Dehumanisation and “super-humanisation” are two sides of the same coin serving a racist agenda. Dehumanisation is the process by which conscious and unconscious bias leads people to see a racial minority as less human – less worthy of respect, dignity, love, peace and protection. Psychology research finds that White police officers and young White students are more likely to see Black children as young as 10 years of age as being less worthy of protection and inviting violence in comparison to White children. Super-humanisation is on the other end of the dehumanisation continuum. It is when majority groups harbour latent ideas that minorities have special qualities or powers that make them less deserving of bodily consideration and pain relief. Research finds that White people have a tendency to see Black people as being stronger and therefore more able to withstand pain. These two twin processes, that place Black people outside of humanity, are steeped in colonial practices and they contribute to excessive policing and violence aimed at Black bodies. There are implications of dehumanisation and super-humanisation on the ongoing events in Ferguson. This social science research speaks to the issues raised by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Continue reading Dehumanisation, Superhumanisation and Racism
How to be An Ally Post-Ferguson
White people who want to be allies to people of colour in the American and international protests beyond Ferguson should do so in ways that don’t hurt or minimise the actions and reactions of people of colour. Good ways include listening to people of colour, protesting, speaking up when you hear racism, and being accountable.
Another useful way is not to police how people of colour express their anger or grief. Scientist Joseph Osmundson and Professor of Gender and Race Studies, David J. Leonard, write:
“It is not really our place to call for peaceful responses, or to call out looting as irresponsible or counterproductive. Loss of life is tragic, anger is justified, not all protests by black bodies are riots. The same state forces that violently end black life every 28 hours are condemning theft as irresponsible. The same system that denies justice, that kills with impunity, that denies the innocence of Black men and women, young and old, isn’t the basis of justice. Stay woke.”
Racial segregation, poverty and criminal prosecutions don’t just happen by accident; nor do they do not reflect some natural, unavoidable social pattern. On Google+, Yonatan Zunger reshared a great Washington Post article on how local government revenue in poor Black neighbourhoods operates through racist practices. In the excellent linked article from Washington Post, the author writes: “Ferguson and Michael Brown and may have obscured the larger issues that affect tens of thousands of people across the entire St. Louis area.” The author makes the point that everyday harassment by police and the functioning of the municipal justice system is entrenching poverty for Black communities. I would make the connection stronger.
The criminal justice system is set up as state revenue, where the poor are jailed for petty issues like not paying fines they can’t afford. Police are encouraged to pursue fines and warrants, and it’s easier to target Black Americans who have fewer resources to contest. Humiliation is part of routine policing in these areas: As one person puts it in the article, “You can only take so much.” Police brutality is therefore an extension of this economic model.
Yonatan is currently reading Slavery by Another Name, and I also recommend Cop in the Hood, by sociologist Peter Moskos. Moskos underwent police training and wrote about his first year as a police officer in Baltimore. Race dynamics are similarly explored: how racial profiling is built-into police business, given that police departments are under pressure to increase arrests to supplement their budgets. It also shows how distrust builds up between poor and disadvantaged communities and the police. People don’t come forward for help because they’ve learned the system won’t treat them fairly. If you want to delve deeper, I recommend, The New Jim Crow by civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander. It’s focused on national incarceration patterns and race in the USA.
In Australia, the local fines also disproportionately impact Black Australians, resulting from the broader ‘racist, offensive and degrading police behaviour.’ For example:
- Over-policing leads to life-long records from a young age:’The Australian Human Rights Commission states that Indigenous Australians are 17.3 times more likely to be arrested than Non-Indigenous Australians. In Western Australia, the Indigenous over-representation rate is four times the national average.’
- Indigenous women were over five times more likely to be processed for summary offences than non-Indigenous women: ‘The most frequent offences committed by Indigenous women are said to be fine default, drunkenness, offensive language and social security fraud.’
- Higher fines for drunk and disorderly conduct: ‘Of the 484 fines or charges issued by police in the review period almost a third, or 150, were issued to Aboriginal people “even though they comprise just 2.5 per cent of the NSW population’
- Fivefold increase of public swearing: ‘Critics such as solicitor Jane Sanders, from free legal service The Shop Front Legal Youth Centre, said swearing was part of everyday vernacular and the laws unfairly targeted minority groups such as Aboriginal people and young people.’
While the average Black American has eight White friends, White Americans only have one Black friend. Research by the Public Religion Research Institute finds that 75% of White people have “entirely white social networks without any minority presence.” Researcher Robert Jones argues the lack of diversity amongst White social networks has a negative impact on civil society. White people lack a personal connection to Black history and culture because they don’t receive adequate formal education on these issues, and because they do not know many Black people. As a result, they are not forced to see and recognise the marginalisation that Black people go through. As such, Jones argues, White people are not “socially positioned” to understand the significance of events at Ferguson and other civil disputes.Continue reading White People’s Friendships are Racially Limited
Over 1,400 sociologists have signed an open letter protesting police brutality in Ferguson, USA. The letter includes practical measures to address the killing of Michael Brown and mistreatment of protesters in Ferguson. Coordinated by Sociologists for Justice, the letter shows that systemic racism needs to be addressed as well as wider socio-economic and political issues to ensure effective change is enacted.
The book The New Jim Crow outlines how the criminal justice system in America is affected by systemic racism. Additionally, decades of sociological research shows that police officers’ decision-making is affected by racial stereotypes and that better training can address this bias (more links below). Effective change in community policing begins by understanding the effects of the victimisation of people of colour and by addressing the institutional practices that lead to excessive policing of people of colour. Below are the suggestions outlined in the open letter, but I urge you to read the letter in full as it summarises sociological research on race bias in policing. You can also add your name to the open letter, as I have done.
While people rush to defend Taylor Swift’s racist appropriation of Black female bodies in her latest video, Shake it Off, because it’s presented as “fun,” it’s worth remembering that “satire” is no excuse for whitewashing of racism. First, satire requires cultural context to be clever; it matters who is delivering the joke to whom, when, and for what purpose. Second, racism is not simply about interpersonal insults. Racism describes a system of domination where White people benefit directly and indirectly from the status quo.
Taylor Swift has positioned herself publicly as a feminist, though her enactment of these ideals was already not without problems. This video shows she has little understanding of the history of feminism and the cultural struggles faced by women of colour. Not coincidentally, White feminism is still largely resistant to racial issues. As sociologist Jessie Daniels notes, it matters that White women are at the centre of both pop culture and the feminist movement:
White feminism, without attention to racial justice, makes an easy partnership with White supremacy.
From Miley Cyrus to Iggy Azalea who profit from brandishing certain aspects of Black culture, to Lily Allen who similarly used Black women in a video to critique White women pop stars, Swift has added her name to an ever-growing list of rich White women in pop music who use the exploitation of women of colour to make “feminist” statements. This stands in contrast, but along a similar continuum, of White pop stars such as Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne who commodify the culture and sexuality of “Asian” women. Asian femininity is sexy in a “cute,” clean and submissive way; while Black and Brown women’s sexuality is dangerous, dirty and untamed. Either way, White women’s cultural appropriation of minority cultures conforms to familiar tropes where White champions dominate the uncivilised Other.
The fact that White celebrities do not set out to be “intentionally racist” is beside the point. Racism does not require your intent, as racial bias often goes unexamined. In fact, the way Whiteness works is to place White people at the centre of culture so that they are protected from the everyday consequences of race relations. (And no, there is no such thing as reverse racism.) Not recognising how racism works, such as failing to understand how and why cultural appropriation and stereotypes are damaging, is an outcome of White privilege.