Racism: The Most Violent Weapon in Human History – Hip-Hop and Politics

Racism: The Most Violent Weapon in Human History

by JLove Calderon and David Leonard

February 24, 2014

Originally posted at Davey D’s Hip Hop and Politics

Stop denying that race doesn’t matter.

To claim that killings of Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Darius Simmons, Garrick Hopkins, Carl Hopkins, and countless others have nothing to do with race erases generations of white-on-black violence.

And before you trot out some example from history of an African American who killed a white person, or cite some FBI statistics (deflection is a form of denial), hear us:

The history of violence directed at African Americans is grounded in a history of systemic racism; efforts to protect slavery, irrational fear, segregation, Jim Crow, stereotypes and white privilege are all part of this history. It is what binds together Emmett Till and Jordan Davis, what links together the countless incidents of lynching throughout America’s history with killings of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride who were seen as “not belonging.”

The history of the United States is one where whites have killed with impunity; the murder of African Americans has been carried under a culture that continues to sanction this violence. Our society has refused to hold white killers accountable within the criminal justice system. On the flip side, African Americans have historically and continually experience the opposite: the unequal brunt force of the criminal justice system. Unlike their white counterparts, who have been let off the hook over and over again, blacks have been policed, locked up, lynched, and executed for s**t they didn’t do. Just as those involved with countless lynchings and Emmett Till’s killers never faced consequences for killing black people, Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman have been left off the hook.

Race matters because of continued circulation of racial stereotypes. From Dunn’s views about “thug music” or Zimmerman’s profiling of Martin, or the belief from Theodore Wafer that Renisha McBride’s an intruder has everything to do with race. How many different jokes about blacks and crime do you hear each day, either from popular culture or from friends? How often do you confront media reports, video games, films, TV, or conversations that depict African Americans as dangerous, as “thugs,” as threatening criminals?

One cannot understand Michael Dunn, or George Zimmerman or countless others within a colorblind fantasy.  We must talk about racism, stereotypes and the history of criminalizing black bodies.  Research proves that whites, from college students to police officers, are more likely to misidentify a gun when in a black hand.  According to B. Keith Payne, “Race stereotypes can lead people to claim to see a weapon where there is none. Split-second decisions magnify the bias by limiting people’s ability to control responses.”  Racism thwarts many in white America from seeing how racism kills.

According Project Implicit,  “An analysis of more than 900,000 completed Implicit Association Tests (IAT) at the Project Implicit website suggested that more than 70% of test takers associated White people with good and Black people with bad…”   It is easy to dismiss race and racism but the daily consequences of American racism are real; the trauma and pain, the ongoing history of racial violence, and a culture that is more likely to see black criminality than black innocence.  Racism kills and so does denial.

Geraldo Rivera Blames TrayvonRace matters even in death.  How else can we explain the lack of concern society shows for the anguish of black parents who have lost a child?  The mantra of not speaking ill of the dead is rarely applied to black youth.  For all too many, that means routinely seeing the victims as criminals, as unworthy of sympathy and assumptions of innocence. Instead of being seen as victims, as someone’s son or daughter, someone’s friend that lost their life, they are turned into criminals deserving of death.  Writing about Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin, Eric Mann highlights the longstanding history of blaming black youth for their own murders:  [D]eep in the white American psyche” rests the controlling belief and script that sees “the impossibility of Black innocence.” Efforts to convict black youth for their own murders is engrained in the American fabric, enshrined in the history books, and centuries old in the script of white supremacy.  Racism continues to turn the victims of racism into criminals who either deserved to die or did something that resulted in their own death.

Whether citing school suspensions, problems with the law, drug use, clothing choices, being drunk, loud music, whistling, not listening to authority or simply their attitude, the presumption of black guilt, black criminality, and black pathology is reason for black death.  Don’t look at the killers or a history of white supremacy since the “victim” is in fact responsible for his/her death.  The message is clear: Don’t mourn for them; don’t seek justice for them since it is they (and their parents, their “culture”, and their community) that is responsible, not the killers, not the laws, not the gun culture, not the racism, and not America. . . .

Continue reading at Racism: The Most Violent Weapon in Human History – Hip-Hop and Politics.

From the Jaws of Victory by Matt Garcia (A Review – #AMST 525)

In the tradition of Charles Payne, Barbara Ransby, and Chana Kai Lee, Matt Garcia chronicles the history of the United Farm Workers (UFW) from an organizing perspective.  Quoting Jerry Brown, Garcia highlights the importance, the principles, and the requisite grind the includes organizing: Fred “Ross never lectured about organizing.  He believed that one could only learn to organize by doing.  He would point out there was nothing romantic organizing, and this it required mainly common sense, meticulous planning, hard work, and a great deal of self discipline” (63).  Whereas much of the public memory of Chavez and the UFW has focused on marches, hunger strikes, and confrontations, Garcia brings to life a history of “slow and respectful work.”

From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement highlights the use of three principal tactics within the UFW: the strike, the march, and the boycott.   While each served a distinct purpose, exerting different levels of pressure on the agricultural industry, Garcia pushes readers to see the significance of the boycott not only within the United States but also across the globe.  In many ways, From the Jaws of Victory is a story of the grape boycott.

Although documenting the efforts to organize the farm workers themselves, Garcia spends many pages of From the Jaws of Victory highlighting the many ways that UFW organized the consumer boycott.  As a child I still recall, the “don’t buy grapes campaign,” which in many ways impacted by own politicization, identity, and understanding of justice.

To work alongside of those withholding their labor, the UFW organized consumers to withhold their dollars, to punish grape growers for their failure to provide adequate compensation and working conditions.   While Chavez was “reluctant to embrace the boycott … given the difficulty of maintaining such a campaign well beyond the primary site of struggle” (46), the boycott proved important in generating public participation.  Despite apprehension, the UFW, with the assistance college students and other nonpaid volunteers, tried to cut off the demand for grapes.  Educating consumers, pressuring markets, and disrupting supply chains, the UFW took the boycott to Los Angeles and New York, to Toronto and London.

Garcia chronicles the depth of this organizing and the extensive networks required to disrupt the supply chain at a global level.  They created boycott houses; they lobbied other unions to refuse to transport grapes; and they shamed any who aided and abetted the global sale of grapes.  Here the book emphasizes how the UFW utilized the media, and deploys particular frames to galvanize support, offering a dynamic and engaging look at the UFW as a social movement, as a space of organizing.

A wonderful expose of organizing, agitation, and the challenges of a global economy, From the Jaws of Victory pushes the conversations beyond the UFW, beyond Delano, beyond Delores Huerta and beyond Chavez, who is “saintly” status is complicated and problematized in significant ways.  While critical, Garcia highlights the contradictions and shortcomings of Chavez and others within the movement.  Yet, his focus is on the organizing and on the organizational tensions that is both a strength and source of weakness for the movement.

In this respect, Garcia chronicles the work Marshall Ganz, Elaine Ellison, and Jessica Govea, each of whom organized throughout in different parts of world as part of a global grape boycott.  He recalls a meeting between Leon Weinstein, a Toronto grocer and UFW organizers Manny Rivera, Jerry Brown, and Juanita Brown:

Weinstein prided himself as a fair-minded entrepreneur with the power to disarm those who questioned his business practices.  Jerry Brown recalled, ‘He [told] us how he would not have grapes in his home, how he supports the farm workers’ cause, but he is the president of a large chain, and the consumers have to have free choice, so he cannot publicly support the boycott.’ Weinstein also made a peace offering of Cuban cigars to Ribera, who accepted the gift and came ready to reciprocate.  ‘He hand[ed] Leon a farm worker calendar,’ Brown remember, ‘every month of which ha[d] a picture of the travails in the fields – you know, hungry, children, child labor, tired workers.’  ‘I’m going to give you… our calendar,’ Rivera told Weinstein, ‘and I hope you’ll put it on the wall, so that every day you look at it, you’ll be reminded of the suffering you’re causing our people by carrying grapes in your store” (88).

Such details, and compelling narratives are at the core of From the Jaws of Victory.

While the boycott proved to be important in terms of education, in terms of increasing leverage and visibility for the union, and ultimately securing a contract, the focus rests with the boycott, which “required organizers to move away from the cradle of the movement to live in far-flung cities with few connections to Delano” (62).  These demands and the emphasis on producing boycott from supermarkets and others who would potentially sell grapes, alongside of the racial and class dynamics of the organizing class, contributed to disunity at times.  Yes, class and race mattered, but the interface with tactics, was the true story.

One of the prominent themes of From the Jaws of Victory is the tension – ideological, tactical, organizational, and political – that results from the yearning to become a union and a social movement.  The goal of becoming a union, negotiating contracts and representing farm workers – and the desire to build a movement dedicated to social justice and empowering workers was at times competing; at other times, these goals were irreconcilable. Garcia highlights these debates and the difficulty resulting from the “institutionalization of social justice.” According to Garcia, the failure of Chavez and UFW is not surprising given the history of social justice:

In the end, Chavez’s greatest failure may not have been his flirtations with communal living, creating a new religion, or attempting to control the minds of his followers through a bevy of devices borrowed from self-made prophets.  Rather his failures were quite familiar to social movements that harbored a dream of institutionalizing social justice: Chavez failure to adapt his strategy to fit the demands of a dynamic situation.  The ability to move the locus of power from the strike to the boycott in the earlier days was not matched in the late 1970s by an equal ability to move from the boycott to a fight for victories in ALRB election and arbitration and, if necessary, California courtrooms (287)

Garcia not only elucidates the struggles that resulted in waning power and influence of Chavez and UFW but provides a larger lesson regarding the pitfalls, possibilities, and potential problems when trying to “merge a social movement with the requirements of becoming a state recognized union” (284).  These shortcomings are not just for the record books but felt by “the health and security of the farm workers” (295).   The legacy is not simply to be debated among academics or memorialized within Hollywood but can be seen and felt in the continued struggle for farm workers’ rights.

Garcia pushes the conversation beyond Chavez, beyond the sensationalism, and beyond Hollywood representations, to look at the complexities and contradictions, a history of organizing and dreams incomplete, which given the persistent injustice remains as important as ever.


  1. Why so much tension between developing a union and a social movement
  2. How does the demands of a union versus a social movement impact identity, tactics, and politics
  3. What was role of community in development of UFW; how was this a strength and also a source of weakness
  4. How did race and class play into the development of UFW
  5. Is the solidification of agriculture business/rise of corporate farms an unintended consequence of unionization
  6. In what ways did UFW embrace a transnational strategy alongside of one based in local politics, histories, and community formations?
  7. Why was organizing farm workers so difficult
  8. How did the intellectual work lay a foundation for organizing and activism
  9. Why do you think there has been some resistance to the narrative offered in From the Jaws of Victory
  10. Why limited coalitions and connections to other industries such as meatpacking?
  11. Was the embrace of potential sexism from those being organized a smart strategy or short-sided (93)?
  12. Has the multiracial nature of struggle and the importance of “allies” been over emphasized or erased from historiography
  13. How is framing important in understanding history of UFW?  What role does the representation of Chavez play in contemporary framing

White and Wealthy = Free Pass Affluenza – Hip-Hop and Politics

Please go to Hip Hop and Politics to read the entire piece . . . this is just an excerpt:


White and Wealthy = Free Pass (Affluenza)

David Leonard & Jlove Calderon

While the outrage over the justice system’s decision to pat little Ethan on the head, sending him to bed with no dessert is warranted, it would be a mistake to see the judge’s decision as exceptional. Each and every day, institutions and individuals make decisions with special concern for not only affluenza, but whititis the consequences of white entitlement and masculenza the ailment of male privilege as well. The lack of accountability, compared to the harsh and unequal injustice felt by youth of color, is nothing new.

One such example is the case of Andrew Klepper, a 16-year old white male from Bethesda Maryland, who in 2002 plead guilty to three felonies, including charges that he sodomized a woman with a baseball bat, held her at knifepoint and stole $2,000 dollars from her. His sentence: probation and treatment at an out-of-state facility by 2011, after multiple arrests, he was finally sent to prison for 7 years – we guess three strikes of affluenza means you are out. His parents’ ability to pay for the “treatment” and his “potential” surely led to this sentence. We must put this latest sentencing of Ethan Couch in a historical context to really understand the depth of the implications.In a society where middle-class white youth pop Adderall with great frequency, reporting this illegal usage without any fear of punishment, it is clear that affluenza is systemic.

In a society where Bill Maher and others white celebrities take to the airwaves to tout their marijuana use, where college students at historically white institutions break laws with greater frequency than attending class, it’s a mistake to limit the conversation to Mr. Couch, Dr. Miller, or Judge Boyd.

Quoted in USA Today, Daniel Filler, a law professor at Drexel University who specializes in juvenile law broke it down; “The real truth is that our criminal justice system is suffering from ‘affluenza’ because affluent people can afford better attorneys and better get better outcomes,” Filler said. Numbers don’t lie how pervasive race and class privilege operate within the criminal justice system. As noted by Vijay Prashad, in Keeping up with the Dow Joneses, almost sixty percent of juveniles detained in correction facilities are black; an additional 21 percent are Latino. In total, half of the 700,000 youth in juvenile prison are there as a result of a first offense, usually a drug or property crime. Mr. Couch killed four people, stole alcohol from WalMart, drove drunk, and injured two more people, and was neither sent to a juvenile detention facility, much less tried as an adult.

via White and Wealthy = Free Pass Affluenza – Hip-Hop and Politics.

Illegible[1] Black Death: Denied Media, Mourning, and Mobilization – The Feminist Wire | The Feminist Wire

Please go to Feminist Wire to read entire piece (this is the conclusion of piece)


For these groups, race and racism is peripheral at best, but more likely a superfluous issue. For these groups, Black innocence and therefore Black Death remains out-of-focus, if not unworthy of attention. To all too many, Black innocence is illegible and therefore Black Death and humanity are invisible and impossible, thwarting media coverage, national mourning, and widespread mobilization.

The denied innocence/criminalization of Black bodies is commonplace and helps us understand the silence from gun rights activists groups. “African-Americans are not allowed such protections by the White Gaze. They are viewed as guilty until proven innocent, a criminal Other who is a priori categorized as ‘suspicious’ and ‘dangerous,’ writes Chauncey Vega. “While formal racism and Jim and Jane Crow were shattered and defeated by the Black Freedom Struggle, this ugly cloud continues to hover over the United States, some 400 years after the first Black slaves were brought to the country.” The hundreds dead in Chicago and the killing of Trayvon Martin lead to stories that seemingly turn victims into criminals; even those not criminalized are imagined as complicit and culpable for their own death. Whether citing past arrests, suspensions, drug use, clothing choices, or attitude, whether arguing that they should have known better than to go to strangers’ houses late at night or they should guard against prejudiced whites, the presumption of Black guilt shapes national conversations about gun violence. This group cannot be saved or helped. Such narratives are commonplace within the media, from the Right, from 2nd Amendment “birthers,” from defense legal teams, and countless others. Yet, the failure of liberals and gun-right advocates to spotlight these instances, to focus on race

As Eric Mann notes, “[d]eep in the white American psyche” rests the controlling belief and script that sees “the impossibility of Black innocence” (Mann 2013). This has been all too clear in the last 6 months (and beyond). From the “exoneration” of George Zimmerman and the criminalization of Trayvon Martin to the 20-year sentence of Marissa Alexander, Black innocence is both imagined and realized as a contradiction in terms. From the efforts to blame (and ignore) gun violence on single-mothers, welfare, and criminality in Chicago to the erasure of Black Death in Detroit, Baltimore, and New Orleans, Black innocence remains an unfulfilled promise in a post-civil rights, post-racial America. From Jonathan Ferrell to Renisha McBride, from Alex Saunders to Jonylah Watkins, lost lives are seen as not worthy of media, mourning, and mobilization from those purportedly concerned with gun violence. As noted by Ruthie Gilmore, “Racism is the state-sanctioned or extralegal production & exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” The failure of gun-control groups to address racism, its consequences in Black Death, further contributes to “vulnerability to premature death.”


The racism deniers are out in full force. So let me say this, it’s America, race matters. It matters given stereotypes of who is dangerous; it matters because studies have shown that the mere sight of black face elicits fear among whites (measurable in brain); it matters because Dearbon Heights is 84% white and has historically been a Sundown Town; it matters because she, like Trayvon, was drug tested following her death (which cannot be read outside the larger context of anti-Black racism. In one study, when asked to imagine a drug user, 95% of whites picture a black person). It matters because as noted by dream hampton, we are witnessing yet again the “‘criminalizing Black Corpses’.” Race matters given days it took for an arrest and the nonexistent media coverage; it matters given the inequality in the legal application of the stand your ground law, it matters because of history of racism as it relates to guns; it matters because of history, from Emmett till to Trayvon, from #every28 hours to Johnathan Ferrell; it matters because of fear and terror; and it matters because white America can deny race matters over and over again even when faced with rightful anger, justifiable protest, and tears of pain, loss, and fear.

To read the entire piece go here: Illegible[1] Black Death: Denied Media, Mourning, and Mobilization – The Feminist Wire | The Feminist Wire.

Silence and Spectacle: How the Sports Media Sanctions Racist Mascots

Silence and Spectacle: How the Sports Media Sanctions Racist Mascots

By Guest Contributors C. Richard King and David J. Leonard

One would hope sport media outlets might take their civic duty to foster critical thinking, public engagement, and informed debated seriously. Their approach to the representations in Native Americans in sport suggest otherwise. Under the veil of fairness and balance, they opt to speak for, to be silent and to silence as preferred pathways.

When ESPN columnist Rick Reilly offered a defense of Native American mascots because the American Indians he knew did not have a problem with them. Flouting his whiteness and playing his privilege with little regard, he spoke for Native Americas. His word – his whiteness, his platform – made their words meaningful. His editors neither batted an eye nor cleared a space for Native Americans to express themselves.

In fact, Reilly misrepresented his key source, his father-in-law, who wrote a lengthy retort in Indian Country Today that noted he found the name of Washington D.C.’s National Football League team to be objectionable. Reilly still stood by his piece and neither he nor his publisher have offered a correction or an apology.

Fans of Washington, D.C.’s NFL team. Image by Keith Allison via Flickr Creative Commons.

Similarly, Daniel Snyder, the owner of the franchise, continually invokes American Indians to support the team name, imagery and traditions, as in his recent sentimental letter to the public, from one-time coach Lone Star Dietz (who claimed to be but was indeed not indigenous) as the inspiration of the honorific name to the Red Cloud School (a reservation school which does not support it).

Not surprisingly, someone who loves and profits from the invented Indian figure he owns does not have a problem with offering up insincere fictions in his defense. He doesn’t invoke the history of colonization and genocide, or the specific racial history of his own franchise. Predictably, someone who reaps the daily benefit of white supremacy sees little problem with the football team located in the nation’s capital having for its mascot a racist slur seeped in white supremacist colonial history.

Continue reading at Silence and Spectacle: How the Sports Media Sanctions Racist Mascots | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture.

Death isn’t freedom, Justice isn’t an arrest

Death isn’t freedom, Justice isn’t an arrest


“His headstone said
But death is a slave’s freedom
We seek the freedom of free men
And the construction of a world
Where Martin Luther King could have lived and preached nonviolence”

Writing about Dr. King, Nikki Giovanni reflcts on the irony of freedom emanating from death. Yet, so is the logic of white supremacy, a system and ideology that has not only denied African Americans the rights of freedom, but “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Recently, I woke up thinking about this poem because “death isn’t freedom for the enslaved or those free yet shackled by the grips of white supremacy.  For Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and countless others, death has not resulted in “freedom.” Freedom from the grips of white supremacy has not happen in death; no period of mourning or “don’t speak ill of the dead” has been afforded to the,  From drug tests to criminalization, from media demonization to the hurling of the same stereotypes that resulted in their deaths, racism traveled with them.  dream Hampton spotlights this when she talks about a system and society that is “‘criminalizing Black Corpses’.”  Death is not a “slave’s freedom”

Her headstone says
Still not yet free

For death is not freedom for the enslaved

For death is not freedom for the criminalized, for people of color living in American Apartheid

Yet, we fight for freedom and justice for all women and men
And the construction of a world
Where Renisha McBride, and Johanthan Ferrell could have sought help without being pushed through death’s door

Yet we imagine a world where justice is not defined as Shana Redmond notes through “handcuffs and cages”

Yet we fight for a world where justice isn’t placed in the hands of another arrest of George Zimmerman or the ultimate charging of Theodore Paul Wafer

Yet we imagine a world where justice does not resemble as @prisoncultture brilliantly describes as “purgatory — suspended between heaven and hell”

Yet we imagine a world where safety isn’t an axiom for more police and prisons but freedom from prisons, from police, from violence, and from guns

From poverty, from state violence, and from American exceptionalism

Until then, freedom will remain a dream deferred

Justice will continue to remain illusive

Dreams will fill our hearts, nourish our activist souls and be our oxygen

As we fight against white supremacist violence

And the construction of a world

Where Trayvon can walk freely, where Jordan can listen to his music, where Marissa can defend herself, and where the living & the dead are treated with humanity and dignity


“Action Expresses Priorities”: The Sochi Olympics and a Culture of Complicity – The Feminist Wire | The Feminist Wire

The upcoming Sochi Olympics are already shrouded in violence and inequality. It is the Olympics after all, so the political, social, and cultural entanglements between the world’s largest sporting spectacle and the broader social realities (injustices) are nothing new. Yet, with the Olympics just over the horizon, 2014 will spotlight the ongoing oppression facing GLBTQ communities and their allies in Russia (and beyond).

As with U.S. outrage over racism within European fútbol or “hooliganism” in the world’s most popular game, the national response to Russian state-sanctioned homophobia has been wrapped in a narrative of American exceptionalism. More than the rightful condemnation, the calls for a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics speak to a level of holier-than-thou exceptionalism that locates evil, hatred, and violence elsewhere, all while seeing goodness, love, and equality in the hearts and minds of people in the United States.

Don’t get me wrong: the anti-GLBTQ violence in Russia mandates protest and widespread censure. The Sochi Olympics are an opportune moment, but not because of a dehistoricized and naïve understanding of the Olympics as the apolitical celebration of the world’s humanity. Nor is Sochi an important space of intervention because homophobia and inequality run counter to the Olympic charter and its call for nations to put aside differences in a celebration of friendly athletic competition. I know these messages are what NBC and the International Olympic Committee are selling, but I ain’t buying.

At the core, the Olympics are about Western hegemony – a celebration of colonization and imperialism. Christina Ting Kwauk notes,

According to John Bale and Mike Cronin, modern sport is a legacy of colonialism. It is a product of the implantation of sport by Western colonizers into societies all over the globe in an effort to civilize the “savages” in the image of the Englishman. Bale and Cronin argue that although “modern sport may serve to promote the modern post-colonial state, they initially served as a form of colonial social control.” Through sport, colonialists could first train the body and then capture the mind.

White supremacy, misogyny, and homophobia, not too mention the violence and destructive logics of capitalism, have always been core to colonial projects and thus are central to understanding the history of the Olympics. The anti-GLBTQ violence is thus not out of step with the history of the games. To deny this broader history is a mistake and a shortcoming given the complicity of everyone from the IOC to the Olympics corporate sponsors.

And yet, the Olympics do provide a platform for resistance. “But this year’s Winter Olympics offer us all an opportunity to look beyond sports and athletics and focus on the ways that sports can often highlight and intersect with human oppression,” writes Wade Davis II. “As we move closer to the 2014 Olympics, the oppression and violence directed towards LGBTQ individuals in Russia takes center stage, alongside the determination of who’s the world’s best in various sports.” Whether challenging Russia’s discrimination laws, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, #every28hours, or transnational sweatshops, the Olympics provide a powerful space of opposition.

Continue reading at   “Action Expresses Priorities”: The Sochi Olympics and a Culture of Complicity – The Feminist Wire | The Feminist Wire.