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This Week’s 5: Aunt Becky and the White Mediocrity Heard Around the World

March 15, 2019

Author's Note: This Week's 5 is a weekly collection of stories designed to provide insight into how racism works and serve as an easily accessible resource for people trying to have nuanced discussions about these issues. For more explanation on how This Week's 5 works and descriptions of each of the categories, click here.

 

 

Overt

In the first draft of this section, I was going to talk about ICE agents who posted smears on social media about Representative Ilhan Omar taking “terrorism classes.” It was going to be a commentary on the ridiculousness of giving obvious bigots unlimited power to terrorize immigrants. I was going to remind everyone why we need to abolish ICE. Then an Australian white supremacist killed 49 people (as of this writing) and injured dozens of others at two mosques in New Zealand, ironically to demonstrate the supposed danger of “mass immigration.” This terrorist wrote a 74 page manifesto detailing his hatred for immigrants, including praise of Donald Trump as a “symbol of white supremacy,” and said he traveled and trained in New Zealand specifically to carry out the white supremacist attack. Furthermore, he live streamed the mass murder and even encouraged people to subscribe to YouTube personality PewdiePie, a popular gamer who has repeatedly and defiantly dabbled in white supremacist dog whistles and outright racial slurs. In some ways, the fact that this section started out as a discussion about Islamophobic social media smears is fitting. The tragedy in New Zealand is the logical conclusion of that racism. Read more from the Associated Press.

 

 

Institutional

If you don’t pay attention to history, the news, or open your eyes anytime you happen to be near a classroom, the notion that schools are no less segregated than the days of Brown v. Board of Education might surprise you. Yet, they are, and plenty of people who claim to be allies and believe in social justice are just as responsible as anyone else. This is perhaps best exemplified by the infamous archival footage of white people in Boston protesting school integration in the 70s, spewing gross stereotypes in school board testimonies and hurling objects and racial slurs at the actual Black students when they came to school. Of course, like most systemic racism, the day-to-day manifestations of this mindset are more subtle. The foundation of school segregation comes from housing segregation and policies like redlining, which forced Black and Brown people to live in the areas with the least resources. This dynamic was then perpetuated by school funding policies based on property taxes, which essentially institutionalized the legacy of inequality caused by things like slavery and Jim Crow. In the face of integration policy efforts, white Americans have collectively pushed back to this day, finding whatever excuse they can to ensure their kids maintain a systemic advantage over their Black and Brown peers. Read more from NBC News.

 

 

Critical Race Theory

While we have discussed the subject of environmental racism before, just as a refresher, the phrase refers to policies, business decisions, and societal behaviors that disproportionately affect the living conditions of communities of color. Generally, these discussions revolve around flashpoint incidents like the Flint water crisis and the Dakota Access Pipeline. However, in this case, a new study has put the spotlight on our collective behaviors and how Black and Brown Americans are bearing the brunt of air pollution despite the fact that white Americans are far and away the biggest contributors. The study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzes data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to compare different ethnic groups’ level of consumption (i.e. eating, drinking, fuel and electricity usage, etc.) versus the amount of air pollution they breathe. Since Black and Latinx people tend to live closer to industrial zones, we are disproportionately affected by air pollution. According to the data, “black people are exposed to about 56 percent more pollution than caused by their consumption. That number was even higher for non-white Hispanics, who breathe in 63 percent more air pollution than they cause. As for white Americans, the study found they breathe in 17 percent less air pollution than they cause.” Read more from The Root.

 

 

History

While some may look at history month celebrations as naturally tokenizing, I prefer to treat them as opportunities to model the study and appreciation of different groups of people throughout the year. Women’s History Month is no different. This week, we’re highlighting the contributions of Asian American women, which often get overlooked in favor of one dimensional narratives that simply reinforce “model minority” stereotypes and maintain the construct of white supremacy. Understanding history helps us shape new realities in the face of systems that clearly weren’t built for us, as demonstrated by transgender activists like Cecilia Chung. This appreciation for history helps us see ourselves in positions we were once locked out of, like Patsy Mink, the first Asian American woman to be elected to Congress and seek the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. When we understand history, we don’t have to accept societal overtures that the best we can do is be sidekicks. Instead, we can be drivers of the contributions that push humanity forward, like physicist Chien-Shiung Wu, who performed game-changing experiments over decades before serving as the first female president of the American Physical Society, or Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian American woman go to space. Read more from the Huffington Post.

 

 

The Fragility Breaker

The college cheating scandal that involved Felicity Huffman and Aunt Becky from Full House was the white mediocrity heard around the world. It also reinvigorated the national conversation on legacy admissions, which are rightfully being framed as affirmative action for rich white people. For the unfamiliar, legacy admissions are students who are able to get into colleges (often elite universities) because their parents or other family members previously went to the institutions. As you can imagine, this disproportionately benefits white people. Between past admission policies that explicitly banned people of color and more recent policies and decisions that still disproportionately cater to white privilege, legacy admissions are clearly giving an unfair advantage to wealthy white people. What makes this such a hot button issue is that many of these same people who benefit from legacy admissions, or at least defend them, have a penchant for attacking policies like affirmative action that are designed to provide opportunities to marginalized communities. These affirmative action critics claim the policy is benefitting unqualified minorities even though significantly more white people who are actually not qualified are getting into school through legacy admissions, generous donations (see: Jared Kushner), and outright scams. Typical caucacity. Read more from the Root.

 

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