On Republican 'Epiphanies' (or It's All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses an Eye)

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“It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye!” The time-tried admonishment by parents when their children are doing something inherently unsafe that could bring about dire consequences; like playing with a BB gun, like voting Republican.

The author of the most recent “I used to be a Republican” article fell on very hard times and saw his political party in a new light. That “new” light has been on for the past 40-plus years. Like just about 100% of all of these “epiphanies,” the now-former Republican met with hardship and found himself out of the Republican fold. That person now has to has to stand next to and/or live near “those people,” the people that Republicans focus all their negative attention on. He now has to use the social programs that his former political party has been trying to end, or cut to the point of being useless, or post so many roadblocks to access that no one can use them. He sees the light, has a change of heart, and stops voting Republican. Then, as always, the concluding statement: “I didn’t leave the Republican party, it left me.”

As a member of the demographic group that the Republicans bash on a regular basis and use for campaign material (see the recent Mitt and Ann Romney interview) I look at these “epiphanies” with a cynical eye. I put “epiphany” in quotes in these cases for a reason. Not because the person has fallen on hard times and has seen the light, but that it took such a fall for him to see the light.

People of color in general are behind in every social category, yet we have a political party that ignores those facts and castigates them as being a drain on society, only wanting “free stuff” and to live off the government. Ignorance, in this case voting Republican, can only function in the absence of truth and the darkness of lies and hatred.

I have heard various racists and the ignorant joke about how great it would be to be black. One of my mother’s friends commented, lightheartedly, that she wished she could get free services upon hearing that my mom had gotten some free minor home upgrades, like a ramp for the door to the garage and safety bars for the bathtub, because she was black (with a white father, but that does not change anything in a racial caste society), over 65, female, and disabled; my mother has asthma and severe osteoarthritis in both knees, has to walk with two canes, and is a candidate for knee-replacement surgery. In contrast, her friend is white, late 50’s, medium build, and walks for exercise most every day. Nothing wrong with free stuff, but why would anyone want to joke around like that? Neither my mom nor anyone else, for that matter, wants to be disabled.

Did everything magically change such that some think people of color are now equal to the majority in all social categories just because a black man is President of the USA? Are they that ignorant of the facts and history? I guess they are. Continue reading On Republican ‘Epiphanies’ (or It’s All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses an Eye)

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Why I Work on MLK Day

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I was glad to see that Martin Luther King’s birthday was made into a federal holiday, in spite of the grousing of the rabid racist right wing. I wasn’t very glad to see it touted as another big sale day for retailers, but I wasn’t surprised. You can see the irony in the ads for some retailers: the MLK Day white sale.

At my old job, only two of my colleagues took it as a personal day off; one was black, the other was white. I was surprised that a white guy would take MLK Day as a day off, until I learned that his wife was a schoolteacher and that was a day off for her, but I digress.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in contrast to his present-day social hero status, was very much a radical and very much hated by the white power structure while he was alive. In addition to helping end Jim Crow segregation, he protested against the Vietnam War, he protested in favor of labor rights and for the poor and impoverished. He shook the rotted racist social foundations and traditions and helped to break some of them, but there’s still a long way to go.

The main reason why I work on MLK Day is because I can. He and the members of the Civil Rights Movement struggled so that I could go to my local elementary, middle school and high school, and not have to be bussed far from home. I could go to college, any college, and not just an HBCU. I could get a professional job and not be restricted to menial labor or cooking or teaching and other similar jobs. Not that there’s anything wrong with those jobs; they are honest work, but anyone should be allowed to do whatever they want and not be limited because they have the “wrong” skin color. Continue reading Why I Work on MLK Day

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The Cost of Maintaining a Social and Racial Underclass

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Late one past weekend, I came in the middle of a conservation between some of my fellow dancers after a night of contra dancing, talking about the term “African-American” and where it applies and where it doesn’t. Since all present were white, of course they were experts on the topic—not. I was in a good mood and took the opportunity to steer the conservation to safer topics because listening to ignorance regarding race is a quick way to foul my good mood. The question that came to mind later was: Why were they even talking about that? That’s a topic that they have no business in and no understanding of. The answer is because they can and they think they have business in that topic—but not where and why they think.

The Need for an Underclass

The need for an underclass goes back to the time of the British North American colonies. An extension of the class structure in Great Britain, the landed gentry class needed an underclass for the menial labor so that gentlemen could engage in gentlemanly pursuits. The people available for the labor class were the lower-class landless peasants from Britain and Ireland, and indentured servants (they were not slaves, yet) imported from West Africa. The upper class quickly found that they were outnumbered and the Africans and lower-class indentured servants had a lot of common interests. Some of that exploded into Bacon’s Rebellion in the late 1600’s.

The terrified upper class had to prevent a repeat of Bacon’s Rebellion, so they instituted a series of laws and reforms to separate and break the common interests of the lower classes. Those included the creation of a slave class of Africans and slavery as an accepted institution, and the beginnings of racism and the racial caste system and an underclass that exists to the present. Race was an obvious and sure means of identification. Create a slave class of black people, thus anyone black is most likely a slave. Grant rights above slave status to the lower-class white people, but less than the rights of the landed gentry; that is, make the white lower class honorary members of “the club”, i.e. the club of whiteness. Since they can be in “the club” and black people cannot, “club” members are obvious. They now have a status higher than the slaves. No common interests, no need for rebellion. Next, use the honorary members to watch the slave class. Membership in “the club” has meaning and becomes more important in advancing one’s own interests. The few enlightened and/or unsatisfied “rabble-rousers” are quickly marginalized and ignored.

Why Race Matters

When your demographic group is at the top of the social hierarchy, but not in the 1%, an underclass is good to have because there is someone that you’re better than. Also, when your group is at the top, anything that happens to “those people” is their fault because they aren’t good enough, smart enough, hard-working enough, etc. and you’ll be all right because you are good enough, smart enough, hard-working enough, etc. One does not have to do anything; there’s a whole social structure that does the work. It keeps the members of the overclass up and the underclass down.

Unemployment among black people is double the national average, along with higher high school dropout rates, higher incarceration rates, lower economic rates, etc. Again, the list goes on. To borrow from Tim Wise, all of this didn’t magically happen; stuff gets done to people by other people, especially the people with the power to do it. Oppressed people aren’t oppressed by accident.

At What Cost?

The psychological benefit of having a racial and social underclass is obvious: Having “those people” to blame for the ills of society (why public education stinks, why there are drugs and crime and ghettos, potholes, PMS pain, male pattern baldness, and on and on). It’s great to have a scapegoat to blame. Psychological benefits often trump economic costs, which is usually why the cheaper economic option is not always followed. It is cheaper to add some after-school programs than to house prisoners, but throwing “those people” in jail makes society feel better. It is cheaper to have government-run jails and prisons and other facilities than have private companies do it, but society feels better letting someone else do it. There’s no social safety net because “those people” will want to live off of the government and not work, and society feels better letting them starve. Continue reading The Cost of Maintaining a Social and Racial Underclass

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Why Black History Month Matters

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Black people need Black History Month because they need to know that black people are more than the ugly and false stereotypes too often portrayed in the media. Black history is more than cursory mentions of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.

White people need Black History Month because they need to know that black people are more than the ugly and false stereotypes too often portrayed in the media. Black people didn’t magically appear as slaves in the USA only to disappear after the Civil War and then re-appear after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that began the Civil Rights Era. Slaves were not smiling, dancing, happy people who were simply “servants” and a part of the master’s family.

Black History Month matters because it is history. It is history forgotten, ignored, and suppressed. It is a history of and within a country that desperately longs to forget its sullied and unfavorable past. There is no mention of slavery in the country’s founding documents, but slavery helped make it the most powerful and wealthiest in recorded history.

Some time ago, I wrote a piece called “Black History That Doesn’t Make It Into the History Books.” It reflected roughly five years of research and help from various people on various topics, from the historically black colleges and universities, to desegregation of the US military, to white allies in the struggle, to the source of the One-Drop Rule, and most everything in between. There is a lot of history that has been deliberately left out or simply ignored.

Why would that history be left out and forgotten? For the same reason that it was left out of the country’s founding documents: It makes the country look bad. A country that was created based on liberty and freedom can’t easily reconcile the existence of chattel slavery and a racial caste system. What cannot be reconciled gets written out and forgotten. Re-writing history is nothing new; what is new is that a lot of that history has been saved and not forgotten.

History is written by the winners. When the winners become the social norm and their version of history becomes the standard, there is no need for any other versions. The other versions are simply not taught.

And when you’re the norm, you don’t have to know about what matters to everyone else. You don’t have to know what “those people” think or how they feel or how they live or what they know. That kind of ignorance can make for some awkward moments, like Bill O’Reilly’s visit to Sylvia’s (Wow! I didn’t know black people could behave in public!), or saying to someone black, “You know, I don’t think of you as black,” or the all-time favorite, “I didn’t know black people could (insert non-stereotypical activity here).”

Peggy McIntosh’s treatise “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” outlines the functional points of white privilege, i.e. the privilege of being the norm. In reference to Black History Month, it has a couple of telling points. They are:

  • When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  • I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race. Continue reading Why Black History Month Matters
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Racism's Anti-Immigrant Unintended Consequences

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Racism is a double-edged sword with a vicious backswing.

Draconian anti-illegal immigration laws in various parts of the USA are having unintended consequences. Farmers and business owners within those states, esp. those with low-skilled and relatively low-paying jobs normally staffed by immigrant labor, are crying foul at their state legislatures. Their employees are leaving by the score. The ones without papers are gone because they don’t want to be arrested; the ones with papers are gone because they don’t want to be harassed by the police. Produce goes unpicked, meat goes unprocessed, beds go unmade. The jobs aren’t staffed by non-immigrant American citizens because so few want to work so hard for so little pay and little or no benefits.

Why are they crying? That’s what they voted for.

Alabama is one of the states with the draconian anti-illegal immigration laws, and is in the midst of a real PR nightmare. In the past few months, a Mercedes-Benz exec from Germany and a Honda exec from Japan were arrested in accordance with the state’s latest immigration law. The Japanese exec had all of his documents, and was still arrested; the German exec had forgotten his driver’s license and passport and was arrested. The historical irony aside, someone was arrested, but not one for whom the law was intended. The state legislature is taking another look at the law and considering changes — because the wrong people were arrested.

The backswing cuts deep, too.

Racists have always whined about how “those people” are coming across the border to get on welfare and take all the jobs, which shows the level of delusion that racists live under. People can’t do both; they can’t take all of the jobs AND live on welfare. Not to mention, that would qualify as fraud, fraud that the GOP and rabid right wing scream long and loudly about. You’ll notice that they have all these BS “welfare queen” stories, but no evidence and no prosecutions. Anyone familiar with the racist justice system knows that POC (people of color) are harassed and arrested for the most paltry of reasons (see NYPD stop-and-frisk), so it is an absolute lie that POC are getting away with “welfare fraud.” It is a lie, but it’s great campaign material, so great that the GOP has been using it in political campaigns for the past 40 years.

Racists like the illegal immigration laws, as long as they are selectively enforced. An estimated 2-5 million illegal immigrants come from Europe, but they don’t have a problem with THOSE illegal immigrants—only the ones with the wrong skin color. Law is not supposed to be a fine scalpel for selective enforcement, but a heavy ax, meant to strike impartially and without prejudice.

Here’s a little known fact: major US corporations, though unintended allies in the struggle, helped to end Jim Crow segregation in the South during the 1960’s. The major Southern cities wanted to be Big Corp’s regional headquarters and get Big Corp’s money and jobs. However, Big Corp did not want to be associated with the South under Jim Crow, so Jim Crow had to go. It is sad that doing the right thing for its own sake is not enough. Continue reading Racism’s Anti-Immigrant Unintended Consequences

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A Response to 'If I Were A Poor Black Kid'

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"Mississippi Delta Negro Children" July, 1936 - Photograph by Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress

The original article by Gene Marks is found at Forbes.com.

From the article:

The President’s speech got me thinking. My kids are no smarter than similar kids their age from the inner city. My kids have it much easier than their counterparts from West Philadelphia. The world is not fair to those kids mainly because they had the misfortune of being born two miles away into a more difficult part of the world and with a skin color that makes realizing the opportunities that the President spoke about that much harder. This is a fact. In 2011.

I am not a poor black kid. I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background. So life was easier for me. But that doesn’t mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. It doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for them. Or that the 1% control the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind. I don’t believe that. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed. Still. In 2011. Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia.

It takes brains. It takes hard work. It takes a little luck. And a little help from others. It takes the ability and the know-how to use the resources that are available. Like technology. As a person who sells and has worked with technology all my life I also know this…

The ignorance shown in this article abounds. I don’t want to parse the article, because that’s been done all over the blogosphere. I do want to note some of the points and questions that the writer avoids, like the much higher unemployment rate among minorities, and the “digital divide,” which is not a national park out west. Where are the resources needed to improve poor schools? How would poor families pay for private schools? Is diversity really just a few people of color on a sales brochure?

If hard work was all that was needed, life would be grand!

The writer is a member of the preferred class in a Euro-centric society. He does not understand the plight of those not in his class because he does not have to. By his own admission, he is a middle-class white guy from a middle-class upbringing who acknowledges that life is easier for a middle-class white guy. Someone that will never be a poor black kid, much less know what it is like. At least he gives the standard “tip of the hat” acknowledgment to the discrimination that non-white people face, but that’s about it.

The writer shows both his ignorance and a poor grasp of history. Poor black people didn’t magically end up in poor neighborhoods with poor schools — they were put there. Black people were brought here as slaves and have been treated like second-class citizens ever since. No one wants to be second-class, but it’s hard when a whole culture and social structure has been created based on that premise. Combined centuries of slavery and Jim Crow segregation within a society that not only allowed it, but thrived because of it, will not change any time soon. Resources are regularly routed away from the people that need them most, for the cruelest of reasons: They aren’t worthy or grateful enough and they will waste them. No one cares much for second-class citizens.

He is correct about the main problem, ignorance, but the source is not from where he thinks. It’s the attitude of people like him who don’t really know or care about the plight of poor people of color because they are not like him. Continue reading A Response to ‘If I Were A Poor Black Kid’

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