Archive for Race

Nov
09

Underground railroading

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On Friday, we were in Greensboro, NC when the International Civil Rights Center & Museum was open. We’d been meaning to stop in for years. We even managed to get through the tour of the old F. W. Woolworth lunch counter without crying. (OK, barely.) The word unequal kept coming up in the tour. That and the funeral earlier of a black friend had me mulling over how many white people still resent sharing the country with Others they consider unequal. Demographic shifts are bringing them kicking and screaming to the realization that they must.

Losing power is very personal for people on the right. Both left and right talk about taking “their country” back, but it seems much more personal for conservatives. In their America, it seems, there is no we, just i and me.

One place you hear it is in their rhetoric about voter fraud. It is a very personal affront to them that the power of their votes might be diminished by the Other. Every time someone ineligible casts a fraudulent ballot, they insist, it “steals your vote.” Your vote. They have convinced themselves that there are thousands and thousands of invisible felons stealing their votes every election. Passing more restrictive voting laws is a matter of justice and voting integrity, of course. What other motivation could there be for railroading eligible poor, minority, and college-age voters?

The Others they suspect of this heinous activity are people who do not believe as they do nor vote as they do. Voter fraud itself is a code word, the way Lee Atwater used “forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.” It’s “much more abstract,” as Atwater said. The issue is not really whether the invisible “those people” are voting illegally or not. It is that they are voting at all. Sharing in governance, sharing power, is a privilege for deserving, Real Americans, not for the unwashed Irresponsibles. That Others do so legally is just as much an affront. Right now they’re targeting the invisible Others. Restricting voting to Real Americans comes later, I guess.

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Oct
15

For thee, but not for she

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How are those Stand Your Ground laws working for ya? Well, if you’re a man like George Zimmerman and not a black man, just fine. And if you’re a woman?

“(The Legislature’s) intent … was to provide law-abiding citizens greater protections from external threats in the form of intruders and attackers,” prosecutor Culver Kidd told the [Charleston, SC] Post and Courier. “We believe that applying the statute so that its reach into our homes and personal relationships is inconsistent with (its) wording and intent.”

In South Carolina, prosecutors are appealing a circuit judge’s ruling that under the state’s Protection of Persons and Property Act Whitlee Jones should not face trial in the stabbing death of her boyfriend two years ago. During a fight in which he dragged a screaming Jones down the street by her hair, reports Think Progress, neighbors called police.

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Sep
30

First they came for the air traffic controllers …

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“Nothing makes people more stupid and foolish than money and fear,” the creator of The Wire told the Guardian. David Simon spoke about what drives him, and about his new mini-series, Show Me a Hero.

Set in the 1980s, the show examines a community split over a plan to build public housing in the upscale — predominantly white — east side of Yonkers, NY. It was a breakdown driven not only by race, but by fear and money.

Simon sees the dispute as allegorical of the political dysfunction in an America that no longer knows how to solve its problems. The period coincides, he believes, with the breakdown of the social contract in America, the triumph of capital over labor and the unpairing of tides and boats that had risen together in a postwar America we had come to believe was normal.

This is a point forcefully made by ex-Clinton labour secretary Robert Reich in his recent film, Inequality for All. He dates the busting of the labour unions and the rupture of the social compact to Ronald Reagan’s firing of 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981. From then on, the idea that a market-driven society would mutually benefit those who held the capital and those who provided the labour was no longer in place, he says. For Simon, this is the point at which the shared community of interests that walked side by side as the American economy surged after the second world war came apart. The collective will that bound together communities, cities and, ultimately, America started to erode.

“What was required in Yonkers was to ask: ‘Are we all in this together or are we not all in this together?’ Is there a society or is there no society, because if there is no society, well, that’s the approach that says ‘Fuck ’em, I got mine’. And Yonkers coincides with the rise of ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ in America.

“That’s the notion that the markets will solve everything. Leave me alone. I want maximum liberty, I want maximum freedom. Those words have such power in America. On the other hand ‘responsibility’ or ‘society’ or ‘community’ are words that are increasingly held in disfavour in the United States. And that’s a recipe for cooking up a second-rate society, one that does not engage with the notion of collective responsibility. We’re only as good a society as how we treat those who are most vulnerable and nobody’s more vulnerable than our poor. To be poor is not a crime, except in America.”

A guy I knew in the T-party once insisted that there is no society, just as Simon describes. And if there is none, by that logic how could he bear any responsibility for it? T-party members may clasp copies of the U.S. Constitution to their breasts, but they’ve lost its spirit after rejecting the document’s first three words. There is no we in their America, just I and me. And community? Sounds too much like communism. And an excuse for low-caste Irresponsibles to collect a government check for not working.

The view portends a grim, decidedly unexceptional American future in which doomsday preppers barricade and arm themselves against their neighbors while the rich retreat to lush, gated sanctuaries protected from both by armed security.

The thing is, as more Americans slip out of the middle class and find themselves struggling to get by, they are catching on to the barrenness of that future. The Moral Monday movement caught on by bringing together a diverse community to call out the depravity of the ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ culture of Wall Street’s Jordan Belforts, and among ALEC corporations out to strip America for parts.

But David Simon doesn’t believe We the People are quite there yet.

“I think in some ways the cancer is going to have to go a little higher. It’s going to start crawling up above the knee and people are going to have to start looking around and thinking ‘I thought I was exempt. I didn’t know they were coming for me’.

“It’s happened to the manufacturing class, it’s happened to the poor. Now it’s happening to reporters and schoolteachers and firefighters and cops and social workers and state employees and even certain levels of academics. And that’s new. That’s not the American dream.”

First they came for the air traffic controllers, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an air traffic controller.

Then they came for the factory workers, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a factory worker.

Then they came for the schoolteachers, the firefighters, the cops, the academics … .

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Sep
08

Privileged lanes

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London bicycle courier, Oxford Street
Photo: ProfDEH, Wikimedia Commons

Can’t stop thinking about Ferguson, MO.

Over at A Little More Sauce, jdowsett draws an analogy between bicycle riding and white privilege that doesn’t rely on impugning anyone’s character. He very cleverly uses the highway infrastructure’s bias towards cars over bicycles to illuminate how the social infrastructure is skewed in ways many rarely notice.

I can imagine that for people of color life in a white-majority context feels a bit like being on a bicycle in midst of traffic. They have the right to be on the road, and laws on the books to make it equitable, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are on a bike in a world made for cars. Experiencing this when I’m on my bike in traffic has helped me to understand what privilege talk is really about.

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Your dystopian future has arrived. NPR’s May series, Guilty and Charged, explored the spreading judicial practice of judging people guilty of misdemeanor offenses then imprisoning those unable to pay fines and an expanding menu of fees. (The poor.) But while practice of billing defendants for their punishment may be relatively new, the municipal courts in St. Louis County, MO, where the unarmed Michael Brown was shot by police last month, resemble something out of Dickens. Or else Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Radley Balko (Rise of the Warrior Cop) painted a detailed portrait of the county’s legal culture — if you can call it that — in the Washington Post last week.

It’s a world in which white flight created a string of subdivisions-turned-towns stretching north and west from St. Louis. As black families followed, whites retreated or quickly established dozens of zoned, postage-stamp-sized municipalities.

“The state’s one requirement before giving you the power to zone was that you had to incorporate and draw up a city plan,” [University of Iowa historian Colin] Gordon says. “That plan could be as simple as getting an engineer to slap a ‘single family’ zone over the entire development. Your subdivision is now a town.”

Gordon says this is why the towns in St. Louis can have such unusual names, such as Town & Country or Bellefontaine Neighbors. “Look at a place like Black Jack in North County. It began as a private subdivision in the 1970s. When they saw the looming threat of housing projects, they quickly zoned the neighborhood as single-family and incorporated as a municipality.” Today Black Jack is more than 80 percent black. There’s a similar town of about 1,200 people near Ferguson, just across the street from the Normandy Country Club. It’s 91 percent black, has a 35 percent poverty rate, and has a median household income 40 percent below the state median. Its name? Country Club Hills.

As black families filtered in, the towns too small to sustain local government with property and sales taxes made police departments into profit centers that generate revenues by shaking down residents, most of them poor.

“You see that sort of thing a lot,” [legal aid attorney Michael-John] Voss says. “We’ll get a client who was pulled over and cited for failure to provide proof of insurance, or driving with a suspended license. But there’s no additional citation for a moving violation. So why was she pulled over in the first place?”

But the stop might generate a string of violations, fines and fees that, if not addressed, result in arrest warrants and court costs.

There are many towns in St. Louis County where the number of outstanding arrest warrants can exceed the number of residents, sometimes several times over. No town in Jackson County comes close to that: The highest ratios are in the towns of Grandview (about one warrant for every 3.7 residents), Independence (one warrant for every 3.5 residents), and Kansas City itself (one warrant for every 1.8 residents).

St. Louis County is a dispiriting labyrinth of speed traps and police demands to see permits and papers. Those so targeted are unlikely to afford the fees, much less an attorney to help get them discharged or reduced. Balko explains that with 23,457 pending arrest warrants in 2013 in Pine Lawn (roughly 7.3 per resident), the town brought in about $576 per resident. Antonio Morgan’s story is especially instructive and infuriating. Just trying to support his family by repairing cars makes Morgan a police target, like Brazil‘s “terrorist” heating and air conditioning engineer Archibald “Harry” Tuttle.

It’s a place where the poor are prey, and the prey are black. With “the every day harassment and degradation” of such a system, it’s a wonder Ferguson, MO didn’t explode sooner.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Corruption, National, Race
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Aug
29

No Clue

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Because it’s Labor Day Weekend. It’s after 5 p.m. And because they don’t have a clue about labor either.

The Daily Show
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Aug
21

The Race You Can’t See

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“The race we don’t see is our own,” writes Anat Shenker-Osorio as she reflects on the situation in Ferguson, MO and the reflexive trope, “I don’t see race.”

In a recent series of focus groups on perceptions of race and gender, we showed different groups an all white image and asked them to discuss it. None of the white folks remarked upon the lack of people of color but for the African American, Latino and API groups it was the first thing they said.

Consider, as another example, how we label people of color “minorities” regardless of the proportion they make up in a group. “Majority-minority country”, far from being oxymoronic, is a very clear indicator of just how whites think of ourselves when we’re alone. No matter how many of us there are, we’re the majority.

As the demographics of this country shift away from a white, European default, some unsettling of contents will occur among those who have always assumed the United States is by heritage and by rights a white-run country — the way they insist this is a Christian one.

Hang on tight. This could be a rough ride.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
— Frederick Douglass

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Aug
19

There’s something happening here

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on what Ferguson, MO is really about. Not race, but class.

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it’s crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long.

Still. I’ve written about this in various ways lately. Everybody’s got their own agenda, their own political itch to scratch: race, sex, religion, money, freedom, country, class. But in the end, they’re all surrogates for one thing: Power. Who has it. Who doesn’t. The Haves. The Have Nots.

Despite all the camouflaging patriotic rhetoric about freedom and opportunity, for many power is a zero-sum game. More for you means less for them. And those in control won’t stand for that. Deep Throat said follow the money. But if you want to keep from getting screwed, don’t be distracted by the chaff thrown into the air to keep neighbors the elite consider lessers from becoming their equals. Follow the power.

Categories : Action, National, News, Poverty, Race
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Aug
18

Capt. Ron Johnson’s Apology to Ferguson, MO

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Meanwhile, in Chicago:

32 Shot in Spate of Weekend Chicago Violence

This is nuts:

At least 19 people were wounded in shootings Saturday and Sunday.

  • Authorities said a juvenile boy was shot in the chest just before 5 p.m. Sunday in the 700 block of East 50th Place. The boy was taken in serious condition to Stroger Hospital. Details surrounding the shooting were not immediately available.
  • Just before 4:30 p.m., a 21-year-old man was shot in a park in the 10400 block of South Union, police said. The man was in a park when someone walked up and fired at him, shooting him in the abdomen, according to authorities. The man was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in critical condition.
  • Around 10:40 a.m., a 24-year-old man walked into Metro South Hospital with a gunshot wound to the foot. The man was listed in good condition. Police said the man was shot in the 12200 block of South Emerald Avenue but did not have any details on how he was shot.
  • Around 4:35 a.m., police said a 23-year-old man was shot in the foot during a possible drive-by in the 2900 block of North Kimball Avenue. The man was taken to Illinois Masonic Medical Center in good condition but was not cooperating with police.
  • Four people were shot around 2 a.m. in the South Chicago neighborhood. Police said the group was standing on the sidewalk in the 7900 block of South Merrill Avenue when three men approached on foot and fired shots at them. A 15-year-old boy with a graze wound to the leg, a 20-year-old man who was shot in the side and a 27-year-old man who was shot in the hand took themselves to South Shore Hospital for treatment. Both the teen and the 20-year-old man were listed in stable condition and the 27-year-old man refused treatment after arriving at the hospital. A 30-year-old man was also shot in the arm and toe and was transported by ambulance to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in stable condition.
  • A 24-year-old man was shot multiple times just before 2 a.m. in the 8700 block of South Union Avenue. The man suffered multiple wounds to both legs and his buttocks and was transported to Advocate Christ Medical Center in stable condition.
  • Just before 1 a.m., police said a 20-year-old man was shot in the leg in the 6300 block of South Albany Avenue. The man told police he was walking when he “heard shots and felt pain.” He was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in stable condition.
  • Around 11:10 p.m. Saturday, a 16-year-old boy was shot in the leg in a possible drive-by shooting in the Washington Park neighborhood. The teen was walking near 51st Street and Wabash Avenue when shots were fired from an occupant in a passing light-colored vehicle, police said. The vehicle fled southbound and the teen was taken to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County in stable condition.
  • A few minutes after 11 p.m. two women were shot in the 2400 block of West Adams Street. The women were at an outdoor party when they “heard shots and felt pain.” A 41-year-old woman was shot in the lower back and a 45-year-old woman was shot in the leg. Both women took themselves to Stroger Hospital in stable condition.
  • About 15 minutes earlier, a 13-year-old boy was shot in the 1300 block of South Avers Avenue in the Lawndale neighborhood. The teen boy and his brother were involved in an argument with three other people when one of them pulled out a gun and opened fire. The boy was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital with a wound to the arm. He was listed in stable condition.
  • Around 9 p.m. Saturday an 18-year-old man was shot in the 0-100 block of East 37th street. The teen was shot in the buttocks during a possible drive-by and was transported in stable condition to Stroger Hospital.
  • Just after 5 p.m. Saturday, a 17-year-old boy was shot in the side while standing outside in the 500 block of North Hamlin Avenue in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. He was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital for treatment.
  • Just before 11:30 a.m. Saturday, a 33-year-old man was shot in the 9800 block of Avenue L. The man was outside when a dark-colored vehicle drove past and someone inside the vehicle fired shots. The man was shot in the chest and taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in stable condition.
  • About 15 minutes earlier, a 15-year-old boy was shot in a possible drive-by shooting the 8500 block of South Exchange Avenue. The teen was taken to Trinity Hospital in good condition with gunshot wounds to the arm and back.

At least eight others were shot overnight Friday into Saturday.

 

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Aug
16

Confederate States of mind

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(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Dave Neiwert linked the other day to this Doug Muder piece that traces the origins of some of our current rhetoric. He begins, “Tea Partiers say you don’t understand them because you don’t understand American history. That’s probably true, but not in the way they want you to think.” Muder contends that while the North won the Civil War, the planter aristocrats won Reconstruction, effectively nullifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, thereby preserving the social order and power structures God himself intended — to make and keep the planter aristocrats wealthy.

“[I]n the Confederate mind, no democratic process could legitimate such a change in the social order. It simply could not be allowed to stand, and it did not stand,” writes Muder. So, perhaps, it is with obstructionism in Congress today.

When in the majority, Confederates protect the established order through democracy. If they are not in the majority, but have power, they protect it through the authority of law. If the law is against them, but they have social standing, they create shams of law, which are kept in place through the power of social disapproval. If disapproval is not enough, they keep the wrong people from claiming their legal rights by the threat of ostracism and economic retribution. If that is not intimidating enough, there are physical threats, then beatings and fires, and, if that fails, murder.

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Categories : History, National, Race
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