An analysis of racial paradigms and ethnic projects in America

by Sanjana Sankaran, April 14, 2021 

Vilna Bashi-Treitler, The Ethnic Project: Transforming Racial Fiction into Ethnic Factions

Bashi-Treitler begins chapter three by answering the question, “How are ethnic groups racialized in the United States?” (Bashi-Treitler 2013: 44). She begins by discussing the three major racial paradigms that came about, starting in Europe and later in North America. The first racial paradigm started in England with the Irish. The first English colonization occurred in Ireland. The English despised their pastoral culture, viewed them as heathens, and instilled several discriminatory laws such as marriage bans, and enslavement. This racialized thinking was built on preexisting ideas of hierarchy and classism based on the feudal system of medieval times (Bashi-Treitler 2013). After the English began settlements in America, the second racial paradigm was developed: Native Americans. The odious views of the Irish were then reflected onto Native Americans. What started as Native Americans helping English settlers survive eventually led to the ill-treatment of indigenous people, stealing of lands, and genocide by the English due to racialized thinking. After the development of colonies, African Americans became the third racial paradigm (Bashi-Treitler 2013). 

Up until this point, race was a mere social experiment, but it was only when American colonists brought African American slaves to the New World did this experiment transform into a reality. African Americans now became the new basis, and still are to this day, of the racial hierarchy. Bashi-Trietler states that slaves were not slaves because they were black, but rather they became black after they became slaves. Elite white colonizers used racialized thinking to rationalize their desire for land, riches, and cheap labor. In the late 1600s to 1700s elite whites colonizers, in an attempt to subdue claims to power and land from Native Americans, ethnic whites such as Italians and Irish were now considered white in the racial hierarchy. With their status changed, the Irish and Italians would no longer try to protest against British colonizers with natives. While these groups may have still been discriminated against, in the context of the racial hierarchy, being closer to the top is always better than being on the bottom.  In the past, religious conversions could move ethnic people up in the hierarchy, but this could no longer be used to stop racial inequality and the mechanisms of racial politiculture (Bashi-Treitler 2013). From now on, one was either born white or was considered not white at all. Bashi-Treitlet then states that “When ‘white’ is fully formed as the category at the hierarchy’s topmost position, race is systematic, paradigmatic, and unmistakably North American” (Bashi-Treitler 2013: 52). 

At this point, Bashi-Treitler has established that Race and the rules that come with this construct are completely fictional, but they are still able to persist. She states the reason for this is due to the “systematic and societal support for the structure (or paradigm) of racial/racist thought” (Bashi-Treitler 2013: 59). One of the roots for the persistence of racism was internalized shame for those who accepted their higher status and shame associated with those who went against this racial thinking. There were not enough white allies who chose to stand up against this racial hegemony. As other ethnic groups began to assimilate into white culture, they still faced racial slurs and racial bias. She ends by saying that systemic racism persists not only because of the white group, but also due to the competition amongst all groups in this racial hierarchy. Any BIPOC group aims to stay away from the bottom of the racial hierarchy and be higher than other groups. In order to do this, groups that are not literally white have to find methods to assimilate such as ignoring key cultural aspects of their lives and adopting aspects of white culture, thus acknowledging white dominance. Bashi-Treitler states that all ethnic groups have feelings of superiority, differences from other groups, privilege, and fear of loss of their position in the hierarchy (Bashi-Treitler 2013). If this is recognized amongst all groups the problems of systemic racism can begin to get addressed.   

Many parts of this reading stood out to me, for instance, when Bashi-Treitler states that blackness was developed as a result of slavery. In my history classes, I have always been taught that that Americans and Western Europeans brought African Americans as slaves due to their black skin. However, we had never discussed the true motivations for slavery and how that brand of slavery evolved into anti-black rhetoric. At first, I found it a bit confusing due to my preexisting knowledge of slavery, but now I agree with Bashi-Treitler and understand that blackness was an idea that was created for labor and land. The racialized thinking of how we view blacks now came from the idea that we view them as the bottom of the hierarchy, expendable, and unworthy. 

Another aspect that I found interesting is when Bashi-Treitler states that all groups take part in the racialized hierarchy and each group vyes to be at the top. Before taking Racism and Ethnic Relations, I had naively believed that only white people can be racist and that the problems of systemic racism are rooted in the racialized mindset of white lawmakers. I now see that it is much larger than that. Not only can anyone have racist thinking, but anyone can feel this way to avoid the severe discrimination and societal disapproval that people at the bottom of the hierarchy face. When thinking about my own life, I know several Indians who are pro-Trump and anti-BLM because they feel that the social standing of black people is black people’s fault, In the process, Indians fall prey to the ideas of racial hegemony to avoid discrimination. However, what they do not realize is that Bashi-Treitler was right when she said that “Whiteness is a club you cannot marry into or join through naturalization; whiteness can only be bestowed. In the racialized United States of America, whiteness is the only attribute that really counts” (Bashi-Treitler 2013: 54). 

When trying to understand the racist ideologies of white supremacists and those of other cultures, I can now understand what Bashi-Treitler meant when she stated that whiteness is kept up because of shame. Whenever we hear the arguments of Trump supporters, for instance, they always say that society has become too politically correct. These people grew up believing that associating with BIPOC people and believing in ideas of equality brought about shame to them and their community. They may have also felt internalized shame because a majority of the population are not white supremacists. When Trump rose to power, this man, normalized open acts of racism, exposing the racialized mindset that was already present. 

Cover Page (Bashi-Treitler 2013)

References

Bashi, Treitler, Vilna. The Ethnic Project: Transforming Racial Fiction into Ethnic Factions, Stanford University Press, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/sunysb-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1324242.

Now and Then: An Analysis of Forced Sterilizations in the U.S.

by Sanjana Sankaran, October 18, 2020

In early September, news broke out about a whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, who alleged ‘medical neglect’ of ICE detainees and shined a light on the occurrence of unwanted mass hysterectomies. Wooten was a nurse who worked at one of the detention centers in Georgia.  She claimed that the care received was improper and unsafe which likely caused the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to the news reports and her statements, approximately seventeen to twenty women have confirmed that they were forcibly sterilized—that is, either their uterus or fallopian tubes were removed.  Wooten called this doctor, who was later identified as Dr. Mahendra Amin, a “uterus collector” (Miroff). Dr. Amin is a member of the Irwin County Hospital and has a private clinic close to the detention center.  Since the allegations have come out, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) wrote a letter that was signed by one hundred and seventy-three other representatives to launch an investigation into the medical practitioners employed by ICE, with a focus on Dr. Amin specifically (Miroff).

While the investigation is still ongoing, we know one thing for certain: we’ve been here before.  The U.S. has a historical precedence of conducting mass unwarranted and unwanted hysterectomies, causing many to worry that these allegations are true.

The development of the gynecological sciences itself is rooted in a history of mistreatment, neglect, and abuse toward Black, Latinx, and indigenous women.  In the 19th century, Dr. J. Marion Sims, who is now considered the father of modern gynecology, forcefully performed a number of experiments on enslaved Black women without the use of anesthesia.  Despite his strategically inhumane testing, Dr. Sims has been lauded for his discoveries and has statues erected in his honor across the country (Lennard). 

We don’t have to look that far in the past to see neglect and abuse in our healthcare system.  In the last century alone, thousands of women were forcibly sterilized across the nation.  At the turn of the 20th century, the eugenics movement started gaining more traction.  Perverting Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” many eugenicists believed it was natural and justified to facilitate the death of those with “unfavorable” genes.  This became shorthand for BIPOC lives, specifically the poor and the disabled.  This widespread scientific belief had shocking sociological implications. In the late 20th century, thirty-two states in the U.S. had federally funded eugenics programs involving sterilizing women who possessed “undesirable” genes (Lennard).   In the 1960s and 1970s, the Indian Health Service, which is the federal healthcare service provider for indigenous peoples, conducted hysterectomies at such a wide scale that the impact is still being felt now even generations later.  Around one in four women, and in some communities, as many as one in two women, were forcibly sterilized (Blakemore).

Figure 1 below provides a timeline of reproductive rights (Chuen).

Figure 1. A History of Racism, Sterilization Abuse, and Reproductive Rights (1919 – 1977).

To better understand the role ICE plays in perpetuating medical neglect and abuse, we must acknowledge the history of malicious activities within this organization.  The immigrant detention centers have been linked with racism and medical malpractice. In 1914, the United States Public Health Service partnered with the eugenics movement and worked together to prevent further immigration. They specifically targeted BIPOC’s, poor people, and the disabled implying they were the ones most likely to be criminals. This false view that BIPOC, especially those who are low income and living with disabilities, are more likely to commit crime than well-off able-bodied white people, still shapes our society today, most notably reforming our criminal justice policy (Ordaz).  Prior to President Trump’s election to office in 2016, ICE had an imperative to detain immigrants with criminal records.  Given the negative stereotyping and implicit bias that police officers have against BIPOC, this was already an unfair policy.  The current administration has since expanded this policy to apply to all immigrants who enter the country without documentation, removing the requirement of criminality.  Many federal investigations conducted over the past four years that have raised serious concerns about the state of ICE detention centers.  Specifically, the centers provide inhumane, unsanitary, and unhygienic conditions for detainees. When Dawn Wooten, the whistleblower, spoke out on the conditions of the ICE camps she stated, “I began to ask questions about why the detainees not be tested — symptomatic or non-symptomatic” (Alvarez).  Operationally, the centers already violate standard protocol and indicate clear negligence and devolution of human life (United States, Dept of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General).

During the Trump era beliefs of white supremacy, xenophobia and misogyny have only increased. His beliefs that all Mexicans are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists” emboldened the racist’s in the U.S. further dividing an already divided world. It is astounding that the administration that is so clearly pro-life, allows sterilization to take place, it is an oxymoron. This lack of action is because this administration is not pro-life. If the administration were actually pro-life, they would have had a national mask mandate, done shelter in place in February, stop denying the virus’s fatality rate, and keep the Affordable Care Act, especially for those with pre-existing conditions. 

The allegations of mass hysterectomies in ICE right now must be met with the utmost seriousness.  The doctors who have participated in these events or were bystanders should be met with some kind of consequence. The mass hysterectomies are a direct attack against women and are the result of a long upheld belief that not only do BIPOC women not have value but that women should not be in control of their own bodies. Whether it was one or twenty or a thousand, forced hysterectomies are acts of absolute moral malfeasance. 

Below are other resources to learn more about the history of forced sterilization. 

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/trump-ice/565772/

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/mass-hysterectomies-ice-happened-trump-s-watch-they-re-america-ncna1240238

https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/16/us/ice-hysterectomy-forced-sterilization-history/index.html


Works Cited

Alvarez, Priscilla. “Whistleblower Alleges High Rate of Hysterectomies and Medical Neglect at ICE Facility.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 Sept. 2020, http://www.cnn.com/2020/09/15/politics/immigration-customs-enforcement-medical-care-detainees/index.html. 

Blakemore, Erin. “The Little-Known History of the Forced Sterilization of Native American Women.” Daily JSTOR, JSTOR, 25 Aug. 2016, daily.jstor.org/the-little-known-history-of-the-forced-sterilization-of-native-american-women/. 

Chuen, Lorraine. “A Visualized History of Racism and Reproductive Rights in America.” Intersectional Analyst, Intersectional Analyst, 5 Feb. 2016, http://www.intersectionalanalyst.com/intersectional-analyst/2016/2/4/racismreproductiverights.

Lennard, Natasha. “The Long, Disgraceful History of American Attacks on Brown and Black Women’s Reproductive Systems.” The Intercept, 17 Sept. 2020, theintercept.com/2020/09/17/forced-sterilization-ice-us-history/.

Miroff, Nick. “Hospital Where Activists Say ICE Detainees Were Subjected to Hysterectomies Says Just Two Were Performed There.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 22 Sept. 2020, http://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/ice-detainee-hysterectomies-hospital/2020/09/22/aaf2ca7e-fcfd-11ea-830c-a160b331ca62_story.html.

Minna, Alexandra. “Forced Sterilization Policies in the US Targeted Minorities and Those with Disabilities – and Lasted into the 21st Century.” The Conversation, 5 Oct. 2020, theconversation.com/forced-sterilization-policies-in-the-us-targeted-minorities-and-those-with-disabilities-and-lasted-into-the-21st-century-143144. 

Ordaz, Jessica. “Perspective | Migrant Detention Centers Have a Long History of Medical Neglect and Abuse.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Sept. 2020, http://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/09/18/migrant-detention-centers-have-long-history-medical-neglect-abuse/.

United States, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General. “Concerns about ICE Detainee Treatment and Care at Four Detention Facilities.” Washington: DHS, 2019. Web. 9 Oct. 2020.