Thinking about Race

2014 Items

Black Dolls (January 2014)

Excerpts from “Black Is Beautiful: Why Black Dolls Matter,” by Lisa Hix in Utne Reader, February 2013. The article focuses on the documentary Why Do You Have Black Dolls? by Samantha Knowles. The film debuted in October 2012 at the Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival in New York City, where it won the Reel Sisters Spirit Award. It was also selected for the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival and the Hollywood Black Film Festival in Beverly Hills.

 “When a young child is playing with a doll, she is mimicking being a mother, and in her young, impressionable years, I want that child to understand that there’s nothing wrong with being black. If black children are force-fed that white is better, or if that’s all that they are exposed to, then they might start to think, ‘What is wrong with me?’” says Debbie Behan Garrett, author of Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion.

Knowles says that [doll maker Debra] Wright best sums up her answer to the question posed by the film: “I think women know that they’re beautiful … But when you see a doll, it’s such a wonderful reminder of that beauty—because somebody took the time to make a doll in your likeness.”

Among Knowles interviewees were Barbara Whiteman, a black doll collector who runs the 25-year-old Philadelphia Doll Museum where she has a rotating display of 300 of her collection of 1,000 black dolls. On Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, Knowles’ documentary screened during the Black History Month programming at the National Black Doll Museum in Mansfield, Massachusetts.

Read more at:

Toni Morrison (February 2014)

“… until very recently, and regardless of the race of the author, the readers of virtually all of American fiction have been positioned as white. I am interested to know what that assumption has meant to the literary imagination. When does racial ‘unconsciousness’ or awareness of race enrich interpretive language, and when does it impoverish it? What does positing one’s writerly self, in the whole racialized society that is the United States, as unraced and all other as raced entail? What happens to the writerly imagination of a black author who is at some level always conscious of representing one’s own race to, or in spite of, a race of readers that understands itself to be ‘universal’ or race-free? In other words, how is ‘literary whiteness’ and ‘literary blackness’ made, and what is the consequence of that construction? How do embedded assumptions of racial (not racist) language work in the literary enterprise that hopes and sometimes claims to be ‘humanistic’? When, in a race-conscious culture, is that lofty goal actually approximated? When not and why? Living in a nation of people who decided that their world view would combine agendas for individual freedom and mechanisms for devastating racial oppression presents a singular landscape for a writer.

From the preface to Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, by Toni Morrison, 1992.

No freak accident (March 2014)

From The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, pp. 237-238.

“Saying mass incarceration is an abysmal failure makes sense, though, only if one assumes that the criminal justice system is designed to prevent and control crime. But if mass incarceration is understood as a system of social control—specifically, racial control—then the system is a fantastic success. In less than two decades, the prison population quadrupled, and large majorities of poor people of color in urban areas throughout the United States were placed under the control of the criminal justice system or saddled with criminal records for life. Almost overnight, huge segments of ghetto communities were permanently relegated to a second-class status, disenfranchised, and subjected to perpetual surveillance and monitoring by law enforcement agencies. One could argue this result is a tragic, unfortunate mistake, and that the goal was always crime control, not the creation of a racial undercaste. But judging by the political rhetoric and the legal rules employed in the War on Drugs, the result is no freak accident.”

The SINC-sponsored Adult Forum on Sunday, March 9, at 9:15 am, will consist of an overview and discussion of this book.

Conscious and Unconscious Biases (April 2014)

From The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, pp. 106.

“A survey was conducted in 1995 asking the following question: ‘Would you close your eyes for a second, envision a drug user, and describe that person to me?’ The startling results were published in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education. Ninety-five percent of respondents pictured a black drug user, while only 5 percent imagined other racial groups. These results contrast sharply with the reality of drug crime in America. African Americans constituted only 15 percent of current drug users in 1995, and they constitute roughly the same percentage today. Whites constituted the vast majority of drug users then (and now), but almost no one pictured a white person when asked to imagine what a drug user looks like. The same group of respondents also perceived the typical drug trafficker as black. ….

“Decades of cognitive bias research demonstrates that both unconscious and conscious biases lead to discriminatory actions, even when an individual does not want to discriminate.”

{Note: you can explore Implicit Bias tests at this website:]

The Working Group on Racism will hold two sessions in May (May 11 SINC forum and May 14, 7-9 pm) to discern action items Friends can take to reduce mass incarceration and its effects. See separate announcement for details and try to be part of one of the sessions.

Wishing away racial inequality? (Summer 2014)

Justice Sonia Sotomayor's fierce defense of affirmative action efforts such as the ones that helped move her from a Bronx housing project to the upper echelons of American law found renewed voice (in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, April 22, 2014) in an impassioned dissent that accused colleagues of trying to "wish away" racial inequality - and drew a tart response from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr…. The court's first Latina justice directly took on Roberts's view that the nation's continued reliance on racial classifications hinders rather than promotes the goal of a color-blind society... She said, "This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. The way to stop discrimination is to speak openly and candidly about race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination." …she said her colleagues ignored "the importance of diversity in institutions of higher education" and the decision "reveals how little my colleagues understand about the reality of race in America.”

From "Sotomayor accuses colleagues of trying to 'wish away' racial inequality", by Robert Barnes, The Washington Post, April 22, 2014. Note: Only Justice Ginsburg supported her dissent.

Personal obstacle or system of oppression? (September 2014)

Seeing images of successful black people makes others think racism doesn’t exist. That’s hardly surprising. Not much is when it comes to racism. But it underscores what’s so frustrating about our “national conversation on race.” People come to the table not understanding what racism is.

It’s not entirely their fault. Race Forward’s “Moving the Race Conversation Forward” report from January [2014] showed that “two-thirds of race-focused media coverage fails to consider how systemic racism factors into the story, instead typically focusing upon racial slurs and other types of personal prejudice and individual-level racism.” The result is the understanding of racism as a personal obstacle to be overcome, rather than a system of oppression rooted in white supremacy.

If we’re having trouble getting to the first step acknowledging racism as a system of oppression, the prospects of actually undoing and replacing that system appear bleak.

From The Nation, blog by Mychal Denzel Smith entitled “Surprise! Study Finds People don’t Understand How Racism Works,” June 12, 2014

Class and race (October 2014)

“Examine the interplay between poverty and racial equity. The twin pillar of racism is economic injustice, but do not use class issues to trump race issues and avoid the racism conversation. While racism and class oppression are tangled together in this country, the fact remains that the number one predictor of prosperity and access to opportunity is race.” [Emphasis added.]

From the August 14, 2014, blog post of Janee Woods, “Becoming a White Ally to Black People in the Aftermath of the Michael Brown Murder.” This is just one of 12 things Janee Woods urges whit people to do “to dismantle racial inequity and shine a light on the oppressive structures that led to yet another extrajudicial killing of a black person.” See

Within Our Lifetime (November 2014)

“The Within Our Lifetime (WOL) Network brings together organizations and individuals from across the country who have made the bold and audacious commitment to uproot the embedded racial hierarchy in our society and to work toward ending racism within our lifetime.” (See )

During October, the WOL Network held a campaign to raise awareness about the impact of implicit bias and to encourage actions to combat it. Just what is implicit bias? Implicit bias

  • “refers to the way people unconsciously and sometimes unwillingly exhibit bias toward other individuals and groups. Many people are not aware of having implicit bias.
  • “should not be confused with explicit forms of bias, or racism. Explicit bias, or overt racism, involves conscious and knowing discrimination toward other individuals and groups.
  • “can reveal itself in different ways, such as by the words we use to express feelings and behavior toward people of color.

“These unconscious mechanisms are deeply embedded in various aspects of our lives, including health care, education, and our criminal justice system.”

(Adapted from “State of the Science Implicit Bias Review 2013,” Cheryl Staats, of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University.

The topic of implicit bias also appeared in April’s Thinking About Race. Here again is the link for the Implicit Bias tests: Even though it may not be October, you may still participate in this campaign. Efforts to end bias and racism are ongoing.

“Misteaching History” (December 2014)

“… we’ve paid great attention to Nelson Mandela’s call for forgiveness and reconciliation between South Africa’s former white rulers and its exploited black majority. But we’ve paid less attention to the condition that Mandela insisted must underlie reconciliation -- truth. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Mandela established, and that Bishop Desmond Tutu chaired, was designed to contribute to cleansing wounds of the country’s racist history by exposing it to a disinfecting bright light.

“In [this] issue of the School Administrator, I write that we do a much worse job of facing up to our racial history in the United States, leading us to make less progress than necessary in remedying racial inequality. We have many celebrations of the civil rights movement and its heroes, but we do very little to explain to young people why that movement was so necessary. [On Dec. 9, 2013] the New York Times described how the Alabama Historical Association has placed many commemorative markers around Montgomery to commemorate civil rights heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, but declined -- because of “the potential for controversy” -- to call attention to the city’s slave markets and their role in the spread of slavery before the Civil War. Throughout our nation, this fear of confronting the past makes it more difficult to address and remedy the ongoing existence of urban ghettos, the persistence of the black-white achievement gap, and the continued under-representation of African Americans in higher education and better-paying jobs.”

- Richard Rothstein, in the December 2013 issue of School Administrator, “Misteaching History on Racial Segregation - Ignoring purposeful discriminatory government policies of the past contributes to the ongoing achievement gap”