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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "racism"

Talking Outside the Bounds: "Strumpets," History, and White Privilege

August 21, 2013 ·

Tess Taylor Split This RockThe email called me “whorish” and the “strumpet of a carpetbagger.” It called my recent editorial about my grandfather “revolting.”

Hot damn. Really? I had just published a New York Times editorial about a painful incident during the Civil Rights movement in Danville, Virginia. My grandfather wrote a letter of protest to a judge who had doled out stiff sentences to Civil Rights protestors. Arrested for writing the letter, my grandfather served a bench warrant and was ridiculed and publicly humiliated in his small mill town. 

In my article, I retraced the events. I meditated on some of what had been at stake for my grandfather, a white man, to speak out against the brutal violence and stark injustices faced by black protesters (and black people). I meditated about how my grandfather’s action both was and was not adequate protest to the era's injustice. And I’d interviewed the minister who organized the protests, Lawrence Campbell, to see how he looked back on that time now.

My piece mostly got a warm reception. What surprised me was that this virulently sour note, in my inbox, had the power to make me feel—at least briefly— ill, angry, defensive, hurt, small. I felt singled out, threatened. Eventually I called some friends and laughed off the hurt. After all: The man was accusing me of tying Danville to this violent and unsavory history—yet he was the one calling me a carpbetbagger. Oh please. Dear sir, I regret to inform: It’s hard to escape history if you go around calling people strumpets.

As I thought about it more, however, it seemed to me that this reprimand – its unpleasantness, its rotten smell – was one of the mechanisms by which racism is maintained and one of the reasons white people stay quiet about racism. If we talk outside the bounds, we might get dinged.

Read the full post on Split This Rock's blog.


Tess Taylor currently reviews poetry for NPR’s All Things Considered and teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley. Her first book of poems, The Forage House, was released this month by Red Hen Press. She lives in El Cerrito, California. Tess will be reading from The Forage House at Sunday Kind of Love, Split This Rock's series in collaboration with Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, January 19, 2014.

Supreme Court Side-Steps Hate, Racial Profiling in Arizona

July 19, 2012 ·

Em Dickey is an intern for the Break The Chain Campaign at the Institute for Policy Studies.

A partial repeal of SB1070 is not enough. Photo by Ivan Boothe/FlickrThe Supreme Court split decision on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 law came just 10 days after President Obama’s memo expanding prosecutorial discretion and granted immediate deferred status to all DREAM Act eligible youth. While both announcements deserve to be celebrated in light of the tenacious and courageous organizing that precipitated them, they are not lasting solutions.

Four provisions of SB 1070 were in question: Section 3, which would make it a state crime for immigrants to fail to carry federal registration papers; Section 5(C) which would make it a state crime to work in Arizona as an undocumented person; Section 6, which would give police the authority to make warrantless arrests of individuals suspected to be undocumented; and Section 2(B), which would require Arizona law enforcement to verify the citizenship of any individual they stop if they appear to be undocumented.

Of these provisions, all were struck down but Section 2(B), the notorious “show me your papers” section of the law.

The Supreme Court’s decision was based on an argument about whether or not the state of Arizona has the right to create its own immigration enforcement rules. The case did not address civil rights’ violations or racial profiling. In fact Solicitor General Donald Verrilli (representing the U.S. government), "unequivocally admitted in response to questioning from the Justices that racial profiling was not at issue in the case."

So, let’s name the elephant in the room. Racism is and has always been an issue in Arizona. SB 1070 is steeped in, produced by, and serves to perpetuate racism. From the beginning, racism has been shaping America, when the first immigrants (read: pilgrims) arrived and stole the land from the Native peoples who lived here and still live here. In fact, many Native people in Arizona are harassed and humiliated in the name of SB 1070's "show me your papers" provision by police officers whose ancestors were themselves this land’s original "illegal aliens."

So what is the result of this case neatly sidestepping the issue that is creating a real civil and human rights crisis for real people in Arizona right now? What impact, if any, will the Supreme Court’s decision have on people living in Arizona?

Continue reading this post at the Break The Chain Campaign website.

Oh, Brother

January 18, 2011 ·

Perhaps by now we are accustomed to the annual right-wing co-opting of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy. Over at FPIF, Mark Engler offers an instructive example from the Pentagon. He quotes DoD's general counsel Jeh C. Johnson: "I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation's military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack."

A cursory Google search of "MLK" and "Vietnam" would cast doubt on the notion that the Pentagon is somehow following in King's footsteps in Afghanistan. Such a remark is insidious and intellectually dishonest, but it nonetheless pays an odd sort of tribute to King's legacy, if only to co-opt it.

A truer sign of the times might be the boldness with which recently elected Republican governors have rebuffed the legacy itself. First there was Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who told the state NAACP they could "kiss my butt" after declining an invitation to appear at their MLK Day event. "If they want to play the race card, come to dinner and my son will talk to them," he added, playing the race card on his own adopted son, who is originally from Jamaica.

Now comes Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who told a crowd in Birmingham, "I was elected as a Republican candidate. But once I became governor...I became the governor of all the people. I intend to live up to that. I am color blind." He then continued with this stirring addendum:

"Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

It's a trifle odd that the governor would go out of his way to make this particular exclusion, not least given King's many statements on religious tolerance and his decidedly Gandhian approach to political activism.

A spokesperson was quick to add that Bentley "is the governor of all the people, Christians, non-Christians alike." Governor, maybe...Brother, no.

The Lost Chapters of Malcolm X

May 19, 2010 ·

Malcolm X. Credit: Wikimedia CommonsToday in honor of the 85th birthday of Malcolm X, I'm participating in an hour long discussion on the living legacy of Malcolm X and what Malcolm means in Obama's America.  

This discussion will occur on the Marc Steiner show 5pm to 6pm on 88.9FM for those in the Baltimore area.  For those not in the Baltimore area, go to Marc Steiner's website tomorrow and catch the podcast.  

Also participating in the show will be:

  • Minister Akbar Muhammad, who was in the Nation of Islam under Malcolm X; 
  • Omar Musa a Washington DC community activist, and
  • Lalit Clarkson from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

In honor of this birthday the lost chapters of the Autobiography of Malcolm X are to be revealed in New York City. These chapters are said to highlight Malcolm’s view of the means to overcome the racial divide in the United States.  During this time of America’s war against Islamic terrorism, I believe further discussion on one of the country’s most well known radical, anti-Western Muslims will be quite enlightening.