Top 5 contributions Antiracism offers the Immigrant Rights and Immigrant Integration movements

For the last year, Crossroads colleagues at ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) in Kalamazoo, MI have been intentionally working with folks in the immigrants rights and immigrant integration movements. From this collaboration come these five insights regarding the contribution antiracism offers these movements.

1. The antiracism analysis goes beyond the Black/White binary and aims to build multi-racial coalitions.

Conversations about race and racism in the U.S. are often dichotomous, inclusive only of White dominant and African-American cultural values. An antiracism lens invites those of us who work to welcome immigrants to understand the ways in which all immigrants become racialized when they arrive here according to the U.S. race construct. There are typically six racial groups in the U.S. – Arab, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino, Native American, African American, and White. Immigrants may or may not understand how they are viewed in the U.S. compared to in their home country, but there are very real ways in which their race affects how they are treated and how much access they get to institutions and the resources necessary for life. An antiracism analysis also reminds many of us that we are not all immigrants, which you often hear within the immigrant rights and integration movement. The founding of the U.S. began with the genocide of Native Indian peoples who originally lived on this land. What’s more, there have been economic and political strategies throughout history that have been designed to steal land and resources from and invisiblize Indian people and Indian country.

2Antiracism teaches White people, including White immigrant allies and advocates, that racism is not about blame.

None of us were around when racism was established in this country over 500 years ago. Many conversations about race and racism go badly because we aren’t taught how to have productive dialogue about these often-painful topics. We need a common language, more complete awareness of history, and an understanding that racism isn’t any one person’s fault (at least not anyone living today). And yet we are all responsible for the dismantling of it. Racism dehumanizes us all and antiracism helps White people as well as People of Color find their self-interest in the work. This analysis can help White U.S.-born immigrant advocates and allies approach their work from a place of solidarity with immigrants and other People of Color instead of paternalism (wanting to “help, fix, and save” immigrants). It also reminds us that racism is more than just individual race prejudice. We must also examine how U.S. systems and institutions were built for White people, by White people, and in large part continue to serve White society better. Instead of focusing narrowly on a particular person’s attitudes and actions about different racial groups, antiracism asks the question: how is a particular White dominant culture value, practice, policy, or law working to maintain the supremacy of Whiteness?

3. Antiracism work is collaborative and always informed by/centered around anti-oppressive values.

Antiracism move us from the White dominant culture values like scarcity, either/or thinking, individualism/competition, and secrecy toward the antiracist/anti-oppressive values like an abundant worldview, both/and thinking, collective action, and transparency. Further, antiracism seeks to dismantle the silo-ing of and competition among social justice movements (aka the “Oppression Olympics”), which has been established through the divide and conquer strategies of our colonial and neo-colonial history.  What if oppressed groups starting working together – sharing knowledge, wisdom, resources, and tools? What if we all knew there is enough to go around and that we truly are stronger together? What if as resisters of oppression we began working cooperatively to co-create a country that welcomes and celebrates all?

4. Antiracism builds upon intersectionality – the understanding that we all have multiple identities.

Antiracism understands that racism is a system of oppression linked to other systems of oppression that robs each of us of our full humanity and impairs our ability to create just and sustainable community with one another both locally and globally. Racism is not the only “ism” and antiracism doesn’t ask us to drop our other identities in order to talk about race and racism. We can use our other experience around privilege and/or oppression as a window, not a wall. While it isn’t helpful to talk exclusively about racism, it is important to talk explicitly about racism. We must ask: how is race compounding upon all other identities (such as national origin and immigration status)?

5. Antiracism sees immigrant rights and immigrant integration (or welcome work) as resistance to oppression and offers a way of changing systems that have historically kept immigrants from being able to successfully integrate into their adopted hometowns.

The focus on creating welcoming receiving communities is approachable by many and can lead into deeper conversations of what it truly means to be welcoming — both in terms of individual and collective attitudes and actions AND how institutions are or aren’t effectively serving immigrants and why. Addressing national origin, culture, language, race, and documentation status-based prejudice is important and antiracism invites us to go deeper and address how immigrants experience systems and institutions (i.e.: hospitals and schools).  Doing the work of building welcoming communities is in itself an act of resistance to the historic realities of racism’s systemic and structural oppression.

Attitude or bias changing work is important and can be life-altering for both immigrants and U.S-born residents. And yet antiracism would posit that prejudice-reducing work can sometimes be masked as immigrant integration work. A school or local municipality can pass a “welcoming resolution” or proclamation, claiming to be a welcoming place to immigrants, but not actually become accountable to what that means on real and tangible levels. For example, how does a documented or undocumented farmworker from Guatemala or a Sudanese refugee experience a hospital or school or city hall when they walk through the door? In addition to changing receiving community members’ hearts and minds about immigrants (i.e.: help people see immigrants as contributors rather than “drainers”), we need an antiracism analysis grounded in the historical context of race and racism in the U.S. These two forms of resistance together can create a more inclusive, equitable, and welcoming country. 

_______________________________________________________

About the writers:

Lillie Wolff is one of two Co-Executive Directors of ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) and a Core Organizer/Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. Prior to working with ERAC/Ce and Crossroads, Lillie spent seven years organizing around farmworker and immigrant rights and inclusion. Lillie is passionate about the intersections of social justice, ecological justice, and art, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art, and Natural Design (ISLAND) since 2009. She earned a BA in Human Development and Social Relations from Kalamazoo College in 2004. Lillie enjoys dancing, biking, gardening, spending time in nature, and preparing and eating communal meals with her wonderful anti-oppressive community.

Jo Ann Mundy is one of two co- Executive Directors of ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality), and a Core Organizer-Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, a national partner working collaboratively with ERAC/Ce toward the institutionalization of racial justice in public and private institutions throughout southwest Michigan. Currently Jo Ann serves on the boards of Crossroads and the People’s Food Coop. As a founder mentor of the NIA Project, Jo Ann encourages the celebration of identity, purpose and sisterhood in adolescent women of color. Additionally, Jo Ann is a founding member of the Three Rivers Area Faith Community (TRAFC), an ecumenical faith-based social justice network of churches striving to build a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-generational anti-racist faith community in Three Rivers, MI where she completed her doctoral thesis Sacred Actions to Bring Racial Reconciliation. Enjoying over 25 years of pastoral ministry, Jo Ann currently serves as pastor of On Common Ground of Three Rivers Michigan. Jo Ann enjoys reading, music, her guitars and computers and, most of all, the young people in her life.

Advertisements

Engaging Our Humanity

Lillie Wolff is one of two Co-Executive Directors of ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) and a Core Organizer/Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. Lillie is bilingual in English and Spanish and prior to working with ERAC/Ce and Crossroads spent seven years organizing around farmworker and immigrant rights and inclusion. Lillie is passionate about the intersections of social justice, ecological justice, and art, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art, and Natural Design (ISLAND) since 2009. She earned a BA in Human Development and Social Relations from Kalamazoo College in 2004. Lillie enjoys dancing, biking, gardening, spending time in nature, and preparing and eating communal meals with her wonderful anti-oppressive community.
Lillie Wolff is one of two Co-Executive Directors of ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) and a Core Organizer/Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. Lillie is bilingual in English and Spanish and prior to working with ERAC/Ce and Crossroads spent seven years organizing around farmworker and immigrant rights and inclusion. Lillie is passionate about the intersections of social justice, ecological justice, and art, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art, and Natural Design (ISLAND) since 2009. She earned a BA in Human Development and Social Relations from Kalamazoo College in 2004. Lillie enjoys dancing, biking, gardening, spending time in nature, and preparing and eating communal meals with her wonderful anti-oppressive community.

As a white antiracist organizer and trainer, I am on a journey toward understanding my relationship with privilege and oppression. Privilege and oppression are two sides of the same coin. In Privilege, Power, and Difference, Allan Johnson explains that the “isms” – sexism, heterosexism, ableism, racism – affect more than women, LGBTQI people, people with disabilities, and people of color.  They affect everyone. It is impossible to live in a world that generates so much injustice and suffering without being inextricably linked to it. Everyone has a race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status. We all figure in the differences that privilege and oppression are about.

Johnson suggests that the greatest barrier to change is that dominant groups don’t see the trouble of our society as their trouble, and as a result, don’t feel obligated to do something about it. This may be because we don’t even know the trouble exists, we don’t have to see it as our trouble, because we see it as a personal rather than systemic problem, because we’re reluctant to give up privilege, or afraid of what will happen if we acknowledge the reality of privilege and oppression.

Systems of privilege make privilege invisible and those who are part of the dominant white culture in the U.S. are taught to deny and minimize oppression. White people are taught to be “colorblind,” to believe that since Barak Obama is president we must be “post-racial.” Those of us who are white are socialized to blame the victim, call it something else, assume everyone prefers things the way they are. We mistake intentions with consequences, attribute oppression to others, and balance the oppression of others with our own (note: the goal is not to play the Oppression Olympics).  While it may feel good in an anesthetic kind of way to believe that we are “post-racial,” the truth is that we have all inherited a material reality based on 500 years of shared history.

What if we all started thinking about the trouble of systemic racism as everyone’s responsibility and nobody’s fault? What if we told each other and ourselves that it’s not about blame and that feeling guilty about racism is actually not helpful. It’s easy to fall into the trap of guilt, as many of us have been taught to see the world through an individualistic lens that reduces everything to individual good or bad intentions. We all want to be good people. A powerful and liberating alternative lies, however, in the fact that we’re all always participating in something larger than ourselves — social systems.

To understand our relationship to privilege and oppression, we have to look at what we’re participating in and how we participate in it. For example, if a white male professor takes the students in his class who look like him more seriously, he isn’t necessarily being intentionally sexist or racist, but may be participating in and perpetuating patterns of white and male privilege. He doesn’t have to be a bad person to participate in an education system that produces oppressive outcomes – it’s simply how the system is set up to function.

The only way to change oppressive outcomes is to change our systems and institutions. If we have a vision of what we want the world to be, we have to create paths that lead in that direction. We have to do more than just hope, dream and pray – certainly more than simply take the path of least resistance. We must become aware of our biases, which we all have, and we must understand that racism is about more than just prejudice. It’s about power and privilege – it’s about who gets access to and who has control of the systems and institutions that distribute the resources necessary for life.

If racism is not about individual actions or beliefs, and is about systems and structures, the solution must be systemic and structured. If privilege is rooted in systems like families, schools, places of worship and employment, change isn’t simply a matter of changing people. The solution also has to include entire systems whose paths of least resistance shape how we all feel, think, and behave as individuals, and how we see one another and ourselves.

Thankfully, there is a growing national movement in which people of color and white people are gaining an analysis, a language system, organizing tools, and a more complete understanding of history – the history of oppression and the corresponding acts of resistance.  Since racism isn’t just a trouble of the past, resistance, like that of the Underground Railroad, requires broad base participation here and now. We must resist the path of least resistance. We must find our way to the path of greatest resistance — the path of dismantling racism. It’s a big task, a generational one, which can feel overwhelming. But things can change, they have and will continue to change, and none of us are alone. There is room for everyone in this movement.

Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, along with its regional organizing partners like ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) in Southwest Michigan, are facilitating trainings and building transformation teams to help people of color, white people, and entire institutions claim an anti-racist identity.  A growing number of people around the country are learning how to honestly and accurately name our troubles. We are learning new ways of being in relationship with each other and ourselves, which are grounded in anti-oppressive, life-giving values. We are committing to a life-long journey of reclaiming and engaging our full humanity in ways we never dreamed.

Incomplete Analysis: Why the Black White Binary Fails

Derrick Dawson is a member of the AntiRacism Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, and served as its Co-Chair for three years.  He is a graduate student and teaching assistant in English Composition at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. Derrick was also a broadcaster and journalist in the United States Navy, where he served for eight years on ships in Asia and the Pacific.

Derrick Dawson is a member of the AntiRacism Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, and served as its Co-Chair for three years. He is a graduate student and teaching assistant in English Composition at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. Derrick was also a broadcaster and journalist in the United States Navy, where he served for eight years on ships in Asia and the Pacific.

Barely a week into Black History Month and I am exhausted. The DVR is already full of black programming, there’s a play, concert or other event every night and two on Saturdays. Someone joked that a cable channel is showing a minstrel marathon in celebration, and a Catholic high school for girls in California has apologized for a Black History Month lunch of fried chicken and watermelon.

The annual debates around the relevancy of Black History Month are emblematic of common discourse around race in the United States; a discourse which is almost exclusively characterized by a black-white binary paradigm. This paradigm is problematic because it masks the connections people of color have to one another and does not address the complexity of American History which has seen the genocide of Native Americans, the genocide and enslavement of African Americans, the systematic deportation of Latinos and the exploitation of Asian Americans and the rounding up of People of Color who threaten the United States.

I confess that I have struggled with the fact that the black-white binary paradigm is problematic in the work antiracism organizing and the work of social justice. This is not an easy admission for me. As an organizer-trainer for Crossroads, as well as its co-chair of the board of directors, I would like to believe that I’d mastered everything there is to know about institutional and systemic racism. I was raised on the far South Side of Chicago in the 1960’s and 1970’s when Martin Luther King moved the civil rights movement to the city to fight segregation. He later referred to this effort, stating ” I have seen many demonstrations in the South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today,” he said.” As a kid in the South Side’s Burnham neighborhood, I unknowingly played on the steps of the Area 2 police station while John Burge and his corrupt policemen beat confession out of dozens of innocent men in one of the nation’s worst examples of abject institutional racism.

My work as an antiracism organizer trainer has shown me that there is a persistent struggle against this binary as those who are neither black nor white often struggle to have their voices heard in the fight against white supremacy. “The reality is that the exclusion of others is a result of a particular black-white normative vision of the American nation as being properly and primarily black and white. The . . . black-white binary is a nativist idea that aids the continued exclusion of Latinos, Asian Americans, and other nonwhite immigrant groups . . . from full citizenship and equal protection.”[1]

Unknown-6I became aware of my own participation in this nativist phenomenon about 3 years ago when Michelle Alexander published The New Jim Crow. Her book about mass incarceration was better received than even the author anticipated. After reading the book and seeing Ms. Alexander speak at a few readings around Chicago, I began to hear criticisms that she addressed neither the growing presence of women nor Latinos in the conversation of mass incarceration in the United States.  I was surprised when Michelle Alexander acknowledged her own adherence to the black-white binary paradigm on Bill Moyer’s & Company last December, declaring that she had came to realize the need to “change lanes” and see the issue more broadly. It had finally occurred to her that

If I care about a young man serving, you know, 25 years to life for a minor drug crime. If I care about him and care about his humanity, ought I not also care equally about a young woman who’s facing deportation back to a country she hardly knows and had lived in only as a child and can barely speak the language? And ought I not be as equally concerned about her fate as well? Ought I not be equally concerned about a family whose loved ones were just killed by drones in Afghanistan? Ought I not care equally for all? And that really was Dr. King’s insistence at the end of his life. That we ought to care about the Vietnamese as much as we care and love our people at home.”[2]

images-3

And of course she’s right. An illustration is buried in the issue of Mass Incarceration that is the subject of her book even though it has gone largely unnoticed. In 2013, Wall Street Journal journalist Patrick O Connor reported that the harsh immigration laws passed in Arizona last year were written by lobbyists for the Private prison industry, specifically Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group.

Here in Chicago, I have attended any number of rallies and meetings about immigration. It is clear at these events that immigration issues are seen as an issue only important to Latinos just as mass incarceration is seen as an issue concerning only African Americans. Ronald R. Sundstrom illustrates this further with an example from Hurricane Katrina.While Arizona citizens believed they were taking a firm stand in favor of “border control,”they were being duped by CCA and GEO who were selling bodies for the profit and the career advancement of local politicians. Arizona Senate Bill 1070 was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010.

As the aftermath of the hurricane developed, the image of African-American urban poverty dominated the news and discourse. The discussions of the hurricane and race did not stray from stories about poor African Americans and worked to exclude the news that the Bush administration had used the disaster as an opportunity to apprehend and deport undocumented Latin American immigrants who ended up in Shelters. This move was, of course, paired with widespread exploitation of Latino labor by contractors who sought to take advantage of federal and state monies for the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region. Additionally, the binary blocked from public attention the news of the losses of Honduran Americans in New Orleans and Vietnamese American communities of the Gulf Coast. The race story was simply the black story, and the result was that the nation thought of race in its old black-white terms.[3]

I look at my bookmarks and realize that I turn to some of my favorite sites, like Angry Asian Man, Son of Baldwin and Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources in an attempt to keep up with what’s going on in various communities’ social justice work. While I’m grateful for those resources, I also recognize that those resources exist because of the marginalization of non-Black people of color in the black-white binary paradigm.

The black-white binary paradigm is dangerous because it serves white supremacy by marginalizing, isolating and dividing people of color. Moving beyond the binary might allow us to see more black social justice groups showing up at Reforma Migratoria PRO America rallies and supporting the National Congress of American Indians.

African American demands for justice deserve satisfaction, and those claims do not need the black-white binary for justification.[4] The black-white binary renders invisible the experience of groups that stand outside the binary, makes hyper-visible the experience of African Americans, and diverts attention away from white supremacy. The black-white binary is a fictional representation of race in America and has to be set aside if racial justice work is to be located in a broader human rights context.


[1]                 Ronald R. Sundstrom, The Browning of America and the Evasion of Social Justice, SUNY Press, 2008, 190pp., ISBN 9780791475867

[2]                 “Incarceration Nation” Bill Moyers & Company. PBS. 20 Dec. 2013. Televisio

[3]                 Sundstrom, p82

[4]                 Ronald R. Sundstrom, The Browning of America and the Evasion of Social Justice, SUNY Press, 2008, 190pp., ISBN 9780791475867

What does Antiracism have to do with Racial Equity?

Joy Bailey has been the Director of Organizing and Training for Crossroads since 2011 and has been a Core/Organizer Trainer since 2008. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish Education and her Master’s in Socio-cultural Studies in Education, both from Western Michigan University (WMU). Formerly, Joy taught high school Spanish for six years in Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) and also taught courses on race and racism in education at WMU. Joy has been doing local antiracism organizing in Kalamazoo Public Schools since 2001. Although originally from North Dakota, Joy currently lives with her spouse in Kalamazoo, MI.

Joy Bailey has been the Director of Organizing and Training for Crossroads since 2011 and has been a Core/Organizer Trainer since 2008. Formerly, Joy taught high school Spanish for six years in Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) and also taught courses on race and racism in education at WMU. Joy has been doing local antiracism organizing in Kalamazoo Public Schools since 2001.

I was recently asked what I thought the difference was between antiracism and racial equity.  Frankly, I often use these terms interchangeably and don’t see much difference.  If I had to parse them out, I would say racial equity is about creating policies, practices, and structures that deliver equitable, not necessarily equal, treatment to all. It means actualizing shared power and decision-making that is just and fair. The Center for Assessment and Policy Development defines racial equity this way:

Racial equity is the condition that would be achieved if one’s racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares. When we use the term, we are thinking about racial equity as one part of racial justice, and thus we also include work to address root causes of inequities not just their manifestation. This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race or fail to eliminate them.[1]

I would say that racial equity is a component of antiracism.  The term antiracism encompasses a systemic analysis of racism that includes historical, sociological, economic and political frameworks.  It includes a response to racism that involves action and organizing strategically.  For us at Crossroads, it means applying a systemic analysis of racism to our institutions and then organizing collectively to transform them into more racially equitable and multicultural institutions.  We understand that for a single institution to be transformed, we will have to transform all other institutions and systems with which it is interconnected as well.  The interconnected web of institutions and systems producing racist outcomes is often called structural or systemic racism, which antiracism seeks to eliminate.  As defined by National Antiracism Council International Perspectives: Women and Global Solidarity, “Anti-racism is the active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably.”[2]

Now, some people Crossroads organizers encounter will ask why we use the term antiracism when, “it is so negative.” We might hear, “It turns people off and sounds like you are blaming individuals, ” or, “Why not say what you are for rather than what you are against?” While it is true that we must say what we stand for, providing hope and vision, and not simply point out what is wrong and unjust in the world we do not think that the term antiracism is negative nor individualistic.

If we think about other uses of the prefix anti-, e.g. anti freeze; antibiotic; antiviral; antiparasitic; antifungal; antimalarial; antipsychotic; antidepressant; antiviolence; etc., we see that this prefix is especially common in the practice of medicine and that it points to an intervention aimed at curing or preventing systemic conditions.  This is a clue regarding the way Crossroads uses the term antiracism. It suggests activity that is curative and preventive in relation to the systemic damage wrought by racism.

Crossroads organizer James Addington likes to say, antiracism as an intervention includes the reparation of community. The term antiracism is especially relevant in reference to collective, collaborative action. While individuals can certainly be antiracist, their antiracism is especially relevant in common cause with others.  Antiracism in this sense is about the reparation of the fabric of community and the role that institutions can play in that process. It is about calling institutions into an accountable relationship with communities. It is about restoring and shaping sustainable community life; life that is diverse, resilient and regenerative. It is about healthy, life giving community.

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People | A Review

Even though the notion that the US is “post-racial” has been pretty thoroughly Blindspot approved.inddtrounced, we still hear people claim to be colorblind and that they treat everyone the same. The purpose of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People is to expose the large set of biases all of us have hidden in our brains and to show how those “bits of knowledge about groups of people” (their skin color, age, education or religion) can influence behavior.

Karen Ziech organizes and trains in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago where she has been a member of the Anti-racism Commission since 2008.   As a member of Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism (C-ROAR) she is working to build a network of antiracist allies in the Chicago area. She moved into instructional design and training in the telecom industry where she worked for nearly fifteen years. As a career consultant in the outplacement industry.  Karen loves spending time with her four children and their kids (eleven grandchildren and counting), practicing yoga, reading and walking.

Karen Ziech organizes and trains in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago where she has been a member of the Anti-racism Commission since 2008. As a member of Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism (C-ROAR) she is working to build a network of antiracist allies in the Chicago area. She moved into instructional design and training in the telecom industry where she worked for nearly fifteen years. As a career consultant in the outplacement industry. Karen loves spending time with her four children and their kids (eleven grandchildren and counting), practicing yoga, reading and walking.

You may have heard of the Harvard Implicit Association Tests (IATs). Available online for almost 20 years, they were created by Blindspot’s authors to prove that it is “unconscious cognition,” rather than conscious thought that drives human judgment and behavior. The 10 minute exercises test the taker’s attitudes, one’s positive and negative associations, about groups of people. The data from over 14 million IATs show the disconnect between what “good people” believe about themselves and the reality of their implicit attitudes.  Among the many attitudes studied, results reveal that in this country the preference for White people is pervasive, that we favor young over old (this is one of the strongest biases in our culture), and that we prefer straight people over gay people.

Blindspot, like Crossroads’ Critical Cultural Competency workshop, shows how constant input from our culture shapes our attitudes and gives examples of how, when we’re unaware of them, we can engage in behavior that is damaging to others. The authors point to studies in which people with higher levels of preference for Whites judged White job applicants to be better qualified than Black applicants and where ER physicians recommended optimal treatment more often to White patients than to Blacks. While both these studies refer to the preference for White people over Black, the authors cite numerous examples of unequal treatment to Hispanics, Asians, Muslims and American Indians.

In the discussion of stereotypes, which we all form and use, the authors state that the more one can be described by the default attributes of one’s society, those that Crossroads calls normative, the less one will be subject to stereotyping. And conversely, the fewer dominant culture characteristics one possesses, the more likely one is to be stereotyped, by others, and also by oneself. As just two examples of the negative effects of internalized stereotyping, the authors point to elders who unconsciously influence their declining health and women who underperform in STEM professions. (A recent preventative medicine study, which uses results from the Race IAT, measures the role of internalized stereotypes in the aging process. Study: In Black Men, Internalized Racism Speeds Up Aging)

While it can be discouraging to be confronted with our own hidden biases and to understand how unconsciously we behave towards others, the good news is that just being aware of the problem is the beginning of fixing it.  The authors devote an entire chapter to ways in which we can spot behaviors that result in damage to people in stereotyped groups and what we can do to outsmart our implicit associations. It’s impossible to be truly color blind, but this book can help us to be intentional about treating everyone with the dignity and respect we all want.

Blindspot is a thorough and compelling argument for getting in touch with one’s individual biases. It’s pretty clear, though, that the authors view this connection as just a first step. In the body of the book, they cover a short history of the study of racism in the US. And, in addition to the race IAT, which first established the widespread preference for White people over People of Color, the authors discuss the consistent implicit associations with Americans as White People, topics that would logically lead to a discussion of racism. It’s in the 40 page appendix that the book shows its true goal—to open up that discussion. Here the authors cover the history of racism in the 20th century and its current levels in the US; causes and examples of racial and ethnic disadvantage (in criminal justice, education, health care and housing, to name just a few); and continued racial segregation. Because they are social scientists, they come at racism from the perspective of scientific studies. One hopes, one yearns, for a next book, which could cover studies about research that shows positive outcomes in dismantling racism.

Allah Made Me Funny: A Review

A native of Puerto Rico, Jessica identifies as a “1.5 generation Queer ESL Latina of Puerto Rican descent.”  She works as a consultant and core/organizer trainer for Crossroads.  Jessica holds a BA in Criminal Justice and Currently, Jessica holds  Masters degrees in Theological Studies and Divinity.

A native of Puerto Rico, Jessica identifies as a “1.5 generation Queer ESL Latina of Puerto Rican descent.” She works as a consultant and core/organizer trainer for Crossroads. Jessica holds a BA in Criminal Justice and Currently, Jessica holds Masters degrees in Theological Studies and Divinity.

The terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City misshaped life in the United States in profound ways. The suspicion, vicious antipathy, and the violence that met Muslims and Arab-Americans after September 11th, 2001 was not surprising given the history of this nation.  One of the developments of our post-9/11 world has been the racialization of those perceived to be Arab Americans and Muslims into the catchall racial category of “Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim.” Sociologist and professor of Social Welfare and Justice Louis A. Cainkar suggests the 9/11 crisis did not create animosity toward the “Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim/Other” community as much as it made evident preexistent anti-Arab/Muslim sentiments.[1] While all who are lumped into the “Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim/Other” category are not Muslim, Middle-Eastern or Arab, the dominant political discourse via the media has created a visualscape in the United States, which “otherizes” all who “appear” to be “Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim” into this group.  Consider for example the case of Sikh Americans, who are not Muslim or Arab but are routinely profiled as both and are often victims of hate motivated crimes. 

The hypervisibility[2] this racialization bestowed upon previously invisibilized communities elicited a diversity of responses among which is “Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim” stand-up comedy.  Stand-up comedy in the intervening years since 9/11 has created a space where the racialization of “Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim/Other” is being contested, explored, and where counter-narratives to dominant culture are being constructed.  Acts like the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, The Muslims are Coming, and Allah Made Me Funny along with comedians like Ahmed Ahmed, Mohammed Amer, Maz Jobrani, Preacher Moss, Dean Obeidallah, Negin Farsad, and Azhar Usman are just some of the stand out acts that have come to define “Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim/Other” stand-up comedy in the last 14-years.

Allah Made Me Funny

Allah Made Me Funny

This week I watched and laughed with the stand-up comedians behind “Allah Made Me Funny.”  This documentary/comedy concert centers on three stand-up comedians: Palestinian-American Mohammed Amer, Indian-American Azhar Usman, and African-American Muslim convert Preacher Moss.  Each of the comics is presented as being firmly grounded in their faith.  Additionally, the observance and practice of Islam features prominently in their acts, which appear directed to a mostly Muslim audience.  Each comic takes the stage for 20 minutes in which they share their humorous observations about Muslim women, air travel, stereotyping, racial profiling, generational communication issues, cultural idiosyncrasies and the challenges of being Muslim in a country that is ignorant of Islam and those who practice it.

There are many things that work well in the collective project Usman, Amer, and Moss have put together.  Each of the comics challenges the dominant narrative about Muslim women in the United States.  Through funny accounts about their life as sons and husbands, the comedians present Muslim women as fearless, decisive, strong, and driven.  In one of the funniest moments of the DVD, Preacher Moss shares the story of young men planning to take the headscarf off a Jamaican woman riding a D.C. bus. Preacher says laughing, “I wanted to tell them ‘No, she will kill us all!’”[3] Another strong dimension of their work centers on their discussions about living in a post-9/11 United States as Muslims.  Mo Amer, the funniest of the group but also the least overtly political, shares the reason first generation Palestinians circumvent political conversation is fear: of risking their status, of loosing favor with the government, and of being deported.  Mo delivers the punch line of this story by saying, “But mom, we are Palestinian, we are stateless people, where are they going to deport us to?”[4]  In the end I concur with Hussein Rashid’s Religious Dispatches column about the documentary: “What Allah Made Me Funny has the promise to do is to keep a spark burning that it is not all doom and gloom. To remind us of what else our Muslim and American identities hold.”[5]

Not everything works.  While they reframe the narrative of Muslim women, they go about it in ways that skirt sexism.  Usman, who presents his wife as being independent, professional, and smart, also refers to Muslim women in his stand-up act as the terrorists of the home.  Amer refers to Muslim women as the Queen in a chess game, which can do anything, go anywhere and move in any direction, while men as the King get stuck moving in circles and are the mercy of their women.  Unlike the Axis of Evil comedy troupe whose members selected their name in response to President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address, the three comedians profiled in Allah Made Me Funny skirt around the edges of the political, often placing the responsibility on the shoulders of the Muslim American community to shift public opinion.  Both Usman and Moss spend segments of their 20-minute sets reviewing the ways Muslims in the United States could afford to shift their image.  From hard to explain holidays to the inability to pronounce certain words; from the lack of a theme song to the prohibition against eating pork; from the absence of infomercials explaining Islamic words that are hard to understand, the consequence of this tactic is that Allah Made Me Funny never fully challenges the dominant narratives about Muslims on the United States. Instead, it suggests if Muslims were more mainstream, less other, and more funny, the racism and xenophobia distorting U.S. opinion about Muslims in the United States would be delegitimized.  I will admit that it is quite possible this is not what the comics intended. In a 2005 interview with NPR, Usman described what made their tour appealing,

“I think part of the reason why the tour has become kind of a phenomenon unto itself is because comedy and humor is really the antidote to fear. You know, we talk to people and through our show, particularly non-Muslims will come out and say, `God, you know, I had no idea that, you know, Muslims could be funny or, you know, that you have a humor tradition within Islam or, you know, that this is what Muslims are all about,’ etc., etc. And it’s because they feared something they didn’t know.”[6]

In the end where Allah Made Me Funny succeeds as a stand-up comedy show is in redefining what it means to be a Muslim in the United States after 9/11.


[1] Louise A. Cainkar, “The Social Construction of the Arab (and Muslim) American,” in Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience After 9/11, First (New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation Publications, 2011).

[2] Dr. Maureen Reddy in her article, “Invisibility/Hypervisibility: The Paradox of Normative Whiteness” offers this helpful articulation of hypervisibility.  She writes, “Whiteness and heterosexuality seem invisible, transparent, to those who are white and/or heterosexual; they are simply norms. In contrast, whiteness makes itself hypervisible to those who are not white, much as heterosexuality forces itself upon the consciousnesses of gays and lesbians. And one way that these constructs reinforce their invisibility to those who benefit from them is precisely through this hypervisibility to those who do not.”  Source: http://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-506047621/invisibility-hypervisibility-the-paradox-of-normative#articleDetails

[3] Andrea Kalin, Allah Made Me Funny – Live in Concert (Unity Productions Foundation, 2009).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Hussein Rashid, “Allah Made Me Funny : Borscht Belt Goes Halal,” ReligionDispatches, October 9, 2008, http://religiondispatches.org/archive/culture/600/allah_made_me_funny__borscht_belt_goes_halal___culture___/.

[6] Jennifer Ludden, “Allah Made Me Funny: Muslim Comedy : NPR,” NPR.org, August 14, 2005, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4799868.

Antiracism Intervention: Crossroads Contribution to the Racial Justice Movement

Joy Bailey has been the Director of Organizing and Training for Crossroads since 2011 and has been a Core/Organizer Trainer since 2008. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish Education and her Master’s in Socio-cultural Studies in Education, both from Western Michigan University (WMU). Formerly, Joy taught high school Spanish for six years in Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) and also taught courses on race and racism in education at WMU. Joy has been doing local antiracism organizing in Kalamazoo Public Schools since 2001. Although originally from North Dakota, Joy currently lives with her spouse in Kalamazoo, MI.

Joy Bailey has been the Director of Organizing and Training for Crossroads since 2011 and has been a Core/Organizer Trainer since 2008.  Formerly, Joy taught high school Spanish for six years in Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) and also taught courses on race and racism in education at WMU. Joy has been doing local antiracism organizing in Kalamazoo Public Schools since 2001.

“A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK-and-Johnson

As we enter the month of February, Black History Month, which follows on the heels of MLK DAY, I have been reflecting on the accomplishments of Dr. King and others in the Civil Rights Movement.  This year we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, yet I am mindful of how far we still have to go towards racial justice. Racism continues to permeate every facet of our society.  It impacts individual People of Color struggling against racial micro-aggressions and individual White people who continue to reap the benefits of White privilege and White supremacy.  Racism also manifests in our society’s culture at large, imposing dominant White cultural ways of being on everyone and distorting, discrediting and destroying People of Color cultures while simultaneously appropriating them.  Finally, racism continues to get lived out in the policies, practices and structures of our institutions as evidenced by outcomes like the Achievement Gap in education (more aptly called the Opportunity Gap) and health disparities.

Crossroads organizer and trainer James Addington likens the ever-present and simultaneous manifestations of individual, cultural and institutional racism to an electromagnetic force field that is very difficult to penetrate.  He shares a story of a friend of his who found herself in a meeting where she was the only Person of Color and the only woman.  She, for the life of her, could not make herself heard.  No matter how hard she tried to bring her voice to the table, she was continually ignored and dismissed, or someone else got credit for her ideas.  She described the experience as similar to being surrounded by a force field from which she couldn’t break free.

The metaphor of racism as an electromagnetic force field is powerful because once the problem is identified then we can begin working toward a solution. Intervention Chart  Racism is a structural problem that requires a structural solution.  There needs to be an injection or intervention into the force field of racism that will weaken its power over us; that will heal us and restore community.  Since there are at least three ways racism manifests itself, individually, culturally and institutionally, there are at least three ways to apply an intervention.

Some racial justice activists and organizations utilize individual interventions.  Generative Somatics is an organization that makes a distinction between oppression and suffering, that the former is externally created and the latter is internal.  They argue that many organizers for social justice tend to focus on systemic oppression and neglect self-care. They argue that committing to practices that acknowledge and interrupt “conditioned tendencies” developed in response to stress and trauma, can open us up to more healthy and appropriate ways to respond to individual suffering and more effectively struggle to end racial and other oppressions.

Other organizations challenge cultural racism in our society.  For example, Race Forward does a tremendous job of shifting worldviews and language around race and racism in the media.  Their Drop The I-Word campaign is just one example of the many ways Race Forward strives to generate a cultural shift in the way our society thinks and talks about race and racism. Oyate is a Native organization that sells books and provides trainings and reviews in order to ensure that Native lives and histories are portrayed with honesty and integrity. 18 Million Rising is another organization that challenges cultural racism by exposing and debunking cultural stereotypes through focused campaigns like #NotYourAsianSidekick.

Crossroads applies our intervention into the force field of racism at the institutional level.  We don’t think that an institutional approach is the only or even the best way to eliminate racism, but it is a necessary component to racial justice.  It is what we, as Crossroads, offer to the movement.  Of course we also address individual and cultural racism, but we do so in the context of institutions and systemic racism. Part of the reason we choose to focus on an institutional intervention is because institutions are where individuals and culture come together.  Institutions are made up of people who make decisions and enforce policies and procedures and our society’s cultural values and practices get lived out in our institutions.  Our institutions also create, manage and distribute the resources necessary for life.  As Robette Dias, Crossroads’ Executive Director, likes to put it, we have replaced the life sustaining nature of the land with institutions.  Today, people in the U.S. gain access to the stuff of life through accessing institutions.  The problem is that our institutions don’t create, manage and distribute resources equitably to all people and all living beings.

The injection Crossroads offers to diffuse the force field of racism is an antiracism intervention.  Our method of intervening and disrupting uses a variety of organizing strategies, workshops and organizational development tools to transform institutions into antiracist multicultural institutions that are life giving for all.  To learn more about Crossroads’ antiracism intervention in institutions go to www.crossroadsantiracism.org or call us at 708-503-0804.