Have you read your emails today? Did you get one finally from Hillary Clinton’s State Department? Or receive a subpoena from Republicans in Congress demanding access to your email account to ensure you didn’t . . . → Read More: Witch Hunts and Mobs
The historic test for racism, beside motive and purpose, are the presence of three elements: a code word, a myth, and the denial of racist intent. These elements are fitted to the times. They at . . . → Read More: Resetting Racism
A favorite explanation of readers and commenters involves education–as a means of accounting for the inert evil and stupidity on race or politics. Voters are uninformed, or misled. True, . . . → Read More: The Racism In Trump’s Winning Formula
Of course, the comments published in The New Yorker from an interview with the former Ferguson, Missouri police officer who killed Michael Brown were racist! His lawyer’s comments . . . → Read More: An All-American Pattern: The Racism Articulated By Darren Wilson
The nation had a unique cultural event last week that was largely left ignored and its unusual qualities remain unexplained. Its cultural importance dates back at least three centuries and its . . . → Read More: Obama and the Social Media Vipers
The rumor persists that President Obama is planning a secret invasion of Texas under the cover of training exercises for the Army and the rumors continue to spread . . . → Read More: Secret Mission, Public Intent: What Texas And Baltimore Share
Somewhere along the way, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, one of a chain of small towns and neighborhoods buried near St. Louis, began to carry out a criminal enterprise. In a short time, that enterprise grew inside-out. It was wildly successful. It set goals and developed guidance; it applauded and defended its corruption. But Ferguson’s malfeasance never managed to get right-side-up.
In painful details, with statistics, records, and conversations—with emails that matter—the Justice Department shows Ferguson slipped into a parallel world that went almost unnoticed, as Ferguson openly created a criminal enterprise founded on crime! But Ferguson thought it was doing good by doing bad! What guided Ferguson’s fascinating dance on the wild side was a stern Puritan approach toward the majority of its citizens, easily identified by color. That Puritan judgment became racial bias. In the neighborhoods of Ferguson, two-thirds of its residents. people of color, made easy pickings for schemes to fill its coffers and to increase arrests for the city’s public order crimes.
Ferguson acted swiftly and expanded its violations of public order; many crimes were added to the city’s legal statures in order to increase revenues despite having no real public safety benefit. Public order crimes were the gateway to a broad labyrinth of administrative fees and fines, and added costs which developed after routine contact with the police and the court.
Public order crimes usually have no victims; they emanate from statures that criminalize certain behaviors interpreted by the police. “Failure to comply” was a common favorite; so was “manner of walking.” These crimes become an issue when police are out of control and use broad powers to target every slight, real or perceived. Discretion is not only judgment, it is power. In Ferguson, it was only power, a drill abused.
Crime is frequently about bigger things, about money and power. These motives underline bad acts. But Ferguson’s crimes began at the other end; they were the consequence of power: Ferguson converted its public safety and justice missions into revenue streams. Its systems became an ongoing criminal enterprise by violating citizens’ constitutional rights. The city institutionalized these violations as way to make public order crimes pay off for the city! These constitutional violations brought this small city more than a million dollars a year. On Ferguson’s scales of justice, one side, a minority, enjoyed special privileges. They rose above the other, a majority without power, on whom the systemic thumb of authority was an economic burden that weighed freedom down.
Corrupt? Criminal? Unfair? Biased? Ferguson officials disagree. They reject these descriptions and they are sincere. But their story, as they tell it, recycles a familiar canon: biased beliefs and myths about its majority, people of color. The same biases Mitt Romney expressed in the Presidential election. The ones he mentioned during his call to President Obama when he conceded. The ones related to the mythic stories Ronald Reagan often told. The difference in values and beliefs that Rudy Giuliani feels between white Presidents and a black President; a causal, mean-spirited disrespect echoed in the House and the Senate, in every political talking point flashing through social media; in part, the unstoppable outrage of acceptable mistreatment whose vicious blame and ugliness carries with it a simultaneous pledge of no ill will.
But Ferguson was loose about race. Police and court personnel often shared racial humor in moments of levity. In all of these jokes, they claim no intent to harm; it’s only small stuff. One official remarked about Ferguson’s unwritten policy of illegal 72-hour detention, “it was only few days.” When challenged, “it” was only funny/humorous/no big deal/why all the fuss/everyone jokes? Challenges meet with grievance or indifference.
When the police department and court clerks make jokes about eugenics and genocide that’s no laughing matter.
The town, Ferguson, which in the 1960s required all blacks to exit its limits by sundown and at night chained off the main street to Kinloch, the all-black town that was its closest neighbor, saw itself as honest in its bias. It found humor in its version of ugly truth.
Among city officials, court workers, and law enforcement personnel and supervisors, emails made the rounds which supposedly mirrored the profound—and pathetic—truth of being black. In one example, humor lay in associating abortion by black mothers with the laudable and socially acceptable goal of reducing crime. (Why did the pregnant mother who aborted receive a $5,000 check from Crime Stoppers?)
Think about it. As assembled, the joke slips out of joint. On closer reading, the joke implies not only does black life not matter—but that it matters even more and is worth something if and only if it becomes dead.
Of course, the pretense is it is a joke about crime and criminals and criminal activity. But its core intent makes a clear case about competing ideals: about the values society rewards and the reasons why. The joke laces values, rewards, and reason to color by offering a large bounty for aborted black children, who, even unborn, are presumptive criminals—and born to be worthless.
Stand the joke on its head. It points back to a society monitoring intrusively the activities of black families. (In the joke, Crime Stoppers is monitoring the arrivals and birth certificates of black newborns; vigilant in its fear!).
The narrative of the joke denies an opportunity even for life itself; black death is an event and value to be glorified—and made valuable by the illegal cash award (mocking the truth of Ferguson’s illegal transfers!) that strongly suggests that normal social institutions endorse death and share common, dark fears. In the joke, a death certificate is like a coupon. It could be a lottery ticket, a scratch-off. The joke’s world view says the only choice for black youth is crime. It replaces grief and helplessness with cash incentives, makes the high point of black life an early death.
People who laugh at these jokes hold the jokes’ embedded values in their own core. Whether in anger or fun or rage, the narrative’s ruthlessness, closed-off coldness and concept of social good is easy to see, after the shock. Memory (and photographs!) say Southern lynchings were well attended. Black death has long been entertainment in live form or repeated stories. In Ferguson’s world of fungible humor, bounties were offered for dead black children. In the context of crime, laughter was invoked by a bounty for an unviable fetus.
The media, of course, failed to notice this. But CNN did discuss this “second” set of emails (after Hillary’s); its “expert” commenter ignored them and staged the report as the Justice Department coming after the police. He obviously had not reviewed any section of the report. His bit was familiar: liberals and black officials against the police; what else? He was a racist enabler. The anchor had not read the report either. Their questions and answers not in evidence called for speculation and went off-topic to familiar ground. By their insincerity, they were part of the problem. Continue reading Eugenics Is No Laughing Matter: Unconstitutional Humor Laughs at Black Death in Ferguson’s Emails
Let us not forget: the year will end with the Republican Speaker of the House giving his full support to a closet racist in the House leadership, who will hold the number three position, as Majority Whip. The Speaker issued a preemptive statement, intended to tamp down the growing furor over a speech the yet-to-be sworn Whip made ten years ago to a white supremacist organization’s convention, the group founded by his buddy and fellow politician, the former KKK Grand Wizard from Louisiana, David Duke.
Now, one speech doesn’t make you a racist. But one lie will. The new Whip has exceeded his quota. His lying about his ties to Duke and his speech make him a repeat offender. His lies include pretending not to know what the organization stood for. Does any politician at any level accept an invitation to speak without reviewing the goals, mission and agenda of the group before which he will appear? But more, Duke says the man soon to be the third highest ranking member of the House leadership knew exactly what the group stood for and knew of his own ties to its founding. So who is lying? The former Grand Wizard or the soon-to-be sworn Majority Whip?
Having renounced ten years late the goals and mission of the organization he voluntarily appeared before, the incoming Whip claimed higher ground, as a father, Catholic and leader. Then he supports voting rights, equal pay, Obamacare and raising the minimum wage? Well, no—but as a good Louisiana politician from a small, solid red district, not for racial reasons, but to preserve cost benefits for businesses, public fiscal integrity and personal liberty.
It’s hard to see the defense of liberty as offensive, or to abhor fiscal integrity and concern for small business. Surely, these positive goals are common to the American Promise and have little to do with race or racism, the ugliness of denying equal opportunity, restricting persons by color and ethnicity, and using the law for the economic advantage of a specific group.
There is the greatness of the Republican party: it has honed the most shameful of political practices into a narrative that omits race as it confesses its love of American’s greatest traditions: liberty, integrity, prosperity! Boehner often uses this narrative even as he adds an element of blame; but not this week: the Whip was absolved of all sins left unconfessed for ten years and felt the fresh splash of the Speaker’s absolution.
Those who heard the Speaker’s words witnessed what the writer Karoli (read her at Crooks and Liars.com) calls “flag-wrapped racism,” racism concealed by being buried in patriotic promises in which the actual implementation of ideas limits and restricts opportunities by race. Patriotic racism ignores cause and effect and overweighs the balance of gain and loss to the benefit of one race or group. It narrows participation rather than broadening the paths of opportunity.
By wrapping the presumptive Whip’s speech in the flag, issuing a proclamation of forgiveness, and extending the stiff right hand of political fellowship, Boehner is also saying race is no longer a game-changer; it is a forgivable indiscretion even when associations “accidentally” involve speaking to white supremacists, or when the indiscretions are discovered when they are ten years old—or whenever they are discovered—they can be overlooked if denied, and blame shifts to the whistle-blowers, media and political opponents for raising old news, moot issues, and the unfair practice of citing racial views and associations as a litmus test of character. Continue reading Race and the New Year
What is racism? Is it a universal idea? A judgment about biological identity? A group of dysfunctional behaviors in a culture? Persistent myths about a community’s strength and weaknesses? Does it belong equally to white and black, and yellow and tan?
Is racism a political idea? A wedge for advantage? Does it exist? Is it an excuse? Do statistics verify its presence? What role does it play in society? How does it change individual lives?
Racism does exist; it always reflects the role race plays in society. For instance, the structures and forms of racism during slavery have virtually no role in society today. The laws, punishments, limits and ideas that governed race then were very different and many have been erased.
Since these ideas have lost their viability, does that mean racism has ended? In modern society with its pledge to equality, has racism been eliminated? No. But it has changed forms. Remember, each era produces its version of racism. Remember, the construct of racism is based on the role race plays in the social milieu.
Before looking at modern racism, let’s ask: How does race fit into today’s society?
In America today, race has become the major standard and measure for equality and equal opportunity. Collectively, through numbers and statistics; individually, through incidents and events, race provides the details and the rough measure of fair play and justice. Race sets the bar for social and economic improvement, the standard for civil liberties, but is also the target of anger for those in and out of power, and a source of constant confusion. This positivist function of race is rarely mentioned; race is most often framed as a problem or a source of friction, or as a factor of mistreatment.
But race has noble virtues. It is the source used to reflect how far America has come in resolving internal tyranny and it measures America’s social progress. It is also a measure of how far apart Americans stand on many social issues. It has been the bubble at the center of the builder’s level.
Race, in part, is the weight of a group response, for both blacks and whites. The shooting of whites by police, while tragic, doesn’t alert the nation to the attack of police violence and misconduct aimed at the American Promise; race is a sentinel for the entire country—not just for blacks. Race puts blacks in the vanguard of social change, yet also makes blacks one of society’s most vulnerable groups. The paradox leads to scepticism and ignorance about the fix for social problems as race as a change agent is caught in a fluid whirlwind of individual and indirect forces.
That is why whites were always visible and angry in the Ferguson protests, every night, in every frame, side by side with blacks. Race is America’s active metaphor for character and justice, for liberty and criminality, for alarm and good riddance. It is not a discussion about blacks or whites, but about the vision and substance of America and the content of the American character, not just of the individuals whose roles shape the discussion.
In the same way, America’s educational success is measured by race. The differences in student test scores reflect race as a means of distributed wealth.
Race as an American idea is always in motion; different than last year, changed by new experiences, redefined by the culture it represents. Unfortunately it is often tied to omissions, deficiencies and neglect more than success, and its noble side is missed.
From this view, I propose racism plays three key roles in today’s America, all three tied to politics and culture:
To unify race appearance (by skin color) into a common culture of values and desired qualities (i.e., loyalty, defense, ideology) that lead to mutual and joint actions for power and privilege limited to and controlled by a group.
To install social barriers supported by legal frameworks and individual decision makers that limit life chances and prospects for many of those outside of the group.
To deny the advantages that racism inherently seeks to make permanent.
The three are easy to understand with examples.
1. At the diner where I often eat, we wondered during the 2012 election how long it would be before Mitt Romney screamed, “I’m white!” to pander for votes. The opposite nearly occurred. Romney’s campaign adviser John Sununu approached that edge, claiming someone needed to teach the President “how to be an American.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich skirted the same precipice: he cited Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial world view” “as the the most accurate, predictive model for his [Obama’s] behavior,” calling it “a profound insight.” “The food stamp President” was another of Gingrich’s contributions.
Rick Santorum came within a syllable of an offensive racial slur before he caught himself. Recently, a New Hampshire police chief uttered the word publicly (saying the President “met and exceeded” his criteria). He refused to back down, resigning but never apologizing.
My oft-cited example is the empty chairs that appeared after the 2012 Republican National Convention, tied to tree limbs on private property, often with roped nooses hung over chair backs—performance art that starkly expressed the dark dread of justice as lynching. These spontaneous racial installations were a reminder that the media never reported in 2008 the high degree of fear in the black community for Barack Obama’s life; people were frantic and the hysteria went unnoticed.
Racism is tasteless and invisible—until the first tug of attitude pushes one of its many structures into place to block progress—and to strangle black success. Members of Congress have said Barack Obama was only elected because he is black. Others say he won due to white guilt.
These conversations and actions call white people to band together under a banner of skin: a favorite principle of racism is to unite to defend and defeat the idea of the other. The other is different—and also more dangerous, more deadly, more deficient. The most important other in America is race. Its group tensions involve a history of violence, lynching, lawlessness, blame, poverty and social control.
I think that race as a social measure should change. Women and children are suffering greater attacks than African-Americans in this historical moment; women and children need a movement worthy of the anti-war and Civil Rights movements, yet they remain on the edge of America’s conscience. Thankfully, ending domestic violence has become a noble virtue. So should ending the murders of children by their peers.
2. Examples of social barriers abound. The most prominent and dangerous, as US House member John Lewis rightly recognizes, are the state-level bills that are redefining the right to vote. The new tactic recognizes it is not necessary to disenfranchise minority voters en masse (the old, pre-1960s tactic). Trimming voter turnout by 3 to 10 percent will often be enough to swing close national elections.
Remember, racism fits the role of race in society. In politics, that’s votes. After the Civil War, bills sought to disenfranchise the entire Negro vote, which ended with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Now, in this era, with this Supreme Court, the same outcome can be achieved with a more limited, targeted effort to restrict early voting, raising the bar to voter access by requiring more paperwork and reducing polling hours. Continue reading Racism and Noble Virtues