Top-Gear, Top-Notch Racism from BBC Network

Posted on by Prerna in Moron of the Week, Racism | 2 Comments

A host of the popular show ‘Top Gear’ described a Mexican car and people as “lazy, feckless, and flatulent” on a recent show. And it is not going over well with a lot of people.

The icing on the cake is that the Top Gear hosts were confident that people would not complain. Especially the Mexican Ambassador to the UK, who they pre-supposed, would be asleep on the job. After all, Mexicans love to eat refried cheesy food and sleep against the fence with their coat hanging on a cactus, according to the hosts.

Don’t take my word for it. Watch it for yourselves while you can since BBC is in a rush to take down all videos of these offensive remarks for “copyright violations.”

I think the better question is why would anyone watch such a filthy and ignorant show?

Mexican Ambassador Medina has urged Hammond, the show presenters and the BBC, to apologize for what he says are “offensive”, “xenophobic” and “humiliating” remarks. I urge you to do the same. Tell BBC and Top Gear hosts that this type of humor is unacceptable.

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Elle Magazine Tries to ‘Whiten’ Indian Skin

Posted on by Prerna in Racism | Leave a comment

Aishwarya Rai at the Cannes film festival

Image via Wikipedia

I am migrating a few of my favorite blog posts over the past year to my personal blog. I apologize if this causes issues with your RSS feeds.

It looks like Elle Magazine had quite the white Christmas.

Recently in the news for lightening the skin of Gabourey Sidibe on the September cover, the magazine has done it again, featuring prominent Bollywood actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan on the January 2011 cover looking far paler than she is in real life.

I had to do a double take when I first saw the cover page. Not only does Ms. Rai-Bachchan look far whiter than she is in real life, she also looks like a red-head. Aishwarya is reportedly in shock and plans to sue the magazine if the allegations are true.

There are those who would defend the magazine for using some kind of lighting or a Photoshop trick, or who think that this is no big deal and skin lightening is similar to tanning.

To put this into context: Indian consumers have long been inundated with ads that use prominent Bollywood actors to promote skin-lightening products. In a country that produces gorgeous women of color, it is sad that Ms. Rai-Bachchan, who is relatively light-skinned, is one of the very few with some cross-over international appeal. To see magazines like Elle further enforce the color hierarchy by making Aishwarya appear lighter-skinned is a slap in the face to thousands of young Indian women who aspire to be models and actors. It also plays into systemic racism when Indian women across the world pick up a copy of Elle Magazine and can barely recognize one of their own celebrities due to the fact that her skin tone was digitally lightened.

The question then posed is, do we have to be pale white and bleach our skins to have cross-over appeal? Indeed, the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire had a British director. Ben Kingsley, a British actor, won an award for playing the iconic Mahatma Gandhi. It’s a downward spiral and it hardly helps to bolster self-confidence in millions of young women of color across the world.

It would be over the top to accuse Elle Magazine of being racist on the basis of two  magazine covers. There is a deeper problem here: either Elle Magazine in India is outsourcing its artistic needs, or it really does not have staff that is qualified enough to work with images of women of color. In both cases, Elle Magazine owes Aishwarya Rai Bachchan an apology for doctoring her image in a manner highly offensive to people across the globe.


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TSA: Transportation Security Administration or Turban Search Authority?

Posted on by Prerna in Racism | Leave a comment

http://change-production.s3.amazonaws.com/photos/wordpress_copies/race/2010/11/4464653659_5fba15b4b0-300x261.jpgCapt (Dr) Tejdeep Singh Rattan (pictured) is a Sikh-American US army officer.

But according to a new policy of the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), when he or his family members board a flight in the United States, from now on they will be subjected to a mandatory turban search, culturally akin to stripping them naked.

While Sikhs already have to pat their own turbans and have their hands swabbed by a screener, the new policy now requires them to go through an additional hand wand of the turban 100 percent of the time. With a policy specifically targetting Sikh-Americans, the agency may as well change its name to Turban Search Authority.

Sikh-Americans are often mistakenly associated with the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks, simply because Osama Bin Laden is pictured wearing a similar headdress. This has led to widespread acts of discrimination against Sikh Americans and a litany of problems at airports. Sikhs are required by their religion to wear a turban, the most visible marker of the faith. The turban symbolizes spirituality, gender equality and honor, and Sikhs consider its removal to be a grievous insult.

The TSA holds that a turban could hide non-metallic objects. Whether or not there is truth to that claim, airport officials do not demand that priests or nuns take off their clothing in case they are hiding non-metallic objects inside. Hypocrisy and a fear of difference makes up the crux of this new discriminatory policy.

The Sikh-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) states that this new policy as a serious violation of civil rights: “Targeting turbans for additional scrutiny sends a message to other passengers that Sikhs and their articles of faith are to be viewed with suspicion by fellow travelers. The policy is a serious infringement on our civil rights and liberties.”

The new policy has drawn widespread criticism. While in India, an Indian minister told President Obama that the United States must stop frisking the turbans of Sikh passengers.  “It is a humiliating experience. For us it’s like telling us to remove our clothes,” said parliamentarian Harsimrat Kaur Badal. Obama replied that he would look closely into the matter but refused to make any commitment.

To gain back some semblance of credibility, the TSA must address concerns from passengers with special religious or cultural dress needs. Tell the TSA that doing nothing in response to the outcry over its discriminatory practices is simply unacceptable.

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Most Racist Political Campaign Ads 2010

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration, Racism | 4 Comments

This list is in no particular order:

Once considered a maverick, John McCain is now a shadowy and shriveling figure who completely abandoned all his principles for re-election. As the ad says below, he is “one of us” as opposed to “one of them” people who want to hurt Americans by doing their jobs at next to no pay and intentionally causing accidents on the road. Right.

Speak English only. And then there was GOP candidate for Governor Tim James whose biggest concern is that driver’s licenses are in 12 different exams even though eliminating that would most likely lead to a loss of funds from the federal government for the state of Alabama:

This spoof video on Tim James in response is a must-watch.

When gays, immigrants and Muslims are not enough to scare people into voting GOP, lets turn to China! There’s some ads floating around but the most strikingly racial one is from Spike Maynard,  hoping to unseat Rep Nick Rahall in West Virgina. His ad uses stereotypical Chinese music and images of the “made in China” label on clothes and toys to denote how the Chinese are taking over.

Sharron Angle almost wins with some really vivid and stark portrayals of white people as good and brown people as bad.
First anti-immigrant ad:

Notice how the people suffering due to “illegal immigration” are all white while the alleged “illegal aliens” are all brown people sneaking alongside a fence, denoting the porous border. Nice angle.

The next one gets worse with Angle running a high Willie Horton fever:

Yes, we get it, brown people are scary especially when standing around in trios. But now the children of undocumented immigrants are demonized and treated as a threat to white college graduates. The “stock photo” used comes from a David Vitter campaign and it is actually a picture of Mexican nationals who are not even undocumented.

And of course, David Vitter is not giving up on his attacks on immigrants anytime soon even though his opponent and him practically share the same views on illegal immigration.

And the winner is … (drumroll please)

I don’t know Dan Fanelli. Most of us are more terrorized by white guys in ties. Do you need to see the ads again?

Mapping Juan Crow Cities

Posted on by Prerna in Racism | Leave a comment

I am migrating a few of my favorite blog posts over the past year to my personal blog. I apologize if this causes issues with your RSS feeds.

Do you really live in a racially diverse city in the United States? New mapping using old data might make us re-think the relative segregation of our environment.

Maps don’t just reveal territorial boundaries and physical terrains. They can also be used as a device for capturing political stereotypes, and in the case of mapping segregation, revealing rampant residential segregation, especially amongst foreign-born populations settling in the United States.

Inspired by Bill Rankin’s map of Chicago’s racial and ethnic divides, Eric Fisher has drawn similar maps of other cities with data obtained from the 2000 Census. More cities are charted here. Each dot represents 25 people with white people represented by a red dot, black people by a blue dot, Asians by green, and Hispanics by orange.

It looks like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco were some of the most diverse cities, but racial and ethnic minorities did cluster around the same neighborhoods, especially in Los Angeles and New York. The Los Angeles map also interestingly reveals that Hispanics live in the lowest income neighborhoods.

What does this macro-structural study of residential patterns tell us? Minorities are still substantially segregated in metropolitan cities. Census 2000 data shows that black-white segregation declined modestly on a national level while Hispanic and Asian segregation rose in most metropolitan areas. The increased inclination of Hispanic and Asian immigrants to coalesce around the same areas can be attributed to recent immigration, and maybe redlining or predatory lending. Due to relatively lower incomes of new immigrants, they are also more likely to live near work sites instead of commuting longer distances.

These racially segregated archipelagos pose a major problem for immigrant integration into mainstream society, if that is indeed, the desired result. But maybe this is not as gloomy as it looks. Immigrants clustering around their own communities can provide children and adults alike a sense of belonging and necessary empowerment to succeed in a new country. At the same time, it can also denote a community growing in relative isolation, lacking basic social services. Some have referred to parts of Los Angeles as an import of “Third World” ghettos, but that may just be the beauty of the United States.

It would be nice to compare this mapping with more recent data from the Census in 2010. More than 55 years after ending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and even with a black President and black Attorney General, are we still going to be display vast amount of residential segregation?

Photo Credit: Eric Fisher

SCOTUS: Referring to a Black Man as a “Boy” is Not Racial Discrimination

Posted on by Prerna in Racism | Leave a comment

The Supreme Court of the United States. Washin...

Image via Wikipedia

Two conservative Alabama juries made history by making a decision in a racial discrimination case in favor of African-American plaintiffs and rewarding them damages, only to see their efforts squashed by a U.S. Court of Appeals decision. Apparently, calling an African American man in the Deep South a “boy” is still acceptable and not cause for racial discrimination.

Two African-Americans — Ash and Hithon — filed a racial discrimination suit against Tyson Foods Inc. when the company promoted two lesser-qualified white males to fill shift manager positions. The Tyson plant manager who made the disputed hiring decision used to refer to Ash and Hithon each as “boy.”

Not only did the Court of Appeals decide that the use of “boy” in Deep South Alabama to refer to African-American men was not evidence of racial discrimination, but it also held that the pretext for racial discrimination can only be established if the disparity in qualifications “jump off the face and slap you in the face.”

“The usages were conversational,” the majority explained. Even if “somehow construed as racial … the comments were ambiguous stray remarks” that do not serve as proof of employment discrimination. Now that is indeed a slap in the face of a history where whites referred to grown black men as boys, in order to assert their own superiority (manhood).

“Boy” was not just used as an offensive and derogatory term in the racist South. It was used exclusively to refer to grown African-American men. Holding otherwise is just a blatant denial of history. The Court of Appeals holds that “boy” would need another identifier such as “white” or “black” to become a racial slur, but that hardly makes any sense.

There may be some home left in the rule of law though. The United States Supreme Court ruled on an appeal for the same case that the use of the word “boy” on its own is not enough evidence of racial animus, but that the word is also not benign. The meaning can depend on what context and tone is used by the speaker. Used in the workplace by an employer toward his employees, “boy” is no longer a benign word but becomes a degrading racial epithet. The Supreme Court also questioned the standard used by the Court of Appeals for determining pretext as “unhelpful and imprecise.”  So once again, the Court of Appeals may just receive a smack from the Supreme Court, if they take up the matter.

Photo Credit: dbking

Dissenting: On Cultural Elitism in the Law

Posted on by Prerna in Human Rights, Racism | Leave a comment

Drug Enforcement Agency agents, suspecting Juan Pineda-Moreno of growing marijuana, snuck onto his property in the middle of the night and planted a GPS device on the bottom of his Jeep. Pineda-Moreno admitted to the marijuana charges (lets not get into the merits of drug laws against cannabis growth and possession), but has challenged the government’s evidence obtained through GPS. The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has now twice held that what the DEA did was perfectly fine.

To summarize, USA v.s Juan Pineda-Morena says that the government can step into your garage without a warrant, put a surveillance device on your car and in doing so, is not violating your privacy rights. The decision follows others where the once-liberal Ninth Circuit court effectively brutalized the Fourth Amendment.

The case begs the question of race and class. We know whose trailers and garages are so close to the public domain that agents can tread them without any real violation since neighbors do it all the time. We also know who lives in mansions and gated communities, and hence less susceptible to this particular encroachment of privacy.

I think Chief Judge Kozinski’s dissent is really important and makes a strongly-worded point made in few other judicial opinions:

There’s been much talk about diversity on the bench, but there’s one kind of diversity that doesn’t exist: No truly poor people are appointed as federal judges, or as state judges for that matter. Judges, regardless of race, ethnicity or sex, are selected from the class of people who don’t live in trailers or urban ghettos. The everyday problems of people who live in poverty are not close to our hearts and minds because that’s not how we and our friends live. Yet poor people are entitled to privacy, even if they can’t afford all the gadgets of the wealthy for ensuring it. Whatever else one may say about Pineda-Moreno, it’s perfectly clear that he did not expect—and certainly did not consent—to have strangers prowl his property in the middle of the night and attach electronic tracking devices to the underside of his car. No one does.

When you glide your BMW into your underground garage or behind an electric gate, you don’t need to worry that some-
body might attach a tracking device to it while you sleep. But the Constitution doesn’t prefer the rich over the poor; the man who parks his car next to his trailer is entitled to the same privacy and peace of mind as the man whose urban fortress is guarded by the Bel Air Patrol. The panel’s breezy opinion is troubling on a number of grounds, not least among them its unselfconscious cultural elitism.

I affirm.

Race in America

Posted on by Prerna in Racism | Leave a comment

I almost forgot to mention that I have also started blogging for the new blog at Change.org – Race in America, with a lot of other awesome writers from many walks of life. I’m pretty excited about it. You’d notice I mostly focus on criminal justice, Hollywood white-washing, and immigration, along with the occasional piece on terrorism, but I hope to cover a lot more ground soon.

Also, given the recent spate of hate and fear-mongering, I’m often quite confused whether to put a post under the Immigrant Rights section or the Race one so what I do nowadays is that if a post has racial analysis, it gets sent to Race in America rather than Immigrant Rights.

Some recent pieces of interest:

Criminal Justice




“But I’m Not Racist; I Have Black Friends” – An Answer

Posted on by Prerna in Racism | Leave a comment

I bet you’ve heard someone use that statement as a defense, at least once in your lifetime. Heck, “I have black friends” even made the Urban Dictionary as a phrase used to qualify racist words and behavior.

When it comes to playing the race card, there is little doubt that “I have black friends” is right up there with the Joker and a sibling to “I’m not racist but…” on most days. But ultimately, there’s been a failure on our part to communicate that racism is not merely about relationships, words or emotions. These are merely elements or tools used to entrench racism. Having racial and ethnic minority friends does not excuse racist words and behavior. Someone who uses the “I have black friends” card is misinformed and misunderstands racism as just individual acts.

In fact, racism is not merely prejudice or bigotry. It is not merely a belief or a doctrine that can be corrected by having friends who have a slightly darker skin color. Racism is discrimination backed by institutionalized power. It is systemic. Racism is an ongoing inter-related set of social processes, backed by actions and discourses, that favors a dominant group over other legally constructed minority groups.

I wonder if a racial minority accused of racism can get away with saying “I’m not racist, I have white friends!” Probably not.

So what do we do about the tea-bagger who has a black friend? We must confront individuals about their offensive words and acts in a way that forces us to also confront the system. It is probably more strategic to say “I think what you said or did was racist” rather than “you are racist.” The former focuses on actions whereas the latter targets the actor. If s/he says “I’m not racist, I have black friends,” it is easier to counter that you aren’t talking about her or his interpersonal relationships with racial and ethnic minorities. You are talking about how her or his words and actions perpetuate racism.

Photo Credit: the Italian Voice

The Case for Race-Based Jury Nullification

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Should a juror be allowed to return a non-guilty verdict even if s/he is convinced that the defendant is guilty of the crime in question?

Such a move is called jury nullification. It may be a misleading term for it implies a nullification of the law. Not quite. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees all persons due process and equal protection of the laws, and this has been applied to also mean that any person charged with a crime is afforded a jury of her or his peers.

George Washington Law professor Paul Butler argues that in some cases, the race of a black defendant is a “legally and morally appropriate factor for jurors to consider in reaching a verdict of not guilty or for an individual juror to consider in refusing to vote for conviction.” He reached this conclusion while working at the U.S. Attorney’s office, and recounted a particular experience in his book, Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice, where Butler admits that he was arrested, charged, and went to trial for simple assault in D.C. Superior Court, and how a D.C. cop took the stand and lied. Thankfully, the jury acquitted him of charges. That’s how Butler observed that sometimes, a black juror would not send another black man to jail even when the “evidence” was stacked against the defendant.

It’s certainly a controversial opinion that has many critics, especially those who claim that such an approach is disrespectful to the letter of the law. But laws are not made and applied in isolation of human experience and conscience. If all the jury had to do was apply the rule of law based on the facts, then criminal justice could be done through computers with input and outputs to fulfill the function of a “fair and impartial” jury. The framers of the Constitution considered jury nullification by law to be one of the defenses against government encroachment on individual liberty. By a logical extension, there is nothing wrong with allowing African-American and Latino communities to adjudicate matters according to their own standards especially when the traditional criminal justice system has certainly done them disproportionate dis-service.

Of course, there are limitations to race-based jury nullification. It doesn’t tell us what to do when the perpetrator is white and the victim black, as in the case of the controversial Oscar Grant trial. It also assumes that just because someone is a member of a minority group, s/he is more than likely to deliver an acquittal based on race, which is not necessarily true. There’s also a danger in entrenching identity politics into our sense of justice, but the system already privileges one race over another.

After all, flexibility and crime nullification is already afforded to the most privileged in our society, ranging from the architects of torture memos to the finance crooks at Lehman Brothers and AIG to the environmentally-destructive BP. These people should face criminal charges for destroying so many lives, but they have a certain privileging. In the meantime, another black teenager will go to prison for marijuana possession and along with other imprisoned marijuana users, cost taxpayers $1 billion per year.

I certainly don’t want non-violent drug offenders and prostitutes in prison. I am astounded by the fact that one in every 100 Americans has been incarcerated. And I cannot wrap my head around the increasing criminalization of immigrants and asylum seekers.

It essentially boils down to what sort of criminal justice system we want in this country. Do we want a criminal justice system based on punishing every violation of the law, even when the law does not make much sense? Or do we want a system that is flexible and affords a jury of peers some right to change the outcome of a trial based on what seems fair to their community?

Instead of arguing for race-based jury nullification, what we want is a more fair application of laws when it comes to minority groups. That’s the least we can do to put the aspect of justice back into our system of criminal justice.