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D.C. DAILY REPORTS and Documents | iPNB D.C. meeting info
Renteria statement

Presented at the iPNB meeting in Washington D.C, December 6 - 8, 2002


"Being the other involves a contradictory phenomenon. On the one hand, being the other frequently means being invisible. Ralph Ellison wrote eloquently about that experience in his magisterial novel, "The Invisible Man". On the other hand, being the other sometimes involves sticking out like a sore thumb. What is she/he doing here?

"If one is the other one will inevitably be perceived unidimensionally; will be seen stereotypically; will be defined and delimited by mental sets that may not bear much relation to existing realities. There is a darker side to otherness as well. The other disturbs, disquiets, discomforts. It provokes distrust and suspicion. The other makes people feel anxious, nervous, apprehensive, even fearful. The other frightens, scares. "For some of us, being the other is only annoying; for others, it is debilitating; for still others, it is damning." – Allan G. Johnson


"When this phenomenon occurs, those concerned are doubted more often, ridiculed more often, supervised more closely, maneuvered into the least critical decision-making whenever possible, and when challenged in some outrageous rather than legitimate way by someone over whom they technically have direct power, find no minimal and fair-minded support from peers who belong to the long-accepted groups, nor from those in supervisory roles. Fair- minded support here, would involve an open-minded inquiry with no predisposition to suppose these members of traditionally excluded groups to have used power incompetently or immorally. If indeed the challenge or complaint turned out to be prompted by malice or prejudice, fair-minded support would also involve a sturdy indignation aimed at the culprit, not a dismissive shrug of the shoulders aimed at the victim." – Jean Harvey


"It is easier than in the past to observe collective transferences upon a scapegoat because they are no longer sanctioned and concealed by religion. And yet it is still difficult for individuals addicted to them to conceal their scapegoating from themselves, and as a general rule they succeed. Today, as in the past, to have a scapegoat is to believe one doesn't have any. The phenomenon in question doesn't usually lead any longer to acts of physical violence, but it does lead to psychological violence that is easy to camouflage. Thos who are accused of participating in hostile transference never fail to protest their good faith, in all sincerity." – Rene Girard

November 22, 2002

In the hiring of Eva Georgia, KPFK embraced a woman who embodied "otherness". It was done with liberal pride. Pride that the new GM was a veteran of the struggle against apartheid, a political refugee, an immigrant, a woman of color and a lesbian.

But "otherness" as Arturo Madrid notes above, poses real danger for the "other". Every "other" is a potential scapegoat.

The pride in Georgia's hiring quickly turned into its opposite. The new GM became an instant target for a variety of charges. These charges are grounded in little but conjecture and opinion layered on opinion. They are not only unverifiable but in most cases are entirely unrelated to Georgia's performance during her tenure at KPFK. Setting aside for a moment the question of the veracity of those charges, one thing remains clear.

The charges against Georgia are consistent with the stigmas and stereotypes used as weapons against women, people of color, lesbians and immigrants. In other words, each fits either a racist, heterosexist, sexist, or xenophobic stereotype. Let's look briefly at each of the themes struck by Georgia's detractors:

  • People of color are violent – Eva Georgia is "physically abusive"
  • Women are manipulative – Eva Georgia is a "liar"
  • People of color are criminals – Eva Georgia is a "thief"
  • People of color and women are not rational – Eva Georgia is a "hothead"
  • People of color play the "race card" opportunistically – Eva Georgia "opportunistically" applied for political asylum
  • People of color play the "race card" opportunistically – Eva Georgia's hiring and firing practices are "racist"
  • People of color and lesbians are sexual threats – Eva Georgia is a "sexual harasser"
  • People of color and women are incompetent – Eva Georgia is a "bad manager"

The significance of these stereotypes is that each applies to what sociologists call "master statuses." Sociologists and ethnologists have described in detail the impact of master statuses and hierarchies of privilege. These terms can be understood as describing our position in a social hierarchy reflected in entitlements associated with race, class, gender and other categories of sameness and difference.

Master statuses reflect the degree of credibility and power granted to different social groups. Based on one's master statuses an individual may be considered credible – the most "credible" group in the U.S. is white males in positions of authority – or one can be variously discredited or discreditable. Intersecting with the level of credibility associated with different master statuses is the perceived degree of entitlement to positions of social power and privilege that are granted to or withheld from persons in each status group.

Those in oppressed master statuses are normally expected to be dominated, subordinated, undereducated, undeserving, invisible, and by definition "discredited" – not to be believed.

The term "discreditable," on the other hand, applies to those who attempt to occupy a social position to which they are not "entitled" based on their master statuses. The social dynamic surrounding the "discreditable" are complex and are often associated with the phenomenon of "passing." One "passes" in order to gain the unearned advantages, privileges, and entitlements to power and material gain that are normally reserved for those in a higher master status. The "discreditable" live in a kind of double jeopardy – subject to the charge of betraying the oppressed group from which they emerged and simultaneously targetable for having "dishonestly" gained access to a level of privilege and power – of having, in effect, ripped off or gained under false pretenses the entitlements reserved for those "above" them. In effect, the powerful create an environment to which only they have access and react as if "their" power had been illegitimately seized if a member of a discredited group gains entrance.

The dynamics associated with the discredited and the discreditable have attained an acute level of complexity in the case of KPFK and its General Manager, one in which the white liberal outlook of much of the community creates field upon field of interpenetrating distortions, as analyzed in a companion piece by KPFK LAB member Leslie Radford. Suffice it to say for the purposes of this analysis that:

  • Georgia fits several discredited master statuses;
  • that the charges against her fit into several categories of stereotypes associated with her master statuses;
  • that as a woman of color, an immigrant, a refugee and a lesbian, she is highly vulnerable to being discredited;
  • and that due to the predominance in the KPFK environment of outlooks looks associated with white middle class privilege and white liberalism, Georgia is subject to a particularly acute double bind. She is subject to being discredited both as an "unfit" representative of the oppressed groups to which she belongs (groups for which liberals claim profound "sympathies") and as a consequence unfit for a position of power traditionally reserved for white males.
  • The image being created is that Georgia doesn't deserve the credit liberals imagine they grant to oppressed groups and that, insofar as she is claimed to, in effect, "fit" racist, heterosexist and other stereotypes, she lacks the requisite status to fill their expectations of a person in power. In a word, she fails to be a heterosexual American white male.

To repeat then, in an unusual twist, Georgia is being identified with negative stereotypes based on each of her master statuses in a ploy that allows her liberal political opponents to claim in every charge they make that she is both an inauthentic representative of the oppressed groups to which she belongs and – again, based on the same racist, sexist, hererosexist and xenophobic stereotypes, unfit for the power, privilege and status associated with the position of General Manager.

These same liberals will object to this analysis on the premise that they themselves are "different" than most whites, more enlightened and not therefore subject to influence by racist, sexist, heterosexist and xenophobic stereotypes. This kind of objection has been identified by sociologists as a specific expression of social denial and of shifting blame and the burden of proof onto the victim of oppression.

A stereotype is, of course, not merely an image held in the consciousness of a lone, somewhat deranged and morally culpable individual racist, perhaps of the Aryan Nation variety. To the contrary, in the U.S., racial and other stereotypes are inescapable images imbedded deeply in the psyche of the oppressed and oppressor alike. Their image is pounded home in thousands of repetitions in every media of communication of cultural norms. All of us hold inside the image of young Black men as criminals and predators. The image is driven home in every newspaper and newscast and spread like a contagion of fear throughout the entirety of both Black and non-Black culture in the U.S.

No one is immune to it. Even if we consciously reject it, each of us has internalized the image and it continues to hold a subconscious power that is reinforced with each repetition to which we are exposed. The overcoming of these images – the overcoming of internalized racism for people of color and of racial fear and loathing for whites – is a monumental and ongoing task, once one grasps the depth of it.

Likewise, each of us is exposed to sexist images dozens if not hundreds of times a day. To suggest that any single individual is not subject to the power of these images at one level or another is to suggest that that individual metaphorically lacks the capacity of sight and hearing, that that individual is an island, a rock, a singular, invulnerable and untouched exception to all the powers of communication and acculturation. No such person of any race exists in any culture.

The stigma-based attacks on Georgia are aimed in one consistent direction – they constitute an effort to undermine what Dr. Jean Harvey would call Georgia's "support power". Harvey notes that "when members of groups traditionally excluded from such positions [of power] begin to move into them, unreliable support power is not uncommon." (42)

Support power, she says, is essential if a person filling an office is to carry out their assigned duties and exercise their assigned powers. But those from oppressed groups – especially the "firsts", the first Black, the first woman, the first gay person – to fill a position cannot usually take for granted the same level of backing and support from peers, superiors, and subordinates as that afforded to those in traditionally privileged master statuses. "Yet," Harvey asserts, "basically reliable support power is crucial if someone is to function without ongoing harassment and threats to important intangibles like personal or professional reputation."

This is all the more true in the politically volatile atmosphere of a station like KPFK, in which a new movement has replaced an overtly reactionary regime, and in a situation in which there is a significant group of hold-overs from the reactionary regime still in the station. In this case, it is a simple and predictable matter for political differences to become couched in terms of personal attacks and smear campaigns.

It is, in fact, typical that they do so, insofar as personal attack is both a path of least resistance and the path least likely to expose the politics at stake to the light of day for serious debate and consideration.

At KPFK, under conditions that can only be described as a "regime change," it is to be expected that a core group that supports the dominance of the program grid by the old white liberal Nation Magazine/L.A. Weekly brigade, that upholds the Strategic Five Year Plan - like former interim G.M. Roy Hurst, Marc Cooper Producer Dan Pavlish, and their associates – and those whose politics are both anti-communist and pro-capitalist - like Sonali Kolhatkar - would find it advantageous to speak only indirectly of the real issues at stake and to obscure and reduce larger political issues to matters of managerial style.

The pretense is maintained, for example, that Hurst's support of the Five-Year Plan, Esther Manilla's refusal to air programming on the Pacifica Race & Nationality Guidelines, Eben Rey's right-wing conspiracy theorizing, or Beto Arcos' support for the Schubb/Cooper clique has nothing to do with the matters at hand or with the battle around race, gender and class being fought out on the KPFK stage.

Instead, charges of "unfairness" in hiring and firing practices are leveled at the G.M. as if the political direction of the station were of no consequence. The effort to undermine Georgia's support power is also and primarily an effort to undermine the direction of programming she has established at the station. The changes that the General Manager has made in programming, interestingly, have been met with overwhelming support from the listeners and listener-activists, yet under the onslaught of stereotyped attacks, this key criteria of good management is in danger of becoming invisible and ignored.

Jean Harvey remarks on what results when a manager's support power is lacking and describes the kind of support that should occur once a member of an oppressed group has been successfully undermined:

"When this phenomenon occurs, those concerned are doubted more often, ridiculed more often, supervised more closely, maneuvered into the least critical decision-making whenever possible, and when challenged in some outrageous rather than legitimate way by someone over whom they technically have direct power, find no minimal and fair-minded support from peers who belong to the long-accepted groups, nor from those in supervisory roles. Fair-minded support here would involve an open- minded inquiry with no predisposition to suppose these members of traditionally excluded groups to have used power incompetently or immorally. If indeed the challenge or complaint turned out to be prompted by malice or prejudice, fair-minded support would also involve a sturdy indignation aimed at the culprit, not a dismissive shrug of the shoulders aimed at the victim."
In a word, then, an immigrant lesbian of color in Georgia's position would require three times the support power of a white male in the same position. In the absence of that level of support, Georgia has in fact been attacked, ridiculed, stringently supervised and maneuvered into positions where she can make only the least critical decisions in terms of programming and the composition of the staff. When challenged in an outrageous way by someone over whom she technically had direct power (for example, the refusal of one staffer to hand over the keys), she was not met with fair-minded support from her peers, nor, apparently, adequate support from her supervisor. In any case, this incident became the harbinger of a series of charges pertaining to supposedly "mishandling" of staff.

In light of the foregoing, it is important to contextualize the social dynamics of crisis and persecution in which the stigmatized and stereotyped are often transformed into scapegoats and, in effect, "banished" from the community. Rene Girard has illuminated a process he calls the "scapegoat" mechanism or the "victimage mechanism." According to Girard's translator, J.G. Williams, the scapegoat mechanism refers to "the unconscious snowballing process that reaches a point of crisis and ends the disorder of human rivalries and scandals by expelling or lynching a victim."

This mechanism requires an accuser or prosecutor. The charges need not be true, only sufficient to create a scandal capable of becoming "unanimously convincing by virtue of violent contagion." The victims of this contagion "are chosen not for the crimes they are accused of but for the victims' signs they bear" and "the import of the operation is to lay the responsibility for the crisis on the victims and to exert influence on it by destroying these victims, or at least banishing them from the community they 'pollute.' "

In focusing on a single target, the community purges itself of all its many tensions and rivalries and finds itself reunited and at "peace."

"Once the unfortunate victim is completely isolated, deprived of defenders, nothing can protect her or him from the aroused crowd. Everyone can set upon the victim without having to fear the least reprisal.

"The victim may seem insignificant in relation to all the appetites for violence that are converging on him or her, but at this very moment, the community desires nothing other than the victim's destruction. This victim, thus effectively replaces all those who were in conflict just a little earlier in the thousand scandals here and there and who are now mustered against a single target.

"No one in the community has an enemy other than the victim, so once this person is hunted, expelled, and destroyed, the crowd finds itself emptied of hostility and without an enemy. Only one enemy was left, one who has been eliminated. Provisionally, at least, this community no longer experiences hatred toward anything or anyone; it feels purified of all its tensions, its divisions, of everything fragmenting it."

Girard's translator points out that the scapegoat mechanism "could of course select more than one victim, perhaps a minority group, foreigners…" etc.

Girard's central point is that "we must not confuse justice with the theatre of sacrifice" (Stephanie Abraham, private correspondence). Girard himself suggests that "the more signs of a victim the individual bears, the more likely he is to attract disaster." And that "persecutors believe they choose the victim because of crimes they attribute to them…. Actually, the victims are determined by the criteria of persecution" itself – which is to say, victims are chosen not according to their "crimes" but according to their master statuses.

It remains unclear whether Georgia's opponents will succeed in their effort to destabilize her support power entirely and cause the collapse of the new direction in programming she represents. Certainly, that effort is ongoing, most acutely in the maneuvering of one faction within the Program Director Search Committee to find candidates who could neutralize her power. It is also to be seen in the intense maneuvering in the KPFK community around the review of the General Manager that is currently underway. Whether the effort to stigmatize her reaches its crescendo in her expulsion ( just as Girard outlines the process) also remains to be seen, and the result is largely in the hands of Pacifica's Executive Director and the interim Pacifica National Board.

If Georgia is removed, the result will not only be the unjust product of oppressive dynamics but may also be devastating in a signal area where there is already a profound distrust of Pacifica among oppressed communities, a distrust most sharply expressed in the Latino and African American communities following the white liberal purge of their on-air representatives from KPFK's airwaves in the last decade.

If KPFK's reputation in communities of color deteriorates even further, it may become increasingly difficult to recruit qualified candidates of color. As Allen G. Johnson notes in Privilege, Power and Difference, "The word goes out that if you aren't white, aren't heterosexual, aren't male, and aren't desperate, you'll do better someplace else…."

The Pacifica Foundation's commitment to its guidelines on race and nationality and to the authentic and deeper implications of those guidelines is being tested in this situation. Many organizations fail at such junctures. But as Johnson points out, "Most organizations' failure in the area of diversity occurs not because they're run by mean- spirited white male bigots – few are – but because they deal with diversity badly or not at all, unless a crisis forces the issue. Even then, they deal with it only enough to make it seem to go away, which usually doesn't include confronting the reality of privilege and oppression." Johnson further points out that failure in the area of diversity doesn't neccesarily happen "all at once in some dramatic moment of truth." Fundamentally, he says, "The problem is the same culture of denial and neglect that permeates society as a whole."

Under any conditions "racial healing," healing "gender wounds" and "reconciliation" cannot occur until the dynamics that wound us in these areas have been brought to a halt. While the Pacifica Mission and Pacifica's Race and Nationality Guidelines uphold the principle of dialogue, it is nevertheless the case that dialogue without decision – without taking a decisive position in the favor of the oppressed – can readily reduce to what Paulo Freire would call mere "verbalism." It can reduce to a "dialogue" that excludes the voice of the oppressed and the knowledge of the dynamics that oppress them. Dialogue itself, Freire says, implies both reflection and action "in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed – even in part – the other immediately suffers." Thus, "to speak a true word is to transform the world" and to do so in the interests of the oppressed and their liberation.

In the review of Eva Georgia, the moment of decision is upon us. What will be decided will be less a judgment of Georgia herself than it is of Pacifica's authenticity and commitment to its Mission.

Rafael Renteria
Los Angeles Representative
Pacifica Race & Nationality Workgroup


Phone: (323) 663-4751

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