Research Suggests Why Grand Juries Fail to Indict

Man holding sign with Tamir Rice picture

(image source)

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park, was shot and killed by police called to the scene by a neighbor. On Monday, a grand jury failed to indict the cops who killed Rice. The failure to indict anyone in the murder of a child is sickening, but not in any way surprising. The non-indictment of these Cleveland cops responsible for Rice’s murder stands in a long and depressing list of recent failures to indict: in the death of Eric Garner, in the death of Sandra Bland, in the death of Michael Brown.

Someone unfamiliar with the U.S. judicial system might glance at this string of failed indictments and imagine that it’s fairly common for grand juries to not bring indictments. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Grand juries almost always indict every case brought before them by a prosecutor. So why this succession of failed indictments?

There is a ton of research that suggests some explanations.

  • Police & Prosecutorial Dominance. “The house always wins,” and in police-involved shootings, the “house” is the police. Even in the rare cases when officers are indicted for shootings, such as in the killing of Amadou Diallo, the indicted officers are likely to be acquitted, restored to their jobs, and later promoted. This police and prosecutorial dominance is not merely a case of closing ranks behind a blue wall of silence, but part of the larger fabric of the systemic racism known as the New Jim Crow. The dominance of police and prosecutors is now, over the last 30 years, become part of the legislative and judicial system, as Michelle Alexander has detailed in her work.

michelle alexander - new jim crow book cover

(Michelle Alexander, author of New Jim Crow)

  • White Dominance of Police Departments. Throughout the U.S., police departments tend to be whiter than the general population. For example, Maple Heights, the neighborhood in Cleveland where Tamir Rice lived, went from being mostly white to nearly two-thirds black in the last few decades. But the police force there remains predominantly white, despite a 1977 affirmative action deal in which the city agreed to hire more people of color. Overall, in the U.S. the percentage of whites on a police force is more than 30 percentage points higher than in the communities they serve, according to an analysis by the NYTimes drawn from a government survey of police departments.

 

  • Whites’ Anti-Black Views Shape Policing. The perspectives of whites, as policy makers, police and as plain citizens who call 911 on a neighborhood boy playing in a nearby park as a cause for concern, shape the way policing is done in the U.S. Nearly half of whites believe “many” or “almost all” black men are violent. Whites overestimate the amount of crime, in particular violent crime, involving blacks.

graph - whites overestimate black part in crime

(image source)

 

When describing the events surrounding the killing of Tamir Rice, the prosecutor described a “perfect storm of human error.” It seems that the right to be a human being, is not one that Tamir Rice, or Sandra Bland, or Eric Garner, or Amadou Diallo will get.

Dr. King’s Sermon on Christmas

Reflecting on peace and goodwill this time of year, I often return to Dr.King’s sermon on Christmas from 1967. This morning, I was struck by his global scope in this passage:

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

In this lecture, he explains that part of the reason people are so upset about riots that had happened recently is that these were attacks on property, which he says, “is symbolic of the white power structure.”

Many people forget (or never knew) how radical King had become, connecting the fight for racial justice to the anti-war movement and a global poor people’s movement.

This sermon was one of five he gave in the prestigious Massey Lecture series. He titled the series “Conscience for Change.” These lectures are compiled in both text, as a book, and audio format, as a CD) [The book was re-released as “The Trumpet of Conscience.”] The lectures were recorded almost fifty years ago and the use of “man” throughout can be off-putting, but otherwise, King’s words still resonate as we continue wrestle with the legacy of white supremacy.

You can also listen to the entire message here (about 1 hour in length and the site requires free registration).

Peace and goodwill to all of you.

White Terrorism: The White Supremacy of Anti-Abortion Extremism

On Friday, November 27, an anti-abortion extremist opened fire on a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs, killing three people and wounding nine others. The assailant was arrested while still alive – even though one of the people killed was a cop. As lots of people have been pointing out, he survived because of the privileges of his whiteness.

Others have noted the gentle treatment the gunman is receiving from the mainstream press accounts of his background before the shooting. The New York Times originally referred to him as a “gentle loner”.  Then, in response to lots of push back on Twitter, the Times-edited out that word. Now, the piece refers to him instead as “itinerant”. (The NYTimes has not added an editorial note about this change.)

Still others have noted the reluctance of U.S. politicians, such as Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) the head of the House Intelligence Committee, to name this act domestic terrorism. (There’s been a similar reluctance to call the white supremacists shooting of Black Lives Matter protestors an act of domestic terrorism – but more about that in another post).

White Supremacy and Anti-Abortion Extremism

The white supremacy of anti-abortion extremism goes deeper than this gunman’s deferential treatment by police, or politicians’ reluctance to speak plainly about what we can all see, or the mainstream media’s white framing of these acts of terrorism.

What I foWhiteLies_coverund in my early research of six different white supremacist organizations’ literature is that abortion is viewed as a form of racial treason (White Lies, Routledge, 1997, p.67-8). I analyzed hundreds of newsletters from these organizations over two decades (1970s-1990s) and found a consistent set of beliefs about abortion, anti-Blackness and anti-Semitism.

For white supremacists, the decline in the number of white births is directly tied to their fear of a decline in white dominance in the U.S.  In this worldview, fewer white births is due to two factors. First, they contend there are fewer white women are who are willing to become pregnant and give birth to white children. Second, they believe that white women are quick to have abortions (or easily persuaded to do so) and are nonchalant about them afterwards.

The apparent willingness of white women to have abortions is counterposed against both anti-Blackness and anti-Semitism. For white supremacists are convinced that white women are having too many abortions, but Black women are having too few. And, they believe that Jewish men (mostly as doctors) and Jewish women (as feminists and champions of abortion) are behind this as a form of racial annihilation. I saw this again and again in the text of the publications I analyzed, as well as in the illustrations.

Anti-Blackness and Anti-Abortion

A drawing from white supremacist publication Racial Loyalty (published by Ben Klassen) highlights the anti-Blackness of their anti-abortion stance. The illustration is a series of four panels, in each one a woman enters a clinic. In the first three panels, the women are all global-majority women, and each enters a clinic designated as a “Birth Clinic,” while her numerous children wait outside. In the fourth panel, a white woman enters an “Abortion Clinic,” and the caption below the (Jewish) doctor reads, “In a moment, we’ll dispose of the child to be.”(from Racial Loyalty, no.59, 1990, p.12, cited in Daniels, 1997, p.68).

The message in this crude drawing is clear: the wrong people – white people – are having abortions. Anti-abortion extremism here is not about the protection of “all life” but rather about the protection of the white race.

Anti-Semitism and Anti-Abortion

WhiteSupremacy_AntiAbortionAn illustration from White Aryan Resistance (WAR – published by Tom Metzger), depicts the anti-Semitism of anti-abortion extremism. In this drawing, directed at white women readers of WAR, warns of who the real culprits are behind abortion:

“Did you know that most abortionists are Jewish or other non-whites…and that the pro-abortion movement is headed by unfeminine feminist Jewesses who counsel non-whites to not get abortions…and did you know that abortionists slaughter nearly one million white babies every year? Jewish ritual murder is alive and well in the United States of America …and is very legal!” (WAR, vol.8, no.3, 1989, p.4 – cited in Daniels, 1997, p. 130).

By characterizing “abortionists” as Jewish and engaging in “ritual murder”, Metzger and his ilk are invoking a centuries old form of anti-Semitism.

A bit of an aside here: another way that Jewish people, especially feminists (almost always and exclusively Jewish) in WS rhetoric are convincing white women to not have white babies is by persuading them to be lesbians. Got me there. Queer, check. No children, check. Persuaded by many feminists, some of them Jewish. Check, check, and check. But I digress.

The message again and again throughout white supremacist literature and ideology is that abortion is a racial crime. It’s wrong when white women do it (but not others), and it’s promulgated by Jewish people, and it’s intended to harm the white race. While anti-semitism in mainstream rhetoric is more coded, the use of the term “abortionist” (instead of “doctor” or “abortion provider”) is an indication of the deep white supremacy of anti-abortion extremism.

The Real Racial Gap in Abortion & Reproductive Health

As I did this research, I learned that the white supremacist rhetoric in these newsletters was often the exact inverse of the actual social facts of the world. This is true when it comes to abortion.

The reality is that overall number of abortions are trending downward in the U.S. for all women. According to the Guttmacher Institute, about 1.1 million abortions were performed in 2011, at a rate of 16.9 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age, down from a peak of 29.3 per 1,000 in 1981. This downward trend is holds across all racial groups.

However, there is a racial gap in who gets abortions. But it’s the exact opposite of what the white supremacists’ fear it is. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 37% of abortions were obtained by Black women, 34% by Latina/Hispanic women, 22% by white women and 8% were designated as some other racial category.

Who-has-abortions

The reality is that an African American woman is almost five times likelier to have an abortion than a white woman. A Latina woman more than twice as likely to have an abortion than a white woman, according to the CDC. These racial disparities in abortion rates hold even when considering income differences, a study in a recent issue of the AJPH found.

The same AJPH  study also found that women of color may not have the same access to information on reproductive health and at the same time, experience pressure from their doctors to use contraceptives and to limit their family size. That is how subtler side of mainstream white supremacy works. It’s not a crude drawing about the “wrong” people having abortions. It’s a lack of access, it’s pressure from a doctor in a white coat, a side comment about family size, and an unsolicited prescription for a contraceptive. This contemporary racial gap in the use of abortion is tied to a legacy of white supremacy when it comes to Black and brown women’s bodies.

“The denial of Black reproductive autonomy serves the interests of white supremacy,” writes Dorothy Roberts, professor at University of Pennsylvania, in Killing the Black Body (Pantheon, 1997). Roberts documents this brutalization in great detail in her book, beginning with slavery and moving to the present day, Black women who were enslaved were viewed only in terms of how their reproductive lives might be profitable for their white owners. Later, in the first half of the 20th century, the eugenics movement turned contraception from a tool of (white) women’s liberation into a tool of control to cut birth rates among southern blacks, and as late as the 1970s black women were routinely sterilized by hysterectomies that were not medically necessary. More recently, Black women from economically impoverished urban areas have been routinely forced by courts, doctors, and health care organizations to be implanted with the Norplant birth-control device; doctors frequently refuse to remove it on request.

For Latina women, a similar but distinct pattern emerges that is tied to colonialism. In Puerto Rico, white researchers in sterilized as many as 35% of Puerto Rican women without their knowledge, consent or permission. In California, government officials sterilized some 20,000 people – mostly Mexican Americans under a eugenics law in effect from 1909 to 1979 (the year I graduated high school – not ancient history). While California did more sterilization than any other state, the number of eugenic sterilizations carried out in the United States in the 20th century totals roughly 60,000, according to research conducted by Alexandra Minna Stern, a professor at the University of Michigan. “Latinos were disproportionately sterilized,” Stern observes.

The real racial gap in abortions, the reality that it is disproportionately Black and Latina women who are accessing abortion services, is tied up in this legacy of white supremacy and reproductive health.

“Fringe” and Mainstream White Supremacy and Anti-Abortion Extremism

When I was doing this research into white supremacist newsletters and publications, I was sometimes shocked by the extremist rhetoric and images I saw. But at the same time, it was as if I could see many of these same ideas everywhere in mainstream culture, just dressed up in fancier clothes.

My research led me to conclude that “fringe” white supremacist rhetoric is really much closer to the mainstream discourse of elected officials, academics, and the mainstream media than most people would like to believe. This argument, which I first made in 1997, is still true and relevant for understanding anti-abortion extremism today, such as the shooting in Colorado Springs.

The mainstream political party with an explicitly anti-abortion platform in the U.S. is the Republicans, and the GOP candidates are lining up to condemn the shooting in Colorado Springs, but want to distance themselves from anti-abortion rhetoric.  The thing is, that’s a tough trick to pull off in an election that’s seen Carly Fiorina spouting crazy-talk  that precisely mirrors that of anti-abortion extremists.

And, then there’s Ted Cruz.

A Republican Senator from Texas, born in Canada to Cuban parents, has tried to distance himself from the shooting in Colorado Springs by spouting more crazy-talk about the gunman. Crazy-talk being a key GOP strategy.

(Image source)

But just last week, Cruz was touting the endorsement he received from Troy Newman, the anti-abortion extremist who leads Operation Rescue. Newman has a book that calls for the “execution” of all “abortionists,” a rallying cry that over 100 gunman – all of them white men – have taken literally.

“We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country who will stand up for those who do not have a voice,” Cruz said. Perhaps more than another mainstream politician, Cruz is directly linked with anti-abortion extremism and it is deeply rooted in white supremacy.

 

It’s important to call out the preferential treatment that the gunman in this case has received – from the arrest while alive, to the descriptions of him in the mainstream press. And, my research leads me to conclude that it’s also urgently important to understand the deep white supremacy of anti-abortion extremism. Only then will we really appreciate the scope of white terrorism.

 

 

 

 

 

What No One Will Say When a Cop Gets Killed

In New York City this week, an NYPD cop was killed and another man shot just a few blocks from where I live and work. Killed was Officer Randolph Holder who was a kind and brave man, an immigrant from Guyana, and his death is a senseless tragedy. This is what everyone will say now. This is what we are all obligated to say now.

(Randolph Holder, 33, NYPD, was shot and killed Tuesday, October 20, 2015 in East Harlem

Image source)

The man who allegedly shot the officer, Mr. Tyrone Howard, was in a diversion program – a kind of alternative sentencing program for those with non-violent, drug-related charges.  Mr. Howard, who was also shot and injured by Mr. Holder, had no history of violence, but instead had a series of arrests for low-level drug-related charges.

(Tyrone Howard, 30, accused of shooting Randolph Holder. Image source)

Mr. Howard, 30, had made bail in February for selling crack cocaine to an undercover cop in one of the NYPD’s buy-and-bust operations that serve as the daily machinery of the war on drugs, providing overtime pay for cops and locking up a huge swath of the citizenry. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Edward McLaughlin—acting within the law of the recently reformed harsh Rockefeller drug laws—decided Mr. Howard’s case should be sent to an alternative-to-prison system known as ‘diversion.’ There is lots of research that demonstrates these sorts of diversion programs are effective at reducing recidivism (e.g., Holly Wilson and Robert Hodge, “The Effects of Youth Diversion on Recidivism: A Meta-Analytic Review.Criminal Justice and Behavior 2013).

Almost before the bullets had stopped flying, NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio questioned why Mr. Howard was not locked up to begin with. Then, a cascade of calls began that urged an end to any alternative programs began right away even though this shooting had nothing to do with the effectiveness of diversion, and Bill de Blasio (mayor of NYC) knows this.  Leading progressive voices, like Kassandra Frederique of Drug Policy Alliance, called for reason and urged New York to keep successful alternative-to-incarceration programs like diversion.

But, a reasoned debate about the merits of diversion programs has not been on offer in the mainstream, local news in New York City this week. Instead, we’ve heard a lot from Pat Lynch.

The mainstream media coverage here has been a relentless, 24/7 cycle of very narrowly focused coverage, prominent featuring interviews with Pat Lynch, the thuggish NYPD union representative.  Much of that coverage has included law-and-order headlines like this one from the New York Daily News:

Manhattan DA’s office ‘puts gun in hands’ of accused cop-killer Tyrone Howard

Pat Lynch

(Pat Lynch, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association)

“Too Soon”

Months ago, activists with Rise Up October had planned a rally for Saturday, October 24 to call attention for an end to the systematic policy brutality that takes the lives of a disproportionate number of black and brown people. They could not have known that a cop would be killed in New York just days before. What these activists were rallying to call attention to is the sustained and systematic way police kill black and brown people.

Nationally, the U.S. Justice Department does not collect data on the number of people killed at the hands of police (no federal agency does), but according to research conducted by the Malcolm X Grassroots organization, every 28 hours in 2012 a Black man, woman, or child was killed by someone employed or protected by the US government. In New York, according to the NYPD’s own Firearm Discharge Report, the overwhelming majority of those killed by police are black and brown people.

Who is Shot by NYPD

 

Yet, this systematic destruction of black and brown lives is lost in the media coverage that the rally was a “disgrace” and “too soon” following the death of a cop.

 

NYPost_Cover

(New York Post Front Cover, October 25, 2015)

Certainly, some of my fellow citizens are saying “f-ck you to the NYPD,” as the New York Post reports on its cover today. Activist and East Harlem resident Josmar Trujillo writes about the reaction to the shooting from neighbors and long-time residents in the area. “I don’t care about them getting shot because at the end of the day they don’t care when we get shot,” Trujillo reports one resident told him. He goes on:

The young woman [in East Harlem] I spoke to wasn’t even as blunt as local young people I spoke to that simply said “Fuck ’em” when I asked about the shot cop. What about the fact that the cop was black, I asked three young men walking down 119th street the day after the shooting. “It don’t matter,” they told me. “As long as he’s wearing that patch, fuck him too.”

It’s not surprising that in a neighborhood — and a city, and a nation — where black and brown lives are not respected by police, people have no respect for the police and are unmoved by their deaths. It’s also not surprising to me that people who live under police surveillance and under the constant threat of state-sanctioned violence by the police are hearing about the death of a cop and saying, “fuck the police.” This is something people are saying.

What No One Will Say

What no one will say, at least in public with a microphone, is that since Rockefeller Reform, the law-and-order crowd has been waiting for a cop to be killed to trot out their push-back on those reforms. Just a few years ago here in New York State a coalition of progressive activists got Rockefeller Reform passed. These reforms were part of what made diversion programs like the one Mr. Howard was in possible.

The coalition of progressive groups that fought for Rockefeller Reform have been noticeably quiet in the media since Mr. Holder was killed; and, who can blame them? There’s no winning a media cycle when the mainstream media is in lockstep about a cop who has been killed.

What no one will say when a cop gets killed is that this death is collateral damage in the trillion dollar failed war on drugs and its twin, mass incarceration.  In New York City what this means is 95% of the inmates in New York City jails are African American or Latino, while these two groups make up only about half the city’s population. A majority of those in NYC’s jails are there for low-level drug offenses like marijuana and these, too, are racially biased. U.S. government surveys have consistently found that whites use drugs, including marijuana, at higher rates than do African Americans and Latinos. Nonetheless, the NYPD arrests whites for drug possession at much lower rates than it arrests African Americans or Latinos, according to research by Professor Harry Levine. Mass incarceration and the war on drugs that fuels it, are part of the engine of white supremacy in NYC and the nation as a whole.

Tyrone Howard was a man with low-level drug charges who was being forced out of public housing because of those charges.  Randolph Holder was assigned to patrol public housing. A key part of his job was patrolling public housing for people with drugs or on outstanding warrants for drug offenses. Both men were cogs in the machinery of the drug war. If we want fewer cops killed on duty, we must stop the senseless pursuit of people for use, possession or sale of drugs, and tying every other human right – including housing – to those draconian laws.

What no one will say is that Tyrone Howard’s life has ended now in a social death in our gulag of prisons as much as the physical life of Randolph Holder has ended in death.

What no one will say is the rhetoric of “blue lives matter” is white supremacy dressed up in the guise of public safety.

What no one will say is that even now, even when a cop has been killed, we have to continue to demand an end mass incarceration, and the whole law-and-order apparatus that feeds that beast.

On the very same day that the shooting in East Harlem happened, more than 130 police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs — including NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton — met in Washington, D.C. They met as part of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, a group of law enforcement officials who recognize from the inside that the system of mass incarceration is broken. Rather than focusing on law-and-order solutions to a host of social problems, this group steps forward to say that reducing incarceration will improve public safety because people who need treatment for drug and alcohol problems or mental health issues will be more likely to improve and reintegrate into society if they receive consistent care, something relatively few jails or prisons offer. Mr. Bratton said that New York State and city law enforcement agencies “were well ahead of the curve in understanding that you can’t arrest your way out of the problem.”

And, then, a cop is killed and the media narrative immediately shifts into high gear with its low key “blue lives matter” agenda. The abrupt shift reminds me of the capitalists that Naomi Klein describes who wait for a ‘shock’ of some kind to strike so they can implement their brand of disaster capitalism.

What no one will say is that a cop killing is just the kind of ‘shock’ that the law-and-order opportunists needed to push forward their agenda to lock up more people.

 

Columbus was No Hero, Let’s Stop Celebrating Him

It’s that time of year again.  In midtown Manhattan, people are gearing up for the annual “Columbus Day Parade” which will disrupt traffic along 5th Avenue from 44th Street up to 72nd Street.  I won’t be joining in the celebration.

Like most school children in the U.S., I was taught the lie that Christopher Columbus was “an explorer” who “discovered America.”  It’s a lie that conveniently leaves out much of the truth about Columbus’ crimes against humanity.  And, this lie continues to be used by advertisers to sell products.  The spam from one retailer in my inbox this week featured the subject line, “Columbus Discovered America, and You Can Discover Savings at Barnes & Noble.” Uhm, thanks but no thanks B&N.

While the local news stations here relentlessly refer to the parade as a “celebration of Italian heritage,” I think it’s long past time we reject the myth of Columbus “discovering America,” and instead, recognize the indigenous people who already lived in the U.S. when Columbus stumbled upon it.

 

Curley, member of the Crow nation

(Curley, member of the Crow nation: image source)

By celebrating Columbus, we replay the legacy of colonialism and genocide. Let’s be clear. Columbus was no hero and doesn’t deserve a celebration. The history of Columbus’ record of genocide is not in dispute. When he traveled to the Caribbean (he never stepped foot on the North American continent), there were something like 75 million indigenous people living here. Within a generation of his landing, perhaps only 5-10% of the entire American Indian population remained. When Columbus and the men who traveled with him under the Spanish flag returned to the area we now call the West Indies, they took the land and launched widespread massacres, including of children, a process they described as “pacification”. (For more on this history, see this, this and this.)

Yet, despite the genocide that followed in his wake, some see the embrace of Columbus as a national hero and the Columbus Day holiday as a response to racism and discrimination experienced by Italian immigrants here in the U.S.  Tommi Avicolli-Mecca writes:

I understand why Italian-Americans embraced Columbus. When we arrived in this country, we weren’t exactly greeted with open arms, any more than any other immigrants. There were NINA (No Italian Need Apply) notices in store windows, as well as lynchings in the South, where we were considered nonwhite.

And, like so many other holidays, this one is a bit misguided. In point of fact, Columbus is a man with a tenuous link to contemporary Italy.  As you’ll recall from the grade school rhyme, Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” in 1492; contemporary Italy wasn’t a country until 1861.

Still, I don’t think that means we shouldn’t be celebrating Italian Americans’ heritage and contributions to the U.S.  I just think we should be focusing on the radical tradition of some Italian Americans, such as Mario Savio, Vito Marcantonio, and Sacco and Vanzetti.

There is a strong, radical history among Italian Americans that has been largely forgotten.  In their book, The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism (Praeger 2003), Philip Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer, help uncover some of this history.  Their edited volume shows that in contrast to their present conservative image (cf. Carl Paladino’s anti-gay remarks), Italian Americans played a central role in the working-class struggle of the early twentieth century.  Italian Americans were leaders in major strikes across the country—notably the Lawrence textile strikes of 1912 and 1919, the Paterson silk strike of 1913, the Mesabi Iron Range strikes of 1907 and 1916, and the New York City Harbor strikes of 1907 and 1919, as well as coal mining strikes. They also made important contributions to American labor unions, especially the revolutionary Industrial Workers of the World, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. At the same time, they built vibrant radical Italian immigrant communities that replicated the traditions, cultures, and politics of the old country.  For example, Italian immigrants formed their own political and social clubs, mutual aid societies, alternative libraries and press, as well as their own orchestras and theaters, designed to promote and sustain a radical subculture.

This radical subculture of Italian Americans was oppositional to both the hegemonic culture sustained by prominenti (the powerful men of the Little Italys) and the dominant culture of capitalist America. Yet, for the most part, this radical tradition has been set aside in favor of the hagiography of Columbus and, frankly, the valorizing of settler colonialism.

In recent years, several cities have begun to reject the Columbus Day holiday, replacing it with Indigenous People’s Day.

Protest against Columbus Day in Seattle

(Protest in Seattle, 2014: image source)

Berkeley, California, was the first city to do so in 1992. Seattle and Minneapolis followed its lead in October 2014, generating the movement’s current momentum. Since then, seven more municipalities — including Lawrence, Kansas, Portland, Oregon, and Bexar County, Texas (where San Antonio is located)— have joined their ranks.

Whether to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, or the radical tradition of working class Italian Americans, it’s time to recognize that Columbus was no hero. We should stop celebrating him.

 

Erica Jong and Why Critiquing White Feminism is Necessary

I first read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying some time in the 1990s, way of out context from the time it was published. The novel recounts the adventures of Jong’s alter-ego Isadora Wing, who is on a quest to find meaning outside a deadening marriage. When the book was published in 1973, Jong was a relatively young 30-years old and the book, with its shocking-for-the-time embrace of the zipless f-ck and women’s (hetero) sexuality was a dramatic departure for mainstream understandings of feminism. Leading (male) literary figures at the time – like John Updike and Paul Theroux – said horrible, sexist things about the book, while Henry Miller declared it the “female equivalent” of his novel Tropic of Cancer. It was, for certain women, at one point in time, a revelation and a necessary intervention.  It’s hard to overstate the success of Jong’s first novel: it’s reportedly sold more than 20 million copies and been translated into 27 languages.

Erica Jong

 

(Erica Jong, image source Wikimedia)

By the time I read Fear of Flying (1973) some twenty years after its publication, it didn’t have much urgency for me, mostly because I’d decided by then that I just didn’t share Jong’s enthusiasm for the male member. (No offense intended to those who have them or enjoy them, but it just wasn’t my thing, so to speak.) I was also put off by the racism in the book, but to be honest, I’d forgotten about that until the people began writing (and drawing) about the book again recently.

Jong_ArabsOtherAnimals

(Image source)

Since her first novel, Jong has gone on to publish lots of other books  in a range of genres including poetry, fiction, non-fiction. She’s back in the news – or, at least, in my newsfeed – because of a conversation with Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, at a recent book festival. I’m writing about it here because it refreshes the need for a sustained critique of white feminism.

First, a bit of background on Jong, in case you’re not familiar.  She is the child of “wealthy and bohemian”  parents. She went to Barnard and Columbia, where she studied English Literature. She now lives in a high rise on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She’s been married four times, and has one daughter and one grandchild. All of which is to say, she’s fairly typical for a woman of her class, region, generation. I’ve encountered her on the street, in passing, the way one does in New York, and she fits in her milieu.

What distinguishes her is that in 1973 she wrote a book that became known as “groundbreaking” text for feminists. “To be identified with having written a groundbreaking book is a particular kind of death-mask. I think any writer who becomes famous for one thing feels that way from time to time,” Jong has said of the book’s success and her conflicted relationship to it. 

The Decatur Book Festival

It was this outsized success of Jong’s 1973 novel, along with the release of a new book Fear of Dying, that got her invited to be the recent  Decatur Book Festival,  Jong was billed as the keynote speaker. Gay, an associate professor of English at Purdue University, joined her as interviewer and host, fielding questions from a near-capacity crowd and answering some questions herself. This conversation was meant to celebrate feminism” but according to multiple reports, the format eventually evolved into a casual exchange that became  “testy,”  “awkward” and “uncomfortable”.  That awkwardness is worth exploring for what it reveals about white feminism and why it requires critique.

Jong_Gay_DecaturBookFest

(Erica Jong, Roxane Gay at the Decatur Book Festival, image source)

These days, Jong likes to call herself a “defrocked academic” by which I can only surmise she means that she was once in a PhD program. Her use of the word “defrocked’ suggests that she was forced out of the program (or academia), but I find nothing that confirms this. She’s also fond of saying that she has “partly returned to her roots as a scholar.” Again, it’s unclear what she means by this.  Whatever she may mean, her “return” to her scholarly roots has not meant delving into black feminist thought  or  “intersectionality”  among the most important develops in feminism in the last twenty years. When Roxane Gay mentioned the word intersectionality in passing, Jong interrupted to ask “What’s that?” 

Jong also seems to be under the mistaken impression that no one knew about abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth until Gloria Steinem starting writing about her in Ms. Magazine.  

She is simply wrong about this unless she means that “no one” in her social circle knew about Sojourner Truth until then. As Gloria Steinem tells it, they were originally going to name the magazine “Sojourner” but this was perceived to be a travel magazine, so they chose ‘Ms.’ as a shorter, more marketable title. Beyond Jong’s factual error, her re-telling of it in this particular way overlays the accomplishments of a white woman (Steinem) on top of the achievements of a Black woman (Sojourner Truth). This both diminishes Sojourner Truth’s position within feminism, while is elevates Steinem’s. It also re-writes the ways that Steinem herself has tried to work in solidarity with black women, including Dorothy Pitman-Hughes, Flo Kennedy and Alice Walker. Steinem recently acknowledged “black women invented feminism.”  Jong seems to have in mind the iconic image (below) in her vision of feminism. But, even if we only take the second-wave of feminism into consideration, that image of Gloria Steinem and Deborah Pitman-Hughes is more aspirational than reportorial. And, it’s an image that represents a very narrow view of racial diversity, and reinforces cisgender women’s place at the center of feminism.

 

Steinem and Pitman-Hughes Fists

(Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman-Hughes,
images: left – 1971, Dan Ragan; right – 2014, Dan Wynn)

 

One of the reports on the exchange at the book festival attributed the disconnect between Jong and Gay (and the mostly Gay-supportive audience) to the “generational, cultural and racial divides” within feminism. While it’s true those differences exist and were evident in their conversation, the characterization of these as a series of “divides” situates Jong and Gay equally, on opposing sides of something (generation, culture, race) neither controls. What this talk of “divides” misses, of course, is power. Jong and Gay are not situated equally. Jong is white, wealthy, well-known; Gay is black, not wealthy, and becoming well-known. These are important dimensions of power that are overlooked in the simplistic language of “divides.” Both Jong and Gay can be feminist though they come from these different positions but what an intersectional feminism requires is some self-reflection on how one’s place in the world shapes one’s need for, relationship to and practice of feminism.

This is Roxane Gay’s genius in Bad Feminist. She tells us where she is in the world and how that shapes her relationship to feminism.  

The characterization of the book festival exchange as “testy” “awkward” and “uncomfortable” trivializes the difference between Jong and Gay as an interpersonal squabble between two women. This is an old strategy for dismissing feminism. “Oh, just a bunch of women, arguing…who cares?” When this sort of “testy” exchange happens between a white woman and a woman of color, it’s the woman of color who bears the burden of the conflict. Given the powerful stereotype of the “angry black woman,” the onus of the way this exchange was reported implicitly falls on Gay, and her supporters, even though all reports indicate she and the audience exercised a great deal of restraint.

In her report about the Decatur Book Festival, Cristen Conger writes that  white feminism and privilege oversight is still alive …it’s high time white feminists face and own up to this unsavory past and present.”

But why is it ‘high time’ for such a reckoning? Many people object to this kind of critique because – based on what I’ve been able to glean from readin  the comments on this piece (g-d help me) and reading the comments I’ve gotten on my series about white feminism – the thinking seems to be that this is being needlessly divisive. Can’t we all just raise our fists in sisterhood and solidarity? Doesn’t the patriarchy (if we’re still using that word) win if you’re critiquing white feminism? I don’t think so. 

 

Why Critiquing White Feminism is Necessary

White feminism is a set of ideas – an ideology – a way of advocating for gender equality without attention to race or class. It’s not simply that there are a ‘few bad apples’ (i.e., racist white women) within an otherwise trouble-free feminist landscape. White feminism is a systematic way of looking at the world; it’s often promoted or practiced by white women, although it’s not exclusive to white women. This short video by Zeba Blay and Emma Gray is a good primer if you’re new to these ideas.  You can also go back and read the series about white feminism starting here.

For me, personally, it’s important to critique white feminism because it harms other women and perpetuates racism (causing more harm). My critique is meant to interrupt the harmful cycle of ‘gender only’ feminism that replays in generation after generation of feminists. This cycle is a kind of ignorance that’s painful to other women, especially women of color, and also queer, gender nonconforming and transgender women of all races. It is the opposite of sisterhood, the antithesis of feminism. 

It’s possible to see what’s at stake and why we need a sustained critique of white feminism in a recent review of Erica Jong’s work.

Reviewing Fear of Flying on its 40th anniversary in 2013 (“Is the sexiest novel of the 1970s still relevant?”), Katy Waldman mentions the racism of the book, but then buries that critique by including a defensive quote from Jong about the chapter title mentioned earlier (“Arabs and Other Animals.”). Waldman then writes: But I am underselling this novel, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month with a reissue and has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.”  So, not only is the racism of the text set aside as unimportant or irrelevant, but we’re reminded of the novel’s successful sales.

Part of what’s at stake here is that Jong’s voice is amplified globally- 20 million copies in 27 languages –  in a way that other feminist writers and voices are not. That’s an enormous power. And, it has an impact. In the same review, Waldman writes about literature and how people wrote novels differently in the 1970s (hoping to produce One Great Character), then she writes this:

“For as much as Fear of Flying is about producing that One Great Character, it is also about understanding womanhood circa 1973.  [emphasis added]

In fact, Erica Jong’s writing tells us about a very, very thin slice of wealthy, urban, white, American, Jewish, heterosexual, thin, cis-gendered womanhood. And yet, her voice, her writing, is held out at offering us an understanding of WOMANHOOD. This is the quintessential move of white feminism, and it’s important to critique it in order to recognize that what it means to be a “woman” encompasses multiple lives, experiences, and perspectives. This form of ‘gender only’ feminism erases all those other experiences and flattens into one, that looks like Isadora Wing/Erica Jong.

While Jong’s conversational missteps at the book festival can be partially attributed to coming from an earlier era of feminism, she continues to speak out in ways that are harmful to other women. In a recent ALL CAPS post to Twiitter, she had this to say about sex workers:

There is lots of smart, feminist writing out there about women and sex work, like Melissa Gira Grant’s  Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (2014), but Jong has apparently not read any of this, it seems. Her tweet struck me as an odd reaction – “strange smelly bods” — from someone whose writing is so explicitly and enthusiastically involved with “bods”.  Perhaps this is related to the way Jong equates rape with sex work and the reaction to her first book, she said in an interview:

“It was sort of as if I was a prostitute available to everyone because I’d written freely about sex; that happens in a very puritanical culture.”

Jong’s brand of ‘gender only’ white feminism doesn’t have room for women who are sex workers. Although she was an early and avid adopter of the overshare about her personal life she is somewhat paradoxically not given to self-reflection about how her pronouncements on sex work and feminism and ‘womanhood’ might be damaging to some women.

That’s why it’s important to keep critiquing white feminism, to undo some of the damage of this set of ideas.

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, am I saying that wealthy, white, Upper East Side ladies can’t be feminists? No. That’s not it at all.

The conversation at the book festival between Jong and Gay could have gone much differently  if a couple of things had shifted. First, if Jong hadn’t been so defensive and a little more self-aware about her position, then a different kind of conversation might have been possible. And, if Jong had been more well informed about the history and scholarship of white feminism, another kind of encounter might have happened. Instead, it just replayed old scripts of white feminism in a way that was hurtful and left many women, including queer, gender nonconforming, and transgender women of color, out of the conversation.

If these things had shifted, then the exchange could have been an actual example of intersectional feminism. But it didn’t. It ended with Erica Jong saying something about it was going to “take a lot of work” to get a more inclusive feminism. And Roxane Gay clarified: “The work of fixing racism isn’t something that we, people of color, have to do. We don’t have the problem. We’re good.” 

Let’s be clear where the work need to happen: with white women who are the most frequent purveyors of white feminism.

 

 

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In Delivering Eulogy for Charleston Shooting Victim, Obama Finds Grace

The funerals for the Charleston shooting victims – all nine of them: Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; and Myra Thompson, 59, – continue with regularity, each one a painful reminder that the violence of white supremacy costs lives.

President Obama stepped to the podium and into this difficult moment in US history to eulogize Rev. Clementa Pinckney. And in delivering the eulogy for Rev. Pinckney, Obama found grace. If you haven’t watched the whole speech, you can here (37:58):

The transcript is available, but it’s a speech that is better viewed than read.

In his analysis of the speech, John Dickerson, writing at Slate, had this to say about the President’s theme of ‘grace’:

This was not a rhetorical exercise, or not merely one. It was a demonstration of the power the president had found in the example of the people of Charleston—both the living and the dead. He wasn’t just telling. He was showing—the power he was trying to summon in this speech came from his own feeling of gratitude and obligation to serve as an example of grace. Even if you didn’t agree with any of what the president said, the distance the president traveled in this one week was a kind of testimony of its own. By the end of his oration, the president was leading the congregation in an impromptu rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

There was something incredibly powerful and moving in the choice of ‘grace’ as a theme to tie this speech together, and perhaps one of the elements that so resonated for me is the way that it reframed the talk about ‘forgiveness’ of the shooter. In his analysis at The Atlantic, James Fallows takes this up when he says:

It allowed him to recast one part of the shooting’s aftermath in the most glorious way. When the families of the nine murdered victims told the killer that they forgave him, one undertone of their saintliness was that we might be in for another “noble victim” episode. Black people would be killed or abused; they would prove their goodness by remaining calm; and in part because of their magnanimity, nothing would change.But by characterizing their reaction as a reflection of grace rather than mere “forgiveness,” Obama was able to present it as something much different than patient victimhood…”

Fallows has a long, section-by-section break down of the speech if you want to know more about the way the speech worked, which is interesting if you’re interested in how speeches work.

If you’re still just trying to come to terms with the awful events in Charleston, have a listen to President Obama’s speech and find some grace.

Juneteenth and the Struggle Behind It

As with church going, sartorial display is connected to resistance and celebrations of the African American holiday Juneteenth. “By putting on their very best clothes, the black people were signaling they were free,” historian Jackie Jones relates. “It enraged white people. They hated to see black people dressed up because it turned their world upside down.”

Emancipation Day, Austin, Texas, 1900 (from Wikipedia)

 

Today is the 150th anniversary of the original  Juneteenth, a celebration marking the end of slavery. What began as a regional celebration in Galveston, Texas has grown to a national commemoration that people celebrate in a variety of ways. NPR’s Code Switch has been collecting stories of how people celebrate at the hashtag #WouldntBeJuneteenthWithout, but I there is a pall over the usual celebratory mood of this Juneteenth by recent events in Charleston.

Indeed, after a 21-year-old white gunman opened fire on a bible study group at the historic predominantly black Emanuel AME Church leaving nine dead, the celebration of Juneteenth and the struggle behind it, take on a renewed sense of urgency and poignancy.

The Struggle to Make Juneteenth a State Holiday

Juneteenth hasn’t always been recognized as a holiday, and in the family I came from it was often scoffed at (lots of derision about the name of the holiday).  So the fact that Juneteenth is now an official state holiday in Texas and many other communities across the US, is significant and is only possible because of a political struggle waged by one Houston Democratic legislator, (former) state representative Al Edwards.  It seems impossible now to mention a black, Democratic state representative and not call to mind, Rep. Clementa Pinckney, gunned down while leading that Wednesday night service in Charleston.

Former Texas State Rep. Al Edwards

Former Texas State Rep. Al Edwards

Edwards was born in Houston in 1937, the sixth of sixteen children, and was first elected as a state representative in 1978 from Houston’s District 146, the area known as Alief. A year later, in 1979, Edwards authored and sponsored House Bill 1016, making June 19th (“Juneteenth”) a paid state holiday in Texas.

Everyone, it seemed, opposed the idea. In a recent interview about this bill, attorney Doug McLeod, a conservative Democratic representative from Galveston at the time said of Edwards, “He really had an uphill battle. He had opposition from the left and the right.” Mostly white conservative Democratic majority viewed the bill as a hard sell to their constituents and many of Edwards’ 14 fellow black legislators saw it as a diversion from securing a holiday for Martin Luther King.

House Bill 1016 appeared to be headed nowhere when Edwards, a Democrat who was new to the legislature, originally filed it. Eventually, he got McLeod to sign on to the bill and Bill Clayton, then speaker of the Texas legislature.

Then-Gov. Bill Clements, a Republican, declined to endorse the Juneteenth bill, but he agreed to sign it if passed. Through a series of negotiations and brokered deals over votes, Rep. Edwards eventually prevailed and got the bill through the legislature.  When the bill passed, white conservative opponents urged the governor not to sign the bill, but Clements kept his word and signed the bill on the Texas State Capitol steps. This prompted other states to follow suit. Now 43 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth in some way or another.

History and Struggle Behind Juneteenth

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, but people remained enslaved within the state of Texas.

This happened for two reasons.

First, Texas slave owners refused to release the people they were holding as slaves.  They basically just wouldn’t acknowledge that the Emancipation Proclamation or Lee’s surrender had happened or had any bearing on them (cf. “States Rights,”  see also Texas is a Whole Other Country).

Second, slave owners from neighboring states in the south looked on Texas as a haven for slavery, so they poured into Texas with an estimated 125,000-150,000* enslaved people  from surrounding Confederate states (*historians debate the precise number).

In a recent interview, Jackie Jones,a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin.”The idea was Texas was so vast that the federal government would never be able to conquer it all. There is this view that if they want to hold onto their slaves, the best thing to do is get out of the South and go to Texas.”

This ended on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston and again declared the end of the Civil War, with General Granger reading aloud a special decree that ordered the freeing of some 200,000 people still in bondage in Texas.

Today, some 43 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth in some way. This would not have been possible without the vision of Rep. Al Edwards and the struggle to make it a reality.

In times like these, what’s to celebrate?

With the official, legal end of chattel slavery — and the enforcement of that decree in Texas — there was much to celebrate in 1865. It was no longer legal for human beings to be sold on auction blocks as they had been. And, to be clear, the US didn’t just tolerate slavery as an economic system, it expanded and prospered on it.  The overturning of this dehumanizing system was a momentous victory for a multi-racial group of abolitionists who waged a decades long campaign to end slavery.

Reconstruction followed, creating new opportunities for African Americans who owned and profited from their own land and began to participate in local politics.

Most Americans remain confused about the period of Reconstruction, and many still subscribe toA false story of Reconstruction disseminated in popular culture through things like the film Birth of a Nation.  Although historians including Columbia University’s Eric Foner have shown the extraordinary political, economic, and legal gains of Reconstruction, as Gregory P. Downs notes at TPM.

One historian, C. Vann Woodward, has called the period of “the forgotten alternatives.” During the period between 1870 and 1900, there was some racial integration in housing and privately-owned facilities. Black people could travel on public transportation, vote and get elected, get jobs, including on police forces, and enjoy many public facilities.

But. the gains of Reconstruction were short-lived.

This “alternative” approach to race during Reconstruction ended when what Woodward calls the “strange career” of Jim Crow segregation, began — first by whites in the North, and expanded with a vengeance by Southern whites. Within thirty years of emancipation, laws were instituted that stripped African Americans of their rights, making celebrations like Juneteenth a distant memory. A prison-labor paradigm developed. White jail owners profited from the hard labor of their black inmates who were incarcerated for petty crimes like vagrancy, which carried long sentences. White landowners replaced chattel slavery with a deceptive practice called debt peonage, a new form of bondage continued for many blacks for decades. It wasn’t until 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Circular No. 3591 which strengthened the Anti-Peonage Law of 1867, making it a criminal offense.  Roosevelt launched a federal investigation, prosecuted guilty whites and effectively ended peonage in 1942.

 

So, why celebrate Juneteenth if white supremacy re-emerged with such a bloody return thirty short years later? Because celebration, commemoration and community is how we gain strength for the larger struggle.

Douglas Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name land co-executive producer of the documentary film by the same name, said this about Juneteenth:

“It’s important not to skip over the first part of true freedom. Public education as we know it today and the first property rights for women were instituted by African-American elected officials.”

Even as there is terrible news out of Charleston, South Carolina by a young white man who was, by all accounts, “enraged” by the freedom of black people, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on other times, other struggles and other victories on this 150th anniversary of Juneteenth.

 

 

 

White Terrorist Takes Nine Black Lives at Historic AME Church in Charleston

Grief: Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the Emanuel AME Church (Picture: AP Photo/David Goldman)

Multiple news outlets are reporting that  a white male suspect, approximately 21 years old, joined a Bible study service at the Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina, then stood and began firing a gun. He killed nine people, all of them black, including State Senator and pastor of the church, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney. At this time, the suspect remains at large.

Roberston’s biography of Denmark Vesey (Knopf, 1999)

The Emanuel A.M.E. church, the oldest AME church in the South and home to the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore, Maryland, is rooted in the struggle for black freedom in the US and has a long history of being targeted by white violence. The church is listed as one of the historic sites in Charleston, South Carolina by the National Park Service, which details some of the church’s history on its website. In 1822 the church was investigated for its involvement with a planned slave revolt. Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s founders, organized a major slave uprising in Charleston. Vesey was raised in slavery in the Virgin Islands, and ultimately won his own freedom and then began to organize for others’ to gain their freedom. He organized a slave rebellion, but authorities were informed of the plot before it could take place. During the Vesey controversy, the AME church was burned. Vesey reportedly advanced the date of the insurrection to June 16, a date that many point to as having significance fort his attack. Ultimately, some 300 alleged participants were arrested for their involvement in the slave revolt plot, and 35 including Vesey were executed. If you’re not familiar with this history, I recommend Robertson’s biography of Vesey.
Black churches have a long history of being targets for white terrorist violence. The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where four little girls were killed by members of the local KKK in 1963 is the example with which most people will be familiar, but there are many others.  Bernice King reminded her followers that her grandmother, Dr.King’s mother, was killed in church:

And, these attacks have continued. Throughout the 1990s there were a series of arson attacks against black churches throughout the South for which no one was ever arrested or charged for these crimes.

While the suspect in the shootings in Charleston remains at large, he has been identified by eye-witnesses as a white man and is thus connected to a long history of white terrorism enacted by white men against racialized others in the US. Most recently, David Leonard Zak Cheney-Rice (thanks Kyra!) explained this dynamic in his piece about James L. Boulware, the white man who opened fire on Police Headquarters in Dallas and lived to tell about it.

White domestic terrorists in the US

While Boulware is just the most recent, there is a long string of white men with guns who act out their rage in violent ways. Frequent readers here will know that I’ve been on about the trouble with white women and the way they(we) are implicated in perpetuating systems of white supremacy, but let me be clear: it is white men who are the most deadly threat. Indeed, although the bulk of the mainstream media attention focuses on “Islamic extremists” — and we continue to take off our shoes at airports because of this putative threat — the reality is that most of the terrorist activity occurring in the United States in recent years has come from white men drawn from a combination of radical Christian, white supremacists and far-right militia groups.

Why is it always a white guy and why can’t we connect these dots?

Sociologist Michael Kimmel suggests that it is “aggrieved entitlement that lies underneath the anger of American white men.” Similarly, Joe Feagin has written extensively about the social problems created by white men as a population. Of course, if you’re a woman of color and a professor, saying that America is reluctant to call out white men as a problem on social media could cost your job.

Still, these dots do not get connected. People, for the most part, do not make the connection between Timothy McVeigh – who bombed the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City – and the shooter in Charleston, South Carolina. Part of the reason most (white) people can’t make these connections is the way that this story will get reported in the mainstream media.  My pal Chauncey Devega and I discussed how this is going to play out a little earlier:

 

Even when white men commit the most heinous acts — like killing people at a place of worship — they get treated to a sympathetic narrative and backstory. I promise you when this suspect is identified, we will see multiple mainstream news stories about how “he wasn’t always like this” (complete with baby pictures), testimony from white parents and neighbors about “what a good guy” he always seemed to be, and finally, an “investigative” piece that uncovers the fact that he was posting on Stormfront and asks the burning question: “did the Internet do this to him? Did it lure an otherwise good boy into the dark world of neo-nazis?”

We Need to Talk about White Supremacy

People keep saying that we need to “have a conversation about race” in this country, but what we need to have is a conversation about white supremacy. To be sure, the mass murder at the Emanuel A.M.E. church is an act of white supremacist terrorism. The white man who did this is a terrorist with a political agenda to kill black people. When one segment of the population can easily — and legally — buy and carry deadly weapons and almost never seen as suspect while another segment of the population is always a target of violence, even in a place of worship, that is white supremacy. Yet, for the most part, we have no way to talk about this kind of systemic racism in US culture. When most (white) people hear the term “white supremacy” they think of the people in robes and hoods, not the white men pictured above.

The deaths of nine black people in Charleston, South Carolina who were doing nothing more than attending a Bible study — and were targeted for their blackness — is a stark reminder that there are very real, material ways that all lives do not matter in the same way within a white supremacist context.