Call it what it is – anti-blackness and systematic racism

In an article by BBC describes the events that occurred to Martese Johnson on March 18th, 2015.

The language and story here is simple: the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) attacked a black student, Martese Johnson, and acted with unnecessary force.

The issue here is not only the unnecessary force, but also of a greater narrative that goes ignored, especially given recent events in Ferguson where racial profiling – stereotyping people based on their race – by white police officers was called into question. At no point in the article is there implication of racial profiling by the ABC officers, yet the article clearly articulates that Johnson is black.

Why is being black important in the headline but not the details?

The language surrounding Johnson and the ABC ignores the racial component which is present in all accounts of incidents regarding black people. Our society has heavily ingrained certain stereotypes regarding black people; the obvious examples being that they are “thugs” and “trouble makers”. The way we view black bodies has a phenomenal impact on how we act against them. It is not surprise then that the Ferguson police – comprised predominantly of white men – have been founded to be conducting unjust, systematic, brutality against black bodies (CBC, 2015).

It is a race issue because we see black people as different, as “not white”. We understand and recognize that being black is a part of who they are as human beings therefore we should also understand that being black may influence the ways we unconsciously (or consciously) treat them. All issues involving black people will have undertones of race within them. You cannot discern an individual from their race because race shapes their experiences in the same way being a student is also an integral part of Johnson’s identity (Jones, 2014). We also cannot forget how these stereotypes are subtly ingrained into our society, how anti-blackness – a form of racism which specifically targets black people – is prevalent throughout our entire system, and how media has reinforced it by creating the image of the “thug” black person (Punyanunt-Carter, 2008).

Martese Johnson, from the indiegogo page.

Perhaps what is interesting is not only about the language, but the way Johnson is presented in the article as well. Johnson was a member of his university’s honor committee, and had a campaign to rerun for his position (“JusticeforMartese”, 2015). This detail is not in the article; however, it is an important detail as it presents Johnson as more than just another black student. These facts about who he is humanizes him, especially when contrasted against his bloody photos. There are also no pictures of Johnson’s campaigns, working on various groups, even being an active member of society; there is only him as a victim. This objectifies black bodies as nothing more than ways to shock and surprise people. Bloodied black bodies are used as a way to shock and horrify people, and in a sense it is also normalized, or presented as a normal occurrence. The more images we see of bruised, bloodied, black bodies in the media, the less sensitive we become to their suffering.

The language surrounding black movements for autonomy and basic human rights has been language that is clearly anti-black. This is most obviously when comparing the language between the Ferguson protests and the Hong Kong protests. The protests occurred roughly within the same time period, yet the contexts in which they existed, and what they were fighting for were radically different. One was an attempt to fight against white supremacy – a system of racism where white people benefit the most – and the demand for black bodies to be respected and free of racial profiling, while the latter was a fight for democratic rights. Wikipedia, which is a source people accurately use today to gain general information, describe the Ferguson protests as “unrest” whereas Hong Kong protests are called what they are – protests (Wikipedia, 2015).

So why does this matter?

Unrest suggests a fault on the protesters themselves, unrest implies a sense of chaos inflicted by the protestors. Unrest suggests it is the fault of the victims, and more importantly that somehow their protests are less legitimate because of this sense of chaos. Most of the residents of Ferguson were for their protests, but only a small majority were for the protests in Hong Kong. Ferguson was likely just as chaotic as Hong Kong, yet they were painted as a less legitimate cause. This is inherently anti-black because of the fact that the discourse around Ferguson has delegitimized the cause. It is seen as a less valid fight for basic human rights than Hong Kong because the protestors are black and fighting for black rights for human life.

In contrast, Hong Kong was praised by western as the “most peaceful” protest since many of the protestors did “polite” and “proper” thing such as cleaning up after their protests, creating study corner, etc (Fisher, 2014). It is difficult to ignore how this might interplay with the East Asian model minority myth in which East Asians are depicted as the “ideal”, submissive, docile but hardworking and polite minorities. Traditionally, this stereotype has been used to justify racism within white settler colonial countries; the failure of black Americans to succeed was not because they were not white but because they were black. The Asians did fine. It was blackness that was the cause of failure (Nakagawa, 2015). Of course, this is obviously not true, many Asians did not fit this stereotype and faced structural inequalities, and white supremacy was the barrier for black people in America.

This type of juxtaposition between Hong Kong and Ferguson emphasized how western media depicts one race (in this case, East Asians) as a toxic “ideal” and the other as a problem of blackness despite both essentially acting the same.

The discourse around black bodies is one that suggests they are the cause of their own problems. Society polices – which is the act of enforcing certain restrictions – black bodies around respectability politics – which is the idea that acting, dressing, or behaving a certain way as to not be stereotyped in a certain harmful manner, and is used to deny structural inequalities such as racism – and this is shown in our discourse in both media (typically owned by and written by white people) to casually ignore their suffering or suggest it is not systematic, but an individual circumstance. This casually ignores anti-blackness and its violent manifestations, of which Martese Johnson, Mike Brown, and countless other black people are victim of everyday.

So let’s call it what it is: anti-black, systematic, racism.

Works Cited

“2014 Hong Kong Protests.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

“Facts at a Glance, University of Virginia.” Current Enrollment,. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

“Ferguson Unrest.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Fisher, Max. “Western Media Says Hong Kong Protests Are “clean and Orderly.” Is That Racist?” Vox. 2 Oct. 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Jones, Denisha. “The Death of Michael Brown, Teachers, and Racism: 10 Things Every Badass Teacher Needs To Understand.” Bad Ass Teacher’s Association. 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

“JusticeForMartese.” Indiegogo Life. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Nakagawa, Scot. “The Model Minority Is a Lever of White Supremacy.” Race Files. CHANGELAB, 25 Mar. 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

News, CBC. “Ferguson Police Report: 5 Examples of Abuse of Power.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Punyanunt-Carter, Narissa. “The Perceived Realism of African American Portrayals on Television.” The Howard Jounral of Communications 28 (2008): 241-57. University of Oregan Library. Web. 8 Apr. 2015. <https://library.uoregon.edu/sites/default/files/data/guides/english/howard_journal_communications.pdf&gt;.

“Virginia Governor Calls for Inquiry into Student Arrest.” BBC News. 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “Call it what it is – anti-blackness and systematic racism

  1. rau

    Great piece, Jac!
    One aspect I really liked about your blog was your close observation of the difference between the Hong Kong “Protests” and the Ferguson “unrest”, where these two acts of protest are being referred to as different degrees of civil disobedience. I agree with you when you say that the term “unrest” adds negative attributions to the situation. While both were acts of protest, the Ferguson one is made out to be more unacceptable just because of how the media is depicting it.
    I found it interesting as well how the article neglected to outline Martese Johnson’s academic success and achievements. It was stated in the article that he is a 3rd year student at the University of Virginia, but that was all. The ABC clearly jumped to conclusions about Johnson for (probably) the sole purpose that he a man of coloured skin.
    In your blog, you stated that “the failure of black Americans to succeed was not because they were not white but because they were black. The Asians did fine. It was blackness that was the cause of failure”. If racism is so prevalent among a wide variety of minority groups, why do you think that it’s blackness that is strictly related to failure in terms of the East Asian model minority myth?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jac Post author

      Hey Rau, thanks for your response 🙂

      I think it has a lot to do with how racism has formed initially in USA/Canada. If you look at the history of Asians (at least in the history of the United States and Canada) specifically East Asians who most strongly apply to the Model Minority Myth, there was a massive shift in viewing Asian Americans. It went from being the “yellow peril” who was invading the USA/Canada, coming in for money, uneducated, “stealing work”, then leaving, and also strong associations with Japanese imperialism (hence Japanese internment camps) and also the red scare which affected a lot of Chinese people who were suspected of being Communist spies in the USA and Canada. I’m sure we’ve all now heard jokes today about how great East Asians are, how good they are at math, how they don’t commit crimes etc. It’s manifested today as an excuse to blame black people for their own failures. An excellent example is this article:

      http://reappropriate.co/?p=6588

      The article outlines Bill O’Reilly who argues that White Privilege is something African Americans made up because Asian Americans were doing fine. I.e We have high rates of employment, education, lower divorce rates, etc. Therefore, there is some sort of problem with black people/black culture that prohibits them from doing well. This dates back to when the Model Minority Myth was constructed. This is an article (found on the previous article) that outlines that idea pretty well:

      http://depts.washington.edu/sibl/Publications/Model%20Minority%20Section%20%282011%29.pdf

      Basically, it was constructed to justify anti-black sentiment since Asian Americans (in this case Japanese) “overcame discrimination” and “made it” in America. It conveniently ignores how racism is not one size fits all (discrimination for E.Asians is very different obviously), it implies that discrimination for East Asians doesn’t exist (even though we have to be twice as educated as our white counter parts to get the same job), and it directly pits Asian Americans against Black Americans because we are being compared as two separate groups with one being definitively “better” than the other.

      I apologize for how long this response is haha.

      Like

      Reply
      1. rau

        Don’t apologize for the long response! That was super informative- you really know what you’re talking about. That has helped guide my understanding of what you’re talking abut so much! thanks

        Like

  2. MJ

    Jac,

    This is a well-written piece! I agree with you in the sense that racism, especially anti-blackness is predominant throughout Western systems. I too think that much of this has to do with the language and biases presented in our media, television shows, music and much of pop culture in general. It is interesting how racism in Eastern Asia takes on a different from in which they see the East Asian minority as being ideally submissive, docile and ultimately cooperative. That is something we don’t see often in the West as though many minorities are docile, the media focuses and overdramatizes those who are not, creating a harsh stereotype. I find that Western minorities take a more aggressive approach to racism and anti-blackness in particular and I think this has close ties to how minorities (African Americans) have been treated in the past. I was also interested in the fact that Bill O’Reilly argues that white privilege is something African Americans made up to benefit themselves. Finally, do you think that the anti-black sentiment presented in Western societies is intentional, or has it become almost subconscious or inherent due to turbulent historical relationships?

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jac Post author

      Hey MJ thanks so much for the response!
      I would say it’s intentional in the sense it’s been conditioned into us a social norm, often to uphold white supremacy and white privilege. The turbulent history of systematic oppression against black bodies in America really contributes to this. These stereotypes of black men and women being criminals is not a new stereotype or idea, and you can actually trace it back to pre-emancipation proclamation era USA. Obviously, it’s a little different in different contexts, Europe may treat black people in a different manner than in an American context. The most prominent I think is explicit anti-black racism in European football where in which people can get away with truly horrific things. But the foundations of certain stereotypes remain the same, and a lot of them can be traced back to the slave trade. I mean there’s one big issue that came up recently about racism in frat houses and how they passed down very explicitly racist chants using racial slurs. I think that these stereotypes are subconscious because they’re socialized into us until someone points them out, and then once we realize we do them I think it’s important that we actively fight against these socialized prejudices.

      Like

      Reply
  3. Ash

    Jac, good job on another awesome piece! I especially enjoyed your analysis of the differences in demeanors the media has with respect to the Hong Kong and Ferguson protests. Language is such a powerful mechanism for shaping how members of society view certain bodies and how we treat them as a result. The differences in the terms unrest and protest seem so subtle at first glance, yet their context and connotations highlight the systemic inequalities and the consequences they have for certain groups. I would’ve never picked up on how the term unrest is implicitly anti-black, so thank you for pointing it out! Furthermore, it’s also great that you pointed out how other aspects of Martese Johnson’s positionality besides being black was not mentioned in the article, how black bodies are always depicted as bloodied and brutalized, and how this theme occurs repeatedly in the media. We always see them being portrayed as a “thug” wearing a hoodie, who appeared threatening. However, we never get to hear the black victim’s voice or their side of the story. What are some effective ways we can generate cultures of resistance and change regarding anti-black sentiments in our society?

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jac Post author

      Hey Ash, thank you so much for the response!
      I think that cultures of resistance can be achieved through amplifying marginalized voices. In the example of Ferguson, a lot of people came to protests, were talking about anti-blackness, and I found a lot of social media sites were actually talking about other victims of anti-blackness and police brutality. I think it’s really important for everyone, but especially people in positions of power to speak out against injustice and these narratives. A couple ways we can do that is through things like asking newspapers to find non-bloodied, violent photos of black victims of police brutality and of course sharing and talking about these issues with our friends and family. One of the ways black activists have also resisted is using easily accessible social media (such as Twitter or Tumblr) to report news because they don’t trust major news outlets that are often run by people in positions of power. I think supporting these movements is really important and not trying to make them our own, or relate them too much to our own experiences. Unless you’re black, you will never face anti-blackness, so it’s almost counterproductive to say that we experience something similar when we don’t. Not to the same degree, or same extremes.

      Like

      Reply
  4. mac2121

    Jac! What an awesome piece! I read this article and wrote my blog on it as well. I strongly agree with you that racism, especially anti-blackness is predominant throughout Western systems. I love that you brought up the point about how the article didn’t outline Martese Johnson’s academic success and achievements. I never noticed that but it is important to address. “Bloodied black bodies are used as a way to shock and horrify people, and in a sense it is also normalized, or presented as a normal occurrence. The more images we see of bruised, bloodied, black bodies in the media, the less sensitive we become to their suffering.” This part of your work really opened my eyes touched me as it is so sad and wrong. This is the type behaviour that must be put to an end. Another aspect I enjoyed was the comparison between Hong Kong and Ferguson. The difference between how the media portrayed the events is shocking and offensive. Thanks so much for the review, I definitely have benefited from it and will continue to keep an eye out for the way media portrays events in the media!

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jac Post author

      Hey Mac,
      Thanks for your response! I decided to compare Ferguson and Hong Kong protests because they were both issues that I was very aware of because Ferguson was so big, and I have personal ties to Hong Kong! I really did find the language that they used so different and astonishing, which I found really fit into certain narratives of portraying black people as one thing and Asians as another. In terms of Johnson’s academics I think it’s really important because of respectability politics. Dressing a certain way doesn’t protect black bodies from violence, education doesn’t protect them from violence, and I thought it was really important to illustrate that, and also as a form of resistance to physically show people what Johnson looks like. He seems like a really cool guy, and clearly dressing nicely didn’t prevent violence.

      Like

      Reply
  5. aba

    Hey Jac, awesome review as always! I really love how you talked about the objectification of black bodies, as I think that is an important thing for all people to acknowledge and know about in order for the normalization of this to stop. I am also glad you brought up the topic of autonomy and basic human rights and how they don’t necessarily benefit those who lack them the most. I also appreciate the fact that you talked about parallel conflicts in Hong Kong, as racism On a relevant note, I recall reading Denisha Jones’s blog on the Badass Teacher’s Association page (http://badassteachers.blogspot.ca/2014/08/the-death-of-michael-brown-teachers-and.html?spref=fb to refresh your memory) and she talked about how teachers are essential in the fight against racism. What are some very effective things that you think us, as individuals –not necessarily teachers or people of authority — could do to help stop society’s policing of black bodies?

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jac Post author

      Hey Aba, thanks for your comment!
      I think it’s really important that we educate students exactly as Denisha Jones outlines. This is a huge issue. It made huge news outlets. I think if you can go to protests, go to them and participate as a protester (although not as a leader). If you can read up on things like critical race theory, power dynamics, and also marginalized voices and their experiences. This gives you a lot of not only information, but ways to talk to people in depth and extensively. It allows for you to engage in audiences who might not know as much as we do, or think as well critically as we can, and just allows for you to talk to people comprehensively about the topic. I also think it’s important that we bring up these discussions to our friends and family, that we amplify marginalized voices by sharing their experiences on things like social media, and try to correct our own behaviors of anti-blackness and also the behavior of other people – so essentially not tolerating racist (whether explicit or implicit) comments and trying to explain why they’re harmful. We can also donate to things like Martese Johnson’s Indiegogo campaign or Mike Brown’s family’s support fund, and support victims of anti-blackness financially as much as possible, or at least sharing the link.

      Like

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s