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.
Some people (see: white people) get upset when you point out that white supremacy is deeply embedded in American culture. Let them tell it, the criticism is unfair. Meanwhile, white supremacists churn out examples faster than even news junkies (see: masochists) like myself can keep up. Consider the latest entry in the Emmett Till saga. The boy’s brutal lynching was considered one of the catalysts for the civil rights movement and you’d think that would be the end of the terrorism in that particular story. Nope. White supremacists vandalizing Till’s memorial has become a relatively common occurrence. This includes previous signs being stolen and shot up on multiple occasions. In the most recent instance, a group of white Ole Miss University students posed with guns in front of the bullet-ridden monument and were subsequently suspended from their fraternity. While the school’s response is still up in the air, the people making the new memorial are pulling all the stops. Specifically, the next Emmett Till memorial will be 600 pounds and bulletproof. It sounds like a joke when you say it out loud, but that’s where we are. A dangerously large segment of this country is so committed to white supremacy that we have to make military grade monuments to lynched children. Read more from the Root.
Sometimes, environmental racism is subtle. In other cases, it announces itself loudly during attempts to exploit the land of marginalized people. Consider the ongoing battle over the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawai’i. An international consortium of scientists chose the location in 2009 to build a massive telescope. Since then, many Native Hawaiians have been fighting the construction, arguing that the decision violates indigenous rights, threatens the volcano’s ecosystem, and insults Hawaiian cultural and religious traditions. If these grievances sound familiar, it’s because they’re the ongoing story of Native Hawaiians’ larger fight against white supremacy and colonization. The telescope would simply mark the latest degradation. What makes matters worse is that many in the media have attempted to smear Native Hawaiians by framing this as merely a dispute between science and religion, effectively painting the protesters as primitive agitators trying to stop societal progress. Historically, this strategy has been very successful. However, in recent weeks, activists have occupied Mauna Kea and forced the country to listen to more of the totality of their arguments. Not surprisingly, supporters of the telescope have had a much harder time dismissing these perspectives once concepts like self determination and the perspectives of people on the ground entered the national conversation. Read more from the Columbia Journalism Review.
Critical Race Theory
Representation matters because the images we see in the media often shape our subconscious beliefs about the world. For example, consider how the trope of the “white savior” is often reinforced by who plays the hero in Hollywood movies, particularly superhero movies. With a few exceptions (many of which have come only in recent years), the stars of big budget superhero movies have been predominantly white men. In addition to portraying the prototypical image of a hero as a white man, these films reinforce lawless behaviors by white authority figures in real life by lionizing vigilante behavior. This is one of the many reasons why so many people are looking forward to Marvel’s first film starring an Asian lead, “Shang-Chi,” which is set for release in 2020. Despite Marvel’s reputation for embracing diversity in recent years, the company still has mostly portrayed Asian characters as villains, even as recently as earlier this year. By casting lead heroes of different races, it doesn’t just shift our collective image of what a hero looks like, it also shifts our collective values by incorporating different perspectives of what justice looks like. Consider that, under the Trump Administration, the FBI has quietly been pushing anti-Chinese measures and sentiments. While far from THE solution, using pop culture to help counter this messaging is crucial. Read more from the Huffington Post.
Ronald Reagan was really racist. If you’re old enough to handle sharp objects but you weren’t aware, that is willful ignorance. The former president became a patron saint for his party by pathologizing Black, Brown, and poor people and using that as a means to drastically cut services in those communities, all to fund tax breaks and other systemic advantages for wealthy, predominantly white Americans. One of the most famous examples is Reagan’s popularizing of the “welfare queen” trope, which suggested poor Black women were scamming the welfare system, to cut funding and justify other dehumanizing treatment like, most notably, the police ravaging communities under the guise of the war on drugs. Thus, the recent uncovering of a racist conversation between Reagan and other noted bigoted former president Richard Nixon wasn’t much of a surprise to most. On the 1971 tape, Reagan refers to leaders from African countries as “monkeys” and jokes that they’re still “uncomfortable wearing shoes.” What makes this story interesting is that the conversation apparently had a huge influence on emboldening Nixon’s racism, which is saying a lot for the president who popularized the wink and nod bigotry of the “Southern strategy.” Read more from the Atlantic.
The Fragility Breaker
Colonization of righteous spaces is still colonization. For some inexplicable reason, there is no shortage of self-proclaimed allies who think it’s acceptable to try and put Black people in our proverbial place as long as it’s under the guise of supporting anti-racism. It would be one thing if this were just a matter of sentiment, but in institutions like the Democratic Party, this dynamic had been bolstered by financial incentives and blatantly exploitative relationships. More specifically, for decades, some powerful white Democrats have used control over resources and proximity to power to dissuade Black lawmakers from criticizing them, effectively giving the white politicians cover for supporting things like the Clinton Crime Bill, which objectively destroyed numerous Black families. What makes things worse is that it also effectively corrupted many of these longtime Black lawmakers by ensuring that their names would always be tied to problematic bills and politicians, painting them as permanently untrustworthy to large segments of their constituents. Fast forward to 2019 and it seems like we’ve reached the breaking point. Progressive politicians like Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar are demonstrating that Black politicians do have enough political capital not be co-opted by self-proclaimed allies looking to exploit them. As we continue to witness miserable attempts by some in their own party to silence them, it’s only going to become more clear that unapologetic empowerment is the new norm. Get on board or get out of the way. Read more from the Detroit News.