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“We’ve Seen This Before”: Michael Brown No Angel? Why Should It Matter?

You’ve probably never heard of Claudette Colvin. And yet, had history twisted in a slightly different direction, she might loom as large in American memory as Rosa Parks does now while Parks herself would be a little-remembered seamstress.

Colvin, you see, did what Parks did, nine months before Parks did it. In March of 1955, the African-American high-school girl refused to surrender her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. Local civil rights leaders had been seeking a test case around which to build their fight against segregation on the buses and briefly considered rallying around her.

But it turned out Colvin had used some pungent language in defending her right to her seat. She cried and struggled against the police who arrested her. Worse, the 15-year-old was pregnant. Knowing white Montgomery would seize upon these things to attack her, civil rights leaders passed on Colvin and bided their time.

Their patience paid off in December when bus driver J.F. Blake demanded the dignified and reserved Parks, 42, give up her seat. She said, “No,” then submitted quietly to arrest. Still, most of us would agree Colvin’s pregnancy and behavior had no bearing upon the only salient question: Was segregation wrong? Although civil-rights leaders had no practical choice but to take those issues into account, they were nevertheless irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Much as many of the questions being asked about Michael Brown are now. In the days since the unarmed 18-year-old black man was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, some of us have acted as if the important questions here are: Did he shoplift cigars from a convenience store? Did he strong-arm the proprietor? Was he a bad kid?

Here’s a blanket answer: Who cares?

Not to deny those things are newsworthy. But they are also useless in answering or even framing the one question that really matters: Was Brown, as witnesses say he was, standing with hands raised in surrender when he was killed? If the answer to any of those other questions is yes, they justify him ending that fateful day in jail — not lying face-down on a street.

We’ve seen this before. The national dialogue on the shooting of Trayvon Martin came to be dominated by arguments over how he was dressed, his suspension from school and his marijuana use instead of the central question of whether George Zimmerman was justified in following and shooting him.

Now here’s one Linda Chavez writing in the New York Post that it is somehow misleading — too sympathetic, perhaps — to describe Brown as an “unarmed … teenager,” although he was, in fact, exactly that. Meantime, The New York Times observes that Brown “was no angel.” But do you need to be an angel not to deserve getting shot while unarmed?

Some of us, it seems, need Brown to be the personification of hulking, menacing black manhood. Others, it must be said, need him to be a harmless teddy bear. But he was, by most accounts, just a middling man of both flaws and promise, challenges and hope who was yet in the process of becoming — not unlike many kids his age, black and white. Not unlike Claudette Colvin.

Has nothing changed since 1955? Must we await the coming of the Rosa-Parks-of-getting-shot-while-unarmed before we can address how the nation’s perception of young black men as somehow inherently dangerous too often leads to undeserved suspensions, dismissals, incarceration and death?

Shame on us if that’s what it takes. Human rights are not contingent upon character reference and background check. So it is immaterial whether Michael Brown was a bad kid. Or, for that matter, a good one.

He was a kid who may not have deserved what he got. And that’s the only thing that matters.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald, August 27, 2014

 

 

 

August 28, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What ‘War On Whites’?”: The Myth Of White Victimhood Is Not Just Ahistorical, But Obscene In Its Willful Ignorance

If there really were a “war on whites,” as a Republican congressman from Alabama ludicrously claims, it wouldn’t be going very well for the anti-white side.

In 2012, the last year for which comprehensive Census Bureau data are available, white households had a median income of $57,009, compared with $33,321 for African American households and $39,005 for Hispanic households. The white-black income gap was almost exactly the same as in 1972; the gap between whites and Hispanics actually worsened.

According to an analysis by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, the average white family has six times as much accumulated wealth as the average black or Hispanic family. Other authoritative data show that African Americans and Hispanics are far more likely than whites to be unemployed, impoverished or incarcerated.

Yet Rep. Mo Brooks feverishly imagines that whites are somehow under attack and that the principal assailant is — why am I not surprised? — President Obama.

Asked whether Republicans were alienating Latino voters with their position on immigration, Brooks said this to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham:

“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It’s a part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things.”

Ingraham, who makes her living as a rhetorical flamethrower, actually told the congressman that his “phraseology might not be the best choice.” But Brooks stuck to his appalling thesis in a subsequent interview with AL.com, saying that “in effect, what the Democrats are doing with their dividing America by race is they are waging a war on whites and I find that repugnant.”

Brooks is from Alabama, where public officials used fire hoses and attack dogs against black children who were peacefully trying to integrate the whites-only lunch counters of Birmingham. Where terrorists acting in the name of white supremacy bombed a historic African American church, killing four little girls. Where demonstrators marching for voting rights were savagely beaten by police and vigilantes as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Brooks is 60, which means he lived through these events. Surely he knows that it was white-imposed Jim Crow segregation — not anything that black or brown people did — that divided America by race. At some level, he must realize that his overheated blather about a “war on whites” is not just ahistorical but obscene in its willful ignorance.

But maybe not. Maybe Brooks has fully bought in to the paranoid myth of white victimhood that gives the opposition to Obama and his policies such an edge of nastiness and desperation.

I do not believe it can be a coincidence that this notion of whites somehow being under attack is finding new expression — not just in Brooks’s explicit words but in the euphemistic language of many others as well — when the first black president lives in the White House.

The myth of victimhood is not new. Long after it was understood that slavery was morally wrong, Southern whites justified its perpetuation by citing the fear that blacks, once liberated, would surely take bloody revenge against those who had held them in bondage. Jim Crow laws and lynchings had a similar purpose. In the minds of his assassins, 14-year-old Emmett Till was tortured and killed to protect the flower of Southern womanhood.

The myth surfaces whenever Obama comments on race. When he spoke about the killing of Trayvon Martin, nothing he said was inherently controversial. But the mere fact that Obama expressed sympathy for Martin was taken by some as an attack on the forces of law and order, or an apology for hip-hop “thug life” culture, or an indication that his real agenda is to ban all handguns, or something along those ridiculous lines. When Obama was running for president, I wrote that to win he would have to be perceived as “the least-aggrieved black man in America.” He has tried his best, but for some people it’s not enough.

There are other reasons why the myth of white victimhood is gaining strength — economic dislocation, rapid immigration from Latin America, changing demographics that will make this a majority-minority country before mid-century. But I can’t help feeling that Obama’s race heightens the sense of being under siege.

Congressman Brooks, you’re talking pure gibberish. But thanks for being honest.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 7, 2014

August 11, 2014 Posted by | Racism, War on Whites, Whites | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Infinite Circle Of Black Responsibility”: Part Of The Privilege Of Whiteness Is You Don’t Have To Have Responsibility For Anyone Else

In 2006, after being a United States senator for one year, Barack Obama made an appearance on Meet the Press. After talking about the Iraq War for a while, Tim Russert asked Obama this: “I want to talk a little bit about the language people are using in the politics now of 2006, and I refer you to some comments that Harry Belafonte made yesterday. He said that Homeland Security had become the new Gestapo. What do you think of that?” Obama said he never uses Nazi analogies, but people are concerned about striking the balance between privacy and security. Russert pressed on, asking Obama to take a position on whether some insulting things Belafonte had said about George W. Bush were “appropriate.”

I thought of that interview today as I watched another interview, this one with Bill O’Reilly interviewing White House aide Valerie Jarrett. I bring it up not because it’s important to be mad at Bill O’Reilly (it isn’t), but because it’s yet another demonstration of the rules both prominent and ordinary black people have to live with. Unlike white Americans, they are subject to an entirely different and far more wide-ranging kind of responsibility. A black senator has to answer for the remarks of every black activist, black musicians are responsible for the actions of every wayward teenager, and black people everywhere carry with them a thousand sins committed by others. That burden isn’t just psychological; as we’ve seen in cases like those of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, it can be deadly.

Yesterday, President Obama held an event at the White House called “My Brother’s Keeper,” to encourage people to help create more opportunities for young men of color. Afterward, O’Reilly told Jarrett that on “the streets,” there’s a problematic culture. “It’s not just blacks—it’s the poor, and the hard core, what they call ‘gangstas.'” He went on: “You have to attack the fundamental disease if you want to cure it. Now I submit to you that you’re going to have to get people like Jay-Z, all right, Kanye West, all of these gangsta rappers, to knock it off.”

You may laugh at the idea that disproportionately high levels of incarceration among young black men can be laid at the feet of Kim Kardashian’s husband. And I’m pretty sure that crime in America predates “Straight Outta Compton,” though we might have to look that up. But the truth is that Bill O’Reilly could hear a rap song about butterflies and rainbows, and the first thing to pop into his head would be “gangsta rap!” because it’s black people rapping.

And in this, O’Reilly resembles Michael Dunn, the man who gunned down Jordan Davis over his music. Over and over in his jailhouse writings, Dunn references the “culture” around rap music as one of criminality and danger, citing it as the source of crimes committed by black people. So naturally, when he heard that music coming from the next car over, he thought he was about to be the victim of a drive-by, and the only alternative was to pull out his gun and start firing first.

This is about the collectivization of every misdeed committed by a black person, the way all black people are implicated and have responsibilities imposed on them. When a white man beats his children or kills his wife or robs a liquor store or commits insider trading, nobody tells Bill O’Reilly that he, as a white person, needs to do something about it. And he sure as hell doesn’t go on the air and say that white people need better role models. There isn’t a thing called “white on white crime,” but there is a thing called “black on black crime,” because crimes committed by black people are black crimes, born from blackness and soiling all black people, but crimes committed by white people have nothing to do with the race of the perpetrators; they’re just crimes, no modifier needed.

My guess is that if you asked Bill O’Reilly what responsibility white musicians or white politicians have for the thousands of white crimes committed every year, he would have no idea what you’re talking about. It would sound like gibberish to him. As I’ve written before, a big part of the privilege of whiteness is that you don’t have to have responsibility for anyone else. You can be just yourself. The security guard is not going to follow you around in a store because some other white person shoplifted there last week. A TV host is not going to demand that you defend something stupid another white person said, for no reason other than the fact that the two of you are white. No one is going to think that because of the music you’re playing, it might be a good idea to fire ten bullets into your car.

Creating that broad black responsibility doesn’t just happen, it has to be reinforced and maintained. Nobody does it with more vigor than Bill O’Reilly and the rancid cauldron of race-baiting that is the network for whom he works. The real mystery is why the White House keeps trying to court him. They actually invited him to that event yesterday.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 28, 2014

March 1, 2014 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“My Brother’s Keeper”: A Helping Hand For Young Men Of Color

“My Brother’s Keeper” has a much nicer ring than “stop and frisk.” It also promises to be a more effective, less self-defeating way to address the interlocking social and economic crises afflicting young men of color.

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that President Obama gets some heat for launching a program whose benefits are aimed solely at African American and Hispanic men and boys. The nation’s first black president gets slammed by critics who accuse him of “playing the race card” every time he acknowledges that race and racism still play a role in determining opportunities and outcomes.

But obviously they do. My Brother’s Keeper, which Obama announced Thursday, is the kind of targeted public-private initiative that might actually do some good, even without tons of new federal money thrown in.

I suppose other critics might ask what took Obama so long. The president bristles at this line of questioning, pointing to the fact that his most ambitious achievements — including the Affordable Care Act — have their greatest impact among disadvantaged minorities.

Obama also understands that even if he had a Congress that would give him carte blanche, solving the problems that face young men of color would take many years of sustained effort.

You’d have to fix broken schools and broken families. You’d have to eliminate the racial bias in policing and the justice system that makes African American and Hispanic men far more likely to be stopped, arrested and sent to prison than whites who engage in similar illegal behavior. You’d have to somehow bring enough commerce and industry back into hollowed-out neighborhoods to provide decent jobs. You’d have to convince millions of young men that the odds are not stacked against them, despite copious evidence to the contrary.

Where do you even start? Down in the trenches.

“We have credibility on these issues because we’ve been working on the ground,” La June Montgomery Tabron, president and chief executive of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, told me over lunch this week.

Kellogg is one of 10 major foundations that have agreed to join business leaders and the federal government in the Brother’s Keeper initiative. Collectively, the foundations are already spending more than $150 million on programs aimed at young men of color. They are now pledging to invest at least an additional $200 million, coordinating their efforts to channel the funds toward approaches that deliver measurable results.

The other participating foundations deserve a shout-out: the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, the California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the John R. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, the Open Society Foundations, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Bloomberg Philanthropies. Thanks and kudos to all.

As the foundations identify factors that either create or destroy opportunity for young men of color, Obama has pledged to adjust federal policy accordingly. One example is the disparity in school suspensions. The Education Department recently issued new guidelines for enforcing “zero tolerance” school disciplinary policies after studies found that minorities were more likely than whites to be suspended for infractions. Students who miss class time due to suspensions are less likely to graduate. And in the case of far too many young men of color, during the suspensions — when they’re not in the relative sanctuary of school — they are more likely to find themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

As Montgomery Tabron reminded me, Trayvon Martin’s home was in Miami, far from the central Florida town where he died. At the time of his fatal encounter with George Zimmerman, Martin was staying with his father for a few days because he had been suspended from school. Authorities had found what they said was marijuana residue in his backpack.

No one is arguing that young men of color are all angels. Obama has consistently preached the need for at-risk youths to take personal responsibility for their lives. Some commentators have criticized the president — unfairly, he feels — for “blaming the victims” rather than the societal forces that work against them.

But the reality is that if you’re male and African American or Hispanic, you can’t afford to make the same youthful mistakes that your white counterparts get to make. For example, blacks and whites are equally likely to smoke weed, according to surveys. But blacks are four times more likely to be arrested and jailed on marijuana charges.

That’s one of the many reasons why this race-specific initiative is so badly needed. My Brother’s Keeper isn’t a solution. But it’s a start.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 27, 2014

February 28, 2014 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The GOP’s Ted Nugent Problem”: Torn Between Expanding Its Base And Appealing To Loyalists

The Republican Party in the era of the Tea Party and the “autopsy” can’t make up its mind. Torn between expanding its base so that it can survive in the long term and appeasing its loyalists so it can survive in the short term, the party doesn’t know where to go. The choice boils down to winning a few more seats in November and writing off the future of the party. Oddly, November seems to be winning every time.

For Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott the choice seems easy. He chose Ted Nugent, the physical embodiment of the off-the-rails toxicity that Republicans just don’t know how to quit. Abbott certainly had to know the stir he’d cause when he invited Nugent to join him on the campaign trail last week.

Ted Nugent is not just a former rocker who happens to be a Republican. Nugent’s infamous “subhuman mongrel” slur is just a representative sample of the bile he produces on a regular basis. He has threatened the president, saying, “Obama, he’s a piece of shit, and I told him to suck on my machine gun,” told an audience to “keep a fucking gun in your hand, boys” in response to the Obama administration, implied the president is like a coyote who needs to be shot, and said before the 2012 election that if the “vile, evil America-hating” Obama were to be reelected, Nugent would be “either dead or in jail by this time next year.”(For the record, Nugent is still very much alive and free to make statements like the above.)

Why listen to Nugent (as People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch does more often than they would probably like)? Because he doesn’t just shout his rants from the stage at his concerts. He shares the stage with people like Greg Abbott.

In a time when many Republicans are trying to moderate the rhetoric they use to explain their extreme policies, Greg Abbott is just the latest who apparently has no such concerns. He ‘s more than happy to provide a platform for Nugent, an unabashedly violent, and unapologetic racist spokesperson who exults in attacking the president- – when the president is Barack Obama, that is.

Nugent has speculated whether “it would have been best had the South won the Civil War”; suggested banning people who owe no federal income tax from voting; lashed out at “those well-fed motherfucker food stamp cocksuckers”; and blamed Trayvon Martin’s death on the “mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America.”

In other words, Nugent’s not the sort of person any reasonable candidate would invite along on the campaign trail. But reason is not the way to prove one’s bona fides to a large share of the Tea Party that has taken over the Grand Old Party. When Nugent said in a campaign appearance that “we don’t have to question Greg Abbott’s courage, because he invited me here today,” he was reassuring the base that “autopsy reports” aside, the GOP has no intention of changing.

And that’s the problem. Ted Nugent isn’t a Greg Abbott gaffe. His presence on the Abbott campaign trail represents a deliberate effort to cultivate the most extreme elements of the Republican base. The party can moderate its positions to attract more voters. Or it can stick with extremism to keep a core of the voters it has. But it can’t have it both ways.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People for The American Way ; The Huffington Post Blog, February 27, 2014

February 28, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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