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Have I Lost You, Friend?, Or The Righteousness of Throwing Trash Cans

Mookie

When Mookie stares down Sal’s Pizzeria towards the end of Do The Right Thing, he is perplexed with a single question: what is the right thing? After Mookie’s friend Radio Raheem dies via police brutality, the people take to the streets to find justice. Looking upon Sal’s Pizzeria, a symbolic site of whiteness and “the man,” Mookie has a choice to either start a riot against his boss, a man he gets along with, or disobey his own people, his Black brethren of Brooklyn, who need someone to pay for their crimes. Mookie’s dilemma becomes philosophical: hurt the business of someone who did him no harm because someone (symbolically) must pay as retribution or just try to shake off the storm. Thinking for a brief moment, Mookie throws a trash can into the window at Sal’s, condemning the restaurant and sealing their fate…….

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Yesterday I took part in a panel at TCU for the Women and Gender Studies department. The panel was titled “Micro and Macro Aggressions: Violence, Identity, and Accessibility Online.” Along with two other scholars from the library and Communications departments, we collectively discussed the roles of access and the violence against people of color and women that occur frequently online. Specifically, I talked about the Black Lives Matter movement and how leaders reappropriate racism to support their own causes and gain followers. The talk, overall, was fascinating and had over 50 students and scholars in attendance.

But I haven’t been able to shake a question a student asked, a question I have asked myself for quite some time. A student at this event asked the panelist about how to call out friends for microaggressions. A microaggression is when someone (typically without intent) says something offensive or essentializes a group of people. For example, asking where the doctor is when a female hospital employee enters the hospital room could be a microaggression because it assumes that all men are doctors and women are nurses. The student, concerned with how to deal with these topics in the real world, asked an important question.

microaggression

“What do we do when our friends say these things?” she asked politely. “I don’t want to lose my friends over them saying certain things but I also don’t want them to be offensive.” The other two panelists jumped into the conversation and began talking about ways to approach friends on the matter. “Use humor to calm the situation,” one panelist said. “That is a really tough question,” the other responded.

I hesitated to answer for a moment because a pain existed within me from my own experiences with this question. What happens when your understanding of the world differs from your friends? What happens with the racially insensitive things yours friends used to say in a joking manner don’t seem funny to you anymore? What happens to your friends when you change? Looking down for a moment, I thought about how to answer, not just for the young woman asking the question, but for me too.

“That really is a tough question to answer because I have experience with this as well,” I began to respond. “I lost many friends because of the nature of my research (investigating how residents in my hometown talk about race and racism), and I have been publicly chastised for my viewpoints.”

I took a moment before I continued because I had to find that truth for myself.

“But I think the best way to answer is to say there is no wrong or right way to handle it. It absolutely a personal choice, and we all have a line that cannot be crossed. I began losing my friends when I changed that line to better reflect who I am as a person and a scholar. I began calling out my friends when they said something racist or sexist, and I lost a few friends because of this. It hurts. It will always hurt. But you can take solace in knowing you are doing the right thing.

The Right Thing. Do I do it? Is being confrontational leading me or my friends to a better future? Maybe not….

The Right Thing? Does Mookie do it? Does throwing the trash can into the pizza place make up for the death of Radio Raheem? Maybe not….

But maybe, just maybe, the trash cans we throw, the risks we take at an attempt for justice, carry much more righteousness than we as individuals ever could. Maybe the right thing exists in simply trying.

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The Historical Truths of Lynching, Racism, and the KKK in Grand Saline

A lot of you have opinions about me and my views of race in contemporary America. I know this. I have been very public about my research on race, Charles Moore, and Grand Saline, and this has caused me to lose friends from my hometown and have people attack me publicly. Though that hurts me on a personal level, I understand it. Many feel that I am defaming my hometown or calling everyone there a racist. Please believe that I am not trying to do that. Rather, I am trying to write about what I know to be true. To some, I must come off as some liberal, ivory-tower researcher who many have dubbed as “knowing nothing about the real world.” I get it. I think I actually know a lot about the real world, but I get it.

I have reached a point in my research that I think it would be a good time to come forth with some of my findings, not as a way to “defame” the town or create more arguments among my friends, but to show some of you what I have found. And I think some of you will actually be surprised. In the sections that follow, I will analyze the three most told legends of Grand Saline regarding the sundown sign, the KKK and Clark’s Ferry, and Poletown. I will try to cite each source from my material for you to investigate on your own, but I urge each each of you to read this all the way through.

So here it goes. Here are the historical truths of race/racism in Grand Saline.

sundown towns

“The Sundown Sign”— James Loewen, a renowned sociologist and historian, has collated some oral evidence to suggest Grand Saline did have sundown signs. He has collected various oral evidence to make this claim on his larger project and labelled the town as such in his book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. His collected evidence can be seen here: http://sundown.afro.illinois.edu/sundowntownsshow.php?id=1213.

Other articles, such as Richard Stewart’s article on Grand Saline and segregation in the Houston Chronicle, analyzes how some of these legends. He writes halfway through the article, “Grand Saline’s reputation for racial intolerance is rooted in stories — denied by many local residents — of lynchings of blacks who stayed in the town past sundown.” He also quotes a few current residents who state the town did actually have these signs. His research can be found here: http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0ED7B2F41CDEBBC2?p=AWNB

“The KKK in Grand Saline”— There is more historical evidence of the KKK existing in Grand Saline than people give credit to. In a historical project of Jordan’s Saline, the previous name of Grand Saline, Milda Mason, accompanied by researchers Ruby Wallace and Elvis Allen, states that the KKK has a “large encampment of men” outside of town in the late-1800s and terrorized the people of town and that they often controlled much of the culture of town. Her research can be found here: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~txvzcgs/vzgsgun.htm.

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Margaret Elizabeth Hill’s book, A History of Van Zandt County, backs up these claims and even states that the KKK killed many men (black and white) during this time. On one occasion, she writes, the KKK “repeatedly shot five Negroes and dumped their bodies in a Canton street.” She states another incident in which the KKK found out that a local white man spoke at black assembly. The KKK captured him and “displayed his head on a pole along the roadside.”

Of course, most historical work on the town agrees the KKK was active in the Reconstruction period of town, but many question the KKK’s influence afterwards, especially leading into the years in the post-Civil Rights 1970s. Both Stewart’s article and Suzanne Gamboa’s 1994 piece on race in Grand Saline, both cite residents who claim they have seen the KKK at Clark’s Ferry or even show that some people in town road around with KKK bumper stickers on their car. From this research in the early-1990s, over twenty years ago, it seems the legends of the KKK have captivated the town for quite some time and was even a part of normative culture of one point (since the town had KKK sympathizers who felt they could put these stickers on the cars and feel safe).

Statesman GS Article 4

“Lynchings at Poletown”— The story of Poletown revolves around legends of Grand Saline residents and the KKK lynching people at these sites. Hill’s book, stated above, reports at least one incident of this. Mason’s research, also shared above, does the same. Much of the stories of lynchings stem from oral legends, told from one another in passing. Several current and former residents of Grand Saline tell me they quite vividly remember the stories of Poletown, but none of them can trace back the origins of these stories.

Out of all the hours of research, searching the internet, digging around archives, and scrolling through newspaper microfilm, I have only been able to find a limited amount of evidence talking about race in Grand Saline that I have stated above. For a town that many would state has a rich history or folklore of race and racism, you would think more research on this subject would exist. But there doesn’t seem to be much.

Statesman GS Article 5

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The truth is we don’t know much truth about racism in Grand Saline. The truth is we may never know much more than we do now. From all the research I have conducted, the interviews, archival work, and newspaper clippings, the history of Grand Saline’s racism does not seem exceptional. They seem to be similar to most towns in the south via pre-Civil Rights. And I can’t help but feel happy to be able to say this.

But a deeper truth lies within Grand Saline, one ultimately darker than their history. If Grand Saline was not exceptionally racist, if the town never took part in these lynchings or hosted KKK meetings, then why do many town residents tell stories of these legends? Why are these legends in the first place? I contend the heart of Grand Saline’s legacy does not exist actually within the truth of their history; rather, it exists within the perception of the town’s residents. And for most of my adolescent years growing up in Grand Saline, I knew the stories of Clark’s Ferry, Poletown, and the sundown town to be true because everyone told them as truth. All of my friends and peers told them as truth. Someone had to tell them these stories as truth. And over the years, likely multiple decades, stories and legends that contain little historical evidence became truth.

As a scholar interested in rhetoric, race, and perception, I would be less intrigued with my hometown if it had a long history of racism. But the perception of the town now as racist, by some residents and by many outsiders, tells me more about how Grand Saline’s folklore persuade people. Sometimes truth doesn’t have to be historical; it can be perceived. And for the residents of Grand Saline and the town’s culture, they have a perception problem, one that still looms in the present. One that will never go away unless they consciously, explicitly attempt to eradicate it.

Michael Hall, the writer for Texas Monthly who wrote a biography on Charles Moore, also searched for history on Grand Saline and race and came up empty handed. He told me in an interview, “Usually when you see smoke, you find fire nearby. But I was not able to find that fire.” Like me, Hall had also heard many legends of Grand Saline and believed the town had a rich history of racism. But little historical evidence shows this. Hall and I both agree on this.

The fire we were searching for disguised itself as history when really it was perception and culture. Thus, as the history of Grand Saline’s racism wanes to lack of findings in recorded evidence, its perception continues on in an unrelenting, burning flame.

smoke

The Face of America’s Police Problem

The picture above is blurry.

But the picture above also shows why America has a police problem: officers would rather threaten youth of color with a gun than treat them like actual people. In this instance, a McKinney police officer was called to a break up a pool party in the small suburb community. The officer can be seen running around keeping certain teenagers detained, and when one young black teenager fails to leave the scene, he over-aggressively tackles her, shoving her face into the ground. The crowd, naturally, decries the intense situation, and when two black teens arrive to help their friend, the cop can be seen pulling out his weapon and pointing it in their direction.

Let me state that again: a police officer drew his weapon and pointed it at two teenagers who were not threatening him because he….wait, what was his motivation again?

Did he feel threatened? The two teenagers had a chance to attack the officer but did not. They cannot be heard yelling vulgarities at him. Any discussion of “feeling threatened” must begin with the officer projecting his fears onto young teenagers of color when he knows he is in the wrong.

Did he feel afraid for his life? The police have a hard job for sure. They place themselves in the line of fire, between intense, emotional, and even life-threatening situations all the time. But the line must be drawn at some point; a cop should not use the “feared for my life” excuse upon a situation that he or she draws a gun. I agree that pulling out a gun should be a last resort, an assessment of the situation which leaves the officer to believe violence could occur and must be stopped, but when the fear of violence is not felt, not seen, not heard, a gun should never be pulled. That simple action causes the constant mistrust between police officers and communities of color, and when events like this take place, we as Americans need to empathize with the civilians because they are the ones truly fearing for their lives since the sight of the gun was aimed in their direction, not the cop’s.

So what did he feel? We can only assume that in this moment, the McKinney police officer felt that pulling his gun was the answer. How has our police culture moved to this moment when unarmed teens who do not threaten an officer makes him pull out a gun and threaten their lives?

The event in McKinney represents a microcosm of the mistrust of police all across America. Until Americans decide that situations like this, when unwarranted violence is unnecessary and deplorable, should be intolerable, they will continue to happen, and the rifts between our communities will continue to grow. We owe it to our fellow people, yes, the humans of color who many dehumanize and “thug”ize, the ones many of you feel scared sitting next to in movie theatres and in public places, to make the police for the people not against the people.

Here is a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gl92emFF3Ww&feature=youtu.be

#RSA16 Panel Proposal: “The Rhetoric of Lynching: America’s Reflection of Itself”

The conference proposal for #RSA16 (the Rhetoric Society in America conference) in Atlanta calls for rhetoric and change, or rather how rhetoric promotes change.

For this conference, I am interested in the rhetoric of lynching. When I say “lynching,” I do not mean it in a strictly historical sense because there have been notable lynchings even within the past year (a recent incident in South Carolina comes to mind). Also, many could argue that recent deaths, such as Mike Brown’s, represent a new form of lynching in the 21st century. Rather, I am interested in how various papers can talk about the cultural phenomenon of lynching–the act of people coming together to kill a person publicly. While I do see this in a racial context, I am open to any proposal that investigates lynchings in a historical, cultural, racial, etc context. Specifically, I am calling for papers that analyze how the history/presence of lynching still pervades culture and how public deaths today might reflect the public lynchings of Jim Crow. I think the overall panel proposal would argue that the act of lynching changes America’s perception of itself, in some sense. (We will work out the details for the panel proposal later haha).

For my own part, I will be analyzing cultural memory and the lack of a history on Latin@ lynchings, arguing that the lack of a Latin@ lynching history demonstrates society’s need for a black-white binary.

I am asking for a 200-250 word abstract by July 1st at midnight. Please email those to me at j.c.sanchez@tcu.edu. I will proofread and edit these proposals and will inform people on the panel’s progress soon after July 1st (since the deadline for RSA is July 15th). If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me or tweet me at @JChaseSanchez. I look forward to seeing this wonderful panel come together!

Kennesaw State Happened to me too

Today, Kennesaw State University made news when a black student was refused advising from a white advisor. She accused the student of “harassing” her by waiting patiently in the lobby. Links of this event and video can be found all over the internet right now. Black Twitter, as awesome as they usually are, called out the racial undertones present in the video and made this event a public ordeal. Though no explicit racial remarks were made, many on Black Twitter promoted the hashtag #ItsNotJustKSU for them to express moments when they were denied services by advisors and mentors, relating these similar events to a racial oppression many of them feel in their own education. A similar occasion transpired for me at the University of Texas at Tyler when I was studying for my BA. The moment altered my view of education, power dynamics, and cultural capital.

To begin, I loved my undergraduate experience because of the major progress I made between my freshman year and my senior year. I entered college in the Fall of 2006 and had absolutely no tenacity nor work ethic. I partied my first two years of college and my grades reflected this lack of effort. I transferred from Tyler Junior College into the University and Texas at Tyler with a 2.8 GPA in the Fall of 2007. I decided to become an English major when I made this transition and began taking classes that fulfilled my major.

My transition into upper-division English reflected my lack of primary education. Being raised in small, rural area, I never had the advanced readings and learned the complexities of language that many of my peers had in my junior-level English classes. When I proofread their work, I became ashamed in my own. Specifically, in my Literature and Critical Theory course, I recall making many Cs and even a few Ds on papers. To become a better writer, I knew I must become a better learner; thus in my junior year of college, I promised myself to make better grades.

My grades improved quickly. I made mostly As and a few Bs, and as I finished the courses prior to my senior year, I raised my GPA from 2.8 to a 3.4. These grades, of course, are not great, but I believe anyone can see the major improvement. At this time, I decided I wanted to enter graduate school and eventually earn my doctorate in English. Thus, I made an appointment with my advisor to talk about my senior year and being smart with my graduate studies pursuits.

I entered my advisor’s office (I will keep him nameless here), and we began chatting. He usually kept a sarcastic but funny tone and was known by students as being kind of a “dick.” (I truly have no other word to use than this one; my peers called him a “dick” on many occasions). But his persona appeared funny and light-hearted, so I enjoyed many of our conversations. On this particular day, we conversed about my senior year and the courses I needed to fulfill in the fall semester. Slowly, I brought up the idea of graduate school, hoping he would be proud of a young student wanting to try their hand at graduate studies and follow a similar career path. His one sentence response to my idea disrupted this fantasy.

“Chase,” he slowly expressed while leaning in closer to me, “people like you wanting to become a professor are who people like me laugh at.”

That sentence, uttered to me over six year ago, remains verbatim. I recollect these words exactly because a part of me changed that day. My professors once inspired me, making me want to become an educator and to help students become better thinkers and writers. But he stripped this naïve notion from me.

My face swelled with anger. I did everything in my power to not yell at him. To not scream. To not tell him that I was better than what he perceived of me. And once our session ended I called my mom and cried.

What prompted this occasion? Why would an advisor tell me I could not do something and basically laugh in my face? What gave him the right?

His remarks probably did not come from some inner hatred towards my skin color, but I believe it did stem from my cultural positioning within race, place, and class. I appeared undereducated, a Brown body who typically does not represent academia in many circles. My single mom raised me in a very low-middle class/low class lifestyle. I never fought for things I needed, but like many kids in my area, I did not benefit from wealth. Also, being that I was from rural, East Texas, a place not known for its educational standards, I am sure my advisor thought I had no chance to get past UT Tyler. Though he did not need to represent some false, bootstrap myth to me, his statement could have been more encouraging, more empowering. He could have inspired me. As a Brown English student with a terrible lexicon, he thought my choices in life seemed more ready for a desk job or a banker (as he told me many times). To this white male professor, I, undoubtedly, seemed beneath him.

Needless to say, I am now in my fourth-year of doctoral school in Rhetoric and Composition and should be finishing my dissertation next year. I raised myself out of the stereotype he presented me, and I honestly utilize my words now to spite him. Every year of grad school, when the times get tough, I recollect how his words sliced me, and that motivates me every single time. No doubt, I had professors who encouraged me (a big shout out to Dr. Sloan, Dr. Wu, Dr. Pooler, and Dr. Ross), but his one statement wounded me on an identity level, in a way I could never imagine.

But I cannot help but reflect back now and think of how many students in my position maybe gave up, felt discouraged, never rebounded, thought they were failures. The embodied pain I felt encourages me to always do better by the students. They are not nuisances or problems; they are the reason why we are here.

Looking back over the case at Kennesaw State University, I have no doubt that similar occasions happen to students of color and students from marginalized positions daily across this country. People with power often look at them with doubt, wondering if they are only here because of affirmative action, believing they are a problem rather than a gift. I promised myself years ago I would never do that to students, and I hope you promise yourselves the same thing.

The case at Kennesaw is not exceptional. If you talk to people of color, you will hear similar stories of how they were dismissed by people who should be uplifting them. If we ever want true change in our politics of academia, we will need to position more culturally-aware people to wield power. Until we do so, advisors like mine and like the student’s at Kennesaw will keep telling people like us “no.”

 

Ask me about Race!

In an effort to create a more open dialogue on race in my social media feeds and public persona, I have decided to spend this summer working with you, readers. More specifically, I want to answer your questions about race! Typically, my Facebook feed fills with name-calling and shouting with little use of understanding and empathy from people interacting with my racial challenges and statements. My Twitter feed has better activity, but I mostly only follow other scholars interested in racial studies (which leaves us with little debate). Therefore, I want to create a more intimate forum for some of us to interact.

I plan to use my blog this summer for this purpose. During the day hours, I will spend most of my time researching and writing my dissertation (I am about 2/3 through the first chapter!), but at nights I want to spend time with this blog. Being a typical academic, most nights leave me feeling useless, as I always want to spend my time more productively. So I figure I could spend the time with each of you, haha.

Okay, so here is the setup: I am going to make this blog post public tonight, May 12th. If you want to leave a question about race you can do so in the comment section below the blog (which will allow you to remain anonymous). Or you can send me a question via my Facebook, Messenger, or Twitter feed (@JChaseSanchez). Whatever seems most comfortable for you will be fine for me.

I will only answer questions that are serious (sorry trolls), and if I get enough questions, I would like to spend time answering them once a week. I will use research to answer these questions and will always cite sources, and lastly, I will provide suggested reading for anyone who wants to keep reading about the subject.

Okay, the forum is open. I hope to hear some great questions from you soon. And if you have any logistical questions, please let me know.

–James Chase Sanchez

The Stain of Racial Memories and my Public Persona

I have been thinking a lot lately about my own agency in discussions about racism on Facebook. As most of you know, I have dedicated my research and teaching to racism and hope to base my career studying the rhetorics of race. I didn’t get to this moment on my own, though. My interest in racism slowly grew as I finished my MA in English literature. I published a paper on John Steinbeck’s views of race in East of Eden, and as I entered into my PhD program in Rhetoric and Composition, I began to realize my interest in race. New theories in legal and cultural studies, critical race theory and postcolonial theory, grabbed my attention during coursework. And as I moved into my third-year, I knew race was a subject I had to write about my entire life.

My studies were not the only thing that lead me to this point, though. My perception of the world began to change too. I was raised in a white household, in a white town, and was only brown because of my skin. I did not speak Spanish nor have an accent. I sounded like “normal” Americans and fit into this group as well. And as I moved to a larger city after my primary education, I really did not think race had affected my life at all.

But that was untrue. Race had been a major part of my education in my hometown; rather, I remember being racialized. My nicknames in high school were “Wetback” and “Beaner.” I remember coaches saying not to piss off the black kids because they were better athletes when angry. I remember taking part of chants after pep rallies, “We’re alright cuz we’re all white!” That never made sense to me because we had a large Latina/o population. But these words by peers, friends, and authoritative figures showed me how racial my childhood was. That wasn’t okay. People should not say these things to one another. Adults shouldn’t tell kids such things. This would not be acceptable in other communities, so why was is it acceptable in mine?

This pain affected me once I left the town and realized this climate was not the norm. People don’t grow up thinking they can openly say racist things to people. I harbor this pain daily, and I strive to better my environment and educate my friends who still think this sort of thing is okay.

So now we make a full circle. This pain in my formative years makes me who I am today. I use my social media feeds as a way to promote racial equality. I feel that if I can show the people around me the pain that other suffer through systemic racism, if I can show that daily, maybe, just maybe, people might start to see differently about race. So I explore how people talk about race to demonstrate how racism still pervades today.

However, I understand my persona can come off as combative at times, and that is not what I want to do. From now on, I will continue to post the racial pains of those suffering today, but I will no longer be combative. I will take part in honest conversation as best as I can, but I do not want to come off as a “know-it-all.” So I will refuse to. If any of you have any honest questions, please feel free to inquire.

No one can take my memories away from me. No one can take my experiences away from me. I have witnessed a racism that will continually persuade me to fight against it, and I believe this energy is what propels me to be so active in my scholarship and on social media. This energy, however, can become more inviting and less dickish. So I promise you readers and engagers, to promote the racialized pain in the world and to call for love at the same time. It is the least I can do.