Posts from ‘Race’

Nov
26

The Rittenhouse case went exactly as I would have predicted. If I were a betting man, I would bet on white supremacy every time the judicial or legislative institutions of white America come into play. This comes not from some Cassandra-like prediction ability, but a lifelong study of American racial history. Why then did I feel it in the pit of my stomach? First, I guess because it confirmed that America is what I thought it to be. Any person of color who is looking to American judicial institutions for justice will find “just us” bearing the burden of a racially skewed system. However, it is more than that. I felt the same feeling when I realized that the murder of little children in Sandy Hook not only did not bring about tougher gun laws, but it also unleashed right wing conspiracy theorists who said that it never happened or was part of some left-wing plot. I felt the same way when the congresspeople whose very lives were endangered in the January 6 insurrection spurred on by Trump’s attempt to overturn the will of the people, refuse to condemn the insurrection and Trump himself. I feel the same way when Ted Cruz whose father and wife were attacked by Trump in 2016, still kisses his ass every chance he gets. When an underage vigilante crosses state lines and kills two white demonstrators and is not convicted, what chance do the rest of us have?

People of color always use a thought experiment to point out that racism is involved in any incident. We ask, “would the outcome have been different if the race of the participants were different?” I have seen some black commentary that if Rittenhouse had been black, it would have gone down quite differently. If the police would not have shot him, the judicial system would have convicted him in a New York minute. Not only would he not have had the $2,000,000 right wing slush fund to pay for the best attorneys, but he would also have faced a nearly all white jury. The argument that he feared for his life would not have worked. To continue our thought experiment, if Rittenhouse’s victims had been black the self-defense argument would have worked even better. It worked for Rittenhouse because the jury members themselves felt the same fear themselves. It has worked for cops for years and worked for Trayvon Martin’s murderer. We shall see what we shall see in the Arberry case, but I would not be surprised if those white men get acquitted too.

I am also mad at myself for holding on to the slightest hope that it could have been different, that things were changing, that finally we would see some justice. I feel like Charlie Brown continuing to hope that Lucy will allow him to kick the football rather than pulling it away. All his experience should tell him it will be the same as always, but he holds on to this vague hope that it will not. I go back and forth whether holding on to hope is a good or bad thing. Should I be a confirmed cynic or the slightest bit of an optimist. How can one go on without hope?

Finally, I think of my 5-year-old granddaughter. Right now, she is sheltered in a cocoon of love. We are building her confidence in her ability to act in the world. One day however, she is going to confront this ugliness in the world. When do we start preparing her for this? What can we do to prepare her to see the beauty in the world while at the same time standing firm against the ugliness? I may not be around when she does. I realize this is something that every parent of color must think about but that white parents probably do not. It is like preparing a male child how to act around the police, so he won’t come home beaten, jailed, or killed. Knowing what we know about the world, I shudder to think about the world she will inherit.

Jul
10

I was born and raised up north in New York City. My mother came from the south, Atlanta to be specific. Her family moved to New York when she was about 10 years old during the Great Depression. I say “about” because she often shall we say misrepresented her age and was pretty vague about when the move occurred. Nevertheless (as I learned as I got older) the south still played an important although scarcely acknowledged part in my upbringing. The cuisine with which I grew up was unbeknownst to me a southern one. We ate all kind of greens (mustard, collard, and turnip), many parts of the pig that shall remain nameless here, grits for breakfast, sweet potato pie on holidays, and what I later learned was “hoppin’ john” (black-eyed peas). All of these were brought up north by families like my mother’s who came from the south during the great migration. My mother was too young to have brought the deference to whites and the expectation of segregation that was endemic to blacks growing up in the South, so she didn’t pass that along to me. New York during the 30’s 40’s and 50’s was certainly not immune to the racism that gripped and still grips America. However, my mother was a feisty little woman and she passed that along to us kids. I saw the flip side of this in my wife’s step father who had grown to adulthood in the south. He never did overcome his deference around whites and waited in his car at restaurants to see if blacks were allowed in before he would enter.

As Isabel Wilkerson has documented in The Warmth of Other Suns, African Americans believed that up north there were opportunities for jobs, advancement, and homeownership that were not possible in the south. My mother married a northerner and through hard work scratched out a lower middle class living for us in the north. We were able to move into previously white areas in Brooklyn and then Queens during the 1950’s and although those areas eventually became mostly black, I always went to integrated schools and had many white friends. The violence and hatred against “uppity” blacks that was often displayed on my television screen during the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s made me cross off the south as a place to live. As feisty (as my mother had taught me) and uppity as my educational and career path were making me, meant that if I had lived in the south my life would have been full of conflict. Although professional engagements occasionally took me to the south, I stayed in my professional enclaves as much as possible, watched over my shoulder often, and left as soon as I could. That is not to say I had any unpleasant experiences, and in fact had many pleasant ones, only that the threat of a racist encounter always loomed (at least in my head) the few times I went to the south.

I spent most of my life in New England ironically mostly in Maine, statistically the whitest state in the Union. My location at a small liberal arts college and in a college town minimized any unpleasant racial experiences that occurred. As cold and stand-offish as the Mainer stereotype is, I found that once you broke through that exterior Mainers were as friendly, independent, and as feisty as I was. I certainly look back at my time there with fondness. Upon retirement we looked for a warmer climate and better weather. Again, we avoided the south since my wife was even feistier than I and suffered fools even less than I did. We eventually settled in New Mexico where the rich diversity of cultures (white, Native American, Latino and African American) promised an intriguing set of experiences, different biospheres, and warmer weather still with seasons. I lived there quite happily for eight years, before my wife passed away. I then went to live with my son, daughter in law, and granddaughter in a suburb of Houston.

Approaching age 70 this was the first time I had actually lived in the south. The South of 2019 was a far cry from the south of the 1950’s and 60’s. The mayor of Houston is an African American, the police chief is a Latino American. Even the police chief in Birmingham, Alabama has changed from Bull Connor and his ilk to an African American. There are African Americans in the state legislature, there are judges who are people of color throughout the south, there are now people of color in the professional classes including lawyers, doctors and entrepreneurs. I live in a wealthy suburban enclave that has a diverse population including Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans. The middle-class jobs, civil service jobs, the bank officers, grocery managers or clerks are no longer exclusively white. There are black folks everywhere. There are no legally segregated schools, hotels, or restaurants (my late father-in-law would be pleased.)

Yet despite these changes (which are much more than cosmetic) there is still an under-stratum of that south I always feared and avoided. I have heard it said that the south is comprised of people of color held hostage by a white political class supported by rural whites for whom racism and Republicanism is the bedrock of their existence. I have found this to be too true. There are still too many people stuck in old ways of thinking about the world many of whom are in the authority structures. In light of this I find the recent Democratic victories in Georgia and my mother’s old hometown of Atlanta, give me hope. Through a massive get out the vote effort by progressive and people of color groups, they were able to prevail against the Republican voter suppression, rural white voters, conservatives, and racists that have dominated statewide and federal politics for so long. It may not last more than two years, but they have shown it can be done. Texas is a long way from being able to do this and its size alone makes it even more difficult to do. We need to find our own Stacey Abrams who can organize a massive grassroots campaign to turn the south of my nightmares into the south of my dreams.

Jun
22

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been around since about the 1980’s but all of a sudden you are hearing about Critical Race Theory on the news. What is it and what is it not? Why are you suddenly hearing about it? What will be the result of banning it? It started as a movement among legal scholars to explain why the liberal tactics of affirmative action, elections, and federal action which were the blueprint for Civil Rights Movement, haven’t produced the longed-for end of racism in our country. It seeks to understand how the social structure and the professed ideals of “equal protection,” and the “rule of law,” have helped maintain white supremacy and the subordination of people of color. It elucidates these connections in order to change them. It has been largely an academic movement discussed intellectually though some of its ideas have seeped into the mainstream especially as police violence against people of color has become a more prominent issue. Republican politicians and legislators are now starting to make it the figurehead whipping boy of an all-out assault on teaching about racism in public education from primary schools to university. Why? It doesn’t take much to convince people of color of the white supremacy in the politics, laws, and economic policies of this country. Preventing racism from being questioned or taught will not convince them of the absence of racism when their daily lived experience tells them otherwise. It is obviously addressed to white people and possibly their fringe hangers-on of color. We are seeing this movement to halt discussion of racism because of recent Republican losses in the presidency and the Senate. Republicans are appealing to whites who are threatened by the loss of their supremacy by painting themselves as the defenders against attacks against them and the growing threat of people of color or the politicians who support them. They are trying to regain the presidency and the Congress in the next elections.

Whether these politicians are honestly ignorant and do not believe there is structural racism or whether they are cynically doing it to gain voters, is largely irrelevant to me. I am sure there are both. I am more concerned about the effects their actions will have in the real world. Structural racism will continue whether they acknowledge it or not. In a world in which people of color are becoming a majority in this country (it is already true for the population entering grade school) attempts to plead that structural racism does not exist will become a harder and harder sell. This of course makes little difference to politicians who only look to the next election and not to the long run. If they did, they would come out against structural racism to put themselves on the side of the angels and the most voters. Indeed, we may be at a tipping point when their support of white supremacy has created such a backlash against them particularly among voters of color, but among some whites as well, that they will increasingly find it more and more difficult to win elections. That is why the suppression of voting rights is also important to them. They cannot even now win fair and open elections so they have to resort to limiting the franchise to “the right (read white) people.” Regardless of success or failure of federal efforts to protect voting rights, their voter suppression efforts, although they may appear to work for the next election cycle, will eventually fail to secure their victory among a declining white electorate. In fact, their voter suppression measures like restricting mail in voting and days, places, and times for voting may affect their own supporters who are aging. Control of state legislatures and governorships which has been sustained by outsized power of voters in rural areas, will be overwhelmed by the votes in urban areas and increasingly diverse suburban areas. This is even happening in Texas where I live which has been a solidly red state. Whether this happens by 2022, 2024 or later I cannot predict. I can say that eventually it will happen.

The problem with the ostrich proverbially sticking his head in the ground to ignore the danger approaching, will eventually plague the Republicans. While they may soothe themselves with palliative measures like banning public school discussion of racism, reality is coming for them and they may not be ready for it.

Oct
08

The amount of violence whites have inflicted on blacks is staggering. Police violence has been in the news lately, but there is the history of this violence stretches way back before this modern incarnation. Have you ever heard of a mob of angry blacks lynching a white person. How about attacking a white person who moved into a black neighborhood? Black folk attacking whites who were protesting? The very idea of these things is ludicrous. Until the 1960’s a race riot meant whites were attacking black folks rather than vice versa. Have you heard about these race massacres: Wilmington NC 1898, Atlanta 1906, Springfield, Illinois (which sparked the formation of the NAACP,) East St. Louis 1917,  26 cities (including Chicago) during the Red summer of 1919, Tulsa 1921 and Rosewood, Florida 1923. In each of these whites attacked blacks, killed black people, burned their homes and belongings. It was only from 1965 on that race riot meant blacks looting and burning. Even then they were attacking white storeowners in their community not marching out to the white suburbs attacking whites. I have often felt that the fear whites have about blacks is not about  some intrinsic violence in black people, but about a fear of blacks finally exploding in rage at the violence whites have perpetrated upon them and the subjugation blacks have endured. It is white guilt consciously or unconsciously leading to a projection of violent tendencies onto blacks. You can trace a direct line from the fear white slaveowners had of blacks rising up to end slavery and oppression, to the race massacres of the past, and the police violence of today.

Yet many bring up “black on black” violence to deflect charges of police brutality, as if that excuses it. Yes over 90% of violence against blacks has been perpetrated by other blacks. It is also true that over 80% of white violence is “white on white” violence. A better way to look at it would be to call it “proximity violence.” People commit violence most often against those closest to them. Most people committing violence don’t want to commute. Racial segregation, redlining, federal housing and loan policy show the lie that most residential segregation is because black folk want to live near other black folk and white folk most often want to live near other white folk. Whites have hidden behind a fear of declining property values or some other such rationalization. Racial segregation has been an explicit public policy.

That brings us to today. The few people commuting to commit violence are white folks like those in Charlottesville and Kyle Rittenhouse, both of whose victims were white. We have a president who has condoned this violence by calling them good people, celebrating them, and even telling the violent white supremacist group the Proud Boys to stand by. He has said that a loss of the election might trigger a civil war. The couple who threatened peaceful protestors as they were passing by, who brandished their weapons, were invited guests at the  2020 Republican convention. This presidential call for violence flies in the face of the FBI’s calling white supremacist groups the great domestic violence threat. Yet the president emboldens them. The news includes the FBI arrest of 13 people plotting to abduct the governor of Michigan and other Democrats to start a civil war. These incidents are examples of “white on white violence” that is done because of the furor which Trump has stirred up to mobilize his base. He has argued that there is an “antifa” organization trying to take away the freedom of Americans when law enforcement knows there is no such organization; that the Democrats are planning a socialist takeover of the country which figurehead Joe Biden will allow; and that federal “agents” (who are really a private army for him) are necessary to secure peace in protesting cities. These are lunatic charges that are being leant the power, credence and bully pulpit of the office of the president of the United States. Donald Trump may end up being the greatest perpetrator of white on white violence the country has known since the Civil War.

This goes beyond partisan politics to the very glue that holds our disparate ethnic groups and unequal economic system together. We used to believe that whatever the differences in political views were, the democratic system would allow a way to work them out without violence, That is no longer the case and the reason I see Trump as a threat to the very idea of democracy. There are certainly some Republicans and conservatives who agree, but they are not the rank and file. They are usually the Republican out-of-office elite. The rank and file are yet to be heard from and will be in the coming election. Let us pray that there are enough of these people who have awakened from Trump’s spell to see the naked truth and are repulsed by it.

 

Jul
31

Watching Donald Trump play the “race card” is fascinating. On the one hand he is appealing to his white supremacist base by using “dog whistle” racist comments, that is, by appealing to race while not using the word race itself. Racism is as racism does. It is only non-whites that he has railed against. You haven’t heard him tell any white congress people to go home to where they came from. He hasn’t told white congress people who represent majority white poor districts that their districts are unfit for human habitation. You haven’t heard him say or tweet that white immigrants are rapists. You haven’t heard him call places from which white immigrants come “shithole” countries.

Like all of his ilk he has little experience of African Americans and their lives. He presumes that African Americans all live in poverty with the exception of the entertainment and sports stars that he has met. He believes that most of them live in “shithole” countries or rat infested inner cities perhaps in buildings owned by his son-in-law. People of color are less than human and the conditions in which they live are the fault of their own laziness, culture, and politicians. In fact people of color don’t just “live” they “infest” as he has said many times, in many contexts.  This association of otherness with metaphors of disease has been used throughout many countries, at many times to justify the second class citizenship imposed on people of color. The blaming of non-white poverty on non-white behavior is a cornerstone of white superiority. His dog whistle racism is about solidifying his support among his base so you don’t hear similar things about the white poor who are the majority of the poor in this country.

At the same time by not mentioning race specifically he has been able to claim that his opponents are the ones who introduce race into the conversation of his racism. This is “blame the victim” at its finest and George Orwell’s “doublespeak” come to life. The authoritarian government in Orwell’s book 1984 says”War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength,” and now pointing out racism has become racism itself in the world of Trump. He goes further and claims that African American “leaders” like Elijah Cummings, Al Sharpton and even John Lewis, have not been able to improve conditions for black folk. He of course doesn’t mention the white institutions and politicians that keep them in poverty. He alludes to “corrupt” politicians (presumably but not exclusively black) who perpetuate their poverty. He doesn’t mention that he has done diddley-squat to help black folks specifically and doesn’t intend to do so. He takes credit for falling unemployment rates among African Americans when they actually began coming down under Obama. It is too soon to see the effects of his economic policies as they haven’t worked their way through the system yet, but they won’t create jobs and may in fact lead to recession. With his typical hyperbole he claims to have done more for African Americans than any other president. I guess he forgot about Lincoln freeing the slaves.

He is using race to get white support by not mentioning it and to get get nonwhite support by mentioning it. As the alien immigrant Mr. Spock would say, “fascinating.” His racism is that savage beast inside him yelling to the crowd and giving them license to release their own. According to recent polls most Americans realize that he is racist, though his supporters and enablers publicly deny it. The real question is not whether he is racist or not, he is, but what do we do about it.

 

Jul
15

I wondered why women continue to support Trump given his record of adultery, womanizing, misogynistic tweets, body shaming, and overall lechery. So I went online to look at statements from female supporters. I think I need a shower now. What I found was that women support him mostly for the same reasons men support him. They like the conservative policies he espouses, they don’t believe his critics in the mainstream media which they feel is biased against him, and they are willing to accept his character flaws because as one woman put it “he’s not dating my daughter.” They praise his bluntness, what they see as his candor, and the fact that he speaks directly to them. They believe he speaks the “truth” unlike the politicians who came before him. They excuse his “toxic masculinity” because they reason that all men, including their husbands, sometimes speak and think this way.

What to make of all this? First of all, anyone who believes that Trump speaks the “truth” is beyond arguing with. They are immune to facts, logic, different experiences, and anything that contradicts him. The Democrats think there is a spectrum of Trump supporters that range from the “true believers” to those who can be swayed and won over to centrist Democratic candidates. I do not think so. Secondly, his supporters agree with his racism even though some try to protest against the way he expresses it. I do not shy away from calling his followers racists although some argue that they are not all this way. Yes they are. Some deny it, some resent it, and some admit it when they are confronted with this label. Those who do not call him out on his racism, accept or condone it, or even deny it, are themselves racists especially when they do not admit it. Time and time again we see whites who feel that racism is a state of mind and if they do not have that state of mind then they are not racist. Racism is not just a state of mind, it is a series of actions. If you perform those actions, if you behave that way, you are racist whatever state of mind you are in. If you support Trump’s racism by inaction, silence, or looking the other way, then you are racist. How’s that for bluntness?

Some analysts believe that it is counter productive to call out their racism because it means they will stop listening to you. I would argue that they are not listening to you anyway. They see politics as a “holy war,” a moral crusade, with those who disagree with you as “the enemy” who must be defeated not compromised with. Normally I would try to reason with them, but that is impossible. The American political system is based upon the idea of a loyal opposition who will compromise with those in power to get things done, who believe in the same enemies, and will work for the country’s good. This is not the situation that we face. The “good” each side believes in is not the same. Trump’s lily white 1950 country with whites in charge is at odds with a reality in which people of color already outnumber whites in the under 15 age groups and will eventually do so in all age groups. The “good” the other side sees is a diverse America, where people of all races have opportunity, and live together in harmony. They differ in what will make America great and whether it was ever so. Working together for the country’s good has been replaced by win at all cost.  This is a battle, a holy war if you will, for who we want to be as a country. The Trump supporters realize it, the Democrats need to understand that too.

One of the things that was so striking in these interviews was the the normalization of “toxic masculinity.”  Trump’s female supporters give him a pass on his outrageous behavior because they feel he is like most men only more candid about it. Accusations against him and Brett Kavanagh for example are brushed aside and women are criticized either for coming forward too late or for coming forward at all. What saddens me is that this is accepted as just what women have to put up with now and in the past. The “Me too” movement is just women being overly sensitive and protesting too much. The resignation to this behavior in their husbands and towards their daughters is tragic.

Finally they feel that Trump’s policy have not only not hurt them, but have improved their lives and the country. This is white privilege at its finest. From the safety of their homes they criticize people who are running for their lives. They are not people of color who can be told to go back to their “shithole” home countries, they are not refugees who can be put in concentration camps, they are not illegal immigrants separated from their children, they are not the religious or ethnic minorities who they feel have gotten too much in the past, and they are not people who have to endure ethnic slurs, police intimidation, a biased court system, or high rates of incarceration. Trump supporters’ lack of empathy for non-whites is astounding. Instead they blame the victim, denigrate them as at best a different species, not human at all.  This behavior calls for us to do some soul searching. Who do we want to be as people? Who do we want to teach our children to be?

Jul
03

As Washington D.C. prepares for Trump’s obscene 4th of July celebration with a military parade, tanks, and fireworks; attended by those fat cats who can afford tickets and make political donations; and witnessed by the millions in the Trump cult, I cannot help but think of the words and outrage in Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech “What to the slave is your fourth of July.” Douglass was of course talking about slavery, but his words can be applied to other forms of bondage. There are those in bondage to poverty, those in the bondage of health needs who cannot afford medicine, treatment or private insurance, those in the bondage of being able only to get by rather than get ahead, and the detained immigrants, especially children, who are in literal bondage. Trump has turned the national celebration of liberty and freedom into something more akin to the Russian May Day celebration or parades to feed the ego of military dictators. Douglass’s words:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

The celebration is of course to appease those for whom this is the greatness they seek, the greatness they voted for, the greatness that Trump promised them. It is the compensation that makes up for their fear of losing status in a country that is changing, and spiritual or physical the meagerness of their lives. It is a symbolic presentation of what W.E.B Du Bois called the “psychological wage” of whiteness or what historian David Roediger called the “wages of whiteness.” It is meant to distract from the economic inequality that we face by binding the country together in an “imaginary community” when everything Trump has done divides us. Like a magician he means to divert us while he and his cohorts enrich themselves by stealing us blind, deregulating industry, and ignoring climate change.

Those who see what is going on behind this smokescreen cannot allow his “celebration” to distract us. We have work to do. We have to see that for all its people America lives up to its ideals, surpasses its slave origins, and becomes that place that all the patriotic songs sing about. Accept nothing less. As Ella Baker said “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” That is what we should remember on the 4th of July and every other day.

Mar
15

I am trying to get my head around this latest mass shooting in Christchurch (not ironic), New Zealand by trying to understand “why.” In most mass shootings the why is clear. Some loner thinks he has been wronged and so shoots up his place of employment, school, or public place. Or, some person feels that their country has been wronged by some other country and some act of terror is the only way they can strike back. This shooting doesn’t quite fit either of those explanations. All the details are not in yet, but it seems this shooter was an Australian who traveled to New Zealand to shoot up some mosques as a protest against all Muslims. He does not claim that he was keeping his family or country safe (after all he was in another country), that he was settling some score because he had been wronged by these particular Muslims, or that he was retaliating against New Zealand oppression of Australia. He was lashing out against the Muslim diaspora in defense of an imaginary transnational entity called “the white race.” One could argue that whoever commits these mass murders for whatever reason suffers from a mental illness that prevents him from having empathy or even sympathy for others. One could argue that they are sociopaths or even psychopaths. However that doesn’t get us very far. There are many sociopaths and psychopaths who do not commit mass murder. What makes these different?

As a kid I always was amazed that a minister could say some words over two people in a marriage ceremony and their child would come out looking like both of them. He must have been a powerful person. Suppose he said the words while some random people walked by or used his power for evil?  Maybe it was the words themselves that had the power and anyone could say them with frightening consequences. This brings me to Donald Trump. The shooter mentioned Trump’s advocacy for “the white race” as a contributing factor in his decision to kill, according to the latest figures I have, 49 people, to wound scores more, and to plan to blow up others (a plot that was fortunately foiled.) Trump and his supporters will argue that he is not responsible for the actions of a mad man who twisted his words into reason to carry out a vendetta against some defenseless “others.” Yet the “threat” that Muslims pose to whites is part and parcel of his words and policies e.g. travel ban, harassment of even American born Muslims, fear of non-whites in general. It is of a kin to his denigration of Mexicans and plans to build a wall when no one except his base supporters want it and even Congress thinks it is a waste of money.

Has Trump’s use of the American presidency “bully pulpit” caused the number of harassing incidents towards “the others” to rise in the United States and now around the world? Are his words so powerful that people are being harassed or even dying because of them? I would argue yes. Many white supremacists other than the Christchurch shooter have said how they have been encouraged or emboldened by Trumps words, actions and tweets. Trump himself will never publicly take responsibility for any of this. I don’t know if privately he does nor whether he thinks it is a good thing, his responsibility, or just a ploy to rally his support. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what he thinks if he thinks at all before speaking or tweeting. What matters is do we think any responsibility can be traced back to Trump. Trump himself is unlikely to change and will continue to irresponsibly spout off whatever he thinks will get him re-elected no matter the cost to “others.” Trump supporters are unlikely to change as well or to even consider the idea or, if they do, to regret their responsibility in these matters. It falls to us who oppose Trump, what he preaches, and stands for, to stop his reign of terror against those who are different. I hope enough of us have the courage to do so.

Feb
13

Some friends have asked me to comment on Liam Neeson’s confession that after a black person did harm to one of his friends he wanted to do harm to the first black person he encountered at the pub. This happened some forty years ago. After this public confession on a few talk shows some publicist pulled him from giving media interviews about the film he was supposed to be promoting. Most white Americans think of racism as individual acts, feelings, use of language and so on. They reserve their harshest censure about racism for those who transgress by revealing their racism openly. Remember Paula Deen the southern celebrity chef who admitted that she had used the “n word?” She lost her show and was a pariah for a while. Will Mr. Neeson suffer some penalty in his career for admitting to racist thoughts? Spike Lee has already said he will not hire him in the future. Should he?

First of all I must admit I am much more concerned with who these folks are in the present day than who they were forty years ago. Michelle Rodriguz leapt to Neeson’s defense by stating that he could not be a racist because he had kissed Viola Davis in his most recent movie. This may seem like a strange defense until you look at it more closely. Hollywood has a long history of avoiding interracial kisses and several actors have refused to participate in them. At best this proves that Neeson is an actor who is willing to do what the script calls for whatever his own person inclinations. It in no way proves that Neeson is not a racist any more than having a gay person kiss a member of the opposite sex means they have given up their homosexuality. A better test would be how do the black folks who have worked him view him, has he worked for anti-racist causes, or has he participated in racist ones. I do not know the answers to these questions so I don’t know if he is racist or not. I am not willing to condemn him over thoughts he had forty years ago.

Secondly I am not willing to condemn him for thoughts he had rather than deeds he did. For better or worse he did not run into any black person while he had these thoughts and to my knowledge there is no evidence that he has actually committed racist acts. He seems genuinely remorseful for even thinking these thoughts. The forty-years-older version of him has learned a few things in the interim. I hope no one judges me on the thoughts I had forty years ago rather than the deeds I have done since then. I hope I, you,  and Mr. Neeson have grown.

Finally, we can’t make any headway against racism as long as we define it solely as individual racist actions or thoughts. Many whites feel that as long as they don’t harbor any racist thoughts, don’t use the “n word,” don’t discriminate in their daily lives, and don’t attend white supremacist rallies, they cannot be racist. This is of course nonsense and people rationalizing their behavior or making themselves feel good. As I have said many times in different discussions the United States is built upon a racist and white supremacist structure and all whites, even the poorest ones, have benefited from that structure. All people of color, even the successful ones, have had to struggle against that structure. What is that old line “the greatest trick the devil ever did was to convince us that he doesn’t exist.” The most important support upon which structural racism and white supremacy are built is the belief that the structure doesn’t exist. To truly overturn that structure will take white folks willing to see it and give up the privileges that it has and continues to confer on them. Condemning Mr. Neeson for thoughts, not deeds, he had forty years ago does not help us do that and is a waste of time.

May
08

In my final blog entry on the George Yancy situation I will presume to take a stab at analyzing America’s current situation. My analysis is free, take it for what it is worth. It’s just my two cents added to the conversation. What we have seen since the end of the 1970’s is twofold:  a belief among many folks that we are living in a zero sum game where if someone else is winning they must be losing; and a loss of a sense of community that people outside of our “tribe” are part of our community. “Tribe” can be defined many ways and most anthropologists are loathe to use the word because it is so slippery. I am using it to describe the group a person identifies with at a given time. As we have several crosscutting identities we can in a sense belong to several tribes at any given moment. We can define that tribe by class, skin color, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual preference, politics, nationality, or region among other things. In any case it is defined by “us” versus “them.” By “community” I mean those within our orbit including those who are not part of our tribe.

To over-simplify, the civil rights movements of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s was really a clash of two senses of community. Segregationists wanted to include African Americans as a subservient part of their community because of the belief that they were subhumans who were fine as long as they knew their “place.” Enough other white Americans felt that blacks were part of the larger community and deserved the same rights as all Americans. Other groups like women or gays started movements to be included with equal rights in the larger community. There has always been opposition to the idea that people not members of our tribe should be be included in our community and many rationalizations as to why they should be excluded. Over time this backlash against the expansion of the idea of community has grown with a sense that as other groups have gained rights one’s tribe (if different from the groups that have won rights) has lost something. Tribes have become more insular and more defensive. At the same time America has grown more diverse because of changes in the immigration policies and demographic change thus exacerbating the problem.

All of this has put the brakes on the granting of equal rights which has not progressed much past the stage of removing discriminatory laws and policies plus condemning those who overtly use derogatory terms. We have barely begun to examine how racist policies are built into the structures of America so that we have been unable to do the sort of self reflection that George Yancy recommends. The most we have done is to pursue “diversity” to offset the “tribal” effects of the deep structures within America.

We are now facing a situation in which the tribal exclusion of others has reached the point where a president of the United States can be elected solely because of his defense of the white tribe. The exclusion of derogatory words or actions towards non members of the white tribe is derided as “political correctness,” instead of common decency. The non-members of the white tribe be they excluded by race, religion or country of origin, have become an enemy to be feared, attacked, or killed. Juries keep acquitting cops who kill black people because they believe the defense “I was in fear for my life” for they too fear the outsider who is not a member of the tribe. “Make America Great Again” is dog whistle code for rolling back the advances by non white groups so that the white tribe can feel safe again. The vehemence of the reaction to George Yancy’s piece is just a sign of how nasty the defense of the white tribe has become for some people.

Let me be clear here. I am not saying that this disease only affects whites or that all whites exhibit it. I have met plenty of people both black, white and other colors, who are working to eradicate any such feeling within themselves and others. I am saying there is work to be done before we have a society as a whole that has enough such people in it. I’m not as sure as Martin Luther King that we’ll get to the promised land though I’m pretty sure I won’t get there with you for we are far away from it. My hope is that my little granddaughter will see it or a version closer to it than we are now.