Antiblack Racism and Moral Panics

A National Pastime: Antiblack Racism and Moral Panics

By David J. Leonard

America is a nation bound together by moral panics; in the absence of an actual moral center or a compass of justice, we find power in collective outrage in the absence of self-reflection. And race or antiblackness is often what anchors these fits of moralism.

It is an expert at racial moral panics, a truly exceptional world power when it comes to moral posturing, collective outrage, and the resulting finger pointing.   From the culture wars of the 1980s to debates regarding hip-hop into the 1990s, from discourses around “black homophobia” and “black on black crime,” and far deeper into history, moral panics are often wrapped up discourses of blackness. James Baldwin spoke of this quintessential American tradition in 1960: “I think if one examines the myths which have proliferated in this country concerning the Negro.” Accordingly “beneath these myths a kind of sleeping terror of some condition which we refuse to imagine. In a way, if the Negro were not here, we might be forced to deal within ourselves and our own personalities, with all those vices, all those conundrums, and all those mysteries with which we have invested the Negro race” (quoted by Bouie)

Writing about the 1980s and the demonization of “welfare queens,” George Lipsitz (1995) identifies this history as one where “Americans produce largely cultural explanations for structural problems.” With a long history of scapegoating and locating moral imperatives and cultural impurities through bodies of color, it should come as no surprise that the release of video footage of then Ravens Running Back Ray Rice striking his then girlfriend Janay Palmer has sent America, from The Capital to the American media landscape, from NFL stadiums to Starbucks, into a perpetual state of moral outrage.

The effort to reduce social ills to individual failures, to individual pathologies, and cultural dysfunctions comes through a centering of blackness within these discourses. “What is forbidden in American culture often seems to be projected outward onto the outsider or scapegoat,” writes James (1996). “Blackness has come to represent sex and violence in the national psyche. Although they gain notoriety as the most infamous perpetrators of unrestrained criminality, African Americans are given little recognition in media, crime reports or social crusades as being victims.” The refusal to see or hear Janay Palmer, Kasandra Perkins and countless more makes this all too clear.

Directed at Rice (and several other players), and Roger Goodell for failing to properly control, discipline, and punish the NFL’s “out-of-control,” the moral panic feels less and less about intimate partner violence (IPV), hyper masculinity, a culture of violence, misogyny, or patriarchy, but instead yet another moment to locate social ills within the bodies of black men. Blackness, especially in the sporting world, is “legible” (Neal 2014) only as signifiers of dysfunctional, danger, criminality, and corruption. This has been the case with IPV, and equally evident in the aftermath of Adrian Peterson’s arrest. According to Jamelle Bouie, “It’s reminiscent of other conversations around broad-based behaviors or beliefs that become pathological and purely “black” when displayed by black Americans in elevated numbers.”

As black bodies are ubiquitously imagined as essentially disruptive, uncontrollable, as a source of “cultural degeneracy” the problem of IPV becomes not an American problem and not even one belonging to the NFL — but a problem of blackness. Blackness exists as “a problematic sign and ontological position” (Williams 1998, p. 140). The outrage resulting from Ray Rice reflects the logics of anti-black racism, perpetuating a culture that sees blackness as the problem, one that needs to be contained, purified, controlled, punished, and ultimately eliminated.

The outrage has little to do with the pervasive and endemic problem of IPV within the NFL and society as a whole. In a nation where 1 in 3 women report having experienced IPV, where 1 in 5 men admit to having committed violence against a partner, one has to wonder why now, why did Ray Rice prompt a national soul searching regarding the problem of IPV? In a nation, where the media and the court system routinely rationalize the prevalence of IPV through victim blaming and excuse making, forgive me if I ain’t buying this feigned outrage. The political power structure, particularly the GOP, should have a seat; they should delete their press releases and their demands for “zero tolerance” and simply look in the mirror.   From its foot dragging with the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act to its budgetary PRIORITIES, it is clear that the political structure is perfectly fine with domestic violence. Combatting violence against women is not a priority, at least if it requires more than a press conference. In 2013, the National Domestic Violence Hotline was unable to answer “77,000 calls due to lack of resources.” And this isn’t the only example of how the GOP, and the Congress as a whole, has no moral standing with respect to IPV.

“The Republican romance with gun rights has proved deadly. More than 60 percent of women killed by a firearm in 2010 were murdered by a current or former intimate partner. The presence of a firearm during a domestic violence incident increases the likelihood of a homicide by an astonishing 500 percent, writes Katie McDonough. “The Republican-led assault on reproductive freedom has major implications for victims of domestic violence. Republican resistance to mandatory paid leave policies means that women who need time off to leave an abusive relationship or are hospitalized after a domestic violence incident can lose their jobs for missing work.” Congress and their friends at the NRA, like the NFL, is reflective of a culture of domestic violence and a complicit actor in the daily injustices experienced by all too many women and children in this society. In a nation where judges and police officers (“family violence is two to four times higher in the law-enforcement community than in the general population”) engage brutal acts of violence against women with impunity, where ESPN and other sports media, routinely mock and reduce women to dehumanized objects of consumption and ridicule, it is hard to believe in this feigned and surely short-lived outrage about Domestic Violence (DV).

The rampant hypocrisy, the racist moralism, and the scapegoating are equally evident in the types of “solutions” being proposed. In the face of rightful, even when misplaced, outrage, the NFL created a VP position in charge of “social responsibility” (to be filled by Anna Isaacson, the league’s current VP of community affairs and philanthropy) and hired three domestic advisors (Lisa Friel, Jane Randel and Rita Smith). Goodell, the benevolent white father figure whose primary responsibility was disciplining the league’s “unruly” black bodies had failed. In this context, 4 white women have replaced him. The focus on punishment, the embracing of the language of mass incarceration, and the moral posturing should give us pause in that the logics, tropes, and policies that have compelled mass incarceration are the center of the NFL’s reclamation project.   The focus on individual accountability (which needs to be part of the process) at the expense of collective transformation and societal cultural change, the concern with response rather than dealing with root causes highlights the systemic failures to truly address intimate partner violence.

At its core, the post-Ray Rice discourse is not about IPV; it is not about concern for Janay Palmer or collectively saying #blackwomenslivesmatter or #womendeservejustice. It is about racial paternalism and the historic efforts to imagine sports not as exploitation, big business, profits, and a health risk, but one of disciplinarity and moralism. Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson put these narrative rationalizations in question, resulting in panic and further reimagination of sport as a source of good. According to King and Springwood (2005), “Perhaps such public concerns and panics are best understood as a form of racial paternalism in which white America struggles to come to terms with its (exploitative) enjoyment of the African American athlete by advancing a linkage between the ostensibly moral and disciplinary space of … big time sports.”

The selective outrage at players within the NFL (and the league for not controlling them) and not Major League Baseball or Hollywood (Charlie Sheen) or mainstream music industry, or the police, or the military, or every American institution is revealing. The silence regarding Hope Solo, who stands accused of domestic violence, playing for the U.S. National Team is telling: whiteness matters.

So is the lack of moral outrage for Renisha McBride, Aiyana Jones, Rekia Boyd, and countless others. One has to look no further than Marissa Alexander, who faces 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot against an abusive husband whose history of violence has been well-documented, to understand the nature of today’s moral panic. One has to look no further than at the thousands of women locked up for defending themselves against an abusive and violent partner. America’s (so-called) moral center bends not toward, but away from the arc of justice. It is guided by racism and sexism; its compass is profit before people. We need a new compass not a new policy; a moral center of justice not more of the same: we need a new pastime

***

David J. Leonard is an associate professor and chair in the department of critical culture, gender and race studies at Washington State University, Pullman, and the author of a forthcoming book on race, media and gun violence. Follow him on Twitter.

Originally Published at The Black Scholar 

In Defense of Public Writing

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Image: American director Thomas H. Ince using a giant megaphone (Peter Milne, Motion Picture Directing; The Facts and Theories of the Newest Art, 1922)

November 12, 2014

In Defense of Public Writing

David J. Leonard

Hello, my name is David, and I am a scholar who writes for the public. Sometimes I even blog. I offer that mea culpa because, all too often, I am judged for not segregating my work behind the velvet rope of scholarship. I am not alone, as plenty of scholars are refusing to stay in the lane of the ivory tower, taking their talents to the pages of newspapers, websites, and television.

But that still raises eyebrows. I once heard an administrator refer to public writing as a pathology of sorts, akin to video-game addiction. To him, public writing was all about immediate gratification and ego rather than a scholarly advancement of knowledge. It was a sign of weakness, evidence of inadequacy as a scholar, proof that today’s public intellectuals were not realprofessors.

In that view, still held by many, a “peer reviewed” journal article read by 12 people is of great value while a piece written for a website, and read by more than 100,000, is a distraction from legitimate work. I have been told on several occasions that the work of writing for online publication (whether via a blog or for respected outlets like Huffington Post) is “easy” and a “waste of time.” Unlike scholarship, which is about knowledge production and intellectual debate, public writing is said to be about personal gain and pleasure resulting from public fanfare.

To still others, public writing is a form of community service: Some people give blood to the Red Cross, others donate their time at local shelters, and others donate their words to public spaces. Each of those activities is advancing public good, yet none are required or necessary components of academic life.

But instead of being unnecessary or antithetical to academic work, I would argue that public writing is — at its core — what we do as teachers, intellectuals, and scholars. It’s another form of teaching, a public pedagogy that engages “students” outside the classroom, and inside, too.

When I started out in the era of chalkboards and typewriters, I often found it difficult to bridge the gap between course materials and current events. In those moments where course themes and theories connected with public discourse or popular culture, I was often frustrated by the absence of readings that could anchor a classroom conversation. Now I can find such materials in the work of countless scholars and intellectuals. The examples are endless: Jelani Cobb’s writing about police brutality and racism, Salamishah Tillet’s work on partner violence and rape culture, Stacey Patton’s discussions of child abuse, Mark Anthony Neal’s public scholarship on all things popular culture, and Khalil Gibran Muhammad continued discussion of the “violence card.” They, along with Jeff Chang, Brittney Cooper, James Peterson, Imani Perry, and so many others are advancing discourses inside and outside of academia. With historical examples in hand, and an analytical framework seeped in a lifetime of scholarly research, their public writings advance classroom conversation with depth and specificity. The prospect of waiting several years until a journal article is published to discuss some current event in class is unsatisfying.

Public writing is also work that bridges theories, methods, and knowledge that is often locked behind pay walls, or stuck inside books that cost as much as a new pair of Air Jordans. Essays written for a general audience often help to place scholarly research, and break down boundaries between the two. Unable to write dozens of pages on a topic, scholars writing for a mainstream publication unmask what is important in their research and how it matters.

Public writing is also a means to engage other scholars, especially those outside the academy. Professors do not have a monopoly on knowledge production; look no further than Ta-Nehisi Coates, an American writer for The Atlantic whose work on culture and politics is as “scholarly” and intellectually rich as that of any academic. Others, like Gary Younge, Jamilah Lemieux, Mychal Denzel Smith, and Dave Zirin are the forefront of important scholarly debates even if they are not taking place inside the Ivory Tower.

As an assistant professor, I regularly wrote for Popmatters.com, a site dedicated to cultural commentary and reviews. I wrote on politics, sports, video games, and race. That experience enhanced my skills as a writer, and forced me to think about what mattered in my argument and how to write across discipline and method. Thanks to those essays I also developed professional relationships and friendships with several scholars. Writing a review of the videogame, “NBA Ballers,” prompted an email from one of my intellectual heroes, who, to this day remains one of my most trusted mentors. Several opportunities, not to mention significant intellectual growth, came about because of those relationships.

The writing I do in places like Vitae and Gawker advances the work that I’ve produced in journals or within books. It allows me to get feedback from a range of readers and to expand the reach of my ideas. A tweet becomes a Facebook status, and that becomes a piece for an online venue, which may become a journal article, or a book chapter.

I write in a myriad of spaces for a variety of reasons but in the end I write because I have something to say. I write because I hope the work resonates with people I know and people I don’t. I write because it is an expression of my worldview, my work, and my identities. I write because that is what we scholars do: We think, we share, we learn, and we grow. Public writing and scholarly writing do not stand in binary opposition to one another nor are they mutually exclusive.

Viewpoint: Why Eric Garner was blamed for dying

Eric Garner pictured in a family photo
Eric Garner and his family

Viewpoint: Why Eric Garner was blamed for dying

By Stacey Patton and David Leonard

8 December 2014

In the wake of several high-profile cases involving black Americans killed after encounters with the police, writers Stacey Patton and David J Leonard examine why blame is often shifted to the deceased.

Last week a Staten Island grand jury concluded that no crime was committed when an NYPD officer choked 43-year-old Eric Garner to death in broad daylight. Never mind what we all have seen on the video recording; his pleas, and his pronouncement, “I can’t breathe.”

So what if the medical examiner ruled it a homicide? An unfortunate tragedy for sure, but not a crime.

In fact, in the eyes of many, it was Garner’s own fault.

“You had a 350lb (158.8kg) person who was resisting arrest. The police were trying to bring him down as quickly as possible,” New York Representative Peter King told the press. “If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died.”

This sort of logic sees Garner’s choices as the reasons for his death. Everything is about what he did. He had a petty criminal record with dozens of arrests, he (allegedly) sold untaxed cigarettes, he resisted arrest and disrespected the officers by not complying.

According to Bob McManus, a columnist for The New York Post, both Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the teenager shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson Missouri, “had much in common, not the least of which was this: On the last day of their lives, they made bad decisions. Especially bad decisions. Each broke the law – petty offenses, to be sure, but sufficient to attract the attention of the police. And then – tragically, stupidly, fatally, inexplicably – each fought the law.”

If only we turned our attention on those who are responsible. Had Officer Daniel Pantaleo not choked Eric Garner, the father and husband would be alive today.

Had Officer Pantaleo listened to his pleas, Garner would be alive today.

Had the other four officers interceded, Garner would be alive today.

There is plenty of blame to go around. The NYPD’s embrace of stop-and-frisk policies rooted in the “broken windows” method of policing is a co-conspirator worthy of public scrutiny and outrage.

Yet, we focus on Eric Garner’s choices.

Such victim-blaming is central to white supremacy.

Emmett Till should not have whistled at a white woman.

Amadou Diallo should not have reached for his wallet.

Trayvon Martin should not have been wearing a hoodie.

Jonathan Ferrell should not have run toward the police after getting into a car accident.

Renisha McBride should not have been drinking or knocked on a stranger’s door for help in the middle of the night.

Jordan Davis should not have been playing loud rap music.

Michael Brown should not have stolen cigarillos or allegedly assaulted a cop.

The irony is these statements are made in a society where white men brazenly walk around with rifles and machine guns, citing their constitutional right to do so when confronted by the police.

Look at the twitter campaign “#CrimingWhileWhite” to bear witness to all the white law-breakers who lived to brag about the tale.

Just think about the epidemic of white men who walk into public spaces, open fire and still walk away with their lives. In those cases, we are told we must understand “why” and change laws or mental health system to make sure it never happens again.

Continue reading at BBC News

When All the Angels Are White

 By David J. Leonard

Originally Published at Gawker 

When All the Angels Are White

I am an angel in this nation.

And I suspect the New York Times or Fox News would remember me as an angel if I am murdered in the middle of the road by a police officer in California, Florida, Missouri or Washington. Of course, I don’t worry much about being shot by a police officer. I have the ultimate get-out-jail-free card, the most powerful form of protection: whiteness.

I have no reason to believe that I will be written off as a disrespectful punk, a “thug,” a “troubled kid” looking for fights. I will be seen as just another white boy figuring out the world.

I stole a lot as a kid. That will not matter. I fought a lot. That will not matter. I punched holes in doors, and drank throughout high school. On the football field, I was known as “an enforcer,” a term reserved for the white athletes in my division who bullied and wreaked havoc. None of that will ever be counted against me.

I’d like to challenge the national racial logic that contributes to all too deaths, that sanctions and rationalizes the almost daily killing of black youth. I’d like to really question how this nation constructs and ultimately forgives its angels. Why are we angels always white?

In what has become a predicable playbook, Michael Brown’s death resulted in a public trial and conviction of the victim. The police and much of the media and the public engaged at what has become the ultimate two-step: first denying racism, only to quickly deny Brown’s innocence but implicate and convict him in his own death. In the words of John Eligon of The New York Times, Brown was “no angel.”

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

Not done, Eligon painted Brown as a “handful,” a child who spent a lifetime wreaking havoc, defying authority, and otherwise getting into trouble. “When his parents put up a security gate, he would try to climb it. When they left out pens and pencils, he would use them to write on the wall. He used to tap on the ground, so his parents got him a drum set; his father played the drums.”

If Brown were white, and his murderer black, would his experimentation with drugs and alcohol, his love of rap music, and any other mistakes be been dismissed as youthful indiscretions? If he’d been white, would the story have been that he was curious because he wanted to explore beyond the security gate, that he was a budding artist who expressed himself through his drawings and his music?

Like me, Mike Brown might have smoked marijuana and even sagged his pants prior to being gunned down in the streets. In response to Times piece, and the persistent criminalization and demonization of black victims, people took to Twitter to express their outrage, questioning why Darren Wilson, the Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, or James Holmes were provided more sympathetic narratives than Brown, Martin, McBride, or countless others.

African Americans took to social media to challenge the double standards and societal stereotypes that govern black entry into public discourse. #IfTheyGunnedMeDown juxtaposed images that mirrored dominant stereotypes with the others defying expectations of white America: a young black male puffing smoke and wearing a hoodie; the same young man in his Navy uniform.

The question was, if the time came, which photo the media would use, and which person white America would see: a thug, a criminal, a pot-smoking threat, or a soldier, a student, a professor, a doctor, a son, daughter, father, mother and loved one?

Why are all the angels white? Out with my teenage friends one Saturday night, we found ourselves, loitering, seemingly looking for trouble on the Santa Monica Promenade. Standing around, we were talking shit, mad-dogging and scowling every dude the block. We were teenage boys, entitled, white, and without a worry in our minds. That didn’t change when a group of bicycle cops rode up

Continue reading at Gawker 

Explaining the Underwhelming Reaction When Black Women’s Nude Pics Are Stolen

Posted: Sept. 8 2014 10:38 AM
Originally Published at The Root

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Jill Scott performing in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 11, 2011ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The following is a sampling of headlines about the recent theft and illegal release of alleged nude photos of celebrities:

In them, and the hundreds of headlines like them, a theme emerges: white female victimhood. It’s in the choice of subjects, the words themselves and photos that accompany the various online reports. Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton are presented as the faces and bodies of these types of violations.

The flip side of these headlines and the less obvious theme is this: that black women are undeserving of protection; that when their privacy is criminally violated, it isn’t such a scandal. After all, Lawrence and Upton aren’t the only ones who have been violated in this way. Jill Scott andRihanna have, too.

If you didn’t know, that’s because the “leaks” and “hacks” related to black female victims were scarcely covered in comparison with those of their white counterparts.  A Google News search for celebrities’ names combined with “leaked,” while an informal measure, further confirms the spotlight on white female victims. Lawrence and Upton have, by far, the most results (22,700,000 and 126,000, respectively); Rihanna and Scott trail behind with 39,100 and 8,760, respectively.

There’s a disparity not just in the amount of news but in the amount of analysis and outrage when the victims are black. As the Washington Post’s Justin Moyer put it in his analysis of the leaks of recent weeks (Lawrence, Upton and Scott), “White feminists ignore Jill Scott.”

Continue reading at The Root

Hey, White College Kids: Can the Ferguson Police Get Some of That Kony 2012 Outrage?

Posted: Aug. 22 2014 2:56 PM
Originally Published at The Root

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A woman gestures during a peaceful protest Aug. 19, 2014, along a street in Ferguson, Mo., regarding the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.MICHAEL B. THOMAS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Remember #Kony2012? Of course you do. The social media campaign by Invisible Children against the war criminal leader of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army is impossible to forget because of the way so many Americans—including many white Americans—came together and amplified the cause in the name of justice and human rights.

Invisible Children’s video was viewed 100 million times within six days. In a showing bigger even than the one for the ongoing “ice bucket challenge” for Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, 3.7 million people committed to joining the Kony 2012 struggle. While ultimately unsuccessful in its stated goals of “ending war,” or “stopping the LRA and their leader,” #Kony2012 was effective in galvanizing deep support from white youth throughout the nation.

So, why not #FergusonPD2014?

In other words, why aren’t the same people who called out Joseph Kony demanding accountability from the Ferguson Police Department for its killing of Michael Brown when he was unarmed, and for its violation of peaceful protesters’ constitutional rights to assemble? Yes, it’s true that people of all backgrounds, including some young white activists, are actively involved in the protests in Ferguson. But why aren’t white college students latching on to this and revealing the same overwhelming “commitment” they did to the Kony “cause”?

As a college professor, I remember clearly that during the #Kony2012 campaign, they wanted the world to know that they were outraged by the atrocities going on in Uganda, or at least the atrocities said to be going on at some point in recent history. Why not a similar response to the atrocities going on outside St. Louis?

Because, sadly, this American tragedy doesn’t seem to have the right ingredients.

Besides using social media wisely, Invisible Children deployed a narrative of good versus evil and created enthusiasm around the power of young people in stopping a man intent on turning young men into soldiers and young women into sex slaves. With a click of a button that led the video to be shared on social media, a donation, or putting on some Kony apparel, one could seemingly purchase penance for past inaction and buy peace.

Second, the video and the campaign played upon the long-standing concept of the “white man’s burden” —the idea that white America has a responsibility and a duty to help oppressed elsewhere.

Third, the primary platform of the campaign limited the chance of cross-racial challenges. Facebook, marked by its insular communities, segregation and siloed realities, was the central engine for Kony 2012. This, and the nascent status of “black Twitter,” created conditions under which the “white savior” mentality thrived. While white Americans who participated in Kony 2012 were purchasing a tool kit or contributing to “justice” with their clicks and dollars, they didn’t have to inconvenience or challenge their privilege or identity.

Movements to address injustice when the victims are African American don’t have the same formula. So it’s no wonder that since 2012, there has not been a #Trayvon2013, a movement for #Renisha2013 or a #Ferguson2014. It’s no wonder there have been no viral videos on #Every28HoursABlackManIsKilled, or mainstream efforts to galvanize national attention for Eric Garner or Marissa Alexander or countless others.

Continue reading at The Root

Dear Tiger Mom: The 1920s Called and They Want Their Racial Theories Back

Dear Tiger Mom: The 1920s Called and They Want Their Racial Theories Back
David J. Leonard
January 13, 2014
Image via Wiki Commons.

Tiger Mom: Some Cultural groups are superior” – this headline from the New York Post prompted me to tweet the following:

While partly a snarky reaction to a book that invariably will deliver all-too familiar themes, it was equally a comment on the continuity of American racial ideologies across multiple generations, and multiple centuries.

Amy Chua and her antiquated ideologies are back.

The author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which celebrated the superiority of Chinese American parenting styles, is set to publish a follow-up book in February. Co-authored with her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America appears to be more of the same, expanding her cultural determinist argument, which imagined Chinese parenting as both superior and a pathway to inevitable success, to now include seven more groups (Jewish, Indian, Chinese, Iranian, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerian, Cuban exiles, and Mormons), whose success is attributable to their possessing the requisite values and cultural attributes. The selected groups, all of whom are immigrant groups, the selective grouping (only Cuban exiles; Lebanese-American but Nigerians), the lack of intersectional analysis, not too mention the dehistoricizing, reveals a flawed premise at its face.

As reported in the Post, Chua and Rubenfeld argue that “success” is attributable to three distinct cultural traits: superiority complex, inferiority complex, and impulse control. Simply put, Chua and Rubenfeld seem to argue that a sense of superiority — confidence, purpose, and a belief in excellence — alongside a sense of inferiority — humility, modesty, and determination — are two essential ingredients to success. For the sake of brevity, and my focus on historic continuity between Chua and a larger history of scientific racism, it is important to reflect on their understanding of “impulse control” and how it fits within a larger history of white supremacy, notions of civilization, and arguments about fitness, self-control, and self-governance. “As we’ll use the term,” write Chua and Rubenfeld, “impulse control refers to the ability to resist temptation, especially the temptation to give up in the face of hardship or quit instead of persevering at a difficult task.”

This argument is not new. Central to white supremacist discourses and practices, from the representations of minstrelsy and Jim Crow, to Native American bordering schools and contemporary mascots, is the idea that “racial others have impulses that demand a civilizing force in order to rein them in.” The inability to exert control over the “impulses” of racial others has also been cited throughout history as evidence of inferiority, reason for inequality, and the justification of state violence. For example, Anglos rationalized the conquest of California by citing the “lack of self-discipline” and “cultural backwardness” of the Californios. In their minds, Mexicans were “indolent people, whose backwardness reflected their having poor personal habits and collective deficiencies such as laziness or a penchant for extravagances.”

Irrespective of intent, The Triple Package builds on a long history of American racism, faux science, and racial discourses that have sought to normalize and naturalize inequalities. It’s a remix of Herbert Spencer, Charles Davenport, The Bell Curve, and countless other theories that have normalized white supremacy and socially produced injustices. Whereas past theories focused on biological differences that located the physical, psychological, and cultural differences within inheritable traits, Chua and Rubenfeld explain away differences and inequalities, arguing that individual values and cultural traits push certain groups to the top of “success mountain” and others into the pits of failure.

The book’s argument recycles longstanding arguments that governed systems of slavery, imperialism, and colonization. On the eve of the Spanish-American War, Alfred Mahan described Asia as “rich in possibilities,” but seemingly in waste because of “negligence and incompetence of its inhabitants.” The irony of Chua and Rubenfeld identifying Chinese or Indians as having the requisite cultural values, given this history, should give us pause. The cultural deficiencies and the lack of “political fitness” meant that the land and resources were underdeveloped and therefore no one had “natural right to land.” As with the indigenous communities, the lack of development within in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Philippines, and throughout Asia necessitated action and intervention. “Will anyone seriously content that the North American continent should have been left forever in the hands of tribes,” Mahan asked, in justifying U.S. expansion overseas as part of a history of the civilized, anointed by God, conquering “savages who waste land and resources.” Success and failure, civilization and the lack thereof, were tied to culture.

Continue reading at  http://hnn.us/article/154434#sthash.5Lrf6lvt.dpuf

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