Map: Lynchings in the Southern U.S. (1877-1950)

One of the most insidious and terrorizing elements of racism and white supremacy in the United States was lynching, broadly defined as an extrajudicial public execution carried out by a mob against an alleged criminal or transgressor. In most cases, the intention was not simply to mete out supposed justice in place of a court of law — not that the legal system in much of the South was any fairer or more impartial — but to enforce social control against particular groups, especially African Americans.

Montgomery, Alabama, which was the center of some of the worst racist atrocities and policies, will soon host one of the nation’s first and largest memorials to lynching, immortalizing the thousands of victims of racially motivated lynchings. (Appropriately, it will sit on the highest spot in the city, which was once the first capital of the Confederacy.)

The organization behind this effort, Equal Justice Initiative, has also put together a map of all the racial lynchings that took place across a  73-year period spanning the end of the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era to the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.  Continue reading

The Untold Story of Buddhism’s Struggle in America

Buddhism’s presence in the United States is seen as a very recent, if not trendy, phenomenon, becoming most visible starting from the 1960s and 70s. But like other minority religions, Buddhism has been around far longer than our public consciousness suggests, and its history here has not always been a pleasant one.

A recent article in The Atlantic discusses the tribulations of Buddhists in the context of Japanese internment during World War II. Because a large number of early American Buddhists were of Japanese ancestry, the legal and social problems faced by adherents were inextricably tied what Japanese citizens and residents faced as a whole.

73 years ago this week … President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the evacuation of all of those of Japanese descent from the West Coast to ten war relocation centers—often called “concentration camps” before that term came to have other connotations.

For the most part, the wartime fears that led to the relocation of Japanese­-born immigrants and their American­-born children were justified on racial rather than religious grounds. Those forced to leave behind homes, farms, and businesses in states bordering the Pacific were not of a single faith. There were Buddhists among them, and many maintained Shinto rituals that provided spiritual connections to their homeland, but there were also Christians of various denominations, as well as those with no particular affiliation.

Religion was not ignored, however. When the FBI set about compiling its list of suspect individuals after the attack on Pearl Harbor, they naturally included members of various American Nazi parties and groups with political ties to Japan. Yet they also paid particular attention to Buddhist priests.

J. Edgar Hoover’s Custodial Detention List used a classification system designating the supposed risk of individuals and groups on an A­B­C scale, with an “A” ranking assigned to those deserving greatest scrutiny. Ordained Buddhists like Reverend Fujimura were designated “A­1,” those whose apprehension was considered a matter of urgent concern.

The priests became the first of a relocation effort that would soon detain more than 110,000. Many within this larger group, having heard of the sudden arrests and harsh interrogations endured by Buddhist community leaders, sought refuge in Christianity, hoping—in vain, it turned out—that church membership might shield them from such treatment.

Those who did not go this route were called “Buddhaheads,” an epithet often applied to the Japanese Americans of Hawaii, but more broadly used to suggest a resistance to assimilation. Within the Japanese community, Buddhists were more likely than Christians to maintain their native language, as well as the customs and rituals performed in that language. They were also more likely than Christians to read publications concerned with Japanese political affairs. Subscription rolls of such publications provided the FBI with a natural starting point for building its “A” list of suspects.

Because of the connections and the traditional knowledge Buddhist temples helped maintain, to be a Japanese Buddhist in America during the 1940s was to be considered a greater risk to the nation.

I recommend reading the rest of this piece, which conveys the struggles of Buddhists and Japanese through the experiences of Reverend Fujimura, and looks at a little-known fight to get Buddhist troops due recognition of their faith on their memorials. Very informative look at one of the many neglected chapters of American history.

Factsheet on Racial Inequality in U.S. Justice System

Incarceration Trends in America 

  • From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people
  • Today, the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners.
  • Combining the number of people in prison and jail with those under parole or probation supervision, 1 in ever y 31 adults, or 3.2 percent of the population is under some form of correctional control

Racial Disparities in Incarceration

  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
  • Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population
  • According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today’s prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%
  • One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime
  • 1 in 100 African American women are in prison
  • Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).

Drug Sentencing Disparities

  • About 14 million Whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug
  • 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites
  • African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.
  • African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). (Sentencing Project)

Contributing Factors

  • Inner city crime prompted by social and economic isolation
  • Crime/drug arrest rates: African Americans represent 12% of monthly drug users, but comprise 32% of persons arrested for drug possession
  • “Get tough on crime” and “war on drugs” policies
  • Mandatory minimum sentencing, especially disparities in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine possession
  • In 2002, blacks constituted more than 80% of the people sentenced under the federal crack cocaine laws and served substantially more time in prison for drug offenses than did whites, despite that fact that more than 2/3 of crack cocaine users in the U.S. are white or Hispanic
  • “Three Strikes”/habitual offender policies
  • Zero Tolerance policies as a result of perceived problems of school violence; adverse affect on black children.
  • 35% of black children grades 7-12 have been suspended or expelled at some point in their school careers compared to 20% of Hispanics and 15% of whites

Effects of Incarceration

  • Jail reduces work time of young people over the next decade by 25-30 percent when compared with arrested youths who were not incarcerated
  • Jails and prisons are recognized as settings where society’s infectious diseases are highly concentrated
  • Prison has not been proven as a rehabilitation for behavior, as two-thirds of prisoners will reoffend

Exorbitant Cost of Incarceration: Is it Worth It?

  • About $70 billion dollars are spent on corrections yearly
  • Prisons and jails consume a growing portion of the nearly $200 billion we spend annually on public safety

Source: NAACP

Ten Facts About Racial Inequality in the U.S. Justice System

Courtesy of AlterNet are some unsettling facts about the systemic inequities within our justice system.

1. While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned. The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing crime and population rates. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.

2. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searchedduring a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.

3. Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated. Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70 percent of those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement. Currently, African Americans make uptwo-fifths and Hispanics one-fifth of confined youth today.

4. According to recent data by the Department of Education, African American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates. The data showed that 96,000 students were arrested and 242,000 referred to law enforcement by schools during the 2009-10 school year. Of those students, black and Hispanic students made up more than 70 percent of arrested or referred students. Harsh school punishments, from suspensions to arrests, have led to high numbers of youth of color coming into contact with the juvenile-justice system and at an earlier age.

5. African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison. According to the Sentencing Project, even though African American juvenile youth are about 16 percent of the youth population, 37 percent of their cases are moved to criminal court and 58 percent of African American youth are sent to adult prisons.

6. As the number of women incarcerated has increased by 800 percentover the last three decades, women of color have been disproportionately represented. While the number of women incarcerated is relatively low, the racial and ethnic disparities are startling. African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated.

7. The war on drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color where people of color are more likely to receive higher offenses.According to the Human Rights Watch, people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but they have higher rate of arrests. African Americans comprise 14 percent of regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses. From 1980 to 2007 about one in three of the 25.4 million adults arrested for drugs was African American.

8. Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders. The U.S. Sentencing Commission stated that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10 percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes. The Sentencing Project reports that African Americans are 21 percent more likely to receive mandatory-minimum sentences than white defendants and are 20 percent more like to be sentenced to prison.

9. Voter laws that prohibit people with felony convictions to vote disproportionately impact men of color. An estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote based on a past felony conviction. Felony disenfranchisement is exaggerated by racial disparities in the criminal-justice system, ultimately denying 13 percent of African American men the right to vote. Felony-disenfranchisement policies have led to 11 states denying the right to vote to more than 10 percent of their African American population.

10. Studies have shown that people of color face disparities in wage trajectory following release from prison. Evidence shows that spending time in prison affects wage trajectories with a disproportionate impact on black men and women. The results show no evidence of racial divergence in wages prior to incarceration; however, following release from prison, wages grow at a 21 percent slower rate for black former inmates compared to white ex-convicts. A number of states have bans on people with certain convictions working in domestic health-service industries such as nursing, child care, and home health care—areas in which many poor women and women of color are disproportionately concentrated.

Worse still are the wider, long-term effects of these abuses, which ultimately impact many more people than those incarcerated:

Theses racial disparities have deprived people of color of their most basic civil rights, making criminal-justice reform the civil rights issue of our time. Through mass imprisonment and the overrepresentation of individuals of color within the criminal justice and prison system, people of color have experienced an adverse impact on themselves and on their communities from barriers to reintegrating into society to engaging in the democratic process. Eliminating the racial disparities inherent to our nation’s criminal-justice policies and practices must be at the heart of a renewed, refocused, and reenergized movement for racial justice in America.

There have been a number of initiatives on the state and federal level to address the racial disparities in youth incarceration. Last summer Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Schools Discipline Initiative to bring increased awareness of effective policies and practices to ultimately dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. States like California and Massachusetts are considering legislation to address the disproportionate suspensions among students of color. And in Clayton County, Georgia, collaborative local reforms have resulted in a 47 percent reduction in juvenile-court referrals and a 51 percent decrease in juvenile felony rates. These initiatives could serve as models of success for lessening the disparities in incarceration rates.

Are Black Names “Weird”?

From Jamelle Bouie of The Daily Beast

Of course, there are plenty of African Americans who give their kids Anglo names. The idea that they don’t—that all black parents use the same naming convention—is ridiculous. And popular culture notwithstanding, these distinctive names aren’t especially common. The most popular African American baby names—Aaliyah, Gabrielle, Kiara, Cameron, Jordan, and Nathan—are perfectly ordinary.

If there is a question worth asking about race and naming, it’s not “why do black people use these names?” it’s “why do we only focus on black people in these conversations?” Indeed, there’s a whole universe of (hacky) jokes premised on the assumed absurdity of so-called “ghetto” names. Derision for these names—and often, the people who have them—is culturally acceptable.

But black children aren’t the only ones with unusual names. It’s not hard to find white kids with names like Braelyn and Declyn. And while it’s tempting to chalk this up to poverty—in the Reddit thread, there was wide agreement that this was a phenomenon of poor blacks and poor whites—the wealthy are no strangers to unique names. The popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black, written by a Jenji Kohan (a white woman), was based on the experiences of a Piper Kerman (also a white woman). And in last year’s presidential election, nearly 61 million people voted for a Willard Mitt Romney, at the same time that the current head of the Republican National Committee was (and is) a Reince Priebus.

On Twitter, riffing off of the Reddit thread, I mused on this double standard with a comment and a joke. “Seriously, I will take your ‘questions’ about ‘weird’ black names seriously when you make fun of Reince Priebus and Rand Paul,” followed by “White people giving their kids names like Saxby Chambliss and Tagg Romney is a clear sign of cultural pathology.” If names like “DeShawn” and “Shanice” are fair targets for ridicule, then the same should be true for “Saxby” and “Tagg.”

Most of my Twitter followers got what I was going for. But after it was retweeted by a widely followed conservative, I was deluged with angry complaints from a host of people—mostly white men—who didn’t get the punch line. “So, names like Jamelle, Mo’nique, [and] Trayvon are normal?” asked one self-proclaimed conservative. Likewise, another asked if “Jamelle, LaShonda, Trayvon, etc. are signs of advanced, successful, economically stable and crime free culture?”, which was followed by someone wondering if “names like LaShaniqua, Jamal, Porsche, Mercedes” would be our “future leaders.” Each illustrating my point that unusual black names are treated as evidence of cultural inferiority in a way that isn’t true of unusual white names.

But these responses are more than just the angry comments of Twitter racists. They underscore the extent to which our ideas of normality are tied closely to socioeconomic status. If we focus on “weird” African American names in jokes and conversation, it’s because blacks remain at the bottom of America’s racial caste system. “Hunter” is just as unusual as “Malik,” but it’s understood as “normal” because of its association with white men. It’s arbitrary, yes, but it reflects who holds power. Indeed, if the situation were reversed, odds are good there would be plenty of jokes about “dysfunctional” white people who name their children “Geoff.”

It should be said that this has material consequences in the real world. Research has consistently found that job applicants with “black-sounding” names are more likely to be rejected, regardless of qualifications. If races are our castes, then this makes sense, since—in a caste system—your status is mostly a function of your position. “Latoya” could be well-qualified for the law firm she applies to, but there’s a fair chance her “black” name marks her as undesirable.

It’s the modern version of an old dynamic, best captured by Malcolm X’s joke. “You know what they call a black person who earns a Ph.D.? A nigger.”

Link

A Woman of Indian Descent Wins Miss America — And the Bigots Come Out of the Woodwork

Nina Davuluri is the first Indian-American (and only the second of Asian descent) to win the pageant. Despite her achievements, the poor woman has had to contend with much-cited racism and denouncement. 

She was referred to as “the Arab,” by some and other commenters noted “This is America, not India.” One called her “Miss 7-11.”

There were those who huffed about it being inappropriately close to 9/11.

Some mentioned ties to al-Qaeda and at least one flat-out called her a terrorist.

Feel free to click the link and see some stomach-churning examples for yourself.

My personal favorite is the quip, “This is America, not India.” Setting aside the fact that — shockingly — most Americans are not originally from America, I’m sure our indigenous people had a similar line of thinking throughout our history. 

This is yet another disturbing example of the cultural, historical, and geographical ignorance of many Americans, to say nothing of their narrow definition of what constitutes “American” — white-looking, through and through. Such a mentality is anathema to the founding principles of this nation, which although marred by the realities of slavery and indigenous exclusion, nonetheless reflect an inclusive and transcend ideal of nationhood.

There is nothing about this woman, or any nonwhite and/or foreign-born person, that makes them any less  Americans, or any trustworthy, valuable, and dignified. Heaven forbid that we reflect the fundamental American values of equality and fairness by having someone who isn’t a WASP reach social, political, or public prominence — even in a venue as tepid as Miss America. 

I’m happy that she reportedly seems to be taking it all in stride (maybe she saw it coming). While I don’t care much for these pageants, I certainly don’t think their participants deserved to be savaged for their appearance or ethnicity, especially when it’s a positive step to see more people of color represented in prominent venues. I’m also pleased to see far more backlash against this bigotry than support, which is a nice reminder of the better side of our nation. 

Interestingly, the runner up was of Chinese ancestry, who I’m sure would have been subject to stupid comments as well (albeit perhaps not as vitriolic, since Asians are often perceived to be “better foreigners” than their “Arab-looking” counterparts). 

The World’s Most and Least Racially-Tolerant Countries

Global Racism

A map of the world’s most and least racially-tolerant countries. Read the methodology of the study, and its conclusion, here. The analysis was as follows:

  • Anglo and Latin countries most tolerant. People in the survey were most likely to embrace a racially diverse neighbor in the United Kingdom and its Anglo former colonies (the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and in Latin America. The only real exceptions were oil-rich Venezuela, where income inequality sometimes breaks along racial lines, and the Dominican Republic, perhaps because of its adjacency to troubled Haiti. Scandinavian countries also scored high.

  • India, Jordan, Bangladesh and Hong Kong by far the least tolerant.In only three of 81 surveyed countries, more than 40 percent of respondents said they would not want a neighbor of a different race. This included 43.5 percent of Indians, 51.4 percent of Jordanians and an astonishingly high 71.8 percent of Hong Kongers and 71.7 percent of Bangladeshis.

  • Wide, interesting variation across Europe. Immigration and national identity are big, touchy issues in much of Europe, where racial make-ups are changing. Though you might expect the richer, better-educated Western European nations to be more tolerant than those in Eastern Europe, that’s not exactly the case. France appeared to be one of the least racially tolerant countries on the continent, with 22.7 percent saying they didn’t want a neighbor of another race. Former Soviet states such as Belarus and Latvia scored as more tolerant than much of Europe. Many in the Balkans, perhaps after years of ethnicity-tinged wars, expressed lower racial tolerance.

  • The Middle East not so tolerant. Immigration is also a big issue in this region, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which often absorb economic migrants from poorer neighbors.

  • Racial tolerance low in diverse Asian countries. Nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines, where many racial groups often jockey for influence and have complicated histories with one another, showed more skepticism of diversity. This was also true, to a lesser extent, in China and Kyrgyzstan. There were similar trends in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

  • South Korea, not very tolerant, is an outlier. Although the country is rich, well-educated, peaceful and ethnically homogenous – all trends that appear to coincide with racial tolerance – more than one in three South Koreans said they do not want a neighbor of a different race. This may have to do with Korea’s particular view of its own racial-national identity as unique – studied by scholars such as B.R. Myers – and with the influx of Southeast Asian neighbors and the nation’s long-held tensions with Japan.

  • Pakistan, remarkably tolerant, also an outlier. Although the country has a number of factors that coincide with racial intolerance – sectarian violence, its location in the least-tolerant region of the world, low economic and human development indices – only 6.5 percent of Pakistanis objected to a neighbor of a different race. This would appear to suggest Pakistanis are more racially tolerant than even the Germans or the Dutch.

Note that there are many caveats to keep in mind: for example, different societies have different perceptions of race (certain social, religious, and sectarian groups may be perceived unfavorably as distinct races) or may have no concept of race at all. Similarly, there is a difference between actually liking someone of a certain race, and being willing to live near them. Many national surveys from these countries will reveal strong racist attitudes in conjunction with a begrudging ability to tolerate said races.