By Mark R. Day
Is racism the result of the bad attitudes of a few bigots? Or is white supremacy a systemic evil that pervades all of our society’s institutions, including government bodies, electoral politics, the media, even many churches?
We go to Cal State San Marcos (CSUSM) for some answers.
A few months ago, our Bronzeline tour visited several hot spots where anti-Latino racist incidents have occurred in North County San Diego (La Prensa San Diego, Sept. 21). Today the bus stops at CSUSM’s student commons for an annual event called “The Whiteness Forum.”
The commons, festooned with balloons, looks more like a job fair than a classroom. But wait, there are no military recruiting tables or corporate headhunters here.
Instead we see displays, posters and videos on whiteness-related topics: Racial Terrorism: The Noose; Racial Quotas in the U.S. Naturalization Process; Racism in the Prison System: Street Gangs and the Criminalization of Youth; and Firestorm 2007: how white privilege dominated local media coverage during the recent San Diego fires.
The forum is sponsored by the university’s Communication department, with small groups of students from “Comm 454” exploring each theme in depth.
Near the front door of the commons room, a large TV monitor plays a student video called “Racial Terrorism,” currently on Youtube. It is a collage of still photos and film footage, showing the 9/11 attack juxtaposed with a noose, chilling scenes of southern lynchings and clips from Martin Luther King’s speechesall to the tune of “It’s a Wonderful World.”
“We are trying to relate white people’s feelings about 9/11 to what blacks experience when they see a noose displayed,” said Kara Deiro. “We want to make people understand that the noose is never a prank or a joke. It means hate, death and racism.”
The message of the forum is similar to that of civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. But in some ways it’s more palatable for mainstream Americans to hear it from white middle class students like Lindsay Reidel.
Reidel, a blond-haired, blue eyed co-ed works a booth called “Color Blind.” She believes the term is meaningless, that color exists whether you like it or not. “It’s a power thing to say you are color blind,” she says. “A black or brown person could never say thatafter all it’s their skin color.”
Behind Reidel is a panel with statistics. Although the U.S. population is 73 per cent white, 12.3 per cent black, and 3.6 per cent Latino and one percent each for Asian and Native Americans, our prison population is 34 per cent white, 44 per cent black, and 18 per cent Latino.
Exploring why this is so has caused Reidel and other students to question the criminal justice system and how the courts and the police treat people of color. They learned, for example, that no matter what the offense, blacks and Latinos serve six months more time in prison than their white counterparts.
“This class has forced me to challenge my previous assumptions,” said Reidel. It’s changed my life and I will never be the same person again.”
Nearby, Professor Dreama Moon, huddles with a group of students. She explains that race is discussed too often in purely biological terms, not from a social, political or historical perspective.
“We think about the KKK and the white sheets,” she adds, “but not the system that advances white people. We all participate in it, consciously and unconsciously. We need to think about how we can change that.”
Across the room, Allison Simmons runs a display on how Firestorm 2007 revealed biased media coverage favoring rich white suburbanites who lost their homes in places like Rancho Bernardo.
Simmons’ display shows how President George Bush, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and local officials flocked to the Republican-dominated fire zones, but shunned places where the poor and people of color suffered major losses.
At the Qualcom evacuation center volunteers turned away an African American woman requesting diapers. “They said they didn’t have any, but a few minutes later lady a Causcasian lady went over and they gave her diapers,” said Simmons.
Then there is the widely reported case of a Mexican family of six requesting food at the same location. They were accused, but never charged with theft by police, handed over to the Border Patrol and deported to Tijuana.
Afterwards, Ruben Navarrette, the Union Tribune’s star Latino columnist, called the family “scoundrels” without checking the facts. (UT, Oct. 26). He also praised the Border Patrol who he claims were there just for “crowd control and not to enforce immigration law.”
“It turned out that the family was packing up their belongings and didn’t steal anything,” said Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee who interviewed the depor-tees in Tijuana.
Later, when it was discovered that many of victims in the UCSD’s burn center were immigrants crossing the border illegally, the UT ran a piece accusing them of being a financial burden to taxpayers. With herd instinct, the rest of the local media jumped on the story without analyzing the facts.
Speaking of the media, there is just enough time left to drop by Andrew Ascher’s booth on the skewed and distorted teaching of history. He displays several books including “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” by James W. Loewen.
Ascher says that history is written by mostly rich, white and straight men. And sadly, he says, only 18 per cent of history teachers have actually majored or minored in history.
“And if you want your textbook to sell well,” he said. “You’d better not offend anyone in that area or neighborhood. So if you want to market a text about the Civil War in the South, be ready for a picket line or protest that will decide whether or not it will be bought.”
There are more booths to visit, but the bus driver is honking his horn. It’s time to go. Bronzeline Tours will be back.
Mark R. Day is a film maker and writer. He lives in Vista.