Monday, April 28, 2014

The Sterling Shuffle: Unpacking White Jewish Racism

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Every Sunday for the past several years the mug of real estate mogul and L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling has commanded prime ad space in the Los Angeles Times. Touting Sterling’s philanthropy, these ads often feature grinning photos of prominent African American politicians, religious leaders and other glad-handing public figures who’ve received hefty donations from his financial empire. After TMZ revealed a recording of Sterling’s racist comments about black people to girlfriend V. Stiviano, President Obama and other dignitaries were swift to condemn him. On Monday it was “shockingly” revealed that Sterling, who is Jewish, went the extra mile with his racism in the recording, contending that “the blacks are treated like dogs” in Israel to Stiviano. Responding to her criticism of this claim, Sterling reiterated that “the black Jews” are “less than” white Jews and that that is the way it should be.

Anti-black racism among white Jewish people is a seldom discussed aspect of the complicated arc of black-Jewish relations in the U.S. Yet Sterling’s comments are noteworthy because they not only highlight the white supremacist bent of Israeli anti-African sentiment but the social construction of Jewish whiteness. Echoing rancher Cliven Bundy’s recent references to blacks thriving under slavery, Sterling expressed the paternalistic view that he “supports” blacks on the team by giving them clothes, houses and cars. He then blasts Stiviano for comparing anti-black racism and discrimination to the Jewish Holocaust. Implicit in this shutdown is the notion that Jewish suffering under the Holocaust precludes consideration of how white Jews have benefited from institutional and systemic racism.

The illusion of lockstep black-Jewish solidarity on liberal political coalition-building has long masked the reality of white Jewish privilege and investment in white supremacy. This is especially relevant to Sterling (who tellingly changed his name from Tokowitz to the more Anglicized Sterling) because he is a multi-millionaire developer who has also been the subject of two federal racial discrimination lawsuits involving tenants of color. In her book How Jews Became White Folk, Karen Brodkin notes that Jews contrasted themselves with the specter of a “mythic blackness”. Deeply ingrained racial stereotypes of shiftless, lazy, culturally pathological and mentally enslaved blacks—versus “hard working” immigrants streaming through Ellis Island in search of opportunity—have always been a subtext of the American dream. Hence, “mythic blackness” implicitly signified social dysfunction and downward mobility—i.e., the antithesis of American notions of rugged individualism and bootstraps uplift. This divide allowed Jewish, Irish and other reviled, provisionally white ethnic immigrants to highlight and capitalize on their (relative) whiteness. As Salomon Gruenwald notes in a review of Brodkin’s book, “Jews did not become white because they succeeded in spite of racism, rather, they succeeded because of white racism. Economic and social shifts following WWII reconfigured whiteness in such a way as to allow them—particularly Jewish men—the entitlements that being white brought (like the G.I. Bill and access to the suburbs).”

The long term economic legacy of these entitlements has been amplified in the post-civil rights era. African Americans of all income levels are hyper-segregated in urban communities heavily impacted by foreclosure, joblessness, predatory lending, subpar schools, racist policing and mass incarceration. And, relative to white working class homeowners, even the most wealthy African Americans are segregated into neighborhoods that have high poverty rates. As the most segregated racial group in Los Angeles, the socioeconomic divide between blacks and white Jews couldn’t be more profound. Like other European Americans in the post-World War II era, Jews took advantage of New Deal FHA, VA and GI Bill loans (which were denied to African Americans) to flee South L.A. and East L.A. neighborhoods and move to wealthier enclaves in West L.A. and the Valley. Once upon a time, predominantly Mexican American Boyle Heights was a thriving Jewish enclave. New Deal era affirmative action policies for white people, coupled with the Great Migration of African Americans from the South, facilitated white Jewish upward mobility and assimilation. As Ryan Reft writes on the transformation of Boyle Heights, “the Great Migration led others to rewrite the rules that kept whites separated from non-whites. As a result, definitions of whiteness shifted. Jews now found themselves increasingly included as part of the metropolitan area’s…conception of whiteness, and many took advantage of new housing opportunities.”

Sterling’s racist references to shiftless black untouchables are simply yet another snapshot of how caste, ethnicity and the bootstraps mythology play out in “post-racial” America. And in a country in which the racial wealth gap is most powerfully reflected in corporate real estate and apartheid-level access to private space people of color in particular shouldn’t be shocked or surprised.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Abortion Rights National Protests/Speak-Outs & Webcasts: L.A., SF, NYC

April 11 & 12th: Abortion on Demand & Without Apology

From Stop Patriarchy: Abortion rights are in a state of emergency, and headed for disaster. Already, women in this country who cannot access safe abortions are attempting to self-abort by inserting sharp objects in their vaginas, taking pills, asking their boyfriends to beat them up, and more. Others are being forced to bear children they do not want. This is the future for women everywhere if this war on women is not massively resisted and defeated.

Forcing women to have children against their will is a form of enslavement.

Join Sikivu Hutchinson, Carol Downer and others at the emergency speak-out in Los Angeles on Friday, April 11:

7pm at United University Church
USC Campus, 817 W. 34th St., Los Angeles

AROUND THE COUNTRY, tune into the LIVE national WEBCAST:

Friday April 11, 7-9:30pm EDT
Abortion Rights Emergency WEBCAST
Host a viewing party and tune in wherever you are at

In New York City: Advent Lutheran Church, 93rd & Broadway, 7-9:30 pm

Speakers include:
Dr. Willie Parker, award-winning doctor at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi
Sunsara Taylor, writer for newspaper, leader of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, and initiator of
Merle Hoffman, CEO of Choices Women's Medical Center, which has provided abortions and other health services to women since 1971
Donna Schaper, Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church, on her own abortion and why we must defend this right
Marge Piercy, poet, novelist, memoirist, via video message: "It was a time when falling in love could get you killed."
Louise Bernikow, author, historian, long time activist
Bill Baird, reproductive rights pioneer who was jailed eight times in five states in the 1960s for lecturing on abortion and birth control
David Gunn, Jr., son of first abortion doctor to be assassinated, via video message

Testimony from:
Susan Cahill, owner of the Montana abortion clinic that was destroyed and closed on March 3, 2013 about how this is an attack on all women
Dr. Susan Robinson, one of only four doctors in the U.S. who openly provide late-term abortions; featured in the acclaimed documentary After Tiller
True stories of illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade
More to be announced.

Saturday, April 12th: PROTEST!

2pm: Gather at NW corner of 49th St. & Fifth Avenue
3:00 pm: Procession to St. Patrick's Cathedral and silent protest

In Los Angeles:
1pm: Santa Monica Pier & Ocean Ave.
2:15pm - March through 3rd Street Promenade

Check for protests in other cities or to plan your own.

Silent protests at institutions behind the war on women that raise bloody coat-hangers (representing the fate of women when abortion is illegal) and shackles (representing female enslavement). After an hour, break the shackles and pledge to resist until we defeat and reverse these attacks and win the full liberation of women.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thank God for Abortion: What's At Stake For Black Women

(Artwork by Favianna Rodriguez)

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Thank “God” for abortion. More specifically, thank the Christian god, the vengeful omniscient one that white anti-abortion terrorists ritually invoke to justify the murder, mayhem and fear they inflict on thousands of American women in the name of Jesus.

At each of the two clinics where I gratefully got abortions in the 1990's lone white men were stationed outside with bloody signs of fetal apocalypse. As white men protesting in predominantly black and brown communities their presence was unchallenged, their bodies unhindered by the policing and criminal surveillance that all people of color in the public sphere face. This was the high water mark of Operation Rescue, the radical anti-abortion group which laid the groundwork for the current wave of anti-abortion militancy. Then, as now, mainstream pro-choice activists ceded the moral high ground to the anti-abortion regime, wavering between whether to frame abortion as a matter of personal choice or as an inalienable right. It’s a legacy that has had grave consequences for intersectionality as the “post-feminist” trope of sluttish immoral women recklessly using birth control and abortion has become legion in American political discourse.

As a black atheist already damned to a smokin’ Christian hell it’s gratifying to know that the Christian god has failed to completely prevent women from exercising their basic right to self-determination. But the Christian soldiers, fascists and terrorists of the American right have doubled down with hundreds of new restrictions on birth control, abortion and clinic access which have the most insidious implications for poor and working class women of color. In Texas, Mississippi and Montana, clinic closures, vandalized clinics, restrictions on abortion physicians and providers and the GOP’s refusal to expand Medicaid further jeopardize the socioeconomic sustainability of communities of color. These attacks, concomitant with the Supreme Court’s pending decision on right wing retailer Hobby Lobby’s “religious freedom” challenge to the Affordable Care Act, could gut the rights American women have taken for granted for decades.

Pro-death, anti-abortion public policy and protest are a form of race, class and gender warfare disguised as religious morality crusades to “protect” innocent “babies”. Challenging the abortion as “black genocide” billboard campaign mounted by right wing foundations a few years ago, reproductive justice activist Loretta Ross said, “We decided to have abortions. We invited Margaret Sanger to place clinics in black neighborhoods. We are part of the civil and human rights movement. We protected the future of black children, not our opponents.” Despite their high levels of religiosity, a solid majority of African Americans support safe and legal access to abortion. And African American women have the highest rate of abortion amongst all groups of American women. The reasons are not mysterious—black women are disproportionately poor, under-employed, single and living in highly segregated communities with limited health care access which have borne the brunt of the economic depression. Due to slavery and the violent legacy of Jim Crow, black women have a history of coercive control over their reproduction. Thus abortion is an essential right in a white supremacist capitalist economy that neither supports nor values women of color and their children.

For black women, the radical push for abortion on demand is not an abstract concept. Abortion on demand cannot be separated from the conditions of racial apartheid that black women find themselves in, especially vis-à-vis the wealth gap and the criminal justice system. Nationwide, unemployment rates amongst African American women have skyrocketed, as have sentencing rates for non-violent offenses committed by African American women. Unlike white women, there is never a presumption of innocence or extension of “feminine” protection for black women who defend themselves against abusive partners (as the egregious sentencing and imprisonment of Marissa Alexander demonstrates), engage in sex work or consume/sell illegal drugs. Unlike white women, black women who do so are rarely deemed misguided, victimized or troubled but simply criminal; bad mothers, bad bitches, bad “hos” and everything in between. The intersectional work of the National Association for Pregnant Women has been critical to challenging the disproportionate criminalization of women of color for drug-related fetal homicide and fetal endangerment offenses.

Given the dire nature of these public, highly politicized assaults, there has been a shift in the tenor of discussions on abortion in my high school classes. Several years ago, religious-based anti-abortion pushback dominated. Male and female students routinely condemned abortion as a sin. Many trotted out the refrain that a “baby” shouldn’t be made to suffer or pay for a woman’s “mistakes.” Now there is more vocal support for abortion as a necessary life choice. Some girls of color express their desire to remain childless, pointing to the burdens child care and caregiving have placed on the lives and ambitions of their female relatives and friends.

But most of my students would be hard-pressed to attend a pro-choice rally or protest precisely because abortion is still identified in the mainstream as a single issue “white woman’s” cause, divorced from a more overarching reproductive and economic justice context. At the same time, pro-choice sanitization of abortion discourse, promoted by liberal politicians and religious progressives, continues to obscure the mortal danger posed by a teetering Supreme Court and near daily attacks on reproductive health care. As the organization Stop Patriarchy notes, “For far too long, pro-choice people have hoped that the Democrats or the courts would somehow stop this fascist assault on women. Too many people have remained passive, or funneled all their energies into supporting politicians who have openly promised to seek ‘common ground’ with forces who are fighting for female enslavement. Seeking ‘common ground’ has really meant ceding ground to this whole onslaught. There can be no common ground with those who are fighting for female enslavement. The fight over abortion has never been about babies it has been about control over women.” A crucial part of the fight is framing abortion for Millennials who believe same sex marriage and sex education are “morally acceptable” but view abortion as morally questionable. Despite their increased secularity, Millennials are still just as conflicted about abortion as older generations. Many believe that abortion is simply a matter of personal “choice”, rather than a moral right. This disconnect has not only been fostered by decades of high profile Religious Right campaigns against abortion but by “left wing” appeasement/equivocation—both sides clamoring to be on the right side of an imaginary God.