Mural ‘Ellis Island’ by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra, facade of the City-As-School, Hudson St, NYC

Prompt Critical Reflection 3: Color- Blind Racism & Intersectionality

Julia Van Der Ryn
Feb 7 · 6 min read

Readings: Another Kind of Public Education, “Social Blackness, Honorary Whiteness” and “The Injustice of This Moment Is Not an ‘Aberration’”

“Once human beings are defined as the problem in the public consciousness, their elimination through deportation, incarceration or even genocide becomes nearly inevitable. . . Fortunately, a growing number of scholars and activists have begun to connect the dots between mass incarceration and mass deportation in our nation’s history and current politics.” (Michelle Alexander).

“Understanding the dynamics of racism as a system of power in a theoretical way sets the stage for developing pragmatic strategies for practicing resistance and catalyzing change” (Collins, 44).

“The significant impact of powerful ideas such as the myth of color-blindness lies in its ability to frame how we see the social relations around us” (Collins, 74).

What? Both Collins and Alexander provide historical contexts, facts and critical analyses of racism as a system of power and it’s impact on people of color. Collins focuses on education and intersecting structural injustices (health, housing, poverty) and Alexander focuses on the parallels and intersections of mass incarceration and the criminalization of immigration (crimmigration) and mass deportation.

There is a lot to delve into, so pick and discuss the points that you find most relevant to you, your community partner, class themes — whatever connections you think are relevant (and, of course, that interest you).

I’m pasting some of Alexander’s writing below where she outlines the connections between mass incarceration and the treatment of immigrants, just to help you think this through as I know there is a lot. Especially if some of the facts and history that Alexander and Collins present are new to you.

“Our nation’s prison and jail population had quintupled in 30 years, leaving us with the highest incarceration rate in the world. A third of black men had felony records — due in large part to a racially biased, brutal drug war — and were relegated to a permanent second-class status. Tens of millions of people in the United States had been stripped of basic civil and human rights, including the right to vote, the right to serve on juries and the right to be free of legal discrimination in employment, housing, education and basic public benefits’.

Nevertheless, our nation remained in deep denial that a new caste system even existed, and most of us — even those who cared deeply about racial justice — did not seem to understand that powerful racial dynamics and political forces were at play that made much of our racial progress illusory. We had not faced our racial history and could not tell the truth about our racial present, yet growing numbers of Americans wanted to elect a black president and leap into a “colorblind” future.

Today, the rhetoric has changed, but the game remains the same. Public enemy №1 in the 2016 election was a brown-skinned immigrant, an “illegal,” a “terrorist” or an influx of people who want to take your job or rape your daughter. As Trump put it: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

“In recent decades, the system of mass incarceration has stripped away from millions of U.S. citizens basic civil and human rights until their status mirrors (or dips below) that of noncitizen immigrants within the United States. This development has coincided with the criminalization of immigration in the United States, resulting in a new class of “illegal immigrants” and “aliens” who are viewed and treated like ‘felons’ or ‘criminals.”

The story of how our “nation of immigrants” came to deport and incarcerate so many for so little, Hernández explains, is a story of race and unfreedom reaching back to the era of emancipation. If we fail to understand the historical relationship between these systems, especially the racial politics that enabled them, we will be unable to build a truly united front that will prevent the continual re-formation of systems of racial and social control.”

So What ? From color-conscious to color-blind racism: Collins discusses the many ways in which people of color must make ongoing decisions about how to navigate “gatekeepers” of powers structures through “whitening” (code-switching) and/or risk their safety to challenge and disrupt them. She points out the many ironies and hypocrisies in a supposedly post-racist or color blind society. In her OpEd, Alexander focuses on the the actual gates, bars, and detention systems that incarcerate, deport and rob people of rights and freedoms. Both talk about the progress that has been made but how deeply entrenched these racist systems and beliefs are and the issues that persist.

Discuss and unpack the points and analyses of either or both of these authors. The point being for you to engage with ideas that matter to you, that you want to better understand. This may be a continuation of your What?

Now What? Pick one (or more, as they may be interconnected) of the domains of power. Use Collins description of how that power functions to analyze how this aspect of colorblind racism impacts people at your community partner site. (As the last 28 pages of this chapter focus on detailing these different domains — I would suggest using her brief descriptions [posted below] to pick which domain you would like to focus on and then you can delve into that section in the subsequent pages (meaning: don’t worry about synthesizing all of the pages and all of the domains :-)

encounters and the area of personal choice. This domain involves ordinary social interactions where people accept and/or resist racial inequality in their everyday lives. (Collins, 54–55)

Collins, 53

Just a few other quotes I was working with myself as I read and thought about the prompt — left them here in case they’re helpful for you!

“Practices of segregation may have taken diverse forms, but across societies, color mattered, albeit differently from one location to the next. In the United States, for example, a finely tuned taxonomy of color regulated opportunity structures in every facet of everyday life. A belief system that installed white purity as the pinnacle of human worth and of Enlightenment civilization rendered all people of color not just other, but inferior. Historically, white made right, and it did so in a way that installed, in barrios, ghettos, reservations, and native pre- serves, military might as the court of first and last resort.” (Collins, 55)

“To be brown is far more acceptable than it once was, yet to many of us, it feels uncomfortably like we’ve gone from politics that protects racial privilege through maintaining all-white spaces to a multicul- tural, colorful politics that relies on allegedly color-blind mechanisms to reproduce the very same racial privilege.” (Collins, 47).

“ African American youth may be the poster children for this comprehensive failure of public institutions to provide opportunities, but they are far from alone in being affected by these issues. (Collins, 49).

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Just Learning: Books Not Bars

Julia Van Der Ryn

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Just Learning: Books Not Bars

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