floor and transmit 120 volts of electricity to girls' (and boys') wet feet, freeze them in their tracks and electrocute them, causing them to fall on the floor where the electricity burns their bodies in a different place every time they try to free themselves from the force of their store-bought electric chairs.

What Black girls don't realize is that white girls have this hair without endangering their lives, while for Black girls there is danger, expense and time wasted that could otherwise be spent choosing a college and getting better grades that would lead to full scholarships. While white girls prepare for professions, Black girls strain to look like white girls or like Black girls with white genetic heritage.

The most common violence promoted by music videos is not the violence on the streets. It's the violence done to Black girls' and women's hair.