Steven Spielberg on Storytelling’s Power to Fight Hate

Good long read and interview with Spielberg:

Pinchas, how old are you?” Steven Spielberg asked the wall screen, a life-size video image of an elderly man in a cardigan, who blinked and answered without missing a beat.

“I was born in 1932, so you can make your own arithmetic,” responded Pinchas, in a Polish accent.

“He asked me to do the math!” Mr. Spielberg laughed. “How did you survive when so many did not?”

“How did I survive?” the screen responded. “I survived, I believe, because provenance watched over me.”

The chat went on for five minutes, and while the artificial intelligence looked eerily reminiscent of Mr. Spielberg’s earlier films, the goal wasn’t entertainment — it was education. On the sound-sensitive screen was an interactive biography of Pinchas Gutter, a Polish Holocaust survivor and part of a tour the director was leading through the redesigned headquarters for the U.S.C. Shoah Foundation, the organization he founded in 1994 to collect testimony from Holocaust survivors. Now Mr. Spielberg has expanded the foundation’s footprint on the University of Southern California campus, along with its mission and public focus: to fight hate, which he says has become commonplace globally.

“The presence of hate has become taken for granted,” Mr. Spielberg said. “We are not doing enough to counter it.”

The prerecorded video conversation is part of a series using playback technology that invites visitors to converse with 16 survivors of genocide, based on specific word patterns and more than 2,000 questions that vary from views on God to personal history. Earlier this month, the testimony of Pinchas was displayed at the United Nationson the 70th anniversary of the adoption of genocide laws, a storytelling tool to raise awareness.

While the foundation continues to archive stories from victims of anti-Semitism, and advocate on their behalf, it is also collecting what Mr. Spielberg calls “living testimony” from modern genocide victims. “The Holocaust cannot stand alone,” he said with conviction. “We decided to send our videographers into Rwanda to get testimony. From there we went to Cambodia, Armenia — we’re doing a critical study in the Central African Republic, Guatemala, the Nanjing massacre. Most recently, we’re doing testimony on the anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar and the current anti-Semitic violence in Europe. We’re expanding our scope to counter many forms of hate.”

The 10,000-square-foot space — which opened to the public last month — is a far cry from the organization’s beginnings following “Schindler’s List,” in 1993. Mr. Spielberg sent an army of videographers around the globe to record Holocaust survivors’ stories. Betamax tapes of the interviews were stored at his Amblin Entertainment offices on the Universal Studios lot, and then at a storage company before the foundation’s move to U.S.C.’s Leavey Library in 2006. (There are a little over 51,000 recordings of Holocaust survivors in the visual history archive, a staggering 115,000 hours.)

Today the group has 82 employees and an annual budget of about $15 million, which includes $3 million from the university. It also has received millions in donations. Its new home — part office, part media lab — is packed with video testimonies from 65 countries in 43 languages, along with survivor-inspired artwork (a hanging steel sculpture by the British artist Nicola Anthony incorporates phrases from filmed testimony.) Visitors can tour the offices Monday through Friday, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“Everyone thinks the Shoah Foundation is about archiving the past but it’s about understanding empathy and using testimony to shine a light,” Stephen D. Smith, its executive director, said.

Reflecting its founder’s legacy, the organization has produced multiple films, including the recent documentary “The Girl and the Picture,” about 88-year-old Xia Shuqin, who witnessed the murder of her family in the Nanjing Massacre in 1937. It was directed by Vanessa Roth, whose mother was an interviewer for the foundation in the early 1990s. “The Last Goodbye,” a virtual reality memorial screening at Holocaust museums in Florida, New York, Illinois and California, takes audiences into the Majdanek concentration camp in German-occupied Poland, with Pinchas Gutter as guide, using thousands of photos and 3-D video to explore a railway car, gas chamber and barracks. David Korins, the scenic designer of the musical “Hamilton,” is now the foundation’s director of museum experiences, with the goal of getting the collection of archival footage into more museums.

Rising anti-Semitism is providing fresh impetus for the foundation’s relaunched efforts. “Not only are people willing to forget about the Holocaust, they’re willing to deny it,” said Aaron Breitbart, a senior researcher at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the human rights organization that has worked with the foundation since the 1990s. “The Shoah Foundation has made a great contribution in that battle for memory.”

The relaunch coincides with the theatrical rerelease of “Schindler’s List.” In her 1993 review of the film for The Times, Janet Maslin wrote: “Rising brilliantly to the challenge of this material and displaying an electrifying creative intelligence, Mr. Spielberg has made sure that neither he nor the Holocaust will ever be thought of in the same way again.”

The film ran in about 1,000 theaters in mid-December and was screened free for students nationwide. Although it was digitally remastered in 4K resolution, Mr. Spielberg said, “I didn’t touch a frame.” The original version of the film is currently available on Netflix.

A quarter century on, it remains a complex depiction of Nazi horrors.

“We were surprised that somebody even attempted to make a film about it,” said Renee Firestone, 94, whose story is told at the foundation.

Despite the expansion, some challenges remain, Mr. Smith said. Most testimonies are unavailable online, which means they can only be seenat the foundation or the 146 partner libraries and universities (links are free for families of those interviewed). There are no transcripts of the recordings yet, but the foundation is spending $10 million building a free online platform for researchers, schools and the general public starting in late 2019, Mr. Smith said.

Days before Mr. Spielberg’s 72nd birthday, wearing a suede jacket and 1860s-style boots from his 2012 opus, “Lincoln,” the director munched a granola bar at the foundation’s headquarters. The color of his beard is now saltier, he has a few more inches around the middle, but his gray-green eyes still shine boyishly when he’s discussing his foundation and his seminal film. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.

Why expand the mission of the Shoah Foundation?

I think there’s a measurable uptick in anti-Semitism, and certainly an uptick in xenophobia. The racial divide is bigger than I would ever imagine it could be in this modern era. People are voicing hate more now because there’s so many more outlets that give voice to reasonable and unreasonable opinions and demands. People in the highest places are allowing others who would never express their hatred to publicly express it. And that’s been a big change. There’s all kinds of efforts to take the truth and subvert it to twisted ideology. We saw it happen in Europe first, in France, then Poland again — I never thought it would come back home to us like it has existed over the last two years.

Many groups are clamoring that they have it harder than others — how do we overcome that?

We can commiserate with each other about suffering and pain, but we should never compete that way. Being marginalized, being discriminated against, having racist and anti-Semitic slurs hurled is something that unites [all people]. Everything against black society is also against the Jewish community. Everything against the gay and lesbian, LGBTQ community is against black and Jewish communities. Hate is hate and the spillover makes us all responsible for watching each others’ backs and standing up for each other. None of us could ever be bystanders again.

How can Hollywood combat this?

Look how many movies are now telling the stories of women. There’s a huge shift that is gender-centric, and we saw it happen at the beginning of the Harvey Weinstein downfall. Storytelling is fundamentally human. But the art of listening is what I’m hoping the Shoah Foundation is able to inspire.

[In 2018, Amblin Television, a division of Amblin Partners, Mr. Spielberg’s production company, was one of three parties to a $9.5 million settlement agreement with an actress on the CBS show “Bull” who was dropped after she confronted its star about inappropriate comments. A representative for Amblin declined to comment, directing inquiries to CBS, “the sole owner of the show.”]

You are rereleasing “Schindler’s List” after 25 years. Do you believe it can still make an impact?

At the Tribeca Film Festival, I experienced my first audience in 25 years watching “Schindler’s List.” It was a full house, and the reaction — I turned to Kate [Capshaw, his wife] and said “Oh my God, they’re still listening.” With this renewed cycle of hate, and initiatives at the Shoah Foundation, I thought it could open up a conversation that genocide can happen anywhere when an ordinary society goes wrong. Charlottesville and the aftermath made a huge impact on wanting to reissue the film.

If you made the film today, what are the things you would have changed?

No. There’s nothing I would have changed, absolutely nothing. I stand by the film as it has stood its own test of time.

What sticks with you 25 years later about filming in Poland, where the carnage happened?

In four months’ filming in Krakow, the hair on the back of my neck never went down. It was really hard every morning to simply get out of the car and walk to the set. I wanted to use the locations where Schindler stayed in Krakow, including the Jewish Ghetto, even shooting very close to the Płaszów forced labor camp. We shot just outside Auschwitz, building a barracks and backing the train into Auschwitz proper, so when the train exits Auschwitz, it appeared in the film as if it’s entering the death camp. That was one of the coldest nights I ever experienced. That mournful silence within the company of actors — you could hear a pin drop.

The foundation decided to include modern testimonies about genocide when it already has over 51,000 testimonies on record about anti-Semitism. My grandparents were filmed by the foundation in 1996; is video the best teacher?

Look, we’re all storytellers. There’s no one alive who isn’t a storyteller, even if they don’t think they are. Every day is a story. Maya Angelou said: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

What are your earliest memories of being different?

My grandmother taught English to Hungarian Holocaust survivors in Cincinnati. I was 2 or 3, and I would sit with them around the table. That’s where I learned my numbers — on the arm of an Auschwitz survivor who showed me the numbers of his forearm. That was my “Sesame Street.” That’s how I first learned to count.

What more can we do? What do you plan to do?

Teachers and parents who need to take responsibility for the acceptance of hatred in the fabric of society. I’m working with the Discovery Channel and the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney on a six-hour study called “Why We Hate.” I’m not planning any more dramatization on the Holocaust itself. I’m putting all my attention on the documentary format.

What The Ebbs And Flows Of The KKK Can Tell Us About White Supremacy Today

Good long and informative interview with Kathleen Blee:

As long as the United States has existed, there’s been some version of white supremacy. But over the centuries, the way white supremacy manifests has changed with the times. This includes multiple iterations of the infamous Ku Klux Klan.

According to the sociologist Kathleen Blee, the Klan first surfaced in large numbers in the 1860s in the aftermath of the Civil War, then again in the 1920s, and yet again during the civil rights era.

Blee is a professor and dean at the University of Pittsburgh, and the author of Inside Organized Racism: Women in the Hate Movement, as well as Understanding Racist Activism: Theory, Methods and Research. She says the anonymity allowed by the internet makes it difficult to track just how much white supremacist activity we’re seeing today.

But despite this difficulty, she and other experts say there’s been an indisputable uptick in hate crimes — and an overall rise in white supremacist violence: Earlier this fall, a gunman shot and killed 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue. In 2017, a clash with protesters at the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., left one woman dead. In 2015, the shooting at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C., killed nine black churchgoers. And in 2012, a rampage at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wisc., killed six people.

As we consider this spate of racist attacks, we thought it’d be helpful to talk to Blee about the ebbs and flows of white supremacy in the United States — and what, exactly, those past waves say about today’s political climate.

Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.


First, can we talk about the various phases of white supremacy in the U.S. throughout history — and what caused those ebbs and flows?

The 20th to 21st century Klan actually formed after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction period. Then it was entirely contained within the South, mostly in the rural South. It [was] all men. There were violent attacks on people who were engaged, or [wanted] to be engaged, in the Reconstruction state, [including] freed blacks, southern reconstructionists, politicians and northerners who move to the South. That collapses for a variety of reasons in the 1870s.

Then, the Klan is reborn in the teens, but becomes really big in the early 1920s. And that is the second Klan. That is probably the biggest organized outburst of white supremacy in American history, encompassing millions of members or more. … And that’s not in the South, [it’s] primarily in the North. It’s not marginal. It runs people for office. It has a middle class base. They have an electoral campaign. They are very active in the communities. And they have women’s Klans, who are very active and very effective in some of the communities. That dissolves into mostly scandals around the late ’20s.

Then there’s some fascist activity around the wars — pro-German, some Nazi activity in the United States — not sizable, but obviously extremely troubling.

The Klan and white supremacy reemerge in a bigger and more organized way around the desegregation and civil rights movement — again, mostly in the South, and back to that Southern model: vicious, violent, defensive, Jim Crow and white rights in the South.

And then it kind of ebbs. After a while, it kind of comes back again in the late ’80s and the early 21st Century as another era. And then there’s kind of a network of white supremacism that encompasses the Klan, which is more peripheral by this time. Also Neo-Nazi influence is coming as white power skinheads, racist music, and also neo-Nazi groups. The Klans tend to be super nationalist, but these neo-Nazi groups have a big international agenda.

Then the last wave is where we are now, which is the Internet appears. The movement has been in every other era as movement of people in physical space like in meetings, rallies, protests and demonstrations and so forth. It becomes primarily a virtual world, and as you can see, has its own consequences — many consequences. It’s much harder to track. And then there are these blurred lines between all these various groups that get jumbled together as the alt-right and people who come from the more traditional neo-Nazi world. We’re in a very different world now.

That’s a long history. You mentioned that, for a variety of reasons, the Klan in the Reconstruction era collapsed. What are some of the factors that contributed to that?

I would say two things that mostly contributed to that ebb over time.

One is the white supremacist world, writ large, is very prone to very serious infighting. Internal schisms are quite profound in collapsing white supremacists, even as an entire movement, over time.

What’s that infighting look like? How racist to be?

No, no. It’s almost always power and money. So, for example, the ’20s Klan — I say “Klan” but in every era there were multiple Klans, they all have different names, they all have different leaders — they are trying to extract money from their groups, and they are all fighting about money …. and then over power, and who controls the power, because white supremacy groups don’t elect their leaders right away. To be a leader just means to grab power and control. So there’s a lot of contention in these groups of control.

It’s not ideas. Ideas aren’t that central. They have these certain key ideas that they promulgated — race and anti-Semitic ideas — but the fine points of ideological discussion don’t really occur that much in white supremacist groups, nor do they get people that agitated. It’s not like in other kinds of groups, where people might have various versions of ideas, versions of ideologies. [The Klan] just have kind of core beliefs. But they do tend to fight over ideas for money, power and access to the media.

So that’s the fighting. The other thing is, in different waves of history, there are prosecutions, either by the police or civil prosecutions that collapse groups and movements. Sometimes, there’s kind of a blind eye to white supremacist organizing, but at other times there is really successful either civil or state prosecutions of these groups that do debilitate them.

How does the longevity of white supremacy or these [hate] groups coincide with who has political power?

It’s very hard to create a generalization here. Certain groups, like the Klan, tend to rise and fall based on the threats to who is in power. The 1870s Klan [was] based on the Southern racial state formed during slavery being threatened by Reconstruction. In the 1920s, the idea was that political power [was] being threatened by this wave of immigrants. The 1920s Klan [was] very anti-Catholic, as well as racist and anti-Semitic. Part of this anti-Catholicism [was] based on the idea that Catholics were going to start controlling politics as well as the police.

There’s some really good analysis by some sociologists that showed that the Klan appeared in counties where there was the least racist enforcement of the law. Because in counties where the sheriff and the county government was enforcing racist laws, there was no need for the Klan.

How does this apply to this more recent wave of white supremacy?

Right now, we have an extremely heterogeneous group that we might call white supremacists. So some of them, probably the smallest group, are nationalistic. And probably the larger group are not particularly nationalistic. This is why it’s hard to make generalizations. It’s not the case that nationalist fervor just finds itself in the white supremacist movement. The person accused of the shooting in Pittsburgh is an example. If you look at [his] writings, they’re not nationalistic, they’re in fact anti-nationalistic. And that’s pretty common with white supremacy today — some of them have this sense that their mission is this pan-Aryan mission. They’re fighting global threats to whites and creating a white international defense. So that’s not a nationalist project, that’s an internationalist project.

And the other reason is there’s this idea among white supremacists in the United States that the national government is ZOG — Zionist Occupation Government — and that’s a shorthand way of saying that the national government is secretly controlled by an invisible Jewish cabal. So some of them will be amenable to very local government … they’ll embrace, and work with, and even try to seize control of the government at the county level. But generally, national politics are quite anametha for those two general reasons.

In the 1920s, synagogues were targeted by the KKK. Can you run through other examples of violence like this?

People will say the ’20s Klan was not as violent as other Klans. But that’s really because its violence took a different form. So there, the threat that the Klan manufactured was the threat of being swapped — all the positions of society being taken by the others — so immigrants, Catholics, Jews and so forth. So the violence was things like, for example, I studied deeply the state of Indiana where the Klan was very strong — pushing Catholics school teachers out of their jobs in public schools and getting them fired, running Jewish merchants out of town, creating boycott campaigns, whispering campaigns about somebody’s business that would cause it to collapse. So it’s a different kind of violence but it’s really targeted as expelling from the communities those who are different than the white, native-born Protestants who were the members of the Klan. So it takes different forms in different times. It’s not always the violence that we think about now, like shootings.

When did we start seeing the violence that we see today?

Well, the violence that we see today is not that dissimilar from the violence of the Klan in the ’50s and ’60s, where there was, kind of, the violence of terrorism. So there’s two kinds of violence in white supremacy. There’s the “go out and beat up people on the street” violence — that’s kind of the skinhead violence. And then there’s the sort of strategic violence. You know, the violence that’s really meant to send a message to a big audience, so that the message is dispersed and the victims are way beyond the people who are actually injured.

You see that in the ’50s, ’60s in the South, and you see it now.

I was wondering if we could kind of talk a little bit about the language we use when we talk about mass killings that are related to race, religion or ethnicity — especially about the second type of violence, “strategic violence,” that you describe. I’ve seen people use the phrase “domestic terrorism.” What do you make of that phrase?

Terrorism means violence that’s committed to further a political or ideological or social goal. By that definition, almost all white supremacist violence is domestic terrorism, because it’s trying to send a message, right? Then there’s that political issue about what should be legally considered domestic terrorism, and what should be considered terrorism. And that’s just an argument of politics, that’s not really an argument about definitions right now.

How these things get coded by states and federal governments is quite variable depending on who’s defining categories. But from the researcher point of view, these are terrorist acts because they are meant to send a message. That is the definition of terrorism. So it’s not just, you don’t bomb a synagogue or shoot people in a black church just because you’re trying to send a message to those victims or even to those victims and their immediate family. It’s meant to be a much broader message, and really that’s the definition of terrorism.

I think what we don’t want is for all acts of white supremacist violence to be thought of as just the product of somebody who has a troubled psyche. Because that just leaves out the whole picture of why they focus on certain social groups for one thing. [And] why they take this kind of mass horrific feature … so I think to really understand the tie between white supremacism and the acts of violence that come out of white supremacism, it’s important to think about that bigger message that was intended to be sent.

What are the most effective strategies to combat these ideas of white supremacy, or this violence?

I’d say the most effective strategy is to educate people about it, because it really thrives on being hidden and appearing to be something other than it is. I mean, millions of white supremacist groups have often targeted young people, and they do so often in a way that’s not clear to the young person that these are white supremacists, they appear to be just your friends and your new social life, like people on the edges who seem exciting. … And so helping people understand how white supremacists operate in high schools, and the military, and all kinds of sectors of society gives people the resources the understanding to not be pulled into those kinds of worlds.

Twenty years, or even 10 years ago, I would have said it’s really effective to sue these groups and bring them down financially, which was what the Southern Poverty Law Center was doing.

[Now,] they don’t have property; they operate in a virtual space. So the strategies of combating racial extremism have to change with the changing nature of it.

Source: What The Ebbs And Flows Of The KKK Can Tell Us About White Supremacy Today

Belgium begins long-overdue discussion on racism by looking to its ‘brutal’ past

Recognition and acknowledgement of the shameful parts of history are essential, however painful:

There is perhaps no greater symbol of Belgium’s failure to address the dark chapters of its colonial past than the Royal Museum for Central Africa. This weekend, it reopens after a five-year process to revamp the story it tells — a story many Belgians have never been taught.

The Royal Museum for Central Africa just outside Brussels has long been accused of complicity in perpetuating that distorted history.

Now housed in one of Leopold’s Versailles-like palaces, its roots date back to 1897, when the king built a special tramline so people visiting the World Fair in Brussels could also visit his own exhibition showcasing his colonial exploits.

He even built a “human zoo” of grass huts inhabited by 267 Congolese brought over to be a part of the display.

This is a look at King Leopold II’s original exhibit at the colonial museum. (Wellcome Collection)

There is perhaps no greater symbol of Belgium’s failure to address the dark chapters of its past than the museum, which has maintained its colonialist perspective for all these decades.

“We have one gallery, for example, with the names of the 1,600 Belgians that died between 1876 and early 20th century in the Congo Free State,” director Guido Gryseels said. “There’s not a single mention about the many Congolese victims of colonization.”

Until now.

Gryseels is the man behind a five-year renovation that he insists will “decolonize” the museum in form and message, delivering a more honest narrative when it reopens its doors to the public this weekend.

“That the Congo was not the story of bringing civilization, that it was not a story of eliminating the slave trade, that it was a story of brutal capitalism, looking for resources, looking for profits.”

Leopold’s private agents were given free rein in his African empire. They used slave labour to satisfy Belgium’s hunger for rubber and other natural resources. Those who fell behind in delivering their quotas could be punished with the loss of a limb, or worse.

That these horrors still feel somehow veiled from ordinary Belgians seems extraordinary.

Gryseels says it is an emotional issue for many Belgians, who will have had relatives who worked in Congo in one form or another over the years, in particular after the Belgian government took over from the king in 1908.

“Many people are very nostalgic about the past,” he said. “For many Belgians, our museum is a symbol of the times when Belgium was still a major power, in 1961, one of the richest countries in the world thanks to colonialism. And, of course, now it’s gone down.”

Immigration from Belgium’s former colonies, which also included Rwanda and Burundi, was not actively encouraged before or after Congo gained its independence in 1960.

But the Central African community here numbers well over 100,000 people. Whether to engage with the museum as it tries to reform and rebrand itself has been a difficult question for many.

Artist Aimé​ Mpane won a competition to design an installation for the main rotunda of the new museum.

It will serve as a contrast to statues still in place from the old era, portraying colonizers as civilizers, including a golden piece depicting African children cowering at the feet of a cross-bearing missionary.

A statue of a missionary and a young boy at the museum. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Mpane’s piece, titled New Breath, is a giant latticework head sculpted from wood and placed over a crown etched on the floor of the rotunda.

“I [wanted] to create one big piece that will take the place of King Leopold II,” he said. “That will replace this story, which links us all, with the good and the bad.”

The work also features a plant that seems to grow from the top of the head, in place of a crown, and draws the eye upward.

“There’s always a link between what’s on the ground and what’s in the sky,” he said. “And that’s to show the idea of genesis, of rebirth. We can rise above our past and reach something that’s ours.”

Mpane’s work, New Breath, in the museum’s rotunda. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Mpane says he initially had doubts about taking part, despite reassurances that proper context would be provided for the colonial statues.

“But when I started to dig a bit deeper into it, I realized we’re really talking about our history and we must try to make sense of it. If we don’t take part in it, who is going to do it?”

Return the artifacts

Others say true contrition for the wrongs of the past would require returning all the cultural artifacts taken from colonial Africa now lining the museum’s shelves, from ritual masks and sculptures to tribal drums and a wooden canoe carved out of a single log.

The debate in Belgium comes in the wake of a report commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron that recommended the return of thousands of items taken from former French colonies without consent.

The report, which was penned by the French historian Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese writer Felwine Sarr, has sparked debate in other European countries including Germany and Belgium.

The current Belgian king, Philippe, changed his mind and decided not to attend the Royal Museum’s reopening this weekend in the wake of the controversy.

“I think that giving back these works of art is a question of law and justice,” said activist Mireille-Tsheusi Robert, who came to Brussels at the age of three with her Belgian father and Congolese mother.

“The original owners whose objects were stolen are villagers, chieftains, whole villages — in short, a country.”

Keeping the works of art sends the message: “We vanquished them,” she said.

For now, returning the artifacts is a step too far for Gryseels, although he acknowledges the role of the museum in Belgium’s failure to see itself as a multicultural society and to reflect the diversity of its population in its public institutions.

“For the most Belgians, their first encounter with Africa is through a visit of our museum. If then, in this museum, you get the impression that Africans don’t have a culture of their own, that the European view is superior, then you can’t be surprised that that has an impact. So we take our responsibility.”

‘Only ignorance’

To really change though, the country as a whole must take on that responsibility, many Belgians say. To carry it out of the museum and into mainstream society.

Pierre Kompany says he believes his election is a sign Belgium is headed in the right direction.

But he also says the country must work much harder to acknowledge the past if it wants to free itself from it.

“When it comes to history, there is no compromise,” he said. “Only ignorance.”

Source: Belgium begins long-overdue discussion on racism by looking to its ‘brutal’ past

How Stan Lee and His Marvel Superheroes Fought Against Racism

One of the better articles out regarding Stan Lee’s anti racism messages in his stories:

“It’s an extension of the fairy tales we read as kids. Or the monster stories or stories about witches and sorcerers. You get a little older, and you can’t bother with fairy tales and monster stories anymore, but I don’t think you ever outgrow your love for things that are fantastic, that are bigger than you are—the giants or the creatures from other planets or people with superpowers who can do things you can’t.” – Stan Lee

Stan Lee has passed away at age 95, and the famed “Smilin’ Stan” that the world knows as the face of Marvel Comics leaves behind a towering legacy. Lee created characters and told stories that reflected the struggle in American society between the idealized way we view ourselves and the harsh ugliness in our culture that is impossible to ignore. Born Stanley Martin Lieber in New York City, the beloved comics legend co-created iconic superheroes like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, the Avengers, the X-Men and Black Panther in the 1960s, helping to establish Marvel Comics as the foremost rival to longstanding D.C. Comics.

Lee’s characters and stories reflected the pathos in ‘60s culture—giving voice to adolescent angst via Spider-Man just as the youth culture boom of the decade was beginning to take hold; addressing then-current anxieties about space exploration via the Fantastic Four; using the Hulk as a metaphor for repression and government shadiness; and the X-Men functioned as a symbol for marginalized citizens’ fight for their right to exist. Alongside fellow luminaries such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee set Marvel apart not only by placing its super-powered protagonists in the middle of real-world troubles but beyond that, by giving voice to those issues. To fully appreciate what that means, one has to understand the cultural landscape when Lee rose through the ranks at Marvel.

In the mid-1950s, watchdog groups derided comic books as a scourge—a corrupting element in youth culture that promoted the occult, violence and deviancy. Lee and Kirby debuted Black Panther in 1966 in the pages of Fantastic Four. Marvel’s first black hero was prince of a fictional African nation called Wakanda and, despite some unfortunate characterizations (The Thing refers to the country as “Tarzan land” in an early panel), the presentation of a black superhero from Africa with supreme intellect and advanced technology was groundbreaking and indicative of what made Lee’s tenure special.

“Marvel has always been and always will be a reflection of the world right outside our window,” Lee said in a popular 2017 video. “That world may change and evolve, but the one thing that will never change is the way we tell our stories of heroism.

“Those stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race, gender or color of their skin. The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance and bigotry.”

Lee has talked about the popular X-Men as a metaphor for black Americans’ struggle for civil rights. In Marvel canon, the X-Men are part of a human subspecies called mutants, born with superhuman abilities and hated by much of humanity for what they are. It has been widely accepted that Charles Xavier, the X-Men’s idealistic founder, was loosely based on Martin Luther King, Jr.; while the team’s most famous foe, Magneto, was drawn from Malcolm X. Xavier believes that humans and mutants can peacefully coexist; Magneto believes mutants must overthrow humans before they are decimated by their hateful oppressors.

“I did not think of Magneto as a bad guy,” Lee once said. “He was just trying to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist. He was trying to defend mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly, he decided to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course, but I never thought of him as a villain.”

“[Magneto] was just trying to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist. He was trying to defend mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly, he decided to teach society a lesson.”

Lee understood how comic books reflected and affected those who read them. He also understood that great storytelling connected with the times. It should be noted that the dynamic between Xavier and Magneto, in particular, evolved over time, and in the hands of various other writers like Chris Claremont, the parallels with King and X became more apparent. Lee was uneasy about Black Panther being associated with the revolutionary party of the same name (so much so that the character was almost rechristened “Black Leopard”) and Magneto’s background as a Holocaust survivor was another Claremont development. As was the case with many iconic, long-running comics heroes, Lee’s original vision was expanded upon, but the history of collaboration has often led to commentary about how much credit should go to Marvel’s most iconic creator.

Lee loved the fans and loved the spotlight, to the point where there was criticism that he was a glory hound. His penchant for self-promotion spawned criticism from former colleagues and observers, especially those who felt he’d overshadowed and taken credit from collaborators like Jack Kirby and Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko. Kirby, whose artwork came to define the Fantastic Four and X-Men, was a freelancer, as opposed to a Marvel employee like Lee.

“There was never a time when it just said ‘by Stan Lee,’” Lee told Playboyin 2015. “It was always ‘by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’ or ‘by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.’ I made sure their names were always as big as mine. As far as what they were paid, I had nothing to do with that. They were hired as freelance artists, and they worked as freelance artists. At some point they apparently felt they should be getting more money. Fine, it was up to them to talk to the publisher. It had nothing to do with me. I would have liked to have gotten more money, too.”

“Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today…The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.”

Regardless of ongoing controversy surrounding the contributions of Kirby and others, Lee should be remembered for being an agent of change in his medium. A 1968 post from Lee’s mail column has been making the rounds in the wake of his death. In it, Lee makes plain his stance on racism.

“Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater—one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen—people he’s never known—with equal intensity—with equal venom.

“Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race—to despise an entire nation—to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God—a God who calls us ALL—His children.”

Stan Lee’s creative voice helped reshape the role of comics in American society and helped affect how American society saw comics. In doing so, Lee helped challenge his readers and his peers. His characters live now as part of the fabric of our culture—in blockbuster movies, acclaimed TV shows, video games and a host of other media. Generations of comic-book lovers saw themselves in those characters, and that was what he’d wanted all along. As some quarters of America tell themselves that politics have no place in pop art, the proof in Stan Lee’s history reminds us that the message has always been a part of the medium. Those who believe otherwise maybe have to consider that they aren’t the “good guy” in the story. After all—you can’t be a hero if you don’t stand for anything.

Source: How Stan Lee and His Marvel Superheroes Fought Against Racism

Elghawaby: Those who serve our country should not face discrimination of any kind


The Canadian Forces, like the RCMP, struggle with diversity:

Almost every public institution in our country claims it wants to better reflect the populations it serves. The same is true of our military. Parliament’s defence committee has even begun a study to determine which groups need better representation.

As the nation marks Remembrance Day, it’s important to reflect not only on those who have sacrificed their lives and well-being serving our nation, but those who have had to face racism and harassment in doing so. If such barriers continue to exist, efforts to recruit people of colour and people of various faiths and backgrounds will ultimately fail.

One needs only look to the very top to understand the challenge at hand.

Canada’s defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, has acknowledged facing significant racism throughout his long career in the Canadian Armed Forces. This has been his reality since joining the Forces in 1989 and even more recently. The first Sikh-Canadian to command a Canadian Army regiment has faced racist and vulgar comments on his personal Facebook page, as well as on the Forces’ official page. “I still can’t take this guy seriously as head of the armed forces!” posted one person. “Man, it’s not us! Sikh?”

Consider the case of Bashir Abdi, a Canadian of Somali descent who served for 10 years in the Forces. In 2013, Abdi says he obtained permission to attend Eid celebrations for the day. Yet, when he returned, he was fined and eventually convicted at a military summary trial for being “Absent Without Leave.” He was fired from his post and took his case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. “As Canadian society and workplaces continue to grow and diversify,” reads his GoFundMe page, “it is imperative that we bring more attention to the issue of fair religious accommodation so that no one else has to experience Bashir’s humiliation.”

Canada’s defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, has acknowledged facing significant racism throughout his long career in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Or take the disturbing episode this past spring, when a group of officer cadets were expelled from the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean, Que., after video emerged of them desecrating a Qur’an with bacon and semen during a cottage party.

The head of Canada’s military, Gen. Jonathan Vance, has admitted that the Forces are struggling to identify those within the ranks who not only hold racist views, but who are actively engaged in white supremacist and right-wing activities. “Clearly it’s in here,” Vance said earlier this fall in an interview.

None of this makes joining the military a particularly endearing proposition, nor will it help improve the numbers. As of 2018, 15.4 per cent of the military were female, 2.7 per cent were Indigenous, and 8.1 per cent were visible minorities. The Department of National Defence has said that by 2026, it wants the military to comprise 25 per cent women, 3.5 per cent Indigenous peoples, and 11.8 per cent visible minorities.

“I used to wonder how Indigenous soldiers who went to residential school felt about serving for a country whose government discriminated against their people,” wrote Indigenous journalist Wawmeesh Hamilton in a recent online post.

At the very least, their contributions must be acknowledged, and existing challenges addressed. That begins with education as well as clear consequences for racist and anti-immigrant behaviours and attitudes.

Success looks like Capt. Barbara Helms, who joined the Forces as its first Muslim female chaplain this past April. And we can look as far back as 1996, when the late Wafa Dabbagh became the first Canadian Muslim woman to wear the headscarf in the Forces. In a 2008 media interview, Lt.-Commander Dabbagh described her experience as“95-per-cent positive.”

As defence committee chair Stephen Fuhr put it recently, “having a diverse, healthy, happy military personnel will have a direct impact on combat effectiveness. So we need to determine that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Among those we memorialize are those who defeated the very worst fascist and white supremacist forces of our time. Lest we forget.

Source: Elghawaby: Those who serve our country should not face discrimination …

Ottawa holds consultations on racism behind closed doors

Understand the rationale behind closed-door consultations but at a minimum, the government should be disclosing the names of those consulted shortly after each session to ensure basic transparency and a check to ensure that a balance of perspectives is being heard.

Hard to understand the Minister’s reluctance to use the term “systemic racism” beyond the political. A more constructive approach would be to acknowledge that it exists (e.g., blind cv tests, incarceration rates) but find a way to explain it as patterns of discrimination and prejudice if the “S” word is viewed as too polarizing:

The federal government has quietly launched a series of closed-door consultations on the issue of racism, hoping to avoid heated public debates on issues such as Islamophobia and systemic racism.

“The meetings are not held in public for the simple reason that we want to be able to have in-depth discussions with experts across the country, in which the participants’ comments are not misconstrued or judged,” Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, said in an interview on Monday.

While no news releases or media advisories were sent out, Mr. Rodriguez has already attended three invitation-only sessions in the Greater Toronto Area, with his department planning on holding a total of 22 meetings before the end of the year across Canada. Mr. Rodriguez said he wants to focus on concrete solutions to specific problems, deliberately avoiding a debate over the issue of “systemic” racism.

“That expression is not a part of my vocabulary,” he said. “Canada is not a racist society, wherever one lives.”

However, two of Mr. Rodriguez’s caucus colleagues, Liberal MPs Celina Caesar-Chavannes and Greg Fergus, have both said they believe in the existence of systemic racism in Canada. The expression is also used in the federal consultation documents, which define the term as “patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the social or administrative structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate a position of relative disadvantage for racialized persons.”

Jasmin Zine, a professor of sociology and Muslim studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, said she is afraid the federal consultations are off to a false start in these circumstances.

“If you take out systemic racism, what is left is the idea that people don’t like each other and don’t get along on the basis of negative attitudes about people from different backgrounds. It becomes an individual problem, in other words,” she said in an interview. “So to move away from systemic racism … takes away all issues around power, which is crucial to understanding the system of racism, and it takes away all responsibility from the state and institutions.”

However, Mr. Rodriguez said he wants the consultations to focus on specific issues such as higher unemployment and incarceration rates among members of particular communities, or access to affordable housing. In addition to the working groups, Canadian Heritage has launched a website to gather public comments on the issue of racism.

“Identity issues will always fuel passionate debates. Our goal is to get to the bottom of things without getting into a political debate. We want this to be neutral in political terms and to be done professionally,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “We are looking for facts and, most importantly, solutions.”

Mr. Rodriguez, 51, replaced Mélanie Joly as Heritage Minister in a cabinet shuffle in July. His family arrived in Canada in the 1970s when his father – a lawyer and politician – fled political persecution in Argentina.

Mr. Rodriguez said the consultations on racism will cost up to $2-million, with the funding announced in the most recent budget as part of efforts to develop a new national anti-racism strategy. Over all, the federal government awarded $23-million toward new multiculturalism programs earlier this year.

“Unfortunately, Canada is not immune to racism and discrimination – challenges remain when it comes to fully embracing diversity, openness and co-operation,” the federal government says in its consultation documents. “Acknowledging that racism and discrimination are a part of our lived reality is a critical first step to action.”

The issue of racism has fuelled heated debates in the country in recent times. There were acrimonious discussions last year over a motion in the House of Commons (M-103) to condemn Islamophobia across Canada. While the motion did not affect existing legislation, it was roundly criticized in conservative circles and media as preventing any legitimate criticism of Islam.

Consultations on the issue of racism proved controversial in Quebec last year, when the government scrapped planned meeting on “systemic racism” over an outcry among media commentators and talk-show hosts. Instead, the Quebec government rebranded the mandate of the exercise to “valuing diversity and fighting against discrimination.”

Source: Ottawa holds consultations on racism behind closed doors

‘If they attack me, they attack other people’: Italy’s first black cabinet minister stands trial against populists she deemed ‘racist’

Court case and political debate to watch:

In 2013, bananas were hurled at Italy’s first black cabinet minister, Cécile Kyenge. The same year, a local councilor for the Northern League, a regionalist party, said she should be raped, and a senator for the same party likened her to an orangutan.

It was once easier for Kyenge, an eye surgeon who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to brush off these attacks. During her speech in the seaside town of Cervia, she pretended not to notice the fruit flying toward her, later tweeting, “With so many people dying of hunger, wasting food like this is so sad.”

The Northern League used to be a minor faction netting about 5 to 10 percent of the national vote. In 2014, Kyenge gave an off-the-cuff assessment at an annual social-democratic political event in the northern city of Parma, calling the party “racist.”

Now, that party, rebranded simply as the League, is in power, governing in a populist coalition after winning nearly 18 percent of the vote in March. Its leader, Matteo Salvini, is Italy’s interior minister and deputy prime minister, working to make good on his nativist promises.

Not lost in Salvini’s portfolio is his long-standing effort to obtain a legal judgment against Kyenge for criticizing his party. Kyenge, who is now a member of the European Parliament, said in an interview this week with The Washington Post that she is happy to defend herself in court. She chose to give up the enhanced protection for freedom of expression enjoyed by lawmakers in Brussels in order to stand trial, she said.

“If they attack me, they attack many other people,” she said. “It’s important for me to be there, and to make sure that the court doesn’t accept these accusations, not just for me but for all people who stand up against racism in Italy.”

Kyenge said there is a simple reason she is targeted by the League: “They want me to shut up.”

“I’m a symbol in Italy,” she said. “I’m a symbol for migration, for diversity.”

The League maintains that its opposition to immigration, put on vivid display last month when Salvini refused to allow 177 migrants to disembark from a coast guard vessel at a Sicilian port, is not racist.

After two unsuccessful attempts to open a case against her, Salvini convinced a judge in the northern city of Piacenza this year to order Kyenge to stand trial for libel. The proceedings began last week and will yield a judgment by 2021. If she loses, the former minister for integration could be fined. Part of the judge’s reasoning, according to Italian news agency ANSA, was that the former cabinet minister had implicitly linked the League to Nazis, maligning not just the party name but its members.

Italy, like many European countries, doesn’t collect data on race and ethnicity, though it uses proxies of citizenship and place of birth that indicate that native Italians remain the overwhelming majority.

Still, Italy has been on the front lines of some of the migration pressures buffeting Europe and elevating far-right parties over the last several years. There were 370,000 immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa living in Italy as of 2017, according to Pew.

The postwar taboo surrounding race, a response to Fascist-era laws discriminating against Jews and other groups, doesn’t make race a nonissue, Kyenge said. Rather, she argued, it makes racial prejudice harder to root out.

“I think that racism has a strong place in many of the developments we are seeing now in Italy,” she said. “The racial resentment is the only political agenda of the right wing. They have nothing to talk about if … they weren’t afraid. Because they don’t have any suggestions when it comes to the economy or the international role of Italy.”

Kyenge said she has seen racist attitudes take increasing hold with the passing of the generation that experienced the racial laws promulgated between 1938 and 1943.

“It’s already forgotten by the younger generation,” she said.

Racial tensions have also been exacerbated by the country’s ongoing financial turmoil, she said, as politicians blame social changes for their own failure to stimulate growth and get public debt under control.

But she said she remained “proud” to be Italian.

Kyenge, 54, was born in the mining town of Kambove. She was 19 when she moved to Italy in 1983 to continue her studies. She worked as a maid to support herself while attending the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Rome and became a naturalized citizen in the ’90s, as well as a certified doctor. Married to an Italian engineer, she has two daughters.

Her political work began in the early 2000s, when she founded an intercultural group called DAWA, Swahili for “medicine,” to smooth tensions associated with African immigration to Italy. She first ran for local office in 2004 and entered the Italian Parliament representing the center-left Democratic Party in 2013. That year, she was named minister of integration by Prime Minister Enrico Letta. The day she entered government, Kyenge said, she began receiving racist attacks.

Now, Kyenge said she is thinking of leaving her post in the European Parliament to pursue legal advocacy related to racial discrimination.

“If I can do this for myself, I can do this for others,” she said. “Racism is a crime. Racism must be erased.”

Source: ‘If they attack me, they attack other people’: Italy’s first black cabinet minister stands trial against populists she deemed ‘racist’

Advocates fear for future of province’s anti-racism directorate

Expect it will go. Sad, given that one of the main activities was data collection, data needed to inform policy:

What will happen to the province’s anti-racism directorate?

For many who work in anti-racism, this has been the question since June, when Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives won the provincial election with a majority government.

Community members who worked closely with the anti-racism directorate say they’ve received no answers from the government, which controversially moved the directorate to a new ministry and recently disbanded its subcommittees.

Longtime anti-racism advocates who lived through the Mike Harris years are now having flashbacks to 1995, when his Conservative government was elected to Queen’s Park — and promptly moved to eliminate what was then called the anti-racism secretariat, established just a few years earlier.

Two decades would pass before the anti-racism body was revived by the Liberal government in 2016, amid controversy over carding and debate over the acceptance of Syrian refugees. But less than two years into its mandate, the body, this time labelled a “directorate,” has fallen back into the hands of a Conservative government and community activists worry the province’s anti-racism efforts are once again doomed to fail.

“It just feels like 1995 all over again, where we take two steps forward only to go three or four steps backwards,” said Nigel Barriffe, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations. “What we see is a very hard, right-wing government that I don’t believe has any intention of honouring the commitment that the previous government has made towards the anti-racism directorate’s strategy.”

There are already early signs that changes are coming to the directorate, which had a number of subcommittees, including four community groups that consulted on issues of anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous discrimination, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

In early August, some members of the subcommittees told the Star they were contacted by staff and informed that their services would no longer be needed. “It was basically ‘Yep, your year is up, thank you very much,” said longtime Jewish rights advocate Bernie Farber, who co-chaired the anti-Semitism committee.

Farber said he and other members received no information about the future of the directorate, whose aim is to advance racial equity and address systemic racism in government policy legislation programs and services.

Nothing can be gleaned from Premier Ford’s mandate letters to ministers, either, which might clarify some of his intentions for the anti-racism directorate — the government is keeping these letters secret, even though they were publicly released under the previous administration.

The anti-racism directorate also ignored a list of questions sent by the Star on Aug. 20. These questions included: What is the directorate’s budget? What’s happening with the government-wide plans to collect race-based data? And what are the province’s priorities for the anti-racism directorate going forward?

“We don’t know anything,” said MPP Michael Coteau, who was previously the Liberal minister in charge of the directorate. “One of the most troubling pieces with the new government is that there’s been no transparency with regard to their mandate.”

“People are quite worried,” said MPP Laura Mae Lindo, the NDP critic for anti-racism. “You can’t approach anti-racism that way; you have to be transparent in what it is that you’re doing. You have to be willing to listen to the community organizations.”

To Barriffe, what the Ford government has been transparent on is its views toward issues that matter to racialized communities. He points to comments Ford made during his campaign where he expressed support for TAVIS, a now-defunct police unit that was heavily criticized for its negative impact on racialized communities. When the NDP recently introduced a motion to ban police carding — also known as “street checks,” which disproportionately affect people with black and brown skin — and destroy data collected through the practice, Conservative MPPs largely voted against it.

“I think that we have to believe what we see and what we see is them reversing all of the forward movement that we made in addressing anti-Black racism in society,” he said.

But Barriffe doesn’t necessarily think the Ford government will kill the anti-racism directorate outright. Rather, he suspects it will die from a thousand cuts — neglected and “defanged from its original purpose and intent.”

Already, the directorate has been relocated to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which is headed by MPP Michael Tibollo — the minister who was heavily criticized by opposition parties for making “blatantly racist” comments in July, when he described wearing a bulletproof vest during a visit to the Jane and Finch neighbourhood.

The move diminishes the directorate’s influence within the government, said Avvy Go, director of the Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, who served on the directorate’s consultative body.

Previously, the directorate was based at the Cabinet Office. “The idea behind that was that anti-racism is important across the board, not just for any one ministry, and that all the ministries must pay attention to the issue of racism and finding ways of eliminating it,” she said. “Once you’ve slated it under one particular ministry, then we lose that cross-departmental knowledge-sharing and accountability measure.”

But the decision to move the directorate to this ministry — the same one in charge of police and prisons — also sends a troubling message, says longtime community activist Nene Kwasi Kafele, who also served on the consultation group with Go.

“The implication (is) that racism is simply an issue of policing and safety,” he said. “In my view, there’s some dog-whistle stuff around Black people and racialized communities being a danger, and therefore targeted approaches to them generally need to be subsumed under an area that addresses security and safety. It’s a terrible message.”

Lindo notes that the directorate, under the previous government, did have its flaws, however. For one, she believes it could have done a better job of folding in the work of community groups, many of which have already been on the front lines of anti-racism for decades.

Farber also has his criticisms of the directorate. He felt issues relating to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were not prioritized as much as they should have been during the early stages of the directorate — though he started seeing signs of progress in the months leading up to the election.

“We started to make some headway; there were resources there that we were looking at to provide education on anti-Semitism,” Farber said. “And that’s what we were working towards, during the time leading up to the last provincial election. And then, quite frankly, things sort of grinded to a halt.”

Kafele points out, however, that while the directorate was just getting started, it did achieve some major accomplishments. The provincial government now has a legislative mandate towards combating racism in the province, he said, as well as a commitment to collecting disaggregated race data; commitments were also made towards underserved and marginalized populations, like Black youth in Ontario.

None of this existed back in the early ’90s, when both Kafele and Farber were involved with the anti-racism secretariat the first time around. And despite some of its early hiccups, Farber agrees the need for an anti-racism directorate is as urgent as ever, especially with the rise of right-wing extremist groups and an increasingly polarized political climate.

“The government gives (importance) to concepts like a buck-a-beer but not when it comes to racism, which has huge impacts on society,” Farber said. “The world is getting not just more complex but more dangerous, and we need to have policies and understandings in place as these issues go forward.”

Source: Advocates fear for future of province’s anti-racism directorate

The left must restore the ties between antisemitism and other racism

Good thoughtful commentary on the need to recognize the linkages between antisemitism and other forms of racism and discrimination:

Jewish new year is a time for reflection, and the subject of Labour and antisemitism inevitably featured on the list of things to think about this year. Indeed, it was hard to avoid, for on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Labour MP Chuka Umunna proclaimed his party to be “institutionally racist” over antisemitism. Folded into this row is a painful aspect of the story: that elements of the left, for whom fighting racism is a deeply held principle, might overlook, underplay or even reproduce this ancient race-hate against Jewish people.

The issue has coalesced around the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and his supporters. But in truth, it is nothing new. Published in the early 1980s, Jewish socialist Steve Cohen’s book That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Antisemitic, still resonates today. He wrote: “It is intolerable that the socialist movement has never been prepared to look at its antisemitism in a self-critical way.”

Leftwing antisemitism can arise from common misconceptions, such as coding all Jewish people (including those, like me, from an Arab-Jewish background) as white – in both political and status terms. Racism as an imagined white superiority over people of colour underpins current discrimination and appalling historical injustices such as colonialism and slavery, which continue to cause terrible harm today. By contrast, a core antisemitic trope is the Jewish conspiracy of a shadowy all-powerful group controlling the world, or at least the media – based on an imagined superior status of Jews. Perceptions of Jewish people as “white” can also mask their persecution as a racialised minority. Jews were long hated as the “other”, the Orientals of Europe, in language of a type deployed to demonise Arab and Muslim populations today.

Meanwhile, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has driven a wedge between battles against racism and antisemitism. The Oxford philosopher Brian Klug locates the genesis of this divide in a 1975 UN general assembly resolution asserting that Zionism, alongside colonialism and foreign occupation “is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. This, Klug argues, “erased the origins of Zionism in the Jewish historical experience of exclusion, expulsion and racial discrimination”. Eventually dropped, the resolution, he says, had a lasting effect on the left – diminishing the idea that, as well as being experienced as colonial racial discrimination by Palestinians, Zionism was also a national movement born of oppression and trauma. Cohen sums up this duality by describing Zionism as both racist and anti-racist – the latter because it was an answer to the murderous anti-Jewish racism of Europe.

For the left, this division deepened in 2001, when a world conference against racism in Durban, South Africa issued a statement that Zionism equals racism. Again Jewish nationalism arising from a need to escape race hate was defined solely and purely as a perpetrator of race hate. It’s not surprising that criticism of Israel grew more urgent and damning during this period. It was marked by the breakdown of the Oslo peace process and Palestinian uprising in 2000, Israel’s military reoccupation of the West Bank and building of a separation wall, its siege of Gaza and subsequent deadly assaults on the strip in 2008 and 2014, as well as war with Lebanon in 2006, demolitions of Palestinian homes and expansion of illegal Jewish settlements. But around this time, mention of Jewish self-determination came to be met with suspicion. It was seen as an attempt to quash the historical facts of the devastation and dispossession caused by Israel’s creation for Palestinians, or as deflection from Israel’s military aggression, or a way of engineering equivalence between two sides in a starkly asymmetric conflict.

More recently, divisions are compounded by political invocations of “Judeo-Christian values”. Commonly but by no means exclusively used by the far right as a way of excluding Islam, this Judeo-Christian tradition is a surprise to those who recall that the deadly depictions of Jewish people as responsible for killing Christ or drinking the blood of babies came out of Christian Europe. Or that Jews and Muslims enjoyed the centuries-long creative coexistence of a Golden Age in Spain – until Christian armies rolled up and expelled both communities in 1492. Or that Jews living in Arab and Muslim lands did not suffer the regular pogroms and persecutions inflicted upon their co-religionists in Christian Europe during the same period. If there is a historic sharing of values, it is a Muslim-Jewish one – although this currently has no perceived use politically. But the promotion of this mythical Judeo-Christian love-in has reinforced a perception of where Jewish people fit geopolitically: with the imperialist, crusading west and not among the persecuted and suppressed.

All of which feeds the blind spot we see now amid the left. It can appear obliquely, in suggestions that Jewish people have been granted unique protections from discrimination, or in the denial of material consequences to antisemitism so that, unlike other racism, it is only about offensive words. This misses the fact that language is frightening precisely because it is integral to the architecture of antisemitism, which can and has culminated in violence, exclusion and ultimately genocide. Race- or faith-based prejudice is ever-present across society, which is why such animosities can be so readily roused by ideologues.

A new alliance of black, Asian, Muslim and Jewish people, of which I am a member, advocates a different approach, asking that organisations not only tackle antisemitism but also link it to work on tackling other racism. It’s vital that the left reconnects these divided struggles, building solidarity and mutualism at a time when communities are being prised apart by global politics. Antisemitism within the left did not start with Labour’s current leader. He could, however, now help to end it.

Source: The left must restore the ties between antisemitism and other racism

Artist says Serena Williams U.S. Open cartoon ‘not about race.’ Experts disagree

Good background and discussion. My reaction looking at the cartoon is that it was racist:

If you follow tennis or Twitter, at all, you have probably seen the cartoon showing Serena Williams stomping on her racket in her U.S. Open loss on Saturday, with her features exaggerated into a caricature.

It is a product of Australia — from the Herald Sun, a tabloid in Melbourne owned by Rupert Murdoch. And it has set off an international storm of outrage, with athletes, fans and even J.K. Rowling denouncing the cartoon as sexist and racist.

How did it come to be?

On Tuesday, the artist, Mark Knight, and his boss tried to explain, arguing that their critics missed the point.

“The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behaviour on the day, not about race,” Knight said in an article on the Herald Sun website about the backlash.

The newspaper’s editor, Damon Johnston, backed him up.

“A champion tennis player had a mega-tantrum on the world stage, and Mark’s cartoon depicted that,” he said. “It had nothing to do with gender or race.”

Let’s examine that defence — with some history, context and a few experts in both cartooning and Australian race relations.

Who Is the Artist?

In Australia, Knight is a household name, known for being provocative. Politics and sports are his two main subjects and in defending his Williams cartoon on Twitter, he pointed to a previous critique of Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios as proof of his impartiality.

But Knight’s critics also point out that he has been accused of racist depictions before.

Earlier this year, he published a cartoon showing African teens fighting and causing destruction. It was an effort to criticize a local politician for banning the display of Sky News, a Murdoch-owned television news channel, from train platforms, but that is not how it was received.

Many Australians argue that Knight’s work reflects a wider pattern. Australia has never fully confronted its own history of racism, and scholars say the conversation around race in Australia is not as robust and layered as it is in the United States.

Ideas like implicit bias are rarely referenced or widely understood, for example, and many people say Knight’s employer deserves a fair share of the blame.

Murdoch’s News Corp. is the largest media company in Australia with assets that include more than 200 newspapers and magazines along with television channels and radio stations.

Many of these outlets, moving loosely together, have stirred racism for decades. And yet the tone and frequency have been intensifying more recently as their preferred party in Australia, the Liberals, have struggled politically.

The Murdoch press is not alone in the case of Williams. The sports media in Australia — in general dominated by white, older men — condemned Williams’ outburst while dismissing her argument that male players are given more leeway to misbehave.

“This is what Australia does,” said Shareena Clanton, an Aboriginal Australian actress and activist. “This is what it has always done to people of colour and, in particular, Black women who reach the top.”

“This whole cartoon is vile,” she added, saying that Williams’ opponent, Naomi Osaka, had been drawn as a white woman. “The fact that it was printed and passed the editor’s room speaks even more volumes about the landscape of our media here in Australia.”

Chris Kindred, a cartoonist in Richmond, Virginia, said it only confirmed what many Americans already knew. “It’s nothing new,” he said. “Australia has an issue confronting racism. Water is wet.”

Do the Artist’s Intentions Matter?

Knight and his editor have said that their motivations were pure.

“I drew this cartoon Sunday night after seeing the U.S. Open final, and seeing the world’s best tennis player have a tantrum and thought that was interesting,” Knight said in the statement, adding: “The world has just gone crazy.”

That explanation does not work for many cartoonists. Many said that working in the medium of cartooning means soaking up some of the history and that history is, flat out, inseparable from racism.

In interviews, other cartoonists went even further.

“Comics has a very long history of racist iconography, which includes blackface iconography in some of the most acclaimed cartoonists in history,” said Noah Berlatsky, author of Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics.

“Thomas Nast, Winsor McCay, Will Eisner, R. Crumb all used blackface imagery; Dr. Seuss did viciously racist anti-Japanese cartoons during World War II, and on and on,” Berlatsky said. “Using exaggerated racist imagery for comic effect is one of the most characteristic moves of the comic medium.”

It is hard to believe, he said, that Knight did not know this history. A spokesperson for the Herald Sun said Knight was too busy to be interviewed. But cartoonists who have tried to defend similar work in the past have argued that this history inoculates them — that it is just how cartooning works.

No way, Berlatsky said.

“The problem is that picking up racist iconography from 100 years ago in order to attack a Black woman still makes you racist, even if you think you’re participating in the tradition of comics rather than in the tradition of racism,” Berlatsky said. “The tradition of comics very often has been the same as the tradition of racism, and you can choose to push back against that, or you can be racist. Knight has chosen the second option.”

But Is It Fair to Hold an Australian to an American Standard?

Not being American, some cartoonists argue, is no excuse.

“While Australia has its own unique colonial history separate from the United States, the Western world, including Australia, share an esthetic history,” said Ronald Wimberly, an artist and designer known for his commentary on race and comics.

That history includes an effort “to dehumanize Black and brown people by degrading their features into symbols of the subhuman,” Wimberly said, offering a detailed critique of the U.S. Open cartoon, which he described as a failure on many levels:

“Is this cartoon racist? First, what is this cartoon doing? What’s the object? The text is a pretty clear, if flaccid, punchline regarding Serena Williams’ poor sportsmanship. It alludes to Serena being childish and angry (I’d argue that the text relies on racist, sexist tropes, too).

“But cartoons are a drawing medium. Now, I don’t want to blindly attribute intent, but setting aside the possibility that the cartoonist is just that poor a draughtsman, the drawings seem to ridicule Serena’s appearance. These aren’t very good likenesses. Mark isn’t using the medium to support his joke by, say, depicting Serena as a baby, in which case the pacifier should have been more prominently featured.

“Cartooning uses the shorthand of symbols to depict things. This is our craft. Using symbols. The pacifier is a symbol of immaturity, it alludes to a baby throwing a tantrum. But Mark is also drawing from a different history of symbols here. Racist and sexist symbols. Mark critiques the appearance and performance of Serena’s body in relation to race and sex, not her sportsmanship.”

Wimberly said there was only one conclusion that anyone who knows anything about cartooning or race could come to: “Whether or not Mark intended to draw on the racist history of the symbols, he has. His intent is irrelevant. Either he is a deliberately racist cartoonist — or an incompetent and careless cartoonist.”

Kindred, the cartoonist in Virginia, said that it ultimately comes down to quality, not just sensitivity.

“We want people to make better commentary,” he said. “Racism is a lazy joke to lean on.”

Source: Artist says Serena Williams U.S. Open cartoon ‘not about race.’ Experts disagree