An emerging controversy in Canada is a good example of just how difficult it is to be racially-neutral when the context is racially-charged. The country recently redesigned its money. On the back of the $100 dollar bill celebrating medical innovation they sketched an Asian-appearing woman looking into a microscope. In a focus group in Quebec, people complained that the bill reproduced the stereotype that Asians pursue careers in science and medicine. The Vancouver Sun reports:
“Some have concerns that the researcher appears to be Asian,” says a 2009 report commissioned by the bank from The Strategic Counsel… ”Some believe that it presents a stereotype of Asians excelling in technology and/or the sciences. Others feel that an Asian should not be the only ethnicity represented on the banknotes. Other ethnicities should also be shown.”
A few even said the yellow-brown colour of the $100 banknote reinforced the perception the woman was Asian, and “racialized” the note.
The Canadian government responded that they had never intended the woman to appear “ethnic” and ordered the image re-sketched so it would be more racially “neutral.”
They were then accused of being prejudiced again. Mu-Qing Huang, a Chinese-Canadian interviewed for the story, objected to the deletion of the figure’s Asian features:
If Canada is truly multicultural and thinks that all cultural groups are equal, then any visible minority should be good enough to represent a country, including (someone with) Asian features.
This is a tricky problem. By including racial or ethnic minorities on their bills, Canada risks reproducing a stereotype. Including all “neutral” figures can be seen as exclusionary because neutral looks suspiciously like White people in a country dominated by White people. The third option is to deliberately break stereotypes by putting, say, an Asian woman running the hurdles and a Black woman looking through a microscope, but this can seem overly contrived (as many attempts at diversity do).
The truth is that all of Canada’s options can be read in racially-charged ways. This isn’t because people are unfairly reading into the sketches, it’s because life in Canada is, in fact, racially-charged. When race matters, it matters, all claims to colorblindness aside.
Thanks to Craig G., Tom Megginson, Jesse, Helen, and Alex, an MLIS from McGill, for the submission!
Sociologists Richard Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff began studying ascendance to the top corporate office 20 years ago and, while the population of CEOs is far from diverse, they report that they have been surprised to see as many women and minorities as they have. Today there are 80 white women, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans at the head of Fortune 500 companies.
In a discussion about their book, The New CEOs, at The Society Pages, they ask whether the rise of non-white/non-male CEOs is really a disruption in the distribution of power. Despite protestations to the contrary — “all CEOs, it seems, worked their way up from the bottom,” they say with tongue in cheek — almost all come from wealthy backgrounds. The rising diversity, in other words, doesn’t include class diversity.
With one exception: African Americans. Most African American CEOs, they show, did not grow up in wealthy families. ”Many,” they write, “grew up with parents who were factory workers, postmen, custodians, day-care workers, or house cleaners.” They refrain from speculating as to why they see this difference.
So, what’s next? Zweigenhaft and Domhoff make some guesses as to the near future. The people positioned to be our next Fortune 500 CEOs will have graduated from college, got an MBA or law degree, will be currently earning more than $250,000 a year, and now hold a senior executive position. Given these parameters, they conclude that:
…about two-thirds of those a step from the CEO office were white men, about 19% were white women, slightly fewer than 3% were African Americans, about 4% were Latinos, and about 8% were Asian Americans.
As the graph shows, compared to minority men, white women are far more likely to be rising into CEO positions in the near future. Women of color, as they say, “almost disappear” in the data. They explain that this likely has to do with their double minority status. When hiring and promoting, people tend to look for ways of connecting with the potential employee. A white man (usually doing the hiring) will see at least one thing in common with a white woman or a man of color. As an example, they cite a study of executives with MBAs from Harvard:
…female Jewish executives all agreed that being female was more of an impediment to their careers than being a Jew, but many quickly emphasized that being Jewish, or different in any other way, was not irrelevant. As one put it, “It’s the whole package. I heard secondhand from someone as to how I would be perceived as a pushy, Jewish broad who went and got an MBA. Both elements, being Jewish and being a woman, together with having the MBA, were combined to create a stereotype I had to work against from the first day.” Another woman explained, “It’s part of the question of whether you fit the mold. Are you like me or not? If too much doesn’t fit, it impacts you negatively.”
These dynamics affect your entire career trajectory, of course, but Zweigenhaft and Domhoff believe they become even more intense as people approach the top office. They conclude:
Culture (in the form of cultural capital), education, and class are all still in play. While gender and color remain the best predictors of who will make it into the upper echelons of the corporate world, beyond that, it’s intersectionality [of different identities together] wherever we look.
I’m reposting this piece from 2008 in solidarity with Lisa Wade (no relation), whose (non-white) child was described by his teacher as “the evolutionary link between orangutans and humans.” It’s an amateur history of the association of Black people with primates. Please feel free to clarify or correct my broad description of many centuries of thought.
The predominant colonial theory of race was the great chain of being, the idea that human races could be lined up from most superior to most inferior. That is, God, white people, and then an arrangement of non-white people, with blacks at the bottom.
Consider this drawing that appeared in Charles White’s An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man, and in Different Animals and Vegetables (1799).On the bottom of the image (but the top of the chain) are types of Europeans, Romans, and Greeks. On the top (but the bottom of the chain) are “Asiatics,” “American Savages,” and “Negros.” White wrote: “In whatever respect the African differs from the European, the particularity brings him nearer to the ape.”
Nearly 70 years later, in 1868, Ernst Haeckel’s Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte was published. in the book, this image appeared (his perfect person, by the way, was German, not Greek):
In this image, we see a depiction of the great chain of being with Michelangelo’s sculpture of David Apollo Belvedere at the top (the most perfect human), a black person below, and an ape below him.
Notice that there seems to be some confusion over where the chain ends. Indeed, there was a lot of discussion as to where to draw the line. Are apes human? Are blacks? Carolus Linneaus, that famous guy who developed the classification system for living things, wasn’t sure. In his book Systema Naturae (1758), he published this picture, puzzling over whether the things that separating apes from humans were significant.
In this picture (also appearing in White 1799) are depictions of apes in human-like positions (walking, using a cane). Notice also the way in which the central figure is feminized (long hair, passive demeanor, feminized body) so as to make her seem more human.
Here we have a chimpanzee depicted drinking a cup of tea. This is Madame Chimpanzee. She was a travelling attraction showing how human chimps could be.
In any case, while they argued about where to draw the line, intellectuals of the day believed that apes and blacks were very similar. In this picture, from a book by Robert Knox called The Races of Men (1851), the slant of the brow is used to draw connections between the “Negro” and the “Oran Outan” and differences between those two and the “European.”
The practice of depicting the races hierarchically occurred as late as the early 1900s as we showed in a previous post.
NEW! Nov ’09) The image below appeared in the The Evolution of Man (1874 edition) as part of an argument that blacks are evolutionarily close to apes (source):
During this same period, African people were kept in zoos alongside animals. These pictures below are of Ota Benga, a Congolese Pygmy who spent some time as an attraction in a zoo in the early 1900s (but whose “captivity” was admittedly controversial at the time). (There’s a book about him that I haven’t read. So I can’t endorse it, but I will offer a link.) Ota Benga saw most of his tribe, including his wife and child, murdered before being brought to the Bronx Zoo. (It was customary for the people of his tribe to sharpen their teeth.)
The theorization of the great chain of being was not just for “science” or “fun.” It was a central tool in justifying efforts to colonize, enslave, and even exterminate people. If it could be established that certain kinds of people were indeed less than, even less than human, then it was acceptable to treat them as such.
So, there you have it. Connections have been drawn between black people and primates for hundreds of years. Whatever else you want to think about modern instances of this association – the one Wade and her child are suffering now, but also the Obama sock monkey, the Black Lil’ Monkey doll, and a political cartoon targeting Obama – objections are not just paranoia.
(I’m sorry not to provide a full set of links. I’ve collected them over the years for my Race and Ethnicity class. But a lot of the images and information came from here.)
YetAnotherGirl and Julian S. sent in a link to a Jezebel post about the new J.Crew catalog, which presents the two models in J.Crew clothing amid a group of local children, who are used to help signal the exoticism of the location:
Marianne sent in a couple of ads for Naf Naf, a French fashion brand, that show a slight variation, utilizing ethnic/cultural differences within Europe. They show a “luminous, lightning-blond caucasian woman and the dark, anonymous and yet welcoming bohemians,” seemingly meant to evoke popular imagery of the Romani:
And finally, H. pointed out Louis Vuitton’s “Journey” commercial, which she actually saw at an indie movie theater. It provides an interesting counterpoint, as groups other than Caucasians can be included as central characters in the narrative, as long as they are privileged LV consumers, with others presented in the more peripheral setting-the-tone role. As H. explains,
In this ad they include the story line of the (presumably African?) black man who is dressed in an elegant Western-style linen suit, but who is barefoot and rubbing the dust off of an old family photo. An interesting racial counterpoint — and one which suggests a metanarrative which is not only about race but also quite pointedly about class.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the black press solidified its role as a pillar of the community and an anchor for popular opinion. In the tumultuous period between the Great Depression and the first stirrings of the Civil Rights Movement, World War II forced black Americans to rethink their struggle for equality as well as their position in the international political arena.* Editorial cartoons became a powerful forum for airing views on the war, a lens through which the readership could view domestic race relations in the context of America’s geopolitical stature and the specter of colonialism and fascism.
Two major black newspapers with national readerships, the Chicago Defender and the New York Amsterdam News, were largely supportive of the war. Black Americans broadly supported World War II. The so-called Double-V campaign rallied black community groups and media under a banner of patriotism, with the aim of encouraging racial integration and equality. But despite the overall pro-war sentiment, the black press also featured cartoons that offered a platform for critiquing blacks’ paradoxical position in the war on a domestic and global scale.
One cartoonist, Bill Chase, reflected early isolationist sentiments among blacks. An Amsterdam News cartoon from June 8, 1940 titled “Be Careful Uncle Sam” shows a pensive Uncle Sam staring across the Atlantic at plumes of smoke. He stands upon strewn papers marked “lynching,” “lack of equal educational facilities,” “unemployment” and “no social security menials.” In a pointed reference to past wars and current national priorities, Uncle Sam says, “George Washington once said—’no entangling alliances’”:
In theJune 17, 1944 Defender cartoon, Jan Jackson used a feminine metaphor to portray a double-standard in the politics of government intervention. A half-naked black woman chained to a post, arms outstretched in desperation, watches as two soldiers, labeled “liberation forces,” scurry across the Atlantic toward a mirror image of an endangered white woman on the distant shore of “enslaved Europe”; the headline is the soldiers’ empty promise, “We’ll Be Back”:
That the feminized white Europe is depicted ironically as “enslaved,” while the rescuers turn their backs on a refugee of actual slavery, reveals the absurdity of aiding a “just war” while ignoring a homegrown humanitarian crisis.
A Defender cartoon published on June 16, 1945, just before the armistice, directly aligns the U.S. with the smoldering legacy of Nazi rule. Under the headline “Blind Leading The Blind,” a haggard America steps forward from the ashes of bombed-out Europe, leading a disheveled, bloodstained Germany by the hand. Both men wear spectacles with blacked-out lenses displaying the words “race hate”:
As the war effort shifted from Europe to Asia, editorial cartoons took on an anti-colonial dimension. The Defender‘s September 8, 1945 cartoon elucidates Japan’s dual identity as both a fascist power and a non-white challenge to the global order. The inspiration for the cartoon is a report on the same page that a battleship from Mississippi docked at Tokyo Bay displaying “the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy while on deck the band played Dixie”:
The paper quips that the commander might as well have added “another bit of ‘Mississippi culture’ to the exhibit—perhaps a lynched Negro hanging from the mast or Senator Bilbo filibustering on the poop deck.”
The cartoon displays a hodgepodge of Americana: a ship, a cowboy, a rambunctious marching band, and the offensive flag. The details expose the irony of a racist America exporting its warped civilization to a non-white country. The black soldiers walk out of a separate entryway marked “for colored.” Heading a parallel procession of white soldiers is a farcical southern vigilante holding rope and a rifle. A black soldier pats a disheveled Japanese civilian on the shoulder and says, “I know just how you’re going to feel, bub!”:
The Japanese rulers may have been fascists, but the visual satire suggests that blacks were in solidarity with Japanese civilians, who were now being invaded by another colonizer. As the cartoon headline notes, “Asiatics Are Colored Too.” Yet the black soldier’s complicity in this metaphorical lynch mob is underscored by the tool he carries: a shovel in lieu of a gun.
Despite broad support for the war in the black press, these editorial cartoons convey America’s peculiar hypocrisy through powerful imagery of suffering and anger. Yet the subtlety of the messages expresses measured, subsurface criticism—perhaps acknowledging that World War II, for all its ethical contradictions, provided a touchstone for concentrating black solidarity and political capital. In deploying these visual idioms to motivate the struggle against fascism, the images succeeded, even if the Double-V campaign itself fell short of redeeming the struggle for “victory at home.” The fight against fascism and Nazism overseas didn’t translate into enlightenment of the American body politic of race. But by mobilizing around the the Allies, black America, and its media, cast a new light on racism in the global context—a perspective later reflected in the strands of pan-Africanism and anti-colonialism in civil rights campaigns. A “white man’s war” could not serve as a real vehicle for black empowerment, but as it stretched to every corner of the globe, the trauma of modern warfare generated a new race consciousness, and new visions, that redefined blackness on the world stage.
Michelle Chen is a doctoral student in history at the City University of New York Graduate Center. In her plebian life, she is a contributing editor at In These Times, a co-producer with New York’s WBAI, and an editor at CultureStrike, a project focused on the intersection of the arts, immigration and activism. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Colorlines.com, Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain.
Identifying as Republican is strongly associated with religiosity in the U.S., so much so that people often use the term “Republican” and “Religious Right” interchangeably. Indeed, religious people are more likely to be politically conservative overall, but a Gallup poll shows that this relationship is moderated by race. The figure below cross-tabulates religiosity for four racial/ethnic groups with the likelihood of affiliating with the Democratic or Republican party or neither. You can see that the typical relationship — religion/Republican and no religion/Democrat — holds for all groups, except for African Americans.
At Gallup, Frank Newport writes:
Asian and Hispanic Americans, regardless of religiousness, are more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans. But the Democratic advantage goes from 14 points among very religious Asians to 44 points among nonreligious Asians. The differences are less substantial among Hispanics; very religious Hispanics are more likely to identify themselves as a Democrats than Republicans by 20 points, while nonreligious Hispanics are more likely to identify themselves as Democrats by a larger 36-point margin.
Personal religiousness makes little difference among blacks, however, as the powerful partisan pull of Democratic identification among black Americans trumps any influence of religion.
The report is a great example of the importance of doing intersectional analyses. When you pull groups apart (by, say, adding race when looking at the relationship between religion and politics), you often find that a more generalized examination is hiding interesting details.
The Economic Policy Institute recently released a report looking at the impacts of the recession and its aftermath on the Asian American population. Due to the model minority stereotype, Asian Americans are often overlooked in discussions of the economic crisis or of poverty and inequality more broadly. It is true that Asian Americans have generally had lower unemployment rates than other racial/ethnic groups, due to their overall higher educational levels. However, if we look within educational levels beyond a high school diploma, Asian Americans have higher unemployment rates than comparable Whites, with the gap widest for those with bachelor’s degrees:
The economic difficulties faced by some Asian Americans is even more noticeable when we look at long-term unemployment (joblessness that lasts 27+ weeks, or more than about half a year). The proportion of the unemployed that fall into this category has risen for every group since 2007, with African-Americans and Asian-Americans more likely than Whites or Hispanics to be unemployed for long periods:
EPI then released an update to the report, incorporating 2011 data. Long-term unemployment has inched upward for every group; half of unemployed African- and Asian-Americans have now been out of work for at least 27 weeks:
And in fact, despite their higher overall levels of education, Asian Americans now have a higher unemployment rate than Whites (though the rate for both groups is down from the peak in 2010):
For a discussion of factors that may contribute to these patterns among Asian Americans, such as their concentration in states particularly hard-hit by the recession and the proportion of the population that is foreign-born, see the full report.
Last week, the Census Bureau announced that as of July 1, 2011, for the first time the majority (50.4%) of babies under age 1 in the U.S. were not non-Hispanic Whites. Animal New York posted a video by Jay Smooth discussing the reactions to and implications of this news:
You can see the NYT article Jay Smooth parodies here, but note that the graph is mislabeled. The line labeled “White” actually only represents the data for non-Hispanic Whites, while the line labeled “Non-White” includes births to White Hispanics, so the terminology they used doesn’t accurately reflect what the graph illustrates.