Weariness and despair could have finally caught up with us. Haven’t the Roma people — Tziganes, Gypsies and Sintis — been persecuted for centuries? Haven’t the stereotypes against them spanned several centuries, countries and political regimes? Wouldn’t it be illusive to think that one could…
The people in one of your recent pictures are Inuit. I know in your FAQ you include Native peoples, and while it may be true from an anthropological perspective that they originated in Asia, from what I know, they pretty much reject the idea that their people are not native to the Americas, and they dispute the Bering land bridge theory for that reason. I really don't think they would consider themselves immigrants in any way. Have you consulted any Native people on this particular point?
Thank you for the thoughtful question. It’s rather we don’t want to exclude natives from a dialogue of oppression and we see them as interconnected. Many immigrants and natives alike are moved around, or forced to move, live under oppression/colonization and prejudice.
Many times immigrants are the colonizers as well. It’s not an easy answer, nor do we attempt to answer for everyone or anyone but it’s an acknowledgement of a system in place and humanizing the human experience through pictures, documentation and stories and finding the humanity and appreciation in each other through our differences. In this small way we hope to in a small humble way continue the way of defeating xenophobia and arrogance.
There’s this great article called Defining Muslim Feminist Politics through Indigenous Solidarity Activism who asks the question, “How could I live on this land that did not ethically belong to me, and talk about violence directed at my body, and at my people, without situating that violence and my work for social justice within the history of a nation-state literally founded on the dead bodies and erased nations of Indigenous peoples?”
Black August is a month of great significance for Africans throughout the diaspora, but particularly here in the U.S. where it originated. “August,” as Mumia Abu-Jamal noted, “is a month of meaning, of repression and radical resistance, of injustice and divine justice; of repression and righteous rebellion; of individual and collective efforts to free the slaves and break the chains that bind us.”
Black August International (2003) will not only honor our national freedom fighters in the “belly of the beast,” it will celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of Haiti’s Revolution, the first and only armed struggle whereby Africans liberated themselves from chattel slavery. It began in August of 1791 and ended in victory over Napoleon’s crack troops in 1803 with the celebration of independence, January, 1804. Nat Turner’s slave rebellion began on August 21, 1831, and Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad started in August. As Mumia stated, “Their sacrifice, their despair, their determination and their blood has painted the month Black for all time.”
On this 24th anniversary of Black August, first organized to honor our fallen freedom fighters, Jonathan and George Jackson, Khatari Gaulden, James McClain, William Christmas, and the sole survivor of the August 7, 1970 Courthouse Slave Rebellion, Ruchell Cinque Magee, it is still a time to embrace the principles of unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical fitness and/or training in martial arts, and resistance.
How did the concept of Black August originate?
The concept, Black August, grew out of the need to expose to the light of day the glorious and heroic deeds of those Afrikan women and men who recognized and struggled against the injustices heaped upon people of color on a daily basis in America. Black August represents the defining of socialist economics and ethics as applied to transforming the decadent social values of capitalist America and the people who suffer under and from the ill effects of these destructive values.
One cannot tell the story of Black August without first providing the reader with a brief glimpse of the “Black Movement” behind California prison walls in the Sixties, led by George Jackson, W. L. Nolen, Hugo Pinell, Kumasi, and many other conscious, standup brothers.
As Jackson wrote: “…when I was accused of robbing a gas station of $70, I accepted a deal…but when time came for sentencing, they tossed me into the penitentiary with one to life. That was 1960. I was 18 years old. I’ve been here ever since. I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me. For the first four years I studied nothing but economics and military ideas. I met black guerrillas, George “Big Jake” Lewis, and James Carr, W.L. Nolen, Bill Christmas, Tony Gibson, and many, many others. We attempted to transform the Black criminal mentality into a black revolutionary mentality. As a result, each of us has been subject to years of the most vicious reactionary violence by the state. Our mortality rate is almost what you would expect to find in a history of Dachau. Three of us [Nolen, Sweet Jugs Miller, and Cleve Edwards) were murdered several months ago [Jan. 13, 1969] by a pig shooting from thirty feet above their heads with a military rifle.”
In what has been described by witnesses as a setup, eight White prisoners and seven Blacks were sent to the yard in Soledad Prison whereupon the Whites attempted to take the basketball court from the brothers already on it. Nolen was known as the Marvin Haggler of the prison system, fearless and skilled, he was rarely challenged one on one. But on this day, one of the Whites attacked him and before Nolen could even hit back, he was shot. When Miller and Edwards tried to aid him, they were likewise shot by the lone White tower guard and left to bleed to death from wounds they could have survived.
The Black Movement prisoners demanded the guard be tried for murder but were met with resistance. Upon their continued insistence, the administration held a kangaroo court and three days later, the Monterey Grand Jury returned a verdict of “justifiable homicide.” Shortly after this was announced on the prison radio, a white guard was found beaten to death and thrown from a tier. Six days later, three prisoners were accused of murder, and became known as The Soledad Brothers.
“I am being tried in court right now with two other brothers. John Clutchette and Fleeta Drumgo, for the alleged slaying of a prison guard. This charge carries an automatic death penalty for me. I can’t get life. I already have it.”
On August 7, 1970, just a few days after George was transferred to San Quentin, his younger brother Jonathan Jackson, 17, invaded Marin County Courthouse single-handed, with a satchel full of handguns, an assault rifle and a shotgun hidden under his raincoat. (We have since learned he was not supposed to go it alone.) “Freeze!” Jonathan commanded as he tossed guns to William Christmas, James McClain, and Ruchell Magee, “We’re taking over.”
Magee was on the witness stand testifying for McClain, on trial for assaulting a guard in the wake of a guard’s murder of another Black prisoner, Fred Billingsley, beaten and tear gassed to death. A jailhouse lawyer, Magee had deluged the courts for seven years with petitions contesting his illegal conviction in 1963. The courts had refused to listen, so Magee seized the hour and joined the guerrillas as they took the judge, prosecutor and three jurors hostage to a waiting van. To reporters gathering quickly outside the courthouse, Jonathan shouted, “You can take our pictures. We are the revolutionaries!” Operating with courage and calm even their enemies had to respect, the four Black freedom fighters commandeered their hostages out of the courthouse without a hitch. What they failed to anticipate was the State’s willingness to sacrifice its own people to stop the escape. Jackson’s plan was to use the hostages to take over a radio station and broadcast the virulent, racist, murderous prison conditions and demand the immediate release of The Soledad Brothers.
But before Jonathan could drive the van out of the parking lot, the San Quentin guards had arrived and opened fire. When the shooting stopped, Jonathan, Christmas, McClain and the judge lay dead. Magee and the prosecutor were critically wounded, and one juror suffered a minor arm wound. Magee survived his wounds and was tried originally with codefendant Angela Davis. Their trials were later severed and Davis was eventually acquitted of all charges. Magee was convicted of simple kidnap and acquitted of the more serious kidnap-for-extortion charge by a jury whose acquittal was buried. Magee has challenged this coverup for decades with a notarized declaration from the jury foreman, Bernard Suarez He is also challenging the CDC regarding parole. After 40 years of unjust incarceration, he wants nothing short of discharge so he can return to his home state of Louisiana.
“International capitalism cannot be destroyed without the extremes of struggle. The entire colonial world is watching the blacks inside the U.S., wondering and waiting for us to come to our senses. Their problems and struggles with the Amerikan monster are much more difficult than they would be if we actively aided them. We are on the inside. We are the only ones (besides the very small white minority left) who can get at the monster’s heart without subjecting the world to nuclear fire. We have a momentous historical role to act out if we will. The whole world for all time in the future will love us and remember us as the righteous people who made it possible for the world to live on. If we fail through fear and lack of aggressive imagination, then the slave of the future will curse us, as we sometimes curse those of yesterday. I don’t want to die and leave a few sad songs and a hump in the ground as my only monument. I want to leave a world that is liberated from trash, pollution, racism, nation-states, nation-state wars and armies, from pomp, bigotry, parochialism, a thousand different brands of untruth, and licentious, usurious economics.” (Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson).
In the latest edition of the 1970 bestseller, Jonathan Jackson, Jr. wrote in its Forward: “…Failure to understand the radical, encompassing viewpoint in the sixties led to reformism. In effect, the majority of the left completely deserted any attempt at the radical balance required of the politically conscious, leaving only liberalism and its narrow vision to flourish.”
Nobody comprehended the radical dilemma more fully than George Jackson….He writes in Blood In My Eye:
“Reformism is an old story in Amerika. There have been depressions and socioeconomic political crises throughout the period that marked the formation of the present upper-class ruling circle, and their controlling elites. But the parties of the left were too committed to reformism to exploit their revolutionary potential.”
We witnessed the so-called healthcare reform of the first Clinton Administration. In a nutshell, there were approximately 37 million people without health insurance in 1992; there are currently well over 44 million and climbing as the insurance industry continues to profiteer from our most basic need for medical care, while Medicare and Medicaid are threatened with privatization and prescription drugs are out of control. “Welfare Reform” has resulted in “Welfare DEform” as the social safety net is unraveled and homelessness is institutionalized. While our taxes are spent lavishly for a bloated military ($400 billion plus!), health care, housing, child care, food stamps, and jobs disappear; and factories and plants are located behind prison walls. California spends about $49,000 per year to incarcerate one prisoner. It spends about $7000 to educate one student.
“It all falls into place. I see the whole thing much clearer now, how fascism has taken possession of this country, the interlocking dictatorships from county level on up to the Grand Dragon in Washington, D.A. Fascism has temporarily succeeded under the guise of reform.” (George Jackson)
And so we have it today, more obvious, much more blatant in the ghettoes and barrios — a form of fascism that has replaced gas ovens and concentration camps with death rows and control-unit torture chambers; plantations with prison industrial complexes deployed in rural white communities to perpetuate white supremacy and Black/Brown exploitation. An obscene concentration of wealth at the top with one percent owning more wealth than 95% of the U.S. population; individuals so superrich their wealth exceeds the total combined budgets of scores of nations — as they plunder the globe in the quest for more.
“The fascist must expand to live. Consequently he has pushed his frontiers to the farthest lands and peoples. This is an aspect of his being, an ungovernable compulsion. This perverted mechanical monster suffers from a disease that forces him to build ugly things and destroy beauty wherever he finds it. I just read in a legal newspaper that 50 percent of all the people ever executed in this country by the state were black and 100 percent were lower-class poor. I’m going to bust my heart trying to stop these smug, degenerate, primitive, omnivorous, uncivil … and anyone who would aid me, I embrace you.”(George Jackson)
At the time Jackson wrote those words (1970), he was facing a mandatory death sentence even if only convicted of assaulting a guard (Ca. Statute 4500), and was already in solitary confinement where he spent most of the 11 years of his incarceration. Although that particular law and the indeterminate sentence are no longer on the books, the spirit of the law is being implemented through the no-parole policies of Republicrat Gov. Grey Davis and a death row that now totals over 600 human beings slated for state murder. Nationwide, the figures are about 3600.
On August 21, 1971, in what was described by prison officials as an escape attempt, George Jackson allegedly smuggled a gun into San Quentin in a wig. That feat was proven impossible, and evidence subsequently suggested a setup designed by prison officials to eliminate Jackson once and for all as they had tried numerous times. However, they didn’t count on losing any of their own in the process. On that fateful day, three notoriously racist prison guards and two inmate turnkeys were also killed. According to an eye witness, when Jackson was shot while running on the yard, he got up instantly and dived in the direction of some bushes. He was subsequently murdered while lying on the ground wounded.
Six Black prisoners were put on trial — wearing 30 lbs of chains — in Marin County Courthouse charged with murder and assault. Fleeta Drumgo, David Johnson, Hugo L.A. Pinell (Yogi), Luis Talamantez, Johnny Spain, and Willie Sundiata Tate. Only one was convicted of murder, Johnny Spain. The others were either acquitted or convicted of assault. Pinell is the only one remaining in prison; all the others were released years ago. But Yogi has suffered prolonged torture in lockups since 1969, and is currently enduring his 13th year in Pelican Bay Bay’s SHU. He remains amazingly strong and revolutionary.
Let us continue to build uncompromising unity and resistance through spiritual renewal and revolutionary inspiration this Black August as we honor all those who have fought and died for our freedom and self-determination.
In George Jackson’s words: “Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could be saved, that generations more will live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution.”
I’ve been giving this topic a lot of thought for a while, not only because of the observations I’ve made from white and people of color friends and allies, but also because I, too, have been guilty in mocking the “accented” English of people in my community and other communities of color. The imitation and mockery of these “accents” are sometimes conducted for seemingly “harmless” comedic purposes, but nonetheless those of us who speak the colonizer’s language in any form of what is commonly defined as a “Standard English” accent in white English majority-speaking countries tend to overlook our privilege and complicity in attributing stereotypes to bodies of color and perpetuating the harmful racialized narrative of “modern” versus “pre-modern.”
Being raised in the United States and attending a predominately white public school was never devoid of racism, but it is important to note how my white friends, classmates, and teachers would frequently comment on how “amazed” they were that I “didn’t have an accent” (remarks that I still get). Since a “Standard American English” accent is not regarded as an accent in U.S. mainstream media and society, sounding like all the other white kids and the white people I watched in popular film and television meant that I spoke “normally.” While I faced racism throughout my public school years, my being brown yet “sounding white” definitely made some part of me, no matter how small, feel like I “fitted in” or “belonged” to mainstream white America. It also made me feel superior to the (few other) South Asian students who, unlike me, spoke English “differently” and were more Otherized because of it. Even though I was racialized like them through the lens of the white gaze, my “non-existing accent” gave me an unfair advantage and created a dichotomy which I participated in, too: they were “FOBs” while I was at least “Americanized.”
At a previous workplace, I recall the difficultly one of my Indian co-workers faced due to his accent. He was explaining a transaction to a white customer, but she grew impatient and shouted, “I can’t understand you! I can’t understand you!” I stepped in and explained verbatim what my co-worker said and the woman understood and thanked me. I couldn’t help but notice what had just happened. My co-worker, although perfectly understandable and far more knowledgeable than me with regard to the work field, was yelled at because of the way he spoke, while I, a fellow brown man, was treated respectfully and as more “competent” because of my white suburban American accent. Interesting enough, we had a white co-worker who received compliments daily because of his European accent (I won’t disclose the exact country for privacy reasons). I lost count of how many times customers commented on how “attractive” his accent was, whereas our Indian co-worker was treated as “unintelligible.”
The perception and attitudes towards people with accented English in the United States varies from community to community and intersects with race, gender, class, religious background, etc. I anticipate that some people reading this post will ask, “Well, what about white people who speak with Southern accents, Canadian accents, British accents, Australian accents, New Zealand accents? They get stereotyped, too!” While white people with these accents may be stereotyped – some more positively than others (e.g. British accent treated as “sophisticated” and “sexy” at best, mocked for “weird vocab” at worst) – they are not cast as racial Others like people of color with so-called “foreign accents” are (and for those who want to insist otherwise, please follow these directions: 1. Point your mouse cursor to the top right of your browser. 2. See that “x” button? 3. Yeah, click that! Khuda hafiz!).
Unlike “Standard English” accents and various dialects of the language in North America and other English majority-speaking nations, stereotypes of accents described as South Asian, Arab, Iranian, African, East Asian, Latino, Indigenous/Aboriginal/Native American, and so on, are racialized and mark bodies as “incompetent,” “backwards,” uncivilized,” “subordinate,” “goofy,” and even “threatening, “sinister,” and “evil.” As noted in the example from my workplace, South Asian (or “Desi”) accents are not considered “desirable,” “cool,” or “comprehensible,” while British, Australian, or New Zealand accents are. In American TV shows and Hollywood films, there are countless examples of how Arabs, South Asians, Africans, and other people of color with accented speech are demonized, ridiculed, degraded, and/or used for comedic purposes. These media representations have a real impact on society, as Carla Chamberlin-Quinlisk (a former professor of mine in undergrad) explains below:
Accent, however, is more than a theatrical device and has also been linked to real life perceptions of competency, intelligence, and credibility. In educational contexts, including language learning communities, non-native speaking students and teachers face judgments of academic or professional incompetence based on their language status (Amin, 1997; Braine, 1999; Hoekje & Williams, 1992; Kamhi-Stein, 2004; Liu, 1999; Thomas, 1999). Moreover, decades of studies on language attitudes confirm that linguistic variation (accent and dialect) filters listeners’ perception of speakers’ intelligence, socioeconomic status, competence, education level, and attractiveness (Cargile, 1997, 2000, 2002; Cargile & Giles, 1997; Edwards, 1982; White et al. 1998).
As I continue this discussion, it is important to be conscious of how intersecting factors like whiteness and maleness play significant roles in giving people racial and gender privileges over others, despite sharing the same accent. Furthermore, what I want to focus on primarily in this post is how white people and people of color like myself, who speak with white or “Standard English” accents, participate in mocking so-called “foreign accents” and reinforce demeaning stereotypes about communities of color. When I and other people of color imitate these Otherized accents, we do so for a number of reasons – for laughs (especially around white people), for dramatizing stories we recount, for mockery of people we may know, etc. What we fail to see is how imitating these accents serves the purpose of disassociating and differentiating ourselves from non-native English speakers of color, as well as making strong implications that they are “backwards,” “silly,” and most importantly, forever stuck in the “pre-modern.” In other words, we characterize them as “FOBs” who will always be sexist, illogical, violent, barbaric, and uncivilized because of their non-western cultures (as if white people with their “normal” and “civilized” accents cannot be sexist, violent, barbaric, illogical, etc.). They, unlike us, are not “modernized” and can never assimilate “properly” into western society or be compatible with the west’s “superior” values. White supremacy undeniably marks all people of color as inferior, but when we reproduce these narratives of “modern” versus “pre-modern” in our own communities, we become complicit in normalizing the logic of white supremacy.
Additionally, we make spaces of exception for certain “FOBs.” That is, even though these individuals have accents, we don’t regard them as real “FOBs” because they are our friends, they live in the west, study in western universities, dress western, have “progressive” feminist politics, and so on. The real “FOBs” are the ones who, in addition to having accents, are bound to their “foreign” cultures and therefore must have “barbaric” and “oppressive” values.
Even in these spaces of exception, people of color with accented English are treated as somehow having “less credibility,” regardless of their education status. This is especially true in educational and workplace settings. It’s upsetting how such hostility towards people of color with accents come not only from white people, but also from people of color who have white accents. I have consistently heard white people who self-identify as anti-racist and feminist refer to people of color with accents as the “immigrant generation” – a description used as code for “FOB,” and therefore “sexist,” “regressive,” “morally and intellectually inferior,” etc. Admittedly, I and other people of color who sound white participate in maintaining these gross generalizations and stereotypes. In our discriminatory attitudes and jokes about the way they “mispronounce” words, we fail to take into account the struggles they face daily due to the racist perceptions of their accents. We fail to see how women of color with accents, for example, are further racialized and exoticized in a white supremacist heteropatriarchal culture and seen as more loyal to cultures, tribes, or countries that are marked inferior, savage, and uncivilized.
Some people of color mock the way other members in their community speak as a way of gaining “acceptance” by white people. For a long time, I imitated Desi accents around my white friends, classmates, and co-workers who would burst into laughter every time. I decided to stop when they thought it was “ok” for them to mock the accents just because I did it. While it’s certainly not the same thing when I imitate the Desi accent around only people of color, the privilege of not facing challenges because of our white accents rarely enters the conversation. I have heard others say things like, “I can’t stand the Desi accent, it’s annoying,” or “I hate the way Indians/Pakistanis talk,” or make innocent-sounding statements like, “Desi accents are hilarious!” These comments don’t take into account that there are real South Asians who actually live with the reality of racist remarks, angry looks, discrimination, and harsh judgment due to the stereotypes linked with their accents.
As many anti-racist feminist writers and activists emphasize, all of us need to hold ourselves accountable for our privilege and complicity. Although, for example, people of my skin color and religious background are demonized, discriminated against, and victimized by racist laws, there are certain advantages I have as a U.S. citizen and heterosexual male who speaks with a white suburban accent. If I apply for a job, my name, skin color, and religion are clear disadvantages, but my white accent will open more possibilities for me than for South Asians who “sound foreign.” When white classmates poked fun at me with “Apu accents,” they got more of a kick out of it when they did it to Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi students who, in their minds, “spoke like that.” I had the advantage of saying, “I don’t speak that way,” which also served as a way of stating, “I’m not like them, I’m more like you.” I didn’t have to worry about being laughed at or feeling ashamed every time I opened my mouth. This does not dismiss the fact that people of color face racism on the basis of their skin color alone, but rather highlights on how we should recognize the different yet interrelated ways racism impacts us all.
I don’t deny that there are anti-racist ways in which people of color imitate the accented English of their communities. There have been times when I used a Desi accent in ways that I felt were empowering and a form of resistance against racism. We perform these accents to counter the stereotypes that are projected unto us and others in our community. However, we also need to remember that we have the privilege of “switching off” the performed accent and go back to speaking with white accents that will never be mocked, degraded, vilified, and judged.
I also don’t deny that people of color with western accents are sometimes perceived as having “foreign accents” due the way the dominant culture racializes them. In 8th grade, my English teacher sent me to an ESL class simply because I failed one test (I didn’t read the book!). Last summer, I interned at a counseling center and was told by the office manager that I had “a bit of an accent” after I told her I was born in Pakistan. I felt insulted and offended by both of these incidents and I would think to myself, “How could they say I have an accent? I don’t!” Until I was called out on how problematic my framing of these experiences with racialization were, I didn’t realize that my anger implied that there was something wrong with having a South Asian accent. What I later addressed with my internship supervisor was not so much about whether or not I had an accent, but rather, what does it mean to have an “accent” and how are real people of color, who don’t speak English with “general” or “standard” western accents, perceived and treated? Instead of distancing ourselves from people of color who speak English “differently” and trying to make ourselves look more “acceptable” or “assimilated,” we should be confronting racist stereotypes and attitudes that are associated with “accents.”
As people of color who have the privilege of “sounding white,” we need to challenge the ways we imitate the accented English of people in racialized communities. White people, especially those who claim to be anti-racist allies, should never imitate these accents or feel that it is “ok” for them to do so. I’m sure others can relate to these stories, but my parents and other family members constantly faced discrimination not only because of their skin colors, but also because of their language status. When I taught English to immigrants and refugees two years ago, one of the things that stood out to me was how the students wanted to learn English so that they could be understood at their jobs, apply for jobs, or not feel ashamed in front of their children.
In white-majority societies where the “speak-English-or-get-out” culture is very hostile towards non-English speakers, we need to take responsibility for our privileges and complicity seriously and stop stereotyping people of color with so-called “foreign accents.” What does it say about the power of colonialism and the settler-state when people of color deserve mockery, shame, ridicule, and vilification for the way they mispronounce words in the colonizer’s language? When white suburban American accents like mine are not considered an “accent,” but regarded as the “norm,” we need to challenge what it means to have an “accent.” We also need to challenge ideas about what it means to be “modern” and how stereotypes about “accent,” like race and religion, serve as markers for those who are cast as “pre-modern” racial Others.
Seth Rosenfeld’s dramatic announcement that Richard Aoki was an FBI informant provoked an enormous response from Chronicle readers. Could it be true? Or was this a “snitch-jacketing,” a classic FBI tactic used to cast suspicion on a legitimate activist by spreading rumors and manufacturing evidence? As a scholar, I insist on seeing evidence before concluding any “truth.” But as I read Rosenfeld’s work and cross-checked sources from my biography on Aoki, I realized Rosenfeld had not met the burden of proof. He made definitive conclusions based on inconclusive evidence. If Aoki was an informant, when was he informing? How did he help the FBI disrupt political movements? What were his motivations? I also questioned Rosenfeld’s motives. Rosenfeld’s piece, published the day before the release of his own book, gained him widespread media and public attention that surely will augment sales. Rosenfeld offers four pieces of evidence against Aoki. First, Rosenfeld cites only one FBI document, a Nov. 16, 1967, report. It states: “A supplementary T symbol (SF T-2) was designated for” - but the name was deleted. Following the now-blank space was the name Richard Matsui Aoki in parenthesis, and then the phrase “for the limited purpose of describing his connections with the organization and characterizing [Aoki].” In the FBI pages released to me, only brief background material on Aoki is linked to T-2. Moreover, T symbols are used to refer to informants or technical sources of information (microphones, wiretaps). So was Aoki the informer or the one being observed? Second, FBI agent Burney Threadgill Jr. said he recruited Aoki in the late 1950s, but we have no substantial evidence other than Rosenfeld’s reports, and Threadgill has since died. Third, FBI agent M. Wesley Swearingen’s statement, as quoted by Rosenfeld, is hardly compelling: “Someone like Aoki is perfect to be in a Black Panther Party, because I understand he is Japanese. Hey, nobody is going to guess - he’s in the Black Panther Party; nobody is going to guess that he might be an informant.” But more logically, Aoki’s racial difference made him stand out and aroused suspicion. Are we asked to simply trust authority figures? Fourth, Aoki’s remarks, as seen in the video, are open to multiple interpretations, and Aoki denies the allegation. Anyone familiar with Aoki knows that he spoke with wit, humor, allusion and caution. Where’s the conclusive evidence? FBI reports notoriously get things wrong, unintentionally (misinformation, typos) and intentionally (“snitch-jacketing”). The FBI in its Cointelpro program created false letters and cartoons to foment conflict between the Black Panthers and another black nationalist organization, resulting in the 1969 murders of two Panthers at UCLA. I have an FBI report, dated July 30, 1971, 105-189989-38, stating that Aoki had been “invited to become Minister of Defense of the Red Guard” and served as “the liaison link between the Red Guard and the Black Panther Party.” But this seems wrong, based on archival documents and my interviews with Aoki and Red Guard leader Alex Hing. Simply put, because of the FBI’s political motives, FBI reports must be carefully cross-checked with non-FBI sources. But the entirety of Rosenfeld’s evidence relies on FBI sources. I was surprised that Aoki became the centerpiece of the chapter in Rosenfeld’s book on the 1969 Third World strike. While Aoki was an important activist, he was largely unknown. Aoki and others agree that the Third World strike promoted collective leadership. They believed, as did African American civil rights activist Ella Baker, that the charismatic leadership model encouraged hero worship, reinforced individualism and narcissism, and diminished ordinary people’s belief in their own power to effect change. Rosenfeld elevates Aoki to “one of the Bay Area’s most prominent radical activists of the era,” a point that amplifies the drama of his own discovery. Rosenfeld is particularly critical of activists’ use of violence without placing this violence in a larger context. He implies that Aoki’s guns, given to the Black Panther Party, triggered the police’s, FBI’s and government’s backlash. Yet he ignores the police brutality that inspired the Black Panther’s police patrols, and the violence of racism and poverty that inspired the Panther’s free breakfast programs. Instead, Aoki used the symbolic power of violence to stop the greater violence of the government’s failing to actively counter poverty and institutionalized racism at home and in imposing war in Vietnam. In my book on Aoki, I write that instead of being the trigger, Aoki acted as the “safety on the gun.” He was careful to teach gun safety. Neither the Panthers nor Aoki expected to win a military battle with the government. Firing the gun wasn’t their intended goal. Instead, Aoki used the symbolic power of violence to stop the greater violence of the state. So why did Rosenfeld magnify Aoki when his book focuses more on Mario Savio, Clark Kerr and the Free Speech Movement? What responsibility does an author have to provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt before broadcasting disparaging accusations? Rosenfeld’s article, video and book raise many questions, but fail to meet the burden of proof. Diane C. Fujino is a professor and chair of Asian American studies at UC Santa Barbara and author of “Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life” (University of Minnesota Press, April 2012). Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Where-s-the-evidence-Aoki-was-FBI-informant-3808396.php#ixzz24OmEcGFH
A Muslim protester is calling for revision of the frisking process at the Houston Police Department after she said she was stripped of her religious headscarf during a recent arrest this month while rallying for janitor wages.
The incident highlights the varying policies local police agencies have regulating when religious head coverings are allowed during the arresting and booking process. It also shows the fine line law enforcement must straddle when trying to respect one’s faith while ensuring that people who are arrested do no harm to themselves or others.
Ilana Alazzeh, 23, was arrested by HPD Aug. 1 while participating in a roadblock protest at a busy intersection in the Galleria area. She and two dozen other protesters sat in the middle of the intersection with arms interlocked.
Alazzeh, who has Israeli, Palestinian and Pakistani roots, was the only protester wearing a hijab - the headscarf - worn by female adherents of the Islamic faith while in the presence of men.
After their arrest for obstruction of traffic, HPD officers took the handcuffed protesters to the Police Department’s gymnasium to ID and process them before incarceration.
She was called up to a table of officers for basic identification questions. One officer chatted with her about Ramadan, she said, and another asked about her headscarf.
A female officer at the table noted down in her file, “headscarf religious reasons,” Alazzeh said. “She told me, ‘I put that in there so you won’t be bothered because of it.’ ”
Minutes later, Alazzeh was approached by a different female officer who began the frisking process and started unwrapping her headscarf in plain view of male officers and protesters.
“Whoa, whoa! This is my religious headscarf,” she told the officer as she tried to back away. “Can’t you just feel through it?” she asked.
“The officer said, ‘No, if you want your religious headscarf, you shouldn’t protest,’ ” Alazzeh said.
She said she pleaded with the officer, asking if a nun would be treated the same way, to which Alazzeh said the officer replied, “This is just procedure … I don’t know what you have in there. You might be hiding a gun.”
Not seen as stripping
HPD Lt. Patrick Dougherty said frisking is an integral part of the arresting process.
“At the scene, the officer’s responsibility is to ensure there are no weapons or contraband,” Dougherty said. “It’s for the safety of the officer.”
A general pat-down is conducted on the exterior of clothing, he said, but if an officer deems it necessary to remove an outer garment to ensure safety, that can be done.
“We don’t consider removing an outer garment such as a coat or scarf to be stripping somebody,” he said. “If we were stripping, it would have to be done in private by the same gender.”
That’s where the difference lies. Alazzeh considered the headscarf part of her necessary clothing.
“In many different religions and cultures, taking off the headscarf is equivalent to taking off my shirt in public,” she explained.
Muslims are not the only ones who wear religious head coverings; nuns can be seen wearing hair veils, and male Sikhs often wear turbans.
“We do work with people on their unique religious issues,” said Dougherty.
If a request was made, he said, a supervisor could have asked the officer to handle the situation differently, perhaps removing the headscarf in private to check for a weapon. “But there’s no documentation that there was a request,” he said.
Both the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Sugar Land Police Department said removal of any type of religious head covering is not necessary during arrest.
“We require an exterior pat-down,” said Sugar Land police spokesman Doug Adolf, “but that doesn’t require removal of their clothing.”
In fact, as long as no weapon is found, religious head coverings are allowed even during incarceration at the Sugar Land holding center cells where inmates are detained before being sent to county jail.
While things are less rigid during arrest, incarceration is a much stricter matter, said Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Gilliland.
During incarceration, most jails - including HPD’s and the Harris County jail - strictly prohibit items of clothing like scarves, turbans, habits and even shoelaces, to keep inmates from using them to commit suicide or hide contraband.
However, even that rule had exceptions in the Harris County jail.
“We had only one incident I can remember in the past 20 years of a woman with a headscarf being incarcerated,” said Gilliland. The woman had asked to be held in an area of the jail where only female officers made rounds, the deputy recalled, and her request was accommodated.
“You have to understand the different cultures in order to better serve them,” said Gilliland, whose units have had extensive cross-cultural training, especially after an incident in 2008 where a deputy responding to a burglary at a Sikh family’s home harassed and handcuffed them, in part, for having a kirpan, a small ceremonial dagger that is important to the Sikh faith.
After her scarf was removed in the gym, Alazzeh said, it was tossed back on her head, then taken away again during incarceration. She used an extra shirt to cover her hair during her 12 hours in jail until her employer posted bail for her and other union protesters.
She is filing an internal affairs complaint against HPD.
“All of these horrible things that happen to people, are perpetuated by people who say they are just following orders,” said Alazzeh. “When you’re doing your job, there’s a way to do things that’s not infringing on people’s rights and liberties and dignity.”
The racial category Asian lumps together widely diverse groups with no common language, phenotype, or culture who come to the U.S. under vastly different circumstances…
How do you mash together Laotian war refugees and Japanese business investors and come up with an average or mean experience?…
So let’s get it straight. The term “Asian” in the U.S. was chosen by Asian American activists as an alternative to the pejorative “Oriental.” The Oriental is the creation of Europeans for whom the Orient was an object of curiosity and a source of riches to be studied and exploited. In modern times, the study of the Orient, especially in contrast with the civilized world of the Occident (aka Europe), solidified an idea of Orientals as exotic, potentially dangerous Others.
Activists back in the 1960s decided they wanted to reject the label Oriental and call themselves Asian American instead. Subsequent generations of Asian Americans have gathered as a coalition under the Asian American banner in order to resist being treated like Orientals. But don’t get it twisted, the idea of an Asian or Oriental race is a creation of white people, not of Asians.
“reports like this are powerful molders of Asian racial identity, popularizing ideas about Asian traits, capacities (and threats), and, of course, always in comparison with the supposed failures of Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans.”
True. All racial categories are creations of white supremacism. Without white supremacism, there are no White people, no Black people, no People Of Color, no Asians, no Latinos. Without racism, there’s no race.
People have asked what counts as “Asian” on this blog, and I’ve consistently said it’s a geographical umbrella for this reason. It’s not about one particular ethnicity or race, but about the Continent and the multitude of peoples and cultures therein. A category, certainly, but hardly a monolith.
The spectacle of the 2012 London Olympics should be subtitled: “the bashing of the Chinese Athlete.” Yesterday, Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times published a much discussed piece called “Heavy Burden on Athletes Takes Joy Away From China’s Olympic Success.” In it, all kinds of “concerns” are raised about the toll “the nation’s draconian sports system” is taking on the country’s athletes. It tells tales of poverty, loneliness, and despair amongst China’s sports stars once the cheering has stopped. Their athletes are described as being exploited by an unfeeling government monolith that acted as a surrogate family until they were no longer of any use. Parents of China’s Olympians are quoted saying, “We accepted a long time ago that she doesn’t belong to us. I don’t even dare think about things like enjoying family happiness.” Other parents tell of not being able to recognize their own children after years apart.
… None of this is to defend China’s state-run system of producing athletes. But it seems rather painfully obvious why we are seeing this tidal wave of suspicion, drug allegations, and concern for the “children.” China is the chief economic rival in the world to the United States. Just like during the Cold War, the Olympics have become a proxy war where “medal counts” connote more than bragging rights but are a comment on the health of a nation. China is rivaling the United States in medal counts so their dominance has to be explained in as critical, ugly, and even as racist a way as possible. The message is that they have medals because they just don’t love their kids.
If the New York Times is that concerned about the brutalization of young athletes, that battle begins at home. US athletes don’t have to navigate a state-run athletic system but something perhaps far more pernicious. Unlike China, US athletes get no government subsidies whatsoever. Their number one obstacle to the medal stand isn’t ability but poverty. As one study by the USA Track and Field Foundation demonstrated, “Approximately 50% of our athletes who rank in the top 10 in the USA in their event make less than $15,000 annually from the sport (sponsorship, grants, prize money, etc.).”
Both systems create “collateral damage.” Both systems are in need of reform. The only difference is the narrative. When we hear that swimmer Ryan Lochte’s parents are facing foreclosure on their home, or track star Lolo Jones’s family was homeless, or that gymnast Gabby Douglas was sent from her mother in Virginia Beach to live with strangers at the age of 14, those are tales of heroism and sacrifice. We celebrate their pain instead of condemning it or even being disturbed by it.
… Then there is USA Gymnastics, Joan Ryan in her brilliant 1995 book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, wrote about the system, “What I found was a story about legal, even celebrated child abuse. In the dark troughs along the road to the Olympics lay the bodies of girls who stumbled on the way, broken by the work, pressure and humiliation. I found a girl whose father left the family when she quit gymnastics at the age of 13, who scraped her arms and legs with razors to dull her emotional pain and who needed a two-hour pass from a psychiatric hospital to attend her high-school graduation. Girls who broke their necks and backs. One who so desperately sought the perfect, weightless gymnastic body that she starved herself to death.”
Imagine for a moment if Bob Costas or the New York Times had stories like this to tell about China. If they did, we’d know them by heart. Instead the pain of US athletes remain in the shadows. The message to all US critics of China’s Olympic system should be, “Physician, heal thyself.” The battle to make Olympic training more humane begins at home.
To assume that Muslim=Terrorist and Sikh=Muslim is racist, xenophobic, and hateful broken logic, founded in ignorance so profound it appears that the hate itself is a hatred of one’s own ignorance, outwardly manifest as hatred towards all things that one is ignorant of.
Since the weekend, the Greek police have rounded up around 6500 immigrants in Athens. About 1500 have been found to be without documents and are currently imprisoned awaiting deportation, in overcrowded detention centres where conditions are ‘dire’.
More than three-quarters of the people targeted by the police are completely innocent. But most of the media (even the Guardian) have described it as an operation against lathrometanastes or ‘illegal’ immigrants. They also seem to have reproduced verbatim police reports which claim that indiscriminately pouncing on immigrants is a way to crack down on all sorts of criminal behaviour, from drug use and prostitution to breaches of health regulations in shops.
The official codename for the operation is ‘Xenios Zeus’. The name of Zeus, usually invoked only by hoteliers and the Greek tourist board, has struck many people as an odd choice, especially with the epithet xenios, which denotes his role as the god of hospitality, the protector of foreigners. Some critics thought it outrageous, offensive sarcasm, a direct and blatant provocation. Others thought it unintentionally ironic. But ancient mythology, classical figures and monuments have often been deployed by authoritarian regimes to justify or mask repressive policies. During the Greek Civil War (1946-49) the prison-island of Makronisos, used by the government for the ideological ‘rehabilitation’ of left-wing citizens and soldiers, was known as the New Parthenon.
Most of the immigrants rounded up this week came to Greece from Asia or Africa. Calling the operation ‘Xenios Zeus’ is an appeal to classical authority, part of an attempt to assert a perceived difference between ‘western civilisation’ and ‘oriental barbarity’ going all the way back to Ancient Greece. According to the public order minister, Nikos Dendias, ‘the country is being lost. Not since the coming of the Dorians, 4000 years ago, has the country seen an invasion of such scale… This is a bomb at the foundations of society and of the state.’ Never mind that there’s no archaeological evidence for the ‘coming of the Dorians’; never mind that 4000 years ago there was no Greece as such; never mind that ethnic labels such as ‘the Dorians’ are seriously questioned today by archaeologists and historians. The rhetoric of ‘invasion’ echoes the language of neo-Nazi groups. A couple of months ago, in the run-up to the elections, another minister described immigrants as a ‘health bomb’. This was presumably an attempt to undercut the Golden Dawn, who asked Greeks to vote for them in June so that they could ‘clean up the dirt’. The far right makes extensive use of classical antiquity, staging ceremonies at archaeological sites such as Thermopylae. These are the same people who organise blood donations for ‘Greeks only’, and who make a big show of distributing food to the needy in Syntagma Square but ask for ID to make sure that no foreigner receives any.
It seems that the government wants to occupy the same rhetorical ground as the most extreme and openly xenophobic groups in Greek society. ‘The problem of immigration is perhaps even more serious than the financial one,’ Dendias has said, as another package of severe austerity measures is waiting around the corner.
IN THE wake of the massacre at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wis., that left seven people dead—neo-Nazi gunman Wade Michael Page among them—Chicago’s commuter newspaper RedEye published a helpful chart…for aspiring racists.
The paper’s “Turban primer” pictured various Middle Eastern and South Asian men wearing turbans. Credited to “MCT Illustrations,” the graphic depicts the headgear of “Sikh men,” “Iranian leaders,” “Taliban members,” “Indian men” (oddly, Turkish men are lumped in with Indian men) and “Muslim religious elders.”
The racist subtext couldn’t be more clear: this is a guide to help readers distinguish “good” turban wearers, like Sikhs, from “bad” turban wearers, like Taliban members. The RedEye and its syndicated illustrators have next to nothing to say about the wide variation of cultural and religious practices spanning the Middle East and South Asia, and how headgear might play a part in these. Instead, the paper provides help for bigots to choose the targets of their bigotry more carefully.
… THE RedEye’s coverage of the massacre in Wisconsin is notable for another reason.
In a separate article about the shooting—above its “Turban primer”—the RedEye described Wade Page as an “assailant” who was a “member of two racist bands.” That’s a pretty gentle way to describe a man who was known to be a committed neo-Nazi.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Page not only played at neo-Nazi music festivals, but had ties to the Hammerskin Nation, which the SPLC describes as “one of the oldest, most violent and most dominant skinhead groups in the United States.”
But media outlets that wouldn’t hesitate to label a Muslim gunman a “terrorist” seemed squeamish about applying the labels “racist,” “neo-Nazi” and “terrorist” to Page—or about linking the violent political ideology he espoused to the massacre he carried out.
Between 1980 and 2001, non-Islamic American extremists carried out about two-thirds of all terrorism in the United States, according to FBI statistics cited by the Council on Foreign Relations. Between 2002 and 2005, that figure jumped to 95 percent. In the 10 years following 2001, only 6 percent of terrorist acts in America have been the work of Islamic extremists.
So if the RedEye was really concerned about helping its readers identify terrorist threats, it should provide a “primer” on right-wing hatemongers, such as: