All posts by Caitlin Cheeseboro

Response to Mackenzie’s post “Operating in a State of Fear”

For some reason there is not an option to leave a comment on Mackenzie’s post, so here is my response to her post called “Operating in a State of Fear” from December 1.
A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand
When Mackenzie asked, “So why is it that life in America for some is now operated under fear?” I think she was referring to African Americans, specifically males, which find themselves forced to live life in fear of others’ prejudices and the potential for them to become victims of violence as a result of these prejudices. I’d like to suggest an alternative meaning for Mackenzie’s question. It is true that there are many people in American whose lives operate under fear for various reasons. For many women, their life is dictated by a fear of the potential to become a victim of sexual harassment or other forms of assault; for others, their life is characterized by a fear of being mistreated because of their sexual orientation; for many members of racial minorities, they live in fear of those that may judge them and treat them unfairly or even violently because of their race. It also seems that there is a group of individuals that lives in fear of people that they see as a threat simply because of their skin color. I am referring to the police officers that have used unnecessary force against individuals for seemingly no reason besides the fact that they felt threatened, and that threat does not appear to be anything other than a skin color different than the officer’s. Notice, I do not say that all police officers live in fear of minorities. I am not suggesting that all police officers hold prejudices, I am not specifying the race of the police officers I believe to be living in ignorant fear, and I am not saying that the only individuals that become victims of the violence that stems from these prejudices are racial minority members. To answer my own version of Mackenzie’s question of “Why?” I think it is the unknown and the perpetuation of stereotypes by our government’s policies that force certain police officers to operate under fear. I think we need to radically transform the way our country “manages” its minorities. The War on Drugs needs to stop. The outrageous prison sentences designed for African Americans need to go away immediately. The minimum wage that gives people absolutely no chance of ever moving out of the ghetto and improving their quality of life is very overdue for a raise. We need to break out habits of telling children things like “Be careful! Stay right by me and hold me hand!” as we walk past a black man on the sidewalk in the city. Kids are smart. They are constantly learning. They pick up on way more than you and I, so you can bet children are going to pick up on the differences in their parents behavior towards a black person and a white person. They will notice it, and they will imitate it. I believe we have racial prejudice in our country because we are teaching our children how to hold prejudices. If we want the violence to stop and the need for some individuals to live their every day lives in fear, we need to get over our fear of people that are different than us. We need to stop believing everything we hear about “being careful” simply because someone looks different. Black and white people are equally capable of hurting someone. And aside from physical violence, I’d be willing to argue that outward expressions of hatred are just as dangerous as inwardly held prejudices of those that are not like us. Why? Because they are dividing our nation, and a house divided against itself cannot stand. Unless we can learn to stop thinking in terms of “us” and “them”, our nation’s state of self-destruction will reach the point of no return.

White students singled out for unsatisfactory test scores
I am choosing to share this video that highlights an issue that took place in Hampton, Virginia recently. Parents of students at Smith Elementary School recently received a letter that was sent home stating that white students did not do well enough on their SOL test in the last academic year. According to the school, this letter had to be sent in order fulfill their federal obligation to inform parents when certain groups of students are not meeting testing standards, and apparently students are grouped according to race. The parent interviewed in the clip admits to being upset by the wording of the letter, but understands that the school is required to follow the federal standards. I’d like to take a moment to question whether or not this should be a requirement at all. While it is typical for schools to report students’ performance on standardized tests, should students’ test scores be associated with their race? I do not think so. I think by grouping students by race, they are assuming that there should be a difference in scores caused by race. I think they are assuming that one race may have more potential over another or that parents of one race are more capable of helping to educate their children. This should not be the case. It is the job of the school to educate children and to do so without treating children differently according to race. If test score data must be kept according to race, that doesn’t not mean it should be required that a letter is sent to parents singling out one race. Even a chart displaying the test scores according to race would have been a more tactful way of informing parents.

Ebola and Immigration chose this article because I was blown away by how perfectly it fits with everything we’ve been talking about lately. It clearly covers the fear brought on by the current Ebola crisis, as well as the ongoing concerns with immigration into the United States across the southern border. I noticed that it also relates to some of the underlying racial prejudices we focused on in the mass incarceration unit. When I first read this article, my initial response was “What on earth does Ebola have to do with Latino immigrants?” After reading the article, I still don’t really see why the Ebola crisis so quickly has turned into an immigration issue. I wouldn’t consider myself to be one with strong political opinions, but I immediately perceived this as being partially a way to use Ebola as an excuse to push for stricter immigration laws. As I read the article, there were multiple times that some statements that I found to be quite racist took me aback. New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown said he doesn’t want undocumented immigrants that may be carrying Ebola crossing the border and that he is “so adamant about closing our border, because if people are coming through normal channels—can you imagine what they can do through our porous borders?” To me “can you image what they can do” sounds as if these immigrants are some kind of disease themselves that are on a mission to infect our country with their presence. I see this as a race issue, not an Ebola issue. Our country is afraid of immigrants because they are different, but we claim it because they are “dangerous.” The article also highlights the belief that immigrant children that may be infected with Ebola may be a threat. I find it very upsetting that children are being used an reason to push immigration restriction for reasons that have very little supporting evidence. The article points out that most immigrants come from areas of Latin American that are generally not inhabited by West Africans, the region most affected by Ebola. This combined Ebola and Latino immigration issue is just one more example of the ways that “Ebolification” is distracting us from seeking a way to address and reduce the actual problem, and is instead being used as a way to push a political agenda.

“Attorney General Eric Holder Calls for Review of Police Tactics”

There are elements of this article that I definitely agree with, as well as some parts that I think contribute to the issues that they are attempting to address. We have a spent a large amount of time in class and in our reading learning about the problems that exist concerning racial prejudice and a corrupt criminal justice system. In studying Michelle Alexander’s book, we also learned about the changes she wants to see made to our nation’s criminal justice system. I chose to share this article because it highlights some our country’s political leaders’ views regarding the problems of inequality and injustice and provides a specific example of the action that is being taken in response to the recent tragedy in Ferguson. While I genuinely appreciate Attorney General Eric Holden and the Justice Department’s efforts to improve their ability to “swiftly confront emerging threats, better address persistent challenges, and thoroughly examine the latest tools and technologies to enhance the safety and the effectiveness of law enforcement” I think something more is necessary to prevent another tragedy like the one that occurred in Ferguson. I think in addition to “a broad review of policing tactics, techniques, and training” an entire change in philosophy is essential to the process of extinguishing racial prejudice from our criminal justice system. I think that besides simply reminding police officers that it’s not okay to shoot an unarmed man because he is black, police officers need to be placed in situations in which they will learn to relate to people of a different skin color and learn to see them as equal and familiar rather than inferior and threatening. I think police departments should make an effort to have their officers engaged in their communities rather than just enforcing laws. The article quotes Commissioner Charles Ramsey who said, ”There’s a basic mistrust of police departments in many American cities. We need to find a way to break down those barriers.” I strongly believe the way to break down those barriers is to teach the people of the community, specifically the youth, to see police officers as positive role models that genuinely concerned about their safety as opposed to someone who just out looking for people to punish. Police officers claim to serve the community so they should actually get out, get to know people, and spend some time serving with time and kindness rather than guns and handcuffs.

I, Too, Am Harvard

This week I’ve chosen to share not just an image, but rather a collection of images that I feel take a unique and powerful approach to the issue of racism that we have been discussing in class. I decided to use this example because I think it shows that racism does not only affect African Americans that are presumed to be of low socioeconomic status and living in the ghetto. In class we have directed most of our the magnitude of the corruption in the United State’s criminal justice system and they way in which it is systematically designed to ensure the mass incarceration of black people that are presumed to be poor, lacking in education, and supposedly prone to criminal activity. I wanted to highlight, however, that while there are also many African Americans living outside of poverty, they have yet to escape the racism. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander points out that there are individuals “…like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, who have defied the odds and risen to power, fame, and fortune” (Alexander 180). I think the Tumblr campaign “I, Too, Am Harvard” is a prime example of those who have “defied the odds” that are still victims of the racial prejudice and stereotypes that plague society. In each photo a black Harvard student poses with a chalkboard displaying a statement that provides just a small insight into their personal experience with racism. The stories shared by the Harvard students are extremely powerful because they show that, though they may not necessarily be confined by the bars of a prison cell, because of their race they are confined to a certain image of what it means to be black and are subject to stereotypes, discrimination, and speculation that their admission to Harvard is solely a result of affirmative action. In order to effectively combat racism and make gains towards social change, it is imperative to address the fact that racism affects members of minorities from a variety of social backgrounds.

Trayvon Martin and Self-Respect
I chose this article because I think it makes a powerful statement that ties into the discussion we had in class on Thursday regarding self-respect. Amy Davidson, the author of the article, poses the question: What should Trayvon Martin have done? She highlights several responses that have been given to this question. Some say that Martin should have walked away, and that he was the aggressor. She suggests that, by arguing that Zimmerman’s actions are justifiable seeing as he was “properly scared”, that Zimmerman’s lawyers essentially are saying that Martin ought to have been aware of how scary a black person in a hood is, and that his failure to “manage his own scariness” is to blame. From my perspective, it seems as if whatever it is Trayvon Martin “should have done” to preserve his life, it would have been a denial of his self-respect.
Zimmerman, who was not in uniform, followed Martin against a police dispatcher’s orders because he appeared to be “a real suspicious guy.” It seems to me that all Martin did to come off as suspicious was have black skin and his hood up, and it was raining. I think negatively profiling someone solely based on the color of his or her skin is a display of a complete lack of respect for that person. To me, saying that Martin should have just walked away is asking him to deny himself respect as well. It can be argued whether Martin acted out of aggression or self-respect. I chose this article because I believe he was acting out of self-respect, and I think it’s important to acknowledge the lack of respect shown in Zimmerman’s seemingly biased decision making.