This Week in Racism
Happy Confederate Memorial Day to you and yours! Yes, this is a real holiday in several southern states and the above gentleman is South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell, a dedicated Civil War reenactor and total douchebag. If you’ve ever pined for the good ol’ days of manners, gentlemanly behavior, long sips of lemonade on the porch during a hot day, and ungodly human bondage, then this is the holiday for you. Giving gifts is encouraged. Your slave will most appreciate a day outside the “hot box.”
As always, with the assistance of my friends at the @YesYoureRacist Twitter account, I’ll be ranking news stories on a scale of 1 to RACIST, with “1” being the least racist and “racist” being the most racist.
- The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank dedicated to developing all the world’s dumbest ideas, released a study that claimed that immigration reform will cost the United States at least $6.3 trillion. That may or may not be true. I ain’t no mathematician. What I do know is true is that it recently came out that a co-author of the study, Jason Richwine, wrote his doctoral thesis at Harvard about the relative intelligences of the races. “The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations,” Richwine claimed in his thesis, which was written in 2009, not 1959. Richwine argued that immigration should be selective based on IQ because “no one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.” If we’re going to keep dumb Mexican people out of our country, then can we also deport all the dumb white people? Can we give Rush Limbaugh his own island?
- A poster in France calling for demonstrations against gay rights stirred up plenty of controversy this week for portraying Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, who is black, as a raging giant gorilla with cornrows and glowing eyes. The Taubira-gorilla is depicted as being swarmed by a crowd of homophobic protesters, who just so happen to be entirely white. The designer of the image deleted the post and apologized for the racist imagery, but only after it went viral. Funny how racism and homophobia tend to go hand in hand… 8
- The state of Michigan recently passed Public Act 436, which gives borderline dictatorial authority to an emergency manager to “supersede local ordinances, sell city assets, and break union contracts” in areas of the state that are economically impoverished, according to the Atlantic. These emergency managers currently function in six cities in Michigan, including Detroit. Around half of the black people in Michigan live in these six cities, which means that they all basically live without basic democratic rights. RACIST
Is Burma’s Government Involved in Ethnic Cleansing?
The last couple of weeks have been filled with mixed news for the Burmese government. On the bright side, the European Union decided to permanently lift sanctions against the country and deeper trade ties with the United States were announced—both moves likely to result in more foreign investment and lucrative business deals. Shortly after, President Thein Sein received a peace prize from a prominent NGO for his role in promoting internal reforms.
However, on the negative side, state agencies were accused of complicity in ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Two things that don’t really sound that worthy of a peace prize and raise serious questions about the ethics of the West’s increasingly cozy relationship with Burma.
These allegations are outlined in a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in connection with two outbreaks of violence last year. In these attacks, the ethnic Rohingya Muslim community and other Burmese Muslims were attacked by government forces and mobs of local Buddhists. The violence, which took place in Burma’s western Rakhine state last June and October, left scores dead and more than100,000 displaced, most of whom have been crammed into IDP (internally displaced person) camps.
After recently returning from the site of last year’s violence myself, the new report makes for essential reading. It documents many allegations that fit exactly with the testimony of witnesses I’d met around Sittwe, the capital of the afflicted region. It also cites evidence of open support from local political parties and religious groups for targeted attacks on the Rohingya minority—some calling directly for ethnic cleansing.
The report also mentions another incident, one in which 18 half-naked dead bodies were dumped by security forces in a Rohingya displacement camp. Subsequently, the police ordered local residents to bury the dead in a mass grave.
Locals who saw the body pile before it was buried took photographs, which I managed to obtain. The images, most of which are too graphic to display without some kind of censorship, show corpses with a series of horrific wounds to their heads and bodies; in one case a man’s face is sliced almost into three parts. Another photo shows a dead child with a bloodied head lying next to a body bag crowded with maggots. Others have their hands attached to objects that they’d presumably been tied to while being executed.
Burma’s Rohingya Ghettos Broke My Heart
Sittwe, the capital of Burma’s restive Rakhine state, is a town divided. Or, put more accurately, segregated, thanks to the majority Buddhist Rakhine people developing a passion for beating, raping, murdering, and setting fire to members of the local Muslim Rohingya minority. As it stands, the Rohingya have been ghettoized into a series of internally displaced-person (IDP) camps just outside of Sittwe.
Things have been this way since last June, when the region witnessed a massive outbreak of sectarian violence following the alleged rape and murder of a Rakhine woman and a revenge attack that killed ten Muslims. From there, things escalated dramatically. Countless houses have been razed, and large numbers from both communities displaced. However, only the Rohingya suffered from systematic persecution by government security forces—again, involving rape and murder—in the aftermath. Further violence elsewhere in the state during October pushed the total number of IDPs over the 100,000 mark, almost all of them from the Rohingya community.
Such persecution for the Muslim minority is nothing new—they have been subjected to marginalization and violence within Burma for decades, mostly at the hands of the former ruling junta. Almost all have been effectively stateless since a citizenship law was passed in 1982, which effectively classified the group as foreigners, despite their presence in the country for centuries. Many NGOs have characterized the law and its consequences as part of a long-standing campaign to pressure the Rohingya into leaving Burma.
The situation for the minority, described by the UN as one of the world’s most vulnerable, is undeniably rough. Yet not everyone sees them as victims. During a visit to one of Sittwe’s many Buddhist monasteries, a resident cenobitic monk told me, “All the problems here are the fault of the kalar.” (Kalar being a racist term for the Rohingya). “They want to take over all of Rakhine state,” he insisted. They were “terrorists” and the Rakhine people could not be made to live with them or violence would break out once again, he asserted.
A day later, visiting the Rohingya IDP camps, I had the opportunity to gain a very different perspective. I sat in on an art-therapy session hosted by a visiting humanitarian volunteer, in which children were encouraged to draw their memories of last year’s violence using colored pens and paper. Many of their drawings depicted members of the Burmese government’s Hlun Tin paramilitary outfit shooting at people outside of burning homes. One child, explaining what she drew in a particularly affecting piece, mentioned calmly that she had seen the severed head of a mentally disabled boy she once knew lying by the bank of a river. Another said that she saw a Rakhine man smash a woman’s skull in until some of her brains spilled out.
We Went to a Men’s Rights Lecture in Toronto (and Discovered That They’re a Bunch of Losers)
In November of last year the University of Toronto hosted a lecture by Dr. Warren Farrell, a divisive figure who has been described simultaneously as a sage of the men’s movement and a rape apologist. On the night of the lecture a group of students barred the doors of the lecture hall in protest while chanting, “No hate speech on campus.” Police were called, the situation was brought under control, and the lecture went on as scheduled. Another lecture took place in March of this year, this time an overly critical look at feminist studies by Janice Fiamengo in which she described the discipline as “intellectually incoherent and dishonest.” Again, protesters were on hand waving placards and this time a fire alarm was pulled but, once more, the event went on as scheduled. These controversial lectures were organized by a student group called theCanadian Association for Equality or CAFE for short. CAFE has come under fire from student groups andmedia who not only disagree with their actions and ideology, but have associated them with the extreme, vitriolic American men’s rights website A Voice For Men. Where AVFM is upfront and open about its hatred for feminism and -ists, calling them “rape farmers,” CAFE takes aim at feminism with misleading information and careful rhetoric, barely ever using the word “feminist” itself.
CAFE has sprung up in several campuses across central Canada in the past year. They have groups on-site at universities in Guelph, Montreal, Ottawa, and Peterborough, as well as two Toronto organizations and off-campus groups in Ottawa and Vancouver. Most recently, Ryerson University caught a controversial mix ofpraise and indignation for banning the group from their campus. CAFE claims to be “committed to achieving equality for all Canadians” and identifies as a human rights group that focuses on men’s issues. However, despite their claims or how they identify, the events that CAFE has been planning have been covered to anunusually extensive degree by A Voice For Men.
Is the Burmese Military Keeping Rohingya Muslims as Sex Slaves?
above: A Rohingya boy at an unregistered internally displaced person camp in Arakhan.
Burma’s Muslims are still having a pretty awful time of it. Last year, the country’s Buddhist majority launched a series of attacks on the minority Rohingya Muslim population, supposedly because they’re not “ethnically pure.” The attacks have continued this year, and now the general Muslim population, not just the ethnic Rohingyas, are getting their homes burned down and heads smashed in by marauding gangs of vicious Buddhists.
After monitoring the plight of the Rohingya and incidents of violence against them in June and October last year, I decided to fly out to Burma, anticipating another round of trouble. The problem was, I had no money, no commission, no media organization backing me, and the mainstream media had pretty much stopped reporting on the issue. When I turned to the public to help fund my trip, the response was overwhelming (turns out people do have an interest in helping expose the violent persecution of vulnerable minorities) and they collectively helped me raise enough money to go.
I stayed in Sittwe, the main city in Arakhan state, which is where the majority of the Rohingya camps are situated. Travelling past the police checkpoints every morning and into the Rohingya camps, I felt like I was being transported into a parallel world where it’s fine to forget about your obligations as a human, where it’s OK to bully a group of people just because they originally come from somewhere different than you. The Rohingya Muslims aren’t recognized as citizens of Burma, meaning they have no rights and very little access to education and healthcare.
The New Roma Ghettos: Inside Slovakia’s Ongoing Segregation Nightmare
Children playing on a broken wall in the Vel’ka Ida Roma settlement, in eastern Slovakia. The massive US Steel factory is visible in the background. Photos by Matt Lutton.
Throughout history, sometimes events seem perfectly aligned to spark racial violence. On March 10 of last year, the residents of the small village of Krásnohorské Podhradie, in the mountains of eastern Slovakia, looked up to the hilltop at the center of town to see their beloved 14th-century Krásna Hôrka Castle being engulfed in flames. By the time firefighters made it up the hill, the roof was gone and three bells had melted down into the tower.
The next day, a police spokesman announced that the fire had been caused by two Roma boys, aged 11 and 12, who lived in a ghetto on the edge of the village. They had allegedly been trying to light a cigarette at the bottom of the hill when an unusually strong gust of wind carried a piece of smoldering ash up the mountain, where it ignited wood strewn on the castle grounds. Whether or not they were responsible, the accused and their families were terrified—perhaps because, in the last two years, according to data from the European Roma Rights Center, there have been dozens of violent attacks on Roma in Slovakia—the ethnic group better known as Gypsies. Fearing reprisal, the boys were quickly spirited out of town to stay with relatives, while Roma men prepared throughout the night to defend their community. Ultimately, the boys weren’t charged with any crime because they’re minors, but the damage was done: the image of Gypsy kids setting fire to a hallmark of Slovak national heritage seemed to only reinforce the prejudices many white ethnic Slovaks have toward their country’s poorest citizens. With the burning of Krásna Hôrka Castle, the far right in Slovakia had their equivalent of 1933’s Reichstag fire—the symbolic event needed to justify a crackdown.
In mid-March, I flew to Slovakia and drove out to Krásnohorské Podhradie for a rally to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the burning of Krásna Hôrka. Marian Kotleba, a former teacher and leader of the far right People’s Party-Our Slovakia—named in honor of the clerical-fascist regime that ruled the Czechoslovak Republic between World War I and II—had pegged his dim electoral prospects on Krásna Hôrka and his stand against “Gypsy criminality.”
On arrival, I entered a lot beside the municipal offices. A crowd of about 150 people—skinheads, tough-looking townspeople, and about 12 of Marian’s green-clad officer corps—stood around listening to Marian’s speech. My translator suggested parking away from the crowd so that there would be less of a chance of anyone noticing the Hungarian plates on our rental car. “If there’s one thing the neo-Nazis like less than Roma, it’s Hungarians,” he said, only half joking, referring to Slovak resentment of their former imperial neighbor.
A People’s History of April Fools’ Day
Above: An engraving by Johann Michael Voltz depicting an April Fools’ Day riot against Jews in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1819.
Herschel Hoff is a professor of history and sociology at the City University of New York who specializes in the history of social movements and political activism. He’s written for Danger Zone, BoWwOw Magazine, A Bunch of Popsicle Sticks Stuck Together with Fudge, Taki’s Magazine, and other online publications. His book, A Riot of One’s Own: Activism, Alienation, and Change in the Internet Agewill be published by BARFY University Press this fall. What follows is an excerpt from that work that we thought it would be appropriate to publish in honor of the “holiday” today.
For centuries, April Fools’ Day—known by a number of names—has been associated with class, race, and social status. Many date the day’s origins to the Persian holiday of Sizdah Be-dar, or “Day of Far Too Many Puddings,” when traditionally the king would give everyone the day off on the condition that they all make and consume pudding until they vomit. This, according to Zoroastrianism, would purge men of all bad thoughts and spirits. Notably, however, the nobility was exempt from actually making any pudding and would often play cruel tricks on their slaves; thus, it was actually a festival that enforced class privilege rather than a day of rest and equality.
Other candidates for the “original” April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hillaria, a weeklong event that encouraged lying and homosexual horseplay, and the Feast of Fools, a holiday celebrated in medieval Europe on which children would be given authority over their elders. This latter occasion gradually evolved into the “Test of Fools,” which mainly consisted of townspeople quizzing each other on the Bible. Those who answered too many questions incorrectly were determined to be Jews and stoned to death. (This tradition was particularly popular in Scotland, where it became “Hunt-the-Gowk Day” [“Gowk” meaning “Jew” in Scots], which was banned in the 1970s.)
The tradition migrated to the Americas with Christopher Columbus, who instituted a “Day of Fools” day at the gold mines he owned in the West Indies. His slaves were only required to mine two pounds of gold each rather than four, and they were “rewarded” with a feast of roast pheasant that night. The real “trick,” however, was that Columbus, his mind by then addled by drinking from lead-lined goblets, forced the slaves to listen to his “light humorous verse” (mainly nonsensical doggerel that detailed Columbus’s fictional, and grotesque, sexual conquests). Those who did not laugh sufficiently, or consume enough pheasant, would have their tongues cut out.
Let’s say you are a sex worker. You’re carrying condoms to protect your health and that of your clients. You may have gotten the condoms from the city itself. New York distributes 40 million condoms a year. The city has its own condom brand, it’s logo spelled out in the bright letters they use to mark subway lines. So you’re arrested. The proof needed to lock you up is that you’re carrying one of these city-branded, city-distributed devices. If the cops don’t arrest you, they have a habit of confiscating your condoms.
— Molly Crabapple (via ericmortensen)