Thursday, April 20, 2017

Racism Is Racism Is Alive

[Note:  This is an unpleasant topic, but please indulge me.  The history here helps put today's narratives and actions into sharp focus.]

I've done more reading and listening about racism than the average American.  (No, that's not like Trump saying "I'm the least racist person ever." First, having read more about racism than the average American doesn't take much reading.  But I've been involved with Healing Racism in Anchorage for many years and I've attended many workshops on racism as well.  So my claim is no boast, nor an exaggeration.)

Yet reading White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide makes me feel like I was totally not getting it before.  Even though I know a lot of what Dr. Carol Anderson writes about.  But she puts together the pieces like I've never seen before.  I've already posted about the first chapter which traces how the South basically reestablished slavery after the civil war, but a nastier, meaner form.

  They did this with laws that denied the rights of blacks guaranteed in the then new fourteenth and fifteenth amendments, with the help of US Supreme Court decisions that said the federal government couldn't interfere with states, even if the states were denying those newly won rights such as citizenship and voting.  They also did it with laws that required blacks to have work contracts with white farmers or mine owners.  If they didn't, they could be convicted for vagrancy and then as convicts, leased out to those same employers with no pay and no rights.  Those are just a few of the structural means of denying Southern blacks their rights.

As a friend warned, the next chapters get worse.  This is material most of us want to avoid confronting and our schools, media, and general disposition have made that easy.  I'm asking you to just take another five minutes to do what all American really need to do.  It's the first step of overcoming denial.  And if you're not in denial, the first steps to understanding the enormity of the mistreatment of blacks, not by individuals, but by a corrupt and evil system that established elaborate legal structures to keep blacks in shackles.

Chapter 2 is called Derailing The Great Migration - how blacks fled the South during WWI, enticed by promises of better jobs in the North and how the Southern states did all they could to prevent that exodus. Laws banning newspapers that recruited blacks to the north.  Stopping trains. And how housing discrimination in the North condemned blacks to live in overcrowded poor ghettos.  Part of the problem with our education on these topics is that we've only gotten the most generalized descriptions, like the beginning of this paragraph.  We haven't seen all the mutilated bodies hanging from trees or burnt alive.  If you see this book in a book store, read the end of chapter 2.  In my hard cover edition it starts at the bottom page 56,
"Tired of the cramped living conditions and exasperated with paying exorbitant rents for ramshackle housing that landlords refused to repair, black professionals sought to move away from Black Bottom."
It goes on to relate the stories of two black doctors in Detroit who moved into white neighborhoods.  The first moved out the first day when neighbors mobbed his house.  The second brought friends and guns to protect his property.  The black doctor and his family were jailed for inciting a riot and murdering a white neighbor.  Everyone lied about what happened - the police, the neighbors, etc.  Only because they had Clarence Darrow as their attorney did they win the case, after the first trial ended in a hung jury, but meanwhile his wife and daughter and friend all contracted tuberculosis in prison and died after their release.  And this was in the North.

Chapter 3 is about how, following Brown v Board of Education, Southern (and to an extent Northern) states essentially nullified that decision to integrate the schools by a variety of tactics from using public money to fund private white academies, to simply not funding education for blacks, to enacting a variety of laws that they knew were unconstitutional, but that they also knew would take years to grind through the courts, giving them time to figure out more strategies.  Meanwhile black students were deprived of a their rightful education.

I've rushed through chapters 2 and 3 because chapter 4 offers some insights that cut to the chase about why Americans are ignorant about the magnitude of the Southern mistreatment of blacks and horrific impacts it's had on African Americans.  And why African American mistreatment and abuse continues to this day.

Chapter 4 is called Rolling Back Civil Rights.  It's about 1965 now.
"The impact of this civil rights struggle had been slow but significant.  Inequality had begun to lessen.  Incomes had started to rise.  Job and educational opportunities had expanded.  And just as with Reconstruction, the Great Migration, and the Brown decision, this latest round of African American advances set the gears of white opposition in motion."(p, 99)
How?  First,  those who thought blacks were trying to get their rights too fast,  including Nixon, Reagan, and the Supreme Court, redefined what the civil rights movement was about.  
". . . centuries of oppression and brutality suddenly reduced to a harmless symbolism of a bus seat and a water fountain.  Thus when the COLORED ONLY signs went down, inequality had supposedly disappeared.  By 1965 Richard Nixon asserted, 'almost every legislative roadblock to equality of opportunity for education, jobs, and voting had been removed.'  Also magically removed, by this interpretation, were up to twenty-four trillion dollars in multigenerational devastation that African Americans had suffered in lost wages, stolen land, educational impoverishment, and housing inequalities.  All of that vanished as if it never happened."(p. 99)
To emphasize this point she quotes Patrick Buchanan.
"America has been the best country on earth for black folks.  It was here that 600,000 black people brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known." (p. 100)

So by taking down the "COLORED ONLY" signs, race was no longer an issue.  Sort of like, by electing a black president, race was no longer an issue.  But rather these events merely triggered more backlash against blacks.
"President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and affirmative action, which were developed to ameliorate hundreds of years of violent and corrosive repression, were easily characterized as reverse discrimination against hardworking whites and a 'government handout that lazy black people 'choose' to take rather than work.'" (p. 100)
 Second, was to redefine racism itself.
"Confronted with civil rights headlines depicting unflattering portrayals of KKK rallies and jackbooted sheriffs, white authority transformed those damning images of white supremacy into the sole definition of racism.  This simple but wickedly brilliant conceptual and linguistic shift served multiple purposes.  First and foremost, it was conscience soothing. . ." (p. 100)
Just as after World War II, there were no Germans who knew what had happened to the Jews, or who even were Nazis themselves [this is my insertion into Anderson's discussion],
"The whittling down of racism to sheet-wearing goons allowed a cloud of racial innocence to cover many whites who, although 'resentful of black progress' and determined to ensure that racial inequality remained untouched, could see and project themselves as the 'kind of upstanding white citizen[s]' who were 'positively outraged at the tactics of the Ku Klux Klan.'  The focus on the Klan also helped to designate racism as an individual aberration rather than something systemic, institutional, and pervasive.  Moreover, isolating racism to only its most virulent and visible form allowed respectable politicians and judges to push for policies that ostensibly met the standard of America's new civil rights norms while at the same time crafting the implantation of policies to undermine and destabilize the norms, all too often leaving the black community ravaged."(pp. 100-101)
Between the time I read this today and I started this post I read a couple of Tweets that remind me that this legacy is alive and well and still doing its evil in the United States today. From the Dallas News:
"In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel in San Antonio found that the maps gave Republicans an advantage in elections and weakened the voting strength of minority voters. House Districts in Dallas and Tarrant counties were among those in which the judges ruled minority voters had seen their clout weakened.
The ruling is yet another blow to the state in its six-year legal battle over the redrawing of the maps. Last month, the same court found that the state's congressional maps were drawn with intent to discriminate against minority voters and invalidated three congressional districts. And last week, a federal judge ruled that the state's voter ID law was written with intent to discriminate."
But like the delaying tactics to fight Brown v Board of Education, the redistricting was used for all the elections since 2011 and those candidates won't be unelected and their laws won't be invalidated.  So while this is a setback, there's new redistricting when the 2020 census comes out and so this will only, possibly affect, the 2018 and 2020 elections.  Cheating works.

This disenfranchisement of blacks continues.  And in 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled to end a key part of the Voting Rights Act that required pre clearance from the Justice Department before their redistricting plan could go into effect for a number of states including Texas and Alaska.  The court said the criteria set 40 years ago were out of date.  Just as Anderson tells us, they were arguing that the civil rights abuses had long ago ended.  But this decision - as well as the one for North Carolina  - show they haven't.  Had the Supreme Court NOT invalidating that section of the Voting Rights Act, Texas would have had to get the approval of the Justice Department before implementing their plan.  And that would not have happened under Obama's Justice Department.

But with Trump's Justice Department, would it matter?

The other Tweet was about Attorney General Jeff Sessions who said today,
"I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power."
This language about amazement and 'an island in the Pacific' (the State of Hawaii) is just about right from a man born in 1946 in Selma, Alabama, who was in elementary school when Brown v Board of Education was decided and he grew up in as racist a state as there was.  Where his family was surely part of the outraged Southerners who did all they could to block school integration.  So, the legacy that Anderson writes about is now reincarnated as the highest law enforcer of our nation.  This isn't even about a legacy, Sessions was right in the middle of the most virulent racist state in his formative years.  And he's now our Attorney General in charge of enforcing laws to protect our rights.  Disgraceful!

There's also this story in today's LA Times on neo-Nazi attack on Jewish woman in Montana.  The same kind of harassment, though mostly today digital that Southern blacks and their allies were subject too, though it hadn't gotten to the point of physical violence.  Nevertheless, the result was what all terrorist action wants - to put fear into the hearts of its victims.

A few choice quotes from the book about some of our past presidents (and one of Sessions' teen heroes I'm sure) from these three chapters.
"At the behest of his 'great friend' South Carolina governor James Byrnes, Eisenhower hosted a small dinner party at the White House to explain to Chief Justice Earl Warren that Southerners 'are not bad people.  Al they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside big overgrown Negroes.'"
"During his 1968 presidential bid, Alabama governor George Wallace understood this resentment.[white resentment of black gains]  He had experience a startling epiphany just a few years earlier after trying to blok the enrollment of an African American student in the state's flagship university at Tuscaloosa.  For that act of defiance, the governor received more than one hundred thousand congratulatory telegrams, half of which came from north of the Mason Dixon Line.  Right then he had a revelation:  'They all hate black people, all of them.  They're all afraid, all of them.  Great God! That's it!  They're  all Southern!  The whole United States is Southern!"
"Using strategic dog-whistle appeals - crime, welfare, neighborhood schools - to trigger Pavlovian anti-black responses, Nixon succeeded in defining  and maligning the Democrats as the party of African Americans, without once having to actually say the words.  That would be the 'elephant in the room.'  In fact, as H. R. Haldeman, one of the Republican candidate's most trusted aides, later recalled, "He [Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks.  The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.'"
"The objective [of redefining racism] was to contain and neutralize the victories of the Civil Rights Movement by painting a picture of a 'colorblind,' equal opportunity society whose doors were now wide open, if only African Americans would take initiative and walk on through.  Ronald Reagan breezily shared anecdotes about how Lyndon Johnson's great Society handed over hard-earned taxpayer dollars to a 'slum sweller' to live in posh government-sbsidied housing and provided food stamps for one 'strapping young buck' to buy steak, while another used the change he received from purchasing an orange to pay for a bottle of vodka.  He ridiculed Medicaid recipients as 'a faceless mass, waiting for handouts.'  The imagery was, by design, galling, and although the stories were far from the truth, they succeeded in tapping into a river of widespread resentment." 

Not much different from what we see today, not only about black, but even more so about Muslims.

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