Whiteness is the unspoken, invisible default setting of American life.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2013-07-22 05:32Z by Steven

Whiteness is the unspoken, invisible default setting of American life. We frame our conversations about race in terms of how white people see and what they think they see. We imagine that nonwhite Americans want to be more like white Americans. We imagine that to be American is to be white. When racial minorities complain about the slurs of a Paula Deen or a prank like the faked names of the Asiana pilots, they are often told by whites to stop being so sensitive or to take the context of tradition or history or humor into account. That ability, to dismiss and minimize people of color for being oversensitive, is itself one of the privileges that whiteness confers. The broader privilege that whites have by occupying the omniscient vantage point in media and civic life has to be named and then undone.

Eric Liu, “Trayvon Martin and Making Whiteness Visible,” Time Magazine (July 17, 2013). http://ideas.time.com/2013/07/17/trayvon-martin-and-making-whiteness-visible

Tags: ,

Trayvon Martin and Making Whiteness Visible

Posted in Articles, Latino Studies, Law, Media Archive, Social Justice, Social Science, United States on 2013-07-21 20:44Z by Steven

Trayvon Martin and Making Whiteness Visible

TIME Magazine

Eric Liu

If there’s one good thing to come out of the George Zimmerman verdict, it’s the acknowledgement of white privilege

If there is one hopeful note amid all the anguish and recrimination from the acquittal of George Zimmerman, it’s that growing numbers of white people have come to appreciate whiteness for what it is: an unearned set of privileges. And as a result of that dawning awareness, it’s become possible to imagine a day when that structure of privilege is dismantled — by white people.

Recall that immediately after the killing of Trayvon Martin, people of every race took to the Internet to declare “I am Trayvon Martin.” They wore hoodies. They proclaimed solidarity. That was a well-meaning and earnest attempt to express empathy, but it also obscured the core issue, which is that Martin died not because he was wearing a hoodie but because he was wearing a hoodie while black. Blackness was the fatal variable.

And so now, post verdict, a more realistic meme has taken root. On Tumblr and Facebook and elsewhere there is a new viral phenomenon: “We are not Trayvon Martin” (emphasis mine). Huge numbers of white Americans are posting testimonials and images to declare that it is precisely because they are not black that they have never had to confront the awful choices Martin faced when Zimmerman began to pursue him…

…Much has been made about the fact that Zimmerman is white and of Hispanic ethnicity, as if he therefore couldn’t possibly embody white privilege. This is a deep misreading of the dynamics of race and the media in America. As an Asian American, I am endlessly frustrated by how binary and black-and-white — literally and figuratively — the portrayal of race is in our country. Much of the time Asian Americans are an afterthought, or simply presumed foreign. But I assume that had I been the neighborhood watchman that day in Florida, I would have been understood in the media as the nonblack actor. Which is to say, for the limited purposes of this trial, I would have been granted “honorary white” status — whether or not I wanted it

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,

Racial Labels

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2011-09-10 22:01Z by Steven

Subverting racial labels is not the same as subverting racism.

Eric Liu, “Blood Simple: The politics of miscegenation,” Slate Magazine, August 22, 1996. http://www.slate.com/id/2398/.


Blood Simple: The politics of miscegenation

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-09-03 17:33Z by Steven

Blood Simple: The politics of miscegenation

Slate Magazine

Eric Liu

The “Negro problem,” wrote Norman Podhoretz in 1963, would not be solved unless color itself disappeared: “and that means not integration, it means assimilation, it means—let the brutal word come out—miscegenation.” Coming after a lengthy confession of his tortured feelings toward blacks—and coming at a time when 19 states still had anti-miscegenation statutes on the books—Podhoretz’s call for a “wholesale merging of the two races” seemed not just bold but desperate. Politics had failed us, he was conceding; now we could find hope only in the unlikely prospect of intermarriage.

Podhoretz’s famous essay was regarded as bizarre at the time, but 33 years later, it seems like prophecy. We are indeed intermarrying today, in unprecedented numbers. Between 1970 and 1992, the number of mixed-race marriages quadrupled. Black-white unions now represent 12 percent of all marriages involving at least one black, up from 2.6 percent in 1970. Twelve percent of Asian men and 25 percent of Asian women are marrying non-Asians. Fully a quarter of married U.S.-born Latinos in Los Angeles have non-Latino spouses. We are mixing our genes with such abandon that the Census Bureau is now considering whether to add a new “multiracial” category to the census in the year 2000. This orgy of miscegenation has not yet brought the racial harmony for which Podhoretz longed. But recent publicity about the intermarriage figures has stirred hope once again that our racial problems might be dissolving in the gene pool…

…Race, you see, is a fiction. As a matter of biology, it has no basis. Genetic variations within any race far exceed the variations between the races, and the genetic similarities among the races swamp both. The power of race, however, derives not from its pseudoscientific markings but from its cultural trappings. It is as an ideology that race matters, indeed matters so much that the biologists’ protestations fall away like Copernican claims in the age of Ptolemy. So the question, as always, is whether it is possible to break that awful circle in which myth and morphology perpetually reinforce one another…

…One possibility is that all multiracials, over time, will find themselves the intermediate race, a new middleman minority, less stigmatized than “pure” blacks (however defined) but less acceptable than “pure” whites. Their presence, like that of the “coloreds” in old South Africa, wouldn’t subvert racialism; it would reinforce it, by fleshing out the black-white caste system. Again, however, the sheer diversity of the multiracials might militate against this kind of stratification.

Yet this same diversity makes it possible that multiracials will replicate within their ranks the “white-makes-right” mentality that prevails all around them. Thus we might expect a hierarchy of multiracials to take hold, in which a mixed child with white blood would be the social better of a mixed child without such blood. In this scenario, multiracials wouldn’t be a distinct group—they would just be distributed across a continuum of color.

Sociologist Pierre van den Berghe argues that such a continuum is preferable to a simple black-white dichotomy. Brazilians, for instance, with their mestizo consciousness and their many gradations of tipo, or “type,” behold with disdain our crude bifurcation of race. Yet no amount of baloney-slicing changes the fact that in Brazil, whitening remains the ideal. It is still better for a woman to be a branca (light skin, hair without tight curls, thin lips, narrow nose) than a morena (tan skin, wavy hair, thicker lips, broader nose); and better to be a morena than a mulata (darker skin, tightly curled hair). Subverting racial labels is not the same as subverting racism.

Still another possibility is that whites will do to multiracials what the Democrats or Republicans have traditionally done to third-party movements: absorb their most “desirable” elements and leave the rest on the fringe. It’s quite possible, as Harvard Professor Mary Waters suggests, that the ranks of the white will simply expand to engulf the “lighter” or more “culturally white” of the multiracials. The Asian American experience may offer a precedent: As growing numbers of Asian Americans have entered the mainstream over the last decade, it is increasingly said—sometimes with pride, sometimes with scorn—that they are “becoming white.”…

…These cautionary scenarios demonstrate that our problem is not just “race” in the abstract. Our problem is the idea of the “white race” in particular. Scholar Douglas Besharov may be right when he calls multiracial kids “the best hope for the future of American race relations.” But even as a “multiracial” category blurs the color line, it can reaffirm the primacy of whiteness. Whether our focus is interracial adoption or mixed marriages or class-climbing, so long as we speak of whiteness as a norm, no amount of census reshuffling will truly matter…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Room For Debate: The ‘Two or More Races’ Dilemma

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2011-02-13 23:13Z by Steven

Room For Debate: The ‘Two or More Races’ Dilemma

The New York Times

In Room for Debate, The New York Times invites knowledgeable outside contributors to discuss news events and other timely issues.


An article in a Times series on the growing mixed-race population in the United States describes a debate over new Education Department rules for how schools from kindergarten through college count students by race and ethnicity. Students of mixed parentage who choose more than one race will be placed in a “two or more races” category.

But those identifying themselves as Hispanic will be reported only as Hispanic, regardless of their race. Some civil rights leaders and educators say that these new classifications will complicate efforts to track academic inequities and represent a step backward in addressing them.

Do the new federal requirements make sense? What are the possible pitfalls?


“Why Race Still Matters”
Anthony P. Carnevale, Research Professor and Director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce
Georgetown University

“‘Check One’ Didn’t Work”
Susan Graham, Executive Director
Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally)

“Identity and Demography”
Lani Guinier, Bennett Boskey Professor of Law
Harvard Law School

“The New Color Wheel”
Eric Liu
Author of The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker (1998)

“Racism and the Multiracial Label”
Rainier Spencer, Director and Professor of Afro-American Studies; Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Author of Reproducing Race: The Paradox of Generation Mix (2011)

“Take the Politics Out of Race”
Shelby Steele, Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow
Hoover Institution

“Race, Poverty and Educational Equity”
Gerald Torres, Professor of Law
University of Texas, Austin

…The change endangers the accurate monitoring of civil rights compliance in education. Despite the important gains of the civil rights movement, much discrimination still exists, albeit in less overt forms. Civil rights compliance monitoring—the use of racial statistics to uncover suspicious patterns in education, housing, employment, etc.—is our very best means of detecting covert and institutional discrimination. It is the reason for all those “check boxes” for racial identity that no one loves…

…People, including students, are not discriminated against on the basis of being mixed-race, but rather on the basis of being one part of that mixture The federal race categories, crude as they might be, allow us to track how people are treated based on how they are perceived by others. The dangerous result of the Education Department’s provision will be two-fold.

On one hand, the “two or more races” category will provide no useful data for compliance monitoring; while on the other, real racial discrimination against some students will go untracked by the compliance monitoring apparatus because students who check more than one box will not be placed in the categories that are in fact motivating their unjust treatment…

Rainier Spencer

…But a new generation has arrived, more mixed than any before, and these young Americans are quite uninterested in seeking permission to sit in one of four or five colored boxes. Today’s multiracial Americans are at greater liberty to choose how they’d like to be seen, and under less pressure to pass for white.This is progress. At the same time, the blurring of race labels is neither the dawn of colorblindness nor the dusk of racism. Go to a place like Rio (or, for that matter, New Orleans), where people of many races mix, where there are many fine distinctions of shade—and where lighter is still usually seen as better.If whiteness were of no particular advantage, then having a fuller color wheel of skin tones would be purely a matter of celebration. But whiteness – just a drop of it – does still carry privilege. You learn that very young in America…Eric Liu

…This conflation of race and ethnicity inevitably distorts the diagnosis of the unique educational problems of black Hispanics—or, worse yet, averages them into obsolescence. This is particularly harmful because false or partial diagnosis of any problem inevitably produces less effective policy responses…Anthony P. Carnevale

…All children are worthy of recognition of their entire heritage. If we teach our children to tell the truth and then stand in the way of them doing that on school forms, we are missing the point. If accurate data are what we want, true identity of our students is what we must collect and reflect.We are not asking for a piece of the pie, but we need to be reflected on those data pie charts. Tracking the multiracial population is no less important than tracking any other group…Susan Graham

…Categorizing and counting students by race still has relevance since blacks and Latinos continue to experience educational inequality as shown by achievement data and the resources available in the public schools they attend. Where poverty and race are linked these problems are compounded……The rise of multiracial identification stems from a resistance to obdurate historical racial categories and the reality that there are more children now with parents of different races. Do you erase part of who you are if you are forced to choose one race over another when you really feel like you are part of both? Do you diminish the political power of a historically oppressed group if you do not choose to make that group your primary identifier? And who gets to say who you are anyway?…Gerald Torres

Read the entire debate here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Miscegenation, assimilation, and consumption: racial passing in George Schuyler’s “Black No More” and Eric Liu’s “The Accidental Asian”

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Passing on 2010-10-27 19:36Z by Steven

Miscegenation, assimilation, and consumption: racial passing in George Schuyler’s “Black No More” and Eric Liu’s “The Accidental Asian”

Volume 33, Number 3 (Fall 2008) Multicultural and Multilingual Aesthetics of Resistance
pages 169-190

Hee-Jung Serenity Joo, Associate Professor of English
University of Manitoba

“[E]ither get out, get white or get along.”
—Schuyler, Black No More (11)

“Some are born white, others achieve whiteness, still others have whiteness thrust upon them.”
—Liu, The Accidental Asian (34-35)

In her influential essay “Eating the Other,” bell hooks examines the ways in which race is commodified in our intensifying hypercapitalist world. She expects that “cultural, ethnic, and racial differences will be continually commodified and offered up as new dishes to enhance the white palate”. The other is “eaten” and the white self is satiated through consumption of aspects of the other’s culture—food, tattoos, music, language, tourism, or even the other’s body. Over a decade later, a casual stroll down any drug store cosmetics aisle attests to the voraciousness of this white appetite. L’Oreal’s True Match foundation line caters to a wide range of skin tones, with white, Asian, and black models posing for its stylish magazine spreads. True to hooks’s observations, the darker the color of the foundation, the more edible the skin tone becomes: on the lighter side of the pigment spectrum are colors such as “porcelain,” “alabaster,” “ivory,” “nude,” and “natural.” In contrast, the darker end includes “honey,” “caramel,” “crème café,” “cappuccino,” “nut brown,” and “cocoa.” No matter that the latter colors are also advertised as daily specials on any Starbucks menu, the blatant metaphors of consumption and the exotic appeal of dark skin juxtaposed against the purity and neutrality of light skin are hard to ignore.

Two seemingly disparate texts, George Schuyler’s Black No More (1931) and Eric Liu’s The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker (1998), pick up the question the cosmetic industry begs us to ask: what impact will consumerism have on the perpetually changing meaning of race in this age of late capitalism? In theory, in this post-Civil Rights world the category of race is less dependent on the state for its demands of equality; legally, at least, for example, the state no longer sanctions Jim Crow segregation or condones lynching. Perhaps in this epoch race has become a marker of personal taste, one that can be consumed by the highest bidder. In contrast to hooks’s emphasis on the white cannibalistic consumption of the other, these two texts complicate this racist schema by positing others as the ones who can consume their way out of their respective races and into the white one. This article compares the literary trope of racial passing in Black No More to the social narrative of assimilation in The Accidental Asian to show the changing nature of race under the pressures of late capitalism. In Black No More, racial passing challenges segregation laws that deny racial minorities entry into the labor market in the interest of protecting capitalist accumulation. In The Accidental Asian, assimilation is the contemporary version of racial passing; assimilation is promoted to incorporate racial minorities into the market as consumers, to make them pass into an appropriate category of consumption and whiteness. Despite their attempts at imagining a nation where race no longer matters, the persisting racial passing narratives of both texts question their proclamations of “post-racism.”

Though written over sixty years apart, both Black No More and The Accidental Asian present eerily similar futures of an anti-racist nation premised on miscegenation. Historically, miscegenation derived from the white slave owner’s exploitation of the black female body in order to protect and increase his property. Under Jim Crow segregation, miscegenation signified a danger to the white racial “purity” of the nation in the form of a supposed black sexual threat against white women. For Asian Americans, miscegenation has served historically as a contested battleground for legal inclusion into the nation in the forms of marriage and immigration laws. At the turn of the twenty-first century, however, miscegenation sometimes is celebrated as a means to achieve a multicultural and racism-less society. Tracing the changing nature of racial passing and miscegenation in these two texts reveals the ongoing political implications of color-blind consumerism and late capitalist consumption.

Published during the Harlem Renaissance while legal segregation flourished, Schuyler’s Black No More concerns a machine that literally turns African Americans into white (Caucasian) individuals. As Dr. Junius Crookman, the African American scientist who invents the machine, states, this will “solve the American race problem” . After all, he argues, “if there were no Negroes, there could be no Negro problem”. He then opens a business christened “Black-No-More, Incorporated” to capitalize on the success of his scientific endeavor. Predictably and often comically, instead of eliminating the race problem in the United States, Black-No-More, Inc. only thrusts the entire nation into chaos and racial paranoia by making it impossible to distinguish “real” whites from former African Americans who have “become” white via the machine. The complexities of the color line that the characters transgress attests to the intimate relationship between the state and early-twentieth-century mass production (Fordist) capitalism, which created a white working class by rejecting black bodies in the pursuit of a coherent national identity. At the same time, the thrust of the capitalist Black-No-More “machine” already foreshadows the rise of global capitalism that marks Liu’s historical moment.

Similar to Schuyler’s novel, The Accidental Asian also attempts to depict an ideal anti-racist society. In Liu’s vision, set in an era of globalization and late capitalism, racial identities are fluid and racial passing has become a consumerist choice. He argues that in this day and age, “you don’t have to have white skin anymore to become white”. The book is Liu’s poignant memoir of assimilation into the elite upper class of the US. Journalist, author, and former speechwriter for Bill Clinton, Liu confesses that because US society conflates class and race by equating power and wealth with whiteness, the illogic of assimilation unfortunately but inevitably makes him white; therefore, as his title suggests, he is Asian only by accident. He lists a variety of specifically consumerist practices that make him white, including “wear[ing] khaki Dockers,” “eat[ing] gourmet greens,” and “furnish[ing] [his] condo a la Crate and Barrel”. The contemporary racial passing proposed by Liu shows a significant shift in the social meaning of race; now race is influenced by consumerism and flexible capital spending, rather than by the state. In Black No More, becoming white mediates the state’s racism, while Liu’s text presents a scenario in which certain assimilated and affluent people of color regard racial and ethnic identities as commodities. This relatively malleable definition of race is compounded by the ever increasing popularity of white subjects who desire to pass for exotic ethnics.

Racial passing narratives have often been used to reveal the constructed and fragile nature of racial categories and to critique the hypocritical and discriminatory system of US democracy that equated white skin with freedom and citizenship? In African American literary history, in particular, the racial passing narrative has been an important genre. Beginning with slave narratives and continuing through the domestic “tragic mulatto” novels of the Civil War and into Harlem Renaissance literature, the trope of the racial passer has been deployed to reveal the unjust treatment of African Americans in US history.  Whether under slavery or during the Jim Crow era, mixed-race subjects with light skin often passed for white in order to gain their freedom or assert their constitutional rights.

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , ,