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“A History Lesson We Adamantly Refuse To Learn”: Our Racist History Isn’t Back To Haunt Us. It Never Left Us

When, on Wednesday night, a 21-year-old white man named Dylann Roof entered the Charleston church founded by former slave Denmark Vesey on the anniversary of Vesey’s planned 1822 slave rebellion and shot and killed nine people, he provided the United States with the latest installment of a history lesson we adamantly refuse to learn: that our racist past is not past. It is present. It is unending. It is, in many ways that we seem congenitally unable to acknowledge, fundamentally unchanged.

In recent years, especially the years during which Barack Obama has occupied the White House, there have been many valuable meditations on the ways in which American policy structures that were shaped in and informed by the slave-holding and Jim Crow chapters of our nation’s story, continue to define today’s racial power imbalances. There’s been history, analysis, and contemporary commentary: Michelle Alexander’s indispensible The New Jim Crow, about our prison and legal systems; Isabel Wilkerson’s Warmth of Other Suns, about the Great Migration; Tom Sugrue’s books on integration and racism in northern cities and on housing policy in Detroit. At the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates has produced a body of work—culminating (for now) with his Case for Reparations—showing how we have gotten from “there” to “here,” contemporary America, with its persistently unequal scales of opportunity. Throughout our history, racism has indeed found fresh manifestations: from real estate restrictions and usurious interest rates to physical segregation to job discrimination to stop and frisk and police brutality.

There is usually the sense, however, that at least we’re changing, at least we’re moving in some direction, away from the where we started. Except on days like today, when the reminder is that we have not moved one bit.

In addition to new forms of subjugation and prejudice, we live in a country in which racist violence exists in precisely the same forms it always has—unabated, unreconstructed. We are not distant from the crimes and inhumanities and hatred of the past. We are still acting them out and still refusing to accept them for what they are: this country’s original and defining sin.

What happened on Wednesday night is violence enacted on different individuals than the violence enacted on four little girls who were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, but it is a crime with the same shape and contours, a crime that leaves innocent people dead in their place of worship because of their race.

Too often, we look at iconic images of our racist past with a kind of antiqued horror. We recall with horror, if we’re old enough, how police turned dogs on innocent people. If we are younger, we suck in our breath and shake our heads with disbelief as we try to fathom a world inhabited by our parents, our grandparents, in which a city official, Bull Connor, ordered the use of fire hoses on peaceful protesters. But we also know that Bull Connor is long dead, a comfortable relic. We can just barely imagine that this happened to John Lewis. Lewis is now a long-serving congressman; his past is crucial, moving, but remote. That was then, look at him now.

But this—a white policeman shoving a 14-year-old girl’s face to the ground, stepping on her, kneeling on her at a pool party in McKinney, Texas—is also now. It’s this month. This, in Fairfield, Ohio, is not simply an altercation “between police and teens” as the caption says, but between a white police and black teens who scream in terror and anger. It is also this month, also at a community pool. Community pools, a locus for racial conflict. Does that sound distant? Or does it sound contemporary?

It is contemporary.

When we think of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy murdered in Mississippi in 1963 after reportedly speaking to a white woman, we recall his open casket. His mother insisted on it, because she wanted the world to see the brutality that had been visited on her son because of the color of his skin. Look at this picture, printed on pages yellowed by all the years that have come between his death and today. Those years have made him famous; we take some cold comfort in the fact that though Till was robbed of the opportunity to love and thrive and work and change the world in life; his death profoundly altered it, kicking off the cycle of social progress that has brought us here, a world away from Money, Mississippi, 1955.

Now look at this image, of Frederick Jermaine Carter, a 26-year-old black man found hanging from a tree in a white suburb in Greenwood, Mississippi. It was taken ten miles south and 55 years after Emmett Till was killed. Carter died in 2010.

Yes, southern (and northern) trees still bear strange fruit. In March of this year, Otis Byrd, a man who had served time for killing a white woman, was found hanging from a tree in Claiborne County, Mississippi. (A special investigation ruled that there was no evidence proving his death a homicide.) Less than a year ago, the body of 17-year-old Lennon Lacey—a young man in a relationship with a white woman—was found hanging from a swing-set in Bladenboro, North Carolina. His death was immediately ruled a suicide, despite a series of inconsistencies and a report from an independent examiner suggesting that given his height and weight, a self-hanging would have been impossible. This death recalled the 2000 hanging of Raynard Johnson from a pecan tree in Kokomo, Mississippi. Johnson, like Lacey, had been dating, and been harassed for dating, a white woman, and his death—on June 16, in advance of a local Juneteenth celebration—was promptly ruled a suicide.

There’s no way to know for sure whether these deaths were lynchings or suicides, but what they are not are echoes of some distant past. They are original sounds. They are simply later chapters in the story of Emmett Till and countless, less well known others. They are a story of violent white resistance to the perceived incursion of blackness on bodies—on women’s bodies and on the nation. These bodies are not just presumed to be white, but presumed to belong to white men, a dynamic made crystal clear by Dylann Roof’s reported locution, during his Wednesday murder spree: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

We can try to comfort ourselves, as a local news anchor tried earlier this year, by assuring viewers that the cross found burning on the front lawn of a black woman in Elizabethville, Pennsylvania, was “not like those huge crosses from the old days.”

But these are the old days. In February, a Tennessee man and member of a church affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan was fined and sentenced to jail for burning a cross in the yard of a black man in Minor Hill, Tennessee. In 2014 in White River Township, Indiana, a black man was awakened in the middle of the night to find a three-foot cross burning on his front lawn. This is today.

This is Eric Garner, being killed by cops. This is Walter Scott, being shot in the back and killed by a police man. This is Freddie Gray, howling with pain after having had his body broken by police, a week before his death. This is Tamir Rice. He was 12 when he was shot to death, in November of last year, by police.

As Jelani Cobb wrote on Wednesday, recent incidents can “seem like gruesome boomerangs of history until we consider the more terrible idea that they are simple reflections of the present.”

It’s not just a terrible idea, it is a terrible reality. The cold reality of our country right now. We are not post-civil rights. We are not post race. We are not better than we were. We do not inhabit a world in which stray instances of violence might recall a distant and shameful history. This shame is a flood that has never abated.

 

By: Rebecca Traister, The New Republic, June 18, 2015

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Charleston SC Shootings, Domestic Terrorism, Hate Crimes | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“False Prophets Trolling For Votes”: People Like Mike Huckabee Are Engaging In A Huge Act Of Bad Faith

When I read about Mike Huckabee’s speech to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference yesterday, his big talking point sounded very familiar to me. It was the big talking point of a speech I gave in an oratory contest in the 8th grade. By the 9th grade I was embarrassed by it as a product of juvenile ignorance.

Mike Huckabee rallied a crowd of Hispanic evangelicals on Wednesday night, pushing back in the debate over religious freedom just one day after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments to determine whether states have the right to ban same-sex marriage.

“I respect the courts, but the Supreme Court is only that — the supreme of the courts. It is not the supreme being. It cannot overrule God,” he said. “When it comes to prayer, when it comes to life, and when it comes to the sanctity of marriage, the court cannot change what God has created.”

No, I wasn’t talking about marriage back then, but school prayer. But it doesn’t really matter, though, the principle Huck is defending is that of a “higher law” that is binding on those who recognize it. As a matter of individual conscience, that is indeed defensible, but as a principle of civil society, it is more or less self-refuting.

When Martin Luther King appealed to a “higher law” in defying Jim Crow, he wasn’t asserting some universal right to pick and choose the laws one would obey; he was, for one thing, drawing attention to a constitutional anomaly; for another, he hoped (successfully, as it turned out) to awaken a similar recognition in the hearts and minds of a majority of the American people; and above all, he was willing to pay the price for civil disobedience. And then there is the little matter that the laws he was protesting had a huge, dramatic, impossible-to-ignore personal impact on him and his family and most of his friends, beyond the offense to the “higher law.”

In claiming to emulate King’s prophetic stance, people like Huck and the other signatories of yesterday’s Pledge of Solidarity to Defend Marriage are engaging in a huge act of bad faith. They are not pointing to a constitutional anomaly, but are instead arguing for a radical reinterpretation of the Constitution that sneaks in conceptions of divine and natural law that happen to justify their particular policies. They are not appealing to the consciences of the majority, but claiming those are irrelevant. And most of all, it’s insanely laughable that they imagine themselves as self-sacrificing heroes like those of the civil rights movement; they struggle constantly to come up with a single way in which same-sex marriage actually affects them.

Beyond the phony civil rights parallels, what’s most annoying about the new “religious liberty” line is that it purports to represent a defense of freedom of conscience when it is actually an assertion that the “higher law” should trump the civil law for all of us. The Pledge of Solidary in Defense of Marriage is very clear about that:

We affirm that marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of Creation. Marriage is ontologically between one man and one woman, ordered toward the union of the spouses, open to children and formative of family. Family is the first vital cell of society, the first government, and the first mediating institution of our social order. The future of a free and healthy society passes through marriage and the family.

Marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman precedes civil government…..

Marriage is the preeminent and the most fundamental of all human social institutions. Civil institutions do not create marriage nor can they manufacture a right to marry for those who are incapable of marriage. Society begins with marriage and the family.

So no, these people are not asking to be left alone with their beliefs, and their demands go far beyond the tender consciences of Bakers and Florists of Conscience who cannot tolerate the idea of two people they regard as rebels against God pledging love to each other. They are basically saying they have no obligation to obey any of the laws promulgated by a society (or what Richard John Neuhaus’ in his famous essay justifying revolution on exactly these same grounds called a “regime”) that has forfeited its legitimacy.

“Higher law” appeals are perverse coming from someone running for President of the United States. If Huck wants to stand in the courthouse door and defy a Supreme Court decision declaring marriage equality a constitutional right, he should let his freak flag fly and suffer the legal consequences of following his conscience. Using such arguments to troll for the votes of people upset by social change isn’t in the spirit of Martin Luther King, but is entirely consistent with the thinking and behavior of the scofflaws on the other side of the firehoses at Selma claiming a God-given inalienable right to discriminate.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 30, 2015

May 2, 2015 Posted by | Marriage Equality, Mike Huckabee, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Lots Of Minority People Are Already Voting”: Top Senate Republican Rejects Call For Voting-Rights Fix

It was just last month when much of the nation’s attention turned to Selma, Alabama, where Americans saw former President George W. Bush stand and applaud a call for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act with a bipartisan bill. Many wondered if, maybe sometime soon, Congress’ Republican majority might agree to tackle the issue.

Voting-rights advocates probably shouldn’t hold their breath. Soon after the event honoring those who marched at the Edmund Pettus Bridge a half-century ago, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) dismissed the very idea of working on the issue. “I think Eric Holder and this administration have trumped up and created an issue where there really isn’t one,” the Texas Republican said.

Asked if Congress should repair the Voting Rights Act formula struck down by the Supreme Court, Cornyn replied, simply, “No.”

Yesterday at the National Press Club, another key GOP senator echoed the sentiment.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Monday he doesn’t expect to bring up legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, because lots of minority people are already voting. […]

“It depends on what you want to fix,” he said. “If you want to fix more minorities voting, more minorities are already voting.”

The Iowa Republican said the “original intent” of the Voting Rights Act is no longer applicable because “in the last 50 years, it’s made great progress.”

As a factual matter, it’s true that lots of voters from minority communities vote. It’s also true that the nation has made “great progress” as compared to a half-century ago.

But given every relevant detail, Grassley’s posture is tough to defend.

Between the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act and a coordinated Republican campaign, half the nation’s states “have adopted measures making it harder to vote” since 2011. Ari Berman recently added that from 2011 to 2015, “395 new voting restrictions have been introduced” in 49 states.

To see the Voting Rights Act as some kind of quaint relic, no longer needed or valuable in today’s society, is to deny the basics of recent events. The organized assault on voting rights in recent years is unlike anything Americans have seen since the Jim Crow era, making the Voting Rights Act critically important.

What’s more, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the VRA came with a call from the majority justices for lawmakers to craft a new formula for federal scrutiny. There was, in other words, an expectation that Congress, which reauthorized the VRA repeatedly and easily over the decades, would respond to the court ruling with a revised policy.

And yet, here are leading Senate Republicans effectively responding, two years later, “Nah, let’s not bother to do anything at all.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 28, 2015

April 29, 2015 Posted by | Chuck Grassley, John Cornyn, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Promises Not Yet Recognized”: Enshrine The Right To Vote In The Constitution

Flags flew at half mast, schoolchildren recited the “Gettysburg Address” and for a few hours on April 15, America paused to remember that a century and a half ago this country lost its 16th president to an assassin’s bullet.

Now, Americans can finish with the pause and begin to fully honor Lincoln.

The place of beginning is with an embrace of the work of reconstruction that was imagined when Lincoln lived but that is not—even now—complete.

President Obama proclaimed April 15 as a National Day of Remembrance for President Abraham Lincoln, declaring, “Today, we reflect on the extraordinary progress he made possible, and with one voice, we rededicate ourselves to the work of ensuring a Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Obama was right to focus on Lincoln’s great preachment on behalf of American democracy. It directs our attention toward the mission to which small “d” democrats of all partisanships and ideologies must rededicate ourselves.

One hundred and fifty years after the moment when a still young country saw the end of a Civil War and the assassination of a president, the events of April 1865 continue to shape and challenge the American experience.

With Lincoln’s death, an inept and wrongheaded vice president, Andrew Johnson, succeeded to the presidency. Had it been left to Johnson, who vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the progress extending from the great sacrifices of the Civil War would have been imperiled. But the rough outlines for securing the victory were not left to a president. They were enshrined in the US Constitution.

Three amendments to the founding document were enacted during the five-year period from 1865 to 1870. These “Reconstruction Amendments”were transformational statements—even if their promise has yet to be fully recognized or realized.

The first of the amendments addressed the great failure of the founding moment: a “compromise” that recognized—and effectively permitted—human bondage.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution affirmed that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Those words confronted the indefensible “Three-Fifths Compromise,” which was outlined in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution as it was framed in 1787. That paragraph did not speak specifically of slavery, but instead referred to two groups of Americans: “the whole Number of free Persons” and “all other Persons.”

The 13th Amendment was an essential step toward an official embrace of Thomas Jefferson’s “immortal declaration”of 1776—that “all men are created equal.”

But it was not enough.

To the 13th Amendment of 1865 was added the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868, which confirmed that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The 14th Amendment, remarkable in its clarity and detail, provided for due process and equal protection under the law.

But it was not enough.

To the Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 and the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 was added the 15th Amendment of 1870, which avowed that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Congress was given the power to enforce these articles by appropriate legislation.

But that was still not enough, as became obvious with the collapse of Reconstruction and the establishment of “Jim Crow” segregation in states that had been part of the Confederacy. With these ruptures came overt discrimination against voting rights.

It took more than a century of litigation, boycotts, protests and marches to restore the promise of equal protection and voting rights.

But that was not enough.

Despite the protections delineated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution (which in 1964 formally banned poll taxes), headlines remind us that the right to vote is “still threatened.” The US Supreme Court has mangled the Voting Rights Act, and the Congress has failed to repair the damage done. The Brennan Center for Justice has determined that at least 83 restrictive bills were introduced in 29 states where legislatures had floor activity in 2014, including proposals to require a photo ID, make voter registration more difficult, reduce early voting opportunities, and make it harder for students to vote.

“The stark and simple truth is this—the right to vote is threatened today—in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” said President Obama.

The great American process of forming a more perfect union is far from complete. The events of 150 years ago were not the end of anything. They were a pivot point that took the United States in a better direction. But the was incomplete, and insufficient to establish justice. So the process continues.

That is why Congressmen Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, and Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, have proposed to amend the Constitution to declare clearly and unequivocally that

“SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

“SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

The Pocan-Ellison amendment will not, in and of itself, form a more perfect union. But it provides a tool for those who understand that we best honor our history by recognizing unmet promises—and seeking, finally, to keep them.

“A core principle of our democracy is the ability for citizens to participate in the election of their representatives,” explains Pocan. “We have seen constant attempts by some states to erode voting rights and make it harder for citizens to vote. This amendment would affirm the principle of equal participation in our democracy for every citizen. As the world’s leading democracy, we must guarantee the right to vote for all.”

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, April 16, 2015

April 17, 2015 Posted by | Abraham Lincoln, Democracy, U. S. Constitution, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Devil Came Down To Georgia And Paid Off Judas”: Republicans Want Their Own Tidy Little Jim Crow Zone Of Discrimination

In some startling, if preliminary, good news from Georgia, members of a state House committee, including three Republicans, “gutted” a religious liberty bill by adding language foreswearing any preemption of anti-discrimination laws. Proponents of the bill quickly moved to table it for the session, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Aaron Gould Sheinin:

The stunning move to table Senate Bill 129 came after Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, succeeded in amending it to make clear that the bill would protect against “discrimination on any ground prohibited by federal, state or local law.”

“I take at face value the statements of proponents that they do not intend discrimination with this bill,” Jacobs said. “I also believe that if this is the case, we as the General Assembly should state that expressly in the bill itself.”

Ha ha! Good one!

But “religious liberty” fans are not amused by having their own words quoted back to them. Erick Erickson, who often treats Georgia politics like his own personal dominion, pitched a hissy fit that’s extreme even by his porous standards, focusing on two Republicans who appeared to switch sides by voting with Jacobs, and a third who didn’t vote on the amendment.

Yesterday, I encouraged everyone to call Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard to tell them thank you. They had stood with Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and people of faith. They fought off attempts to gut the religious liberty legislation in Georgia.

After you had taken the time to call them, Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard stabbed you in the back.

A week before we remember the anniversary of Judas selling out our Lord for 30 pieces of silver, Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard have sold out people of faith.

The very amendments they stopped that would have gutted the religious liberty bill, they put back in yesterday. They saved RFRA in a subcommittee only to kill it in full committee. And they did it after you had thanked them for sparing the legislation.

This is a serious betrayal. They stabbed you in the back as you were thanking them for defending your faith.

Whoa, Erick, remember you’re supposed to be the fearful, persecuted victim here, not a raging vengeful homophobe. Start tossing around references to Judas and you might find yourself tempted to lead one of those medieval-style Good Friday pogroms if you are not careful (as the AJC pointed out this morning, the prime mover in “gutting” the bill, Mark Jacobs, is Jewish).

What the incident makes clear, of course, is that the whole point of “religious liberty” legislation is to sanction discrimination. These people fully intend to discriminate, and demand the right to do so, because they’ve convinced themselves (by conflating traditional secular culture with Christianity, and then finding a few lifted-out-of-context references in Scripture that seem to back it up) that God wants them to discriminate against gay people as unclean. They want their own tidy little Jim Crow zone of discrimination where they benefit from the laws and policies they approve of but are allowed to disregard the others.

But as Erickson demonstrates, the really hard thing for them is to reconcile the appropriate appearance of Christ-like suffering at their terrible victimization with the fury they clearly feel at losing control of the political and legal system, if only for a moment.

One other reason the Freedom to Discriminate coalition is angry is that it is being “betrayed” not just by RINO legislators, but by the business community, which in Georgia and elsewhere, doesn’t want to sacrifice convention business in order to let people defy anti-discrimination laws.

These in Erick’s analogy are the equivalents to the Jewish priests who paid off Judas to turn over Christ to Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane. But the conspiracy apparently is even wider: Erickson points to Gov. Nathan Deal–a hard-core Christian Right pol–for allegedly being on the brink of appointing the chief betrayer of the faithful, Mark Jacobs, to a judgeship.

Having repeatedly appropriated to himself the right to determine who is and is not a “Christian,” ol’ Erick clearly needs to do some more purging of the Republican ranks to make the GOP safe for people who want to appropriate the right to determine which laws to obey.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 27, 2015

March 28, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Georgia, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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