Branding Cultures

Earlier in the semester we discussed the reading Whiteness as Property where the claims were made that the characteristic of being white resembles property because there are certain rights and privileges that come along with being white and there are certain functions that whiteness allows a white individual.  These functions are important because they include the right to enjoyment, right to reputation, and the right to exclude. I completely buy into the idea that whiteness is a form of property. There are examples in modern society that uphold this notion and show that minorities also recognize that whiteness is viewed as a desirable trait.

One of the most recent examples of whiteness as property comes in a widely publicized feud via Twitter. Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks had several exchanges via the media over how race has played a part in Iggy’s recent rise to fame. Azealia Banks posited that Iggy Azalea’s success is largely due to the fact that she is a white woman, claiming that Iggy isn’t better than any … black girl that’s rapping today. What do we make of her claims? I buy into them. Iggy has no defense for herself other than claiming that Azaleah is trying to make Iggy’s success a racial or political matter (more on that here). It is racial and political, though, isn’t it? Instead of taking time to realize the position that she has been afforded in such a short amount of time, she has chosen to assert that it is all from her own hard work. Now I’m sure that she worked hard. However, did she work any harder than women in the same position that just so happen to be of a different race?

Iggy’s race has given her privileges and rights that other black female rappers, as pointed out by Azealia, have not been afforded. There needs to be dialogue around that. Instead of embracing and discussing the cultures in America, it appears to me that the new trend is for white celebrities to put their name on something that others have labored over. Sound familiar?

Contemporary Education Obstacles

We have discussed before the difference between what the law says and how it is enacted. “Separate but equal,” did not really mean that the education for blacks was equal in quality to the education that whites were receiving. Even when segregation was made illegal and blacks were allowed to attend the same schools as white students, black students were excluded from certain classroom settings and were not afforded the same amount of resources or opportunities that were available to the white students in the same school.

There are still inequalities in public schools. These inequalities are impacted by a variety of factors, but it appears that race and socioeconomic status play a large role in the materials and resources that are available to students. In addition to what is provided to students, there are other hurdles that disadvantaged students have to overcome that better-off citizens and even teachers may not realize or care about.

For instance, I come from a public school where the ratio of white students to minority students is approximately 1:1, with black students making up a majority of the minority-status students (Ohio Department of Education 2014). In addition to the racial composition of the school, the school’s poverty status is considered medium-high (Ohio Department of Education 2014). Speaking from personal experience, many students come from single-parent homes and have one or more younger siblings. So when the School Board proposed a change in school time for elementary schools and the high school students, that was a large problem for a lot of families. Who was going to be there to see the younger children off to school or pick them up after school? The new schedule would not have made it possible for the younger children to be looked after by the older children, which was the situation for a good amount of people. This is just one example of how the current system upholds inequalities in education and opportunities for students that have more obstacles to overcome, be that race or income. If school times in my district had changed, then the rates of tardiness or absence from school likely would have gone up, which means less time for older students in the class room. Other factors such as fees for certain activities and sports also make it less likely that disadvantaged students will be able to participate in the same activities as other students.

We already knew that education isn’t equal for everyone, but it is important to recognize that there are still hierarchies even within public schools as to which students have which resources and opportunities at their disposal. This problem is exacerbated when a School Board is comprised of middle-class white citizens yet is supposed to represent the needs of a school with a large minority population and a medium-high poverty level.

Citation: Ohio Department of Education. “Ohio School Report Cards.” Ohio School Report Cards. 2014. Accessed May 2015. http://reportcard.education.ohio.gov/Pages/default.aspx.

Segregation is Legal… Again.

It has been reiterated in class time and time again that the current social structure was purposely constructed to be the way it is today. (For example, where blacks have a tendency to live compared to where whites tend to live.) For my group’s research paper I was looking up the history of African American and black education in the United States. It is common knowledge that segregation of public schools became technically illegal in 1954 with the decision in Brown v. Board. However, I stumbled across a decision that took place from 1994-1999 that shocked me: federal court orders release public school districts from having to continue to implement their desegregation plans (Jackson 2001, 55-56). Segregation is legal.

First, I’m shocked because this happened so recently. Our class was already born when the federal government started issuing orders that released the schools from implementing their desegregation plans. Second, I’m shocked because this was very clearly a shift from viewing segregation as a forced, intentional act to viewing segregation that still exists as a social norm that “just happened”. Less than 50 years after segregation was ruled to be illegal it was once again overturned. Yet segregation does still happen and it is because of events in history that things became the way that they are today! This frustrates me to no avail. In fact, schools were more racially segregated in the 1980’s than they were in the 1950’s due to “white flight” (Jackson 2001, 55). “White flight” is the movement of whites from the city to other areas to avoid black neighbors and school desegregation (Jackson 2001, 55). Therefore, whites helped ensure that segregation still took place. A mass movement of people from one place to another is quite intentional. Yet somehow city schools with all black students and suburbs with white students are the choice of the citizens… This baffles me.

How would I overcome this? I’m not sure. Likely something along the lines of racial quotas for public schools, even if that means having to bus students further, but that obviously is not realistic in all cases. I would love to hear other thoughts on this!

Citation: Jackson, Cynthia L. African American Education: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2001.

Race & Law in New Zealand.

We recently discussed in class how there is an over-representation of minorities in prison, specifically black men. Jim and Nancy Petro visited our class shortly after and shared the fact that the United States has the largest amount of incarcerations, with 7 million adults in correctional facilities–2.2 million of those adults being in prison. These numbers are astounding, and I do not wish to downplay the severity of the statistics at all. However, during these discussions I kept thinking back to my time abroad in New Zealand. We had a discussion about the criminal justice system in one of my courses and the issue of minority over-representation in correctional facilities came up there as well, so there have been a lot of similarities that I have noticed. It made me realize that the race-related problems that occur in the United States are not an isolated incident–issues of race take place in a similar fashion all around the world.

A few things to know about New Zealand…
• The indigenous people of New Zealand are the Māori.
• There is much debate about a concept called “preventive detention”. This is a form of confinement that is put in place in addition to a criminal offender’s given incarceration period due to the belief that the offender is highly likely to re-offend after being released. (More here.)
• New Zealand abolished capital punishment in 1962 for all offenses but treason, and it was removed from the act of treason in 1989. (More on the history of capital punishment in NZ can be found here or here.)

An excerpt from a Criminal Justice Report in 2009 (available as a file download here) highlights how race plays a part in the NZ criminal justice system:

“Māori are of special interest within the criminal justice system because they are the indigenous people of New Zealand and are also over-represented within the system. Māori represent roughly half of all criminal justice offenders and victims, a proportion far greater than would be expected for the size of the population. There is an urgent need to address this over-representation for the benefit of Māori and New Zealand society as a whole.”

This excerpt highlights how, just like in the United States, the minority population is represented in the criminal justice system far more than would be expected.

Wrongful conviction was something else that the Petros touched on. Instances of wrongful conviction can also be found in New Zealand. A recent example is the story of Teina Pora, a Māori man who served 22 years in prison for the brutal rape and murder of a woman named Susan Burdett. (Full story.)

Racial tensions have increased recently in the United States, but the issues of race are not unique to the United States. Spending a short amount of time in New Zealand showed me that there are instances of both overt and passive racism toward minorities, and further study revealed that their country has many of the same challenges when it comes to race and the legal system.