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“Nothing To Do With Race”: The Simplistic Way Many Of Us Perceive The All-American Conundrum Of Race

It had nothing to do with race.

So said Sheriff Leon Lott, last week, in discussing a violent arrest by one of his officers, a white deputy named Ben Fields, of a black female student at Spring Valley High in Richland County, South Carolina. Fields, a school resource officer, was called in when the girl reportedly ignored a teacher’s instruction to stop using her cellphone and leave the classroom. He ended up overturning her desk and slinging her across the floor like a sandbag or a sack of dog food.

His actions, caught on cellphone video, have detonated social media, many observers expressing visceral fury over this treatment of a black child. But Lott, who later fired his deputy, said he doesn’t think Fields acted from racial prejudice because he has an African-American girlfriend.

It is a statement of earnest, staggering obtuseness that sheds no light on the officer’s overreaction, but reveals with stark clarity the simplistic way many of us perceive the all-American conundrum of race. Granted, it is not inconceivable that a white girl could have been subjected to the same brutality in a similar situation. But it is a matter of statistical fact that it’s more likely to happen to a child of color.Multiple studies have shown that those kids are subjected to harsher discipline in school than their white classmates. Indeed, numbers released last year by the federal government show that this begins in preschool where the “students” are little more than toddlers, yet black kids, who account for 18 percent of the population, get 42 percent of the suspensions.

Nothing to do with race?

The people who habitually say that operate under the misapprehension that racial bias requires intent or awareness and that it leaves obvious evidence of itself: a tendency toward racist comments, let’s say, or membership in the Ku Klux Klan. In that worldview, racial bias is incompatible with having a black girlfriend.

But that worldview is naive. Bias is frequently subterranean, something you carry without meaning to or knowing you do. In a country that has used every outlet of media, religion, education, politics, law and science for over two centuries to drive home that black is threatening, black is inferior, black is bad, it is entirely possible Fields could have acted from unconscious racial bias and yet had a black girlfriend. For that matter, he could have acted from unconscious racial bias and had a black face; African-American people are no more immune to the drumbeat of negativity surrounding them than is anyone else.

So “nothing to do with race” is a reflexive copout many of us embrace against all reason because to do otherwise is to face a mirror whose reflection does not flatter. Which is why the usual suspects — Steve Doocy, Mark Fuhrman, Glenn Beck and etcetera — have attempted to fix the blame for what happened here on the girl.

Let’s be very clear in response. It doesn’t matter if she was disruptive. It doesn’t matter if she was disobedient. It doesn’t matter if she was disrespectful. Those things justify discipline, but they emphatically do not justify this child being lifted and flung by a grown man as if she were an inanimate object. If she were white, that would likely go without saying.

One is reminded of all the other African Americans we have seen in just the last few years brutalized and even killed for no good reason. One is reminded of Trayvon Martin and Walter Scott and Eric Garner and Charnesia Corley and Oscar Grant and Tamir Rice and Sean Bell and Levar Jones and more names than this column has space to hold, more blood than conscience can contain. And how many times have we been offered the same simplistic assurance in response?

This had nothing to do with race, they say.

Of course not. It never does.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, November 2, 2015

November 3, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Police Brutality, Racism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Whose Positions Are ‘Extreme”?: Marco Rubio, ‘A Woman Has A Right To Choose’, But Not Really

A few years ago, shortly before Election Day 2014, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) realized he was struggling with women voters and he worried about whether the gender gap would derail his campaign. Walker responded with a TV ad in which, in the context of the abortion debate, the governor defended leaving these decisions “to a woman and her doctor.”

Substantively, the rhetoric was ridiculous – it reflected the exact opposite of Walker’s policy agenda – but the Republican candidate saw value in trying to use his rivals’ phrasing to make his own far-right policies sound more mainstream.

BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski reported the other day on a similar tactic adopted by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“Again, terrible tragedy what happened in Oregon, but you’re right, every single year unborn in this country are killed legally, through laws that allow that to happen,” Rubio said when radio host Glenn Beck asked him to respond to Hillary Clinton’s comments on the Oregon shooting, which Beck used to pivot to the issue of abortion.

“Look, I recognize this is tough issue and I actually do believe that a woman has a right to choose with her body,” he added. “The problem is that when there’s a pregnancy, there’s another life involved and that life has a right to live. And so, as policymakers we have to choose between two competing rights, and I’ve chosen as a matter of principle to choose life in that debate.”

First, it’s a lingering mystery why we still see competitive candidates for the nation’s highest office associating themselves with Glenn Beck, chatting about who they see as radical, without appreciating the irony.

Second, it’s jarring for Rubio, who’s been a consistent far-right voice on issues such as abortion and contraception access, boast that he “actually” does “believe that a woman has a right to choose with her body” – though he’s comfortable pursuing an agenda to curtail and restrict that right.

The Florida senator added that Hillary Clinton “has extreme positions” when it comes to reproductive rights.

Rubio has argued more than once in recent months that if a woman is impregnated by a rapist, the government has the authority to force her to take the pregnancy to term, regardless of her wishes.

How eager is he, exactly, for a debate about whose positions are “extreme”?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 12, 2015

October 14, 2015 Posted by | Marco Rubio, Women Voters, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“This Is What Erasure Looks Like”: We Are Witness To The Vandalism Of African-American Memory

“This,” says Roni Dean-Burren, “is what erasure looks like.”

She’s talking about something you might otherwise have thought innocuous: a page from World Geography, a high school textbook. A few days ago, you see, Dean-Burren, a former teacher and a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston, was texted a caption from that book by her son Coby, who is 15. It said that the Atlantic slave trade “brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” This was in a section called “Patterns of Immigration.”

She says the words jumped out at her. After all, a “worker,” is usually someone who gets paid to do a job. An immigrant is usually someone who chooses to come to a new country. Neither of which describes the millions of kidnapping victims who cleared America’s fields and endured its depravities in lives of unending bondage that afforded them no more rights under the law than a dog or a chair.

As the Trail of Tears was not a nature walk and the Normandy invasion not a day at the beach, black people were neither workers nor immigrants, but slaves. Dean-Burren, who is black, took to social media to explain that. You can guess what happened next. The story went viral, and the embarrassed publisher, McGraw-Hill Education, scrambled to apologize and fix the mess.

That’s all well and good. But let no one think this was incidental or accidental. No, there is purpose here. There is intent. In recent years, we’ve seen Arizona outlaw ethnic studies, Texas teach that slavery was a “side issue” to the Civil War, a Colorado school board require a “positive” spin on American history, and Glenn Beck claim the mantle of the Civil Rights Movement.

We are witness to the vandalism of African-American memory, to acts of radical revision and wholesale theft that strike at the core of black identity. Once your past is gone, who are you? What anchor holds you? So Dean-Burren’s word strikes a powerful chord: This is, indeed, erasure — like a blackboard wiped clean, all the inconvenient pain, sting and challenge of African-American history, gone.

It is, she says, “the saddest thought ever” that her grandchildren might not know Nat Turner’s rebellion or Frederick Douglass’ harsh condemnation of slavery. “The fact that they may not know what it was like for women to get the right to vote, the fact that they may not know that millions of Native Americans were slaughtered at the hands of ‘Pilgrims’ and explorers … I think it says a lot about our society.”

Nor is she persuaded by the argument that teaching the uglier aspects of American history would make students hate their country. She calls that “a crock of poo.” And it is. America’s ugliness defines its beauty as silence defines sound and sorrow defines joy.

“We tell our children that all the time: ‘The reason you’re standing here today … and you have what you have and you can go to the schools you want to go to, and you can say out loud, ‘I want to be an Alvin Ailey dancer …’ or ‘I want to go to Stanford,’ … is that you come from survivors. You come from people who said, ‘I’m going to stick it out. I’m going to make it. I’m going to keep pushing.’ If we don’t know the ugly, I don’t know how you can really love the pretty.”

To put it another way: Black History Matters. So let us be alarmed at attempts to rewrite that history for the moral convenience of others or to preserve what James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates have described as the fiction of white American “innocence” where crimes of race are concerned. They keep trying to make it less painful, says Dean-Burren, like putting a document through a Xerox machine and making it lighter, lighter and lighter still.

“And then, when you look up, there’s nothing on the page.”

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, October 12, 2015

October 13, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, American History, Slavery | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why Is It So Hard To Call Racism Racism?”: Let There Be No (Pretend) Confusion About Church Shooter’s Motivation

This is for Elisabeth Hasselbeck of Fox & Friends, who described last Thursday’s act of white extremist terrorism at Emanuel AME church in Charleston as an “attack on faith.”

It’s for Rick Perry, who said maybe the shooting happened because of prescription drugs. It’s for Jeb Bush, who said, “I don’t know what was on the mind” of the killer. It’s for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who said, “We’ll never understand what motivates” a crime like this. It’s for Glenn Beck, who said, “I don’t know why this shooter shot people. He might shoot people because he’s a racist. He might have shot people because he’s an anarchist. He might have shot people because he hates Christians.”

This is also for the reader who called the tragedy a “hoax” perpetrated by the White House to promote racial hatred and gun control, and for the one who said, “Charleston was not a hate crime.” Finally, it’s for any and everyone who responded to the massacre by chanting, tweeting, or saying, “All lives matter.”

For all of you, a simple question: What the hell is wrong with you people? Why is it so hard for you to call racism racism?

It is not news that some people go to extraordinary lengths to avoid conceding that America remains a nation stained by racial discrimination. Bring them a hundred testimonies illustrating it and they are unmoved. Bring them a thousand studies quantifying it and they say that numbers lie. They deny self-evident truth because otherwise, they must concede racism did not, in fact, end 50 years ago, and they are heavily invested in that fiction.

Still, it is breathtaking and heartbreaking to learn that this recalcitrance holds firm even in the face of so blatant a crime. Nine people dead following an attack upon a storied African-American church. The alleged killer: Dylann Roof, a 21-year old dropout with a Moe Howard haircut whose racist motivations were pretty clear to authorities from the beginning and have only become clearer since.

He said he wanted to shoot black people. You don’t get plainer than that.

Yet, even in the face of this utter lack of mystery, some of us professed confusion about the killer’s motives.

An “attack on faith”? Only the “War on Christmas” delusions and anti-gay fixations of Fox could make this about that.

“All lives matter”? Of course they do. But what is it about the specificity of declaring “Black Lives Matter” that some people object to? What is it they find problematic about acknowledging that black lives in particular are under siege in this country? It certainly wasn’t “all lives” Roof sought to snuff out when he entered that church.

And Glenn Beck’s professed confusion about the shooter’s motive? It is simply bizarre that a man who once famously dubbed President Obama “a racist” based on no evidence beyond the voices in his own head has such difficulty being that definitive about a white man who drove 100 miles to shoot up a black church.

A few days ago, a Toronto Star reporter tweeted video of a mostly white crowd that marched through Charleston chanting “Black Lives Matter.” God, but that was a welcome sight — ice-cold lemonade on the hottest day in August. It was a stirring, needed reminder that compassion has no color.

All this obfuscation and pretend confusion, on the other hand, is a less welcome reminder that, for all the undeniable progress we have made in matters of race, there remain among us not simply moral cowards, but far too many moral cripples hobbling about on stumps of decency and crutches of denialism.

Last week, nine people were slaughtered in a house of God for no other reason than that they were there, and they were black. It is a sad and simple truth that some of us, for some reason, have not the guts to say.

For that, they should be profoundly ashamed.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, June 24, 2015

June 24, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Emanuel AME Church, Racism, White Supremacy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Irrational Fears”: Ebola Shouldn’t Be The New Political Football

A couple of weeks ago, President Obama traveled to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to unveil an ambitious U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, including money, materials, and military and health personnel. Almost immediately, the right started complaining bitterly.

“We are sending more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS or other Muslim terrorists,” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners. “I didn’t know you could shoot a virus. Did you?”

Now that an Ebola case has been diagnosed in the United States, the right’s politicization instincts are kicking in once more. Fox News’ Steve Doocy went so far as to suggest the CDC may not be entirely trustworthy – it’s part of the Obama administration, Doocy said, which Fox News viewers believe “has misled a lot of people on a lot of things.”

And then there’s Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who’s worried about Ebola and “political correctness.”

[Paul] on Wednesday questioned President Obama’s decision to dispatch 3,000 U.S. troops to West Africa to help combat the Ebola virus.

“Where is disease most transmittable? When you’re in very close confines on a ship,” Paul said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. “We all know about cruises and how they get these diarrhea viruses that are transmitted very easily and the whole ship gets sick. Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers catch Ebola?”

The senator specifically added, “I really think it is being dominated by political correctness.”

Also yesterday, Paul talked about Ebola with Glenn Beck – because, you know, that’s what U.S. senators and prospective presidential candidates do – and argued that the public may not be frightened enough. “I do think you have to be concerned,” the Kentucky Republican told Beck. “It’s an incredibly transmissible disease that everyone is downplaying, saying it’s hard to catch…. I’m very concerned about this. I think at the very least there needs to be a discussion about airline travel between the countries that have the raging disease.”

I’ll assume the senator isn’t recommending a flight ban for Dallas.

Because Rand Paul has a medical background, some may be more inclined to take his concerns seriously on matters of science and public health. With this in mind, it’s probably worth noting that the senator, prior to starting a career in public office four years ago, was a self-accredited ophthalmologist before making the leap to Capitol Hill.

So when Paul compares Ebola to an ailment that is “transmitted very easily,” and describes the virus as “incredibly transmissible,” it’s a mistake to assume the senator knows what he’s talking about. There are actual medical experts and specialists in the field of transmittable diseases – and the junior senator from Kentucky isn’t one of them.

If Paul were just a little more responsible, he wouldn’t make public comments like these at a time when many Americans already have irrational fears.

As for concern for the safety of U.S. troops, CNN reports that the Pentagon does not expect servicemen and women to come in direct contact with Ebola patients as part of the American response to the African outbreak.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 2, 2014

October 3, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Public Health, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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