Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Anchor Babies" and The GOP’s Plantation Politics

By Sikivu Hutchinson

For the thousands of white folk who packed the stadium in Mobile, Alabama to hear Donald Trump this past Friday it must have seemed like old times. No PC dogwhistle limpness or vacillation, no pandering to “the minorities”; just straight talk, the kind of unvarnished alpha male nativism, Christian evangelicalism and white supremacy that rocketed the Tea Party into the mainstream in 2009.  Trump’s tirades on anchor babies and repealing the 14th amendment’s birthright citizenship clause have the GOP presidential campaign clown car in overdrive. As the rest of the field scrambles to double down on its racist appeal to red meat Middle America all people of color are targeted by this rhetoric of criminalization.

It’s fitting that anti-undocumented immigrant hysteria has become the GOP’s clarion call when the Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice, police accountability and an end to policies that criminalize communities of color is on the rise.  Similar to the specter of black lawlessness, anxiety about encroaching “illegals” stealing jobs, sucking up public services and committing mayhem is one of white Middle America’s most primal fears.

Yet, many analysts argue that the GOP needs at least 40% of the Latino vote in order to win the 2016 presidential election.  So Republicans who still want to party like its 2009 would seem to have a death wish.  Back then, former Republican Congressman Nathan Deal introduced the Birthright Citizenship Act into the House.  The statute would have denied citizenship to children born in the U.S. to undocumented women, stripping away a civil right that ostensibly distinguishes the U.S. from fascist governments.  Deal’s amendment failed, and though the Republicans went on to big Tea Party fueled victories in the 2010 midterm elections Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama in 2012 was partly due to his poor showing with Latinos.  As a result, the GOP did a so-called autopsy on its failures and vowed to do better with “the minorities”.
But now they’re back, guns ablaze, with birthright citizenship as the new-old whipping boy.
Ratified in 1868, the 14th amendment was originally designed to confer citizenship onto freed African slaves.  As Kevin Alexander Gray writes in Counterpunch, in the Reconstruction period, as now, racism and white supremacy loomed large in public debate. Back then, opponents of the amendment talked about ‘public morality’ being threatened by people ‘unfit for the responsibilities of American citizenship.’’ Trump’s call for a wall to protect U.S. borders from marauding Mexican criminals not only demonizes Latinos but evokes toxic themes of Manifest Destiny that were used to justify American expansionism into Mexico.  Themes that allowed white folk, the U.S.' original "anchor babies", to be legitimized as citizens.

During the 19th century the “Manifest Destiny” of the United States was one of “God-ordained” expansionism.  African slaves, indigenous peoples, Mexican nationals and other non-Europeans were deemed aliens and enemy combatants, anathema to the democratizing force of America.  In the 1840s, Manifest Destiny played a key role in the U.S.’ brutal occupation of Mexican territory.  Cultural propaganda dehumanizing indigenous Mexican populations provided American imperialism with the aura of moral righteousness.  Indeed, commenting on the U.S.-Mexico War, it was no less than poet Walt Whitman who stated: “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico—with her superstition, her burlesque upon freedom, her actual tyranny by the few over the many—what has she to do with the great mission of peopling the new world with a noble race? Be it ours, to achieve that mission!”

Back in the good old days of docile slaves and vanquished savages, there were no ambiguities about who deserved to be accorded rights.  God ordained the universality of European American experience, civilization and moral worth.  Non-white peoples either submitted to the Enlightenment principles and values of the culturally superior West or were extinguished.  States rights were white citizens’ last vestige of protection from the trespasses of big government ramming civil rights down the throats of a “victimized” white electorate.  So it is no mystery then why these 19th century ideologies have gained fresh currency amongst a “reloading” white nationalist insurgency.  The GOP has come full circle, drunk on a cocktail of xenophobia, anti-immigrant hysteria and jingoism that should deep six its bid for the White House.  

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Straight Outta Rape Culture

By Sikivu Hutchinson

When N.W.A.’s mega-hyped biopic Straight Outta Compton opens next Friday, the brutalized bodies of black women will be lost in the predictable stampede of media accolades.  While early reviews have lauded the “prescience” of the group’s fierce critique of anti-black state violence and criminalization—epitomized by its de facto theme song “F-- Tha Police”—they fail to highlight how the group’s multi-million dollar empire was built on black women’s backs.

Yet, as national outrage over state violence grows, the release of the film should prompt fresh reconsideration of how institutionalized sexual and intimate partner violence against black women continues to be all but invisible in mainstream discourse about black self-determination.  As gangsta rap pioneers and beneficiaries of the corporatization of rap/hip hop in the 1990s, N.W.A. played a key role in yoking rape culture and rap misogyny. Throughout their career they’ve been hailed as street poets and raw truth tellers mining the psychic space of young urban black masculinity. In song after song, gang rape, statutory rape, the coercion of women into prostitution and the terroristic murder of prostitutes are chronicled, glorified and paid homage to as just part of the spoils of “ghetto” life.  The 1988 song “Straight Outta Compton” trivializes the murder of a neighborhood girl (“So what about the bitch that got shot, fuck her, you think I give a damn about a bitch, I’m not a sucker”) while its outlaw male protagonists go on an AK-47 and testosterone fueled killing spree. “Straight Outta Compton” was an early salvo for such popular fare as “To Kill a Hooker,” “Findum, Fuckum & Flee” and the rape epic “One Less Bitch” in which N.W.A. co-founder Dr. Dre lets his boys gang rape a prostitute then notes, “the bitch tried to ‘gank’ me so I had to kill her”.

In a recent L.A. Times profile on the group, writer Lorraine Ali extols Dr. Dre’s role as a businessman and entrepreneur while conspicuously omitting his history of vicious misogyny and violence against black women. Sidestepping the importance of misogynoir to the group’s body of work, Ali argues that “it’s the film’s depiction of police brutality, and the tense dynamic between law enforcement and the urban neighborhoods they patrol, that makes it so topical”. Ali’s near reverent profile of the group is yet another example of white America’s double standards when it comes to the brutalization of white women versus that of black women. 

In 1991 Dre brutally beat and trashed Dee Barnes, the young African American host of the forerunning rap show Pump It Up, at a record release party in Hollywood. Allegedly spurred by negative comments made about the group on the show, the beating was co-signed by N.W.A. members Eazy E and MC Ren. Pump It Up was one of the first grassroots showcases to capture the hip hop juggernaut in its infancy. Barnes’ assault by Dre all but ended her rap career,  underscoring black women’s perilous status in the rap/hip hop world as well as the obscene rates of intimate partner violence in the African American community overall (it is worth noting that Barnes was not the only black woman to suffer a brutal attack at Dre’s hands. Dre’s ex-girlfriend, rapper Michel’le, also alleged that she needed plastic surgery after she was beaten by him).

Every year thousands of black women are shot, stabbed, stalked, brutalized and sexually assaulted in crimes that never make it on the national radar.  Black women experience intimate partner violence at a rate of 35% higher than do white women  According to the Department of Justice nearly 40% of young black women have experienced sexual assault by the age of 18.  Further, in Los Angeles County black girls have the highest rates of domestic sex trafficking victimization and are more likely to be locked up for prostitution than non-black women.

And although intimate partner violence is a leading cause of death for black women, they are seldom viewed as proper victims and are rarely cast as innocents. Far too often, intimate partner violence (such as that committed by former NFL player Ray Rice against wife Janae Rice) and/or sexual assault against black women are only propelled to national attention by a perfect storm of graphic videotape and feminist of color outrage. Yet black female survivors suffer on the margins in a culture that still essentially deems them “unrapeable”. 

As an educator and mentor I work daily with young black girls who silently cope with the trauma and PTSD of sexual and physical violence in the very same South Los Angeles communities “immortalized” in N.W.A.’s hyper-masculinist terroristically sexist oeuvre.  Inundated with multi-platinum misogynist hip hop and rap, these girls have grown up with the pervasive message that violence against black women and girls is normal, natural, and justifiable. Coming full circle, the “Straight Outta Compton” narrative sacrifices their bodies on the altar of black masculine triumph and American dream-style redemption, signifying that the only occupying violence black America should really be concerned about is that perpetrated by the police.