Eugenics Is No Laughing Matter: Unconstitutional Humor Laughs at Black Death in Ferguson's Emails

DDSomewhere 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

Race and the New Year

DDLet 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 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

Racism and Noble Virtues

DDWhat 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

Paula Deen: A Cautionary Tale

KUCI recently read an article telling of Paula Deen’s continued advertising and marketing troubles. Sponsors are bailing left and right and Paula’s brand is falling like a rock. Is she being raked over the coals to excess? A lot of people see the fallout from Paula Deen’s deposition as overkill and piling on; some say she earned the pain she’s receiving. No matter one’s opinion, Paula Deen’s troubles show how far this society has to go in the category of racial equity.

Longing for a Fantasy Racist Past or Waxing Ridiculous?

The really bad thing about the Paula Deen incident is not that she admitted to using racial slurs, something she likely shares with the vast majority of white people in general, but that it was done in a deposition for a discrimination case brought against her. A lawyer or other marketing/business professional would acknowledge that she is in a very high-visibility business and recommend that she not risk her good name and image in a court case and quickly settle out of court. I do not know if she got bad advice or no advice, or ignored said advice, or whatever the case, but, her deposition is now public record.

The next thing: what else has she said? Dig into the archives and find out. There are lot of people who will.

I had no opinion of Paula Deen either way. The few articles I read about her were not complimentary, including her cooking style and recipes that require insane quantities of butter, and her deal with a drug company to promote a diabetes prescription drug. However, the article that caught my attention was an interview about one of her past relatives who had a plantation and slaves and lost everything after the Civil War. In the interview, the slaves were called “workers” and were “treated like family” and she took great care to make the former slave owner look like a victim. The careful avoidance of any references to slaves and slavery is part of the neo-Confederate rewrite of history. I can see sympathy for a family member, but the rewrite of the history of the antebellum South made me want to vomit. I will not go into the historical treatment of slaves, but I do want to make this note: They were slaves. They were not considered people. They had no rights. I suggest reading the Articles of Secession issued by the seceding states back in the 1860’s; they made it very clear why they wanted to secede: to maintain and expand slavery. The Gone With The Wind South existed only in the movies.

There are various video clips now readily available showing Paula Deen being rather less than sensitive in her dealings with race. Also, her speaking of wanting to put on a wedding in the style of the plantation antebellum South with an all-black waitstaff in suits does not speak too highly of her, either. Either way, pining for a racist fantasy past is not a good thing to be associated with. Continue reading Paula Deen: A Cautionary Tale

More Race and Sex

DDThe humor in ancient wisdom and the folklore celebrated by hunters and gatherers who spent long-ago evenings and days together with family and friends found its source in paradoxthat place in life and history where nothing works as it should. At least, as we think it should.

Lucille Ball was its comedic master, taking simple sketches and adding her timing, eye-rolls and physical twitches until she embodied the madness that engulfed her. It was no longer the situation that was ridiculously funny: it was her!

And nothing fixed it, either. Paradoxes, like stones in a river, can be traversed, but not solved. No engineering or spin, no rule or bill, no lie or fear will change their nature. That’s why the ancients often pointed to them as the center of not only village humor but as communal religious teaching. They require heroic courage and thinking, both inside and outside, to get past them and mark the passage.

But paradoxes have a dark side, on full exhibit in the conversations about sex and race. 

Anthony Weiner offers a paradox—more pathetic than funny or religiousuntil you realize that his situation is not an “either/or” of guilt and penitence  of personality and politics, of bad judgment and stubbornness, but is a sequel, with parts one and two. His two-step process jointly connects to the biggest voyeuristic thrill in the history of American politics. Therein is his paradox; he is using politics to further the thrill!

What’s bigger and more dangerous to personal standing and the sanctity of the inner self than sending high-definition pictures of personal sex organs to unmet strangers over the internet?

Doubling down and knowingly running for one of the nation’s highest municipal offices, the high-profile mayor of a city that is a global beacon, and announcing at the announcement that more scandal is to come, then reveling in it when it does, dragging his family along, and refusing to step down, in order to draw the maximum public attention possible to what began as a private, prurient act and turning it into a daily outing, seen in the eyes of the hundreds he encounters without shame of his being a bad boy.

So with Weiner, rethink the prevailing view: switch the roles of the election and the exposure and see them as connected, evolving stages. The campaign’s main purpose is for flaunting his flaunting. Remember the announcement of his candidacy also included the announcement of “more incidents” to come. Note there is no platform, team, volunteers.

Now focus on the campaign as the second stage as a two-part event; the first being the private, digital exposure; the second being the public, personal exposurethe largest of its kind in history, within a public crucible that heightens the exposure, contact and exuberant feelingeven as the polls drop.

His running for mayor is a part of the earlier event, a vehicle for widening the data and getting the feedback so craved; a continuum of the risk-taking exposure morphed and zoomed to the biggest possible public stagethe ultimate danger, the non-repeatable, once-in-a-lifetime thrill, driven not by plan but impulse that laid out the order for it to fall into place.

It’s not for politics that he will not let go. It’s for the same reason he sent the pictures; for him it’s the same thrill/danger/defiant compulsion, larger, grander, a public naughty.

Notice it doesn’t bother him in the least.

Built on denial and blame, the GOP relies by intention and instinct on paradox. Theirs is a cultural strategy that relies on built-in paradoxes leveraged by misdirection, framed around denial, resolved by cognitive dissonance and the plausibility of blame.

Slavery is among the biggest of America’s historic paradoxes and is used to leverage racism and disenfranchisement today.

I see a neat match between our current place and the landed gentry who decided selling human beings from auction blocks was a capital ideaafter trading with corrupt leaders for their capture, and disposing of those who died en route by dumping the bodies into the sea as great whites tore the flesh off the falling bones. Nothing defined America’s political parties, inside and outside, the rich and poor, and the common collective consciousness, its “governance,” like weekly arriving barks and schooners of Africans. Law, will and make-believe turned them into a half-million enslaved. Continue reading More Race and Sex

Why I'm Not Losing Any Sleep on the Voting Rights Act Decision

The Supreme Court returned a decision in the voting rights case, Shelby County, AL v. Holder (2013), that invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. In short, the jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination no longer have to go to the Justice Department in advance of any changes in voting laws.

Please pardon my cynicism, but I’m not losing any sleep over this. It is not that it isn’t a bad decision; I think it is, but it does not rise to the level of the worst Supreme Court decisions. There are four of those, and two have invalidated the rights of black people, specifically Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), denying citizenship to all black people and invalidating the 1820 Missouri Compromise and allowing slavery in all territories. The other is Plessy v. Ferguson (1898), which allowed “separate but equal” Jim Crow segregation. The rights of black people have always been at the whim of the powerful and those whose rights are not in question at any given moment. The activist judges have done it again. Not the first time this has happened.

There are options the federal government still has; they will have to be prepared to work a lot harder. Section 5 is still intact, but weakened. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress remained free to try to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so based on contemporary data. However, that will be difficult with a divided Congress. Note that the corporatist Chief Justice said this out loud, so that is an option, though not an easy one. Section 2 is still intact: any jurisdiction that has passed a law that is discriminatory in nature can be taken to court. The Justice Department must remain vigilant, now even more so. Sections of the Voting Rights Act can be rewritten to pass Constitutional muster and be reauthorized by Congress. Maybe voting laws can be standardized at the federal level. I’m sure there are other options available.

There is something that can be done at the grass roots level, also. The obvious one is to use this as impetus to vote out the GOP and their racist counterparts at all levels. There is the coming demographic shift, especially in the red states, where people of color will eventually outnumber white people in general, not just in certain areas. There’s also the GOP’s vulnerability they tend to cater to older white racists. Those are becoming fewer in number, in spite of their attempts to increase their numbers, while those who do not vote GOP are increasing. The struggle is far from over. Continue reading Why I’m Not Losing Any Sleep on the Voting Rights Act Decision

Race and Hate Speech

This has got to stop! But before I tell you how to end it (or what it is!), a few preliminary questions.

1) Where is the love that produces the outrage about verbal expressions of racism—unparalleled even in the literature, letters and diaries penned during the eras of slavery, reconstruction, segregation, or the racial nadir when lynching was at its height?

2) Is this (yet undefined!) what is meant when the public conversation turns to the question of whether America is post-racial?

3) And what number and quality of posts like these have to occur before they are no longer seen as an unacceptable, non-mainstream view by a fringe group?

Conventional wisdom has become too convenient and is failing to meet the dangers implicit in hate speech. I deliberately left vague and undefined (and confusing!) the topic, to parallel how media discusses, or fails to discuss, race and speech. Another question: I see the comment below as a danger; do you?

Do you think it’s unjust to compare you and Barack to all other criminal lying and stealing negroes in this country? I don’t!

The comment comes from tweets sent directly to the First Lady during an online White House twitter chat she held on nutrition. It’s not a part of background chatter on the net, nor an exchange between people of similar views. It’s a sub-140-character post sent directly to the President’s wife during an internet chat hosted to urge America’s families to improve the health and life survival of their children through exercise and better nutrition. Another:


Mrs. Obama received hundreds of posts like this, many far worse, many attacking her or the President physically (by description or sexually, which you can review by clicking here or here. They bring up four additional questions.

1) If you point out, cite and quote these posts, are you giving visibility to and encouraging hate? Isn’t it better to ignore this type of irrational vitriol?

2) Since the words don’t threaten violence, as ugly as they are, aren’t they free speech?

3) If we slime back, won’t that drag us into the quagmire?

4) What can we do?

Hate speech in our time is both insulting and absurd, a point I made two weeks ago in talking about the Onion incident. The insulting parts use the most disparaging, hurtful, emotional, cruel words in institutional memory to inflict emotional violence not only on the person targeted by a post but also to inflict pain on its broader audience. You are being attacked too! Digital media has a built-in default that instantly aims its sword of words at every heart. The ripped echo of hate speech is a key to insights about its digital postmodern form; its attributes: autonomous,  unaccountable, inflammatory, copy-catted, self-satisfying, unstoppable, impulsive; its substance: emotionally and psychologically targeted extremes.

I argue it must be examined, reviewed in the open, and discussed. And that to do so doesn’t give it comfort. Historically, the argument for silence fails. From Anne Frank to rape and violence against women to Trayvon Martin, a failure to speak up brings increasingly greater travesties, not reductions in their ranks. While everyone may not feel comfortable personally speaking up, silence is the wrong strategy. A simple historical review shows silence doesn’t work and has never been effective in confronting issues of social justice, fairness, safety, and protecting the humane values that bring progress.

The idea of all speech being “protected” as free speech is creeping into American thought, virtually unchallenged. The constitutional protection of an act by the Bill of Rights does not mean it is absolute or has absolution. An ill-framed attack is not by “rights” exempt from being wrong. Continue reading Race and Hate Speech

The Void of Blind Comfort

I just finished my new ebook! Writing and editing it made me wonder, is the American eye reliable? Do we observe the telltale details that are flashes of epiphany, the discovery of meaning and insight lodged inside of the blinders of our own vision? Why is it so hard to put down old versions of reality and tuck them away? When’s the last time any of us had a breakthrough? When I look at the media, especially, everybody seems stuck. How can we be more creative and how can that creativity be made trustworthy and true?

That challenge is hidden in my posts each week. Writing is a creative frame that improves my aim. Affirming the past can introduce depth and perspective or leave an idea mired in original error. If I extract an idea, it should not be a misleading “gotcha;” it should illuminate insights.

No-tax-pledge king Grover Noquist demonstrated a “gotcha” error last week that was blind stupidity at its worst. In a Twitter post, he called for higher appreciation for the policy views of House Speaker John Boehner. His reason: Boehner was elected and Obama was a lame duck. This ballooning mockery diminishes our democracy. And finally blinds our own eye. We only see the jeering. The good is damned by dire warnings, threats, fears, demands intended to defeat hope.

No hope existed in hundreds of Twitter posts calling the President a “nigger” and expressing searing outrage that his appearance at Newtown’s memorial for the children and adults of the Sandy Hook school killings interfered with their watching the scheduled weekly NFL game, as the networks covered the memorial rather the rivalry. One post accused the President of making the grief worse, as many parents (and many at home) cried at his words. So blind was their hatred, the posters failed to be moved by this powerful collective moment in our nation’s monumental loss. The deaths of innocent children in a small town’s school was an event they knew—it was on their screens!—but football was king! The President, also the nation’s mourner-in-chief, was assailed with America’s oldest epithet of race—one with a long. demeaning, nasty history containing its own memory and events of violence. But the label blinded his comfort as he stood to speak to grieving families and a grieving nation, ending with a roll call of the names of the child and adults lost, intoned one by one. Continue reading The Void of Blind Comfort

Why Black History Month Matters

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

Racism's Anti-Immigrant Unintended Consequences

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