Tag Archives: institutionalized racism

Is Ferguson a symptom of black American panic?

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Notes on the mess in Ferguson

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A screen grab (above) from a video apparently showing Michael Brown roughing up a convenience store clerk on the date of Brown’s shooting death by a white police officer apparently belies the idea of Brown having been a gentle giant, at least on the day of his death, but of course the unarmed Brown didn’t deserve to die for allegedly having stolen cigarillos. And law enforcement officers need to adopt non-lethal means of subduing subjects they deem dangerous or possibly dangerous, and of course we have way too many white cops shooting unarmed black men. All of that said, though, shit like torching police cars, as was done in Ferguson, Mo., last night (see news photo below), accomplishes exactly nothing.

A man runs from a police car that is set on fire after a group of protesters vandalize the vehicle after the announcement of the grand jury decision Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked sometimes violent protests. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Associated Press photo

I’ve yet to write about the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., for several reasons, including the fact that I wanted to wait for things to play out and the fact, to be honest, that I’ve been Fergusoned out, much like I’ve been Benghazi’d out. Not to compare the two (one is an event that is a symptom of our broad and deep societal ills, and the other a comparative non-event drummed up by the right wing), but because the sensationalist media have beaten both into the ground.

First: Let’s acknowledge, as taboo as it is to do so (on the left, anyway), that Michael Brown apparently was no angel. There very apparently is surveillance video, for fuck’s sake, of the 6-foot-4-inch, almost 300-pound 18-year-old (whose nickname apparently was “Big Mike”) very apparently roughing up a convenience store clerk on the day that he later was shot and killed by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson (that day was August 9), and Wilson has claimed that when he encountered Brown, Brown had a handful of cigarillos that he’d apparently stolen from the convenience store.

(Whether this is true or whether Wilson was lying in an attempt to retroactively “justify” his shooting of Brown by trying to link Brown to a crime that Wilson has claimed he had been aware of is quite in dispute. [It seems to me that it’s quite possible that Wilson had had no knowledge of the convenience-store robbery before he encountered Brown on that fateful day in August, and if memory serves, early news reports [such as this one] indeed were that Wilson had not known about the convenience-store robbery when he encountered Brown.])

I’m no angel myself, but the exact number of times that I’ve roughed up a convenience store clerk while stealing from him is, um, zero. As there not only is surveillance video, but as Michael Brown’s companion on that fateful day, Dorian Johnson, apparently also has testified that Brown committed the convenience-store robbery (to Johnson’s surprise), that Brown committed the crime is, methinks, fairly indisputable, and it is not “character assassination” to divulge unflattering facts about Brown’s unflattering actions on that day, as Brown’s defenders have alleged. Brown’s character, at least as it was on that particular day, it seems to me, rather speaks for itself. On that day, anyway, very apparently, Brown was no gentle giant.

But: Did Michael Brown deserve to get capped, even if he had committed a crime? Brown was unarmed, and photos of Darren Wilson’s “injuries” allegedly caused by Brown show only some red marks (maybe one light facial bruise) that appear as though they even could have been pre-existing. (Wilson, by the way, is 6 feet, 4 inches tall, weighs around 210 pounds and is 28 years old.)

The fact that it’s verging on the year 2015 and despite all of our technological advances we still have no widely used non-lethal way of effectively subduing those whom law enforcement officers deem need to be subdued is testament to what degree life (especially non-white life) is considered to be cheap here in the United States of America.

Sure, we have Tasers, but those are good for only a limited range, and whenever cops claim, correctly or incorrectly, truthfully or untruthfully, that they feared for their lives, they don’t use Tasers or the like, but they use live rounds. With all of our technological advances, why do we allow this beyond-sorry state of affairs to continue? Why don’t we care enough to force the cops to change their tactics?

And, of course, it’s inarguable that black men are treated as automatically guilty by many if not even most white cops, who often act as judge, jury and even executioner, and that cops disproportionately are white males, like Darren Wilson.

It’s also inarguable that Ferguson is just the tip of the iceberg. The main function of cops is to protect the socioeconomic interests of the plutocrats, the ruling elite. Cops serve and protect, all right, but whom do they serve and protect? Cops are tools of the elite, whether the cops know this or not, and whether the cops even care if they do know this.

So there is that dynamic that’s baked into the socioeconomic dynamics of the United States, as well as is the dynamic of institutionalized racism.

That said, while institutionalized racism rages on, we still must view every incident as an incident, with its unique details and factors and with its unique, individual actors, and we have to be careful not to allow individuals to become standard-bearers or stand-ins for our own views on race.

Just as Michael Brown apparently was no angel, I’m sure that Darren Wilson is no angel, either, and so to see black Americans portray Brown as what he apparently wasn’t (an innocent angel) and to see white Americans portray Wilson as what he probably isn’t (a “hero” who was just doing his job and protecting himself from a dangerous thug) has been disappointing, to put it mildly, because this is much more about sticking up for one’s own race than it is about any respect for the truth.

Indeed, the Ferguson case has been turned into a race war, in which Brown has been the proxy for black Americans and Wilson the proxy for white Americans – to the point that the grand jury’s decision, to many if not most Americans, apparently was supposed to go far, far beyond the very specific events surrounding Wilson’s shooting of Brown on August 9 in Ferguson, and was supposed to be a decision, a judgment, on whether or not American cops (most of them white) on the whole treat black American males unjustly, or even, more broadly, on whether or not the United States still has problems with racism.

That’s an understandable misunderstanding, I suppose, but it is a huge misunderstanding of the purpose of the grand jury nonetheless.

There was or there was not enough evidence to show that Wilson, in his capacity as a law enforcement officer, probably illegally shot Brown. (If the laws governing this question are fucked, that’s something else, and if the laws are fucked [and they are], then we need to change the laws.) That, however, was what the grand jury was to have decided: whether or not Wilson probably violated the letter of the law. That was the only job of the grand jury, and it was a narrow job.

And neither you nor I was there when Wilson shot Brown, which is another reason that I’ve yet to write about Ferguson until now: Most of us have an opinion on an event that we didn’t even witness, and for which we have only significantly different claims from different parties as to what did (and did not) transpire. Lacking that specific information, we fill the vacuum with our own opinions and prejudices and our biases that stem primarily from our own racial-group identity. Which is a sort of mob mentality.

Speaking of which, lobbing rocks and bricks and bottles and Molotov cocktails and smashing store-front windows and setting cars and buildings ablaze, while perhaps loads of fun for the participants, doesn’t do anything, that I can tell, to even begin to change the entrenched socioeconomic ills that plague the nation, the socioeconomic ills that are behind Michael Brown’s death.

I’m not staunchly against the use of violence as a political tactic – the plutocrats, our overlords, certainly never rule out the use of violence against us commoners, so we commoners never should rule out the use of violence against our plutocratic overlords, either – but violence, if used, should be strategic and it should get results. I don’t see that vandalizing store fronts and blocking roads and even setting businesses and other buildings and cars, including cop cars, ablaze do anything to even begin to change our corrupt system.

While the sources of the rage that induce individuals to take it to the streets are entirely understandable – those sources include institutionalized racism, ridiculous socioeconomic inequality from an economic system (capitalism) that is all about screwing others over for one’s own selfish gain, and the police state that we live under that protects and preserves this ridiculous socioeconomic inequality and institutionalized racism – again, I don’t see that the tactics that most of the enraged use on the streets actually are effective in bringing about real change.

Our fascistic, plutocratic overlords don’t exactly quake in their jackboots at the specter of small businesses having their front windows smashed out, and of course if a police car is torched, it is we, the taxpayers (which doesn’t include the tax-evading plutocrats), who will pay to replace that police car, of course. What do the plutocrats lose in these cases?

The plutocrats are perfectly willing to sacrifice a small, token amount in periodic property damage in order to perpetuate their ongoing socioeconomic rape, pillage and plunder of the masses and of the planet itself. (And it goes without saying, of course, that our plutocratic overlords are entirely untroubled by the periodic shootings of black men by white cops. After all, thus far the responses to these shootings, while they gain plenty of media coverage, haven’t threatened in any serious way the plutocrats’ iron grip on wealth and power.)

Finally, we Americans need to recognize that it wasn’t only Darren Wilson who killed Michael Brown. Almost all of us killed Michael Brown. (Ditto for Trayvon Martin, as I have stated, and for many others.) Because we have continued to allow the inexcusable bullshit to continue, and as long as we continue to do so, as long as we continue to refuse to dive more deeply than the surface (such as by looking primarily or even solely at race and not nearly enough at class, and by failing to effectively hold accountable the plutocratic puppet masters who always are hiding behind the scenes and thus always get away scot-free), and as long as we continue to refuse to do the long, hard, sustained work of making – of forcing, if necessary – significant systemic changes (yes, including up to true revolution [“reform” always leaves the power structure intact, doesn’t it?]), there will be plenty of more Michael Browns and Darren Wilsons.

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Affirmative action: Two wrongs don’t make a right (and yes, Paul Ryan is racist)

Updated below (on Monday, March 17, 2014)

The Sneetches are out in force with the warming weather.

Ah, springtime approaches, which means that it’s time for all of us to emerge from hibernation — and engage in more race wars!

The topic of affirmative action is rearing its ugly head again here in California, and Pretty Boy Paul Ryan is in some trouble (rightfully so) for a blatantly racist remark that he recently made.

In 1996, California’s voters approved Proposition 209, which made affirmative action by the state government, including at the state’s universities, illegal, by writing this prohibition into the state’s Constitution. Of course legal challenges followed, but the courts have upheld the constitutionality of Prop 209, whose language remains in the California Constitution today (if often ignored by those who still practice affirmative action, illegally, in California anyway).

Affirmative action is, I think, for the most part well-intended: to right the wrongs of the past, especially where adverse racial discrimination is concerned.

But, like Communism, affirmative action has looked much better on paper than it has in practicality. Did it ever achieve the equality that it promised it would? Um, yeah, no.

Practicing affirmative action now doesn’t help those who were harmed by racial discrimination in the past. It only creates even more racial discrimination in the present. Only it’s “nice,” “good” or “beneficial” racial discrimination, you see.

Bullshit, in my book. In my book, racial discrimination, whether intended to harm or to benefit someone, is wrong.

And of course the plutocratic powers that be love it when we commoners are fighting each other based upon our race, just like Dr. Seuss’ star-bellied (and plain-bellied) Sneetches. Because when we commoners are fighting each other (perhaps especially over something as superficial as our race), we’re divided, we’re not united in fighting the plutocratic powers that be.

The problem in California is that there are more who want to go to a state college or to a university than there are resources for those individuals. When scarcity arises, people want to start making cuts, but cuts based upon race is not the way to go.

If we truly want to be a post-racial society, then race has to stop mattering. (It will stop mattering — at some vague point in the distant future, the proponents of affirmative action argue. Um, yeah, no. The only time is right now.)

Asian students, for instance, are significantly over-represented in California’s state universities based on the Asian population in the state as a whole. And many if not most Californian Asians oppose the re-legalization of affirmative action in California because a return to a race-based quota system — and that’s what affirmative action creates, no matter what its short-sighted proponents may claim otherwise — would cut their admission numbers drastically. And, of course, many if not most (mostly non-Asian, of course) Californians view these Asian Californians as assholes for appearing to wish to perpetuate their “unfair” advantage.

What, exactly, is their “unfair” advantage? That they are Asian or that they are academically gifted — or that they are academically gifted while Asian? If they are academically gifted, why must they be penalized for that fact if they happen to be Asian?

I don’t see that it’s any more fair to shut out Asians than it is to shut out any other racial group. Racial discrimination is racial discrimination.

True fairness and justice have to come on a one-on-one, case-by-case basis, not based upon one’s racial group.

And like Communism was (let me emphasize that I’m talking about big-“C” communism and not about democratic socialism, which I support), affirmative action has been another failed attempt at social engineering. Human beings aren’t lab rats; they, we, are human beings, not some fucking lab experiment.

All Californians who have demonstrated the aptitude for college-level work should have the opportunity to go to college or to a university, regardless of their race. If the problem is that there aren’t enough resources for all of those individuals who wish to do so — and that is the problem here in California — then the solution is to expand that opportunity for everyone of all races by demanding that it be expanded, demanding that our tax dollars stop going towards things like the bloated-beyond-belief military-corporate complex and start going toward actual human needs, not to obscene human greed.

(And, of course, if part of the problem is that our public elementary and high schools are failing too many of our students, and I understand that they are, then we need to tackle that problem, too. [No, for-profit/charter schools are not the answer. Whenever profiteering is the No. 1 goal of any enterprise, that enterprise always will suffer, since profiteering is its main reason for existing at all.] And let’s not blame it all on our public schools; we lazy, selfish Americans are failing our young people as a whole, and it’s not fair for us to blame that on our public schools and their underpaid employees to the degree that we do!)

The solution to the scarcity of spots in California’s state universities is not the Procrustean bed of insisting that the racial composition of state university enrollment strictly matches the racial composition of the state at large.

This “solution” superficially seems fair, but it’s deeply unfair to many, many individuals, unfair to too many individuals for us to be able to deem it “fair” overall.

Two-thirds of the California Senate not long ago voted to put the repeal of Prop 209 on the statewide ballot. The state Assembly also would have to vote by a two-thirds margin to put the repeal of Prop 209 on the ballot for the state’s voters to decide whether to reinstate legalized affirmative action, but the state Assembly has yet to take the matter up. (Hopefully, it never will.)

Should the repeal of Prop 209 it make it to the ballot, I will vote against it and otherwise fight it. Affirmative action is a poorly thought-out practice that takes us further from, not closer to, a truly post-racial society (an ideal that, quite admittedly, we human beings might never meet before we annihilate ourselves).

And then there is former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, Repugnican Tea Party U.S. representative from Wisconsin, who recently remarked that here in the United States we have a “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of work.”

Reuters reports that

[U.S. Rep.] Barbara Lee of California, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, called Ryan’s remarks a “thinly veiled racial attack.”

“Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black’,” Lee said in a statement.

I agree with Lee — not just because Ryan is a Repugnican Tea Partier and I abhor the Repugnican Tea Party and its adherents, but because Ryan’s remark was meant to convey two false ideas:

(1) That certain individuals, based upon their race, inherently, even genetically, are lazy, do not want to work (while others, of course [like Ryan, of course], inherently, even genetically, are industrious); and

(2) That if someone does not want to slave in a minimum-wage job on which he or she cannot even live — and this is the only kind of job that the vast majority of the Repugnican Tea Party traitors want the vast majority of us Americans to be able to have (the Repugnicans and their allies always have opposed even modest increases in the minimum wage, and they vehemently oppose a living wage) — then this means that he or she is “lazy.”

No, this means that he or she simply wishes to be paid the fair value of his or her work, and not be a fucking wage slave in perpetuity.

That’s what this means.

This is how the plutocrats long have defended their theft of our wealth: by calling us, the victims of their theft, “lazy.” Should we commoners point out the simple fact that the plutocrats have been robbing us blind forfuckingever now, the plutocratic traitors among us then accuse us commoners of waging a “class war,” when, in fact, they have been waging a class war forfuckingever in order to maintain their unfair lofty, gilded status. In fact, there is no other way for them to maintain their 1-percent status other than by waging their class war against the rest of us. And they wage this class war against us in a thousand fucking ways every fucking day.

So Paul Ryan told a dual lie: he insinuated that the members of certain races (and while Barbara Lee apparently was looking out for her own racial group, I don’t believe that Ryan was referring only to black Americans) inherently are lazy (a blatantly racist belief, a textbook, dictionary-definition example of a racist belief), when, in fact, because of institutionalized racism and white supremacy since the nation’s inception, some if not many members of the historically-socioeconomically-oppressed-by-the-white-majority groups have to a large degree just given up on chasing the so-called “American dream,” which, should they pursue it, they institutionally are set up by our plutocratic overlords to fail to catch. (And, to be fair, this trap catches most white Americans, too. Too much discussion of race presumes that most white Americans are wealthy when that is not the case, and the national discussion of class has long suffered at least in part because it has been so overshadowed by the national discussion of race.)

Yes, besides his racist lie about one’s level of industriousness being inherent (that is, race-based), Ryan retold the long-running lie that the United States of America is a meritocracy (and not a plutocracy), a system where your hard work actually will get you somewhere.

We commoners are acutely aware of the value of our hard work — our hard work indeed is so valuable that the plutocrats like Ryan and his ilk institutionally/systematically steal the value of our work from us, leaving us only crumbs. (This blatant thievery is called “capitalism,” which is deemed to be “good” — so “good,” and so inherently and intrinsically and self-evidently “good,” in fact, that we commoners may not even discuss the goodness or the lack of goodness of capitalism.) The plutocrats’ historical, blatant theft of the value of our commoners’ hard work demonstrates that they value hard work, too — our hard work, of course.

And, of course, when the far-right likes of Paul Ryan talk about “the value of work,” I cannot help but remember the signs that the Nazis erected above the entrances to their concentration camps: “Arbeit macht frei” — German for “Work makes you free.”

In Nazi Germany, it was the members of the Nazi Party telling their concentration-camp victims that work would set them free.

Today in the U.S., it’s the members of the Repugnican Tea Party assuring their victims that work will set us free.

Of course, it’s never the Nazis or the Repugnican Tea Partiers who are doing the hard work, is it?

And under their thumbs, no matter how hard we should work, we’ll never be free.

Update (Monday, March 17, 2014): California Assembly Speaker John Perez has announced that he will not allow the repeal of Prop 209 to come up for a vote in the state Assembly now, so that the repeal of Prop 209 will not appear on the November statewide ballot.

Three state senators who previously had been among the two-thirds of the state Senate to vote for putting the repeal of Prop 209 on the ballot reversed their positions and asked Perez not to proceed with issue in the Assembly, where Perez apparently wouldn’t have been able to muster the necessary two-thirds vote anyway.

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