Tag Archives: CSA battle flag

The Wells’ legacy and Pompous Post Racialism

Ida B Wells 2

Google is honoring Ida B. Wells-Barnett today for her journalism and activism on behalf of African Americans who were being lynched at alarming rates in this country.  She was born a slave in 1862 and lived until 1931.  How ironic that today we’re addressing issues involving the excessive use of force against African Americans by law enforcement authorities.

Among some white conservative elements there appears to be a protracted, if not profound, attempt to assert that there would be no racial problems eighty four years after Mrs. Wells-Barnett’s death if people would just stop talking about IT.  Witness Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly’s recent rant:

“O’Reilly ripped into liberals who he says are “demonizing” America by saying America is “a country dominated by white supremacy… to keep black Americans down.” And this goes “unchallenged by a cowardly media,” as he put it. He got really teed off as he insisted “there is no organized effort to harm black people by white people,” and then declared, “You want a war? You got a war! I’m not going to sit here any longer and take this garbage.” [Mdite]

The most obvious issue with O’Reilly’s rant is that racism doesn’t have to be organized to be pervasive.  The second problem is that we do have some demons which need to be faced down.

We do need to analyze and act upon information which persistently demonstrates that some police officers treat African Americans differently – out of fear? Out of biases? Out of lack of appropriate training?   One question that keeps rising out of the fog of information regarding the shooting of unarmed black suspects is “Did the officer perceive a greater threat because the suspect was African American?”  (Michael Brown) Or, “Did the officer lack sufficient self control to manage an arrest of an African American suspect?” (Walter Scott) Or to deal with a situation involving African Americans (McKinney, TX)?

Are African Americans treated differently, or abused, in police custody. Texas authorities have been called in to investigate the death of Sandra Bland, arrested in Waller County, who police reported had committed suicide in her jail cell. [ChicagoTrib] The family vociferously disputes this possibility.

Again, white supremacy needn’t be as blatant as that of the Council of Conservative Citizens, or the KKK, or any other associated hate group.  We can see it at work in the sentencing of black and white convicts, as described by a study conducted by researchers from Harvard, the University of Chicago, and Pennsylvania University:

“The researchers divided judges into categories based on level of race bias. To make these results concrete, they compare two examples. There are two identically situated defendants, who differ only by race – one black and one white. If they are sentenced by a judge who is among the least affected by racial bias (meaning in one of the best case scenarios), the black defendant is still 30% more likely to end up in prison. If they are sentenced by judge who is among the most affected by racial bias (one of the worst case scenarios), the black defendant is almost twice as likely to end up in prison.” [TP]

ALL other elements being equal, a black defendant is still 30% more likely to be sentenced to prison than a white defendant. Why?  If we take the discussion out of the realm of the institutional and into the general population we find that racism is far from a minor irritant under American skin.  Perhaps it would be instructive to take a closer look at the nature of white complaints.

One of the more illogical is the fallacious argument of “reverse racism,” which is used to cover a range of territory from opposition to affirmative action plans to the justification of person racial prejudice.  In definitional terms, the assertion fails to differentiate between racism (a social construct) and prejudice/bias (a personal trait.)  Additionally, it all too often relies on broad generalizations based on limited personal information or experience.  Contentions that entire population segments are “lazy,” or “criminal,” or otherwise socially unfit require the speaker to ignore all but that data which substantiates his position.  Yes, the unemployment rate for African Americans in this country is 9.5% [BLS]  However, that obviously means that 90.5% of working age African Americans are, in fact, working – hardly proving that they are “lazy” or disinclined to accept employment.

A variation on the “reverse racism” contention is the “they are taking our jobs” assertion.  This can be quickly, and relatively easily debunked:

“Although many are concerned that immigrants compete against Americans for jobs, the most recent economic evidence suggests that, on average, immigrant workers increase the opportunities and incomes of Americans.  Based on a survey of the academic literature, economists do not tend to find that immigrants cause any sizeable decrease in wages and employment of U.S.-born citizens (Card 2005), and instead may raise wages and lower prices in the aggregate (Ottaviano and Peri 2008; Ottaviano and Peri 2010; Cortes 2008).”  [Brookings]

So, if we do have legitimate questions regarding the interactions between members of minority communities and law enforcement institutions, and at least two of the most common racially based complaints are illogical or downright false, why the current interest in “Our Heritage?”  There’s nothing all that new about this, as Salon explained back in 2013:

“The white Southern narrative — at least in the dominant Southern conservative version — is one of defeat after defeat. First the attempt of white Southerners to create a new nation in which they can be the majority was defeated by the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Doomed to be a perpetual minority in a continental American nation-state, white Southerners managed for a century to create their own state-within-a-state, in which they could collectively lord it over the other major group in the region, African-Americans. But Southern apartheid was shattered by the second defeat, the Civil Rights revolution, which like the Civil War and Reconstruction was symbolized by the dispatching of federal troops to the South. The American patriotism of the white Southerner is therefore deeply problematic. Some opt for jingoistic hyper-Americanism (the lady protesteth too much, methinks) while a shrinking but significant minority prefer the Stars and Bars to the Stars and Stripes.”

It’s that shrinking minority which greeted our first African American President in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

csa flags obama trips

Complete with those Stars and Bars.  And in this instance we may be seeing another element in play.  There are those who cannot efficiently handle the difference between criticism and an attack.  No one is actually attacking American culture.  What is happening is that it is no longer socially acceptable to use the N-word, at least in public. It is no longer socially acceptable to slap Mary Jane on the fanny down at the garage.  It is no longer socially acceptable to call the Gonzales family the W-B term.  It’s true, Native American women take offense at the S-word.  Nor, is it socially acceptable to use the F-word as shorthand for members of the LGBT communities.  In short, it is no longer socially acceptable to view members of ethnic and gender minorities from the Olympian heights of assumed white supremacy.

Those people who are uncomfortable with this state of affairs may be longing to “take our country back.”  But, what do they mean by that statement? 

At one end of the spectrum there are the white nationalists, the fringe groups of the malcontents and the downright disturbed who cheered the actions of the Charleston Church shooter. It is harder to categorize the other delineations on that spectrum of opinion.  There are, of course, those who would happily pepper their conversation with the racial epithets which are no longer useful or appropriate, and who would gladly practice discrimination if it’s in their power to do so.  There are those who would like to use their unacceptable vocabulary (and related ideas) but don’t do so in public, and bristle at the thought they would personally be capable of bias or prejudice.  And there are the insensitive or ignorant who simply don’t know that some words and items are offensive and slip up in situations they later regret. (Example: Tom Petty’s apology for using the CSA battle flag on a 1985 album)

A person may well be suffering from “white supremacy” syndrome if he or she is aware that the CSA (KKK) battle flag is offensive, but waves it anyway because it is emblematic of their discomfort and their longing to return to a time when they weren’t aware the LGBT community existed (outside closets), when African Americans “knew their place,” when everyone spoke English (never since the expansion of the US after the Louisiana Purchase, and questionable before then), and when they could talk about tolerance without actually having to practice it.

So, the contention that we’re “post racial” is as inaccurate as it is pompous. It is little more than a thin layer of Kawamata silk which fails to even barely disguise the efforts to cling to their sense of self-worth on the equally fragile social ladder constructed of outmoded ideas, and outdated vocabulary.

Meanwhile, let’s join the celebration of Ida Baker Wells-Barnett and her legacy of journalism and civic activism.  No flags are required.

Comments Off on The Wells’ legacy and Pompous Post Racialism

Filed under racism

Do We Have To Make Racists Comfortable?

No sooner did an African American take the oath of office as the President of the United States than racists (and those who tolerate them) began slathering on the euphemisms and buzz words for making opposition to him credible.  Remember the e-mails that made the rounds? The ones with “bones in noses” and “watermelons on the White House lawn?” And the response, “We were only joking.”

Obama racist cartoon

Those who found this cartoon amusing are racists. Purely and simply racist. Those who took these people seriously are enablers .. consider CNN’s “debate” about whether this obnoxious drivel was “Racist or Satirical.”  There’s no debate here. The cartoon is clearly, obviously, evidently racism.  How do we know this? A black man as a “savage.” A black man as a “witch doctor.”   Enough people were indignant about this offensive cartoon that its advocates slunk off to find more fodder for their e-mail lists.

However, the obvious racists are relatively easy to deal with – and even easier to shun.  Those “dens of lone wolves,” the Internet’s dark corners of hate and intolerance can be monitored, the “patriots” can be watched, and the hate-mongers prosecuted.  It’s the enablers of institutionalized and personal racism who seem more problematic.  Perhaps we’ll be able to move forward if we shatter some persistent myths.

The Myth of Two Sides

In the current cable news template, there must be “two sides” to an issue.  Let’s revert to the day someone at CNN decided to produce a segment on that 2009 cartoon.  Yes, they decided, the cartoon was, indeed, racist, but why was the question posed at all?  Well, gee, it could, it might, it may look in some circles, … like racism, but it could also be political criticism… Really?  No, to anyone with any sensitivity, or an IQ above cauliflower, it was racism.   Moving along the continuum from “we’re just joking” we get to “can’t you take a joke?”  Other presidents have had horrible cartoons drawn and published about them, why are we so sensitive about a black president?   For the near-veggies who might read this: It’s because he is a black man, and black men have been vilified for centuries in this part of the world for being “savage,” and “wild,” and “emotional,” and “lustful,” and … we could keep going here, but that would only serve to raise blood pressure.  So, let’s get to the point: Racist and ethnic jokes aren’t funny. Except to racists.  But, but, but… African Americans (and blondes and Poles) do it? That still doesn’t make it right.  The ‘everybody does it’ response is usually the province of immature adolescents trying to explain their misbehavior to the parents.  We should be a bit more mature.

The Myth of the Mirrors

Another myth which should hit the skids is the banal “speaking out about racism is divisive.”   Well, obviously, yes.  As well it should be. Who wants to be lumped into the same category with racists?

Remember the Twitter Fit from the Right when the President commented on the murder of Trayvon Martin?   The  Right echoed George Zimmerman’s whining about the President “rushing to judgment,” and said the President’s comment “pitted American against American.” [Hill]  It’s “race-baiting” to talk about race?

“…the allegation is that simply talking about race in America makes you a racist. It is, as Boehlert called it, “a very odd brand of projection” that’s “very weird and complicated,” but that’s where the roles of endless repetition and cognitive closure come in. They naturalize and normalize what would otherwise clearly be both arbitrary and bizarre.” [Salon]

If we boiled the “endless repetition and cognitive closure” down to its essentials what comes out is – If you talk about racial issues in ways that make racists uncomfortable, i.e. it makes people confront their own racism, it must be ‘race-baiting.’   When this message moves inextricably closer to its inevitable extension we can no longer speak of a whole host of topics which cause conservatives to squirm.

We can’t have a national discussion about institutional racism in employment, housing, or health care outcomes because … we’d be “divisive.”

We can’t have a national discussion about voting rights and the African American community, and other communities of color, because … we’d be ‘divisive.’

We can’t have a national civil debate about the social costs of mass incarceration of African Americans and other people of color, because … we’d be ‘divisive.’

And, Heaven Help Us, we can’t have a discussion about policing in America because … we’d be ‘divisive.” Worse still, we’d be “race-baiting,” as asserted by the Louisville, Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police.  [Full letter here]

The Myth of A Non-Partisan World

I think I’m going to gag at the very next assertion that what we need in this country is “healing,” and “bipartisanship.”  There never was, and never will be, a harmonic idyllic session of any democratically elected ruling body gracefully gliding over issues and points of disagreement with elegance and aplomb.  And yet, this is the standard by which some of the Chattering Classes measure the effectiveness of legislators and legislation. “The bill had bi-partisan support,” as if that automatically made the bill any better law.  Yes, politics is the art of the possible. And, yes, pragmatism usually makes more progress than strident partisanship.  However, there are some points at which we should agree, and one of the prime ones in American life is that racism is wrong.

The racists are aware of this. Why else would they be quick to tell us that they were only joking, or that they are merely being satirical? Why else would they begin obnoxious expressions with “I’m not racist, but…?” Why else would they whine so loudly if it’s suggested their own brand of projection is nothing more than an attempt to ‘normalize’ what is patently arbitrary and downright bizarre?

Sometimes wrong is just wrong.   We can debate the finer points of trade agreements, international arms agreements, educational policy, health care insurance needs, and so many other topics, but this is 2015 and we should no longer have to make racists comfortable and racism tolerable. Nor do we need to tolerate its symbols.

CSA battle flag

The Stars and Bars, isn’t a Redneck Flag —  unless the aforementioned Redneck is a racist. It isn’t a symbol of southern heritage – unless that heritage is hate.

NASCAR, yes NASCAR, got the message back in 2005:

“NASCAR has a policy that prevents use of the Stars and Bars or other controversial subjects on any car, uniform, licensed product or track facility under its control, but that doesn’t stop hard-line rebel fans from displaying it.

“We recognize that the Confederate flag is an important issue for a lot of people and as our fan base grows, we are doing what we can to break down its use and be more in the mainstream,” said Ramsey Poston, NASCAR director of corporate communications.” [LA Times]

Mainstream America doesn’t sport the traitorous Stars and Bars, the battle flag of a revolt, the cornerstone of which was the preservation of the Peculiar Institution, as expressed by the CSA vice-president when speaking about their new CSA constitution:

“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. [Applause.] This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” [Alexander Stephens,  March 21, 1861]

Lee surrenders Is there any good reason why we have to tolerate the display of a flag which was truly and historically divisive – physically, philosophically, and morally divisive?  It did divide us – dividing us between those who thought chattel slavery and all its horrible implications was a physical, philosophical, and moral good, from those who believed chattel slavery was a cancer in the body politic and a moral catastrophe.  It took four bloody years, but the Good Guys won.  Someone made a picture of it.

So, if reading this post made you “uncomfortable” I’m not the least bit sorry.  I think there’s a better use for my capacity for sympathy and sorrow – for the victims of that heinous act of domestic terrorism by a horrid racist in South Carolina.

Comments Off on Do We Have To Make Racists Comfortable?

Filed under conservatism, Hate Crimes, Human Rights, media, Obama, Politics, racism