Sunday, March 13, 2016

Slavery (a Tool of Colonialism) and Whiteness: a Legacy of Brutality

Part 2 of  a 3 part series on Whiteness and colonialism.

[This post is in no way meant to be an exhaustive historical analysis of Slavery and Whiteness.  It is meant to introduce the topic and is meant as a tool for discussion.  Time limitations prohibit me from writing more extensively on this topic.  Thank you for reading.]

Slave Ship packed with slaves as merchandise
Plan of the Slaver Vigilante.  Image source:
"...northern European settlers and traders, such as the English and Dutch, had less prior exposure to sub-Saharan Africans, or to Mediterranean slavery systems. Their laws for establishing chattel slavery formed primarily in the context of the New World, with a heightened economic incentive to secure slavery for plantation agriculture through rigid racial hierarchies."

Slavery and Whiteness

Slavery and Whiteness go together like snow and skiing.  They have always been with us--since the Europeans came to the US and created the notion of Whiteness--that the world was created for the benefit of White people and their allies.  Whiteness helped form the world of slavery in the Americas, slavery formed the basis for the economies of the America, Whiteness and remnants of slavery are embedded in the world and the economies birthed in American slavery. 

Strict systematic racial hierarchies were created and brutally enforced.  And by brutally enforced I mean whipping, torture, dismemberment, rape, burning alive, family separation,  and other forms of intimidation and force were used to maintain the racist social structure created by Slavery and maintained by Jim Crow and now the New Jim Crow.

Slave auction advertisement

Vast numbers of slaves were imported to the Americas as merchandise

1. 1525 First slave voyage direct from Africa to the Americas
2. 1560 Continuous slave trade from Brazil begins
3. 1641 Sugar exports from Eastern Caribbean begin
4.1655 English capture Jamaica
5. 1695 Gold discovered in Minas Gerais (Brazil)
6. 1697 French obtain St Domingue in Treaty of Rywsick
7. 1756 Seven years war begins
8. 1776 American Revolutionary War begins
9.1789 Bourbon reforms open Spanish colonial ports to slaves
10. 1791 St Domingue revolution begins
11. 1808 Abolition of British and US slave trades takes effect
12. 1830 Anglo-Brazilian anti-slave trade treaty
13. 1850 Brazil suppresses slave trade
14. 1886 Last reported transatlantic slave voyage arrives in Brasil

            In the US, slave owners often treated lighter colored slaves better.  This privilege and other social, educational and economic privileges based on color and an adherence to the standards of Whiteness are still in full effect today and are embedded in ALL us organizational structures.  Those who reinforce the standards, values and systems of Whiteness are rewarded.  These concepts apply to all people of color, not just black people.  The darker the adherent, the more valuable they are to the system.  This is another example where the individual example becomes equated with the systemic examples.  There is a constant logical error when one does this and it leads to false conclusions.  "But professor X is Black. so racism can't be that bad!"  Or some such nonsense will be spouted by adherents to this logical error.
"In his controversial study of the black bourgeoisie, E. Franklin Frazier (195 7a) argued that mulattoes, blacks with white progenitors, led a more privileged existence when compared with their "pure black" counterparts. During slavery, these fair-skinned blacks were at times emancipated by their white fathers. After slavery, their kinship ties to whites gave them an advantage over other blacks in obtaining education, higher-status occupations, and property. Because "the majority of prominent Negroes, who were themselves mulattoes, married mulattoes" (Frazier 1957a, p. 257), light-complexioned blacks passed advantages on to their light children. This process of advantage maintenance by mulattoes lasted well into the 20th century (Landry 1987). So one's position in the community ultimately reflected the amounts of "white blood" in his or her ancestry, and patterns of stratification in the black community included considerations of skin tone."Keith, V. M., & Herring, C. (1991). Skin tone and stratification in the Black community. American journal of sociology, 760-778.
Don't be fooled--brutality was the order of the day. 
            Privilege based on skin color also carried over to the Black community after slavery.  Whites and oftentimes other Blacks treated lighter skinned blacks than their darker counterparts.  Those who adhered to the system of Whiteness were rewarded, as much as their status allowed them to be rewarded, those that didn't were lynched, or imprisoned or otherwise excluded from mainstream (White) society.  Not only did this impact the former slave populations, but it impacted Indigenous and Latino and other people of color.  Those who were lighter skinned and who looked White received greater privileges and were more readily accepted.   This pattern is repeated in contemporary society via the New Jim Crow.  Those POC who don't adhere to Whiteness are disenfranchised and ostracized from mainstream US society.  Alexander, M. (2012). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. The New Press.  These people can be killed or beaten at any time as we have witnessed day in and day out.
"...the dominant white society had historically extended social and economic privileges, not available to darker blacks, to light-skinned blacks. Over successive generations these advantages had been cumulative so that the most successful blacks were disproportionately lighter in complexion. " Keith, V. M., & Herring, C. (1991). Skin tone and stratification in the Black community. American journal of sociology, 760-778.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch

Privilege and Whiteness

Whiteness is often championed by POC in defense of their positions in a culture that benefits those who adhere with Whiteness.   This can be conscious or unconscious on the part of said POC.  POC in leadership positions often behave in puzzling manners to the general population POC.  They believe in the concepts of Whiteness unconsciously (in most cases)--that they got to where they are because THEY deserve it--that if other POC worked as hard as them that they would advance as well--that Whiteness is not the problem...
"In defining whiteness, we want to start by saying that we do not directly equate whiteness with white skin. Indeed, people of color sometimes perpetuate whiteness because they may receive benefits if they serve as role models of color perpetuating whiteness (Delgado, 2009). Yet, any benefits received by people of color are always exceeded by those received by whites in alignment with Bell’s Critical Race Theory (CRT) of interest convergence (1980). "  Nishi, N. W., Matias, C. E., Montoya, R., & Sarcedo, G. L. (2016). Whiteness FAQ: Responses and Tools for Confronting College Classroom Questions.Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis5(1), 4.
Hypocrite Bill Cosby
Most often POC who break the rules of the White supremacist stratified society are vilified by their own kind.  Bill Cosby's attack against Hip-hop is a good example of this kind of house slave attack against those who don't adhere to the rules of the racist society they are forced to deal with everyday.  The society that treats them like criminals--even in preschool and elementary school.  POC are criminalized in the world of Whiteness.  Anyone who is not white is suspect.  The darker the person, the more suspect they are.  This not only holds with Black people--this is how all POC are looked upon by the general White society and those who uphold this society's views.  
"For example, social actors were involved in constructing laws, rules, and regulations that created structured social relations during Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights eras. Both black and white people, both enslaved and free people understood the racial rules that ordered their day-to-day routines in everyday life. Across time and space, racial routines in social interaction became institutionalized practices that ensured social distance and geographical separation between black and white population groups. The duality of structure concept suggests that, “people in interaction use the rules and resources that constitute social structure in their day-to-day routines in contexts of co-presence, and in so doing, they reproduce these rules and resources of structure."  Guess, T. J. (2006). The social construction of whiteness: Racism by intent, racism by consequence. Critical Sociology, 32(4), 649-673.

Paul's Boutique could not be made today.
The rules of copyright for instance--the White rules of copyright prohibit the free production of art that characterized early Hip-hop.  Hip-hop has adapted, but this attack and resultant change in Hip-hop music production is a good example of an attack by Whiteness on culture created by POC.  The educational system is full of rules and regulations and punishments that make it nearly impossible for many POC to succeed academically--which is directly related to economic success and "criminality."  Capitalist gangster rap also reinforces Whiteness.  This type of music reinforces the myths of Whiteness:  self-made men, rugged individualism, self-defense against POC and that money is the meaning of life.  These myths serve to keep POC divided, self-loathing and sexist to the extreme.  Whiteness is embedded in almost every aspect of US culture.  It co-opts cultural creations like hip-hop, rock n roll, jazz and anything else it encounters. 
Hip-hop has been used and abused to reinforce Whiteness
Up until very recently, not looking away from a White person, or staring a White person in the eye was grounds for lynching in the south.   This is a form of brutality that enforces Whiteness physically.  There are, however so many forces that are just as brutal that are not physical.  For instance, teachers charging that a student is upsetting the class with their behavior, that they are combative and do not obey the rules, that they are a bad student.  The student I am speaking of here is in preschool.  This is the beginning of the prison to pipeline route of the New Jim Crow (which seeks to disenfranchise by imposing criminality on POC and poor White people).  Where a White student might be looked at as inquisitive, free thinking, or rambunctious, a POC student is most often looked at as a troublemaker, a rebel or a delinquent.  What am I talking about--this is STILL grounds for lynching--not just in the south,  but nationwide.

Mike Brown, contemporary lynching
Whiteness has rules that must be maintained.  These rules have everything to do with slavery.

As a person of color, one may not:

Be arrested

Question any sort of systematic abuse

Be poor

Dress Casually

Think for themselves

Disbelieve in Whiteness and the rules of Whiteness

Be confident around White people

Be a thinker, academic, nor other type of philosopher

Be a practitioner of self-defense

Describe Whiteness in detail to White people

Friday, March 11, 2016

Why Librarians Should Care About Skateboarders: A Personal Outreach Project

Why Librarians Should Care About Skateboarders:
A Personal Outreach Project
Matt Allison

Mesa Public library in NM has a skatepark! 
            After Hurricane Sandy until the summer of 2015 the Peninsula Library served the Rockaway Beach community out of temporary spaces. As my staff and I waited for a fully operational library to reopen we had time to plan. I got attached to the community.  Along with the overall rebuilding I enjoyed seeing the surf community build a temporary skate park. I moved nearby in 2014. I got approved at work to have a special skateboard and surf collection. I got the green light to try programming. We reopened in September 2015. Making a connection to the skateboarding and surfing scene has been more difficult than I anticipated.  At work my pet project is to connect public libraries and skateboarders. For my area it’s logical to add surfing. This article will not focus on Storm Sandy or my own local library.  I opened this way for some background. I have a twofold problem with connecting skateboarding and libraries. I need to outreach and give skateboarders reasons to use their local library. Secondly I need to prove to librarians that skateboarders are a legitimate demographic to be aware of. The purpose of this article is to educate librarians on the unique concerns of the estimated ten million skateboarders in the United States and more worldwide.

Contemporary skateboarding is diverse and international

            Since this is for the Lowrider Librarian blog I’ll start with diversity in skateboarding. Anyone who identifies himself or herself as a skateboarder did so by choice. No one was born a skateboarder. This is an important difference compared to racial, gender, and sexual identity. However some choices in life alter how one lives.  Making the lifestyle choice to skateboard is the reason that skateboarders from all backgrounds have a strong bond.  Modern day skateboarding started with the invention of the urethane wheel in the 1970’s. This happened after the civil rights movement. There is no historical moment compared to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball. However skateboard humor and culture can be racist. Just google search the popular skate magazine ‘Big Brother,’ from the 1990’s to see examples of racist humor.

Racism sucks

            I started skateboarding in a suburb of Baltimore in 1988. Quickly my parents were supportive. Shortly after I started my parents took me to a skateboard contest to watch.  They set up obstacles around a basketball court.  The contest angered my dad. He thought a black skater did well and got a low score.  There is no way to verify if my dad observed correctly, but it’s not impossible. In the early 1990’s hip-hop changed American culture and skateboarding. The baggy-pants era in skateboarding directly ripped off the hip-hop scene. In 1992 my family moved to Toledo Ohio.  On a visit to Baltimore I remember a skater I didn’t know well say something racist. The guy had a small skateboard sponsor.  He told us how a known black pro from California asked him to stay at his place. Then the guy bragged, “I told him no, there is no way I’m going to let a N---- stay at my house.” Hearing this back then made no sense to me. For one thing he could skate with a pro, secondly he could have a place to stay in California, and thirdly the guy could have gotten a legitimate sponsor developing that friendship. In Toledo, NYC, and most places I’ve skated I’ve observed skateboarders of all races use the N-word. Perhaps the teens are imitating hip-hop or movies, but adults say it too.


            Rolling Stone did a article and interview with pro skater Stevie Williams.  If anyone reading this has access to the August 9th, 2007 issue or full-text it’s worth reading.  Stevie Williams is an African American skateboarder from Philadelphia who helped develop tech street skating. In the early 1990’s the popularity of skating dropped. Those left progressed the sport. The 1990’s skaters made it an urban activity. This revolutionized the sport and led to lasting popularity from the mid-nineties onward. Stevie Williams in that article states he got shit from kids at school for doing a white sport, and he got shit from the skateboarders for being black. Today his company DGK is a popular brand in skateboarding. The acronym stands for ‘Dirty Ghetto Kids.’ An older skate crew called Stevie Williams and his friends that dismissively at the famous Love Park spot in Philadelphia.
            Years of marketing teen boys, and being under the mainstream censorship radar meant skateboard advertising went for shock value. There are also problems of subtler racism in the skateboard industry. In skateboard videos a black skater most likely will have a hip-hop or a soul song accompany his part.  For Hispanic skaters it’s a Spanish song. I’m not sure if that is stereotyping or an acceptable nod to their backgrounds. I know that in these skate videos the music is sometimes not the choice of the individual riders.

Judy Oyama Winchester skatepark, 1979

            Skateboarding has a lot of gender and LGBQT issues that would piss off many working professionals including librarians. I’ll start with gender since the majority of librarians are women. There is a non-profit called Skateistan, and they are making a difference.  I’m glad some skateboarders are now starting creative non-profits.  Skateistan is a school in Afghanistan that gives children an education while teaching them to skateboard. Most are street kids without schooling in that societal structure. The Afghanistan location was successful enough that Skateistan has expanded to Cambodia and South Africa.

They are changing the world

            In Afghanistan girls are not allowed to ride bicycles, but once Skateistan started the local authorities decided girls could skateboard.  As a result half of the students there are girls. This is a revolutionary statistic, and could point to a bright future for skateboarding. In the United States, and most first world countries skateboarding is a male dominated sport. One reason is the subculture. For too long the targeted audience was the American teenage male, and it shows. The rough politically incorrect humor targets male teens just like hip-hop music does.  I imagine it’s grating for a girl or woman to be surrounded by the misogynistic humor in skateboarding. Female skaters frequently get vibed out at crowded skates packed with males. My guess the percentage of the sport participation is still over ninety percent male.  The skate industry should be more inclusive of all genders. Jenkem Magazine did an interview with Vanessa Torres, a pro skateboarder and she discusses these issues. She now skates for a small company called Meow Skates that is owned by a woman, and all the riders are female. In my opinion skateboarding will continue to be misogynistic and sexist until enough girls and women participate to change the game. People think of football as being sexist, but not so much for soccer.
            The second reason for the gender problem in skateboarding is our society’s gender roles. Skateboarding is considered a rough activity. Some idiots think full pads should be enforced to have the right to step on a skateboard. The majority of skateboarders beg their parents for their first skateboard. I prefer that to kids getting forced into it.  Choosing to be a skateboarder is part of the experience.  I imagine girls have trouble getting that first skateboard because parents would rather their girls do other sports.
            In 1988 in our new neighborhood, there was a skateboarding craze. One of my sisters broke her rib early on and may have had parental pressure to stop.  Within two years in one accident I rolled over two fingernails that came off, and learning kickflips I got five stitches in my left eyebrow. I don’t remember parental pressure to quit.  At my elementary and middle school I was in special ed classes. Maybe my parents didn’t mind me doing something I enjoyed. In my old neighborhood the crew of boys skated and the girls did other things.

Tim Von Werne: Gay Skater

            Now on to homophobia, and skateboarding has it like most male dominated activities. I’d like to think it’s mostly kids an teens imitating hip-hop and movies, but many adult skateboarders use derogatory language.  Homophobic humor is part of skateboard culture. I’m a fan of the Berrics game of S.K.A.T.E. The game is a knock off of H.O.R.S.E in basketball and opponents get a letter if they miss a trick the competitor lands. On the pro level the difficulty and consistency is intense.  Watching the Berrics though I’m amazed how grown adults feel it’s okay to use homophobic humor in the interview segments. I’m against censorship, but the skateboarding world needs to learn differences with others are okay and homophobic humor is outdated.
            There are documented incidents in skateboarding history of pros fighting gay men. Today that is considered a hate crime. Growing up skating I talked the same as the others in my group. I used inappropriate humor in an effort to fit in. Moving to Toledo in 1992 I was fortunate enough to go to a progressive private high school.  When I used inappropriate humor in that school I was corrected.  Over the next four years on weekends my middle sister and I would visit our eldest sister at Oberlin College. She had a gay friend who became the first gay friend I had. I remember him telling me when he tried to get into skateboarding he stopped quickly. He felt that group of skaters he encountered were horrible people. I remember thinking over his experience back then. Today at skate parks when I hear homophobic slurs or humor by kids or teenagers I tend to ignore it.  I’m there to skate and not to be an authority figure. Young people need to have those thought changing conversations themselves. Their outlook may change during their college-aged years, especially if they go to college.
            One reason being a librarian is good for me is I’ve had gay and lesbian colleagues. Many I respect for the work they do.  This has expanded my life experience. I was diagnosed with mental illness at age seventeen, Afterwards I focused on my education. I took a step away from skateboarding and did not skate much in my twenties.  I’m fortunate I got a college education and the reason for that is my family support. I remember my mom helping me with my papers and assignments during my undergrad years.  Other skateboarders, even my age, have a different life story. For those skaters that did not go to college or that don’t work in a liberal field may not have had friendships with gay people. Today, skateboarding is important to me. I’m not going to develop friendships and possibly partnerships with New York City skaters if I argue with them every time they say something politically correct or what most librarians deem offensive. What I can do is not use hateful humor myself.  

Andy Roy (pro skater) on drugs

            One important thing librarians need to know about skateboarders is their use of drugs. Christian Hosoi was a top pro in the 1980’s, and in the 1990s spent five years in prison for smuggling large quantities of meth on an airplane. Amazingly, today he skates at a pro level.  In his memoir he states drugs are the ‘open secret’ of skateboarding. There is another memoir called Dreamseller by Brandon Novak, who showed a lot of promise at a young age but chose heroin over skateboarding. In the introduction to that memoir Tony Hawk wrote that a fall from drugs is so frequent with skateboarders it has become an industry cliché.  A lot of kids and adolescents can skate well. Then some hormones kick in, and they go wild. Some become burnt out before they can legally drink.  One of my friends, Ian, in a conversation said, “you can’t tame skateboarding, it’s always going to be a roller coaster.”
            Today more adults are skateboarding than ever before.  In my opinion people over 21 can do whatever the fuck they want as long as they don’t harm others.  Perhaps I drink more alcohol and consume more marijuana than I should. Recent research suggests the fully developed human brain reacts better to Marijuana than a developing brain. If Marijuana triggers mental illness, it’s more likely to do so to teenagers as opposed to adults. And there are more reasons teenagers should wait to use drugs.

Positive mentorship is powerful!

I believe that adult skateboarders and the skateboard industry should make more of an effort to mentor the teenagers in our sport. One of my friends, Julian, put it well, “if you go to skateparks enough and see the same kids you feel like their grandparent.” Basically older skaters want the young skaters to do well. Skateboarding is a time consuming activity and becomes an obsession. Young talented skateboarders don’t get special treatment from their schools.   Skateboarders of a young age who are good, skate with people of all ages in their region. Kids that play school sports usually play with kids their own age. That has advantages in many ways, but not when it comes to drugs.  Many teenage skaters unnecessarily go through pressures their older skate friends are facing. In 1994 when I was seventeen I had a psychotic episode. I had another one when I was eighteen, and the last one when I was twenty.  As a result I was diagnosed with a type of schizophrenia.  Too much weed at a young age was a factor in what I went through. And skateboarding is very much the reason I partook so much at that age. Vice did a documentary on a promising British skateboarder Paul Alexander. He was better than I ever was, and I’m fortunate I respond well to medication. I got shivers watching the documentary on this skater because of my own experience. I’m sharing this because I realize that’s why I care. Most people are able to separate hobbies from work. I feel with my librarian career going well I can make a difference in the skateboarding world through my work. I just don’t know how.

Artwork by Gonz

 The unique lifestyle of skateboarding does have positive attributes.  A lot of talented artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs were skateboarders first. In New York City I’ve met a lot of self-supporting independent working professionals who skateboard. All of the skateboarders I’ve met in New York City in the last seven years have been amazing, and I feel part of something. I don’t know how much I can expect from my work pet project. One thing I ask librarians is if you see someone walk into your library holding a skateboard with some attitude, and maybe a hoodie on to realize his or her life is more complex than one may assume.

Interview with woman skate pro Venessa Torres:

Here is a documentary of Paul Alexander, a talented skater who became mentally ill

This is a popular series on Vice called Epicly Latrd, they interview a lot of skateboarders, and try to get he real story.  This may be disturbing to some, but it’s happened to others even if the Antwaun Dixon story is an extreme example of it. On youtube this has a lot of views.

On a good note, here is one of Stevie Williams part, he is a success story and owns one of the most popular skate brands out there, called DGK.

If you are interested in getting involved in library programming and skateboarding,  then please join our FB group:  

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