Is Stereotyping Racist?
North Korea and Mexicans
“depende del cristal con que se mire”
Rodolfo F. Acuña 12 27 2014
As I have said on many occasions, “[Todo] depende del cristal con que se mire” (“everything depends on the color of the crystal that one looks through”. Our life experiences, social class, education, and culture shape our rational epistemology.
During the debate over “The Interview” – a film starring James Franco and Seth Rogen mocking North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, I found myself irritated by the wagging of the dog. The film came under intense media attention when an unidentified group hacked the emails of Sony Films and released racist emails of top Sony executives. This stirred the pot for over a week, climaxing with the FBI saying it had evidence that North Korea was behind the attack (although many experts were not so sure).
Jingoism shifted the debate from the revelations in the emails to an international crisis that resembles Edward J. Snowden’s release of N.S.A. documents. Initially the media focused on the leaked documents but quickly changed its theme from U.S. spying on allies to whether Snowden was a traitor and on the Russian payroll. In both cases, the uncovered intelligence was confused by the wagging of the dog in which “a dog is smarter than its tail” because if the tail were smarter, then the tail would “wag the dog”.
I have no love for North Korea or Kim Jong – indeed I am not fond of any theocracy including that controlled by evangelicals, Pat Robertson or billionaires. I don’t like cyber-attacks, which hurt progressives more than conservatives. The only thing that I hate more than attempted extortion or attacks on freedom is hypocrisy.
Thus I was disappointed and surprised by George Clooney’s attempt to rally the troops and his call to get Hollywood biggies to close ranks, accusing them of “cowardice” for not standing up to the threats of the hackers in not screening “The Interview.” Apparently Clooney conferred with Amy Pascal, Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group, whose racist emails along with those of producer Scott Rudin’s triggered the outrage. Now all was forgotten and Rogen was complimenting Pascal for having “the balls to make the movie.”
In the end Sony opened “The Interview” on December 25th. Sony had gotten hundreds of millions of dollars of free publicity; upon its release the film got blaring headlines, “Let Freedom Ring”, Americans wouldn’t be intimidated by the commie. Damn they had shown Kim Jong not mess with Americans – no one could tell Americans what to do. More important the wagging of the dog diverted attention from the racist emails.
What are the ramifications of this keystone cops farce? Rogen and Franco’s “Freaks and Geeks” type humor has won respectability in the mainstream market. They are no longer on the fringes, a lucrative but vulgar genre. They were now the defenders of American democracy. Thus, the freaks facilitated the wagging of the dog.
As I said, “depende del cristal con que se mire.” My rational choices are guided by a different epistemological base than the freaks. My cristal goes beyond the protection of Hollywood’s intellectual freedom or the U.S.’s definition of what is good and what is spying. If it is wrong for the Russians, the Koreans and U.S. hackers to spy then it is wrong for N.S.A., the C.I.A. and the F.B.I.
Stereotyping of any sort is offensive. Pascal and Rudin’s emails go a long way in explaining why there are so few browns and blacks in Hollywood. For sixty years I have picketed racial stereotypes in movies, something that has existed from the movies earliest days.
In 1915, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation portrayed the Ku Klux Klansmen as the saviors of the nation that they would bring back a stable government. It was and is heralded as an American classic. The use of actors in blackface was widespread until recent times. .
Racist imagery of Mexicans also exists to this day. Typical stereotypes include “the greaser, lazy Mexicans, Latin Lovers, maids, slum dwellers, drug addicts, gang bangers, feisty Latinas, Mexican Spitfires, and the Exotica.” The result is the image of Mexicans and by extension all Latinos as “dumb,” “mongrels,” “dirty,” and “aliens.”
Stereotypes distort reality and allow Americans to forget their brutal and imperialistic history. Sociologist Joe Feagin writes that it “makes it easier to rationalize attacks on Mexican immigrants” and it allows white Americans to think of Mexicans and Latinos as “backward” peoples. In other words, it justifies white entitlement.
Blatantly racist comments are considered impolite by most people in public settings. However, this has given way to more subtle forms of stereotyping. More common is linguistic and cultural mocking that generate and perpetuate the degrading stereotypes and images of Latinos.
Most liberals are shocked and appalled by overt racial imaging. Black Sambo and Frito Bandido type commercials are less common and more subtle forms persist today, something that I attempted to explore in Anything But Mexican (Verso 1996).
Recently, African American comedian Chris Rock stunned Hollywood liberals by saying “forget whether Hollywood is black enough. A better question is: Is Hollywood Mexican enough? You’re in L.A, you’ve got to try not to hire Mexicans … There’s this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in L.A. that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I remember I was renting a house in Beverly Park while doing some movie, and you just see all of the Mexican people at 8 o’clock in the morning in a line driving into Beverly Park like it’s General Motors. It’s this weird town.” The truth be told, what Rock is talking about is the natural result of more than two hundred years of stereotyping. (See Cecil Robinson, With The Ears of Strangers: The Mexican in American Literature (Arizona 1963).
Racial imagery is also the result of racial, sexual, gender jokes and innuendo that are becoming a big part of the “freak and the geek” movies, popular American culture and U.S. foreign policy.
I always tell my students that jokes have a purpose. A boozed up male tells a young woman a dirty joke, not just because he wants to make her laugh. I remember in the 60s a big Texan cornered me and told me (did not ask me) if I wanted to hear a joke. I said no because by instinct I knew what was coming.
The Texan proceeded anyway: “Himmler was demonstrating an eradicating machine to Hitler. He brought out Jews ten at a time and the machine eradicated them. Periodically he would bring out a Mexican and eradicate the Mexican. Hitler asked “why the Mexicans?” Himmler answered, “Well, we have to grease the machine.” I did not find it humorous but the Guy was too big, so over his objections I told my joke. “What do you get when you pour boiling water over a white male Texan?.” I then answered my own question, “Instant caca.”
I reminded him it was only a joke, not to take offense.
How Chicanas/os Lost Their Swagger 12 12 14
Rodolfo F. Acuña
I constantly hear references to winning football teams having swagger – they play with a chip on their shoulder.
In the sixties, black youth had that swagger — after years of being taught that they should stay in their place, they adopted the mantra of “black is beautiful — don’t fuck with me.” Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans displayed a similar swagger as if to say “I am someone, I demand respect.”
The Chicano Movement was serious business. It spawned a ton of characters. You delighted in their audacity and their challenging of the man. I remember Dr. Ricardo Sanchez telling anyone who would listen that he went from a GED to PhD.
Sanchez, a high school dropout and ex-convict, wrote poems about cultural justice. He received a doctorate from the Union Institute in Cincinnati and had an academic appointment at Washington State University, teaching creative writing and Chicano studies.
He would saunter into El Paso restaurants and deliver poems “reciting not from memory but from the moment.” I remember how he and Tigre captured a Tex Mex cafe in Milwaukee.
You had those who would snicker about his doctorate. But he did not give a shit – he knew he was a doctor because he willed it and his poetry established that. Ricardo did not need to attend a Princeton or a Yale to validate himself — his swagger said it all.
Another favorite was Abelardo. Like Sanchez he was from el Chuco (El Paso). A teacher, social worker, and administrator of community service organizations he declared himself a poet, producing mountains of poetry, fiction, and essays. We both taught a summer session at the University of Utah. He loved the sound of his name, my favorite poem was “Stupid America.”
stupid america, see that
with a big knife
on his steady hand
he doesn’t want to knife you
he wants to sit on a bench
and carve christ figures
but you won’t let him.
stupid america, hear that
shouting curses on the street
he is a poet
without paper and pencil
and since he cannot write
he will explode.
stupid america, remember
flunking math and english
he is the picasso
of your western states
but he will die
with one thousand
hanging only from his mind.”
The truth be told, a person or country is only stupid when they make the same mistakes, over and over and deny them. For example, in August 2014, Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, a black youth. Two grand juries failed to indict the white police officer. The previous month Eric Garner was strangled by Staten Island, NY police officers. These incidents tapped the grief and grievance of centuries of injustices. Protests against the police killings of Brown and Garner turned violent and spread to campuses and cities throughout the country. .
On September 26, 2014, 43 Mexican students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa went missing in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico. In all probability, they were assassinated and incinerated.
In the 60s, the U.S. spent millions of dollars studying the causes of urban and student rebellions — studies that were ignored. The catalyst was the 1965 Watts Rebellions that shook the nation “to its democratic foundation.” A 101-page report of December 2, 1965 titled “Violence in the City—An End or a Beginning?: A Report by the Governor’s Commission on the Los Angeles Riots, 1965” startled America and then went away.
Two years later the Kerner Commission, “The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders,’ was commissioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the causes of the 1967 race riots in the United States and to provide recommendations. It warned “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal”, adding that “Unless there are sharp changes in the factors influencing Negro settlement patterns within metropolitan areas, there is little doubt that the trend toward Negro majorities will continue.” The report called unemployment a major cause of the unrest as well as the poor training of police.
Despite or because of the war on students, launched by the patron Saint of Greed, Governor Ronald Reagan, student activism escalated. The largest and most heated were at the University of California, Berkeley that along with San Francisco State was the flagship of student protests. .
Reagan’s (1967-1975) approach to solving student turmoil was to “get rid of undesirables. Those there to agitate and not to study might think twice before they pay tuition. They might think twice how much they want to pay to carry a picket sign.” It was a smoke screen for one of the biggest shifts in taxes from the rich to the poor, and the wedding of the Republican Party to the super rich.
Student protests came to a climax on May 4, 1970 when guardsmen shot down four student protesters students at Kent State, leading to nationwide campus protests. More than 450 violent and non-violent demonstrations broke out across the country. At New York University banners read, “They Can’t Kill Us All.”
Over 100,000 people demonstrated in Washington, D.C., against the war and the killing of unarmed student protesters — “The city was an armed camp. The mobs were smashing windows, slashing tires, dragging parked cars into intersections, even throwing bedsprings off overpasses into the traffic down below. This was the quote, student protest. That’s not student protest, that’s civil war,” said a Nixon adviser. The Jackson State killings occurred on Friday, May 15, 1970, at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi. It resulted in the killings of two students and injury of twelve.
According to the Urban Institute’s national study the Kent State shooting was the single factor in the first nationwide student strike in U.S. history, as over 4 million students protested in over 900 American colleges and universities that were closed during the student strikes.
Yet another commission, “The President’s Commission On Campus Unrest,” was chaired by William W. Scranton, the Former Governor of Pennsylvania. The report gave a sense of urgency. It exhausted the available material on the subject, concluding that “Studies of activist youth reveal that in most cases students become activists through an extended process.”
Rounding off the reports was a 1979 book by Fresno State English Department Chair Kenneth Seib — The Slow Death of Fresno State: A California Campus under Reagan and Brown. The conclusion was that Black Studies and La Raza Studies programs were intentionally killed by far right senior professors in collusion with Governor Gov. Ronald Regan and CSC Chancellor Glenn Dumke. They deliberately murdered the programs.
These studies are readily available on the internet. As I have said, it is not stupid to make a mistake but is to keep on making the same mistakes. Americans are stupid not because they are Americans but because they won’t admit their mistakes and find ways to correct them.
“Stupid America.” You lost generations of geniuses. Gone is the boasting, “From GED to PhD,” giving of gritos of liberation. As a result Chicana/o lost their swagger condemning the poorest them to staring an “Y Qué” look. Part of the swagger was hope.
President Dianne Harrison’s Annual Convocation
August 21, 2014
A Critical View of Corporate America
Rodolfo F. Acuña
I really don’t need controversy at this stage in my life, but I could never keep my mouth shut. If something was stupid, I called it stupid. This has happened in all phases of my life, something that has not ingratiated me. Essentially people don’t like controversy so I have gotten used to people avoiding me.
One such moment came when I listened to the CSUN Presidential Convocation address earlier this month. Generally the only ones who go to this event are those with a vested interest. The convocation reminds me of the CSUN football games that were only attended by the Greeks and administrators whose presence was commanded.
This year because my son alerted me I went on the CSUN webpage. I made the mistake last year of not knowing what she said. This was stupid because President Dianne Harrison has earned a reputation of being imperious and ruling by edicts. She has told people that she never wants to hear the word “no.” http://www.csun.edu/president/presidents-2014-convocation-and-welcome-back-address. At last year’s convocation she announced the UNAM deal as a fait accompli.
I am stupid but not a pendejo! So I wasted two hours listening to her cheerleading. I must admit Harrison was probably the head cheerleader in high school.
The event was opened by the faculty president who was trotted out to show faculty solidarity, and he was followed by the student body president. The faculty president is no John Stafford or a faculty president who shows independence; the student president appeared as if she is auditioning for a job.
I hate to say it but Harrison’s address lacked substance; she avoided controversy even in addressing the death of Armando Villa who died of heat prostration and dehydration allegedly the result of fraternity hazing.
The rest of the speech praised California State University at Northridge as the most impressive university by far and the celebrated the leadership: faculty, staff and students. According to President Harrison, she consults with students and faculty regularly – they are a team. I have seen past presidents visit the ethnic studies departments and at least wave to students – but I have never seen Harrison visit Latino/Mexican American students in three years.
For a moment I paused and listened intently: she said she plans to increase entrepreneurship and initiate new centers. She did not offer specifics or talk about consultation with the departments – something that caused an ongoing breach between Chicana/o studies and administration last year. Unfortunately, the majority of faculty don’t seem to give a damn.
Harrison then suddenly came to life and gave it a good old CSUN college try as she said that student success depended on staff and encouraged all of us to help increase graduation rates. Place this in context that the attendance at the event was limited. As I mentioned, only those commanded or who benefitted from a selfie attended. She asked her team to stand up as she introduced them. I only counted two Latinos — one a flunky staff member and the other a dean who has never become part of the community.
The performance hall seats 1700 but only had couple of hundred attendees. There were few students present out of almost 40,000 registered.
Harrison announced faculty members promoted to tenure but failed to break down their race or ethnicity. She did mention a lack of diversity but apparently has no concrete plan to address the problem. The truth be told, that if you take Chicana/o studies out of the equation less than three percent of the faculty is of Mexican extraction.
Harrison sprinkled her speech with commercial bites. This is “A YEAR OF GREAT PROMISE!” The past year was “CSUN Shine!” A power point presentation celebrated these milestones: graduation, degrees, sports, the honoring of President Brenda Wilson who was a fiasco as president. She trumpeted that Money Magazine ranked CSUN as one of bargains in higher ed not mentioning that one of the principle reasons that students do not graduate is that they cannot afford the tuition. Moreover, although students pay for the construction of the dorms –the majority cannot afford them.
Despite these contradictions Harrison boasted that CSUN broke ground for more student housing; no mention was made that this construction comes out of student fees and that students pay for most of the construction costs. But giving it the good old school cheer, Harrison said there were signs of construction everywhere.
According to Harrison, CSUN is not a commuter school but a regional university. The nation and the world are recognizing its excellence. The power point featured images of buildings, the performing arts, library etc. It reminded me of the university web page that resembles a Republican presidential nominating Convention.
Amidst the tale of student success Harrison said that CSUN was moving toward impaction. That means that a cap will be put on registration and quotas for admission will be based on GPA, class standing, and other criteria, which Harrison lamented but she said there may be no choice. This is important.
The only somber note was that the continuation rate of CSUN that was 78 percent versus 85 percent system wide. According to her there has been progress in remediation, but that the grad rate has plummeted from 48 to 45. Again she offered no solutions other than involving alumni as leaders and providing internships. She did not say who is going to pay for them.
According to Harrison, being a global university means CSUN has to provide cultural competencies as well as leaders in cross disciplines – something Chicana/o studies has been doing for 45 years. Her solution is the creation of centers that in reality serve a small fraction of the students and are managed by white faculty.
Harrison said that entrepreneurship was not a dirty word and necessary in a competing global economy. According to Harrison, CSUN had to adopt business practices, provide mobile apps for students. She mentioned extended learning specifically as a funding source – which of course increases the privatization of the university. Philanthropy and research, according to Harrison, is good because it supports university funding,
She praised partnerships such as the one with LA Trade Tech and cooperative ventures with five local CSU campuses. Collaboration was the magic word, and according to Harrison, people were listening to CSUN that was educating future global citizens.
Finally, Harrison mentioned the Northridge Dreamers Scholarship, which is always an easy fix for administrators who lack a plan. Recently Enrique Peña Nieto announced scholarships as if it will make us forget about his privatization of the oil and other natural resources. Harrison did not mention that students for the last year have been promised a Dreamer Center and received atole con el dedo. After over a year, Dreamers have negotiated and still do not have a center.
In talking about employee success, she said nothing about contract workers. Instead focused on a smoke free campus that was coming about, according to her, through faculty and worker collaboration.
CSUN Shine challenges, according to Harrison, faculty to reflect campus diversity and study the problem, which is an insult to all of our intelligence. We have been fighting this battle for 45 years with white faculty resisting diversity. Psychology, for example, out of 50 faculty members only has one Latina faculty member and over three-quarters of the departments do not have one Latino or Mexican America American faculty member.
Harrison again insulted our intelligence by calling for civility and an end to bullying not mentioning power relations. The truth be told, Harrison has tried to silence Chicana/o studies and cut channels of communication for it to voice its opposition to the UNAM deal. Moreover, the bullying charge is ridiculous — raised by the Dean of Social and Behavioral Science who has more grievances against her than any other administrator, according to the California Faculty Association, and a department chair that has driven four tenure track professors out of her department and abetted sexual harassment.
In all I wasted two hours. Yet, I could not afford not to listen. Not to listen puts reform in jeopardy. The devil never sleeps so we should listen to those in power, their words have meaning, for if we want CSUN to truly shine it must also listen.