Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Face of Racism

The last several days, I've been making my blog rounds for the first time in quite a while. I mean, I've dropped in here and there from time to time, but overall, nothing like I used to do. This blogging stuff takes time.

Anyway, the blogs I haunt are about the socially-constructed, political notion of "race," by and large. So, during my rounds, I've been inspired, entertained, informed, and unfortunately, horrified by what I read. And here are a few of the highpoints.

1) Ann at Beautiful, Also Are the Souls of My Black Sisters tipped me to stories about swastikas being burned into the lawn of a family in Merced, California, and a KKK newsletter being left on the porch of a bi-racial family living in Warren, Michigan.

2) Andrew Grant-Thomas at Race Wire wrote about race and poverty and how things cost more in poor neighborhoods, assuming they're available at all.

3) ZNet presented a Tim Wise essay on race and law enforcement, focusing particularly on how White privilege makes marijuana more of an option for White youth than for Black youth in a country that still (supposedly) instructs us all to "just say no."

4) at Model Minority wrote a blockbuster analysis of the point where hip-hop, capitalism and gender meet. I'm going to give students extra credit for reading this one.

5) Minister Faust at The Bro-Log talks about what he calls "blood chocolate" by introducing Carol Off's new book on the topic.

6) The Villager at Electronic Village posts a letter written by Ben Jealous, the national President of the NAACP, after he visited Troy Davis, an innocent man who's being threatened with eminent execution even as I write. Apparently, the mass media is clamoring to meet with Davis, but the Powers-That-Be are blocking any access to him that might wind up making them look like the criminals they are.

7) Over at the Huffington Post, Ann Medlock writes about the oil companies killing kids in Nigeria.

8) The award-winning editorial team at Sanctuary presents a statement on the travesty that occurred in the court when the murderers of Luis Ramirez were acquitted.

9) The newest edition to my blog rounds was RiPPa at The Intersection of Madness and Reality, whose writing reminds me of DNA when he was at Two Sense or maybe The Field Negro. RiPPa posted about Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil rights workers were murdered and the KKK, according to a former mayor, was made up of a bunch of guys who were just doing their best to make the community a better place to live. Uh-huh!

10) And finally, Kai at Zuky did his usual breath-takingly elegant job of de-constructing (and explaining) what drove major world leaders (including Obama) to boycott the U.N. anti-racism conference in Geneva, Switzerland, last month (the problem of Whiteness). Quote: "[W]hiteness is not genetic; it's socialized, not inherited; though ironically, whiteness deploys a pseudo-genetic basis in its contempt for The Other. Whiteness is a socio-political construct and a fluid strategic ideology of power which has only existed for the past 5 centuries or so, during the era of racist globalization and colonialism. When I talk about the whiteness problem, I'm not necessarily talking about white people, I'm talking about whiteness. I'm saying that whiteness is a disturbingly unifying thread you can find running through many of the great problems of our time: environmental destruction, the war racket, famine, human migrations, curable yet untreated disease. Attempts to address any of these issues are severely hindered by whiteness; that is, by the existential drive of a global elite, profoundly informed by whiteness, to live in dominion over, rather than harmony with, humanity and nature."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Jay Smooth on the Racial Crossroads

While I could care less about Asher Roth and his twitter toe-stubbing, I think Jay Smooth has some very crucial things to say in this video about where we are in the process of becoming ever so slightly less racist in this culture. Listen carefully, because Jay comes at you fast. And thanks to Angry Black-White Girl for the heads up on this one.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cop-on-Cop Crime? Uh...

There's nothing like cutting out the middle man. I've posted a bunch of times about police officers killing "suspects," but this story takes the cake. What happened was:

25-year-old Omar Edwards, a plain clothes police officer working out of a precinct in Harlem, found a guy rummaging through his car when he got off work last night. The would-be thief ran off, of course, and Edwards -- being a cop and all -- whipped out his trusty 9mm as he chased the man down the street.

Enter another police officer in an unmarked car (man-oh-man, they be SNEAKIN' around Harlem, don't they?) and you may have guessed what happened next. Yep. At the sight of a Black man (uh-huh) with a gun running down the street, the police officer still on duty jumped out of his car, squeezed off six rounds and dropped Edwards as he ran, killing him.

I hardly know where to begin. Edwards might still be alive if he hadn't pulled his gun law-enforcement-fast while chasing the guy he caught in his car. And Edwards might still be alive if the apparent police officer praxis/policy/whatever wasn't to shoot first and ask questions later. But the bottom line, I suspect, is that the shooter was White and Edwards, as I already pointed out, was Black.

Nevertheless, as always, the statement that's been released is: "It was unclear if race had any role in the shooting." When, oh, when will they quit pretending to be asleep? Even a chimpanzee can be taught to shoot a gun. One wonders if a trained chimp would use less emotional judgment and less knee-jerk reactions -- and kill fewer people -- than the cops. Especially now that they're killing each other.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Am I Not Human?

It's the 27th again and time to post on human rights with the folks at AfroSpear. And, as a matter of fact, in keeping with another of AfroSpear's recent campaigns, I'm going to take this opportunity to post on Tasering in particular as a human rights violation disproportionately -- though not only -- perpetrated against people of color in situations patently uncalled for. I received an email from the African American Political Pundit recently about a petition AfroSpear has generated to call for a Congressional hearing on the use of these weapons and I most assuredly concur with their concerns.

I've been watching in horror ever since the Taser first hit my radar a decade or so ago. I mean, all we need in this country is more ways to do bodily injury to people and get away with it. (Tasers are legal to carry -- open or concealed -- in 43 states!) But obviously, my main attention has been focused on the fascist way law enforcement officers have tended to use these tools of torture. Even Amnesty International, citing more than 300 deaths by Taser since 2001 (which averages out to about one death per week, by the way), has called for police to severely limit or suspend their use.

And no wonder. Just off the top of my head, I can recall a whole string of cases in less than a year. A 21-year-old last July; a 15-year-old in March; a 16-year-old in April; and even the near misses can do lasting damage, as indicated by the case of a 14-year-old in February. At least one branch of the NAACP is seeking information for an investigation it's doing on excessive use of Tasers. And AfroSpear announced a Day of Blogging for Justice in April, calling death by Taser "pre-trial, extra-judicial execution." In addition, a new blog, Electrocuted While Black, tracks and reports on the issue of Taser use and abuse.

Numbing U.S. citizens to the use of force resulting in "accidental" deaths ought to be reminding us of Nazi Germany, when the population was trained fairly quickly to accept whatever happened to "other people" until it started happening to everybody and it was too late to put on the brakes. Anyone that has done even a cursory exploration of history knows better than to believe the assumption that if you just "keep your nose clean," you don't have to worry about those with the Power-To-Define, including in this case, the police, who get to define these situations and their outcomes in ways that make the question "Am I not human?" moot.

Goodbye, Columbus?

I'm back from New York City now and will be posting my usual human rights piece later today since this is the 27th. But in the meantime, I just had to upload the photo above. It's me (of course) in Central it the statue commemorating that brutally violent Euro-centric slaver and child rapist Columbus for "discovering" the Western Hemisphere. Hee hee.

The photo credit for this one goes to my daughter's significant other (the socialist) who had no problem with it. My daughter, on the other hand, loooooong since tired of Mommy's outrageous public behavior, slipped away to a bench while the festivities were occurring.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Those who are not afraid to die, come to the front."

For those who haven't been reading this blog lately, let me explain first that I'm in New York City right now. And tonight, I went to the Film Forum in Greenwich Village to watch "Burma VJ," an HBO documentary about the underground video bloggers who chronicled the popular uprising in Burma in September of 2007. Three of the monks who led the demonstrations and then had to run for their lives disguised as car salesmen (now that would be a major leap even for the paranoid Burmese military to make) were at the theater for a question-and-answer session after the showing and now I feel like a baby-stepping slacker of a social change agent. A bunch of talk and some occasional action, maybe, but nothing like what they've been doing in an attempt to free their people.

I spent most of the film with my hands up under my chin, unconcerned with what those sitting next to me must have thought. The suspense was chilling, despite the homework I did before leaving Louisiana so I'd have a clue what I was looking at. I mean, I knew the end of the story and yet I was still shallow-breathing through it, almost afraid to blink.

Some of the marching monks were children. Few were very far into their adulthood. And there were hundreds, maybe thousands of them, leading the demonstrations in their saffron-colored robes carrying their alms bowls bottom up to symbolize their unwillingness to accept contributions from the military officers who do the dirty work of the junta that has changed Burma's name to Myanmar and crushed its people for forty years. Monks refusing alms in a country where 90 per cent of the people are Buddhist is a major statement of shaming condemnation. And even after the military brutally beat the demonstrators in front of their supporters, killing one monk in the process, the monks came back again and again, forcing the government's hand until more than two hundred monks at one time were dragged bloody out of a single monastery and caused to disappear.

Even after that, monks and students still took to the streets, belligerently ignoring the government's edict that no more than five people could congregate at a time. At one point, when it became apparent that the guns were coming out, a VJ only an arm's length from the action captured the student leaders declaring over a bull horn, "Those who are not afraid to die, come to the front."

All of this is only in the film because incredibly brave and dedicated souls committed themselves to filming the events in a country where people were being shot for having cameras. In fact, more than one of the Burma VJ's were filming when a Japanese photographer was shot to death, sending that single incident out over the airwaves by satellite to the astonishment of a watching world and the horror of the military leaders giving the orders. Which was the whole point of the VJ's actions. They wanted to show the world what the dictatorship in Burma was up to. And show us all they did.

Now that U Pyinya Zawta, U Gawsita, and U Agga have been forced to run for their lives, they worry about their friends back in Burma. They know some of them are imprisoned and being ill treated. They know that some of them are dead (the film shows one monk floating face down in a creek). And they can't get good information to even know which are which. Not only are the monks and students under constant surveillance now, however. The fact is, no one in Burma dares talk about "politics" with anyone else for fear it will get back to the Powers-That-Be. There's no wiggle room. And still they fight.

Most of the Burma VJ's are now in prison or in hiding and no longer in touch with each other. Wildly popular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for years and is about to be tried in a kangaroo court to move her into prison proper. Nevertheless, "Joshua," the VJ who was in Thailand during the demonstrations in 2007, catching what the other VJ's pitched and forwarding it on to the rest of the world because his cover had already been blown, has walked back over the mountains into Burma to set up another VJ network in preparation for the next revolution.

At the end of the showing, the three monks in attendance politely described their concerns -- two through an interpreter and one in halting, but understandable English -- and asked for help for their fellow Burmese citizens. They want China and Russia to vote as U.N. Security Council members to bring pressure to bear on the military junta in their country. The U.N. talks about how wrong the junta is, but implements nothing to put teeth in their statements. The U.S., too, of course, only talks about democracy in Burma without doing anything to encourage that as a reality. But then, the U.S. has never really had a problem accepting fascist dictatorships. It's the socialist democracies that make our government nuts.

In any case, the three monks, one of whom said later that they pray loving kindness constantly on the military tormentors who hold their country's people in thrall, not surprisingly, chose to close this evening with a prayer, as well:

"May there be no deception of one another;
may loving kindness envelop the world;
and may there be peace on Earth."

Indeed. Indeed.

NOTE: The three monks at the film showing have apparently reached President Obama, according to The Huffington Post. Not that the Burmese junta is likely to listen. But still...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Smoke Signals

I used to be a cigarette smoker. I mean to tell you, I was a serious addict, a light-'em-off-each-other smoke fiend. In my early twenties, when I was doing my heaviest ripping and running, I was using an Alfred Dunhill short holder with a crystal filter and I still had to grab a spoonful of honey in the morning to coat my raw throat so I could have that first morning cigarette comfortably. I was so addicted that even after I'd been quit for twenty years, I picked them up again -- not even wanting to, but seemingly helpless to fight off the urge.

But that was a decade or so ago and I seem to have cleared the hurdle this time. And of course, in stereotypical "reformed smoker" fashion, I notice my friends and my students lighting up one after another (at damned near $5 a pack, for God's sake!), while they hack between puffs if they're my age or bemoan their latest cold or flu or whatever, if they're not, as if all manner of physical manifestations weren't directly attributable to their veeeeeery damaging habit.

Still, except for an occasional comment, I usually mind my own business about it. Smokers are strung out behind their addiction, after all, and by and large, have heard it all before and just haven't decided to do anything about it. And while I have a major problem accepting it as a "privacy issue" when second-hand smoke will kill a non-smoker, too (would anyone claim drunk driving is a "privacy issue"?), I pick my battles and that's not one I see as possible to win, as a rule.

Then, the other day, I came across some information I found interesting: tobacco is the #1 killer of African-Americans, bringing down more than 47,000 Black people in this country per year. In fact, tobacco-related deaths and diseases affect communities of color almost twice as much as all other communities. Heart disease, stroke, cancer -- they're all easily traced in many cases to cigarette smoking and the presence of second-hand smoke.

Latricia Dixon, the Regional Coordinator for the Communities of Color Network of The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living reminded me recently that nicotine is a drug and that oppressed and depressed poor people of color are quick to pick up what some folks call "cancer sticks" because their "nerves are bad." Well, no lie. Being poor and Black in the United States would be enough to make anybody's nerves "bad." But what's so interesting about this government taxed and subsidized drug pushing business is that, if you pay attention, you can't help but notice that the biggest, flashiest cigarette ads are disproportionately to be found in Black neighborhoods. Kinda makes you wanna go "Hmmmm...", doesn't it?

And why am I not surprised?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Race and the Mortgage Crisis

Normally, now that I've turned in the grades for this semester (about an hour ago), I'd be blogging my head off for the next week. But what with working on a manuscript I promised a publisher over a month ago AND a statement I'm supposed to be writing for the court on the sociological disaster that school segregation has created here in this parish even AFTER the school system was ordered thirty years ago to straighten this mess out, I wouldn't have much time to blog even if I weren't running off to spend five days in New York City hanging out with my daughter and an artist friend of mine. Still, I gotta do something in this space from time to time or they're going to rescind my blogger's privileges.

So let me start by making a public service announcement: if you're on the verge (or even in the middle) of losing your house right now, check out Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America's National Save the Dream Campaign. I don't know much about it, but I heard a guy give a little spiel at a public meeting and it looks straight up. They do advising, advocacy, political organizing and more. They even pressured the notorious Countrywide Mortgage Lenders into an agreement that has radically lowered interest rates on thousands of families' mortgages (see above). So if you're in trouble, maybe they can help. The guy swore they routinely pull fat out of the fire with their bare hands, so it might be worth a call to 1-888-302-6222, huh?

What does this have to do with the socially-constructed, political notion of "race?"

"A report released today by the Applied Research Center (ARC), a racial justice think-tank, finds that an inclusive and equitable national economic recovery will require that the country address deep patterns of racial discrimination and disparities. The report, titled 'Race and Recession: How Inequity Rigged the Economy and How to Change the Rules,' found that numerous policies and institutional practices that create racial inequity are among the root causes of the subprime mortgage crisis and economic downturn.

"While several economists and analysts have focused on the 'what' and 'how' questions behind the current recession, an in-depth analysis of income, unemployment, foreclosures, and public benefits brings the largely overlooked 'who' into the analysis: Who were predatory loans targeted towards? Which Americans are losing jobs? The current crisis has brought soaring national unemployment rates, record foreclosure filings, and record lows in the stock market, with global repercussions. However, the most bruising effects have been unevenly distributed -- overwhelmingly to people of color.

"The report examines systemic patterns of racial inequality, including unemployment levels for people of color, which are consistently higher than those of whites and considerably higher during recessionary times. In March of this year, when unemployment reached 8.5% nationally, 13.3% of Black workers and 11.4% of Latinos were out of work, compared to only 7.9% of whites. In contrast, Black unemployment has dipped below 8% only once since 1973.

"Sizeable income gaps between people of color and whites also still persist. Seth Wessler, the report's author and lead investigator, explains that 'Racial disparities in income leave communities of color making about 60 cents for every dollar earned by whites. This huge difference is a direct result of institutional policies and practices that collectively block people of color from opportunity.'

"ARC's analysis of the housing crisis also demonstrates that communities of color were disproportionately saddled with subprime loans at very high rates. Wessler says 'The cumulative effects of historic and current housing discrimination -- including restrictive racial covenants, redlining and neighborhood segregation -- have left people of color with less equity and access to credit, making them prime targets for largely unregulated predatory lending practices. High-cost loans were aggressively marketed in communities of color.' Yet, Wessler says, most troubling is that 'many who could have qualified for prime loans were sold high-cost loans instead - 35 % of subprime loans were sold to people who could have qualified for a traditional, fixed rate, prime loans. And clearly, subprime loans were responsible for the crash.'

"ARC's Executive Director, Rinku Sen, says 'This study reveals that a healthy economy requires explicit attention to ensuring racial equity in our public and private institutions. Thankfully, there are many clear solutions to move us toward fair policies and shared prosperity.'

"The report recommends the use of Racial Equity Impact Assessments, modernization of the Community Reinvestment Act, a moratorium on foreclosures, a lifting of time limits in Temporary Aid for Needy Families, expunging past criminal records, protections for immigrants, passing the Employee Free Choice Act, raising the minimum wage, establishing universal healthcare and the full enforcement of anti-discrimination laws."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Passin' It On

I haven't done this for a while, due to the embarrassing limit on my on-line reading level of late. But my "they-need-to-know-about-THIS" list has reached a point that I really must pass a few things on for your information.

First, Michigan is considering doing away with the state's current practice of sending juveniles to prison for life without parole. The bill is presently stalled in committee, though I can't imagine how a human being with any sense at all could waffle on this issue. If passed, the bill would immediately affect the 350 people now serving life without parole for a crime committed when they were seventeen or younger, seven out of ten of which are Black (why am I not surprised?). Even the Director of the state Department of Corrections supports the bill, saying that juveniles should never come into adult prisons at all. Particularly in a state with one of the most under-funded public defender systems in the country, I would add.

Underscoring this is Christopher Robbin's new book on the militarization of schools and how that systematically moves youth of color out of public schools in the interest of maintaining "order" and serving as a cautionary note to other students. Can we say "pathway to prison?" That's what the so-called "zero tolerance" practice has been called elsewhere, given the veeeery particularistic way in which it's applied.

Reading Robbin's book might be helpful to Congress as they review and consider the huge wealth gap in the U.S. related to race. An interesting topic in a nation with an African-American chief executive, it seems to me. According to the Federal Reserve, for every dollar White families had five years ago, Black families had 12 cents. And the numbers are getting worse, not better.

Continuing our magical mystery tour, then, trying to see the logic in a rampantly White supremacist system, we come to a report by the publicly-funded Virginia Fusion Center announcing that the "diversity" at Historically Black Colleges and Universities "affords terrorist operatives the opportunity to assimilate easily into society, without arousing suspicion." Good. grief.

And finally, lest we think that only African-Americans are taking the racial hit, consider the case of Diane Bukowski, a 5'4" 60-year-old White woman who writes for a Black newspaper in Detroit. This obviously dangerous woman was arrested for committing the heinous crime of being the first journalist on the scene when a police officer's driving resulted in the deaths of two young Black men, one on a motorcycle and the other a pedestrian. Bukowski was trying to take photos, when she was arrested for "obstruction of justice." Uh-huh. By the time the charge got to court, however (yes, to court), it had morphed into two felony counts (down from five!!) of "assaulting, battering, wounding, resisting, obstructing or endangering" the State Troopers who arrested her. Bukowski was convicted! and could serve up to four years in prison. That'll teach of us. But what exactly are we learning?
The graphic featured above is a Ricardo Levins Morales poster and is available at Northland Poster Collective.