Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Futility of “Colorblindness”: Sweden, Makode Linde, and the Grotesque “Art” of Blackface

It is supposedly 2012, and people are said to be post-racial. If this is the case, lots of people have not received the message as long-lived images of images and thoughts dehumanizing Black people still exist. (See also the Jim Crow Museum for Racist Memorabilia.) Because this painful history is still active, any image today that uses it destroys any other message the artist intends to convey. I apply this observation to a peculiar cake in Sweden below.

Unlike many posts under the “futility of colorblindness” title, this example comes from Sweden. It involves Makode Linde, a so-called Afro-Swedish artist. Linde made a cake shaped as a woman depicted in blackface imagery to depict the shameful act of female circumcision. Linde thinks he was brilliant and had a point; it all was for naught: The blackface imagery was the one to which the participants related. Linde is a non-artist as he is drawing on a long line of anti-Black images.

The “art” was lost on the crowd; the Black humanity being supposedly represented was not even recognized.

The Swedish minister for culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, attempts to deflect her lack of humanity with a call to defend the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression already exists; universal recognition and respect of every human’s personhood is what is really needed.

Trayvon Martin: Fla. Prosecutor Charges George Zimmerman with Second Degree Murder; Zimmerman in Custody, but Long Road Ahead

The Florida special prosecutor, Angela Corey, has decided to charge George Zimmerman with second-degree murder for the death of Trayvon Martin. Mr. Zimmerman is in custody as an arrest warrant was also issued against him.

Mr. Martin’s family has expressed thanks for the developments; however, there is a lot of work ahead to prepare for and go through a trial. The possibility of the State not being able to prove its murder case beyond a reasonable doubt remains. But at least the system took notice to investigate the circumstances that resulted in Mr. Martin being shot and killed.



Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology: Effectiveness of tjInspire Focuses on Appearance of Applicant Pool Only, No Effect on Admissions; TJ is a Technical Institute & Should Not Be Viewed as a General High School

In a previous post, I described the effort of Michael Wattendorf, president of the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) Black Student Union (BSU) and members of the BSU to mentor young students at elementary schools with high minority populations to apply for admission to TJ. The hope is that with more applicants from these student bodies there would be a greater likelihood of more students being selected for admission.

I do not agree with this argument. Simply getting more non-White applicants does not mean that there would be a greater likelihood of more admitted students (unless the selection was picked at random from a pile of papers). What tjInspire ultimately hopes to get the number of minority applicants up, which will make TJ look facially better, but the true test would be how many actually get admitted (and not how many apply—the focus of tjInspire).

The TJ admissions outreach PDF (page 14) also points toward this conclusion. There is already a good pool of Black and Hispanic applicants (I don’t think that this is necessarily an issue (barring any structural barriers)); however, there are low numbers of admitted students from these groups.

I think TJ is a very specialized high school focused almost exclusively on students who are precociously intelligent (take time-pressured, word-problem, and multiple-choice tests extremely well) and know from eighth grade that they want to devote their lives to scientific work. TJ is the place for them; however, TJ should not be lauded as the so-called best high school when it is really a technical institute in a high school setting.

If a student has a typical 14-year-old’s academic development (and does not want to focus on science and math exclusively), I think it is OK to go to another high school to complete their education.

The Futility of “Colorblindness”: High School’s Black Student Union Selects a White Male as President; Issue Is Not Color but Worldview

[Addendum (4-3-12): According to tjToday, in Mr. Wattendorf's winning essay for the Princeton Prize in Race Relations had a description of his experiences with the Black Student Union (BSU) at Thomas Jefferson High as well as a description of the start of TJinspire with the BSU.

In addition to being the president of the BSU, Mr. Wattendorf, according to Fairfax News, is the president of the Russian Honor Society, and is the captain of the cross country and winter and spring track teams. He was also an intern with D.C. Public Schools, and the Federation of American Scientists.]

The Washington Post published a story that stated that the Black Student Union at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology selected a White male, Michael Wattendorf, as the club’s president. The comments to the story on seem to focus on the optics of the situation–that it is right for a White male to be able to have the opportunity to lead the club.

United States (population: 308,745,538) (2010 Census)

Race Percentage of population Number
White 72.4% 223,553,265
Black 12.6 38,929,319
Native American 0.7 540,013
Asian 4.8 14,674,252

The real issue is not appearance but rather worldview. Mr. Wattendorf as a member of the United States dominant social group may not be cognizant of issues that involve the injustices of the accepted status quo order (which usually reflects the worldview and thoughts of the majority population).

Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology (enrollment: 1,800 (source: The Washington Post))

Race Percentage of enrollment Number
Asian 50% 906
White 44 787
Hispanic* 2 42
Black 2 34

*Hispanic is a national origin and not a race.

The test of fire will be whether Mr. Wattendorf will be able to effectively advocate for issues that challenge the dominant mindset at the school in the case where that exact mindset produces an injustice for those not in the majority. Given the exchange of views expressed at the end of the article concerning the Trayvon Martin case, my suspicion is no.

[Sidenote: A good book to read which researches issues involved in the article is Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists--Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States.]

Trayvon Martin: Comparison with Other Crimes Inappropriate; Lives Are Not Fungible

In listening to ABC’s This Week, it seems to be an argument expressed as why people are upset about Trayvon Martin’s death, when other Black males are killed (by other Black males) without the same level of attention. On its face, it seems that this type of argument (put forward in this instance by George Will) is insightful when it is not.

One read of this sentiment can be viewed that the person who says it views Black males as fungible, that is, one Black male is the same as another. This view, at its root, strips Black people of humanity.

I think a much better view is to view each case separately rather than trying to aggregate different situations together.

[Sidenote: George Will also argued that the institutions should be given time to work. This statement seems to be boilerplate because what can the institutions do when the evidence was not collected? The task force seems to be a delaying tactic. What can the task force realistically do at this point?]