Flags of the Fathers, Sins of the Sons

Saturday morning, activist Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole outside the South Carolina capitol building and took down the confederate flag capping a week of hot debate and fast movement towards removing the symbol of southern aggression from official state buildings.  Sadly, the flag is flying over the capital yet again, reminding us that symbols are only as powerful–or weak–as the acceptance of the ideologies they represent.  Removing the flags that celebrate America’s racist past will not eradicate the racist ideology that radicalized Dylan roof any more than removing a label from a can will vaporize what is inside.

Even as the President eulogizes the most recent victims of racism, the war rages on– arson, death and defense of the killer continue unchecked–and unexamined in the mainstream media.  Instead, the flag has taken center stage in the discussion of the Charleston Massacre.  A quick google trends search shows that the focus is squarely on the flag,  not the victims, nor the ideology that sparked the killing.

Trends Chart

You’ll recall the flag furor kicked up when killer Dylan Roof displayed one on his website.  But while mainstream news has focused on the flag, the actual hate groups that pushed their racist filth on the internet, and whom Roof points to in his own radicalization continue to operate.  The presidential candidates who have taken money from Council of Conservative Citizens and other racist hate groups get an easy pass for their support of the flag’s removal without addressing their own past ties to hate activists.  There was no critical questioning of candidates ties to these group son the Sunday talk circuit, but plenty of flag not-waving.

Assuring us that there’s more than one hateful racist willing to perpetrate violence, six predominately black churches have burned in a string of arson stretching from Macon to Tallahassee.    Ongoing investigations will identify perpetrators where they can, but the echo of the 1960’s replete with racially motivated murders and overt attacks on the black community via the black church sound in ears still ringing with this week’s gun shots.  Mainstream media has all but ignored this string of violence in favor of the simply packaged story of the flag which looks to be moving toward a happy ending–audiences love a happy ending!

Two children lost their lives in the course of a police chase in Detroit–a chase that had been called off by commanders concerned about the danger to the public just moments before the deaths. Gunshots, rough rides and speeding vehicles all resulting in dead black bodies still happen daily, leaving the black community decimated emotionally, socially and politically.  The flags that flies over Ferguson, baltimore and Detroit  are all American, and the struggle for justice continues in all those cities.

Lets also not forget that Dylan Roof is not an old racist–he is a young racist, a millennial–from that generation that is supposed to mark the end of racism.  The flag may be a worn out symbol, one long past its prime.  Bu the perpetrator is merely 21–a man born in the heyday of hip Hop, and only 13 when Obama was elected–so squarely a member of new school racism, a racism proving just as deadly as old school.  Racism won’t just die with the rise of the millennials–education is still key in stopping the spread of racism to yet another American generation.

The flag needs to come down.  Removing this symbol from state grounds is important, yes, and long overdue.  But more important than the flag is the ideology that the flag represents–that was what radicalized terrorist Dylann Roof and emboldened others to burn down churches or commit one of hundreds of thousands of hate crimes that happen each year.

Attacking the overt labels of racism is important.  But we’re going to have to open our can of worms racism and deal with it if we are ever to reach a place free from racism and its violent devotees.   Celebrate the small victories in this week filled with funerals, but stay conscious, stay activated and never settle for taking down the flags of the fathers without addressing the sins of their sons.

Why We Must Call The Charleston Shooting Terror

The story that we tell is the life that we live.  Each word is a critical building block in what we come to regard as truth, a truth so massive and all encompassing that we have a hard time imaging the giants hands that build these cities of words.  But we build them.  We tell the story of America every day in a million voices, some soft, passed from mouth to ear while others squawk at us for hours across the airwaves.  The loudest voice tell us what we believe, what we saw.  The tell us what to know–with or without the facts.  So it matters if we call the Charleston Church massacre terrorism–or not.  Here’s why we should.

imgres-1

What we know is that on the evening of June 17th in one of the most historically significant black churches in Charleston, South Carolina, a room full of people came together in peaceful worship and prayer, welcoming into their midst without a second thought one who would, moments later, shoot nine people in cold blood.  What we know is that the killer intentionally and with great malice and forethought chose to kill those people because they were black.  What we know is he has made this clear with a manifesto of deep racial hate fed by the crop of white supremacy that is marked by segregation, feeds “bad” cops and grows inequality in all of our systems.  Fact: this is an act motivated and expressing hate of black people, intended to inflict fear and terror.

Have no doubt that what happened in Charleston is an act of terrorism.  According to who?  How about the US department of defense:

 The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.

Or perhaps you prefer the FBI’s definition:

Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

Still don’t believe me?  Well neither did the FBI–they have yet to declare the attack terror, though the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into what they term a terror attack.  It’s not just these agencies that disagree.  In fact, there is ample debate in the mainstream media about what to call this act–hate crime?  terrorism?  Rising above the debate and cries of mourning–is the steady drumbeat of apologists:  he was a quite boy.  he was a good boy. this is a lone wolf.   Don’t make this about race.  Define racist.  Define hate.  Define humanity–and then we’ll decide if he violated yours.

CHyz_LyWwAETyvH

Now it the time to push for crimes against black bodies rooted in racist ideology to be called terrorism.  Far from purely academic, calling the Charleston shooting terrorism recognizes that this attack is one of a larger battle–one we are loathe to admit exists–against the ideology of white supremacy.   A war on terror requires us to root out the very ideology at play–in this case the white supremacy that has been fueling violence across our country since its birth.  Calling it terrorism requires us to use time, and money and human capital to cut off the legs of supremacist groups to stop them from spreading a net of propaganda to lure in the hateful and the violent.

Calling it terror means we won’t stop at prosecuting Roof, but we’ll also go after the organizations like the Council of Conservative Citizens who helped radicalize him.  We will be able to use the considerable resources of the FBI and the department of Homeland security to go after white supremacist radicalized hate as stridently as we go after radicalized islamic hate groups.

Calling it terrorism would keep presidential candidates from taking money from hate groups to assure political support free from the eyes of their constituency.  This war on terror could cut off funding streams that fuel hate groups and their supporters. I’m looking at you  Rick, Ted and Rand…and Mitt, in case you return.

Hate group campaign donation recipient Rick Santorum sitting next to activist DeRay McKesson. No,Rick, this does not absolve you.

Calling it terror will make clear to all Americans that a black man shot by a white man over ideology will receive the same justice as a white man killed by a muslim over ideology.  Calling the Charleston massacre terror won’t politicize it–it will depoliticize our one-note approach to terror so we can finally begin to attack it.  Assuming that all terror is committed by radicalized muslim extremists ignores that most victims of ideologically motivated hate crimes are victims of racial hate. And Blacks are more likely to be the victims of a hate crime than any other racial group.

Calling it terror requires us to remove the ideological roots of the hate–like  recent calls for removing the rebel battle flag flying by law over the South Carolina state capital and removing it from official government items like the Texas license plate.  Before we celebrate these most recent victories, the SCOTUS decision was 5-4 and the flag will only come down after 9 (more) deaths and (another round of) protest. We’ll have to be vigilant about being honest with the remains of racism that still permeate the symbolic life of America.

Roof’s manifesto–available on the internet in case any investigators had been tracking him–reveals a deep complex narrative of hatred for blacks, not one created by Roof alone, but one that is the heart of white supremacist ideology for hundreds of years.  Have no doubt these statements are weaving the same old story that has sanctioned violence against blacks in this country since the days of the lash–a continuous story that says blacks are not human, that violence is required by those policing whiteness to keep black bodies in check.  Refusing to call the attack terror and searching for mitigating factors to excuse the killer’s evil intent are salt in an already painful open wound.  This resistance to recognizing and acknowledging this incident as terror is an indicator of white supremacy’s chilling effect on racial dialogue.

The fight against terrorism is a multibillion dollar effort in the United States and around the world waged with American tax dollars.   But terror lives among us, too.  If you believe black lives matter, if you want to live in a world where we can all truly be human, then it’s time to strap on your helmet and turn our resources and our minds to the terror at home. To acknowledge the violence perpetrated against a select group of humans doesn’t take away from our humanity–it ensures it.  It ensures that we see where inequality exists so we can cut out the disease and begin to heal.

Pass To Power: The Truth About “Trans-Racial”

The news cycle giveth–and it taketh away.  After days of international hubbub over fake black “trans-racial” Rachel Dolezal claiming that blackness is something one can choose to be, we see the powerful and very real consequences that still lie at the heart of race in America.   In Charleston, South Carolina, 9 people were shot by a lone gunman as they attended a prayer circle. Officials and investigators are labeling it a hate crime.  No one of those eight lost souls had the chance to stop a bullet and say they identified as white.  None of those people had the right to self identify their way out of the hate.

It’s not a weave or a rap or a twerk that makes a person black.  Race operates on multiple levels at the same time.  We each experience race at the individual level: your own racial identity and your way of thinking and understanding race ; at the interpersonal level: in the interactions and relationships we have with others; at the institutional level:  the schools, organizations, and churches we belong to; and at the ideological level: where the ideas that undergird these systems lives.  While Dolezal has gotten us to talk about race at the individual level, what the crazy-talk about trans-racial ignores is the very real way that race operates on those other levels.

Before we get into the trans-racial take down, a word about words.  Transracial is already a word used to describe an adoption process when members of one race adopt a bona fide member of another race, who remain that other race their whole life.   Lots of TRAs are heated about their term being used incorrectly on this rare occasion when it is used in the mainstream media at all.   There are tens of thousands of transracial adoptees in the US, many of us proving Dolezal wrong–you can have a white mother of a black adopted child.  I know: I have one!

Why call Dolezal’s ask for a pass transracial?  She’s trying to skate on the cool response that Caitlyn Jenner got  just a couple weeks ago.   Cue the meme! (BTW, note that they didn’t have to change Caitlyn’s cover to match Rachel’s face!)

It’s not just an image trade. A very real and complex conversation has popped up to answer the question if transgender is a thing, and race and gender are both constructs, then isn’t transracial a thing? My answer is an emphatic no, with a not now coda.

Race is not biologically assigned, true.  Since it’s socially constructed, we could socially reconstruct or deconstruct it.  Of course.  Race hasn’t always been this way, so it can be something completely different at some point in the future. Yup. And if race is made up by people we can all change our mind and then we can be whatever race we want and tomorrow we’ll be post racial hooray!  No, stop right there.

Click to explore!

Even though race is socially constructed, it’s not constructed primarily at the individual level (remember those levels).  An individual cannot make the decision alone to change the categories–otherwise the census form would be really really long.  Like we said in part 1, even if we all wake up tomorrow trans-racial, race as a construct would need to be dismantled in our systems and institutions.  We can’t agree on much politically–do you really think a referendum recatagorizing all Americans–including Mexican Americans, I’m looking at you Donald Trump–would stand a chance of passing? Not a Dolezal’s chance in hell.

But is someone feels–I mean really feels–like they are black, then why not?  Hmm, notice there is no one saying that black people also have the right to change it up.  In fact, blacks that were caught passing weren’t given a pass–they lost school and work opportunities , social status and in some cases suffered violence.  If whites can become black and blacks cannot become white, then trans-racial is just the penultimate expression of white privilege–the privilege to choose black, and be rewarded.

Besides, how white do you have to go to be considered white?  Lightened skin, straightened hair and white cultural moves might get you paid, but it doesn’t make you white. The costume of whiteness is all around us–and is a multibillion dollar industry.  From 28 inch silky to skin whitening candy (for real) there are any number of products to kick you down Von Luschen’s chromatic scale, but none will give you entrance to whiteness.

7957a-beyonce-skin-bleaching bf6a0-nicki-minaj-skin-bleaching-dadc6a2f

The borders between black and white in this country are still strictly enforced.  There benefits of whiteness are protected in big and small ways from the ballot box, to massive cultural hegemony in media.  The consequences of blackness are enforced with a heavy hand: uneven sentencing laws, banking practices like redlining, not to mention the raw brutality of police killings of black men and women.

Founders of Black Lives Matter

And now Charleston.  People shot dead because they are black.  Not because of a head of fake dreads or a particular shade. The killer didn’t check their black cards before unloading his weapon.  He just shot them.  Because they are black. And no amount of self-identification will bring them back.  They do not have a choice.  They didn’t have Dolezal’s choice.

To say that race is a choice indicates that people can choose.  And if you are suffering, and you choose not to help yourself, well, then your problems become your fault.  Like slaves that didn’t run away. Like blacks that were in the ‘wrong place’. Like Selma marchers.  If race is a choice, then your oppression becomes your own doing. Entertaining that race–and all the consequences that come with it are a choice is offensive given the blood, sweat and tear-gas tears that  have soaked our cities this year alone.  Race is an actively enforced construct at this time in America, so the mutability of race at the individual level is trumped by strict enforcement in our political, economic and cultural spheres. 

As long as blacks still suffer injustice and cruelty at the hands of white supremacy, transracial will remain an offense to people who care about the struggle to move past systems of oppression.  Someday, will we all be able to trade race like we change hair?  Maybe one day, in a lovely dream of a world.  But the struggle is too real in the streets right now to entertain that.The theoretical conversation about what transracial could mean ignores the lived realities of race.   So no to trans-race.  Maybe not ‘no’ forever-f-or evea evea?–but definitely no for now.

Pass to Power: What is Race and Passing?

Update: I posted this 666 days ago but blue eyed devil Rachael Dolezal is back in the news with her snake oil version of racial identity.  She got a book deal and all I have is this blog so I’m reposting this in hopes someone may share it with her and read educate this white woman-Rachel, please have several seats, and be humble.

Busted: Rachel Dolezal, Howard Graduate, Head of the NAACP in Spokane, and outspoken black community activist is white.  Outed by a local reporter and mercilessly–and hilariously–taken down on twitter Rachel has sparked lots of chatter about what is race and who can be which one.  Passing points to the essential function of race–that it structures power, not color.  People who pass are not trying to look different, they are trying to change their status.

Race is not in our DNA, it’s a social construct.  That means, despite what your eyes see, there are not different races of people.  In fact, there is no gene for race in the human genome.  Biologically, humans are all part of one family.

So, if race isn’t real, then we can just say racism is dead, yell, “Black President!” and get on with it right?  Wrong.  I mean, have you read this blog before?  Since the birth of America, race has been used to structure, economic and political relationships.  Prior to the 1600’s race really wasn’t a thing.  People had and still have different cultures, but not different racial categories.  The first time the word race even appears in the English language is 1508, so the Ancient world did not  have the concept of different races.

With the conquest of the Americas and a fresh addiction to sugar, European conquerers needs many hands to make the hard work of sugar, tobacco and cotton farming light.  But, since the America’s were little more than a handful of rough outposts, they couldn’t attract a voluntary workforce with crazy benefits like being allowed to live free and get paid.  Thus begins the transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest events in all of human history.

slave trade map

Race as a social construct was created essentially to protect this labor force.   Many laws–not just one–over hundreds of years were used to keep one class of people–black people–enslaved.  Politicians traded power for allowing the perpetuation of the institution of slavery, even our conflicted founding father Thomas Jefferson.  He wrote all men were created equal, but could not build the country he desired without those free hands to do the work.

What would get good God fearing people to support the systematic violent oppression of their human brothers and sister? A story, a narrative that normalizes terror as truth.  At the center of the narrative was the concept that blacks were not humans, and therefore did not deserve human rights.  While the institution of slavery ended 7 generations ago, America still struggles to shake this narrative.

Racism is supported by personal prejudice.  Individual beliefs about different groups of people perpetuate the kind of thinking that allows police to kill young people unchecked by the electorate.  But even if every person in America woke up tomorrow firmly antiracist in their heart, the laws that structure education, housing, economics, justice and other systems would still have racial bias in them.  Like a zombie–we may be the body, but if the zombie brain of racism lives, terror ensues.

michonne

Over the centuries, hundreds if not thousands of people have tried to game the system by “passing”–taking on the identity of a race other than their own–mostly white.  Whites were able to be free, vote, own land–and slaves–and a host of other privileges that came with whiteness.  These privileges–which still exist in different ways today–helped keep people bought in to systems of oppression.  Black people willing to give up their culture and their ancestry could take on all the benefits of whiteness as long as they stayed hidden.

Anita Florence Hemmings passed as white in oredr to attend Vassar in 1897
Anita Florence Hemmings passed as white in order to attend Vassar in 1897
Given our history of race and racism, and ignoring the self-hate of abdicating your culture, there were some legal and societal benefits people gained by passing as white–not the least of which was freedom.  But what could Rachel Dolezal possibly gain by passing as black?  Everything.

In a country where whiteness is too often invisible to white people, Rachel wouldn’t be the first white girl to long to have a (different) culture.  No boring suburbia for her, Rachel takes cultural appropriation to a whole new level. No matter how many Mileys and Iggys try to beg ignorance, appropriation is real–and real simple to understand.

iceberg of culture

Imagine culture is an iceberg.  Certain parts of it are visible–food, dance, dress, festivals–while the foundation of what makes a culture are buried deep below the surface–beliefs, values rituals, shared lived realities and ways of being.  Millions of people of African decent, shipped abroad during the slave trade or settled here in America carved out a way of surviving , a way of being in the face of unstoppable cruelty, a way of thriving within a system built to destroy them.  The soul food, and the blues and the style and hip hop are the visible parts of the legacy of this ongoing struggle, but the deeper elements are essential to making sense of those expressions. Cultural appropriation is when you break off the top of the iceberg and wear it around like a costume.  You can dress up, dance, and even bite the rhymes of a culture….

CHVoCtcUsAA2GYL

But when you do, you leave behind the larger, more important part of culture: the deeply help beliefs, shared experiences, values, ancestry and destiny-the truth of what it means to be part of that group.  This part of the iceberg can’t be pulled out of the water and worn to the VMA’s.  They can’t be weaved onto your ends like Hawaiian silky.  They can’t belong to you, Rachel, or you either, Iggy.

All of these women cover themselves in a carcass they call blackness made out of stereotypes, stolen hairstyles and narratives that they’ve nicked to make themselves feel cool, beautiful, feel like they are a part of something. At the same time their white privilege gives them entrance into public spheres often denied actual black women, taking their voice and supplanting it with a white fantasy version.

And Rachel was a teacher, someone paid to tell other people how to think about and construct black femininity.  This is not how you love a culture–this is how you erase it.  Far from helping the community as some–including the NAACP–have suggested, her actions show the worst kind of white privilege–the privilege to define blackness with a white voice.

(Be sure to read upcoming part 2 about the difference between transgender and transracial)

Dogs End Racism!

Or so goes the hope  at the center of pedigree’s new ad campaign.  Feed the Good is Pedigree’s new worldwide campaign.  Spots designed for the US, Australia, and Brazil will take on serious local issues with a velvet fur glove.  For the US spot, personal racial bias is the problem, neatly solved with a wet sloppy tongue kiss.

If only it were this easy.  The critic in me says that the ad is full of dog whistles, from the boys sitting on the curb to the sirens in the background.   The dog lover in me knows the power that animals have to break down the walls of social rules we build between ourselves.  I want to see a world were we don’t need a dog to see the humanity in others, but until then a little kiss couldn’t hurt.

Cops’ Lies and Videotape

TRIGGER WARNING: this article uses links to police brutality.  Videos are used here to emphasize the graphic nature of available video content that has yet to result in widespread radical police reforms.  It is my experience as a professor that many students have not seen the videos included here.

Walter Scott was shot in the back while fleeing South Carolina police officer Michael Slanger who now faces charges of murder.  What made this case so different from ones before it?  When Walter Scott ran for his life, fearing quite rightly the cop who fired 8 times across 15-20 yards, Feidin Santana turned his cell phone on and started taping. Clear video evidence of Slanger shooting the victim, then apparently planing a taser nearby to support the official report he filed that sounds like a broken record of police abuse:  “He was a threat to public safety. I was in fear for my life. I had to shoot him.”    The video Santana shot gave lie to the official version of events, resulting in murder charges again Slanger, and renewed calls for cameras on cops.

No doubt the constant cascade of black lives culled down at the hands of the state can leave us hopeless, wondering what it will take and what can be done.  The power of Santana’s video in this case, and the importance of its incontrovertible evidence in forcing the process to bend toward accountability cannot be overstated.  Justice in this case was on its way to being denied before the video surfaced. So can video be the answer?

After  each of several recent high profile police shootings, much attention has been focused on putting cameras on cops.  Body cameras are already being used in many police departments across the country.  The logic goes that if there are cameras on cops, then there is a record that will allow us to see first hand what cops are up to.  And for those few bad apples, the camera will act as a deterrent from their crimes.  In fact, stats show that officer aggression is down when cops are equipped with rolling a/v. Though sometimes those apples shut the cameras off…..one report places officers’ compliance with camera policies as low as 30%.

The problem with this argument is that it assumes that bad police shootings are simply a function of a few bad cops gone rogue.  The root of police brutality, however, lies not just on the individual “bad cops”, but on the justice system that they represent, and the racism that has been a part of that system since the first enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown.

Increasing the visibility of police brutality ignores the deep roots of systemic racism. The police are the pitbull and the end of the leash of the state.  Police are charged to serve and protect, but the state is responsible for training, monitoring and disciplining the police.

After video of Rodney King surfaced in 1991, it seemed certain that police brutality’s days were numbered.  After all, if you watched the video, you couldn’t deny what you were seeing was wrong, right?  But then those cops got off, and the killing of black people by police continued.

In August, we watched heartbreaking death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD.  We watched him die in front of our eyes.  The video couldn’t be clearer.  There was no way justice could be denied.  But those cops got off, and the killing of black people continued.

official combined mug shot of Slager, charged with murder

Now in South Carolina it looks like their trying to get it right…only four days after, when Santana was prompted to bring the video to light because the police were lying, blaming Walter Scott for his own death.  Video is forcing them to come correct.  The default setting, though was a police force eager to cover up the death of an unarmed black man.  Video can make them come clean, but it doesn’t challenge the dark heart of their policing practices.

Video evidence can no doubt help get justice, but only after the crime has occurred.  Cameras on cops?  Absolutely.  But the presence–or absence–of videotaping does not cause, merely captures, police brutality.  A longstanding history of police brutality in the black community needs a complex solution including increased political access as we saw in Ferguson’s recent city council win.

Citizen accountability boards and community groups looking can provide a feedback loop to help nip problems in the bud, and make sure the community can trust those charged with their safety.

To do the heavy lifting ahead, we need an educated and culturally competent electorate that leaves denial behind to chase our dreams of all being equal.  Unless the many people that still blame blacks for their own victimization rejoin the all too real world of rampant racial injustice it will be hard to have the kind of electorate that will hold the Sate and local governments to heel aggressive police tactics.

Putting cameras on cops will end police brutality no more than cameras in every connivence store have stopped armed robbery.  Video didn’t stop sexual assault, instead it created a whole new platform for degradation.  Even now videos of blacks being attacked by police play as both tragedy and trope.

Video won’t bring Walter Scott, or Eric Garner back. Video alone is not enough.

Problem People Stories

When we look at the way that people of color are represented in the media, we often see what is referred to as ‘problem people stories”–stories that position people of color as the cause of society’s–and their own–problems.  What does this look like, Guliani, on this week’s Meet the Press is textbook:

Two fun facts: first,  most homicide is perpetrated within race–black people are most likely to kill black people and white people are most like to kill white people, and second, the unrest in Ferguson is because a white Police Officer did the killing.  no amount of focus on black on black crime would have prevented that.

Every life matters, and every killer should be held accountable.  When the killer is retained by the state to act as an authority, they deserve to be held at a higher level of accountability.

Oh, and I have an open seat in class for you, Guliani:  you clearly need to be schooled.

 

 

No Justice: Killer Cop Walks, Prosecutor Blames the Media

Tonight in Ferguson Missouri, prosecutor Bob Mc Collough announced that Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged for shooting and killing 18 year-old Mike Brown in front of witnesses at 1 in the afternoon  August 9th.  While the prosecutor confirms Darren Wilson was responsible for killing the unarmed teen, the grand jury, led by the prosecutor, did not return an indictment. Darren Wilson is now a free man.    The announcement comes floating on a flood of calls for calm from everyone from the governor and the attorney general to Michael Brown’s father.

Since that night in August when Michael Brown was shot down in a residential neighborhood of Ferguson, protesters have applied steady pressure calling for accountability for his killer–Officer Darren Wilson– and those in the system who protected him.

Mike Borwn's stepfather holds a sign accusing police of shooting his unarmed son just hours after the shooting.
Mike Brown’s stepfather holds a sign accusing police of shooting his unarmed son just hours after the shooting.

Thousands of people in dozens of cities have staged legal and peaceful protests seeking justice for Mike Brown, despite a widespread media narrative that has focused on stoking fear of violence and retaliation from the black community both in a Ferguson and across the country. There are two important points to consider about massive coverage of “potential violence.”

B2HNqRyIgAAxf9P

First, focusing on the potential for tension and violence, rather than the reason for the protests and anger positions the black community as ‘problem people’ deserving of repressive measures of control.  In the days leading up to today’s decision state agencies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on gear to be used against US citizens protesting injustice by the American government.  That’s enough to make conspiracy theorist sound like they might be on to something.  After the massive show of paramilitary gear in August to deal with protests met with a massive outcry, the authorities’ only lesson seems to be “bring bigger guns.”

Police Shooting Missouri

Secondly, media narratives that frame peaceful protesters as blind mobs bent on violence and destruction of personal property, justifying strong armed retaliation of the police, keeps the focus off the injustice at the heart of the Mike Brown case.  While news stories in the days leading up to today’s announcement focus on preparations for a hurricane of violent protest,  Darren Wilson has already negotiated a quiet exit.  Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since August 9th.  Given the lack of an indictment Wilson was eligible to return to work on the force.  That he could negotiate this at all adds insult to injury–he was legally able to return to patrol the same streets that he shot Mike Brown on, despite dozens of eye witnesses to his unlawful use of force and the continued potential of federal civil rights charges. Today’s decision is clear evidence that we have yet to shed a history of racial disparity in our justice system.

police-brutality-stats
click to enlarge

You may say, as many will in the days to come, that if the grand jury decided there was not enough evidence to indict, then Darren Wilson remains, legally, innocent, and therefore, no racism occurred.  Let’s be clear: racism is the systemic exercise of power advantaging one racial group over another. The shooting was just the first in a long string of points of tension in Ferguson.

racismis

In the Mike Brown case we have seen authorities exercise power in their own interests over those of Mike Brown, the community or the constituencies to whom they are responsible.  Despite widespread calls for the police chief and the prosecutor to recuse themselves, they have refused.  Calls for independent special prosecutors trusted by both sides were denied.  Information leaks, clouds of tear gas, FAA restrictions on media and hundreds of arrests, including the arrest of many high profile civil rights activists and peaceful protesters, line a trail of racism from Mike Brown’s body to the steps of the Missouri courthouses.

And now after months of peaceful requests for action on behalf of Mike Brown and the people of Ferguson, justice is again thwarted.  Don’t get mad, they say.  Don’t act out, they cajole.  James Baldwin once said, “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”  

Ferguson-Am-I-next-from-FergusonOctober-10-11-14

To be assured that if you are a black man you may be stopped by the police and shot down in the street like a dog.  To look at young black boys innocent before the world paints them as wolves.  To send your husbands and sons–and daughters for that matter–out with the knowledge that they may be targeted by those sworn to protect them–this is the reality, and one well worth your rage.

Now is the moment not to fall apart, but to fall together.   Since Wilson has not been charged, double jeopardy does not apply and another prosecution of Wilson is possible.  Remember, any decision on federal civil rights charges in the case are still pending, so there is still opportunity for national pressure to bring justice in this case. .  Whether black or white or Latino or Asian, we’re all responsible for keeping the American dream of freedom and equality for all alive.

Don’t be distracted by fear mongering and race baiting. Let your anger today be a weapon polished with knowledge and drawn in civil action against those who think you too uncivilized to fight strategically.  Fight with tweets, fight here with words and letters and here with marches.  Fight with your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.

After a recent discussion about Ferguson in my college class, a students asked me, “What should I tell my 3 year old son? ”  The very idea that he will need to know about systemic racism when he is Mike Brown’s age breaks my heart.  Despite today’s decision, this cannot persist.   We as a nation must do better.  Nurse your broken heart today, and then lace up your gloves.

GOOOAAAL: Respect!!!!

World Cup play has been nothing less than thrilling, with enough drama to fill  Bravo’s TV summer line up.  There’s been overly dramatic falls and equally dramatic play, not to mention a little zombie bite between friends.

130422103717-suarez-bite-ivanovic-story-topWhat is also on display, as it has been so often in sports this year, is gross racism.   And I mean gross not just in the quality, but in the straight-no-chaser approach to ugly racial epitaphs, racist costumes, and hate language.

Brazil v Mexico: Group A - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Some German fans decided their love for team Germany was best expressed by dressing up in black face.  And to make sure they spread their fan feces beyond the stadium, fans uploaded pictures to Instagram, lighting up social media.article-2665775-1EFFF93000000578-788_634x397

FIFA took note of the racist behavior and vowed an investigation into the behavior.  Of course, race has played a gross recurring role in football.  In just the past year alone we’ve seen fans fight it out and even players taunted on the field.  Is it because football fans are racists, or at least more racist than most people?

no_to_racismFootball, like out own American sports, is more than a game, and the ability to paint our faces and pledge our fealty to the world is an old tradition still much desired even in our modern world.  Sport is an opportunity to rise beyond the day-to-day existence  to strive for a moment of glory and greatness–the hero’s summit at the top of his field has millions chanting his name, etched forever into the record books.

post-35088-are-you-not-entertained-gif-Gl-MHkP

Sport is also a chance to pledge our allegiance to our tribe, to show off our country’s colors, and to win in competion the right to say our people are the best people.

EURO 2008 - Fans mit bemalten  Gesichtern

Hmm, all that competitive spirit, tradition, nationalism and a little beer–or a lot of beer and capirainnias.  What could go wring?

well there’s this

imagesthis

mideast-egypt-soccer-riot-390x285and then of course there’s this

1386611588000-RSI-SOCCER-BRAZIL-CHAMPIONSHIP-1To be sure on the other side of the coin, sport also brings us together, yes in pitched battle, but one where the biggest victims are ego’s and pride.

But what do these gross displays tell us about race in this moment in time?  When we look for cultural messages, we have to consider the context–where is the message coming from and what is the culture there?  This question is simplified, as a colleague asked me, “Well isn’t it different because it’s Germany?’

blackface

She’s not alone.  Tweets and not a few twits have used the same argument in dismissing the recurrent use of black face and other racialized imagery in sports and other public events.

The general idea is that since black face–as we know it today– originated in the American south, that it is only symbolically powerful when referring to African Americans, but outside of America, black face isn’t really offensive.  That’s like saying since Hip Hop was created as an expression of African Americans, there can be no hip hop anywhere but in America, despite the fact that people around the world have been exposed to it.  Black face has been exported as has American ideology–and now media–around the world.  Let’s be clear:  black face is offensive, even between Germans and Ghanians.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel posing Black faced magoi for traditional three Kings Day.  Yeah, black face is a thing in Germany
German Chancellor Angela Merkel posing Black-faced magi for traditional three Kings Day. Yeah, black face is a thing in Germany

Black face in it’s American Minstrel mutation is one symbolic representation of brown-skinned people that was part of a much larger, more complex colonial narrative–a story that colonizers told to justify the oppression of colonized people.  Cultural narratives like this are grand and sweeping, showing up in the culture of the time, in literature, art, even science.  The story shows up in entertainment in one mutation as black face.  But that was not the only negative depiction of “others” during colonialism, which operated on all continents.

bri_india02_4074To believe that the message contained in black face –the inhuman and uncivilized dark nature of the  other–was contained in a few short centuries in America alone is to ignore the power and pervasive control of colonialism in all corners of the globe.

conquistadorJust as black face in America today is an echo of the same old racist story born in American slavery, so does the racism on display at the world cup ring the bell of colonialism, and the lingering ideas of racial superiority, poison seeds planted by years of political, social and economic imperialism.

no_to_racism

The games show us that racial conflict persists in our post racial world–even beyond America.  Just as racism in America intensifies as the American population changes, so too with racism around the world.  While America for sure has it’s own unique flavor of racism,  changing demographics and increased mobility are bringing groups of people into new relationships.  To really be a global village that won’t tear itself apart, we’ve got to be vigilant about dismissing the stories of the past so that we are careful they don’t become the stories of our future.

 

Sore Winners Suck

Despite my recent plea to educators to get in the game of growing a less racist generation,  this weekend saw another incident in this long losing season for hight school sports.   This week sore winners from the Howell, Michigan joined the parade of racist tweeters in the too-crowded pool of racist high school athletes after their recent win against rivals Grand Blanc.  According to the Flint Journal, tweets included:

“Not only did we beat Grand Blanc but we’re all white. Howell’s the definite winner tonight.”

“All hail white power. #HitlerIsMyDad”

“Tonight was probably one of the most racists nights of my life. I heard so many slurs and expressions. I also said a few things…”

Hastags with other tweets included  #kkk, #lightthehcross, #rosaparks, #wewhite.

The tweets were followed by outrage, concerned hand wringing, and reports from Grand Blanc players the they were called the N word during the game, not just after on twitter.

Thankfully, Coach Nick Simon is on the case.  He told Flint Journal reporter Aaron Mc Mann his team had not ever said that, and he would have heard any such name calling.

Looks like you shouldn’t hold your breath for an apology.