Now updated, here are all four new videos produced by the “I, Too, Am Auckland” team. This iteration’s theme is titled, “CONVERSATIONS.” We hope the videos illustrate how critical dialogue can help us reflect on our own biases and stimulate change at both the interpersonal and institutional levels when addressing everyday colonialism and racism. Enjoy…

“Sam & Sehar”

“Caitlin & Emmy”

“Shameela & Atelaite”

“Lydia & Barek”

Since release of the I, Too, Am Auckland videos (all three of which can be viewed here), a number of questions and critiques have been raised, which this post will attempt to address.

Jean Lee final

Issue 1: Was there an over-representation of Pacific interviewees relative to Māori interviewees?
In some ways, yes. In other ways, no. With respect to the raw number of interviewees, there was a disproportionate number of Pacific students interviewed. Listed below are some basic descriptive statistics of interviewees:

Māori* Pacific**
Female students 10 15
Male students 3 14
Female staff 2 0
Male staff 1 0
Total 16 29

(*”Māori” includes interviewees who identified solely as Māori, as well as those identifying as Māori and any other ethnicity, including a Pacific background; ** “Pacific” interviewees expressed identifying as Cook Island Maori, Fijian, Niuean, Samoan, and Tongan).

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In terms of raw numbers, there was an over-representation of Pacific interviewees, especially with respect to students. If excluding the 3 Māori staff members, about 31% of student interviewees were Māori, and 69% Pacific. This may be a ramification of willingness to be interviewed and/or the production team’s ethnic composition, which included 3 individuals who identify as Samoan, 1 as Cook Island/Vanuatuan, and 3 as Asian (2 Indian; 1 Japanese American).

Representation, however, can be viewed in other ways, including how much speaking time interviewees had in the 3 primary videos (i.e., excluding the 90-second Trailer).

Video 1: “Experiences” Minutes Percentage
Māori students  6 min, 18 sec 42.6%
Pacific students 8 min, 8 sec 55.0%
Combination Māori and Pacific students 0 min, 3 sec  0.4%
No interviewees 0 min, 18 sec 2.0%
Total “Experiences” video 14 min, 47 sec 100.0%
Video 2: “Targeted Admission Schemes/Tuākana”
Māori students 0 min, 7 sec 1.2%
Pacific students 1 min, 9 sec 11.7%
Māori staff 8 min, 10 sec  82.9%
No interviewees 0 min, 25 sec 4.2%
Total “Targeted Admission Schemes/Tuākana” video 9 min, 51 sec 100.0%
Video 3: “Solutions”
Māori students 2 min, 28 sec  41.2%
Pacific students  2 min, 43 sec  45.4%
Māori staff 0 min, 33 sec 9.2%
No interviewees  0 min, 15 sec  4.2%
Total “Solutions” video  5 min, 59 sec  100.0%
All 3 Videos Combined
Māori (students and staff) 17 min, 36 sec 57.5%
Pacific students 12 min, 0 sec  39.2%
No interviewees 0 min, 58 sec  3.2%
Total 30 min, 37 sec  100.0%
Māori students, all 3 videos  9 min, 26 sec  44.0%
Pacific students, all 3 videos 12 min, 0 sec  55.9%
Total, students only 21 min, 26 sec 100.0%

Although more Pacific students were interviewed than Māori, Māori were featured more in terms of speaking time across the videos when including Māori staff. If only accounting for students, Pacific students did have more time in the videos – roughly 2 and 1/2 more minutes than Māori students. Unfortunately, Pacific staff were not present in videos despite the “I, Too, Am Auckland” team’s requests to a few Pacific staff who were asked. Due to time constraints, further requests to secure Pacific staff representation were not made – a significant limitation.

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Faculty representation and level of study amongst student interviewees is also worth presenting:

Faculty Major(s) Number Students
Law/Arts combination 13
Arts 7
Medical & Health Sciences 7
Law 4
Commerce 3
Creative Arts & Industries 3
Engineering 2
Law/Commerce combination 1
Science 1
Science/Arts combination 1
Undergraduate 28
Postgraduate 14
Total 42

Notably absent are students from the Faculty of Education, where a disproportionately high number of Māori and Pacific students study.

Given the descriptive observations presented above, it is important to highlight that the “I, Too, Am Auckland” project is not and has never been framed as scientific research. Rather, it is based off of scientific research, which has been published in two peer-reviewed academic articles thus far (see here and here), which conveyed the same themes covered in these videos.

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Issue 2: Why were Māori and Pacific students grouped together, and why were other ethnic minorities not included?

Māori are recognised as indigenous, tangata whenua (“people of the land”) in Aotearoa New Zealand, whereas Pacific peoples are nga iwi o te moana nui (“people of the Pacific Ocean”); there is an obvious and important distinction. Despite these differences, Māori and Pacific students were grouped together because as expressed in the previously mentioned research, students from both groups experience very similar forms of everyday racism. One key difference is resistance by some majority-group students to discussion in courses over The Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which more adversely affects Māori students, being a form of everyday colonialism. Still, Māori and Pacific students must share coping with racialized stereotypes tied to a range of areas (e.g., alleged criminality, poor educational capability).

Additionally in some faculties, Māori and Pacific students can both gain university entry through an admission scheme, which fuels much of the backlash driven by some majority-group students towards Māori and Pacific students. The University’s Tuākana Programme is also used on occassion by some majority-group students to disparage Māori and Pacific students’ educational successes. To this end, there were more similarities than differences with regard to everyday discrimination, and it made sense to group students together in spite of existing heterogeneity.

Nick final

It was also due largely to the targeted adminission schemes and Tuākana Programme, which frequently apply to both Māori and Pacific students, that this project did not include students from other ethnic minorities, who surely experience their own forms of racism. “I, Too, Am Auckland’s” focus on Māori and Pacific students does not dismiss the experiences that other ethnic minority students face, but that was not this project’s focus. Furthermore, Aotearoa New Zealand is part of Polynesia, giving Māori a regional connection to Polynesian and Melanesian students.

For a MaoriPicture credit here.

Issue 3: Does the “I, Too, Am Auckland” project bring negative attention to Māori and Pacific communities, who should “harden up” and not present themselves as “victims”?

The “I, Too, Am Auckland” team contends that no student should ever need to “get through” discrimination, or “harden up” in order to prepare for life after uni. Ethnic minorities should not have to shoulder the burden of coping with or preparing for racism. Instead, majority-group members who do discriminate should stop doing so, and those who do not discriminate should step up as responsible citizens and bystanders to end racism (just as men should step up to end sexism).

Gabby final Ginka final

Furthermore, racism is not an issue to be solved strictly by individuals, and certainly not strictly by students. Within the university context, the university as an institution must follow its principles to be the critic and conscience of society, to address discrimination both within and beyond its walls. Hence even if the institution itself is not racist, when racism seeps in, the institution has a responsibility to act as an institutional role model for the rest of society and address it.

Students partaking in the “I, Too, Am Auckland” videos have engaged in consciousness raising. They are not bringing negative attention to themselves, their families or their broader ethnic communities by speaking up about a serious issue. Instead, they demonstrate courage in speaking up about a sensitive issue that has been ignored for far too long. Whether one agrees or disagrees with these students’ viewpoints, the students should be recognised as leaders who stepped up to speak publicly on an issue they felt strongly about, rather than remain silent and let discrimination persist, thereby impacting future generations of students.

Atelaite final

By speaking out, the student interviewees are recognising that they are not simply individuals. They are part of a collective, tied to their families’ prior sacrificies and future Māori and Pacific tertiary students’ well-being. As students who (1) publicly confront a social problem, (2) present solutions, and (3) discuss turning discrimination into educational motivation, these students are not passive victims. For more on this issue, see here.

Emerald Final

Issue 4: The discrimination Māori and Pacific students face is not a big deal.

Racism and vestiges of colonialism are always a big deal. They are reminders that ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples are still considered second class citizens, and this has serious implications for some students, as expressed in the videos. Racism and colonialism should never be trivialised.

Shannon Final Tara Final

ITAA
For the past six months, six University of Auckland students and I have been working steadily on a video project inspired by African American students at Harvard University who initiated the “I, too, am Harvard” campaign. Building off research I conducted in 2013 with three colleagues, our “I, too, am Auckland” project presents Māori and ethnically diverse Pacific students who offer their perspectives on dealing with everyday colonialism and racism on campus.

Though of neither Māori nor Pacific heritage myself, this project has been very personal for me, as I know it has been for our entire “I, too, am Auckland” team (pictured above), not only because of how much work we put into it, but also because our team holds a strong commitment to social justice. Additionally, this project has been special because it merges rigorous academic work with activism in a way that aligns with Māori and Pacific values — emphasizing oral traditions and privileging Māori and Pacific voices.

As our project attempts to demonstrate, Māori and Pacific students frequently face what Derald Sue and colleagues term racialized microaggressions and Philomena Essed terms everyday racism (for Māori students who are indigenous to Aotearoa, the term “everyday colonialism” applies). Students in the above video explain how microaggressions materialize in multiple forms and stem at least in part from Eurocentric curricula that too often presents Māori and Pacific content from a deficit standpoint. The ramifications of these microaggressions are hardly trivial, influencing some Māori and Pacific students to question their own abilities, and drop out. But as the interviewees also assert, they and many of their peers turn the racism they absorb and use it as a motivational factor, showcasing an unfair but powerful resilience.

In our second video, above, students detail how many of the on campus microaggressions are tied to “targeted admission schemes” that assist some Māori and Pacific students entry into select disciplines (many are admitted through general admission). However, this video also profiles three Māori academicians, who along with students, explain why these programs exist, accounting for historical and contemporary factors in society at large. As Dr. Elana Curtis rightfully points out, these “affirmative action” policies are actually forms of restorative justice.

Finally, we close our project with interviewees providing solutions for change, stressing that as an academic community, we can no longer ignore the significant consequences of everyday colonialism and racism, and that true change can only come if those who enjoy privilege support anti-racism movements. It cannot only be minorities who are burdened with fighting the fight.

So proud of the students and staff who bravely spoke up to address this matter, as well as our “I, too, am Auckland” team. Ku’e!

“I, too, am Auckland” Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/i2amAKLD

[The whole TWD blogging series is here.]

So, when we last discussed TWD, several things had happened:

Woodbury had collapsed, Andrea had died, and the Governor had abandoned his survivors. This was all part of the Battle of the Patriarchs.

Anyhoo, the Governor got rid of the handful of other dudes who had escaped with him and was supposed to have some sort of reflective travel thingie until he found a family with two sisters and their elderly father, and the daughter of one of the women. Amazingly, this small group had managed pretty well on their own up to that point, but, as soon as the Governor shows up, the little ladies become powerless, for instance, in getting the elderly man to bed or get him his oxygen tanks. They needed manly rescuing.

After convincing the women that their place, which had been safe so far, no longer is, they all go on the road, under the safe leadership of the Governor (because, really, that’s what women want). They find another group. The Governor kills the current leaders (so much for the whole crisis of conscience thing), takes over (because he’s The Man), and decides to go attack the prison where Grimes and his group are still holed up.

Meanwhile, Grimes is still a horrible leader. When Carol tries to teach the children how to defend themselves (a perfectly reasonable thing to do), Carl sees her, and she tells him not to tattle on her to her dad… because Grimes is a horrible leader but somehow, that never gets questioned. Follows a weird flu epidemic that conveniently kills the rescued members of Woodbury.

The worst of the last season was definitely when Grimes decides, all by himself, to exile Carol because he thinks she killed some of the flu sufferers, including Tyrese’s girlfriend (hence another episode of macho nonsense, with some “let him hit me” stuff, and Tyrese making the other men promise to find who killed her). So, while on a supply round, again, Carol shows she understands what situation they’re in pretty realistically (after the death of a young couple they encountered), and it’s not pretty. This solidifies Grimes’s belief that he has the right to just kick her out of the group. When he gets back to the prison, no one questions him, which is really completely barf-worthy considering the season opener last Sunday.

twd2Then, the prison gets attacked and is set on fire. The one highlight of the season is Hershel’s killing. Big fist fight between the patriarchs, where Grimes gets all bloody, in addition to his being sweaty and gross all the time. In the chaos, the group disperses, and for the rest of the season, we’ll follow the separate groups: Carl, Michonne, and a totally beat up Grimes (whose leadership is inexplicably restored the minute he starts to fee better), then Daryl and Beth (who gets kidnapped by a group of gross dudes), then Maggie, Bob, and Sasha (and with this group, we learned that black lives are less important than white lives, when Bob decides to go with Maggie and abandon Sasha). Tyrese ends up with the girls from the prison, Grimes’s baby, and they end up with Carol, who is left with the task of killing one of the girls who have become, well, insane, and can no longer be trusted to harm them.

Along the way, they pick up a few extra people: a big dude who protects a mullet dude who supposedly has the cure for the plague and needs to get to DC, and a couple of women from the previous group that attacked the prison.

twd1Separately, they are all following signs to Terminus, a supposed sanctuary, which turns out, surprise surprise, to not be that at all! The season begins after they have all been captured by the cannibalistic Terminus people, who used to be good guys, but then, bad guys came and took over Terminus. They took it back and turned bad guys themselves.

The big moral lesson of the opener is that, basically, there are no more boundaries between good guys and bad guys. Everybody is equally awful.

The whole episode is Grimes’s group’s escape from Terminus (in large part, thanks to Carol), killing a whole bunch of Terminus people. Grimes is still as awful a leader as he was before: after their escape, he wants to return to finish them all off. At least, the others dare tell him it’s a bad idea.

But, of course, because it’s TWD, there has to be some patriarchal BS: remember, they escaped thanks to Carol’s intervention (Carol is turning in to the most badass character of the show, without the credit from the other characters). When she is reunited with the group, she cautiously approaches while keeping her distance. We get a big moving reunion with Daryl. And Grimes, asshole that he is, says “did you do that?” (meaning, set Terminus on fire, which allowed their escape), and hugs and thanks her when it becomes clear that she did. Somehow, he has given her her seal of acceptance in the group (patriarchal acceptance is needed), and the others come and greet her as well.

I am waiting to see if the rest of the show will address her shabby treatment in the previous season and if Grimes feels at any point he has to make amends for kicking her out of the group.

But why anyone would still defer to Grimes is beyond me.

I had the privilege of speaking on this panel at The University of Auckland about two weeks ago, which addressed the ongoing conflicts in the occupied Palestinian territories. We had a solid crowd of approximately 350 attendees. Two of the panellists were Palestinian speakers who offered vivid, moving accounts of daily life in Gaza and the West Bank under apartheid. It is a lengthy conversation, but parts of it, I believe, are worth a listen.

By now, most of us have heard of the Australian woman’s racist rant on a commuter train. If you haven’t, here it is, in all its glory (warning: racist profanity):

This is reminiscent of another commuter train rant, in the UK, a few years ago:

Both cases seem a good illustration of the frustration-aggression hypothesis of members of the dominant group who think they are not receiving the privilege and deference that they think they deserve and associate that with the macro “decline” of their country. For them, what micro-offence they have just received (such as kids refusing to give up their seats or being pushed a bit… a common occurrence on a crowded commuter train) is reinterpreted as a macro-offence against the country.

In the British video, mostly, we see women arguing. On the other hand, the man filming the ranting woman is apparently accompanied by a non-white girlfriend, which also triggers a sexist rant: only emasculated white men would get g—s as girlfriends. The underlying assumption being that “real” white men would get white girlfriends, hence establishing a sex/race hierarchy where the presence of the non-white girlfriend reveals the lower status of the man.

The different aspect to this is that now, the filming of these kinds of rants works as a shaming device that not only might bring the ranters legal troubles, but at the very least, they get vilified and stigmatized all over the Internet. So, as much as the ranters might want to use their rant as an assertion of privilege and power that they might expect to silence minorities, get some support from the white crowd, and generally reassert their status in the interaction, they actually get the opposite. The filming involves stigmatization, and an element of degradation ceremony.

From Clutch:

“ASU police officer Stewart Ferrin claims he stopped Dr. Ersula Ore for illegally crossing the street. When he accosted the professor she pointed to nearby construction and informed officers that she crossed in the middle of the street because of the roadwork—like several others. Officer Ferrin then asked for her ID and threatened to arrest Ore if she didn’t produce it, that’s when things quickly escalated and the entire confrontation was caught on tape.”

“After Ore refused to be handcuffed the situation got worse. Officer Ferrin slammed her to the ground, causing her dress to rise up and her body to be exposed. When he picked her up off the ground, her skirt was hiked up, and as the officer reached toward it, Ore kicked him.”

Here is the video:

Are we not surprised ASU is supporting the white male officer over the black, female professor? Disgusting. P.E. had it right.

otrThat is what a cop said to Alice Goffman after she was swept up in a raid at the residence of her African American subjects / friends. Actually it gets even better than this:

“On the way to the precinct, the white cop who is driving tells me that if I am looking for some Black dick, I don’t have to go to 6th Street; I could come right to the precinct at 8th and Vine. The Black cop in the passenger side grins and shakes his head, says something about how he doesn’t want any of me; he would probably catch some shit.

At the precinct, another white guy pats me down. He is smirking at me as he touches my hips and thighs. There is a certain look of disdain, or perhaps disgust, that white men sometimes give to white women whom they believe to be having sex with Black men—Black men who get arrested, especially.

(…)

Do your parents know that you’re fucking a different nigger every night?

(…)

What is your Daddy going to say when you call him from the station and ask him to post your bail? Bet he’d love to hear what you are doing. Do you kiss him with that mouth?” (70)

It’s a double whammy: patriarchy mixed with racism and rape threats

So far, this is a very powerful book, I have to say..

A student and I wrote about a concept we call “everyday colonialism” a few days ago over on Aljazeera. We cannot take credit for the term entirely. It’s an adaptation from Philomena Essed’s concept of everyday racism, which encompasses the subtle but highly significant forms of normalized racism perpetrated – often times unconsciously – by majority group members against ethnic minorities on a regular basis.

The power of everyday racism lies in its repetitiveness. No one incident typically carries tremendous power. It’s the fact that everyday racism happens over and over; it wears and tears on minorities in a variety of ways that have harmful psychological and sociological consequences.

Other scholars have termed acts of everyday racism, microaggressions. Derald Sue and colleagues have conceptualized microaggressions by breaking them up into three categories: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations. Although their work is in psychology, I find it incredibly related to sociology.

Another quick footnote, Paige Raibmon actually used the term everyday colonialism in a 2006 piece, but our approach is much more in line with Essed’s and Sue’s work.

We use the term everyday colonialism to describe the incessant ways that indigenous people are discriminated against regularly by majority group members, in particular those whose ancestry is tied to colonial powers. This is not to trivialize the seriousness of colonialism from yester-year, but rather to demonstrate how neocolonialism continues to operate today more stealthly on an everyday basis.

In Aotearoa (New Zealand), Maori are indigenous; they are tangata whenua (people of the land). Pacific people have a strong presence across Aotearoa, especially in Auckland, and have indigenous ties to neighboring countries, such as Tonga, Samoa, Niue, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, and Tokelau. The nation-state of New Zealand has legal/colonial ties to Niue, Tokelau, the Cook Islands and Samoa.

Thus while Maori are tangata whenua, Maori and Pacific people can share a politicized pan-indigenous identity in the sense that they share similar experiences of colonization and racialization, both historically and in present time in this region of the world. Below is a particularly powerful example of everyday colonialism – a Pakeha (New Zealand European) bus driver is alleged to drive past visibly Maori pedestrians who are trying to catch the bus. A Maori passenger calls the bus driver out on his actions, making key historical and contemporary references. Watch/listen to the whole thing.

At 3:40, the passenger says, “We welcomed you here, and you deny everything for us. You broke the relationship between The Treaty (The Treaty of Waitangi, or more importantly Te Tiriti o Waitangi), and the Maori and the Pakeha!” It’s an incredibly powerful illustration of everyday colonialism and its connections to historical power imbalances.

NZ Herald CoverYesterday in Aotearoa/New Zealand it was Waitangi Day, which commemorates unification between the indigenous Māori inhabitants and the British settler population. For the nation-state of New Zealand, every 6 February is heralded as a day of celebration for all “Kiwis,” or New Zealanders, to express their collective patriotism. Well, that’s one version of it.

It was on 6 February 1840 when Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed by 46 rangatira (Māori chieftains), and in the six months following, approximately 450 more. Te Tiriti was authored by the British and written in te reo Māori. Māori in contemporary society who believe in decolonization efforts (along with non-Māori allies) argue that Te Tiriti “cemented [Māori’s] overriding authority, while granting permission to the Crown to regulate the conduct of British nationals” (Mikaere, 2011, p. 129).

This historical document was also written in British English, and in this version, The Treaty of Waitangi mandated that the Māori population cede their sovereignty to the British Crown in return for protected property rights. Thus for the British, The Treaty of Waitangi has served as the central legal document that legitimized citizenship and continues claim to the land.

For Māori, The Treaty represents the beginning of British colonial, legal imposition into Aotearoa that was furthered substantially in the 1860s through legal maneuvering that privatized land ownership – a familiar colonial tactic employed across the Pacific.

With a national holiday celebrating The Treaty – a legal document that includes indigenous peoples – it may appear that in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the indigenous people have it comparatively good. But consider that prior to British arrival, the Māori population stood at somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000; by about 1900, their population dropped to 42,000. And today, Māori share the same types of social disparities as other indigenous peoples worldwide.

NZ Herald CornerIt is because of these historical concerns and ongoing disparities that not all Māori celebrate Waitangi Day. In fact, the national holiday has a history of Māori protest, which with all things considered, should hardly be surprising. Shouldn’t a place’s indigenous people have the right to protest on their own homeland?

And this brings me to this blog entry’s subject.

Yesterday’s front page of The New Zealand Herald (the country’s most prominent newspaper) made special effort to highlight a piece on Waitangi Day “protest free” with a white fist driven up.

The paper’s headline story, “Celebrating NZ’s day: Waitangi: What it means to you” strategically profiles an ethnically diverse group of individuals, some of whom speak to historical injustices and today’s social inequalities. Some excerpts from the story:

The important thing [regarding Waitangi] is probably the continued acknowledgement of the Treaty. And, along with it, the acknowledgement by Pakeha of all injustices committed against Maori, while their ancestors blatantly ignored the Treaty. Especially since the roots of the alarming inequality in the country today go all the way back to what we like to call colonisation; I don’t see how it could be any more relevant.

The Treaty of Waitangi was breached as bro and heaps of Kiwis don’t know that. I can’t believe the Government thought they could get away with the confiscation of land, the banning of te reo AND the pepper-potting – please look it up. I’ve met too many Kiwis that think we should just forget about it and that Maori should move on, and it’s exhausting explaining why that’s a really stink way to think…

A continued dialogue around the Treaty will always be important. The birth of contemporary NZ started under colonial rule that brought with it all the (problems) of colonisation. Continued conversation, debate and dialogue keep questions of power and exploitation alive, relevant and evolving and hopefully make us as a community more aware of the respect that is owed every human being and the land we inhabit.

Many Kiwis think we need to move on, but for me there is still so much work to do around the Treaty and race relations that it’s way too early to start celebrating. I want NZ to be a country that is world-renowned for its equality. Where it is a priority, not just a soundbite or media tag, but written into our constitution so any and all governments can be held to this one core value: equality.

Definitely some critical viewpoints.NZ Herald Waitangi Day

Still, because The Herald has framed these interviewees’ contributions within a dominant “protest-free” discourse and included the excerpts within a story that “celebrates” Waitangi Day, any radical critique of The Treaty is negated. Critique can only come through moderated reflections of “moving on” in reconciliatory ways that don’t attack the status quo, that don’t address land rights, that don’t address substantive changes in mainstream culture.

And this is how mainstream, neocolonial media makes itself appear progressive while actually supporting the state to minimize indigenous/human rights.

Richard Sherman

Like other sectors of society, sport serves as a site where constructions of race are developed and contested on a regular basis. Many would like to believe that these racialized patterns are restricted to the competitive arena. But the reality is, throughout history, sport has always responded to broader race politics, while simultaneously firing back at the racialized patterns seen off the field.

We see it less now than in decades past. Gone are the Muhammad Ali’s, Jackie Robinson’s, John Carlos’s, and Tommie Smith’s, who through their athletic prime stood consciously as symbols for African American communities prior to and during the Civil Rights Movement. Before them, even the less politically spirited Jesse Owens functioned as a key figure in in the push for racial equality.

Today’s celebrity athletes are more constricted by corporate-driven politics and a less active push for social justice. Now in the twenty-first century, much of society likes to feel we have reached a place where perceptions of race and behavioral racism no longer matter, or only emerge among fringe, extremist groups outside the mainstream.

Public response to talented black men

But as we saw nearly two weeks ago just after the Seattle Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers to advance to the NFL’s Super Bowl, racism continues to interact with sport very systemically, though now, in less obvious form. In that contest’s final play, Seattle cornerback, Richard Sherman deflected a pass intended for San Francisco wide-receiver Michael Crabtree, with whom Sherman had developed a mild rivalry. Both Sherman and Crabtree are African American.Sherman 2

Sherman’s athletic feat preserved Seattle’s win, leading to an on-field post-game interview in which an animated Sherman asserted his status as the League’s top cornerback, while verbally deriding Crabtree, and doing so while staring angrily into the camera.

No doubt Sherman provided a feisty and different kind of interview, but considering some of the outrageous, often times discriminatory things athletes and sports managers have said very publicly over the years, Sherman’s words and method of expressing them were perhaps atypical, definitely emotional, but hardly threatening.

Still, the interview generated extensive media attention, and a significant backlash from individuals through social media where Sherman was repeatedly labeled in deleterious ways. It is here where we see how racism has shifted in contemporary society and where we can reflect upon Sherman’s experience as an athlete beyond sport.

Again, the bulk of American sports fans, and Americans in general, like to think that racism is no longer a significant social problem. Moreover, most members of society like to present themselves as supportive of a color-blind, postracial culture that no longer needs to consider race in in everyday interactions, let alone in public policy.

Unfortunately a significant portion of society is still resistant to talented, confident, intelligent, outspoken, and as Kevin Beckford and Greg Howard say, multidimensional black men. In turn those societal members who harbor racist attitudes must find ways to express their discriminatory thoughts in a manner that protects them from being called a racist.

Coded Racism in Contemporary Society

Enter the label, or code word, “thug.” Code words are words that at their base have nothing to do with perceptions of race, but within a particular social context hold strong racial undertones and reify racist stereotypes.

In describing African Americans, code words that too often enter the lexicon of mainstream media include, “inner city,” “welfare queen,” and especially for males, “thug.” It is hardly surprising then, that the day after Seattle’s victory and Sherman’s rant, “people said thug on TV more often than on any other day in the past three years,” and that Sherman was an overt target across social media, repeatedly called a thug, along with overt racial slurs.

This is a far too common way that racism operates in contemporary society – hidden within seemingly objective vernacular that in reality carries distinct racial bias. A highly intellectual individual who graduated from Stanford University and is pursuing a postgraduate degree, Sherman asserts, thug “is the accepted way of calling somebody the N-word nowadays.” More from Sherman:

“The backlash surprised me, because I think the support came after the backlash. I was a little surprised, because we’re talking about football here. A lot of people took it further than football. And I guess some people showed how far we’ve really come in this day and age. And it was kind of profound, what happened. Because I was on a football field showing passion. Maybe it was misdirected, maybe it was immature, maybe things could have been worded better. But this was on a football field — I wasn’t committing any crimes or doing anything illegal; I was showing passion after a football game.” [emphasis added]

Sherman is spot on in his analysis. To this end, the way that Sherman has been attacked is not a phenomenon unique to the sporting world or the United States.

In Auckland, New Zealand where I work, many of the Maori and Pacific students with whom I conduct research have referred to this kind of discrimination as “soft,” “indirect,” and “civilized” racism, noting that racist peers refrain from using explicit racial epithets to demean them.

Instead racism is enacted – among other ways – by negating Maori and Pacific hard work and talent, and relegating their academic achievements to preferential treatment. Hence, the racialized insults cast upon ethnic minority students are coded within a kind of discourse that protects the racist perpetrator.

In other words, code words enable majority group members to call Maori students, “dumb Maori’s,” and perpetuate racism without actually using those inflammatory words.

Worldwide, ethnic minorities are keenly aware of the code words and nuanced ways that everyday racism keeps us pushed to the periphery. It should not take the unfair treatment of a celebrity athlete of color to uncover the cloaked nature of contemporary racism.

Photos via here and here.

Asian American scholars stopped writing about the model minority myth decades ago, not because those of Asian ancestry in Western contexts have had to stop dealing with it, but because it is an exhaustive topic in the academy. There’s just not much left to say about it. But trust me, we still have to deal with it, and it still affects us in highly damaging ways. Trust me…

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Note: This is nothing more than artistic experession that simply conveys experience at times through hyperbole. Photo via here.

By David Mayeda

I love Aljazeera. It is my favourite news site, and I peruse its stories virtually every day. This is partly why I was so disappointed in its recent story on the over-representation of Māori in New Zealand’s criminal justice system produced by 101 East and titled, “Locked Up Warriors.”

The 26-minute documentary attempts to explore some of the underlying reasons as to why Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa/New Zealand who comprise 14.5% of the total population, represent over 50% of those incarcerated (and notably, a higher percentage of female inmates). Granted, the piece takes a few minutes to discuss New Zealand’s prison industrial complex, critiquing the government’s greater spending on corrections than education, but it is truly just a few minutes. What is seen throughout more of the piece are ties between Māori culture, families, poverty, crime, gangs, and prison life:

Take for example the section from approximately 7:30 to 10:00 focusing on a young Māori child. The discussions revolve almost entirely around his observations of community violence, gang conflict, and personal aggression. While this may not be an inaccurate portrayal of parts of this youth’s life, the focus is overwhelmingly negative. Likewise, in focusing on a resurrection of Māori culture, viewers only see traditional Māori culture transpiring within the confines of prison walls.

In short, largely because of the focus on disproportionate indigenous incarceration, the piece can’t help but reify racial stereotypes. This is an example of media showcasing indigineity through a deficit model. While the piece attempts to be sympathetic towards the Māori community, the focus fails to significantly showcase positive dimensions of Māori life.

Switching focus a bit, in Aotearoa/New Zealand, diverse Pacific peoples (e.g., Cook Islanders, Fijians, Samoans, Tongans) are also considered indigenous, due to their similar cultural mores and histories across the Pacific. And like Māori, diverse Pacific communities tend to show greater disparity levels.

These trends notwithstanding, Pacific (and Māori) communities demonstrate individual and group successes, as seen in the Pacific Achievers Project, which aims to get Pacific youth “to look into their own backyard for inspiration and see what’s special about the people in their own community.” Here’s a few of the videos posted there:

I see the above strategy to addressing social disparities as far more fruitful and respectful. No doubt, media and other social institutions need to address indigenous peoples’ social disparities, including disproportionately high incarceration levels, but those efforts must be more balanced than what was presented in the Aljazeera piece.

Let’s close out with something more positive, and pretty damn awesome!