Special Edition: Antiracist Interventions and Retellings, a project by RACE 121C students

The writing featured in this section is the work of RACE121: Introduction to Race and Ethnic Studies section C’s students. The views below reflect those of the students and professor who have authored these pieces, and not those of the Olaf Messenger; we hope their inclusion in this issue of the Olaf Messenger provides valuable insight into the thoughts of St. Olaf students in the classroom, and the study being done on issues of race and equity here on the Hill. The Olaf Messenger welcomes opportunities to publicize classroom work, and encourages faculty to reach out in the future regarding their classes’ work.

klinef1@stolaf.edu and emmons1@stolaf.edu

Grace Klinefelter and John Emmons are Managing Editors for the Olaf Messenger


Introduction and Framing
By Professor SooJin Pate

 

As part of a larger class project, some students from RACE 121C: Introduction to Race and Ethnic Studies decided to write these articles to highlight the ways in which both racism and antiracism operate in some high-profile events, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the murder of George Floyd. These pieces are a reflection of the “antiracist lens” they have acquired from taking this class.

In order to mitigate misunderstanding of the interventions they are trying to make, here is a brief list of assumptions and definitions from which our class RACE 121C operates:

 

Racism: Ideas, policies, and practices that sustain racial inequity; a system that simultaneously produces advantages for white people and disadvantages for nonwhite people (e.g., Black, Indigenous, people of color) (see Ibram X. Kendi, Beverly Daniels Tatum, David Wellman).

 

Antiracism: Ideas, policies, and practices that work to eliminate racial inequality and, instead, work to sustain racial equity and equality (see Ibram X. Kendi).

 

Racist: someone who expresses racist ideas (e.g., stereotypes) and/or supports racist policies; someone who reinforces and reproduces the system of advantage for white people and the system of disadvantage for Black and indigenous peoples and people of color.

 

Antiracist: someone who expresses antiracist ideas and/or supports antiracist policies; someone who works to eliminate the system of advantage for white people and the system of disadvantage for Black and indigenous peoples and people of color

 

Note: Given these definitions, there is no such thing as a “not racist” because the opposite of racism is antiracism; the opposite of racist is antiracist.

 

White Supremacy: the primary method and mode of global European domination; a political, social, and economic system of domination that assumes the centrality and superiority of people defined and perceived as white in order to create white advantage (not to be confused with KKK and neo-Nazis) (see Charles Mills); a “system that privileges, centralizes, and elevates white people as a group” (see Robin DiAngelo)

 

pates@stolaf.edu

Resources for Further Readings

DiAngelo, Robin. White Fragility. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018.

Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. NY: One World, 2019.

Mills, Charles. The Racial Contract. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Okun, Tema. White Supremacy Culture Characteristics. https://www.whitesupremacyculture.info/characteristics.html

Tatum, Beverley Daniels. Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? NY: Perseus Books, 1997.

Wellman, David. Portraits of White Racism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

 


Reporters Dehumanize Migrants through Racist Rhetoric: A Response to Adam Shaw and Bill Melugin’s piece, “Illegal Migrants Wave Venezuelan Flag after crossing U.S Southern Border, attacking Border Patrol Agents.”
By Annie Stefanko and Joselin Lopez

On October 31, several Venezuelans crossed into the U.S. waving a giant Venezuelan flag in protest of the border crisis. This event was highlighted by many news sources to capture the violence that occurred between the migrants and border patrol officials. 

In the article “Illegal migrants wave Venezuelan flag after crossing U.S southern border, attack Border Patrol agents,” written by Fox News reporters Adam Shaw and Bill Melguin, there are many racist and dehumanizing moments that vilify the migrants trying to seek asylum in the U.S. This is expressed through racist policies, harmful languages, and racist tropes building up within this piece. This article works to pose migrants as harmful invaders in order to reinforce the racist stereotypes of people from Latin America as “illegal” and “criminals.”

In the beginning of their article, the writers refer to the Venezuelans as “illegal migrants” who are “illegally” entering into the U.S. Using this language to address the migrants is blatantly racist, practically treating them as non-humans. No human being is illegal. The dehumanizing language reinforces racist stereotypes that people from Latin America and South America are a threat to the U.S. and therefore should be barred from entering. This narrative goes all the way to the first comprehensive racist U.S. immigration policy, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The racist narrative in that act rears its ugly head again as Venezuelans are targeted by Shaw and Melugin.

Towards the end of the article, the writers mention that Texas authorities have been involved in a number of car chases involving “smugglers” and “illegal” immigrants to heighten the supposed fear and threat of these “invaders.” As mentioned before, these terms work to garner contempt, resentment, and even hatred towards these people from the general U.S. population. 

An antiracist approach to the border crisis would be to ask a very simple question: “why are people fleeing from their home countries to come to the U.S.?” What would make an individual, a family, leave everything and everyone they know behind and risk their lives to enter the United States? Addressing the root causes of migration — which are often violence, ecological disaster, and poverty — instead of “blaming the victim” is not only an antiracist move but would also lead to more effective, accurate solutions.

A country that prides itself as a “nation of immigrants” that invites “the poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free” is the call that many of the migrants from Latin America are responding to — in the same way that millions of migrants fleeing Europe did in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Rather than demonizing and criminalizing these “poor, huddled masses” at the border, we should be receiving them with empathy, compassion, and a helping hand – just like we did for millions of European migrants fleeing their home countries from war, violence, corruption, poverty, and ecological disaster. 

stefan1@stolaf.edu

lopez23@stolaf.edu

 


COVID-19 Strategy: Putting BIPOC Individuals First

By Anna Blonigen and Stephen Ofori-Appiah

In December 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Chief Medical Officer, Kathleen Dooling, unveiled her plan to distribute vaccines nationally. She acknowledged that older Americans face the greatest risk. Thus, the plan was to first vaccinate those 65 and over.

This sounds like an equitable plan on the surface, but there was a problem. A lot of older Americans were white. As Dooling put it, “racial and ethnic minority groups are underrepresented among adults age 65 and older.” In a rare antiracist move, this white female Chief Medical Officer with a lot of power acknowledged that Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) don’t have as great of access to vaccines as white people. So the plan shifted slightly.

After further thought and discussion, Dooling recommended giving priority to a group the government called essential workers. These were people who had to go into work everyday — while others got to stay at home — and interacted with individuals on a daily basis, so it made sense that they were prioritized, since they were the most exposed to the virus. So that’s what the CDC went with. The federal government made a decision that would be just for the American people by keeping in mind those who were most disadvantaged in this crisis.

Here’s Biden before even being sworn in last year: 

“Our focus will be on small businesses on Main Street that aren’t wealthy and well-connected, that are facing real economic hardships through no fault of their own. Our priority will be Black, Latino, Asian and Native American-owned small businesses, women-owned businesses.” 

Joe Biden says this due to certain communities being underserved when it comes to healthcare. Per the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2013, 25 percent of Hispanics, 11 percent of Asians, and 27 percent of African Americans lived in poverty while only 12 percent of Caucasians lived in poverty. Those who live in poverty don’t have the same access to proper healthcare, so it’s practical that it was a goal to get communities of color the vaccine in a proper manner.

It isn’t uncommon for those living in low-income neighborhoods to go to a certain area outside of their community to receive medical attention given the lack of access to hospitals and clinics in their area. Due to the lack of proper healthcare in these communities, it was also found that BIPOC individuals were dying and being hospitalized because of COVID-19 at higher rates than white people. 

Aaron Sibarium of the Washington Free Beacon criticized the CDC’s approach, writing, “racial minorities are automatically eligible for scarce COVID-19 therapeutics, regardless of age or underlying conditions.” What he fails to understand is that the CDC’s plan wasn’t just about accounting for the health status of the individual but also taking into account multiple aspects, such as the historical and present discrimination within the health system that BIPOC individuals face regardless of a pandemic or not, making this an antiracist approach on the distribution of treatment on this devastating disease.

This decision is being made because the CDC has come out with data as of 2020 that “…age-adjusted hospitalization rates are highest among non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native and non-Hispanic black persons, followed by Hispanic or Latino Persons” (CDC, 2020). Given this data, it only makes sense that health care is prioritized for people in these racial groups, an example of equity, as it would help slow both the spread and the death rates of COVID-19 among those who are at highest risk. White people, as a race, do not have the same challenges that BIPOC individuals face given the systemic barriers regarding living conditions, work circumstances, and health circumstances that all work together to prevent care from being accessed easily and effectively.

By opting to treat BIPOC people first, individuals who have a “hospitalization four to five times that of non-Hispanic white individuals,” the government is treating those who need it the most (CDC, 2020). This antiracist route will both lower the death rate and work toward putting an end to this deadly pandemic.

The decision to prioritize BIPOC communities when it comes to treatment has been criticized on many levels. The primary concern of this criticism is that the decision is “hurting a specific part of Americans,” specifically, the white American population. This racist response to this equitable policy is unsurprising, given that white people see policies that do not center them as racist and and problematic (Kendi, “How to Be an Antiracist,” 130). However, this is an antiracist decision that is distributing resources in a way to counteract the racial inequities that exist in the healthcare system.

This is not about hurting white Americans but rather evening the grounds in which care is provided to those who are at most risk due to age, employment situation, and demographics. In any other situation where there is a world-wide crisis, this would be considered common sense.

 

blonig2@stolaf.edu

oforia1@stolaf.edu

 


Unpacking the Murder of George Floyd: An Antiracist Response to Tucker Carlson’s opinion piece “Everything the media didn’t tell you about the death of George Floyd”
By Lily English and Jenna Pollard

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. In spring of 2021, Chauvin was put on trial and found guilty. Opinions surrounding the murder and the trial were divisive. The situation has been misconstrued and misunderstood, especially by media outlets, further fueling disputes. Some people, including Tucker Carlson from Fox News, have questioned whether Floyd was really murdered. Carlson’s association with Fox News creates the impression that he is a journalist, but journalism requires research-based claims, evidence, and reasoning. The words of the news are meant to serve the people, but Carlson’s words only serve himself in order to conserve his power as a voice of America.

Throughout his article, Carlson creates a borderline-conspiracy theory that targets and reinforces fears of difference and change rooted in white supremacy held by many right-wing, white Americans. He argues that Geroge Floyd wasn’t murdered, that Floyd’s death wasn’t part of a larger, systemic issue, and that Floyd wasn’t targeted by the police because he was a Black man. However, his claims are racist and undermine the importance of Floyd’s race. Based on the treatment of Black people in America, it is clear that racism is deeply ingrained into America’s foundations and systems, the police department for example. As Curtis Bunn of NBC explains, Black people comprise 13 percent of the population, but were “27 percent of those fatally shot and killed by police in 2021,” making them “twice as likely as white people” to be murdered by the police.

Carlson includes testimonies from credible sources to create the illusion he is writing with reason, but these direct quotes conceal his racist motives. He draws on the words of the Floyd family lawyer, who confirms that “[the] autopsy showed that Floyd had fentanyl in his system.” Carlson claims the amount was “lethal,” but this was never confirmed. The shift of blame from the officers to drugs is an example of “blaming the victim,” which is a characteristic of white supremacy. Carlson is also drawing on the tired, racist trope that associates Black people with drugs and crime, as if to justify his wrongful death. He uses the words of another medical examiner to further his claims, “if… there were no other contributing factors, he would conclude that it was an overdose death.” But Floyd didn’t die from an overdose. He died because Chauvin’s knee on his neck suffocated him to death. That act is what killed him.

Carlson also tries to hide behind his racism by evoking compassion: “He was clearly suffering… By the end, you’re filled with sympathy,” Carlson writes. He validates what his audience is likely feeling by verbalizing the disturbing feelings that come from witnessing someone dying in front of your eyes, but he follows with,“it’s not the picture of a murder.” In denying the act is murder, Carlson upholds the white supremacist value of a hierarchy of races. A white man suffocating a Black man to death is “not the picture of a murder”? Is this because the lives of white people are considered more valuable than Black lives? Is it because Floyd deserved it because he had drugs in his system? These are just some of the underlying messages he is spreading by trying to reframe this act of murder as a simple drug overdose.

In response to the idea of questioning the circumstances of Floyd’s murder, Carlson writes, “The bad news is you’re still not allowed to out loud.” That’s the bad news: not being able to question the video? The bad news isn’t the fact that a Black man, a father, brother, son, friend died over 20 dollars? Carlson utilizes the right-wing idea that the democratic left limits free speech. But he fails to understand that the backlash against people questioning the footage is not an attempt at revoking someone’s first amendment rights. Rather, it is a criticism of people ignoring the facts and racist motives behind Floyd’s murder.

After Don Lemon of CNN said that the people in power (primarily white people) need “to do the heavy lifting” in regards to ending racism, Carlson understood him to be saying, “‘White people’ are responsible” for racism. He twisted Lemon’s words to appear as an attack on individual white people. Carlson’s rephrasing of Lemon’s comment deters his audience from facing reality and confronting the ways people in power — who are predominately white — have perpetuated racism. The racial hierarchy that places white life at the top and Black life on the bottom was created by white people, but whites often reject this basic fact, instead choosing to support illusions of a free and just country.

CNN pointed out that Black people have bore the burden of racism for too long and that it’s not their sole responsibility to solve it, an idea we all, especially white people, need to accept. It’s time for white people to step up, actively pursue antiracism, and stop reproducing racist ideas and tropes that work to justify racial inequality and unfair treatment in our country.

englis1@stolaf.edu

pollar3@stolaf.edu


America’s Racist Judicial System lets White Murderer Free: An Antiracist Response to the Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict
By Lily Booth and Iris Phillips

 

After two weeks of testimonies and evidence, the jury of 11 White people and one Black person came to the unanimous agreement to acquit Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges. The murders and trial exemplify the broken American justice system that continues to give White criminals second chances.

 

Rittenhouse’s Background of Violence

Kyle Rittenhouse’s violent behavior didn’t appear out of the blue. The trial brought to light his infatuation with law enforcement and gun violence. There was much evidence of Rittenhouse’s disturbing past on social media, including a picture of him in a police uniform and a post of a “Blue Lives Matter” logo, showing his support for the broken police system that ends Black lives. Multiple videos illuminated Rittenhouse’s violent gun history including a rant about wanting to shoot shoplifters. Even before his killings, Rittenhouse should’ve been on law enforcement’s watchlist. In the eyes of our criminal justice system, just one of these posts would have been reason enough to incarcerate a Black person. But Rittenhouse was set free illustrating America’s racist associations between innocence and Whiteness, and violence and Blackness.

 

A Night of Terror

On the night of the killings, Rittenhouse drove 30 minutes to Kenosha, Wis., during protests after Jacob Blake, a Black, 29-year-old man, was shot multiple times by police and severely injured. Instead of being concerned about America’s deadly racism, Rittenhouse took the protests as an opportunity to roleplay as a police officer, a part that he accurately portrayed as American cops are quick to violence. During the protest, Rittenhouse met up with an armed militia outside a car dealership carrying a semi-automatic, military-style rifle. After a calm conversation with the police, a basic right that has been violently denied time and time again to Black Americans, Rittenhouse was required to leave the dealership. Upon leaving, he was chased into a parking lot where an unknown White gunman fired a shot. Rittenhouse responded to this shot with four shots of his own, killing the unarmed pursuer, later identified as Joseph Rosenbaum. As he fled the scene, onlookers began to chase after him and he tripped and fell to the ground. There, he fired four shots, hitting Gaige Grosskreutz, a 29-year-old White man, in the arm, and killing Anthony Huber, a 26-year-old White man. Although he was armed and dangerous when police arrived shortly after, Rittenhouse was not arrested immediately. The next morning he was arrested on a warrant after the Kenosha police identified him as the shooter. Rittenhouse’s freedom was determined even before the trial began.

 

The Rigged Trial

Rittenhouse was initially charged with five felony counts. Soon after, he went viral on conservative social media outlets, where his motives were defended and his two million dollar bail was funded. At the start of the trial, Judge Schroeder deliberately blocked all attempts to include background evidence on Rittenhouse. This meant the exclusion of Rittenhouse’s violent and political background, something that never happens for Black people as media sources immediately use background evidence to racistly “justify” murders like George Floyd’s. During the trial, Judge Schroeder barred calling the people Rittenhouse murdered “victims” but said they could be called “arsonists,” “rioters,” or “looters,” racist rhetoric often used to classify and dehumanize Black Lives Matter protestors. The defense’s key witness was Rittenhouse himself, who broke down during his account of the night stating his life-ending behavior was in self-defense.

Rittenhouse gained both positive and negative media attention from his testimony, especially because he couldn’t stop crying, compelling the judge to call a brief recess. This pivotal moment secured Rittenhouse’s innocence. As his lawyer said “[Rittenhouse’s] actions should be judged as a 17-year-old,” demonstrating America’s “possessive investment in whiteness” that treats White teenagers as innocent children while Black teenagers are six times more likely to be incarcerated because they are considered dangerous adults.

 

The Verdict

The jury deliberated for over 25 hours over the trial’s four-day span. Although the jury had the choice to charge Rittenhouse with lesser charges if they could not come to a unanimous agreement, they unanimously pronounced him not guilty on all counts. This decision was met with polarized reactions. Conservatives rejoiced at the verdict, believing that the trial’s outcome was proof of America moving in the right direction. Both the verdict and response highlight the terrifying reality of America: a country where White people continue to walk free for heinous crimes in the name of second chances, while Black Americans receive fatal consequences for simply existing.

booth4@stolaf.edu

philli19@stolaf.edu


 

Prolific, Beloved Civil Rights Leader Forever Silenced: An antiracist retelling of Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination
By Finnian Falvey and Praise Olaomosu

The February 22 issue of The New York Times vilified Malcolm X and smeared his legacy by portraying him as violent and already “marked for dead.” An antiracist retelling of Malcolm X’s assassination starts with analyzing how the Times formatted and presented the story. This may sound trivial, but format and presentation are vital in shaping reader’s first impressions of the story.

The three pictures included in the Times show scenes of death, chaos and violence. The front page picture is not of him living. Rather, the first image that readers see is of Malcolm’s cadaver being transported to the hospital with a cloth covering his body. This immediately dehumanizes him by perpetuating the idea the Times is trying to push, that he was a “marked man” and lacks any notion of retrospect or remembrance. The other two pictures are on the tenth page of the newspaper with the rest of the story. One depicts a frenzy of people outside of the venue where Malcolm X was assassinated right after it happened. The crowd acted as one would expect when their leader was executed in front of them: devastated, panicked, shocked, scared. But instead of highlighting these emotions, the Times coverage effectively others those in attendance by portraying them as violent and vengeance-seeking. In the same vein, the adjacent picture is of a white police officer standing over an injured assailant, captioned “Tomas Hagen at hospital with Sgt. Alvin Aronof, who saved him from the crowd.” This photo accomplishes two this simultaneously: it paints the Nation of Islam (NOI) crowd as a threat and “enemy” to be saved from, reinforcing the racist idea that Black crowds are dangerous. And it also reinforces the white man, a cop at that, who is known for brutalizing Black and Brown bodies, as a white savior, a force of good. This picture is one of the many ways the coverage works to tarnish Malcolm X’s legacy. An antiracist revision of the visual coverage would prioritize the grief and loss felt by the audience members who witnessed the assassination of their leader rather than using this as yet another opportunity to demonize Black bodies and uplift white bodies as saviors. 

 

Visual cues were not the only vehicle employed to undermine the importance of Malcolm X. Much of the language used throughout the article also attempted to overtly demonize him. The single story that has been taught in American history about Malcolm has been wielded with the intent to perpetually villainize him. We see this agenda pop up in the language used throughout the various pieces written in this issue of the Times. The regular use of “black nationalist” in the article, which has always had a negative connotation in this country because it’s seen as a threat to white American nationalism. In addition, the article is riddled with language that works to criminalize him: “Malcolm, a glib but bitter spokesman for the American Negro sect;” “an erstwhile Harlem racketeer, he had been converted to the cult in prison;” “he was an authoritative leader who did not share his power;” “he was Malcolm Little, alias Big Red, a marijuana smoking, cooking sniffing, zoot suited, hip talking hoodlum when he went to prison in 1946.” All these descriptions, along with the accompanying images, are methods the media used to push its racist agenda: to criminalize and demonize a brilliant Black leader who spoke truth to racist power and worked to help the United States live up to its promises of freedom, equality, liberty, and justice for all.

 

The Times reinforces whiteness by othering Muslims and portraying Malcolm X as a dangerous warmonger who would put white Americans into harm’s way to achieve his radical goals. An antiracist retelling starts with humanizing Malcolm X. He was a revolutionary thinker with strong convictions and a loyal and passionate following. His insights and analyses around racism and white supremacy are some of the most poignant, profound, and spot on observations which are still relevant today. The coverage perpetuates whiteness by idealizing white police and doctors along with the overt attempt to subvert his relevance by utilizing racist stereotypes that are routinely employed to the detriment of Black folks. An antiracist retelling would attempt to keep all tentacles of white supremacy well away from the coverage. None of the editors asked themselves, “how do we best honor a public leader and figure who has been viciously murdered in public? How do we best honor this victim of violence and injustice?” They didn’t ask these questions because they didn’t see him as a victim. They didn’t see him as human. The white journalists only saw Malcolm as a criminal, “marked for dead,” who got what he deserved simply because he was a Black man trying to hold racist America accountable for its hypocrisy, lies, and double-standards. This racist depiction of Malcolm is precisely what was served to readers in the Times article and what has been continually served by white media to this day.

 

falvey1@stolaf.edu

olaomo1@stolaf.edu

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