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 Moyerput it in hisanalysis of the leaks of recent weeks (Lawrence, Upton and Scott), “White feminists ignore Jill Scott.”
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.
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.
In our post-Reagan, and post-Iranian Revolution moment, black and Muslim bodies have become increasingly entangled as sources of fear, nationalist narratives, and racial scapegoating. Amid the ongoing war on drugs and the war on terror, blackness and Muslimness is consistently used to mobilize consent for and support for increased state power, systemic policing, and a culture of violence. According to Vijay Prashad, “the international Muslim terrorist and the domestic black criminal stand as alibis for revanchism. Race free criminals (read white) are free from extra detection or from pious fulminations of the political class” (Prashad 2003, p. 75). Sohail Daulatzai similarly elucidates the dialectics and shared experiences in “Are we all Muslim now? Assata Shakur and the Terrordome,”
As scholars such as Michelle Alexander and Khalil Gibran Muhammad have noted, once the US state defined particular activities as “crime”, it then sought to crack down and control it. As the fears of the “black criminal” were stoked, the political will was generated in mainstream America to pass repressive laws that normalised “crime” and linked it almost exclusively to blackness, making all black people suspicious, and leading to state-sanctioned racial profiling, the creation of an urban police state, and the explosion of a massive prison archipelago that Michelle Alexander has called “the new Jim Crow”.
The “war on terror” has used the face of the “Muslim terrorist” to narrow the scope of dissent, expand state control, and prevent the creation of alternatives to exploitation and war.
Similarly in the “war on terror”, the US has named particular acts as “terrorism”, delegitimising them and generating the political will through fear to normalise the figure of the “terrorist”, making Muslim-looking people, and even Muslim countries themselves, suspects under deep suspicion in their struggles for self-determination.
As a result, the need for state security created broad “anti-terrorism” measures that expanded state power, making Muslim countries subject to invasions, sanctions, bombs, and drones, and making Muslim bodies subject to indefinite detention, torture, surveillance and targeted murder, as Muslims got marked as people who don’t have the right to have rights.
While the system of mass incarceration used the face of the “black criminal” to legitimise itself and disproportionately target black men and women, the tentacles of incarceration soon expanded to include Latinos and other poor people in its orbit.
Similarly, the “war on terror” has used the face of the “Muslim terrorist” to narrow the scope of dissent, expand state control, and prevent the creation of alternatives to exploitation and war. But while the Muslim has been the face of this, the logic of “terror” is now being used to target other countries and also black and brown communities domestically, as the fluid category of the “terrorist” continues to morph.
These entrenched narratives, racializing stereotypes, and white racial framing not only impact policy, but cultural representations, public discourse, and everyday interactions. It results in stop and frisk, and racial profiling on the streets and in airports; it contributes to daily microaggressions and flattened cultural representations. Black or brown bodies and criminal are imagined as interchangeable, Muslim and terrorist are positioned as inseparable, reflecting the entrenched nature of “post-racial” hyper racial American discourse and practice.
The connection between black and Muslim subject is not limited to white supremacist discourse, state violence, and shared racialization, but is equally evident in the “political and cultural history of Black Islam, Black radicalism, and the Muslim Third World.” Herein lies the focus of Sohail Daulatzai’s Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom beyond America (University of Minnesota Press 2012), a very important work that pushes readers to look at resistance, to look at a history of radicalism, and examine Diasporic challenges to white supremacy.
Black Star, Crescent Mood decenters whiteness and antiblack racism, spotlighting the shared histories and interconnections beyond policing and state violence in the everyday resistance and the ongoing struggle for justice. Challenging the conventional narratives surrounding the black freedom struggle, that centers nonviolence, the South, Christianity, and civil rights, Dr. Daulatzai centers everyday resistance, the black radical imagination, the Muslim International in an exploration of artists, activists, intellectualist, and change agents.
Black Star, Crescent Moon begins its discussion of the Muslim International subject, black internationalism, and the “Afro-Diasporic imagination” (xxxiii) with Malcolm X. Given Malcolm’s position within the Nation of Islam, given his internationalist politics, and given his symbolic meaning into present-day discourses, it is no surprise that Malcolm anchors this work. “In mapping Third World solidarity against white supremacy onto the racial terrain of the United States and arguing that the man who colonized Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Congo, and Kenya is the ‘same man’ who is in Georgia, Michigan, California, and New York, Malcolm radically challenged the sacred narrative of American exceptionalism” (29). Reflecting on the dialectics between Malcolm’s faith, his transnationalist politics, and Black Islam Dr. Daulatzai narrates a history whereupon Malcolm expanded the political imagination, foregrounding alternative freedom dreams and new methods and approaches to turning those dreams into reality.
Black Star, Crescent Moon builds upon its discussion of Malcolm to highlight the ways the Muslim International and transnational black politics are equally visible with respect to the Battle of Algiers (which would be highly influential to the activists and black cinematic imagination), Sam Greenlee’s The Spook who Sat by the Door and Baghdad Blues, and Frantz’s Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Mask all of which furthered the message of a black radical politics anchored in internationalism, decolonization, and an imagined (and real) community based in Afro-Asian (Afro-Muslim) solidarity. “Black cultural activists in the Civil Rights and Black Power era positioned themselves, their art, and their politics in relation to the anticolonial and anti-imperialist movements taking place in Asia, Africa and Latin America, writes Dr. Daulatzai. “The Cold War inaugurated a new phase in American power that simultaneously sought to contain both the anticolonial impulses emanating from the Third World and a burgeoning Civil Rights and Black Power movement domestically” (69). The power of this work rests not just with its detailed textual analysis, its examination of aesthetics, and the Diasporic context, buts its emphasis on geo-politics and the responsive utterances from black radicalism.
Black Star, Crescent Moon ends with discussions of both Muhammad Ali and hip-hop, making clear how each has used, deployed, and been influenced by the intersections of blackness, Islam, and transnational radical politics. “In reinvigorating and reshaping the already vibrant space of the Muslim International, these artists and activists force and compel the Muslim international to be a broad and inclusive space that understand the overlapping histories and interconnected struggles that not only have shaped the modern world” Their work “also shape the conscience of the Muslim International as a site for radical justice and equality” (196). Like Malcolm and the Battle of Algiers, Ali and Greenlee, Immortal Technique and Jasiri X, Black Star, Crescent Moon and Sohail Daulatzai expands our radical imagination, indexing transnational dreams and pathways to freedom, justice, and social transformation. Powerful and inspiring, this work reshapes our understanding of social movements and the ongoing struggle for black freedom.
In what ways is black internationalism not inherently radical? What sorts of examples demonstrate the liberal or conservative use of black internationalism?
How and why is Black Islam seen as a threat to post-civil rights state formation?
What are the connections between culture wars, “Islamic terrorist” and “black criminal”? How do they exist at a crossroads?
What is the significance of the connection between Killer of Sheep (and the LA Rebellion) and Battle of Algiers?
How did technological shifts impact the black radical imagination and the Muslim International?
How do we account for antiblack racism within Asia and the Middle East given these histories?
Why is the Caribbean and Latin America (or is it) not as prominent within these Diasporic and transnationalist black radical formations
How does India.Arie “ghetto” fit within this discussion?
Contemporary racial discourses are defuse and far-reaching; yet, within the fast-pace news media cycle, and a mainstream media more invested in the sensational and the spectacle, rarely do these conversations move beyond talking points, buzz words, and bumper stickers. This aptly describes the nature of racial discourse emanating from mainstream media and political discourses. While evidence in a myriad of issues, mainstream coverage of social movements, marriage equality, gentrification, and crime is most certainly emblematic of a flattening and flattened discussions of these crucial issues facing the nation.
Dr. Christina Hanhardt, associate professor of American Studies at University Maryland, steps into this historical vacuum, offering readers an important book on “how LGBT calls for ‘safe space’ have been shaped by broader public safety initiatives that have sought solutions in policing and privatization and have had devastating effects along race and class line.” Offering insight into the histories of urban development and neoliberalism, into social movements and GLBT civil rights activism, into race relations – conflicts and alliances –, and into discourses and policies around crime, Dr. Hanhardt not only chronicles several important chapters in urban history but also offers a framework for dialectical and intersectional discussions. To talk about and understand gentrification requires understanding the racial history of redevelopment, which requires understanding the white supremacist imagination with respect to crime; all of this helps us understand discourses around policing and state violence, from anti-sodomy laws to stop-and-frisk; in the end (or the beginning), this complicates our discussions of the history of anti-GLBTQ state violence and the experiences of communities of color. Amassing “extensive archival and ethnographic research in New York City and San Francisco,” Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence is a powerful text on so many levels.
In recent years, there have been many discussions of relations between (white) GLBTQ communities and the black community. Much of contemporary media discourse and reporting continues to focus on black homophobia, seemingly arguing that black homophobia is an obstacle to not only political power and equality (cue various reports about Proposition 8 and the limited coverage of black activists working for marriage equality in New York or Maryland) but to progress (p. 13). Dr. Hanhardt offers some historic perspective, making me wonder why the conversation always focuses on “blacks turning their back on fight for marriage equality” and not on how the focus on crime and safety from GLBT activist groups was a far more deleterious betrayal. Dr. Hanhardt pushes the discussion beyond the claims of heightened black homophobia to reflect on how blackness is imagined in connection to GLBT communities. Framed as an obstacle, and a source of pathology, mainstream discourse frames blackness as a pollutant compared to the integration of GLBTQ communities into neighborhoods as a source of maturation and growth. Whether through narratives of homophobia, opposition to redevelopment, or crime, Dr. Hanhardt highlights the many ways that blackness is imagined as an impediment to progress and urban renewal in a cultural, economic, and political sense.
The issue of visibility is also a prominent theme within Safe Space. Here, Dr. Hanhardt argues that visibility has been central to LGBTQ activism, especially in a post civil rights context. Movements have consistently argued that visibility of GLBTQ communities, or the legibility of queerness, correlates with levels of violence. In other words, visibility leads to increased danger. At another level, Dr. Hanhardt argues that mainstream GLBTQ civil rights groups have also seen visibility is also a source of power, security, and safety – that visibility and awareness of hate crimes results in attention, political mobilization, and police attention. “Decades of activism produced innumerable organizations and agencies to deal with ‘homophobia – whether expressed by police misconduct, antigay violence, or even unneighborly hostility,” writes Hanhardt. “Laws against private, consensual sodomy were eliminated as a general criminal category, and LGBT activists largely succeeded in dissociating the generic terms of homosexuality – and to a lesser degree, transexuality – from the broad category of criminal” (p. 5).
Safe Space brilliantly and importantly illustrates the ways that these narratives and frames privilege whiteness and middle-class identities (as well as those experiences of gay men). The presumption of safety resulting from invisibility works from particular assumptions about safety and the possibility of invisibility – Dr. Hanhardt persuasively documents how this focus on visibility erases transgender communities, communities of color, and lesbian and bisexual communities that neither benefit from the associated respectability nor the gender/race/sexuality/class privileges. Likewise, the argument that visibility of violence will compel action presumes that all members of the GLBTQ communities and all neighborhoods are afforded equal levels of humanity and care. The illegibility of pain and innocence for certain communities highlights the limitations of this approach.
Dr. Hanhardt not only documents these discursive articulations but how these racial, class, and gender lenses shape the “understandings of the roots of, and remedy for, misogynist, racist and anti-LGBT violence” (158). The racialized and gendered understandings contribute to certain remedies and activists agenda that ultimately replicate inequality and state violence engendered throughout contemporary America.
The focus on ideology and activist framing extends beyond a discussed of the deployed rhetoric embraced by mainstream GLBT civil rights groups but is evident in the embrace of hegemonic understandings of safety, neighborhood, community, quality of life, and crime. In this context, Dr. Hanhardt highlights the consequences of the focus on violence (indexed through black bodies, through the conflation of street crime and antigay violence – the “bashers and the criminals” ) in terms of policy and activist initiatives that have privileged protected “gay neighborhoods” (p. 225) and heightened police activity. These choices, and political maneuvers not only shape the activities initiated by these groups (which issues; where) but also elicit consent for state and neoliberal activities that run counter to the needs of communities of color, the poor, and youth (and this includes GLBTQ communities of color). “The establishment of protected gay territories and the identification of anti-LGBT violence as a designated criminal category – must be paired with two of global capital’s own ‘spatial fixes’: gentrification and mass imprisonment” (14).
While much of the book reflects on the ways that GLBT civil rights activism colludes with the projects of transnational capitalism and its racial/gender/class logics, Safe Space is equally invested in spotlighting spaces and movements of contestations. Offering ample examples of GLBT organizations that sought to challenge the mainstream rhetoric and policy initiatives, Dr. Hanhardt speaks to the contested spaces. Here, Dr. Hanhardt’s powerful discussion and her analysis FIERCE reminds me of the work of Critical Resistance and how demands for complicated and intersectional discussions of safety and security have been central to activists movements in recent years:
Just as Critical Resistance advanced an abolitionist agenda, one that sought to connect poverty to ubiquity of environmental toxics to criminalization to mass incarceration to housing and educational inequalities, groups like FIERCE linked gentrification to mass incarceration to police brutality to stop and frisk to antigay violence.
Safe Space advances these important conversations in powerful ways, offering theoretical frameworks, historic context, critical interventions, and the language for not only reflecting on these movements and the deployed rhetoric but also enacting research in the name of freedom dreams. Dr. Hanhardt “asserts that mainstream and LGBT discourse has substantially transformed the category of anti-LGBT from the social to the criminological, and that this shift was grounded in privatized claims in neighborhood, the process was neither foretold nor total” (9) – this history continues to be written and the future continues to be contested. With Safe Space, Dr. Christina Hanhardt reveals the level of debate and struggle, providing readers with the necessary historic insight, theoretical templates, and tools to best understand these dynamic movements of change all while empowering in the persistent march toward equity and empowerment – safety – across communities and boundaries, from Islan Nettles to Matthew Sheppard.
Adjuncts Aren’t Slaves. Let’s Stop Saying They Are.
December 4, 2013
Amid the rightful discussion of our shift toward an entrenched, disposable academic laboring class, some adjunct advocates are making a striking analogy. Adjunct labor, they say, is a form of new slavery.
The comparison has become increasingly visible on blogs and within comment sections. Here’s one more example, from Langston Snodgrass: “It has been said that, ‘Adjuncts are the slave labor of higher education.’ This is factually true beyond doubt. Adjuncts are disrespected as teachers, as individual human beings, and as professionals in terms of what adjuncts are paid.”
So let’s be clear about this: Adjuncts are not slaves, and being an adjunct is not akin to slavery. Exploitation? In many cases, yes. Slavery? Absolutely not.
Slavery was (and continues to be) a system of forced labor, of lifelong servitude, of denied compensation and violence. Those who deploy the term as part of a rhetorical strategy are joining PETA, anti-choice crusaders, the G.O.P., Sarah Palin, Ben Carson, and a myriad of anti-Obamacareites by doing so. They are blinded by their cause, by historic myopia, and often by the privilege of whiteness.
Throughout history, slavery has been embedded within society. It has governed law, economic and political structures, and everyday realities. White supremacy has been a guiding ideology, a way to rationalize the exploitation and violence experienced by enslaved African and African-American people. Daily abuse, torture, sexual violence, and death have all been part of a system of slavery in the United States, and terror and violence were instrumental in maintaining a system of mass enslavement.
“Slavery for Black Americans was traumatic,” noted Patricia Moody Jefferson, a doctoral student in the Ethelyn R. Strong School of Social Work at Norfolk State University, during a recent discussion I participated in on Facebook. “Children and whole families were sold like animals. People, human beings were killed. Africans who were enslaved lost much of their identity.”
It should go without saying that being an adjunct is nothing like this.
It should go without saying that the ideologies and narratives leading to more and more contingent faculty don’t seep into every aspect of life. It should go without saying that violence and terror aren’t part of the adjunct experience, nor is being legally owned as a form of “property.” It should go without saying that being an adjunct isn’t a birth-to-death reality, one passed on to future generations. The analogy falls flat on its face. Not only does it deny and erase the history of enslaved Africans and African Americans within the United States, but it also obscures the real issues facing adjuncts in our contemporary system of higher education.
Usually a trendsetter, Madonna follows the actions of Paula Dean, Michael Richards, Riley Cooper, Richie Incognito, countless co-workers, neighbors, and college students to use the “n-word.” With her Instagram photo, she has become yet another white person who either doesn’t understand the meaning and history, or simply doesn’t comprehend or care about the harm, pain, and violence that comes every time a white person utters the word.
Either way, her use of the word provides a window into what Leslie Picca, a professor at University of Toledo, and Joe Feagin, a professor at Texas A & M, describes as “backstage racism” – the utterances, slurs, racial jokes, and other dehumanizing language that is rarely seen or heard, yet has consequences.
A picture is worth a thousand words, especially with a racist hashtag.
Used to caption a picture of her son boxing, she noted, “No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out!” she wrote in the Instagram posting, to which she added the hashtag “#disni–a.”
The combination of her son boxing and the use of this word reflects the entrenched nature of racial stereotypes. I cannot help but wonder if her seeing blackness in relationship to boxing, violence, and physicality prompts her use the “n-word” here. Did the associations of blackness to hip-hop (“Mama Said Knock you Out”) and boxing inspire her to mark this activity with this particular hashtag?
One will never know her intentions and, in fact, her intent is irrelevant. She used this word, and she used it in association with her son boxing. Would she have used this hashtag had her son been practicing piano? What if he was preparing for an equestrian competition or polo match? What about preparing to take a test or audition for the ballet? I doubt it.
The word and its use in association with boxing highlight the entrenched nature of stereotypes. As Mark Anthony Neal notes in his book Looking for Leroy, blackness is often only visible as athlete, as violent, and as a physical body: “When we think about black men and boys, when we see them in certain kinds of roles we don’t even think twice about it,” noted Neal, a professor of African American Studies at Duke University. “When we see a black man with a basketball we don’t even have to process that… we know exactly what that means. If we were to see a black man with a violin that gives us reason to pause.”
For Madonna, her son boxing illustrated his blackness; his whiteness notwithstanding, his body was legibly black. The fact that Madonna saw her son as black, because he was, because it illustrates the power of stereotypes; the fact that she sought to identify this blackness with a racial slur tells us how un-post racial we are.
The faux apology is also a reminder of how far we have to come with regards to race in this country. Responding to the criticism, Madonna sampled from the greatest hits of non-apologies, noting “I am sorry if I offended anyone.”
Worse yet, she apologized for giving “people the wrong impression.” While claiming there is “no way to defend the use of the word,” she does just that with references to her intention and what she “meant.” #Weak! Rather than taking responsibility for her words, choices, and actions, she instead focused on how others may have (mis)perceived her “provocative” words.
Clearly, Madonna is preparing for her next album: “Confessions of White Privilege.” Her intentions for using the word are irrelevant, and to be clear, the word isn’t “provocative,” it’s seeped in a history of racism and white supremacist violence. She doesn’t have the power – much less the right – to simply say, “I mean it to be something else,” or to say, “it’s a term of endearment.”
I can hear the responses already; all of which will emphasize how she is a victim of “political correctness” and that this illustrates America’s racial double standards. Ignoring the fact that this entire piece is “one of endearment,” let me respond: America is a nation founded on double standards that provide daily benefits and structural advantages to whites in America. Madonna’s latest post is just more of the same #whiteprivileged #entitlement.