“Racism still alive/They just be concealin’ it” -Kanye West, Never Let Me Down
Ten years into to the 21st century, the United States is still arguing over the same central problem it faced 10 years into the 20th, 19th and 18th centuries: racism. From the “peculiar institution” to Jim Crow to redlining to anti-immigrant profiling, overt and covert racism has been a consistent foundation for discrimination, displacement and disenfranchisement.
Racism’s tragic legacy is tearing apart families and communities everywhere across the country. Hate crimes are up in Baltimore. Why? Because anti-immigrant vitriol is being dispersed by politicians and media personalities. Because people are translating their economic insecurity into fear of people who don’t look or speak like them. This thinking turns neighbors against neighbors and needlessly forces communities into hiding because they fear for their safety. Worse still, according to the article, people are afraid to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement because of the hate-filled environment. Simply put: they don’t trust the people who are paid to protect them, which makes these already-vulnerable communities even more susceptible to criminals who know their victims are less likely to contact the authorities because they’re afraid of being profiled.
Many Black communities have a long history of being weary of police forces that disproportinately use excessive force and harass them, so they too are often unwilling to cooperate, leery of not being taken seriously or being victimized again. It’s the vile cycle of victimization.
Out of the many implications of the far-reaching impacts of racism, three stand out for me in this current socio-political moment.
1. Demonization of difference
Though this country’s founding was fueled by an imperialist premise, it was based on certain principles that protected the freedom to be different. Diverse religions, diverse sources of wealth, diverse methods of communication, etc. The freedom to be different, however, has been systemically walked back in several respects, as protectors of tradition have cloaked their radical views with nice-sounding thoughts like returning to the “good old days.” What they really mean is the “good old days when non-white people and women were largely subservient and the transfer of wealth and power existed within a homogeneous, incestuous, repetitious vortex.” What they want is a return to the days when it was cool to say “freedom of religion,” but people only used that freedom to choose what flavor of Christian they wanted to be. Kind of like Henry Ford saying that people could have any color Model T they wanted, so long as it was black.
This is the clear rationale behind the clamoring from conservative radicals to repeal the 14th amendment’s clause that grants citizenship to all children born in the United States. That clause was included because, previously, the children of slaves (read: Black people) were not citizens of the United States and could not enjoy the privileges and immunities of citizenship, thanks to the Dred Scott decision. The precedent that the 14th amendment rejected and dismantled was abhorrently racist, and it’s sad that today’s racists want to set us back 150+ years because they are scared of non-white babies.
2. Anti-government sentiment
There is tremendous overlap between the people who are clamoring about how they want to altogether eliminate government and people who are publicly racist. The most dishonest members of this cabal advance the level of government influence on private life in order to achieve this objective. They push for policies that make people more prone to question the motives of their government, such as racial profiling laws, laws that diminish women’s autonomy over their own bodies, cuts to programs that benefit the working class (e.g. unemployment benefits, food stamps), etc. This increases the pool of people potentially open to an anti-government message, which is the point of the strategy: the more people mad at the government, the better.
One of the primary functions of our government is to be the referee that protects factions of the population from injuring each other (see Federalist Paper No. 10 by James Madison). Just because a majority or plurality of individuals want something doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do. A prime example is the Department of Justice suing and winning a preliminary injunction against Arizona’s SB1070 immigration law. Though many polls find most Americans support the Arizona law, it is the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that the community impacted by that law (in this case, immigrants in Arizona) is treated fairly. Racial profiling, which was what the law sought to institutionalize, clearly is unfair, illegal and morally wrong. It had to be stopped. It’s the same reason that Jim Crow laws were eradicated in the 20th century.
3. Powerful Victim Paradox
An interesting paradox present in racism’s long shadow is that the fear inherent in racist thinking leads those with those views to see themselves as helpless victims, which then motivates them to grind their heels further into the necks of those they seek to oppress. Let’s call this the Powerful Victim Paradox. This is what motivates people afraid of people of color moving into their previously-homogeneous neighborhoods to protect their ‘hood by making sure that the people they are afraid of, even if they move in, are jeered and treated disrespectfully to the point where they’re intimidated into relocating. (Think this doesn’t still happen today? Ask this woman & son in Clearfield, PA who were greeted at home last Saturday by two burning crosses on their lawn.) They think that if new people move in, they’ll steal the power and influence, so they must press their levers of influence even harder. Same is true for the argument that we should continue to destroy the lives of immigrants because they’ll take jobs (for an alternative vision, try this). It’s a great American tragicomedy.
Race has divided people nationally and locally. Nationally, one needs to look no further than the Park51 Community Center flap to see hatred and prejudice, in this case racial, ethnic and religious, on full display. The idea that a community center, run by Muslims can’t be constructed in any NYC neighborhood, near Ground Zero or anyplace else, is preposterous. It’s the equivalent to saying that you can’t build YMCAs in neighborhoods where Jewish people live. The status quo is unsustainable.
How to move forward
We can put an end to racism’s reign of terror, entrenched though it may be. We can and we must because our communities depend on it. Here’s how we can begin:
- Call racism what it is when you see it
Racism persists in part because of silent acceptance. It is amazing, however, how things can be changed when proper attention is paid to them. It is not politically incorrect to call something or someone racists if it is clear that they are behaving in such a manner. Don’t be afraid to do so.
- Remember that community literally means “with unity”
Unity is not the destruction of difference. Instead, it is the embrace of diversity. It’s about alignment, not assimilation. As organizers, activists, policy makers, etc., we may have different paths. That is fine so long as we are clear about our destination. Movements predicated upon assimilation are no match for movements that respect and encourage creative thinking toward a common purpose.
For us, that common purpose is an America and a world where we recognize the dignity and decency of every person. Where we see strength in people speaking for themselves and taking care of one another. Where communities create institutions and craft policy that treat everyone as equally important and powerful. There are no special interests, only human interests.
In order for this to be realized, the long shadow of racism must subside. Turn up the lights. Let’s recommit to this today.
One Love. One II.
Originally posted on the Center for Community Change blog.
If there was ever a clearer representation of the ills in the American justice system, here it is. Down in Mississippi, two Black women, Jaime and Gladys Scott are in prison for life for…wait for it…an $11 robbery. Seriously?!?!?!? Moreover, from what I have read from about this case, no one was hurt, the prosecutor has no direct evidence linking the sisters and three other people confessed to the crime. However, even if the sisters did commit the crime, is a life sentence really necessary. Can someone say cruel and unusual punishment?
Now instead of harping on what civil rights organizations are doing or not doing, YOU DO IT by contacting the Mississippi Attorney General at
Telephone: 601-359-3680 MS Attorney General’s Office
Walter Sillers Building
550 High Street, Suite 1200
Jackson, MS 39201
When you call or write, ask the office to investigate the Scott sister’s case and to look into the health of Jaime Scott.
The press release with more details is below.
Stay up fam,
PRESS RELEASETHE COMMITTEE TO FREE THE SCOTT SISTERS
CONTACT: Mrs. Evelyn Rasco P.O. Box 7100Pensacola, Florida 32534
E-mail:rqueenbee2222 @ yahoo.com
Case Summary: http://freethescottsisters.blogspot.com/search/label/Case%20Summary
Legal Transcripts: http://www.scribd.com/Scott%20Sisters4/2010MISSISSIPPI INJUSTICE: A DOUBLE-LIFE SENTENCE FOR $11.00!
Scott County, MS– — In a trial fraught with legal malpractice, lack of evidence and witness
coercion, Mississippi Judge Marcus Gordon sentenced sisters Gladys and Jamie Scott to
double-life each in an armed robbery. No matter the veracity of testimony; the lack of
physical evidence and the absence of any previous criminal activity of the accused; in a
questionable crime, where no one was murdered or harmed and the amount alleged to have
been taken as a whopping $11.00, one has to ask if this is Mississippi, the state in the
United States of America ? And, how does a court abdicate the national principles of justice
and fair judicial process ?
On December 24, 1993, the Scott County Sheriff’s Department arrested the Scott sisters for
armed robbery even though three persons confessed to committing the crime. The
Mississippi sheriff used coercion, threats, and harassment to compel these individuals to
become state’s evidence against the Scott sisters. His motive ? A long-standing vendetta
against the Father of the sisters. Later a local teen, without benefit of counsel would testify
that he was pressured to sign a written statement that he did not read and was prepared by
the sheriff. No weapon was ever recovered in this case.
During the course of the short trial only one witness was called and the sisters at the
direction of questionable legal advice, never testified or spoke for themselves during the
course of their trial.
Jamie, now 38 and Gladys, 34 are now entering their 16th year of incarceration. Jamie has
lost function of both kidneys and is gravely ill, being provided inadequate medical
treatment may very well see her sentence as a death sentence unless the Mississippi Prison
Commission relents in its rigid negligent medical care decisions for her. Recently, Jamie
Scott was diagnosed by an outside physician as being at Stage 5 (end stage) of this illness,
the next stage being death. Should Jamie Scott die in prison for an alleged robbery of
$11.00 almost 16 years ago?
A national campaign has been undertaken by their elderly Mother, Mrs. Evelyn Rasco, to
gain justice for her daughters and their family. Nationwide support for Jamie and Gladys is
building increasingly louder and active.
Nancy Lockhart, the young woman who has acted as the spokesperson of the Free the Scott
Sisters Campaign, and the Mother of Jamie and Gladys Scott are available for live and
telephone interviews. They have been featured guests on the Warren Ballentine Show ( XM
Radio The Power); Our Common Ground with Janice Graham ( USTalkNetwork); The
Mark Thompson Show ( Sirius Radio The Left Side); The Rip Daniels Show, WJZD
Mississippi; and their comments are featured in many newspapers across the country and
throughout the blogosphere.In June, 2009, Dr. Lenore J. Daniels, PhD of the Editorial
Board of BlackCommentator.com wrote about the wrongfully conviction of Jamie and Gladys Scott in a featured editorial, titled, “Represent Our Resistance” (http://freethescottsisters.blogspot.com/2009/08/dr-lenore-daniels-says-to-represent-our_19.html) and Mother Jones magazine’s investigative reporter, James Ridgeway, did an exhaustive piece entitled, “Cruel and Unusual Health Care — How Mississippi Prisoner
Jamie Scott’s Life Sentence Could Turn Into a Death Sentence” (http://motherjones.com/politics/2010/03/jamie-scott-gladys-scott-haley-barbour-wexford-health)#####
A federal judge in California dealt the first blow to Prop 8, whose course will eventually end at the US Supreme Court. Prop 8 was a ballot initiative in California that outlawed same-sex marriage. For the people who are really against same-sex marriage but feel like it’s politically correct to say otherwise, I have something especially for you. Civil rights legislation did not pass because the majority of Americans realized they loved Black people and wanted us to live equally under the law. Instead, civil rights passed when a vast number of people let go of their vice grip on civil rights for every human being.
In other words, there is a middle ground between a rabid conservative who thinks being gay is the ultimate sin of all sins and passing out beads on a float in a gay parade. The middle ground involves your own sense of what is right. And even if your reasons are spiritually based, what about gay marriage prevents you from living right or for that matter, spreading the Gospel to whomever you feel inspired?
Stay up fam,
If the pen is mightier than the sword, then the camera is mightier than the gun. This is particularly true when it comes to citizens recording their encounters with police. Time just ran a story involving Anthony Graber, a Maryland Air National Guard staff sergeant, facing 16 years in prison. “His crime? He videotaped his March encounter with a state trooper who pulled him over for speeding on a motorcycle. Then Graber put the video — which could put the officer in a bad light — up on YouTube.” See below
Some states are trying to make it a crime to record police officers on grounds of wiretapping, which essentially makes it a crime to record someone’s conversation without their consent. After the Oscar Grant debacle and others like it, “cameras have become the most effective weapon that ordinary people have to protect against and to expose police abuse. And the police want it to stop.”
The logic of disallowing recordings of police is indefensible. When cops have cameras mounted on their cars, their no consent with the person being pulled over. If I drive and a speed camera snaps me for speeding, I don’t consent to that but it keeps me honest. The larger issue is that cameras keep everyone honest. No matter how advanced the technology, sunlight is always the best disinfectant.
The problem I have is that police that do their job the right way shouldn’t fear any citizen recording their activity. Lest anyone underestimate this issue, imagine your loved a victim of police abusing their authority and your ability to raise awareness or develop your case would be with or without a videotape of said incident.
Stay up fam,