Facing Up to Racism on Campus

Nov. 1, 2004 – "Only 9% of African-Americans had never been subject to or witnessed a variety of negative experiences related to their race."

That startling, chilling, eye-popping statistic is not describing blacks across the country, nor is it talking about blacks at the end of their lives; rather, only 9% of black students at the University of Virginia have never been subject to or witnessed a variety of negative experiences related to their race while attending college.

In fact, 40% of black students at the University have had a racial epithet directed at them personally.

Woven into the recently released full report of the President's Commission on Diversity and Equity (CODE), these facts throw neon lighting onto an incredibly important point: We are in the midst of a silent epidemic of racism.

There is an unspoken difference of perception between black students and (white) students when it comes to race relations.

Generally, whites see episodes such as the fraternity blackface, alleged assault on Daisy Lundy and vandalism of Amey Adkins' car as isolated events perpetrated by a few misguided individuals.

A majority of blacks, on the other hand, perceive these as flash points illustrating a much deeper pattern of racism.

This divide is quantifiable. The CODE report found that 71% of white students were "satisfied" with race relations at the University, as opposed to 42% of blacks.

So long as seven in 10 whites believe there are no significant, persistent racial issues, it will be extraordinarily difficult to "change the climate," as is the aim of the Black Student Alliance's current Zero Tolerance for Ignorance campaign.

Perhaps the first step in fixing the racial atmosphere is to present a clear case of two points to (whites). First, that racism is rampant and not simply a string of isolated incidents. Second, that actively working toward change is both morally and pragmatically the right thing to do.

White students have to understand there is a pattern of racial problems at the University, and spreading that view will require a new type of discourse.

Instead of pointing to each new headline-grabbing event and angrily saying, "See?" a much subtler approach must be taken. The stories of unremarkable but equally horrific racism need to be told. Stories about being treated differently by a professor because of your skin color, stories about being avoided on the bus, stories about having epithets thrown at you from a car window � these are the conversations that are not happening.

If the CODE report's number is to be believed, nine out of every 10 black students has a story to tell. Imagine if every one of those students was telling his or her story at the same time � no one would ever again utter the words "isolated incident."

Once we accept the idea that racial episodes happen every single day, then begins the much more difficult task of convincing non-blacks to actively participate in changing the status quo.

Most persuasive civic arguments have at their core an appeal to self-interest; here, self-interest exists only on the periphery. It is beneficial for (whites) to have harmonious race relations at the University with regard to the value of the diploma and reputation of the school, but those are both passive and long-term interests. The heart of the argument for why non-blacks must engage in fixing the racial climate is inescapably moralistic.

The University is our habitat, and those who live within it are our brethren. When a disease strikes at some members of the community, it is the responsibility of every member to respond. Without a broad coalition of students and staff coming together in solidarity, we will never drive the plague of racism from our home.

This is not a battle that can be fought alone; just as the Civil Rights Movement needed white Northerners to band with the black activists to achieve equality, so too does the black community here need non-blacks to acknowledge the depth of the problem and come together for change. The integrity and dignity of the entire University depends on it.

Prior to the CODE report, it was easy to debunk this plea by claiming that the so-called plague was nothing more than a few sickly friends. Now, with the wool pulled back, it is undeniable that there is more a pandemic than a cold.

No one is asking the average student (white, black or otherwise) to jump out of his or her seat and become an activist. Getting involved means being conscientious of race relations and speaking up when something seems amiss. It means talking to friends and family and making sure this is not a discussion absent from the minds of non-blacks. It is the little things � the interactions and body language we're not even aware of � that make all the difference.

If most (whites) continue to see race at the University as a relatively benign issue, then a decade from now the problems will still persist.

We are perched at a unique moment in time in which we can take up the mantle and make it common knowledge that racism is a grave, pervasive crisis that must be obliterated by the entire community.

Then, as one body, we can begin to change the climate, and change that 9% to 99.

"This article originally appeared on, the news and activism Website of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama."

When Women Are Fair Game

Many readers are aware that the student newspaper at Carnegie Mellon University came under fire for an April Fool's edition that used the N-word in a "humorous" cartoon about killing African Americans. The editor said the issue was intended as "satire."

What folks may not know is the issue also featured an astounding series of anti-woman pieces including: a poem about the rape of a teacher, a full page illustration of an ice skate blade aimed at a woman's genitalia, an ode to Asian pornography, and a faux-film review of "Girl on Girl on Ape." Most media accounts skimmed over these issues.

I'm not down with racist humor, nor am I suggesting we should argue about which -ism -- racism, sexism, heterosexism -- is more demeaning, disturbing or derogatory. I just want to know why violence against women is less worthy of media attention or activist response.

Sure, official representatives from the university president to the student body president to the director of student activities condemned the newspaper's content. Alexander Meseguer, the paper's editor, publicly apologized and later resigned (though the latest word has him running for reelection April 29).

And, yes, the managing editor stepped down, the cartoonist was fired, and the newspaper ran an apology.

But throughout the campus furor -- which also included a forum organized by the paper and a rally called by a black fraternity -- the reported outrage centered around the use of the N-word, not the fact that rape and mutilation of women, whatever their race, is not satirical by any stretch.

Overwhelmingly attention focused on race and gave "humorous" violence against women a pass.

Missing voices -- or just missing the point?

Take a look at Google News for the month of April. Media coverage of the CMU incident and campus response prevailingly led with the racist cartoon, giving the anti-woman issues one sentence, if any mention was made at all.

Only one media account I read had a quote from a sexual assault survivor. None included reaction from the LGBT community, female faculty, Asian American students or any combination thereof.

News coverage and protest should take on all offensive content The Tartan's dubiously qualified staff plastered across the 12 pages of the April Fool's edition. Why pick one element of the controversy and elevate it above another? Isn't the campus community affected by it all?

When 25% of women in this country are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, the men in their lives -- whether father, brother, friend, lover or son -- also pay a price. The most vulgar of ethnic slurs harms African American women and men equally.

Reducing women to sexual trophies, which is part of the stereotype of the exotic, overly-sexual Asian woman, demeans all women. And finding humor in equating lesbianism with bestiality? Do I really need to break that down for anyone?

CMU student organizations are numerous and varied -- Greeks and Greek governing councils, followers of nearly every religious faith, clubs for various ethnicities, the LGBT community, feminists, social justice advocates, proponents of animal rights, even jugglers. Yet reportedly no one spoke up specifically about the misogyny smeared throughout The Tartan.

Or maybe they did, but the journalists at Pittsburgh's media establishment and wire services decided it wasn't newsworthy.

Beyond CMU

While I'm not part of Carnegie Mellon's community, I live in an average all-American city. The issues CMU faces aren't dissimilar to those we all face. The questions aren't much different.

When a newspaper publishes a poem about raping a teacher and no one steps up, what does it say about the acceptance of violence against women on campus and in the community at large? If someone did step up and their voice was ignored by the press, what message is sent?

When a campus rallies against the publication of a racial slur but does not organize to decry the misogyny inherent in "humor" about lesbians and apes, how safe does the LGBT community feel about speaking out? What is lost by not hearing their voices and those of their allies?

And the whole ice-skate-aimed-at-genitalia issue. Why is suggested female genital mutilation less outrageous, less condemned and less reported than the publication of a racial epithet?

CMU isn't alone in getting busted for seriously bad news judgment, nor is it the only place in the country giving short shrift to the issues of violence against women. But it is a campus ironically in the middle of promoting a previously scheduled series of events highlighting Sexual Violence Awareness Week.

A weeklong info table and single candlelight vigil seem small solace when the campus newspaper, national media and fellow students think the publication of multiple examples of violence against women aren't enough to warrant protest.

Amish Show Goes Amiss

Last year, it was hillbillies. This year, it's the Amish. And once again, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves and entertainment giant Viacom are right in the middle of it.

UPN plans to air a reality TV show this summer tentatively titled "Amish in the City." Already a ripoff of another show's name -- "Sex in the City" -- the show plans to put five Amish youth, away from home for the first time, in the same house with five "mainstream American" youth.

The show would air on UPN -- the United Paramount Network -- this summer, building on the popularity of UPN's other reality offering, "America's Next Top Model." "Top Model" pits young women against each other in races to apply "smoky" eye makeup and other challenging stunts.

In his role at CBS, Moonves also oversees programming at UPN. Viacom, which reported $24.6 billion in revenues in 2002, owns both CBS and UPN. Moonves earned the ire of rural America last year when CBS moved forward with plans to produce a reality version of TV's "Beverly Hillbillies."

The Center for Rural Strategies led a campaign that included major newspaper ads condemning CBS. The campaign was supported by more than 50 organizations (including, 44 members of Congress and numerous national labor unions representing more than 4.5 million American workers -- all united against the "Hillbillies" idea. That campaign forced "Hillbillies" plans into inactivity at CBS.

One would think Moonves would have learned a lesson from the "Hillbillies" backlash. One would be wrong. At a recent press conference where the "Amish in the City" program was discussed, Moonves claimed the show "is not intended to be insulting to the Amish." He described the entertainment value of the program as watching Amish teens "freaked out by what they see" in the world outside their rural homes.

When asked why TV executives would want to expose a religious group to ridicule and risk changing the course of Amish youths' lives, Moonves delivered a punchline instead of an answer: "Well, we couldn't do 'The Beverly Hillbillies.'" Making the joke even more offensive, the CBS executive added that the Amish "don't have quite as good a lobbying effort" as the anti-"Hillbillies" group did.

Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, coordinated last year's campaign and has weighed in on the latest flap as well, calling it "a new swipe at rural America."

"This time the executives are not just making fun of rural people for being poor; they are placing the religious faith and values of rural people in a fish bowl for comic effect," Davis said. "And if Viacom � succeeds in leading a few people into temptation and away from home and faith, well, I guess that's just show business."

According to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country Welcome Center, members of the Amish faith have settled in 22 states and Ontario, Canada. The largest and oldest settlement -- about 18,000 people -- is in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Amish eschew modern technology -- cars, telephones, television -- though exact rules vary from one church district to another. Generally speaking, they live simply and separately from mainstream America.

Creators of the planed UPN show claim to be modeling it after the real-life Amish ritual of "rumspringa," a Pennsylvania Dutch word that translates to "running around." But what the show plans to do -- present cloistered Amish youth with real-world temptations while under the constant glare of TV cameras -- has little to do with the actual rite of "rumspringa," a time when older teenagers explore the larger world more freely as they decide whether to be baptized into the Amish faith.

These teens rarely actually leave home during "rumspringa" -- and certainly not to a big city to live with other, non-Amish teens. An estimated 90 percent of teens choose baptism, usually between the ages of 18 and 22. Then they formally join the church as adults, vowing to maintain its rules.

Those who are protesting UPN's planned show want to expose it for what they see it is: A crass ratings-grab by television executives who don't mind mocking and stereotyping whole classes of people for laughs and profit.

Brian Willoughby is the Senior Writer and Editor at

Battle of the Sexes

Kyndra Connor is part of a growing group of teenage girls across the country sporting one of the hottest new fashion trends.

The trend isn't the belly-baring hipster jeans, dangly chandelier earrings or even the feathered handbags that are all the current rage.

rocksIt's a line of T-shirts and accessories bearing slogans like "Boys are stupid; throw rocks at them," and "The stupid factory -- where boys are made."

The "throw rocks at them" shirts show a stick figure image of a bewildered boy with rocks sailing toward his head.

Connor, a freshman at Western Wyoming Community College, says she and many of her friends have purchased the T-shirts and other merchandise designed and manufactured by Clearwater, Fla.-based clothing company, David and Goliath.

Other items in the David and Goliath clothing line include slogans such as "Boys are full of it; fling poop at them" and "Boys lie; poke 'em in the eye."

boysaresmelly"It's not meant to offend. It's meant to produce laughter; it's sarcastic. There's nothing serious about it," Connor said. "I think because when you're my age, dealing with boys in the worst way, having your heart broken every other week, saying all the time that boys suck and they're stupid, it's meant to be funny."

Not everyone is amused.

"These T-shirts have nothing to do with girl power," says Joe Kelly, president of Dads and Daughters in Duluth, Minn. "They are a cynical manipulation of faux 'girl power' designed primarily to generate corporate profit, the consequences be damned."

Demeaning Double Standard

Nicole Jarrett, a 23-year-old legal assistant in Decatur, Ga., said she was shocked when she discovered the clothing line on the shelves and catalog pages of Delia's, a clothing retailer geared to teen girls and young women.

"I remember being outraged the moment I saw them," said Jarrett, who has written a letter to Delia's corporate office to request the company pull the merchandise from its shelves.

"If this was on a guy's shirt, and the slogan was reversed, people would be all over it on the basis that it was demeaning and promoted violence against women," said Jarrett. "So why should it be tolerated when it promotes the same thing against men?"

That's a question many others are asking, too.

Glenn Sacks, a nationally syndicated men's and father's rights talk show host and columnist is using his radio show to wage a campaign against companies who carry the "Boys are stupid" merchandise.

At least two West Coast retailers, including Dapy's, a Universal Studios-owned clothing store, have responded by pulling the shirts and accessories from their stores in recent weeks.

The David and Goliath company, however, says it has no plans to halt production of the anti-boy clothing or accessories, which include posters, mugs, night-lights, mouse pads and house slippers. The "Boys are stupid" line is in fact the company's biggest seller.

Acceptance of Inappropriate Behaviors

Steven Zucker, assistant professor and school psychology program coordinator at the University of Colorado, Denver, isn't surprised about the success of the boy-bashing merchandise among teenage girls.

"It sounds like some of the normal teasing that may go on between girls and boys at that age," said Zucker, who worked as a school counselor for 18 years. "I think it's the girls saying, 'Geez, I wish one of those good looking boys would ask me out, but that's not happening so let's throw rocks at them.'"

Teasing or not, Zucker says with the prevalence of bullying and violence in schools, the anti-boy message is one that seems "quite unnecessary."

"There are many concerns about the social health of schools," said Zucker. "This wouldn't be something that promotes an inclusive or welcoming feeling in any school or classroom."

Some say fads like the "Boys are stupid" T-shirts point to larger problems in society.

"I see these types of fads as representing the pervasiveness of mean-spirited and rude behaviors children are demonstrating toward each other and adults beginning at younger and younger ages," said Marilyn Quisenberry, a school psychologist at Lindero Canyon Middle School in Agoura Hills, Calif.

"There has also been a trend toward increasing permissive parenting in which children are allowed to do and wear what they please."

Quisenberry does not see the trend as a "feminist" plot against pre-teen boys or even as intolerance of boys. Instead, it points to a general acceptance in society of inappropriate behaviors, she said.

Vivian Garlick, a school counselor at Tierra Linda Middle School in San Carlos, Calif., says she has yet to see any of her students wearing the "Boys are stupid" shirts. Still she knows what she'll do if she does.

"I think I would stop the person wearing that and talk to her about it," Garlick said. "We have a very low tolerance philosophy when it comes to offensive clothing, and we probably would not allow a girl to wear that here."

Too High a Price

Heather Johnston Nicholson, research director for Girls Inc., an organization devoted to the empowerment of young girls, says the T-shirts actually trivialize the real concerns of girls.

"We say at Girls Inc. that all girls are strong, smart and bold. Unfortunately that's a presumption that some communities still don't have," Nicholson said. "There are too many girls who are still being told they need to look stupid or act stupid to attract boys."

Nicholson also said she is disturbed that so many seem to find humor in the anti-boy shirts.

"I think it's funny when people take the 'Hooters' shirts and turn them around in ways that bring attention to stereotypes that demean women," she said. "But name calling isn't funny or acceptable no matter what group it's targeted at. These shirts are simply substituting one power message for another."

Garlick said she thinks such anti-boy messages come at too high a price.

"There's nothing wrong with girl power, but it shouldn't be achieved at the cost of boys," she said. "We shouldn't be putting down boys to lift up girls."

Diversity at its Whitest

The methodology U.S. News & World Report uses for its annual "Campus Diversity" rankings may be race neutral, but the language accompanying it is not. In the widely read "America's Best Colleges," whites can never be a "minority" -- even on campuses where whites are in the minority.

In 130 "Campus Diversity" listings on Pages 55-56 of "America's Best Colleges" -- and hundreds more listings on the U.S. News website -- whites are never listed under the category "Largest minority and its percentage." Even if whites are the largest minority on campus, which is true for more than 60 schools, they remain the unspoken majority.

To how great an extreme is this carried?

Howard University in Washington, D.C., with a 20 percent white campus population, lists its "largest minority" as African American, with percent. Florida International University, with a 19 percent white campus population, lists its "largest minority" as Hispanic, at 60 percent. University of Hawaii, Manoa, with a 21 percent white campus population, lists its "largest minority" as Asian American, at 74 percent.

The list goes on, all the way up to 98 percent "minority" in some of the 60-plus cases. So the "majority race" rules, even on campuses where whites are in the minority.

"You're right about that," said Robert Morse, director of data research at U.S. News. "Your point is right, but you can debate your point." Morse said U.S. News' diversity rankings are done "from the context of the majority race. It's done from the context of what society, broadly speaking, generally considers a 'minority,' and what higher education calls a 'minority.'"

But what message does that send, when U.S. News -- arguably the bible of college rankings -- tacitly assumes white majority status on every campus? The solution seems simple: Why not list "white" as a minority on campuses where whites are, indeed, the largest minority? Morse, though, returns to his "societal" definition of minority.

That rankles Eddie Moore Jr., director of intercultural life at Central College in Pella, Iowa. "Caucasians are not always the majority," Moore said. "To know that and continue to use the power (of majority) to exclude others is supremacy. This is a blatant misuse of power to continue to benefit the most privileged minority on this planet."

For its so-called "diversity index," the U.S. News formula answers the straightforward question, "How likely is it for a student of any race or ethnicity to encounter a student of a different race or ethnicity on a given campus?"

Under the formula, a campus with equal populations of all categorized races and ethnicities would score a perfect "1" on the diversity index. A campus with a 100 percent population of any one race or ethnicity would score a zero. U.S. News' most diverse campuses score in the .60-.75 range.

Morse calls the formula "race-neutral," which it is. But the mindset that created the terminology surrounding the presentation of this data certainly is not. The issue is not the math or methodology; the issue is the tacit acceptance that whites should always be considered a majority.

In print and online, only African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and American Indians -- never whites -- are listed under the heading "Largest minority and its percentage" for each campus.

This affects any school where a racial or ethnic group other than white is the majority. In all, more than 60 schools nationally are affected by this shortsighted terminology; each of them lists a "minority" that actually holds majority status on campus.

Even more schools would be affected, but dozens of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have a historical pattern of not providing racial and ethnic data to U.S. News. (Ironically, the only HBCU to make the shorter, print-edition "Campus Diversity" list is Lincoln University in Missouri -- which has become a majority white school.)

"Certainly in most places in the country outside the historically black college world, African Americans are considered a minority group," Morse said. "Only in a small world -- and maybe neighborhoods, school systems that aren't integrated ... yes, churches." Morse trailed off, paused, then added, "Blacks in the world of higher education are considered minorities. We're on firm ground (with this terminology)."

Paul Kivel, author of Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, disagrees. "White people often refer to the common usages and practices of other white people to justify racism, not realizing that this just proves the point that they are using a white-centered frame of reference," Kivel said.

He added, "The 'firm ground' [U.S. News] claims to stand on is shifting dramatically."

Open Season on Farmworkers

Migrant farmworkers in the Southeast are exposed to the worst living and working conditions of any region in the nation.

These workers are frequently housed in uninhabitable shacks lacking basic plumbing systems and exposed daily to harmful pesticides in the fields. They also are cheated out of the money they earn and held as prisoners under unlawful peonage arrangements.

It's a system of abuses existing right under the nose of the government and the law, yet those in seats of power continue to look the other way, says Greg Schell, managing attorney for the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project in Florida.

Schell's organization works to assist Florida's 300,000 farmworkers through legal reform, advocacy and class action suits.

"Farmworkers today resemble those discriminated against during the era of the Civil Rights Movement. They are not represented under existing laws," said Schell, who has worked on the issue of farmworker justice for the last 24 years.

"It shouldn't be open season on these workers."

Open season, however, is exactly what it appears to be in many cases throughout the Southeast. The region is home to about two thirds of all peonage cases prosecuted.

Schell described cases where workers are smuggled into the country for an exorbitant fee. A crew boss who hires them for jobs in the fields often provides a ride to the job site, a place to sleep and even a supply of drugs or alcohol. The workers then find themselves laboring 60 to 100 hours a week to repay this "debt," never seeing most of the money they earn.

Many are threatened with violence or harm to themselves or their families if they attempt to leave before working off their debt. Those who would brave the violence often remain because they aren't paid enough of their earnings to afford to leave.

Though organizations like Schell's exist to help seek justice for victims of such abuses, the practice continues largely unabated because there is little legal recourse for illegal workers. In fact, 70 percent of farmworkers are undocumented. And even those who are documented or who are citizens often suffer injustices in silence because they fear deportation or retaliation.

It's a cycle fueled in part by existing federal regulations that fail to provide the same labor protections for farmworkers as for other types of laborers -- protections including overtime pay, workman's compensation, workplace insurance and even the right to have access to bathroom facilities on workplace grounds.

To Schell, the inconsistencies are outrageous.

"The guy at McDonald's who puts the lettuce and the tomato on the burger gets overtime pay. But the guy who works in the fields to harvest it doesn't," Schell said. "Why? I'm still waiting on that explanation."

Part of that explanation lies in who wields the power in the agriculture industry; the other part, in how farmers and farmworkers are perceived. Schell says farmers -- those who own the fields and groves on which migrant farmworkers labor -- have power and protections while farmworkers do not.

"The government is never going to take the side of the people who have no power against the side of people who have substantial power," said Schell. "The farmers know they can't be sued. There is no one out there to sue them."

In addition, Schell said the American farmer has always been viewed as virtuous, wholesome and decent. In contrast, he says migrant farmworkers often are viewed as "happy wanderers without the same needs, goals and objectives as everyone else."

Schell also sees the lack of knowledge among the general public as partly to blame for rampant farmworker abuses. Many, he says, question why they should be concerned.

"I've seen juries stick out their chests and nod their heads when someone makes a statement like, 'What are these people complaining for? Aren't they better off here than where they came from?'" Instead of questioning the system that allows farmworkers to be abused, Schell says many question why the workers come here to begin with if conditions here are so unjust. It's a simple answer, he says.

"Only 10 percent of the land in Mexico is arable. These people want to support their families and they come here out of desperation. They want the old adage: an honest day's pay for an honest day's work."

Educating the public about what goes on in the industry stands to play a huge role in changing the culture of farmworker abuse. "We have to get people to recognize that once these protections erode for one group of people, what's to stop it from happening to another group?" Schell said.

In some areas like California, where large numbers of Latinos are registered voters, increased public education has led to the passing of state laws against farmworker abuse. As the Latino voter base grows in other areas and as people learn more about these issues, Schell says more states will follow California's lead and start to pass their own laws. But he acknowledges passing state laws is only one part of the picture.

Schell says if organizations like his are to ever make a real dent in the abusive practices within the farmworker industry, they will have to go after those who are reaping the financial benefits. He used the orange juice industry as an example.

An orange juice company doesn't own its orange trees, Schell said. Instead, it buys its fruit from farmers and grove owners via contracts to ensure the fruit it needs gets picked. The farmer hires a crew boss to find and oversee workers. It sounds like a simple enough operation. But Schell says these companies take great pains to make sure the right oranges are picked at the right times on the right days and delivered to the right plants, placing their people all over the groves to make certain this takes place.

"It's like fine choreography," said Schell, suggesting these companies are intimately involved in the day-to-day operations on these groves. "At the end of the day, we want to hold [them] responsible when these workers who are picking and providing them with this fruit don't get paid what they should."

Going after those who are making the most money, Schell says, will speak loudest. "We've seen that if you depend on human kindness and decency to change this, you are not going to get very far. We want to make it as costly as possible to send a strong message." said Schell. "When you win, it's not about the money. It's about empowering the workers to take control of their lives."

Intolerance In a Time of War

And so it begins, the intolerance of war.

Already this week, even before the bombs began dropping, it had reared its ugly head.

Consider an incident in the Houston area, where a woman of French descent who has lived in the United States for 23 years, a retired real estate agent, found these words spray-painted in red on her garage door: "Scum go back to France."

The words are part of a wave of anti-France animosity, based on France's refusal to support our nation's unilateral march toward war.

Francoise Thomas discovered the words Saturday morning. Some neighbors rallied to her side, painting over the hateful graffiti and bringing Thomas flowers and chocolates. She and others wonder if a neighbor did it. Who else, they ask, know Thomas is from France?

Suspicion, backlash, anger and fear. These are the homeland insecurities that surround us in times of war.

Muslims will feel it. Arab-Americans will feel it. Peace activists will feel it. The divides that separate us will be drawn into sharper relief. What can be done, what can you do, to bridge those divides?

Lessons of 9/11

If 9/11 taught us anything, it taught us that our biases are emboldened in times of stress and pain.

Statistics gathered from various sources by the U.S. Department of Justice make it clear that heightened fears bring heightened stereotypes:

Keep reading...Show less

PETA Sparks Outrage with Holocaust Comparison

Nobody ever accused PETA of being timid, but the animal-rights group's latest media campaign has sparked more than the usual antagonism.

In side-by-side photographic images, PETA -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- directly compares farm-animal slaughter to the extermination of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. The display, titled "Holocaust on your Plate," was launched in February on the West Coast, drawing immediate outrage. It consists of eight 60-square-foot panels, each showing photos of factory farms next to photos from Nazi death camps.

An example from the "Holocaust on Your Plate" exhibit: Under the headline "Baby Butchers," PETA shows an image of children behind bars in a concentration camp next to a pen filled with pigs.

Numerous Jewish groups are outraged, including the Anti-Defamation League and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. They say PETA has trivialized the deaths of millions in an effort to generate publicity for its cause.

Individuals, too, are finding fault with the display.

"I was absolutely horrified," said Daniel Zur, a senior at Arizona State University, where PETA's traveling exhibit was displayed this week. Zur, 23, is Jewish and lost 17 family members in the Holocaust.

"Comparing the killing of animals for food to all those millions -- not just Jews, but Gypsies and Christians and others -- making that comparison between the two is humiliating, disgusting and tasteless," Zur said.

Fred S. Zeidman, Holocaust museum chairman, echoed such comments, calling PETA's campaign "utterly shameless and contemptible."

In a letter to PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, Stuart Bender, legal counsel for the Holocaust Memorial Museum, asked PETA to "cease and desist this reprehensible misuse of Holocaust materials." Bender went on to say, "PETA's exploitation of these materials (is) a gross perversion of our mission."

To date, PETA has refused to cease and desist. PETA claims use of the photos is "the very type of speech against exploitation and oppression that (the museum) is supposedly designed to foster and protect."

PETA Touts Jewish Roots to Campaign

PETA has the support of some Jews and at least one religious organization. Its website includes supportive comments from a handful of Jewish members of various organizations, as well as excerpts of writings from animal-friendly Jewish authors.

At press time, PETA even included supportive-sounding words from the Holocaust museum on its "What Others Say" Web page, when that organization stands squarely opposed to the exhibit. PETA touts its campaign as being rooted in the words of award-winning author and Holocaust survivor Isaac Beshevis Singer, who wrote, "To animals, all people are Nazis. For them it is an eternal Treblinka."

But do those words make it acceptable for PETA to put an image of a pile of human bodies in a concentration camp next to a pile of bodies of pigs at a factory farm under the headline, "The Final Indignity?" Or to display a picture of men on wooden bunks at a death camp next to a picture of chickens in cages?

The ADL certainly doesn't think so. That organization calls PETA's requests for support from Jewish groups "outrageous, offensive and taking chutzpah to new heights."

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the ADL and a Holocaust survivor, issued a statement calling PETA's new campaign "abhorrent."

"Abusive treatment of animals should be opposed, but cannot and must not be compared to the Holocaust," Foxman said. "The uniqueness of human life is the moral underpinning for those who resisted the hatred of Nazis."

PETA seems to welcome such controversy.

A statement on the PETA website offers this comment from Lewis G. Regenstein, who is Jewish and represents the Interfaith Council for the Protection of Animals and Nature in Atlanta, Ga.:

"PETA's current 'Holocaust on your Plate' campaign is generating a great deal of attention and controversy (which, of course is its purpose -- to make people aware of the massive suffering of animals caused by our meat-centered diet)."

Even more inflammatory were comments made by Bruce Friedrich, a PETA executive, speaking at a national animal-rights conference in 2001:

"If we really believe animals have the same right to be free from pain and suffering at our hands, then of course we're going to be blowing things up and smashing windows," Friedrich said, adding, "I think it would be great if all of the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories, and the banks that fund them, exploded tomorrow."

Those words were included in the Fall 2002 edition of the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Intelligence Report," as part of an article about tactics of extremist animal-rights groups, focusing on the Animal Liberation Front and the Environmental Liberation Front.

The crass juxtaposition of photos seems tame in comparison to such calls for violence, certainly, but Friedrich's words and PETA's refusal to stop using Holocaust images to "raise awareness" about animal abuse indicate a certain desire to revel in controversy.

So PETA says it is promoting "the long Jewish tradition of kindness to animals," while the ADL, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and others say PETA is trivializing the 20th century's worst case of genocide.

Exhibit Finds Lively Protest in Arizona

Last week, the PETA campaign was a war mostly of words and website postings. This week, it hit the ground.

PETA's exhibit was displayed at Arizona State University in Tempe, leading to numerous complaints and near fisticuffs.

Zur, the senior religious studies major at ASU, was among those surprised to find the exhibit standing outside the student services center.

He and others predicted PETA will lose support, rather than gaining it, by using images that offend people who otherwise might stand behind the issues PETA promotes.

"I've been an animal lover my whole life, but I don't support this forceful, tasteless kind of exhibit," Zur told

Other protesters chose more forceful complaints. One student tore down one of the photos and engaged in what the newspaper described as "a minor shoving match" with PETA representatives.

Rabbi Barton G. Lee of ASU's Hillel Jewish Student Center viewed the exhibit. He calls PETA's animal-human juxtaposition "invidious."

"This points out the problems of fanaticism," Lee told "People can insult, hurt and disparage human life ... just to get attention for their cause. The irony is, it defeats the cause; they get attention, but they don't get support."

Brian Willoughby is the senior writer of

One Color Contraceptive Does Not Fit All

It's small, thin and waterproof. And it's discreet -- unless you are a woman of color.

Ortho Evra, the newly approved contraceptive skin patch by Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, has been recognized by Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2002 and dubbed "the perfect birth control." But because its peachy-beige tint makes the new patch more noticeable on women of darker skin tones, it isn't perfect for everyone.

According to Donna Lamb, a journalist, speaker and anti-racism activist, the company's oversight can be summed up in two words: white privilege.

"White privilege sends a message. It says you don't fit, that you don't belong, that there is something wrong with you," said Lamb. "It represents the standard, the right and the good thing and tells you what you should conform to. It says, 'You are less than those who this was made for.'"

Lamb says white privilege is such a regular factor in day-to-day life that most people don't even realize it exists.

"It's hard to have people identify and care about something as long as it's happening to 'them,' as long as it's happening to 'those people.'"

But even people of color, Lamb says, are sometimes complicit in living with white privilege.

"If you've spent your whole life being treated as less than or as worthless, sometimes you may feel like you have to choose your battles. So, some people may not think the color of a patch is that important; they just learn to live with those kinds of things."

Judging from the lukewarm complaints about the limited color choice for the patch, "living with it" is exactly the route some have chosen.

"As I understand it, initial research for the patch did show that women wanted to be able to choose from different skin tones. But, they also thought it was such a novel concept that they were willing to use it anyway," said Vanessa Collins, director of medical affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

"It would have been nice to have a variety of skin tones represented in the patches and for them to be more perfectly matched to skin tones of the women using them," Collins said.

What Is 'Standard'?

According to Linda Mayer, spokesperson for Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals, the lack of variety in shades for the birth control patch had more to do with timing and science than anything else.

"The patch was approved about a year and a half ago, and because of the technology available to us in that time frame, we developed basically the standard patch color -- what you see on a Band-Aid," said Mayer.

For many years, Johnson & Johnson's Band Aid was available in only one shade -- similar to that of the Ortho Evra patch -- that generally blended to match the skin tones of white skin. After hearing calls to make Band-Aids more inclusive of varying skin tones, the company released its sheer Band-Aid, now a top seller in its extensive line of bandages.

Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals is part of the Johnson & Johnson corporate conglomerate, but clearly it didn't learn from Band-Aid's example.

Mayer said the company has received a small number of complaints about the color of the patch, and is looking into the development of other colors in the product's next phase of development.

"We have done a lot of market research with this product on Caucasian women as well as women of color. The acceptance rate is high for both groups," said Mayer.

"But we are talking about testing other colors -- even something like a decorative sticker to place over the patch, making it more appealing to some groups of women."

Collins says companies like Ortho McNeil should form focus groups and listen carefully to their consumers.

The company, in fact, could ask its own models. The product's high-profile Web, print and television marketing campaign features several women of color in ads, with Ortho patches clearly not matched to their skin tones.

But Collins also said consumers should be willing to speak up, noting that the company needs to see a demand for variety before investing research and funds into developing other colors.

Speak to the Bottom Line

Like Ortho McNeil Pharmaceutical and Johnson & Johnson, other companies have dealt with the skin-tone dilemma.

Binney & Smith, Inc., manufacturers of Crayola crayons, released a line of "multicultural crayons" in the early 1990s after educator feedback about the lack of variety in "skin shade" colors.

"We started to hear from teachers that their kids weren't able to find enough colors to represent themselves when they went to color," said Susan Tucker, spokesperson for Crayola. "And so we developed the first box of eight multicultural, earth-toned crayons as a direct result of hearing that our consumers wanted that."

Tucker says the response to the new shades was so positive the company expanded the line to include even more multicultural products, including culturally inclusive paints, markers, colored pencils and clay.

While it isn't clear if the next phase of development for Ortho Evra will bring with it a new slate of colors, Collins says it's the consumers who really make the difference.

"If the company is to add more colors, the women who use the patch will have to let them know that's what they want."

Lamb agrees.

"There is no such thing as appealing to the conscience of a corporation," she said. "You have to talk the language they talk: the bottom line. When consumers speak up and companies fear looking bad or suffering financial repercussions, then they'll listen."

Dana Williams is a staff writer for

Unmasking Hate at Halloween

Some costume manufacturers have decided to forgo the typical fright, blood and gore this Halloween, choosing instead to market culturally insensitive and racially offensive masks as their new hot ticket items.

Take "Vato Loco," for example. Members of the Latino community are protesting the bandana clad, tattooed, brown-skinned caricature of a gang member.

Distributed by Massachusetts-based Fright Catalog, the "Vato Loco" mask�s tagline on the company�s Web site touts, "This scary stud can empty out a full house just by walking through the door."

But Latino activists say they don�t see the humor.

"This is an absolutely grotesque stereotype that represents some people�s images of Latinos," said Lisa Navarrete, spokesperson for the National Council of La Raza, a non-profit group established to reduce poverty and discrimination, and improve life opportunities for Hispanics.

"What�s most disturbing is that this caricature is mixed in with ghosts, ghouls and demons and is pitched as being among the most frightening of images -- it denigrates Latinos to being that frightening," said Navarrete.

While�s calls to Fright Catalog went unreturned, the company�s owner, Mark Arvanigian, recently posted several messages in defense of "Vato Loco" on a message board at, an online community for Latinos.

"I would like to apologize to anyone that feels the mask is racist," Arvanigian first posted. "Our company is not racist in any way and we do not condone any type of hateful actions� In fact, the item is manufactured in Mexico, by a labor force mostly made up of Latinos. They did not have a problem with it when it was manufactured."

Arvanigian stated his company had received only two e-mails from customers claiming to be offended. That, he said, "hardly represents the entire Latino community."

Arvanigian later threatened to put "Vato Loco" on next year�s cover of Fright Catalog, according to a news article published at

Brent Wilkes, national executive director of League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said his organization plans to contact Fright Catalog and ask the company to stop carrying the offensive product.

Wilkes noted the term "Vato Loco" translates to "crazy, street tough guy."

"The idea of taking any race or ethnicity and making a costume out of it concerns me," said Wilkes. "But to combine or promote violence along with that ethnic stereotype is even more offensive."

Last year, a Wall Street Journal article titled "A Kinder, Gentler Halloween," named Fright Catalog "best overall" print publication featuring Halloween paraphernalia.

'Vato Loco' Has Company

Latinos aren�t the only ones outraged about offensive costumes this Halloween. Members of the Asian American community successfully pressured Disguise, one of the nation�s largest costume makers, to cease distribution of its "Kung Fool" costume last week.

The Japanese kimono ensemble -- complete with a buck-toothed, slant-eyed mask and a headband bearing the Chinese character for "loser" -- drew a flood of protests from Asian American organizations that called the item racist and said it perpetuated offensive stereotypes.

Groups including the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA), the National Asian American Student Conference, the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, and online portal waged a grassroots campaign calling for an immediate halt to the distribution and sale of the Kung Fool costume.

"Disguise apologizes to any group or individual who may be offended by this costume and mask," the company responded in a public statement. "No insult or offense was intended against any race, ethnicity or individual by the sale of this product."

A spokesperson for the company, headquartered in Poway, CA, said the mask was the result of a brainstorming process that included some Asian Americans and was intended to be a comedic parody of a Kung Fu karate character.

The Kung Fool costumes, which were shipped beginning in September to retail giants like Wal-Mart and Party City, aren�t the first blunder for Disguise. In 2001, the company came under fire for a "mental patient" costume that the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill called "demeaning, dehumanizing and humiliating."

Disguise has agreed to accept returns from stores carrying the Kung Fool costume until October 30, but spokesman Chris Wahl said the company cannot require retailers to actually do so. "Once they purchase the merchandise, it�s their merchandise," said Wahl.

Some Asian American groups, however, say the company is essentially "passing the buck" to stores and should take a more proactive stance in getting the merchandise back.

"We are not satisfied with this response and we want Disguise to accept full accountability," said Keith McAllister, spokesperson for the OCA. "The merchandise reinforces negative stereotypes about Chinese Americans, and they should be responsible for getting the merchandise back from retailers."

McAllister said OCA has also approached Wal-Mart and Party City about stepping up "quality control" to prevent store buyers from putting such merchandise on the shelves in the future.

The Real Minority Report

Just seconds before buying our tickets, two friends and I made a much-debated decision to see Steven Spielberg's latest film, Minority Report, over The Bourne Identity. The Tom Cruise-Spielberg duo seemed like a no-brainer, and I had faith I wouldn't be suckered into yet another fast-paced flick of overwhelming special effects and a merely decent plot.

In fact, it turned out the plot was excellent, the acting high caliber, and yes, the special effects were very good. But, I left with one question in mind:

Where were the minorities?

Set in a bustling Washington, D.C. circa 2054, the film focuses on a futuristic police department's Precrime Unit, which, thanks to the powers of three gifted psychics, prevents acts of murder before they occur -- by arresting people for violent thoughts.

Spielberg and crew achieved a fine balance of stretching the rubber band of my imagination, just short of snapping it, by delving into a world of infringed privacy rooted in an out-of-control consumer culture and a growing police state (not such a far cry from today's post-9/11 America).

But, who did the research for this film? They did enough to convince me of eye-scanning security clearance and air-transport devices. But didn't I read a million news articles that the U.S. Census predicts the Anglo-American population will be the minority by 2050?

Where was the dominant population of the future?

The overwhelming majority of the film's consequential cast is white. Spielberg delivers a white pioneer and a white hero, a series of white Precrime victims/survivors and a slew of white supportive characters. If we believe this portrayal, Washington D.C. in the year 2054 is a white man's land.

Never mind the future, the white national capital Spielberg creates isn't even accurate by today's demographics. Although the U.S. Congress is over-representative of the white populace, the city of D.C. is decidedly black -- in this, the year 2002. And, like the rest of the U.S., the city will become increasingly diverse -- quite the opposite of the Aryan bastion depicted in the film.

In a city infamous for its high rate of black-on-black crime, I didn't see a single scene with Precrime officers working to save a black person's life. There are, after all and unfortunately, more murders in the black community of Washington, D.C. than any other demographic group in the vicinity. While there was one short cameo of a couple of African-Americans bearing testimony to the benefits of the clairvoyant crime unit, it seemed their token stories were just thrown in for good measure.

Spielberg either cast a white man's film because he was aiming to create a 2002 summer blockbuster for a majority white audience or because he's oblivious to the necessity of inclusion of people of color.

Maybe he feared the prominence of ethnic diversity would trump the actual plot of the film, that somehow a noticeable representation of our heterogeneous country might be interpreted as its own free-standing statement. Maybe he is still recovering from the box office failure of Amistad, where the American public made it quite clear the history of this slave ship and her mutiny (despite the reputable cast and crew involved in the film) were not worthy of their time, attention or entertainment dollars.

Whatever the excuse for casting, the resulting message remains offensive: The U.S. of the future relegates people of color to the margins and into obscurity.

It's apparent that even as our nation's most fantastic minds are open to inventions and realities yet to be manifested, the canvas of choice on which they paint remains white. Whiteness is our mainstream, our standard and our expectation.

Has it ever occurred to my Caucasian brothers and sisters out there how terribly surreal it would be to see the future U.S.A. represented and not see people who share similar physical characteristics? If half of my family were not Mexican-American, I'm not sure I would have noticed the unbearable whiteness of Spielberg's 2054 America.

If, as people of color and conscience, we do not see ourselves embedded in a multi-faceted community, we will continue to be confined to looking into a multimedia mirror smeared with stereotypes and limitations.

To watch re-runs on Nick at Nite and see no record of brown, caramel and tan faces is to have no record of our existence. We might very well forget there were Chinese, Puerto Rican or African-American communities living in the nation when Marcia Brady was getting hit in the nose with a football, or while Wally Cleaver (no relation to Eldridge) was fighting for adolescent independence from his cookie-cutter parents.

The media has largely ignored what we have accomplished in the past. And, now, to imagine our future absent of the same account, without the same footprint in time, is to say we -- and others -- don't see room for us in the future. The present is our vehicle for change.

Drivers wanted.

Tehama Lopez is the community affairs assistant for the Southern Poverty Law Center. She will begin graduate study in political science at the University of Chicago in the fall.

Activist Fights for Gay Rights in Egypt

On the eve of May 10, 2001, three of Maher Sabry's friends were nagging him to go out dancing with them on the Queen Boat, a floating disco known in Cairo as a local gay hangout. But Sabry, a 36-year-old playwright and director, was too tired. He just wanted to stay in for the evening and unwind. It may have been the last time Sabry was able to relax.

That night the Egyptian police rounded up and jailed 52 men from the Queen Boat. Officially, the men were accused of charges such as "indecency and debauchery" or "obscene behavior." But it was clear they were being persecuted for being gay.

It wasn't the first time gay men had been harassed and arrested in Egypt. But the sheer numbers of men rounded up -- combined with the fact that this time they would be tried in a special "emergency" court that forbids appeals -- made this case different. While 29 of the men were inevitably found "guilty" and sentenced to jail time, the case garnered international attention and condemnation. But without the work of Sabry it might have gone unnoticed.

In the years before the Queen Boat incident, a tiny but determined gay and lesbian movement was germinating in Egypt. Most of it was Internet-based.

"It was the only free space to express our ideas," says Sabry, who got online in 1997 and immediately became a cyber-activist. "The Egyptian media likes to say homosexuality came through the Internet from the West, but the forums and discussion groups were all Egyptians."

Meanwhile, people met cautiously at certain coffee shops and hotel bars, or got together for private parties.

By 1999, Sabry was feeling bold enough to stage his play, "The Harem," which included overt portrayals of society's oppression of gays and lesbians. The play had a three-day run before it was closed down by the government.

The government also began cracking down on the gay Internet, closing Web sites and jailing their owners. Police and government authorities created a climate of fear by arranging meetings via the Internet, only to arrest the men who showed up for what they thought would be a date. Still, when one site closed, another page or listserv would pop up.

With the Queen Boat incident, however, "even those who had been activists disappeared because it was so unsafe," says Sabry. "Suddenly, all gay life seemed to evaporate."

Despite the worsening situation, Sabry refused to retreat. Instead, he went online and, under a pseudonym, broadcast the news of the arrests and convictions to international human rights groups, hoping some international exposure would bring pressure upon the Egyptian government.

"We couldn't count on the Egyptian press because it is more or less controlled by the government," Sabry said.

Sending out the information was risky. Internet accounts in Egypt and e-mails coming out of the country are closely monitored by law enforcement. At one point, police attempted to crack the pass code to Sabry's e-mail account in an attempt to identify him.

Even more dangerous than his postings to the rest of the world was Sabry's courage on the ground in Cairo. For at least two weeks after the arrests, only immediate family members were allowed to see the prisoners. Much of the Egyptian press published the names and pictures of the jailed men on their front pages -- along with outlandish allegations that the men were perverts and Satanists.

In a culture where shame is a powerful weapon, some families were afraid to visit their relatives in jail. Sabry contacted many reluctant relatives, even risking arrest himself by going with them to the jail to talk to the prisoners, cull information from them and arrange legal help.

During one meeting where Sabry escorted a man to see his jailed brother, the guards took note of Sabry's long ponytail -- an unusual site in conservative Egypt.

"Why do you have a ponytail, faggot?" asked one policeman, who searched Sabry's bag and found newspaper clippings and notes on the 52 arrested men. Sabry said the policeman taunted him and made obscene gestures.

"Then he started to touch my crotch, to humiliate me and show he could dominate me," recalls Sabry.

In a moment of quick thinking, Sabry insisted on making a phone call to a high-ranking police officer, who, Sabry told the guard, was his uncle.

"In truth, the officer was a very distant relative who would have done nothing to help me if he thought I was gay," Sabry says now. Luckily, the guard did not call his bluff, and he was released.

Sabry continued to go to the jail and courts to monitor the situation, sending whatever information he acquired to international human rights groups. "I couldn't just leave my friends [in jail]. Many of the guys in there, they had nobody else to help them," he said.

He also refused to cut his hair. "It's a symbol of protest," he says now with a laugh. "After the arrests, I'd be walking down the street, and people would call out, 'Queen Boat faggot!' All my friends were telling me I had to have short hair, that long hair was too dangerous. But I couldn't stand the feeling that I was submitting. I would have felt like a coward."

Sabry's bravery was honored recently by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission as a recipient of the organization's Felipa Awards. The awards are given each year to individuals who make a significant contribution to fighting abuse based on sexual orientation.

Mubarak Dahir recieves email at

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