So we’re not post-racial yet.
Instead, we are preoccupied with race, chafing along the color line, possessed of wildly divergent views of authority, justice and equality. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in the aftermath of widely publicized police shootings and the attacks on Dallas police officers, 60 percent of Americans believe race relations are growing worse.
Some among us lay the blame for that, absurdly, at the feet of President Barack Obama, who was supposed to usher in an era of peace, harmony and racial healing — at least according to some utterly naive predictions made at the time of his first election. Instead, it seems, his presence in the Oval Office precipitated a furious backlash, a tidal wave of resentment from those whites who see his ascendance as a sign of their decline.
But that’s not the president’s fault. He has studiously tried to avoid stirring the cauldron of race, to bridge the color chasm, to unite the warring American tribes. His only crime is in symbolizing the anxieties of those white Americans who see a black man in power as the bete noire of their nightmares.
It makes more sense to blame the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump, for these troubling times. He enters his nominating convention in Cleveland as the same divisive bully he has been throughout the campaign — a man singularly ill-suited to lead a diverse nation.
Trump has not just pandered to the prejudices of his mostly white supporters; he has also encouraged them with his incendiary promises to limit immigration and his vicious insults of the president, starting with his claim that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Trump works assiduously to keep us divided, a state that sharpens his political advantage.
But the simple truth is that neither Obama nor Trump created this moment. This unruly time has been more than 200 years in the making. We have not yet put away the old ghosts, so they continue to haunt us.
Take the police shootings that have prompted protests around the country during the last several days. There is nothing new about police violence toward black citizens, nothing unusual about bias in the criminal justice system, nothing unexpected about the institutional racism that conspires to imprison black Americans disproportionately.
Just read Douglas Blackmon’s “Slavery by Another Name,” an account of law enforcement practices in the Deep South following the Civil War. White business owners demanded low- to no-cost labor, and they got it by imprisoning black men unfairly and putting them to work.
To justify their rank oppression and their state-sanctioned violence — black people were lynched with impunity for more than a century — powerful whites trafficked in awful stereotypes about black criminality. Those old biases — those hateful stereotypes — didn’t just fade away with the civil rights movement.
As President Obama put it during his moving and elegant speech memorializing the Dallas dead, “We also know that centuries of racial discrimination, of slavery, and subjugation, and Jim Crow — they didn’t simply vanish with the law against segregation.”
Still, there are many who would dismiss Obama, whose political views demand they grant him no legitimacy. Maybe they’d listen instead to Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who rose to the floor of the Senate on Wednesday to give a deeply personal account of his maltreatment at the hands of police officers.
Scott is a rock-solid conservative who rarely agrees with the president about anything. He is also black, and, as he noted, that’s enough to kindle suspicion from some law enforcement authorities.
“In the course of one year, I’ve been stopped seven times by law enforcement officers, not four, not five, not six, but seven times, in one year, as an elected official. Was I speeding sometimes? Sure. But the vast majority of the time, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reasons just as trivial,” he said.
That’s a powerful testament to the ways in which the old ghosts still haunt us, even in an age of a black president and two black U.S. senators. We are not post-racial yet, and until we can confront and exorcise the demons of our past, we will never be.
By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, July 17, 2016
A little time has passed since a grand jury in Cleveland refused to indict two white police officers responsible for the November 2014 death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was black.
One minute this child was playing in a city park with an air pellet gun. Seconds later, after a police squad car swooped up next to him, he was on the ground — alone and mortally wounded.
After 13 months of waiting for any sign of justice, the reaction from too many white people to the grand jury decision has severed me from my will for diplomacy. I am a 58-year-old white woman, and I am sickened by how many people who look like me talk about race.
I’m no stranger to their way of thinking. My father struggled with race until the day he died, but his fear of black people he never knew could not gain traction with me. By age 6, I knew he was wrong. Whenever he pounded the table and called them those awful names, I saw the faces of exactly half of my classmates. They were my friends.
As I wrote last year for The Atlantic, “it was not the natural order of things to be so young and know your father had no idea what he was talking about.” It framed our relationship for all of his days.
I share that story not to dishonor my father, whom I loved and miss to this day. I just want to make clear that I’m no neophyte when it comes to knowing what some white people believe about black people. Sometimes I think I’ve spent much of my career trying to make up for the harm the people I come from have inflicted on the lives of innocent strangers.
For as long as I’ve been a newspaper columnist — 13 years and counting — I’ve been on the receiving end of angry mail from white readers. One of their favorite cut-and-paste missives in emails and social media posts criticizes and even mocks what they call “black English.” How they love to spew their racist rants about dialect. It makes them feel so shiny-white superior.
Their hate is couched in white English, which has nothing to do with accents. White English is a state of mind. It turns words into weapons to dehumanize an entire population of people, and it is bubbling up like pus in a dirty wound after Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty convinced a grand jury that the police were justified in killing a black child playing with an air gun.
White English casts Tamir Rice, for the first time in his short life, as an equal among men — rather than as a 12-year-old boy limited by the judgment of his years.
He “should have known better.” He should have “listened to the police,” as if there’s no reason to doubt their claim that they yelled three warnings to this child in less than two seconds.
White English repeats, over and over, that this child was “big for his age.”
He’s not 12-year-old Tamir; he’s “Mr. Rice.” Even in his grave, he grows. He is no longer 5 feet 7 inches tall.
He was 5 feet 9.
He was 5’11”.
He was 6 feet tall.
He was a man.
He was a menace.
He was a thug.
White English is the language of the Superior White Parents club, where perfect children raised by perfect parents now raise perfect children of their own who would never jump around in a park and pretend to be shooting a toy gun. They know this because they have special powers that allow them to see what their perfect children are doing every minute of every day. If you dare suggest this is not possible, they will turn on you in a hot minute. How dare you question their parenting as they pick apart Tamir Rice’s mother?
White English has no words to acknowledge that Samaria Rice loved her son. That she banned toy guns from their home. That she didn’t know he had his friend’s air gun that day.
Two months ago, in an interview for Politico, Samaria Rice told me she watches the video of the last few moments of her son’s life — when he was still very much alive. She studies it, over and over, searching for any sign of what he may have been thinking right before the bullet tore through him.
“He didn’t have a lot of suspicions about people,” she said. “I look at him in that video and I’m wondering: ‘What are you thinking right now? Do you know what’s about to happen to you?’”
She was certain there would be no indictments for those police officers, she told me. She was waiting for God to tell her what comes next.
Which is worse, having your hopes dashed or knowing you will never see justice from a system that insists your child had it coming?
He was a boy.
He was a boy.
He was a boy.
By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist; The National Memo, December 31, 2015
Issac Bailey has written that President Obama is the person who should reach out to angry white Trump supporters.
There is only one person who can unite the country again, and he works in the White House. Yes, President Barack Obama—ironically, the man who is the personification of the fear Trump is exploiting—is the one in the best position to quell the anger being stirred up.
This is not something the president can do from the Oval Office, or from a stage. What he needs to do is use the power of the office in a different way, one that matches the ruthless effectiveness of a demagogue with a private jet. Obama needs to go on a listening tour of white America—to connect, in person, with Americans he has either been unable or unwilling to reach during his seven years in office.
As I read this article, I tried to get beyond my initial reaction that Bailey was simply making another Green Lanternism argument. That’s because, as I’ve written before, I’ve watched Barack Obama closely for over seven years now and I think he would at least stop and listen to this advice.
While it has mostly gone unheeded, the President has reached out to angry white Americans on several occasions (much to the chagrin of a lot of Black academics and political leaders). For example, if we go back to his famous speech on racism in 2008 during the whole Jeremiah Wright controversy, he spent quite a bit of time affirming the reasons why a lot of white people are angry.
Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.
But ultimately, to judge the value of Bailey’s suggestion, there needs to be some indication that it would actually work to “unite the country once again.” The first error Bailey makes is to assume that we were ever united in the first place. It’s not like we used to be a racism-free country until all of the sudden Barack Obama came along. Bailey knows that. And he accurately described what’s going on in his very first paragraph.
…we are fast becoming a nation in which minorities make up a majority of the population. As a result, tens of millions of white Americans, accustomed for so long to having all the benefits of being the majority, are scared out of their minds—and it is this fear that Trump is exploiting so effectively.
Bailey’s point is that this fear needs to be aired…at the President.
Let them see their president. Let them speak directly to their president. Let them shout, cuss, fuss and unload if that’s what they need to do. Because no matter how you slice it, the country they’ve long known is dying, and a new one is taking shape. Obama’s presence in the White House, while heartening to many, is the tip of the spear to those fretful about what’s to come.
The question is: does that help? This kind of thing stems from a myth that has developed in our culture that airing negative feelings makes them magically go away. It’s not true. And it is especially not true in large groups where people feed off of each other.
What actually helps people get over these kinds of feelings is to identify the real source of their anger/fear – something that Trump’s style of fear-mongering is designed to misdirect – and then empower themselves to do something about it.
So the question becomes, how do people actually get beyond their racism? If there was an easy answer to that one, we would have solved this problem a long time ago.
Obviously President Obama is struggling with that question. In interviews with Marc Maron, Marilynne Robinson and Steve Inskeep, he kept returning to a similar theme. Instead of a focus on airing our grievances, the President talks about calling out our better natures. He continually stresses the idea that we are better people than our politics suggests. In other words, the way to deal with darkness is not to simply dwell on it – but to shine more light.
By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 25, 2015
“Racism Vs. Whites? You’re Kidding Me”: Majorities Of Whites Think Anti-White Discrimination Is As Bad As The Anti-Black Kind
Last week, New York Times columnist Tom Edsall, in a piece about Donald Trump’s appeal among conservative voters, cited an alarming survey on white people’s racial attitudes that made me wonder if large segments of white America are completely misinterpreting what racism is and how prevalent it remains in our society.
Edsall pointed to a study conducted last fall by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) that found that 52 percent of white respondents agreed with the following statement: “Today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”
Among subsets of respondents, 76 percent of those affiliated with the Tea Party agreed with the statement. Another 61 percent of Republicans, and 53 percent of independents. A majority of whites over age 50 also agreed with the statement, and 58 percent of working-class whites agreed. Evangelical Protestants (63 percent) and Catholics (56 percent) also agreed.
62 percent of white Democrats disagreed, and 61 percent of those with a college education. White Americans under 50 also disagreed, even though it was close. Only 48 percent of whites between the ages of 18-29 agreed, and 49 percent of them disagreed. Of whites 30-49, 46 percent agreed and 52 percent disagreed.
Upon seeing these figures I immediately wondered about what exactly white Americans perceive racism to be, and how the supposed racism they receive has become equal to that of African Americans and other minority groups.
Did a leading American presidential candidate refer to large swaths of the white American population as “rapists” and “murderers”?
Have countless white Americans taken to the streets to express their frustrations with a criminal justice system that disproportionately harms and negatively impacts the lives of white Americans?
Are white Americans campaigning against profound levels of income inequality that negatively impact the white community far worse than other racial and ethnic groups in America?
When I look around America I do not see white voices making these complaints. Instead I see large amounts of white Americans expressing their frustration that some traditional white American values are being questioned, or are “under attack,” as some might say.
The controversy over the Confederate Flag has ruffled the feathers of many conservative white Americans because it questions the value and legacy of certain Southern traditions and their heroes. But should it be right for a nation’s or even a state’s decision to refrain from celebrating the lives and ideals of known traitors who were hell-bent on destroying America (who also happened to be white) to be viewed as a racist attack against the white race?
Additionally, the growth of Black Lives Matter has led many white Americans to proclaim that they are “under attack” along racial divisions, but the closest incidents of an “attack” have been occasional protests that have turned violent and resulted in the destruction of property. There has never been a concerted effort to destroy white-owned establishments in the movement, and the random destruction of property is defined as criminality and not racism.
Apart from the recent and unfounded accusation that Black Lives Matter has morphed or been hijacked into a rabid, uncontrollable movement that emphasizes the killing of white law enforcement officials, the greatest cause for concern has been the name of the movement. To some Americans, the name Black Lives Matter implies that other lives do not matter, despite the fact that this notion is actually the inverse of the intent of the name. Black Lives Matter’s intent is to highlight how historically and even to this day, but with lesser severity, black lives have been dehumanized, devalued, neglected, and abused within American society, and that collectively we need to put a stop to this damning status quo.
At no point has the existence of Black Lives Matter been about the dehumanizing or abusing of other races. It has not been about pitting the races against one another and saying that one race is superior to the other. It has been about highlighting the centuries of abuse inflicted upon black Americans, acknowledging the existing abuses, and aspiring to increase the empathy and humanity of the American public to combat these systemic problems.
Proclaiming that the movement should change its name to “All Lives Matter” or creating spin-off, competing slogans such as “Blue Lives Matter” only displays a lack of understanding of the intent of Black Lives Matter. And while the motivations of such reactionary suggestions might be honest and pure, I struggle to see how the misunderstanding of certain segments of white America regarding a national civil rights movement led by black Americans should be interpreted as a racial attack against white Americans.
Black Americans expressing their frustrations against the oppressive institutions that govern them that have been erected primarily by white Americans should not be viewed as a racial attack against white Americans.
In another PRRI survey, support among whites for public protests to combat an unfair government dropped dramatically—from 67 percent in favor to 48 percent—when the protesters were identified as black.
Criticism and racism are not one in the same, and we should not encourage lazily conflating the two.
The majority of the frustrations I hear white Americans express when racist accusations are made center on two main threads: that their lives and social structures should not be questioned and/or challenged, and secondly, that there is an inherent danger of foreign or dissimilar bodies.
These two perspectives are quite common throughout the world, so they are not necessarily “wrong” per se, but when you combine these attributes with the large expanses of land throughout America, it becomes clear that much of American civilization was built around the creation of various “whitopias”—to borrow the term from author Rich Benjamin.
The narrative of white families fleeing Europe to escape persecution and arriving in America to create their own utopian existence where they can practice their desired faith and associate with “their own kind” has been the heroic narrative that we have sold to the world. America had so much land to colonize—once the Native Americans were killed and forcefully removed from their land—that white people from across the world were encouraged to move here for sanctuary and opportunity. There was never much of a need to tolerate those who were different than you because you could always create a town or a suburban community that separated you and “your kind” from dissenting, dissimilar, or critical voices and people.
America has always been structured in such a way that white Americans were encouraged to build and expand this utopian or “whitopian” environment. Both directly and indirectly this has resulted in the dehumanizing and dismissing of non-white life, and the racist structures that have encouraged this forced separation.
However, in this modern world where information and individuals can move faster than previously imagined, the opportunity to escape and live in your own utopian world where you no longer need to value or listen to dissenting voices and may be fearful of foreign bodies is no longer an option. White Americans must now hear the voices of the previously oppressed.
White Americans receiving criticism from the people they have always demonized and oppressed regarding the structures that white society once thought to be utopian is not an act of racism upon white Americans. It is a step toward building more just and humane institutions and societies for all people regardless of race. Misinterpreting this collective social progress as anything else, and especially as a racially motivated attack, is a step in the wrong direction.
By: Barrett Holmes Pitner, The Daily Beast, September 8, 2015
It’s hard to believe that just three months ago we were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. But today I’m thinking of something President Obama said at the time.
We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress, this hard-won progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.
That one goes down a little harder today than it did three months ago. As I noted earlier, the shooting at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston this week evokes memories of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church 52 years ago in Birmingham. Combined with the recent high-profile police shootings of unarmed Black men, it’s no wonder that people are starting to question whether things have really changed much.
As I do so often at moments like this, I go back to something Derrick Jensen wrote in his book The Culture of Make Believe.
From the perspective of those who are entitled, the problems begin when those they despise do not go along with—and have the power and wherewithal to not go along with—the perceived entitlement…
Several times I have commented that hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion, what have you. It is when those traditions are challenged, when the entitlement is threatened, when the masks of religion, economics, and so on are pulled away that hate transforms from its more seemingly sophisticated, “normal,” chronic state—where those exploited are looked down upon, or despised—to a more acute and obvious manifestation. Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized.
Another way to say all of this is that if the rhetoric of superiority works to maintain the entitlement, hatred and direct physical force remains underground. But when that rhetoric begins to fail, force and hatred waits in the wings, ready to explode.
So we must ask ourselves, “what is it that has threatened the entitlement?” In other words, what was Roof talking about when he said “you’re taking over our country?” To approach an answer to those questions, I think about something Jonathan Chait wrote after watching the movie 12 Years a Slave.
Notably, the most horrific torture depicted in 12 Years a Slave is set in motion when the protagonist, Solomon Northup, offers up to his master engineering knowledge he acquired as a free man, thereby showing up his enraged white overseer. It was precisely Northup’s calm, dignified competence in the scene that so enraged his oppressor. The social system embedded within slavery as depicted in the film is one that survived long past the Emancipation Proclamation – the one that resulted in the murder of Emmett Till a century after Northup published his autobiography. It’s a system in which the most unforgivable crime was for an African-American to presume himself an equal to — or, heaven forbid, better than — a white person.
The situation Chait is describing is what the Obama era represents and involves a whole different kind of challenge than the one’s we’ve dealt with in the past over slavery, segregation and Jim Crow. With the election of our first African American president, white people are having to deal with a black man as not only our equal, but our leader. Too many of us are prepared for neither. While most white people would not support slavery or legal discrimination, we’re not really ready to look black people in the eye as equals, much less see them in positions of authority over us. That is what decades of programming has done to our collective consciousness…we assume deference.
I’m not suggesting that the election of Barack Obama as president is the sole reason we’re seeing this explosion of hatred. I think Tim Wise did a pretty good job of explaining what’s happening when he talked about “the perfect storm for white anxiety.” But what has prompted the Third Reconstruction that Rev. William Barber talks about is clearly rooted in the racism evoked by the idea of our first African American president.
David Remnick – who, as Barack Obama’s biographer, perhaps knows him better than any other journalist – suggests that the President is well aware of all that.
Like many others, I’ve often tried to imagine how Obama’s mind works in these moments. After one interview in the Oval Office, he admitted to me that he was hesitant to answer some of my questions about race more fully or with less caution, for just as a stray word from him about, say, monetary policy could affect the financial markets, so, too, could a harsh or intemperate word about race affect the political temper of the country.
Obama is a flawed President, but his sense of historical perspective is well developed. He gives every sign of believing that his most important role in the American history of race was his election in November, 2008, and, nearly as important, his re-election, four years later. For millions of Americans, that election was an inspiration. But, for some untold number of others, it remains a source of tremendous resentment, a kind of threat that is capable, in some, of arousing the basest prejudices.
Obama hates to talk about this. He allows himself so little latitude. Maybe that will change when he is an ex-President focussed on his memoirs. As a very young man he wrote a book about becoming, about identity, about finding community in a black church, about finding a sense of home—in his case, on the South Side of Chicago, with a young lawyer named Michelle Robinson. It will be beyond interesting to see what he’s willing to tell us—tell us with real freedom—about being the focus of so much hope, but also the subject of so much ambient and organized racial anger: the birther movement, the death threats, the voter-suppression attempts, the articles, books, and films that portray him as everything from an unreconstructed, drug-addled campus radical to a Kenyan post-colonial socialist. This has been the Age of Obama, but we have learned over and over that this has hardly meant the end of racism in America. Not remotely. Dylann Roof, tragically, seems to be yet another terrible reminder of that.
In an interview with Remnick last year, President Obama gave us some idea of how he sees his role in the long process of “perfecting our union.”
“I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past,” he said. “But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have.” The long view again. “But I think our decisions matter,” he went on. “And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”
Perhaps that’s why I’ve always loved the pairing of this song with these images. It captures that “long-running story” and ends with the moment that sparked both the hope and the threat that Remnick described. We just need to add a clause at the end…”to be continued.”
By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 21, 2015