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Nation Topics - Racism and Discrimination

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Even after twenty-five years, the bitter taste of Argentina's "dirty war" lingers.

With the 1996 welfare law expiring this fall, Congressmembers would do
well to stop congratulating themselves on its alleged successes and turn
their attention to the glaring failures of the ne

Any fan who over the years has attended a baseball game at Boston's
Fenway Park notices how few African-Americans are in the stands.

This book makes a good case for racism--the word, not the ideology. What
necessitated a defense?

Admiral James Loy, the nation's top aviation security official, confirmed at an August 22 press conference what thousands of immigrant airport screeners have dreaded for nearly a year. Loy promised that the Transportation Security Administration would without question meet the Congressionally mandated deadline to replace America's 30,000-member screener force with government-trained federal employees.

For Loy to accomplish this task, the TSA must remove an estimated 8,000 immigrant screeners from security checkpoints by November 19 because they fail to meet the new citizenship requirement. "The law of the land is the law of the land," Loy replied, when asked how the TSA justifies the impending shakeout at a time when the agency is scrambling to train and place an additional 16,000 employees at airports nationwide over the next eleven weeks.

Indeed, Loy is merely obeying the demands of Congress. Signed into law following a post-September 11 flurry, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act created the TSA and charged the agency with placing airport security under federal jurisdiction. Section 111 of the ATSA requires US citizenship for all screeners, which sets the absurd precedent that immigrants can join the military (no citizenship required) but not scan sneakers at airline security posts.

Both the TSA and members of Congress offer careful replies when it comes to explaining the reasons for the citizenship requirement. An aide for Senator John McCain, one of the ATSA's main proponents, did not want to comment on the provision's rationale. The Justice Department, however, came close to touching on the truth in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of nine screeners trying to keep their jobs. "It bears repeating that the ATSA was passed in the aftermath of an attack on the US by non-citizens, who penetrated the US aviation system," the motion stated.

The case, Gebin v. Mineta, names Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and his former No. 2, John Magaw (who was replaced by Loy), as the defendants. Federal Judge Robert Takasugi promised a decision on the case in early June but still has not issued a ruling.

All nine plaintiffs are noncitizens, lawfully living in the country as permanent residents. The lead plaintiff, Jeimy Gebin, believes that her three years in the US Army should be enough to allow her to stay employed at Los Angeles International Airport. Erlinda Valencia, a leader of the San Francisco airport's screening force, is another plaintiff. Two years ago Valencia's security firm honored her when she detected a toy hand grenade and two weeks later, a loaded handgun. But federal attorneys argue that the government can do as it pleases with its "alien guests," and that Congress acted rationally when, in the interest of airport security, it required screeners to formalize
their "loyalty" and "commitment" through citizenship.

The situation between the government and immigrant screeners begs the comparison of Japanese-Americans who were fired from their jobs after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and were then herded into internment camps. Ironically, Secretary Mineta and Judge Takasugi were among those interned.

In addition to being unfair to immigrants, dismantling experienced screening units at the nation's 429 commercial airports could itself be a major security risk. By the November deadline, 80 percent of San Francisco International Airport's 915 screeners will be forced out of their jobs because they are not citizens. Washington-Dulles will also lose 80 percent of its existing force;
Los Angeles International Airport will lose 40 percent; and Miami
International Airport will lose 70 percent. Even worse, their replacements
are being whisked through the training process: one new screener working at the Norfolk, Virginia, International Airport told Alan Gathright of the San Francisco Chronicle that he received only fifteen minutes of explosive detection training. There is also the matter of how the remaining 40,500 screeners waiting to be hired will complete the federally mandated 100 hours of classroom and onsite instruction before they begin work in late November.

While it is true that most federal employees and civil servants must be US citizens, screeners arrived on the job without this requirement; and the ATSA does not "grandfather" exemplary workers into the applicant pool for a federal screening position. "I am a legal immigrant. Now they are trying to make me a second-grade citizen," said Ashok Malakar, a San Francisco screener who is only a year from naturalization. "That is discrimination."

An antigay ballot initiative spurs some surprising political
coalitions.

Historians have made much of the ways that the social protest movements of the 1960s unsettled the morals of the dominant culture, but it is often forgotten that activists themselves were sometimes jarred by the new sensibilities as well.

Nixon thought so; Otis Chandler doesn't. Maybe it depends on where you
stand.

Affirmative action, while generally a good and necessary thing, has
always been more complicated than its supporters admit. It inspires a
backlash; it often promotes people who are underprepared for their
assigned tasks; and it attaches a stigma to those who do succeed on
their own, often with a crushing psychological burden. Yet another
problem is how easily it can be manipulated for nefarious purposes.

Women and minorities have been agitating for greater representation in a
largely white, male media structure for decades, making their case by
the numbers. According to a recent study published by Fairness &
Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), women made up just 15 percent of sources
appearing on the three major network news programs in 2001, while 92
percent of all US sources for whom race was determinable were white.

Conservatives, meanwhile, have also made a case for greater media
representation. They've done so by redefining the terms of debate. While
most pundits and nearly half the "experts" employed by the media are
quite conservative by any reasonable or historical measure of the term,
that's not good enough. They are demanding more. Bernard Goldberg, Nat
Hentoff and Reed Irvine are hardly the only conservatives who say they
deserve greater representation. Many news producers and editorial page
editors apparently concur.

The media's response to the traditional affirmative-action
constituencies and the well-funded propaganda offensive by the
conservatives has been to capitulate to both sides at once. Hence the
rise of the female and/or minority conservative pundit, often
unqualified by any traditional standard and frequently close to the line
in terms of sanity but with job security the rest of us can only
imagine.

When MSNBC began operations in the summer of 1996 and hired eighteen
regular pundits--of whom I was one--the most recognizable type among the
mostly unknown cast were the blonde and black fire-breathing
right-wingers. Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Jennifer Grossman, Niger
Innes, Deroy Murdoch, Brian Jones, Joseph Perkins, Betsy Hart (a
brunette, but still...); the list goes on and on. At the time, I used to
joke that the producers might wish to inquire about the politics of the
black/blonde daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton. If she liked Star Wars
and tax cuts for the rich, they should offer her a lifetime contract.

It didn't matter to the network executives at the time that women and
minorities in real life were far more liberal than most television
people, and their gimmick was, in that regard, deceptive. These pundits
gave the new network some "pop" in the larger media--or so it was
believed. In fact, most of those named above have faded back into the
proverbial woodwork. But not all. Laura Ingraham now wears her leopard
miniskirts on radio and is apparently a political fashion consultant to
CNN's Reliable Sources. (On Al Gore's Florida speech: "His
perspiration was, I mean...it was quite unpleasant." On the state of the
nightly news: "I think one of the worst things that's happened to news
is this sort of open-collared shirt, no tie, you know, do you take the
jacket off? That whole, you know, undress thing on television...")

Coulter, meanwhile, well... it's complicated. On the one hand, she is
the television babe to end all television babes--bright blonde locks,
legs that never end and skirts so short as to make Sharon Stone distrust
her Basic Instincts. On the other hand, she is clearly the victim of an
undiagnosed case of political Tourette's syndrome. How else to explain
incidents like the time she attacked a disabled Vietnam vet on the air
by screaming, "People like you caused us to lose that war"? Or when she
termed Bill Clinton a "pervert, liar and a felon" and a "criminal"? Or
Hillary Clinton "pond scum" and "white trash"? Or the late Pamela
Harriman a "whore"? Coulter also wrote a book during the impeachment
crisis that appeared to suggest the assassination of Bill Clinton. She
was, also, as the Boston Globe reported, credibly accused of
plagiarizing from a colleague at Human Events for her book.

By the time she finally got herself fired from MSNBC, Coulter was a
star. (No man, or ugly woman for that matter, would have lasted remotely
as long.) She found herself celebrated by the likes of John Kennedy Jr.,
who gave her a column in George, as well as bookers for talk
shows with hosts like Wolf Blitzer, Larry King, Geraldo and Bill Maher,
and quoted by ABC's George Will with the same deference usually reserved
for Edmund Burke or James Madison.

Lately Coulter has gotten herself in the news again by calling for the
wholesale slaughter of Arabs, the murder of Norm Mineta and the use of
mob violence against liberals and Muslims. Perhaps she's kidding, but
it's hard to know. We have, too, another book-length screed,
Slander, this one bearing the imprimatur of Crown Publishers. As
with her entire career in the punditocracy, it is a black mark on the
soul of everyone associated with it. Here is Coulter's characterization
of a New York Times editorial criticizing John Ashcroft: "Ew
yuck, he's icky." She worries about "liberals rounding up right-wingers
and putting them on trial." One could go on, and on, and on.

What's scary is that Coulter is hardly alone. Look at the
free-associating reveries Peggy Noonan manages to publish every week in
the Wall Street Journal, or the lunacies that right-wing lesbian
Norah Vincent pours forth on the LA Times Op-Ed page--as if
self-consciously seeking to fill the space mercifully vacated by that
nutty nineties icon Camille Paglia. Check out Alan Keyes on MSNBC and
tell me, seriously, that the man has ever made what Bobbie Gentry called
"a lick of sense" in his life. I'm not saying that women and minorities
don't have the right to be as idiotic as white men. But be careful what
you wish for and smart about how you pursue it. Liberals and
conservatives both got their affirmative action. Guess who won?

A specter is haunting the Jews of Europe: the specter of anti-Semitism.
A synagogue is firebombed in Belgium; three more are burned in France,
where Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front attracts millions of votes. In
the town of l'Union, near Toulouse, a man opens fire at a kosher butcher
shop, and in Berlin the police advise Jews not to dress in a conspicuous
manner. Here in Britain two Orthodox Jews were attacked outside Harrods
in broad daylight, and a synagogue in North London was desecrated only a
few weeks ago. Britain's broadsheet newspapers agonized over whether the
French ambassador's reference to Israel as a "shitty little country" was
anti-Semitic or just anti-Israel, and Rupert Murdoch's Sun, a
tabloid more famed for its topless page 3 "stunners" than for its high
moral tone, ran a full-page editorial assuring readers, "The Jewish
faith is not an evil religion." In Europe, argues Washington Post
columnist Charles Krauthammer, "it is not safe to be a Jew."

Something is happening. I've had more conversations about anti-Semitism
here in the past six months than in the previous six years. Last autumn,
after listening patiently while a friend wondered whether American
support for Israel wasn't in some sense to blame for September 11, and
seeing a writer who'd never expressed an opinion on the Middle East
denounced as a "Zionist," I organized a panel on anti-Semitism and the
press at London's Jewish Book Week. So if I say that Americans
who argue it is time for Europe's Jews to pack their bags are either
fools or rogues, it isn't because I'm looking at the situation with my
head in the sand. When I went to synagogue in Florence with my older son
on the last day of Passover this year, I was glad to see the Italian
soldier standing guard at the door.

But the big danger in Florence that week was to Americans, who were
warned by the State Department to stay away from public places. More
Jews died in the World Trade Center than in all of Europe's anti-Semitic
outrages of the past two decades put together. What's missing from the
current furor over European anti-Semitism is any recognition that the
whole world is now a dangerous place--and not just for Jews.

Some historical perspective might also be nice. It was widely reported
here that Asher Cohn, rabbi of the vandalized synagogue, is himself the
son of a rabbi who fled Germany after his synagogue was torched on
Kristallnacht--the kind of coincidence journalists find
irresistible. But the damage to Cohn's synagogue was repaired within
days--by volunteers who included a Labour Cabinet minister and a member
of the Conservative shadow Cabinet. The rise of Austria's Jörg
Haider and the murdered Dutch maverick Pim Fortuyn are often depicted as
heralds of a fascist revival. Haider is an anti-Semite, whose talent for
racist double-entendre prompted Austrian journalist Eva Menasse to
wonder why the foot in Haider's mouth always seems to be wearing a
jackboot. Yet overt anti-Semitism has no place in either Freedom Party
propaganda or in the program of the Austrian government. Hitler had a
militarized state, a genocidal ideology and open contempt for democratic
norms--a combination not found anywhere in the current European
political landscape.

What Europe has instead is xenophobia. Since September 11 a wave of
hostility to foreigners has swept over the Continent. Some of this has
come out as anti-Semitism, particularly on the neanderthal right in
Germany and among the marginal but mediagenic British National Party.
Knee-jerk anti-Americanism has also seen a revival: in Greece, where
left- and right-wing nationalists momentarily united in stressing US
culpability after the World Trade Center bombings, and on the wilder
shores of British and French Trotskyism. But the primary target of
xenophobic rhetoric and xenophobic violence has been Europe's Arab and
Muslim inhabitants. Fortuyn labeled Islam a "backward" religion and
campaigned on a platform opposing Muslim immigration. (Fortuyn also came
up with a new variation on the "some of my best friends" defense,
assuring a Dutch television interviewer he had "nothing against
Moroccans; after all, I've been to bed with so many of them!") The
British government has resisted calls to broaden laws against incitement
to racial hatred, which currently protect Jews (as an ethnic group) but
exclude Muslims. Yet Richard Stone, who serves both as chair of
Britain's Jewish Council on Racial Equality and chair of the Commission
on British Muslims and Islamophobia, is in no doubt: "There is much more
anti-Muslim than anti-Jewish prejudice in this country." When Italian
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi proclaimed the superiority of "our
civilization," he didn't mean superior to Jews. From isolated incidents
in Denmark and Ireland to Holland, where a mosque has been burned, to
Germany and France, where a steady stream of anti-Islamic violence has
swelled to a flood, Europe has become a great deal less safe for
Muslims.

The fact that conditions are worse for Europe's Muslims--particularly in
those countries where they have not been allowed to become
citizens--does not, of course, mean that Jews should remain silent when
we are attacked or even offended, just that we should retain a sense of
proportion. The British Crime Survey, for instance, counts well over
100,000 racist incidents in each of the past three years. The number of
racial incidents actually reported to the police, a much lower figure,
has risen from 23,049 in 1999 to 53,842 in 2001. During this same period
the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported--a category that includes
anti-Semitic leafleting and verbal harassment as well as violence
against persons or property--went from 270 in 1999 to 405 in 2000 to 310
in 2001. As of May 22 the total for this year was only 126--hardly
indicative of Cossacks riding through Hampstead.

Yet one of the most striking things about the panic supposedly stalking
Europe's Jews is how much that panic seems to be centered in Britain--a
country where Jews are a very small (about 250,000 out of a population
of 59 million) and very well-established minority. "What has been
challenged is our comfort of having a foot in both worlds," Jo Wagerman,
president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the Israeli
paper Ha'aretz. The 240-year-old board is probably the oldest
Jewish lobby in the world; Wagerman, whose own family came to Britain
under Oliver Cromwell, is the group's first woman president. In the
years after World War II, she said, British Jews enjoyed "a kind of
golden age...[but] recently, Britain isn't the same." Melanie Phillips,
a columnist for the right-wing Daily Mail, who was heckled by a
BBC studio audience for claiming that Israel was a democracy, wrote that
"the visceral hostility toward Israel and Jews displayed...by the
audience is representative now of much mainstream British opinion."

The connections between events in the Middle East and in Europe are
complex, fraught with the potential for misunderstanding and
manipulation. Only the statistics are straightforward. In London, says
Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Miriam Rich, anti-Semitic incidents went
"up in April because of what happened in Jenin, and are down again in
May. Each month is a direct reflection of what is happening in the
Middle East." If you plot the national figures on a graph, says Michael
Whine of the Community Security Trust, "and superimpose them with
another of incidents in the Middle East, you see one following the
other." The same correlation can be seen in France, where, unlike
Britain, a growing proportion of the attackers come from that country's
disaffected and marginalized Arab minority.

To Jews, such incidents may feed a sense that the whole world is against
us. The tendency--understandable if not justifiable--to let any act of
violence against Jews on European soil conjure up images of the
Holocaust also inhibits clear thinking. Anthony Julius, the lawyer who
acted for Deborah Lipstadt against David Irving, and a scholar of
British and European anti-Semitism, ridicules the "diaspora narcissism"
that leads British Jews to exaggerate their difficulties. And while
Julius is careful to distinguish between anti-Semitism and criticism of
Israel, not all of Israel's friends are so scrupulous.

Indeed, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that many of those shouting
loudest about the danger in Europe care more about retaining occupied
Palestinian land than about the welfare of diaspora Jews. The BBC, the
Guardian and the Independent--all news organizations with
a clear editorial commitment to Israel's right to exist--are continually
fending off accusations of anti-Semitism for simply reporting the
day-to-day dehumanization inflicted on Palestinians. Whether the French
ambassador's remark was a crime or a blunder, by making it at the home
of Barbara Amiel, wife of Daily Telegraph (and Jerusalem
Post
) owner Conrad Black, and herself a staunch defender of Ariel
Sharon, he put a weapon in the hands of those who argue, with Amiel,
that "super-liberalism led to suicide bombers and intifadas in Israel."

Sometimes anti-Zionism really is a cover for anti-Semitism, and we on
the left need to be clearer about that. Jews who view Israel's existence
as the necessary fulfillment of their national (as opposed to civil)
rights have grounds to be suspicious of those who grant Palestinian
national aspirations a legitimacy they withhold from Jews. Most of the
time, though, the line is pretty clear, and Jews of all people should be
wary of using a double standard as a bludgeon. Or conjuring up specters
in the cause of ethnic unity. If it is racist to suggest, as the New
Statesman
did recently, that "a Kosher conspiracy" inhibits
criticism of Israel, then what are we to make of former Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak's claim (in the New York Review of Books,
reprinted here in the Guardian) that Palestinians "are products
of a culture in which...truth is seen as an irrelevant category"? The
non-Zionist world has every reason to resent it when the moral odium of
anti-Semitism is used to discredit those who object to the brutality of
Israeli occupation, or when the tattered mantle of Jewish victimization
is draped over policies of collective punishment and murderous reprisal
that, as the Israeli press was quick to point out, are modeled on the
tactics used to crush Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto. If more
Jews expressed outrage at these policies, and at the way our tragic
history is demeaned by being used as a gag, we would be in a stronger
position to demand not sympathy but solidarity.

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