Racist Scaremongering as Social and Political Control

On the 8 August 2018, only four days after I published my last post on the social construction of migrant youth deviance in public spaces (Zevallos 2018a), there was an incident whipping up racist fear of ‘Sudanese gangs’ in the area where I went to school as a youngster. I had flown home for a workshop and then visited my family. They told me how the local gossip grapevine and local media were misreporting the event. Initial word-of-mouth said that between 200 to 300 Sudanese youth gathered at Watergardens Shopping Centre and were starting trouble, throwing rocks at police. While Nine News (2018) reported 20 to 30 kids vandalised property, ABC News (2018) reported up to 50 young people had come for a fight ‘over girlfriends.’ Riot police confronted the youth, and blocked the area. The next day, my family saw police on horses patrolling the Coles supermarket carpark (!).

All of this to stop Black children from gathering together in a public place.

In a week where we saw Nazi language used in the Australian Parliament, let’s delve into the use of scaremongering as a social control mechanism that reinforces political strategy.

Continue reading Racist Scaremongering as Social and Political Control

The Social Construction of Migrant Youth Deviance in Public Spaces

Silhouette of figures wearing baseball caps with the sunset in the background

This cartoon below by Charles Barsotti is a good illustration of the social construction of group deviance in public spaces. This cartoon points out how some social groupings can be given negative labels, such as a “cult.” The beliefs or the practices of particular socio-economic groups can are treated with suspicion by a dominant group where they do not conform to society’s norms, values, behaviour or appearance. Non-conformity can lead to the creation of stereotypes; that is, labels that simplify specific qualities of some people as typical of the group they belong to (hence the cartoon, where one wolf says to another, “We’re a pack, not a cult.”).

In most circumstances crowds that “blend in” and meet society’s standards of “acceptability” escape the stigma of social deviance. Cases where “ordinary” groups might be negatively labelled by authorities might occur during times of civil unrest, such as during political protests, or due to other political cycles, such as the lead up to an election.

Racial minority youth are often labelled as deviant simply for being in public. In the case of Aboriginal youth, even something as routine as being in a shopping centre is mired by harassment by security (Perry 2018: Powell 2018). In another example, Muslim girls have been forced to leave a school excursion at a public exhibition centre because other visitors felt “uncomfortable” (Foster 2017).

Let’s take a look at this problem of stereotyping racial minority youth in public spaces, focusing specifically today on migrant minorities. We’ll examine how labelling these youth as “deviant” keeps society from paying attention to pressing social problems, such as structural inequality and interpersonal gender violence.

Continue reading The Social Construction of Migrant Youth Deviance in Public Spaces

Racist Moral Panic

I’ve seen a few “progressive” White people sharing a newstory about the newly established African-Australian community taskforce, without recognising that this is giving in to scaremongering. Yet White people feel comforted by the idea that “African community leaders” are doing “the right thing” to keep people safe (read: White people). The nation must critically examine how Whiteness drives these responses. There’s increased policing of South Sudanese-Australian groups not because there’s a specific problem – data show that the majority of youth crime is committed by White youth. The motivation to criminalise African-Australians coincides with the election year. 

Migrants are forced to publicly comply with racist agendas because of the increased stigma to their communities. There are many videos, accounts and police reports of people from various African backgrounds being attacked by White people for simply being Black, emboldened by politicians and the moral panic of “good” White people. So where’s the White crime taskforce?  Continue reading Racist Moral Panic

Moral Panic

March for Science is a global protest scheduled for 22 April 2017. There will be 400 marches internationally. One stands out for the wrong reasons: Los Angeles and its attempt to generate a moral panic about minorities. 

A moral panic refers to social fear that becomes attached to everyday behaviour. Moral panics can emerge from seemingly mundane behaviour. For example, a group of minority youth congregating in a public space can be read or reported on as “a gang,” using negative stereotypes to whip up fear.

In a now-deleted tweet published on 2 February 2017, the March for Science LA Twitter account indulged in a thinly veiled attempt to test the waters of racism. The tweet read: “Some scientists are concerned with the march turning into political event and losing its focus. What do YOU pledge to do to keep it peaceful.”


I retweeted this on 2 March, and data science student Paulette V-R then questioned the Los Angeles organisers: “So political = violence?”

March for Science LA promptly dismissed the conflict. They argued they hadn’t made the connection between politics and violence. Yet, in effect, they had—by implying that politics leads to non-peace.

By 3 March, March for Science LA had already deleted its tweet, so I retweeted a screen grab. As the Storify below shows, the Los Angeles organisers denied they were giving into racism, but then made the situation worse with poor excuses about their concerns for peace.

The idea that science and politics can be separated is a political idea; it is the outcome of historical dynamics in science. White men’s dominance in science is so deeply entrenched that their identities, experiences and status have become established as the norm. In other words, White male politics in science is not questioned. Instead, everyone else’s identities are the Other: the point of difference, the “identity politics” that are threatening to White men’s interests in science.

March for Science LA decided to elevate the racist views of “some scientists,” thereby normalising this moral panic and challenging their followers to maintain peace. This follows weeks of vocal opponents arguing that diversity undermines the goals of the march.

Other scientists were clear of March for Science’s dog whistling. They understood that the March for Science LA posts were unfairly targeting minority groups.

My article below includes discussion from scientists on the problematic notion that science is not political. They encouraged March for Science LA to work with established social justice movements. Others noted that the dynamics of “peaceful” protests were driven by racial relations. Learn more examples of how moral panics work, and how the march needs to better address issues of equity, inclusion and accessibility.

[Image: March for Science LA tweet as described above, with reply by Dr David Shiffman, showing an image of the “Clipppy” meme to say: “You seem to be suggesting that letting minority scientists voice concerns means ‘violence.’ Would you like to rephrase?”]

Tomorrow I’ll be co-hosting an important panel discussion on the science and myths of Ebola. By now you would’ve likely read hundreds of scary headlines about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, with lots of hand-wringing about why “Africa” isn’t being quarantined already. Perhaps you saw Donald Trump say that American medical staff should not have been let back into the USA to get treatment? Did you hear about the “top secret” cure that greedy scientists/ policy-makers aren’t sharing? Maybe you saw reputable media like The New York Times dutifully creating panic with headlines about Americans visiting hospitals thinking they had Ebola (but actually just had the flu)? Or the right-wing arguments that Latin American migrants are crossing over to the USA and bringing the disease? And what about the pigs – can they make us sick? They did in the Hollywood movie Contagion! Is “the Government” holding back science about aerosol transmission of Ebola? So much to fear, but what can we believe?

The fact is… most of what the media is reporting is incorrect.

Ebola is not airborne. It is transmitted by close contact with blood and bodily fluids and secretions (not by coughing or merely by touch). This is why Ebola is spreading in developing nations with inadequate healthcare.

My co-host, molecular biologist Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe, and I will be talking with virology expert Professor Vincent Racaniello and Infectious Disease Epidemiologist Dr Tara C. Smith. They’ll talk about what Ebola is, how it’s transmitted, how the current epidemic might be contained, and we’ll also talk about some of of the media-driven misconceptions about the virus. We’ll discuss why an outbreak in developed nations is unlikely and we’ll cover the socio-economic factors sustaining the epidemic in poorer nations.

Head to our Science on Google+ event page to read more. I answered a question about whether Ebola might spread through the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca (highly unlikely) and why the United Nations says travel bans are not necessary. You can also despair over the various conspiracy theories being espoused, which our Science Moderators like biochemist Professor Rajini Rao are patiently dispelling. 

We’ll broadcast on Monday 7.30AM Australian EST time (that’s Sunday 2.30pm USA Pacific or 10.30PM UK). You can watch our video later at your leisure on our Science on Google+ YouTube Channel, Science Hangouts.

Learn More

Can’t wait until tomorrow and want to read a little ahead? We republished an excellent introduction about Ebola by biologist Maren Hunsberger. Tara has also written a couple of easy to understand explanations on why Ebola is not airborne and an historical perspective on Ebola responses. Watch Vincent lead a discussion about why the epidemic has spread and how it might be curtailed.

See you tomorrow for a sensible chat about the science and social policy responses to Ebola!

Moral panics about youth courtesy of 1956: Elvis Presley, impairing the morals of minors with his hip-swivelling.



Was Elvis Presley worried as he waited backstage before a 1956 concert in Jacksonville, Fla.? 

During a performance the summer before, frenzied fans in the Florida city had torn his clothes off, and many in Jacksonville railed at his return. City officials were ready with a warrant to arrest the hip-swiveling singer for impairing the morals of minors. At local churches, preachers denounced him in sermons and congregants prayed for his salvation. 

But the 21-year-old King toned down his act, and the show went off without incident.

See what they were really like beneath the gloss: LIFE Behind the Scenes of Showbiz