An Uneasy Peace in America

Ever since President Barack Obama became president of the United States, there has been an uneasy spirit, an uneasy peace that is brazenly obvious.

Although in 2008 there were tears of joy and the cry of America being “post-racial,” many people, both black and white, knew differently.  America has always refused to look her racism squarely in the eye; she has been content to live within comfortable walls of myth as opposed to agreeing to stand in the hot sun of reality.

America is a nation that was formed with a racial divide.

Author James Baldwin wrote, in Nobody Knows my Name,” that America “has spent a large part of its time and energy looking away from one of the principal facts of its life. This failure to look reality in the face diminishes a nation as it diminishes a person…” He says that we as a nation are obligated to look at ourselves as we are, not as we wish to be, and he said that “If we are not capable of this examination, we may yet become one of the most distinguished and monumental failures in the history of nations.” (p. 116)

The peace between blacks and whites is …uneasy and inauthentic.  We have not looked racism in the fact and challenged it. We have not done the work to become whole.

The most exasperating thing about our situation is that everybody knows it exists. Before this last presidential election, I was having a discussion with a white friend of mine about the political ads on television and radio that we both wished would go away, and, out of nowhere, she said, “…there is so much prejudice in white people. People are so prejudiced against Obama but nobody wants to say it out loud.”

It felt like she needed to say that, to do a “mea culpa” on behalf of people with whom she had close and frequent contact. What it made me feel was …uneasy, because the uneasy peace that exists between blacks and whites in this country feels very volatile and very threatening.

It is not as though the very most virulent racist feelings are confined to a particular region of the United States. Yes, the South has the history of being most blatantly racist, but there has been no love lost for black people in any part of this nation. John Hancock lived in Boston, and owned slaves. James Madison, a signer of the United States Constitution and a president of this nation, wrote that slaves were both property and human – but human only for the purpose of giving states more representation in elections. They were property in general, and did not, could not, receive the rights of being American citizens.

There has been resentment between the races, then, from the beginning of this nation’s life. Blacks have been under the heels of a race that has deigned itself as superior and blacks as inferior. Whites have enjoyed freedom by virtue of their race, and blacks, because of their race, have had to fight for every ounce of “freedom” they have gained. Blacks have resented whites for thwarting their efforts for freedom and whites have resented blacks for wanting more and more freedom, somehow nurturing the belief that blacks are “moochers” who feel like they are “entitled” to what whites freely enjoy.

There is no peace between the races. The issues have been pushed under the carpet and whites and blacks as well work very hard to keep the issues right there.

But truth always comes up and out. The resentment of blacks and whites periodically rises to the surface. There has been no real effort for reconciliation between the races because blacks and whites have been more interested in keeping the disease and its issues hidden. That’s why we have seen and heard so many unkind and racially tinged insults against President Obama. That’s why the Trayvon Martin case is so volatile. That’s why the incidence of hate crimes is on the rise. Though slavery as a formal entity does not exist, blacks are still disproportionately detained in prisons (read Michelle Alexander‘s The New Jim Crow and Douglas 

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘s Slavery by Another Name) as a way of keeping them in their place. Blacks and whites are as far away as we ever were, made worse by the fact that we will not “look reality in the face.” It is as though we have strep throat but will not acknowledge it or get an antibiotic to kill the bacteria, and as a result, our nation is suffering from a system rheumatic heart disease.

An uneasy peace is no peace at all. Peace comes only after the work of peace is done…and we in America have not done that. It is scary and troubling, but our nation, while it is off trying to help other nations in the world embrace democracy and freedom, has not attended her own broken democracy.  There is an uneasy peace, and it is truly scary.

A candid observation…

 

The Manipulation of America’s Voters

All right, answer me something: is a woman’s voice, soft and slightly hushed, speaking under music,  been shown to sway people?

I don’t watch television much; I vowed not to watch it much as this political campaign swept into high gear. The ads are manipulative and so often, not true. I remember when in the 1988 campaign between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, an ad was run about a man named Willie Horton.  The issue was the death penalty. Bush was for it, Dukakis was apparently against it and advocated convicted felons getting weekend passes. Willie Horton lived in Dukakis’ state of Massachusetts and got such passes. He reportedly murdered a young teen on one of his weekend visits. He was put back into prison but got out and reportedly raped and murdered a woman. That was it. There was Horton’s image on the screen in front of the world: a dark-skinned black man with disheveled hair. He represented what so many people thought about black people, and the ad did what it was supposed to do. Bush won.

I remember being furious about it  because it fed into people’s fears and it fed the widespread belief in the inherent “criminality” of black men. The criminalization of black men really originated after Reconstruction, when angry Southern  whites decided that black people would not be free, Emancipation or not. Slavery had provided the necessary labor to plant and harvest the South’s crops and thus contribute mightily   to the agrarian aristocracy. Under Reconstruction, blacks could own property; they could vote and participate in the political process.  Their children could go to public school. Whites were never impressed with Emancipation because many of them genuinely believed that blacks were inferior to whites and that they were supposed to work for white people. And so, by the late 1800s, the South began to fight back. They put in place vagrancy laws that made it possible for law enforcement to arrest anyone for the slightest thing: selling products they had grown after dark, walking without having money (many walked during the day to find work), not having a job …the laws were ridiculous and wrong. What began to happen systematically is that black men were disproportionately arrested for such “crimes” and were convicted, usually without a trial. Law enforcement officers and justices of the peace would “sell” the new convict to a farmer or a business, which would then require the new convict to work until his debt was paid. When such an unfortunate man was sold, he was at the mercy of his new “owner,” and was worked mercilessly, and often, his new owner would accuse him of another “crime” at or toward the end of his sentence, and his sentence would be extended. The result of this practice, called “convict leasing,” was that prisons began to fill up primarily with black men, and thus the “criminalization” of black men began. Their inability to stay out of  “trouble” with the law proved they were not worthy of freedom. Blacks were predisposed to crime, the belief would be …and continues to this day. So in 1988, those who ran the campaign knew exactly what they were doing. Horton would be a reminder, most especially to white Republicans, that the country needed a man “strong on crime” to keep our streets free from the awful black man.

Well, things have not changed so much. There have not been, among the ads I have seen, any such that compare to the Willie Horton ad, but they are plenty slanted toward the same base that Bush’s 1988 ads were. Mitt Romney’s now infamous “47 percent” speech is not surprising. I wonder who he was really thinking about when he named “47 percent” of Americans who were content to be “victims,” and mooch America’s treasury? I wonder his his campaign thought of who was in that 47 percent?  President Obama uses Romney’s words to his advantage …as any politician would.

But there are ads where an attack on either candidate is as vicious as a wolf eating its prey, and what I have noticed is that many times, there is a soft-spoken woman making the point of the attack, her words carried by music, a lot of it piano. What is the deal?

I wish there were no ads at all. I despise the fact that both candidates are raising literally millions of dollars to get their messages out while so many people in America are in dire straits. I thought about that today as I thought about a friend who is really going through it right now. He is unemployed and “out there,” and it is a constant job to keep him above ground. I wonder how that soft woman’s voice and piano music sounds to him?

I know there is probably someone in marketing who can explain the effect of this soft voice/soft music is. What part of the brain does it reach?

And is there a place on the brain where the suffering of people takes hold?  It doesn’t seem like it. Americans are manipulated as they listen to their views or their circumstances articulated in such a masterful way. What is sad is that after the election, there won’t be anyone out stomping the land, trying to raise money for America’s struggling citizens.

And that makes me very sad.

A candid observation …

The Poor Be Damned!

Tax
Tax (Photo credit: 401K)

It hit me that the complaint from Conservatives about taxes is partly a complaint by them that their tax dollars are paying for the poor to live off their hard-earned money.

Duh. For the longest time, I was thinking that the resistance against paying higher taxes was just because they want to hold onto more of their money, as do we all.

But a columnist, Brion McClanahan, wrote in The Daily Caller an article which expressed his, and, I would suppose many others’,  resentment that people on government assistance are living high on the hog off the backs of “hard working tax payers.”

Food stamps, complained McClanahan, are abused; “people use their food stamps for necessary items, then use their money for their smokes, beer and munchies.” (http://dailycaller.com/2012/02/28/damn-i-just-want-some-jam/?print=1) He writes:

These are fine examples of what many Americans witness on a regular basis. The other day, while my family and I were waiting in a check-out line at Wal-Mart, I noticed that the woman checking out in front of us was texting on her $200 cell phone (which probably costs at least $100 a month in service fees and may have been paid for by the government as well) and holding what my wife says was a $100 designer purse, with a stack of junk food, beer and cigarettes on the belt behind a line of subsistence products like milk, cheese, cereal and meat.

People pay for “necessary” items with their EBT government debit cards and then use cash for their smokes, beer and munchies. Yet, I have to fork over my hard-earned dollars for every item in my cart (and in essence theirs as well, since I pay taxes while they probably get “refunds” every April). Something is wrong here. Why is the average taxpayer both screwed by the system and forced to watch his tax dollars being wasted on people who abuse the system?

He goes on to suggest that people on government assistance ought to lose their right to vote, ought to be limited to shopping in government-run stores that have less than quality merchandise, and not be allowed to shop in major food stores or drug chains. Everything they would have access to would be blatantly tagged as being provided by the “government.”  People on government assistance are “slaves” to the government, and ought to be treated as such.
After I caught my breath, it hit me that what this man wrote is probably the foundation of the cry against new taxes. The belief by many is that only the poor abuse the system and siphon tax dollars away from “honest tax payers.” There is not this kind of resentment for the rich who also take advantage of the system, at the expense, again, of “hard-working Americans.” The double standard is amazing. The difference between what those rich or poor intent of taking advantage of the system is that what the poor do seems to be more readily visible to ordinary Americans, while the abuse of the system done by the rich is more sophisticated and is blanketed by their ability to use their wealth and status to their advantage.
I wonder if Brion McClanahan is aware of the peonage system used by people in this country for years after the Civil War, where African-Americans, and some others from other races who were poor enough, were blatantly exploited by the rich and the wanna-be-rich, who wanted to make money and did so off the backs and labor of people they barely paid. It’s recorded; McClanahan should read Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon. It’s all there, what was done in this country. Should those people who so exploited others  have been vilified? Should they have lost their voting rights?
Ah, no…because they were not “slaves of the government.” They made slaves of others with the consent of the government. Now I get it. Now, I finally get it.
Thanks to McClanahan’s article, I will never hear the complaint against higher taxes the same again. The complaint is rooted in resentment that we in America don’t want to be our brothers’ keepers.’  Higher taxes, for many, merely means that we are paying into a social system that creates “lazy” Americans, and dag nammit, we don’t like that!  We would rather they pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even if our government has taken their boots from them.
Now, I get it.
And it makes me sick.
A candid observation….

Landmark Case Addresses Racial Bias in Hiring

State Seal of Iowa.
Image via Wikipedia

In his book, Faces at the Bottom of the Well, the late Professor Derrick Bell argues that racism is permanent; in other words, it will never go away.

That thought registered today as I read about a pending case that is being decided in Iowa.  In a story posted on Yahoo News, the Associated Press reported that there is a class action suit that has been filed against the entire state government of Iowa. (http://news.yahoo.com/denied-jobs-blacks-iowa-test-bias-theory-080416196.html). The plaintiffs – 6,000 African – Americans – have charged that they have been denied jobs on the basis of their race.

The plaintiffs say that the racism has not been overt; rather, they say potential state employers subconsciously harbor feelings of racial bias, a charge they back up by the results of a test developed by University of Washington psychologist Anthony Greenwald, called the “Implicit Association Test.” According to the AP report, results of that test taken by white employers show a high degree of racial bias – though many of those who took the test would not have considered, or do not consider, themselves to be racist.

The words of Derrick Bell come back: racism is permanent. It is not going away.

I thought of his words when I listened to Dr. Jeanne Middleton Hairston, who is the national director of the CDF Freedom Schools® program. An historian, she was giving an absolutely mesmerizing summary of some things that had happened in African-American history that helped convince Civil Rights workers in the 60s of the need for social justice work to extend to public education. I wondered to myself why it is that what she was teaching is not taught in schools – public and private, but then I had to remember: the institution of racism keeps much of what is true underground.

In the Iowa case, which will be decided by Judge Robert Blink, the plaintiffs could win many dollars from cases of alleged discrimination dating back to 2003, but some say the money is not the goal. What is needed, they say, is a change in hiring practices, using tools which can test or measure implicit bias in those doing the hiring. Test results of people given the test so far show that up to 80 percent of employers have a subliminal preference of whites over blacks.

It is not surprising, but it is disappointing that racism has not hastened from the American scene. I have recently learned that so much about America – even the naming of states in the Union – was based on race. In the new book, Slavery by Another Name, author Douglas A. Blackmon describes how slavery under the peonage system existed in this nation until 40 years ago! The research is riveting, but at the end of the day, it is just so exhausting, this racism issue.

Certainly, scores of African-Americans who have been passed over for jobs by less-qualified whites are not surprised that a test finds implicit bias in those who hire. It is good, though, to have a scientific tool by which to measure what so many people have complained of for so long; the presence of hard data tends to verify what emotional testimony of the same cannot.

It will be interesting – and critical – to see how this case plays out.  My hope is that the judge is able to look at the data and be objective – and be able to withstand the certain criticism that will come if he rules in favor of the plaintiffs.

But my bigger hope is that this racism thing – America’s disease – will be the focus of more scientific study with hard results, so that solutions might be found to problems that have kept African-Americans and other minorities in underclass status for far too long.

A candid observation …