Stuff White People Say

December 15, 2009

Addicted to Incarceration

Filed under: Uncategorized — jwbe @ 7:54 pm

The Cost of Incarceration

“The Cost of Incarceration” is an eight-part occasional series written by Patrice Gaines, former Washington Post reporter; author and co-founder of The Brown Angel Center, a program in Charlotte, N.C. that helps formerly incarcerated women become financially independent. Gaines received a 2009 Soros Justice Media Fellowship from the Open Society Institute to research and write articles on the impact of mass incarceration on the Black community. The National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service has agreed to make this exclusive series available to its membership of more than 200 Black-owned newspapers.

Part I:
WASINGTON (NNPA) – In communities around the country, Black people are missing. Neighborhoods languish.

Dreams deferred rot in distant warehouses we call prisons. The similarities between the correctional system and slavery are eerie: Families ripped apart. Traditions lost or never made. The shipment of flesh, the pipeline that nearly guarantees Black children go from the cradle to the prison; the insane profits made by warehousing human beings; the burden borne forever by those labeled as “convicts.”

Today, a brutal recession which dictates the need to cut budgets and proof that mass incarceration does not reduce crime is changing conversations in legislative halls around the country. Some politicians, who in the past have only paid attention to fearful constituents who want to make sure people who commit crimes are locked up, are beginning to consider alternatives to imprisonment.

Meanwhile prison reform advocates are wondering if a Black president and a Black attorney general means a quicker end to the disparity in incarceration between Blacks and whites.

Prison “was never a tool to fight crime. It is an instrument to manage deprived and dishonored populations, which is quite a different task,” says Loic Wacquant, a renowned ethnographer and social theorist who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley.

Rest of Article

Links to part II and III:
Part II: The Curse of Mandatory Minimums
Part III: The Conspiracy Charge Traps Women


December 13, 2009

Fears Of Eurabia

Filed under: Uncategorized — jwbe @ 10:33 pm


Switzerland’s recent vote to ban the construction of new minarets has shocked and angered Muslims around the world. But the controversial move also reflects a growing sense of unease among other Europeans who have trouble coming to terms with Islam’s increased visibility.

In the small Swiss town of Langenthal, the battle over the minarets has been fought, and there seems to be no hope of reconciliation between the victors and the vanquished. “I feel abused and injured as a person,” says Mutalip Karaademi. “We wanted to hit a symbol,” says Daniel Zingg, “and we hit it.”

Zingg has prevented the minaret that Karaademi wanted to build, and has managed to make it illegal for any other minarets to be built in Switzerland. He was one of the authors of the referendum that was passed by the Swiss on Nov. 29 with 57.5 percent of the votes. The constitution will now contain the following sentence: “The building of minarets is banned.”

The Swiss decision has shocked Europe and the world because its ramifications go far beyond the building of minarets – they also concern the identity of an entire continent. This was a referendum on Western society’s perception of Islam as a threat. The issue is generating intense debate: Just how much of Islam is predominantly Christian Europe prepared to accept? The decision by the otherwise so tolerant Alpine country reveals the deep-seated fear of an Islam that is becoming increasingly visible.

Are Muslim immigrants threatening European values? This is a concern shared by many Europeans across the continent. Surveys last week revealed that 44 percent of Germans oppose the construction of minarets, followed by 41 percent of the French. Fifty-five percent of all Europeans see Islam as an intolerant religion.

Does the Swiss vote reveal an attitude that a majority in Europe would also support if given the opportunity?

Vehement Criticism

This would also explain why criticism of the vote was so vehement. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the United Nations and the Vatican were all equally up in arms. They said that the Swiss vote violated the principles of freedom of religion and non-discrimination. Turkey’s European Union minister called on Muslims to invest their money in Turkey instead of Switzerland, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it reflects “an increasingly racist and fascist stance in Europe.”

But the vote was welcomed and cheered in comments on some Internet blogs, and right-wing populists like the head of the Dutch Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, and France’s far-right National Front party voiced their approval. Roberto Castelli, a top politician in Italy’s Northern League said: “The Swiss have once again given us a lesson in civilization. We have to send a strong signal to stop pro-Islamic ideology.”

For the time being, what has been stopped is the minaret of the Islamic religious community in Langenthal. Mutalip Karaademi, 51, an ethnic Albanian who emigrated from Macedonia 26 years ago, is standing in front of the building used by his religious association, a former paint factory on the outskirts of town. There is a wooden construction on top measuring 6.1 meters (20 feet) It shows the height of the planned minaret, the first one that cannot be built.

Karaademi is the leader of the local Islamic community, whose 130 members come from Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. The small mosque has been here for 18 years. At the outset the minaret wasn’t so important, says Karaademi. It was simply an ornamental addition. But now it’s a matter of principle. He wants to take legal action – if necessary going all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, where it is very possible that the judges in Strasbourg will end up reversing the Swiss constitutional decision. He loves Switzerland, this model country, says Karaademi. But this ban is “racist and discriminating against us,” a scandal for the civilized world.

One Man’s Battle

The quiet winner of this battle is Daniel Zingg, 53, a balding man with wire-rimmed glasses. He’s sitting in a pizzeria across from the railway station in Langenthal and speaking in a hoarse whisper. The minarets, those “spearheads of the Sharia,” those “signs of territory newly conquered by Islam,” can no longer be built, he says, and thus the Swiss have solved a problem that has already become seemingly intractable elsewhere, such as in the large cities of England and France. It’s a well-known fact that first come the minarets, then the muezzins, with their calls to prayer, the burqas and finally Sharia law, he says. According to Zingg, the ban is not directed against Muslims, although it is naturally true that “the Koran gives (people) the mission to Islamize the world, and the Muslims here have no other mission, otherwise they would not be Muslims.”

For the past 15 years, Zingg has been giving lectures in support of Israel and against Islam. He’s a politician with the ultraconservative Christian party, the Federal Democratic Union, which received 1.3 percent of the vote in the last election. He has never set foot in the mosque in his town because he has heard that anyone who walks barefoot in one becomes a Muslim. Zingg doesn’t want to take that risk.

One might wonder how a man like this, whose radical views certainly do not reflect the majority opinion in Switzerland, was able to win a majority for his cause. There is also the question of why a country that has very few problems with its roughly 400,000 Muslims would decide to take such a dramatic step.

Perhaps fears are growing and radical demands are becoming ever more popular because there is practically no open political debate on what place Islam will assume in Europe.

An estimated 15 million Muslims currently live in the European Union, or roughly 3 percent of the population. But this is more than at any other time in the past. Immigrants, most of whom came as guest workers decades ago, have brought Islam to Europe.

Can Europe still be Europe if, for instance, in 2050 most young people under the age of 15 in Austria are Muslims? And when Muhammad today is already the most common name for newborn boys in Brussels and Amsterdam, and the third most common in England?

An ‘Official Discussion of Islam’ and a Subterranean One

American author and journalist Christopher Caldwell recently published his latest tome, “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West,” a widely-read and skeptical book on Europe and its Muslim immigrants. What fascinates him about the result of the Swiss vote is the gap between the rejection of the ban in surveys and the considerable support that it received during the referendum. “It means there is an official discussion of Islam and that there is a subterranean discussion of it,” he says. “That should worry Europeans.”

Caldwell doesn’t sound the same alarmist tones in his book as other conservative authors who have dubbed the old continent as “Eurabia” and see it – due to higher birthrates among immigrants – as a future outpost of the “Islamic world empire.” But he also writes: “It is certain that Europe will emerge changed from its confrontation with Islam. It is far less certain that Islam will prove assimilable.”

Caldwell believes that Muslim immigrants have had greater difficulties than other groups integrating themselves into European society. On the one hand, only a minority can identify with political Islam, also due to the wars that the West has waged against Islamic terror over the past few years. On the other hand, their religion goes hand in hand with conservative attitudes toward women, family relationships, sexual freedom and the rights of gays and lesbians. These religious attitudes are problematic for many Europeans.

Caldwell says that Muslims are a small minority, but Europe is changing its structures because of them: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”

Widespread Fears in Germany

Germany has yet to conduct a serious national debate on these issues. Instead the country has focused on Islamic headscarves, a topic which sparked a clash between the two cultures. For six long years the Germans grappled with the question of whether a teacher from Afghanistan could be allowed to wear a headscarf at her school in Baden-Württemberg. The case eventually went to the German Constitutional Court, which ruled that it was up to the individual states to issue legislation on headscarves. Since then teachers in half of Germany’s 16 states have been banned from wearing headscarves.

When there have been conflicts – such as over the construction of mosques – they have been carried out at a local level. This has usually led to very German solutions, in which development plans and zoning ordinances play a major role.

In the town of Kehl, near the French border, for instance, proposals to put up a mosque in a residential area were rejected. However, it was allowed to be built near the railway station, with a minaret exactly as high as the church tower. In other situations, not even a tiny minaret could be built, such as in Augsburg in Bavaria. Meanwhile, a citizens’ initiative in Cologne has failed to prevent the construction of a huge, central mosque – one of the largest in Europe.

But there are nevertheless widespread fears in Germany, as illustrated by the example of a church in Duisburg that was recently converted into a mosque. Members of the old church congregation ceremoniously handed over the house of worship to its new owners, “but in the pubs and in private conversations everyone complained that the Muslims were seizing power in Germany,” says Rauf Ceylan, a religious studies professor at the University of Osnabrück. He says that many Germans have a latent fear of Islam.

The British Paradox

Great Britain is the most disturbing example cited by many pessimists. Although just under 3 percent of the British population are Muslims, primarily from Pakistan and Bangladesh, nowhere else in Europe do so many of them live totally isolated from the rest of society – in cities like Bradford, Dewsbury and Leicester.

Most of the old, original English working-class residents have long since moved out of the district of Bury Park in Luton, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of London. The streets are filled with women wearing niqabs, the Islamic full face veil that leaves only a slit for the eyes, and men with gray beards. There are halal butchers and 10 mosques. A minaret made of red English brick has been lovingly integrated into a row of houses. The muezzin calls the faithful to prayers over loudspeakers.

On the streets residents speak Bengali or Urdu. The community center offers naturalization courses. Mosques hold state-financed anti-terror courses that are designed to immunize young Muslims against the propaganda of the extremists. The neighborhood used to be frequented by guest Islamic preachers spouting hate and it was from here that four suicide bombers set off to attack London’s transport system and kill 52 people on July 7, 2005.

But many second, third and fourth generation Muslims have long-since moved beyond this milieu. They are extremely well educated, possess British citizenship, and work as doctors, lawyers and politicians.

The British state has done far more to accommodate the cultural needs of its Muslim citizens than any other European country. Muslim policewomen are allowed to cover their hair with a headscarf. It’s part of their uniform.

For the past two years, British Muslims have also been able to turn to Islamic arbitration tribunals that are based on Sharia law. Their decisions are legally binding for both parties in a conflict. If necessary, a British bailiff will come to enforce the sentence. This is unique in Europe.

These arbitration tribunals were the brainchild of Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi. His Sharia courts now hear cases in seven English cities and have nothing to do with hacking off hands or stoning people to death. They only deal with civil disputes, and only if both parties agree to the process. These tribunals have convened roughly 600 times over the past 12 months, dealing primarily with disputes among business partners, trouble in the neighborhood and even inheritance cases. They have ensured, says Siddiqi, that British Muslims can identify more strongly with Great Britain.

How Visible Can Islam Be in France?

Jocelyne Cesari, a French expert on Islam, calls the British situation a paradox: “On the one hand, there is a flourishing Muslim middle class, and at the same time this is the country with the largest number of Muslims living in isolated districts and espousing the most radical views.”

She sees no problems with Sharia arbitration tribunals, as long as they do not conflict with applicable laws. According to Cesari, compromises are acceptable in areas that do not infringe upon the majority and do not break any laws. “Multiculturalism does not mean that the old established majority has special rights,” she says, adding that Caldwell’s postulate that Islam is incompatible with European values is a mixture of half-truths and prejudices: “Muslims are definitely prepared to adapt – they often take a critical view of their own religion.”

But Cesari says that there is a struggle over the symbolic recognition of Islam. “During the first few decades, Muslims opened modest prayer rooms. Now they want venues where they can compete with Europe’s churches and cathedrals.” She says that since Christianity has increasingly retreated from the public sphere, many Europeans perceive the mosques as a provocation.

France is currently officially negotiating the question of how visible Islam is allowed to be within its borders. This debate is taking place in a windowless room in the basement of a parliamentary building in Paris. Dark leather armchairs are arranged in a circle, and in front of the wood-paneled main wall sits Andre Gerin, chairman of the parliamentary investigative committee on the “wearing of full-body veils.”

Gerin, a Communist, has been the mayor of the Lyon suburb of Venissieux for over 24 years. He is wearing a gray pinstriped suit with trousers that are too short. Gerin instigated this investigative committee, he says, because the burqa is threatening France’s republican ideals.

At Gerin’s right, sitting across from the members of the committee, is Tariq Ramadan, a controversial and clever Islamic philosopher and theologian with Swiss citizenship. Ramadan is wearing a dark suit and sporting a three-day beard. He opposes a law that would ban the burqa because he says it would only stigmatize Islam.

“Monsieur Ramadan,” Gerin says, leading into his first question, “is wearing the burqa a religious duty? Or do you see it, as we do, as a means of oppressing women?”

“No,” Ramadan replies, “there is no obligation to wear the burqa and there are certainly men who force their wives to wear the burqa against their will. But a law would only lead to more isolation.”

“What would you suggest then?”, asks the commission chairman. The application of existing laws, says Ramadan, of course a woman wearing a burqa would have to show her face during identity checks. “But we need to finally realize that Islam has become a French religion.”

Ramadan is the 145th expert that the committee has interviewed. For years he has been advocating a self-confident Islam in Europe, adapted to the demands of the modern age and compatible with European achievements like respect for human rights and democracy. His opponents say that Ramadan is a two-faced liar who is trying to lull the European public into a false sense of security.

Do Europeans Reduce Islam to the Burqa?

Gerin would like to initiate a debate on the issue of the degree to which France – with its strict separation of church and state – is willing to accommodate Islam. He says that he is only using the burqa as a catalyst. The French domestic intelligence service has identified only 367 women throughout the country who wear a burqa. Of all the problems associated with the up to 6 million Muslims in the country, burqas are probably the least of them.

Many religious Muslims accuse Europeans of equating Islam with the burqa, the burqa with the Taliban, the Taliban with Osama bin Laden. They say that people talk about them as if they were all Islamists, as if they had not already been living in the country for decades.

But Gerin has achieved his objective. In his hearing room the French Republic is struggling with the exception to the rule – in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity.

How can it be, asks Gerin, that we accept attacks on the personal liberty of anyone in our country? How can it be that policymakers have no answers to these questions? How is this possible in secular France?

Gerin is a Communist waging a campaign to defend republican ideals, and a mayor defending his city. But he is also a realist: “We are roughly 25 years behind schedule, but we finally have to accept that the Muslims have a right to settle here,” he says. “But they will have to adapt to our society.” The French debate over the burqa shares one thing in common with the minaret ban in Switzerland: They are both attacking a symbol, but they have another objective. They are driven by the hope that they can roll back the influence of Islam by limiting its visibility. It is easier to fight over sensitive issues than to deal with concrete problems – to squabble about girls who don’t participate in swimming classes, halal food in the company canteen and prayers during the work day. It is also a fairly impotent strategy.

A ‘Clash of Cultures’ in Belgium

In Antwerp and a number of other Belgian cities, for years women have been banned from veiling their faces. The police have already cautioned a number of women wearing niqabs and burqas. But actually the ban hasn’t been an issue here for quite some time now – in fact it’s hard to find Muslims who feel inclined to get upset about it.

By contrast, Islamic headscarves have been the source of a great deal of controversy in Antwerp. This is a cosmopolitan port city, but in recent local elections one-third of the voters supported Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), a right-wing political party with an anti-immigration platform. Three years ago, a socialist mayor was the first to issue a ban on headscarves in the public sector. Since September this ban has also included schoolchildren.

Karin Heremans, 46, is the principal of the Royal Antheneum of Antwerp, a prestigious secondary school that resembles a fortress in the heart of Antwerp. She is blonde and wears a low cut-silk dress and pink lipstick, making her pretty much the opposite of the girls in her school, most of whom are Muslims. They wear turtlenecks and headscarves, at least as far as the mirror that hangs in the school’s entrance hall, where the girls have to take off their headscarves. When she became the director of the school in 2001, only 10 days before 9/11, Heremans never would have thought that she would one day issue a ban on headscarves. But that’s when the “clash of the cultures” erupted, as she calls it, and by that she doesn’t mean the clash out there in the world, but rather the conflict right in her own schoolyard.

At first, teachers continued to talk to their students about Darwin, and there were fashion shows and even a field trip to Istanbul. Everything seemed possible. In 2005, Heremans even wrote a book in which she rejected a ban on headscarves and believed that cultural differences were an enrichment.

But as an increasing number of schools in Antwerp banned headscarves, more and more girls transferred to the Atheneum. It was the last school without a ban. Finally, girls came to school completely covered from head to foot, with long coats and gloves, and a representative of an Islamic organization stood at the entrance and noted which ones removed their headscarves in the school.

That’s when Heremans also banned the headscarves. “I was afraid we would become a Muslim school,” she says. Seventy out of 580 students left the school and Heremans was placed under police protection. Classrooms were trashed in protest. But in the school the girls removed their headscarves, and many of them have said it made them feel liberated.

“We have changed the word tolerance against reciprocity,” says Heremans. “Everyone who wants freedom of religion has to respect the freedom of religion of others.” There has to be inalienable values, such as gender equality, freedom of expression and religion, and respect, she says. A few days after Heremans issued her ban, the school board followed suit. Starting this coming year, headscarves – and all other religious symbols – are banned at all 700 state schools in Flanders. Many of the girls now attend Islamic schools or study at home.

Europe’s Greatest Challenge?

The headscarf controversy in Antwerp is one of the latest examples of the issues facing Europe. Can it preserve its values – and freedoms – by limiting personal freedoms?

Dealing with Islam is perhaps the greatest challenge facing Europe. If the Continent manages to preserve its own values without discriminating against Muslims, then a consensus on values can be achieved and European Muslims could become a model for the Islamic world. If it fails, however, Europe could betray its own values, and the populists could win and their simple solutions would fan the flames of the clash of cultures.

There are many arguments against the alarmists who fear that Europe is well on its way to becoming an Arab colony. The vast majority of Muslims adapt to their host country, are less religious than in their countries of origin, and the majority of them accept the prevailing culture. In addition, the fears of high birth rates among Muslim immigrants have proven to be exaggerated: In the second and third generations, these rates have dropped back down to the national average.

But sometimes fears are stronger than facts, and sometimes a ban on minarets has nothing to do with minarets. In the Swiss cities where Muslims and Christians have been coexisting for ages, the citizens’ initiative failed to garner the majority of votes. In the mountain canton of Appenzell-Innerrhoden, where only 500 Muslims live, 71 percent of voters supported the minaret ban.

In Langenthal, a small rural town where there were plans to build a minaret, the rate of support for the referendum almost exactly matched the Swiss national average.

December 10, 2009

New Report Finds Racism Prevalent Across Europe

Filed under: Uncategorized — jwbe @ 3:36 pm



For minority groups living in Europe, everyday pursuits like shopping or visiting the doctor are often soured by discrimination. According to a new EU-wide report, racism is deeply entrenched — and, more worryingly still, often goes unreported.

For many of Europe’s ethnic minorities and immigrants, racism and discrimination is a sad fact of day-to-day life, according to a report published on Wednesday by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

Europe, whose citizens once fled in droves in favor of a more promising future elsewhere, has gradually emerged as a magnet for immigrants. But the experience of its ethnic minorities and newcomers is often far from rosy, according to the new survey. Among a raft of sobering facts, it found that on average, every second Roma and more than a third of the Sub-Saharan African interviewees were discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity at least once over the past year.

Doubts About Local Police

Strikingly, they also found that among those facing discrimination in the last 12 months, some 82 percent did not report their experience to authorities, often because of doubts about local police.

The EU-wide study is the first of its kind, having collected the opinions of 23,500 people from various ethnic minorities and immigrant groups across the EU’s 27 member states in 2008. To pin down the extent of the problem, it used a range of questions probing discrimination in various spheres of everyday life, including work or job hunting, looking for accomodation, health care and social services, schools and shops, as well as experiences like trying to open a bank account or obtain a loan.

The report found that the Roma face more discrimination because of their background than other groups. On average, each Roma interviewee had been discriminated against some 4.6 times in the past year. After the Roma, people from Sub-Saharan Africa faced the greatest discrimination, followed by North Africans.

Racially-Motivated Threats

The organization also dissected their findings on a country-by-country basis, highlighting zones of high-level prejudice around the EU. Those found to be experiencing the highest levels of racism of any group were the Roma in the Czech Republic, followed by the Roma in Hungary and the Roma in Greece. Almost as badly affected were Sub-Saharan Africans in Ireland and North Africans living in Italy.

In an effort to differentiate between types of discrimination, the report also looks at levels of assault and threat against minority groups, with Somali respondents in Finland reporting the highest incidents in Europe. Fully 74 of 100 respondents said they had experienced an assault or a threat. When it comes to serious harrassment, 174 incidents were reported for every 100 Roma respondents in Greece.

While Roma, Sub-Saharan Africans and Muslims consistently reported the highest levels of racism, one exception was Brazilians living in Portugal. They reported high levels of anti-immigrant sentiment.

Across Europe as a whole, one in four people from a minority group had been the victim of a crime over the last year — a bitterly ironic finding given that they themselves are often stereotyped as criminals.

Among the survey group, it was the younger respondents who reported the worst violence. For example, among North African immigrants, the most attacks were recorded among the youngest age groups (a third of those aged 24 or under had been victimized, along with 30 percent for those aged 25 to 39). For the oldest age group, 55 years and older, just 12 percent were affected.

Police Mistrust

Interestingly, the report found no significant differences in victimization according to gender, striking a contrast with previous surveys.

Some communities questioned saw the police as part of the problem. Amongst the North Africans in the survey, 1 in 5 thought that they had been stopped by the police because of their ethnicity.

Similarly, the report pointed to a prevailing mistrust among immigrants and ethnic minorities towards the local police forces. A total of 82 percent of the individuals who said they had had a recent experience of discrimination in the past year did not report it to the police, mostly on the grounds that “nothing would happen” or “it happens all the time.”

“This lack of reporting indicates that official figures on racist discrimination constitute just the ‘tip of the iceberg’,” the report said.

It added that the contrast between official statistics and the high frequency of racially motivated incidents revealed by this survey, “is evidence enough that much more needs to be done.”

November 19, 2009

American Youth in the 21st Century

Filed under: Uncategorized — jwbe @ 8:47 pm

American Youth in the 21st Century

By Henry A. Giroux

Punishment and fear have replaced compassion and social responsibility as the most important modalities mediating the relationship of youth to the larger social order. Youth within the last two decades have come to be seen as a source of trouble rather than as a resource for investing in the future, and in the case of poor black and Hispanic youth are increasingly treated as either a disposable population, cannon fodder for barbaric wars abroad, or the source of most of society’s problems. Hence, young people now constitute a crisis that has less to do with improving the future than with denying it. As Larry Grossberg points out, “It has become common to think of kids as a threat to the existing social order and for kids to be blamed for the problems they experience. We slide from kids in trouble, kids have problems, and kids are threatened, to kids as trouble, kids as problems, and kids as threatening.” This was exemplified when the columnist Bob Herbert reported in the New York Times that “parts of New York City are like a police state for young men, women, and children who happen to be black or Hispanic. They are routinely stopped, searched, harassed, intimidated, humiliated and, in many cases, arrested for no good reason.” No longer “viewed as a privileged sign and embodiment of the future,” youth are now increasingly demonized by the popular media and derided by politicians looking for quick-fix solutions to crime and other social ills. While youth have always had to bear the misplaced fear and distrust of adults, how youth are represented, talked about, and treated has changed dramatically in the last two decades. 

Under the reign of neoliberal politics with its hyped-up social Darwinism and theater of cruelty, the popular demonization and “dangerousation” of the young now justifies responses to youth that were unthinkable 20 years ago, including criminalization and imprisonment, the prescription of psychotropic drugs, psychiatric confinement, and zero tolerance policies that model schools after prisons. School has become a model for a punishing society in which children who commit a rule violation as minor as a dress code infraction or slightly act out in class can be handcuffed, booked, and put in a jail cell. Racism, inequality, and poverty are on full display in the growing resegregation of public schools in the United States. Now more than ever, many schools either simply warehouse young black males or put them on the fast track to prison incarceration or a future of control under the criminal justice system. All across America, black and brown youth are being suspended or expelled at rates much higher than their white counterparts who commit similar behavioral infractions. For example, as Howard Witt writes in the Chicago Tribune, “In the average New Jersey public school, African-American students are almost 60 times as likely as white students to be expelled for serious disciplinary infractions. In Minnesota, black students are suspended 6 times as often as whites [and ] in Iowa, blacks make up just 5 percent of the statewide public school enrollment but account for 22 percent of the students who get suspended. . . . And on average across the nation, black students are suspended and expelled at nearly three times the rate of white students.” As schools become increasingly militarized, drug-sniffing dogs, metal detectors, and cameras have become common features in schools, and administrators appear more willing if not eager “to criminalize many school infractions, saddling tens of thousands of students with misdemeanor criminal records for offenses such as swearing[,] disrupting class,” or pushing another student. Trust and respect now give way to fear, disdain, and suspicion, creating an environment in which critical pedagogical practices wither, while pedagogies of surveillance and testing flourish.  If young people were once defined as part of the vocabulary of innocence and compassion, they are now largely understood through the discourse of fear, guilt, and punishment. 

Clearly, there is more at stake under the current regime of neoliberal politics than an attack on children largely characterized by “negative labels and characterizations of youth [that] are falsely totalizing” and punitive laws and public policies. Youth have also become collateral damage for conservatives and neoliberal advocates who want to dismantle the social state and in doing so justify themselves by pointing to an alleged rise of a generation of disorderly and dangerous youth dependent upon government entitlements. Within this discourse, government support for young people is both undermined and inappropriately blamed for creating a generation of kids labeled as psychologically damaged, narcissistic, violent, and out of control. Scapegoating youth as both a generation of suspects and a threat to the social order allows conservatives and neoliberals to further privatize those public spheres that youth need, such as education and health care, while developing policies that move away from social investment to matters of punishment and containment. In this instance, the punishing state combines with the logic of the market to produce priorities and policies that disinvest in the future of children and assert a ruthlessness that largely treats them as reified commodities or disposable populations. Both childhood and the state are now being reimagined in ways that reveal the priorities of a society that has fully embraced the reckless abandon of casino capitalism, where the only rules that matter are made to order by powerful corporations and rich investors. How else to interpret neoliberal-inspired government programs that in the midst of deepening inequality, rising levels of poverty, catastrophic increases in failed mortgages, and growing unemployment invest more in prisons than in public and higher education?  

It is more necessary than ever to register youth as a theoretical, moral, and political center of concern, even as it is increasingly evident that youth are one of our lowest national priorities. It is crucial to connect the current crisis in democracy to the war against young people. Doing so will remind adults of their ethical and political responsibility to invest in youth as a symbol for not only securing a democratic future but also keeping alive those elements of civic imagination, culture, and education that subordinate economic principles to democratic values. The category of youth may be one of the most important referents for beginning a critical examination about the pernicious consequences of a society driven by market values, one that not only abstracts young people from the future but shapes the present in a theater of war in which youth become the most innocent victims. Youth provide a powerful touchstone for a critical discussion about the long-term consequences of neoliberal policies, which undermine any viable notion of justice, equality, and freedom, while also gesturing toward those conditions that make a democratic future possible. Many young people are part of social movements that not only address these crucial issues but also provide a politics, modes of resistance, and connective relations that adults should take seriously as part of their own civic and political formation at the beginning of the new millennium.

October 26, 2009

American Privilege

Filed under: Uncategorized — jwbe @ 6:29 pm

I don’t know if there is research of how deeply American privilege impacts white privilege regarding white Americans, but I think the ‘double-privilege’, which seems to be mostly ignored is also important to understand the white American mind and therefore American white supremacy.

And for all who are interested, American nuclear weapons on German ground are one reason why I am trying to combat white supremacy and with rallying against American nw I started becoming aware of politics and more. I was around 14 back then.

New German government to seek removal of US nuclear weapons

Foreign Minister-designate Guido Westerwelle has renewed calls for a withdrawal of US nuclear weapons based in Germany, saying he would hold talks with the Obama adminstration on the issue.

Speaking at a meeting of his business-friendly FDP party in Berlin on Sunday, Westerwelle said the new German government would support the vision of US President Barack Obama for a world free of nuclear weapons.

“We will take President Obama at his word and enter talks with our allies so that the last of the nuclear weapons still stationed in Germany, relics of the Cold War, can finally be removed,” Westerwelle said.

“Germany must be free of nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that he would personally make efforts towards that purpose.

No unilateral move to remove nuclear arms

His comments came a day after his FDP party reached agreement with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives for a new center-right government scheduled to take office on October 28.

The coalition agreement reached by the two sides calls specifically for talks with NATO and the US to remove the weapons.

Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed this goal, but emphasized no unilateral action would be taken to remove the nuclear warheads. “We do not want any independent action here,” Merkel said on Saturday in Berlin.

The US, which deployed nuclear weapons in various European countries in the 1950s, is estimated to have 20 atomic warheads in Germany.

No official or publicly accessible information is available on where the weapons were stored. But some of the missiles are believed to be stationed at the Buechel airbase in the western German state of Rhineland- Palatinate.

Controversial issue in Germany

Westerwelle, 47, has little direct foreign policy experience. But the removal of US nuclear weapons from German soil is an issue he has regulary emphasized.

His FDP party is pro-American and has long campaigned for disarmament.

The nuclear issue, including nuclear power, is highly unpopular in Germany, with shipments of nuclear waste regularly triggering angry protests. The country has no permanent storage site for the waste.

The new German government recently agreed to reverse plans to abandon nuclear power. Berlin is eager to reduce dependency on gas and oil imports, but environmentalists have already vowed to fight the decision.”


October 25, 2009

The schizophrenic mind of whites

Filed under: Uncategorized — jwbe @ 9:14 pm

There is one topic I am trying to explore and also trying to understand: White people’s skill of creating an image of oneself that doesn’t exist. I will take one example not related to race. I knew a women who calls herself ‘animal protector’. Yes, she also did some positive things in terms of protection, but also many negative and there is no other term to describe her: She is an animal hoarder. She collects animals, dogs, cats, guinea pigs, some of these animals live in the dark cellar, others are locked up in rooms up-stairs and when you enter the house, you enter a mess. Once there was a dying dog lying in the middle of about 15 other dogs, many of her cats suffer from asthma due to the high amount of ammoniac.
But because she created for herself the identity of being an animal protector she is completely blind to the pain she causes to the animals. There is no chance to open her eyes, I have tried it for many years, there is also no chance to interfere with law enforcement, because she is an “animal-protector” and other pro-animal organizations support her. They warn her when higher institutions protecting animal rights will come for control so she can hide a large number of pets etc.

But she is not blind towards other animal horders. When she gets knowledge about an animal hording case, she calls police or more powerful animal protecting organizations.
It is as if there are two different persons in one body, in the case of the woman it becomes visible to all who know her, in the case of white anti-racism the schizophrenic soul of the white mind is not always so visible.

There are some anti-racist blogs on internet, owned by whites, where the discrepancy of being and appearing to be becomes visible how such whites handle their comment sections. Their comment sections remain clearly white/racist, regardless what the owners try to claim they are. Blogs become ways of self-promotion, blogs become ways to criticize racism while at the same time these owners are not able to create a racism-free blog (comment section).
Some owners are then in addition not willing or able to challenge the racism in the comment section but relay more or less on their readers to do their job.
The problem of such blogs is that these white owners can privilege themselves in many ways. They can decide which comments are censored and not, and in all cases I know so far those who challenge the racism on such an alleged anti-racist blog are the ones who are finally discouraged by certain actions of the blog-owners. [Warnings, censorship or openly discrediting those who challenge the racism but remaining silent when those who challenge problematic comments are insulted etc.)

These blog-owners cannot be challenged because they won’t publish too critical comments that could show to others their bigotry. They can continue with self-promotion and also distancing from “those racists”, while at the same time their blog is a racist place, supported how the white owners handle the comment section.
Cyber racism finds its way into the comment sections of white anti-racist blogs as racism in real life finds its way into the organizations of anti-racists which are led by whites (and no surprise, in many cases led by white males). On blogs as well as in real life organizations this racism is mostly unchallenged, whites, who allegedly want ‘to change the world’ by ending white supremacy, but already unable to live what they preach. How do such whites think the ‘big change’ should be possible when they are already in such a small area like orgas or blogs still ‘too white’ to make a difference? They may be able to create an idealistic identity of themselves they actually believe they are, criticizing racism in others that they are unable to see in themselves.

October 22, 2009

Undercover to Discover Life as a Black Man in Germany

Filed under: Uncategorized — jwbe @ 9:44 am


Günter Wallraff is Germany’s most famous investigative journalist. He’s made a name for himself by going undercover to reveal the hidden side of many social issues. In his new film, he disguises himself as a black person to explore racial discrimination in Germany. His approach, however, is drawing criticism.

German journalist Günter Wallraff has accomplished a lot in his career. He has revealed to the German public how so-called “guest workers,” immigrants from Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain and other countries who came here in the 1950s and 60s and stayed, are discriminated against in this country, the questionable working methods of Bild, the country’s top-selling tabloid newspaper, and how call-center employees are exploited. His latest project also seems like a noble one. “I want to find out,” he says, “what it’s like to be black in Germany.”

The project involves both a book, “Aus der schönen neuen Welt” (“Out of the Beautiful New World”), and a film, “Schawarz auf Weiss” (“Black on White”), which will be released in theaters in Germany on Thursday. As part of the film, Wallraff has a makeup artist cover him in dark brown makeup, he wears brown contact lenses and he dons an afro wig. Then, using the alias Kwami Ogonno, he takes a trip across Germany. He goes to a soccer game in the eastern city of Cottbus, attends a city festival in Magdeburg, tries to secure a place to pitch a tent in campground in the Teutoburg Forest and takes his German shepherd to dog training in Cologne.

The film reveals the frightening degree of both blatant and latent racism in Germany. When he goes to festivals, people refuse to drink beer on the same bench. Landlords refuse to rent apartments to him. People seem to have no compunction about calling him the German word for “negro.” And hooligans in Eastern Germany even threaten him with physical violence.

Reception in the Black German Community

There’s just one odd thing about the movie: If Wallraff really wanted to find out what it’s like to live as a black in Germany, why didn’t he take the time to let any blacks living in Germany answer the question?

Wallraff’s modus operandi is to go undercover and film it to help show and tell what he experiences. He became famous for his 1977 film in which he infiltrated Bild under the alias of Hans Esser. Six years later, he disguised himself as the Turkish guest worker Ali Levent. But is this method appropriate for his new subject matter?

Black Germans are on the fence about the film. “We find the mindset behind Mr. Wallraff’s film very problematic,” says Tahir Della, a spokeswoman from the Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD). “As is so often the case, someone is speaking for rather than with us.” Noah Sow, an educator and musician associated with the media watchdog organization Der braune Mob (The Brown Mob), even goes so far as to accuse Wallraff of “making money from our suffering” regardless of whether he “really intends to combat (racism) or not.”

There’s something odd about how Wallraff handles the issues of racism in his movie and book as compared with how he handles his other journalistic excursions. For example, in the book’s chapter on homelessness, his conversations with several homeless people — including Manfred, the software entrepreneurs, Walter, the truck driver, and Timo, the high school dropout — take up several pages. But you’d be hard-pressed to find the transcript of a conversation with anyone black.

Granted, in one episode in the film, Wallraff gathers stories about blacks who have been discriminated against in various German administrative offices. And then he dons his disguise to see what it’s like for himself. Accompanied by Avad, a black German, he tries to sign up to take the exam to get a hunting license. But the bureaucrats react aggressively to his request and refuse to provide him with information about the test. Avad doesn’t say a word, though, and he is never asked what it’s like when public servants refused to help him land a job. In the end, Wallraff pushes him out of the picture, too.

The main criticism levied against Wallraff’s film is that it fails to portray the debate about racism against blacks in Germany as being as advanced as it really is. For example, Della criticizes the film for “making absolutely no mention” of how much blacks in Germany have organized themselves. “We’re happy that racism is discussed,” she says, “but black groups have been doing the same thing for over 25 years.”

Sow* has a similar criticism. “Wherever you look,” [s]he says, “whether it’s in academia, publishing or the annual reports of anti-discrimination offices, knowledge about everyday racism is present — and accessible with the click of a mouse.” [S]he adds that: “Whites just have to stop ignoring and doubting these findings.” As [s]he sees it, the only reason Wallraff succeeds in drawing attention to the plight of Kwami Ogonno is that he is “privileged in the racist system (over) research results, publications and testimonials produced by blacks.”

The stories of black Germans have been portrayed in films, books and songs for many years. In 2006, the documentary “Black Deutschland” was released, which featured leading black Germans in the artistic community speaking about how blacks are perceived by themselves and others. In 2007, the black German actress, television host and film director Mo Asumang released “Roots Germania,” a film about her search for her family’s roots. And, in 2009, black German rapper Samy Deluxe released an album and book entitled “Dis wo ich herkomm” (“That’s Where I’m From”), both of which present a controversial examination of his relationship with Germany, his native country.

In response to such criticisms, however, Wallruff complains that “unfortunately, too few people either watch or read” these works. “It’d be much better,” he adds, “if they enjoyed a wider audience.”

What Is True in True-to-life?

While conducting research for his film, Wallraff even contacted the ISD to obtain reports about the experiences of blacks in Germany. He also consulted with Mouctar Bah, a prominent black human rights activist in Germany. But neither Bah nor any other blacks are interviewed as part of the film’s on-screen action.

“That would have made it another film,” Wallraff told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “As is the case in all of my roles, its about experiencing a situation at the gut level.” He also believes that it was completely appropriate to use is undercover method when treating this issue as well. “My approach makes everyday racism comprehensible for Germans,” he says — meaning, of course, white Germans.

When he played a Turkish guest worker living in Germany 25 years ago, Wallraff gave both a voice and a face to a segment of society that, at the time, was hardly represented in the German media at all. In 2009, as can be seen with the examples of Mo Asumang, Samy Deluxe and many others, black Germans have firmly established a presence in the public eye. But Wallraff pointedly chose not to place his Kwami character in the professional world. “With my Ali character, I wanted to expose discrimination in the world of work,” Wallraff says. “But, with Kwami, I purposefully chose a character that could help people primarily see the kind of racist things that happen in everyday life.”

A Failure to Make Subtle Differentiations

One of the things that Wallraff makes clear in his film is how the lines between race and class discrimination become blurred. For example, when he goes about as Kwami Ogonno wearing no jacket, carrying only a plastic bag and speaking broken German, he is usually treated like anyone else who is economically marginalized. But when he dresses stylishly and speaks German without an accent when visiting an expensive watch store in Düsseldorf, he is treated with the utmost courtesy.

When he delivered his speech on racism in 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama touched upon this issue of how race and class conflicts often get tangled up together. He spoke about “the resentments of white Americans” who feel threatened by gains made by blacks in American society. He went on to say that “to label (white Americans) as misguided or even racist without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns (also) widens the racial divide and blocks the path to understanding.” In the end, he concludes that they would both benefit more by fighting together for more opportunities.

In his film and book, however, Wallraff fails to reach this sort of subtle differentiation. In the film, he particularly complains that, as a black man, he is “always defined exclusively based on the color of his skin.” “When you’re black,” he says in one of the film’s few moments of commentary, “people don’t focus on or even recognize what really makes you a person.”

Still, he also seems to commit this same fault of over-simplification in his film. “In my role, I usually just made do without any personal history,” he says. “I was simply just ‘the other,’ ‘the black other.'”

* Noah Sow is a woman therefore I edited the parts where Der Spiegel refers to her as “he”

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