Monthly Archives: April 2012
Let’s Just Say It: Republicans Are the Problem. By Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, The Washington Post
Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment – right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s – so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.
It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate – think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel – are virtually extinct.
The post-McGovern Democratic Party, by contrast, while losing the bulk of its conservative Dixiecrat contingent in the decades after the civil rights revolution, has retained a more diverse base. Since the Clinton presidency, it has hewed to the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy. While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post.
What happened? Of course, there were larger forces at work beyond the realignment of the South. They included the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs. But the real move to the bedrock right starts with two names: Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist.
From the day he entered Congress in 1979, Gingrich had a strategy to create a Republican majority in the House: convincing voters that the institution was so corrupt that anyone would be better than the incumbents, especially those in the Democratic majority. It took him 16 years, but by bringing ethics charges against Democratic leaders; provoking them into overreactions that enraged Republicans and united them to vote against Democratic initiatives; exploiting scandals to create even more public disgust with politicians; and then recruiting GOP candidates around the country to run against Washington, Democrats and Congress, Gingrich accomplished his goal.
Ironically, after becoming speaker, Gingrich wanted to enhance Congress’s reputation and was content to compromise with President Bill Clinton when it served his interests. But the forces Gingrich unleashed destroyed whatever comity existed across party lines, activated an extreme and virulently anti-Washington base – most recently represented by tea party activists – and helped drive moderate Republicans out of Congress. (Some of his progeny, elected in the early 1990s, moved to the Senate and polarized its culture in the same way.)
Norquist, meanwhile, founded Americans for Tax Reform in 1985 and rolled out his Taxpayer Protection Pledge the following year. The pledge, which binds its signers to never support a tax increase (that includes closing tax loopholes), had been signed as of last year by 238 of the 242 House Republicans and 41 of the 47 GOP senators, according to ATR. The Norquist tax pledge has led to other pledges, on issues such as climate change, that create additional litmus tests that box in moderates and make cross-party coalitions nearly impossible. For Republicans concerned about a primary challenge from the right, the failure to sign such pledges is simply too risky.
Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.
In the third and now fourth years of the Obama presidency, divided government has produced something closer to complete gridlock than we have ever seen in our time in Washington, with partisan divides even leading last year to America’s first credit downgrade.
On financial stabilization and economic recovery, on deficits and debt, on climate change and health-care reform, Republicans have been the force behind the widening ideological gaps and the strategic use of partisanship. In the presidential campaign and in Congress, GOP leaders have embraced fanciful policies on taxes and spending, kowtowing to their party’s most strident voices.
Republicans often dismiss nonpartisan analyses of the nature of problems and the impact of policies when those assessments don’t fit their ideology. In the face of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the party’s leaders and their outside acolytes insisted on obeisance to a supply-side view of economic growth – thus fulfilling Norquist’s pledge – while ignoring contrary considerations.
The results can border on the absurd: In early 2009, several of the eight Republican co-sponsors of a bipartisan health-care reform plan dropped their support; by early 2010, the others had turned on their own proposal so that there would be zero GOP backing for any bill that came within a mile of Obama’s reform initiative. As one co-sponsor, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), told The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein: “I liked it because it was bipartisan. I wouldn’t have voted for it.”
And seven Republican co-sponsors of a Senate resolution to create a debt-reduction panel voted in January 2010 against their own resolution, solely to keep it from getting to the 60-vote threshold Republicans demanded and thus denying the president a seeming victory.
This attitude filters down far deeper than the party leadership. Rank-and-file GOP voters endorse the strategy that the party’s elites have adopted, eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock. Democratic voters, by contrast, along with self-identified independents, are more likely to favor deal-making over deadlock.
Democrats are hardly blameless, and they have their own extreme wing and their own predilection for hardball politics. But these tendencies do not routinely veer outside the normal bounds of robust politics. If anything, under the presidencies of Clinton and Obama, the Democrats have become more of a status-quo party. They are centrist protectors of government, reluctantly willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits to maintain its central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures.
No doubt, Democrats were not exactly warm and fuzzy toward George W. Bush during his presidency. But recall that they worked hand in glove with the Republican president on the No Child Left Behind Act, provided crucial votes in the Senate for his tax cuts, joined with Republicans for all the steps taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and supplied the key votes for the Bush administration’s financial bailout at the height of the economic crisis in 2008. The difference is striking.
The GOP’s evolution has become too much for some longtime Republicans. Former senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraskacalled his party “irresponsible” in an interview with the Financial Times in August, at the height of the debt-ceiling battle. “I think the Republican Party is captive to political movements that are very ideological, that are very narrow,” he said. “I’ve never seen so much intolerance as I see today in American politics.”
And Mike Lofgren, a veteran Republican congressional staffer, wrote an anguished diatribe last year about why he was ending his career on the Hill after nearly three decades. “The Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe,” he wrote on the Truthout Web site.
Shortly before Rep. West went off the rails with his accusations of communism in the Democratic Party, political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have long tracked historical trends in political polarization, said their studies of congressional votes found that Republicans are now more conservative than they have been in more than a century. Their data show a dramatic uptick in polarization, mostly caused by the sharp rightward move of the GOP.
If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and ideological center of the Republican Party must change. In the short run, without a massive (and unlikely) across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the polls, that will not happen. If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections.
In the House, some of the remaining centrist and conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats have been targeted for extinction by redistricting, while even ardent tea party Republicans, such as freshman Rep. Alan Nunnelee (Miss.), have faced primary challenges from the right for being too accommodationist. And Mitt Romney’s rhetoric and positions offer no indication that he would govern differently if his party captures the White House and both chambers of Congress.
We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.
Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?
Also, stop lending legitimacy to Senate filibusters by treating a 60-vote hurdle as routine. The framers certainly didn’t intend it to be. Report individual senators’ abusive use of holds and identify every time the minority party uses a filibuster to kill a bill or nomination with majority support.
Look ahead to the likely consequences of voters’ choices in the November elections. How would the candidates govern? What could they accomplish? What differences can people expect from a unified Republican or Democratic government, or one divided between the parties?
In the end, while the press can make certain political choices understandable, it is up to voters to decide. If they can punish ideological extremism at the polls and look skeptically upon candidates who profess to reject all dialogue and bargaining with opponents, then an insurgent outlier party will have some impetus to return to the center. Otherwise, our politics will get worse before it gets better.
The Struggle Continues…RLHSR
According to court documents, Marissa is 5'2" tall and weighed 140 pounds at the time of the incident. Gray, whom she is in the process of divorcing, is 5'5", and weighs some 245 pounds.
Alexander was charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and initially with aggravated child abuse, because she fired the shot with the children in the room. The judge who heard the stand your ground motion put forward by her attorney, Kevin Cobbin, rejected it.
Judge Elizabeth Senterfitt, a former prosecutor, said Alexander could have found some other way to flee the home. This despite the fact that the Stand Your Ground law states that those who feel threatened have no duty to retreat.
As the days ticked down toward the trial, Alexander was offered a plea deal by prosecutors in the office of Angela Corey — now known nationwide as the special prosecutor in the George Zimmerman case, in which he claims self-defense in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin — first of five years, and then at the last minute, of 2 years in prison and three years probation.
She turned it down, insisting on her innocence.
"At that point, Marissa's mind was made up," Lincoln Alexander said. "She was just going to go ahead and argue the case."
At the trial, Gray's older son disputed his father's claim of being the victim. Marissa's sister, her mother, and Lincoln testified to Gray's previous abuse.
Gray has prior arrests, for petty theft in 1995, and for loitering and "prowling" that same year. He had been arrested for domestic battery in 2006 and 2009, and said in his own deposition that he had "put his hands" on every woman in his life except one. In the 2009 incident, which involved Marissa when the two were living together before they were married, the police report states that Gray choked her and threw her into a hallway closet. The altercation continued in the bathroom, where the police report says Alexander claimed Gray "struck her, knocking her into the tub where she hit her head." In that instance, Alexander police Gray wouldn't let her leave, but that she "just wanted to leave and take her children to their father."
Cobbin put expert witnesses on the stand to talk about battered woman syndrome.
It didn't matter.
Marissa Alexander was convicted by a jury of three women and three men, one of them an African-American woman like Marissa.
"It took them 13 minutes," Lincoln said of the jury. "They didn't ask to look at anything. They pretty much made their decision in ten minutes that she was guilty."
On Monday, Judge James Daniel, the third judge to hear the case, and the presiding judge in Alexander's criminal proceeding, will hear her lawyer's argument that she should be given a new trial. They compare her case to Angela Morrow, an Atlantic Beach, Florida woman, Angela Morrow, who shot her allegedly abusive husband, James Lee Morrow, to death with a shotgun blast to the chest, and was not arrested — cleared under Stand Your Ground.
Her family has fanned out on radio, talking about Marissa's case on The Tom Joyner Morning Show and The Michael Baisden Show. They've created a petition at Change.org, the same website that Trayvon Martin's family used to gather 2 million signatures demanding an arrest in his shooting death.
Lincoln Alexander says that when he's not working, or pushing for justice for his former wife, he is keeping their children busy, with sports, activities — anything "so they are not at home with that constant reminder of mom not being there."
"There have been a couple times, when they have been down and disappointed," Lincoln Alexander said. "When we lost the case initially, that was a tough day. They had another tough day when I had to have the conversation with them about the number of years she was facing."
That number is 20. Under Florida's 10-20-Life law, if a person is convicted of a crime involving a gun, they must serve an automatic 10-year sentence, with no discretion for the judge. If the gun is fired, it's 20 years. If someone is killed by that gunfire, it's 25 years to life.
Helena told theGrio her sister is trying to be strong for her children, but that she has down days, too.
"She is ready to come home to her children," Jenkins said.
Worse, Gray has not allowed the family to see the now nearly 20-month-old girl whose baby picture in Alexander's cell phone touched off the argument that could mean the child could grow up never knowing her mother.
"He won't let the family see the baby at all," Jenkins said.
Lincoln says the family and Marissa are fighting to have her mother take custody of the child.
In the meantime, the NAACP, the National Action Network and other civil rights and community groups are rallying around Marissa, calling hers a case of "stand your ground" in reverse.
Corey's office said they cannot comment because the case is ongoing. A telephone number for Gray was listed as disconnected, and he could not be reached at his employer.
A hearing is scheduled for Monday morning April 30, 2012) in the Duval County courthouse.
The Struggle Continues…RLHSR.
Sanford, Florida is a city that will now be known for all times as the place where Trayvon Martin was killed for the crime of Living While Black. It's in addition the place whose institutions—the police department, the local press, and even the city morgue—treated Trayvon and his body in ways that should disturb anyone with a shred of conscience.
The city of Sanford also has a past that speaks to the racism many believe to be at the heart of why Trayvon was killed and why the man who pulled the trigger was not arrested. I'm not arguing that Sanford, Florida, is somehow more or less twisted than anywhere else. Last month, unarmed, 18-year-old Ramarley Graham was killed in his bathroom by police in New York City. Last week Dane Scott Jr. in Del City, Oklahoma, was killed by police after a “scuffle.” The state medical examiner's office, however, declared Scott's death a homicide. The murder of Trayvon Martin is a “local issue” only if we understand “local” to mean local communities across the country.
But Sanford, Florida, does have its own history and it includes a collective moment of intolerance and bigotry that almost derailed the man Martin Luther King Jr. called “a freedom rider before freedom rides,” Jackie Robinson.
Before Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color line in 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he spent a season desegregating the minor leagues, playing for the Dodgers AAA team, the Montreal Royals. The Royals held Spring Training in Sanford.
Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, after so many years, thought he knew Florida. He believed that Robinson’s presence could go over if efforts were taken to ruffle as few feathers as possible. Robinson, on Rickey’s instructions, didn't try to stay at any Sanford hotels. He and his wife didn’t eat out at any restaurants not deemed “Negro restaurants." He didn't even dress in the same locker room as his teammates.
Rickey thought that would be enough. He thought he knew Florida. But he didn't know Sanford.
As Jean West, a school teacher in Florida, wrote, "Branch Rickey had miscalculated the degree to which Jim Crow was entrenched in Sanford. As an example, an inanimate object, a second-hand piano, purchased in 1924 from the courthouse for use in a segregated school in nearby Oviedo, was filed as a 'Negro Piano' in the school board's record; living human beings challenging segregation certainly would not be tolerated."
It wasn't. The mayor of Sanford was confronted by what the author describes as a "large group of white residents" who "demanded that Robinson…be run out of town."
The Mayor caved. On March 5th, the Royals were informed that they would not be permitted to take the field as an integrated group. Rickey was concerned for Robinson’s life and sent him to stay in Daytona Beach. His daughter, Sharon Robinson, remembered, "The Robinsons were run out of Sanford, Florida, with threats of violence."
This was a low moment for Jackie. The man whose number, 42, is retired throughout Major League Baseball almost quit and rejoined the Negro Leagues.
The team then took an extraordinary step. As the late tennis star Arthur Ashe wrote in A Hard Road to Glory, Rickey, ''moved the entire Dodger pre-season camp from Sanford, Florida, to Daytona Beach due to the oppressive conditions of Sanford.'' That sounds heroic and it speaks well for Rickey's fierce desire to forge ahead with “the Great Experiment,” racists be damned. But the mob in Sanford had made, at least for the moment, a successful stand. In cites and small towns across the South, Jackie Robinson’s mere presence provoked challenges to power and provoked real, meaningful change. In Sanford, change did not come that easily.
What does this tell us? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. If nothing else, the line between Jackie Robinson and Trayvon Martin points to how institutional and systemic racism actually is. We might have short memories, but institutions change only when they are confronted and challenged. In Sanford, racist institutions took root. Now we bear the horrifying fruit.
The Struggle Continues…RLHSr.
I swear, if I hear one more transparently racist person insist they aren’t racist because they have black friends, I am going to shoot them. But not because I’m violent. I’m not violent. And this I know because I have friends who are pacifists.
Yes, this is a joke, but seriously, it’s getting just about that stupid, and not simply because George Zimmerman’s “black friend” swears he’s not racist (and that that whole “coon” thing he said about Trayvon Martin before he shot him was really “goon,” and that it was meant as a term of endearment, natch). Much more, it seems that everyone who ever says or does something blatantly racist to a black person is quick to wrap themselves in the cloak of their multicolored affinity networks, as if this provided the perfect inoculation against the charge that they were anything less than purely enlightened.
I’d like to think it’s because we’ve made progress — that this feigned ecumenism was the result of a real and abiding shame at the recognition of one’s biases, and the concomitant desire to front so as to maintain one’s own sense of decency. But sadly, I think it has nothing to do with any such societal evolution. Rather, it’s just a bunch of phony twaddle spread by those who are too stupid to know what racism is, or, alternately, so cunning as to hope that the rest of us are.
I mean really now, when even Daryl Dedmon (who ran over James Anderson in Mississippi a few months ago, after saying he wanted to “fuck with some niggers”), has friends who insist with straight faces that he’s not racist, and point to a couple of black associates as proof, you know that the black buddy defense is about as solid as goose shit and smells nearly as bad.
When a cop can call a black scholar a “banana-eating jungle monkey” and yet, still insist that he isn’t racist and has “no idea” where that language came from (hint: it’s racism, asshole), you know that some white folks are so congenitally ignorant as to disqualify themselves from either policing or association with remotely decent people.
When a Republican Party activist in San Bernadino sends around phony food stamp certificates, which she calls “Obama Bucks,” to her friends, and then swears this wasn’t racist — because even though they were adorned with prominent pictures of fried chicken, “everyone likes fried chicken” — you know before the sentence is even fully formed in her throat that she’s a lying crapsack.
When you come to political rallies carrying signs of the president dressed as an African witch doctor with a bone through his nose, or send around e-mails depicting the White House lawn covered in watermelons, or throw “ghetto parties” at your fraternity house, replete with blackface makeup, your claims of interracial camaraderie are not merely irrelevant to the suggestion that you just might be a racist, more to the point, they are blatant effing lies. The people who claim they have black friends and still do this kind of thing are liars, plain and simple. Every one of them. No exceptions.
How do I know? Easy. Every time I’m confronted with one of these people I ask them a series of questions, all of which are splendidly simple, yet, questions that they have never — not even one of them — been able to answer in a satisfactory manner.
First, and regarding their black friends, I ask the most obvious of all questions: Can you name them?
And not just first names please — I mean, who can’t think up “Jamal” or “Keisha” off the top of their head in a pinch — but rather, first and last name. After all, I know the first and last names of all my real friends, white, black, or otherwise.
If they manage to somehow get past this question — and only about a third do — I then ask them where their black friend (or friends if they’re really large-scale liars) grew up? After all, if asked this about a real friend, most of us would be able to answer with little trouble.
Then, for the handful who make it this far — and I mean they can be counted on a few fingers — I ask the final and ultimately fatal question.
Could you please dial their numbers on your cell phone for me, and let me speak to them?
Blank stares ensue, followed by something about how they don’t have their black friend’s numbers in their phones (unlike their white friends, whose numbers are right there, ready to be dialed or texted at a moment’s notice). So I ask for e-mail. Nope, they don’t know their e-mails either.
Mmm hmm… Of course not. And ya know why? Because they are lying.
They don’t have black friends. Not real ones at least. Knowing some black dude with whom you occasionally shoot hoops at the campus rec center does not mean you have a black friend. Engaging in small talk with a black person about your mutual affinity for hip-hop, does not mean you have a black friend. Telling the black person who just bussed your table at the restaurant “thank you,” sure as hell does not mean you have a black friend. Neither does it count if your kid happens to have a black teacher with whom you get along well at parent-teacher conferences, nor when you chat about your respective Final Four brackets with a black person around the office water cooler — nor even when, on occasion, you might go out with a bunch of your colleagues, including the darker among them, to a sports bar for wings and beer.
Friends are people with whom you share the multitude of pain and joy that life has to offer.
They are the people with whom you share real secrets, insecurities, fears, triumphs and defeats.
They are the people who know they could turn to you in a pinch, and to whom you could turn were the proverbial shoe on the other foot.
They are the people who — were they really in your life — would jack you up were you to say or do any of the incredibly stupid-ass things that you seem to do or say over and over again. And they are the kind of people that having jacked you up over your asshattery would make sure you knew exactly why you should never say or do that kind of thing again, or why, if you find it impossible to curb your stupid, should yet make damned certain never to use them and their friendship with you as a cover for your actions.
Of course — and here’s the bigger point — even if one does have black friends, this doesn’t mean that one is free from racial bias or could never act in such a way as to further racism. I mean, if personal closeness to people of color were all it took to insulate oneself from a charge of racism then, by definition, male heterosexuality would be the perfect defense against charges of sexism: to wit, all straight men could answer allegations of misogyny, no matter how blatant, with a simple, “but I’m married to a woman!” every time they ogled a woman’s breasts in public, called a woman a bitch, claimed that women who get raped “probably asked for it,” or ruminated about how no woman should be president because of, ya know, that whole menstrual cycle thing.
In short, personal affinity for someone who is of color, or a woman, or LGBT, or whatever, says nothing about how one views the larger group from which those individuals come. After all, there were many whites who supported enslavement and segregation as social systems, and yet, managed to conjure personal kindness for individual black people on a case-by-case basis. Their friendly relationships notwithstanding, they were complicit with evil, and thus, were themselves instruments of that evil. Whites who claim to have black friends (and perhaps even do), and yet view the larger black community with disdain, or view their black friends as exceptions to a general and more negative rule (like the ones who tell their black friends that they “don’t even think of them as black” as if that were a compliment rather than the prejudicial calumny it is), are indeed racists, however unwilling they may be to wear the label. Sadly, based on the social science research, this applies to most of us, for indeed, the white community in particular does (by our own admission) continue to adhere in large measure to any number of hostile and racist stereotypes about African Americans. That we may be willing to carve out a few exceptions — our own personal Cliff and Claire Huxtables — does nothing to alter this sad fact.
Even more distressing, the systemic inequalities that continue to plague our nation are capable of rendering even genuine interracial friendships moot by virtue of the fundamentally different treatment provided to those on the respective sides of that racial coin. So, for instance, I grew up with mostly black friends, for the first several years of my school experience. Having attended pre-school at an early childhood ed program at a Historically Black College (Tennessee State), most of my early peer group was black. It was black kids with whom I identified early on. It was black kids on whose ball teams I played. It was black kids with whom I hung out in the cafeteria, with only a few exceptions.
And yet, a few important facts are worth considering: facts that make those early friendships far less important to understanding my own racialized experience than they might otherwise seem.
First, my genuine affection for those friends did little or nothing to prevent them from experiencing institutional racism and race-based mistreatment in those schools. Routinely they would be punished more harshly than the white kids (myself included) for minor behavioral infractions, even though they committed those infractions no more frequently than we did. That we were friends did not imbue me with an understanding of what was happening, let alone the nerve at the time to speak out and interrupt the process to which they were being subjected. Likewise, most all the black children in those early grades — so many of whom were truly friends of mine — were tracked into basic and remedial level classes, while most all the white kids were tracked into advanced and honors classes, even though we showed no more promise (and sometimes quite a bit less) than they. And again, my closeness to those kids, personally, did not prevent me from taking advantage of my race-based privileges — or indeed, even allow me to notice that they were race-based privileges at the time — let alone to protest the unfairness of it all. So although the friendships were real, their impact on racism as a functioning social reality in the lives of my black friends, and myself, meant absolutely zip.
Second, and as I’ve written about elsewhere, my genuine connections to black people — in all likelihood far more extensive than 90 percent or more of all white Americans — did not provide an ablative hardening around my consciousness, which somehow prevented the entry of any and all racially-biased thoughts from time to time. I’ve caught myself having racist thoughts over the years, and though I have caught myself and interrupted the thoughts before they manifested as racist action, that doesn’t get me off the hook. It means that like anyone else, I am subject to the influences of my culture. It means that advertising works on us all, and in the case of racially prejudicial imagery, we’ve all been subjected to plenty of that advertising, so to speak. We can deal with that honestly and humbly — and resolve to do better tomorrow than we managed to do today — or, alternately, we can prevaricate and pretend that we haven’t a racist bone in our ostensibly colorblind bodies.
Finally, no matter how many friends of color we white folks may have, unless we are there to intervene every time they get unfairly stopped by a police officer, every time they get followed around at the mall on suspicion of shoplifting, every time they apply for a mortgage loan and face the risk of being charged higher interest, and every time they apply for a job, knowing that the employer may be looking at them as a walking, talking stereotype, then our friendships will mean pitifully little in the larger scheme of things. Only when those personal relationships translate into collective and committed action will they do black and brown folks much good.
And interestingly, white folks who are actually committed to that kind of action, and the change it would portend in the larger society, are the white folks who never feel the need to parade their interracial friendships in front of others, while the ones who wear their black and brown friends on their sleeves like trophies are the ones who rarely ever do a damned thing to alter the institutional patterns that subject said friends to myriad injustices.
Oh, and just so ya know: this is pretty much exactly what your black friends would tell you… that is, if you actually had any.
The Struggle Continues…RLH Sr.
For a while now we’ve known that there were significant numbers of white Americans who wanted to “take their country back” to some mythical period of the nation’s hagiographic past. We’ve known it because they’ve told us so, as often and endlessly as their lungs will allow.
Little did we realize, however, that for at least some in the white community that prior era of glory was not merely the too-often-nostalgized 1950s — with its misremembered innocence still fresh in their minds — but rather, the 1850‘s. Not 1957, the year in which the CBS television network gave us Leave it to Beaver, but instead, 1857, the year in which the Supreme Court gave us its decision in Dred Scott.
But now we know.
It was there, after all, that the nation’s brightest, most accomplished and yet most ethically decrepit jurists reminded the nation that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” They could never be citizens, “entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by (the Constitution),” because the framers of that document (to whom the Court referred as “great men,” “high in their sense of honor”) had never intended them such. And much like today’s conservative theorists, who are equally enamored of the so-called “jurisprudence of original intent,” the highest court, beholden as it was to the insipid moral views of 18th century white supremacists, insisted things must stay that way.
As the decision noted:
“[T]he legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument (the Constitution).
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect…This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. It was regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, which no one thought of disputing, or supposed to be open to dispute; and men in every grade and position in society daily and habitually acted upon it in their private pursuits, as well as in matters of public concern, without doubting for a moment the correctness of this opinion.”
Importantly, and this is what is particularly relevant for our current discussion, the Court opined that blacks were clearly never intended to be considered citizens, for had they been so, such designation would have extended to such individuals the unacceptable right “to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law…”
And this is what brings us to the terrifying present, a period some 155 years later, but during which time it appears there are still far too many in the white community (and even some among persons of color) who would return us to the logic of Dred Scott. This they make clear from their hateful and bigoted musings about Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old black male who made the mistake, in their mind, of forgetting that he had no rights which white men (or even Latino white-male-wannabes like George Zimmerman) need respect. No right to go where he pleased, “without molestation,” no right to be treated like a citizen, indeed like a human being. No rights to due process, to peaceably assemble on a public street, to free speech (which he foolishly tried to exercise by asking his pursuer, Zimmerman, why he was following him), to be free from cruel and unusual punishment (such as extra-judicial execution for being black in a hoodie and thus arousing the suspicions of a paranoid negrophobe). No rights at all.
And not even the well-established right to self-defense — the very right Zimmerman would now claim for himself, but which apparently did not extend to the young man whose life he ended. And so we hear (whether true or not — it remains to be seen) that Zimmerman had a broken nose and head injuries, that Martin attacked him: never mind that Zimmerman took out after Martin, that Zimmerman accosted Martin and asked him what he was doing in the neighborhood, that, according to witnesses, it was Zimmerman who pinned Martin down. We are supposed to feel sorry for the shooter because even in the light most favorable to him, his victim might have actually fought back! Imagine that, fighting back against a total stranger who attacks you. That Martin would still be alive and Zimmerman would never have suffered the indignity of a broken septum, nor the anger of millions aimed in his direction had he just kept his stupid ass in his SUV like the police told him to do apparently matters not. Because, as some wish to remind us, Trayvon Martin had been suspended for school on suspicion of marijuana possession (an allegation so weak that he received no citation for the incident); and because Trayvon didn’t have a receipt for those Skittles he had in his possession when he was murdered (as if any 17 year old asks for a receipt when they purchase candy like they were going to need it for an expense report); and because Trayvon posed like a gangster on Facebook. Oh no, sorry, wrong Trayvon, but racists are like the Honey Badger–they don’t give a shit.
The active and putrescent campaign of defamation now in full swing against this dead child is a reminder of just how little black life matters to some. No matter the facts, their deaths are always justified.
These are the ideological soul mates of those who insisted Emmett Till really did say “Bye Baby” to that white woman, as if such an offense could even theoretically justify shooting him, tying a cotton gin fan to his neck with barbed wire, and tossing him in the Tallahatchie River.
No rights which the white man is bound to respect.
They are the iniquitous heirs of the white reprobates who insisted against all logic and evidence that Dick Rowland really did attack Sarah Page in that Tulsa elevator, and thus, it was necessary to burn the black Greenwood district of the city to the ground in retaliation.
No rights which the white man is bound to respect.
They are the fetid philosophical offspring of those whites who stood beneath the swinging bodies of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, whom they had lynched, content in their own certitude that they had — again, evidence be damned — raped a white woman.
No rights which the white man is bound to respect.
They are the vile and reeking progeny of those who insisted that even disrespecting white people was sufficient justification to affix black bodies to short ropes dangling from tall trees, to burn them with blowtorches, chop off body parts and sell them — or pictures of the carnage — as souvenirs.
No rights which the white man is bound to respect.
They are the odious inheritors of a time-honored and dreadful tradition, in which virtually no misdeed the target of which is black can simply be condemned for what it is, and then have such condemnation followed by a period at the end of the sentence. No, it is forever and always the case that such condemnations, when and if they issue at all, will inevitably be followed by a comma, and the word “but,” and the attempt, however clumsy and craven, to all but erase the condemnation in a word salad of imbecilic rhetoric and exculpatory exhortation.
They are the carelessly cogitating companions of those who seek to brush aside the killings of Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, or any of the hundreds of other folks of color, who comprise the disproportionate share of unarmed persons killed by law enforcement in city after city across America over the years. They are always to blame for their own deaths.
If they had just put their hands up, like they were asked.
If they had just not run.
If they had just answered the questions put to them politely and quickly.
If they had just not grabbed for their keys or wallet.
If they had just understood that the men dressed in plainclothes, pointing guns at them were police.
If they had just not worn those clothes, or that hairstyle.
If they just hadn’t seemed nervous.
If they just hadn’t fit the description of some criminal the police were looking for, and by “fit the description” we mean had they not been black or brown, between 5 foot 8 and 6 foot 6, walking upright.
Nothing is unacceptable to these people. Nothing. Their fear of blacks allows them to smooth over every bigoted crease in their racialized narrative, to make the indefensible defensible, in the name of their own perceived safety. Their pathological inability to look at black people as anything other than an undifferentiated mass of criminals, rather than encouraging us to condemn them for their utterly stupefying lack of discernment, and mentally diseased dysfunction, is to serve as a defense to every racist act. Black people are to bear the burden of everyone else’s mendacious and morally supine stupidity. Black people are to continue being profiled, suspected, and occasionally killed, so long as those conditioned by white supremacy are afraid of them. And that, we are to believe, is the fault of black people, not the rest of us.
Because black people have no rights that the white man is bound to respect.
A black president will have to prove, again and again, to the utter dissatisfaction of cretinous bottom-feeders, that he is really an American.
A black college student will have to prove, again and again, to the utter amazement of benighted white undergrads that he or she really does belong in the University community to which his or her entrance was secured.
A black teenager will have to prove that he isn’t a criminal, to the satisfaction of anyone who might think otherwise, lest they be tackled and shot.
And some of us will continue trying to prove — as if there could, any longer, be a question about it — that white privilege is real. That any feeling, remotely thinking person could dispute it, when no white mother is having to have the talk with their sons that black mothers across America are routinely having with theirs (both before and after the killing of Trayvon Martin) tells you all you need to know about denial and its impermeability. It tells you all you need to know about the America of 2012, relative to that of 1857. For however much things have changed since then, one thing remains the same.
Black people still have no rights which the white man is bound to respect. (Tim Wise…published March 27, 2012)
The Struggle Continues…
Likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney doubled down on his attack against President Obama for allegedly waging a “war on religion” during a town hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Monday night, insisting that the Affordable Care Act’s new rule requiring employers to provide preventive health care services like contraception constituted an effort to establish “secularism” as an official religion.
“They decided to say that in this country, that a church, in this case the Catholic Church would be required to violate its principles and its conscience and be required to provide contraceptives, sterilization and morning after pills to the employees of the Church,” Romney said. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who has endorsed Romney and has campaigned throughout Wisconsin with the former governor, went even further, suggesting that “if that’s what this president is willing to do in a tough election year, imagine what he will do after the election if he ever has to face the voters ever again in fulfilling the rest of Obamacare.” Watch it:
But both men should know better, particularly since they’re in a state that has a far more aggressive contraceptive equity law than Obama’s national model and have yet to witness any grand sweep of secularism across the Badger State.
For instance, under Obama’s rule the Catholic Church — and all houses of worship — are specifically exempt from providing contraception to their employees, while religiously affiliated nonprofits can also opt out of offering birth control if they so choose. The same is not true in Wisconsin, however, where a 2010 law requires all employers — including the Catholic Church — to offer contraceptive benefits. But rather than declare war against “secularism,” religious organizations seem amiable towards the change. Some had been providing the benefit prior to the requirement and other characterize the use of contraception as a matter of personal conscience.
“Our employees know what church teaching is. And we trust them to use their conscience and do the right thing,” said Brent King, spokesman for the Madison Diocese, which began covering prescription contraception.” “Diocese of Madison employees, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, sign a document when they’re hired vowing to abide by the laws of both Wisconsin and the church. He said employees would receive “strong pastoral recommendations against” using the contraception benefit, but that the diocese has no intention of policing it.