Using George Zimmerman as an object lesson in the anthropology of policing

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this guest column from Kevin Karpiak. Kevin is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology at Eastern Michigan University.  His work focuses on policing as a useful nexus for exploring questions in both political anthropology and the anthropology of morality.  He is currently completing a manuscript based on his dissertation research (UC Berkeley 2009), entitled The Police Against Itself: refiguring French liberalism after the social, which provides an ethnographic account of the ethical work undertaken by police officers, administrators, educators and citizens as they experiment with new forms of sociality “after the social moment” in France.  He also maintains both apersonal blog and a group blog on the Anthropology of Policing. -R)

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been exploring the tragedy involving George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin in a course I teach entitled “Policing in Society.”  My goal is to use the event as a concrete opportunity that can give students practical experience in using the tools we learn in class for conceptualizing “police,” “society,” and their relationship.  An added benefit is that it allows students to form and articulate their own positions in regards to such issues.

One semester included a specially charged, but not altogether surprising exchange.  One of the students, an African-American woman, voiced a particularly well-considered and passionate position.  “Why was Zimmerman carrying a gun in the first place?” she asked, “I don’t think he had the right; no one asked him to do that.”  Even more, she had personal experience with the tragedy and biases of Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground Laws”.  She recounted how her own cousin had been shot and killed under the same law, the perpetrator unconvicted.  “It’s not right, to have any old person walking around like that with guns.  It’s too dangerous,” she concluded.

Many of the students voiced their approval of her position—either by making similar comments of their own or merely by nodding and offering verbal evidence of their consent.  Others in the room were more quiet.  One of them was a white male student who usually took a much more central role in group discussions.  Finally, with an almost shocking burst of emotion, he did.  “I think it’s perfectly fine for people to carry guns, provided they’re properly trained and screened.  I don’t know anything about this George Zimmerman, but there’s nothing wrong with guns,” he let out, slightly quieting the class discussion around him.  Then pausing just a moment to look around him, he continued, “In fact, I’m carrying right now!”

Although some in the class audibly gasped at this revelation, including myself, this set of reactions should not have been overly surprising.  My university is what is known as a “commuter campus” with a long tradition of serving underrepresented populations and nontraditional students from throughout Southeast Michigan—from urban Detroit to the more suburban and even rural areas hugging the I-94 corridor.  As a result, classes often contain a sensitive but productive assortment of ages, races, classes and political positions, much more so than at the elite institutions in which I received my own education.

Another reason this exchange should not have been surprising is that, as a required course within the “law enforcement” track of a Criminal Justice and Criminology degree, the class regularly includes a fair mix of people interested in critiquing policing—often because of personal experience with the pathologies of the U.S. legal system—on the one hand and, on the other hand, those interested in becoming police—who often times come into the class with previous professional experience in the military or security industry.  This was in fact the case with the gun carrier who, outside of class, worked as a private security guard for a gated community.  He had every right—legal and otherwise—to carry the gun, he felt, especially since he had registered it with the Campus PD as required by the University for off-duty security personnel such as himself.

The challenge, as I saw it, was how to bring the discussion back to the pedagogical imperative of a classroom; to ask how we can use this mixture of events, concepts and participants to think about our shared lives and concerns?  Surely one set of observations involves noting the widespread and despicable racial disparities the incident brings to the fore—illustrating what kinds of bodies are imaginable as victims and what bodies as perpetrators of violence while contrasting that imaginary with lived realities—and tying those disparities to the larger social inequities of which the U.S. criminal justice system has been a significant engine.  For example, helping students notice the strikingly different ways Martin & Zimmerman are discussed in the public forum, linking that observation to the massive incarceration of African-Americans over the last thirty years and understanding the larger social effects of that injustice.  To make these connections clear, and in doing so to illustrate the contemptible nature of our justice system, is surely the primary task, as is the duty to foster a desire to develop more ethical responses to the situation.

This is in fact a large part of the ground we cover in my “Policing in Society” class (and, for that matter, in our Criminal Justice program as a whole, which is known as a center of “critical criminology”). And, as a result, my students do not voice contention with that analysis.  However I’ve found that it does not capture the entirety of the issue as it was raised; it reflects neither the tenor nor exhausts the terms of the debate as it occurred in my classroom.  Alongside the issue of racial injustice, which to most of my students seems obvious, lies another question: the problem of resolving the contrast between George Zimmerman in all his fallibility and the enormous existential power of his capacity for violence.  At their core I’ve found that my students’ positions—across racial, gender and class lines—are not as disparate as one might think, but rather various imperfect attempts to address an underlying, perhaps paradoxical question: what should be the distribution of violent force throughout the social body in a political system, such as ours, that likes to consider itself a liberal democracy?

One of the truisms of police studies is the claim, often emerging from ethnographic research, that police are the practical arm of the state as conceived by Max Weber; that the police are the most empirically identifiable human community which claim the monopoly of legitimate violence over a given territory and that their claim to being such rests on their status as a group of trained experts in the use of that violence.  Much of the politics of policing in the U.S., and indeed throughout the world, over the last 50 years can be read as a series of ambivalences vis-à-vis this formulation.  Probably the most well-known counter-formulation is the group of efforts loosely collected under the aegis of “community policing,” of which the “Neighborhood Watch” program Zimmerman imagined himself as participating in is one variant.  Although the kind of truly global and comparative history of community policing that would satisfy anthropologists has yet to be written, its origin is usually traced to efforts by several U.S. urban police departments to address growing racial tensions between largely white police forces and minority communities in the 1960s.  As such, community policing in its “purest” form is meant to counteract the concentration of political power in a small group of bureaucratic experts; to “democratize” police, in the sense of distributing its power more broadly throughout the demos, to incorporate more people into the ability to shape police, and therefore, its violence.

From its very inception community policing has been at the nexus of various social scientific positions: applause, scrutiny, critique, denunciation, collaboration.  Some of the more critical of these positions within anthropology have ranged from the suggestion that is has not lived up to its democratic ideals, for example by seeing its early promise co-opted by more “neoliberal friendly” approaches such as “zero tolerance” (cf. Cattelino, 2004; Chesluk, 2004; Garriott, 2011), to arguments that assert its formulation to be dependent on specific cultural understandings that resist translation into other contexts (Jauregui, 2013; Martin, 2012), to criticisms that, even in its “pure” form, community policing entails an insidious use of private, even intimate, locations and actors for the purposes of government (Stenson, 1993).  My own work tends to pose questions about how “community-oriented” policing can serve as an open vector for thinking through social life itself (Karpiak, 2010, 2013).

From this perspective, the line between understanding George Zimmerman as a racially paranoid vigilante or as a (still racially paranoid) partisan of community policing is troublingly blurry.  Did he have the right to be policing his neighborhood, or to carry and use a gun?  Why or why not?  The answer can not be as simple as some may imagine.  For as anthropologists we know that a “right” is more than a formal legal definition, extending outward to other forms of legitimacy both practical and moral.  If he didn’t have the right, what, exactly, makes his police illegitimate?  If it’s only the apparent racial paranoia, how does that separate him from more formal police organizations, who also seem fairly capable of expressing this paranoia violently, but on a wide scale (cf. Stalcup & Craze 2011)?  It seems more likely that part of the fascination with the case, and why it can serve as a flashpoint in contexts such as my class has to do with the problem of thinking though “police” as an individual phenomenon, fallible and human.  What can, or should one person do to regulate a perceived problem?  In this sense, the Zimmerman/Martin case awakens issues as closely aligned with those raised by Christopher Dorner as by Oscar Grant.

At their base, these questions ask what the relationship between “police” and “society” should be once we understand both as an expression of the use of violence.  Should they be fully integral bodies, so that there is no distinct institution of policing?  Should there be an absolute distinction, so that only a small community of qualified individuals can claim the right to police power?  If it’s the former, is George Zimmerman what a broadly distributed and unregulated police would look like? If I am troubled by that thought, do I find myself in favor of the latter—a rule by experts?  If the answer is somewhere in the middle, how would that work?  Should the goal, the ends, of policing—and therefore collective life—be the maintenance of community norms at the expense of individual liberty, or is a technocratic focus on law enforcement and civil rights the necessary priority of a democratic police force regardless of the violence inherent in legal-bureaucratic regimes?  Such questions circulate around the troubled terrain of freedom and security, norms and rights, for which I also find myself disarmingly unprepared to offer final positions.

But are these our only options and, if not, what viable alternatives exist?  Some anthropologists have tried to move beyond the stalemate of this frame—the work of Avram Bornstein (2005) in particular is an attempt to move beyond such a conceptual stagnation as, in another way, is the work of Miriam Ticktin (2005) as I read it—but, I admit, I am not so sure as they that social science alone has the tools to do so, for it requires not just a description but a practical reworking of our collective life.  In the meantime I suppose one thing we can do is the not unworthy act of denouncing such dangerous fools as Zimmerman, and aspire that out of such action a new logic of collectivity (Juris 2012) will guide us out of our dark corner.  Important, as well, is to recognize the nature of that corner, which strikes to the very heart of what we understand as “police.”

Works Cited

Bornstein, A. 2005. Antiterrorist Policing in New York City after 9/11: Comparing Perspectives on a Complex Process. Human Organization 64: 52–61.

Cattelino, J. R. (2004). The Difference that Citizenship Makes: Civilian Crime Prevention on the Lower East Side. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 27, 114–137.

Chesluk, B. (2004). “Visible Signs of a City Out of Control”: Community Policing in New York City. Cultural Anthropology, 19(2), 250–275. doi:10.1525/can.2004.19.2.250

Garriott, W. (2011). Policing Methamphetamine: Narcopolitics in Rural America (p. 201). New York: NYU Press.

Jauregui, B. (2013). Cultures of Legitimacy and Postcolonial Policing: Guest Editor Introduction. Law & Social Inquiry, n/a–n/a. doi:10.1111/lsi.12026

Juris, J. S. 2012. Reflections on #Occupy Everywhere: Social media, public space, and emerging logics of aggregation. American Ethnologist 39: 259–279.

Karpiak, K. G. (2010). Of Heroes and Polemics : “The Policeman” in Urban Ethnography. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 33(May), 7–31. doi:10.1111/j.1555-2934.2010.01063.x.Page

Karpiak, K. G. (2013). Adjusting La Police: state, society and the distance of Just Violence in contemporary France. In W. Garriott (Ed.), Policing and Contemporary Governance: the anthropology of police in practice (pp. 79–96). New York: Palgrave.

Martin, J. T. (2012). How Law Matters to the Taiwanese Police. Anthropology News.

Stalcup, M., & Craze, J. 2011. How We Train Our Cops to Fear Islam. Washington Monthly.

Stenson, K. (1993). Community policing as a governmental technology. Economy and Society, 22(3), 373–389. doi:10.1080/03085149300000025

Ticktin, M. 2005. Policing and Humanitarianism in France: Immigration and the Turn To Law As State of Exception. Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 7: 346–368.



Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

42 thoughts on “Using George Zimmerman as an object lesson in the anthropology of policing

  1. Kevin Karpiak is one of the primary reasons I post under the tag Discuss White Privilege.

    It is mind-boggling that a white male anthropologist who made a point of telling his black female colleague to “keep your ‘privilege’ critique at home” and that black women with Yale degrees don’texperience real discrimination and racism like the racial profiling which killed Trayvon Martin and have more privilege than white men is now writing this post.

    As the discussion, especially by the black people who will be most affected by the Zimmerman verdict , continues to focus on the fundamental dehumanization of black lives which makes this tragedy possible, it is worth asking how this same dehumanization occurs–over and over and over again–on this site.

    Just truly shocking the do-as-I-say-not-as-do pattern of antiblack racism. Just trul shocking.

  2. Here’s a viable alternative to all of this: take guns away from everybody, including the police, and rely on elections and referendums to keep society democratic, because nobody should have the right to own or carry an implement that can kill another human so easily. If there had been no guns involved, and no legitimization of the right to own a tool for murdering human beings, then Martin would not have died.

    I’m not a patriotic guy, at all, and I’m not saying this out of a misguided attempt to put my home above the USA. But I live in the UK. In the whole country there are about 650 murders, total, per year. There are 62,000,000 or so in the country, so that’s a low murder rate. The USA has about 300,000,000 inhabitants (so, five times the population of the UK) and over 10,000 gun murders alone annually. 10,000 is not even five times 650, let alone five times ~75, the approximate number of gun murders in the UK each year. And let’s not even mention the suicide rate. The difference here isn’t attitude or patience or psychopathy or anything like that – British people are easily as impatient and angry as anyone else – but guns, which are tools for ending human life. I have no doubt that, if you made guns as freely available to British people as they are to Americans then we’d have basically the same problems, and the same racially-motivated murders.

    Without a gun, Zimmerman would have been a creepy guy thinking racist thoughts while watching a kid walking about the neighbourhood. Take the gun out of the equation and the tragedy doesn’t occur, and the underlying problems of racism and class would be easier to resolve.

  3. So far the most accurate analysis of Zimmerman that I have seen was written by bell hooks:
    “White supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior. Capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected. Patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action.”

  4. Anthropologist Rachel Newcomb quoting someone in the Huffington Post: “The data is clear,” writes sociologist Lisa Wade, “compared to white-on-white crimes, stand your ground increases the likelihood of a not-guilty finding, but only when a person is accused of killing a black person.” Let’s not downplay what is going on in this and other cases.

  5. I agree with Al West. However, when we try to bring such figures into gun-reform discussions in the U.S., we get hit with a meme about how there is actually more crime in the UK than in the US (here’s a link that *partially* debunks, Fact-Checking Ben Swann: Is the UK really 5 times more violent than the US?). After every mass-shooting, including Newtown, and surely after the Zimmerman verdict, gun-sales increase.

    An initial thought is that an attitude that killing-to-protect-property is justifiable and guilt-free is probably widespread in the Americas and other colonial regimes. As Discuss White Privilege reminds us, it is abetted by attitudes that certain people are less-than-human, or are property themselves. However, asking U.S. politicians to empathize with Newtown parents, or even with one of their own who was shot in the head, was apparently not enough to get even a vote on background checks, let alone gun control.

  6. I would like to see Savage Minds invite an African American male anthropologist who works on issues of race to write a guest blog on the Zimmerman case. If you guys need some names, I’m sure lots of us can suggest people!

  7. I would like to second Laura’s request and commend her for making it. Anthropology more broadly and this site in particular should be about challenging ‘white public space’ and giving anthropologists from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives a safe space to speak, instead of silencing people because they are seen as race/gender subordinates.

    Moreover, given that I specifically made the same suggestion as Laura, on the old Savage Minds, and suggested the John L. Jackson, Jr. after citing his discussion of ‘georaciality’, I think it is worth asking aloud why Savage Minds hasn’t already solicited a black male anthropologist to blog in general, to be interviewed, or to post specifically on the Zimmerman verdict. Who always gets to speak on this site as an Anthropological Authority, and who is repeatedly ‘spoken for’?

    (And for the record, stridency to combat such continuous silencing is draining. Support other perspectives, for sure.)

  8. @ millerlau + dwp — its in the works. I’ll post it here once they arrive in my inbox.

    Also if anyone finds some good anthro blog posts on the topic share them here or tweet them @savageminds and I’ll retweet.

  9. Matt, while I am glad that you will be posting something about the Zimmerman verdict, it is not a sufficient response to the larger issues of casual and easy acceptance of antiblack racism on this site or in anthropology more broadly. That a white male anthropologists who has made totally unacceptable racist and sexist statements of the kind that Kevin Karpiak has made to me was the person Rex and the site thought should be the first (and perhaps only had it not been for Laura speaking up) is indicative of much larger problems of racism in anthropology which are continuously sidelined on the site by authors other than Ryan, and especially by Rex.

    It is ‘funny’ that Kevin re-tweeted Kerim’s tweet about the Zimmerman verdict having resulted in the largest one-day unfriending on Facebook, because this kind of response is precisely not the kind of thing that happens in anthropology (or the academy more broadly) when one engages in racist-sexist bullying, especially when the target is a black woman (a category of person, to the extent that we are even considered people, which is often seen and treated as disposable; and I raise this in the context of discussions of how Trayvon Martin is being treated as ‘yet another disposable black man/black person/black body’). Many anthropologists, and certainly Kevin in his post, are using the Zimmerman verdict as a way to distance themselves from the white-supremacist and antiblack views, the lack of *racial empathy* at the heart of the verdict (yeah, funny how I presciently spoke about this in my response to Kristina Killgrove’s interview, including the comment I made about why I was troubled that Rosemary Joyce, chair during the bullying that I’ve discussed above and who refused to respond to it appropriately as such, which was censored so as to reinforce the sad reality that when you are white and have the power of ‘the system’ you can always cover up even your documented acts of institutional–and personal–racism). It is very easy to look at the ways in which one is not like the Zimmerman jurors, instead of being honest about the ways in which one is. If you think it is justifiable to promote racial profiling and claiming that black people are violence-prone, criminally-inclined ghetto threats–even when they clearly are not–so as to cover up (your) racist bullying, public email attacks via an anthropology department listserve, and departmental lack of ‘zero tolerance for sexual harassment’ and ‘white public space issues’, then you need to re-examine how different your views about black people really are from the jurors who acquitted Zimmerman. If you think black women carrying their infants “in a tummy pack” are Dangerous Black Threats who needed to be reported to campus police, and you instruct ALL the staff in your department to do so, via a confidential email you never expected to get leaked, if they find such a black person ‘threatening’, then you need to re-examine just how different your views about black people are from George Zimmerman’s. If you think an innocent black person who has never committed a crime peaking out to say they are innocent and are not a violent black criminal from the ghetto is itself a crime which needs to be punished such that they deserve to be smeared as such just to cover up your own negligence and racist reactions to black people who you fundamentally view as less-than-human and violent threats, then you are in fact racist, not antiracist. It is amazing to me how many (white) anthropologists give other (white) anthropologists a free pass for racist behavior that is decried by anthropologists when it comes from those outside the discipline, and especially those who are self-professed right-wing conservatives.

    We need to be–and Savage Minds needs to be–more honest about the issues of antiblack racism which it is giving anthropologists are free pass on, and on how this antiblack behavior is normalized:

    I continue, to this day, to be smeared as a crazy and violent black ghetto criminal just “frivolously” complaining about ‘personal grievances’ and racism and sexism which doesn’t exist, even though I clearly am not a violent black ghetto criminal (and Rosemary Joyce recently tweeted about the importance of verifying facts, but will she ever verify this fact about me, verify that she knows I am continuing to be falsely accused of a crime it has been confirmed by police I am innocent of? will she confirm that I am not in fact a violent black criminal from the ghetto/ and when you are reluctant to confirm such facts about a person, how can you really say that you don’t support racial profiling?); Berkeley faculty continue to exist that all is fine in their department even in the wake of the 2010 AAA report on the state of minority anthropologists, and the AA article “Anthropology as White Public Space?”, and Kate Clancy et al’s survey on sexual harassment in anthropology, and the AAA ‘zero tolerance for sexual harassment’ statement. When you are truly antiracist and believe in zero-tolerance, you don’t continue to maintain that I am a crazy and violent ghetto criminal frivolously complaining about issues of racism and sexism that aren’t real problems. But who can be bothered to care since I am just another one of those disposable black people, right? The system working, as many black intellectuals have been writing in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict, is the system working against black people and claiming that those that are the targets of white-supremacist abuse are in fact violent thugs who got what they deserved. Yup, that’s me: crazy and violent thug from the ghetto. Clearly. And of course all forms of self-defense–including merely SPEAKING and WRITING to defend yourself against character assassination (of the kind made against Trayvon Martin and Rachel Jeantel during the Zimmerman trial) is clearly pathological and criminal behavior, because no sane, law-abiding white person would speak out forcefully if being falsely accused of things they haven’t done. Racial empathy? Not so much. So a lot of (white) anthropologists are wanting the Zimmerman jurors to show racial empathy that they often can’t have themselves. Heartbreaking. And so Rex wrote a post about how anthropology should be about empathy, to the point where we should even have empathy for Nazis, but where is his racial empathy–in this or any other comment stream–when it comes to taking seriously the antiblack racism black anthropologists constantly face, in anthropology and outside of it? Why did it seem perfectly natural and normal to him and to SM more broadly to choose Kevin Karpiak to be the person who posted on the Zimmerman verdict?

    Why does it seem natural to so many (White) anthropologists not to speak up even when they see truly vicious forms of racist-sexist bullying which reach the level of public email attack via a department’s listserve, racial profiling for revenge, and racial terrorism/intimidation tactics? Why do so many (White) anthropologists side with, empathize with, identify with, the white anthropologists engaged in this behavior, instead of the Black person to whom it is being directed? Why do they write it off as not a big deal, and certainly not a big enough deal not to recommend the public email bully for a *racial-justice* post-doc at an Ivy League college? (Because I could hardly imagine Berkeley having so rewarded a Black male student who engaged in that kind of bullying with unquestioned career support. But hey, that’s not how the system which didn’t work for Trayvon Martin and his family works, so who cares?).

    Why do so many (white) anthropologists see ‘speaking for’ non-whites in general and Blacks in particular as normal such that they don’t even question why a department as large as Berkeley Anthropology has ZERO Black professors, has made a point of hiring White male professors to teach classes on race, and has made a point of not hiring a Black professor ten years after the death of John Ogbu–who, not uncoincidentally, focused on educational inequality and minority education. In the post Prop-209 Berkeley Anthropology, this is not something which ‘just happened’. Just like the Zimmerman jury identifying more with George Zimmerman than Trayvon Martin didn’t ‘just happen’. Lack of racial diversity in the Berkeley faculty, like lack of racial diversity in the Zimmerman jury is not an ‘accident’. Similarly, the presence of women in both groups does not lead to ‘less racist’ outcomes. Anthropologists should be able to think critically about these issues of structural and institutional racism and implicit bias.

    Similarly, and again recursively linking these issues of antiblack racism, implicit bias, and white supremacy to the Zimmerman verdict, having non-black minorities on your faculty, like having a ‘non-white’ (i.e. Latina) on your jury does not mean that your group can’t be racist. As the Zimmerman trial should be making clear to anthropologists (on this site, especially), non-black minorities can be antiblack and align themselves with white supremacy also. So no, none of Berkeley Anthropology’s Asian professors (even when Muslim) see any reason to speak up when they see an innocent black student being smeared as violent black criminal from the ghetto, or see any reason to speak up when they see their department’s forgrads listserve being used for public racist-sexist bullying. Even when the bully is their advisee. Eh, who cares, just another disposable n*gger. And, as ‘we’ all know, ‘my kind’ just isn’t really smart enough to be a Real Anthropologist (and let us please be honest that this is the message that zero black professors on the Berkeley Anthropology faculty has been sending for a long time now, and such that white male graduate students saw no reason not to bully me and call me an affirmative action lackey and tell me that I wasn’t ‘smart’ enough to be in their department–especially because I actually chose to take scholars like bell hooks seriously instead of slavishly worshiping at the altar of Michel Foucault and (white male) European/Euro-American philosophers and post-structuralists). Because, as ‘we’ all know, the proverbial cream automatically rises to the top in graduate school and all that matters is whether or not you are smart enough and have the academic aptitude, right? Likewise, there are low levels of Black, Latino, and Native American students at Berkeley because we are just not smart enough (i.e. the low-end of the intellectual Bell Curve because of biological race), and come from a ‘culture of poverty’ which doesn’t ‘value’ education. But, of course, such beliefs, had nothing to so with why anthropologists in my own department couldn’t have been bothered to care less what kind of racist-sexist bullying I was being subjected to, even if it included claiming I’m a violent black ghetto criminal. Eh, whatever. i’m black and perceived as “a very dark-skinned South African”, so who cares? Certainly don’t look like the kind of person who ends up on the Berkeley Anthropology faculty as a full professor. I look like a ghetto criminal, or the person who should be cleaning toilets or doing secretarial work in the front office, so I’m not worth caring about. After all, a few black grad students in the department is all one needs to claim one’s department isn’r ‘racist’, sadly.

    Yes, as has happened many times in the past, some will read this response it see it as my complaining–yet again–about my ‘personal’ grievances (cause, you know, that’s what we ‘hypersensitive’ Angry Black Women do), and miss that I complain about these *patterns* of behavior/antiblack racism/racist sexism for the same reason that I chose to go to grad school at Berkeley to work with John Ogbu, who worked on racial stratification (v. social stratification) and educational inequality. So I think Savage Minds *really* needs to think long and hard–including via posts by black male AND female anthropologists, as well as other anthropologists of color (like Elizabeth Chin)–about the issues of racism/sexism/colorism/implicit bias/structural inequality raised by this comment. Because no, it is most certainly not written so I can drone on about my ‘personal’ experience.

    I have been talking about the issues of antiblack racism and white supremacy at the heart of the Zimmerman trial and verdict FOR YEARS, and FOR YEARS on this site: to ongoing passive-aggressive racist and sexist contempt and dismissal, unethical silencing and censorship, and several explicitly racist and sexist verbal attacks. As Sarah Kendzior, who was seen as fit enough to be interviewed her and taken seriously has ben tweeting and writing about recently, there is value in ‘complaining’ and ‘anger’. The ‘personal’ is still political.

    So yeah, when anthropologists who should no better are attacking me as a violent black ghetto criminal too stupid to be an anthropologists (like them) and claiming that everything I have to say about racism and sexism is a “meaningless cloud” and I am not and don’t deserve to be seen or treated as “a legitimate member of the community”–and the vast majority of anthropologists seeing this racist-sexist abuse just sit back quietly and apathetically–then something is very, very wrong. In anthropology and in this this country more broadly. And no, it is not just the antiblack racism and white supremacy of George Zimmerman and the jurors who acquitted him that anthropologists, especially here on Savage Minds, should be focusing on.

    There is something very wrong with an America that thinks white people–and especially white men–should be rewarded for racially profiling innocent black people, and just can’t truly see black people as full and equal human beings, as individuals, and not as always-ready-to-be-violent threats.

    (I am tired after writing this. i am tired of fighting this racism. So yes, I am sure there are typos. And no, I did not capitalize Black and White in every instance, to foreground them as the political categories they are. Yup, that’s the reality of constantly being on the receiving end of antiblack racism–especially the sociopathic brand of sustained racial terrorism and character assassination I continue to be subjected to, it makes you tired.

  10. And btw: real antiracism means apologizing when you’ve been racist, intentionally or not. Not avoiding a response, or avoiding accepting responsibility. Because this is one of the biggest manifestations of investments in white-supremacist patriarchy: making a point of NOT apologizing, especially when you know you are wrong, just to let the person you have racistly aggressed against know what his/her ‘place’ is, and that it is below you because you are white (and male).

  11. We need to hear from African American male anthropologists not because of identity politics, but for good anthropological reasons. I’ve been reading blogs and essays about how mothers tell their sons certain rules for behavior in white-dominant America that is exactly the sort of thing anthropologists study, the unspoken rules and understandings. We have anthropological studies of interaction norms from the 1970s to the 2000s, but after Stand Your Ground laws, there is a new and terrible layer involved. Perhaps others are also interested in everyday interaction norms and would like to learn about these?

    Consider these words from Questlove: “In the beginning —let’s say 2002, when the gates of “Hey, Ahmir, would you like to come to [swanky elitist place]?” opened — I’d say “no,” mostly because it’s been hammered in my DNA to not “rock the boat,” which means not making “certain people” feel uncomfortable. I mean, that is a crazy way to live. Seriously, imagine a life in which you think of other people’s safety and comfort first, before your own. You’re programmed and taught that from the gate. It’s like the opposite of entitlement.”

    So, there it is! A talented and famous musician always has to think about where he goes in white society. There are other revealing posts by men who talk about the rules for behavior in public for black men who want to avoid being a target of white aggression. Their mothers taught them things like: don’t put the hood up, don’t stay out late, don’t wear certain clothes, don’t go to certain parts of the city, avoid racists, what to do and say if the police pull you over. How many white parents feel they need to teach these particular lessons?

    In any case, please Savage Minds, we don’t need more French boy theory on this one. Give us some ethnographic description and discussion.

  12. Since I am hosting this guest post, I’m going to participate in the comments here as well. Amazingly, flaming ad hominem attacks in the comments section bother me less than incredibly long comments. I think this is because long comments take too long to scroll past while personal attacks are usually skippable. Therefore, I’m issuing a 1000 word limit on comments on this thread. Longer posts will be deleted or truncated or something like that. Depending on how I feel, that may be a retroactive policy.

    Second, as Matt says we are working on more posts from more perspectives. If you have specific people in mind, let us know.

    Thirdly, @millerlau, if you feel this post is full of ‘French boy theory’ then you simply haven’t read it. tbh I’m not sure what that phrase means, but I’m sure the post doesn’t qualify. Honestly, people: Read the post, follow the links. I’d appreciate it if you commented on the posts that have been written rather than the ones you prefer to think appear here.

    Finally, regarding handgun ownership, if there is one thing Trayvon and Zimmerman have taught us, it is that tinkering with parts of this sociotechnical network is not the solution. In other words: outlawing guns is not going to make entrenched institutional racism disappear.

    The thing that stuck with me the most from Kevin’s posting was the question: “what should be the distribution of violent force throughout the social body in a political system, such as ours, that likes to consider itself a liberal democracy?” I’d be interested in hearing what answers people had to this question.

  13. Finally, regarding handgun ownership, if there is one thing Trayvon and Zimmerman have taught us, it is that tinkering with parts of this sociotechnical network is not the solution. In other words: outlawing guns is not going to make entrenched institutional racism disappear.

    Well, you’re right. It won’t. But Trayvon Martin would not have died had there been no guns involved, which seems to me like the biggest thing. George Zimmerman being a racist is less of a problem if he doesn’t have a gun. He becomes a pathetic figure, rambling in his own mind and on his radio about blacks but not possessing the power to kill them. And that, in case you couldn’t tell, was my answer the problem of the distribution of violent force in a liberal society – i.e, implements that allow private citizens to kill other citizens easily and effectively should not be present, and even the police should refrain from carrying them. The state should monopolise violence and seek never to use it. This would make everything safer, as it does in the UK, Australia, and so on. The US has between four and five times as many murders annually as the UK, and these US killings disproportionately affect ethnic minorities. Getting rid of the killings wouldn’t end racism, but it would curb its most harmful aspect, and resolve other problems, as well.

    That private citizens can even own handguns – implements designed solely for ending human life – is mad. It makes each person a republic of one, capable of enforcing their own private law in brief, violent outbursts. That negates any advantage there is to be gleaned from living in a state, which is supposed to ensure that people can live happy lives free from the threat of unnecessary death. And if there is a widespread belief that certain groups of people are less than human, widespread gun ownership among the group of people who hold this belief is guaranteed to cause tragedies like this one.

  14. Al, I agree completely with what you say here. The problem is the number of politicians in the US Congress elected from districts (primarily but not exclusively from Appalachia, the Far West, and Deep South) where the view that guns are needed not only for personal protection but also as a deterrent to tyrannical government is firmly entrenched, said politicians being terrified of the National Rifle Association’s blacklisting them among its members.

  15. Yes, given how implicit bias works, easy access to guns makes racist violence much worse:
    “George Zimmerman may not be that different from the rest of us. In fact, research shows that college students and most everyone else are more likely to shoot a Black man holding an object like a wallet, than a white man.”

    But we’ll still need to focus on why so many share the same biases as Zimmerman in the first place.

  16. But we’ll still need to focus on why so many share the same biases as Zimmerman in the first place.

    What is that focus intended to achieve? This question is a serious one. The Enlightenment, later 19th century Progressive, dream that unmasking hidden prejudices would suffice to eliminate them has proved, if anything, demonstrably false.

    It is, of course, another matter if the focus reveals conditions that can be strategically addressed in an effort to remove them. But even that is only a precondition. Without developing the strategy and putting it into action.

    Two deliberately provocative thoughts follow.

    1. Get rid of “Black.” The rhetorical reversal that turned stigma into pride has become a barrier to overcoming prejudice. In a global cultural context where black equals evil (Darth Vader, for example), trying to insist on changing the meaning of black to something more desirable is beating our heads against a wall. Yes, “black” does have other nuances, e.g., in “a little black dress.” How to exploit them politically is a difficult question to answer. Current uses of “black,” which insist on difference and leave those labeled black seen as inherently evil and dangerous should, this strategist suggests, be avoided.

    2. It is worth observing that the successes of the Civil Rights Movement — and while much remains to be done, there were nonetheless successes — were due in large part to avoiding the kind of divisive rhetoric associated with “black.” When Martin Luther King said, “We shall overcome,” his “We” was big enough to include everyone of any race.” His premise wasn’t “We the oppressed are different.” It was, on the contrary, “We the oppressed are you and me and all of us.” That was a powerful message. That was what made it possible for black civil rights leaders to call Bill Clinton America’s first black president, and for millions of Barack Obama’s supporters to see in him a future that is neither black or white but an infinitely varied spectrum of browns, yellows, and pinks.

    I will not mince words. These propositions strike at the essentializing heart of multiculturalism, the notion that people are essentially different because they belong to identifiably different groups. It also strikes at the heart of anthropology’s enduring tendency to reify cultural differences. So what if race isn’t biologically determined but instead socially constructed—if at the end of the day, it still divides us and restricts the children of minorities to the same ugly conditions that their parents have had to endure? Any reification of race has the same nasty effects. As Louis K. Black might say, “[bleep] that!”

  17. John, the problem with your discussion of the category Black is that you are not discussing it as existing as a function of *white supremacy*. We are not all (equally) oppressed by white supremacy, which is precisely why CRM-era strategies have had limited efficacy in addressing structural and institutional racism as well as implicit bias. This is truly not meant as a personal attack, but there is something troubling dishonest about wanting to solve racism by deferring to a ‘we are all oppressed’ rhetoric/strategy when the very issue of white supremacy and structural racism is unequal access and opportunity and power such that we are not all being detrimentally affected. And much of the backlash against civivl rights (such as the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Acts Act) stems from many whites not wanting to acknowledge white privilege and its structural/institutional/systemic effects (and affects).

    I agree that we should not be essentializing racial categories, which is precisely why I stated that the categories Black and White are *political* categories: they are about one’s relationship to white supremacy. So it is interesting that your focus has been on how destructive the category Black is, but not on how destructive the category White is, when it is this latter category which is about exclusion and domination of those constructed as not-White in general and Black in particular (e.g. the one-drop rule).

  18. I don’t want this to turn into a thread about guns and gun control, but I do want to make a couple of quick points.

    The US has between four and five times as many murders annually as the UK, and these US killings disproportionately affect ethnic minorities.

    Yes, but the relationship between homicide rate and various gun control regimes is equivocal [LINK].

    That private citizens can even own handguns – implements designed solely for ending human life – is mad.

    Be that as it may or may not be, the Bill of Rights puts gun ownership on the same level as freedom of speech and the right to a speedy and public trial. The Supreme Court has decided that gun ownership encompasses handguns and what the Supreme Court says goes. Short of a Constitutional amendment that is the lay of the land from here on out.

  19. And let’s not forget that Obama is still considered Black because of the one-drop rule, so his presidency is not necessarily the triumph of the ‘we’ that you have recommended. Moreover, as Harry Reid was willing to acknowledge, Obama’s electability was made possible by his being light-skinned–and having a white family that he could constantly reference during the election so as to get white voters to identify with him (yup, (fictive) kinship discussion, folks). So there are still plenty of issues of the-exclusions-from-Whiteness-that-is-White-supremacy in the presidency of Barack Obama. And this, too, gets back to my comment about the implicit racial biases that most of us hold: many of these determinations of ‘like me’/’not like me’ are unconscious, about unconscious associations and identifications and biases that most people would deny if explicitly and publicly questioned. Most ‘good liberals’ do not want to admit, least of all to themselves, that they like Obama (more) because they see him as closer to white, like them. What anthropologist would ever go on the record and admit this? it would pretty much be career suicide, especially for the untenured, no matter how true the statement might be. And this is part of why we need to acknowledge implicit racial bias. After all, as the Salon article I linked to explicitly states, our current laws do not acknowledge implicit bias, to disastrous effect. So, in acknowledging that these biases exist and influence behavior and structural/institutional outcomes, we can craft better laws to take bias into account and address racism even if it is not a product of an individual’s conscious intention.

    All this sitting around assessing whether people ‘have racism in their hearts’ is not getting us anywhere (at least not anywhere less racist): at some point it does not matter if you have racism ‘in your heart’ or believe that your are not ‘racist’ if your actions are still demonstrating racial bias and leading to racially disparate outcomes and/or racist abuse/violence. Addressing why the bias exists in the first place–and that it does exist–is a far better strategy for remediating, especially at the level of legal accountability, which is exactly what did not happen in the Zimmerman trial. So I am talking about concrete outcomes (for reasons to acknowledge bias), not hoping for a Kumbaya moment.

  20. Please don’t mistake my intention here. I am not rehashing old debates about right and wrong. I am asking what sort of strategy is likely to be effective in making a bit more progress. When progress was made, the message of the civil rights movement was that we are all in this together, regardless of race. Call it idealistic. Call it a residue of Enlightenment thinking. Call it whatever you like — that message worked.

  21. Not in the same way. But it remains demonstrably more effective than sharpening divisions and then demanding respect. Your own experience demonstrates how badly that works out.

  22. John, that last comment is pure White supremacy in action. That comment is so racist it is appalling. ‘Sharpening divisions’ by asking people to acknowledge that structural racism and implicit bias are real and should not be swept under the rug? You have already made explicitly racist and sexist statements to me in the past about me being a an angry Black Power radical, and that last comment is just a thinly-veiled version of more of the same.

    I was attacked for being ‘too White’, for being a Black person who ‘played by the rules’ and went to the Ivy and had thus was seen as an ‘uppity n*gger’ to be put in my ‘place’ for making some White men (and then White women) feel inadequate. So no, my own experience does NOT show what you claim it does. You are once again projecting racist stereotypes of angry Black seperatists on me. Enough already.

    Acknowledging that there is white supremacy and that the category Black exists because of it is not (me) encouraging seperatism. Saying that Black and White are political categories created by White Supremacy is not ‘encouraging seperation’. I am not talking about political parties, so please, enough already. I am not saying the categories Black and White should exist, and in fact am saying the opposite, so please stop projecting your very antiblack views onto me. Because this is what your repeated claim about me encouraging seperatism are about, even if you are unconsciously being racist.

    Your comment is just another way to say White supremacy and structural racism are not the problem, just some angry Black people who won’t stop talking about race. Black people like me talk about racism because of the discrimination we face. We don’t face discrimination because we talk about racism. And to claim so, especially as an anthropologist, is both sad and disingenuous.

  23. Comments like yours about ‘sharpening divisions and then demanding respect’ are exactly why anthropology is and will remain ‘white public space’. You have convinced yourself that you are not racist and have respect for Black people, but your pattern of racist statements to me indicate otherwise. Your ‘respect’ for Black people is dependent on them not making you feel uncomfortable by discussing the daily realities of racism they live with. This is not respect. This is also not good anthropology. It is White supremacy.

    Though you never come out and say it, I can hear all the classic echoes of ‘those Black people are problem, why can’t they shut up and just work hard like Asians’ arguments. And no, this is not me spouting anti-Asian racisms, put pointing out that it is not lost on me, especially in light of the Jason Antrosio post I linked to, that your anthropological orientation has been toward Asia and you are constantly advancing racism is a problem because Angry Black People keep talking about it and ‘demanding respect’. Your constant use of this phrase, ‘demanding respect’, is racist code, even if not consciously intended.

    I actually do not advocate seperatism or go around screaming ‘I’m Black, so I
    demand respect’. But it is interesting that this is how you interpret my asking people to be aware of who their implicit biases and racial privilege are affecting others, and how you understand my calls for ALL people to be treated with respect.

    Angry Black People ‘demanding’ respect is racist stereotyping. Be more honest about why you keep returning to and deploying this deeply racist construction. Especially when good anthropology/ethnography is supposed to proceed from an awareness of one’s one biases, perspective, social location–which is what ‘discussing White privilege’ really amounts to such that I should not have to keep dealing with you making this same racist comment to me yet again, or with racist White male bullies telling me there is no difference between being ‘pink’ and being Black and so I am an over-privileged Oreo who needs to “keep your ‘privilege’ critique at home”.

  24. And just so everyone can be clear about the de facto victim-blaming going on with your comment, John, since this comment is a response to a post about George Zimmerman being acquitted of even manslaughter after shooting the unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin:

    So, basically you are saying that I deserve to be viciously racistly and sexistly bullied because I said that it’s important to think about how racial privilege differentially affects people’s lives?

    Your comment is the beginning of the slippery slope to many a ‘they got what they deserved argument’, absolving abusers (including killers and rapists) for responsibility for their actions.

    Even if Black people are ‘demanding respect’, how does this justify racism and white-supremacist discrimination?

    It does not. Period.

  25. Good that instead of engaging the substance of my comments you instead took the opportunity to re-assert white male privilege. Yes, because the problem is not structural or institutional discrimination, just Angry Black People talking about it.

  26. Trayvon Martin’s parents just gave a televised interview about how not talking about race and the effect it had was the prosecution’s biggest mistake. So your racist comments to me about not talking about ‘privilege’ as the path to racial paradise are even more disturbing and misguided as the Zimmerman trial and verdict should be making it clear to you, an anthropologist, why racial privilege and implicit bias and White supremacy SHOULD be discussed.

  27. I just saw this tweet from Savage Minds interviewee Sarah Kendzior:

    I read the article linked to by the tweet and was struck by this passage, which is all to reminiscent of John’s comment to me about Black people talking about racism and discussing privilege as divisive and encouraging separatism:
    “The result of all this ginned-up rage that has produced vandalism and violence is simply going to be an ever-deepening racial divide.”

    The passage is written by Pat Buchanan. So yes, John, you need to examine why you are having such angry responses to me saying Black is a political category created by white supremacy and it is important to discuss white privilege (especially in relation to the Zimmerman trial and verdict), such that you are resorting to saying that I deserve to be racially bullied for talking about ‘privilege’.

  28. The other major question that this article asks is: how can we teach the Trayvon Martin case? It’s very ‘teachable’ in the sense that people have heard about it, care deeply about it, and it speaks to central issues in the social sciences and our civic culture. But the intensity of feeling is so great that it is difficult to get people to discuss it calmly — and this despite the fact that the classroom is the place where people should learn how to reasonably disagree with people, the very thing that media ‘debate’ and facebook flaming does not teach people.

  29. Rex, this Atlantic article on how Barack Obama was mistaken for a waiter at a Tina Brown party, when he was a senator, is a ‘teachable moment’ which I would like to use to frame what I have to say next about how to teach the Trayvon Martin tragedy, why I have posted every comment I have ever made on this site, and why I have repeatedly discussed racist bullying and racial terrorism I have been subjected to, for years now, for speaking up about anti-Black racism and White privilege, which I spoke up about because of my commitment to teaching antiracist anthropology:

    Yes, Rex, I agree that “the classroom is the place where people should learn how to reasonably disagree with people”, which is exactly why I have spoken out about my experiences being viciously bullied, on account of my race/color/gender, in my anthropology graduate program–one of the top-rated graduate programs, which I mention because its graduates get so many of the scarce TT jobs available in the contracting academic job market (a frequent topic of discussion on this site after all).

    When I first went to Rosemary Joyce as then-department Chair, and then Paul Rabinow to complain about bullying by his white male dissertation advisees which was explicitly being justified by the bullies citing his work and that of Aihwa Ong to claim that there is “no difference between being ‘pink’ and being being black” and that class trumps race such that Black people who go to elite universities don’t really/still suffer discrimination and thus need to ‘leave their ‘privilege’ critiques at home’, I explicitly said, in writing (so I can prove it, and can prove that I complained about patterns of discrimination and hostile climate in the department, not a personal dispute with one student), that the bullying I was being speaking up about needed to be addressed, especially given the faculty’s demographics and the larger message that was being sent that Black scholars were unimportant and Black women just really belong in the front office as support staff, because of what the bullying said about what kind of teachers/future professors the department was producing. I made clear that the bullying–and the reasons it was happening–needed to be addressed for what it said about how students in the department in general, and the bullies in particular, were being professionalized: which meant not only how they were being professionalized to interact with Black people, and especially Black women, as colleagues, but also to interact with them as students, and what kind of teaching about race they would engage in, and whether or not they would truly show respect for the experiences of others without their race/gender/class privilege, and what kind of mentors such White graduates would be to Black students when they were showing so much fundamental disrespect and racist resentment toward well-educated Black students (because in the ‘white public space’ of anthropology it is easy to feel comfortable interacting with Black students/scholars/colleagues so long as one feels superior to them; or if one has to be on their ‘best behavior’ in public because a Black anthropologist has a title that one has to respect lest one not get hired for a TT job; but public deference or civility or pronouncement of antiracism do not mean a person has fundamental respect for Black people, especially when it comes to how one behaves in private interactions which one thinks will never see the light of day).

    All this time I have been speaking up about these issue of ‘white public space’ and the normalization of racism (in anthropology), even when it involves sociopathic levels of bullying, *precisely because* I believe that anthropologists SHOULD be teaching their students how to respectfully disagree when discussing topics like the Trayvon Martin tragedy. But how can a person teach respect to one’s students if that person doesn’t really have this respect himself, and if as a result of not really having such respect (or racial empathy), a person engages in racist/discriminatory/exclusionary practices–with or without conscious intent–which encourage a lack of respect for those deemed racial Others and subordinates, and creates a hostile racial climate in which some people never get hired and routinely do not have their perspectives considered, including at the level of whose scholarship is and is not assigned/valorized, what topics are and are not discussed, and who is and is not writing on a blog like this?

    As the daughter of immigrants I have always been deeply invested in education. So it has been heartbreaking to see anthropologists who should be teaching others not to be racist, not to engage in racial profiling, who should be teaching students to show all people respect regardless of race/color/gender/ability/sexuality, and who should be teaching students–both undergrads and the grad students who will be future professors–doing just the opposite. Professionalizing (White/male) graduate students to be hostile and racist-sexist and to make comments like “keep your ‘privilege’ critique at home” is the antithesis of encouraging students to respectfully discuss issues of race/racism such as the one raised by the shooting of Trayvon Martin. And teaching anthropology graduate students to stay silent when they see abuse is also not the lesson that anthropology professors should be passing on to the next generation of professors. None of this leads to civil or collegial interaction, nor does it challenge anthropology as ‘white public space’ so that one can have respectful discussion of race, such as in relation to the Zimmerman verdict.

    So no, all of this time I have not been speaking up to complain about my personal grievances. I have been speaking up to ask anthropologists to truly be the kind of teachers who teach students NOT to discriminate on the basis of skin color, and who teach students to discuss issues of race and racism critically and respectfully–and are able to let people with experiences of racial discrimination speak up without being angrily shouted down for being honest about how White supremacy affects their lives because they don’t have White privilege, and to be able to speak frankly about the realities of racial profiling WHICH KILLS PEOPLE (a topic of sufficient seriousness that I think the momentary conversational discomfort of some people should, no pun intended, pale in comparison). Because if anthropologists can’t handle discussing White privilege given the reality of how racial profiling kills innocent people, then why are we still claiming to be an antiracist discipline?

    So people can make whatever nasty comments they want to and about me, but I will always say ‘Discuss White Privilege’. Because I want innocent people not to be racially profiled, and to be treated like human beings of equal worth and value. After all, isn’t this what anthropology is supposed to come down to? Like you said in that Nazi post, its about empathy. And telling people to shut up and stop talking about how racism affects their lives–and causes their deaths–is about as far from empathy as one can get.

    Peace be with you.

  30. Short of a Constitutional amendment that is the lay of the land from here on out.

    I understand that. It may actually be easier to destroy racism than get rid of guns in the US. But that shouldn’t stop us from pointing out that Trayvon Martin would not have died had Zimmerman not been carrying a gun, and that guns are one of the biggest problems in the USA at the moment – and that a constitutional amendment should occur, even if it takes time. Ten thousand people are murdered every year by guns in America. Meanwhile, between 50 and 100 people are shot dead in the UK annually, and the number is decreasing. Gunshot wounds are also less likely to kill in the UK, as many of the guns used by criminals are homemade or are converted starter pistols. Sometimes the ammunition is homemade, too. The claim that criminals will always be able to get hold of guns is incorrect.

    Gun control by states or local authorities is bound to fail within the US unless unconstitutional internal border controls are instituted. So there’s no way to assess the worth of gun control by looking solely or primarily at US data.

    the fact that the classroom is the place where people should learn how to reasonably disagree with people

    There’s too much at stake in a classroom, from grades to friendships, so people seldom speak their minds. The home, the pub, with friends, online – places where there’s no pressure to perform or attempt to acquire social capital or refrain from acquiring it are better for learning this skill than the classroom. Classrooms also have a moderator, which changes the nature of things entirely.

    As for the discussion about race: I am a bit taken aback by Discuss White Privilege’s apparent attitude that violence and death is primarily a problem because it is racist, rather than because it is a problem in itself. The idea seems to be that the US should control the distribution of guns because they kill a lot of black people, rather than because they cause lots of deaths among all classes of people.

    Yes, given how implicit bias works, easy access to guns makes racist violence much worse

    It makes all violence worse, not just racist violence. Saying otherwise is divisive – not because it makes white people scared, but because it is saying that gun violence motivated by race is a different breed to that motivated by anything else.

  31. Al, thanks for your response. I you are misunderstanding my comment. I am not saying racist violence is worse or that we should only care about guns because they kill a lot of black people. I would *never* make such an argument. What I am saying is that given the deadly outcomes of racism, saying it’s not worth talking about because it makes a white person uncomfortable to have to think about racial privilege is selfish and ridiculous.

    I agree a lot is at stake in classrooms, including social capital and pressure to perform, which is exactly why I raised the issue of awareness of how people and anthropology departments may make classrooms hostile environments to learn about and speak respectfully about race–especially since those conversations and education about race will continue outside the classroom, taking abusive power dynamics and entitlement to silence with them. And one of the reasons I wrote what I did about the importance of classroom teaching is because I know that education (on race) is not limited to the classroom. So I think one should be able to discuss this reality in the classroom, respectfully, as anthropologists should be capable of thinking critically about the social facts and social relations which produce people as subjects inthe social world.

    It was not a decisive comment. Sorry you read it that way.

  32. Just for the record, I for one have never said that racism is not worth talking about and have long believed that “thinking critically about the social facts and social relations which produce people as subjects in the social world” is a central topic in anthropology. My critique is directled entirely at how people talk about it.

    Serendipitously, I recently stumbled across the following passage in Jorge Louis Borges’ The Craft of Verse:

    “Remember what Emerson said: arguments convince nobody. They convince nobody because they are presented as arguments. Then we look at them, we weigh them, we turn them over, and we decide against them.”

    Consider two statements:

    1. “You are racist.” That is an argument, accusatory, essentializing, ad hominem.
    2. “We shall overcome.” That is a call to action, inclusive, energizing, compelling.

    Which works better if you want people to join a cause, even just a conversation?

  33. “We must confront the notion that it’s just two ways of viewing a situation as if they are equal. One validates the murder, incarceration, stop and frisking, impoverishment, of young black and brown men and increasingly women based on presumed criminality, cultural and intellectual deficit, and the other stands for humanity and dignity.
    Anthropology as a discipline is not exempt – See President Mullings, Trayvon Martin, Race and Anthropology. Every one of us can do something about the issues she raises in this statement. In our sections, in our classrooms, in our memberships. Most particularly white members of AAA can take on responsibility for making change happen.
    Isn’t it time?”

    Sorry, but conversations about racism are not going to pleasant and the expectation that they should be and one should avoid trying to make people feel uncomfortable about racial privilege and discrimination they engage is one of the very problems and effects of ‘colorblind racism’. Accurately calling out practices as racist shouldn’t be considered ad hominem and accusatory, but the fact that it does speaks to the extent to which there is unwillingness to confront the actual definition of racism for what it is: systemic discrimination based on race, in a system of racial hierarchy predicated on white supremacy, regardless of conscious intent.

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