Note: Kossak raina asked had inquired about a transcript of our panel because there was no signing (ASL) at NN, no closed caption and no transcription.
Thanks to the efforts of unspeakable, Yasuragi and Princss6 who volunteered to make it happen, here it is.
Deoliver: Welcome to our session today, “Promoting People of Color in the Blogosphere. Our host, our scheduled host who was going to be with us today is the founding editor of Black Kos, David Reid or dopper0819, and dopper sends his apologies for not being here. Unfortunately, a terrible plumbing problem in his house got in the way of him coming to Netroots Nation. So he was really looking forward to continuing this conversation which we started last time at last Netroots. So welcome to some of you here [who were] there at the last one, and welcome to some of you who are joining us for the first time in this ongoing conversation.
Our panelists today are... We have a really diverse panel here and I think we are going to look forward to having an interesting conversation, so we are going to try to have -- each person is going to give/present for about 10 minutes and then we are going to open the floor to dialogue.
And to my right over here is Kyle de Beausset. And Kyle is a pro-migrant blogger, and an activist, and an organizer and he is best known as the founder of Citizen Orange.
And sitting next to Kyle is Elsa Cade. Elsa blogs on Daily Kos and other places as TexMex. We know her for that and a whole lot of work she did around shelter boxes, as well. Getting money into a lot of communities. She is a science educator and she has taught in schools in Canada, in Buffalo, and is currently living in San Antonio, Texas.
To my left here is Neeta Lind. Neeta blogs on DailyKos as navajo. And she is the founder of Native American Netroots and she also leads here, every year at Netroots Nation, the Native American Caucus. So we are really happy to have Sister Navajo here with us today.
And to the far left -- [Laughter] Does that say something here? We have Nancy Heitzeg and she blogs on Daily Kos as soothsayer, and a truth-sayer, and she is the co-editor of a series, a really hard-hitting series called Criminal (In)Justice Kos. She is also a Professor of Sociology at St. Catherine’s University right here in St. Paul.
And in case you are wondering, my name is Denise Oliver-Velez, and I blog as Deoliver47 on DailyKos. I’m a co-editor of Black Kos, founder of LatinoKos and AIDS Action Group on Daily Kos. I teach Women’s Studies and Caribbean Studies and Anthropology at SUNY – New Paltz.
So without further ado, we’re going to start with TexMex.
Good morning. My name is Elsa Cade. I am a science educator. I taught for 14 years -- well, 12 years ago for the Buffalo schools and I also worked with SUNY-Buffalo in science education and teacher preparation. Then I moved to Lethbridge, Alberta, and I did some contribution in teaching and developing some programs there. I did some science education courses that I gave, and I also supervised some science teachers in Canada. So now, though, my husband’s term there was up, we have returned to my native San Antonio home. So I’ve been involved in delivering good science education programming for quite a long time. Next slide.
My belief as a person of science is that all children should have access to good science. I asked Al Gore in Austin and Nancy Pelosi. I almost stomped my feet saying, “With No Child Left Behind, putting such a focus on reading and math, that a lot of subjects got left behind and one of them was the sciences.” And I’m beginning to hear that things are going to change, but teaching science in hands-on way -- let’s go to the next slide -- makes for really exciting lessons. Kids focus on what’s going on, they’re participating. But No Child Left Behind was, like, teach to the test and then bubble in the answers. Nothing can be more boring than that, and it’s very anti-productive in terms of getting children to learn. They get sick of bubbling in tests all the time. So by the time the real tests comes, they are sick to death of it, they fill in anything, and then get poor scores. So you really get nothing out of these high stakes testing. Kids aren't learning anything and your results are really poor. Go to the next slide – Number 3.
Good science stimulates children and it also develops the languages. When kids are excited, they like to talk about what they see. You know, if there is a hamster in the room, they talk about the hamster. They get excited and they talk to one another so if there are some language deficiencies there, whether they are young people who have just come over -- I had some new immigrants from Arabia or I had some Palestinian kids. You know Buffalo is a motley group of immigrants. They would all come together over exciting science lesson. And if we were doing some goofy thing, and they were loving it and they were all chatting in English or if they needed some help they would chat to each other in Spanish to bring the learning along. Okay next slide please.
We also need well prepared Science teachers. That has always been one of my beefs with Teach For America, is that I know that there are some really great young people getting a degree but it is very difficult to just snatch a person with any kind of degree and just throw them in the classroom and say, “Alright, teach Science.” Well, if they don’t have the skills to organize the children to distribute materials, if they don’t have a vision on how to have a good science lesson, it’s going to be relying on the book, answer the questions in the back of the chapter, and it is going to be very boring. And it is kind of an isolating effect on the children because they are just sitting. I mean, they are in a classroom but they are basically themselves at a desk. But with hands-on science, kids are interacting and they are learning about themselves and developing some courage to take charge of what they are doing. Teachers need to have cooperative learning techniques so that they know how to organize the kids in small little labs so they can have groups of four, and you have a leader, and you have a gopher that goes and picks up the stuff. So you don’t have 10 or 30 children racing around the room trying to pick-up tweezers and a hand lens. You only have five kids because they are responsible to delivering the materials to their group. Can I have the next slide?
Girls really need good science lessons. Too often we ignore our girls, and if the teacher isn’t developed properly as a science teacher, she will just go automatically go to those kids that are jumping up and down and going “Ooh, ooh, ooh,” instead of saying, okay let me look around the room and I’m going to ask each group their opinion. Or let’s put it down as a summary what you learned, so it is just not the people in the front row that are getting science but that all the kids are participating and succeeding in science. Next Slide.
Boys need good science. They like Science, but it just as boring for them to sit for 45 minutes in a hard chair and do nothing but read and answer some questions. They don’t do so well. They get up and they get rowdy and they get annoyed. I like to say, they don’t have much fat on their butt at the junior high stage, and so sitting for hours -- they sit in English class, they sit in math class, then they have to sit in the social studies class, then they have to sit in science. At least in science class, you can get up, you can go look at the turtles or go look at the fish. Make notes or make some observations. Go pick up some materials or stand up and say something from your group. So they’re participating. It is not the teacher on the stage; you are more the guide on the side. And you letting them do work and your work it to keep them on task.
Also special needs students need good science because if you look at the two groups, two general groups of kids in regular classroom with kids that have special needs, you have kids that are learning disabled that are really struggling to learn things, but they are really nice kids and if you have a really exciting lesson, it is easier for them to grab concepts if it’s not based only on textbook reading. They can see things and they can understand things that you are demonstrating: they are participating in a science activity, and there is greater success.
Then you have those kids that are emotionally disturbed but a lot of times those kids are really smart. They need something positive, too. So including them in the regular science classroom is something I’ve advocated and done. Sometimes some of those kids can really get their act together just long enough to sit in a science class and enjoy being there. Next slide please.
Well, my husband got a job in Leftridge, Alberta, so I had to leave my teacher job there. And while I was -- well, I’m jumping the gun there. Before we moved to Alberta, we were on a sabbatical, so that would be 12 years ago. I put together a lesson plan on how to use crickets to study insect and animal behavior, how to ask questions, how to get teachers to get kids to ask questions, to measure insects to make observations. I put it up on the web because these -- I gave these lessons to teachers in Buffalo. I gave a workshop. Then I gave workshop in Toronto for the National Science Teachers Association. So I had my materials put together and then I had some spare time during the sabbatical, so I put it up on the web. And it has some broken links and that is my next task to work on. But what I wanted to do is to give people, for free, a unit on using crickets in the classroom. I gave them details on how to grow them, where to catch them, how safe they are, and what are some experiments to do with them. I’ve gotten comments now and then on how they have used that, and so I’m pleased with that bit of information of going out on the web and trying to share what I know with other people for free. Next slide please.
Census data indicates that 4% of science and technology professionals in the country are Hispanic. And if you drop down to the last sentence, Latinas represent 1% of scientists and engineers. That is a tremendous waste of talent because young Hispanic girls are very bright and they have desires for opportunities just as much as boys do, just as much as children of any other color do. And so I really feel that we need to do more hands-on instruction that’s aimed at including the girls as well as the boys, and getting people to think about themselves as pursuing -- Even if they don’t pursue a career in the sciences, you need to have science understanding to be in a household: why you keep your kid from plugging the fork into the socket and why you have to feed them properly. So we all need good science instruction.
And very recently, I have re-done my home page on Hispanic, Latina, and Chicana Women in Science. And the title reflects the idea that there are quite a few people that don’t identify with each of these lessons because they all carry some meaning. And in order to get around that I just put all the labels in there and if you want to get into it, then there it is for you. On this one is what I’ve done is I’ve identified some Hispanic women who have major achievements. Because I found that 12 years ago, if you searched Latinas in Science, you don’t get anything. You get something from NASA which is very exciting, but generally speaking on the web, there really isn’t anything that points to Hispanic women in science. Okay I’m wrapping this up. Next slide.
And now that I’ve returned to Texas, it has become quite exciting. Disturbing to actually see close-up the problems anti-science attitudes where the censorship group is trying to control the materials and change the materials that are presented to students with kind of a Right Wing slant. Cut out a lot of information, censor things. Next slide, please.
There is also an evolutionary battle -- evolution battle coming up. They presented materials to the Texas State Board of Education that has bogus stuff and really old ideas that have been thrown out time and time again. Next slide.
But I have hope, because we have recently elected a new member of State board of education, Michael Soto from San Antonio. He is a Trinity English professor so we have an educated person there and he is not a science person but he is an educated person. He is concerned about all the topics. Next slide. He looks like a real champion to me.
The other issue that we have, you’ve heard a lot about [Rick] Perry in the news lately about how he is going to take over, now that Newt Gingrich didn’t do so well. And he is focusing on kinds of things about the National Day of Prayer and whatever but behind the scenes, he has been trying to insert things into the area of higher learner where they are trying to say that universities that have research programs are making too much money, and that those who don’t, professors who have good evaluations should have a higher value than people that are doing significant research. And I know people have to have good teaching abilities -- I’m a teacher, and so I believe in that, but that alone isn’t what university is about. University is about encountering exciting people in their area, and this is the only real place that you find that as a student, is at university. Next slide.
Okay, I’m going to finish, this is my last slide. No that was my last slide, so guess what? I have one more thing to say. No children should be denied the basic education including good science instruction based on standards. And the focus should not be on having some kind of national prayer day and then hope for the best. That doesn’t cut it. We want good science, and we want good science for all Americans. Thank you.
Thanks for the introduction, Dee. For the record, I'll tell you my name again. My name is Neeta Lind, and I blog as navajo at Daily Kos.
This is the front page coming up of the blog I founded in 2007 called Native American Netroots. It's a forum for the discussion of political, social, and economic issues affecting the indigenous peoples of the United States, including their lack of political representation, economic deprivation, health care issues, and the ongoing struggle for the preservation of identity and cultural history.
Today, I want to talk about invisible Indians and what that means. We're invisible because we're viewed as extinct, because we're a myth, because we are conquered. In fact, we are not a myth, we are not conquered, and we are not extinct.
Society has sought to freeze us in an earlier time, to push us aside and pretend that we do not matter. In fact, we live in this modern world. We are biomedical engineers, lawyers, artists, teachers, musicians, factory workers, soldiers, farmers, shamen. I'm here today to say, "We are everywhere even though you don't see us!"
You may think that most Indians live on reservations, like the Navajo Nation in Arizona, the Lakota Reservation in the Dakotas, but the largest concentrations of Indians are in urban areas, urban reservations. In Los Angeles County, there are 100,000 people who identify as Indians. They suffer higher rates of poverty, domestic violence, and joblessness than other minorities. However, you rarely see these statistics in the media. In fact, to just give one example, when the Department of Labor compiles employment statistics each month, Indians are excluded, invisible.
One of our Native American Netroots writers, Meteor Blades, is a member of the Florida Seminole Tribe. I'd like to read a short paragraph from his diary last December about President Obama's signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. First, MB thanked Obama for this welcome step in the right direction, and then he went on to explain our predicament:
American Indians have been next-to-invisible in our nation's discourse over the past 120 years, marginalized, ignored, discriminated against and cheated simply because we can be - without political repercussions. Voter suppression that would raise holy hoopla if it were imposed on any other ethnicity gets little attention. Indian poverty, crime, domestic violence, endemic joblessness, resource rip-offs and a multitude of other ills are covered by the media in the most superficial and stereotypical manner when they are acknowledged at all. It's not untypical to hear non-Indians say that casinos have made things all better.
The more light-skinned and assimilated, the more invisible. Our population numbers are much smaller than Latinos and African Americans. We are not important to the Powers That Be because of our small block of voters. It's hard to get noticed in the progressive blogosphere.
The most recent example of this for Meteor Blades and me is the reason I'm speaking to you here on this panel. The panel that we proposed for Netroots Nation this year, titled "When American Indians Vote, Progressives Win," didn't make the final cut. We were disappointed, but in the past I've been on the selection committee, and I know how hard it is to choose.
Had we been chosen, our panelists would have shown that we Indians can be the swing vote for state legislators in areas where we have large reservations. There are also other large pockets of Indian voters around the nation. Those Indians who do vote typically cast 80% or more of their votes for Democrats. However, there is strong voter suppression aimed at American Indian voters. There was an attempt to do that right here in Minnesota a few years ago. It took an ACLU lawsuit to end it.
I think the reason our panel didn't make it boils down to our numbers. There just aren't that many of us. Our topic is unique and important to us, but since we are such a small portion of the population, we are used to being ignored and all part of being invisible.
Netroots Nation does provide some things for us. We have our American Indian Caucus here. This was the idea of the founder of Netroots Nation, Gina Cooper. She asked me to lead it. And thanks to David [Reid], we're all on this panel today. So that's something. We'll continue to drive to have our voices heard, and we'll submit our panel proposal next year, and we'll continue to have our campaign to speak up and be noticed.
One of the reasons we're invisible in the blogosphere is because we're invisible in society in general. Let me give you an example. When the Men in Blue who killed Indian men, women, and children are honored every Memorial Day, our ancestors — who fought to save our lands and cultures — are not honored. We're changing this in some locations, but history has documented us as the enemy.
While we're mostly invisible, we're visible in many offensive expressions that people use everyday. For example, last week Chris Matthews said that the Clinton supporters were "circling the wagons." The whole panel then repeated this phrase. This reinforces the notion that we are the enemy, that we are fierce, and bloodthirsty, and to be feared. Picture Hollywood arrows in the wagons. Why is this phrase still being used? Because people say it unthinkingly, because no one has asked them not to. I'm certain if Chris Matthews had ten American Indian friends, and they told him they were offended by that phrase, he wouldn't use it. But he doesn't. Our small numbers make us invisible.
"Off the reservation" is another one. Reservations were once prisoner of war camps, and Indians who left the reservation were those who continued resistance. Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Chief Joseph. They are our heroes, but "off the reservation" makes them villains. We were confined so the rest of our land could be taken without resistance. Our culture eroded. Our parents and grandparents were sent to boarding schools. A wise few fought to maintain our cultures. This phrase is glibly used today. It bothers us.
"Indian country" is another such phrase. Today in military-speak "Indian country" is where the insurgents are. Iraq, Afghanistan, wherever we have soldiers. In other words, hostile territory. How much do you think the Comanche sergeant stationed in Afghanistan cringes when his lieutenant says, "Saddle up! We're going into Indian country." But nobody hears this expression for what it really is, because we're invisible.
The best statistical examples of our invisibility are extreme high rates of poverty and unemployment. If we mattered to the government and to our fellow Americans, these rates would not be so high. If our elected officials really cared, we would have had our own Marshall Plan by now just like the one that rebuilt parts of Europe after World War II. If Americans can do that for the Germans, why not for the Sioux?
We need your help — progressives' help — to influence government so we can dig out. What can the progressive blogosphere do to promote issues of importance to Indians? My team at Native American Netroots has been blogging about our issues and history for a few years now at Daily Kos. I think we've raised awareness there.
But there's a fantastic information campaign underway right now that I'm very excited to support. I've written a few diaries about this. Here is one man's example: the Pine Ridge Billboard Project. Aaron Huey is a journalist who freelances regularly for The National Geographic magazine, The New Yorker, Smithsonian Magazine, The New York Times, and dozens of other publications. He is also a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine.
For more than five years, Aaron has been visiting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and bearing witness through photography to the shocking poverty that is largely ignored in this country. His work was presented in a TED talk in September 2010.
Pine Ridge is ground zero for American Indian issues. Wounded Knee is on Pine Ridge. The Pine Ridge Billboard Project is an awareness campaign with the goal of making some images iconic and making Indians visible around the world. Art as activism.
The way to do that today is with street or guerrilla art. Aaron approached famous street artist Shepard Fairey and his assistant Ernesto Yerena to create some art of Aaron's photographs of Pine Ridge. Shepard is best known for his "Barack Obama Hope" poster. Here is his beautiful contribution to the Pine Ridge project and Aaron's photo that it's based on.
Ernesto is a young Chicano street artist from California, and he is an art assistant to Shepard. Here is one of his amazing contributions and Aaron's photos that they are inspired by. And here is Ernesto's second contribution, and that's Aaron's photo.
This is Ernesto's second contribution and the stunning photo it is based on.
These three posters will be for sale at the registration booth on Saturday and Sunday for only $10 each, and the money will go back into the Pine Ridge Project. Aaron has raised nearly $30,000 to have this art go up in subways, on the sides of buses, and hopefully someday billboards, which are very expensive. These are all very costly. So besides his project, Aaron needs — we need — your help in getting these images out there, possibly even the role of wheat-pasting in your towns. One donor in Orange County has a wall on his property that faces a freeway. Aaron is going to work with him on a major statement that motorists will see. Here are Aaron's proposed mock-ups for the images in the campaign we've raised.
Aaron has been contacted by some professional street artists around the country, and they're going to be putting up his installations. Here's an example of an installation. He will provide the whole kit to those street artists, and I must show you the perfect photo that is the center of this statement.
More installation designs are in the works. The donors of the $30,000 received signed screen prints of the piece above. This Aaron, Shepard, and Ernesto signing the rewards screen prints to the donors of this campaign.
Aaron has also set up an information website at honorthetreaties.org. As a member of the progressive blogosphere, I'm on board to help him with this campaign. He is completely overloaded right now with this project, his career, and his young family. When he telephoned me with an update the other day, I asked to help. So I'm in charge of producing bumper stickers and T-shirts now, so stay tuned. [laughter] I'm going to contact all the American Indian-themed stores in the Bay area and give them these posters to display.
That's what this project is all about. What can you do to make these images icons for us? We need you, the progressive blogosphere, to help spread this message. Thanks. [applause]
Kyle de Beausset
Thank you so much, Neeta. That was powerful. So just to repeat, my name is Kyle de Beausset. I want to thank all of you for coming here today. There's a lot great panels going on in this slot, so I really appreciate you honoring us with your presence. I also want to thank these amazing women up here for giving me the privilege of speaking along side of them.
I want to begin with a short meditation, which explains a little bit of why I'm reluctant to speak publicly — especially on this issue. There's a lot of reasons for why I'm reluctant about that, but I think one of the central ones is the fact that I — well, I believe that language is always necessarily a betrayal of the truth. And it's hard for me to describe exactly what I mean by that, but if you're bilingual or you know what bilingualism means, you know it's really hard to translate certain concepts and ideas from one language into another. Now, that says something about language. What does it say about our ability to take in the universe and express it through our words? So what I'm trying to say is that in language there is necessarily both light and darkness. And I hope that by speaking here today, I can communicate more light than darkness.
I prefer to write than speak because if I'm communicating too much darkness, you just stop reading. When I'm speaking, I'm holding you a little bit hostage. So, I'm a little bit reluctant for that reason, but I'm gonna continue.
And I think the best way I can continue and be most productive is to tell my story, the story of the pro-migrant blogosphere, as I like to call it. And then if I have enough time, I'll talk a little bit about racism and specifically how white people can generally help bring folks of color into white spaces, which the progressive space is generally a white space.
So, I was born and raised in Guatemala of U.S. citizen parents. I spent 18 years of my life there. I was born the year of the first democratic elections in Guatemala. I spent my early life on a shrimp farm on the south Pacific coast, with no electricity, no running water. I like to make a point — I like to say we came into Guatemala living in almost worse than majority-world conditions because my father came to manage a shrimp farm that was a $1 million dollars in debt. So we were living on not only less than $2 a day, we were way behind. And my father doesn't own the whole shrimp farm, but through his education — he's basically based in Michigan but moved all over the place — he was able to turn that farm into a multimillion dollar business and bring a community out of poverty. It's just amazing the work that he did.
My mother is a teacher, and through her I was able to go to an international school in Guatemala and not have to pay for it — one of the most expensive schools in Guatemala. I got a great education there and was able to come to school here. So while I came from worse than majority-world conditions, here I am today partly because of the privilege that I have. And it's not just about money. It's about the social capital that comes into it.
Growing up in Guatemala, I saw a lot of inequality. Even just going from urban to rural Guatemala, just incredible inequality. And I would sometimes spend summers in the US, and seeing the difference between Guatemala and the US, it just — it hurts the soul, I gotta say. I was very fortunate to have a very loving family, and I think that hurt that I saw turned it into productive energy, made me want to make change in this world.
Initially, I just put my head down and studied hard in school, but I was committed that as soon as I graduate, I was gonna do something crazy to try to change the world. And the first thing was at 19, I decided to retrace the route of a Guatemalan immigrant into the US. It was right around the time that there were these huge marches against HR 4437 in 2006, which was a bill that would have turned every local police officer basically into an immigration agent because it would criminalized the act of being an undocumented immigrant. That's why millions marched on the street in those years. And I had this brilliant idea in my head that I was gonna try to connect immigration to poverty in Guatemala and change the entire world by retracing the route of a Guatemalan immigrant into the US.
Now those of you who are veteran activists are thinking, "This kid is crazy! There's no way he can do that." And I didn't know that at the time, and I realize how crazy I was. It's a long story as to how the whole thing happened and how it came about, but I ended up almost losing my life near the U.S.-Mexico border. I learned a lot. Knowing I would survive, I'd do it again, but I also realize how stupid I was. I almost lost my life, and if I would have lost my life, I wouldn't have made any change.
But I started writing about it, and in those days, when I wrote about immigration from a pro-immigrant perspective, it was like shouting into the darkness. No one was even talking about it. Progressive bloggers were starting up kind of as a reaction to Bush, but it was funny. Progressives were still very nativist, and we're still seeing that today. I was just talking to Dee [Deoliver47] today how we use terms like "anchor baby" and "illegals," which is just a horrific and inaccurate term. But I wrote about it and got connected to the immigrant rights movement.
And that's how I started to get to know undocumented youth from all over the country. They started reaching out to me online. These are folks that are born and raised in this country, for those that don't know it, and this is the only country they know as their home, but they're still undocumented. They felt fearful of coming out to their friends or community members, but they saw a pro-immigrant voice online and they felt comfortable reaching out to me.
What little I did means absolutely nothing compared to the courage that these young people have had in fighting for things like the DREAM Act, which for those that don't know is a piece of legislation that would give undocumented youth a path to legal status. I was part of that, and I was part of that connection that brought folks together. If you want to see a story of how to empower folks through the internet, I think immigrant youth are a good example of how to do that.
Saying all that, I want to talk a little bit about racism. My general conception of the public discourse around race has kind of evolved, and this is necessarily a simplification. It's basically become an angry person screaming, "You're a racist!" and the other person with a halo saying, "No, I've never had a racist thought in my entire life!" That's basically the narrative that has emerged.
I don't want to talk about the reaction in pointing out racism because I don't think that's something we can tackle today, but I do want to talk about how I think people should react to it when they're accused of racism.
Racism, and I think the professor here will talk about it, too, is often confused with race consciousness, is the best way to put it. And the reaction of white people to race consciousness is to try to be race-blind. I know this because, like I said — you partly heard my history, and I have a complex interaction with the term Latino, Hispanic community, or whatever — but I consider myself white, and I understand I have the privileges that come with that.
So people get this reaction, and I understand. As a white person, you hear this ugly history of race, and you just don't want to think about it. You just wanna get it out of your mind. And so you try to block it out of your mind. You're like, "No, I'm never thinking a racist thought in my life," but that's not the solution. Trying to do that is like burying your head in the sand to try to deal with the problem. It's like taking a faulty foundation and covering it up and hoping the house you build on it is gonna be fine. We gotta dig up that foundation, make a better one, and hopefully build a house that enough people can live in in a good way.
That's the first thing. We gotta fight to be race conscious, to bring these concepts forward, and just always be conscious of them when we speak, when we interact with people, and most importantly on a systemic level because that's where this stuff has really come to.
I've been accused of racism, and it's not fun. I know what it feels like. It feels bad, but the reaction to it isn't to be indignant and to say, "I've never thought a racist thought in my life." When people accuse me of racism, I think of it as accusing me of sin. I'm a sinful person. We're not perfect. Even if I've never had — assuming I could never have a racist thought, which I don't think is possible, I'm still born into a lot of structures that exist that are going to reinforce those notions.
So be race conscious. Be humble when you're accused of these things. And the last thing I want to talk about is language. I talked a little bit about language in the beginning, but language is just an excellent way to tease out some of the things we're talking about. You heard about [Neeta] talking about "circling the wagons" and how that's a bad thing to be used. But there are all these complex narratives that we reinforce through our language. That's why African Americans can be called the n-word, and there's just a nasty history with that word. It's not a pretty word, but if someone calls me a "cracker," it doesn't really bother me. [Laughter]
And the same thing with women. That's why women are able to be called, and I hate saying these words, I'm sorry, but "slut," "whore." Someone calls me a "manwhore," it doesn't really bother me. It's a bad term, but it doesn't have that same history and systemic power.
So those are three things that I would say. Try to bring racism to the forefront, and that's not in a bad way. Just try to do it in the best way you can. Be humble about it. And just be conscious of the language that you use. And these things aren't perfect. If there's anything I would suggest to folks of color dealing with clueless people that don't know how to deal with these situations is just to try to be understanding. Not understanding — in the sense that if you can find a white person that's able to do these things — be race conscious, be humble, and watch their language — help them. Because that's the best that we can do, honestly.
So I'll end on that, and the last thing I want to say is for immigration specifically, immigration is intimately connected to racism. Nativism is another system of oppression. That's why people of color are still asked in this country, "Where do you come from?" Because it's assumed that they're from outside of this country. And I think that publicly, while it's not acceptable to be racist anymore, immigration has come up in that space, and that's how people are really able to get down on brown folks.
And that's why terms like "illegal" are so harmful. This term is not only dehumanizing, but it's legally inaccurate because it waives away the rights of unauthorized immigrants in this country to have any due process. Because unauthorized immigrants, believe it or not, do have rights in this country under the Constitution. The Constitution says "all persons." It doesn't say "just U.S. citizens." And not only that, but every unauthorized person has rights possibly to asylum, they might have a grandmother that was born in the U.S. So they all have rights, and when you just call someone an illegal immigrant, you're waiving away those rights.
And journalists are responsible about this with other stuff, like "the alleged shooter Jared Loughner" when we have it all on video, but they're not the same with immigration. So drop the i-word. That's one of the most important things you can do. There's a website called Drop the I-Word. I'm not affiliated with it, but I think it's awesome to stop using the word "illegal."
And the last thing I'll say is, I've got love for Obama, but he's really doing violence to our communities, and I say that with love because it's truth. He's deporting more people than ever before. And I want to help progressive people do better, but if I have to choose between my family or my community being deported and fighting for them and having to get votes for Democrats, there's no question what I'm gonna choose. So please, Obama, give us some sort of administrative relief, whether it's in the form of just using your resources wisely and not deporting young people or people that have strong ties to this community.
And also stop this thing called "Secure Communities." I don't have time to get into this program, but basically what Obama is trying to do is turn every local police officer into a border patrol agent by 2013. And this is a program, not a law. It forces every police officer to check the immigration status of anyone they arrest, and this program makes us less safe. It doesn't make us more safe. It's not only Obama's fault. ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is this rogue agency with a bunch of crazy folks in it. They're doing violence to our communities and it needs to stop.
I'm taking too much time. Thank you.
[Nancy kindly provided us with a copy of her powerpoint presentation. Unfortunately the embedding feature doesn’t seem to work, so a link to the document will have to do. Notes have been added in the transcription to making connecting the slides to the words easier.]
Good morning. I'm Nancy Heitzeg. I'm a professor of sociology at St Cate's, and I blog at Daily Kos as soothsayer; and also I'm co-editor of Criminal (In)Justice Kos. [Applause] Thank you. Thanks for being here. And thank you David and thank you Denise for this invitation, I'm honored to be here.
I'm here today as an abolitionist on a couple of fronts, I guess. First of all in regards to the Prison Industrial Complex and issues of Criminal Justice. Criminal Justice really has long been, I would say, since post-slavery, one of the major institutions to oppress people of color. I'll say more about that in a minute. I also would like to say a word or two about white privilege and white supremacy, and how we in the mostly-white blogosphere can push back on that.
Let me start with saying a word about Criminal (In)Justice Kos, and putting the Prison Industrial Complex on the progressive agenda. Criminal (In)Justice Kos was founded a little over a year ago, and it actually emerged out of a conversation with some members of the Black Kos community. And our mission really is -- well, I'll just read our Mission Statement.
"We're devoted to exploring the myths of crime, criminals, and criminal justice, and the intersection of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, age, and disability in policing and punishment. Criminal (In)Justice Kos is committed to furthering action towards reducing inequity in the US criminal justice system."
There's a lot of ways that we can talk about criminal justice, the Prison Industrial Complex... but we at Criminal (In)justice Kos -- and let me give a shout-out to my editor Kay Whitlock, otherwise known as RadioGirl. We at Criminal (In)Justice Kos do center on race, class, gender, sexuality, because they really are central in terms of who is defined and controlled as criminals.
This slide features some of our influences, and I guess it would be books that I would recommend to any of you who would be interested. Certainly Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? -- that little, tiny book, you know, as a wealth of information. New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, “The Work of Critical Resistance"...* Sister Helen Prejean, who I've been fortunate enough to work with on a couple of occasions, certainly has single-handedly been able to move the death penalty debate into an entirely new direction. And then the last book featured there is Queer (In)Justice: the Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States -- Kay Whitlock is one of the co-editors of that, and that really is a ground-breaking book in terms of the discussion of bringing the issue of sexuality into the mix.
Some of you may be familiar with these statistics -- I'm not sure -- so I just want to spend a minute talking about the magnitude of criminal injustice in the United States, and it is an issue which is largely, in many respects, invisible. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We have five percent of the world's population and twenty-five percent of the world's prison inmates. There are 750 people in federal or state prisons or jails per every 100,000 people. Another five million under some sort of correctional supervision. And then, of course, the death penalty still exists on the federal level, and also in thirty-five states. On the right there, I sort of scrolled up the numbers for you.
This explosion has been relatively recent. 200,000 people in prison in 1970, and nearly 2.4 million today. And there we are, number one in the world. The only country that comes even close to us in terms of incarceration rate per capita is the former Soviet Union's Russia.
Mass imprisonment is not the result [of] any changes in crime -- certainly you can see by the graphic that crime rates have remained relatively steady, and that's true of crime in general: crime rates don't fluctuate very much.
Much of the explosion in incarceration is due to the War on Drugs, and there's a host of very harsh penal sanctions that came along with it: the development of mandatory minimum prison sentences, three strike sentencing, and we've also increasingly seen a much more punitive approach in juvenile justice.
And we can't talk about criminal justice without talking about race. African Americans and Latinos each approximately make up about thirteen percent of our population, but they're over-represented at every phase of the criminal justice system. And this would be from arrest, to incarceration, to death row. And this -- and I stress this -- this is despite no particular statistical differences in participation in crime. More than half of these inmates are African American, less than 30% are white, and 20% are Latino.
One in 31 adults is under correctional supervision; one in every 100 adults is in prison; as are one in every 100 black women, one in every 36 Latino adults, one in every fifteen black men, and one in nine black man between the ages of twenty to thirty-four. Those are stunning figures.
We try to make these issues visible in Criminal (In)Justice Kos. We think these issues really should be the centerpiece of a progressive agenda. There are so many myths about crime, and criminals, and our criminal justice system -- who's in prison, and do they need to be there. And it's difficult to explode those myths. And we try to do that.
Here's just a summary of some of the themes that we talk about:
Criminal (In)Justice Kos Diary Themes
- Prisons: Slave Ships on Dry Land
- The Personal is Political
- The Prison Industrial Complex, Privatization, and Profiteering from Mass Incarceration
- The School to Prison Pipeline and the Criminalization of Youth
- Death Penalty Action and Abolition
And we've been really fortunate to have some of the finest diarists on Daily Kos participate in our series, so thank you.
(Reading from slide:) Personal is Political -- what are the stories of people who have friends or family members who have been in prison or jail?
Of course, we center, really, on the Prison Industrial Complex and the growing issue of privatization -- not only the development of private prisons, per se, but the privatization of various aspects of the Prison Industrial Complex, and the larger issue of profiting from mass incarceration.
School-to-Prison pipeline and the criminalization of youth. And then, of course, death penalty abolition and action. And I should thank, right now, Equal Justice USA, which has contributed a lot of information to us, and let me also thank Angola 3 News, who also blogs on Daily Kos.
One of the big issues politically is, of course, the question of prison gerrymandering, and the corruption of the vote via felony disenfranchisement and other issues. We've focused on police abuse and misconduct -- Oscar Grant, among others. Issues of the law in the Court; the brutal conditions of incarceration, which really rise to the international definitions of torture. Collateral consequences: what's the impact of this on communities, incarcerated families, loss of federal benefits, loss of the right to vote.
And then, finally, we always try to spend a good deal of time talking about action: what are alternatives to incarceration, what are some new visions? And abolition. We do really hold, at CIK, that the current Prison Industrial Complex is a direct outgrowth of slavery. A lot of times people talk about "wage slave" or, you know, that it's like conditions of slavery, but literally, it really did emerge... One of the things I'm fortunate enough to do in my role as a professor is take a class every year to New Orleans, and one of the things we do is go to Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, which actually was an old plantation. Eighteen thousand acres, and they're still out there, 90% black, picking cotton by hand. If you go there and see that, there's really... there's not an argument.
So, hopefully -- hopefully -- we will see you at Criminal (In)Justice Kos.
Let me just say two words here quickly about the post-racial myth, white male spaces, and color-blind racism. And Kyle has touched upon this.
Tim Wise blogs sometimes at Daily Kos, and I'll just let you read this quote yourself, but he has challenged us to not only confront racism on the right, but also to confront racism on the left. And it is a challenge. So let me mention two things, briefly. One would be demographics. [New slide] These are Daily Kos demographics: 93% white, disproportionately male, disproportionately over 50... and those demographics end up shaping the discourse, whether we wish they did or not.
I'm going to read a quote from my friend blindyone:
White men feeling compelled to define the terms, set the boundaries, and, most importantly, lead the discussions on Daily Kos that women, black, and gay people here have more familiarity with is an ongoing problem.
Be a friend, be a supporter, but don't bigfoot all over every conversation just because you are a white man so you imagine that you were born to lead, or you are a white liberal so you must be beyond reproach.
[Applause] Amen. Yeah. And I'll wrap up here, because we're short on time. This is also related to the issue of colorblind racism that Kyle mentioned, which has a major impact on climate, and... I have diaried about this and we continually talk about this every day. Being colorblind is a form of racism also. It's a denial of the structural reality that persists. Just acknowledging white privilege is insufficient. So here's my three words of advice to white people:
- Recognize racism as systemic and structured: it's bigger than mere prejudice and bigotry.
- See the intersections, but don't reduce race to class. That's an ongoing struggle we have in conversation.
- Recognize that racist impact does occur, despite racist intent or not.
- Listen. Read more, type less. [Laughter and applause.]
- Resist not only the easy, obvious, active, overt racism, but the coded covert racism as well.
- Resist the rhetoric of colorblind racism. Learn the code words and the dog whistles.
I came back here last night and there was a whole four-diary debate about was calling President Barack Obama a "surrender monkey" racist. Yeah. Yeah. It is. It is. It is. It shouldn't be up for debate.
And lastly, tonight, let me ask you: become race traitors. There's a quote here from Noel Ignatiev, founder of the Race Traitor Journal, and so let me refer you there and hope that you'll go there.
But it is insufficient, really, to just recognize white privilege and think that that is enough.
You have to resist.
So thank you.
Thank you. And thank you to all of the panelists today.
Black Kos is a community within the boundaries of Daily Kos. And as Nancy pointed out, that bounded community in the blogosphere is primarily -- overwhelmingly majority white. And when we talk about the blogosphere," we tend to always go to -- The normative in America is white. Everything outside of that normative is "Other" or "Colored" or "Minority." "Outside" or "Invisible," as Sis Neeta was talking about. Or "othered" in terms of language, as Elsa and Kyle have talked about. And/or opportunity: so "science is not for Latinas." So we start from, already, a position of being outside. And when we try to describe parts of that thing called The Internet, that has "Others" in it, we will then talk about the "Afrosphere," or the "Latinosphere." [To navajo/Neeta Lind:] I don't think there is an "Indiansphere" -- y'all invisible there, too. [Laughter.]
And this is the status quo. So people create comfortable spaces for themselves. 'Cause if ninety-nine and forty-four hundredths percent Ivory Soap is y'all, then we all -- nosotros -- create little pockets of places where we're not going to come under attack on a daily basis. Or be offended. Or be reacting to.
Now, does that mean we always get along? Noooo. [Laughs; audience laughs.] There is heated debate in the Latinosphere, in the Afrosphere; there are Native American positions that differ widely, because there's no such thing. We get lumped into other kinds of boxes. 'Cause there is “The Latinos do this," you know. Or “The "Indians do this." You know: they're all the same, anyway. What's the difference? And "Black people all do this," or "They all do that." Like "Black people are responsible for Prop 8." How many times have you heard that meme? Well, there is a sister here running around -- you need to track her down -- named shanikka, who wrote a diary on Daily Kos deconstructing that theme. Starting with black people are six percent of the population of California: now that's in totality. Then you’ve got to talk about who's eligible to vote, who's able to vote, who went to jail and can't vote -- and then who did vote, and then who's black, LGBTQ and voted correctly, and then who are the folks who said they just didn't bother to vote at all.
But I have heard that theme repeated as late as two days ago on Daily Kos. On Daily Kos. The progressive Great Orange Satan. So we have this problem that we face: do we even bother? Do we stay in our comfortable cubbyholes in our little blogs here and there? Do we talk to only each other? Do we reach out to, maybe, hermano, hermana, mi hermanita, whatever, whatever, whatever -- and do we just say, as some people have said, "Fuck Daily Kos! I'm not coming on there." Excuse me for using the f-word -- I'm sorry, but that is what people have said to me. I've said, "We have these important things going on. There's Criminal (In)Justice Kos, there's Netroots, we've got now Latino Kos, we've got Black Kos... We need support, we need to educate, we need to reach out. And they're, like, "I'm not going there. To be subjected to -- I'm not gonna be called -- ‘Circle the wagons’ and ‘How. Kowabunga.’” You know? I mean all of this stereotyped language. "I am not gonna be an 'anchor baby.' I am not gonna be 'You black people...' I'm not gonna be 'a monkey'..."
Because if progressives are using language that is being used by the Tea Party, if progressives use blackface, if progressives are aligning themselves with people who are openly racist, who needs them?
And I kind of understand the response I get from people when I raise that issue: Why bother? Why should I get agita? Why should I raise my blood pressure to deal with yet another set of issues?
But you know what? You need to bother.
The person who I got my sig line [from], which is always attached to everything I post, [is] Bernice Johnson Reagon, known to many of you as the founder of -- she's an ethnomusicologist -- she's the founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock, which is a feminist women’s group, and -- [Applause] They my girls. And Bernice said: "When you're in a coalition, and you're comfortable, it is not a broad enough coalition."
Many of you are familiar with the photograph of the Washington Monument and the Memorial -- for the March on Washington, organized by Ella Baker and Bayard Rustin, where Martin Luther King gave his "I Had a Dream" speech. But that was about a coalition: black, white, brown, yellow, straight, gay, Indian, Latino -- there were people there of all ages; there were people there of all socially constructed races. And that movement it represented was years in the building; of outreach and being uncomfortable with others.
This didn't happen overnight. I know that movement, and was part of many [factions] of that movement. Sometimes at the very far left of it, sometimes in the center of it -- places like SNCC and CORE, and the NAACP -- and as far as [raises left hand] this end of it, places like the Young Lords Party and the Black Panther Party. But the point of it is that all of us, all of us had to come together and be uncomfortable together in order for that movement to happen. And so if we don't suffer the uncomfortability [sic] to sit there and, yes, fight back; and, yes, get people to learn to listen, and to listen to learn to us … But we also need to understand the reality of how we're going to build those coalitions. You will stay invisible, unless you build a coalition. We will not get people out of jail, we will not pass the DREAM Act, we will not change the educational system unless we build those coalitions.
So this coalition-building is not only the responsibility of white folks. It's the responsibility of people of color to develop nerves of steel. And not get ulcers. And deal with this stuff, up close and personal. Because I'm sitting on Daily Kos. I am not gonna be driven off. [Applause.] I don't care how many racists come in there -- [Applause continues] And I will also hide-rate homophobes, Islamophobes, anchor-baby-droppers, and all the rest of the "isms."
And that's my responsibility because I believe in coalitions. So now it's your agenda.
Time for questions, folks.
Deoliver47: Okay, I want to repeat that question so that it goes…”How can we reach out to make things more friendly to people of color and especially women of color? Is that and LGB people of color? In the LGB Community? Because what you are saying is what is going on in the other room is basically white. Okay, got that! And white male at that! Do you want to come up to the mic and respond to that so that it gets on the tape well cuz, sister, folks need to hear you?
Speaker from Audience: I think the first thing is that there is an assumption that there aren’t already women of color that are blogging on the LGB issue on the spectrum which I think is a false assumption. I think it lends itself to what the panel was saying which is that very often we are in our safe spaces and we are on communities that are closed because the blogosphere reflects what we see in the world.
So, I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. It is a very racially segregated city and the LGBT community is racially segregated within it. As a feminist, feminism is very racially segregated, too. And we are working on that, too, but the work can’t come from us. So I honestly feel that when I’m blogging that I’m constantly having to explain and educate white men about my issues and that is not what I’m blogging about. So I can’t be the prophet of black lesbianism any more than anyone else can. And that is not my role and that is not my job and that is not my activism to educate the masses on how wrong they are or how non-inclusive they are.
If you look at a space, the Vital Voice Magazine, which is the LGBT magazine in St. Louis, Missouri did a panel to talk about the status of LGBT politics in Missouri and the panel didn’t have a single person of color on it. Not one. Not a single person of color and that is with several activists involved. So I think that is part of the problem.
Deoliver47: Okay, we have five minutes left [applause], but thank you very much. Can you state your name? Pamela [inaudible]. Thank you, Pamela. Who else had a question?
[Inaudible – person asking question.]
Kyle: So there are a couple issues there because a lot of our leading people of color organizations have been basically bought out by the telecom companies. So there are other systems of oppression that are at work there. But I just wanted to speak in general about, twice now I’ve heard now we want to invite people of color in our communities. And in my experience, that’s something admirable to try and do, but in my experience it is really hard to invite people of color into a community that has already been created. It is really important to look outside at what has already been happening.
And so, for instance, with the LGBT community, the immigrant youth community is really amazing. So within the immigrant youth rights community, it is tough because we have got to appeal to religious folks because we don’t have very much power, but the immigrant youth community is very pro-LGBT. Why? Because it’s complex, but basically immigrant youth who are in this country are able to get married and generally find a way to status, although that is very hard to do. But LGBT folks can’t get married, right. So a lot of undocumented youth leaders are out and queer, you know. And they’ve created some amazing spaces. So now, even straight undocumented folks talk about coming out when they do their stuff.
So within these spaces there are these things going on, and just like people of color have to reach out and build coalitions, white folks have to do the same thing and make a really constant effort. And it doesn’t mean inviting them into your spaces necessarily, but look at other spaces that are being built and support those as well.
Deoliver47: Yeah, I wanted to add to that. Neeta brought up something that is still really painful. The fact that the panel that was supposed to take place here, where Native Americans from all over were going to be a part of that panel. And one of the arguments here, last year, at Netroots Nation, was the lack of grassroots representation here at Netroots Nation. Yet the word grassroots gets thrown around the blogosphere all the time. “Oh, we are the grassroots, we are grassroots this and grassroots that.” Yeah, well not if it is grassroots of color, because they certainly aren’t here, and we have been beefing about this each year, and tried to increase the participation.
So finally, last year it was said that we are going to have these kinds of panels that would show that kind of representation, and Nancy and I also put in for a panel to get representation people of color from right here in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Because we were told that, obviously, Netroots Nation doesn’t have the money to fly poor people to Netroots Nation -- because obviously colored peoples is poor peoples. So it would be good if it was done locally. Every time Netroots Nation moves around, locally bring those folks in from the local area. So we put in that panel, too. Panel denied.
One of the reasons you see the Black Kos panel as inclusive and reflective of a cross-section because on the porch — by the way, Black Kossacks, people who post to Black Kos ain’t black. Some of us are. And some of us are not. In fact, some of the white people that post to Black Kos get attacked for being black racists. Angry black racists because they post to Black Kos. But what I’m saying to you is, it is the responsibility of everybody here to raise the issue of how is Netroots Nation going to be more reflective of the coalition that is that Big Tent that we talk about all the time in the Democratic Party. I do see union representation here. I see other kinds of groups represented here. But I don’t see the local grassroots, and it is something that we still have to work on, and it is only going to work if we all raise that issue.
Who has their hand up? [Question inaudible.] What would be as a National Organization? Can you re-phrase the question? [Listens] The only way it is going to celebrate people unique culture is if those people from those cultures are telling their stories. Because top-down doesn’t work. Just sort of saying, Okay, now here is my example of the nice Latina I met, or and this African American in Detroit, or whatever. I think that you have to have those voices. My concern is always, are those voices going to be comfortable in those spaces? And that is the thing that people have to examine. But I think it is possible.
But as far as my position, looking in the blogosphere, I don’t see the comfortability. And we are not there yet. And I don’t know if we are going to get there. I can’t give you advice for your Obama for America blog. I don’t know how that works. I don’t think that is an open blog that people can just log-on and put up their stories, or whatever. So it might be more difficult. Let’s talk afterwards. Okay, thank you.
I want to thank everyone for being here and I hope that next year, Netroots Nation will not do what they did to us this year which kyril has brought up, which is schedule an immigration forum, an LGBT forum, all at the same time. So therefore we have to be schizophrenic and make a decision which way do we go and that again is not considering how you build coalitions. Thank you. [Applause]
[* Also seen onscreen is The Death of Innocents which, I believe, is Sister Prejean's book -- didn't hear who wrote (nor do I see it onscreen) "The Work of Critical Resistance".