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Posts Tagged ‘racism’

Something that I see over and over again from conservatives, especially among the more extreme conservatives, is this idea that everyone should be treated equally regardless of race or gender.  This was brought to mind recently by a Facebook post by one of these individuals about Harvard having a separate graduation ceremony for blacks. Its caption read something along the lines of “Congratulations Harvard!  You have just brought segregation back”.

First, let me say that the story was inaccurate.  Harvard was not having a separate ceremony for blacks.  Instead, a private group had set this up and were holding it some days after the Harvard graduation to allow blacks to attend both, which I imagine all or most did.  In addition this was not a black only event, all races could attend.  Here is what the organization’s, Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance, president Michael Huggins had to say about why they did this.

“It isn’t meant to replace the existing ceremony, but rather to add something that was missing.

“We really wanted an opportunity to give voice to the voiceless at Harvard. So many students identify with the African diaspora but don’t necessarily feel welcome as part of the larger community, and they don’t feel like their stories are being shared.”

So no, no segregation being brought back.

What is interesting is that even when I pointed this out, the conservative who posted this and some of his like minded friends argued that this was still wrong.  That it somehow cheapens the graduation.  That all should be happy with the one graduation without need for another and that what doing this does is encourage division and discord.  We should all be equal and colorblind.

Now I know that many people are going to say, what’s the problem with that?  Why have a separate ceremony? Why not be color blind and treat all equally?  And, this seemingly plausible argument based upon the premise of equality is also applied to hiring and voting and other such institutions and laws.

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My answer – nothing at all in regards to it being a good goal.  But to actually live it and act as if it is true only creates and sustains the racism still within our system.  The problem with this fine idea is that society – our governments, justice system, educational system, financial institutions, and businesses are not color blind.  All people are not treated equally regardless of color.

Conservatives use this ideal of equality  to argue against programs that benefit minorities, women, and the LGBTQ.   They use this ideal against those who protest inequality – Black Lives Matter and #MeToo.  They even use it to argue that those organizations that are for one group and not all are not only racist but promote racism and sexism and so forth.  The Black Caucus, the NAACP, NOW, and so forth are all racist and sexist organizations.

Their argument is that if these people would quit stirring the pot and agitating then the waters would still and everything would be all right.  They believe that there is no real problem with racism and sexism  in our institutions and society today.  Or, at least, one large enough to create such a fuss..

Consider the following though in regards to race.

  • When blacks were freed from slavery they were not given any money, any land, any possessions of their own, despite the fruit of their work having gone to their owners. In effect, they were freed only to too often become economic slaves with little difference from before.
  • That was followed by many long years of Jim Crow and KKK and voting restrictions and laws promoting whites but keeping down blacks. Laws that in their most blatant form existed until the 1970s.
  • The result of this, and more, was blacks were not, on average, able to accumulate land and wealth. Which meant they could not afford good school districts, good healthcare, good anything.  In effect they were not at the same starting point as whites on average.
  • Further, racism is still present in our society. It often takes the form of implicit biases, and so often easily not seen and ignored.  But nonetheless real.  As blacks know well.  As a look at the numbers show; any number – economic, educational, property, incarceration and arrests, etc.
  • Blacks get pulled over for driving while black.
  • They get followed more often in stores.
  • They get tossed out of stores for being black.
  • Resumes with obvious black names on them are turned down more often than the same resume is with a white name attached. Discrimination exists in hiring and firing, in grades, in getting loans, and on and on and on.

And this is only a few of the many inequalities in our society, inequalities that are ingrained in our society.  We have done the easy changes, the obvious ones, the in your face racism.  So much so that, even though it still exists, it is no longer thought polite to display in public.   But the implicit biases and institutional racism still exists.  It is just quieter in its expression, although its effects are just as damaging.   And this quietness of it is why dealing with it and finishing the job of creating a more just and equal society is so difficult now,   it is easy to deny and ignore.

Consider this idea of treating  everyone equal now a conservative kumbaya belief. However, this kumbaya is not real.  Current reality is not kumbaya.

We do not live in a world wherein justice is dispensed equally, where all have equal access to education and educational opportunities, where hiring and  firing and promotions are based solely on qualifications and accomplishments.

If you cannot admit or acknowledge the very real problems plaguing our country then these problems will fester, harming the lives of millions of Americans, until they explode.  The conservatives shout of equality and of the need to treat all the same now ignores the problem and is why, despite its seductive sound, it should be resisted.  Far from ending racism, it promotes it.

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Recently a Facebook friend posted this article titled “Scientists Discover DNA Proving Original Native Americans Might Have Been White”, published in that stellar publication, The Citizen Press.

 

Well, the title definitely got my attention.

Especially since I felt fairly certain that the original natives to America were not white.  So, I read it. And in doing so found some other disturbing bits. Bits such as “…the descendants of whom went on to become the first white Europeans to settle the New World.”

Fortunately, among the disturbing bits, the article also provided a link to the actual research paper.   “Terminal Pleistocene Alaskan genome reveals first founding population of Native Americans” was published in the 11 January 2018 issue of Nature.  I imagine that The Citizen Press thought none of their readers would bother to check the original research.

 

Now, this gives just the abstract, unless, of course, you want to pay for a subscription.  Or do a pay for view.  However, even just reading the abstract I can see that the writer of the Citizen Press article had taken definite liberties with the original research.   I think he saw this bit here from the abstract.

 

Gene flow from ancient north Eurasians into all Native Americans took place 25–20 ka, with Ancient Beringians branching off around 22–18.1 ka

 

and thought to himself, “Hot Damn, Eurasians.  Europeans.  Hey, white guys colonized America!”   In fact, you can see what exactly what he was thinking since this article also did up a photo of a Native American who looks distinctly Scandinavian.  Probably Norwegian.

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However, there are two problems with this idea.  First, the abstract itself makes it clear that things were much more complex than what this guy wants.

 

Using demographic modelling, we infer that the Ancient Beringian population and ancestors of other Native Americans descended from a single founding population that initially split from East Asians around 36 ± 1.5 ka, with gene flow persisting until around 25 ± 1.1 ka. Gene flow from ancient north Eurasians into all Native Americans took place 25–20 ka, with Ancient Beringians branching off around 22–18.1 ka.

 

In other words, you had the ancestors of both the East Asians and Native Americans being one before 36,000 years ago.  Then the one split into two groups.  Although at first it was not a complete split with some hanky panky going on between the two groups until about 25,000 years ago.  Now, about the time the hanky pankying between the East Asians and the ancestors of Native Americans stopped, a group from ancient north Eurasia came along and started intermingling with the soon to be Native Americans.  More hanky pankying occurred until around 22,000 to 18,000 years ago when the Beringians branched off and spread to the Americas.

 

So, were the ancient ancestors of Native Americans European?  Some, yes.  But, they were also Asian and something else that split from the Asian population 36,000 years ago.  From the way the article is written you would think that the Europeans blitzkreiged their way across Asia and into America.

 

The newly-discovered group, named “ancient Beringians,” appears to have split off from the Europeans around 20,000 years ago and made their way to North America via Alaska, when a frozen land bridge made the crossing from Europe and Asia into North America possible. The ancient Beringians then pushed south as the ice caps melted and mixed with other Native American populations, which is why many Native Americans today also exhibit physical characteristics more commonly associated with whites.

 

Notice how they use the word Beringians.  In the Nature article  Beringians are the result of East Asians, the group the split from them, and a group from Europe, with the mixing taking place in East Asia.  However, The Citizen Press article seems to move the ancient Beringians all the way over to Europe and have these brave European pioneers making their way to America, interbreeding with the  natives along the way.  Oh , what hardy Vikings these ancients must have been!

 

Now, they do provide a bit of lip service to what was actually said,and mangling it some in doing so, towards the end of this article.

 

They found that nearly half of the girl’s DNA came from the ancient north Europeans who lived in what is now Scandinavia. The rest of her genetic makeup was a roughly even mix of DNA now carried by the northern and southern Native Americans. Using evolutionary models, the researchers showed that the ancestors of the first Native Americans started to emerge as a distinct population about 35,000 years ago. About 25,000 years ago, this group mixed and bred with ancient north Asians in the region, the descendants of whom went on to become the first white Europeans to settle the New World.

 

That is mistake number one.  And this passage nicely leads us to mistake number two, white Europeans.

 

Mistake number two – supposing that these ancient European ancestors were white.  White skin did not evolve until about 8000 years ago, and the genes needed for white skin seems to have first appeared in the Middle East and around the Black Sea region.  In other words, Europeans at the time that a population of them migrated eastward were not white.  The whites hadn’t even come about yet, and when they did it would not be in Europe.

Even more disturbing though was this from The Citizen Press  article:

 

The findings which were published in the scientific journal Nature, are controversial and represent a growing body of evidence being discovered across the world that suggests the origins of the human race may have been Europe and not Africa as once believed.

 

My first reaction was “what the hell?”.  The Nature article says nothing about the origins of the human race, especially its origins being Europe and not Africa.  All the genetic and fossil evidence firmly points towards Africa being our original home, with groups of homo sapiens radiating out form there and having some intermingling with other homo species which had left Africa earlier.

 

So, no, hell no, this paper does not even hint that the “origins of the human race may have been Europe and not Africa”.   Unless, of course, you consider whites to be the only true human.

 

And that is what is most disturbing about this gross misuse of science.   I have a feeling that the writer of this article believes exactly that, and like creationists, will misuse scientific findings and discoveries to further this view.

 

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A favorite argument of the Confederate monument defenders is that those who are trying to take them down are destroying history. They we are whitewashing it. That we are making future generations ignorant of history by destroying them, and that they will be the poorer for it.

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My governor, Governor Abbot of Texas, just weighed in on this issue on Wednesday.

“But we must remember that our history isn’t perfect,” Abbott added. “If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Instead of trying to bury our past, we must learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future.

What my governor, and all like him overlook, is that these monuments were never about history.  History is best taught in museums, in schools, in books, in articles, on historical tours, all of which can provide the context and details that will allow a person to understand the history.

A stone or metal statue can and does do none of that.  What they do instead though is show what values a society values   They provide a tangible form to intangible societal beliefs and ideals.

This is something that those who created and raised these monuments understood.  It is why they so often have inscriptions that make this very plain, such as that that once was on the Battle of Liberty Place monument (taken down in 2017).

McEnery and Penn, having been elected governor and lieutenant-governor by the white people, were duly installed bb this overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers, Governor Kellogg (white) and Lieutenant –Governor Antoine (colored).

United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the south and gave us our state.

Values, not history is what is being shown here.

The same holds true for the vast majority of other statues and monuments. When not explicitly inscribed in the monument, it is explicitly inscribed in the words of the newspapers and speeches of the time on why this or that confederate monument was raised.   A testament to white supremacy.  A testament to white superiority.

This should be something so obviously true that there should be no dispute. A monument to honor the Confederacy – an almost country created to preserve and protect the ideal that whites can own blacks as easily and as morally as they can own a dog and the ideal that whites are supreme race – can be nothing else.

These were not monuments to men and history. They were monuments to the ideals of white supremacy. Their primary intent was not to remind people of a historical person or event, but rather to remind both whites and blacks of their place.

These monuments were raised to promote the values of the Klu Klux Klan. They were raised to promote the values of Jim Crow.  They were raised to promote the values of white supremacy.

Those values are, or should be, our shame now.

 

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Recently the library where I work finished installing new carpeting  as well as upgrading the building in other ways such as moving shelves around.  In that three month process we, myself and the other librarians, wound up moving the books numerous times; over here, over there, over here again, then over somewhere else.  In doing so I got to see in more detail how our books were organized.   And it got me thinking.

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Let me start those thoughts with what I encountered when moving the African American fiction.  While doing that move I came across a book that had not only the author but who it was edited by, which gave me pause.  I had never seen a book, a novel, which had an editor’s name attached to it also.  In looking at it I found that The Bondswoman’s Narrative, by Hannah Crafts, edited by Henry Louis Gates, is the first novel written by a black women slave.  It is the only novel by a fugitive slave woman.  And it was written sometime between 1853 and 1861.

My first thought was to ask why this was put in African American fiction.  I would think this would be something that people beyond just African Americans would enjoy.   While a novel and fiction, it was based closely upon events that the writer actually experienced as well as the experiences of other African American slaves.  Although very much a product of its times, it is fascinating reading, both intellectually and, more importantly, emotionally.

I am not going to review it here, other than to say that if you are interested in people, the effects of slavery on people, and the human condition, then this is a book you should read.  Just as the Diary of Anne Frank’s appeal goes far beyond Jews and being a Jew in Nazi Germany, so too does this book have a message beyond just being a black slave.

And that is why I wondered why it was buried under African American fiction, where its light could not shine for those who may need to read it the most.

Then I came across Toni Morrison.  The Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award winning writer. The Nobel Prize winner.  A writer who I greatly admire and whose works I have enjoyed.  Why is she in African American fiction and not among the broader category of novels?  As if what she wrote could only speak to African Americans and not to all of humanity.  As if writers have to be first and foremost categorized by the color of their skin rather than the quality and scope of their writings.  As if blacks and whites and Asians and Native Americans and Hispanics, as if people, do not have a shared core created by all of them being human.

Now, I know that there are reasons, and some good ones at that, for having a separate African American section.  But, I think those two books also show the limitations and problems that doing so creates.

There was one other categorical head scratcher for me that I think worth mentioning. That was when I found Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karina” when moving the Romance books.  I know that the plot contains some elements of romance, but come on… Anna Karina is considered to be one of the best novels ever written.  Would you classify Romeo and Juliet under Romance?

But, there it was, with a call number of ROM TOL on its spine.

My thoughts on this paralleled that of finding Morrison’s and Craft’s books in African American fiction, how limiting.  But in thinking about it I began to wonder.  Would more people be  willing to pick up and read Anna Karina in the category of Romance than they would if it were in the category of Classics?  Instead of limiting the potential readers of Anna Karina, could this categorization of it., instead, expand the number of readers?

If true, then Anna Karina being categorized as a romance would be a good thing in that it would expose this novel to more people.  With Toni Morrison and Craft though, the opposite is happening.  Not many people other than African Americans look at the African American section, limiting these books potential audience.

Which got me to wondering how best to balance these needs, categorizing works so that those who are interested in one area but not the others can still easily find works that interest them while, at the same time, providing those who are just looking without a fixed goal in mind, a chance to read something outside their norm.

The problem with the easy answer of not having categories is that categories are useful.  There is a reason they come about.  If I am in the mood for a Science Fiction book, I really do not want to spend time finding the science fiction novels amid all the mysteries, classics, African American novels,  mainstream novels, romance, westerns, and religious novels.

Besides, creating and dividing things, and people, into categories seems to be a basic human trait, one that is not going to be going away until humanity is gone too.

That being said, the real question then is not how to get rid of all categories, but rather how do we create and maintain categories?   How to do so with the recognition that, like life, there is considerable overlap from one category and another, that the same book can be categorized in many different ways, and that all categories share the trait of being novels.

For example, in the library, perhaps it would be better to have all novels grouped together, but have the call labels be color coded to designate African American, Romance, Classics, Science Fiction, Mysteries, etc.  Yes, people would browse looking for the color code of their interests, but in doing so they have a better chance of seeing something, seeing a novel or author, that they might not have ever noticed before.   Proximity creates opportunities for something new.

The downside of doing it this way though is that those who come in and want to read only mysteries are now going to have to go through and look at those books that are not mysteries too, and in the process of using up precious time, you might not find that one mystery that would have made your year.  The upside is that they will have to go through and look at those books that are not mysteries, and so perhaps come across a treasure that they never would have encountered otherwise.

To me, since we live in a world that offers only imperfect solutions to societal issues and problems, this trade off would be a good one.  We need to learn to re-categorize things in order to grow.  We need to also learn that there are few hard and fast categories.  Instead, categories, especially as they relate  to humans  are fluid and overlapping.

For fun, here are the links to two videos, video one and video two, that highlight the fluidity and overlapping nature of human categories.

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I had an interesting and enlightening conversation the other day with an older black woman.  I found it so because of the light it shines into one reason why so many blacks distrust the police and our justice system.

This woman is, as I said an older black woman.  She has grandchildren, one of whom is 27.  She was married to a man in the Air Force and did quite a bit a traveling until he died unexpectedly in the 90s.  She has a degree in Social Service and Political Science.

During the course of our conversation she related this story about her father.  Or more accurately, her father’s murder.  It happened when she was 13.  And it happened here in Texas.   And it happened in a sundown city.

For those too young or who may have never come across this adjective before, a sundown city was a city or town that had posted a sign stating some version of the following:

“Nigger, Don’t Let The Sun Set On YOU In [Insert name of city here]”.

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There were over 10,000 of these cities across the US up until the late 60s.  The city where I currently reside was one such, and, at least until the late 90s, was still a prime area for the KKK.  Today I still see a large number of confederate flags around.  These cities though were not limited to the south but extended to Glendale, California and up to Levittown, NY.  Indeed, most of the towns in Illinois were Sundown cities.

In fact, there were so many of these cities, and so many areas where the Jim Crow laws were strongly enforced, and so many areas where police were more threat than protection for blacks, so many areas where blacks just disappeared, that a book called the “Negro Motorist Green Book” was published annually from 1936 through 1966 by a New York travel agent named Victor H. Green.

This handy book was for blacks traveling in the United States.   This book warned the black traveler of the worse areas (at least the known ones) and about the specific dangers of that area.  It also provided the names of hotels and restaurants that would not serve blacks, and of car repair shops that would not fix their vehicles.

Just stop for a moment and try to imagine this; the country into which you were born, the country of which you are a citizen, the country in which you live and work and raise a family, this country that is supposedly yours too being so dangerous for you that you need a guidebook to help navigate its perils in as much safety as possible.  A guide for traveling in a dangerous country.  One not needed for its white citizens.

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And all of this going on until the mid 1960s.

Just stop and think of that too.  The mid 1960s is not ancient history.  It is not something from our founding.  It is recent history, a history of which millions of Americans (including myself) have personal memory of.

As does this black woman I met.

Which now brings us to what happened to her father in the not so distant past, a past that is recent in fact, recent in both years and memory.  What happened to her father when she was 13?

Or to ask another way, what happened to blacks who were caught in those sundown towns after dark?  If they were lucky they were picked up and arrested by the police, then either escorted out or jailed, and possibly roughed up.  If they were unlucky, then much worse happened; as happened to this woman’s father.

He was found the next morning strung up by his ankles from a tree.  He had been gutted and his intestines soaked the ground under him.  But that was not all.

His penis and testicles had been cut off.  But that was not all.

His penis and testicles were not near him as his intestines were.  They were missing entirely.  The sheriff told this woman’s mother that they were probably fed to the pigs.

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This happened within living memory.

Yes, we have changed laws and processes to reduce and de-institutionalize these more overt forms of racism and bias.  But, do those who would deny that racism plays any significant role today in hiring, in education, in justice, in law enforcement, in society; do those who would argue that there is no real racism in our institutions other than what is being played up and stoked up by trouble makers and liberals out to make political hay; do those people really believe that such deeply embedded institutions, deeply held beliefs, deeply held hatreds, do they really believe that these can be changed as quickly and as easily as a law?

Really?

Laws change more easily and more quickly than attitudes.  Laws change more easily than institutions.

The 1960s were the start of significant and needed changes in regards to race in our country.  But a start is not the finish.  To pretend that it is, to deny this basic fact is then to work to undo that start and push us back to that a different version of that recent past.

The vast majority of blacks realize that the changes needed to enact true and equal justice for all regardless of color is still only in its beginnings.  They have the stories of their still living mothers and fathers, the stories of their still living grandmothers and grandfathers, the stories of their still living uncles and aunts and cousins to tell them so. Stories of loss, of denial, of pain and suffering, of injustice backed by government and institutions, stories of death.

Stories that are reinforced and proven true in their daily lives today.  And by the fact that

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so many whites deny them the lessons of both their personal history and their own current experiences.

They have good reason to be distrustful of police, of the justice system, and of our government overall.   It has been changed, but not totally reformed.  And they remember.  As should we all.

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I watched part of Trump’s speech on Thursday. Read about the parts I did not see, or saw some video clips. The thing that struck me most forcefully is the picture of America that he painted. Let’s call it Trump World to distinguish it from the real world.

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In Trump world crime is rampant in America and no one can walk the streets safely anymore.

In Trump World America is facing an imminent existential threat from ISIS and terrorism.

In Trump World America’s economy is collapsing and almost totally destroyed.

In Trump World America is despised and loathed not respected even by our allies.

In Trump World America is on its last legs and gasping out its last strangled gasp.

But, that is Trump World.  One that he created out of words; short words, dramatic words, emphatic words, words of lies, of falsehoods, twisted words depicting a twisted reality.  All spouted with vim and vigor and certainty. Words rooted loosely in some bits of reality, but made huge, made big, made worse, made lies.

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Trump World is not the America that I see. It is not the America that is see in the numbers, in the statistics, in my daily life, in reality.

Yes, we have problems. We always have. With countries as with life, there are always problems.  And yes, some of those problems are serious. That too is a constant with countries.  At no time in our history have we not been faced with problems. Serious and numerous problems.  Out time in that regard  is no different than other times.

The fact that there are serious problems facing our nation is nothing new.  Nor is it cause for despair and doom.  The problems we face today, while serous, are not even close to being the worst we have ever faced.

I think of the time I grew up in, the 60s and 70s. While today there are definite and serious issues with our justice system being able to dispense justice impartially and being blind to a person’s race, our racial problems when I was growing up were worse.  Much worse.  And what it took to correct many of those problems entailed more violence, more riots, more disruption even to the extent that the National Guard had to be called to escort children to schools just because they were black..

Compared to racial discord at that time, what we face today is civil. And, like it was then, this discord today is necessary. Yes, it is not comfortable and yes it is at times divisive.  And yes, there is violence when there shouldn’t be, and pain and suffering of victims and their families. But that is part of change. It was when I was growing up and it is now.

Yes, we have blacks being unjustly treated and killed too often. We have police being murdered on the streets. Yet, the number of police killed is down from past years. And although we desperately need to correct the unequal justice we still have, it is better than when I was growing up. And Black Lives Matter a far more peaceful group than many others that existed when I was growing up.

Further, there is more and more dialogue between groups that has resulted in change. Not enough yet, but still there.

And yet Trump would have you believe otherwise.

Our economy is among the strongest in the world. We have recovered from the great recession faster and better than most other nations. And our economy is growing. It is not growing for all, but it is for most. It is also not growing as fast as we would wish, but it is growing.

It is also changing, changes that are the result of our growing technology. And change is painful. But, we are not in danger of economic collapse. Indeed, the world thinks we are a rock of stability that they invest in during times of trouble by buying US bonds. Our currency is the bedrock currency of the world because of their regard for our economy.

Yes, our economy has problems. But we are nowhere near economic collapse as Trump would have you believe.

Crime, crime is not running rampant. Our crime is the lowest it has been since the 60s. There has been an uptick in some cities, but if you look at trends you see ups and downs due to a variety of reasons. The uptick in some cities is not enough to say crime is running rampant, or at least not to say it truthfully. Especially since even counting the uptick, we are still far below the levels of the 90s. As for crime, we have rarely been so safe. But not to hear Trump talk.

ISIS and terrorism. Yes, they are serious challenges. But they are nowhere near an existential threat to the US. ISIS is losing ground in the Middle East. The country they said they were going to create is being whittled away. Their idea of a  powerful global caliphate is being destroyed before it is even created. Which is why they are changing their nature to one like other terror groups. They are changing because we are winning there, so they have to change the battlefield.

But the nature of the threat here in the US has not been direct action from ISIS. Nor has it come from immigrants or refugees. Instead it is the lone wolf terrorist, someone who is acting on their own and who has become radicalized. In fact, most of the attacks both here in the US and in Europe are from citizens. Not outsiders, not immigrants, and not refugees, but citizens.

As for the US terrorist attacks, while horrific and we need to take what measures we can without losing who we are in doing so, they are small scaled, especially when you look at what happens in Turkey, Iraq, and other places.

Yes, terrorism and ISIS is a danger. But not one that is going to destroy us unless we let unreasoning fear guide our actions.

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In other words, America is actually in good shape. Not perfect. There are flaws and problems, some of them being severe. We have many challenges and problems that need to be worked on. And the working out of them is going to be accompanied by pain and sorrow, suffering and hurt. But also by joy as we do solve them and then move on to the next set of problems that our solutions will inevitably create.

I do not recognize the America Trump has created. I look at our past and see the present America in largely better shape than our past. I look at the world, and I see the US holding its own with any other country.

And as for respect, respect for the US is up and strong in most of the world.

When I was growing up we had riots and demonstrations and blood being shed over the war in Vietnam, over the accumulated weight of hundreds of years of racial injustice, over women finding their voice and their power.  Presidents fell.  And yet the United States continued on and did not collapse.

And my times were  far from the most challenging the US has ever faced.

I can only conclude that Donald Trump must believe that the United States has become a wimp if the challenges we face today are going to lead to its imminent collapse.  But then, I don’t really think Trump believes this.  He has created Trump World not because he believes it to be real but because he believes he can profit from it.

Trump’s America is not the one I see or live in. It is a fear plagued vision created by him in order to use fear and anger and hatred to win first the Republican nomination and now trying to win the Presidency. Trump World has very little contact with reality.

I wrote this first as a posting on my Facebook page, but decided to revise it for a blog.  The reason is that Trump World bothers me.  In fact, it frightens me. Actually, it is the fact that so many are starting to live in Trump world instead of the real one that frightens me.  The actions needed to solve the irreality of Trump World would only create a true existential crisis in the real one.

Let me just end this with the fervent hope that we will reject fear, reject anger, reject hatred and reject Trump’s vision of America for one of hope, respect, and reality.

 

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DISCLAIMER

Since I have in the past, and will probably again despite this statement, been accused of excusing the acts of individuals by looking at why they did what they did, let me state unequivocally, absolutely and sincerely that those who have recently shot and killed police in Dallas and in Baton Rouge are and should be held responsible for their own actions.  Had they survived their encounter I would have fully supported going after the maximum sentence possible short of the death penalty (which I oppose).   They deserve our utter condemnation for their brutal and inexcusable actions.

Sigh.  I am pretty sure this disclaimer won’t make a lick of difference, but there you go.

 

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There is a relationship between the Black Lives Matter Movement and the recent shootings on police officers.  However, it is not the nice and tidy narrative that many people, especially conservatives, believe.

It is not that there is no problem with racial inequality in either our legal system or in our law enforcement.

It is not that any racial unrest is being fomented by Black Lives Matter/ liberals/Obama/ Hillary or a host of other liberal rabble rousers.

It is not that this is something that can be solved solely by condemning these murderers and cracking down on law and order.

No, that is not the relationship.  Instead, the true picture is something more complex.

The first relationship lies in the fact that there really is a problem with our justice system and law enforcement system in regards to racial equality.   Instead of going into all the data and make this blog way too long, let me refer you to a recent and excellent blog by Libby Anne titled “The White Invisibility of Racism”.

Let me though show this video of two police officers serving an arrest warrant for a man named Michael.  The only problem is that the man they arrest is named Patrick.

Now, to be fair, the police say that this video has been deceptively edited.  They have released the full 30 minute video of this incident.  You can view them here.

A few take aways from this.

First, Patrick did identify himself as Patrick.

Next, although later in the video the officers say they asked for his ID three times, they never did.  They assumed that he was lying and acted on that assumption without asking for his ID.

Ask yourself, would this have been as likely to happen with a white person?   Statistics strongly say no.

The next take away is that they arrested him and took him in even though he was not the person they came to arrest.  Now, this man who had committed no crime, will now have to post bond.  Given that I doubt they have a lot of money, this plays into creating a hardship on them.  If it takes some time to arrange bond and get him out, he could miss work and wind up losing his job.  As I discuss later, this is a domino effect that plays out all too often in the black community.

Statistics show that if he had been white, this probably would not have happened, and if it did there would have been no arrest.

And now that I am thinking about it, there is another take away.  The fact that the police department thinks that there is something in the complete video that vindicates the actions of  these officers.  Since the differences occur after they did not ask for his ID, did not show him the warrant as he requested, and had tased him twice, I think the police are really reaching with that.

I also found the discussion at around the 28:28 mark, between one of the officers and another black man who was trying to explain how their approach instilled fear and helped give rise to some of the actions of Patrick, who was thinking about losing his job and such due to being arrested, informative.  Especially when the police officer says that if he had done nothing wrong he would have nothing to fear.

And this is the issue in a nutshell.  The officers are unaware of their own actions and how they are perceived by the black community.  They honestly thought they had asked for ID when they had not.  And they did not see themselves as being threatening to anyone who had done nothing wrong.  Yet do not see the irony of Patrick having done nothing wrong but being arrested anyway.  And they do not seriously consider the black man’s statement at all about blacks being afraid of police and instead blow it off.

 

When watching this, ask yourself, what do you think would have happened if Patrick had been white?  Would the police have been less likely to do strong arm tactics?  When he said he was Patrick and not Michael would they have been more likely to ask for his ID?   While in some cases they may have acted the same.  In all too many though, they would not.  Being white makes a difference.

And what makes this so “invisible” as Ms. Anne puts it, is that these reactions are unconscious.  These officers did not say lets go harass a black man today.  Instead it is a matter of who they find more threatening.  More suspicious.  Who they find more resistant and how they feel they should deal with that resistance.

This is what causes a black person to be treated differently from a white person on average.

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The other point from Abby’s blog that I liked was that Black Lives Matter was sparked by more than just police shootings of unarmed blacks.  That is only the tip of the iceberg of a full weight of grievances and injustices.

I think about all of this when I hear white people claim that if black people would just comply with police they wouldn’t get in trouble. This isn’t just about black people killed by police. It’s also about all of the times black people are stopped and asked for their ID for no reason whatsoever, all of the times black people are treated by police as inherently criminal, all of the times when black individuals are given longer sentences than white individuals accused of the same crime. It’s about black parents having to give their sons “the talk” to ensure they won’t end up killed by police, and about a population that feels under siege every single day.

As she also states in her blogs, it is the constant being pulled over for no reason.  It is being used as a money stream for cities despite being usually the poorest community, as happened in Ferguson.  It is being followed in a store when whites are not.  It is the accumulation of thousands of grievances.

 

Or consider the case of Philando Castile, the black man who was shot and killed in St Paul Minnesota, who had been stopped by police at least 46 times (of which only six were items the police would notice from outside the car).   His life is a perfect example of how this system harms blacks in several regards – emotionally, always being suspected, being harassed, the one who gets caught and fined due to the color of your skin.  And then the financial impact, the always having to find money to pay fines, not being able to afford insurance because of this and then being fined again.  Losing your job due to lost time due to being in jail for not being able to pay your fine.

As in Ferguson, this was a money stream for the city based upon those who could least afford to pay.

From the NPR story on this, “The Driving Life and Death of Philando Castile”.

This week, the St. Anthony Police Department released statistics on its traffic stops. They show that officers issue citations at the same rate as neighboring suburbs, but police disproportionately arrest African-Americans.

About 7 percent of the residents in the area patrolled are African-American, but this year they make up about 47 percent of arrests. The data show that since 2011, African-Americans have been making up a larger percentage of arrests.

………..

Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University and the author of Crook County, which documents the problems in the criminal justice system of Chicago, said Castile was the “classic case” of what criminologists have called “net widening,” or the move by local authorities to criminalize more and more aspects of regular life.

“It is in particular a way that people of color and the poor are victimized on a daily basis,” Gonzalez Van Cleve said.

Many times, both Gonzalez Van Cleve and Sandvick agree, the system leaves citizens with no good choices — having to pick, for instance, whether to pay a fine or pay for car insurance.

There are three things that make this very real problem so easy to ignore and pretend that it doesn’t exist for so many.

First, as I said, it is not an explicit sort of racism usually.  It is more in the unconscious ways risks and decisions are made.  Unconscious choices that wind up benefiting the white person but harming the black.

The second issue is that this shows up in statistics most clearly.  On a day by day basis some whites, some blacks, some Hispanics and so forth are stopped, arrested, and fined.  But, at the end of the day, the ones who are stopped most often, who are fined most often are the blacks.  And they know this.  Instead of being a statistic, for them it is a frustrating reality.

Finally, the third thing that makes this so easy to ignore is that police departments vary greatly across this country.  This is a widespread problem, but it is not universal to each and every police department.  So the fact that one does well with race relations makes a convenient excuse for many to ignore the many more who do not do well.

The good news is that this is starting the change.  More and more cities are learning and establishing polices and training to improve.  Dallas has done well with this, implementing many of the recommendations from President Obama’s commission on police.  They stressed taking the time to evaluate and de-escalate situations.  They provided training on implicit biases.  They worked to establish ties to the community.  And when shootings occur they are quick to get in touch with the community and are open and forthcoming on the whats, whos and what is happening now of a shooting investigation.  Because of this, they have not experienced the riots and violent protest other places, such as Ferguson, that were not doing this.  Dallas is far from perfect and  has more work to do, but they are going in the right direction.

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In fact, before the tragic shootings in Dallas that took the lives of five police officers, many of the Black Lives Movement and the police were taking pictures together and talking.

And this is the first relationship between the Black Lives Matter movement and police.  It was the inequalities in our system, most especially in our justice and law enforcement ones, that created the need for Black Lives Matter.  The very public shootings of unarmed blacks by police was the spark but the tender had been accumulating and building for decades and longer.

Black Lives Matter is needed to keep this issue front and center because so many deny implicit racism’s very existence.  Without their pressure this is a problem, an injustice, that would be remedied only with an explosion of even worse violence.  And only after more black lives have been harmed.

 

 

As for the other relationship between the Black Lives Matter and police, it inflames emotions.  This is unavoidable.  The emotions are there and for better or worse, Black Lives Matter helps provide a focus for those emotions.

For the majority this will have the result of driving them to make speeches, vote, support candidates, push for laws and policies, etc.  But, at times, for some, the rhetoric becomes too heated and slides over the line.  And then for even fewer, but too many nonetheless, it slides over to taking lethal action against those seen as oppressors.

In other words, the Black Lives Matter movement provides a focus for anger and frustration.  For most, that is good in that it calls them to take action to change things.  For a few others, it instead leads to action of another type, lethal and murderous.

Despite this, Black Lives Matter is necessary.  Just as police are despite the issues mentioned.

I do know that if we ignore its message, do not deal with the problems that created this movement, the problems will only get worse.  Today there are serious issues in regards to racial inequality, but in the 50s and 60s there were even more serious and resulted in more violence than we are experiencing today.  If we want to avoid that then we need to have politicians, law enforcement, black leaders, Black Lives Matter leaders meeting to discuss their differences and issues, and finding common ground upon which to work.  President Obama facilitated just such a meeting after the Dallas shootings.  A meeting that most say was productive and worthwhile, but whose true worth can only be determined by follow up meetings and actions.

Some of the needed actions to my mind are:

  • First and foremost, acknowledge that there are real issues with racial bias in our law enforcement system.
  • Work together with law enforcement and others to find ways to improve. There has been some good movement here and there in this regards.   But so far it is in a minority of police organizations and needs to become the majority.  For something about what Black Lives Matters is promoting in regards to change, click on this link to a good piece from Atlantic Magazine about it.  Or this piece from the Black Lives Matter site.
  • Watch the language carefully to avoid unnecessarily inflaming passions too far. And continue to condemn the actions of those who murder police, or advocate doing so.

Let me briefly mention one common argument that is used to denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement.  Black on black violence, that if you are so concerned about blacks deal with the bigger issue of black on black violence.

This is something I addressed in my blog “On the Irritating Wrongness of the Black on Black Violence Counter-argument“.  Instead of rehashing all of this again, I have provided a handy little link to that blog.  Let me though just summarize the problems with this argument.

  • It assumes that you cannot be working on both at the same time.
  • It assumes that both issues are the same. They are not.  Black on black violence is indeed terrible.  But, they are not the police, not the people who are supposed to unbiasedly enforce the law equally and to provide protection for the citizens.  The former is a terrible crime.  The latter harms our societal structure.
  • Related to the above, it assumes that you cannot be outraged over unjustified killings of blacks, about the racial bias targeting blacks unless you get black on black violence down. It further assumes that there is no link between the two – poverty, lack of education, etc.
  • It assumes that no one is working on reducing black on black violence. In fact, there is much being done to decrease black on black violence, much of it successful.  This includes, by the way, sit ins and demonstrations in many different cities.  Just because they are not getting as much news coverage nationally does not mean they are not happening.
  • It assumes that there has been no improvement in regards to black on black violence. The reality is that there has been improvement.  However, in the last 20 years there has been a decrease in black on black violence.  The victimization rate has fallen from 39.4 homicides per 100,000 in 1991 to roughly 20 homicides in 2008.  And the offending rate for blacks has dropped from 51.1 per 100,000 offenders in 1991 to 24.7 offenders per 100,000 in 2008.

All of these are dealt with in more detail and with supporting links in my blog about this.  However, there is one other problem with this attempt to use black on black violence to denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement.

No one denies that black on black violence exists.  No one denies that black on black violence is a real problem.  However, too many people do deny that implicit racism and institutional racism are affecting our legal system.  Too many people deny that this is a real problem.  Too many people would rather remain ignorant and let the pressure of continued injustice build.

And that is why Black Lives Matter matters.

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