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“We’re Not Post-Racial Yet”: The Demons Of Our Racist Past Still Haunt Us

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

July 24, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Institutional Racism, White Americans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hypocrisy Watch”: When Bernie Sanders, Conventional Politician, Called For Still More Mass Incarceration

Could Bernie Sanders be starting to look ever so slightly like just another pol? Not to his besotted legions, of course. For them, nothing can tarnish the great man. But for other voters, the past week may mark a turning point in the way he’s perceived.

I have three events in mind. First was the Hillary-is-not-qualified business. Yeah, he walked it back fast, but not before he grossly mischaracterized what Clinton had said on Morning Joe and then went out and raised money off of his own mischaracterization! Far be it from me to suggest that the righteous one ever reads a poll, but I bet he does, and I bet his were showing that the controversy was killing him.

Second was the Vatican dust-up. What really happened there, who knows. But if your behavior leads two Vatican officials to start cat-scratching each other on the record, you have not won the morning. Given that he’s apparently not meeting with the Pope, I have no idea at this point why he’s even going. We all get that it’s a pander for Latino votes in New York, but why not just spend that time meeting actual Latino voters?

But third and biggest by far is Sanders’s continuing hypocrisy regarding the 1994 crime bill. Hypocrisy is a strong word. Is it fair? Well, he’s been going around for months criticizing both Clintons on the bill. But of course, as we know, he voted for it. And as we learned Sunday from Clinton surrogate John Podesta on ABC, Sanders boasted as recently as 2006 that he was tough on crime because he supported the ’94 bill.

Say what you want to say about the bill. It was really bad in many respects. It did help contribute to mass incarceration, especially of young black men. These arguments weren’t secrets at the time. Many people made them. In the House, about one-third of Democrats voted against the bill, most of them liberal or African-American (or both) critics of the bill on exactly these grounds. So Congressman Sanders was sitting on the House floor, or in the Democratic cloakroom, being exposed to these arguments, and he still voted for it.

He says it was because of the provisions that cracked down on violence against women. Fine; laudable, even. But if he gets credit for the good parts, don’t Bill and Hillary get that credit, too?

The story gets worse for Sanders. Over the weekend, an excerpt of remarks Congressman Sanders had inserted into the Congressional Record in 1995 started making the rounds. A debate was raging at the time about the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparities (black people were more often arrested on crack charges, for which the sentencing guidelines were much harsher). The U.S. Sentencing Commission had recommended to Congress that it eliminate the disparity (PDF). It meant that Congress should do so by lowering the guidelines for crack so that they’d be equal to those for powder. Most Democrats, of course, supported this change.

Sanders? Well, he wanted to eliminate the disparity—but by raising the powder guidelines to those for crack! Here are the salient sentences, from the Record of Oct. 18, 1995, tweeted over the weekend by James E. Carter IV, President Carter’s grandson:

“This Congressman thinks that drugs are a scourge on America, and I strongly believe we must fight cocaine use in any form. We should be addressing the fairness issue by raising the punishment for powder cocaine, not lowering the sentence for crack offenses. I am deeply disturbed that this was not given as an option today.”

Well, I’ll give him this much. The Sanders option would have eliminated the disparity. But it would have done so by throwing millions more people behind bars for years, ruining that many more lives, black, white, and otherwise. It’s totally at odds with Sanders’s rhetoric, which I agree with by the way, about how we need to give young people from difficult circumstances more opportunity. Bernie wanted to give young people from all circumstances less opportunity. He may never have used the word “superpredators,” but he sure seems to have believed in their existence.

Why was Sanders such a law-and-order type? It’s hard to know, since of course he never talks about it and now says just the opposite, with all that imperious moral thunder that some find bewitching and others bothersome or bewildering. But this excellent Yahoo! News piece from early February lays the record out. He even voted against a bill in 1995 that would have established separate drug courts and taken steps to demilitarize police departments, preventing them from using any money in the act in question (which failed) for the purchase of Army-style tanks or aircraft.

It’s hard to imagine that crime was raging across the state from Burlington to Brattleboro. Maybe it was, by Vermont standards. Or maybe he just believed it was. But if he did believe it, he ought to just say so and explain why.

Hillary Clinton’s record on these matters is compromised as well. But at least the Clintons acknowledge error. Bill said last summer that the crime bill made mass incarceration worse. Hillary, in her first major speech of her campaign, also last year, ducked mentioning the crime bill by name but clearly spent parts of the speech criticizing it.

The Clintons, quite imperfect the both of them, live in a world where things are complicated, history advances and changes, and you have to rethink and explain. Sanders lives in a world where no explanation is ever required of him. Clinton has a week to change that.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 12, 2016

April 14, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Crime Bill 1994, Hillary Clinton, Mass Incarceration | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Inmates Equals More Revenue”: Prison-Industrial Complex Morphs Into Treatment-Industrial Complex

Nancy Reagan’s recent death was a reminder of the shallow moralizing of the Just Say No anti-drug campaign she once championed.

Thankfully, attitudes have changed. We’re more attuned to the fact that untreated mental health issues are often a precursor to drug use. Nancy’s slogan to fight peer pressure won’t help much there.

Most people realize that the War on Drugs, begun under Nixon, has failed.

And there’s growing public awareness that we’ve let our jails and prisons become warehouses for people who need treatment — and who needed it long before they took a criminal turn.

Mandatory sentencing guidelines have been changed, and the days of presidential administrations following the whims of a drug czar are over.

Incarceration rates are dropping. To most, this is good news. But it’s not if your business model revolves around keeping people locked up.

The for-profit prison industry has kept one step ahead of the trend. They got wise quick, sensing the winds shifting away from mass incarceration and toward the need to address mental health issues within the nation’s prisons and jails.

For those familiar with the term “prison-industrial complex,” meet its offspring — the “treatment-industrial complex.”

A report released in February by Grassroots Leadership, a civil and human rights organization, rings some warning bells. The report, “Incorrect Care: A Prison Profiteer Turns Care into Confinement,” is part of a series of reports that has focused on reducing the nation’s dysfunctional criminal justice system.

This latest installment takes an in-depth look at the privatization efforts in Texas, Florida and South Carolina. In particular, it goes after the shifting business models of for-profit prison operators Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, as well as spinoff rehabilitation companies like Correct Care Solutions.

The charge is that just as prisons are often not about rehabilitation, these new for-profit treatment places are not about helping people regain their mental stability and, therefore, their release. The report also challenges the quality of care being offered, citing cases of violence and patient deaths.

One startling figure from the report: 50 percent of people in correctional facilities suffer from mental health and substance abuse disorders. This compares to estimated rates of only 1 percent to 3 percent within the U.S. population. Prisoners represent a huge market for mental health care. If the prison operator also has a side business in mental health care, a conflict of interest presents itself.

Under normal circumstances, a person can get out of prison after serving his sentence. In fact, 90 percent of people who are sentenced do just that. But inmates can be placed by a judge into a for-profit mental health program in a prison — say, under civil commitment laws now on the books in about 20 states — and be detained there past the end of the sentence. The operator has a clear incentive to keep a person there indefinitely, to increase the return on its investment.

The Grassroots Leadership report points out that these private operators offer cost savings to a state when the facility is full: Thus the cost per head goes down. Assigning inmates to these facilities can be very appealing to lawmakers trying to balance tight budgets. Potentially, it becomes even more alluring when a lobbyist with the industry is making a hefty donation to a re-election campaign.

A basic set of circumstances and decisions has set the stage in many states. Legislatures have cut public mental health budgets, resulting in understaffing and poor conditions in state-run facilities. Community-based mental health programs are also being shorted. That leads to more untreated people who act out and then find themselves in a criminal justice system.

By virtue of their mental state, many of these people are not in a position to self-advocate for better care. Locked up, they are easily forgotten. One question must continuously be asked by legislators, advocates and the taxpayers whose dollars are being spent: In a for-profit model — in which more inmates equals more revenue — what possible incentive does a rehabilitation company have to help people regain stability and rejoin society? If such an incentive doesn’t exist and outweigh the profit motive, it’s hard to see how private-sector rehab programs won’t make matters worse.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, March 18, 2016

March 19, 2016 Posted by | Mass Incarceration, Mental Illness, Prison-Industrial Complex | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Is No Post Racial America”: Can Bernie Sanders Win The African-American Vote?

Bill Clinton, so the saying goes, was America’s first black president.

Novelist Toni Morrison dubbed him so, noting that he displayed “almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”

The analogy stuck because people saw Clinton’s rapport of kinship and familiarity that crossed racial lines.

His wife is not blessed with the same attributes. This became starkly apparent in 2008 when she faced a formable political challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination and lost as African-American voters flocked to him.

This go-around, it’s not an upstart biracial senator from Illinois who is challenging Hillary Clinton for the coveted prize in this election cycle. It’s a 74-year-old white guy with a Mister Rogers appeal.

Bernie Sanders is the exclamation point on bad news for Clinton. In the Iowa caucuses, Sanders’ virtual tie in votes showed that Clinton can’t rest on her substantial resume.

Clinton cannot take black voters for granted. Sanders may not win enough African-American support to snag the Democratic nomination away, but he’ll give her a considerable run for it, even in Southern states like South Carolina, whose Democratic primary will take place at the end of the month.

Sanders’ appeal is that he acknowledges something that African-Americans know viscerally: There is no post-racial America. He has also offered a forthright critique of wealth and income equality in America, along with measures to rectify it. All he has to do is package his message right.

The election of Barack Obama did not substantially alter the lives of most black Americans. True, it was a collective emotional achievement for much of America, and especially for black America. Yet it’s ludicrous to believe that one man in the highest office of the land, even serving two terms, was going to undo the entrenched realities of race in America.

African-Americans, segregated and humiliated first by slavery and then by segregation, and further still by subtler forms of bias and discrimination that are still with us, are lagging behind other people of other races and ethnicities in employment and economic and educational attainment.

By the time the recovery began from the most recent recession, African-Americans had lost the most ground and now have to make harder strides to catch up.

Those without wealth invested in stocks and those whose work skills are less in demand — especially people whose families are less firmly entrenched in middle class — are struggling. And Sanders speaks well to these voters, especially to a new generation that is worried that they won’t be able to achieve, not due to personal failings but because systems of government such as taxation and justice are rigged against them.

In Iowa, Sanders swept Clinton with voters under 30, winning by a 70-point margin. He also won resoundingly with voters aged 30 to 44.

Iowa, some shrug, is overwhelmingly white. True.

But what if younger African-American voters aren’t as beholden to the idea that they must stick with the Clinton team, even if Hillary is a surrogate of Obama? Some evidence of this is appearing.

In recent weeks former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner has become a vocal advocate, along with the attorney who represented the Walter Scott family. Some rappers have begun advocating for him, plying their networks on social media. And the revered scholar Cornel West has been actively campaigning and took to Facebook with a post that begins, “Why I endorse Brother Bernie….”

It reads, in part: “I do so because he is a long-distance runner with integrity in the struggle for justice for over 50 years. Now is the time for his prophetic voice to be heard across our crisis-ridden country, even as we push him with integrity toward a more comprehensive vision of freedom for all.”

All Sanders has to do is speak ferociously for the underdogs of society, for the masses of people who have been left behind. And he is very adept at connecting these dots.

A good example is Sanders’ platform on racial justice. It seeks to address what he defines as “the five central types of violence waged against black, brown and indigenous Americans: physical, political, legal, economic and environmental.”

And he fully defines each, with grim examples of the harm they have caused. Then he offers his solutions.

Black Americans know these realities in ways that are starkly personal.

The question is: What must Sanders do to convince black voters that he can and will address them?

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, February 4, 2016

February 7, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Is White Privilege?”: Something You Would Barely Notice Unless It Were Suddenly Taken Away

Taking it for granted that when you’re shopping alone, you probably won’t be followed or harassed.

Knowing that if you ask to speak to “the person in charge,” you’ll almost certainly be facing someone of your own race.

Being able to think about different social, political or professional options without asking whether someone of your race would be accepted or allowed to do what you want to do.

Assuming that if you buy a house in a nice neighborhood, your neighbors will be pleasant or neutral toward you.

Feeling welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

What is white privilege? It’s the level of societal advantage that comes with being seen as the norm in America, automatically conferred irrespective of wealth, gender or other factors. It makes life smoother, but it’s something you would barely notice unless it were suddenly taken away — or unless it had never applied to you in the first place.

In 1988, the professor Peggy McIntosh used the paper White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack to describe it as a set of unearned assets that a white person in America can count on cashing in each day but to which they remain largely oblivious. The concept has been percolating in academic circles ever since and is nearing widespread use among young people on the political left. Yet as Post reporter Janell Ross noted earlier this week, it’s also a term that many Americans “instinctively don’t trust or believe to be real,” despite reams of evidence to the contrary. Black children– 4-year-olds! — comprise 18 percent of preschool enrollment but are given  nearly 50 percent of all out-of-school suspensions. Job applicants with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get called in for an interview. Black defendants are at least 30 percent more likely to be imprisoned than white defendants for the same crime.

Why does such a fraught piece of academic lingo matter now? Because people are finally beginning to talk about what it means in their own lives. At a time when minorities are becoming more vocal about the ways in which their experiences in America differ from those of their white counterparts, the term might be finally entering the mainstream. On Monday night, at a forum for presidential hopefuls held in Iowa, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton was asked by an audience member to explain what white privilege meant to her, and how it had affected her life. Her response? “Look, where do I start?

Yet for every instance in which white privilege is acknowledged, there is an inevitable backlash.

Commentators quickly jump in to remind us that “not all white people are privileged,” a clear (and perhaps willful) misreading of the term. Obviously not all white people are wealthy, and yes, there are minorities who have achieved this and other marks of status. But white privilege is something specific and different – it’s the idea that just by virtue of being a white person of any kind, you’re part of the dominant group, which tends to be respected, assumed the best of, and given the benefit of the doubt. That just isn’t the case for people of other races, no matter how wealthy, smart or hard-working they might be.

Others denounce the term as a weapon used to guilt, shame, and silence, pointing at presumably well-meaning students told by holier-than-thou faculty and classmates to “check their privilege.” Yet while the term can be used to silence, that’s more the fault of a rude terminology-wielder than of the concept itself. All sorts of normally harmless words have been deployed to guilt people and suppress speech — “unpatriotic” and “elitist” come to mind.  A reminder to acknowledge one’s privilege is just a reminder to be aware — aware that you might not be able to fully understand someone else’s experiences, or that the assumptions you were brought up with may be blinding you to certain concerns. That awareness that is key to any sort of civil discussion, about race, class or anything else.

Before everyone gets too defensive (and let’s be honest — it’s probably too late), a few notes of clarification: Pointing out that white privilege exists isn’t the same as accusing every white person of being a racist. Acknowledging that you might benefit from such privilege isn’t equivalent to self-hatred or kowtowing to detested “social justice warriors.”

The thing about white privilege is that it tends to be unintentional, unconscious, uncomfortable to recognize but easy to take for granted. But it’s that very invisibility that makes it that much more important to understand: Without confronting what exists, there’s no chance of leveling the field.

 

By: Christine Emba, Editor of In Theory; Opionins Section, The Washington Post, January 18, 2016

January 18, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Minorities, White Privilege | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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