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:
@#AskFLOTUS STOP SPENDING OUR MONEY!!! STOP TELLING US WHAT WE CAN EAT! STOP DESTROYING OUR COUNTRY! AND OBEY THE CONSTITUTION FOR ONCE!
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
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
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 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
As the first African-American male graduate of my southern high school, with a daughter who was one of five black graduates in her Tuck MBA class, I’ve seen the broad and narrow benefits and barriers coupled and decoupled to race. Socially these barriers have drastically diminished. But economically, they have proven inert and are expanding.
The GOP cites character, but not in the way Dr. King meant. They commonly assault the poor and minorities, as being too dependent on “redistributed” largess, or as incapable. Yet real differences amplify both poverty and opportunity. The yards once raked by youth are tended by professional lawn services with contracts. Neighborhood mentoring is replaced by privatized recreation leagues with high fees. Neighborhood grocery stores closed. The entry-level jobs communities traditionally pointed to vanished. The traveling, live-in service jobs that once paid college tuition for college-bound southern students disappeared (my route, at French Lick, IN; Hot Springs, VA; and Mackinac, MI).
It’s more than just numbers; the exposure, experience, and quality of those disappeared jobs reset barriers to opportunity. The system is rigged for less, by blocked paths, higher prices, lower pay, inefficient communication, education tied to testing, extracted wealth, and micro-managed opportunities that constrict minorities and the poor.
So pay and hire local and young. In New Orleans, community groups sell water at festivals. Opportunities for self-help are built into every festival and celebration. By changing our behavior, we can again share the dream.
The historic test for racism beside motive and purpose are the three elements: a code word, a myth, and the denial of racist intent. These elements are fitted to the times, and oppose progress by attitude, legal or institutional action.
Racism changes as society changes. But it always has the three elements to deter progress. For example, slavery had the myth of helping the heathen and intellectually inferior Africans; its denial was represented as good work since slave holders provided full support. The word “Negro” was used in the newspapers and polite society because it was considered less offensive than the word “slave.”
In a great irony, during the Civil Rights era, the myth was Southern blacks were “content,” satisfied with the status quo! “Agitator” was the word, or “communist,” applied then to Dr. King. The myth of contentment served as its own denial. The use of “food stamps” in SC as the myth — in a state with a long context of opposing the quest for human dignity by people of color — and its easy denial resonates not as assistance for those black and white unemployed by the recession, but as those “dependent” (the code) on government “entitlements,” not mentioning the benefits to the nutrition of young children, the commercial benefits to local groceries (or fees to banks that issue the cards), and the restrictions on items that prevent misuse.
Using food stamps to attack Obama is a racist misuse. Everyone doesn’t have to agree for it to be so.
A Lee Atwater co-worker is the one who actually taught me the elements I have shared. In a discussion about the Willie Horton ad, he told me how it was not done at random, but systematically, composed of the elements I have described.
While it is without logic, racism of all stripes has these three common, repeated structural elements–a code word, a myth, and denial of racist intent. Racist appeals make use of all three. Denial has high appeal; it allows those with race-based views to avoid self-examination or confrontation; they get by guilt-free, scot-free, without being held accountable. These elements, skillfully used by Newt and others, manipulate our moral compass.
They had the opportunity to set a different tone. Any of the candidates, including Mitt, Newt and Rick, could have honored the non-partisan, legendary African-American entrepreneurs in the state, among them America’s best known blacksmith, Philip Simmons, honored by Reagan during his term. They could have mentioned the bravery and courage of Robert Smalls, a slave pilot who commandeered the Confederate commander’s flag ship, surrendering it to the Union Navy, winning election to Congress as one of the founder’s of SC’s Republican party.They could have pointed to the success of Rep. Tim Scott, GOP freshman co-president, in beating the son of Strom Thurmond for his seat. Continue reading Digging Deeper: Redistribute the Dream
When I step back, I see one of the strangest sights I have witnessed in contemporary American politics. Among the Democrats: grumbling and disenchantment about Obama being unwilling to lead the country off a cliff, even as he saved it from recession. That recession created massive fissures: persistent high joblessness, general dissatisfaction with regulatory enforcement, mortgages that are evicting homeowners, and an oft-repeated assumption that the smooth talker was milquetoast when it came to action. Among the Republicans: a willingness by social conservatives to endorse a serial adulterer, a scheming thief who is a megalomaniac who tells the kinds of lies not heard since eighth grade, a willingness to ignore the extremes of his legislative positions on centerpiece Republican issues, his relish of large, activist government, and his claims of constitutional violations so absurd they border on treason.
How did it happen that Democrats thus repute a President who ended two wars, opened military service without regard to a preference for intra-gender relations, got a Gulf fix that appears to work, reformed the Medusa of health care, established consumer protections, cut middle class taxes, and consistently beat the Republicans with the last move? And how did Republicans grow to embrace a failed, badly flawed Washington insider whose smokescreens of big ideas (mirrors in space!) would expand government and debt?
I am sure you find much to disagree with, but grant me the broad outlines. I’m a theorist and a writer, a historian who sees complex dynamics and tries to grasp the whole and its negative space. In fact, this year’s voter deals are being cut in negative space. The deals involve a concept from complex systems theory called joint utility. Joint utility traces the links between satisfactions or dissatisfactions or combinations of the two among disparate groups.
Theory? Why not just campaign hard, door knock, make calls, and vote? Because theory let’s you maximize your effort, order your understanding, avoid pitfalls and improve your moves. It helps focus attention on resonating issues, and directs the message in a way that builds support and blocks objections. Political decisions are front-loaded with a thousand deep commonalities. Joint utility has to do with how this front-loading is connected to outcomes.
The negative space around Barack Obama has to do with his being black. And the issue is definitely front-loaded. The economy notwithstanding, the deeply embedded resistance to his race has increased. Monday the site FreakOutNation reported that a Tea Party leader, who ran for a city council seat and is described as a Ron Paul libertarian, posted on Facebook: “assassinate the fucken nigger and his monkey children.” Four years ago, I didn’t see this kind of raw and vile treason, immoral, criminal speech toward Obama, certainly not toward his family; by contrast, this level of hate makes Newt’s offenses look like a choir boy’s. This element wants to pointedly establish that the character and zany ideas of any white man is better and superior to the highest ranking black’s, even an elected President’s. Newt — all Republicans — augment race and policy as a joint utility. These views are front-loaded and locked in.
Now Tom Friedman disagrees. In a panel of New York Times editors and columnists on Charlie Rose, he suggested the GOP craves the opposite. He argues they want a candidate that sounds erudite, speaks with confidence and fluency, who can attack the nuances of Obama’s positions, and take the high road to negatives. Perhaps. Tom doesn’t understand the dynamics of race and how they operate in the negative space of culture and politics, but even so, Newt fills both bills, Friedman’s and mine.
The Democrats, on the other hand, have dropped race from their political view, thinking it might dangerously inflame passions and turn off supporters of the President. By doing so, they are conceding the racial dynamic to Republicans. By refusing to defend racial dignity, to assert Obama’s full humanity — to point out the nasty, increasing undertone of race hatred in this election, by ignoring the overwhelming litany of daily hate speech, they open a back door for all forms and expressions of hate. Democrats are offering no resistance to one of the fastest growing campaign elements. Their silence concedes a battle that could and should be fought and won, and should be cast into the light from the negative space. Already, the denials of defense come. Using the word “nigger” doesn’t make you a racist, one writer argued. No. It makes you something worse. It makes you a hater. Continue reading Digging Deeper: In Defense of Racial Justice
"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’