As I have been thinking about Stand Your Ground laws, an incident that happened to me years ago keeps coming back to me. I was new to the city of Gary, Indiana, and I was temporarily living in an apartment in one of the most rundown parts of the city, which at that time was on its third year carrying the title Murder Capital of the Nation.
As I have been thinking about Stand Your Ground laws, an incident that happened to me years ago keeps coming back to me. I was new to the city of Gary, Indiana, and I was temporarily living in an apartment in one of the most rundown parts of the city, which at that time was on its third year carrying the title Murder Capital of the Nation. Gary was about 75 percent black. I accidentally stayed out until after dark one night and had to hike home in the shadows. Yes, I was scared and wary. I became aware that a man was following me across the street. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that he was a young black man, and from the way he adjusted his pace to mine, I was sure he was following me.
What to do? Look for places where he was likely to attack me and plan a strategy. Up ahead there was a stretch where the light was practically nonexistent, and the houses were, too. I had to take action before I got to that place or else he would likely overpower me.
So just before I hit that spot, very much aware that he was watching me, I stopped, pivoted in his direction and yelled as loudly as I could, “AND I DON’T WANNA FUCK YOU!!!!!” Then I turned and took off.
I could see him stop, look startled, and then finally yell, “I DON’T WANNA FUCK YOU EITHER, YOU CRAZY BITCH!!!” He turned around and left me alone.
I have found that a little mother wit, the element of surprise, and forethought have been my weapons when I have perceived threats to my family and me. I have never owned a gun, yet, especially in Gary, people kept telling me I needed one for protection. Every time I thought of having one, I could not imagine how I would keep it out of the hands of my inquisitive little boys in such a way that I could reach it fast enough to do some good. Now, under Stand Your Ground laws in Texas and many other states, could I have been justified or made a strong enough case in court that I was terrified enough of the young man to pull out my gun and shoot him and get away with it?
I have no doubt that George Zimmerman was suspicious of Trayvon Martin because Martin was black. It doesn’t matter that Zimmerman is a Latino; he was light-skinned enough on that dark rainy night for Martin to tell his friend on his cell phone that a “creepy cracker” was following him. Trayvon Martin had the right to do the same thing that threatened people do all the time — figure out a pro-active way to survive the threat.
I am a short, black woman and half the time, the authorities don’t even believe that we can be attacked or feel threatened. Somehow, it’s always our fault. Any woman can still be interrogated about what clothes she was wearing; what was she doing on a dark street in a rough neighborhood at night anyway? Was she out there working?
Trayvon had a right to jump George Zimmerman and stand his ground with his fists.
The problem is our unimaginative conservative lawmakers think the only way to stand your ground is with a gun, so they write laws that effectively make anyone feel entitled to shoot anyone else whom they can argue posed a threat to them.
Evidently the prosecution, especially lead prosecutor Angela Cory, couldn’t figure out how to argue that Trayvon stood his ground in the only way he could as an unarmed teenager — with his fists.
My Oral Testimony at the Texas State Senate July 16, 2013
This is what I said to the Texas State Senate Committee on Health and Welfare Committee on July 8, 2013.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak in opposition to SB1. I am Starita Smith. I live in Denton which is represented by Craig Estes. I have a PhD in sociology. I have taught Sociology of Work classes and study inequality among various groups.
How is it good public policy to deprive the poor, the working poor, people who live in middle sized cities, small towns and rural areas access to free or affordable healthcare–including abortions? There seems to be no or very sketchy anecdotal evidence that women’s healthcare is being endangered by current providers. You are creating an emergency where none exists.
This Legislature has declared war on the poor. Weapons deployed so far include cuts to education funding, for both lower higher education; turning away federal funding; cutting healthcare funding. SB1 is the latest weapon in this war.
Considering this war on the poor, and the destruction you have already caused, I have to ask who will step in to take care of them?
Please vote against SB1.
Paula Deen, the white queen of Southern cooking, June 21, 2013
Paula Deen, the white queen of Southern cooking, admits to saying nigger sometimes.
If you have read the Jezebel.com and colorlines.com and other posts that have inundated the web for the last few days since Lisa Jackson, a white woman, who was manager of one of the Deen family’s Savannah restaurants called something like Uncle Bubba’s shrimp and whatever, sued Deen, you think that’s the extent of Jackson’s complaint. But Jackson’s lawsuit is just as much about being underpaid, sexism, and claims of being sexually harassed for years by good ole Uncle Bubba, himself as it is about the racism of a public figure who is representational of the New South. These news posts have left people less than half informed.
I want to be clear. I have always felt uncomfortable about Paula Deen. I have my prejudices, and one of them is a kneejerk suspicion of southern whites of a certain age. I have to wonder where were they when…civil rights workers were being beaten and killed, black children were being discriminated against in school, white people seemed to follow the rules of segregation without question. I have had to learn to recognize my own prejudice. To remind myself that there were many whites who jeopardized their livelihoods and their family safety to fight segregation. The more I have been willing to learn from the people around me; the more I have found people who help me disabuse myself of prejudice. And I have been very fortunate, but still..there was always something about Paula Deen that I was wary of. To me she was making millions off southern cooking, which owes a lot to black people, without ever acknowledging anyone black except Oprah.
So my disclaimer out of the way, I am really alarmed as a feminist and a black person to see how this lawsuit story is coming out in dribs and drabs. It originated in the National Enquirer, a truly sterling publication owned by the corrupt Rupert Murdock, a man whose news staffs thought nothing of listening in on the cell phone calls of any celebrity or non-public figure caught in an unfortunate situation, and whose News of the World tabloid was shut down because of rampant unethical and illegal behavior in its newsgathering techniques. Murdock is also the owner of Fox News. I don’t think I need to say more than that.
So when someone posted links to the depositions in the case, I read them, seeking to find a glimmer of the truth. Primary sources, particularly when it comes to lawsuits, are gold mines of information. In reading these documents, I learned that the case was about far more than Paula Deen saying nigger every once in a while, which is bad enough: it was about a lot more than that.
It was about a woman who was a promoted to a managerial position that her employer told her to her face she wouldn’t be able to do because she was a woman. It was about, according to Jackson, having to enforce, even after she told the owners it was wrong, a set of rules that said that no one black was supposed to ever come out of the kitchen or be visible to the restaurant guests, or use the same restrooms as the guests. It was about listening to her boss call those black kitchen staff monkeys and watching him become so angry at one black man that he shook the man and spit in his face.
It was about having Uncle Bubba watch porn on the computer in the office Jackson shared with him during business hours while she was there. Uncle Bubba refused to stop and to listen to her complaints about it. It’s about Uncle Bubba wandering into the restaurant drunk and doing things like grabbing her face and kissing her in front of a room full of customers.
It is also about being able to prove that her salary was always about 25 percent less than the man who held the job before her simply because she was a woman.
In her deposition, Deen was a study in denial and forgetfulness. We expect someone who is being accused of something to say “I don’t remember saying that,” or “I forget,” but to me it was revealing to read what Deen said she did remember. She admitted being very impressed with a restaurant in “Tennessee or North Carolina” she visited one weekend. The food was fabulous but what Deen was struck by was the waitstaff. She said they were all middle aged “black men” who were professional waiters who had earned good livings from that profession, and she just wished she could afford to transport that place and those black men to Savannah so her husband could see what the real South used to be like. Jackson said that Deen used the word nigger to describe the men. Deen said she did not. She said she uses black because that is what “the black race” prefers.
Deen said she was aware that she suspected her old-style Southern dining experience, complete with all black middle aged waiters, would not go over well with some of the people she knew in Savannah. Still she denied being racist. She denied that her brother was an alcoholic whom she gave free rein to terrorize the staff. She also said that when she heard complaints from Jackson, mostly about sexism, she did nothing. Her defense was men will be men. Men like to tell crude jokes about oral sex, blacks, rednecks, etc. That’s just the way they are.
Jackson said in the five years she worked there, Uncle Bubba’s got money from the larger parent company owned by Deen whenever it needed money. Jackson said Bubba’s drunken displays hurt the restaurant to the point that she recommended turning it into a banquet hall, a move that would give better control over when Bubba would be there.
Deen, by her own admission in her deposition, seems to have had no awareness that she needed to be concerned about anything at Uncle Bubba’s. Now she stands to lose not only the money she has spent so far covering up her brother’s blunders, but millions to Jackson. She is in monumental denial about the abysmal state of this business, and it has caught up to her.
It infuriates me that the spin that has set in so quickly made this story only about whether Paula Deen said nigger. Paula Deen is an example of management that can’t see its own racism and sexism. I don’t think she even realizes how as a person in power, she allowed the lives of her staff to a made a living hell, and she wasted the opportunities to help people enhance their lives by working for her. She reveals her own prejudice about who is best suited to do certain jobs. Black middle aged men are suited to be professional waiters, for some reason. White men are suited to manage restaurants. Jackson said Deen gave women a weak endorsement when Deen said she didn’t have a problem with a ”piece of pussy” being a manager. Deen denied that she used those words. What Deen couldn’t deny was that she promoted a woman to a position where that woman would encounter sexism and racism, and Deen did next to nothing about backing that woman up.
We have not heard from Bubba Hiers. Deen’s brother and the famous Uncle Bubba himself, has not been heard from publicly. I want to hear his version of his sad, messy, boorish behavior in this.
That may be the ultimate irony in this story. When you look at this case as solely a matter of whether Deen said nigger or not, Bubba still gets a free ride.
I will be watching as this case unfolds.
Sources I Use: Part III June 15, 2013
Segrest, Mab. “On Being White and Other Lies” in Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray!: Feminist Visions for a Just World (2003) M. Jacqui Alexander, Lisa Albrecht, Sharon Day and Mab Segrest, eds. Published by Edge Work Books.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States. (2003) Published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Scales-Trent, Judy. Notes of a White Black Woman: Race, Color, Community. (1995) Published by The Pennsylvania State University Press.
Haney Lopez, Ian F. White by Law. (1996) Published by New York University Press.
Rockquemoore, Kerry Ann and Brunsma, David L. Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in American. (2002). Published by Sage Publications.
We had a class discussion the day after Barack Obama first got elected president that points up a lot of the confusion and blindness surrounding what it means to be black in the U.S. While my black and Latino students and quite a few of my white students basked in the glow of the country having elected its first black president, some of my other students, most of them white, looked as if someone had tried to pull a fast one on them. Finally one young woman, looking confused and perturbed, raised her hand and said, “I didn’t think Obama was black. Isn’t his mother white?”
Aside from the fact that Obama calls himself black, this student got to the nub of the one-drop rule, or hypo-descent or how race is defined in the U.S. solely for blacks. This rule says that anyone with “one drop” of black blood or with one black ancestor is black. African Americans are the only racial group in the world to have such a restrictive racial definition. Other members of racial/ethnic minority groups have a little more flexibility in how they are identified.
For blacks, the one-drop rule goes back to slavery when as Anglo Europeans in particular sought to set themselves apart and above the Native Americans and Africans in the “New World,” they began to create laws and social practices that could undergird their superiority and preserve their power and economic prosperity in the new country. Around 1680, they began referring to themselves “white.” They also used the one-drop rule to preserve their inheritance for their white heirs, and they delegitimized their children from unions with black women. The Anglo Europeans were also the ones who defined slavery as lifelong servitude and a status that people were born into.
The one-drop rule became entrenched in the lives of blacks. Legal opinions and laws upheld it numerous times. Social custom incorporated it in various ways. Light-skinned blacks tried to pass for white in an effort to avoid racial discrimination, which they would be subject to no matter how white they looked because of it. Anyone who chose to pass knew that they could never be found out by whites. In public, they had to sever all ties to any black people including, and especially, family members and relatives. Often the facts of a family past enslavement and African heritage were completely forgotten.
In my dissertation research on racial ambiguity, one woman told me a very poignant story. Although her family lived in a multiracial urban neighborhood, this woman could never quite figure out where she fit. Her hair was strawberry blonde, and no one in her immediate family had that color of hair. Her mother’s family was always commenting that she was unattractive, and she never quite fit in with them. At home there were always older black people around her apartment building, but they just seemed to be neighbors or acquaintances. Her father was a well respected professor at a white university and presumed to be white. It wasn’t until after he passed away that she uncovered the fact that her father was a light-skinned black man who passed as white. Those black people had really been her relatives. As a middle-aged woman, she had to grapple with the legacy of passing.
At the same time that it can be heartbreaking, the one-drop rule has also helped ensure the numbers of blacks in the nation. This fact was perhaps most notable in the controversy over whether children who had one black parent and one white one were to be placed in a new racial category of biracial on the Census. Several civil rights organizations successfully fought the proposal. They argued that multiracial families would used this new category to allow their biracial children to be privileged over black children, in much the same way that colorism has, by creating a light-skinned privileged group and marginalizing black people with two black parents. Although it was an overt challenge to the one-drop rule, the proposal was often seen as racist. At the height of the controversy, I remember one white mother who was married to a black man, telling me “Ain’t nothing black ever come out of me.” I wonder if anyone ever pointed out to her how racist she sounded when she said that. It was clear to me that not all the people in the biracial family movement had honorable motives. Some just seem to have fallen in love with their spouses and then woke up to the nightmare of having black children.
And here is the central dilemma of the one drop rule. As long as there is so much racial inequality in the U.S. (and lest you say this is not true, please see my post on the multiracial Cheerios family) one group or another is going to seek an advantage in the system. The one drop rule is eroding for some very light skinned people who are refusing to identify or just not mentioning their racial identities. In the celebrity realm, I am talking about Vin Diesel who did not discuss his race for many years. At the same time many multiracial people do not want to obscure their black heritage. They are proud of being African American even if they have to tell people they are.
Until there is no privilege gained by being a member of one racial group over being a member of another, rules similar to the one drop rule will exist. Some experts even predict that the U.S. will become a country with a multi-level multiracial hierarchy with whites still at the top, Latinos, multiracial people and other brown skinned people in the middle and blacks and very dark-skinned people at the bottom. In some ways the debate over having a biracial category was seen as a way to create this kind of hierarchy. We can’t substitute one system of inequality for another.
We Americans of all races have to learn to be better allies to each other. We have to expose and demand redress for discrimination. We have to heal ourselves from the horrors of the past in order to make assessments based on clear vision not facile colorblindness that hides racism. We have to recognize that when we take down one structure like the one-drop rule, some people will decide to abandon their blackness. We have to give them the freedom to do that. We are only interested in sincerity and whole-hearted embrace of minority racial heritage. We have to realize that history is never just the past. We have to decide how we will react to it now.