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“Getting Beyond The Racism That Divides Us”: It’s Not Like We Used To Be A Racism-Free Country

Issac Bailey has written that President Obama is the person who should reach out to angry white Trump supporters.

There is only one person who can unite the country again, and he works in the White House. Yes, President Barack Obama—ironically, the man who is the personification of the fear Trump is exploiting—is the one in the best position to quell the anger being stirred up.

This is not something the president can do from the Oval Office, or from a stage. What he needs to do is use the power of the office in a different way, one that matches the ruthless effectiveness of a demagogue with a private jet. Obama needs to go on a listening tour of white America—to connect, in person, with Americans he has either been unable or unwilling to reach during his seven years in office.

As I read this article, I tried to get beyond my initial reaction that Bailey was simply making another Green Lanternism argument. That’s because, as I’ve written before, I’ve watched Barack Obama closely for over seven years now and I think he would at least stop and listen to this advice.

While it has mostly gone unheeded, the President has reached out to angry white Americans on several occasions (much to the chagrin of a lot of Black academics and political leaders). For example, if we go back to his famous speech on racism in 2008 during the whole Jeremiah Wright controversy, he spent quite a bit of time affirming the reasons why a lot of white people are angry.

Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.

But ultimately, to judge the value of Bailey’s suggestion, there needs to be some indication that it would actually work to “unite the country once again.” The first error Bailey makes is to assume that we were ever united in the first place. It’s not like we used to be a racism-free country until all of the sudden Barack Obama came along. Bailey knows that. And he accurately described what’s going on in his very first paragraph.

…we are fast becoming a nation in which minorities make up a majority of the population. As a result, tens of millions of white Americans, accustomed for so long to having all the benefits of being the majority, are scared out of their minds—and it is this fear that Trump is exploiting so effectively.

Bailey’s point is that this fear needs to be aired…at the President.

Let them see their president. Let them speak directly to their president. Let them shout, cuss, fuss and unload if that’s what they need to do. Because no matter how you slice it, the country they’ve long known is dying, and a new one is taking shape. Obama’s presence in the White House, while heartening to many, is the tip of the spear to those fretful about what’s to come.

The question is: does that help? This kind of thing stems from a myth that has developed in our culture that airing negative feelings makes them magically go away. It’s not true. And it is especially not true in large groups where people feed off of each other.

What actually helps people get over these kinds of feelings is to identify the real source of their anger/fear – something that Trump’s style of fear-mongering is designed to misdirect – and then empower themselves to do something about it.

So the question becomes, how do people actually get beyond their racism? If there was an easy answer to that one, we would have solved this problem a long time ago.

Obviously President Obama is struggling with that question. In interviews with Marc Maron, Marilynne Robinson and Steve Inskeep, he kept returning to a similar theme. Instead of a focus on airing our grievances, the President talks about calling out our better natures. He continually stresses the idea that we are better people than our politics suggests. In other words, the way to deal with darkness is not to simply dwell on it – but to shine more light.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 25, 2015

December 27, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Racism, White Americans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“David Brooks Will Never Get It”: Isn’t The New York Times Embarrassed By This Lazy Ignorance?

The New York Times’ resident moralizer David Brooks is at it again. This time his lecture podium is pointed at Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the new memoir “Between the World and Me.” Coates’ book, mostly a meditation on race in America, is written as a series of open letters to his teenage son. Let me confess now: I haven’t yet read Coates’ book, though I’ve read much of his writings on race. Few write with the force and clarity that Coates does, and fewer still write about topics as urgent as race and power.

David Brooks isn’t convinced, however. He’s not sure if  Coates, a black man from Baltimore chronicling his own life, really understands “the black male experience.” No, Brooks thinks Coates is too angry, too pessimistic about America’s past, too fatalistic about its future. First, it’s worth noting that Coates isn’t talking to the David Brookses of the world. His letters are addressed to his son and to black Americans, not to cloistered elites writing for the country’s most prestigious paper.

In any case, Brooks begins, as he often does, with a kind of faux-olive branch, a perfunctory offering: “The last year has been an education for white people,” he writes. “There has been a depth, power and richness to the African-American conversation about Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston and the other killings that has been humbling and instructive.” Brooks, of course, promptly commends Coates for his “contribution to that public education.”

But then, right on cue, Brooks begins to miss the point of the person at whom his lecture is aimed. He’s especially miffed at Coates’ dismissal of the American dream as a quaint fantasy built on the backs of enslaved black people. Brooks writes the following:

“You write to your son, ‘Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.’ The innocent world of the dream is actually built on the broken bodies of those kept down below. If there were no black bodies to oppress, the affluent Dreamers ‘would have to determine how to build their suburbs on something other than human bones, how to angle their jails toward something other than a human stockyard, how to erect a democracy independent of cannibalism.’

Brooks finds this critique “disturbing.” He tells Coates directly (Brooks’ Op-Ed is also written as an open letter — surely a failed attempt at cleverness): “I think you distort American history.” By distort Brooks means that Coates is too consumed with the ugly parts — the slavery, the lynching, the plunder, the redlining, the false imprisonment and so on. For Brooks, all this brooding over the past and its impact on the present obscures the obvious (and more pleasant) truth, namely that “America was the antidote to the crushing restrictiveness of European life…the American dream was an uplifting spiritual creed that offered dignity, the chance to rise.” As for that slavery business, sure, it was horrible, but “There’s a Lincoln for every Jefferson Davis and a Harlem Children’s Zone for every K.K.K.”

Brooks’ point, which no one disputes and which is obvious in any event, is that America isn’t all bad; that injustice is inherent in America, but doesn’t come “close to the totality of America.” Fair enough. But Coates’ argument seems to be much more complex than that. At least in his other writings, particularly his essay on reparations, Coates argues that much of what makes America great was born of everything that made it unjust; and that awareness of this truth depends, more often than not, on which side of the line you fall.

Brooks doesn’t really want to hear that, though. He doesn’t want to hear that our distant sins aren’t really distant at all; that the legacy of racism stretches into the present; that Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston are part of a living history from which we can’t divorce ourselves. Brooks, for instance, says he finds “the causation between the legacy of lynching and some guy’s decision to commit a crime inadequate to the complexity of most individual choices.” He finds it inadequate, in part, because he sees events like Baltimore in a vacuum, ignoring all the antecedent causes that led to it. This is precisely the error people like Coates are exposing. Brooks’ privileged perch affords him the luxury of not understanding how these things are connected; they enter his life only as abstractions, not concrete truths. I imagine it’s far less abstract for a black man from Baltimore, or for his teenage son, or for anyone else encumbered by the past.

How easy it must be for Brooks to focus on tomorrow, to write in earnest that we can “abandon old wrongs and transcend old sins for the sake of better tomorrow.” Those untouched by the pangs of history find it easier to dismiss, I suppose. But Coates is talking about the present as much as he is the past. Brooks, despite making the appropriate gestures, is blind to this part of Coates’ argument. He does not — and apparently cannot — see how our past defines our present and constrains our future.

Brooks rarely makes the effort to see the world from the perspective of the other. When he’s writing about poverty or middle-class virtues or racism, his analysis is always removed, abstract and condescending.

Today’s column continues that tradition in fine form.

 

By: Sean Illing, Salon, July 17, 2015

July 19, 2015 Posted by | American History, David Brooks, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Time To Hit Reset”: Black People Should Stop Expecting White America To ‘Wake Up’ To Racism

After the race-related events of the past few weeks and months, it’s clear that the people who speak for black America Have a Dream, in the wake of the one Dr. King so resonantly expressed.

The idea is that the Civil Rights revolution of the 1960s wasn’t enough, that a shoe still has yet to drop. Today’s Dream is that white America will somehow wake up and understand that racism makes black America’s problems insurmountable. Not in-your-face racism, of course, but structural racism—sometimes termed White Privilege or white supremacy. Racism of a kind that America must get down on its knees and “understand” before we can move forward.

The problem is that this Dream qualifies more as a fantasy. If we are really interested in helping poor black people in America, it’s time to hit Reset.

The Dream I refer to has been expressed with a certain frequency over the past few weeks, after a succession of events that neatly illustrated the chance element in social history. First, a white woman, Rachel Dolezal, bemused the nation with her assertion that she “identifies” as black. Everyone had a grand time objecting that one can’t be black without having grown up suffering the pain of racist discrimination, upon which Dylann Roof’s murder of nine black people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church put a gruesome point on the issue. Dolezal was instantly and justifiably forgotten, after which the shootings motivated the banning of the Confederate flag from the American public sphere.

However, practically before the flags were halfway down their poles, the good-thinking take on things was that this, while welcome, was mere symbolism, and that what we really need to be thinking about is how to get America to finally wake up to—here comes the Dream—structural racism. A typical expression of the Dream is this one, from Maya Dukmasova at Slate: “There is little hope for a meaningful solution to the problem of concentrated poverty until the liberal establishment decides to focus on untangling a different set a pathologies—those inherent in concentrated power, concentrated whiteness, and concentrated wealth.”

Statements like this meet with nods and applause. But since the ’60s, the space between the statements and real life has become ever vaster. What are we really talking about when we speak of a “liberal establishment” making a “decision” to “untangle” notoriously impregnable things such as power, whiteness and wealth?

This is a Dream indeed, and the only reason it even begins to sound plausible is because of the model of the Civil Rights victories of fifty years ago, which teaches us that when it comes to black people, dreaming of an almost unimaginable political and psychological revolution qualifies as progressivism. After all, it worked then, right? So why be so pessimistic as to deny that it could happen again?

But there are times when pessimism is pragmatic. There will be no second Civil Rights revolution. Its victories grew not only from the heroic efforts of our ancestors, but also from a chance confluence of circumstances. Think about it: why didn’t the Civil Rights victories happen in the 19th century, or the 18th, even—or in the 1920s or 1940s? It’s often said that black people were “fed up” by the ’60s, but we can be quite sure that black people in the centuries before were plenty fed up too.

What tipped things in the 1960s were chance factors, in the same way as recent ones led to a breakthrough on the Confederate flag. Segregation was bad P.R. during the Cold War. Television made abuses against black people more vividly apparent than ever before. Between the 1920s and the late 1960s, immigration to the U.S. had been severely curtailed, so black concerns, while so often ignored, still did not compete with those of other large groups as they do today.

There is no such combination of socio-historical factors today. No, the fact that Hillary Clinton is referring to structural racism in her speeches does not qualify this as a portentous “moment” for black concerns. Her heart is surely in the right place, but talking about structural racism has never gotten us anywhere significant. Hurricane Katrina was 10 years ago; there was a great deal of talk then about how that event could herald some serious movement on structural racism. Well, here we are. There was similar talk after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict and, well, here we are.

The old-time Civil Rights leaders did things; too often these days we think talking about things is doing something. But what, really, are we talking about in terms of doing?

Who among us genuinely supposes that our Congress, amidst its clear and implacable polarization, is really going to arrive at any “decisions” aimed at overturning America’s basic power structure in favor of poor black people?

The notion of low-skill factory jobs returning to sites a bus ride away from all of America’s poor black neighborhoods is science fiction.

In a country where aspiring teachers can consider it racist to be expected to articulately write about a text they read on a certification exam, what are the chances that all, or even most, black kids will have access to education as sterling as suburban white kids get?

Many say that we need to move black people away from poor neighborhoods to middle-class ones. However, the results of this kind of relocation are spotty, and how long will it be before the new word on the street is that such policies are racist in diluting black “communities”? This is one of Dukmasova’s points, and I myself have always been dismayed at the idea that when poor black people live together, we must expect social mayhem.

And, in a country where our schools can barely teach students to read unless they come from book-lined homes, what is the point of pretending that America will somehow learn a plangent lesson about how black people suffer from a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and therefore merit special treatment that no other groups in America do? Calls for reparations for slavery, or housing discrimination, resonate indeed—and have for years now. However, they result in nothing, and here we are.

Note: I’m not saying it wouldn’t be great if these things happened. However, I argue that they cannot happen. It was one thing to convince America that legalized segregation and disfranchisement were wrong. However, convincing America that black people now need the dismantling of “white privilege” is too enlightened a lesson to expect a vast, heterogeneous and modestly educated populace to ever accept.

How do I know? Because I think 50 years is long enough to wait.

Today’s impasse is the result of mission creep. The story of the Civil Rights movement from 1965 to 2015 started as a quest to allow black people the same opportunities others enjoy but has shrunken into a project to show that black people can’t excel unless racism basically ceases to exist at all. This is understandable. The concrete victories tearing down Jim Crow allowed have already happened. Smoking out the racism that remains lends a sense of purpose. And let’s face it: there’s less of a sense of electricity, urgency, importance in teaching people how to get past racism.

But the result is that we insist “What we really need to be talking about” is, say, psychological tests showing that whites have racist biases they aren’t aware of such as tending to associate black people with negative words, or white people owning up to their “Privilege,” or a television chef having said the N-word in a heated moment decades ago (or posing for a picture where her son is dressed as Desi Arnaz wearing brown make-up).

So, drama stands in for action. Follow-through is a minor concern. Too many people are reluctant to even admit signs of progress, out of a sense that their very role is to be the Cassandra rather than the problem-solver.

So little gets done. In a history of black America, it is sadly difficult to imagine what the chapter would be about after the 1960s, other than the election of Barack Obama, which our intelligentsia is ever anxious to tell us wasn’t really important anyway. Maybe we’re getting somewhere on the police lately. But there’s a lot more to being black than the cops. There is much else to do.

This new Dream, seeking revolutionary change in how America works, is not only impossible, but based on the faulty assumption that black Americans are the world’s first group who can only excel under ideal conditions. We are perhaps the first people on earth taught to consider it insulting when someone suggests we try to cope with the system as it is—even when that person is black, or even the President.

But this “Yes, We Can’t!” assumption has never been demonstrated. No one has shown just why post-industrial conditions in the United States make achievement all but impossible for any black person not born middle-class or rich. What self-regarding group of people gives in to the idea that low-skill factory jobs moving to China spells the end of history for its own people but no one else’s?

To be sure, Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights hero and intellectual, famously argued in 1965 that automation and factory relocation left poor blacks uniquely bereft of opportunity, such that he called for the Civil Rights movement’s next step to be a call for job creation to a revolutionary degree. However, 50 years is a long time ago. Immigrants moving into black communities and forging decent existences—many of them black themselves—have shown that Rustin’s pessimism did not translate perfectly into later conditions. Today, community colleges offer a wider range of options to poor black people than they did 50 years ago. Books depicting black inner city communities such as Alice Goffman’s On the Run and Katherine Newman’s No Shame in My Game tiptoe around the awkward fact that there are always people in such communities who acquire and keep solid jobs—something even black activists often bring up in objection to “pathologizing” such communities.

I am calling neither for stasis nor patience. However, the claim that America must “wake up” and eliminate structural racism has become more of a religious incantation than a true call to action. We must forge solutions to black America’s problems that are feasible within reality—that is, a nation in which racism continues to exist, compassion for black people from the outside will be limited and mainly formulaic (i.e. getting rid of flags), and by and large, business continues as usual. Here are some ideas for real solutions:

1.    The War on Drugs must be eliminated. It creates a black market economy that tempts underserved black men from finishing school or seeking legal employment and imprisons them for long periods, removing them from their children and all but assuring them of lowly existences afterward.

2.    We have known for decades how to teach poor black children to read: phonics-based approaches called Direct Instruction, solidly proven to work in the ’60s by Siegfried Engelmann’s Project Follow Through study. School districts claiming that poor black children be taught to read via the whole-word method, or a combination of this and phonics, should be considered perpetrators of a kind of child abuse. Children with shaky reading skills are incapable of engaging any other school subject meaningfully, with predictable life results.

3.    Long-Acting Reproductive Contraceptives should be given free to poor black women (and other poor ones too). It is well known that people who finish high school, hold a job, and do not have children until they are 21 and have a steady partner are almost never poor. We must make it so that more poor black women have the opportunity to follow that path. The data is in: studies in St. Louis and Colorado have shown that these devices sharply reduce unplanned pregnancies. Also, to reject this approach as “sterilizing” these women flies in the face of the fact that the women themselves rate these devices quite favorably.

4.    We must revise the notion that attending a four-year college is the mark of being a legitimate American, and return to truly valuing working-class jobs. Attending four years of college is a tough, expensive, and even unappealing proposition for many poor people (as well as middle class and rich ones). Yet poor people can, with up to two years’ training at a vocational institution, make solid livings as electricians, plumbers, hospital technicians, cable television installers, and many other jobs. Across America, we must instill a sense that vocational school—not “college” in the traditional sense—is a valued option for people who want to get beyond what they grew up in.

Note that none of these things involve white people “realizing” anything. These are the kinds of concrete policy goals that people genuinely interested in seeing change ought to espouse. If these things seem somehow less attractive than calling for revolutionary changes in how white people think and how the nation operates, then this is for emotional reasons, not political ones. A black identity founded on how other people think about us is a broken one indeed, and we will have more of a sense of victory in having won the game we’re in rather than insisting that for us and only us, the rules have to be rewritten.

 

By: John McWhorter, The Daily Beast, July 11, 2015

July 13, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Civil Rights Movement, Racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Rachel Dolezal’s ‘Passing’ Isn’t So Unusual”: A Product of Our Own Contradictory Moment

Why do we care so much about Rachel Dolezal, the head of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. who apparently misrepresented herself as African-American when, according to her parents, she is Czech, Swedish and German, with some remote Native American ancestry?

In one sense, it’s not at all surprising. Stories of white Americans “passing” as members of other racial and ethnic groups have often captivated the American public — though the cases that have most fascinated us have usually turned on the malicious hypocrisy of the protagonists. In 1965, The Times famously reported that Dan Burros, the Ku Klux Klan’s Grand Dragon in New York State and the former national secretary of the American Nazi Party, was once a Jew who not only was a “star” bar mitzvah student at his shul in Queens but also brought knishes to white-supremacist gatherings. In 1991, an Emory University professor drew headlines by unmasking Forrest Carter, the author of a best-selling Native American “memoir,” as Asa Earl Carter, an Alabama Klansman and a speechwriter for George Wallace, the state’s segregationist governor.

But nowhere in the details that reporters and Internet sleuths have uncovered about Dolezal is there any inkling of personal commitment to white supremacy; her work with the N.A.A.C.P., now finished, and as a professor of Africana studies suggests quite the opposite. Her story spins at a far lower orbit of oddity than the trajectories of Burros and Carter, yet she is attracting a similar level of attention. More puzzling still, her case has gone viral at a moment when we are learning that Rachel Dolezals have been much more common in this country’s history than we once might have thought.

The history of people breaching social divides and fashioning identities for themselves is as old as America. These stories were never exclusively about blacks who “passed” for white or Jews who, as my grandparents would say, “got over it” and found their way to the Episcopalian side of the ledger — people who felt compelled to shed their birth identities to reap the full rewards of white privilege. From the beginning of the American experience, the color line bent and broke in many directions, and for many reasons.

In 17th-century Virginia, as the genealogist Paul Heinegg has documented, most of the first free families of color descended from white women who had children with slaves or free black men. Because a 1662 Virginia law classified people as “bond or free only according to the condition of the mother,” the status of these families depended on the women’s affirming their whiteness as an official matter. But in everyday life, white mothers of black children were creating new ways for their families and themselves to parse slavery, freedom and race, akin to James McBride’s account in his memoir, “The Color of Water,” of how his mother described her own identity while raising 12 African-American children. When McBride asked her about her parents, she would respond, “God made me.” When he asked if she was white, her answer was, “I’m light-skinned.”

Over time, as racial categories ossified and state legislatures criminalized interracial sex and marriage — an idea that was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the 1960s — people continued to define themselves outside the law’s oppressive reach. White people who fell in love with African-Americans could avoid sanction if they asserted that they, too, were black. In 1819, a Scottish immigrant named James Flint described witnessing a black man’s attempt to marry a white woman near Jeffersonville, Ind., just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Ky. The local justice of the peace refused to marry them, citing a legal prohibition, but then had second thoughts, suggesting, Flint wrote, “that if the woman could be qualified to swear that there was black blood in her, the law would not apply.” In a scene anticipating “Showboat” by a hundred years, the groom promptly took a lancet to his arm, and according to Flint, “the loving bride drank the blood, made the necessary oath and his honour joined their hands” and married them.

White people have claimed African-American identity across time, region and class. The historian Martha Sandweiss has documented the case of Clarence King, a celebrated explorer from an elite Newport, R.I., family who could trace his ancestry back to three signers of the Magna Carta. At the end of the 19th century, he led a double life as James Todd, a black Pullman porter whose wife was born a slave. It is not hard to find other examples, all the way up to the present.

This kind of “reverse passing” could occur because the gap between America’s rigid insistence on racial purity and the reality of pervasive mixing left a conceptual blur instead of any defensible boundary between black and white. American history is a history of dark-skinned white people and light-skinned black people. Innumerable men and women explained away their complexions with stories of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and, in an 1874 Tennessee court case, Carthaginian ancestry. More whites have claimed Cherokee grandmothers than is demographically possible.

Conversely, for John Hope, the first African-American president of Morehouse College and Atlanta University; John Ladeveze, who helped bring the first challenge to segregated education after Plessy v. Ferguson; Charles Chesnutt, the acclaimed early twentieth-century African-American novelist; or the longtime N.A.A.C.P. head Walter White, it was a routine part of life to insist that you were black despite all indications to the contrary. In 1871, Charles Sauvinet, sheriff of Orleans Parish during Reconstruction, sued the owner of a bar for refusing him service because of his race. In court, Sauvinet’s fair complexion prompted a lawyer to ask on cross-examination something very similar to a Spokane TV news reporter’s question — “Are you African-American?” — that so flustered Dolezal. Sauvinet’s answer speaks volumes about the complexity of American racial experience. “Whether I am a colored man or not is a matter that I do not know myself,” Sauvinet said. “But I am, and was legally, for this reason: that . . . you had always refused me, though born and raised here, the rights of citizenship.”

In a sense, the controversy surrounding Dolezal is a product of our own contradictory moment, when Americans are at once far more open to racial boundary-crossing and as preoccupied with those same boundaries as ever. Part of what’s striking about Dolezal’s self-constructed identity is how anachronistic it appears in 2015 — more the stuff of fiction, as in the over-the-top plot conceit of Nell Zink’s “Mislaid,’’ than reality. There seems to be little reason that Dolezal would have needed to identify as black to live the life she has led. After all, white people can form meaningful relationships with African-Americans, study, teach and celebrate black history and culture and fight discrimination without claiming to be African-American themselves. Dolezal was pale with straight blond hair when she earned her master of fine arts degree from the historically black Howard University. She is hardly the first white woman to take an interest in ‘‘the Black Woman’s Struggle,’’ one course she taught at Eastern Washington University.

But Dolezal’s exposure also comes at a time when racial categories have never seemed more salient. The same social media that is shaming Dolezal has also aggregated the distressingly numerous killings of African-Americans by the police into a singular statement on racism and inequality. In this moment, when blackness means something very specific — asserting that black lives matter — it follows for many people that categorical clarity has to matter, too.

The drive for authenticity that Dolezal has prompted is bound to raise more questions than answers. The enormous wealth of historical and genealogical information that is currently being digitized, along with the increasing availability and decreasing cost of DNA analysis, is bending our critical lens for viewing race; the secrets that people took to their graves are no match for Ancestry.com. Among other revelations, the records are proving that an enormous percentage of black men — nearly a fifth, according to one recent study — passed as white in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, suggesting that millions of white Americans could conceivably have African-American ancestry. A tan and curls do not make someone black. Nor does a graduate degree from Howard or a leadership position in the N.A.A.C.P. But it’s becoming harder to say what, exactly, does, even as racism remains real and deadly.

 

By:  June 16, 2015

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity, Rachel Dolezal, White Americans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What It Means To ‘Love America'”: To Believe We Should Evolve And Change Toward Becoming A More Diverse And Just Society

On May 30, 2013, Kalief Browder was finally released after more than three years in Rikers Island. His crime? There wasn’t one. He was accused of stealing a backpack and the backlog in the courts meant that Browder, who refused to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit, stayed behind bars until the prosecutor finally dropped the case. He attempted suicide while in prison.

Meanwhile, it was announced today that Maureen McDonnell, wife of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, has been sentenced to one year and a day. The former governor received just a two year sentence. That means that after being convicted in federal court on fourteen counts of corruption, both McDonnells will likely serve less time in jail than a black teenager who was never convicted and never even went to trial.

This is what FBI Director James Comey meant in his speech last week, titled “Hard Truths About Law Enforcement and Race” when he said, “there is a disconnect between police agencies and many citizens – predominantly in communities of color.” Comey went on to say that bridging that divide is a two-way street that requires law enforcement and communities of color seeing each other more fairly and equally.

But as Jonathan Capehart has pointed out, unlike when President Barack Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder discusses race, the right and its organs like Fox News paid Comey no attention. Because when a white male Republican law enforcement official points out the racial imbalance in America’s justice system, the right wing noise machine suddenly goes silent.

And that goes to the heart of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s ghoulish, repulsive, race-baiting assertion that President Obama doesn’t “love America.” The fact is that Giuliani’s view of America and its history privileges the powerful, so any acknowledgment of the Kalief Browders of the world must be a sign that someone doesn’t “love America.” This has also been manifested in the growing national fight over AP History classes, which conservatives now complain are insufficiently patriotic. Last fall, thousands of students fought back against the right wing ideologues on the Jefferson County School Board here in Colorado a valuable lesson in civil disobedience; and more recently an proposal by Republicans in the Oklahoma state legislature to defund AP history classes gained national attention.

Maybe some of us love our country enough to believe its judicial system should hold the powerful as much to account as the powerless. Maybe some of us love our country enough to believe access to health care shouldn’t depend on your income, that a poor kid with asthma deserves a doctor as much as a rich one. Maybe some of us love our country enough to believe that sacrificing our soldiers to war shouldn’t be done out of dishonesty or caprice.

Maybe some us love our country enough to believe that Dr. Marting King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a profoundly patriotic document. Maybe some of us love our country enough to believe that we should embrace and correct its flaws, not turn a cruel and blind eye to them. Maybe some of us love our country enough to believe it should evolve and change toward becoming a more diverse and just society, not remain calcified by class.

And maybe some of us love our country enough to believe that it is the Rudy Giulianis of the world, and his cowardly enablers like Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker, who betray what we stand for and who we aspire to be as a nation.

 

By: Laura K. Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, February 20, 2015

February 22, 2015 Posted by | American History, Criminal Justice System, Rudy Giuliani | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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