Sunday, September 23, 2007

Prevention or Correction?

W.E.B. DuBois, an early sociological theorist who was ignored for most of his life because, even though he was Harvard-trained, he was African-American, called it "dual-consciousness." What he was referring to was the split perspective that African-Americans wind up with as a result of being raised in a society where White makes right and Black must step back. It's not hard to find examples or even to find agonizing critical analyses of the phenomenon written by people of color who struggle on a daily basis with looking through two pairs of psychic and cultural eyes.

White people don't get it. They only have one consciousness: White supremacy. They are born into a society (and yes, even a world) wherein they can expect certain reassurance of their right to privilege. Some White people argue that because they are now or came up poor, they experience the same problems as people of color, which is, frankly, so lacking in grasp of the reality of the situation as to be simultaneously heart-wrenching and ludicrous.

It's true, poverty is never fun. And poor people suffer in multiple ways. But to imagine that poor people of color have no more problems than poor people that look like me is to be ignorant of the truth. Even a Black doctor in this country is a Black doctor and better never forget it, let alone not having the protections of social class.

When an African-American, out of this dual-consciousness, mouths either lies or part truth and part falsehood because he or she cannot unwind the threads of the complicated and racially-charged mental processes under which they have been socialized, the White power structure and those in agreement with it rush to applaud. "You see," they chortle, "Even 'they' admit what we've been saying all along. It's all their own fault..." (whatever "it" is).

Sometimes the person of color is just trying to suck up to Whitey because that's the prudent thing to do in this society. Sometimes their socialization has been so effective, ruthless, and deeply skewed as to leave them clueless as to their own oppression. Sometimes they've had to retreat into a system of denial just to keep from slapping somebody, even if the denial is often accompanied by a profound sense of their own inadequacy. But probably most of the time, they simply get caught in and deliver without realizing it a stew of confusion that serves White supremacy well.

After a week of media reports on the happenings related to the on-going three-ring circus Jena, Louisiana has become, someone sent me a commentary by columnist Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City (Kansas) Star. Whitlock is Black and is bemoaning the fact -- with which we all could agree, I might add -- that it would have been to the point for the community (Black and White) to be there for Mychal Bell when he was young before all this mess unfolded. All boys need their dads, writes Whitlock, and Bell's dad was not there until after he went to jail. In fact, Whitlock appears to relish reporting, Bell has been before the bench three times for assault in the last two years, including the most recent incident. Doesn't that prove, he seems to be suggesting, that it's a personal problem; that it's his father's fault; that it's a shortcoming in the Black community where men don't volunteer to be Big Brothers for boys like Mychal?

He calls the fight a "beatdown" (how Black of him). He castigates Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton for being prone to serve up a "kernal of truth on a mountain of lies" because they demand racial parity. He dangles "true American liberation, equality and power" in front of his readers as if none of these requires any realization of who precisely is sitting on top of all three making sure they are NOT shared.

Whitlock points out that the Black U.S. Attorney said the attack had "absolutely nothing to do with the noose-hanging incident three months before" and that because the defense attorney who called NO witnesses was Black, his poor performance couldn't possibly have had anything to do with Mychal's race. By the time he finishes his piece, declaring that the Black community needs to practice "preventive medicine" so that other boys of color will not throw away their futures, his assertion that these boys "deserve to be punished" comes across more as a man concerned than a man who, at least in this case, like so many others with dual-consciousness, unfortunately helps those with the Power-to-Define maintain the paradigm that incubated this situation and then threw it in the laps of the clean-up crew.

Who can argue with the idea that all children need loving parents and a supportive community? But many live-in dads do more damage than their absence would. And "Talley's Corner" (a famous sociological study in the 1970's) found a long time ago that Black men who are FOUR TIMES more likely to be unemployed than European-American men at every educational level in the U.S. are often discouraged about their inabilities to support their families financially and therefore walk away. Is discrimination in the job market their fault?

White men leave their families in the lurch. too. And there's been plenty written about how "deadbeat dads" are the cause of all manner of ills in this country. But the fact is that, while children in other industrialized nations (especially in Europe) are routinely covered by programmatic assistance that ensures their eating and having medical care and receiving truly adequate educations, this society does not find that important enough to outweigh the war du jour. What I mean is, does this society give a crap about its kids in general or not? You want to fault Black men for the norms to which the whole society is apparently committed?

Additionally, young Black men are the fodder for the cash cow that the prison-industrial complex has become in this country. The Federal Bureau of Prisons alone is now the biggest industry in the U.S. and with the workers making pennies (sometimes literally), a magical mystery tour of capitalistic endeavor it has become. With three-fourths of those now "doing time" incarcerated for non-violent crimes or no crimes at all (such as drinking on probation), those who pay attention know how many of those young men have been prepared for their fate and then helped to fulfill it just as the Jena Six have.

Finally, how in the sam hill (as my mother used to say) can we continue to wolf about making Black boys "accountable" when we do not make our racist society at least equally accountable for its wrongs? How can a U.S. Attorney (apparently an "educated" man) say there's no connection between the nooses and the fight when they both came straight out of the ugly, vicious, White-driven violence of U.S. history which is still living out its twisted agendas today? How can a Black public defender who needs a job in a town of three thousand people where only White kids deserve shade be assumed to be unscathed by race in his defense of a Black boy who cold-cocked a White one?

When, in the same region of Louisiana as Jena, three White boys beat another White boy so badly that he wound up in the hospital for two weeks with bleeding and swelling of the brain, the attackers were charged were simple battery -- a misdemeanor. No jail. No felony record. No interruption of their school year. But when Mychal Bell and his friends -- after being threatened with lynching (a practice that still occurs, Mr. Whitlock, and not just in the South), attacked physically on another occasion, threatened by a Prosecutor with having their lives "disappear," turned away by the School Board when they attempted to be heard about their concerns as young African-Americans, threatened with a shotgun and then charged with robbery for disarming the White man who was threatening them and who was NOT charged with anything -- finally had a bellyful of standing alone in the face of such a display of unmitigated Whiteness arrayed against them and jumped somebody for mocking them, they deserve to be punished.

You want to know where the preventive medicine is, Mr. Whitlock? It marched in Jena last Thursday. Where were you?


Anonymous said...

Amen, my sister!

Anonymous said...

My name is Fallon and I’m organizing with other women of color around the Dunbar Gang Rapes and West Virginia Torture/Rape case. Well, I was wondering if you have time to participate in a phone conference on Friday, September 28, 2007 at 9pm/central about organizing to end silences surrounding Megan Williams’ torture and rape in Logan and the gang rape of several Black women in West Palm Beach Florida as well as stories that go unheard because it involves a woman of color such as the Newark imprisonment of the four lesbians for protecting themselves from a male aggressor.
Well, I’ve been circulating a 2 minute movie entitled, “How do you keep a Social Movement Alive.”
This movie documents the silence surrounding Megan Williams’ torture and rape in Logan and the gang rape of several Black women in West Palm Beach Florida. The purpose of this movie is to document the silences within our relationships, within our homes, within our families, within our communities, within our jobs, within our schools, within our churches, temples, and synagogues, within our governments, and within our world.
We have a blog, but given the organizing we are trying to do, I need to reorganize the blog and use wordpress instead of blogger. This is the current blog,
If you can’t do the phone conference would you be interested in being a part of the Women of Color Bloggers Breaking the Silences Contingency on the Web which would mean inundating the web with information about Wearing Red Campaign on October 31, 2007 as well as circulating clips and other media trying to inundate the web with stories of violence committed against women of color?
You can email me at
I look forward to connecting with you,

Gabby's World said...

Great piece

Changeseeker said...

Thank you, Heather. I do love to preach. ;^)

Fallon: I am so honored to have you invite me to be part of the dialogue tomorrow night. I have great respect for the work of the Women of Color Bloggers. I'll be emailing you later tonight.

Gabby: I appreciate your kind words. I just hope some of my ideas reach some of the folks that don't immediately feel the way you do.

Anonymous said...

Geat piece Change. Jason Whitlock is a sad excuse for a human being, and I am quite familiar with him as a sportswriter.

I have also responded to his FIRST despicable article on Jena

Anonymous said...

Also, Change do you have more information on the young white boy who was hospitalized for two weeks?

Changeseeker said...

Fallon: I wrote a loooong email to you and can't find any way to deliver it. The email address you give here doesn't go through and there doesn't appear to be an email address on your blogs. Please contact me at so that I can send you my email. Thanks.

Modi: I'll read your piece on Whitlock tomorrow, though I hate to expose myself to something else written by this guy. About the other story, I hate to admit this, but after reading it in a regular newspaper story, I didn't keep the article and now I can't remember where I saw it...arggggh! If any readers know anything about this, please contact modi and I about the source. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

If you don't read it I fully understand. It is much healthier that way. Me, however, I'm a masochist apparently...