Does the South care more about Race than Religion??

I know that you are all tired of hearing about the latest presidential election but I wanted to point something out that, as a race scholar, makes my ears perk up bout the trend of voting in America as of 2012.

As any political scientist will explain, the American South has traditionally been a region that voted based on conservative values, which often reflects traditional Christian religious beliefs and morals. Therefore, it was really no surprise to the world that almost every southern state once proud members of the Confederacy (except Virginia and Florida) were drenched in red come election night and voted for Mitt Romney to be our next president – hands down. I should also note that almost every rural area in America and much of the Midwest, voted for ole’ Mitt and what really won the election for Obama was, as we’ve heard over and over, urban and suburban voters who were non-white and female. Of course, this also should be no real surprise since much of the Republican party is made up and targets older, wealthy white males (better change your strategy).

However, I noticed an interesting trend that really never bubbled to the surface with all of the slammin’ that when back and forth between Mitt and Obama – No ever questioned Mitt Romney’s tireless faith to the Mormon religion. Yes, I know, maybe I’m suggesting a prejudice view as well but let’s face it, the U.S. has overwhelmingly voted in clearly Christian and very much Protestant followers into the White House and only a few seemed a little different from that norm (aka JFK the Catholic). Now, I know that the Mormon faith is a Christian faith but do conservatives who live in the South see it as a legitimate denomination or a still in the realm of a “cult?” Interestingly, Gallup Polls pointed out that most Americans didn’t even know Romney was a Mormon and even more interesting is that they didn’t even care. Why? (And, here is where the race question comes in.)

As noted by Adia Wingfield and Joe Feagin’s book, Yes We Can?, race mattered in the 2008 election of Barack Obama. More important, it is what drove millions of white folks in the American South (and the Midwest) to vote against Obama and voted for McCain. The question still remains here, did that same trend show up in 2012? Right now, based on my view of how religion, particularly strong evangelical denominations, impact the thoughts of many Southerners, I would say absolutely yes. Why would any of these very devoted and faithful Southern Baptists or Pentecostals vote for Mitt Romney who, for them, belongs to a cult? Moreover, we have to remember that much of America still question Obama’s true faith and consider him a is a “secret” Muslim (Check out these Gallup Polls). Thus, if religion matters so much in the South why didn’t it impact the election rates or is there something else?

I would point out that the convictions of faith usually championed in the South and many rural areas of the U.S. were overshadowed by the question of racial allegiance. As suggested by a recent article focusing on the youth votes, those non-white youth who voted for Obama saw this as a personal challenge to KEEP a black man in the White House. However, throughout Romney’s campaign, issues of removing a black man (which has been disputed in so many ways as whether Obama is really black) kept bubbling to the surface, as can be seen in the picture below and the article it links to (By the way, this was in Ohio).

Interestingly though, we never heard anything about Romney’s faith from all of those Red states and regions. Did many of these citizens simply ignore the various differences in Christian faith  because having a black man in office was possibly worse? Of course, I understand that there were other reasons why people voted for Romney, he was “anything but,” or “he could get the country going in the right direction, again.” However, I think what may support my notion that race matters in the South falls to an event on election night. As you may have heard, college students at the University of Mississippi rioted when they heard about Obama’s victory. What makes this about race is the fact that it was white college students and they were screaming racial epithets to make their point (use your imagination). So, is this a sign of conservatives disregarding their religious convictions and acting out their racial frustrations to make sure a white Mormon man became president over a black man? And, I want to mention that for all those people who think liberal education makes college students liberal, you might want to think about that statement with this event. Anyway, it is for you decide but I wanted to make sure you at least pondered that race still matters even when the economy is tanking and religiosity is rising.

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The Case of the “Optional Ethnicity”

As a race scholar, I always tell my students, “I just can’t make this stuff up, it really happens.” Well, when we talk about whiteness in the classroom, many students like to pull out there “ethnic” card of being Irish, German, or Italian. Many of them suggest, as Gallagher (2003) noted in his research of white ethnicity, that their “troubled” ethnic history makes their past equal to the struggles of at least recent immigrants and sometimes, the strife that Blacks face. In this discussion, I often point out that I come from an ethnic heritage as well and even that I am 1/16 Cherokee. Of course, they all laugh because that’s hard to believe when I stand in front of them with my reddish hair, blue eyes, and pale, freckled skin. I also point out that my family never really claimed this mixed-blood past until recently since the marriage of “whites” to Native Americans was socially frowned upon and illegal in North Carolina until 1967 (Loving vs. Virginia).

Just recently, Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (pictured above) has been called out for checking on college applications that she was Native American/Indian. This has caused some serious blow-back, particularly since her opponent, Senator Scott Brown, and his supporters have decided to use the “tomahawk chop” and “Indian chanting” to show their disapproval of this situation. In fact, Senator Brown stated that she is not a person of color, “as we can clearly see.” The Cherokee Nation has also strongly denounced the use of offensive language and symbols in this conversation.

So, I love when life intimates social theory and certainly does in the case of Elizabeth Warren. Here, we have a “white-looking” woman who claims to be have some mixed heritage. However, as Scott Brown and others have argued, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. In other words, you can’t have the supposedly double-advantage of being white and being Native American when applying to college. However, the real point here is that Senator Brown is a little misled to think that being a Native American is an advantage in any situation even in 21st century America. Sure, you may get preferential treatment for a college scholarship but let’s not forget that “whites” make up about 64% of all college enrollments and Native Americans are about 1%.

However, the real issue is this: Elizabeth gets to use her “ethnicity” as an option when it is to her advantage. As Mary Waters (1996) theorized, whites certainly cling on to some “ethnic” ties but can shed them in moments of social strain. Elizabeth, based on social definition, is white because, as Scott Brown suggested, she looks the part. This is, in fact, the most powerful identity she has in her line of ethnic heritage and is what will help her become a U.S. Senator (Of course, being a woman many not – see Patricia Hill Collins). So, in essence, it does not really matter that she checked the box to be Native American because let’s face it, she was applying to top elite universities and already had all the economic advantages of being white to attend these schools. More important, if she was actually Native American, she would have never really been given the opportunities to even get close to Harvard or University of Pennsylvania WITHOUT the “check the box” option.

In short, Elizabeth Warren can be any identity she wants but Americans want here to pick a side and stick with it. I guess Senator Brown would argue that either she lives in the burbs with him or stay on the “Res” with her ancestors. Nice One Drop Rule, huh?



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Racist Symbol or “Catchy” Political Spin?

If you haven’t been paying attention, there have been a number of folks playing off of Clint Eastwood’s lecture to the “empty chair” to express their political views. In a number of places across the U.S., people have been hanging empty chairs in their trees and there is some concern that this may be a veiled racist comment with Obama (a black man) being lynched. Here is a link to a news story about on of these displays in Michigan:

In my opinion, this is not a veiled display but a clear example of how white folks don’t think about the contexts of their decisions when it comes to a racialized issue like the American presidency. As Wingfield and Feagin’s book, Yes We Can? suggested,  since 2008, the American public has not been able to separate race from the presidential election when a Black man is clearly running for the office. More important, as Bonilla-Silva points out in his book, Racism with Racists, white folks who hang these chairs in the tree don’t even think it could have any context to Jim Crow lynchings because they don’t remember the U.S.’s racialized past or present. They also camouflage any racist slight with abstract liberalism, calling out their rights to freedom of speech without recognizing that their words and actions do have consequences. Or, they don’t recognize that this plays into a larger theme in which nooses are often hung in trees as a warning to blacks (remember Jena Six?). In fact, check out this report in the New York Times about the rash of noose incidents across the U.S. in 2006 to 2007. Also, consider why nooses or even hanging a chair in a tree might be seen as a “racist” action based on this SPLC article. I’m sorry but when symbols gather their various socio-historical meanings, these meanings aren’t lost just because you didn’t think about it. And, one final thought to all those non-believers in Facebook land, you are right, no one would get upset if had happened to Mitt because HE DOESN’T HAVE THE SOCIAL CONTEXT TO MAKE IT OFFENSIVE!! However, what if we hung Joseph Smith in a tree? Think about it (or maybe you don’t get the reference).

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Linking Research to Reality

Yesterday (9/18/2012), the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) released investigative findings that Alamance County’s Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) “engages in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing against Latinos” (see Release). Based on research findings, The (USDOJ) found that:

  • ACSO deputies target Latino drivers for traffic stops;
  • A study of ACSO’s traffic stops on three major county roadways found that deputies were between four and 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers than non-Latino drivers;
  • ACSO deputies routinely locate checkpoints just outside Latino neighborhoods, forcing residents to endure police checks when entering or leaving their communities;
  • ACSO practices at vehicle checkpoints often vary based on a driver’s ethnicity.   Deputies insist on examining identification of Latino drivers, while allowing drivers of other ethnicities to pass through without showing identification;
  • ACSO deputies arrest Latinos for minor traffic violations while issuing citations or warnings to non-Latinos for the same violations;
  • ACSO uses jail booking and detention practices, including practices related to immigration status checks, that discriminate against Latinos;
  • The sheriff and ACSO’s leadership explicitly instruct deputies to target Latinos with discriminatory traffic stops and other enforcement activities;
  • The sheriff and ACSO leadership foster a culture of bias by using anti-Latino epithets; and
  • ACSO engages in substandard reporting and monitoring practices that mask its discriminatory conduct

Well, in 2011, Dr. Amy Page and I published a study exploring the patterns of traffic stops and post-stop activities of 32 North Carolina law enforcement agencies from 2005 to 2009 (check here to read the study). Even though our sample did not include ACSO, our findings corroborate the USDOJ’s findings in which over 50% of the sample had disproportionate stop rates of Blacks and Hispanics in comparison to Whites. We also found that a number of agencies were more likely to search Hispanics than Whites but did not arrest Hispanics at higher proportions suggesting that these agencies may be profiling. In addition to this study, I have another paper that is under review that provides several qualitative testimonies from Mexican immigrants about how they have had to deal with “random” licenses checks while living in the High Country, which always seemed to occur after Catholic mass or a league soccer match.

In short, what the USDOJ research and my research suggests is that what we are finding is not made up or some sort of “witch-hunt” of law enforcement in North Carolina. It is, however, a chance to notice that research can be reality and we need to pay attention to the social injustices that prevail against non-whites in the South even when most pundits would suggest “racism is dead.”

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The Right to Disagree – the Foundations of American Democracy

This Sunday, an Appalachian State University student and activist, Anna Marie Wright, was arrested for protesting near the location of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Anna was charged with carrying a weapon and wearing a mask in public, which you have to read this little news article to see how ludicrous this is (High Country Press).  While it is not clear what Anna’s participation was about, why is that the United States treats its public like they live in Egypt, Syria, or Libya? It seems we again find ourselves at a crossroads of double standards for this great Democracy we have expected to spread like fire across this world. Certainly, whether Anna was a threat or not, she has a right to disagree and express her grievances to any government or its members who do not serve her or her country’s needs. In fact, in order for a democracy to achieve its goals of freedom and justice for all it has to allow people to have a voice, whether it is wrong or right in the majority’s eyes. How is what Anna doing any different than Tea Party representatives who sit on Capital Hill? I know – she didn’t have the backing of thousands of people but would she if her voice is heard? I commend Anna for becoming politically active in a country filled with complacent citizens, particularly young adults. I hope ASU can think about how this action was something they encouraged and not punish her because isn’t a liberal education about creating free thinkers who try to challenge the world and find solutions that help with tomorrow?

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As we waltz into a new semester, here are some tips for us Profs.

1. Start with a Smile. I know, this coming from one of the most pessimistic people in the world. Well, one of the best teachers I know, Heather Lippard, always suggests to me that if I start off the semester filled with anxiety, angst, and frustration, that I will pretty much project that on my students. She’s right. I usually do and my student evaluations show it. I hope that we can try to find ways in which being a professor makes us happy and helps us to realize that we have one of the best jobs in the world even when the world doesn’t necessarily agree that we are needed. I will start this semester with a smile because I want my students to still see the joy of learning.

2. Inspire. I believe that one of my pedagogical goals is to inspire students. I know I’m not a great figure like MLK Jr. or Gandhi but I do want them to challenge the world we live in, especially when so many suffer and fall victim to ideological battles. We, as professors, are poised to inspire our students to carry forward a flag of reason and scientific discovery that can lead to great social change. Put simply, if we fail at this, then what’s the point of higher education?
3. Never give up, Never surrender! Okay, so back to my more pessimistic side. I have found that many students have become, shall we say, more demanding in education. Now, these demands are not necessarily for more readings, harder assignments, or more group work. These demands are actually for higher grades with less effort. They also seem to believe I work for them as if I was a personal tutor or even a servant of some sort, making sure that they are successful students despite their efforts. I would even be so bold to say that some how these students’ parents have suggested to their children that they are entitled to a college education that is fairly easy and full of fun. More important, that their experiences and opinions trump any educational experience they might have at college.

So, to that, I say never give up, never surrender! I am here to give students the next level of education and I don’t necessarily have to be your best friend (however, I can become a peer or colleague) and it is frankly disrespectful for you to address me as your “Bro,” “Dude,” or using sort cute names like “Dr. L,” “Cam,” or “Hey, you.” You don’t talk to your parents or your preachers that way and if you do, then that may be the problem. I also want students to understand that I want them to express their opinions and come to class ready to debate. But, let’s all get this straight, I’m not hear to “brainwash” students or for them to make sure their agenda is fulfilled. However, I am here to show the various perspectives, research, and public opinion about social issues and I don’t expect students to take it as the only gospel. I do expect students to respect others in my classroom, including me, and listen to the world around them instead of just those talking in their small spheres. I promise to give a space that is free from ridicule as long as you promise not to try to trash those around you. Moreover, I will never give up in providing students a window in to the possible truths of the world as long as you are willing to listen.

4. Call BS when you see it. I think this one is self-explanatory but I want to make sure that you understand that I want us all to do this for all our various spheres of influence. I’m not just talking about the anti-intellectuals in your classroom but all of them – colleagues, friends, family, and random strangers. As an academic, we need to challenge the common sense that swallows reason and spits out dogmatic ideologies. There is no better time in the world to call BS when there is a political election coming and yes, I don’t care if you agree with me but I would appreciate if you would listen.

5. Keep smiling. I will end on a positive note. Even when things are tough in so many ways, we have to carry on. Sure, you haven’t gotten a raise in  a while and the numbers of students in your classes continue to rise. Sure, they want you to publish the greatest research article ever and find the biggest external grant to fund your existence. Sure, your colleagues fight over the most trivial things or they are a constant thorn in your side. The point is that you are doing what you love, right? You’re drinking coffee and talking to a crowd of hungry individuals who just want to absorb knowledge and find ways to apply it. They need you, you need them. As C. Wright Mills suggests, let us not get completely caught up in our personal troubles and let us see the bigger picture.

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A Step in the Right Direction – Deferring Deportation for Young “Americans”

(Click on Picture for a Short News Clip)

Today, marks an interesting twist on the debate about undocumented immigration. In June, President Barack Obama announced that the Immigration and Customs Services would offer young undocumented women and men the opportunity to gain temporary legal status. Titled,  “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” this process will first give out two-year worker’s permits to qualified individuals. Based on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website, here are the requirements that an immigrant must meet to apply:

You may request consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals if you:

  1. Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
  2. Came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday;
  3. Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;  
  4. Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
  5. Entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or your lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012;
  6. Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
  7. Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

This is the first significant change to U.S. immigration policy, which mirrors the long struggle to pass the Dream Act.  It also represents an important step in integrating a growing young Latino population who have lived their whole lives in the United States. In fact, many of those who will apply will have graduated from an American High School and will be able to go to work and possibly college for the first time “legally.” The only drawback is that it is not a permanent solution to the problem. Again, these individuals will have to continue to deal with the drudgery of U.S. bureaucracy and it does not guarantee permanent citizen status.  It also does not address the eradication of state-legislated policies that have been more vengeful on undocumented immigrants. However, it does provide a least an access point to citizenship without having individuals deported in hopes of returning 10 to 15 years later.

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